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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Recovery from Severe Brain Damage

Required reading for anybody commenting on cases of severe brain damage:

Devastating strokes on both sides of his head drove 31-year-old Mark Ragucci into a deep coma. As seizures swept through his brain like silent electrical storms, his gaze froze. His arms were paralyzed at his sides in a syndrome neurologists call man-in-the-barrel, signaling serious brain damage.


A month after his stroke, Dr. Ragucci had recovered somewhat physically, but not mentally. He was still officially in a vegetative state. Six weeks after the stroke his family transferred him to a rehabilitation facility, and that was the last Stephan Mayer saw of Mark Ragucci.

The last, that is, until the day nearly a year later, in late 2002, when Dr. Ragucci walked into Dr. Mayer's Columbia office and introduced himself. The former patient spoke in a monotone and his fingers were tightened into claws, but that was the extent of his disability. "When he walked in, I almost fell over," Dr. Mayer recalls. "It was at that point I realized that we knew absolutely nothing about the recuperative power of the brain."

In related news, the self-congratulation-based community refered to both Terri Schindler Schiavo and her supporters as “brain dead”:

"We're staying here to show our support for Terri," said a born-again Christian protester, who, like Schiavo, is capable of virtually no independent cranial activity.
The term “brain dead” has an actual meaning. In order to be brain dead, all brain function must cease. Terri had a working brain stem and wasn't even in a decerebrate posture. When the term “brain dead” expands to mean other things, especially when combined with the tendency to claim believers in traditional religions are brain dead, such believers can be expected to act as though a target had been painted on them.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

How to Defend against IEDs

Use armor made with Silly Putty. It is surprisingly durable.

It might even be useful in constructing hurricane-proof buildings …

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Age Ideology and Helicobacter

It is common for advocates of “alternative medicine” to cite the recent discovery that the bacterium Helicobacter causes peptic ulcers as though it supports them (this is a typical example). On the other hand, the traditional treatment for ulcers (stress reduction and bland diets) was more “alternative” than today's treatments (cruelly persecuting potentially innocent bacteria).

By the way, on earlier occasions when The Establishment was wrong, were the New Agers of the day the people who discovered that?

Monday, December 26, 2005

More on Israeli Euthanasia

After looking into the history of the law in question, it looks like it wasn't supported by some of the more Orthodox political parties:

It was opposed by Degel Hatorah MKs Avraham Ravitz and Moshe Gafni and Agudat Yisrael MKs Shmuel Halpert and Ya'acov Litzman, whose spiritual leaders did not approve of the bill, even though many other rabbis did.
It's worth noting that this euthanasia law does not permit hearsay evidence on whether the patient can refuse a respirator … for now.

Addendum: Chana Meira has a series of posts that make it clear thet we are not dealing with a Clock of Doom striking down patients. The safeguards look adequate. On the other hand, the safeguards that were put in place in the United States 30 years ago also looked adequate …

Sunday, December 25, 2005

This Must Be a Mistake

According to the Slut-o-Meter (seen via Dustbury), the promiscuity of is rated at 56.68% (488 / 861). There must be a bug in their system:

Slut-o-meter evaluates the promiscuity of the subject you enter by comparing the number of Google search results with and without "safe-search" enabled. A complete slut would return unsafe results and no safe results. Alternatively, a clean name should produce the same number of safe and unsafe results.
I find my rating a bit hard to believe.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Another Explanation for Red vs. Blue States

It should be obvious that radioactivity makes people vote Republican.

A Conspiracy Theory I Haven't Seen Yet

What if the wiretapping program was leaked for the purpose of getting the Democrats to oppose it and thereby look weak on national security issues?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Evidence that the Transit Union Knows It's Bluffing

The union leader says pensions are the sticking point:

"Were it not for the pension piece, we would not be out on strike,'' Toussaint said in an interview with NY1. "All it needs to do is take its pension proposal off the table.''
They're anticipating the day when the only transit workers are retired.

By the way, Russia and India have elaborate train networks. New York, by some coincidence, has many Russian and Indian immigrants. The odds are that some of them have mass-transit experience. They can't still find anybody to run the trains?

Addendum: There are plenty of potential scabs available:

The Citizens Budget Commission, a business-funded think tank, released a recent analysis suggesting that transit workers are too well paid and that the MTA should take a strike to restore fiscal order. The commission's analysts noted that many thousands of New Yorkers probably would accept less pay in exchange for transit jobs; 30 people now apply for every train operator's job.

Does the UN Have Anything to Do with This?

New York's Taylor Law has a flaw:

In 1967 the state legislature passed the Taylor Law, making strikes illegal but calling for double-pay fines per day for public employee unions out of work illegally; mandatory firing of workers was abandoned. The union (Transport Workers Union Local 100) has refused arbitration, which the current employer (a change made after the 1966 strike), the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), would accept; mutual consent is required by law.
Run this by me again. Striking is illegal but if you do it, you still have the right to retain the job you aren't doing?

Is this the UN's idea? The only possible responses are sanctions (which can be paid for if the strike succeeds) and pouting real hard.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jack London on Scabs

A famous Jack London quote on scabs sounds like it was written by a pathogenic bacterium. It could have come from a gangrene germ that was ready to feast on a running sore but was kept from its rightful due by a scab.

In Case of a Transit Strike

Last I heard, New York's transit union has been threatening a strike. If there is a strike, I plan to telecommute (although switching from one program to another by remote control is a bit slow even with a cable modem). I've wondered about some other people's reaction.

For example, what if a strike is called and, as a bus is returning to the depot, some of the passengers refuse to leave? What if the passengers commandeer the buses? After all, just a few months ago, a New Orleans passenger drove a bus to safety while the city government was doing nothing.

Lockouts are a common response to strikes. What if we had an anti-lockout? What if the bus depots were unlocked and any passenger who wanted could come in and start driving? (Taking the bus out of the city would be a no-no. Besides, it's hard to sell a bus on the black market.) This is the age of “a pack, not a herd.”

Monday, December 19, 2005

Explaining the Opposition to the PATRIOT Act in Terms my Fellow Wingnuts Can Understand

Just imagine what a leftist administration could do with the powers involved. For that matter, imagine what leftists infilatrators in a supposedly-conservative administration could do.

There's a possibility they have started doing it:

NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

If they're trying to keep somebody from writing a research paper comparing Communism to other forms of totalitarianism, they might be Communists (or ex-Communists) themselves.

Addendum: There is some dispute over whether this actually happened.

Addendum 2: It was definitely a hoax. This makes things harder for an honest, hard-working paranoid loon … unless this was a deliberate ploy to discredit opposition to surveillance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Was Suspicious Months Ago

A few months ago, I wrote (about the alleged cloning results from a lab in South Korea):

If most of these overhyped results come from just one lab in South Korea, have they been replicated?
More recently, others have become suspicious:

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 13, 2005 (AP Online delivered by Newstex) -- The validity of Hwang Woo-suk's pioneering human cloning work in South Korea is in question as a former collaborator tries to distance himself from the groundbreaking research.

University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten has demanded that the journal Science remove him as the senior author of the highly publicized report published in June that detailed how individual stem cell colonies were created for 11 patients through cloning.


Now, Jaenisch and a significant number of leading stem cell researchers are calling on Hwang to submit his cloning research to independent analysts to bolster public confidence, which they perceive as eroding because of the continued controversy over Hwang's work.

Schatten set off the ethics furor last month when he publicly accused Hwang of collecting eggs from subordinate scientists, a practice many consider unethical, and lying about it to him.

But until now, even Schatten has maintained that the main findings of the paper _ that tailor-made stem cells were extracted from embryos cloned from the DNA of sick volunteers _ were valid.

One type of sleaze leads to another.


Some of the reactions from Christians to the recent Israeli law on indirect euthanasia not only disapprove of the law (okay) but also disapprove of the alleged use of “loopholes” by Judaism (not okay). If God did not want those “loopholes,” He would not have put them in the Law in the first place. (If God knows everything, He could predict what kinds of interpretations the Rabbis would come up with and adjust the Torah to produce the right ones.) If you don't like it, take it up with God.

Avoidance of loopholes can also have unpleasant results. For example, in the Only Testament there is a regulation authorizing the execution of stubborn and rebellious children. In the Talmud it is hedged about with so many conditions (all of them based on the letter/phoneme of the law) as to make it impossible to enforce and, in the discussion, the majority opinion holds that it has never been enforced. This clearly violates the spirit of the law which anybody can see was intended to do in sassy kids.

In this case, the spirit of the law kills and the letter gives life. That should not astonish us, since the spirit of the law is what humans temporarily understand the law to be about whereas the letter of the law is what God dictated.

Good heavens. I'm on the verge of turning into an Orthodox Jew. (How do we wind those tefillin things again?)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I Must Be Slow

I didn't think of the following analogy (about the recent Israeli law on indirect euthanasia) first:

This is weird. I just checked Drudge, and he links to a story that says Israel just passed a law approving the use of machines to euthanize terminally ill patients. The rationale is that Jewish law forbids human beings to kill ("murder" is the correct translation) other human beings, but machines are allowed to do it.

I love that rationale. The person who turns on the machine is totally free of guilt.

I think this logic explains a lot of the episodes of the old Batman TV series. The Joker, for example, puts Batman and Robin in, oh let's say a giant milkshake machine that turns on at midnight, and then he leaves. I always thought those scenarios were written for dramatic effect. It's not very dramatic if the Joker sneaks up behind Batman and Robin while they're sharing a tender moment in the jacuzzi and fires a shot that enters through the base of Batman's spine and exits through Robin's forehead. But if you put them in a milkshake machine and then leave at five minutes to midnight, the drama becomes as palpable as the throbbing homosexual tension.

I always thought that was the idea, but apparently, it's not. Apparently, the idea was that if a machine killed Batman and Robin, the Joker couldn't be prosecuted, and he could go on with his life, perhaps reforming and becoming an interior designer or a choreographer.

Question: Will this same idea be used in Iraq to excuse timed terrorist bombs? After all, it's a well-known fact that Islam resembles Judaism (but, according to an article in The New York Observer, with an extra Y chromosome).

Friday, December 09, 2005

It Has Been Tried

The top loon of Iran says Israel belongs in Germany:

"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.

"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."

Creating Israel in Germany has been tried:
In Germany, Reform Jews declared, "Berlin is our Jerusalem; Germany is our Fatherland."
That didn't seem to work very well.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Little Lost Bioethicist

The Israeli government recently passed a law that will allow respirators to be turned off in a manner that some people imagine to be consistent with Jewish law:

Machines will perform euthanasia on terminally ill patients in Israel under legislation devised not to offend Jewish law, which forbids people taking human life.

A special timer will be fitted to a patient's respirator which will sound an alarm 12 hours before turning it off.

Normally, carers would override the alarm and keep the respirator turned on but, if various stringent conditions are met, including the giving of consent by the patient or legal guardian, the alarm would not be overridden.

Similar timing devices, known as Sabbath clocks, are used in the homes of orthodox Jews so that light switches and electrical devices can be turned on during the Sabbath without offending religious strictures.

First, the purported explanation makes no sense whatsoever. This is not in the same category as a Sabbath timer as explained by the Holy Hyrax in the comments to the post on respondingtojblogs:

This is so ridiculous to even compare it to a shabbat timer. A shabbat timer is not a problem because you are setting it up BEFORE the Shabbat, which there is no issur.
With this Human timer, there is no issue of a specific time to set it up. Takiing a life is assur at ANY time.

There is no difference with this than with someone throwing a ball towards a light switch on Shabbat and then saying "I didn't turn on the lights, it was the ball."
Instead it might be an example of doing something indirectly. Setting the timer to go off in the first place would supposedly not be classified as suicide since somebody might reset the timer. On the other hand, not resetting the timer would not be murder since it is refraining from an action instead of comitting an action.

I'm reminded of the robot in “Little Lost Robot” by Isaac Asimov (from his collection I, Robot). Normally, Asimov's robots were supposed to obey the First Law of Robotics:

A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
The lost robot obeyed a modified version of the First Law:
A robot may not harm a human being.
Such a robot could set the timer for the ventilator to go off. That had some disadvantages:
If a modified robot were to drop a heavy weight upon a human being, he would not be breaking the First Law, if he did so with the knowledge that his strength and reaction speed would be sufficient to snatch the weight away before it struck the man. However once the weight left his fingers, he would be no longer the active medium. Only the blind force of gravity would be that. The robot could then change his mind and merely by inaction, allow the weight to strike. The modified First Law allows that.

At first sight, that looks like a standard application of Talmudic hairsplitting, except … there's a common type of equally indirect suicide that's strictly forbidden in Jewish law: Jewish law does not accept a confession in a capital case on the grounds that it is suicide. If indirect suicide were permitted, such confessions would be accepted. There's a loophole in the apparent loophole.

This is one reason I'm reluctant to attach too much importance to Zionism. As I have said before, organizations tend to drift left. This may be an instance.

Something Else to Do with Your DNA

You can find a list of things to do with your DNA here. For some reason it doesn't mention the most popular way to display one's DNA: in a next generation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Number Crunching in the “Abortion Capital of America”

After reading The Abortion Capital of America, I thought I'd give New York's abortion statistics a sanity check.

I downloaded statistics on abortion rates and the abortion:birth ratio and calculated the total pregnancy rates for the states covered. If the statistics are believable, New York has the fifth highest pregnancy rate of any state covered by the statistics (behind Utah, Nevada, Texas, and Arizona). (Taking account of the number of abortions performed on out-of-state residents did not affect the conclusions.)

I find that a bit hard to believe. For one thing, New York has fewer back seats per capita than other states. Could somebody be fooling around with the statistics? There might be an insurance/medicaid scam waiting to be uncovered by some enterprising reporter.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Reason for Instant Gratification in Al-Qaeda and Similar Groups

Matoko Kusanagi wrote about the Other Side's habit of instant gratification:

When the goddess Thetis dipped baby Achilles in the pool of invulnerability, she unfortunately had to hold onto him somewhere, so she kept his baby heel from being armorized. I think Al-Qaeda has a similiar Achille's heel, and it will prevent them from ever achieving their goals. And I think that heel is instant gratification.
This has a simple explanation. They are not trying to win. Victory is in God's hands. They are trying to get the credit for God's inevitable victory so they must act faster than other Muslims.

In other words, they are not only murderous scumbags, they are trying to hog credit.

Set Paranoia Bit to On

William Aronstein, a correspondent of Instapundit, wrote:

Remember that the Hajj will take place in January, prime-time flu season. Two million pilgrims --or more-- will be living cheek by jowl in communal tents. A better means for transmitting a virus from Java to the entire world could not by any stretch of the imagination be devised by any human intelligence.
Was that deliberate? A society that emphasizes maintaining routines during epidemics can operate better than other societies when epidemics are more common (at the cost of a few lives, of course). If that religion acts in a way to spread disease, it looks suspicious.

On the other hand, I suppose the Pilgrimage Festivals in Judaism (or the command to visit the sick) also look suspicious …

Addendum: On the gripping hand, maybe this is all hype.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Explaining Kurt Vonnegut

A possibly-relevant quote from Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut:

We become what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be.
It looks like he went from sounding like a nut to actually being a nut.

On the other hand, maybe he was always nuts and “Harrison Bergeron” wasn't a dystopian satire…

Meme Tagging

Idle Mendacity has tagged everybody with the meme of “Quote the Gospel verses of your birthday.” I decided to do the Jewish version and quote a verse from my haftarah:

11 Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay,
So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means;
In the middle of his life it will leave him,
And in the end he will be proved a fool.
If we apply the above to a science-fiction context, we see that truly evil extraterrestrials are unlikely to achieve or to keep space travel, so we don't have to worry that much about alien conquest.

I, for One, Welcome Our New Alien Overlords!

Back Off Government and Moonbattery are critical of Paul Hellyer for, not only being out of his tiny little mind, but also for siding with the extraterrestrials. I disagree. There are reason for siding with the ETs.

First, any resistance movement is likely to resemble the PLO, Hamas, or Al Qaeda. Second, loyalty to Earth sounds entirely too environmentalist. Third, the prophet Jeremiah has assured us that really evil ETs couldn't be that dangerous.

Addendum: I just remembered my earlier proof that the Amalekites are extraterrestrials. Hmmm… Maybe Hamas is needed after all …

Another addendum: The title is a paraphrase of a Simpsons quote: “And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

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