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, July 29, 2008

Ban Children's Haircuts?

One of the perpetual flame wars of Usenet has reached the blogosphere: There's a fight over circumcision on Samizdata.

The same reasoning that might lead people to ban infant circumcision could also be used to ban children's haircuts. After all, children do not normally consent to haircuts.

It's possible to argue that circumcision is the permanent removal of a body part, whereas hair grows back. On the other hand, I suspect that by the time a child circumcised today reaches puberty, circumcision will be reversible by minor surgery. On the gripping hand, if there is a remote risk of permanent “disfigurement,” we must recall the possibility of barber accidents. (“Never mentioned is the missing piece of his left ear.”—Ben Katchor)

To sum up:

  1. Haircuts have no proven medical benefit.
  2. Hair is part of the body so removing it is clearly mutilation.
  3. Ears are also part of the body and they do not grow back or even have a restoration option currently available.
  4. Even if one in a million objects to possible ear loss that is sufficient to ban parents from manipulating their children that way.

If it was good enough for Samson it should be good enough for everybody else.

Did Someone Blow a Whistle?

One of the eerier aspects of following leftist theories is the “someone blew a whistle” phenomenon, in which apparently someone blows a whistle and calls “ABOUT FACE!” and the proverbial herd of independent minds turns around and starts marching in the opposite direction. This is most clearly seen in the attitude towards the War on Drugs, in which the herd switched from “evil capitalists are harshing my mellow” to “evil capitalists are making addicts of inner-city children.” There are other examples: “we must make banks lend to the poor” vs. “we must protect the poor from predatory lenders” or “global warming is forcing a rethink of capitalism and economic growth” vs. “global warming can be fixed with a little alternative energy.”

Most recently, the herd has switched from “victory in Iraq is impossible” to “victory in Iraq is inevitable” … and Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Real Reason Little Green Footballs Has Been Fighting Creationism

It should be obvious that the real reason Little Green Footballs has been fighting creationism is to hide the fact that the lizardoids are actually dinosaurs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Official Scientific Policies?

Greenie Watch quotes Hermann Burchard of Oklahoma State University as saying:

In Dr. Bienenstock's response to Lord Monckton he refers to the APS OFFICIAL POSITION ("on the contribution of human activities to global warming") surprisingly, twice. Activities of the APS, a scientific organization, should promote research and its publication, not adopt or sanction official positions on any facts of science. One hardly envisions laughable bulletins "protons and neutrons are composed of three quarks."

As a member of several mathematical organizations I don't recall the AMS (SIAM, MAA) ever having declared which theorems, algorithms, or teaching subjects they support or oppose "officially."

On the other hand, I seem to recall a recent call for the AMS to reject “dubious fear-based hypotheses” (earlier discussed here). Clearly, that would imply a rejection of global-warming hysteria … unless the call came from people who only reject right-wing instances of “dubious fear-based hypotheses” …

Friday, July 25, 2008

Over Whom?

PLanned Parenthood has adopted the slogan: Planning is Power.

Power over whom?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Peak Drilling Rigs?

The latest excuse for not increasing energy supplies is that it will take until 2030 to have an effect. (I suppose if they came up with a closer date, they think we'd ridicule their short-term thinking.) When we try looking for actual reasons, we see this explanation from Joseph Romm (Joseph Romm also measures nuclear costs by total amount spent since the technology was invented and wind costs by cost per day per household):

As she explained, the constraints on offshore drilling have little to do with the price of oil, but a lot to do with timing. Once the leases are available, it is a 5 to 10 years before you get to exploratory drilling. There is a tremendous shortage of drilling rigs and manpower. Plus, offshore drilling is so expensive, you don't want to make any mistakes. So you spend do a lot of seismic analysis to minimize your chances of a dry well.
Is this based on the idea that there's a fixed quantity of drilling rigs and oil workers? Are the drilling rigs mined from rig deposits dating from the Paleozoic? Do the oil workers themselves come from wells?

By the way, isn't the pro-drilling policy backed by supposedly short-term oil companies? Whatever happened to the left-wing cliche that corporations only think about the next quarter?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why Iran Is Apparently Trying to Get Nukes

I suspect the real goal is to keep American conservatives from backing nuclear energy whole-heartedly, thereby preventing one of the more effective alternatives to OPEC oil.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Satan's Interior Decorator

The designer of the Objective Room in That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis has been found “in a mental hospital near her studio in Tokyo.”

Google's Next Business?

In the course of an attempt to criticize evolutionary theories, the Jewish Philosopher made an interesting suggestion:

This is basically comparable to someone illiterate attempting to publish books through random trial and error and customer selection. He would buy a printing press, open a bookstore, start printing and make more copies of whatever sold. At first he just arranged his printing type at random, printed and put the results on the shelves. No one bought anything since it was all gibberish. He threw all these failures into the trash bin and continued printing. Eventually, purely by chance, one small booklet actually made sense and in fact became a best seller. So he kept printing more copies of it. Occasionally, there would be some typographical error in the printing; purely by chance, a page would be smudged, a line would be missing. Generally these errors would cause the book to be defective and it would be thrown into the trash, however once in a while a typo would add more meaning to a copy of the book – perhaps a few interesting new sentences. People would ask for more copies of it. The illiterate author would then faithfully reproduce that typo. Gradually entire new books developed through this process of random typographical errors and customer selection.
Hmmmm… That might be Google's next business. It's the ultimate in “crowd sourcing.”

McCain and Obama Slogans about Iraq Policy

McCain: Things are wonderful and if something isn't done soon, they'll get even worse.

Obama: Iraq is in such terrible shape that even a Democratic adminstration couldn't produce defeat.

Essential disclaimer: The above slogans are not original (they come from a quip about a campaign of a few decades ago) but I don't recall the exact reference.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Conscience Clause

In accordance with the libertarian slogan Freedom, I Won't, I support the right of pharmacists to refuse to sell contraceptives that prevent implantation whenever a “pro-choice” activist is arguing with somebody who supports contraception and is thought to be borderline on abortion. (For some reason, the importance of embryos that fail to implant varies from debate to debate.)

Needless to say, I also support the right of pharmacists to refuse to sell calendars.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Speculation on the Future of “Cap & Trade”

Judging by the propensity of government-sponsored enterprises to need bailing out, I suspect there will be a multi-trillion dollar bailout of “cap & trade” organizations in another generation or two.

I don't know the details of the bailout, but there is one fact we can be sure of. It will be blamed on laissez-faire capitalism.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not a Way to Shrink a City's Ecological Footprint

The latest urban-planning idea (seen via Boing Boing) is vertical farming:

What if "eating local" in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food?

Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, hopes to make these zucchini-in-the-sky visions a reality. Despommier's pet project is the "vertical farm," a concept he created in 1999 with graduate students in his class on medical ecology, the study of how the environment and human health interact.

The idea, which has captured the imagination of several architects in the United States and Europe in the past several years, just caught the eye of another big city dreamer: Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president in New York.

When Stringer heard about the concept in June, he said he immediately pictured a "food farm" addition to the New York City skyline. "Obviously we don't have vast amounts of vacant land," he said in a phone interview. "But the sky is the limit in Manhattan." Stringer's office is "sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm," and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor's office within the next couple of months, he said.

"I think we can really do this," he added. "We could get the funding."

At first glance this looks like a way to shrink a city's ecological footprint (the goal of eating locally). This will make it less necessary to get food from sprawling farms. After actually thinking about it, it looks more pointless. All those plants will need grow lights. (I realize the main advocates for this type of nonsense probably think grow lights are only needed for their favorite plant, but they'll be needed for vertical farms in general.) If the energy is generated by solar power, they'll merely replace the rural farms with rural solar collectors and import power instead of food.

The only way this even comes close to making sense is if the needed energy is generated by nuclear power plants. Wait a moment … It's starting to make sense now …

On the other hand, that will aggravate the urban heat-island effect. We'll replace global warming with even more uncomfortable local warming.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Unowned Is Not the Same Thing as Government Owned

According to Ralph Nader (as reported at Free Republic):

You, Rush Limbaugh, are on welfare.

As you know, the public airwaves belong to the American people. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is supposed to be our trustee in managing this property. The people are the landlords and the radio and TV stations and affiliated companies are the tenants.

The problem is that since the Radio Act of 1927 these corporate tenants have been massively more powerful in Washington, DC than the tens of millions of listeners and viewers. The result has been no payment of rent by the stations for the value of their license to broadcast. You and your company are using the public's valuable property for free. This freeloading on the backs of the American people is called corporate welfare.

The fact that the airwaves were unowned (until the radio pioneers homesteaded the airwaves) did not mean it was government owned. (If the government retained legal authority to shut down stations, that means it seized partial goverment ownership; not that it is otherwise giving it away.) The fact that the airwaves are still unowned as far as the right to receive transmissions is concerned (the sense in which they are public airwaves) does not mean they are government owned.

One of the best Free Republic comments said:

Let me explain the arguement. The government owns everything, so breathing air is accepting government welfare.
There are other examples of how Nader's theory is wrong. Shakespeare's plays are in the public domain but that doesn't mean public funding has anything to do with them. (I've made this point before.)

On the other hand

The theory that “the public” is identical with “the government” might be responsible for the copyright extension nonsense. You can think of copyright as a bargain between authors and the public negotiated by the government. That means copyright extension is a matter of the government giving away the public's rights, which should be a no-no. If the public were identical to the government, then the copyright extension is a matter of the government giving away its own property, which might be okay and should not be second-guessed by the courts.

Another Nader demand

In the same rant, Ralph Nader also insisted:

It is way past due for the super-rich capitalist--Rush Limbaugh from Cape Girardeau, Missouri--to get himself off big time welfare. It is way past due for Rush Limbaugh as the Kingboy of corporatist radio to set a capitalist example for his peers and pay rent to the American people for the very lucrative use of their property.

This is, of course, an example of Rule 4 of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals:
Rule 4: Make your opponent live up to his own rule book.
Of course, nowadays we wingnuts will point out that this is a matter of “the sanction of the victim.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

What They Were Thinking at Google

While Googling the phrase "macrobiotic cheese" (I wanted to know if anybody else came up with the same phrase as in this post), I noticed quite a few blog entries from splogs consisting of random phrases. Google needed a random-nonsense detector and their version appears to have a few false positives. I suppose my blog (as well as Technoptimist and PrestoPundit) might look like random nonsense to people unacquainted with conservative/libertarian ideas.

Maybe Google needs a house conservative or two so they don't make such mistakes. Even The New York Times has David Brooks and John Tierney.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Support Everyone's Troops?

Robin Hanson has a “Support Everyone's Troops” bumper sticker. I suppose that means conscript armies should be supported in their goal of staying out of jail (sometimes this can be done most easily by regime change) and blackmailed armies should be supported in their goal of keeping their relatives from being tortured (sometimes this can be done most easily by assassinating terrorist leaders) and mercenary armies should be supported in their goal of earning a decent paycheck …

Hmmmm … Would “Support Everyone's Troops” (or at least support as many troops as possible) mean that the largest volunteer armed forces should be supported in their goal of victory?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Methionine Anyone?

A few years ago, I read that one of the few reasons to prefer organic food was the increased methionine content of organic food. Today I read that eating less methionine might slow the aging process.


Mencius Moldbug and How Libertarianism Can Go Wrong

A few years ago, I posted How Libertarianism Can Go Wrong. I just realized the political theories of Mencius Moldbug are an example of Nos. 2 and 4:

  1. ………
  2. Exaggerate parental rights. (You can think of the Elian Gonzalez case as a possible beginning.) Parents can sell their children into slavery. Any offspring of the slaves are considered offspring of the owners and thus can also be enslaved.
  3. ………
  4. Apply property rights with enclosure acts to government. (I was inspired by a discussion on Samizdata.) If property rights ensure that property is taken care of better, then clearly the government will be more competent if it is owned outright by an Emperor. The Empire must be hereditary to ensure that the Emperor wants to preserve the value of his property over the long term. If we do not currently live in an Empire, we must turn the government over to an Emperor as soon as possible.
In other words, the “How Libertarianism Can Go Wrong” post was not a collection of straw men.

I thought I'd celebrate Independence Day by disagreeing with UnAmerican ideologies. (In this case, monarchism.)

Speaking of monarchists, does Louis Epstein have a blog? On the other hand, maybe Louis Epstein is Mencius Moldbug …

Thursday, July 03, 2008

“The Spring of Next Year”

Would the song “The Spring of Next Year” from Dear World be a plausible anthem for Drill here, drill now, pay less? Consider some of the lyrics:

There will be a sweet taste in the air
Of industrial waste in the air
There'll be a sting
In your eyes from the smog in the spring
Of next year


See the apple trees blooming
As they're crushed into pulp
There'll be smokestacks consuming
Each available gulp
That's inhalable
There are a few minor problems:
  • The lyrics for most of the rest of Dear World are online, but not “The Spring of Next Year.” This may be an attempt to suppress a plausible right-wing song.
  • It was originally intended to be satirical. On the other hand, a typical voter looking at gasoline at over $4 per gallon might have trouble remembering why it was considered satirical.
  • The plot of the play is ridiculous. It was about a Sinister Conspiracy by Evil Capitalists to drill for oil under Paris. It's ridiculous because the French use nukes. Maybe it can be rewritten to be about uranium mining.

“Imagine All the People, Living for Today”

While considering the above well-known line from Imagine by John Lennon, I realized that it explains the common leftist tendency (discussed here) to dismiss reasonable solutions to energy problems with “but that will take years to lower oil prices…”

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