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

Monday, July 31, 2006

Yes! We're All United Now! Absolutely!

In case you're wondering why the Lebanese are all united behind Hezbollah, Ali explains:

And even when the battle with the Israelis is over, he adds menacingly, Hizbullah will have other battles to fight. "The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let's finish with the Israelis and then we will settle scores later."
I suspect they put their rocket launchers next to the houses of their opponents.

By the way, the following sounds like something from The Sopranos:

According to Ali, Hizbullah operates as "a state within the state", with its own hospitals, social organisations and social security system. "But we are also an Islamic resistance movement, an indoctrinated army," he adds. "I would go and knock the door at someone and say we need $50,000, he would give me [that] because they trust us."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Why Are There 60,888 Iranian Tourists in Lebanon?

They're obviously planning to help with the grape harvest.

On the other hand, they might be there to explain to reporters that the Lebanese are more united than ever.

A Little Arithmetic

According to The New York Times:

Hezbollah spent the last six years dispersing about 12,000 rockets across southern Lebanon in a vast web of hidden caches, all divided into local zones with independent command.


o attack Israel, Hezbollah dispersed its fighters with no distinguishing markings or uniforms or vehicles. Fighters access the weapons only at the moment of attack, and then disappear. This makes preventing the attack all but impossible. It is a significant modernization of classic guerrilla hit-and-run tactics. Israel has been unable to significantly degrade the numbers of rockets because of this approach. Hezbollah fired more than 100 a day at the start of this conflict; they are still firing more than 100 a day, despite Israeli bombardment.

12,000 rockets divided by 100 rockets per day gives 120 days. Hezbollah can't hold out longer unless Iran plays the North Vietnam role. (Even if it does, the Israelis can wait a little longer.)

A Theory about the Seattle Shooter

Maybe he was trying to see if Jews respond to this by arming themselves or by calling for more gun control. If it's the latter, the loonies have more reason think we'll settle for a cease fire.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

We've Heard This Before

Remember “The Israelis are just creating more terrorists!”?

The Israelis persevered and eventually the Palestinians ran out of fragheads

Do they really think we'll fall for the same scam? Hezbollah is bound to run out of people willing to shelter them.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I Think I Missed That Part of the Constitution

According to feralchimp (seen via tjic):

“How many people really think it’s in the best interest of young people to be sexually active outside of marriage? Does anything positive ever come from that?”

- Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma

I’m almost out of my twenties, and it still shocks me to hear someone (or even to even hear of someone) uttering something so profoundly antithetical to what I consider basic human values…and more to the point (since the speaker is a politician), basic american values.

Heh, I was about to write “isn’t Oklahoma close to Vegas?” but then I bothered to look at a map. Ouch. Kind of hard to get back up on the soap box after a trainwreck like that. You’re on your own, folks.


I didn't know politicians were forbidden from expressing disapproval of anything. For that matter, I didn't know that the standards of the past forty years were part of a two-century-old Constitution.

Yes, the government shouldn't enforce purely personal decisions, such as the decision to eat trans-fats or the decision to have breast implants, but I somehow doubt if those were included among “basic american values.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Disclaimer

If you're visiting from Debunkers, I should tell you that I'm not strictly Orthodox. I'm Orthodox sympathetic. I find it a bit hard to believe in the tradition that the Oral and Written Torah was revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai. I suppose some of it was revealed but most of it was discovered. For one thing, I still think that God would have been clearer.

On the other hand, if the Law was revealed at Mt. Sinai, it would have been highly compressed and highly-compressed data looks like random noise.

Wait a moment…

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who Is behind Intelligent-Design Theories?

After looking at the comments on the Brothers Judd article I mentioned in the preceding post, I realized who is backing Intelligent-Design theories. It should have been obvious. It's Microsoft.

Intelligent-Design theories that oppose Darwin's theory explaining the fact of evolution do not fit in very well with the people who might be expected to back it. Fundamentalists oppose any acknowledgment of extended evolution and most theistic evolutionists can regard evidence of Intelligent Design of the laws of physics as sufficient. Microsoft, however, can use Intelligent-Design theories to try to support their version of central planning. If any large, useful system requires a single source to design it, then Linux, etc. are discredited from the start.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Do Creationists Think the Difference between Darwinism and Intelligent Design Is?

According to Orin Judd (as a comment on an article describing the difference between designed systems and evolved systems):

These poor guys have themselves so far down the dead end they have to pretend there's a fundamental difference between kinds of intelligent design.
In other words, evolution by itself is not counted as Darwinist. If you want to know what Orin Judd does count as Darwinist:
Freud may have been the silliest of the bearded godkillers, but at least he doesn't have so blood-soaked a legacy as Marx and Darwin.
I think this is typical of Creationists. They have encountered enough “village atheists” claiming the authority of Darwin that they think only atheist theories count as Darwinian.

Of course, that means that rejecting what typical Creationists think of as Darwinism is not a disaster after all and you can't use alleged Creationism against “faith-based” organizations or policies.

Monday, July 17, 2006

If There Were No Israel

The following nonsense has been making its way around the blogosphere:

Muslims, Jews, and Christians could live in peace without fear of mutual destruction.

There would be no more need for US AID or justification for Dimona.

We could bring down the Wall, send prisoners home, and families could be reunited.

We could dismantle checkpoints, open crossings, and pull down barbed wire fences.

There would be no more settlements or armed settlers because the people would be united.

We could replant trees and olive groves and rebuild battered cities.

No more suicide bombers or sniper fire, and no more dead civilians.

No more targeted killings and hell-fire missiles, or systematic demolitions.

Palestinians and Jews could live together and the world could address other issues.

What a simpler place this world would be if there was no need for a Jewish majority - where there would otherwise be none.

Is it so hard to imagine?

Let's look at a description of what Palestine was like before Zionism:

Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far- reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists--over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead-- about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour's presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the "desert places" round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.

Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?

Of course, we could restore its previous condition and the Israelis could leave the following note:
I have left it as I have found it. Take over. It's yours.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I Doubt If This Is Due to Male Chauvinism

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about Dr. Ben Barres (formerly Dr. Barbara Barres). He (if Dr. Barres insists on being a he, we can let him), claims to have experienced less discrimination as a man than as a woman. I'm a bit dubious that was due to gender discrimination. It's possible that the increased respect he's getting has been due to having more experience and more publications. There are other explanations for one apparent type of increased respect:

Which may account for what Prof. Barres calls the main difference he has noticed since changing sex. "People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect," he says. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."
That's probably because they can now get a word in edgewise.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Silber–George Debate

I missed the debate between Kenneth Silber and Robert A. George on whether superheroes should have to register with the government (covered here and here), but there there are potential situations when we must be careful about superheroes and supervillains, even within a libertarian frame. For example, what if a supervillain is able to control minds? In that case, a pre-emptive strike might be called for.

The stories of the German–American SF writer James H. Schmitz, who left Germany in the late 1930s, frequently featured villains with mind-control powers. I suspect he regarded it as a plausible explanation for the hold that Hitler had over Germany. Moyuscane the Illusionist in “The Illusionists” (a Mad Artist who hypnotized an entire planet) was particularly Hitlerian. A relevant quote:

"Siva Psychosis, the gentle voice resumed obligingly. "Symptom of the intermediate to concluding stages of the Autocrat Circuit in human-type mentalities—Refer to `Multiple Murder: Causes'—"
On the other hand, somebody like that is likely to control the government before the government can control him.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mickey Kaus Defends Anti-Zionism

According to Mickey Kaus:

I don't understand the argument behind Horwitz's Sunday NYT op-ed essay. Sure, the immigration debate should be informed by "a full awareness of the history of the 500-year Spanish presence in the Americas and its seesawing fortunes in the face of Anglo encroachment." But which way does that awareness cut? The Spaniards were here first, Horwitz tells us. "From 1819 to 1848, the United States and its army increased the nation's area by roughly a third at Spanish and Mexican expense, including three of today's four most populous states: California, Texas and Florida." OK. But doesn't that make Mexican and other Spanish-speaking immigrants profoundly different from previous immigrants. Unlike other immigrants--Italians or Irish or Koreans--they do not necessarily think they are in a foreign land (as the ubiquitous "I am in my HOMELAND" signs at the pro-immigrant marchas try to tell us). Unlike other immigrants, Latinos have a powerful rationale for challenging, at the very least, the current common language. Do we want a common language or not? At the extreme, they have non-crazy grounds for challenging the very constitution of the U.S. within its current borders. Their land was taken by a bunch of Anglo racists!
If having a stronger or older claim to an area means you should be kept out of it, clearly Jews should be expelled from Israel.

The Obvious Answer to the Disappearing Teaspoon Question

According to a recent article in the British Medical Journal (seen via Zoe Brain), there has been a mysterious tendency for teaspoons to disappear from academic tearooms. The article (and its comments) somehow omitted the most obvious explanation: The teaspoons have been bodily taken up to the Land Where Teaspoons Are Eternally Blessed in a Rapture of the Teaspoons.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Food Must Rot

The latest news from the farm front (seen via The Brothers Judd):

WOODLAND --- A third of Jerry Dobbins' 155-acre strawberry crop rotted on the vine this year. His blueberry bushes are so heavy with fruit that the branches are hanging near the ground.

There is no one to pick them.

Dobbins Farm in Woodland is one of many farms across the state facing a huge labor shortage this growing season, as tighter security along the U.S.-Mexico border has crimped the supply of Latino migrant farm workers.
I'm reminded of a famous quote from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:
And coroners must fill in the certificates—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.

The fruit probably could be picked by “Americans” but in that case there would be fewer Americans available for other jobs. Those other jobs might include designing the robots that John Derbyshire is so fond of.


According to Edward Boyd (seen via Instapundit):

I know quite a few people in law enforcement. A few of them are narcotics detectives with local law enforcement agencies and one is with the DEA. About two weeks ago, one of the local detectives (with the Phoenix Police Department) told me that the street price of methamphetamine, cocaine, and non-hydroponic marijuana has risen since the Feds deployed national guard troops at the border. He also said that large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine are a lot harder to find right now.
I'm reminded of the public service announcement on Saturday Night Live during the 1970s from the Dope Pickers Union:
Every time you buy Mexican or Columbian pot, you put an American out of work!
I can't find anything about it online, probably because the people who found it funniest can't remember it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence and Underpopulated “Overpopulated” Worlds in SF

John Derbyshire has recently formulated the Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence:

The HCI says that no large collectivity of human beings (nation-state or larger) will ever act to avert an obvious calamity until that calamity begins to cause really major, dramatic, unignorable damage. Examples abound: WW2, 9/11, etc.

On the other hand, there are instances of Collective Excessive Prudence, which a collective tries to avert an event that turns out to be harmless:

  • A few years ago, some real-estate developers wanted to build a new shopping center and movie theater a mile or two from my house. Some of my neighbors went into anti-American mode and opposed it. (Apparently the riff-raff were about to move in and ruin the supposed character of the neighborhood and cause The End of the Neighborhood as We Know It. They even got their eight-year-olds to stand up a public meetings to claim they were worried … except they managed to sound like children reading from teleprompters. Even despite local opposition, a court (run by someone similar to Judge Naragansett) said that the developers could build on their own property. The neighborhood is still there, oddly enough.

  • A few centuries ago, the British planted a forest to ensure a steady supply of ship masts. By the time the trees matured, sailing ships were obsolete.

  • After the Haitian revolution, white southerners stopped treating slavery as something that would disappear and started making last ditch efforts to preserve it. As far as I can tell, they thought any relaxation would produce a revolution similar to Haiti. Since then, blacks have been given legal rights and somehow the feared anti-white revolt never happened.

  • In the early 20th century, there were immigration restrictions, partly based on the assumption the United States was full. The United States has a far larger population now without being overpopulated.

  • When the VCR was invented, media companies went to great lengths to stop it on the grounds the VCR meant the end of their business model. Those efforts didn't work and we can now see the entire struggle was pointless.

The above examples of Collective Excessive Prudence might have been caused by attempts to evade Collective Imprudence.

Meanwhile, let's look at another effect of a belief in Collective Imprudence. James Nicoll has recently posted that may of the supposedly overpopulated worlds in science fiction aren't that crowded. This may be due to a belief in Collective Imprudence. The Malthusians tried to raise an alarm about overpopulation. Since people continued to reproduce (at least for longer than expected), they blamed the continued increase on stupidity. When techophiliacs told them there are technical fixes, they said those technical fixes won't be applied because people are imprudent. Worlds without technical fixes will be overpopulated at quite modest populations.

A belief in Collective Imprudence is, of course, convenient for anybody who disagrees with the mainstream. If you believe in Collective Imprudence, you not only get to believe in your own superiority, you even get to ignore anybody who tries telling you otherwise.

Addendum: John Derbyshire now has a corollary:

My Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence may have an unhappy corollary: When the human race (or some largish subset of it) really does get its collective act together to avert a foreseen evil, the evil is likely imaginary. This is the Corollary of Misplaced Collective Prudence.
He cites the Y2K scare as an example.

Where Did That 90% Figure Come From?

According to a report on the Aspen Institute 's “Ideas Festival,”:

… where Democratic pollster Doug Schoen has just presented a poll he has done for the occasion. He hasn't said anything about sample size, screening methods, or party weights, but his conclusions were interesting.

Schoen identifies the "affordability crisis" as the sleeper issue in the election. The high cost of housing, gas, child care, and college, and the insecurity of health care and pensions, have left more and more people uncertain about the future of the American dream. Where 25 years ago 90 percent of the public thought that working hard and playing by the rules would lead to a middle-class life, only 49 percent think so today.
25 years ago was 1981, right after a decade of stagflation. It was a decade when you could expect any savings you tried putting aside to be eroded by either inflation or a declining stock market. It was the era when people started realizing that unions couldn't protect them from reality (and this was when unions were far more important than they are today). It was an era when the headlines were full of crime, corruption, and incompetence among the less corrupt. (Anybody remember this movie? It didn't start last year.)

Maybe Doug Schoen has been making that 25 year claim for the past 25 years.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Quote from The Declaration of Independence

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
The above was also quoted by The Technoptimist, but it's worth repeating today.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why Must We Preserve the Earth's Resources?

According to an editorial in The Onion:

As we move into the 21st century, it is our responsibility to think of the future of the earth—not for ourselves, but for those who will inherit what my husband and I leave behind when we're gone. If we do not join together and do what's best for this, our only planet, there may not be an environment left in which my five children, and their 25 children's 125 children, can grow up and raise large upper-middle-class families of their own.

Nothing less than the preservation of my descendents' lifestyle itself is at stake.

Imagine a world devoid of pristine wilderness for my progeny to explore on the weekends in the sport-utility-vehicles of the future, leaving my youngest son, Dylan, with nowhere to blow off steam on off-road adventures. Imagine a world in which my beautiful middle son, Connor, is denied his twice-daily half-hour hot showers because of water shortages. …

Why would we have to preserve the Earth's resources? Resources, in the sense they are finite, consist of atoms and energy. Atoms aren't usually used up at all, and the two hundred quadrillion watts of solar energy hitting the Earth is vastly greater than that consumed by humans. Even if we fill up the Earth, there is the rest of the universe. (We do not currently know if it is possible to create artificial universes. If it is, there are no limits.)

In outer space, there will be far more room for Dylan and Connor's water can be recycled indefinitely. The other alleged problems cited are either trivial or can be solved in similar ways.

Yes. I realize The Onion intended the editorial to sound like it was written by a complete fool. They succeeded in that … but not necessarily in the way they wanted.

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