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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Berkeley City Council and Anti-Immigration Conservatives

The Berkeley City Council recently voted that military recruiters are “uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” Eugene Volokh commented:

Oddly enough, in pretty much every city I've lived, I've been "uninvited" by the city council or any other organization representing the city. Nor would I have felt I was doing something rude or otherwise bad if the city council has announced that I was "unwelcome."
That's my reaction to anti-immigration conservatives.

Hmmm… Nativists are one of the few reasons why the leftist claim that conservatives have retained more of early 20th-century fascism than liberals actually makes sense. Would the similarity of the Berkeley vote to nativism mean that there is such a thing as Liberal Fascism after all?

What Would President Hillary Do with This, Part II

The proposed solution to government surveillance might be illegal in some places. The Volokh Conspiracy reported that someone in Massachusetts was arrested for recording police, a violation of Massachusetts strict privacy law. It looks like the “always defend privacy” tactic had some blowback.

Logic and the Department of Motor Vehicles, Part II

A few years ago, I blogged about the fact that I had to wait on line to renew a non-driver's ID but a driver's license could be renewed by mail:

It's a logical theorem: A and B imply A. In this case, if a card can be used as an ID and the card can be used to drive legally then the card can be used as an ID. The Department of Motor Vehicles disagrees. Apparently, the geniuses at the Department of Motor Vehicles think that a card that can be used to drive legally cannot be used as a plain ID. I'm reminded of tests of the average citizen's understanding of logic. A substantial fraction of the population think “Joe is a computer programmer and a nerd” is more probable than “Joe is a nerd,” even though the first implies the second.

On the other hand, according to Good Math, Bad Math, there is a form of logic in which the regulations make sense. It's called linear logic:

For those who haven't ever seen it before, linear logic is based on the idea of resource consumption. Where the normal propositional or predicate logics that most of us are familiar with are focused around an idea of truth, linear logic is focused on the idea of resource posession and consumption. In standard propositional logic, if you're given the proposition "A", that means that A is true, and you can use the truth of A in as many inferences as you want. In linear logic, if you're given the proposition "A", that means that you possess one instance of A, and you can use it, once, in an inference.

That might mean the regulations aren't completely stupid.

On the other hand, linear logic only applies here if the license is torn up after each use, which I don't think happens that often.

A Mathematical Conjecture

Let the index of the ith prime be i, i.e., the index of 2 is 1, the index of 3 is 2, etc.

If we take the prime factorization of an integer n greater than 1, the index of at least one of the primes will be relatively prime to n.

This can be easily proved using ZFC set theory. (Hint: Consider the enumeration of the ordinals less than ε0 discussed here and then recall the Axiom of Foundation.) I'm not sure if it can be proved from the Peano postulates. An enumeration of ε0 cannot be derived from the Peano postulates, but there might be other proofs.

Addendum: There is another proof.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

These Phrases Roll off the Tongue

That bonehead McCain …
That wimp Romney …
That harpy Clinton …
That gasbag Obama …

A year from now, we'll be using one of them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Snarky Comment vs. Reality

According to a snarky summary at Fark:

Study shows nuclear plant workers have higher risk of cancer. In other news, firefighters have higher risk of getting burned, racecar drivers get into crashes, and working with Drew might get you drunk
On the other hand, the actual article under discussion says:
When the researchers looked at deaths from all causes and deaths from all cancers as a whole, the workers had rates that were below the U.S. norm. However, as mentioned, there was an excess of certain cancers.
Maybe the radioactivity stops some cancers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Introducing My Earthlink/Netcom Site

I have set up a Earthlink/Netcom site which is mainly dedicated to math-related programs and graphics, some of which have not appeared on my blogs.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Advice for Bill Gates

If you must read stuff from leftists, I recommend The Nature of Mass Poverty by John Kenneth Galbraith. In particular, you'll find out that the initial stages of an economic takeoff tend to increase the prosperity of people who are already above average in their societies before improving the lot of the rest. Increasing inequality is not always bad news.

Addendum: It looks like Bill Gates has not taken leave of his senses:

A core belief of Mr. Gates is that technology can erase problems that seem intractable. That belief was deepened, Mr. Gates says, by his study of Julian Simon, a now-deceased business professor who argued that increases in wealth and technology would offset shortages in energy, food and other global resources.

Pacing in his office last week, Mr. Gates retold the story of a famous $10,000 wager between Mr. Simon and Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor who predicted that human population growth would outstrip the earth's resources. Mr. Simon bet that even as a growing population increased demand for metals such as tin and copper, the price of those metals would fall within the decade ending in 1990. Mr. Simon won the bet. "He cremated the guy," says Mr. Gates. Mr. Ehrlich's administrator at Stanford University said he was out of the country and couldn't comment on the wager.

Will the alliance with Warren Buffett soon end?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Current Choices

Let’s see… On the one hand, there’s McCain–Feingold and on the other hand there’s Massachusetts health care and on the gripping hand there are the Democrats…


I plan to get a barf bag for next November.

I'm leaning toward McCain on the grounds he's “conservative enough” but more deniable than Romney. If Romney wins, we'll spend the next 4 or 8 years explaining him away but if McCain wins we won't be held accountable for anything liberal he does. (I suspect that the greatest damage to conservatism is done by moderate Republicans who are not acknowledged as moderate, such as Nixon or George W. Bush. Moderate republicans who are acknowledged as moderate, such as Eisenhower or George H. W. Bush, are more harmless.)

Addendum: Dan Schnur has convinced me to be on Romney's side (for now):

Mr. Schnur used a schoolyard analogy to compare Mr. Romney, the ever-proper Harvard Law School and Business School graduate, to Mr. McCain, the gregarious rebel who racked up demerits and friends at the Naval Academy.

“John McCain and his friends used to beat up Mitt Romney at recess,” Mr. Schnur said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What If the Pro-Life Movement Wins?

Declining abortion rates … a retreat by supporters of embryonic stem-cell research … movies with pro-life messages becoming hits … the whippersnapper vote turning pro-life … It looks like the pro-life movement is well on the way to winning.

After considering the recent deemphasis of abortion rights by the left, the insistence that “true conservatives” must be pro-choice, the existence of a few conservatives who are pro-choice, and the leftist campaign to shove any memory of left-wing fascism down the memory hole … we must be prepared to see the left try to grab credit for the pro-life movement. It's no more preposterous than blaming early 20th-century eugenics on conservatives.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On the Other Hand, Queens Should Only Be a Girls Name

Brooklyn is the 43d most common name for newborns. It has been given to both boys and girls.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

John McCain Is Not a Liberal

John McCain might not be a conservative, but he's no liberal either. He was willing to admit that he doesn't know how to run the economy. (At Think Progress, that was considered to be a scandal.)

If he were a conservative, he would point out that nobody else knows how to run the economy either.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dueling Quotes

Quote 1 (seen via Overcoming Bias):

That's an easy one boss. The definition of the word "meaning," is something that is conveyed. So, who is conveying this "meaning" that you speak of? To put it another way, if "life" is a painting, then who is painter? Whoever is the painter is the one who decides what meaning the painting has. Now, depending on your outlook, the painter is either yourself, or God. Depending upon how you answer that question, you should now be able to figure out the answer.
Quote 2:
But then I started thinking about neuroscience, my own specialty. According to the facts of neuroscience, your head contains 100 billion electrical cells, but not one of them is you, or knows you or cares about you. In fact, you don't even exist. You are simply a fancy kind of cognitive fakery, an "epiphenomenon" of the cortex. The self is a fiction.
A large fraction of “progressive” thought is based on a bait-and-switch: First, you are given the bait of self-actualization and then told there is no self to actualize.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Would President Hillary Do with This?

Raw Story reports that The New Yorker is reporting that:

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell is drawing up plans for cyberspace spying that would make the current debate on warrantless wiretaps look like a "walk in the park," according to an interview published in the New Yorker's print edition today.


"Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the autority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search," author Lawrence Wright pens.

On the other hand, bureaucrats are likely to examine the e-mail anyway. I suspect the best safeguard is to encourage surveillance … of the government by citizens.

Evidence Hoarders Are Intellectually Superior

According to The New York Times:

Dr. Tolin recently studied compulsive hoarders using brain-scan technology. While in the scanner, hoarders looked at various possessions and made decisions about whether to keep them or throw them away. The items were shredded in front of them, so they knew the decision was irreversible. When a hoarder was making decisions about throwing away items, the researchers saw increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and planning.

“That part of the brain seemed to be stressed to the max,” Dr. Tolin said. By comparison, people who didn’t hoard showed no extra brain activity.

I always knew people with clean desks had a shortage of brain activity.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Important Quote

The following quotation from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville on a possible future America might have some relevance today:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

Devising an appropriate name for the above state of affairs will be left as an exercise for the reader.

Addendum: I just remembered a quote from Not to Mention Camels by R. A. Lafferty:

… just a silly idea except that I have some good samples of that silly idea on the slide now.

A Gaping Hole in the Blogosphere

According to a Google blogsearch, there are only six blog entries (soon to be seven) mentioning both the phrases “liberal fascism” and “road to serfdom.”

A Suggestion for Liberals

The proper reaction to Liberal Fascism is to write a book called:

A Secret History of the Right from Frederick Taylor to Big-Government Conservatism
ObSF: In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn.

It should have a cover with a hammer and sickle arranged in a pattern that looks like a corporate logo.

Go for it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Good Heavens

I just realized that the remark in this post about decreasing religious conflicts was an example of the phenomenon I complained about in the very next post about extrapolating changes in opinions.

On the other hand, for the purpose of refuting a claim that religious differences cannot be ironed out, it is merely necessary to show such opinion changes are possible and the evidence is adequate for that.

Does This Mean Seattle's Budget Will Decline by $3.2 Million?

According to the Seattle government, it has saved $3.2 million by a program of “supportive housing.” (Translation: They're applying Alfred Doolittle's standards and giving housing to the undeserving poor with no strings attached.)

Problems with Being Future Oriented

Self-described “progressives” pride themselves on being on the side of the future.

One problem with being on the side of the future is that you might wind up on the side of a past vision of the future. Many of today's progressives are nostalgic for the days when socialism was the wave of the future.

There's an even bigger problem: Evidence always lies in the past. If you regard the past as the enemy, you might start thinking of evidence as the enemy.

Progressives have tried several ways to get around the above problem. They might decide their progressive opinions count as rationality offsets and relieve them of the need to supply evidence. They might cite their predictions as though they were data (e.g., global warming predictions). They might try citing evidence only from the recent past even though that restricts the sample size. They might even disregard the fact that info has no trend and assume that recent changes in opinion can be extrapolated into the future.

On the other hand, the effects of our actions always lie in the future. Just we should be past-oriented with respect to evidence, we should be future-oriented with respect to goals.

Addendum: Just a few minutes after posting the above I found a textbook example of citing predictions as though they were data:

They cut deals with the Sunnis, but soon those same Sunnis will be targeting the Shia government.

Inheriting Opinions

In the course of the discussion of Donald Knuth's seventieth birthday at Shtetl Optimized, there's a quote from Things A Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About:

Q: How did you become so interested in God and religion in the first place?

A: It was because of the family I was born into. If I had been born in other circumstances, my religious life would no doubt have been quite different. (p. 155)

with the following comment

To me, what’s remarkable about this response is that Knuth without any hesitation concedes what skeptics from Xenophanes to Richard Dawkins have held up as the central embarrassment of religion. This, of course, is the near-perfect correlation between the content of religious belief and the upbringing of the believer. How, Dawkins is fond of asking, could there possibly be such a thing as a Christian or Hindu or Jewish child? How could a four-year-old already know what he or she thinks about profound questions of cosmogony, history, and ethics — unless, of course, the child were brainwashed by parents or teachers?

My Bayesian friends, like Robin Hanson, carry this argument a step further. For them, the very fact that Knuth knows his beliefs would be different were he born to different parents must, assuming he’s rational, force him to change his beliefs. For how can he believe something with any conviction, if he knows his belief was largely determined by a logically-irrelevant coin toss?

I don’t see why inheriting a belief system should be grounds for disbelief. After all, we inherited the genes for eyes but don’t regard that as grounds for disbelieving what we see. (I've commented on similar issues earlier.)

On the other hand, if there were more than one sophont species on Earth with different senses (analogous to differing religions on our Earth), there might be conflicts over which view of reality was more accurate. Eventually, science would iron out the conflicts.

On the gripping hand, a similar process appears to be taking place in the world of religion as religious conflicts that seemed intractable a few centuries ago are now regarded as minor. (Those conflicts that are still raging were raging centuries ago.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seventy Candles

It's Donald Knuth's birthday.

Addendum: In more Knuth news, Google Calculator can now use Knuth units.

Explaining the Reaction to Liberal Fascism

Leftists are treating Liberal Fascism as though it were making an intrinsically-ridiculous claim … such as a claim that the United States killed 600,000 Iraqi civilians or something equally absurd.

And furthermore …

Much of the reaction is an example of a common phenomenon: ignore a commonplace right-wing idea for decades and then, when forced to acknowledge it, treat it as though it were the product of an isolated nut. This not only applies to the claim that liberals could be fascists (as described by Nobel prize winner Friedrich von Hayek) but also the evidence showing that “primitive peoples” did not preserve their environment intact, the fact that Hannukah is a celebration of armed resistance, and even the fact that the roundness of the Earth was well known in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


The original program for displaying ε0 (described here) turned out to be buggy. It has since been fixed.

On the other hand, it still looks like a humanly-incomprehensible jumble.

Margaret Thatcher Wins

It took almost thirty years, but the United Kingdom GNP per capita is back above that of the United States for the first time in over a century (seen via Alarming News).

The good news is that the United Kingdom is no longer socialist. The bad news is that it has become an example of liberal fascism (that term sounds familiar somehow). There'a a discussion on Samizdata that makes it quite clear.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sometimes You Get What You Want

A few months ago, I thought, “Wouldn't it be neat if there were a Julian Simon candidate? We need a candidate who will both defend fetuses and open the borders.” When we got one, he wasn't exactly what I had in mind…

Addendum: Apparently, God gave Mike Huckabee permission to go to the other extreme on immigration.

Addendum II: Never mind about the above never mind.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Liberals Think Liberal Fascism Should Have Been Called …

As far as I can tell, liberals think Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg should have been called Triangular Circles.

ObSF: “Three-Cornered Wheel” by Poul Anderson.

The German Word for “Ornament” Is …

John J. Ray found an interesting meaning for the pen name of a prominent 20th-century leftist:

Occasionally however the guards must have run out of imagination and gave names that were not too bad. "Wiesengrund" is an example. It means "Meadowland", which sounds rather pleasant to me. In one of those ironies with which life abounds, however, the most prominent bearer of that name for his entire professional life used the pen-name of "Adorno", which is Spanish for "ornament"! Words fail me!
The German word for ornament is “Schmuck.” I won't argue with Adorno's self assessment.

Friday, January 04, 2008


If Huckabee wins the nomination and election, I'll have to spend much of the next four years explaining that conservatives aren't really like that. It will be just like Dubya, only far more so.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Department of the Obvious

According to a recent study:

Using retail prices at major supermarket chains in Seattle, researchers at the University of Washington found that low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods -- mainly fruits and vegetables -- were far more expensive, calorie for calorie, than sweets and snack foods.


They found that snack foods, sweets and fatty foods offered the most bang for a shopper's buck. Whereas the price of the lowest-calorie fruits and vegetables was more than $18.16 per 1,000 calories, the most calorie-rich foods cost $1.76 per 1,000 calories.

In related news, it turned out that low-nutrient, calorie-rich foods -- mainly sweets and snack foods -- were far more expensive, nutrient for nutrient, than fruits and vegetables.

The following, however, is a non-sequitur:

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, highlight a key obstacle to healthy eating. And they may help explain why obesity rates are highest among the poorest Americans, according to the researchers.

"Whereas (calorie)-dense foods remain the most affordable option, the price of the recommended healthful foods of lower (calorie) density has disproportionately increased," write Drs. Pablo Monsivais and Adam Drewnowski.

The fact that calorie-rich foods are cheaper per calorie will influence behavior only if you assume that the consumers are buying a given number of calories and trying to spend as little as possible. It might explain vitamin deficiencies but it cannot explain a calorie surplus by itself.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Changing Minds in Opposite Directions

John Brockman has collected answers to the question: What have you changed your mind about? It seems obvious that someone would only change his/her mind because of very strong evidence so people changing their minds in a given direction would show the opinion must be the case.

On the other hand, Timothy Taylor and Thomas Metzinger have changed their minds in opposite directions.

There are also the cases of Douglas Rushkoff and Lee M. Silver who changed their minds about whether others would agree with them. They look like they need an excuse to avoid changing their minds in more important ways.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I Toasted the New Year …

… with a chocolate malted.

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