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, October 30, 2007

Real Biodiversity

The overwhelming share of biodiversity on this planet is found among bacteria (seen via BoingBoing). So why are we worried about spotted owls and snail darters?

We have trouble trying to get rid of Staphylococcus bacteria deliberately because bacteria can evolve faster than anything we can currently throw at them. I doubt if we can do anything more by accident.

Much of environmentalism is simply eukaryote chauvinism, the idea that the Ecology depends on passenger pigeons instead of on invulnerable bacteria.

The Bad Philosophy Still Lives

The bad philosophy I discussed a few years ago (“if you don't remember it, it didn't happen”) is still influencing doctor's decisions.

The good news is that now they feel guilty about it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Not Entirely Believable

If this article (seen via Daniel Drezner) is to be believed, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita has just invented psychohistory:

To verify the accuracy of his model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time—that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye—that’s amazing.”
Saaay what? If they claimed 75% accuracy, I would applaud a model that can achieve that much in such a fuzzy subject. At 90% accuracy, I wonder if anybody has actually looked at the data. At 97% accuracy, I begin to smell a disinformation campaign.

On the other hand, anybody opposed by Mearsheimer and Walt can't be all bad.

For more information on the reliability of expert predictions, see this article (also seen via Daniel Drezner).

If We Plunder the Moon …

… the Moon will become a lifeless, barren wasteland where nothing can grow!

We might also run into problems with the Sulva liberation movement.

One of the comments on the Guardian article mentioned this article, which claims:

However, as we have seen, such a civilization has only a very narrow window of opportunity in which to transition from a civilization wholly dependent upon planetary energy and material resources, to one able to utilize the thousandfold greater resources of the entire solar system. This is because of the rapid onset of peak oil and global climate change, which in turn swiftly terminates high energy planetary civilization. Once such a civilization falls it can never be restarted again, as the easily exploitable hydrocarbon resources, as well as necessary metals and minerals, are gone.

The hydrocarbon energy available to a planetary civilization is analogous to the yolk of an egg: just as the yolk offers a newly emerged creature needed energy to break out of the egg and get established in the wider world, so too does a planet's hydrocarbon energy deposits provide an emergent technological civilization the boost it needs to leave its birthworld and establish itself in its solar system. It offers a very brief window of opportunity to allow a species to develop the technologies and techniques to bootstrap itself off of its planet of origin. Once out into space, a civilization can take advantage of the thousandfold greater material and energy resources found across the solar system. Meanwhile the birthworld can rest and regenerate from its difficult birthing.

Speaking as a science-fiction fan, I'm always interested in news from alternate universes. Here we have a post from an alternate universe with no uranium in it.

Yes. Subs!dies Is a Four-Letter Word

I was considering putting NEI Nuclear Notes on my blogroll. I don't think I'll bother now.

There just might be a case in favor of loan guarantees. They can be considered to be regulation insurance. If a government stands to lose money (that might be used to buy votes) if it passes preposterous regulations, it has an incentive not to do so. (If any of my readers can figure out a better way to stop regulations before they start, I'd like to know what it is.)

On the other hand, it is a very bad idea to try defending subsidies in general. Such subsidies will usually either go to the obsolete or to the latest fad.

The Red Sox Won the World Series Again

Now can we have our fusion-powered aircars?

We're obviously living in a science-fiction future …

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Failed Predictions?

The Wikipedia page on failed predictions (seen via BoingBoing) contains a couple of prediction that I don't think are complete failures:

  • "The basic questions of design, material and shielding, in combining a nuclear reactor with a home boiler and cooling unit, no longer are problems... The system would heat and cool a home, provide unlimited household hot water, and melt the snow from sidewalks and driveways. All that could be done for six years on a single charge of fissionable material costing about $300." –- Robert Ferry, executive of the U.S. Institute of Boiler and Radiator Manufacturers, 1955.[citation needed]
  • "Self-operating [vacuum] cleaners powered by nuclear energy will probably be a reality a decade from now." -– Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., in the New York Times in 1955.[6]
In the case of the first prediction, we're getting there. As for the second prediction, a vacuum cleaner plugged into a wall socket with a nuclear power plant at the other end is powered by nuclear energy.

A Disturbing Speculation

There's a plausible speculation that modern science and economic growth was set off by literalism. Does this mean that the fundamentalists who insist on a literal interpretation of religious texts are not actually idiots?

On the other hand, those religious texts were written when every copy required the skin of slaughtered animals and somebody to develop writer's cramp. It was easier to write things in a compressed manner (remember that the better the compression scheme, the more the compressed data resembles random noise) and pay a corps of explainers to get the data into other people's heads.

On the gripping hand, it can be a grave mistake to treat compressed data as though it were uncompressed.

On a Thirty-Year Tape Delay

This article sounds like it was recycled from similar predictions made thirty years ago with only the year numbers changed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Blue Moon Shines Again

One sign that you're looking at a rare phenomenon is that the first few examples of it you find are the same. For example, I earlier blogged about a rare instance of an organic food being more nutritious than a “conventional” food. There's some evidence that organic tomatoes are richer in antioxidants than overfertilized tomatoes. Yesterday, I came across another apparent example of a healthier organic food with evidence. It also turned out to be high-antioxidant organic tomatoes:

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.


But wait, there's more. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that means the Reagan adminstration was right when they called ketchup a vegetable. (On the other hand the Times article was written by Tara Parker-Pope, a former Wall Street Journal reporter. Maybe she's a mole distributing Reaganite propaganda from the belly of the beast.)

I won't more than mention that the same article also discusses organic milk, potatoes, peanut butter, and apples but can only cite the usual bullbleep.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Future Site of Anarchotopia

There's a giant floating island in the Pacific Ocean consisting of plastic waste. My future home!

The mascot of the new nation will, of course, be Oscar the Grouch.

We'll have to invest in defense. Greenpeace is getting interested. Maybe the French will sell us a nuke or two …

Having It Both Ways

Let's see. Leftists usually complain that hawks are excessively masculine (example here). This is sometimes combined with a stereotype of conservatives as rural, uneducated, fundamentalist Christians. So when there's a group of us wingnuts who are urban, bookish, and neither fundamentalist not Christian, the obvious complaint is that … neocons (or whatever the latest term is) aren't masculine enough:

It sometimes crosses my mind when spending time with certain friends that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the intensity of their hawkishness and the extent to which they scan as traditionally masculine, and that this is particularly true for those Jewish-American men who continue to suffer from what the early Zionists thought of as the pathologies of the diaspora. Thankfully, such men today make up just a fraction of the American Jewish population, but you can still find them, intense thinkers who are prone to spilling things on themselves and getting winded after half a mile on a bicycle.
I was about to call the combination (complaints about both an excess and a deficit of masculinity) a non-falsifiable argument until I realized that there was no actual argument. I guess it's a non-falsifiable irrelevance.

I suspect that the greatest ire on the left is found when they see somebody who is a counterexample to their usual irrelevant stereotypes. If they ever see, for example, somebody disagreeing with them who is both a Ph.D. and a professional soldier, they'd probably accuse him of treason or something …

Another Look at a Piece of Racist Propaganda

One occasional argument put forth by members of the “World Church of the Creator” (example here) is that their organization should be taken seriously because:

No; you're an obvious idiot. There are millions of intelligent people that share my views, and none of us is a troll (if I get the meaning correctly). I haven't posted anything just to make you angry. Ben Klassen, the founder of the World Church of the Creator, was a Florida state legislator and inventor of the electric can opener. What have YOU ever invented? All I see you do is spew recycled insults. Go back to watching MTV, little boy.

Our side: nuclear weapons. Their side: electric can openers. (If it were pop-top cans, I'd be more impressed.)

Meanwhile, according to a recent poll:

Tin opener wins worst gadget award

The electric tin opener is the worst household gadget invented, according to a new poll.

Its failure to always complete the task in hand is the main reason for its ranking, while the appliance's high breakdown rate was another reason it topped the survey.

It looks like there's a problem or two with Aryan physics …

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Want One!

Toshiba is selling cute, adorable little nuclear reactors I hope I have room in my backyard.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Council of Fulfilling Right-Wing Stereotypes of Liberals

The Council of Europe has declared creationism to be an assault on human rights. What that means, of course, is that fundamentalists have an additional reason to think that a target has been painted on them.

There are several reasons this was a terrible idea. First of all, this will tend to prevent fundamentalists from acknowledging their opponents have any case at all. Making such an admission will now be regarded as betraying their allies.

Second, science is reliable only because it is criticized. Science runs on criticism and any law that might turn off the criticism will make it unrealiable.

Third, if this goes through it might act as a precedent for more dubious actions. After they back the only leading theory explaining the fact of evolution, they might then back theories with the same political allies even when the evidence is strong but not conclusive (e.g., that anthropogenic global warming is a crisis). Once that goes through, they will back similar theories with almost no evidence in their favor (e.g., that “organic” foods are healthier than the allegedly-conventional kind). This might even be followed by legal backing for theories at the same end of the political spectrum with strong evidence against (e.g., that the collapse of the World Trade Center was an inside job). We must beware of the slippery slope.

Fourth, since when do politicians have any special expertise on paleontology in the first place? They might be right in this case, but only by coincidence.

Future Job Opportunities

There might be jobs for bartenders in the 24th century. Paris Hilton has signed up for cryonic suspension.

So if you know how to mix a pan-galactic gargle blaster …

Downward Mobility

I've been looking at the Mathematics Genealogy Project and I noticed my intellectual ancestors include David Hilbert and Carl Friedrich Gauß.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Tell the Think Tanks from the Hacks

It looks like the commonest term for “regulatory capture” (discussed here) is “rent-seeking.” Since it's likely any hack would be allergic to discussions of rent-seeking behavior, a think tank which mentions the term very often is almost certainly not corrupt or even lazy enough to pass on press releases. Think tanks that mention the term moderately often are unlikely to be corrupt but might be lazy. A think tank that mentions the term rarely should be regarded as on probation. (This is not something I would have expected but maybe they're trying to avoid offending hedge-fund managers.) As for alleged think tanks that never use the term “rent-seeking,” the less said the better.

Why We Need Think Tanks

There's a discussion of “stereotype threat” going on at Mixing Memory. In a comment, agnostic wrote:

All the elite schools had Jewish quotas (not to mention the vile caricatures of their group in the larger culture) -- but rather than wimp out, Jews formed "de facto Ivies" like CUNY that beat the snot out of Harvard, etc., in math competitions, did respectably in Nobel Prizes, yadda yadda yadda.

This is also a huge counterexample to the claim that sheer lack of numbers will cause members of the underrepresented group to shy away in a non-trivial amount. How many eminent Jewish physicists and mathematicians were there before 1900? Not many. What about by 2000? Tons. This is a good "reality check."

In response, in another comment, Tyler DiPietro wrote:

I agree with agnostic completely. In fact I would extend his hypothesis to include martyrs like Larry Summers. When driven from academia by the all pervasive cult of political correctness, they should emulate Jews and start their own universities. Don't roll over like a wimp, YOU GET OUT THERE AND KICK SOME FEMINAZI ASS!

That's what think tanks are for.

Now all they need is some students …

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Missing Card in the Denialist Deck of Cards

I'm sure many of my fellow wingnuts have encountered The Denialist Deck of Cards, a paper giving examples of the commonest anti-regulation arguments from alleged corporate shills. The paper missed an argument: the prediction that regulation frequently produces “regulatory capture,” in which the businesses being regulated are able to write the regulations in such a way as to produce or preserve an oligopoly. Regulatory capture was mentioned (under 9 of diamonds), but only as a perfidious tactic to twist regulations already being passed and not as an argument against starting to regulate.

This might be due to the assumption that the right wing consists of corporate shills. Corporate shills will be unlikely to mention regulatory capture. This might give us a way to find out which think tanks are real and which are fake. If a think tank mentions regulatory capture it is probably real.

Let's see … If we search on the website of The Cato Institute (an organization that's probably real), we find 12 “regulatory capture” hits. If we do a similar search at The Center for Consumer Freedom (an organization that might be bogus), we find no such hits.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Gap in the Blogosphere

According to both Google and Technorati, not that many bloggers have pointed out that MoveOn's trademark lawsuits are a classic example of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Think Ann Coulter Has a Point

When people get close to The Truth, there's much to be said in favor of “perfecting” them. That means, of course, we Jews should start up a missionary effort aimed at Christians. I'm sure Ms. Coulter would approve.

In related news

Friday, October 12, 2007

How DARE You Not Be Racist!

According to Njorl, a commenter at Megan McArdle's Atlantic blog:

Crucifying the family of a white, middle-class small business owner is just what the Republican party needs to sew up the next election.
Wouldn't this demonstrate that they really are against government programs in general in general and not just those allegedly for the poor or racial minorities?

It looks like conservatives are being criticized, not for any actual violations of principle here, but for violating leftist fantasies about what conservativism is about.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Doesn't Have to Be Cultural Relativism

It's possible to admire the achievements of Columbus without ignoring his defects. Similarly, celebrating the Sputnik launch does not mean approval of totalitarianism.

If we reject all aspects of anything associated with something evil, that would mean we could not have a Constitution based on checks and balances considering that such a system was invented by the Romans (who had an economy based on slavery). We could not use the rockets pioneered by Werner von Braun. We could not even use logic because Aristotle claimed that there were “natural slaves.”

Terrorists Trying to Plot in Secret …

… had better surrender now. The flies on the wall will be watching and listening.

They Picked the Wrong County for This

Graffiti seen on a wall in Queens County, New York:

Considering that Queens is probably the most multicultural place in the United States …

I've considered starting a blog dedicated to photos of streets in Queens — possibly to be named “Bridget Bifalco's Knish Mix” (name explained in this book). I'll try to include references to as many different ethnic groups as possible in each picture.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Next Generation of Pro-Nuke People

I wonder if Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius will produce fervently pro-nuclear college students in another decade … just as the global-warming controversy starts to really heat up.

The other side of the political spectrum will, of course, blame that on the “right-wing noise machine.”

By the way, would Jimmy Neutron be related to Mr. Neutron of Monty Python's Flying Circus?

A Brief Note on the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2007

As you've probably heard, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2007 was awarded for research in using embryonic stem cells to produce “knockout” mice. Needless to say someone at Democratic Underground commented: “Not good news for fundies, I guess.”

In the real world, the stem cells in question don't produce the mice the scientists want until a couple of generations later. It has nothing to with the proposed embryonic stem-cell therapies or even “designer children.”

These techniques might possibly be used for “designer grandchildren” … but I suspect that's beyond the time horizon of the people most enthusiastic about embryonic stem-cell therapies.

To make matters worse, some conservatives made a similar mistake. This Nobel Prize just might have a hidden agenda of provoking criticism from pro-lifers. (This is an example of the “let's scare conservatives” that I've already discussed.) If so, in my case it won't work.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Disadvantages of Openness

The fact that today's Republicans are more open to the lower classes has a disadvantage. Some of the new recruits are ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray. For example, they seem to be protectionist:

Six in 10 Republicans in the poll agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports. That represents a challenge for Republican candidates who generally echo Mr. Bush's calls for continued trade expansion, and reflects a substantial shift in sentiment from eight years ago.
On the other hand, maybe this is due to Lou Dobbs.

This protectionist attitude has not penetrated very far into the right-wing blogosphere. There are lots of anti-immigration right-wing blogs, but not many protectionist blogs. I suppose the minimum IQ needed to run a blog discourages protectionist blogs. Okay, there's one … and another one … and even a third

Where are the protectionist think tanks?

According to a common left-wing belief, the right side of the political spectrum is dancing to the tune of corporate shills. The marching orders are distributed via the think tanks making up the “right-wing noise machine.” In that case, wouldn't we expect to find protectionist think tanks? Googling for "protectionist think tank" found no results. There are lots of corporations that benefit from protectionism but any effects of their corporate shills don't seem to penetrate very far. Judging by past events, the left-side of the blogosphere will either claim that protectionism has been suppressed by corporate shills or they will attribute the new protectionism mentioned above to the nonexistent protectionist think tanks.

This Should Not Be Surprising

At first the news that hedge-fund managers have been contributing more the Democrats than Republicans comes as a surprise:

Democrats have so far gotten the lion's share of hedge-fund managers’ campaign contributions in the 2008 presidential money race — 75 percent, according to a Center for Responsive Politics/Absolute Return magazine analysis of the candidates' first-quarter financials.
I don't think this should be a surprise. These people make their money by either knowing better than the market (at least one millionth of the market) or by appearing to know better than the market. They might believe in extending that to more than just the small part they are familiar with and figure the economy will do much better when it's managed.

I doubt if the following explanation holds water:

Hedge-fund managers tend to live near the top of cosmopolitan, culturally liberal societies. They tend to find Republican positions on embryo-destroying stem-cell research and gay marriage to be nothing short of primitive.
After all, the rest of the investment industry is equally well-educated and urbanized. If anything, their belief that they know better than the market could be the cause of their belief that they know better than religious traditions.

By the way, do they know better than the market? There are reasons to be skeptical. As I've mentioned before, violations of the Efficient-Market Hypothesis tend to be temporary and may be no more reliable than the data-mining results that appeared to indicate astrological signs could be medically relevant. The fact that the hedge-fund people tend to be Democrats might be no more relevant than the political opinions of lottery winners.

We might have to brace ourselves for a scandal. If potential investors suddenly realize the hedge funds are simply a type of gambling, they will look around for people to blame. Since everybody knows “the rich” are on the right side of the political spectrum, they will blame the activities of these Democrats on free market capitalism. Could this be the next Enron?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Overthrowing the Periodic Table

At first, the following looks completely insane:

I have a buddy who is a communications professor. He speaks the Gramsci/Foucalt lit crit hegemony stuff all the time. Mostly, I haven't got the first goddammed idea what he's talking about, though I have given it enough of a try to encounter the Sokhal hoax and stuff like that. But once, he asked me what it would take to 'overthrow' the periodic table. I tried to make the point that, fundamentally, the periodic table is an organization of experimental observation, that has since been backed up with theory. He wondered why we 'privilege' this particular structure.
On a second thought, it should be quite simple to devise a strategy to overthrow the periodic table. First, we establish a beachhead at chlorine. After chlorine is secured, we can use it as a base to attack mercury, lead, gold, and possibly other elements.

On a third thought, it still looks completely insane …

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

From the “Reality-Based” Community

A member of the reality-based community demonstrates confidence in the scientific method while reacting to a pro-nuclear heretic:

BTW, the money to follow is the same money scientists have followed for generations of working lives. That's why we have all those nifty WMDs and other amaingly efficient weapons, with more in constant development.

Science has always served the ruling class. And one of its main occupations is the development of power. Power to kill or power to exploit before killing. It all works out to the same thing in the end.

Y'all want We the People to blindly trust you and your superiority complexes. Now, THAT is a total waste of effort! Hahaha...

Another member of the reality-based community demonstrates a scrupulousness about learning the facts:

I know nothing about energy policy. Nothing. Zero. I took up your friend's arguments because they seemed so bizarre and specious. But in my gut, if forced to choose between nuclear energy and renewable forms of energy such as windfarms, or even the new experiments with ocean currents, I'd turn thumbs down on nuclear energy every day. And if forced to choose between nuclear energy and no energy, I'd be inclined to think it's time to consider what kind of world we want to leave our grandchildren.

It might seem unfair to hold the other side's kooks against them but if some voters hold our kooks against us

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