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

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Class Warfare in New York

New York eats the rich.

According to Bob Herbert in The New York Times, the new anti-smoking law in New York city is less stringently enforced in upscale bars:

But like a person who enjoys smoking but knows it's not good for you, there was a touch of guilt in Ms. Phifer's comments. She felt compelled to add, “I hate the fact that this is allowed because it's the Plaza and it's a wheeler and dealer kind of place.”

Is that why you can smoke in the Oak Bar at the Plaza?

It sure looks like it.


Mr. Schweikert tried to explain. He said bar owners, if they believe “in good faith” that they qualify for an exemption, can ignore the ban during the first six months, which he described as a grace period. “The grace period is a self-effectuating exemption,” he said.

Got that? It reminded me of the comment attributed to Leona Helmsley: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

I called the Health Department about the Oak Bar shenanigans, and officials were not amused. There is no such thing as a “self-effectuating” exemption. Health Department inspectors visited the Oak Bar over the weekend and issued notices of violation.

But last night, when I called the bartender and asked if you can still smoke in the Oak Bar, he said, “Yes, you can.”

So the Plaza seems committed to flagrantly ignoring the law. While the “little people” from the Bronx to Staten Island are dealing with the inconvenience of the ban — not to mention the reduced business for bar owners and substantially reduced tips for bartenders and waiters — the power crowd in the Oak Bar continues to light up in grand style, and the owners are cashing in.

For the Oak Bar, the ban has actually been a boon. Perhaps this is another one of those laws that apply only to the little people.

If failure to enforce drug laws in slums is anti-poor genocide, clearly the failure to enforce tobacco laws in upscale bars must be anti-rich genocide. This was no doubt pushed through by museum directors eager for bequests.

Is the European Union the Borg?

I disagree with the comparison between the European Union and the Borg that appeared on A Yobbo's View and Samizdata (based on the proposed takeover of Great Britain). It's unfair to the Borg.

If the EU were the Borg, a takeover might not be such a bad idea. In that case, they will take the British distinctiveness of fair trials and a free press and add it to their own.

The bad news is that they probably aren't the Borg and will throw a free press etc. in the trash.

Monday, May 26, 2003

New York City Is Violating the Geneva Convention!

According to the UN High Commision on Human Rights:

Article 26

The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners.

The Detaining Power shall supply prisoners of war who work with such additional rations as are necessary for the labour on which they are employed.

Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war. The use of tobacco shall be permitted.


This means that NYC violates the Geneva Convention!

Monday, May 19, 2003

Another Way to Look at the Collatz Problem

The Collatz problem can be summarized as follows.

First, start with a number n and carry out the following transformation over and over:

  • If the number is odd. multiply it by 3 and add 1.
  • If the number is even, divide it by 2.
This will produce a sequence. For example, if n = 7, the sequence will become:
7 22 11 34 17 52 26 13 40 20 10 5 16 8 4 2 1 4 2 1 4 2 1 …

In the case where n = 7, the sequence eventually arrives at a 4 2 1 … cycle. In all known cases, starting from a positive whole number, the sequence will arrive at the same cycle. The Collatz problem is: Are there any exceptions?

My idea

It might be possible to assign an ordinal number to each integer so that dividing an even number by two or applying 3n + 1 to an odd number greater than 1 will decrease the corresponding ordinal. Since any decreasing sequence of ordinals must be finite, the sequence must reach 1 eventually.

I have not been able to make this work.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Will Oreos Be Banned?

They will be if an obnoxious busybody has his way.

They can have my oreos when they pry them out of my cold, dead-white glass of milk.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I Saw a “No Blood for Oil” Bumper Sticker …

… on a Ford Explorer XLT.

Somebody is unclear on the concept.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Libertarianism and SF Fandom

Libertarians currently make up a disproportionate fraction of SF fans, but it's not the first choice of SF political philosophy. The ideal State would be a benevolent planned society under the benign guidance of SF fandom. (This explains the popularity of stories featuring the Second Foundation, Lensmen, or the Psychology Sevice.) A few decades ago, many of us came to our senses and realized the likelihood of such a society is of the same order of magnitude as the Statue of Liberty turning cartwheels. We then decided to settle for the next best thing, which is to ensure the mundanes have as little power as possible.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

A Threadbare Excuse for Communist Famines

The comments to a recent post by Chris Bertram about distorted history emanating from the loony left reminded me of one of their attempts at excuses.

After a few decades of ignoring my fellow reactionary crackpots pointing out the enormous death toll of Communism, the loony left has come up with a response: “I know you are but what am I?”

The book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis tries blaming classical liberalism for famines in India, Brazil, and China, in addition to the usual complaint about Ireland. (Never mind that classical liberalism got into power in Britain in order to clean up the Irish famine and never mind that China wasn't even any kind of colony.)

Apparently, there weren't any pre-British famines in India in Davis's universe. He did mention that the Mogul and Maratha regimes fixed prices, but experience shows that mainly prevents people from preparing for famines. The existence of famines in late-19th-century India, if anything, points to the importance of privatization. Those famines started after the British government took over from the East-India Company. It was a case of the following common phenonenon:

  1. Owing to alleged “market failure,” a formerly private function was socialized.
  2. This is followed by disaster.
  3. This, in turn, is followed by a call for more government.
I wonder why Davis didn't write about early Victorian holocausts? Could it be that letting capitalists have a really free hand kept famine away for a few decades?

Meanwhile in Brazil, something resembling classical liberalism was preceded by slavery. Even Karl Marx could tell you there was something wrong with defending slavery. In any case, Brazilian emancipation went directly into the KKK and Jim-Crow stage without going through Reconstruction. One of the famines Davis mentions was aggravated by Brazilian governments keeping would-be migrants out of cities. (In today's U.S. this is done by zoning laws with the approval of trendy liberals.) That is not capitalism—especially not the kind Julian Simon defended.

It's interesting that in Brazil, the capitalists traded with southern Brazil whereas the famine Davis discussed was in northern Brazil. Let's see. Capitalists can be blamed for trading and also for not trading…

If You Think Imperialism Can't Work…

The Yankee occupation of Dixie was classic imperialism. Capitalist civilization went forth and crushed a world view opposed to tolerance and free speech (e.g., the “gag” rule). The d@mn Yankees used state terrorism (Sherman's march to the sea), which set off a “cycle of violence” in the form of the KKK and Jesse James (who started out as a pro-slavery terrorist). There were even Yankee settlements on Dixie soil. Dubya himself is a second-generation settler.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Peter Singer Plays the Race Card

In “Animal Liberation at 30,” Peter Singer said:

The view that species is in itself a reason for treating some beings as morally more significant than others is often assumed but rarely defended. Some who write as if they are defending speciesism are in fact defending an affirmative answer to the second question, arguing that there are morally relevant differences between human beings and other animals that entitle us to give more weight to the interests of humans. The only argument I've come across that looks like a defense of speciesism itself is the claim that just as parents have a special obligation to care for their own children in preference to the children of strangers, so we have a special obligation to other members of our species in preference to members of other species.

Advocates of this position usually pass in silence over the obvious case that lies between the family and the species. Lewis Petrinovich, professor emeritus at the University of California, Riverside, and an authority on ornithology and evolution, says that our biology turns certain boundaries into moral imperatives—and then lists “children, kin, neighbors, and species.” If the argument works for both the narrower circle of family and friends and the wider sphere of the species, it should also work for the middle case: race. But an argument that supported our preferring the interests of members of our own race over those of members of other races would be less persuasive than one that allowed priority only for kin, neighbors, and members of our species. Conversely, if the argument doesn't show race to be a morally relevant boundary, how can it show that species is?

I thought the obvious middle category was nation, not race. We benefit from the existence of families and sometimes benefit from the existence of nations (which preserve order and sometimes keep the not-so-nice nations away). We do not usually benefit from the existence of races. The most racist part of the U.S. was the poorest, even for members of the dominant minority.

Digression: Our Race Is Our Nation?

Some racists have tried claiming that races are nations and vice versa. They have adopted the slogan ORION: “Our Race Is Our Nation.” This slogan faces the problem that currently races have no legal authority, no actual power, and most people are not loyal to the races they belong to. It is not a descriptive slogan but a prescriptive slogan. It is a matter of plans instead of reality. If racists insist on retaining this idea, I recommend that the slogan be replaced by the slogan: “Make Our Race Our Nation.”

Devising a suitable acronym will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

William Bennett Isn't a Hypocrite after all…

Apparently, he never condemned gambling.

Hypocrisy is one virtue he doesn't have.

Were the “Weapons's of Mass Destruction” Saddam's Bluff?

It looks like nearly every part pf Saddam's strategy was based on deception. Many of the Iraqi aircraft were simply painted on the runway. They made soldiers fight at gunpoint as decoys intended to look like outraged citizens defending their homeland. I suspect the initial retreat was intended as a decoy strategy to make it look as if they were luring us into a nonexistent trap. The mysterious absence of “weapons's of mass destruction” now also looks like a bluff. The looting looks much less than estimated. That may also have been a decoy of post-takeover chaos.

In other words, the ability of Arabs to bluff has disappeared.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

William Bennett is a Hypocrite

On the other hand, hypocrisy is the virtue that makes it possible for moral ideals to surpass current practice. For example, from The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson:

“Because they were hypocrites,” Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, “the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves—they took no moral stances and lived by none.”

“So they were morally superior to the Victorians…” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.

“…even though—in fact, because—they had no morals at all.” There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,” Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception—he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”

“That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code,” Major Napier said, working it through, “does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”

“Of course not,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It's perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved—the missteps we make along the way—are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”

Another way of looking at this is to recall that hypocrisy made it possible for Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.

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