Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
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Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

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Other interesting web sites:
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Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
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Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Plastic Rings Fight Global Warming!

According to a recent study, sharks can fight global warming:

One of the sea turtles’ main food sources is seagrass, which store vast reservoirs of carbon within sediments. With more sea turtles consuming more seagrass, the carbon is unlocked and can be released into the earth’s atmosphere, thereby accelerating climate change.


“In the case of sharks and turtles, sharks eat turtles, which in turn eat seagrasses. But when sharks disappear, the turtles have a tendency to run wild and the seagrass ecosystems cannot sustain the turtle populations.

“The turtles overgraze, and, as a consequence, we’re seeing large reductions in seagrass carbon stocks.”

On the other hand, you don't need sharks to get rid of sea turtles, plastic rings can also do that:

Plastic marine debris affects sea turtles in numerous ways. Turtles caught in lost or abandoned plastic fishing gear may be injured or drowned. Those that mistake floating debris for food are at risk from intestinal compaction or tearing, digestive suppression, and exposure to chemical toxicants adsorbed by (accumulated on the surface of) the plastics. Leatherbacks, for example, are believed to mistakenly eat floating plastic bags instead of jellyfish, a primary food. Miscellaneous debris, such as plastic rings, can cut, maim or amputate limbs and cause severe and sometimes lethal infections. At least 100,000 marine animals are estimated to die as a result of plastic marine debris each year, a number that may increase dramatically with better estimates of mortality from marine debris affecting difficult-to-observe neonate sea turtles.

Drink a six-pack (in my case a six-pack of Diet Coke). You're doing it for Mother Earth.

Friday, October 02, 2015

This Is an OUTRAGE!

The Wall Street Journal's article on Ikea's test apartment is not illustrated with a photo of the apartment but a photo of a generic Ikea store. By the standards of the critics of the Planned parenthood videos, this clearly means that the article is fraudulent and the apartment does not exist!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Avoiding Conflict of Interest

The House of Representatives recently tried passing a bill about the composition of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA Administrator that states:

Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work.
Some people have a problem with that. It might keep scientists from testifying about cutting-edge research. On the other hand, cutting-edge research tends to be unreliable. It takes a while for research to be properly checked.

This bill may help limit one of the most dangerous types of conflict of interest in scientific advice: scientists in love with their theories. It might even help limit the conflict of interest first noted in Genesis 41:33:

Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Everything Which Is Not Forbidden Is Compulsory

According to left-wing collectivists, we must take care of the refugees. According to right-wing collectivists, we must take stop anybody in our society from taking care of the refugees. (If you hire an illegal alien, you can be penalized.) Both sides agree that everything which is not forbidden is compulsory.

Maybe we should let people make their own decisions.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Refugee “Crisis” and Chesterton's Fence

A few decades from now, any laws passed in response to the Refugee “Crisis” will look like Chesterton's Fence. Maybe some fences really are pointless.

On the other hand, it's also worth checking to see if there were any identifiable protests like this post before removing them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Is the Refugee Crisis Proof That the Nativists Are Right?

The wrong side of the Right has been treating the refugee crisis as conclusive evidence that BORDERS MUST BE CLOSED! I don't see it. The refugee situation is not ideal but it must be an improvement over staying home, otherwise they would not have come.

As for the worry about this as an invasion force, it's worth pointing out that the total number of refugees is less than 1% of the population of Europe. In the early 20th century the US absorbed over 1% of its population per year and we survived.

The usual nativist excuse for ignoring the early 20th-century precedent is that today's immigrants are different. On the other hand, we've heard that excuse before. It was used to close the gates in the 1920s. The nativists will not only have to explain that the immigrants are different, they will have to explain why they are differenter than last time.

To make matters worse, this crisis will be cited in the future as though it's evidence nativist theories cannot be challenged.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Explaining That RICO Lawsuit

As you may have heard, there's a petition for the Federal government to start a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit against the alleged backers of alleged “climate deniers.” This may seem counterproductive, but the people in favor of the lawsuit assume that the “climate deniers” are obeying their corporate masters and if the Forces of Light can shut down those corporate masters, the “climate denier” movement will vanish.

In case you were wondering, right-wing intellectuals are not always obedient. I won't more than mention that the wider conservative movement is not a matter of following leaders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Clocks Don't Alarm People

People alarm people.

My guess as to what happened: Ahmed built the homemade clock, took it to school, and showed it to his engineering teacher. After receiving some encouraging words, he went to his next class and said “Look at what I made!” The teacher there heard that as a threat.

As for Ahmed's reticence, I understand that is the appropriate response to police interrogation nowadays. Maybe his parents are Martha Stewart fans and he heard of what happened to her.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Answering a Scott Adams Question

Scott Adams asks (as summarized by Randall Parker):
If the vast majority of smart people can't beat the stock market indexes why do they think they can do better at knowing who to elect as President?
The vast majority of smart people can't beat the stock market indexes because the vast majority of smart people can't beat the vast majority of smart people.

You can't jump over your shadow.

The vast majority of people can't make a better decision about selecting a President than the voters because the vast majority of people can't beat the vast majority of people.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

You Won't Find These Ideas in a College Library!

Scott Alexander's discussion of Chomsky's discussion of media bias reminded of the time I read “You won't find these ideas in a college library!” in a college library.

I'm even reminded of the leftists who claimed that chain bookstores were keeping Chomsky's books off the shelves.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Trump Supporters and Communists

The blog comments by Trump supporters (you find a sample here) remind of the following story:

A Conservative Party candidate for public office in NYC was accused of being a fascist by a demonstrator. He replied “You have no more right to say I'm a fascist than I have the right to say you're a Communist.” The demonstrator then said “But I am a Communist!”
If I recall correctly, that was in National Review but I can't find it online.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The “No Bad Stuff” Clause

Statists frequently sound as though the Constitution had a “No Bad Stuff” clause. (Typical example here.) I don't know how to break it to them but the Constitution doesn't actually have a “No Bad Stuff” clause. On the other hand, the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a “No Bad Stuff” clause in Article 29:

These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Idealist translation: All good stuff! No bad stuff!
Realist translation: The preceding 28 articles guarantee hot air. Anything they promise can be set aside if someone influential decides they're inconvenient.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Temptation of the Elves

My fellow obsessive Tolkien fans may recall Tolkien's speculation that, just as Men seek relief from death, Elves might seek relief from deathlessness. That seems a bit odd, but I think he meant that Elves might seek relief from change. You may recall that the Three Rings were intended to preserve things unchanged.

One effect of longer life spans is that most of us will see far more change in our lives than in earlier societies and we're not used to it. Anyone my age (or even a bit younger) will have the impression that “they're changing the rules every few decades.” This can be upsetting and it's understandable that many people will try slowing it down. Just when you think you know how the world works, you find that you can't get a good job any more right out of high school … or that your favorite restaurants and stores are closing … or that you have to learn how to decipher a new set of accents or ….

This may explain the efforts made to keep newcomers out of countries or neighborhoods. Please note that if you try using the One State, it's like using the One Ring. It's nature is evil and it consumes those who would wield it. For example, if you try keeping people out of your “backyard” by growth controls, you produce a zero-sum game and any newcomer will push out those stores that you want to keep.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Schrödinger's Immigrants

A new paradox has been discovered recently:

UKIP have updated Schrödinger's famous thought experiment by insisting that immigrants exist in a state of both lazing around on benefits whilst simultaneously being out there stealing British jobs.
There's another variant on the paradox: that immigrants will outbreed the natives and that they are overwhelmingly military-age males. Apparently, the refugees are mostly transsexuals.

Friday, September 04, 2015

A Plea to Political Activists

If you criticize your political opponents for defending X but not Y even though X and Y are equivalent, please do not defend Y but not X.

I was inspired by the comments here and there.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Bakers vs. Bureaucrats

The latest battle in the gay marriage war is over whether a a county clerk must issue gay marriage licenses. Such a requirement makes far more sense than requiring bakers to bake cakes for gay weddings. Engaging in business is a God-given right. Being a bureaucrat isn't. If the job violates your beliefs, you should resign in protest.

One possible effect of the controversy: An opponent of capital punishment might try to become an executioner and then refuse to serve.

A question that must be asked: What if this is a deliberate attempt by a Democrat to get a test case that can be spun as a precedent for denying the rights of bakers or pharmacists?

On the other hand, if the gay-marriage movement is for the purpose of discrediting traditional religious believers, then that would mean it is a violation of the First Amendment. This claim is not completely absurd. On the gripping hand, it's unlikely the Supreme Court will rule that it did that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Suggestion for Nativists, Part II

Immigration is the Global Warming of the Right.

We see the same pattern of asserting the existence of large amounts of damage while giving minimal thought to measuring either the social cost of carbon or the social cost of immigration.

I'll give a specific example of that minimal thought: Donald Trump has recently criticized the IRS for sending $4 billion in income tax refunds per year to illegal aliens. On the other hand, illegal aliens pay $11.8 billion per year in income taxes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Few Questions for New-Age People Who Imagine They're Scientific

  • What do you mean by “linear”?
  • What do you mean by “vibrations”? Can you measure the frequency in kilohertz?
  • What do you mean by “energy”? Can you measure the energy in kilowatt-hours?
  • Since energy and matter are the same thing, can we measure your type of energy in kilograms?
  • If you're post-modern, post which modern? As far as I can tell, modernism has gone through several phases: the modernism of Descartes, the modernism of Jefferson, the modernism of Marx, the modernism of Taylor, the modernism of Toffler, …
  • Did the chicken really cross the road? Or is that what THEY want you to think?
  • What's your opinion of dihydrogen monoxide? Should it be banned?
  • If you experimented with drugs, where was the control group?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

“Hide the Decline” from Someone I Agree With

Bryan Caplan expressed approval of hiding information that might interfere with a libertarian narrative:

I've long scorned mainstream media for their relentless, misleading negativity.  Now the NYT publishes a gloriously positive story - and I wish it hadn't.
Hide the decline?


Now any fact I might cite while arguing with a nativist will not only be taken as propaganda (they were doing that anyway) but will also look like propaganda to formerly-neutral third parties.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Category 5 Hurricane in a Teapot

The latest news from what passes for organized science-fiction fandom is that two groups of SF fans, the “Sad Puppies” and the “Rabid Puppies,” tried to seize/regain control of the Hugo Awards. According to the Puppies, the Hugos have come under control of a clique using block voting. (There are additional accusations that the clique consists of politically-correct people, which would be more believable if I hadn't also read accusations that George Will or Victor Davis Hanson are PC people.) In reaction to that, the two groups of Puppies encouraged their friends to join WorldCon and vote for their type of SF, followed by the Puppy brand of fiction getting more of the nominations. The earlier clique didn't take that lying down and encouraged their friends to join and vote for “No Award.” The “No Award” votes won in many categories.

In other words, we now have a group of people who appear to be left leaning who have endorsed the ethic of “Freedom, I Won't!” (Required reading: “And then there were none” by Eric Frank Russell.) We can use that as a precedent to defend the rights of pharmacists or bakers to refuse to fill prescriptions or bake cakes.

Being able to vote for “No Award” might also come in handy if the Presidential election comes down to Trump vs. Sanders.

Another speculation: What if some zillionaire (David Koch, Elon Musk, Donald Trump, or George Soros) bought up and distributed a bleepload of WorldCon memberships?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Distributed Denial of Sanity

In Blindsight by Peter Watts, extraterrestrials intercept transmissions from Earth, are unable to figure out what they mean, and come to the conclusion the transmissions are a deliberate attempt to waste their time:

There are no meaningful translations for these terms. They are needlessly recursive. They contain no usable intelligence, yet they are structured intelligently; there is no chance they could have arisen by chance.

The only explanation is that something has coded nonsense in a way that poses as a useful message; only after wasting time and effort does the deception becomes apparent. The signal functions to consume the resources of a recipient for zero payoff and reduced fitness. The signal is a virus.

Viruses do not arise from kin, symbionts, or other allies.

The signal is an attack.

And it's coming from right about there.

I was somehow reminded of this by the way Donald Trump debates have taken over large parts of the dextrosphere. Is the Trump run an attempt to keep conservatives occupied? Is it a distributed denial of sanity?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordy People with a Large Vocabulary Are Telling the Truth!

According to recent research on how to get terrorists to talk (seen via BuzzFeed (seen via GeekPress)):

We hypothesized that deceptive participants would speak less and use fewer unique words than would truthful participants when interviewed about their activities.
They were able to confirm their hypothesis using a WEIRD sample of 64 people. You can be sure they were telling the truth because they used very many long words to explain it. (That's why I used the hypothetical statement above; it was much shorter than the later summaries.)

Cross posted to Small Sample Watch.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Few General Principles for Discussing Immigration

  1. There is no such thing as “unfair competition” in a capitalist system.
  2. Earlier immigration waves to the US didn't turn “here” into “there.” Why would it do so this time?
  3. If you find yourself saying “This time it's different.” you may be speaking nonsense.
  4. When X is outlawed, only outlaws will have X.
  5. Please don't say anything that sounds like “If you really believed in free speech, you'd let someone yell at you all night long while you try to sleep.”
  6. If an illegal alien starts his American residence by breaking the law, does that mean he has two felonies to go?
  7. Please recall there is a difference between the power of the lash and the power of the dollar.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Watson Personality Test Results

The Watson AI program is now being applied to deriving personality predictions from writing samples. I tries inputting a sample of text from this blog and got the following results:

You are shrewd and skeptical.

You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them.

Your choices are driven by a desire for prestige.

You are relatively unconcerned with taking pleasure in life: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person.

Choices driven by a desire for prestige?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Suggestion on “How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Donald?”

Appoint Donald Trump ambassador to the UN.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Lewis Carroll on Politics

Much of Lewis Carroll's mathematical analysis of politics can be applied today.

On Donald Trump: Obtuse Anger is that which is greater than Right Anger.

On Occupy Wall Street: A Surd is a radical whose meaning cannot be exactly ascertained. This class comprises a very large number of particles.

On political debates in general:

  1. Let it be granted, that a speaker may digress from any one point to any other point.
  2. That a finite argument, (i.e. one finished and disposed of,) may be produced to any extent in subsequent debates.
  3. That a controversy may be raised about any question, and at any distance from that question.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

A Note on Retirement Ages

I recently attended the MOVES conference, in the course of which I heard a lecture by Richard Guy, whose 99th birthday is next month. (I'd give a detailed report on the lecture but I lost track of what he was saying while he was in the middle of identifying 50 points on the nine-point circle.)

… and how are the years treating you?

Monday, August 03, 2015

Uniformity Is Not Always a Virtue

The bureaucratic mind at work:

The US presents particular obstacles to achieving educational improvement at a national scale, deriving from its social and economic diversity and also from an entrenched tradition of “local control,” which precludes a federal role in any primary initiatives. Yet to achieve effective reform at scale requires some national coherence. This was a principal aim of the Common Core, embodied in the word “Common.” Fractions are the same in Florida and Montana; it makes little sense in a highly mobile population for the math curriculum to change at state lines. It would be like building a national railway system with different gauge tracks in each state.
When everybody is learning the same stuff, everybody will be making the same mistakes. When there are many different education plans, even people who are miseducated can learn the truth from others after graduation. When there's just one plan, there are very few such others and those that do exist will sound like (and sometimes be) crackpots.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Now You See It and Now You Don't

I'm sure anybody following the news about nutrition research has noticed the now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don't nature of the evidence for the benefits of eating less meat. Epidemiological research seemed to indicate that people who ate less meat tended to have longer life expectancies. Then large numbers of people tried adopting the correlates of low-meat diets (e.g., low fat) and the advantages disappeared. That might mean the correlates of a low-meat diet in the ‘wild’ differ from the correlates of such a diet when deliberately adopted. One possible such correlate is that a low-meat diet in the wild tends to be a high-beans diet. In other words, it might be a high-protein, low-methionine diet. When low-meat or low-fat diets are deliberately adopted they tend to be high-grain. Grain protein is just as rich in methionine as meat protein so, if low-methionine diets are better, those diets would be ineffective. (Or maybe there's another explanation.)

Another case of now-you-see-it-and-now-you-don't evidence is that handing adolescents contraceptives lowers the abortion rate. There have been many studies that show that but areas that adopt the policy deliberately don't seem to have lower abortion rates. (The ‘blue’ states might have low adolescent birth rates but they don't have low abortion rates.) Maybe the studies are about what happens when an organization other than Planned Parenthood hands out the pills. When the policy is deliberately adopted, the people turn to Planned Parenthood and that fails. (Or maybe there's another explanation.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Update on Senator Sanders

I thought a pro-gun liberal would be the ideal person to say “When immigration is outlawed, only outlaws will have immigration.” He turned out to be a socialist who is not an international socialist instead:

Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.


It would make everybody in America poorer—you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.


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