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, January 31, 2006

Prediction: The Senator Will Be Re-elected in a Landslide

At BlogActive, there's an attempt at blackmail:

Tomorrow you will decide if your political position is worth more than doing what is right for others like you. For others like you, Mr. Senator, who engage in oral sex with other men. (Although, Mr. Senator, most of us don't do in the bathrooms of Union Station!) Your fake marriage, by the way, will NOT protect you from the truth being told on this blog.

How does this blog decide who to report on? It's simple. We report on hypocrites. In this case, hypocrites who vote against the gay and lesbian community while engaging in gay sex themselves*.

When you cast that vote, Mr. Senator, represent your's the least you could do.

I predict the Senator in question will be re-elected in a landslide. He will have proved that he won't buckle under pressure and that he will stick to inconvenient principles. I suspect the conservative base is more opposed to liberals than to minor vices. If Rush Limbaugh can retain his audience, this as-yet unnamed Senator can retain his voters.

Besides, he might pick up a few votes in the gay community.

Actually, I'm looking forward to a political campaign in which one side quotes from The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (previously covered here).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

More on Self-Congratulatory Leftists

The Buffalo Beast has released a The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2005. The late Terri Schindler Schiavo was 29:

Charges: Sacrificed her grey matter to vanity, only to become the focus of a manufactured media blitz involving the character assassination of her husband, the selective coverage of fifty protestors by 200 reporters, and a disgusting demonstration of congressional overreaching, all in deference to a frightening fringe culture’s farcical take on ethics. If you can’t tell a brain-dead oxygen-waster from a fetus, you’ve got no place debating policy or exploiting a devastated family to further your idiotic agenda or political career.

Exhibit A: As confirmed by a conspicuously underreported autopsy, Schiavo feels the same about her current situation as she did a year ago.

If you don't know that “brain-dead” means having no living brain instead of just half of one, you have no business commenting on this and if you think the conspicuously underreported autopsy revealed a complete absence of gray matter, you didn't read it.

The Top 25 Excuses for Self Congratulation

The Top 10 Project Censored News Stories has just been noticed by Fark.

I am unimpressed with those stories that I've been following. I covered No. 10 a few months ago (although I neglected to note that mountaintop removal and other types of strip mining could cut down on mining accidents). I even scooped them on No. 25.

The previous year's list included depleted uranium hysteria, which I dissected long ago.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Brief Note on the Canadian Election

A nation with more oil reserves than Iran has just elected a pro-American government.

In other words, we can say to OPEC: Nyaaahh, nyaaahh, nyaaahh, nyaaahh, phphphphtttt!!!!

Two Problems with Eugenic Policies

Bryan Caplan described one problem:

Even if genetics explained ALL differences in success, many policies that raise average genetic quality would backfire. How? Let me begin with a thought experiment, then explain the general principle.

Suppose we have an isolated society in which everyone is a genius. Let's call them the Brains. Who takes out the garbage? A Brain, obviously. Who does the farming? Again, Brains.

Now what happens if the geniuses come into contact with a society where everyone is of average intelligence at best? Let's call them the Brawns. If the Brains allow the Brawns to join their society, the average genetic quality of the Brains' society plummets. But everyone is better off as a result! Now the Brains can specialize in jobs that require high intelligence, and the Brawns can take over the menial labor. Total production goes up.

There's a second problem. Policies that aim resources toward groups based on their supposed genetic value give researchers an incentive to fudge data in a way that makes their relatives look superior. (This is the same as other type of “picking winners.”) That might have caused Karl Pearson to fudge data. Genetic research might be relatively honest now but we can expect corruption to set in once it's used to create government policies.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Latest Malthusian Scare …

… is about the impending metal shortage. For example:

There are about 150 kilograms of copper in current use for each person in North America. The researchers then multiplied the copper used per person by total world population, using standard population estimates to project into the future. By the mid-21st century, if everyone in the world used copper at North American rates, every scrap of known copper ore would be mined, the team reports online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
On the other hand, according to The Challenge of Man's Future by Harrison Brown (written back in the days when Malthusians tried looking at all the data):
Eventually the time will come when ordinary rocks such as granite will be looked upon as ores. We have already seen that average granite contains sufficient uranium and thorium to pay, energy-wise, for the processing of the rock and still leave a substantial energy profit. In addition, without unduly increasing the energy expenditure, one can probably extract from the rock a multitude of elements that are essential to an industrial society. One hundred tons of average igneous rock contain, in addition to other useful elements, 8 tons of aluminum, 5 tons of iron, 1200 pouInds of titanium, 180 pounds of manganese, 70 pounds of chromium, 40 pounds of nickel, 30 pounds of vanadium, 20 pounds of copper, 10 pounds of tungsten and 4 pounds of lead.
In other words, the copper needs for an average person in an industrial society can be met by 1500 tons of granite. That's 500 cubic meters or the top centimeter of 50,000 square meters. 50,000 square meters is the land use per person at 20,000 people per square kilometer, which is twice as dense as New York City. We have plenty of room.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who Caused the Holocaust?

According to Jeeves says I'm in first place when it comes to answering that question (mainly because of this post).

I never realized I was such an authoritative historian.

The Cognitive Reflection Test and a William Buckey Quote

William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the first few thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than by Harvard University. Today we can quantify that using the Cognitive Reflection Test (seen via Derek Lowe.

The Cognitive Reflection Test is a test of someone's ability to think for a second or two before jumping to a conclusion. It consists of the following three questions:

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
    5 cents

  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
    5 minutes

  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
    47 days

The really interesting fact is that the test was given to a sample of Harvard students and to a sample of ordinary Bostonians at the Boston Fourth of July celebrations. The ordinary Bostonians did better.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Penn and Teller and Virgins

According to The Daily News, Penn and Teller are looking for virgins:

Are Showtime cable stars Penn and Teller (right) looking for sacrificial virgins?

It's a distinct possibility, judging by the ad posted on behalf of their profanely titled reality show, "Bulls-!" The listing touts today's New York audition for a "couple who has saved their virginity for marriage. You must be willing to talk openly on camera both pre- and post-wedding day."

My intrepid Daily News colleague Dawn Eden, who's writing a book on abstinence titled "The Thrill of the Chaste," immediately suspected that the irreverent comedy-magic team simply wants to mock those gentle souls.

One possibly-useful way for virgins to explain their decision is to point out that if we live in an of sexual experimentation, we need a contol group. (Penn and Teller may be disconcerted to find apparent fundamentalists who know what a control group is. This will, of course, only work if the virgins in question really do know what a control group is.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'm Trying to Start an Original Conspiracy Theory

After reading Top 10 Wackiest Conspiracy Theories, I thought I'd try to invent one. This is an improvement on orbital mind control lasers.

Orbital mind control lasers aren't putting thoughts into our heads; orcas are.

Many of the scientists investigating orcas have noticed apparent incidents of telepathy. The scientist would think “orca go that way” and the orca would go that way, i.e., thoughts apparently went from human to orca. The same evidence might instead mean the reverse. The orca decided to go somewhere and projected that decision into the human's mind. (The “telepathic” incidents usually revolve around thoughts that popped into the scientist's mind for no real reason.)

If orcas can project thoughts, they might project thoughts that are good for them and not for us. This conflict may have ecological roots. Humans have longer life spans in industrialized countries (at least rich capitalist ones). Orcas may be more pollution sensitive. Environmentalism may be good for orcas but not for us.

This explains the distribution of liberalism in the U.S. Coastal areas are more liberal because they are in range of the orca influence. The Southeast was an exception because it was less industrialized and less of a threat.

If I start a new conspiracy theory, can I get royalties?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Explaining the Leftward Drift

The leftward drift of formerly-conservative Supreme Court Justices (discussed here) can be explained fairly easily. Much of the time, conservative is a synonym for “willing to crack down on people who are Not Like Us.” When such a conservative becomes a Supreme Court Justice, the people who are Like Us changes from the middle classes to the political activist class and the people who Not Like Us changes from the lower classes to state legislatures.

If we want a conservative Justice, it might make more sense to appoint a liberal/libertarian ideologue than a typical conservative.

A Reason to Shop at Whole Foods

Whole Foods uses wind power, which kills birds, and enable human beings to get a long-delayed revenge.

Friday, January 13, 2006

I'm Feeling a Little Blue Myself

I don't think I'm indigo, though.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is the World Underpopulated?

According to Daniel Dennett, it might be.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Say It Now and Say It Loud: I'm a Nerd and I'm Proud!

Digby is prejudiced against a minority group I belong to.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Hidden Agenda in the Habtegiris Case?

The decision to take Tirhas Habtegiris off a respirator was made possible by a Texas law that permitted doctors to not treat patients. In another controversy, the EU is considering a regulation to force doctors to perform abortions. Could the tubist side in the Habtegiris case be trying to obtain a precedent to force doctors to perform specified treatments?

In the Schiavo case, I warned about the unintended consequences of laws designed to prevent such tragedies. I'm not sure now if all the ill effects of those laws are really unintended.

A postscript addressed to any leftists who may be reading this: Before comparing Terri Schindler Schiavo to Tirhas Habtegiris, please learn what “brain-dead” means. Okay?

Addendum: There's a current example of trying to force specified medical coverage.

The Mainstream Media Killed Tirhas Habtegiris

It should be obvious that, if the editors of The New York Times had wanted, they could have turned the case of Tirhas Habtegiris into a “media circus.” If they had, one of us reactionaries would have coughed up the money. (We had numerous people offering to take care of Terri Schindler Schiavo.)

We already know that The New York Times sat on the NSA wiretapping story until it was politically appropriate. Sitting on the Habtegiris story had lots of political advantages …

Hmmmmm… They have had an incentive to look for stories like this for the past nine months. I guess this means similar incidents occur every blue moon or so …

Saturday, January 07, 2006

$75 Doesn't Sound Like Much

Most poor people could afford it … which means it wasn't poverty that led to Tirhas Habtegiris's death.

Maybe the government should have spent her money for her or otherwise compelled her to spend the $75. On the other hand, that's the reasoning that got Cylert taken off the market. Maybe the Nanny State knows better than Tirhas Habtegiris and worse than Teresa Nielsen Hayden, but one regulation can lead to another.

On the gripping hand, even if it should be necessary for the government to spend the $75, that might be small enough to not provide a precedent for much of an expansion.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Speaking of Darwin …

I think these people deserve an Honorable Mention at the Darwin Awards:

Over $78 million dollars has been spent to purchase more than 20,000 acres of land to create Sterling Forest State Park Preserve in the heart of the Highlands. Most of this money has come from our state and federal taxes, along with some private funds. Sterling Forest Corporation maintained 575 acres of land within the park boundaries. Their original plan was to build a golf course and 103 homes. Because of the active work of the Sterling Forest Partnership, which brought the presence of a significant population of the threatened timber rattlesnake to the awareness of the DEC, the golf course was stopped. Now they plan 107 homes costing $1.2 – $2.2 million on 1 to 5-acre plots.
Wait a minute. These local activists, who can usually be found blocking development on the supposed grounds that they want their children to be safe, are now blocking development because of a threat to … rattlesnakes???

Maybe the developer shouldn't build homes there. After all most snake handling fundamentalists can't afford that much. A 107-room lunatic asylum sounds far more appropriate. (It's hard to walk through underbush in a straitjacket.)

An Embarrassment to Mathematicians

A mathematics professor named Granville Sewell has published an article in The American Spectator (currently being discussed at Free Republic) attempting to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute Darwin's explanation of evolution. It has the usual errors:

If we define thermal "order" to be the opposite (negative) of thermal entropy, we can say that the thermal order can never increase in a closed (isolated) system. However, it was soon realized that other types of order can be defined which also never increase in a closed system. For example, we can define a "carbon order" associated with the distribution of carbon diffusing in a solid, using the same equations, and through an identical analysis show that this order also continually decreases, in a closed system.
Wrong. Even in closed system, graphite can condense from carbon gas. (This is, of course, at the expense of thermal order.) Entropy is fungible.
The discovery that life on Earth developed through evolutionary "steps," coupled with the observation that mutations and natural selection -- like other natural forces -- can cause (minor) change, is widely accepted in the scientific world as proof that natural selection -- alone among all natural forces -- can create order out of disorder, and even design human brains with human consciousness.
Wrong. Weather patterns (or, for that matter, volcanos) are order created out of disorder. (I've mentioned this before.)

My fellow wingnuts should remember that there is a difference between a valid argument and one with a ccnclusion you might want to accept. Similarly, there is a difference between someone with a PhD and someone who's making sense. (This is not limited to Unknown University … as the examples of Andrew Weil or John Mack should show.)

I'm reminded of the following quote from James Lileks:

Everyone always thinks they have some armor-piercing argument the other side has never considered, but that's rarely the case.

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