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

Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Shrimp–Gay Analogy Continued

The analogy mentioned below actually makes sense. If a judge declares that shrimp must be offered in a school cafeteria even when the voters disagreed, it might make a little bit of sense for there to be a Constitutional Amendment restraining such judges.

If the judge required my tax money to go to worm pizza with blood sauce, I might even support that amendment.

In Defense of Cafeteria Religion

Religious traditions are the accumulated experience of a community. Sometimes part of an early version of that experience didn't work out and a tradition is abandoned but still remains in the holy books. In that case, it makes sense for the community to ignore the tradition (e.g., the way the current Christians ignore the tradition of not eating shrimp or the way current Jews ignore the requirement of centralized worship). It still makes sense for the community to adhere to a “fundamentalist” attitude towards those traditions that did turn out to be important. (A century or two ago, part of the Jewish community decided to try ignoring the requirement to not eat shrimp etc. It looks like that isn't working very well. As far as Jews are concerned, God really does hate shrimp.)

In other words, it makes sense for a fundamentalist Christian to disapprove of homosexuality because it says so in the Bible but not to disapprove of shrimp and it makes sense for an Orthodox Jew to disapprove of shrimp because it says so in the Bible but not to insist on Temple worship.

God Hates Fear Factor!

God Hates Shrimp (seen via Instapundit) ignores the context of the Biblical passages cited. Those were instructions to us Red-Sea pedestrians and there's no need for others to follow them.

On the other hand, the following passage was addressed to Noah and his family (who symbolize the entire human race):

Genesis 9
1   And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
2   And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
3   Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.
4   But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
Clearly, if you're not supposed to eat life or blood, then eating live worms or bobbing for apples in blood is right out. In other words …

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Another Possible Effect of The Passion

If it stirs up antisemitism, more people might join anti-Zionist churches. At present, that means more people will become watered-down Episcopalians and Unitarians. I don't think that's what Mel Gibson had in mind.

UPDATE: On the other hand, if viewers look at the main villain, the high priest Caiaphas, and decide to blame priests in general, there might be a mass conversion from the Roman Catholic Church to Protestant churches. Again, I don't think that's what Mel Gibson had in mind.

Pro-Life Libertarianism

I recently classified talk.abortion as a newsgroup where the conservative dissenters from liberal orthodoxy are libertarian rather than fascist. That might require explaining since outlawing abortion might not be authoritarian but it sounds authoritarian. To make matters worse, the pro-life movement has the wrong type of backers (“religious fanatics”).

The explanation is simple enough. Under present law, pregnant women have the legal power of life and death over their fetuses. That makes them very local governments. It is consistent for someone to want to restrict governments and to restrict abortion.

If we look at the Libertarian Party we see that, even though the party platform calls for abortion to stay legal, it isn't emphasized. (I think Libertarians are beginning to realize that abortion is not a victimless crime.) They have even nominated a pro-life Presidential candidate (Ron Paul in 1988). A few years ago, there was a Libertarian candidate for Congress in California who disagreed with the party platform on abortion and immigration and who was criticized far more for dissent on immigration.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Intellectuals and Self Interest

Jim Henley has a lengthy essay on how the self interest of intellectuals causes them to support managerial government. I'm reminded of a Biblical verse (Genesis 41:33):

Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.
This was, of course, followed by Pharaoh appointing the man who gave him that advice.

If you ever wondered why people who should know better don't understand the free market, you might consider the following quote:

It's impossible to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.—Upton Sinclair
On the other hand, maybe libertarianism is due to the fact that now nerds with no social skills can make a decent living outside civil service. (I am, of course, speaking for myself.)

It's the Left Adjoints vs. the Right Adjoints

Several months after I blogged it, other bloggers have noticed an odd article by Keith Devlin on “right-wing” vs. “left-wing” mathematics. Come to think of it. the article made a little bit of sense because free functors are usually left adjoints…

Monday, February 23, 2004

“Consensus” vs. “Mainstream”

I posted on the disadvantages of consensus thinking a few months ago. I recently checked how often the words “consensus” and its near synonym “mainstream” were used on several different newsgroups. I came up with the following results:

alt.revisionism 3970 8250 0.48 7320 11,000 0.67
sci.environment 6520 2940 2.22
talk.abortion 5730 3120 1.84

When I try arguing against consensus thinking, I sometimes run into the objection that creationists and/or neo-nazis also object to the mainstream. It looks like the terminology used is quite different, with fascist dissidents objecting to the mainstream. and libertarian dissidents objecting to consensus. That should not be surprising. After all, the consensus is used as a way to stop thought, whereas the mainstream implies flow, so it can change.

UPDATE: I have added a line for talk.abortion.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Makes Sense to Me

John Derbyshire has suggested that the base way to solve the mess in Haiti is to bring them all to the US. That makes sense to me. It might be even applied elsewhere. If the entire human race were inside the US, the population density would be only around 2000 per square mile.

In the long run, something like that will happen anyway. At the rate fertility rates outside the US are plunging while remaining stable in the US, combined with immigration, most of the world population will be American in a few centuries. Then everybody “can get fat and own a gun.”

Disclaimer: I am a libertarian and therefore immune to sarcasm.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Can the Proposed Nuclear-Waste Dump in Nevada Leak?

According to a professor at the University of California-Davis, the nuclear-waste canisters in the proposed Yucca Mt. nuclear-waste dump in Nevada could leak (seen via Fark):

"The science is very clear," Craig told AP in an interview before his first public speech about the Energy Department's design for the canisters.


Craig, who was appointed to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board by President Clinton in 1997, planned to speak Wednesday night at a forum sponsored by the Sierra Club. He said he's convinced the Energy Department will have to postpone the project and change to metal less liable to corrode.


"When you serve as a member of one of those boards, you cannot talk about the political consequences of the science or the big picture. You are supposed to stick to the science and you should stick to the science," Craig said.

"You cannot have the kind of conversation we are having now if I was still on the board."

A leak could turn parts of Nevada into a desert!

On the other hand, we can compare the above to The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science:

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media. The integrity of science rests on the willingness of scientists to expose new ideas and findings to the scrutiny of other scientists. Thus, scientists expect their colleagues to reveal new findings to them initially. An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists.


2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work. The idea is that the establishment will presumably stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Often, the discoverer describes mainstream science as part of a larger conspiracy that includes industry and government. Claims that the oil companies are frustrating the invention of an automobile that runs on water, for instance, are a sure sign that the idea of such a car is baloney. In the case of cold fusion, Pons and Fleischmann blamed their cold reception on physicists who were protecting their own research in hot fusion.


Sunday, February 15, 2004

A Possible Effect of The Passion

It might stir up anti-Roman prejudice. Since the United States is frequently compared to Rome, it might stir up anti-American prejudice abroad. It might also increase antisemitism since Israel is sometimes considered to be an American puppet (or vice versa).

The close similarity between anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-American prejudice makes it clear that Americans are now honorary Jews. In other words, in the course of the past two years, the number of Jews (as far as antisemites are concerned) has increased by a factor of twenty. If the long-term effect of this is to convince Americans to convert to Judaism, The Passion might indeed be an “evangelical tool,” but not in the direction anticipated.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Life Imitates Science Fiction

The latest terrorist tactic in Iraq is assassination of intellectuals:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 6 — Abdul al-Latif al-Mayah was never safe. Not before the war started, and not after.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Mayah, a 53-year-old political scientist and human rights advocate known in his neighborhood here as "the professor," was driving to work when eight masked gunmen jumped in front of his car. They yanked him into the street, the police said, and shot him nine times in front of his bodyguard and another university lecturer.

In an instant, he became one of hundreds of intellectuals and midlevel administrators who Iraqi officials say have been assassinated since May in a widening campaign against Iraq's professional class.

"They are going after our brains," said Lt. Col. Jabbar Abu Natiha, head of the organized crime unit of the Baghdad police. "It is a big operation. Maybe even a movement."

These white-collar killings, American and Iraqi officials say, are separate from — and in some ways more insidious than — the settling of scores with former Baath Party officials, or the singling-out of police officers and others thought to be collaborating with the occupation. Hundreds of them have been attacked as well in an effort to sow insecurity and chaos.

But by silencing urban professionals, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a spokesman for the occupation forces, the guerrillas are waging war on Iraq's fledgling institutions and progress itself. The dead include doctors, lawyers and judges.

"This works against everything we're trying to do here," the general said.

I'm reminded of the SF story “State of Assassination” by Poul Anderson, in which assassination replaced war. At first, only major political figures were targeted but it then extended to anybody with brains.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Vegetable Rights, Continued

ScrappleFace reports on the right of household pets to contribute to political campaigns:

Mr. McAuliffe said that since Howard Dean's so-called "I Have a Scream" speech in Iowa, the DNC has been deluged with requests from family pets who want to contribute money to the Dean campaign.

"Apparently there was something in that speech which resonated with dogs in particular," he said. "The Bassett Hound and Dalmatian donations have been pouring in."

This animal chauvinism cannot be tolerated. It's time to defend the right of house plants to get involved in politics.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Why There Are So Few Anti-Communist Movies

The discussion at Gene Expression mentioned below also asked why anti-Communist movies are rare. It's quite simple. The Communists had the foresight to make themselves boring, thus ensuring there would be nothing equivalent to Schindler's List or Stalag 17 about them. They paid the price of having fewer blithering idiots defend them but that's relatively unimportant.

The Communists were so boring that the two best anti-Communist movies (On the Waterfront and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) had to be made about more interesting non-Communist villains that any viewer could recognize as similar to communists.

The dullness strategy was almost certainly deliberate and has been used elsewhere. According to my father, there was an attempted Communist takeover of the Chemistry Club at Queens College a few decades ago. Their tactic was to extend meeetings until everybody else got bored and went home and they could vote for their agenda. (This was stopped by putting a time limit on meetings.)

Do Jews Run the Hollywood Left?

There's a discussion at Gene Expression on the presence of Jews in decision-making positions in Hollywood. I probably would have ignored it (it was mainly about the possible effects if Asians went for Hollywood careers), but there was a reference to the Hollywood Left.

The Hollywood left isn't a propaganda effort from Jews; it is a propaganda effort to Jews. Look at how much Jews have to lose. We can start with redistribution of income (from disproportionately Jewish upper middle classes downward). We can continue with the belief that only agnosticism is repectable. Support for Israel has become politically incorrect. Liberal beliefs can lead to the prohibition of Jewish practices such as kosher slaughter or circumcision. The existence of Jewish liberals merely shows how successful the campaign has been.

Liberals have an attraction to centers of power. That's why they flocked to the Kennedys. (The Kennedys started out excessively far right and have moved left with their advisors.) That's why they would rather be Ivy League dropouts than PhDs from unknown universities. That's why they went to great lengths to provide the cliches for Hollywood. Hollywood was started by Jews but it didn't start out on the left. L.B. Mayer was not noted for radicalism. (At the other end of the scale, an extra named Ayn Rand was not exactly a socialist either.) The propaganda abilities of Hollywood were enough to attract liberals and they were able to con many of the Jews already there into going along.

We can see that the relation between leftist ideologies and Judaism is rather one-sided. Leftists get lots from Judaism (a means of erasing the latter half of National Socialism, the ability to portray any opposition as Christian obscurantists, a better cash cow than goyish socialists, a way to evade the Holocaust comparison to abortion, recruits whose religious traditions are ill-understood by the majority and thus can be portrayed as supporting the fad of the month, etc.) but Judaism gets worthless stuff in return (progressive tax rates, affirmative action, a subjectivism that leads to intermarriage, anti-colonialism that leads to anti-Zionism, etc.) In other words, leftist ideologies are parasites on Judaism and the acts of Jews under the influence of the left have no more to do with Jewish goals than a tendency to sneeze when having a cold has to do with human goals.

In other words, to the extent Hollywood is on the left, Jews don't run Hollywood; Hollywood runs Jews. We can see this from the other side as well. The conservative most able to get the Jewish vote was Ronald Reagan. I suspect the Republicans could carry the Jewish vote by nominating Ben Stein for president.

This Is Embarrassing

Wasn't Todos Santos (currently known as “Dalalbari”) supposed to be in the United States, not Bangladesh?

Does outsourcing have anything to do with this?

A Pack Not a Herd, Continued

According to an article in LA City Beat (seen via The Brothers Judd), a pro-Communist artist is outraged that he was under surveillance by The People as well as by The Establishment:

The surveillance didn't surprise him. He had been a war resister and an anti-nuclear protester, and he had walked picket lines during the 1940s Hollywood studio strikes. What came as a shock was that friends, former lovers, neighbors, and even the mailman had made the reports. A fellow artist had sent sketches of Mesches to the feds, and a student had taken pictures with a specially provided miniature camera hidden in a necktie.
If information wants to be free, doesn't that include information on what supporters of tyranny are up to?

Saturday, February 07, 2004

I'm a True Believer …

John Derbyshire has called supporters of increased immigration “open-borders true believers.” (In addition to being NRO's resident mathematician, he's also the resident stasist.) All I have to say to that is:


Thursday, February 05, 2004

The Language of Category Theory

John Derbyshire is discussing technical terms in category theory. (It might be the topic of his next book.) I have a question about the language of category theory: Why does category theory sound like a bad sci-fi movie? It sounds like a horde of monoids from the planet Functor are trying to spread the vile doctrine of morphism and turn the Earth into a terminal object.

The Best Reason to Vote Democratic in the 2004 Election

Democrats are more likely to put Lawrence Lessig on the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, terrorists are likely to see that as a Sign from God that Bush's antiterror policy is over and it's safe to attack Americans again.

Was Quaoar Misnamed?

In view of the resemblance of Quaoar to Pluto, it should have been named either Mickey or Goofy.

On the other hand, Disney might sue. If they sue, we can always change the name again to Bugs or Daffy.

Another “Pro-Choice” Cliche Vanishes

One of the standard excuses of the pro-choicers is that they're not trying to force anybody to participate in an abortion&hellip until now:

DENTON, Texas (AP) -- About 40 people gathered outside an Eckerd pharmacy Monday, protesting what they said was a decision to deny a rape victim a prescription for the morning-after pill.

A spokesman for the Florida-based company confirmed that Eckerd has taken disciplinary action in response to an incident at the store.


Gay Dodson, executive director of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, said state law allows pharmacists to decline filling prescriptions if the medication could harm the patient.

"The law does not say that the pharmacy can decline because of moral ground," she said.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

A Problem with a Statist Response to Terrorism

There's the obvious problem that the State might turn totalitarian, as has been mentioned elsewhere. There's the equally obvious response that we won't have much in the way of freedom if the terrorists win. But there's an even bigger problem with a statist response.

What happens if terrorists infiltrate the State? In that case, a statist response will deliver us to our enemies even faster.

We should consider why we didn't become totalitarian during Cold War I. I suspect one reason we didn't become totalitarian then was that early on Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy emphasized the possibility of infiltration. (There was the minor problem that Nixon was corrupt and McCarthy was a wannabee dictator but they didn't do much permanent damage.) Maybe we need someone pointing out the same possibility today.

Repeat after me: “I have a list of 205 Saudi agents in the State Department…”

“Even Nixon” Is Back!

Anybody old enough to read newspapers in the 1970s probably noticed the “even Nixon” argument. It went approximately as follows:

Even Nixon, the most conservative President in living memory with the biggest electoral victory found it necessary to impose price controls and bargain with Communists. That shows how Republican ideologues are hopelessly obsolete.
Of course, just a few years later, Reagan won by a near landslide.

I've been looking for it lately, but didn't see much sign of it. Apparently, the typical leftist ideologue would rather not give credit to Dubya for pushing through a large chunk of liberalism.

Well… it's back! According to Kevin Drum (seen via Charles Murtaugh):

What's weird, in a way, is that all of the "big ideas" in the second story have such a retro 60s feel to them: going to the moon, finding a cure for cancer, funding hunger programs, and universal child healthcare. Some of them ? though definitely not a lunar version of aerospace corporate welfare ? are worthy goals, but they sound more like Great Society programs than 21st century Republican programs.

For all their talk about being the "party of ideas" these days, when it comes time to actually find an idea Republicans grab one from LBJ's workpile. It's sort of a tacit admission that all the genuine Republican ideas are way too unpopular to push during an election year.

On the other hand, Reagan and Gingrich were able to be recognizably conservative. Maybe the problem with the budget is that the Bushes are the American equivalents of members of the House of Lords. They could afford everything they ever wanted and figured the U.S. could do the same. It's easier to balance the budget as long as we avoid a President from the American House of Lords (which rules out Dean or Kerry).

If you object to members of the American House of Lords, you should remember that if the Republicans had done a little better in 1998 we'd have President Gingrich now. (I think it's about time we had a science-fiction fan as President.)

Two Problems with Outsourcing Debates

The case against hysterical protectionists seems clear enough, even on the sound-bite level. Every dollar we send elsewhere comes back. (It might not come back immediately and it might be by an indirect route, but foreigners are not going to pile up worthless paper indefinitely.) It therefore follows that every job lost to imports here is matched by another job gained from exports. There are two reasons this isn't getting through:

  • Free-market economists keep using the technical term “comparative advantage” without recognizing what it sounds like to laymen. It sounds like “American comparative advantage” is about comparing American jobs to foreign jobs. Actually, it's a matter of comparing some American jobs to other American jobs.
  • Yesterday's free-market advocates used arguments along the lines of: We don't have to make cars, we can program computers instead. When foreigners started going into computer software, that looked refuted. The argument is that the jobs come back, not that we know which jobs those are ahead of time.

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