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, April 29, 2006

The Oil Companies Must Have Been Shivering with Fear in the Mid-90s

According to Richard at Hyscience:

Color me clueless and confused, especially after my post yesterday calling for a boycott of Exxon Mobil - which many readers thought was a less-than-stellar and clueless idea, but I'll never figure out or understand why it is that "market fuel prices" always seem to suddenly drop for one reason or another (read excuse) just when public outrage seems to reach critical mass (read mass outrage).

Yes, once again as in the past, speculators and/or "The Oil God" - wherever he or she resides, has decided that there are reasons for market fuel prices to drop - in a quick 48 hours.

If it's only fear of public outrage that restrains oil prices, Exxon etc. must have been bleeping in their pants in 1998.

Come to think of it, the same sentiment has been expressed elsewhere:

Fear is the only practical means to deal with people.—Kip Chalmers (in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand)

Would Single-Payer Health Plans Be an Improvement?

There have recently been a couple of cases in which private health systems in the United States have tried denying health care using the language of allegedly-sound medical judgement. In a single-care system, the universal insurer would also be able to deny care (they have sometimes done this) and there would be no way to compare it with a system that allowed it.

That Explains It!

There's a simple explanation of why Israeli leftists are willing to engage in preposterous negotatiations:

“No,” I said. Before I went to the Middle East I had no idea Israeli Jews had any kind of genuinely friendly relations with Arabs in any country except right-wing Lebanese Maronites. And a significant number of Maronites say they aren't even Arabs at all.

“The Bedouin roll our joints for us,” she said. “They sell us hashish. Israeli women like to go topless.”

“You go topless in front of the Bedouin?” I said. “Isn’t that offensive?” Bedouin are arguably the most conservative people in the entire Middle East.

“It doesn’t bother them,” she said. “They understand that our cultures are different. They don’t impose their values on us. And I never once saw a Bedouin man with wandering eyes.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If High Gasoline Prices Are Due to Oil Company Greed …

… isn't it amazing how they are less greedy in some states than others?

Of course, if we really want to lower the cost of automobile fuel, there's a simple solution: coal-powered cars.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Deja Moo, Continued

The Deja Moo phenomenon (previously covered here) continues. The latest attempt at reviving 1970s cliches is in The Guardian:

The context is the clicking, bleeping, flashing world of screens. There has been a change in our environment that is so all-embracing and in a way so banal that we barely notice it. In just a couple of decades, we have slipped away from a culture based essentially on words to one based essentially on images, or pictures. This is probably one of the great shifts in the story of modern humans but we take it almost for granted.
How's that again? The change to an image culture occurred a half century ago in the 1950s and 1960s back when television ruled the Earth. If anything, the Internet is a step back toward words. But wait, there's more:
Put like that, it is obvious where her worries lie. The flickering up and flashing away again of multimedia images do not allow those connections, and therefore the context, to build up. Instant yuk or wow factors take over. Memory, once built up in a verbal and reading culture, matters less when everything can be summoned at the touch of a button (or, soon, with voice recognition, by merely speaking). In a short attention-span world, fed with pictures, the habit of contemplation and the patient acquisition of knowledge are in retreat.
It sounds like the context is more available than ever. (This does not mean there is less call for memory as there are now far more things to remember. That might be another corollary of Parkinson's Law.)

I suspect the most important distinctions are the distinction between ephemeral media and persistent media and the distinction between linear and spatial media. (Books, in case you were wondering, are less linear than music videos.) When you are listening to a story (or watching a live TV broadcast), you cannot compare one part of it to another that easily. Even if you are dealing with a recording, it's much more difficult when there is no index or table of contents or it you can't leaf through it. Internet web sites are almost as persistent as books (there are dead sites) and far more spatial.

By the way, what do New Age Loons mean by “linear”? It doesn't mean “you can't skip around” because they think of print as something linear.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Zoning Laws, Immigration Restrictions, and a Leftist Defense of Abortion

An open borders policy will not eliminate the ability of people to restrict who moves in. It will simply eliminate the ability of the non-affluent to do so. The affluent can keep out undesirables by fiddling with zoning laws or building codes. In an emergency, they can raise tax rates to the point that their neighborhood is unaffordable.

When the above argument is used to defend immigration restrictions, it is analogous to a common pro-abortion argument.

By the way, if an anti-abortion law raised the birth rates of the rich more than the birth rates of the poor, we would hear how it's racist. Wouldn't that mean that an anti-abortion law that raises the birth rates of the poor more than the birth rates of the rich is anti-racist?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Is Ahmadinejad a Benny Cemoli?

If we invade Iran, they might be ready to give us a disposable puppet and then resume business as before after we leave (slightly more discretely).

I Intend to Blame Mexico …

… for the immigration policies that helped make it a Third-World country.

The Guardian Agrees with Michelle Malkin

Timothy Garton Ash's defense of deportations can be found here.

I am highly dubious.

It's Earth Day

There will be a slight pause for someone to say “Who cares?”

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Et Tu, Hyscience?

Hyscience has succumbed to the temptation to blame the messenger:

With that in mind, and after reading about Exxon Mobil's "in your face greed" and their $400 million, share of the booty awarded to their CEO (one Democratic Senator called it a "shameful display of greed"), I've decided to do two things - establish a new category on this blog entitled "corporate greed", and never never never ever buy anything from Exxon Mobil or it's subsidiaries for the rest of my life. I suggest you do the same, and pass it around.

And BTW, we need to wise up and stop falling for the line about higher crude oil prices pushing up gasoline costs, or the one about demand having anything to do with it, - that's a complet line of crap. Think about it, those oil prices are not fueled by actual market demand - they're driven by pure speculation. As for the gasoline prices, they're being fueled now by nothing but corporate greed. Otherwise, how in the hell can gasoline prices be so damned high, oil prices be sky high, and AT THE SAME TIME Corporate profits are going even higher? So high that Exxon Mobil GIVES AWAY an $400 million to their CEO, money which otherwise would have gone to their shareholders. The point here is not where the money went - it's the fact that they made so much money in the first place while consumers end up with far less in their pockets.

In order to complain about the greed of energy companies, you must show the greed has done some damage. If greed is the cause of rising gasoline prices, then falling gasoline prices (which we had in the 1980s) must have been caused by lack of greed. Since, in the real world, the people who run energy companies are always greedy, rising and falling gasoline prices must have some other cause.

I won't do more than mention that, if the speculators are right, gasoline prices will increase in the future and we should start using less gasoline now. If the the excess oil income goes to Exxon instead of kleptocrats in the Middle East, that's even better. I doubt if Exxon will pay for terrorism.

The only worrisome part …

… is that the speculators might not be driven by greed. Since the President's approval ratings prices move opposite to gasoline prices, a determined speculator might be bidding up prices now to see after a Democratic Congress gets elected. The speculator in question will lose money but may feel that is worth it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Economic Consensus and Climate Consensus

According to Arnold Kling, the current global-warming debate sounds familiar:

My concern is with how "scientific consensus" is reached. In economics in the 1960's, there was a "scientific consensus," embedded in sophisticated macro-econometric models, that inflation reflected a competition over income shares, and that government policies to interfere with wage- and price-setting were the solution. Milton Friedman's contrary views were outside the "scientific consensus."


I wish that climate-change models did not remind me so much of macro-econometric models. I wish that the contempt that the Left expresses for dissenting views in climate science did not remind me of the contempt that the Left expressed for Milton Friedman. And I wish that the debate over climate change were being waged over substance, rather than with type M arguments and on film. Movies are a propaganda medium, not an information medium.

I thought of a similar analogy. Denying the possible global warming emergency is not analogous to backing “fine tuning” and price controls but rather denying the seriousness of unemployment. In the 1970s, the Left wing of the time frequently accused conservatives of denying that unemployment was a problem. (One common argument was that conservatives should back the welfare state on the grounds that their policies made it necessary.) The Right wing of the time would claim that anybody who wanted a job could get one. Looking at the stagflation controversy in hindsight, we can see that unemployment was indeed a problem (even if was exaggerated by Leftists) but that it was alleviated by following policies exactly opposed to those recommended by the people who claimed to be most concerned about unemployment. Similarly, if global warming is a problem, the most obvious solution is to have anti-nuclear activists tarred and feathered and then increase the use of nuclear fission.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Slaying of the First Born Today

In what passes for the respectable middle classes today, abortion is done only once. After that, middle-class people are far more careful. In other words, we can think of abortion as a sacrifice of one's first-conceived child to the Gods of overpopulation, eugenics, or feminism.

On the other hand, attempts to make the Bible more relevant can sound very silly a generation or two later.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

If Today's Immigrants Are Inferior to Past Immigrants …

… there's a simple explanation: When immigration is outlawed, only outlaws will immigrate.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

This Had Better Be Part of a Disinformation Program

According to The Los Angeles Times:

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — No more than 200 yards from the main gate of the sprawling U.S. base here, stolen computer drives containing classified military assessments of enemy targets, names of corrupt Afghan officials and descriptions of American defenses are on sale in the local bazaar.


A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked "Secret." The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for "kill or capture" and discussions of U.S. efforts to "remove" or "marginalize" Afghan government officials whom the military considered "problem makers."

Hmmmm … This could be used to lure The Enemy into traps, stage a quiet assassination, or …

Why the Non-Conformist Side Claims to Be Mainstream

Leftists do not believe in individuals. I don't mean that they distrust individuals the way an authoritarian conservative would; I mean they do not believe individuals are effective or important. This theory leads to the following conclusions:

If someone is not going along with a group (The People) then he/she must be following another group—usually The Establishment.

Classical liberalism (which defended individual rights against The Establishment) must have been about strengthening the rights of The People to kick individuals around. Anyone opposed to that obviously would have opposed the American Revolution and the abolitionists. (This explains why liberals—who think of themselves as nonconformists—are so eager to claim to be mainstream.)

If The People agree with The Establishment they are not acting in accordance with their true nature and can be disregarded. If 90% of The People believe in family values, the work ethic, religion, etc. (Establishment values) and 10% don't, the 10% are the real mainstream of The People. (Authoritarian conservatives think that liberal “nonconformists” understand nonconformity and are seeking it. I doubt it. Liberal nonconformists are not true nonconformists; they are alternate conformists.)

Preliterate societies are highly important. In preliterate societies The Establishment has no way to pass its ideas down the generations. The People are unopposed.

Early literate societies are almost as good. If Classical Greece was unrepressed then that must represent the true nature of Western civilization.

(From an individualist standpoint traditions are important because an individual could not live long enough to derive traditional conclusions himself. The tendency for both Eastern and Western civilization to become more “repressed” is simply what a two or three thousand year old individual would conclude.)

To return to the present, liberal judges will suppress the right of individual employers and landlords to require drug tests, to not rent to unmarried couples, or to not fill prescriptions for abortifacients. They think of that as a triumph of individual rights because it is anti-Establishment.

This opinion is almost impervious to criticism. Liberals will assert that every group has the right to do what it wants. The obvious objection is that a group may want to oppress other groups. Liberals can get around that by asserting that it only The Establishment of the group that wants to oppress. (If The People want to oppress they can only be following The Establishment.)

In this theory, individualism and The Establishment are two sides of the same coin. The Establishment is the source of individualism because there is no other reason why so many people would oppose community. Individualism produced The Establishment because without individualism The Establishment would not oppose the community. (Individualism respecting individuals will produce nothing of course.)

Addendum: I just remembered, I had blogged this before.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Real Purpose of the Supposedly Pro-Immigration Demonstrations

On the one hand, many of those demonstrations are organized by unions, who have an interest in suppressing competition for labor. On the other hand, the actual effect of the demonstrations is to produce laws to suppress immigration and decrease competition for labor. Hmmmm … It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the unions are up to their old trick of shutting people out of a labor market by using high-sounding rhetoric.

On the other hand, maybe they really are idiots.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Is This Idea Worth Considering?

In a list of proposed amendments to the Constitution Econopundit suggested:

First, disallowance of immigrant participation in US political affairs. This incluces a ban on participation in demonstrations and other public expression of political opinion.
This looks plausible considering the following:
We briefly kicked the immigration issue around at the Houston panel discussion. I recycled my confession, made in the pages of NR 3 yrs ago, that I was an illegal immigrant here myself back in my feckless youth. I noted again what I'd noted in that piece: my conclusion that it is awfully hard to get native Americans to think about immigration. It's a quirk of the national character: we just don't want to take the subject seriously. It goes against the grain somehow. As supporting evidence, I adduced the fact that if you sit down to read up on U.S. immigration policy, you find you are reading books by people who are themselves immigrants (George Borjas, Peter Brimelow), or whose parents were (Michelle Malkin).
It takes time to become assimilated.

On the other hand, that would have prevented a Soviet-trained Jewess from expressing opinions. If we had adopted such regulations a few decades ago, we might be a Third-World nation by now.

The Right-Wing Version of Eric Pianka

On Brookes News, they're explaining the good side of bubonic plague:

After the Black Death struck England in 1348 the population was reduced by about a third. The result was a rapid rise in real wage rates. So swift was this rise that in 1351 the crown felt impelled to pass maximum wage laws based on the average wage for the period 1325-1331. It did this in the belief that there was something unnatural and unjust about rapidly rising wages, even though it was brought about by a sudden reduction in the size of the workforce.

Any economist would simply state that the sudden rise in real wages was caused by a rapid increase in the ratio of land and capital to labour. (This process was detailed in Paul A. Samuelson’s Economics, tenth edition, McGraw-Hill). It follows that lowering the ratio of land and capital to the population would also lower living standards. And this is what eventually happened as the population expanded.

Was the decline in living standards due to the population rise or was it due to the earlier population drop?

On the other hand, there's the following (seen on David Friedman's web site):

In the thirteenth century, movement was to be noted everywhere: there was general prosperity and the population was increasing by leaps and bounds; popular culture was effervescing in bubbles that researchers are only now beginning to pick up. Then, in the late Middle Ages, a long term regression set in (for reasons much too complicated even to suggest in this short book), and a period of economic, demographic, and cultural retrenchment began which was to continue until the early nineteenth century. It is this epoch of decline and stagnation in the grand sweep of Western life that one might call "traditional." During this epoch the popular values and patterns of doing cultural business were nailed into place that subsequent folklorists would think had begun with the Druids.

Shorter, Edward, The Making of the Modern Family, pp. 20-21

That should not be astounding. This was the same period in which monarchies started becoming absolute.

By the way, where did all this Malthusian rhetoric come from? On the topic of immigration, many conservatives sound like a combination of Paul Ehrlich and Margaret Sanger.

The best reason to oppose open immigration was that liberals were for it. By now (considering Paul Krugman's comments on immigration), even that's going away.

Friday, April 07, 2006

We Pride Ourselves on This

According to Amanda Marcotte:

For a lot of right wing bloggers, politics is just a way to lash out at the cool kids for not letting them sit at their lunch table with them oh so many years ago.
Actually, it is a bit odd how the supposedly non-conformist side is so eager to claim to be successful conformists.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

An Explanation of the Latest French Riots

They're based on the belief that jobs are provided by God and taken away by business.

A Note to the Alleged Republicans Who Are Trying to Control 527s

You cannot use the Ring. It's nature is evil, and those who use it will be consumed by it. (This was taken from a slightly-different context.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Potato Chip from Brazil

In It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown, there are the following lines:

Lucy: Well, look here. A big yellow butterfly. It's unusual to see one of those at THIS time of year, unless of course, it flew up from Brazil. I'll bet that's it. They DO that sometimes, you know. They fly up from Brazil.
Linus: That's no butterfly! That's a potato chip.
Lucy: Well, I'll be. I wonder how a potato chip got all the way down here from Brazil!
The recent prediction of imminent doom from Eric Pianka sounds similar.

The belief in an overpopulation disaster was originally due to the claim we were using up resources, just like any other overabundant species of animal. When it turns out that resources are far more abundant than a naive analysis would indicate (and also that we're plants, not animals), resource shortages look less likely. The Malthusians retained the belief in disaster, but looked for another reason for it. The current hysteria is about emerging diseases caught from other species. The mass extinction many of the same people are warning about makes that less likely.

We're unlikely to get caught in the mass extinction. There are species that flourish in “impoverished” ecosystems: rats, crab grass, ailanthus trees, and humans. Such species are likely to survive. In any case, world-wide clades don't become extinct that often. I think the last time a clade with members all over the world became extinct was 65 million years ago.

Monday, April 03, 2006

More on Depressed Academics

Upon reading more about the alleged speech by an alleged scientist, I noticed a few details that don't ring true:

Mims counters their ovation with the story of a Texas Lutheran University student who attended the Academy of Science lecture. Brenna McConnell, a biology senior, said she and others in the audience "had not thought seriously about overpopulation issues and a feasible solution prior to the meeting." But though McConnell arrived at the event with little to say on the issue, she returned to Seguin with a whole new outlook.

An entry to her online blog captures her initial response to what's become a new conviction:

"[Pianka is] a radical thinker, that one!" she wrote. "I mean, he's basically advocating for the death for all but 10 percent of the current population. And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he's right."

Today, she maintains the Earth is in dire straits. And though she's decided Ebola isn't the answer, she's still considering other deadly viruses that might take its place in the equation.

"Maybe I just see the virus as inevitable because it's the easiest answer to this problem of overpopulation," she said.

First, does Brenna McConnell’s blog exist? It isn’t mentioned on technorati or Google blog search and the general Google web search didn’t have anything bloggish on Brenna McConnell.

I expressed some skepticism about the accuracy of unverifiable anecdotes on the alleged self-censorship of Arkansas biology teachers a few days ago and I think similar skepticism is warranted here.

Second, can we really find a 21st-century alleged biology student who “had not thought seriously about overpopulation issues”?

As for the alleged content …

To the extent the report is accurate, it means that the eco-nuts have basically surrendered on the issue of resource shortages. They made a token invocation of resource shortages but didn't press the point. They had to fall back on Plan B: hysteria on supposedly-emerging diseases.

Extremely contagious diseases have already spread. The ones left are not very contagious diseases such as Ebola, AIDS, or Legionnaire's disease. The commonly cited scenario of numerous contagious diseases spreading from some jungle had already taken place between 500 BCE and 1000. If Ebola were able to become airborne easily, it would have done so long ago. Since then (with a few exceptions such as bubonic plague) diseases have evolved to be less deadly. (Please recall that the death rate from contagious disease was declining even before antibiotics.)

Addendum: Brenna McConnell's blog actually does exist. Maybe I've been reading too many conspiracy theories …

Sunday, April 02, 2006

An Obvious Bluff

The Iranian regime is making empty threats:

Iran would respond to U.S. military strikes against its nuclear sites with global attacks by intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams, The Washington Post reported in an article on its Web site on Saturday, citing unnamed "intelligence and terrorism experts."
Hezbollah? The people who couldn't come up with an explosion or two at the pro-democracy demonstrations on their home territory?

The Islamofascists have been very good at disguising the fact that they have a finite number of suicide bombers available, but now that they've run out in Lebanon and Israel, we're on to them.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Today Is the 58th Anniversary of …

… one of the most famous jokes in the history of physics.

A Study I'd Like to See

What is the correlation between whininess and brain size in nursery school?

Let's Do Both!

Boing Boing has recommended dropping kittens instead of bombs. That's not as absurd as it looks. Cats can play a part in warfare.

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