Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Impact-Based Warnings" - An Ill-Advised and Ill-Conceived Experiment

In 2013, the Central Region of the National Weather Service (NWS) will be conducting an "experiment" on the users of weather information within their region.  This is called "Impact-Based Warnings" (IBW) and evidently is based on the findings of a "Service Assessment" associated with the 2011 tornado that hit Joplin, MO.  There were some social scientists associated with that assessment, and the document states:

     Finding #8: After the significance of this event was apparent, Tornado Warnings and Severe Weather Statements lacked enhanced wording to accurately portray that immediate action was necessary to save lives with this tornado. 

     Recommendation #8: WFO warning forecasters should use wording that conveys a sense of urgency in warnings and statements when extremely dangerous and life threatening weather situations are in progress.

This recommendation is based on a very limited study of a sample of precisely one case (that of the Joplin, MO tornado).  This is pretty minimal evidence on which to base changes to the warning system.  I don't accept this recommendation as sufficient justification to tinkering with the wording in weather warnings.  A primary rule when considering changes to a system that has saved tens of thousands of lives over its history:  first, do no harm!  There's no solid foundation of peer-reviewed science to support changes to the warning system.  This is not to say that the existing system is perfect.  Far from it, but the IBW experiement is not the way to identify and address the problems within the existing system.

Check out the IBW site to find the following statements regarding the "experiment" (using public warnings):

Project Goals
  • Provide additional valuable infromation to media and Emergency Management officials
  • Facilitate improved public response and decision making
  • Better meet societal needs in the most life-threatening weather events
On what basis can we say that the "information" provided by the changed wording in the warnings is indeed valuable to the media and emergency managers?  Has a broad cross-section of media people and emergency managers been surveyed to ascertain what they consider to be valuable?  Can it be shown that their opinions regarding what is valuable are consistent with how well they generate proper responses in real situations?  How do we decide on what is a proper response?  There is no "one size fits all" response, to the best of my knowledge.  If we can't say precisely what it is we are trying to do with our warnings, how can we possibly know how to alter them?

Do we have any evidence that the proposed changes will improve public responses?  How will 'public responses' be measured in order to ensure that any improvement in responses has, in fact, been a result of these changes?  And if we don't know precisely what are proper responses, will any changed responses necessarily be an improvement?

Just what are these 'societal needs' and how were they chosen?  Again, how will the meeting of these unspecified needs be measured?

Intended Outcomes
  • Optimize the convective warning system within the existing structure
  • Motivate proper response to warnings by distinguishing situational urgency
  • Realign the warning message in terms of societal impacts
  • Communicate recommended actions & precautions more precisely
  • Evaluate ability to distinguish between low impact and high impact events  
Optimize in what sense?  Optimization is a very nebulous term, so with respect to what measurable quantity or quantities will the optimization be done?  Is an absolute optimum being sought or is it satisfactory just to show improvement?  How will improvements to the warning system be measured?

Again, what is a proper response?  And how will it be demonstrated the the proposed changes will accomplish motivating a proper response?

I thought the NWS was a weather forecasting agency, not an impact forecasting agency.  In what way have forecasters been educated and trained to forecast impacts?  Knowing impacts in advance is pretty difficult to achieve.

The topic of 'call to action statements' can be debated - even assuming this is a good thing to do, how will it be shown to be more "precise" communication?  What is meant by "precision" of communication?

So there is no study that has actually shown the ability of weather forecasters to discriminate between high and low impact events?  It seems pretty evident that until such a study has demonstrated that ability in a convincing way, this experiment is pretty ill-advised.  Using the public as experimental subjects is not a good idea!

Enhance warning through
  • Improve communication of critical information
  • Make it easier to quickly identify the most valuable information
  • Enable prioritization of key warnings in your area of interest
  • Indicate different levels of risk within the same product
  • Enable the National Weather Service to express a confidence level of potential impacts
Has it been shown in a broad-based, peer-reviewed study that the proposed changes will in fact "improve" communication of critical information?  Again, how will the improvement in communication be measured.

Has it been shown in a broad-based, perr-reviewed study that the proposed changes will improve the identification of critical information.  Again, how will the improvement be measured.  How is the value of information to be determined?

Has it been shown in careful studies that it is possible to identify diferent levels of risk?

This is an ill-advised experiment at this time.  Much more needs to be done before we start messing with the existing warning system that goes out to the public.  It is also ill-conceived:  this is not even remotely a reasonable design for a proper experiment.  The IBW 'experiment'  is little more than a thinly-disguised effort to do something just for the sake of being able to say, "See, we're doing something!"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Am America's Son

Just watched a program about Arlington National Cemetery ... where America's military heroes are buried.  I make no claim to be a hero and have no wish to have a place in Arlington, although I could.  Too many real heroes are buried there for me to make such a request.

But here's the situation ... unlike many of my contemporaries, I've literally put my life and well-being on the line for my country.  I've been in a war zone, where one's security is defined by the compound perimeter guard.  No, I've never fired a shot at another human being in support of my country's mandate.  No, I've never been shot at as an individual target.  I know many who have experienced this sort of thing, including my son.  I can't begin to fill the shoes of those who have truly fought and died to fulfill their duty to our nation.  They are truly heroes and mere words can't begin to compensate for their heroism.  I definitely don't deserve to be mentioned in the same league.  They're people I honor and respect.  For those who have not risked what they have, I can only say:  Shut the fuck up!

Those who advocate participation in foreign wars without being willing to participate as warfighters have no justification for their bellicose support for intervention.  They're the proverbial "chicken hawks" - those who support military interventions without being willing to enlist as soldiers in that campaign.  They aren't patriots - they're cowards!  I have nothing but contempt for chicken hawks.  They're the scum of our society - more than willing to risk the lives and well-being of our warfighters without volunteering to put their own lives at risk.  It's easy to be in favor of interventions when it's not your ass on the line!  Or the lives of your sons and daughters!  There's a long, sordid history of those who have used political influence to avoid putting the lives of family members at risk in foreign wars.  When compared to those who have voluntarily chosen to serve, this relegates those chicken hawks to a well-deserved pit of shame!  Chicken hawks are the ultimate hypocrites - eager to sacrifice the lives of our warfighters without putting themselves at risk.  They deserve nothing other than our contempt!

On a regular basis, we ask our sons and daughters to risk everything on the orders of our civilian political leadership.  I went to Vietnam to fulfill political goals I didn't support.  How many of my conservative friends in favor of military interventions have done the same?  Not very many.  Despite their excuses, they haven't put their lives on the line.  How can I respect them?  The simple answer ... I can't. My father, my son, and I have all served in foreign wars at the "request" of our nation - how many of you can say the same?  I don't necessarily honor the wars in which we fought, but I honor the sacrifices made by those who stepped up to their nation's call, even when they disagreed with the war.  Our nation is forever in their debt ... a debt that simply can't be repaid!

I am a son of America.  I've proven that by responding to my nation's call even when I didn't think the political cause was justifiable.  Looking back, I did what was asked of me when my country called.  There are many now who claim to be patriots, but who've never served in the military.  Their putative allegiance to their nation isn't measured by their words, or by the icons they might wear on their lapels, or by their empty words of patriotism - it's measured by their non-commitment to serve their nation.  They're not sons of America - they're cowards who mask their venality with pseude-patriotic words.  Empty words.

Toilet Seat Wars

As far back as I can remember, it seems that a war has been going on regarding the toilet seat.  Since I consider this to be mostly a war about nothing, I figured I would take a chance and see what happens.  Probably a firestorm.

A toilet seat has two parts, both of which can be raised to reveal the naked, cold porcelain toilet.  One part of the seat lowers to allow a sitting surface (mostly either wood or plastic) upon which one can place one's naked bum without the unpleasant contact with cold porcelain.  That sitting surface surrounds a hole in that portion of the seat thereby allowing one's effluent to pass into the bowl for eventual disposal.

The other part of the seat lowers to cover the hole in the sitting surface (also either wood or plastic to match the sitting surface), thereby removing from sight the evidently vile image of the toilet bowl itself.  If there happen to be "skidmarks" left by an earlier user of the toilet that s/he impolitely chose not to remove after use, the lid prevents anyone from seeing them - until the next user comes along needing what the toilet has to offer.  The same applies to any unflushed remains of the previous user's activities upon the seat.  Most people find these experiences to be unpleasant, usually engendering some muttered curses about the slovenly actions of the previous occupant of the toilet.

As is well-known, women allow the contents behind either the urinary or anal sphincter to pass while they are sitting on the comfortable sitting surface (with the lid raised, of course).  Men generally urinate into the toilet while standing and so will lift the sitting surface in order to eliminate the possibility of leaving drops of urine on the sitting surface.  This act of raising the sitting surface is not completely necessary for any man who has no concern for the person sitting on that surface next time - to lift the lid is an act of courtesy (highly recommended) for anyone who might not want to sit on droplets of piss (either wet, or dry if enough time has passed).

The war is kindled when a woman is anxious to reach the toilet before she soils herself, and so may not have checked to see if the sitting surface is up or down before commencing to squat in preparation for relieving herself.  For that matter, she won't know if the lid is up or down, either.  In any case, when her bare butt makes contact with cold porcelain, torrents of foul words spew from her mouth in the process of an immediate reverse squat from the toilet.

For a woman living alone, the sitting surface might as well be bolted down.  That way, there's no possibility of her warm cheeks coming in contact with chilly porcelain.  Of course, that would run the risk of having  male visitors who need to use her toilet leaving pee drops on the sitting surface.  Hence, it might be ill-advised to take the drastic step of making the sitting surface stay permanently in the lowered position.

It turns out, of course, that virtually every man has had a similar experience of being in a hurry to sit down (recall, we males also use the down position for defecation).  Thus, every man should have some sense of empathy for the plight of our sisters, wives, female lovers, mothers, aunts, etc.  But since we use the toilet that way only about once per day, whereas we usr it with the sitting surface raised several times per day, it's inevitable that we will occasionally leave the sitting surface up after relieving ourselves.  Some men may forget to lower the sitting surface most of the time - others only part of the time - and a few may concede entirely to the woman's viewpoint and convert himself to peeing in the sitting posistion.  The radical step of squatting to piss obviously is limited to a tiny minority of men - mostly pussy-whipped weaklings hardly deserving of the male gender!

A woman living with a real man simply has to recognize that living together entails some compromises and adjustments.  Women sharing the same facilities with a man will have to overcome any habits they may have developed while living alone.  Being far-from-perfect creatures, the sitting surface on the toilet will be left up by most men from time to time.   Hence, the logical tactic for their female room/housemates to use is a simple one:  Look before you squat!  This actually applies to both men and women - making assumptions about the position of the sitting surface (and the lid) makes an "ass our of u and me"!