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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Another Place Where A Gift from Earth Could Be Filmed

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Notable and Quotable

The following G. K. Chesterton quote sounds familiar somehow:

Never since the mob called out, “Less bread! More taxes!” in the nonsense story, has there been so truly nonsensical a situation as that in which the strikers demand Government control and the Government denounces its own control as anarchy. The mob howls before the palace gates, “Hateful tyrant, we demand that you assume more despotic powers”; and the tyrant thunders from the balcony, “Vile rebels, do you dare to suggest that my powers should be extended?” There seems to be a little misunderstanding somewhere.
The really weird part is that we see this on both sides: The Left insists that a government it doesn't trust have the power to redistribute wealth and the Right insists that a government it doesn't trust have the power to regulate immigration.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another Proof of the Incompleteness of Mathematics

According to David Hilbert:

An old French mathematician said: A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.
In other words, a mathematical theory is almost never complete.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Effect of the “Morning-After” Pill

The news that the “morning-after” pill might not work on women heavier than 80 kg might mean that it will cause the human race to evolve in a heftier direction …in other word, the survival of the fattest.

Franklin Foer vs. John Steinbeck

According to Franklin Foer:

Fortunately for the New Deal, Twitter didn’t broadcast every farmer’s sad encounter with the Agriculture Adjustment Act.
Maybe the newspapers (the social media of the day) should have done so. According to John Steinbeck (seen via EconLog:
The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit--and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

And the smell of rot fills the country.

Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
This was not something that could be improved by going over to a fully-socialized food system.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Project Demoralize?

“Project Demoralize” turned out to be imaginary last year but the paranoia of us wingnuts may have inspired a real version this year. The Senate Democrats recently passed a bill restricting filibusters, which only makes sense if they are absolutely sure they will retain the Senate. They may be hoping to convince enough of us wingnuts to not bother to fight.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Theory about the “Nuclear Option”

This is clearly a fund-raising move. If even the slightest loss by one party means the judicial branch will be turned over to THEM, potential donors will have no choice but to open their wallets. I suspect that Democrats were starting to see donors getting reluctant.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Socialized Medicine Is Less Disastrous Overseas

One possible reason socialized medicine is less disastrous overseas (it only produces a brain drain and chases medical development to the U.S. market), is that it was started during the era of competent bureaucracy. According to Megan McArdle:

But in the 1960s, they say, there were also some really first class managers in the senior ranks of the civil service. By the 1980s, however, they had all retired.


One theory is that this is sheer nostalgia. But another theory is that this was the legacy of the Great Depression. When the whole world was going to hell, the safest place to be was a government job in a big city such as New York; at least you knew your employer wasn’t going to go out of business. The vast expansion of the government bureaucracy that took place in the 1930s made room for a lot of top candidates who probably would have gone to more lucrative jobs in the private sector, if there had been any lucrative jobs in the private sector. By the time things got back to normal, after World War II, these folks were in their thirties, maybe even pushing 40, and they stuck around for the pension rather than starting over in a private firm. It may be that one reason there was more support for government intervention during the postwar boom is that, with these folks at the top, local government really was much better at getting stuff done.

Maybe the U.S. missed the boat when it came to establishing a government-run medical system that was a minor disaster instead of a Major Disaster. (This is compatible with the theory that the ACA disaster was the result of Gall's Law as competent bureaucrats would have taken Gall's Law into account.)

One consequence of the above: Relaunching the space race will probably not work.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Preventing Classroom Cheating with Cell Phones

One possible method to prevent students from cheating during tests by using their cell phones:

Just don’t ask questions for which Google is the answer. It turns out that crafting Google-proof questions is tricky, but it can be done.
The important part is to craft questions for which the “University of Google” gives an answer and it's wrong.

This is, by the way, why we still need classroom education in an era in which everything can be looked up online. We need a teacher to tell us when we misunderstood something.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Oddities in NYC Election Results

I notices a few oddities in the election results for mayor of New York. First, the results seemed almost unanimous in some districts, even in districts in Queens that had been carried by Bloomberg in 2005 and were less than unanimous in 2009. On the other hand, that might be explained by a general 2009–2013 shift in the election results. (Districts inhabited by the “1%” went from 90% down to 70% Republican.)

The really odd thing is that there were very few districts that were exactly unanimous. Considering the large number of districts with 1, 2, or 3 non-Democratic votes, you would expect (according to the Poisson distribution) for there to be a noticeable number of zero districts. It's as though somebody were fooling around with the votes but decided to have a token enemy vote to avoid suspicion. (This did not apply to Brooklyn.)

One problem with the above analysis is that it's based in clicking on a map instead of on complete data. More complete data might disprove the speculation.

Of course, back in the days of Tammany Hall, a precinct captain faced with a 177 to 1 vote would say “Who's the traitor?”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

George Bernard Shaw on Barak Obama

From Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw:

He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.
I was reminded by this.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

Plastic. The bacteria need it.

The Anaerobe Liberation Front insists on it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If You Set up a System That Can Exclude …

… don't be surprised if people you don't want to exclude are excluded anyway.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Explaining the “Farm Effect”

There's a simple explanation of the “farm effect”: Pesticides prevent allergies. (Yes, the Amish do use pesticides.)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Fruit Flies vs. Humans?

According to journalists covering neuroscience research, such research has proved that humans don't have free will (actual article here and there and my discussion here) but fruit flies do (actual article here).

I have no reason to believe either experiment was performed by fruit flies, although the fruit flies might have done a better job. I have never seen an allegedly-scientific article by fruit flies drawing far-reaching conclusions from a sample size of 14.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A Future Remake of Breaking Bad

… will involve Walter White cooking up trans fats.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Will Mayor de Blasio Cause a Crime Rate Increase?

Not necessarily. His signature left-wing issue (restraining the “stop and frisk” program) might sound like it will cause a revival of the Bad Old Days except … the expansion of stop and frisk is fairly recent. The large drop in crime occurred under Mayor Giuliani, when stop and frisk was much rarer. I suspect it was expanded by Bloomberg in an attempt to get conservatives on record as backing a gun-control measure.

Besides, if de Blasio is anything like Obama, he'll replace stop and frisk with drone strikes.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

What Bodily Orifice Emitted This Figure?

The following bulshytt has been going around the dumb side of the Left:

1300 individual billionaires have hoarded 94% of the planet's resources, the other 7 billion people are fighting over 6% of Earth's wealth.
On the contrary, the world's total wealth has been estimated at $223 trillionand the wealth of the world's billionaires at $5.4 trillion. That means the world's billionaires own less than 2.5% of the world's wealth.

The really annoying part is that the people repeating the claim are congratulating each other on not being ‘sheeple.’

Explaining the Virginia and New Jersey Election Results

The Virginia vote can be explained quite simply. The government shutdown was a matter of the Republicans opposing an important local business in Virginia.

The New Jersey vote might be due to New Jersey being the site of a controlled experiment. Individual medical insurance rates in New Jersey went through the proverbial roof as a “medical insurance reform”. They then fell as a result of partial decontrol. In New Jersey, the ACA “train wreck” looks predictable and not the result of supposed sabotage.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Blaming Everything on Overpopulation

According to Peter Turchin, today's politics is due to overpopulation:

Workers or employees make up the bulk of any society, with a minority of employers constituting the top few per cent of earners. By mathematically modelling historical data, Turchin finds that as population grows, workers start to outnumber available jobs, driving down wages. The wealthy elite then end up with an even greater share of the economic pie, and inequality soars. This is borne out in the US, for example, where average wages have stagnated since the 1970s although gross domestic product has steadily climbed.

In other words, the population of workers—according to this theory—is growing faster than the population of employers. On the other hand,

This process also creates new avenues – such as increased access to higher education – that allow a few workers to join the elite, swelling their ranks. Eventually this results in what Turchin calls "elite overproduction" – there being more people in the elite than there are top jobs. "Then competition starts to get ugly," he says.

In other words, the population of employers—according to this theory—is growing faster than the population of workers.

I don't think he can have it both ways.

On the gripping hand …

… there actually is a little bit of evidence in favor of this theory. There is a tendency for eras with frequent war (e.g., the first half of the 20th century) to have few revolutions and eras with frequent revolutions (e.g., most of the 19th century) to have few wars. (On the fourth hand, we can have wars and revolutions at the same time in transitional eras.) We can think of revolutions as due to lower classes trying for more and wars as due to upper classes trying for more.

Looked at this way, recent history goes from a revolutionary era (1945–1980) to a war era (1980–2010) and more recently back to a revolutionary era. This fits the aborted war in Syria (Syria retains the revolution) and the recent shutdown looks like a fight between two revolutionary parties.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Explaining “You Can Keep Your Insurance”

It's quite simple. The first “you” is plural and the second “you” is singular. In other words, if the American people as a whole like your insurance, you (singular) can keep it. I think Obama may have been overconfident about thinking he knew what the American people as a whole would like but that's another rant.

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