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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Yet another weird SF fan

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Meme to Spread

I'm sure that most of my fellow reactionary fruitcakes have come across the “chickenhawk” accusation—that anyone defending Gulf War II must either enlist in the military or be a hypocrite. It makes a superficial amount of sense; after all, when there is a shortage of military manpower, anybody who increases the demand but not the supply is partly responsible for it.

Grimmy, a commenter on TigerHawk, came up with an excellent sound bite against that:


Allow me to apologize for Anonymous's poor comprehension skills. He obviously thought your post was demanding that he enlist.

His lack of critical thinking skills is my fault - for not signing up to become a teacher.
Hmmmm… and malnutrition is my fault for not being a farmer and high oil prices are my fault for not being an oil driller and …

Asymmetric War?

The terrorist/militants/freedom fighters in Guantanomo are trying to play the standard game of one-sided threats:

Many of the orange jumpsuit-clad detainees fight their captors at every opportunity. They attack guards whenever the soldiers enter their cells, trying to reach up under protective face masks to gouge eyes and tear mouths. They make weapons and try to stab the guards or grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food. These terrorist prisoners openly brag of their desire to kill Americans. One has promised that if he is released he would find MPs in their homes through the Internet, break into their houses at night and 'cut the throats of them and their families like sheep.' These recalcitrant detainees are known euphemistically as being "non-compliant."
It's no longer one sided:

A HOSTAGE held alongside Australian Douglas Wood in Iraq has hired bounty hunters to track down his former captors, promising to eliminate them one by one.


"I have now put some people to work to find these bastards," he told the Ten Network today.

"I invested about $50,000 so far and we will get them one by one."

The Bright Side of the Kelo Decision

… is the shear breadth of the opposition. Other outrages produced more opposition on one side of the political spectrum than the other. The Kelo decision makes it possible for all of us to put aside our petty personal differences and get together to tar and feather the Supreme Court (or at least five justices).

By the way, how would we word a Constitutional Amendment to reverse this decision? Would it read: “When we say ‘public use,’ we really really mean it!”?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A Brief Note on Iran and Nukes

It took the United States four years to get nuclear weapons in an era when all the research had to be done for the first time.

Iran has been run by loons for a quarter century. They were fighting a war with a megalomaniac with nuclear ambitions for almost a decade. If they don't have nukes by now, they must be really lame.

On the other hand, they might have had nukes since 1988 (the war with Iraq came to a sudden end then) but the nukes might be controlled by an anti-mullah faction.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

This Sounds Familiar

The news from Iraq sounds oddly like the news from Israel two years ago.

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race?

The real worst mistake in the history of the human race (seen via Fark) is listening to crackpots.

I Don't Know Which Side to Support

It's Scientology vs. Kabbalah (seen via The Yuppies of Zion).

Scientology is less embarassing to Jews and Kabbalah is less embarassing to science-fiction fans so as a Jewish science-fiction fan …

The Only Reason I Haven't Commented on the Kelo Decision

Others have said just about everything I might have said and said it first.

The only thing I can add is that it's another reason the Mad article I recently mentioned is no longer far fetched.

Friday, June 24, 2005

They Have Us Mistaken for People Who Care, Part III

Apparently, some of us are nuts enough to care.

In the 1960s, Mad Magazine ran an article on “The Mad Articles You Didn't Get to See” giving brief excerpts from Mad articles that were based on premises too insane even for Mad. One of them was: “What Happens When the Federal Government Runs Absolutely Everything?” It included President Johnson calling a press conference to tell a small boy to eat his vegetables.

Right now, that doesn't look so far fetched.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Politics May Be Etched in the Genes …

… according to The New York Times:

But on the basis of a new study, a team of political scientists is arguing that people's gut-level reaction to issues like the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues - more conservative or more progressive - is influenced by genes.
I have a question: Is a belief that reactions are “etched in the genes” etched in the genes?

I'm reminded of the problems involved in assuming other people's irrationality in speculative frenzies. For example, if you assume that the irrationality of a stock-market bubble is permanent instead of being the result of the actions of potentially-rational people, you might be tempted to apply the bigger fool theory and invest on the grounds you can always sell to a bigger fool. As a general rule, the people who invest on the basis of the bigger fool theory, turn out to be the bigger fools in question.

This is a real application of the Creationist cliche I mentioned last month. Any analysis that assumes that human irrationality is permanent also applies to the people doing the analyzing and is therefore unreliable.

Wasn't This in Life of Brian?

The rebels in Iraq are fighting each other instead of us or ordinary Iraqis:

KARABILA, Iraq, June 20 - Late Sunday night, American marines watching the skyline from their second-story perch in an abandoned house here saw a curious thing: in the distance, mortar and gunfire popped, but the volleys did not seem to be aimed at them.

In the dark, one spoke in hushed code words on a radio, and after a minute found the answer.

"Red on red," he said, using a military term for enemy-on-enemy fire.

Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange new trend in the already complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting each other in towns along the Euphrates from Husayba, on the border, to Qaim, farther west. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.

A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said in a telephone interview that there has been a split for some time.

I'm reminded of the following passage from Life of Brian:
Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f______ Judean People's Front.
And the Judean Popular People's Front.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
And the People's Front of Judea.
Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
We're the People's Front of Judea!
Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
People's Front! C-huh.
Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
He's over there.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I Don't Think This is a Coincidence

Let's see … A few days ago, the Terri Schindler Schiavo autopsy was released followed by the left side of the blogosphere repeating ad nauseam the fact that she had a brain half-size. Immediately afterwards, it became legitimate to talk about brain sizes.

I suspect that, no matter what the autopsy showed, the left would insist it vindicated them.

An Odd Resemblance

Mrs. Instapundit bears a striking resemblance to Pamela of Atlas Shrugs.

The People Supplying the Dimes

My question has been answered. According to a Chris Bowers, leftist blogs are more likely to be community sites. Once a preposterous meme appears on one of them, it will spread rapidly before anybody had a chance to point out its problems. If it had to spread from blog to blog, it would spread more slowly.

By the way, what the [expletive deleted] is meant by “aristocratic” or “top-down”? I am the baron of my computer and have top-down control over my wardrobe but that's a matter of private property. The right side of the blogosphere is also not taking marching orders from Glenn Reynolds or Charles Johnson. (They're antitubists anyway.)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Blindsight and Terri

On the one hand, Terri was able to follow objects with her eyes. On the other hand, her visual cortex was nearly destroyed. (Another way to look at that news is that the damage to the rest of her brain wasn't enough to emphasize.) The lack of a visual cortex appears to mean she was blind, except there is the odd phenomenon of blindsight, in which someone who's cortically blind can locate objects visually.

There's more than one vision center in the brain. That shouldn't surprise us. After all, birds can see quite well without much in the way of a cerebral cortex. (If the antitubists want to start calling Terri a “birdbrain,” I can't stop them and it's a less insulting term than “vegetard.”)

Speaking of insults … How did the meme of “The Right-Wing Must Apologize” get started? It seemed to be almost everywhere within a few hours of the release of the autopsy … almost as though somebody were organizing it. If the demands for an apology are a dime a dozen, who is supplying the dimes?

This Just In

Terri had a brain … including parts of the neocortex … with less-damaged frontal and temporal lobes … and even a few neurons.

So when will the people who claimed the contents of her braincase was either fluid or scar tissue apologize?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

We'll Serve Anyone …

Meaning anyone

And to anyone, at all!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jewish Food and IQ

There's some evidence for my speculations on Jewish food and IQ. According to an article in New Scientist (seen via Pejman Yousefzadeh):

Round off lunch with a yogurt dessert, and you should be alert and ready to face the stresses of the afternoon. That's because yogurt contains the amino acid tyrosine, needed for the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenalin, among others. Studies by the US military indicate that tyrosine becomes depleted when we are under stress and that supplementing your intake can improve alertness and memory.


Brains are around 60 per cent fat, so if trans-fats clog up the system, what should you eat to keep it well oiled? Evidence is mounting in favour of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. In other words, your granny was right: fish is the best brain food. Not only will it feed and lubricate a developing brain, DHA also seems to help stave off dementia. Studies published last year reveal that older mice from a strain genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's had 70 per cent less of the amyloid plaques associated with the disease when fed on a high-DHA diet.

Tyrosine and omega-3 fatty acids … In other words, the key foods are cream cheese and lox.

Universal Replication and the “Chinese Century”

In addition to the factors mentioned by Mark Steyn, there is another reason the current Chinese regime is unlikely to be a world power. China is mainly successful at being the “workshop of the world.” When universal replicators make large-scale workshops unnecessary …

So if there's a propaganda campaign against replicators, we'll know that the Chinese Communist Party is behind it.

Speaking of propaganda campaigns …

Is it a mere coincidence that the anti-nuclear campaign went into high gear in the mid 1970s, when OPEC became able to pay for propaganda on a large scale?

Odd Phrase in Article about Ayaan Hirsi Ali

According to an article in The Nation:

Seven months ago, Hirsi Ali's implacable campaign against what she views as Islam's oppression of women prompted a Muslim fanatic to ritually slaughter Theo van Gogh, her Dutch collaborator on the film Submission.
I have previously seen the phrase “ritually slaughter” on crackpot antisemitic web sites that purport to show that Jews “ritually slaughter” gentiles. At first sight, this looks like evidence that critics of Islamofascists are acting in the same manner as antisemites … except this came from a supposedly-multicultural magazine.

This might have been an attempt at appealing to Jewish reflexes. It won't work when the multiculturalists are the ones doing it.

Besides, Jewish sources attribute the Diaspora to the sin of causeless hatred. The fanatics should take note.

The Dark Side of the Farm

If we're going to use lame Star Wars analogies, it should be obvious that Organic Food leads to women dying in childbirth and also to a venerated sage slicing up a dissenter and leaving him to die.

They Have Us Mistaken for People Who Care, Part II

The people responsible for the pointless flag desecration have responded to the publicity. They're praying for the death of the journalist who publicized the video. They're apparently accusing him of making false allegations of Islamic intolerance.

On the other hand, maybe the brave warriors are afraid of retaliation. They did something pointless and then they got nervous about doing even that much.

The Ability to Cloud Men's Minds

According to Instapundit:

Really, Bush's ability to drive his opponents stark, raving bonkers is almost supernatural.
The proper term is “Clintonian.”

Meanwhile, in possibly-related news, the following passage from the review of The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review was apparently not published on the planet Earth:

The passion of the Clinton haters is a phenomenon without equal in recent American politics. It is not based on any specific policies that Clinton promoted or implemented during his years in office. It is almost entirely personal. In its persistence and intensity, it goes far beyond anything that comparable numbers of people have felt about Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or either of the presidents Bush. It surpasses even the liberals' longstanding detestation of Richard Nixon.

A Much-Needed Gap in the Blogosphere Has Been Filled

I recently asked if there were any blogs defending Young-Earth Creationism. Orac left a comment pointing to The Narrow. This blogger uses out-of-context arguments that are reminiscent of the open letter to Dr. Laura from his nominal opponents. We see the same use of supposedly-irrefutable arguments that could be easily answered by anybody knowledgeable.

One of the comments can be applied elsewhere:

The worst part of all this is that our children are the pawns in this debacle. It is truly very sad.

I actually was one of those pawn-babies-- the better part of my youth was spent at an Evangelical missionary school in Ethiopia, where we were taught evolution, and then taught to "debunk" it. Here's the thing: that school was *kickass*. It really was. I learned more before eighth grade than I did for some time after that. Even their science curriculum was brilliant, and replete with real skeletons and elephant teeth and nasty slimy things in jars reminiscent of Severus Snape. We dissected bats, and there was much rejoicing. You get the picture.

...Except that we weren't really *taught* evolution, in retrospect, other than as a series of straw-man arguments.

Which is no way to teach anything. A bit of the right sort of omissions; a bit of the right kind of mis-information, and you've actually killed the real thing that "rights and freedom of information" are supposed to do for these kids: help them think, help them learn to *evaluate* things-- because if you don't give them *all* the facts they can reasonably understand (not just the ones you think you can argue with) and if you insinuate (even falsely!) that there is something *wrong* with the facts you are giving, you've not only confused the people you're supposed to enlighten, but you've deprived them of the core vocabulary that allows them to ask questions of you. And it's those questions that let people make up their own minds, *not* the presence or absence of pamphlets.

[See... making kids think there's a scientific controversy where in fact there is none only puts them in that confused state where they'll "decide" they "favour" the more psychologically comforting alternative-- the one that they feel gives them the most stability-- and there are plenty of clever techniques that can be (and are being) used to make sure the comforting alternative has nothing to do with science, or facts, or the actual state of knowledge (or confusion) in the field.]

Besides, I want to know if it's turtles all the way down. Do the kids get taught evolution? Evolution + information "critical" of it? Evoltuion + information critical of it + information critical of the information critical of it? Who gets the last word? And wouldn't the time be better spent actually teaching biology?

If you rearrange the above, you have an explanation of how students at supposedly “elite” schools can graduate thinking that depleted uranium is a weapon of mass destruction or that desalinization makes the sea saltier or that Love Canal is permanently uninhabitable or …

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Another Gap in the Blogosphere

There are lots of pro-Intelligent-Design blogs. On the other hand, I can't think of any blog defending Young-Earth Creationism.

Some gaps don't have to be filled.

A Gap in the Blogosphere

Am I the only blogger criticizing criticizing Daniel Pink's excuses for lazyness?

Is it any coincidence that technobabble purporting to show how logical reasoning and creativity are antonyms is more popular when lazyness is trendy? That happened in the 1970s and it's happening today.

The Good Old Days … of the 1980s?

According to Keith Devlin, today's college students aren't appying themselves as much as they did in the 1980s:

I find it a paradoxical feature of American youth that large numbers of them bring a feverish intensity to sporting endeavors, putting in endless hours of dedicated training to become the best in their school, their district, their country, or even the world, yet only a few will put in the same kind of effort to mastering mathematics.

As recently as twenty-five years ago, the situation was very different. Early in my academic career, when my home base was in the UK, I used to come over to the USA frequently for a semester at a time to collaborate with colleagues at various universities, funding my trips by teaching courses as a visiting faculty member. I used to look forward to those trips not only because of the research activities they afforded, but because of the students I would teach. In contrast to most of the students I dealt with at home, many of my American students were highly motivated, hard working, fiercely competitive, and determined to show they were the best in the world. They would go to heroic lengths to avoid being defeated by a problem. Two decades later, living in the US now, I still encounter such students from time to time. But they no longer seem to be in the majority. For most of the young people I meet, the spark I used to see in their predecessors seems to be absent. What has led to this change? Why do so many of them seem to give up so easily? And is there anything we can do about it?

I suspect that students in the 1980s were harder-working than in the 1970s. In the late 1970s, there was a running joke that “only freshmen study.” By the 1980s, hard-working students were even noticed by the popular culture and (since Everybody Knows hard work and creativity are antonyms) assumed to be mindless regurgitating facts.

In other words, the Seventies are back “And is there anything we can do about it?”

They Have Us Mistaken for People Who Care

In revenge for the probably-imaginary desecration of the Koran at American Prisons, the Other Side is using their ultimate weapon: they're urinating on a symbol.


That's almost as impressive as a parrot saying “ouch.”

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Another Food–IQ Speculation

What are the effects of kosher Chinese food?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Supreme Court, Pot, and Fark

The Fark discussion of the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing the Federal ban on medical marijuana is full of snarky comments on how conservatives are hypocritical advocates of states rights who are willing to grab power when it comes to drugs …

Wait a minute … In this case, the liberal wing of the Court unanimously favored the expansion of Federal power and most of the conservatives opposed it. On the other hand, some of pot's biggest fans were willing to either post their fantasies in advance of the facts or ignore the facts entirely, almost as though something had rotted their minds …

I noticed one of the commenters quoted from an apparently-famous pro-pot song:

Legalize it don't criticize it
I see no reason we can't do both.

Addendum: I had somehow accidentally disabled comments. The comments are enabled now.

Creationist Scientists and Stem Cells

Research done on mouse embryos (seen via Ed Cone (seen via Instapundit)) is making human embryonic stem-cell research unnecessary:

Working with early mouse embryos, the team has found that single blastomeres, when cultivated in dishes with embryonic stem cells, can become what appear to be embryonic stem cells themselves. Chemicals secreted by the embryonic cells apparently flip the right genetic switches in the blastomeres to make them act "stemmy."

About a quarter to one-third of blastomeres treated this way can be coaxed to become embryonic stem cells or closely related embryo cells, said Lanza, who declined to release specific data pending publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

If this technique were applied to humans, then a single cell taken from an eight-cell fertility clinic embryo could give rise to a self-replicating line of embryonic stem cells without compromising the donor embryo's odds of someday growing into a baby.

After all, mice and human beings are part of the same evolutionary tree and are both descended from the mammals that evolved development in wombs.

On the other hand, earlier in the article:

The research is still young and largely unpublished, and in some cases it is limited to animal cells. Scientists doing the work also emphasize their desire to have continued access to human embryos for now.
I suppose those scientists don't believe that mice and human beings are part of the same evolutionary tree …

Addendum: The first link is now fixed.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Jewish IQ and Micronutrients

I'm sure most of the blogosphere has heard about the paper explaining high IQs among Jews on the basis of selection for increased intelligence. I find it a little hard to believe.

For one thing, theories that emphasize genetic explanations for IQ differences are not very compatible with the Flynn effect. (Genetic theories predict falling IQs but the average IQ has been rising.)

For another thing, there's a split between the IQs of Askenazic Jews and Sephardic Jews. Many of the same mechanisms that supposedly raised Askenazic Jewish IQs should have applied to Sephardic Jews as well (support for learning, lack of a peasantry, living among a population with usury taboos, etc.). The paper dealt with the difference by anecdotes that Sephardic Jewry had much less dignified occupations but, if we're going by anecdotes, the Herzlinger/Hertzlinger family comes from a line of blacksmiths and harness makers.

There is an alternative to genetic explanations that fits both the Flynn effect and the IQ split. Nutrition has been getting better in both quantity and quality, partly due to increasing wealth and partly due to increasing knowledge. This can explain the Flynn effect with little need to appeal to genetics. As for the difference between Askenazic and Sephardic Jewry, there is the striking fact that Sephardic standards of kashrut forbid eating fish and dairy. In other words, the difference might be due to bagels and lox with cream cheese (and maybe a little pickled herring in white sauce).

Yes. It can be the cuisine.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Where Do the Children of Enron Executives Attend School?

Cathy Seipp once tried getting he daughter into a peculiar school:

I generally take a flinty-eyed view of school. But a few years ago, I became caught up in a dizzying vortex of prestigious school fantasy when I tried to get my daughter, then 11, into an elite private girls' school. The screenwriter mom who led our parents tour chatted happily about how her daughter was now exposed to "the real world" thanks to this school: "Her first week here she left her wallet on top of her backpack in the hall and it was stolen!" I thought, "Where's she going with this?" "We have such a wonderful, diverse group of scholarship girls here," the mom explained. "So that was certainly a life lesson for my daughter."
If the values of children resemble that of their parents, I wouldn't buy a used car from those parents, let alone an investment.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Is Weather the Result of Intelligent Design?

According to Babu G. Ranganathan (seen via Orac):

It doesn't matter whether a system is open (unlimited energy) or closed (with limited energy), entropy occurs in both systems. In fact, scientists discovered entropy here on our very earth, which is an open system in relation to the sun. It is not enough just to have sufficient energy (an open system) for greater order to develop. There also has to be an energy converting and directing mechanism.
Earth's weather is an open system that has developed orderly phenomena. Where's the Intelligent Design?

In any case, entropy was discovered in heat engines with a limited energy supply.

Addendum: A question for anybody who claims that Darwinian evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics: How much of a decrease in entropy does evolution cause in Joules per Kelvin?

Friday, June 03, 2005

If This Happened in the United States …

we'd hear about how universal health insurance can prevent it:

A Kelowna man who drove an unconscious man to the parking lot of his local hospital couldn't believe his ears when medical staff told him to call 911 and wait for an ambulance.

Ralph Vogel and his wife had been letting a homeless man sleep in their motor home, but became alarmed when they couldn't wake him Wednesday morning.

So Vogel powered up the motor home and drove the man to the Kelowna General Hospital.

He ran inside and told medical staff that a man was either dying or dead in his motor home.

When staff told him to call 911 and wait for an ambulance, he told them that the man was just outside in the parking lot. He was still told to call 911.

By the time the ambulance arrived, it was much too late. The man had already been dead for several hours.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I Agree with Catholic Traditionalists

From a post on Free Republic about the Society of St. Pius I (seen via Thrown Back):

To be any more Trad, you’d have to be Jewish
So when Catholic Traditionalists all convert to Judaism …

A Brief Post on Stem Cells and Terri Schindler Schiavo

Claims that embryonic stem-cell research will save lives would be more convincing if they didn't come from people who, a month or two earlier, were explaining how good death is.

What Is Meant by Materialism

That's a serious question.

There's a defense of materialism on Tech Central Station, which would be more convincing if it included a non-circular definition of materialism. (Let's see … Materialism is a matter of rejecting supernatural explanations and supernatural explanations are those that reject materialism …)

I have blogged a few months ago on a possible definition of materialism. According to the original materialist theory, Epicurean philosophy, all events were a matter of rearrangements of atoms in the void. In today's physics, there are phenomena with other causes. Even if you discuss elementary particles in general as well as atoms, a physics in which particles can be created or destroyed and in which the void is a participant as well as a background isn't that Epicurean. (Come to think of it, Newtonian action at a distance wasn't that Epicurean.)

It's always possible to move the goalposts and claim that today's physics is materialist anyway. It can, for example, be understood rationally. On the other hand, that brings us back to circular definitions …

Essential disclaimer: According to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, events don't have a definite existence until they are perceived. According to what I think of as the Nitwit Interpretation of quantum mechanics, you can prevent events from having a definite existence by refusing to perceive them. That's going waaay too far. Events have a way of making you perceive them. There's no way you can ignore a nuclear bomb going off, no matter how stoned you get.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Suppressing Dissent? Or Something Else?

This looks suspicious, but I doubt if it's a matter of suppressing dissent (contrary to opinions of other reactionaries). After all, if an ID film isn't shown at the Smithsonian, it will just be shown somewhere else.

I suspect it's a consequence of Robert Conquest's Second Law of Politics:

Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.
The self-congratulation-based community has to ensure that some organizations have a reputation for infallibility. If this ID film is shown, the Smithsonian will be shown to be as fallible as any other human organization. As a result, any future pile of leftist propaganda that might wind up at the Smithsonian cannot be defended by people saying, “It must be true; it's at the Smithsonian.”

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