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, July 31, 2005

A Common Claim on Health Care

I have seen a claim that lack of private health insurance has caused an excess death rate of 18,000 lives per year among those not privately insured. This is about 5% of the expected death rate for 43,000,000 people. A 5% difference is well within the amount that can be easily fudged, especially when dealing with an uncontrolled study with two highly disparate populations. Even environmentalists are unlikely to go to the media with a study showing a 5% difference in death rates unless radioactivity is involved.

I must admit that, when we look at hospitalized patients, e.g., for car crashes, publicly-insured patients fare less well than privately-insured patients. On the other hand, that indicates that public insurance is probably not the way to go.

The claim that there should be a little more public spending on preventive care sounds plausible. Using that as an excuse to impose a single-payer system is an example of “bait and switch.”

Addendum: There's another analysis here.

Organic Fertilizer by Design

In an effort to come up with something anti-American, someone tried comparing different nations by the ratio of “official development assistance” to military expenditure. They didn't the compare amount per person or the ratio to GNP and they especially ignored anything private. The United States came in last. If it hadn't, they would have fudged it some more.

In case you were wondering, this was during the Age of Clinton. You can't blame Dubya.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

I Confess!

This report may be my fault. After I compared humans to plants and used the comparison to criticize overpopulation hysteria, it became necessary for the anti-human brigade to diss plants:

Planting trees can create deserts, lower water tables and drain rivers, rather than filling them, claims a new report supported by the UK government.

The findings - which may come as heresy to tree-lovers and most environmentalists - is an emerging new consensus among forest and water professionals.

The example cited were, of course, lame. At worst, trees can reduce water yields a little. There were no cited examples of tree overpopulation leading to a “die off.”

On the other hand, maybe I overestimate my influence.

Species Identity Dysphoria

I think I have Species Identity Dysphoria. I want to be whatever species is portrayed here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Threats and Reality

Apparently a tough anti-terrorism campaign provokes threats of further violence:

BELFAST (AFP) - The shoot-to-kill strategy against suicide bombers which has been adopted by British police following the London bombings will only provoke terrorists, a former IRA bomber warns.

Marion Price, who was at the vanguard of the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign in Britain in the 1970s, warned that there was no better recruiting officer for terrorists than heavy-handed security forces.

But it also discourages actual violence:

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army says it will resume disarmament and has ordered its members to halt its armed campaign to end British rule.


In a lengthy statement, the outlawed group appealed to Britain and Northern Ireland's Protestant majority to accept its new position as sufficient to renew negotiations on power-sharing, the core goal of the 1998 peace accord for the British territory.

The Legion of Bellicose Women Has a New Recruit …

… but not the usual way.

I wonder if phthalates had anything to do with this?

I Am Bleeping Terrified

… of letting the Enemy think that terrorism works.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fake Suicide, Continued

Would Terri Schindler Schiavo be an example of a fake suicide?

Industrial Policy at National Review?

Mark Krikorian is trying to pick winners.

Addendum: I just realized that the industrial policy is an example of demand-side economics. It's a matter of increasing the demand for robot designers instead of the supply of robot designers.

The Whine Collector

I walked into the Jamaica LIRR station Tuesday morning to find a reporter interviewing passengers. When I announced that my bag had been searched and I wasn't offended, she seemed disappointed. Apprently, she was looking for people who were ticked off. She had an eager look when I said “After all, I do not consent…” but it disappeared when I continued “…to being blown up.”

The Onion Is Stuck in the Past

The latest Onion reports:

REEDSBURG, WI—Working-class father of four and veteran alcoholic James Schultz, 53, expressed deep disappointment Monday in his 19-year-old son Travis, for "turning into a goddamn pothead" after moving away from home to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"After the hard work I put in at the screen-door factory all these years, this is how he rewards me?" Schultz said during a 1:30 a.m. statement held at Captain Pete's Bar and Grill. "That boy should be working for a living, like his old man, instead of smoking weed and doing God knows what with a bunch of liberal lowlifes."

Back in the 1970s, this had some plausibility. Nowadays, most 53-year-old alcoholics are or were potheads as well.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fake Suicide Bombs?

There's reason to believe the London bombers were not intending to be suicide bombers. That actually makes sense. Suicide bombing is an essential part of the Enemy's strategy. It's needed to convince us that deterrence won't work. (Deterrence played an important role in defeating the Soviet Union and they don't want a repeat.) Since it's harder to recruit real suicide bombers than the propaganda would indicate, they had to make do with fake ones.

This fits with the Other Side's tactics on other occasions. During Gulf War II, the Iraqi government used fake tanks and planes. The evidence that appeared to indicate Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a fake intended to deter attack. The current insurgency looks like fake outraged citizens repelling an invasion. Palestine can be best described as a fake nation.

I've seen a frequent claim by my fellow wingnuts that falsification is a common part of Islamic tactics so we should beware of their attempts to appear harmless. I'm more impressed by their false attempts to appear dangerous.

If Information Wants to Be Free …

… doesn't that include information on what subway and bus riders have in their backpacks?

Meanwhile, Karol has some rational objections.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New York's Bag Searches

My backpack was seached yesterday as part of New York's random searches. I didn't object. Some people think targeted searches are better but I doubt if that would have helped. After all, if they only searched men with heavy beards, large backpacks, and who also look like they might be Arab (the Saudi royal family is almost as pasty-faced as I am), I still would have been searched.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

You Don't Have to Be Nuts to Be a Financial Analyst …

but it helps:

People with certain kinds of brain damage may make better investment decisions. That is the conclusion of a new study offering some compelling evidence that mixing emotion with investing can lead to bad outcomes.


The study suggests the participants' lack of emotional responsiveness actually gave them an advantage when they played a simple investment game. The emotionally impaired players were more willing to take gambles that had high payoffs because they lacked fear. Players with undamaged brain wiring, however, were more cautious and reactive during the game, and wound up with less money at the end.

I think I'll go take a shower now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

John Roberts


This sounds encouraging.

Another Reason for Teapot Control

Teapots can cause riots:

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A mob fire-bombed the headquarters of a bizarre Malaysian cult built around a giant teapot on Monday, police and a fireman said, two weeks after the sect was raided by religious officials.

About 30-35 assailants armed with Molotov cocktails attacked the commune in the early morning, torching a car and the roof of a building and scorching the giant teapot itself, emergency services officials, local media and a lawyer for the sect said.

The sect, which believes the teapot has healing properties, is in Malaysia's northeast, a strongly Muslim area that has suddenly lost patience with the sect, headed by an elderly man who says he is God and owner of everything, his "Sky Kingdom".

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Healing the Enemy?

I'm sure nearly everyone in the blogosphere has heard of the medic who was wounded by a sniper, shot back, and then tracked down his assailant to … give him first aid:

During a routine patrol in Baghdad June 2, Army Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer, a medic, was shot in the chest by an enemy sniper, hiding in a van just 75 yards away. The incident was filmed by the insurgents.

Tschiderer, with E Troop, 101st “Saber” Cavalry Division, attached to 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment, 256th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, was knocked to the ground from the impact, but he popped right back up, took cover and located the enemy’s position.

After tracking down the now-wounded sniper with a team from B Company, 4th Battalion, 1st Iraqi Army Brigade, Tschiderer secured the terrorist with a pair of handcuffs and gave medical aid to the terrorist who’d tried to kill him just minutes before.

Prediction: This will be covered by Arab media. Some of them will treat this as evidence of American weakness. Others will treat it as the standard for treating snipers and anything less will be regarded as a violation of human rights. If the sniper escapes and shoots another soldier and future snipers don't get first aid, that will be held against us.

Another prediction: The next leftist meme will be “If Iraqi snipers can get government-paid health care, why can't everyone?”

This also reminds me of a scenario I've wondered about: An adolescent terrorist is captured by our side. He occupies his time by threatening that all of his descendants will have eternal revenge on Western Civilization. After listening to this for a while, one of the soldiers takes a knife and bobbits him.

I suppose they have to heal the prick but do they have to restore his penis as well?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Stopping Birthright Citizenship: A Thought Experiment, Part II

We Jews are descended partly, but not entirely, from the inhabitants of southern Syria a few millennia ago. By the standards of “Send them back where they came from” we really would have to be dismembered. That explains the following:

Sixty years ago, Europeans thought Jews shouldn’t be in Europe. Now they think they shouldn’t be in Palestine. It seems reasonable to conclude that on the whole they’d rather Jews weren’t anywhere.
They have no objection to my heart being in Israel, but only if my left foot is in Poland and my pancreas is in Romania.

It's God vs. Satan

John J. Reilly has a review of the life of the noted Mad Scientist Jack Parsons. (I had blogged about him earlier.)

On the one hand, there was Jack Parsons, a follower of the satanist Aleister Crowley, who was trying to create titanic explosions. On the other hand, other scientists not that far away were also trying to create titanic explosions based on the theories of Albert Einstein, a follower of the uncompromising monotheist Baruch Spinoza.

I think God won that round. God's explosions outclassed Satan's.

A really paranoid question: What does the above imply about opposition to Project Orion?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's Ba-ack!

There's an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine defending lobotomies:

In an editorial in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Barron H. Lerner, a medical historian and associate professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, wrote that the procedure was a desperate effort to help mental patients and that only a small number of patients became calmer and more manageable.
This looks more suspicious when we recall the Berkeley study of conservatism. Suddenly, Scientology doesn't seem so bad.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stopping Birthright Citizenship: A Thought Experiment

If we stop birthright citizenship, we will presumably be ready to send people born here back where their parents came from. If the parents came from different nations, will we have to dismember some of the children? Would we hear a judge say “Divide the living child in two…”?

People Will Win

A few months ago, Trolling in Shallow Water posted an analogy between flows of water in rainstorms and flows of money in politics:

One phrase the inspector seemed to like was "water will win." Apparently this is an aphorism he picked up in the Army Corps of Engineers. What it means is that, unless you give water an easy route to somewhere harmless, it will make its own route by wearing through whatever is in the way. A roof is not kept in good condition by waterproofing alone; that will fail unless there are appropriate gutters and flashings to let the water run off the roof. Likewise, the rain gutters must give water a clear path to a point far from the foundation, or the crawl space will flood no matter how solid the foundation is. Water will win.


Money will win. Like water, if it is not given a clear path, it will wear its way through any barriers we may erect. The clearest path is to permit any American citizen to donate any amount of money he pleases, to any candidate he likes, at any time he wants -- with full public disclosure. It's the only way of shining sunlight on campaign financing that is consistent with the First Amendment and which we can reasonably hope to enforce.

After reading Eternity Road on the difficulties in enforcing immigration law, I realized we can add “people will win” to “water will win” and “money will win.” It's not enough to block off flows of water/money/people, we have to conduct them away. (That's one reason I'm less offended by Palestinian immigration to the West than many of my fellow Red-Sea pedestrians. We need the gutters and flashing.)

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Letter to the Editor

I sent the following letter to Newsday on September 14, 1992:

The cover story of the September 12 Newsday exposed one of the most important social problems facing America today—the unlicensed, unregistered, and unregulated use of teapots.

A businesswoman was able to repulse a robbery attempt using a teapot. This time a teapot happened to be a defense. Next time the robber can turn the teapot on its owner. We may soon be faced with the prospect of countless numbers of teapot-wielding criminals terrorizing neighborhoods across the United States.

We should not feel complacent about this and assume decent citizens can use their own teapots. Professional, hardened criminals can always use such dangerous devices better than an amateur. Fighting teapots with teapots should be left to the police. Teapots also do not eliminate the causes of crime and only teach the criminal to use force instead of reason to solve problems.

We must also consider the effect of teapots on the social fabric. If a customer in a low-income neighborhood goes into a store and sees a teapot, he might perceive that as a expression of the owner's prejudices. That could produce a riot worse than that in Los Angeles.

The possibility that teapots may become weapons in family quarrels is even more serious. For every teapot used to repulse a criminal, many more are used to hit members of the same family. We can attempt to solve this problem by teapot safety education (a teapot is not a toy, always assume every teapot is made of cast iron, and never wave a teapot at someone as a joke) but that will alleviate only part of the problem.

We must also beware of slogans such as “teapots don't bruise people; people bruise people.” It is people with teapots who bruise people.

I call upon all political candidates this election year to overcome to awesome power of the NTA (National Teapot Association), remove the pro-teapot propaganda in our schools (teapots are not just “short and stout”), organize a boycott of Beauty and the Beast, and introduce legislation mandating the registration and licensing of these potentially deadly weapons.

I'm not sure I would send it today; it might be used to support new regulations.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I Don't Know If Software Patents Could Be a Good Idea …

… but I'm sure that we can't trust the European Union to administer patents:

WOMEN in Europe who happen to be of Ashkenazi Jewish descent may want to keep that fact from their doctor when being tested for breast cancer genes.

Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City won a European patent on 1 July covering a specific mutation in the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer. The mutation is found in 1 in 100 women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. The ruling means that doctors offering tests for BRCA2 mutations are now legally obliged to ask women if they are Ashkenazi Jews. If they say they are, doctors must pay a licence fee to Myriad. No fee is due if a patient says she does not know.

If a gene is already in use, doesn't it count as “prior art”?

Is this another instance of The Exception Clause? Alex Bensky said:

According to my analysis, some time in the early 1920's the League of Nations passed a resolution which is still an integral part of international law. This resolution provided that any statement of principle, any doctrine, any policy, or any precept by anyone, be it individual, organization, or government, tacitly contains the proviso "except for Jews."
It goes further than we might think.

Is Progress Slowing?

There's been a recent discussion at The Corner on whether progress is slowing. As far as I can tell, progress in consumer goods came to a halt between the late 1950s (color TV) and the early 1970s (microwave ovens and pocket calculators). Since then, it has resumed.

The halt might have been due to the “space age.” When cutting-edge scientists all worked on one particular project, innovation elsewhere suffered.

Government subsidies in general might also be a reason for the slowdown. There have been a number of SF-type technologies which were supposed to have made a tremendous difference and even seemed to be moving ahead faster than expected for a while but somehow didn't pan out. These included spaceflight, nuclear energy, and artificial intelligence. If we look at what they all have in common we see that they have all received very large government subsidies. This can't be a coincidence. Maybe subsidizing a technology causes it to become bloated and overpriced.

A Brief Note on the Surrender Tactic

If we respond to terrorist tactics with surrender, if we give each group backing a suicide bomber whatever they claim to want … what do we do if we're faced with two groups of fragheads with incompatible goals?

We might see “Let us in!” vs. “Keep them out!” We might see deep ecologists vs. loggers or PETA vs. kosher/halal slaughter.

Friday, July 08, 2005

That's Okay. We're Nuts

According to John Derbyshire:

My issue is: To award citizenship to any person born on your territory, without any regard whatsoever to the status, background, or intentions of the parent(s), is SHEER GIBBERING LUNACY.
Of course, the prophet Robert Heinlein said:
Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world.

I was underwhelmed by the legal arguments cited. It leans strongly on the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” If you were born in the United States and your parents had income tax withheld by the United States or if they could be arrested by American cops, you should be counted as American. (They had to go digging for the example of jury duty … and I suspect that putting non-citizens on juries will be suggested soon enough.)

Another source cited mentioned a potentially-real problem: the declining diversity of immigrants. There is a simple solution: give everybody in China and India a ticket to the United States.

While I'm on the topic, is there any real difference between a liberal complaining about “over-development” and a nativist conservative? They're both backing policies that have the effect of excluding the supposedly undesirable.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What Do They Have against Type Three?

I found the following at baristanet:

In the world of dating, women of a “certain age” are faced with less than stellar prospects. Every available female over the age of 40 knows the three types of men:

  • The newly divorced male, who will only date 25-year-olds.
  • The still married male who is looking for a little fun, and will only date 25-year-olds.
  • And the male who has never had a meaningful relationship of any kind, who would date anyone.

The Strange Bedfellows Are Resistant

Quicksilver asked a question:

Unfortunately, U.S. legal doctrine treats the corporation as a person. So, the more libertarians work to expand the rights of individual private property, the more they expand the claims of Exxon, WR Grace, Dow, Halliburton, and other multinationals to be “liberated” from government regulation and oversight. Can we both protect individuals from big government and, at the same time, empower big government to restrain and regulate industrial businesses?
The answer: No. To express it in Jewish terms, we cannot muzzle the ox while it treads out the corn. To express it in leftist terms, until all of us are free, none of us are free.

I noticed an attempt at smuggling in the idea that corporations aren't human. This permits leftists to attempt to persecute the people who own or run corporations while imagining that they're only harming a type of robot.

Corporations aren't robots; they're made up of human beings. The Supreme Court said that corporations have rights but those rights are derived from human rights. Any restraint on a corporation is a restraint on human beings. Any corporate tax is paid by human beings.

Addendum: I just remembered I had already blogged about the connection between robots and collections of human beings.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This Is a Test

An American flag should appear below:

Independence Day

On this Independence Day, we declared our independence from the tyranny of comets.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Instead of Scientology

Steve of Hog on Ice recommended starting a religion based on the works of better SF writers than L. Ron Hubbard:

Tom [Cruise] worships L. Ron Hubbard, a bad science fiction writer. Whether he realizes it or not. Why not have a religion that worships a GOOD science fiction writer? I'm thinking of Philip K. Dick. We'll kick their ass.
I can imagine other SF-based religions. Their holy prayers might include:
  • Asimov said it, I believe it, and that settles it!

  • Now bow down three times in the direction of Cape Canaveral and say “THERE IS NO GOD BUT TECHNOLOGY AND ROBERT HEINLEIN IS ITS PROPHET!”

  • We shall pray for the coming of the Singularity and though it tarry we shall remain faithful.

By the way, my father read the original article on Dianetics in Astounding Science Fiction and he thought it was intended to be a parody of psychoanalysis. (This was shortly after Asimov wrote his thiotimoline parodies of chemistry.)

Addendum: Orac and commenters have some additional suggestions. Meanwhile, I just remembered Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, the sf novel most closely resembling a religious text.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Suggestion for Supreme Court Nominations

I suspect any appointment to the Supreme Court will require three nominations:

  1. A nomination of someone controversial, articulate, and argumentative. (You can think of him as Robert Bork II.) He will attract lots of “reality-based” opposition and will make them look like fools. He will be defeated and then write a best seller among my fellow wingnuts.

  2. A superficially-attractive candidate with some baggage. It doesn't matter what the baggage is as long as the Other Side gets to use the word “hypocrite.” The important thing is to exhaust them but let them think they won a battle.

  3. The third nominee is the person we really want.

Addendum: Gullyborg came up with the same idea first and recommended Ann Coulter as Robert Bork II.

Strange Bedfellows

A few years ago, I drew a distinction between the Establishment Left and the Populist Left. At the time, I thought of the Establishment Left as preferable to the “barking moonbat” Populist Left. It's a bit disconcerting to find that, when it comes to opposition to the Kelo decision, I'm allied with the moonbats.

Meanwhile, the most appropriate motto for this coalition comes from Tom Lehrer's National Brotherhood Week:

Step up and shake the hand of someone you can't stand
You can tolerate him if you try

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Linear No Threshold Model

I'm sure that my fellow technically-oriented reactionary crackpots have heard of the report from The National Academy of Sciences purporting to show there is no safe dose of radiation. I'm more than a bit dubious.

First, any organization that puts out press releases should be suspected of selecting data. Given that the effect they predict is barely noticeable (the variation in the expected effect is only slightly less than the effect), it's possible that the minute effect didn't take much selection.

Second, they based most of their conclusions on studies of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In other words, this was based on the effects of a single dose per patient. Studies on the effects of chronic doses (for example, studies of the residents of a radioactive building or the residents of high-radon areas) indicate that a dose of 50 mSv per year can lower mortality rates. (The atomic-bomb survivor studies mentioned earlier indicate that single doses of 100 mSv can raise mortality rates.)

It's worth noting that the radiation people are worried about (from nuclear waste or “dirty” bomb) is a matter of chronic doses. (On the other hand, the report from The National Academy of Sciences might possibly have some relevance to judging appropriate x-ray doses.)

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