Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why is there no substantive NWS training?

I've been an advocate for serious training of its forecasters by the National Weather Service (NWS) for what amounts to my entire career ... with essentially zero progress.  I watched a TV program about military training for snipers recently and was astonished at their methods ... the trainers are all experienced snipers themselves, new tactics are constantly being incorporated in response to changing conditions in real-world battle conditions, the trainers go back in the field after time spent in the sniper training program.  This TV program reminded me of the pitiful state of training in the NWS, and reveals a training process for military snipers that reflects many aspects of a proposal of mine I posted some years ago.  Please read my proposal before continuing ...

I've been told that my proposal is impractical and unaffordable - that is, I'm unrealistic.  Let me ask in response: how realistic is it to offer no meaningful forecaster training to new employees?  How realistic is it to have no continuing education and training program for weather forecasters?  How realistic is it to have no certification process by which forecasters demonstrate their competence periodically in order to continue doing their jobs?  How realistic is it to pour hundreds of millions into new forecasting technology and next to nothing into the people who use that technology?  How realistic is it to assume that four years of undergraduate meteorology provides all you'll ever need to know to do the most challenging job in all of meteorology? From where I sit, it's not I who is being unrealistic!

The human component of the NWS is the single largest budget item for the agency.  The science and technology behind automated, "objective" weather forecasting has been underwritten by hundreds of millions for decades and is ongoing today.  Yet, to this day, the NWS invests only marginally in training and so, for example, we have no idea what it takes to be a good weather forecaster, because that involves learning about people, not about differential equations and computer code.  We meteorologists learn math and physics in school - that's education.  We can argue about how good our meteorology education is, but I know for a fact that at the end of a four year undergraduate program, new graduates still don't know very much about the atmosphere and how it really works.  For myself, it was well into my doctoral studies before I began to obtain a dim understanding of processes in the atmosphere.  Nearly forty years later, I'm still learning, of course!

Training is about how to take the principles you learned via education and apply those principles to a specific job.  In our case, for the most part universities don't train their students how to forecast.
Although a few university professors might do a decent job of instilling the principles of atmospheric science (i.e., educating them), most of them don't do a decent job.  And when their graduates go to work as weather forecasters, how do they learn how to forecast?  See here, as well.  For the most part, it's up to them to learn it on their own.  A few lucky ones might be given the chance to learn from a competent mentor.

What training that the NWS provides is dominated today by "distance learning" - self-study modules on specific topics.  There's precious little face-to-face training of the sort described in my proposal.  Many of the people creating these training modules are good folks, doing the best they can, but it's like bailing out the Pacific with a thimble.  The few in-residence courses are pretty decent, but far too little and too infrequent to be of much enduring value.

It's unconscionable that a bloated NWS bureaucracy continues their incompetent management, even as they shortchange training programs for their forecasters.  NWS management is under investigation currently (spring 2012) from Congress for misappropriating funds ... and it's coming to light how they've allowed their agency to become seriously underfunded over the past several decades.  I wouldn't mind seeing a clean sweep of NWS managers, and a major reduction in the bureaucracy (including NWS Headquarters and elimination of the regional bureaucracies altogether).  There's a lot of fat in the NWS budget, mostly comprising fatheads trying unsuccessfully to manage the system!

Maybe some of the money saved by a drastic reduction of the NWS bureaucracy could be used to develop a meaningful training process in the NWS for the first time in its history.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Communist atrocities

Often, religious believer apologists take umbrage at the point that many atheists make about the long, bloody history of religions.  They particularly like to bring up the point that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and other Communists were atheists, and they're at the top of the list of history's mass murderers.  Hitler was raised a catholic and Nazi propaganda shows a continuing thread of christian bias  throughout his Third Reich's rule - the case for him being an atheist is at least arguable and seems pretty thin to me.  His virulent hatred of jews was shared by many christians under his rule, unfortunately.  Communist tyrants, on the other hand, vigorously replaced whatever religious upbringing their people once may have supported with orthodox Communist ideology.  Communists brook no rivals for dominance!  In fact, a while back, I posted a blog about the parallels between religion and despots of all flavors.

The atrocities committed by Communist regimes were not committed in the name of atheism, however.  Atheism simply was dragged along for the ride.  The nominal justification for these atrocities was always in the name of social "justice" via Communism:  "We were justified in these extreme measures because of the necessity to ensure the eventual triumph of the  'dictatorship of the proletariat.' "  Of course, it was precisely the working classes that were the victims of these horrific deeds, but this essay is not the place to go into details regarding the various Communist tyrannies.

Although the nominal excuse was Communist ideology, the real reason for brutal repression of their own people was that these outlaw regimes were mainly interested in the utter destruction of any opposition to the Communist tyrants.  The ideological slogans and rationalizations served to mask the reality that this was all about total power over the people.  Communist regimes have been linked to atheism, unfortunately, so atheists constantly have to explain how nominal atheists could be responsible for such evil deeds.

Human existence is plagued with vast numbers of instances of abuse of power.  It seems an inescapable penalty we pay for our human societies.  Power always corrupts.  Political ideology occasionally has superceded religion as the main excuse for abuse of power by totalitarian regimes, but it seems that religion and politics often make ready bedfellows - for instance, the catholic church did little or nothing to oppose Nazi war crimes, which seems to imply that they had struck some sort of deal with the Nazis.  They even aided in the escape of some of those war criminals from Germany at the end of WWII!

The orthodox church in Russia could make no such deal with the Bolsheviks (Communists) and suffered intense repression as a result.  This is an exception to the rule - and the orthodox church had no problem looking the other way regarding the brutality of the tsars.  Both politics and religion are about dominance over and control of people's lives, so they can have a mutual understanding.  The words politicians and religious leaders use when they attain dominance are quite similar, their actions are also similar, and the results are unsurprisingly similar.  We are today in the midst of a religious war pitting islam against judaism and christianity.  The rhetoric of all sides is disturbingly similar, the "sacred texts" of all sides are essentially calling for the same thing:  convert or die, and some of their adherents are willing to kill (and die) for the faith!

The argument that atheism must share equally with religion the burden of guilt for crimes against humanity is fallacious.  Apart from the Communist regimes, atheists generally have been minorities throughout world history.  Atheists under the "banner" of atheism have never been in control of a nation!  Some atheists have been in positions of power but often had to stay "in the closet" to attain those positions.  In Communist regimes, everyone was forced into atheism, whether or not they actually were atheists!

I know of no atrocities committed on a large scale in the name of the non-religion of atheism.  No doubt some percentage of rapists, murderers, pedophiles, and psychopaths are atheists - probably a percentage that's below their percentage within the local populations, but non-zero nevertheless.  That Communist atheists have done their share of senseless slaughter can only be extrapolated to atheists in general by means of the specious assertion that the Communists did these things to advance the cause of atheism.  This is an example of the the logical fallacy of a false eqivalence - Communist atrocities against their own people are not the equivalent of the atrocities done in the name of religion.  And even if they were, the transgressions of some atheists don't justify the evils perpetrated in the name of religion.

Consider the religious jihads and crusades in our history (and still going on at present).  It's quite evident that the spread of those religions at the point of a sword/gun is precisely what they've been (and still are) all about!  The slaughter, the torture, the terror, the enslavement is all designed to make unbelievers into "believers" (or corpses).  No organized activity of atheists, as atheists, has ever engaged in such abominable acts.  I challenge anyone to provide any example that doesn't exploit the connection between Communist ideology and atheism!