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

Friday, July 30, 2010

Illegal Immigration and Fence Posts

The current liberal take on immigration is quite simple: We must keep it illegal but cannot enforce the law. This has the long-term effect of producing a large resident population who are dependent on the good will of liberals. More generally, unenforced laws that aren't repealed have a similar effect. According to a comment at Samizdata:

The problem is, they will outlaw almost everything while enforcing very little. Imprisonment by stealth. People will not know they are encircled until it is too late - like putting in all these very deep, robust fence-posts with no fence panels. All seems open. One day you will wake up and the panels are in, you are trapped and they can decide what law they wish to impose to nail whomsoever they desire.
They couldn't do that if the law were either repealed or enforced. If it were enforced we would have fewer illegal residents and those we did have would be far more cautious.

In particular, if an ethnic group with a lots of illegals tries leaving the “plantation,” the people on the next Journolist will coordinate reasons to start cracking down on them (e.g., they're homophobic, they're overpopulating the U.S., they're busting unions, etc.) It won't be any more difficult than the leftist about face on Israel over the past generation or two. It you want a specific example, consider the case of Elian Gonzalez. It was the left who called for his deportation.

By the way, the goal of having blackmailable residents will be helped by abandoning birthright citizenship.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Credit-Card Regulation Robs from the Poor and Gives to the Rich

That's the obvious conclusion from a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston:

Merchant fees and reward programs generate an implicit monetary transfer to credit card users from non-card (or “cash”) users because merchants generally do not set differential prices for card users to recoup the costs of fees and rewards. On average, each cash-using household pays $151 to card-using households and each card-using household receives $1,482 from cash users every year. Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks, the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $23 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $756 every year. We build and calibrate a model of consumer payment choice to compute the effects of merchant fees and card rewards on consumer welfare. Reducing merchant fees and card rewards would likely increase consumer welfare.

(I'm quoting from the report and and not the more understandable news items about it in protest of the clown described here.)

In other words, anything that makes credit cards cheaper that has to be paid for by business will cause the businesses to raise prices across the board and not just on credit cards. Since people paying by credit card are richer than people paying by cash such regulations rob from the rich and give to the poor.

I'm reminded of Dennis Moore on Monty Python: “This redistribution of wealth thing is harder than I thought…”

On the other hand …

I'm dubious about the assumption that credit-card fees are paid for by business. If they were, we would either see more cash-only businesses or price discrimination by payment method. Using credit cards might lower the cost business by more than the cost of the fees. That, in turn, would mean that the credit users are subsidizing the cash users.

Shorter Chavez

What Chavez is saying here (when he threatens to stop selling oil to the U.S.) is: “Hey, everyone! I don't understand what fungible means!“ (Okay, I borrowed that from a Dilbert cartoon.)

By the way, in contrast to what MonkeyMuffins thinks (and I use the term loosely), oil can “be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.” There are free-market substitutes for oil such as hydrogen produced by nuclear energy. The most important reason not to use hydrogen produced by nuclear energy is that there are better alternatives, which means there is still no crisis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

John Baez Has a New Blog Title

Azimuth (no doubt named after Isaac Azimuth) is up.

He rejected my suggested name of “This Week's Finds in Unclear Physics.”

So far, the word “nuclear” has been mentioned only once, in a quote from somebody else.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Offends Some People

In the course of a discussion of offensive language, Peter Watts (who occasionally wants to keep himself from being quoted by conservatives) said:

I trotted out the usual arguments. There are people who find gay marriage offensive. There are those who are offended by the concept of evolution. Will we be taking their hurt feelings seriously as well?
There are people who are offended by the concept that evolution is likely to ensure that gay marriage is a blind alley.

I also noticed:

Lodging a formal complaint is tantamount to stating that you get to order the rest of the world how to behave, that your personal outrage is legitimate grounds for censure; and really, in a free society, is there an inalienable right to never be offended?
Speaking as a wingnut, all I have to say is: That's our line.

Addendum: Are pointless gratuitous insults also for the purpose of ensuring that nobody criticizes an idea? For example, I was considering posting a criticism of this bull but it would require hacking away at the irrelevancies with a machete to get to the point or two (I think he mentioned peak oil) and I don't have the patience. Maybe someone with a stronger stomach than I can do it…

What Is the Minimum Size for a Planetary Settlement?

Charlie Stross (seen via TJIC) asks:

There's a deceptively simple question that's been bugging me this week, and it is this:

What is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain (not necessarily to extend) our current level of technological civilization?

and suggests:

I'd put an upper bound of about one billion on the range, because that encompasses basically the entire population of NAFTA and the EU, with Japan, Taiwan, and the industrial enterprise zones of China thrown in for good measure. (While China is significant, more than half of its population is still agrarian, hence not providing inputs to this system).

I'd put a lower bound of 100 million on the range, too. The specialities required for a civil aviation sector alone may well run to half a million people; let's not underestimate the needs of raw material extraction and processing (from crude oil to yttrium and lanthanum), of a higher education/research sector to keep training the people we need in order to replenish small pools of working expertise, and so on.

and concludes:
More realistically, we won't have autonomous off-world colonies unless and until they can cover all the numerous specialities of the complex civilization that spawned the non-autonomous, dependent-on-resupply space program. Or, to put it another way: colonizing Mars might well be practical, but only if we can start out by plonking a hundred million people down there.
Well… The important figure isn't how many people are needed for today's society; it's how many people would be needed for a society of the “Mad Men” era. I suspect that's much less. You might be able to run the Mars colony (at least in the initial stages) on ferrite-core computers (ObSF: A Little Knowledge by Poul Anderson). I also suspect that those parts that cannot be made by a small colony might be light enough (microchips) or rare enough (humans with specialized training) that resupply is feasible.

One way to get a handle on this is to investigate what the South-Pole Station has to import. Another way to find out is to try to get Hollywood to produce a new “Survivor” program: “Survivor: Post-Holocaust.” Contestants get a junkyard and a square mile of park and have to survive for a year. (Actually, this came from a discussion of whether civilization could be restarted after a drastic population loss.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unskilled and Unaware of It

The phenomenon of people who are unskilled and unaware of it is one of the favorite topics of bloggers trying to understand why not everybody agrees with them and, what's worse, why those who disagree refuse to be humble about it. I'm usually reluctant to mention it on the grounds that it's commonly cited in debates between two groups of arrogant fools each claiming that the other side is unskilled and unaware of it. I've recently (while looking up comments on Kohlberg's stages of moral development) found the following:

I bring this up because justifications and explanations from conservatives regularly use concepts from level 4 and when they do use concepts from level 6 conservatives usually get it wrong as if they are repeating what they have heard. Liberals use language from level 6 almost exclusivly. Sadly, "W" often uses concepts from level 3!


Because those who are missing the level 5+ concepts cannot understand how policy or social structures work with regard to moral issues, they assume that no one else can understand them either. Therefore the maxim "humans are imperfect and limited." However, it is an invalid argument that "since I cannot understand complex social or legal systems, it must not be possible for anyone to understand them."

In other words, this clown was using the humility of libertarians and conservatives as a rhetorical bludgeon. This is a clear example of someone who is unskilled and unaware of it criticizing those who are unskilled and aware of it. But wait, there's more:

An "Anointed" one's rebuttle is that no one knows everything, but more knowledge means better decisions and we have a lot of knowledge. There are huge models of such systems in software that accurately (but not perfectly) simulate market economies, so to say that it is impossible to build such models is a little like saying "It's impossible for a computer to play chess." It's been done, and the results getting better all the time.

Over the past decade, we've seen that there were people who thought they understood market economies but turned out to be so wrong they wound up being bailed out. More recently, we've seen an overlapping group who also thought they understood market economies designing a stimulus and failing.

We also can't get a better handle on modeling market economies with better research since that research will also affect the market.

The really annoying thing about people who are unskilled and unaware of it is that they won't understand the above-mentioned theory and will regard it as a threadbare rationalization by people stuck at an earlier stage of development.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Vision of the Future

The Decline of the West will be in the form of a civilization limited to two colors and four chords.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Prophecy from a Few Years Ago

According to Igor Panarin:

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

We're waiting.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jewish Reparations?

Louis Farrakhan want to Jews to pay reparations to blacks for our supposed involvement in slavery. Wait a moment… Don't Afrocentrists insist that they're part of Egyptian civilization? Don't Egyptians owe Jews something for slavery? If we charged interest on the debt, it would dwarf anything Farrakhan can charge.

A Singular Event

This Barry Deutsch cartoon is not only almost right (you can see my earlier comments on almost-right Barry Deutsch cartoons here and there and there's also a correction of a Barry Deutsch cartoon), it is exactly right.

Leftists have no business being right about something!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Reserve Army of Unemployed Workers

Today's economic “malaise” has unexpected beneficiaries:

Protest organizers and advocacy groups are reaping an unexpected benefit from continued high joblessness. With the national unemployment rate currently at 9.5%, an "endless supply" of the out-of-work, as well as retirees seeking extra income, are lining up to be paid demonstrators, says George Eisner, the union's director of organization. Extra feet help the union staff about 150 picket lines in the District of Columbia and Baltimore each day.

If the unions benefit from the reserve army of unemployed workers, would that give a pro-union administration an incentive to pursue pro-unemployment policies?


A Man of Mystery has purchased all Europe's cocoa.

I understand James Bonbon is on the case.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Launched the Industrial Revolution?

According to Matt Ridley, you can't attribute this to the Royal Society:

It used to be popular to argue that the European scientific revolution of the 17th century unleashed the rational curiosity of the educated classes, whose theories were then applied in the form of new technologies, which in turn allowed standards of living to rise. But history shows this account is backward. Few of the inventions that made the industrial revolution owed anything to theory.

It is true that England had a scientific revolution in the late 1600s, but the influence of scientists like Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke on what happened in England's manufacturing industry in the following century was negligible. The industry that was transformed first and most, cotton spinning and weaving, was of little interest to scientists. The jennies, gins, frames, mules, and looms that revolutionized the working of cotton were invented by tinkering businessmen, not thinking boffins. It has been said that nothing in their designs would have puzzled Archimedes.

Trial-and-error engineering was well known for being dependent on logarithms and their incarnation in slide rules. Did logarithms set off both the industrial revolution and the scientific revolution? (The timing is right.) Was the pause in science simply due to a lack of logarithms?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Nasty Thought about “Pickup Artists”

In today's society, being a pickup artist is not, evolutionarily, selected for (as XKCD puts it). The pickup artists are currently competing for the opportunity to beget the piles of shredded tissue in an abortionist's dumpster.

This could cause a decline in @sshole genes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Alleged Creativity Crisis

There are several explanations for the alleged creativity crisis. I've already mentioned the possibility that it's due to routine use of day care. There's the possibility it might be due to the Roe effect (although I suspect that the less creative women might be more likely to assume there's no solution to alleged overpopulation other than prenatal infanticide). It might be due to the increasing numbers of children of people who were stoned in college. (Pot has a reputation for enhancing creativity but there are reasons to think it stifles creativity instead.)

This might even be due to “teaching to the test.” I'm usually reluctant to blame testing. Blaming testing is similar to the defense of parapsychology (against scientists who insisted on better experimental controls) in Analog back when John Campbell was editing it. “Things were just fine until you ruined it by insisting on looking closely…” On the other hand, most tests will measure the ability to find the one right answer but creativity tests measure the ability to devise more than one answer. Just as the Flynn effect might be due to people being better briefed on IQ tests, this alleged decline might be due to people being more badly briefed on creativity tests.

We must also bear in mind the possibility that the decline is imaginary. The original article said that creativity “inched downward.” Maybe the decline is trivial. The decline might even be due to some of the questions being about items that are no longer common.

And now to swat a fly that buzzes around nearly any discussion of creativity: the claim that memorization is the enemy of creativity (sometimes combined with the claim that memorization is not needed when we can supposedly look up any fact). I doubt that very much. A large part of creativity is a matter of noticing connections between disparate fields. You might be able to look up facts in one field but it's hard to look up facts in two fields at the same time. For example, you can look up facts on line noise but you won't notice its resemblance to Cantor sets (which is how Benoît Mandelbrot came up with fractals) unless you already know what Cantor sets are.

Is Creativity Declining?

Newsweek reports:

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”
At first sight this might look like New Age lunacy but they also mention:
Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.
In other words, this is not a matter of the bullbleep generators trying to keep their “phoney-baloney jobs.” (I suspect those jobs are most sought after for high school and college anyway.) It can't be a matter of television; that predated the period in question. I doubt if it's a matter of video-game playing; video games were common earlier and some of the decline is for children before the age of the most intense video-game playing. You also can't blame this on “No child left behind”; it started earlier.

My guess, for whatever it's worth, is that this is a side effect of routine use of day care. Maybe raising kids in child herds isn't such a great idea.

It might also have something to do with the fact the low-creativity generation (also known as the Millennials) is also the generation most inclined to vote reflexively Democratic. (It was preceded by the more creative and less liberal Generation X.) The last time we had a generation dedicated to conformity (as a result of the “well-adjusted” era of the late 1950s), they exploded when they got into grad school. Watch for leftists to first try to turn this into an issue and then drop it the way they dropped IQ tests.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Does This Imply about a Hurt Slinger?

According to Dr. Ernest Abel (seriously, he can do this), people's names can influence their career choices (seen via ScienceDaily):

Three studies showed that medical doctors and lawyers were disproportionately more likely to have surnames that resembled their professions. A fourth study showed that, for doctors, this influence extended to the type of medicine they practiced. Study 1 found that people with the surname "Doctor" were more likely to be doctors than lawyers, whereas those with the surname "Lawyer" were more likely to be lawyers. Studies 2 and 3 broadened this finding by comparing doctors and lawyers whose first or last names began with three-letter combinations representative of their professions, for example, "doc," "law," and likewise found a significant relationship between name and profession. Study 4 found that the initial letters of physicians' last names were significantly related to their subspecialty, for example, Raymonds were more likely to be radiologists than dermatologists. These results provide further evidence names influence medical career choices.
On the other hand, it turned out that only a small percentage of people were influenced.

Prediction: This will be cited by determinists as an argument against free will. Okay. Maybe a small percentage of people don't have free will and that might go for determinists as well.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Brady Campaign vs. the King James Bible

Fox news reports:

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said it isn't taking a position on Louisiana's gun law because it doesn't force churches to allow guns.

"The main thing is churches have been doing the right thing in banning guns," said Daniel Vice, a senior attorney with the organization. "When the Bible says blessed are the peacemakers, it's not referring to the Colt .45."

On the other hand, their Lord Jesus Christ said:
Matthew 10:34: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Essential disclaimer: I am not a Christian.

An Effect of a Cure for Asperger's Syndrome

James Sweet speculates on what might happen:

Another hypothetical I mentioned in my Pharyngula comment is, what if we found a treatment that would cure mild cases of Asperger's -- and then, two decades after it started being used as a matter of course, we found ourselves with a shortage of engineers!
I can just imagine a scenario in which most engineers have been raised Amish… At least web browsers will be less gaudy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Not as Nuts as We Look

According to Jane's Law (earlier discussed here):

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.
I was worried that my fellow wingnuts would go completely insane after the 2008 election but it looks like they missed an insanity:
Obviously, with anything having to do with zombies, there's only one thing for this blog, namely a certain undead German dictator with an insatiable thirst for human brains, who leaves idiotic analogies in his wake. Unfortunately, with the 2008 election being behind us, there was a dearth of suitable material for a new Hitler Zombie opus right now. (Where are all the political hacks comparing people to Hitler willy nilly? They were always so reliable before!)
(The context is explained here.)

It looks like we're nuts but not nuts enough to compare Obama to Hitler … yet.

On the other hand…

While reading a recent newspaper article about an Influential Leftist (who I will not identify other than to say it's not the President) I nearly caught myself thinking “[Influential Leftist] might be doing X but is doing so the way the Nazis did.” A moment later I realized it was an idiotic analogy (I was reacting to an episode of perfectly-normal hypocrisy). I then had the odd feeling that I had just beaten back an attack by a brain-eating zombie.

Monday, July 05, 2010

An Odd Contradiction between Leftist Arguments in Two Different Areas

I've recently been looking at some old Usenet debates on guns. I've noticed two claims by leftists:

  1. If the topic is gun control, they will respond to claims that we need guns in case we need to overthrow the government by ridiculing the idea that people with mere assault weapons can stand up to tanks and bombs.
  2. If the topic is anti-terrorist warfare, they will claim that “asymmetrical warfare” makes it possible for people with assault weapons to stand up to mere tanks and bombs.
I suspect that terrorists trying to set up a totalitarian regime don't want that many guns. (If they have guns, they might not want ammunition.) Guns make it too easy for the wannabee dictators to be overthrown in turn. That may be why they prefer suicide bombs.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Chesterton on What Type of Entity America Is

According to G. K. Chesterton:

… Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal, precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist, precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk.

Now in America this is no idle theory. It may have been theoretical, though it was thoroughly sincere, when that great Virginian gentleman declared it in surroundings that still had something of the character of an English countryside. It is not merely theoretical now. There is nothing to prevent America being literally invaded by Turks, as she is invaded by Jews or Bulgars. In the most exquisitely inconsequent of the Bab Ballads, we are told concerning Pasha Bailey Ben:

One morning knocked at half-past eight
A tall Red Indian at his gate.
In Turkey, as you'r' p'raps aware,
Red Indians are extremely rare.
But the converse need by no means be true. There is nothing in the nature of things to prevent an emigration of Turks increasing and multiplying on the plains where the Red Indians wandered; there is nothing to necessitate the Turks being extremely rare. The Red Indians, alas, are likely to be rarer. And as I much prefer Red Indians to Turks, I speak without prejudice; but the point here is that America, partly by original theory and partly by historical accident, does lie open to racial admixtures which most countries would think incongruous or comic. …

I just thought I'd remind my fellow wingnuts that allowing any type of person into the United States is not something that leftists invented yesterday.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What to Do with the TARP Money

According to TPM:

Republicans have spent the better part of two years distancing themselves from bailouts and hitting Democrats for supporting them. But given a choice between continuing the 2008 bank bailout and regulating Wall Street, several Republicans voted last night (and almost all of them will ultimately vote) to keep the bailout alive.

Last night, in a scramble to save the bill in the wake of Sen. Scott Brown's (R-MA) objections to the conference report, Democrats worked with moderate Republicans to figure out a new way to pay for Wall Street reform. What they came up with was pretty simple: end the TARP legislation (i.e., the much-maligned bank bailout) early. Every Republican negotiator on the conference committee objected, some vociferously.

Let's see. The Democrats want to end TARP early (so far so good) and use it to pay for a “reform” that was passed using Communist tactics (not so good). When Republicans object, that's regarded as hypocritical support for a bill they mostly didn't vote for in the first place.

Maybe we should end TARP early give the money back to the flipping taxpayers (ObSF: the “flipping navy” line in The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle).

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