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

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On the Gripping Hand …

A baby with three arms was born recently in China (seen via Boing Boing.)

Explaining Health Differences

A medical system is which a diagnosis means medical organization must spend more will produce fewer diagnoses of illness than a medical system in which a diagnosis means medical organizations can charge more.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm Too Late to Get Royalties on This

Last year, I devised what I thought was the foundation for an original piece of pseudoscience:

By the way, isn't it time for a new set of brain buzzwords? Why not draw a distinction between the top brain and the bottom brain or between the front brain and back brain? Why not draw a distinction between the plan-everything frontal lobes and the go-with-the-flow cerebellum?

If it turns out that I started something here … can I get royalties on it?

It turns out that I've been scooped by Brain Gym (seen via Bad Science):
(The Dennisons describe brain functioning in terms of three dimensions––laterality, focus, and centering)

Laterality is the ability to coordinate one side of the brain with the other, especially in the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic midfield, the area where the two sides overlap. This skill is fundamental to the ability to read, write, and communicate. It is also essential for fluid whole-body movement, and for the ability to move and think at the same time.

Focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain. It is related to comprehension, the ability to find meaning, and to the ability to experience details within their context. People without this basic skill are said to have attention disorders and difficulty in comprehending. At a deeper level, focus allows us to interpret a particular moment or experience in the greater context of our lives or to see ourselves as unique individuals within the larger framework of our society.

Centering is the ability to coordinate the top and bottom areas of the brain. This skill is related to organization, grounding, feeling and expressing one’s emotions, a sense of personal space, and responding rationally rather than reacting from emotional overlay.
I suppose somebody came up with this first, too.

After The Da Vinci Code

Other Renaissance polymaths want equal time.

I'm looking forward to The Hieronymus Bosch Code.

Ten Celsius

I started breathing fifty years ago. (If Tom Lehrer can calculate his age in Celsius, I see no reason I can't.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is Natural Family Planning Necessarily Innocent?

According to a recent study (technical article here), Natural Family Planning (the “rhythm method” with minor improvements to make it actually effective), works partly by decreasing the fraction of eggs fertilized and partly by decreasing the fraction of fertilized eggs implanted. In other words, if fertilized eggs should be regarded even a little bit as human beings, that would mean Natural Family Planning increases the abortion rate.

First, we should remember that not every theory pans out. In particular, if the Roman Catholic Church is your tradition, you should not yet feel obligated to leave.

Second, if you were planning to become Catholic but the Roman Catholic Church is not your tradition, you should at least wait until this is sorted out, if ever.

Third, there are religions where Natural Family Planning is not acceptable. In particular, Orthodox Judaism holds that marital relations should not resume until after menstruation is over for a week. That will cut down on the number of nonviable embryos produced. That, of course, means that Jews who converted to the Catholic Church out of opposition to abortion should, of course, return.

An essential disclaimer for that last point: I am not an Orthodox Jew, I am Orthodox sympathetic. I agree with some of their reasons for being dubious of Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist/Renewal Judaism. On the other hand, some parts of Orthodox Judaism seem a bit preposterous. One of the preposterous elements looks much more reasonable now. (I suppose I'll find there is a reason why kosher for Passover pet food is imperative next.)

Addendum: I suppose it's necessary to point out that enforcing a potential law against sex at the wrong time of the month really would violate privacy. Besides, by the time this research has been verified, the Catholic Church will have a different dogma.

Of course, I support the right of pharmacists to refuse to sell calendars.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Watch Your Arithmetic!

According to a news item in Common Knowledge edited by Robert E. Ornstein (a collection of weird news from the late 1960s and early 1970s), South San Francisco High School once ran an experiment to teach their victims/students about starvation. As a result:

Groans of sympathy rose up from all corners of the room, echoes of hunger from the 30 students taking part in a three-day experiment to dramatize the world's food shortage problem.

For 72 hours, they are existing on a daily intake of 266 calories, the amount they claim each person would get if all the world's food were equally distributed.

Say what??? Out of what bodily orifice did they get they get that figure? Did they subtract 2000 calories from the actual figure? Did they skip a decimal place? (2660 calories sounds high but it might be the amount if you add the food consumed by domestic animals.)

Why didn't anybody notice that amount was absurd? Did they calculate the right figure but assumed that starving Third World people couldn't eat that much? Did it occur to them that an amount of food that would be barely adequate for somebody doing heavy manual labor would fatten up a couch potato?

What were the long-term effects of this and similar programs? Does much of the opposition to open borders (or free trade for that matter) come from people who actually think they'll be living on 266 calories per day in a borderless world?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This Is Not a Paradox

According a recent randomized study:

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.
On the other hand, another study showed that:
Doctors discovered that overweight African-Americans who regularly participated in religious activities had lower blood pressure than their less-faithful counterparts - a finding that didn't surprise spiritual leaders.
(Seen via The Raving Atheist, who had his own explanation.)

In related news, a randomized test found that experimental subjects who had just walked a mile were no thinner than those who hadn't. On the other hand, people who walk regularly are thinner than those who don't. In yet another study, when a group of strangers were told to diet for somebody else, the intended beneficiaries did not lose weight. When they were told that they were being dieted for, they even gained some weight.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hail! O Prince of Darkness!

The anti-immigration activists are getting nuttier:

We have to face the reality that this drive to open our borders is nothing less than demonic, and that this demonic drive stems from our society’s rejection of God and the transcendent. This statement (which I explain further below) is not contradicted by the fact that Kudlow is a convert to the Catholic Church, and that many other believing Christian conservatives, such as Mary Ann Glendon writing in the current First Things, are in favor of continuing mass Third-World immigration into the West. The bottom line is that the God these “Christian conservatives” believe in is the God of liberalism, that new God declared by Vatican II, who is, as both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II made crystal clear, man himself.
It was bad enough when they were using words like “traitorous.”

I'm not sure I want to read what he has to say about pro-immigration Jews…

Addendum: The following quote from James Lileks seems relevant:

Each side is guilty of this - in the 90s a substantial contingent of the right was convinced that Gov. Bill Clinton ran coke out of Mena. It’s almost as if you have two options:

1. I disagree with my opponent's position on taxation, and therefore I shall oppose it.

2. I disagree with my opponent's position on taxation, and therefore I believe he has sex with goats.

The second option is ever so satisfying to the lone iconoclast: the fact that the mainstream media does not report the rumors about midnight goat-deliveries confirms your worldview. And the faintest whiff of goatiness whets your enthusiasm, confirms your juicy suspicions.

But of course the sheeple won’t believe it - which just proves how smart you are.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I Want to Join This Political Organization

Extraterrestrials for immigration.

People keep asking me what's the color of the sky on my planet.

Who Said This?

Stuart Buck found the following quote from a surprising source:

We don't need more cannot fodder. We don't need more parishioners. We don't need more cheap labor. We don't need more poor babies.
It sounds like it came from an anti-immigration activist.

It Takes Balls …

… to oppose the abortion lobby.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I Might Get a Tattoo

I was inspired by an innovation in medical ethics:

Decorah, Ia. — Eighty-year-old Mary Wohlford has informed family members of her wishes should she ever become incapacitated. She also has signed a living will that hangs on the side of her refrigerator.

But the retired nurse and great-grandmother now believes she has removed all potential for confusion.

She had the words "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" tattooed on her chest.

I might get a living will tattoo as well. Should it be this one or this one? (Warning: The first link has very rude language.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Comments on That Vox Day Article

It isn't every day that I find someone with less common sense than I have.

Vox Day should definitely have skipped the following inflamatory analogy:

Not only will [massive deportation] work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

In the middle of the lunacy, he makes a plausible point that a border fence could be used to keep people in as well as out:

The problem with a fence is that it works both ways. As it stands today, the only government agency that objects to an American leaving the country is the Internal Revenue Service, which weirdly attempts to claim income tax for up to 10 years after an American leaves the country and his citizenship behind. This is mostly because apart from the farsighted Fred Reed, few Americans now wish to leave what is still a wealthy and relatively free country.

But that may not always be the case, especially given the increasing probability that the Lizard Queen will be squatting on the Cherry Blossom Throne three years from now. And a government that believes the importation of low-skill, low-income Mexicans is necessary is not one that is likely to smile benevolently upon the departure of high-skill, high-income Americans.

There is a precedent for the policy he ends up advocating:

As the Minutemen have proven, again, unleashing the power of motivated private citizens is far more efficient than relying on government bureaucrats.
“Motivated private citizens” trying to chase the supposedly-wrong people out of the neigborhood sounds like KKK tactics (and also IRA, PLO, and Tamil Tiger tactics). If we look at the effect of the KKK (and racism on the part of “motivated private citizens” in general) in the United States, it did not succeed in sending the target population “back to Africa” but did succeed in concentrating them in urban ghettos, where they could explode a generation later. I am not impressed with the wisdom of this.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Is Bush the Wrong Type of Liberal?

According to Howard Sutherland (seen via Lawrence Auster):

Bush is also a born-and-bred establishment liberal. For all the Texas accent, he belongs (patrician Greenwich family; Andover; Yale; Harvard) to a bipartisan Northeastern liberal elite. That set may have been wrong about most things in the end, but during his schooldays they were quite sure they were right.
Let's see… They were wrong about Malthusianism, but Bush doesn't believe that. They were wrong about an economic policy of picking winners (e.g., picking the supposedly most productive immigrants), but Bush doesn't believe that. They were wrong about abandoning a supposed quagmire, but Bush doesn't believe that …

Coal-Powered Cars Are Just around the Corner

According to The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, May 13 — When an F-16 lights up its afterburners, it consumes nearly 28 gallons of fuel per minute. No wonder, then, that of all the fuel the United States government uses each year, the Air Force accounts for more than half. The Air Force may not be in any danger of suffering inconveniences from scarce or expensive fuel, but it has begun looking for a way to power its jets on something besides conventional fuel.

In a series of tests — first on engines mounted on blocks and then with B-52's in flight — the Air Force will try to prove that the American military can fly its aircraft by blending traditional crude-oil-based jet fuel with a synthetic liquid made first from natural gas and, eventually, from coal, which is plentiful and cheaper.

Prediction: They will ignore this in their editorials on conservation.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Common Leftist Tactic

One of commonest leftist tactics during the Reagan era (I haven't seen it much lately) was to talk about the cost of a defense program per decade to produce more horrifying sums. Sometimes they would use similar tactics in dicussing the “cost” of tax cuts or the number of lives that would allegedly be saved by a proposed environmental regulation.

I was reminded of that by this report.

To My Fellow Reactionaries

While commenting on illegal immigration, please remember there is a difference between malum in se and malum prohibitum.

Christians and Muslims Bury the Hatchet …

… in freedom of speech:

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A powerful organisation of Indian Islamic clerics promised on Monday to help Christian groups launch protests if the authorities did not ban the screening of the controversial film, "The Da Vinci Code".

Protest in India against the film have so far been low key, but several Catholic groups have threatened to stage street demonstrations and even to shut down cinema halls screening it.

Now, powerful Islamic clerics have joined issue with Christians, saying "The Da Vinci Code" is blasphemous as it spreads lies about Jesus Christ.

Seen via Hyscience.

Part-Human Rice?

A biotech company is trying to grow rice with a few human genes:

A tiny biosciences company is developing a promising drug to fight diarrhea, a scourge among babies in the developing world, but it has made an astonishing number of powerful enemies because it grows the experimental drug in rice genetically engineered with a human gene.
When I last heard of this, I thought it was an attempt to attract “progressive” support. It didn't work:
Environmental groups, corporate food interests and thousands of farmers across the country have succeeded in chasing Ventria Bioscience's rice farms out of two states. And critics continue to complain that Ventria is recklessly plowing ahead with a mostly untested technology that threatens the safety of conventional crops grown for food.
If they succeed, eighteen years from now those rice plants will graduate with honors from California high schools.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

If It Is Unacceptable for the Government to Have a Database with Vitally-Important Information on All Americans …

… then the IRS has to go.

Wait a moment … The reaction of the far left to the NSA database is starting to make sense …

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Product Suggestion

Would furniture upholstered in chain mail be immune to damage by cats sharpening their claws?

If Life Has to Be Fair

The latest insanity from California:

A California judge struck down the state's controversial high school exit exam Friday, potentially clearing the way for thousands of seniors who have failed the test to graduate with their class next month.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.


In issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez's argument that many impoverished and minority students — particularly those learning English as a second language — attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them adequately for the test.

If you are hospitalized with a fever and if it is unfair that you have a fever, does that mean the hospital should throw out the thermometers and send you home?

I recall an appropriate quote from Richard Mitchell (expanding a remark by H. G. Wells):

History, as H. G. Wells said, and that was way back then, "becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." And by "education" he didn't mean basic minimum competence or an indoctrination impervious to thoughtfulness. However, by "catastrophe" he meant catastrophe.

Just now, there seems to be only one runner on the track, and, unhampered by concerns with quality, undeterred by appeals to higher standards of academics, he isn't even looking over his shoulder.

This is one reason I'm dubious about No Child Left Behind. If leftist Democrats get in office, they might be able to impose a similar ruling across fifty states instead of just one.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Few Notes on the NSA Wiretapping

If information wants to be free, doesn't that include information on who called whom? (It's amazing how many situations that cliche fits.)

The real problem is that the Other Side might have infiltrated the NSA and they've known all about this for months. Maybe the database should be publicly available. Three hundred million Americans can probably analyze the data better than a handful of NSA staff.

One of the best comments comes from Fark:

NSA creates database of domestic U.S. phone calls made by millions of Americans, to the surprise of absolutely nobody

Mahmoud Goldfinger

A megalomaniac who might have The Bomb … Gold prices rising as though someone mysterious is accumulating gold … This sounds familiar somehow …

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If Testosterone Is Linked to Hot Sauce …

… what foods are linked to estrogen? Mallomars? Lemon-frosted pop tarts? Quiche lorraine?

Addendum: I have been informed that there are no lemon-frosted pop tarts.

More Animal Vehicles

A few months ago, I mentioned a vehicle that can be driven by fish. There's now a vehicle that can be driven by cockroaches:

"Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot" is an experimental mechanism that uses a living Madagascan hissing cockroach atop a modified trackball to control a three-wheeled robot. If the cockroach moves left, the robot moves left. Infrared sensors also provide navigation feedback to the cockroach, striving to create a pseudo-intelligent system with the cockroach as the CPU.
I think I'm growing to love the twenty-first century.

Cream Pies Wanted

A gang of “anarchists” impressed with their own wittiness has been robbing restaurants in Germany:

A GANG of anarchist Robin Hood-style thieves, who dress as superheroes and steal expensive food from exclusive restaurants and delicatessens to give to the poor, are being hunted by police in the German city of Hamburg.

The gang members seemingly take delight in injecting humour into their raids, which rely on sheer numbers and the confusion caused by their presence. After they plundered Kobe beef fillets, champagne and smoked salmon from a gourmet store on the exclusive Elbastrasse, they presented the cashier with a bouquet of flowers before making their getaway.

It sounds like upscale eating places should keep a supply of cream pies and banana peels on hand for a counterattack. I suspect this could be stopped by just one store making a determined resistance.

Hmmm… Bullying behavior, unfunny jokes, a self-image as defenders of the downtrodden … Does Stephen Colbert have anything to do with this?

Guns Scientifically Linked to … Tex-Mex Food

According to The New York Times:

Handling a gun stirs a hormonal reaction in men that primes them for aggression, new research suggests.
The alleged aggression was measured by a novel means:
"Those who had handled the gun put in about three times as much as the others — 13 grams on average, which is a lot," said Tim Kasser, one of the authors. He worked with Francis McAndrew, also of Knox, and Jennifer Klinesmith, a former student who had the idea for the study, due to appear in Psychological Science.
Is this additional evidence that the Left (we can take a look at another of Tim Kasser's studies to establish that he is part of the Left) is about to abandon Mexicans? They come over here, they take our jobs, they go on welfare, they serve extra-spicy food …. It might also be evidence we should be armed against the dreaded invasion from Thailand.

This could be the start of a new series of violations of civil liberties. They'll start with mandatory registration of habaneros and then work down to confiscating paprika. By the time they start compulsory anti-garlic propaganda campaigns in elementary schools it will be too late.

There will, of course, be black-market spices, but we can expect the dealers to cut them with bland substances. We can also expect to find increased police corruption from this Prohibition. When spices are outlawed, only outlaws will have tasty food.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The National Anthem in Foreign Languages Is Anti-Immigrant

The obvious pro-immigrant policy on the National Anthem is to sing it in English on the grounds that English is the only language our diverse immigrants have in common. Singing it in Spanish amounts to a claim that Hispanics belong here more than other immigrants. That's an anti-immigration policy that disapproves of people crossing, not borders, but oceans.

In related news, The Seattle Times reports that the U.S. government authorized a Spanish translation of The Star Spangled Banner in 1919. That's shortly before the gates slammed shut.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Straightening out That Discrepancy in the Coverage

A few months ago, I posted that there was a discrepancy in the coverage of Roland Sturm and Ashlesha Datar's article on childhood obesity. Some reports said the study found no correlation between the location of fast-food places or convenience stores and childhood obesity whereas others reported there was a correlation. Now that I have found the study in question, there turned out to be no correlation found:

Regarding the distribution density of food providers such as grocerty stores, restaurants, and fast food establishments, suggested by some groups to have a link with childhood overweight: We found no significant relationship between children s excess weight gain and the presence of many convenience stores, restaurants, or grocery stores near their homes.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Explaining Howard Dean

In a much ridiculed statement, Howard Dean said:

"I was recently asked about the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties," Dean said. "When it comes right down to it, the essential difference is that the Democrats fundamentally believe it is important to make sure that American Jews feel comfortable being American Jews."

That make more sense than it looks. The essential difference is that the Democrats fundamentally believe it is important to make sure that everybody feels comfortable in belonging to some collective or other until blown up by a member of another collective who wanted to be even more comfortable. (But you're comfortable before you're blown up.) The Republicans are supposed to believe that your feelings are your own business. (In practice, they don't, but that's another rant.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What Language Should the National Anthem Be Sung In?

I suspect the only language immigrants from Mexico, China, India, and Russia have in common is English.

Can't we be multicultural?

A Brief Note on the Moussaoui Sentence

I think we should have been more multicultural and cut his hands off.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Is This Due to Different Health Standards?

According to a recent study:

White, middle-aged Americans - even those who are rich - are far less healthy than their peers in England, according to stunning new research that erases misconceptions and has experts scratching their heads.


The study, based on government statistics in both countries, adds context to the already-known fact that the United States spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation, yet trails in rankings of life expectancy.

American doctors may be more likely to diagnose hypertension or diabetes than British doctors. That would explain why, even despite these statistics there is a negligible difference in life expectancy. (In Britain the life expectancy is estimated at 78.38 as of 2005. In the United States, the life expectancy of “white” Americans was 78.0 as of 2003 and it was increasing at 0.2 years per year.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Help Wanted: Telephone Sanitizers

It would be a grave mistake to send all telephone sanitizers to another planet. According to Reuters:

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Worried about colds, flu and other germs? Go ahead and touch those doorknobs and elevator buttons, but watch out for the telephone, fresh laundry and sinks, a top expert advises.

And while you should always wash your hands before making a meal, many people do not realize that they should do so afterwards also, says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and clean water expert at the University of Arizona.

"Most of the common infections -- colds, flu, diarrhea -- you get environmentally transmitted either in the air or on surfaces you touch. I think people under-rate surfaces," Gerba said in a telephone interview.

That interview sounds risky.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I Confess!

In the course of my day job, I was examining some MathML formulas that will eventually go into an encyclopedia of oil-well drilling and noticed some of the contributors to this volume are affiliated with (whisper it): Halliburton.

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