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, December 31, 2010

Was Milton Gomrath behind This?

According to The New York Post:

There was a method to their madness.

The selfish Sanitation bosses who sabotaged the blizzard cleanup to fire a salvo at City Hall targeted politically connected and well-heeled neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn to get their twisted message across loud and clear, The Post has learned.

Their motives emerged yesterday as the city's Department of Investigation admitted it began a probe earlier this week after hearing rumblings of a coordinated job action.

Sources told The Post several neighborhoods were on the workers' hit list -- including Borough Park and Dyker Heights in Brooklyn and Middle Village in Queens -- because residents there have more money and their politicians carry big sticks.

They carefully targeted neighborhoods where … the residents could actually curb unions?

What, if anything, were they thinking? Did they assume that all “working people” would never blame a union? I'm sure many people now think that unionized workers should be ionized instead.

Somehow, I don't think this was planned by the world's smartest garbageman.


According to George Monbiot, libertarians are getting paid criticize left-wing ideas. All I have to say is, “I wanted that job.”

On the other hand, I have never heard of the organizations handing out the dough…

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Circumcision and the TSA

A few years ago, I pointed on Usenet that prohibiting circumcision would require violations of privacy:

In other words, enforcing anti-circumcision laws will require policeman
asking men to drop their pants.

I think that counts as a real violation of privacy (not a mere "penumbra"
this time).
More recently, I realized that, owing to the Trained Sodomy Administrators, we actually have policeman asking men to drop their pants.

Uh oh.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Nature of Pro-Muslim Political Correctness

There are two brands of politically-correct defenses of the Other.

  1. The general defense: We have no right to judge societies. (Please note this also applies to their version of Western Civilization.) This also includes the idea that anything that goes wrong with a society is due to capitalist oppression. After all, holding a society responsible for its own problems is judging it.
  2. The specific defenses: These are defenses of the Other based on claims that said Other does a better job at something considered valuable than Western Civilization does. For example, the claims that China is much better at long-term planning, that Stalin's Soviet Union was able to industrialize in record time, that Native Americans preserved the ecosystem, that pre-agricultural societies had what is now considered to be an “enlightened” toward sex, … These claims aren't as self-contradictory as the general defense even if many of them are totally imaginary.
Offhand, I can't think of any specific defense of Islam from a non-Muslim on the left. All such defenses of Islam are based on the general defense.

I can think of an explanation or two of this odd fact but the explanation is half-baked enough to go back in the oven for a while.

Addendum: Never mind.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Think That's “Fixed” as in a Fixed Boxing Match

According to New Scientist, George Soros thinks economics has to be fixed.

On the other hand, maybe he wants it to be neutered instead.

By the way, if we know less about economics than we thought, wouldn't that mean we don't know enough to regulate it?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Why We Need Muslim Immigration

In San Francisco, there's a ballot measure to ban circumcision:

San Francisco residents may vote on a ballot measure next year that would outlaw circumcision.

The initiative, which requires 7,000 signatures before it can be added to next November's ballot, would make it a misdemeanor to "circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the...genitals" of all minors, and would not make exceptions for religious reasons.

The decision to permanently remove a boy's foreskin should not be made by parents, says Lloyd Shofield, the proposal's author.

I suspect this wouldn't get very far if we had more Muslim immigrants.

I Thought We had Already Hired Them

The latest plan to improve mass transit is to hire slime molds:

Since the best city planners around the world have not been able to end traffic jams, scientists are looking to a new group of experts: slime mold.

That's right, a species of gelatinous amoeba could help urban planners design better road systems to reduce traffic congestion, a new study found.

This is very strange. I thought governments have been run by slime molds for years.

My earlier comments on slime molds can be found here, there, and yonder.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We Don't Have to Worry about This

The New York Police Department has run a simulation of a terrorist attack similar to the Mumbai attack three years ago. In this simulation, they took over Macy's:

The police officials were given a fictional scenario that began with President Barack Obama visiting New York for a bill signing. At the same time, convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was scheduled to appear in a federal court.

The attacks began with bombings in downtown Manhattan "that resulted in 18 dead and dozens injured". The president went ahead with the bill signing at the World Trade Center site, when another bomb went off nearby. He was whisked away.

But the attack was not over.

Six gunmen piled out of a van at Herald Square and opened fire on shoppers and pedestrians. They then entered the Macy's department store and took 26 hostages.

I find that a bit hard to believe. I'm sure that in a real terrorist attack, the rest of us could defend ourselves with candy canes (there must be lots of them in Macy's this time of year):
Skylar Torbett, also a junior, said administrators told him, "They said the candy canes are weapons because you can sharpen them with your mouth and stab people with them." He said neither he nor any of their friend did that.
Set seriousness bit to ON. To paraphrase Richard Mitchell's remarks on anti-intellectualism, hoplophobia only begins with the hating of guns. From there it goes on to the ferreting out of hitherto-unsuspected manifestations of weaponry.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gun Control and the Anti-Capitalist Mentality

After reading a review of The Illusion of Free Markets (apparently based on the theory that property rights require the State which, of course, means that everybody with property is on welfare), I realized the connection between gun control and socialism. In a society where you are unable to defend yourself, it's easy to think that property requires the State whereas if you are able to defend yourself, private property is seen as something that precedes the State. (My earlier criticisms of the claim that property rights are another type of welfare can be found here and here.)

Where do they get their crazy ideas?

The Illusion of Free Markets was written by Bernard Harcourt, a student of Sheldon Wolin, the author of a heaping pile of organic fertilizer known as Inverted Totalitarianism (earlier criticized here). I'm reminded of the following quote from Richard Mitchell:

IT is a poet's luxury to sit around and wonder what the vintners buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell. For us, it is harsh necessity to discover what the school people learn one half so preposterous as the stuff they teach. It's not all that easy, for the stuff they learn usually turns out to be twice as preposterous as the stuff they teach.

This argument does not lead where it was intended

While looking for comments on The Illusion of Free Markets, I found the following question:

If you have any idea of how the Mafia operated , think about it, and think about what a legalized Mafia would be doing, acting like, etc.
We know what kind of government the Mafia would set up. It would include gun control (ObSF: The Syndic by C. M. Kornbluth).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wasn't This in the Silmarillion?

Scientists in Taiwan have claimed that gold nanoparticles could turn trees into streetlights.

Fëanor was not available for comment.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What to Cut and Why

As a result of YouCut (based on the ordinary citizens selecting government programs for termination), Scott Aaronson has sarcastically asked which scientific fields count as “hard” and therefore worthy of support. I will supply a non-sarcastic response.

One reason for academics to try to do without external support as much as possible is that such support produces the suspicion that they’re trimming their results to the agenda of the supporters. For example, it's common for critics of the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis to claim that the supporters are merely looking for grants. (This type of theory is not limited to one side of the political spectrum.)

To the extent this happens, I don't think this is a matter of researchers asking supporters what answer they want and then producing it. It's more likely a matter of asking for a grant to find out if X is true (where X is something the supporter wants to be true) and then not publishing if the research doesn't produce a positive result.

One possible way to fight that is to preferentially support fields where negative results are mentioned more often. That might at least produce some peer pressure to report those negative results. It might even cut down on conspiracy theories.

In the specific case of research supported by corporations, anything that mentions “rent seeking,” should be considered a negative result.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

History Is Moving Right

You can tell history is moving right when an idea invented by conservatives as a compromise is now considered left wing.

This isn't even that new. The same thing occurred with the negative income tax.

The Unexpected Hanging and Reality

There's a well-known paradox (explained here) about unexpected execution:

Once upon a time, on a Sunday evening, a prisoner was found guilty. The judge declared the prisoner would go to prison and be executed sometime in the coming week (Monday through Friday), but that the exact day would be a surprise for the prisoner. Now, the prisoner reasoned as follows: “I can’t be executed on Friday; because, in that case, it wouldn’t be a surprise. After Thursday, by process of elimination I’d know the exact day. So, Friday isn’t the day. But then, Thursday can’t be the day either. If I’m not executed by Wednesday, then I’ll know the day is Thursday, since I’ve just ruled out Friday. So, it’s not Thursday either. Similarly, it’s not Wednesday, Tuesday, or Monday. Hallelujah, I’m saved!”
This has had a real-world analog:

When the hangman failed to summon him from his cell by late December, Toshihiko Hasegawa, a convicted murderer, reckoned that, by the practices of Japan's penal system, he had at least one more year to live.

After weeks of intense foreboding over the approach of death, Mr. Hasegawa wrote his adoptive mother to tell her that he could at last breathe freely again for one more year, when he expected that his execution watch would resume.


Two days later, though, without any advance notice to him or his family, the 51-year-old prisoner was led from his cell and hanged.

In both cases, what appeared to be logical reasoning didn't quite work.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Difference between Communism and Nazism

Instapundit is commenting on why Communists are treated differently by the media and academia than Nazis. This is not a matter of Communist holocaust denial. The typical response to Stalin's holocaust is not to actively deny it but to ignore it. (This is sometimes combined with the premise “If I haven't heard of something, it didn't exist.”) There are two reasons it is ignored. First, Communists made themselves boring. Second, leftists regard lessons from the past as unimportant. If you expect a whole new world different from anything that has gone before, there is no reason to think conclusions derived from the past are valid.

Communist motto: The sun will not rise tomorrow.

Neo-Nazi motto: The sun did not rise yesterday.

There is another reason for academia to defend Communists but not Nazis. Communism was backed by an extremely elaborate theory that required hiring lots of professors to explain. Nazism was much less elaborate. Since the first law of expert advice is to hire experts (Genesis 41:33), experts prefer Communism.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Life Imitates Science Fiction, Again

According to the New York Times:

Call it the Imagine Diet. You wouldn’t have to count calories, track food points or memorize rules. If, say, some alleged friend left a box of chocolate truffles in your home this holiday season, you would neither throw them away nor inhale them all. Instead, you would start eating imaginary chocolates.


So far, the Imagine Diet exists only in my imagination, as does any evidence of its efficacy. But there is some real evidence for the benefits of imaginary eating from experiments at Carnegie Mellon University reported in the current issue of Science. When people imagined themselves eating M & M’s or pieces of cheese, they became less likely to gorge themselves on the real thing.

“Sweet Dreams, Sweet Nothings” by Elizabeth Moon, Analog, September 1986.

Their Next Plan Is to Disable Stone Tablets and Cave Paintings

After making themselves a temporary nuisance on the Internet, Operation Payback will next try to disable fax machines.

There will be a slight pause while you say, “Who cares?” (as Jack Benny used to say).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Once Is an Accident

Twice is enemy action.

A second SF author has been arrested for what amounts to a refusal to kiss the butt of somebody in authority.

First it was Peter Watts. Now it's Joel Rosenberg.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Battle of the Conclusion Jumpers

I've seen two different reactions to the news of the possible discovery of arsenic-based life. On the one hand:

According to evolutionists, the evolutionary view of a single (and very ancient) origin of life is supported at the deepest level imaginable: the very nature of the DNA code in which the instructions of genes and chromosomes are written.
So while scientists are still holding on to the "DNA proves one universal common ancestor" claim, that idea is starting to look more shaky. There has now been discovered another significantly different type of DNA.
On the other hand (seen via Michael Flynn):
"The polite thing to say is that discoveries such as this don't really impeach the credibility of established religion, but in truth of course they really do," David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), a leading secularist organization, said of this week's revelations about the microbes discovered in Lake Mono in California.

"The fact that life can spring forth in this way from nature, taken in context with what else we've learned in recent centuries about space and time, surely makes it less plausible that the human animal is the specially favored creation of all-powerful, all-knowing divinity," Niose said.
The two sides are in complete agreement: Any new fact proves they were right in the first place. If this research peters out (instead of panning out), they will still be in agreement that it didn't actually mean anything.

Some of Us Do Know Our Place

According to a recent article in Freeman:

Mathematics, know your place.
Some of us mathematicians do know our place. We know, for example, that it's possible to define events that do not have probabilities and that markets are anti-inductive. That's even ignoring the possibility of “unknown unknowns.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Maybe Exelon Support Is Not a Good Sign

On earlier occasions, I suggested that the connection between Exelon, America's largest nuclear utility, and Obama might be a good sign for this administration. Now it turns out that Exelon isn't pro-nuclear after all. There might be a bargain with anti-nuclear ideologues we don't know about. Is either WikiLeaks or Openleaks interested in following up?

By the way, the second article produces an obvious question: What is the opposite of NIMBY?

Preventing a Menace

BngBng reports on a potential future left-wing rabble rouser. We'll have to recruit him before he gets any further.

Since he's 15, the solution is simple: Hand him a copy of Atlas Shrugged (capitalism explained in such a way that an adolescent can understand it). Next year, he'll be on the other side.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Just in: Research Finds We're Awesomely Awesome!

Okay, so the headline is not original.

According to a recent study of, of all things, eye movements (seen via Brothers Judd):

In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals' and conservatives' reaction to "gaze cues" – a person's tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person's eye movements, even if it's irrelevant to their current task – and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.

In other words, we natural dissidents on the right side of the political spectrum are independent thinkers who refuse to follow the herd. We go beyond “trust and parrot” and …


I think I slipped a disk while patting myself on the back.

There's also the minor problem that this was based on a sample of only 72 subjects. Maybe we should wait until a real study has been done before jumping to conclusions.

Addendum: The paper can be found here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Can Stephanie Meyer Save Civilization?

After reading of a DDOS attack by 4chan users, I recalled XKCD's idea of how Ms. Meyer can fight 4chan.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Not a Long-Term Solution

Former Secretary of State George Shultz discusses a potential effect of WikiLeaks:

… But there is still another side to the problem. In the wake of this affair, the amount of candid written material related to the daily conduct of American foreign policy will surely diminish. We will lose our capacity to learn from our experiences, whether positive or negative. Historical memory will slowly be eradicated.


There is now a widespread, conscious reluctance in our society, whether in business or politics, to create records—and a disposition to destroy them when they exist. What I worry about is our ability to portray history accurately if such records are not at hand and leaders try to rely on their own memory, which is often flawed. …

What if a few decades from now we see routine use of computers implanted in the brain? It might become impossible to turn off recording devices without turning off brains. Even if computing power goes into creating “ems”, a refusal to record might involve discrimination against ems. That's likely to backfire.

On the other hand …

On the other hand, that might be Mr. Assange's goal:

In 2006, Mr. Assange wrote a pair of essays, "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance." He sees the U.S. as an authoritarian conspiracy. "To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed," he writes. "Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate," he writes, and "pass it around the conspirators and then act on the result."

His central plan is that leaks will restrict the flow of information among officials—"conspirators" in his view—making government less effective. Or, as Mr. Assange puts it, "We can marginalize a conspiracy's ability to act by decreasing total conspiratorial power until it is no longer able to understand, and hence respond effectively to its environment. . . . An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think efficiently cannot act to preserve itself."

I doubt if Mr. Assange's actions will have his intended effect in a society, such as the United States, that is not actually an authoritarian conspiracy. The United States has several distinct factions and, in a WikiLeaks environment, those that are most inclined to secrecy will do something stupid. (This might already be happening. Did the CRU data release produce a culture of secrecy that resulted in the notorious “exploding kids video”?).

Meanwhile, given the authoritarian nature of the WikiLeaks organization, maybe we need WikiLeaksLeaks, an organization dedicated to revealing everything WikiLeaks is trying to keep secret.

Monday, December 06, 2010

I Thought He Was in Favor of It

Julian Assange is of two minds when it comes to espionage:

MADRID — President Barack Obama should resign if it can be shown that he approved spying by US diplomatic figures on UN officials, the founder of WikiLeaks said in an interview published Sunday.

"The whole chain of command who was aware of this order, and approved it, must resign if the US is to be seen to be a credible nation that obeys the rule of law. The order is so serious it may well have been put to the president for approval," Julian Assange told Spanish daily El Pais.

The US shouldn't arrest him. He should arrest himself.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gold-Pressed Latinum?

Scientists have claimed to have found element 111 in gold.

We are still waiting for dilithium crystals.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Note on Wikileaks

To my fellow wingnuts: Someday we might need to leak something.

To repeat something I have said before:

OTOH, the most obvious organization for terrorists and fellow travelers to infiltrate is the Federal Government, so we Americans should be given immediate access to classified material. We should be wary of secrecy. It can enable enemies of freedom to flourish.

This even applies to the Current Unpleasantness. For example, many government agencies have reacted by taking any discussion of threats offline. Since The Enemy has been plotting for years, they probably already know about those threats and even if they didn't it would take them years to do anything. Taking any mention of the threats offline will hamper the ability of ordinary citizens (the people who prevented the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania from being used as a weapon and the people who stopped Maxwell Stupid, the shoebomber) to come up with countermeasures. Instead, we are supposed to let the goofballs in the FBI, CIA, etc. to defend us.

But wait, there's more. Ralph Nader, the Arab American most likely to be a real sleeper agent, went to great lengths to get Dubya elected. Is there another sleeper agent in Dubya's staff? Was the same person responsible for the criticisms of Israel, the word "crusade," the phrase "Infinite Justice," and dropping food packages the same color as bombs? Is the secrecy policy a matter of national security or is it to enable moles to work undetected by reporters?

Even if the Feds haven't been infiltrated, deputizing spies will merely provide them with more information than they can handle. A single organization can't monitor that much information. That's why everybody must have snooping devices. The CIA can't monitor wannabee terrorists, their neighbors will have to do the monitoring.

If we look at the Current Unpleasantness, the government had the data needed to catch the terrorists ahead of time but did not have the manpower to analyze it. Once we get close to 300 million people on the case...

Modern wars are fought with intelligence. Each of us is a member of the unorganized militia and now we should regard each of us as a member of the unorganized CIA.

This even applies to encryption. Supposedly, it is now a public menace. If that's the case, we should ensure that decryption is as widespread as possible. IOW, the DMCA must be repealed.

Addendum: This movie was mistimed.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Problem with Potential Anti-TSA Regulations

One problem with passing laws defending the right to privacy is that they can be by the government against citizens as well as vice versa. For example:

This summer the issue of recording on-duty police officers has received a great deal of media attention. Camera-wielding citizens were arrested in Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts under interpretations of state wiretapping laws, while others were arrested in New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Florida, and elsewhere based on vaguer charges related to obstructing or interfering with a police officer.
Someday a backscatter x-ray might be needed to find out what the government has been up to. If we pass enough laws against it, those laws may be used against you.

Anti-wiretapping laws used to look anti-authoritarian, too …

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Crime against Nature?

BP has been accused of a crime against nature in an Ecuadorian court (seen via BoingBoing).

The term “crime against nature,” of course, has more than one meaning. I wonder how many environmentalists realize they're providing a precedent that could be used by the other ignorant army.

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