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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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Maybe There's Been a Fake Tet Offensive after All

If the past month has been the deadliest for U.S. troops since October of last year, maybe there's an attempt at an annual October surprise.

On the other hand, the Other Side is so ineffective that their best efforts can hardly be told from a random fluctuation. I'm reminded of Plankton's sinister plots on Spongebob Squarepants.

Fetus, Incorporated?

While looking for other people's comments on J. D. Hayworth and Jonathan Tratt (earlier comments here and here), I found the following non-sequitur in a troll's comments at Jews for Life:

Wow. And I thought the crazy left were supposed to be the conspiracy theorists. I guess there's plenty of conspiracy to go around. Thank you for keeping me apprised of how things are spinning on the right fringe.

Best, An Immoral Liberal Reader (immoral by default, right? because the Lord protects those who fight for the rights of major corporations.

I never realized fetuses were major corporations. How are fetal stocks doing nowadays? What's the return on investment? Will it soon be the Dow-Jones-Embryo Average?

Search-Engine Query Oddity

I've gotten around a dozen referrals from search engines asking “:Who discovered the world is round?” in the past couple of weeks. I didn't know I was an authority on the topic.

While I'm on the topic, the answer to the question “Who discovered America?” may surprise you.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

He Shouldn't Have Gone to an Extremely-Reform Synagogue, Part II

In the first part, I discussed a candidate's forum at an Extremely-Reform synagogue in which anti-abortion remarks from Jonathan Tratt produced a mass walkout. This, in turn, provoked his Israeli-born wife, Irit, to say, “No wonder there are antisemites.” I have some idea of what she might have meant by that.

It's common in the Holocaust-denier and Holocaust-excuser community to claim that Jews should not complain about the Holocaust because we supposedly back the far bloodier phenomenon of abortion. (At other times, they claim we're in cahoots with Catholics to raise the birth rate of the mud people.) In response, I sometimes point out that support for abortion is not unanimous among Jews and there are reasons within Jewish tradition to hold to a strict anti-abortion standard. If Irit Tratt had participated in similar flame wars, the sentence “No wonder there are antisemites.” might mean that fervently pro-abortion Jews are making it harder to come up with anti-antisemitic arguments.

Friday, October 27, 2006

He Shouldn't Have Gone to an Extremely-Reform Synagogue

In Arizona, Representative J.D. Hayworth has been accused of antisemitism for saying something favorable about Henry Ford. (My personal opinion is that it's a bad sign when a supposed conservative is as ignorant of history as most liberals … but that's another rant.) In order to combat that, he sent Jonathan Tratt, one of his a Jewish supporters, to defend his record at a candidates’ forum at Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale:

Jonathan Tratt, a real estate investor and political fund-raiser, made the remark while defending Hayworth’s opposition of abortion rights. Tratt, who is Jewish, was referring to the fact that although ancient rabbinic law does not ban abortion, it restricts it to instances when the health of the mother is in danger.

The term “health” is too fuzzy. They mean the life of the mother. The remark produced an odd reaction:
The comment by Jonathan Tratt, a spokesman for the Hayworth campaign, drew loud and angry boos and caused nearly three-quarters of the crowd of more than 200 to walk out in disgust. After the walkout, another Hayworth surrogate, Irit Tratt, stood on the Temple's bimah as she told members of the audience who gathered to ask questions, "No wonder there are anti-Semites."
It's about time one of us anti-abortion Jews spoke out.

On the other hand, I don't think “No wonder there are anti-Semites.” was an ideal response. They should have said “Your attempt to convert us to Christianity did not work.”

It should not be astounding that a Baptist was closer to Jewish tradition than Extremely-Reform Jews. After all, Orthodox Jews are more Catholic than the Catholics. They don't approve of the rhythm method and they're more thorough about insisting that scripture can only be interpreted in the light of tradition.

I will, of course, remember that this has been described as obvious evidence that conservatives are antisemitic the next time somebody makes that claim. I consider such claims to emanate from the Jewish equivalent of CAIR.

Speaking of the Jewish equivalent of CAIR …

I recently accused Debbie Findling, one of the people in the “We Had Abortions” petition, of having an inappropriate career as a philanthropic foundation executive. Her job is not so inappropriate. It turns out that she's the Deputy Director of the Goldman Fund, an organization devoted to keeping Jews liberal and abortion unrestricted.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

An Imitation Tet Offensive as an October Surprise

If the loons running Iran wanted to swing the Congressional election over to the Party of Surrender and if they had widespread support in the Shiite areas of Iraq, they could probably start an imitation Tet Offensive designed to disrupt the U.S. Army's supply lines between the Persian Gulf and Baghdad. If they don't, that might be evidence they don't have any local support.

Even if they started one tomorrow, that would mean they don't think they can sustain such an offensive for more than two weeks. If they thought it could last longer they would have started it already.

Part II of Do You Believe in Γ0?

The first part of the discussion of applying standard atheist claims to mathematics can be found here.

There is a common atheist theory that religious ideas simply reflect the way we evolved instead of the nature of reality. I see no reason why something that evolved would not reflect reality and it stands to reason that something evolved, something that helps us survive, would be more likely to reflect reality. The opposite assumption was ridiculed by Ayn Rand:

His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears—deluded, because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.
Recently, George Lakoff (his nonsense is not limited to politics) has apparently been applying the above theory to mathematics. (I say apparently because Wikipedia is not always reliable):
Lakoff has also claimed that we should remain agnostic about whether math is somehow wrapped up with the very nature of the universe. Early in 2001 Lakoff told the AAAS, "Mathematics may or may not be out there in the world, but there's no way that we scientifically could possibly tell." This is because the structures of scientific knowledge are not "out there" but rather in our brains, based on the details of our anatomy. Therefore, we cannot "tell" that mathematics is "out there" without relying on conceptual metaphors rooted in our biology.
Will he next claim that we cannot tell if light is “out there”?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I've Always Wanted …

… a nuclear power plant in my backyard. According to Michael Anissimov (seen via The Speculist), I might get one soon.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

300 Million Americans

“More! More! I'm still not satisfied!”—Professor Tom Lehrer

On the other hand …

What if the environmentalists happen to be right, for once?

If there is a limit to the number of people on Earth, we can expect rents to rise. Higher rents usually go along with declining birth rates. (There is a problem with this analysis. If enough people underestimate the limit, they might not be surprised when rents start increasing even if that increase was due to political corruption.)

Even if we look beyond Earth to the rest of the universe, population growth might have a subexponential limit. Rents might be enough to slow growth without stopping. If enough people are travelling close to the speed of light looking for cheaper neighborhoods, time dilation can slow population growth.

Environmentalists have tried getting around similar arguments by inventing the theory of “overshoot.” (This is partly due to the potato chip from Brazil phenomenon.) They have some empirical evidence that animal populations likely to overshoot, but we're plants.

On the gripping hand …

The environmentalists need not be right. It might be possible to create “basement universes.” There might even be technical fixes so innovative that we haven't even thought of their possibility.

Omega 3 Fats vs. Omega 6 Fats

Who's doing the half-time show?

According to a recent study, a high ratio of omega-6 fats (found in corn and soybean oil) to omega-3 fats (found in fish and walnut oil) in the diet can increase a propensity to violence. I'm sure there are people in Hamas or Hezbollah reading that research and resolving to use more corn oil in school lunchrooms.

I'm reminded of an episode of My Favorite Martian in which the Martian started having hallucinations in response to eating food made with polyunsaturated fats.

On the other hand, not every study can be taken seriously.

It's an IQ Test

It should be obvious that this story is an IQ test designed to see if people will believe any load of organic fertilizer that looks like a scientific study.

On the other hand, the human race just might possibly split into two species: those who believe this nonsense and those who don't.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Oddly-Named Food

I recently saw cans of Spotted Dick on sale in the ethnic foods aisle at my local supermarket. I had thought it was a practical joke invented by British expatriates.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Donald Knuth on Stratified Random Sampling

In Chapter 2 of Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, Knuth said about his use of stratified random sampling in Bible study:

We could have rolled dice. True randomization clearly leads to a better sample than the results of a fixed deterministic like chapter 3, verse 16. On the other hand, there is no reason to think there is anything unusual about chapter 3, verse 16 except in the Book of John. And I didn't like the idea of rolling dice, for several reasons. One reason was that we would have to roll the dice in advance if people were going to prepare for the class. But then if a person missed a class they wouldn't know what to do for next time. The other reason is that when you roll dice there's a temptation to cheat. You get a bad roll and you say, “Well I didn't really mean that … the dice slipped, or bumped into the edge. Let's try again.” Thus my 3:16 rule actually couldn't be rigged.

Another Body Count

One of the more plausible defenses of the Lancet study is that it used a far more accurate technique than the official statistics and it was the only study to have used such a technique in this case. On the contrary, there was similar study from the UN (seen via Confederate Yankee) that showed far fewer deaths than the earlier Lancet results. The UN results sound high but they're not extraordinary.

More Comments on That Lancet Study

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

An isolated study (the last similar report was from the same people) is never extraordinary evidence.

All the other complaints about this study are commentary on the first two. (In possibly-related news, a team of researchers have claimed that Israel is the least neurotic nation on Earth. Talk about extraordinary claims …)

Much of the rhetoric defending the study resembles John Campbell editorials on J. B. Rhine. (The statistical techniques used are standard … The critics are merely expressing their prejudices … etc.). Maybe there could be a CSICOP-type organization to investigate similar possible bullbleep.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Show Trials?

Parts of the environmental movement are proposing an odd way of dealing with disagreement:

It's about the climate-change "denial industry," which most of you are probably familiar with. What you may not know about is the peculiar role of the tobacco industry in the whole mess. I've read about this stuff for years and even I was surprised by some of the details.

When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards -- some sort of climate Nuremberg.

It resembles part of item 36 of the Crackpot Index:
40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Effect of the Internet Gambling Ban?

It might just be coincidence that there has been a striking increase in the likelihood of a Democratic takeover of Congress according to the gamblers on TradeSports since Congress passed a law banning Internet gambling.

A Note about That Lancet Study

I'm sure that my fellow wingnuts have heard of another study by the same team that came up with improbable numbers of civilian casualties a few years ago. We can't consider this to be a scientific result.

The scientific method is not a matter of “Has this been published in a really prestigious journal?” (contrary to what some people appear to think); it's a matter of “Has this been replicated?” As far as I know, this hasn't been. If it were true, others would have seen the same phenomena by now.

I don't know what the cause of the discrepancy is but I'd like to know how they hired the people who were supposedly taking the survey.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Eat Your View?

Would the slogan “Eat your view” (you should only eat food that was grown in places you can see from your residence) apply to inhabitants of orbital colonies?

A Question about 30 Rock

Was the character Jack based on Kelvin Throop?

What's New York's Excuse?

According to Robert Putnam, ethnic diversity makes people less gullible (seen via TJIC):

A bleak picture of the corrosive effects of ethnic diversity has been revealed in research by Harvard University’s Robert Putnam, one of the world’s most influential political scientists.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.

In that case, shouldn't New Yorkers be more skeptical of liberalism?

Where Opposition to “Conscience Clauses” Leads

There is a lawsuit to force a Jewish-owned medical clinic to open on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea Apparently Exploded an Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny Nuclear Bomb

It's a cute, adorable nuke.

The apparent size of the explosion (possibly as small as half a kiloton) is of the same order of magnitude as the energy content in the tanks of a fully-fueled 767. In other words, we've already been attacked with a couple of those things.

Another note: If this was a real bomb (and not a dud or a fake), it's of an appropriate size to be used in an Orion-style spaceship.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Suggestion for a Statistics Course in Fallacies

You could probably organize an entire course around the fallacies on this website (in particular, on AIDS and IQ).

More Evidence We Shouldn't Trust Petitions Signed by Scientists

They're now defending Intelligent Design by petition. (My earlier criticisms of scientific petitions can be found here and here.)

Friday, October 06, 2006

FIW Works Both Ways

A Muslim police officer in Britain, inspired by the principle of “Freedom—I Won't,” is refusing to guard the Israeli embassy (seen via James Lileks):

PC Alexander Omar Basha - a member of the Metropolitan Police's Diplomatic Protection Group - refused to be posted there because he objected to Israeli bombings in Lebanon and the resulting civilian casualties of fellow Muslims.
I think he has every to right to be excused. Scotland Yard, in turn, has every right to be excused from paying his salary. For example, consider the following incident:
Here in Minneapolis there’s a controversy about Muslim cab drivers who refuse fares who are carrying alcohol. The airport, as I understand the story, is studying whether to implement special lights on the cabs that alert passengers to hooch-friendly or hooch-hostile cabs.
Somehow, I doubt if the cabbies refusing to carry drunks are still insisting on their fares.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I Don't Think Creationists Approve of This

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture might attract some opposition.

One problem is that it takes millions of years to debug anything.

WordPerfect on Foley

WordPerfect flagged “Foley” as a spelling error. It suggested, among other words, “fool” as a substitute.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Not in the Right Line of Work

One of the people in the “We Had Abortions” petition has a possibly-inappropriate job:

Another signatory, Debbie Findling of San Francisco, described her difficult decision last year to have an abortion after tests showed that she would bear a son with Down syndrome.

"I felt it was my right to make the decision, but having that right doesn't make the decision any easier," she said. "It was the hardest decision I've ever made."

Findling, 42, is married, with a 5-year-old daughter, and has been trying to get pregnant again while pursuing her career as a philanthropic foundation executive.

I hope she's not involved in disability rights.

Addendum: Her employer is even more wildly inappropriate.

Monday, October 02, 2006

This Is Embarrassing

First, the Libertarians nomimated an anti-vaccination activist, Dawn Winkler, for governor of Colorado (seen via Orac). Now, I find that John Clifton, the Libertarian nominee for governor of New York, wants a state investigation of depleted uranium. (I discussed depleted uranium long ago.) The major fact mentioned in the more detailed link on the 12 Point Agenda page is that

A Japanese professor, Dr. K. Yagasaki, has calculated that in terms of the atomicity, (the amount of radiation produced), a ton of DU used on the battlefield releases the equivalent of 100 Hiroshima bombs worth of radiation released into the atmosphere.
I found the term “atomicity” completely unfamiliar and was unsurprised when it turned out to be utter bullbleep. (It's supposed to be the number of radioactive atoms.)

Interesting fact: The potassium-40 in the foods consumed by Americans has approximately the same “atomicity” as half a ton of depleted uranium. On a second thought, that might be the start of the next set of investigations…

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