Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To do list for proponents of various energy technologies

What solar power proponents need to do:

- Demonstrate that solar power can be a baseload provider. How: Recruit a city of 50,000-60,000 to be powered by solar power (and maybe wind) with no fossil fuels or nuclear power as backup.

- Construct a modeling study from now until 2050 where:

- No new nuclear has been constructed and fossil fuel energy generation has
been reduced to at least 0-5% of 2011 levels (assuming some potential for
application of CCS).

- Slow, but rational rates of growth for biomass and geothermal (0.5-1.5% per year).

- Assume three principle scenarios of future global energy use: down 10%, up 10% and up 33% (despite the publicity about the gains that could be made by improving efficiency it is reasonable to anticipate more global energy use in the future due to continued economic development in Brazil, parts of
Africa, India and China).

- Wind power can represent anywhere from 3% to 15% of global energy generation with an average real-world generation capacity of 25%.

- Model energy demand over four distinct periods: early morning, early
afternoon, late afternoon/evening and late night and how available energy
generation technologies would meet this demand;

- Create a specific plan for the construction of solar power infrastructure asking exactly where, how much, at what cost, etc. This information must be very detailed, ‘this area here from latitude coordinates x and y and longitude coordinates a and b will house x number of mirrors, PV or whatever generating an average of x between hour x and hour y’ instead of ‘built a lot in the Mojave Desert over some arbitrary x by x area’.

- Calculate how much raw materials, including rare earths, will be needed to construct all of infrastructure for solar power including material extract rates relative to construction rates. In addition determine where these materials will come from and what production rates will be required to ensure stable and clean acquisition streams;

- Identify the best storage system apart from pumped hydro, which will normally not have applicable association with high quality solar locations (not a lot of pumped hydro availability in deserts). Calculate storage scale requirement and associated economical costs for this storage medium for required backup amount (still uncalculated due to lack of real-world large scale solar applications).

What wind power proponents need to do:

- Demonstrate that wind power can actually significantly contribute to the energy profile of a future energy infrastructure. Currently most wind power, even in countries with very high wind power penetration like Denmark and Germany, is heavily supported by the existing fossil fuel baseload. Due to this support most anti-wind individuals argue that for all of the wind power that has been installed, very little actual absolute carbon emission reduction has occurred in response. Wind power proponents need to produce a very specific report describing exactly how highly variable would operate without the fossil fuel baseload backbone to fill in the gaps.

- Create new energy generation models accounting for future wind speed predictions based on the anticipated change in global wind speeds due to the shrinking deltaT between Arctic and Temperate regions. There appears to be information that wind speed in most scenarios will decrease with larger standard deviations from the mean average due to the higher probability of tornadoes and hurricane formation. More Information

- Plan out the necessary elements balancing production between further wind power penetration and manufacture of electrical vehicles due to competition between rare earths and their potential shortages, especially yearly production shortfalls in neodymium and dysprosium. More Information

- Determine if constructing more conventional wind turbines is practical due to the increasing demands for conventional raw materials such as steel and concrete. The inherent low MW/single structure ratio of wind power will especially become difficult to manage in their production and transport if the issue of Peak Oil comes to pass. Therefore, is it even relevant to continue to produce convention wind turbines when other energy alternatives are available?

What geothermal power proponents need to do:

- Significantly increase the number of experimental EGS-Geothermal test pilot plants to determine future problems that may arise from EGS systems. The construction of these plants is also needed to generate further experience EGS system design to potentially lower economic costs.

- Demonstrate future drilling techniques that can be used to meet the increased depth demands of EGS systems over those depths used for oil or gas extraction, will be viable.

- Develop better heat pumps or other heating systems to optimize power generation from EGS systems as well as reduce potential seismic side-effect activity.

What biomass power proponents need to do:

Nothing, because there is no rational reason to pursue any further increase in biomass based energy. Economically viable biomass demands the use of land which will be in direct competition with food production and potential carbon sequestration through bio-char production. In such a competition biomass based energy finishes a distant third in importance. Non-economical biomass based energy can evade excess land use, but there is no reason to invest in expensive trace energy sources over other alternatives. Basically biomass-based energy fails because there are other energy generation alternatives available, but no legitimate food generation alternatives available with regards to required land use.

What tidal power proponents need to do:

Nothing, because there is no rational reason to pursue offshore hydro (tidal) power at all. Tidal power is not economical and will take a technological miracle for tidal power to produce large amounts of uninterrupted energy.

What nuclear power proponents need to do:

Three major reasons are used to justified opposition to nuclear power: cost, residual nuclear waste and its storage and pure personal morality. The first two reasons can be and should be addressed.

- Discuss the variance of cost between countries for construction nuclear power plants including the potential for global safety recommendations that will apply to all nuclear power plants around the world. These recommendations could also involve an independent inspection organization to ensure compliance.

- Develop a storage strategy for nuclear waste. Nuclear proponents cannot simply rely on the hope for the future development and commercialization of Type III and Type IV generation technology to address future nuclear waste accumulation as the possibility does exist that nuclear power will be needed, but these advanced nuclear technologies will not be readily available.

In addition to answering these issues the environmental community itself needs to be much more proactive in addressing the number of reports that come out from various institutions both in objective criticism and publicity. Currently there appears to be no ‘warehouse’ of sorts where individuals can go online to view any major report on a given energy medium regardless of what individual or organization produced it. One would think that if an organization like the newly merged 1sky/350.org actually cares about the environment organizing such an archive would be one of the first things they would do, but yet no easily accessible archive exists. Basically the environmental movement needs to create a ‘Cochrane Collaboration’ for energy putting all of its personal bias aside and look for the best solution.

Overall the important goal that solar, wind and geothermal proponents need to accomplish is demonstrate that at least one of these technologies can provide baseload electricity in a future energy infrastructure. If not then there exists almost no point in constructing these technologies over nuclear, despite any ‘excessive’ costs associated with nuclear power because it makes more sense to develop a future energy infrastructure around an expensive, but capable baseload provider than an expensive or inexpensive, but incapable baseload provider.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dealing with Criticism and Verbal Bullying

Inevitably communication between different individuals will suffer breakdowns and facilitate confrontational situations. Frequently these confrontations generate insults and other negative consequences to which one or more parties may take offense. These insults are understandable due to the typically over-emotional charged existence humans have created for themselves, but should not be necessarily excusable; however, why do individuals receiving the insult take so much offense to it? In fact why do people take personal offense to any insult or let it influence their psychological state?

Before addressing the core nature of rational psychological impact of insults one related issue must be addressed. The presentation of a particular externality could be interpreted in such a way to cause offense. For example there have been a number of instances when someone has been offended by a piece of art. However, such offense is misplaced for an individual to even have rational cause to take offense to something the trigger must have the intent to offend. It is unreasonable for an individual to be offended by a piece of art that has no discernable unique structure, but instead is given its form by the interpretation of the individual that is taking offense. There is no inherent intent to offend in such a piece of art instead the individual is finding a subjective reason to be offended. Thus the problem lies with the individual not with the piece of art, thus to put blame on the artist or the artwork itself is foolish.

Most insults move beyond the abstract and easily meet the principle criteria of an insult: intent to offend. The key element in addressing an insult is asking the question of legitimacy. All statements have a basis of perception which is heavily influenced by personal experience and bias; however, this perception does not mitigate the underlying reality of the statement. Therefore, the question of legitimacy boils down to simple accuracy. For example if someone says that Johnny sucks at baseball the element that gives that insult all of its power is whether or not Johnny actually does suck at baseball, not the perception that a single individual has regarding Johnny’s ability. The interesting thing is that if the ‘insult’ is accurate then it is improper to classify it as an insult instead it is criticism.

For the above example suppose Johnny does suck at baseball, then Johnny has no reason to get upset when someone says he sucks at baseball. For Johnny to get upset about a factual statement makes little sense. Does Johnny get upset about the Earth revolving around the Sun? On the other hand suppose Johnny does not suck at baseball, then Johnny has not reason to get upset when someone says he sucks at baseball because he does not.

Johnny has two rational choices if the statement that he sucks at baseball is accurate. First Johnny can accept that he sucks and view that particular aspect as a part of his character. Second Johnny can accept that he sucks and work to change that particular characteristic. If Johnny selects the first action then he should not take offense to that fact that he sucks at baseball because he accepts it as an aspect of his character. If Johnny selects the second action then he should not take offense to the fact that he sucks at baseball because while at present it is true, he is working to correct that aspect of his character, which should actually bolster his confidence because he is willing to grow in a positive way.

If the statement ‘Johnny sucks at baseball’ is inaccurate then there is no reason to get personally offended because the statement is not correct. It is irrational for an individual to get personally offended about someone making an inaccurate statement about his/her character. Now one may argue that the above statement is too simplistic within the confines of the complexities of society. The complexity of society has nothing to do with whether or not an individual at a psychological level is influenced by inaccurate statements about his/her character. In rare situations Johnny may not be afforded certain opportunities because an individual of some power/influence inaccurately believes that he is bad at baseball and that should anger Johnny, but some individual inaccurately characterizing his baseball skills should not personally offend Johnny or affect his psychological vision of self. It is not even a matter of strength of self; individual x is ‘strong’ enough to resist the negativity of others. There is no need to resist inaccurate information because such information should simply be discarded once determined that it is inaccurate.

Another element to the legitimacy issue is the construction of the ‘insult’. The two principle features of this construction are depth and tact. While tact of the insult may be of emotional importance, it is meaningless in the nature of the legitimacy. It makes no difference regarding the overall ability of Johnny’s baseball talent if one states ‘Johnny your baseball skills are craptacular’ vs. ‘Johnny your ability to play baseball is not as proficient as other children your age’. When receiving legitimate criticism (true statements), one would prefer to hear it in the latter format than the former, but overall at the core it does not matter which format is used and if the statement is inaccurate verbal delivery is irrelevant because the statement is inaccurate.

Depth is far more important than tact both at accessing the accuracy of the statement and what can be done to correct accurate criticism. For example between the statements ‘Johnny you suck at baseball’ vs. ‘Johnny you suck at baseball because you are afraid of the ball’ the latter is much more useful because it provides rationality to the statement to confirm accuracy. Depth of the statement also affords an effective measure of deletion for individuals that are ‘insulted’. If one cannot, within reason, access the accuracy of the statement then the statement can be inherently viewed as incomplete by the individual receiving the insult. It is important for individuals to understand that the burden of proof is on those delivering the insult not those that receive it because most insults tend to be stereotypical uncritical emotionally driven nonsense.

Depth also influences the subjective element of some criticism. Certainly it is unrealistic to anticipate everyone liking or disliking a certain person or the way that person does something. Due to this reality criticism evolves in another way beyond the black and white of ‘good or bad’. This third element consists of the ‘quality, but not befitting my preferences’ belief. Clearly someone can behave or perform a task effectively, but do so in a way that does not conform to the way someone else thinks it should be done. Once again expression of this third element is the responsibility of the ‘insulting’ party using a statement such as ‘I am not attracted to that individual, but I can see other people being attracted to him/her.’

As previously mentioned without clarification of either the subjective third element or effective depth to the statement, it is appropriate for the individual receiving the insult to classify the statement as incomplete. Incomplete statements should be viewed as emotionally driven more than likely attributed to the ‘Will to Power’ elements of an individual’s psyche. To wit incomplete statements should be dismissed with no further thought or negative impact on one’s self-esteem.

So what does the above statement about human psychology have anything to do with the present? In recent years bullying has become much more prominent, at least the public’s acknowledgement of bullying for it is difficult to truly gauge whether or not bullying has increased beyond a simple proportional measurement. Unfortunately the principle response offered by society to assist individuals dealing with bullying is the repeated and tired refrain of ‘just stick it out’ most notably materialized recently in the ‘It Gets Better Project’. Basically the solution offered by society is ‘tough it out until your environment changes in a way that lessens the problem’.

The flaw of this solution is obvious, it does not address the psychological mindset of those that are bullied in the context of why these individuals allow bullying to bother them in the first place. Instead of addressing the psychological aspect of the problem and allowing the individual to grow as a person, the ‘It Gets Better’ solution wants to sweep the problem under the rug by offering future hope in exchange for present suffering. The sad reality is that there is no guarantee that it will get better, especially because no ‘roadmap’ is offered to take these bullied individuals, most of time adolescences, to the ‘better place’. Addressing the problem directly not only offers hope for the future, but also lessens to eliminates present suffering. So why does society take such a limited and passive approach? Is society really that lazy?

Finally one of the reasons for this particular blog post was as a reaction to the release of the ‘Mean’ music video by Taylor Swift, which many seem to have associated with an ‘anti-bullying’ message in a similar ‘It Gets Better’ tone. However, such association disappears when listening to the lyrics of the song. The supposed story behind the lyrics is they are a rebuttal against a certain music critic; whether or not the criticism was entirely music-based is not entirely clear. Unfortunately the response in the Mean video does not appear to be helpful because Miss. Swift does not directly address the critic’s critiques.

In using such a strategy one is reminded of the verbal confrontation between John Stewart and Tucker Carlson on the now defunct CNN program “Crossfire” in 2004. Mr. Stewart opened the question and answer portion of the show by criticizing the validity of "Crossfire" as a genuine debate program and political information source. In response Mr. Carlson criticized the seriousness and usefulness of the news commentary provided by "The Daily Show", which Mr. Stewart hosted at the time and still currently hosts. Mr. Stewart appeared to view this criticism as comical because "The Daily Show" was supposed to be satirical and comedic in nature; bolstering this point Mr. Stewart cited that at the time puppets making crank phone calls was time slotted right before "The Daily Show" whereas CNN claimed, and still does, to be the most trusted name in news and Mr. Stewart’s criticism was directly related to not living up to such a boast.

By Mr. Carlson criticizing "The Daily Show" instead of defending "Crossfire" he was basically telling the public that both "The Daily Show" and "Crossfire" were ill equipped to properly disseminate and analyze the news, thus limiting the quality of either show. Mr. Carlson should have instead defended "Crossfire" in effort to demonstrate its importance in the news community and simultaneously hurt Mr. Stewart's credibility to lodge future criticism of similar nature. Miss. Swift seems to have fallen into the same trap as Mr. Carlson, returning fire against the critic personally instead of defending herself against whatever he criticized and in the process stripping him of credibility. Although one can somewhat understand the attack strategy, such a response seems to be more detrimental than beneficial in the grand scheme of things.

Overall bullying and insults boil down to the simple question of legitimacy. True insults can be regarded as criticism which should be addressed by those who receive it by either accepting it or changing. However, most insults have no intention of encouraging an individual to grow by pointing out relevant flaws, but instead attempt to demoralize the individual. In these situations individuals need to acknowledge on a psychological level that these insults are not accurate and should not negative influence their self-perception or character. One could make the comment that such assertiveness regarding self-existence is a tall order for young individuals, even adults themselves.

While true, it is an even taller order when these individuals are not given the tools or encouragement to even attempt to better appreciate their own unique existences, which is exactly how most anti-bullying strategies are carried out. The ‘you are not alone’ stance by itself lack breadth because circumstances between individuals can have high variance. Little effort is made to ask people to confirm their self-worth and genuine character by identifying specific elements in their character to be proud of to bolster self-respect and confidence and what needs to be improved. In addition individuals seeing strong self-assured role models in the public eye, something that has been said for decades but still remains true and elusive, will also support the growth of individuals. Finally each person needs to acknowledge their unique imperfection and every day work towards the goal of ‘just getting better, always working to improve themselves’ not allowing anyone to prevent them from accomplishing this goal because continuing to grow as a person is ultimately the one thing that guarantees a person is important regardless of what anyone else says.

A Brief Discussion of Human Decision Making and Psychology

Human beings exist in one of two fashions either alone as an individual or in a group with others. Various psychological phenomena have been characterized to explain the different interactions certain individuals have within groups opposed to when they are by themselves. Although these phenomena can be associated with positive or negative influences, it is more interesting to question the negative phenomena because of their role in the evolution of society. Three specific phenomena that will be discussed in this blog post are the Lucifer Effect, Mob Mentality and Milgram Effect. These phenomena provide interesting analysis to how someone’s individual character can undergo a fundamental change when engaged in certain situations. Such change should be troubling to society, especially when considering how easy these changes seems to occur.

The Lucifer Effect was first coined by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 2004 in connection to his psychological experiment at Stanford University in 1971 which aimed to observe the behavior of students acting in the role of a guard or a prisoner in a prison environment. Unfortunately the two-week experiment was terminated after only six days due to the savage, even at times sadistic, behavior of the individuals role-playing as the guards against those role-playing as the prisoners in effort to maintain authority; these ‘guard’ individuals were previously screened to eliminate any obvious violent personality traits. Thus the question became whether the individuals that participated were changed by the experience or if these more malevolent traits were voluntarily suppressed and brought out by participation in the experiment. Basically did this guard/prisoner prison environment make these individuals 'bad apples' or were already 'bad apples' and just did not have opportunities to demonstrate such characteristics. The process of answering this question revolves around how one characterizes evil and whether or not each individual is capable of such action.

It is irrational to believe that a vast majority of the 'evil' actions in the world are being carried out by a small number of chiefly malevolent individuals (however the total weight of these ‘evil’ events may be attributable to a small number of individuals). Most of the 'good' and 'evil' actions in the world find origin in those that would be classified as neutral individuals, individuals that are routinely perform a similar number of good or evil actions. With such a small number of 'evil' individuals in the world, if there are any to begin with, it is difficult to statistically rationalize that all nine student guards in Dr. Zimbardo's study were 'evil', thus the former explanation appears more rational. However, that answer leads to another question. If these individuals are not 'bad apples' to start with, then what characteristics of the environment and/or of the individuals themselves allow for such a rapid conversion from moral and just person to cruel and savage oppressor?

It is difficult to reasonably conclude that any environment could establish a feeling or characteristic in an individual that is not already present in some quantity, basically create this characteristic from nothing. It is more reasonable to conclude that certain environments cultivate certain emotions and characteristics in an individual increasing the probability of certain actions. So what is it about certain environments that allow their influence to circumvent the moral center of the individuals? It stands to reason that society gives too much credit to the environment and makes too many excuses for individuals. Clearly if the environment does indeed augment certain behaviors, then the problem may be that the abusive and vicious behavior demonstrated in these specific environments underlie genuine personality traits within the individual in question. Why these traits are not expressed more often, something that would dissuade others from characterizing an individual as moral/good can be explained through two means, the previously mentioned enhancement of certain emotions/characteristics or the acquisition of resources that may not otherwise have been available to the individual.

Tackling the second rationalization first, what does it mean that a certain environment provide previously absent resources? Look at the Stanford prisoner example; perhaps the participants did not have previous opportunities where they would have a significant amount of power over other individuals without consequence. For the individuals that played guards, the experiment fostered an environment in which they were given significant power over another group of individuals and natural tendencies that were originally suppressed due to lack of power arose to the surface.

This reasoning is supported by the very fact that social standing or a class system exist; from a rational standpoint there appears little reason to designate individuals into different social class other than to characterize certain groups as better than other groups. Unfortunately the continued prevalence of social classes leads to the conclusion that some/many individuals need to look at themselves as 'better' than other individuals to validate their own existence. To support the class system as well as the prison system itself the student guards needed to continue to ensure that the student prisoners understood their role in the construct of this system, that the prisoners were less than the guards, less than human, a characteristic imbued into the student prisoners during the progression of the experiment. So part of the character change may be attributable to the social constructs that were already assumed by the participants before the experiment even began.

Despite the somewhat dark overtures regarding human nature, Nietzsche's "Will to Power" concept also finds some level of relevance in this discussion. The concept of "Will to Power" involves the drive of an individual to exert influence or control on some object as a means to express power, be it an inanimate object or another living thing. When such an opportunity occurs, the individual in control may attempt to exaggerate the administration of that control in effort to maintain it. Associate this concept with the rationality that one of the best ways to maintain power is to limit the ability and/or opportunity of the adversary to obtain power and subjugation as an exaggeration of this expression is understandable. Note that just because a specific behavior is understandable does not make that behavior correct or suitable. So in order to maintain this instinctively highly coveted sense of power, student guards ensured that the student prisoners would not have the resources or the opportunity to acquire enough of their own power to neutralize the power of the student guards.

Returning to the issue of the initial character of the individual before the change. One reason for establishing The Lucifer Effect was to explain how normally good law-abiding people could become so different in certain environments. It was previously discussed that inherent psychological factors such as Will to Power and the social structure could influence this change in behavior when exposed to the environment acting as some form of catalyst. However, the most important issue is the character of the individual because it is in extreme situations where the character of an individual is defined. The most common reference regarding the response of an individual in an extreme situation is that one genuinely gains insight into one's character when faced with adversity or under duress because it is in these situations when the hard decisions need to be made. Although this analysis is true, that the facades created by individuals have greater potential to fall under adversity versus generic situations, Abraham Lincoln described an even more pertinent scenario, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character give him power."

Overall the responsibility to behave and act in a rational and appropriate manner lies with the individual and society cannot nor should not make excuses for an individual's behavior based on the environment or circumstance. Instead the actions taken by an individual under certain situations are merely specific aspects of that individual's character, not excuses that need to be made because that is who the person. Some could attempt to make the argument that the real reason the student guards behaved as they did was not because of conscious abuse of power, but instead they were immature or inexperienced when dealing with power because of lack of experience. This explanation does have some level of merit, but it can only be considered valid to a certain depth of abuse as once a certain point is passed immaturity cannot no longer be a valid explanation. However, realistically immaturity is just another excuse and like the old saying “ignorance of the law is no defense”, neither is immaturity, at least for those past a certain age.

Mob Mentality, also referred to as herd behavior although mobs tend to be characterized by violent behavior and not all instances of herd behavior is violent, was first explored by Wilfred Trotter in 1914, but French social psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustav Le Bon were the first to seriously study it. The very existence of mob mentality is troubling because of its cause and its use as an excuse. Individuals under the influence of a mob mentality appear to abandon the very thing that separates human beings from other animals, the process of rational thought. Instead of using rational thought to address the situation, these individuals rely on pure negative emotion. Clearly an individual has the ability to keep emotions in check or there would be a lot more crime and violence in the world. What is it about the mob environment that leads to such a change in priority?

Typically one could argue that the mob environment is highly saturated with emotion that grows exponentially overcoming any checks that the mob participants may have utilized previously to quash such action. So that is it, for all our boastful arrogance with regards to our opinion mattering and our uniqueness, is it reality that when push comes to shove our individuality is so frail that it is easily swallowed up in a crowd awash with emotion? Are humans inherently so scared of being different that they instinctively become just another face-in-the-crowd when the situation demands it? Although this emotion argument seems reasonable, another possibility may exist.

Perhaps the belief that an individual could abandons rationality in a mob is premature; when one enters a mob, rationality may be a driving cause. Almost every person can attest to having at least one specific issue that he/she is fiercely passionate about and feels the need to address it in a specific way. Emotion is a powerful, but specifically focused aspect of our personality; very few people have a significant emotional connection to all issues. Due to this connection typically a person will not protest for the sake of protesting because that would be viewed as a waste of time, but instead focus on protesting or attempting to change issues important to that individual.

Unfortunately some of these issues, however unjust in the mind of a certain individual, will not change easily which causes a person to lash out emotionally. However, for some people this emotion is controlled by the fear of any potential consequences when acting out all alone. For this particular individual a mob is an ideal environment because he/she is then able to release this emotion in a somewhat violent manner, yet be partially, if not entirely, shielded from consequence by the size of the mob. Both the size and the beliefs of the other mob members gives this individual the rational and psychological support required to lash out because other people feel the same way and other people are available to absorb a potential consequence. In some respects these individuals are piggybacking on the mob, using it as a conduit to express their own opinion when other avenues are not as appealing.

If this analysis is correct, then who initiates the violent tendency of the mob? This rational action entity that uses the mob for cover cannot start the mob to begin with because the formation of the mob cannot be guaranteed, thus this individual could act alone and receive full brunt of the consequence, a result he/she is trying to avoid. Instead the above person would rather enter the mob after its formation. Looking at the construct of the mob itself, there are two other individual characterizations that could start the mob.

First, there is the individual that considers him/herself a martyr for the cause. This individual would have no trouble starting the mob if he/she believed that stagnation of change had advanced to the point where radical action was required to force attention on the particular championed issue. The martyr aspect of this person’s personality would have no trouble accepting the consequences that may arise from starting the mob action; heck the individual may welcome the consequences as a means to generate even more attention on the issue. Second, there is the individual that has very little emotional control. Although emotions themselves can be regarded as positive or negative, typically in a protest environment the emotion tilts heavily towards negative because of the lack of something that the individuals participating in the protest want. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that an individual with little emotional control could reach a state of frustration when they initiate violent action creating a mob.

So how does any of this really correlate to the existence of a mob mentality? Realistically it appears to mitigate the very existence of one. If it can be said that the chief participants in a mob can be characterized as a martyr, a short-fuse or a piggy-backer, then where is the mob mentality? Clearly the martyr understands the depth and consequences of his/her actions because of his/her sacrificial mindset. That mindset is not emotional, but rational as they act in a mob because they view it as the most direct way to initiate change because of the limitations that have been set on other avenues. It was previously discussed that for the piggy-backer the driving force behind their beliefs may be emotional, but the decision to participate in a mob is rational so far in that the choice is made to avoid direct consequence, in essence to have cake and eat it to. Finally it is difficult to argue that the short-fuse can be associated with a mob mentality because the lack of self-control is an inherent characteristic not one catalyzed by the mob itself.

Overall regardless of whether or not a mob increases the probability of action in an individual there must be a greater than zero probability that the particular individual would commit the action on his/her own. A mob cannot induce an individual to commit an action when there is no underlying desire to commit the action in the first place, just like exposure to a catalyst cannot start a chemical reaction lacking appropriate reactants. Therefore, if one were to believe in a mob mentality it would be defined as the ability of a mob to increase the probability of a certain action by an individual against the probability that the individual would otherwise commit the action. Using this definition there is no reasonable argument to using a mob mentality for the defense of any violent behavior that an individual engages in while a member of a mob. It is the responsibility of an individual to control his/her emotions if those emotions would result in violent or unlawful behavior. If this control is not maintained then it is the responsibility of society to generate the appropriate consequences for a lack of self-control. An individual should not be able to escape these consequences by hiding behind a mob or other emotionally charged circumstance. The very fact that someone with a straight face can claim to be absolved of responsibility for his/her actions because of a mob is rather pathetic.

The Nuremberg War Tribunals formally introduced a new defense for those embroiled in unlawful action or misappropriation, 'I was just following orders'. Although the track record for this defense at Nuremberg and in other situations does not exude confidence in its use, the fact that this defense even exists deserves questioning. Other than Nuremberg, the 'just following orders' concept is most known due to the work of Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. The Milgram experiment was designed to measure how willing an individual was to comply with the request of an authority figure or superior by committing an action that should conflict with their personal beliefs and morals in an attempt to better understand this defense including when it was offered by Adolf Eichmann (who was actually tried in Jerusalem).

Milgram described and summarized his experiment as followed: "[determining] how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation."

So what really is the explanation for such behavior? First, it must be acknowledged that the participants in the experiments at times did express reservations about continuing after certain points, but only 14 of the 40 participants actually stopped (original experiment) and none of them stopped until well into the experiment. Each concern by a participant was met with the supervisor expressing the importance of the work imploring the participant to continue and absolving the participant of responsibility for the consequences. Such a simple statement was enough for most participants to continue the experiment without further reservations. There appeared to be neither need nor request for additional information pertaining to the importance of the experiment or no suggestion to an alternative method.

The fact that many individuals were uncomfortable when completing the experiment is a moot point because the individuals completed the task despite these uncomfortable feelings. When one claims to have morality, yet not adhere to it, it is akin to not having morality at all. For most of the participants as long as the organization conducting the experiment/employing the individual was creditable the orders of the superior were followed.

One can try to explain the behavior of the participants as ignorant agents in the experiment. They are informed by a superior individual that they are to carry out a specific job and given the necessary details required for the job. However, the probability that the individuals are made aware of all of the relevant information is low, especially if the task itself or a product from task completion is used for an immoral or nefarious purpose. Without this additional information the participant has no inherent reason to believe the task is immoral.

In addition this lack of information can retard the moral judgment of the individual as when they have questions it may be difficult to extract the correct information to answer those questions. With that said it seems reasonable that an individual not engaging in what could be considered a morally irreprehensible act should not be implicated in the misdeeds and scandal of their superiors even if the individual's work allowed the action to occur. It is not the inherent responsibility of an individual to ensure that all action in the hierarchical structure that he/she is a part of is moral and legal, just the work of the individual, but the individual must be vigilant in understanding the circumstances of the work he/she is doing.

Asking questions about any moral, ethical or logical concerns regarding an individual’s work is the duty of the individual. There are only a few instances when the superior should have valid cause to refuse to answer a worker’s question when the question is reasonable. Two situations that come to mind are those when information is sensitive and in short supply and during a crisis. It is respectable and allowable for a government agency to deny certain pieces of information to its employees based on lack of security clearance because of concern over the sensitivity of the information. In such a case the question-asking individual can either step-down or continue work. In a crisis situation, time is typically essential and decisions need to be made and executed quickly leaving little time to assuage any moral concerns of those working to execute a given strategy. Instead it is suitable to defer to the assumed expertise and knowledge of those in superior positions to make the proper decisions to neutralize the current crisis and advert future crisis. However, in the Milgram experiment or during Nazi control of Germany neither scenario is relevant.

One could argue that it is wrong and insubordinate of the worker to question the motivations of the superior and that a good worker will just do his/her job, but this belief is naïve and inappropriate. One of the chief responsibilities of those in positions of superiority is to ensure that their workers have no ethical dilemmas when conducting their work. The work does not need to change in accordance to any moral concerns from a single worker, but any concerns must addressed. As mentioned above the Milgram experiment did not contain any classified information or was not a crisis situation, so why did so many people refuse to ask questions about the true nature of the experiment?

Why are people afraid of asking questions in general? One long held belief is that people are wary of being characterized as stupid because they ask a certain question. A well-known quote by Benjamin Franklin could exemplify this concern: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool and to open your mouth and remove all doubt." The problem with this mindset is that it seems to lump all questions into this 'fool' trap. The chief purpose of asking a question is to eliminate misconceptions and confusion for an individual and/or group. Even if other individuals privy to the questions believe certain questions were unnecessary because of previously distributed information, how can an individual willing to understand something better or address his/her concerns about the accuracy or righteousness of an issue be characterized as a fool? Everyone should focus on this learning characterization of a question asker whether the individual in particular is the one asking the question or simply present when another asks.

Intimidation may also provide a reason that people may be hesitant to ask questions. A subordinate may not have the necessary confidence to question the character or knowledge of a superior. This feeling needs to be discarded because one of two things occurs when asking a question. The question is successfully answered and the theory or action holds up to scrutiny and the questioner learns something or the question is not successfully answered and the theory or action now has an identified problem that needs to be addressed. Either way the outcome is positive as long as both individuals handle the question and answer session in a mature and respectful fashion, so any possible intimidation should be a moot point.

Another possible reason for the participants’ continuation in the experiment could be the lack of responsibility for consequences pertaining to the action. Typically the individual with the overall control of a given task is the individual that accepts the praise for success and the consequences for failure. It is reasonable to suggest that for a criminal if there is no certainty of consequences for violating the law, the criminal will always commit a criminal action if there is a benefit to be had.

The same thought process could be attributed to subordinates. If the supervisor of the project absolves the subordinates of responsibility then the subordinates are more likely not to question their actions because if they are wrong they will not have to bear the consequences. Oddly enough the possible removal of any tangible consequences by an outside party also may have a negative effect on the moral standing of the individual with regards to the action at least to the point where one's morals have trouble overcoming the lack of responsibility.

Moving beyond the Milgram experiment there could be situations where an individual understands the immorality and/or illegality of an action and still not act to rectify the situation. What stops this individual from acting in accordance to his/her morals? Unfortunately the reality of our society is there are very few protections for or programs that encourage whistle blowing (even with the periodic emphasis on correcting this reality), so individuals committing action against their morals only have two options, continue to work for a paycheck against their moral judgment or quit and hope to find another job.

Clearly neither is an attractive choice and unfortunately there is little tangible or even intangible benefit from a societal perspective to select the latter option. Therefore, it is essential that governments and companies provide support to individuals that report immoral and/or illegal behavior by their workers because in the end it is important to remove those workers that are unwilling to emulate the ideals of the corporation they work for or the country in which they reside. Of course such a statement has been made many times and more than likely will be made many more times and yet there still remains little shelter for the whistleblower.

In the end everything that occurs in an individual's existence is directly tied to the decisions made by that individual thus any individual of sound mind must bear the responsibility for the consequences, both positive and negative, of the events that occur in his/her life. Some may say it is unreasonable or even unfair to make such an assertion, but those individuals would be incorrect as all decisions are the products of the unique characteristics that comprise a given individual. Regardless of outside forces each decision will result in a set of probabilistic consequences that each individual must be willing to accept. Therefore, the party chiefly responsible for the consequences of each decision, of each action in one's life is the individual because it is that individual that has the final input in what decision is made. So in short, the environment and those in it simply 'open the door', whether or not to step through the door is still up to the individual regardless of whatever type of psychological condition apologists want to concoct to make excuses for such behavior.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cheerleading and Title IX

The modern perception of cheerleading has commonly existed in two role characterizations: the supportive eye-candy for male sports demanding an attractive form and enthusiasm and the athletic aerial gymnastics demanding coordination and cooperation. While the former role will more than likely always persist in society, many cheerleading proponents want the latter role to nurture a new respect for the required athleticism of cheerleaders. Further more proponents believe that a critical element to this role transition is recognition of competitive cheerleading as an official NCAA sport. Whether or not such a desire is appropriate demands analysis.

To begin proponents already have one strike against them in the form of the court case “Biediger v. Quinnipiac University”. In March 2009 the Quinnipiac University women’s volleyball team sued the university to prevent the termination of their program in favor of competitve cheerleading. The crux of the case revolved around whether or not the new cheerleading squad would qualify as a viable athletic opportunity under Title IX. In July 2010 U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled that the competitive cheerleading program proposed by Quinnipiac University was not a valid substitution for the volleyball program for Title IX compliance. Due to this ruling, the first and still only judicial precidence with regard to collegiate competitve cheerleading, termination of the volleyball program would have left Quinnipiac University below their Title IX requirements. Thus, Quinnipiac University currently maintains their volleyball program and have continued their competitive cheerleading as well.

Based on this ruling the first step proponents need to address is the reasoning used by Justice Underhill to come to the conclusion that competitive cheerleading did not meet the requirements to qualify as a sport under Title IX. The core statement of Title IX is:

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..."

Title IX extends to elements beyond athletics in a collegiate environment, but most legal challenges invoking Title IX involve athletics. Athletic compliance with Title IX typically involves meeting one of three elements (commonly referred to as prongs):

1. Prong one - Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment;
2. Prong two - Demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex;
3. Prong three - Full and effective accommodation of the interest and ability of underrepresented sex;

While any of the prongs can be used to meet Title IX compliance, prong one is almost exclusively used because of its quantitative nature over the more qualitative elements, which dominate the second and third prongs. This quantitative nature of prong one compliance could explain some of the attractiveness of competitive cheerleading to colleges because of the typical high participation to overhead cost ratios.

Before discussing the deficiencies cited by Justice Underhill, it is important to address an element to the argument that is not directly applicable to the core argument regarding Title IX compliance, but could be a diction distraction. Some individuals question whether or not competitive cheerleading can be regarded as a sport. Typically two arguments are used to classify whether or not a particular activity is a sport. First, does that particular activity invovle significant physical movement. Second, is the outcome of the activity dependent primarily on the merits of those participating [does not use outside officials (judges) to determine the outcome].

Competitive cheerleading can be classified as an athletic physical activity which uses judges to determine winners and losers; it passes the first element, but not the second. However, while some believe the subjectivity of judges eliminates the ability to classify an activity as a sport it is difficult to justify such thought when transparent and universal criteria is used for judgment. Think of it similar to gymnastics in that there are transparent assigned difficulty rankings to a participant’s program; if scoring by the judges were more transparent (rationalities for why certain points were subtracted) then it would be difficult to argue that such a system does not conform to the both points of contention. For example a ‘bad’ ruling by a judge in a valut jump could be viewed in the same light as a ‘bad’ foul call by an official in basketball.

With the issue of ‘sport or not a sport’ out of the way, why did Justice Underhill rule against competitive cheerleading as a Title IX valid athletic opportunity? The key issue is what is considered a ‘genuine’ opportunity to participate in a varsity sport. In addition to meeting one of the aforementioned three prongs there is also another element that must be met established by the Office of Civil Rights 2008 letter: the sport must be recognized by the NCAA as a ‘legitimate’ sport and participants in that particular sport must receive experiences similar in nature to those participating in other sports. At Quinnnipiac University or any university, competitive cheerleading does not meet either of these two elements. This lack of compliance is exactly what Justice Underhill used for his reasoning.

While the purpose of the squad was determined to be competitive over strictly entertainment and the team followed NCAA rules with regards to funding, coaching structure, medical clearance, training, access to facilities and support staff, all of these elements were essential to demonstrate similar varsity experience, the competition itself failed. Despite Quinnipiac University and others establishing the National Competitive Stunt and Tumbling Association (NCSTA) as a planned governing body (later renamed the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association (NCATA)) at that time the NCATA was still a hollow entity with no real inter-collegiate association and no system of governance, strategy or scheduling power with an ability to impose consequences for non-compliance.

This lack of organization and structure was on full display for the court during the Quinnipiac competitive cheerleading ‘season’ in 2009-2010 when the competition faced what amounted to 1 university competitive cheer squad (Maryland), ‘all-star’ teams from private gyms without university affiliation, entertainment-based (‘sideline’) teams and high-school teams. In addition to the myriad of different types of cheerleading squads that were opponents, various different scoring systems were used among all of the competitions. Clearly other varsity collegiate sports do not have their teams compete against high-school teams or non-university affiliated teams that would count officially towards their record using different rules per competition.

Based on interpretation of Title IX and the reasoning of Justice Underhill’s ruling supporters of competitive cheerleading should be encouraged because all that appears lacking is the number of universities competing and an official organizational structure. The chief problem between these two elements is the ‘go first’ mentality. While some universities, most notably the University of Maryland and University of Oregon, have attempted to make competitive cheerleading a sport, their action has not catalyzed significant followers in the collegiate community. To deal with this problem universities must coordinate their actions both on establishing competitive cheerleading programs and developing the proper scheduling and rule structure which will govern the activity. The NCATA is expanding in this regard, but there are some reservations about its sanctioning deferment to USA Gymnastics as somewhat of a ‘cop-out’.

Unfortunately for competitive cheerleading proponents, neither one of the above two issues cited by Justice Underhill is the major problem. Recall that Quinnipiac University established competitive cheerleading as a replacement for women’s volleyball, not as a supplement for female sports in the university. Once again the issue comes down to money. Any realistic scheduling structure for an official ‘season’ of cheerleading will demand the inclusion of public universities. However, with state-based monetary support for public universities closer to a floor than the average it is likely that universities will have to act similar to Quinnipiac University, competitive cheerleading will have to replace another female sport. The probability that a large number of universities will be willing to undertake such an action, which more than likely will lead to more lawsuits, does not bode well for competitive cheerleading in the near future. For example the NCATA recently had their first ‘National Championship’ (again not one sanctioned by the NCAA) with six participating universities: Maryland, Oregon, Quinnipiac, Baylor, Fairmont State and Azusa Pacific. Clearly six teams does not a conference make let alone an entire sport.

That said, interestingly enough proponents of competitive cheerleading may have an unusual ally. Recall that this blog has demonstrated the futility of arguing that collegiate football and male basketball players should receive additional funds apart from their scholarships. One of the major obstacles for paying college players is the equal funding protection offered under Title IX. Could Title IX limitations be eliminated if this additional pay for male college athletes in high revenue grossing sports was offset by the establishment of another female sport, perhaps competitive cheerleading? Note that based on current funding concerns it is more than likely that the funds for both player salaries and competitive cheerleading would have to come from outside sources (boosters). It is certainly an issue that warrants further investigation, especially the issue that under Title IX only the same dollars need to be spent within athletic scholarships.

However, it must be mentioned that other significant obstacles remain to paying college players including the insistence by the NCAA that their players are amateurs and should not be paid like professionals. Overall as it currently stands unless a large number of universities in most of the major collegiate athletic conferences are willing to terminate existing women sports that are already officially recognized as sports by the NCAA in favor of competitive cheerleading, it does not look promising that competitive cheerleading will become an officially recognized NCAA sport in the near-future.