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:
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Other interesting web sites:
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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jane's Law at Work

According to Andrew Breitbart:

Uninvited Democratic activists are on a mission to demoralize the enemy - us. They want to ensure that President Obama is not subject to the same coordinated, facts-be-damned, multimedia takedown they employed over eight long years to destroy the presidency - and the humanity - of George W. Bush.

Political leftists play for keeps. They are willing to lie, perform deceptive acts in a coordinated fashion and do so in a wicked way - all in the pursuit of victory. Moral relativism is alive and well in the land of Hope and Change and its Web-savvy youth brigade expresses its "idealism" in a most cynical fashion.

The ends justify the means for them - now more than ever.

I'd be more inclined to take the above seriously if I hadn't seen nearly identical theories on left-wing blogs over the past eight years and even earlier on Usenet.

I'm reminded of Jane's Law:

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.
It looks like it's now our turn to have some nuts.

On some rare occasions, there might actually be a coordinated campaign or two. I think the best way to identify such campaigns is to see which memes pop up out of nowhere and then disappear the moment the coordinator's pay runs out. In other words, such campaigns are likely to be mostly harmless.

Paging Hari Seldon …

The mayor of Flint, Michigan is considering retreating from the Periphery (seen via View from the Porch):

Temporary Mayor Michael Brown made the off-the-cuff suggestion Friday in response to a question at a Rotary Club of Flint luncheon about the thousands of empty houses in Flint.

Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city's tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine "shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn't) provide services."

Will an abandoned community of Encyclopedists restart civilization?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another AIG Speculation

What if the AIG executives claimed they could take back 90% of their political campaign contributions?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This Is the Thirtieth Anniversary of …

… one of the most over-hyped “disasters” in history.

The Effects of the Red Sox Victory

Back in 2004, Arnold Kling wrote an essay on Red Sox technologies, technologies that always have proponents saying “Wait 'til next year!” Since then, the Red Sox have won a couple of World Series. As a possible result, a flying car has made a test flight.

Will fusion reactors be next?

Who Has Been Running Wall Street Anyway? Part II

I recently speculated that Wall Street's problems might be due to people on athletic scholarships joining the financial-services industry. In related news, Sports Illustrated discusses how financially-clueless athletes frequently go broke (see via Coyote blog). Hmmm…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Tempted to Support This

Someone recently arrived at my blog via the search string affirmative action for sf fans.

On the other hand, the mundanes would have their own affirmative action program and that might cause mass layoffs of sf fans in high-technology industries.

Environmentalists against Solar Energy

Solar energy must be almost ready for prime time. The environmentalists are now against it:

Reporting from Washington -- While President Obama has made development of cleaner energy sources a priority, an effort is underway to close off a large swath of the Southern California desert to solar and wind energy projects.

In a move that could pit usual allies -- environmentalists and the solar and wind industries -- against each other, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is preparing legislation that would permanently put hundreds of thousands of acres of desert land off limits to energy projects. The territory would be designated California's newest national monument.

Those energy projects could turn the desert into a desert!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Needed on Wall Street

There's supposed to be a device that can detect the brain waves characteristic of people making a mistake. If we could just attach one of those to each securities trader …

On the other hand, I'd like to know the results when it's used on the researchers who came up with the idea.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Good Side of the AIG Furor

If it takes the political class this much to punish a handful of people, almost all of us are safe. They simply don't have the capacity to be a really major nuisance.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Speculation on the Real Reason for the Absurd AIG Tax

I suspect it might have been in response to our gloating:

Look at tax policy. As proponents of President Obama’s tax increases keep repeating, their goal is only to go back to the level of taxation of the prosperous 1990s. No one is suggesting going back to top rates of more than 70% that were once considered commonsensical both by Eisenhower Republicans and LBJ Democrats. This is not because of Republican obstructionism or robber barons showering Congress with money, but simply because the debate about the destructive impact of confiscatory top income tax rates has been settled in fact, both by economic research and by reforms of the 1980s in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere.

The Left can deal with opposition, but they cannot handle the idea that one of their pet ideas has become obsolete. (The only exception to that rule is when they can blame said pet idea on the Right.) When we point out an example of a Left idea on the losing side of history, they immediately try to revive it.

A Phone Call

I recently received a robo-call from the Working Families Party. It seems they were upset that my Congressman, Peter King (R, NY), had supported Eric Cantor for some post. They tried inventing a scandal having to do with Eric Cantor's wife, who was a director of one of the banks getting a trivial portion of the bailout money.

In other words, a dubious organization is targeting a remaining Republican Congressman from the northeast (if successful it will be followed by attacks on Republicans for being regionally restricted) and a Jewish conservative Republican who isn't a RINO (if successful it will be followed by attacks on conservative Republicans for being religious bigots).

The really important part of this is that Eric Cantor has recently been opposing the plan of buying up parts of banks. In other words, he is not affected by his wife's financial interests.

Another point is that we reactionaries are now braced for this nonsense.

Developing …

Addendum: Physics Geek provides a real anti-Cantor argument.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An AIG and Card-Check Speculation

What if … the day after a card-check bill is passed, the recipients of those AIG bonuses announced they had just formed a union and were going on strike?

Would it possible to fire them all, Reagan style? Would it even be possible to clean up the mess if that happened?

Addendum: It's starting.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Religion, End of Life Care, and Cryonics

If religious people are more likely to request “heroic measures” to extend life than secular people, does that mean the anti-religious tone of many cryonicists (or transhumanists in general) is alienating the people who would otherwise be the most receptive to that form of heroic medicine?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Safety Devices That Do Not Protect

Glenn Reynolds points to an example:

Reading Tom Vanderbilt’s latest book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), I was struck by a recurring theme: Making things safer may actually make them more dangerous. I wonder if it’s a lesson that also applies off the road.

Vanderbilt describes driving along a narrow, twisting road in Spain, where he navigated hairpin turns with few guardrails or warning signs over steep drop-offs. The result: “I drove as if my life depended on it.” But when he reached a four-lane highway with gentle curves, good visibility and little traffic, “I just about fell asleep and ran off the road ... Lulled by safety, I’d acted more dangerously.”


Famed Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman once said: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like that.” Monderman’s philosophy is, instead, to design things so that people are called on to use their wits—at least within limits. When that happens, things often wind up safer.

Question: If externally-supplied safety devices make people less safe, what does that imply about handing contraceptives to high-school students? (Note: When I say “externally-supplied safety devices,” that's in contrast to safety devices sought by the people involved. The latter are unlikely to cause reckless behavior and might be associated with prudent behavior.)

ObSF: The title of this post is the opening line of The Vortex Blaster by Doc Smith.

Addendum: There appears to be at least one counterexample.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mathematics and Politics

The House of Representatives has voted to honor pi day (earlier discussed here).

Some people object.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

PhD Comics Branches Out …

… into complete bullbleep. Yes, it's another instance of “Western civilization uses several Earths of resources” nonsense.

The interesting thing is that the resources used are almost never specified in this kind of nonsense, thereby leaving the disaster to be up to the imagination of the listener or reader. The apparent goal is to have the listener/reader think of so may different resources that we might be using up that he/she ends up believing the problem can only be solved by limiting population, redistributing global income, etc.. The question of how much of the Earth's resources are being used by Western civilization is sometimes combined, if not confused, with the question of how much of those resources that are being used by human beings are being used by Western civilization. This makes it possible to cite statistics that show that the United States is using 25% of the oil currently coming out of the ground and deriving the claim that we're using 25% of the Earth.

On those rare occasions when the resources in question are specified, it turns out that nearly all of it is based on the calculation that it will take the biospheres of several Earths to absorb the greenhouse gases currently being emitted.

The reason the self-congratulation-based community cannot specify that this is a disguised greenhouse-effect worry is they must bypass the occasionally-justified skepticism that greets greenhouse-effect worries. To make matters even worse from the point of view of a left-wing ideologue is that it invites queries about why nuclear energy is still considered unacceptable.

Bookish and Bizarre

At first glance, Van Jones, the person in charge of combining the two sides of leftism (concern for the poor and concern for the Earth), sounds like a large fraction of libertarians:

As a child, Jones was, by his own description, “bookish and bizarre.” When his parents gave him Luke Skywalker and Han Solo action figures, instead of arranging them to fight he would have them run for imaginary public offices. His twin sister, Angela, remembers him as “the stereotypical geek—he just kind of lived up in his head a lot.”
At a second glance, a libertarian would have them start competing businesses.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Human Biodiversity and Bar Fights

In the course of a comment on advocates of the theory that anthropogenic global warming is a crisis, Armed Liberal said:

In my somewhat misspent youth, I put myself in places where I often encountered stupidly aggressive people. Bars. And there's an interesting point about aggressive people in bars; you should pay close attention to the ones who are loudly threatening to kick your ass - but you don't need to be afraid of them. Because if they were serious, they would already be kicking your ass, not just telling you about it.

Two things put my environmental-regulation-loving, hybrid-driving, solar-panel powered self off from supporting AGW and the policies that fall out from it:

1. The bullying tone of the supporters of AGW. Look, if you've got the facts and the science, you don't need to try and rhetorically drive people out of the debate. But if you don't...

2. The fact that many (not all) of the supporters of AGW are people who also - for a variety of reasons good and bad - have issues with "the dominant paradigm" of Western industrial society. It's kind of like the local Lothario discovering that nude hot oil massages are the key to preventing some kind of fatal disease.

More recently, Charles Murray said:

Intellectuals hate above all to look stupid in the eyes of their peers. For a long time, elites in the social sciences and humanities have been able to preen before each other with their post-modern nonsense without having anyone from the hard sciences tapping on their shoulders saying, “You do realize that this is post-modern nonsense?” That’s going to change. Is already changing.

I used sex differences in the speech as the example because that’s where the hard, indisputable evidence at the neural and genetic level is going to come first. I will stick with my prediction, and bet you a dinner that in 2020 (actuarily, we have a reasonably good chance of still being around to collect) nobody on the Harvard faculty will be willing to say in public that men and women have equal aptitude for mathematics at the highest levels. People who say that will be seen by intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities as being stupid—that’s how decisively the science will have changed.  The science is going to change what’s seen as stupid in every aspect of social policy, from the reasons that prison rehabilitation doesn’t work to the idiocy of legislation like No Child Left Behind to the reasons that mentoring programs are never going to make up for the breakdown of the traditional family.

It's amazing how much the rhetoric of advocates of anthropogenic global warming resembles the rhetoric of avocates of human biodiversity (formerly known as racism).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TEXgefühl and LATEXgefühl

Jeffrey Shallit and Blake Stacey are discussing TEXgefühl and LATEXgefühl, described by Shallit as “the intuitive understanding of what is proper usage in the mathematical typesetting language TeX.”

Speaking as someone on the receiving end of TEX files (in my day job I sometimes have to translate LATEX into a combination of TEX and SGML), I have a few pointers of my own in addition to the advice given by Shallit, Stacey, and their commenters:

  • BibTEX does not work by magic. It doesn't get the bibliographic data from thin air but from .bib files. If use BibTEX to produce a bibliography you must send the .bib files.
  • LATEX can't read your mind. If you assign the same label to a subsubsection and a table, you might find that Table I has been cross referenced as Table 4.2.3.
  • LATEX does not have precognitive abilities. If you put a \label command before the command that updates the counter it's supposed to be using, the label will pick up the last counter to be cross referenced instead. In particular, a \label command should not go before the caption of a figure or a table.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Straw-Man Argument? II

The straw men discussed here lean left as well as right. According to The New York Times:

The building, once a hub of constant activity with would-be renters ready to move in at a moment’s notice, has gotten a lot quieter lately. But having made it through the 15-year real estate boom with their tenancy intact, the O’Neals, who have been careful to keep their household income below the $175,000 maximum allowed for stabilized tenants with rents above $2,000, don’t seem too concerned about any possible fallout from the bust.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Time to Sell Google?

According to Google's CEO, when asked about Google's energy plan:

Our plan does not require more nuclear, and it also does not require it to be turned off, which is important.
If he called for shutting down reactors, I'd say to short Google as well.

The Accusation

People who regard anthropogenic global warming as a crisis frequently accuse my fellow wingnuts of believing that the world's climate scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to Hide the Truth. We don't. Instead we believe that the world's reporters aren't covering climate research right. We think it's possible that the reporters are overemphasizing research that indicates there is a crisis and underemphasizing research that indicates there isn't.

In other words, we believe that it's similar to what they've done to nuclear energy. It's mainly the fact that there's more support for the theory that AGW is a crisis than there's support for anti-nuclear bullbleep that makes me take the AGW crisis even a little bit seriously.

By the way … If we you want us wingnuts to take your site seriously, don't put an endorsement link to an anti-nuclear site near the top of your front page.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Straw-Man Argument?

I find it hard to believe that the mistake discussed here and here and reported here could be that common:

A 63-year-old attorney based in Lafayette, La., who asked not to be named, told that she plans to cut back on her business to get her annual income under the quarter million mark should the Obama tax plan be passed by Congress and become law.

"We are going to try to figure out how to make our income $249,999.00," she said.

"We have to find a way out where we can make just what we need to just under the line so we can benefit from Obama's tax plan," she added. "Why kill yourself working if you're going to give it all away to people who aren't working as hard?"

For one thing, I suspect most people able to make such a mistake (believing that the money retained under most progressive tax plans goes down in some brackets) don't have a high enough income for that to matter. (On the other hand, there's Chet.)

What is likely to happen is that people with incomes over $250,000 might not try increasing their nominal incomes. At the highest levels, they might take the extra income in the form of expense accounts. (We can expect a revival of the three-martini lunch.) At slightly-lower levels, they might substitute extra leisure for added income. (We might see a revival of upper-middle-class people mowing their own lawns.) It wasn't a coincidence that elaborate expense accounts and an absence of hired help were common in the confiscatory-tax era but not before or since.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Are Religious People Really Close Minded?

A few years ago, I mentioned that the Stroop test might be able to determine what sort of people have more flexible minds. More recently, Michael Inzlicht et al. (seen via Neurocritic) have found:

Here we show that religious conviction is marked by reduced reactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cortical system that is involved in the experience of anxiety and is important for self-regulation. In two studies, we recorded electroencephalographic neural reactivity in the ACC as participants completed a Stroop task. Results showed that stronger religious zeal and greater belief in God were associated with less firing of the ACC in response to error and with commission of fewer errors.

If the people with stronger reactions to error in their ACC are also more likely to commit the errors, could it be that the strong reactions are causing the error? Maybe atheists are more concerned about other people's opinions and that can cause error.

On the other hand, piling correlations on correlations can also cause error. What's more, the sample size wasn't mentioned in the abstract and this might be based on a pathetically-small sample.

Addendum: Yes, pathetically small. It's 28.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

If Radioactivity Is So Unacceptably Dangerous …

According to Timothy Noah (seen via Rand Simberg), nuclear power is unacceptably dangerous owing to the enormous amount of time the nuclear waste takes to decay. Apparently he believes in the following two premises:

  • There is no safe dose of radioactivity.
  • We should be concerned about future generations for the indefinite future.
If we accept both of those, it is easy to see that we must use up the dangerous natural uranium in reactors as soon as possible. Each uranium atom will release 50 MeV before it decays to lead over the next few billion years. The nuclear fission products will release half that.

Listen to the Expert

When a modern liberal says that conservatives and libertarians are whining, we're whining.

Remember, modern liberals are the world's foremost authorities on whining.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Can Academia Suppress Un-PC Results?

Apparently not for long. According to a recent report from the Fraser Institute (seen via Winds of Change), there have been several instances in which a PC study was unveiled to great fanfare, only to be overturned a few years later by more evidence.

One lesson that we can draw from the examples given is that, when there really is evidence overthrowing a PC result, that evidence can get out within a few years.

Another lesson is that we can't trust claims that are much less than a decade old.

On the other hand …

The scientific community is set up to ensure that theories with evidence against them are refuted. It is not set up to remind people that there is inadequate evidence for an accepted theory. Falsifying a generally accepted theory will win you a Nobel Prize. Reminding people that a commonly-accepted theory has little evidence either for or against will get you almost nowhere. It will alienate those few members of the Scientific Establishment who really are bigots and—what's worse—it will bore the rest.

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