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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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Ban Life Insurance! Ban Undertakers!

Ban Six Feet Under!


Seriously, some of the reactions to the proposal to allow bets on terrorist attacks are a bit hysterical. It's possible that someone might order a terrorist attack and bet on it as a criminal activity, but that's no different from similar possibilities in life insurance. The intent of such markets is to take decision-making out of the hands of a small group of people who might be fooling themselves and let outsiders judge what makes sense. Some of the arguments that are supposed to be against the program are actually a defense of it. For example:

Investors have proven that they're good at forcasting stuff in general

No, they haven't. Statistics show that most 'top level' investors, ie fund managers, are thrown right back into the middle of the crowd within two years. In other words, the stock market is a big fat gamble, where some may do _slightly_ better than others.

The idea of this is to reward unconventional methodologies, not results. In that, it's a sound idea-- but unfortunately, human actions are involved in both the 'demand' and 'supply' portion of the curve (the latter proving this as a meta market), so it won't really work unless it is kept secret, but that is gone now...

Markets are not identical with “top investors.” If the top investors could beat the market, it would more sense to hand the decisions over to them rather than to the market.

The best argument against the Defense Department doing this is that private enterprise is already doing it.

Just a few days after the Berkeley psychologists (I thought I was through with them but I was wrong) tried claiming that conservatives are close-minded, we have an example of how leftists react to ambiguity, uncertainty, and new ideas with far more “fear and aggression” than typical conservatives. I wonder if that was the hidden agenda …

Monday, July 28, 2003

More on Berkeley Psychologists

Brian Carnell (seen via Instapundit) remembered that Frank Sulloway, one of the authors of the infamous Berkeley study, also came up with a theory that explained political movements by sibling rivalry. Sulloway's theory should predict that David Limbaugh would react to Rush Limbaugh being called a fascist by agreeing with the accusation.

He doesn't (seen via Fark).

I also noticed IQ was mentioned only once in the article:

Christie (1954) reported significant negative correlations ranging from -.20 to -.48 between IQ and scores on the F-Scale, but researchers since then have focused on differences in cognitive style rather than ability.
Translation: The results have not been replicated. They were either fabricated in the first place or disappeared as either IQ tests grew less culturally biased or as the left succeeded in spreading beyond intellectuals.

The authors tried claiming that conservatives are less integratively complex but barely mentioned the more easily checked characteristic of IQ. Is opposition to IQ tests a matter of anti-racism or is it because IQ tests interfere with the ability of leftists to call conservatives simple-minded?

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Blogspot Ads

I just noticed that the Blogspot Ad above includes ads for “Land of Hypocrisy An easy-to-read comprehensive guide to progressive politics” (pre-fisked here) and “US government cover-up of the harmful effects of depleted uranium. Read more.” (pre-fisked here).

Maybe Blogger's marketing department should have put those ads somewhere else.

Is Conservatism a Radial Category?

I'm still not finished discussing the Berkeley study. One possible excuse for it is that conservatism might be a radial category. There is a minor problem that, in order for a radial category to work, there must be a core for it to radiate out from. Let's look at Eric Raymond's description of a radial category:

… I need to introduce the concept linguist George Lakoff calls “radial category”, one that is not defined by any one logical predicate, but by a central prototype and a set of permissible or customary variations. As a simple example, in English the category “fruit” does not correspond to any uniformity of structure that a botanist could recognize. Rather, the category has a prototype “apple”, and things are recognized as fruits to the extent that they are either (a) like an apple, or (b) like something that has already been sorted into the “like an apple” category.

Radial categories have central members (“apple”, “pear”, “orange”) whose membership is certain, and peripheral members (“coconut”, “avocado”) whose membership is tenuous. Membership is graded by the distance from the central prototype — roughly, the number of traits that have to mutate to get one from being like the prototype to like the instance in question. Some traits are important and tend to be conserved across the entire radial category (strong flavor including sweetness) while some are only weakly bound (color).

In most radial categories, it is possible to point out members that are counterexamples to any single intensional (“logical”) definition, but traits that are common to the core prototypes nevertheless tend to be strongly bound. Thus, “coconut” is a counterexample to the strongly-bound trait that fruits have soft skins, but it is sorted as “fruit” because (like the prototype members) it has an easily-chewable interior with a sweet flavor.

The category “fruit” has a core. If the category “conservatism” has a core, it consists of Catholic members of the KKK who are fervent anti-semites and support Israel. I doubt if there are any such people. What's more important, those few who are closer to the core are not only disowned by the commonest examples of conservatism but they, in turn, disown common conservatives.

Now let's turn to Lakoff's article:

At this point, it is crucial to raise the issue of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which more than a hundred adults and scores of children were killed by a radical conservative who saw himself as striking at the “meddling” of the federal government in the lives of citizens. Do conservatives and conservative ideologues bear any responsibility for that bombing? Here is the answer of Gary L Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, an arm of the religious right (Family Research Council Newsletter, May 22, 1995):

How could any of us have imagined the horror of the bombing on Oklahoma City?… What do the the hundreds of thousands of parents who educate their children at home, or the millions of Americans who oppose high taxes, have to do with the thugs who bombed the federal building?

Gary Bauer is in denial, as are others on the right. The Family Research Council promotes Strict Father morality. It is the Strict Father model of the family that, under the ubiquitous Nation-as-Family metaphor, gives rise to the resentment of government “meddling” and the conservative hatred of government, and it is the application of discipline and denial in child rearing that produces conservative rage. When tens of millions of people are daily told that Strict Father morality is the only morality and that their rage is justified, the result is bound to be not just right-wing militias with automatic weapons and bomb-making capacity, but eventually action upon that rage. The lesson of Oklahoma City is that Strict Father morality does bear major responsibility for that unconscionable act. The Gary Bauers of this country, who promote Strict Father morality, have a heavy moral burden to bear. And so do most liberals, who have left the fields of morality and the family to the conservatives.

Back in 1995, it made some sense to assume that strictness produces rage. After all, that was before the application of strict crime-control measures brought crime rates down and before leniency in foreign policy let Osama bin Laden think he could get away with terrorism. It was also possible to assume that core conservatives were upset at liberal meddlers and a Republican victory would put core conservatives and common conservatives back together. In today's world, the small number of core conservatives are marching along with the far left.

One last note: If the nation is a family, then illegal aliens would be unwanted children…

Friday, July 25, 2003

The Knife without a Blade That Doesn't Have a Handle

Balloon Juice has located a follow-up to the psychoanalysis of conservatism I recently mentioned. I noticed two choice quotes:

More to the point, many changes desired by right-wingers are actually in the service of returning to some previous idealized state. Given that leaders are chosen to take action, the issue is not whether a conservative leader will advocate change (rather than stagnation); any minimally successful leader will implement some changes, even if those changes are retrograde.
We think that American conservatives support free-market capitalism (as a peripheral rather than core conviction) out of the desire to preserve traditional values of entrepreneurial individualism, despite rather than because of increased uncertainty and risk.
In other words, conservatives will implement change to reduce uncertainty and allow increased uncertainty to maintain traditions. I don't know what the Berkeley psychologists will come up with to explain American conservative support for genetically-modified foods (a change which increases uncertainty) but I'm sure they'll come up with something.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

How N.I.C.E.

One of the oddest ideas in That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis was the Materialist Magician. The oddest part of it is that there really was a scientist trying to raise demons. Very strange.

Berkeley Psychologists Try to Understand Conservatives

The Angry Clam pointed out this exercise in self-congratulation about an article purporting to show that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management

Okay. That means the Green Party (dogmatism) is right-wing and Democratic Underground (fear and avoidance) is right-wing and the entire pro-“choice” movement (endorsement of inequality) is right-wing…

On a second thought, I should try to take them seriously. After reading the article, it looks like they “proved” that leftists are more open to new ideas by showing that leftists are more open to their own ideas. This is buttressed by asking respondents if they're open-minded. (Leftists are, of course, more likely to assess themselves as open-minded.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Another SF Cliche Bites the Dust

I'm referrring to nanowire. In Clicheland, monomolecular wire is supposed to be so thin, sharp, and tough that it will slice through flesh and bone with hardly any resistance. Any terrorist (or even an irresponsible twit) can loop it across a doorway and slice any passerby to ribbons. I doubt if it will work that way.

Let's make the following assumptions:

  1. The wire is just strong enough to support an orbital tower;
  2. it has about the same density as diamond;
  3. it is 10 angstroms thick (an area of 100 square angstroms).

The strength-to-weight ratio needed to support an orbital tower is approximately the gravitational potential of the planet. In the case of Earth that would be about 6 × 107 newton-meters/kilogram. Diamond's density is about 3 × 103 kilograms/cubic meter. Put them together and we obtain a strength of about 2 × 1011 newtons/square meter (I'm keeping everything precise to only one decimal place). 100 square angstroms is 10−18 square meters so monomolecular wire can support 2 × 10−7 newtons. Not much.

Let's now consider what happens if it's looped across a doorway and someone walks through it. If the doorway is one meter wide and it starts cutting after it has been displaced one centimeter then it can exert a force of only 4 × 10−9 newtons. (If it starts cutting sooner then it can exert even less force.) If it is extended across one centimeter at that time, it will exert the force over an area of 10−11 square meters. That amounts to 400 newtons/square meter. Is this tolerable? Let's compare it to dental floss (people have cut themselves badly with dental floss so the comparison is not as preposterous as it might seem). If we assume that floss is about one millimeter wide and it extends one centimeter when looped around a finger then it has an area of 10−5 square meters. At 400 newtons/square meter, that's 4 × 10−3 newtons which is about one eightieth of an ounce. Since dental floss pressing on one's skin with a force of eightieth of an ounce is harmless, I think the dangers of monomolecular wire have been exaggerated.

The same material at the thickness of dental floss can be quite dangerous. Floss is about one million thicker than the hypothetical wire and the superfloss can exert one trillion times as much force (and one million times the pressure). That amounts to 3 × 103 newtons or 800 pounds (enough for floss to cut). I suspect that one tenth of a millimeter is the most dangerous size. It's thin enough to be effectively invisible and thick enough to cut.

In a society where extremely strong materials are commonplace, it may become necessary to wear clothing made of the same material.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Thank God for Outsourcing

I recently posted that the dangers of outsourcing are exaggerated. Last week, I was introduced to one of the benefits.

Owing to one of our overseas contractors exceeding their capacity, I found myself reimmersed in the annoying details of the same type of job that I was laid off from a few years ago instead of considering ways for others to do it. It was incredibly boring. I can hardly believe I used to do that for a living.

Meanwhile, someone in India no longer has to shovel manure for a living.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The Remains of the Left Have Just Lost China

They're now claiming the world can't afford a rich China.

This is, of course, preposterous. The supposed reasons include the claim that “the world's supply of metal and oil would be unable to sustain” a China with the same number of cars per person as Germany. This ignores the fact that the Earth's crust is 5% iron and that cars need not run on fossil fuels. (If necessary, hydrogen can be synthesized using nuclear energy.)

Friday, July 18, 2003

I'll Have to Subscribe to National Review

It's turning into “Nerd Central.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

This Gives a New Meaning to “My Heart Is in My Hand ”

After seeing a picture of a boy who had a heart transplant playing with his old heart, I was reminded of Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango:

At your command
Before you here I stand,
My heart is in my hand…
It's here that I must be.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

What If the Supreme Court Simply Ignores the Constitution?

John J. Reilly has speculated about the possibility that the Supreme Court might ignore the Constitution instead of editing it:

Are these imaginary horribles really going to materialize? I think not, but there will be a test of strength that will break the judiciary. It could come about in connection with attempts by the Supreme Court to constitutionalize the status of homosexuals or women in the military; certainly there will be fireworks if conscription is ever reintroduced. Like its 1930s predecessor, the Court could strike down popular social legislation, this time legislation that specifically aimed at promoting the nuclear family. The most intriguing possibility, though, is that the Court will try to ignore a textual amendment to the Constitution.

Senator Frist, I see, is likely to introduce an amendment that would define marriage in heterosexual terms. I dislike very specific constitutional amendments, and this is not really the sort of thing the federal government should be dealing with anyway. In this case, however, the political branches have no choice, since the Supreme Court has already federalized the issue.

The point to keep in mind is that amendment may not be enough. There are arguments in the law schools to the effect that some aspects of constitutional law cannot be changed, even if the text of the constitution is amended to say otherwise. That is, courts would be within their rights to ignore certain new amendments, such as one that tried to limit Roe v. Wade. It is hard to imagine that the Court would simply ignore a marriage amendment, but it might well try to construe it so narrowly that it would not mean anything. Then, I think, something would snap.

The following week, the Nevada Supreme Court apparently did so:

Nevada Supreme Court orders violation of Nevada Constitution: I just read one of the most appalling judicial decisions I've ever seen. It was just handed down today, and it's available here (Guinn v. Legislature).

     Nevada appears to be in the middle of a fiscal crisis: Its constitution more or less requires a balanced budget (art. 9, sec. 2(1)). There's a shortfall. The Legislature hasn't funded the budget. Various state functions, including the educational system, are right now (as of July 1) unfunded. And the Nevada Constitution (art. 4, sec. 18(2), enacted by voter initiative in 1996), requires a two-thirds vote to increase taxes, which has contributed to the budget deadlock. (I have no independent knowledge of this; I'm paraphrasing the court's statement of the facts.)

     The Nevada Supreme Court has (1) ordered the Legislature to enact a budget, and (2) suspended the operation of the two-thirds majority requirement. That's right, the two-thirds majority requirement is right there in the Nevada Constitution:

This is particularly worrisome since earlier examples of judicial activism usually involved pencilling in an additional clause or two instead of wholesale deletions and, as far as I know, judges never went against an ammendment that might have been intended to prevent judicial activism. Is civil disobedience appropriate? Does the US Supreme Court have the authority to get involved? If the US Supreme Court does something similar, can Congress or the President ignore them or do they have to go along with the Supreme Junta? If there is official civil disobedience, and the President tries a coup later, will the Supreme Court still have the authority to stop it?

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Problem with Overpopulation Predictions

The problem with overpopulation predictions is that they assume that humans are animals. Animal populations often show a boom-and-bust pattern caused by overshoot. If humans are animals we must beware of overshoot, which means we must be concerned about overpopulation long before there is any real evidence of it.

On the other hand, ecologically speaking humans are plants. (Plants rarely have overshoot problems.) When there are more of a species of animal there is less of what that animal eats. When there are more of a species of plant, the resources the plant needs either increase (soil) or stay the same (sunlight).

The only resources that humans treat the way animals do are fossil fuels and wild fish. Both of those should be obsolete soon.

Tree huggers have a point (but not the one they think they're making).

We Should All Be Grateful to the Four Sisters Funding Group

According to an article on the History News Network (seen via Ken MacLeod's weblog), one of the most important reasons pro-capitalist ideas have become more prominent in the past few decades is that they have been pushed by a small number of right-wing foundations known as the Four Sisters Funding Group (“Richard Mellon Scaife's various foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation”). In other words, we should all be grateful to them for helping to keep the US from sinking into a European-style morass.

There are a few problems with the FSFG. They haven't pushed some ideas enough. For example, I haven't seen anyone outside of a few academic types point out that, in the long run, nuclear reactors use up radioactive material. There have even been some instances where some of them tried pushing anti-capitalist ideas. For example, according to Media Transparency, the Richard Mellon Scaife foundations have been funding the Federation for American Immigration Reform. On the other hand, the History News Network article said that the FSFG strategy is coordinated by pro-immigration Grover Norquist, so the Scaife heresy appears to be harmless.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Treebeard Negotiates with Saruman

The picture can be found here.

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