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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Articles in Scientific American

On the one hand, the November 2009 issue of Scientific American has an article advocating “vertical farms”—an idea that makes sense only if the necessary grow lights are powered by nuclear energy. On the other hand, it also has an article advocating 100% use of “renewable energy” (i.e., a combination of direct solar energy, indirect solar energy, and trivialities). I don't think those ideas can be combined.

If we try combining them, instead of letting plants gather solar energy and then eating them, we will collect solar energy out in the countryside, send it for an expensive night on the town and then beam that same energy into the plants via grow lights. An all-solar energy supply might make sense if there were no increase in power demand, but the vertical farms will increase the demand by themselves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Presumed Consent and Ex Post Facto Civil Laws

Cass Sunstein, the regulatory czar, has recommended that it become legal to remove organs from deceased people who did not explicitly give consent by inventing a doctrine of “presumed consent”:

"Presumed consent preserves freedom of choice, but it is different from explicit consent because it shifts the default rule. Under this policy, all citizens would be presumed to be consenting donors, but they would have the opportunity to register their unwillingness to donate, and they could do so easily. We want to underline the word easily, because the harder it is to register your unwillingness to participate, the less libertarian the policy becomes."

In other words, it is possible for regulators to change a “default rule,” bury the change in a 1500-page law, and claim that anybody who was too busy actually having a life to hire a lawyer to fill out a zillion-page form that said otherwise is now an organ donor.

This is an example of a common phenomenon: agreeing to a contract (or lack of a contract) based on the current law followed by a legislature passing a law that changes the meaning of the contract. There were people who got married a few decades ago under the impression that marriage was until “death us do part” only to find their marriage vows had been changed into something temporary. The late Terri Schindler Schiavo said that she didn't want to be kept alive by extraordinary means followed by the Florida state legislature passing a law that changed the meaning of “extraordinary means.”

But wait, there's more. You can think of copyright law as a contract between writers, musicians, pharmaceutical manufacturers, etc. on one side and the public on the other side in which the members of the public agree not to use unauthorized copies for a limited amount of time in return for creative work on the other side. This is under attack at both ends. Copyright extension laws change the meaning of “limited amount of time” while proposed changes in drug re-importation laws change the meaning of “unauthorized copies.”

The Constitution bans ex post facto criminal laws; maybe we need a Constitutional Amendment to ban ex post facto civil laws. If a law is passed changing copyright terms; anything already copyrighted will retain the old terms and only new books/drugs/records will be covered by the new terms.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Where Are the Protectionist Tea parties?

According to a common left-wing myth (almost as common as the claim that the “tea parties” are orchestrated by the board of directors of Evil Capitalists, Inc.), the tea parties represent the Angry White Failure demographic. On the other hand, the AWFs are strongly protectionist (it's a consequence of blaming foreigners for everything) and there don't seem to be many protectionist signs at the tea parties.

I'm sure that leftists will hold that against the tea parties.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Obama Has Not Been Following Alinsky Tactics

One of Alinsky's best-known rules is “Pick a target freeze it,personalize it and polarize it.” He has not picked a target but has been going after a wide variety of enemies. “Pick a target” means first you convince the Consensus that Rush Limbaugh (or whoever) is insane and then you go after people you can associate with Rush using the Law of Sewage. Obama has been going after too many targets for that to work.

It's the same tactic that meant the U.S. did not fight Communists during World War II or Islamofascists during Cold War I. We had to pick our targets.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Yes, there are Global Warming people who are responsible enough to criticize the biggest idiots on their side.

I think we should respond by taking the responsible faction of global warmers more seriously.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Explaining Exelon

Shortly before the last election, I posted that Obama may have been bought by the nuclear utility Exelon. Now there's some evidence that's the case:

Or consider Exelon Corp., the nation's largest nuclear power generator. The Waxman-Markey bill would lavish millions more tons' worth of energy-ration coupons on Exelon than the company would need to cover the CO2 emissions from its much smaller fleet of fossil electric generating units. As Amanda DeBard indicates, under Waxman-Markey, Exelon would reap about $1 billion in windfall profits annually from the sale of surplus ration coupons.
I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, it might be partial compensation for the financial disasters caused by regulatory blockage of partly-built reactors. (If interest rates are high, a slowdown is as good as a blockage as far as bankruptcy is concerned.) If you invest in nukes, you might go bankrupt or you might get a huge windfall profit. The second possibility might cause investors to take another look at nuclear power.

On the other hand, investment should not be a roll of the dice. To make matters worse, the people getting the compensation aren't the same people who went bankrupt.

On the gripping hand, it's another excuse for Joseph Romm etc. to try to ban nukes. It's similar to making a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority while their propaganda machine is still going. Even if the current administration is willing to subsidize a nuclear utility or two the next left-wing administration won't be and they'll be angrier than ever.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The “Good” Side of Traffic Jams

According to what can only be described as the sadistic school of environmental analysis:

Traffic jams can actually be environmentally beneficial if they turn subways, buses, car pools, bicycles and walking into more-attractive options. Residents of the New York metropolitan area are extraordinarily committed transit users—they account for almost a third of all the public-transit passenger miles traveled in the United States. Making a cab ride seem more efficient than the subway, by reducing the congestion on the streets, would be a loss for the environment.

Out here in the real world, congestion is commonly cited as a reason to move out of high-density areas. More traffic jams means more people moving to areas where they have to drive more to get somewhere.

Much of liberalism is based on the idea that people will react to government planning the way the planners want. It doesn't always work that way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


San Francisco has a mandatory recycling law. This was allegedly done to prevent landfills from releasing methane. They might seem to have a point except that composting could interfere with carbon burial (earlier discussed here).

If they really want to use garbage policy to lessen the greenhouse effect, they should char the garbage enough to stop decay (maybe they could use solar power for that) and then throw it in the landfill anyway. On the other hand, this doesn't require passing laws that tell ordinary citizens what to do, so professional busybodies won't get off on this policy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Are Alinsky-Style Tactics That Effective?

For several decades prior to its adoption of Alinsky-style tactics in the 1960s, the left side of politics in the United States had gone from strength to strength. The only exception was when it took a temporary breather during the Eisenhower administration (when confiscatory income taxes and labor union membership were at their highest levels). Since then it has stalled. The anticipated next logical step of the 1970s, the Equal-Rights Amendment, never happened. The previously disorganized right was able to elect Reagan and was even able to roll back some left-wing victories during the Clinton administration.

I suspect one reason for the halt is that the “mushy middle” was annoyed enough at radical tactics that they abandoned their previous attitude of “grab from the rich.” If we get them annoyed they might go back.

In other words, maybe we shouldn't be using “Rules for Radicals.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

Having It Both Ways

One of the best examples of having it both ways comes from, of all things, a quote from a comic-book review (would that be a safe-zone violation?):

"The unsettling fusion of Bush's worst nightmare of stem cell research and Cheney's wettest dream of armed forces procurement."

— Rich Kreiner, The Comics Journal
In other words, a conservative who's pro-mutant will be classified as exploitative and a conservative who's anti-mutant will be classified as intolerant. Presumably, someone on the “side of the angels” will be classified as either tolerant or anti-exploitation.

For the record, I'm pro-mutant.

Addendum: I just realized that the above also applies to the immigration issue: Pro-immigration conservatives are called exploitative and anti-immigration conservatives are called intolerant.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What He Said

I rarely post “me too!” but I'll make an exception for this Disclosure To Readers and Notice To The Federal Trade Commission. I might need such a legal notice someday.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Not Even Wrong

President Obama has won the latest Nobel Peace Prize.

On the other hand, the Peace and Literature Nobel Prizes might be Nobel Prizes but they are not Nobel Nobel Prizes.

It Is Now Politically Acceptable to Admit CO2 Makes Plants Grow

It became acceptable once the research was done on poison ivy.

I'm waiting for the results of similar research done on crabgrass and ragweed.

Maybe Yucca Mountain Isn't Such a Good Idea after All …

We shouldn't hide nuclear waste in an inaccessible hole; we might need it someday. For example, the plutonium 238 used in nuclear batteries comes from nuclear waste.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Can't They Move?

Neighborhood activists oppose a planned new skyscraper in Manhattan.

I think people who are opposed to skyscrapers but choose to live in Manhattan are a bit unclear on the concept of where they want to live.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Non-Fiction Version of “The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Street”

Robin Hanson (also known for non-fiction version of “Slow Tuesday Night” by R. A. Lafferty) has a recent blog post that's the non-fiction version of “The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Street,” also by Lafferty. First, a quote from Hanson's blog post:

Given a similar freedom of fertility, most of our distant descendants will also live near a subsistence level. Per-capita wealth has only been rising lately because income has grown faster than population. But if income only doubled every century, in a million years that would be a factor of 103000, which seems impossible to achieve with only the 1070 atoms of our galaxy available by then. Yes we have seen a remarkable demographic transition, wherein richer nations have fewer kids, but we already see contrarian subgroups like Hutterites, Hmongs, or Mormons that grow much faster. So unless strong central controls prevent it, over the long run such groups will easily grow faster than the economy, making per person income drop to near subsistence levels. Even so, they will be basically happy in such a world.

In other words, our descendants might be faced with a scarcity of atoms. In the fictional version, we have:

The poverty of the street struck him last of all, and then it seemed a more pleasant poverty with some other name. It was picked-clean poverty, as if every speck of dust had been hand-gathered from between the cobblestones as something valuable as lepto pepper or gold.


Hiram Poorlode, as did all the skinny people of Leptophlebo Street, wore a very large, flat, wide-brimmed hat that was crawling all over with rambling greenery, Canute now saw that what Hiram really wore on top of his head was a growing vegetable and fruit and grain garden. And all those gardens were tilted to catch all the sun possible.

You can think of Leptophlebo Street as a society where absolutely everything gets recycled.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Criticizing Imaginary Conservatives Yet Again

The latest attempt to criticize conservatives for violating leftist stereotypes of what us wingnuts believe comes from ThinkProgress (seen via Instapundit):

Always looking for a way to bring down Obama, conservatives not only criticized the President’s 15-hour trip, but also spent this week denegrating Chicago, downplaying the Olympics, and rooting against America.
Leftists look at conservatives and see mindless nationalists—people who root for something that's labeled “America” without having any good reason. As a result, they think we're hypocrites for not being mindless enough. (An earlier instance of this phenomenon was discussed here).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I Disagree with the “Law of Sewage”

According to the noted crackpot Mencius Moldbug:

I have a different view of the matter - expressed in my Law of Sewage (which is not mine - if anyone knows the origin, please email me). The Cathedral indeed contains many shades. They are not shades of grey, however. They are shades of brown. A drop of wine in a barrel of sewage makes sewage; a drop of sewage in a barrel of wine makes sewage.
On the other hand:

Sept 3, 2001 - Historians have recreated a "Stone Age" beer flavored with animal dung, and put it on sale only in the Orkney islands off northern Scotland.

Merryn Dineley, a Manchester University historian and chief brewer of the ancient beer, told the The Observer on Sunday that the brew was "quite delicious." The ale is brewed in clay pots with traces of baked animal droppings.

He and others recreated the recipe after uncovering what they claim is a 5,000-year-old pub and brewery on the remote archipelago.

and furthermore:

Kopi Luak (pronounced [ˈkopi ˈloo - uck]) or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and other related civets. The civets eat the berries, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested.

The real point is that the “Law of Sewage” doesn't make that much sense even in its home territory of judging beverages. If we apply the denial of the Law of Sewage to politics, it means we should not reject transportation deregulation merely because it was pushed through with the help of a Senator who was the grandson of a Nazi sympathizer. Similarly, it is preposterous to oppose Sarah Palin because she is an associate of an associate of an associate of white supremacists. It even means we should not unlink a blog simply because it refers to perfectly reasonable statements about abortion as though they were evidence of extremism.

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