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, September 28, 2008

Illegal Aliens and Housing Price Declines

If the correlation between illegal aliens and recent housing price declines is not a coincidence, the crisis might have been set off by the threatened crackdown on illegal immigration. In other words, the crisis was not caused by deregulation, but by immigration regulations.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Essential Part of the Economy Is Drying Up!

Is it my imagination or do the advocates of emergency action on the credit crisis sound like the advocates of emergency action on peak oil?

Some perspective

Back in the 1970s, I recall reading a comment that “monetary crisis” used to mean interest rates would go to 7% (this was when interest rates were much higher). In the current crisis, with the worst money shortage since the 1990s (a time out of living memory if you're a financial journalist), the three-month LIBOR went all the way up to … 3.77%.

Somehow, I don't think this is an unprecedented emergency.

On the other hand …

Many of my fellow wingnuts are also treating this as an unprecedented and permanent expansion of government. I suspect the best analogy, even under worst-case conditions, would be the wage–price controls of the early 1970s. Not only wasn't that permanent, it managed to discredit wage and price controls as a tool for handling inflation.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Brief Note on McCain's Campaign Suspension

I think it's an excellent idea for McCain to suspend his campaign during this crisis while he learns some elementary economics.

At least, I hope that's what he's doing …

Transparency Instead of Prohibition

Instead of a blanket ban on financial service work for people who use some types of mind-altering chemicals, it might make more sense (it would also be less of a violation of libertarian principles) for their use to be transparent. So when prospectuses include the chemicals ingested by the financial advisors, we'll be able to which are actually dangerous to one's wealth. (Needless to say, the chemicals in question must be legalized for the data to be reliable.)

After that, we can also check on the chemicals used by advocates of a proposed regulation. In the specific case of the bailout plan, we must recall this was the product of an all-nighter and also recall David Sedaris's description of the effects of speed:

Speed eliminates all doubt. Am I smart enough? Will people like me? These are questions for insecure potheads. A speed enthusiast knows that everything he says or does is brilliant.

The next step is to include similar data in scientific papers about global warming etc. …

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If We Must Violate Libertarian Principles …

The current crisis has two parts:

  • The creation of a large amount of bad debt.
  • The spread of bad debt to the allegedly-sound parts of the financial system.
Preventing the next occurrence of the first is fairly simple. It's a matter of phasing out the politically-influenced GSEs that created the problem in the first place.

Preventing the second part is harder. The normal operation of the financial markets should confine problematic debt in a small part of the system where people who specialize in risky investments can deal with it. In other words, what were those financiers smoking?

It might make sense to take advantage of the de facto legalization of mind altering chemicals for anybody who isn't poor, to check which ones are correlated with the spread of bad debt and, if necessary, prohibit them, at least for people working in the financial sector.

The Banking System Is at the Point of Collapse …

… so they ask the Smartest Man on Earth to come up with a plan, only to find he's going insane …

In other words, I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.

Pointless Event Alert!

According to Geek Girl:

If you live in or near New York City, or plan on being there in early October, please sign up to be part of a very special event that the Yes Men are planning with some amazing activist groups.

We can’t tell you the details right now, but it will be about the Iraq War, and will involve doing simple public performances individually or in groups. It will be easy, outrageously fun, and will culminate in what promises to be a super-fun outdoor dance party.

You can visit to sign up, and to sign up for cell phone alerts so that if anything changes the day of the event you’ll know right away.

In 2003, the thugs in charge of Washington began destroying a country they knew posed no threat. Five years later, that country is still the most dangerous place on earth, and ours isn’t doing so well either. This action is about trying to change the political discussion around this, the biggest crime of the twenty-first century.

The Yes Men and friends

p.s. If you can’t attend, but would like to help with a donation, please visit Many of you already have, which is why this is moving forward!

It looks like they'll be too busy patting each other on the back to make sense. BTW, can there be a counterprotest?

Hmmm… When I looked up the Wikipedia entry for Yes Men, I found there's been a counterprotest for one of their events:

Not all actions succeed. In July 2007 an attempt to pretend to film a documentary about Milton Friedman in order to obtain interviews with right wing think tanks was foiled by the Cato Institute when their cover story did not work out. Paint was thrown on them by Bureaucrash, the Competitive Enterprise Institute supporter pro-capitalist culture jammers, on their way out.[11]

I suppose that means the skunk bombs won't be needed after all …

Monday, September 22, 2008

McCain Had Better Oppose the Proposed $700 Billion Bail Out

Let's see … The proposed bail out is a monstrosity on several levels:

  • It increases future moral hazards.
  • It provides a precedent to bail out other problem industries.
  • It gives waaay too much power to the administration. (I certainly would not want this power in the hands of Democrats.)
  • It has provided the demagogues with a plausible story. (The expected stories of “The Republicans are letting oil prices rise!” and “The Republicans are out of touch with the common man!” were erased by “drill here” and the Sarah Palin selection.)
McCain has better come out against this. (He sounds undecided so far.) He's maverick enough to get away with that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Has the Last Riot Taken Place?

The ultimate anti-riot weapon has been unveiled: the skunk bomb.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Fourth Conspirator Has Been Found

Doug Stanhope, an alleged comedian, has started a website to collect money to pay Bristol Palin to abort her baby. I'm reminded of a well-known quote from the SF writer R. A. Lafferty (in “About a Secret Crocodile”):

There is a secret society of only four persons that manufactures all the jokes of the world. One of these persons is unfunny and he is responsible for all the unfunny jokes.

Is America an Aristocracy?

According to Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny by Cintra Wilson (quoted on BoingBoing):

I humbly suggest that you take a moment to gaze at the family tree of a few members of your ruling class. Any of them. Take your pick. The Kennedys, the Lees, the Bushes, the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, the Daleys, the Dulleses, the Gores, the Johnsons, the Adamses, the Roosevelts...

Actually, don't bother. I always suspected that the Washington Monument wasn't modeled on an erect phallus so much as on a modern interpretation of the ideal imperial family tree: one that doesn't branch off at all. Just one big, vertical, erect log of incestuous monarchy (with all the power in the world concentrated right on the end of my tip, ho ho).

It's an odds-on favorite that if one laid enough Mormon genealogy charts end to end, one could prove either that all these fine families are related or that at least they've all laid each other end to end. Political alliances, after all, have always been made by marriage (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder? Meet Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, blah blah blah, and nineteen centuries of examples in between). The Gores are related to the Kennedys are related to the Carters and now the Shriverneggers. I have it on good authority that a relative of either the Bush or the Gore families has had a candidate in every presidential election for the last 190 years... and both families happen to be distantly related to the queen of England (which just goes to show you that even while debutantes may have jumped ship and married poets and gurus in the sixties, these ideological and eugenic detours corrected rather quickly once the girls figured out that communal goat farming wasn't as fun as getting their legs waxed and lunching at the Hay-Adams).

On the other hand, if you trace ancestry back far enough, we are all descended from royalty.

On the gripping hand, the time scale for the common descent in the American political class appears to be much less than for the human race as a whole. That might be due to the fact that we prefer Presidents who are not descended from recent immigrants. (IIRC, it took until 1960 to elect a descendant of 19th-century immigrants.) That means the ancestors of American politicians belong to a small (but not very exalted) group.

Lest we forget, the real Caligula was assasinated by the Pretorian Guard … a non-aristocratic group.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It Finally Happened

My prediction that:

It's only a matter of time before the left side of the blogosphere starts referring to the well-known Down-syndrome baby Trig Palin as a “future welfare recipient.”
finally happened:
Sarah Palin? Accidentally got pregnant at age 43 and the tax payers of Alaska have to pay for the care of her disabled child.
It took slightly longer than I expected.

Addendum: I am embarrassed to note a blog from one of us reactionary wingnuts also had a similar reaction:

A parent has a moral obligation to provide for his or her children until these children are equipped to provide for themselves. Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child's life upon others.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Maybe I've Been Posting Too Much about Politics

Maybe I should post a little on SF (but I'm not sure if the Baroque Cycle from Neal Stephenson counts) or an expanded explanation of how an apparently-simple mindless little system using such primitive concepts as point, line, circle, and spiral, can encode arbitrarily-complex propositions. Let's see … If we can encode Goldbach's Conjecture …

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's about Bleeping Time Someone Said This

According to the blog The point of view of An Aspergian, in a pro-“choice” society a pre-natal test for nerdiness (currently called Asperger's Syndrome) will amount to a pre-natal nerdicide:

We are watching the clock tick down. Every day we are a little closer to a prenatal test for autism. The not so funny fact is it wont be 100% accurate. It will be anywhere from 75% to 95% accurate. Just like down syndrome once it is there there will be no more walks for a cure.

Often in this world we are faced with decisions that are hard. No easy alternatives. damned f you do, damned if you dont. I try to choose as best I can the choices that at least make things a little better.

We are faced with evil in our time. The specter of eugenics is raising its ugly head once more. The call is now for "Normalcy" a normal race. We all want normailty ?? right? It is the latest ploy to rid the world of its so called undesirables deemed by a few.
On the other hand, abortion may become obsolete enough before that happens for there to be a ban.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Theory on Why the Left Is Attacking Sarah Palin

I suspect they think of this a payback for the anti-Clinton attacks by Republicans during the 1990s. Their attitude is “Your side started this business of talking about people's private lives!”

They should try to remember that Clinton won, and even carried some “red” states.

Addendum: How could I have forgotten! The original controversy on this topic was Dan Quayle vs. Murphy Brown. Apparently, those dastardly Republicans are prejudiced against fictional characters. I suppose they're not pro-reif. I won't more than mention the fact that the Religious Right candidate of 1988, Pat Robertson, admitted conceiving a child out of wedlock, so it's not like they haven't dealt with this before. (For one thing the child in question was born after the marriage.)

Quack Solution vs. Quack Solution

According to Bad Science:

Meanwhile, for over five years now, newspapers and television stations have tried to persuade us, with “science”, that fish-oil pills have been proven to improve children’s school performance, IQ, behaviour, attention, and more. As I have documented with almost farcical repetitiveness in this paper, these so-called “fish-oil trials” were so badly designed that they amounted to little more than a sham. In the case of the biggest, “the Durham trial”, the county council has refused even to release the results, which I have every reason to believe were unflattering.


But I wouldn’t start with molecules, or pills, as a solution to these kinds of problems. The capsules Durham are promoting cost 80p per child per day, while it spends only 65p per child per day on school meals, so you might start there. Or you might restrict junk-food advertising to children, as the government has recently done. You might look at education and awareness about food and diet, as Jamie Oliver recently did very well, without recourse to dodgy pseudoscience or miracle pills.

Translation: Don't use quack solutions from capitalists! Only use quack solutions from governments!

The blog post did include a reference to a scientific paper:

In 2007 the British Medical Journal published a large, well-conducted, randomised controlled trial, performed at lots of different locations, run by publicly funded scientists, that delivered a strikingly positive result: it showed that one treatment could significantly improve children’s antisocial behaviour. The treatment was entirely safe, and the study was even accompanied by a very compelling cost-effectiveness analysis.

On the other hand, the actual paper said:
Participants 153 parents from socially disadvantaged areas, with children aged 36-59 months at risk of conduct disorder defined by scoring over the clinical cut off on the Eyberg child behaviour inventory. Participants were randomised on a 2:1 basis, 104 to intervention and 49 to remaining on the wait listing (control). Twenty (13%) were lost to follow-up six months later, 18 from the intervention group
That looks a bit lame. I'm not sure if a sample size of 153 was enough in a study that seemed to indicate we should hire more psychologists, i.e., a study that might confirm the biases of the authors. Besides that, do we have any reason to believe those “lost” were random?

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Speculation on r and K Strategies

At first, you might think of the adoption of r strategies by Sarah Palin and family as a step downward. After all, we usually think of r strategies in terms of bacteria, oysters, or mice. On the other hand, evolution does not always run in just one direction.

You can think of the ape to human transition as the partial adoption of r strategies. Mama ape will usually raise just one child at a time. Human mothers are likely to raise several at a time, even if they rarely give birth at once. In addition, human infants are much more altricial than is the norm among primates. (This is not completely original but I'm not sure where I read it.)

ObSF: The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, a look at what type of civilization an intelligent species with r strategies might develop.

Addendum: We Support Lee has similar comments.

Addendum II: Cory Doctorow compared r strategies to open-source publishing in “Think Like a Dandelion .”

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Getting the Nerd Vote

While reading a blog entry on nerdy political activism (left-wing edition), I wondered what each party's Presidential campaign could do to get the nerd vote.

The Republicans could:

Meanwhile the Democrats could:

  • Replace the lame Lobbyists for McCain attempt at satire with “Schoolyard bullies for McCain.”
  • Promise to put Lawrence Lessig on the Supreme Court.

Both sides could promise to deregulate crippled and lobotomized chemistry sets. The only difference would be in who they blame.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why the Palins Look Strange in Our Society

They're r strategists, not K strategists.

Of course, in Alaska r strategies make sense. For that matter, the United States as a whole is more suited for r strategies than Europe, which is one reason we look strange to Europeans.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I Was Partly Right

My claim that leftists would accuse Sarah Palin of violating conservative principles, when all she was doing was violating leftist stereotypes of conservatives was right but I was wrong about what their accusation would be.

The mistake of the leftist activists was in thinking everybody else would define hypocrisy as doing X and preaching Y whereas social conservatives are more likely to define hypocrisy as doing X and denying it. We must recall that a large fraction of evangelical preachers will include something like “I, too, was a sinner.” in their sermons. (For that matter, the activists ignored the fact that Ms. Palin's oldest child was born less than nine months after the wedding.) In other words, she would have little motive to cover up a temporarily-illegitimate grandchild (the social conservatives would forgive that) and a strong motive not to do so.

A conspiracy theory I haven't seen yet

What if the rumor had been planted by a right-wing agent? It would make leftists look like idiots when the truth was revealed, provide an opportunity to announce the real pregnancy, and remind social conservatives that leftists don't understand them.

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