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, March 31, 2005

Rereading “The Defenseless Dead” by Larry Niven

I was a bit put off by the cover of the collection it was in (The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton). It almost shouted: THIS BOOK WAS PUBLISHED IN THE BLEEPING SEVENTIES!

First a bit about Niven's SF. This was part of the Known Space series. One of the big ideas was the social consequences of routine organ transplants … such as getting organ parts from executed criminals … or criminal gangs obtaining bootleg organs from kidnap victims.

The story starts out by mentioning the Freezer Bill, which declared that cryonics patients (cryonics is also part of this universe) who would not be able to support themselves were now legally dead and a source of spare parts. You can think of this as capital punishment for being poor. As the story opens, a second Freezer Bill is in the works. This one declares that insane cryonics patients are now legally dead. (It looks like the “insane” include religious fanatics.) A typical quote (about the revivification of some of the mental patients):

Now they were stranded in a foreign land, their homes forever lost in the mists of time. Revivification had saved them from an ugly, humiliating death at the hands of most of the human race, a fate that smacked of cannibalism and ghouls. The paranoids were hardly surprised. The rest reacted like paranoids.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Maybe I've Been Posting Too Much about Terri Schindler Schiavo

Maybe I'm getting repetitious. In any case, this blog is nominally about science fiction, so I should post more about SF. On the other hand, anything I post might reflect the mess in Florida.

So … Anybody here read “The Defenseless Dead” by Larry Niven?

Dueling Religious Quotes on Terri

On the one hand, according to Neal Boortz:

Do you believe that the human soul can make the transition to everlasting life while the human body that carried that soul through life clings to life on this earth? If you do, then you must surely believe that Terri Schiavo has earned and is already enjoying her reward in heaven. That being the case, why is it so important to you that the now-unneeded body of Terri Schiavo is kept alive?

But perhaps you believe, as I do, that the human soul is so connected to and integrated with its earthly body that any transition will not be made until that body ceases functioning -- until death occurs.. That being the case, why do you so ardently desire that the soul of Terri Schiavo spend five, ten, perhaps 30 years or more trapped in a useless and non-functioning body, unable to move on to whatever reward awaits her? Isn't 15 years enough?

Where do your concerns truly lie, with the eternal soul of Terri Schiavo, or with her earthly body?

On the other hand, according to Rabbi Israel Salanter:

A pious Jew is not one who worries about his fellow man's soul and his own stomach; a pious Jew worries about his own soul and his fellow man's stomach.

Come to think of it, for a case associated with the Left, there aren't that many prominent right-to-die Jews. We see very few embarrassments quoting distorted versions of Judaism in support of removing the feeding tube and Orthodox Jews are solidly pro-tube.

So That's What They Were Complaining About

Sometimes people I agree with can help me understand why others disagree. In the Terri Schindler Schiavo case, a discussion of “small-government conservatives” by Mickey Kaus, a feeding-tube supporter, did that:

That's a fine argument if you're a states rights conservative. But what about those of us who aren't? Do we now have to agree with William Rehnquist's jurisprudence? I've always thought the country would be better off divided into 10 numbered sectors. State governments mainly multiply the federal bureaucracy X 50. And if state laws have created a crazy system for making life-ending decisions--a fictititious judicial hunt for the near-decedent's "wishes" guided by potentially-conflicted spouses--it's perfectly reasonable to seek a better, national solution, just as it was reasonable to blow off "states' rights" when local jurisdictions sought to discriminate against blacks. ... P.S.: Roe v. Wade is inapposite here. Roe didn't transfer authority over abortion from the state legislature to the federal legislature. It removed the issue from both state and federal legislatures--from any sort of democratic decisionmaking--and gave it to the Supreme Court. If Roe is ever overturned, will the abortion issue go back to the states? I doubt it. Federal legislation would be inevitable, and proper.

The reason to prefer state legislation to federal is not that states have rights, it's to minimize the damage done by well-intentioned bad laws. This mess was started by a Florida law that was probably passed and signed on the grounds it would prevent force feeding of terminal cancer patients. We should reform such laws a state at a time so we can see what kind of messes arise.

For example, one possible reform is to insist that the testimony of what the patient once said cannot be accepted unless the alleged witnesses all agree. In that case, a distant cousin who met the patient once could threaten to hold up proceedings until he's given a cut of the estate. Another possible reform is to insist that any family dispute must be adjudicated to preserve lives. It's then possible for someone to insist that he will become suicidally depressed unless he's given the Rolls-Royce. Yet another reform is to insist that the handicapped get state-of-the-art medical care. This is particularly problematic since enforcing it will require a bureacracy. The definition of state-of-the-art medical care might be determined by someone with a brother-in-law who's a reflexologist.

It makes far more sense to pass special-purpose bills to rescue individuals one at a time. Even if it's abused, it can't be abused on a large scale. Besides, if we were to stop every instance of a “thumb on the scale,” we'd have to ban pardons. On the other hand, pardons have been abused as well …

Monday, March 28, 2005

Playing God and Playing Terri

The usual argument for theocracy is that God has the ultimate authority over the universe. The usual argument against theocracy (Pat Oliphant (seen via Orac) has a typical example) is that we have little clear evidence of what God wants and we have to depend on unreliable (and possibly self-interested) human testimony.

The usual argument for patient autonomy is that the patient has the ultimate authority over the has/her body. In the case of Terri Schindler Schiavo, we have little clear evidence of what Terri wanted and we have to depend on unreliable (and possibly self-interested) human testimony.

What He Said …

I normally avoid “Me Too” posts but Kevin McGehee sums up my feelings. (Warning: Very rude language.)

Addendum: A more temperate living will can be found here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

It's Later Than You Think

John J. Reilly asked:

Do you really want to live in a country where the law can be suspended with respect to popularly designated individuals?
In that case, you'll have jack-booted goons snatching children from families, shooting people in doorways, or sending tanks against harmless loons.

Wait a minute …

Obligatory Science Fiction Post

At the Blogger Party, some people asked me the name of my blog and I told them “Yet another weird SF fan.” They then asked me if I mostly wrote about Science Fiction. I suppose I haven't been doing enough of that, so I'll mention Manshape by John Brunner and Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. (Well, yes … they both have food for thought in the Schiavo case …)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Non-State Means of Saving Terri and “Small-Government Conservatism”

Clayton Cramer has some suggestions for saving Terri without using government power. If anybody tried that, would the “small-government conservatives” object? Or would they insist that the government Do Something? (If the state government of Florida refused, would they insist on the Federal government getting involved?)

By the way, why are the “small-government conservatives” so much more outraged over this than over far worse violations of states rights? For example, there's No Child Left Behind, which not only interferes with local governments but sets up mechanisms for further interference. There's the gay-marriage controversy, which is likely to interfere with more states for a longer time but which is regarded as minor silliness.

This lack of federalism is not new. You can't look back to the golden age of Reagan. Reagan was known for advocating the Human-Life Amendment (which would interfere with even more allegedly-private decisions and do so on a federal level). For that matter, the drinking age was raised to 21 on a national level in 1984 and that's a clear violation of federal principles.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fears Coming True Revisited

I just realized that my fears coming true (about a third party declaring that a nerd does not have a life worth living) already happened decades ago. That was a clear subtext of A Most Peculiar Man by Simon and Garfunkel.

Similarly, I disgree with common opinion of my fellow wingnuts that the Terri Schindler Schiavo case is unprecedented. It closely resembles the Nancy Cruzan case. Third parties refused allegedly extraordinary care (like food and water) on behalf of someone who wasn't quite brain dead but who was said to have made some vague comments (possibly thoughtless comments in support of currently popular ideas) expressing a distaste for being kept alive artificially.

On the other hand, Michael Martin managed to win his case. It looked close for a while. In 1994, I posted the following on a CompuServe forum:

"I haven't even looked at the paper today, but I know some judge, somewhere, is making another idiot decision." -- Bob Grant, New York radio personality

For years some pro-lifers and pro-choicers have been looking for something to agree on. It has finally turned up in the latest National Review.

First the facts. Michael Martin, a brain-damaged man in Michigan is the subject of a custody dispute between his wife, Mary Martin, on one hand and his sister and his mother, Pat Major and Leeta Martin, on the other. Mary wants his feeding tube removed, Pat and Leeta don't. Recently Judge George A. Grieg has allowed Mary to have Michael's feeding tube removed. So far this sounds like a typical case of a "persistent vegetative state." The punch line is that Michael can express himself via alphabet board and wants to live.

Are you pro-life? You should obviously be for Michael's right to life. (That would also help silence anybody who says that "right-to-life" seems to end at birth.)

Are you pro-choice? You should be for Michael's choice to live. If pro-choice is something other than a magical incantation intended to eliminate opposition, it stands for the right of persons to make decisions about themselves and have others respect those decisions. It doesn't mean that a judge can simply ignore your expressed choice.

The judge presumably ruled that Michael Martin is not competent to make his own decisions as though the decision-making part of his brain weren't there. If a judge can turn a difference in brain function of no demonstrable relevance into a reason to ignore someone's decisions and his life, then none of us is safe.

Any homosexuals out there? Some scientists claim that your brains are somehow different. If trendy opinion changes, you may find your life disregarded by some judge using that as an excuse.

Any "homophobes" out there, for that matter? There are claims that "homophobia" is a mental illness. What if that influences judges?

If you are somewhat brighter than average, somewhat dimmer than average, or have a notable eccentricity, you are in trouble.

Is there some way to save Michael Martin? Some way to attract publicity to this case? Could Operation Rescue and NARAL join forces?

One last question: Is there anybody out there who can justify killing Michael Martin?

Politicians Are Grandstanding about Terri Schindler Schiavo

In a related story, the wild bear does indeed defecate in the woods.

Actually, the politicians got something right for once

They passed a special-purpose bill instead of passing a poorly thought-out general-purpose bill in the heat of the moment. (This is almost as strange as a wild bear using a flush toilet.) General-purpose bills are apt to have unintended consequences. A bill intended to preserve somebody's right to life against hostile relatives might cause the Feds to intervene in a family quarrel in which a spoiled adolescent threatens suicide. A bill intended to ensure that the handicapped receive adequate care might cause the Bureau of Fashionable Ninnies to second guess doctors. (Conservatives who think such a bureaucracy won't be captured by the Left are fooling themselves.)

To give a concrete example of unintended consequences, Michael Schiavo was given the authority to refuse Terri's food by a bill that was probably intended to give terminal cancer patients the right to stop eating.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

If the Federal Government Is Getting Too Intrusive …

… isn't it a good thing that Congress is distracted by the Terri Schindler Schiavo debates?

The more time they spend on this, the less time they'll have to regulate steroids, micromanage education, or turn the electronics industry into an appendage of Hollywood.

On the other hand …

… you can also think of this as a return of the Republican party to its roots. The Republicans started out as a party dedicated to using the Federal government to protect the rights of individuals against local authorities.

Does anyone believe that Florida legislators are somehow biased against comatose people?

The above question was posed by University of Michigan professor Rick Hills and quoted at the Volokh Conspiracy. Change “legislators” to “judges” and my answer is: Yes.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Odd Terri-Related Comment on Daily Kos

A commenter on the Daily Kos thread on comparing Terri's CAT scan with a normal scan made the following remark:

That makes more sense.  I was looking at the top one thinking it looked like my son's after he had his shunt placed for a bit of time - yes, it was that bad.  (Hydrocephalus)

His Ct's or MRI's are MUCH different now.  Unlike adult problems with too much spinal fluid, infants have much improved chances.

Hmmmm… So it's possible for a human being to recover from that much brain damage …

There is the minor problem that it will be necessary to create neural stem cells in her brain, but that might be possible.

Yet More on Terri Schindler Schiavo

I looked at the CAT scans of what's left of Terri's brain compared with a normal CAT scan. It looks like she still has some brain structure left. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (I refuse to drop the Nuclear) would show how much of it occasionally functioned but, for some strange reason, it apparently wasn't done. I wonder if NRMI was done and it revealed more than the Enemy wanted.

On the other hand, this might merely be a matter of the Usual Gang of Idiots opposing all things nuclear. (The example of nuclear energy is one reason I'm skeptical of claims about embryonic stem-cell research. If it worked, the professional protestors would be against it.)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

One of my Fears Is Coming True

A third party has just declared that a nerd does not have a life worth living:

But what struck me is that he [de Grey] is a troll. For all de Greys vaulting ambitions, what Sherwin Nuland saw from the outside was pathetically circumscribed. In his waking life, de Grey is the ­com­puter support to a research team; he dresses like a shabby graduate student and affects Rip Van Winkles beard; he has no children; he has few interests outside the science of biogeron­tology; he drinks too much beer. Although he is only 41, the signs of decay are strongly marked on his face.
They'll get around to normals as well:
His ideas are trollish, too. For even if it were possible to perturb human biology in the way de Grey wishes, we shouldnt do it. Immortality might be okay for de Grey, but an entire world of the same superagenarians thinking the same kinds of thoughts forever would be terrible.
(seen via Brian Carnell).

Suggestion for Compromise on Terri

Maybe her feeding tube could be plugged in every other day.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Poetic Leanings vs. Poetic Leanings

On March 1, 2005, Poetic Leanings had the following comment on the right to life after birth:

Every so often the U.S. Supreme Court does something right. Today was such a day, when they ruled 5 - 4 that the execution of youths is unconstitutionally cruel. They had previously ruled that children under 16 could not be executed, but today's ruling covers 16 and 17 year olds. About 70 juveniles had their death sentences thrown out as a result.

The ruling by Justice Anthony Kennedy was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer and overrules the laws in 19 states that currently allow the death penalty for minors.

The states in question are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Texas and Virginia. They are mostly right-to-life, red states. Apparently, valuing life ends at birth.

On the same day, Poetic Leanings had another comment on the right to life after birth:

I am aware that the story of Terri Schiavo is old news and everyone knows about it to some degree, but in perusing the news tonight, I came across the above-linked story and the attempts by Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to have a judge grant a divorce to Terri from her husband Michael. I find this, and all the attempts to keep her alive in this terrible way to be appalling.

Jews and Muslims and Eternity Road

In a recent debate, Ahmed Younis compared anti-Muslim prejudice to anti-semitism:

He continued, "We believe that at its most extreme, this is no different than signs in the South that say 'no niggers,' 'no Jews,' 'no dogs.' This is no different than during World War II, cartoons that depicted Japanese-Americans as having buck teeth and big glasses."
This, in turn, produced some skepticism at Eternity Road:
What connection is there between the Jewish people, the gentlest and most accomplished identifiable subgroup of humanity, and a written, historically enacted proclamation that "infidels" must be converted, killed, or forced to pay tribute?
Well … 1900 years ago we Red-Sea pedestrians were just as nuts as today's Muslims. There was a revolt similar to the 911 attack. (The general attitude of Jews of the era is described in the well-known documentary Life of Brian.)

In any case, monotheistic religions usually look forward the day everybody believes in the Truth. The details may differ …

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

It's International Eat an Animal for PETA Day

… so of course I had an omelet.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bankruptcy, Continued

If this bill can pass so overwhelmingly in the face of conservative opposition, it might be evidence that the current House and Senate Republicans have “jumped the shark.”

On the other hand, I doubt if this is simple corruption. Todd Zywicki pointed out there is a case on the other side. I suspect this is a matter of lobbyists running a subtle campaign. They kept a low profile for years but made sure that every Representative and Senator was surrounded by people who occasionaly complained about deadbeats and gave the impression there was no legitimate dissent. (Leftists should be familiar with this by the way they spin environmentalism.) It was then well on the way to being passed before most of the opposition even heard of it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

If It Wants to Register to Vote, We'll Have to Let It

According to The Telegraph, scientists are planning to produce a mouse with a brain composed of human cells. If they actually succeed, I'll skip Eat an Animal for Peta Day.

For some reason, my cat just came over to investigate.

Addendum: The counter-revolution is starting.

Negative Right, Positive Rights, and Bankruptcy

If the proposed bankruptcy law enables the government to force more people to repay debts instead of simply wiping out their assets, then it will increase positively-positive rights. To repeat my earlier distinction:

Libertarians usually classify property rights as negative rights. On the other hand, property rights, at least when they include the right of stockholders to defend their property against an Enron-style mutiny, require government activity. (You can make the case that defending small objects or even small pieces of real estate can be done in the absence of government.)

One way to distinguish between those property rights that require government enforcement and the usual examples of positive rights is that property rights are enforced by ensuring that some things don't happen whereas positive rights requires that some things do happen. We can call property rights part of “negatively-positive rights” whereas a right to medical care is one of the “positively-positive rights.”

This sounds distinctively leftist to me. Come to think of it, these regulations are only supposed to affect people with incomes above the median. It won't extract blood money from the poor but from the upper-middle class. If these regulations attract enough competition to the credit-card business to force interest rates down, the poor might even benefit.

A Missed Opportunity?

If a large fraction of Syria's jihadists were in Lebanon for the demonstration, could we have invaded Syria safely?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A Theory about Opposition to Standardized Tests

The official reason for devising alternatives to standardized tests is that the tests don't measure creativity or common sense. (Can creativity be measured by admissions officers of universities? Are attempts at common sense desirable in universities?) The official unofficial reason is that there is a gap between the measured achievement of different racial groups. (Can we get rid of the effects of slavery by failing to measure those effects?) I suspect there is another reason: Standardized tests interfere with the ability to turn universities into conservative-free zones.

A few decades ago, back when leftists really were the arrogant intellectuals they've been pretending to be ever since, they pushed through meritocratic reforms at the top universities. They were expecting that Ivy-League students would be as politically-uniform as Ivy-League faculties have become. It didn't quite work that way. There were enough right-wing students admitted that the leftists started asking themselves “How did the enemy get in here?”

They've been looking for a solution to the problem ever since.

Whatever Happened to …

Trolling in Shallow Water?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Darwinism and the Holocaust?

According to Jerry Bergman, there's a connection:

Of the many factors that produced the Nazi holocaust and World War II, one of the most important was Darwin’s notion that evolutionary progress occurs mainly as a result of the elimination of the weak in the struggle for survival. Although it is no easy task to assess the conflicting motives of Hitler and his supporters, Darwinism-inspired eugenics clearly played a critical role. Darwinism justified and encouraged the Nazi views on both race and war. If the Nazi party had fully embraced and consistently acted on the belief that all humans were descendants of Adam and Eve and equal before the creator God, as taught in both the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures, the holocaust would never have occurred.
The Holocaust was definitely an example of Darwinism at work. The Jews are still in existence and the Nazis aren't. The unfit disappeared.

The Nazis made two mistakes when it came to using theories of evolution:

  • They regarded “survival of the fittest” as prescriptive instead of descriptive. There is no more reason to back evolution with government power than there is a reason to back gravity with government power.

  • They thought the definition of “fittest” could be dreamed up a priori. If they had any sense, they would have imitated proven survivors.

On the other hand, if they had tried to imitate Jews, they would have imitated their idea of Jews and created a secret conspiracy against the rest of the world …

On the gripping hand, I might have just started the next generation of insane conspiracy theories …

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

More on Intellectual Diversity at Stanford

I posted my theory about the mainstream/consensus ratio on Aaron Swartz's blog. Matthew Weiner responded by pointing out that consensus references on the Web outnumber mainstream references for both gravity and evolution. Hmph. I suppose a generalization based on Usenet does not necessarily apply to the Web.

There is, of course, a difference between a conclusion based on numerous lines of evidence (e.g., that the Earth is billions of years old) and a conclusion based on one time series (e.g., that the observed global warming is mostly due to human influence).

I also noticed an HTML comment in the original post:

<!--The Stanford numbers are, of course, made up. -->
Considering Global Consciousness Project, the numbers for paranormal believers on university faculties seems oddly low.

Dubya as a Liberal President

Quincy asks:

How can G.W. Bush...

...become the most entertaining person on the face of the planet?

It's simple. He can wake up one morning and start championing every cause the far-left holds dear.

I thought he's already doing that. He supports the wrong part of the Left (expanded entitlements), the right part of the Left (more open borders), and the temporarily-necessary part of the Left (nation building).

That might account for the escalating nature of Leftist rhetoric. For example, the usual stereotype of Republicans (that they're racist) no longer holds water when a Republican President supports relaxing immigration restrictions. (A conservative who supports open borders is like a liberal who's pro-nuclear: The stereotypes don't work.) They have to invent issues like gay marriage or pretend that opposition to “self determination” is a matter of racism.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Are Nukes Supernatural?

It's common for members of the “reality-based community” to treat nuclear fission as though it were cursed. This is sometimes combined with worship of solar energy. This actually makes sense when you consider that Secular Humanism Release 1.0, otherwise known as Epicurean philosophy, included the theory that all natural phenomena were due to the movement of atoms in the void. According to Democritus, the founder of classical atomic theory:

… color exists by convention, sweet by convention, bitter by convention, in reality nothing exists but atoms and the void.
The class of natural phenomena might be much broader than rearrangements of atoms, but if the class of natural phenomena can be expanded at will, the claim that a phenomenon is natural becomes empty. All that's left is the idea that reality can be rationally analyzed … and there's no good non-circular reason to think rational analysis precludes religion.

If natural phenomena are only due to rearrangements of atoms, those phenomena due to other causes must be supernatural. In particular, nuclear fission or the sun's luminosity are classed as supernatural. If “black magic” is defined as a supernatural phenomenon summoned by the will of the sorceror then nukes are clearly black magic. Sunlight, on the other hand, is freely given by the Sun so, by the same standards, we have a holy obligation to accept it.

Those leftists who actually are rational could help prove that by coming out in favor of nukes. (Don't give me the excuse that it's politically impossible; that hasn't stopped leftists before. In any case, it's easier to ignore anti-nuke activists than persuade people to give up fossil fuels.) Most anti-leftist stereotypes are incompatible with being pro-nuke.

Hermann Göring Was Wrong

According to Hermann Göring:

Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
The insurgency in Iraq tried that and failed to get enough popular support.

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