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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

News That Needs a Laugh Track

Microsoft is on the list of most ethical companies (seen via Transparency Revolution (seen via Instapundit)).

It's a good thing I did this before midnight. Otherwise, it might be mistaken for an April Fool's joke.

Meanwhile, I'd like to nominate Tohoku Electric Power. Their Onagawa nuclear reactor was 75 km closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than the Fukushima power plants and survived.

Portion Sizes Are Always the Fault of Capitalism

Back in the last inflationary era (1970s), it was common for inflation to take form of smaller portions. That was, of course, the fault of capitalism.

More recently, portion sizes have been increasing. This was, of course, the fault of capitalism.

In the present revival of inflation, portion sizes are decreasing again. This is, of course, the fault of capitalism.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Note on Radiation Hormesis

People who live in the Rocky Mountain area (“…where the scenery's attractive and the air is radioactive…”—Tom Lehrer) tend to have a low lung cancer mortality rate. That can mean only one thing: Radioactivity makes people stop smoking.

Seriously, when data is about barely-detectable phenomena, confounding factors mean we can't trust the conclusions that might be derived. Maybe low levels of radioactivity are dangerous and maybe they're beneficial. We have no good basis for either conclusion.

In other words, we also have no good reason to believe low levels of radioactivity are dangerous.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Brief Note on How I Became a Pro-Nuclear Fanatic

I went from someone who was mildly pro-nuke to someone who is fervently pro-nuke as a result of the reactions to an article on solar-power satellites in the CoEvolution Quarterly. Some of the commenters cited the supposed failure of nuclear energy as a reason to oppose SPS as well. In other words, if we let them get away with suppressing nukes for no good reason they'll move on to other technologies.

They have already started that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Regulators and Worst-Case Analyses

Scientific American has an article on the irrationality of using worst-case analyses to write regulations.

Oddly enough, it has little to do with nuclear energy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I See No Reason to Change My Mind about Nukes

… in either direction, unlike either Bill McKibben or George Monbiot.

On the one hand, the nuclear problems were not unexpected. We can expect alarming news every couple of decades. (I did not make up this analysis on the spur of the moment; I've been saying similar things for years.)

On the other hand, things were getting a bit dicey for a while. There was a possibility of disaster. (There's also a possibility of disaster for such technologies as stored biomass, hydroelectricity, and tides as well as a certainty of disaster from coal and oil.)

By the way, what is the origin of the claim that “They said this accident was impossible.”? As far as I can tell, this claim is spread from person to person without coming in contact with reality. It resembles the claim that Christopher Columbus discovered the world was round (something that is learned in school but not from teachers).

It might be based on the idea that “They” cover up problems because that's what “They” do. In a related story, I was on the Long Island Rail Road train that followed the one Colin Ferguson shot up. When we got to Merillon Avenue, I noticed the parking lot was filled with ambulances. I remarked “I don't know what happened but there's bound to be headlines about it tomorrow.” Someone else sitting nearby said that “They” would hush it up. The belief that “They” hush things up doesn't always hold.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Worst-Case Analyses

If I recall correctly, nuclear power plants are supposed to be designed so that we might expect the worst case to occur once every 100,000 reactor years. That means we can expect that an accident that does so much damage that there was a 10% probability of meltdown will occur once every 10,000 reactor years. If there are 400 reactors in operation that will occur about once every twenty five years.

Biomass, to take a typical example of an “alternative” energy source, has its own worst-case scenarios (based on a real incident). There are, of course, other biomass worst-case scenarios.

I won't more than mention fossil fuel worst-case scenarios (no more fanciful than some other disasters) other than to say they have caused the death of a community.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

If the Fukushima Reactors Are Analogous to the Financial Crisis

If the Fukushima reactors are analogous to the financial crisis, does that mean the problems have been grossly exaggerated?

By the way, the following common claim should be marked [CITATION NEEDED]:

We have now had four grave nuclear reactor accidents [We've had seven actually, but who's counting?—JH]: Windscale in Britain in 1957 (the one that is never mentioned), Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986, and now Fukushima. Each accident was unique, and each was supposed to be impossible.
An exact quote from an expert would be nice.

Preventing the Next Fukushima

The most obvious way to prevent a similar problem is to put nuclear reactors some place other than the “Ring of Fire.”

In other words, it's time to restart Shoreham, as I said more than two years ago.

A possible greenie objection to safer nuclear reactors

A green skeptic might ask “Why are all these safer nuclear reactors promised for the future? Why hasn't nuclear safety improved in the past?” The answer is that nuclear safety has improved in the past. There were seven incidents rated as five or more on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Three of them were before 1960, even despite the fact that there have been far more nuclear reactors operating since then.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Seventies Are Back

Now it's Hippie Chips.

They're obviously baked (either the chips or the cooks).

Is there some way to put a stake through the heart of the 1970s? It's the undead decade.

A Potential Problem with Intellectual Property Rights, Part II

Besides Mark Kurlansky, there's another author who tried to control what people think as a result of his book. I earlier mentioned that Horton Hears a Who could be thought of as anti-abortion. For some reason, Dr. Seuss was opposed to that interpretation:

Somehow, Geisel’s books find themselves in the middle of controversy. The line from the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” has been used as a slogan for pro-life organizations for years. It’s often questioned whether that was Seuss’ intent in the first place, but I would say not: when he was still alive, he threatened to sue a pro-life group unless they removed his words from their letterhead. Karl ZoBell, the attorney for Dr. Seuss’ interests and for his widow, Audrey Geisel, says that she doesn’t like people to “hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view.”
If William Shakespeare were alive today, would he sue to prevent philosemitic interpretations of The Merchant of Venice?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Potassium Iodide?

Do the idiots taking potassium iodide pills (even when thousands of miles away from the earthquake zone) realize that potassium is radioactive?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Dr. Seuss Books Were Really About

After reading What Dr. Seuss Books Were Really About, I'd like to add a few additional possibilities. Horton Hears a Who, in addition to being about isolationism, could also be anti-abortion. Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose is obviously about excess government spending. As far as mathematics is concerned, On beyond Zebra could only be about transfinite ordinals. (“My numbers start where your numbers end…”)

Nothing But Fresh, Clean Spring Water

Judging by a recent column, Carol Kaesuk Yoon is planning to live on nothing but fresh, clean spring water … and stuffed cabbage.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Perspective

Next Big Future puts the nuclear portion of the devastation in Japan in perspective by comparing the dangers of nuclear energy to other sources and by comparing the radiation near the power plants in question to that emitted by bananas.

After considering the dangers of bananas, I think I'll have some brazil nuts (or maybe glowberries).

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Suggested Moratorium

Senator Lieberman has suggested that we have a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants until we see how the situation develops. I have a better idea: Let's have a moratorium on new laws created in a state of panic.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explaining the Nuclear Power Plant Coverage

From BoingBoing:

This morning, I got an email from a BoingBoing reader, who is one of the many people worried about the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan. In one sentence, he managed to get right to heart of a big problem lurking behind the headlines today: "The extent of my knowledge on nuclear power plants is pretty much limited to what I've seen on The Simpsons".

To make matters worse, the knowledge of the rest of us about breaking news is limited by reporters with a similar degree of expertise.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It's a Mushroom Cloud!

There's a mushroom cloud over Japan as a result of the earthquake. You might think of that as an argument against nuclear power … except this fireball came from an oil refinery on fire.

By the way, biodiesel will also need refining and will also burn. Ethanol will not only burn, it's fermented from molasses, a substance with its own history of disaster.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Forget Ron Paul

If Rand Paul runs for President, he's got my vote. At long last, a politician has taken on toilets that don't work.

It is a bit amusing to watch leftists claim that we will run out of water. When you flush a “wasteful” toilet, the water is not squirted out into another continuum. It will eventually run down to the sea, evaporate, and then come down again as rain. In a few places, aquifers might be far more important than rain. Maybe those places can ban wasteful toilets (or do something really weird, like charging enough for water to provide an incentive to conserve).

Note to leftists: Attempts at sounding like effete intellectual snobs won't work when the regulations you're attempting to defend are obviously idiotic.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

To Anybody in the Oregon State University Nuclear-Engineering Department

If there's anything to this story, a series of properly-timed leaks could discredit a large part of the nuttier brand of environmentalism.

On the other hand, you must remember the saying: “If you shoot at a king, you must kill him.”

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

This Sounds Familiar

The claim that Congressman Peter King's hearings on terrorism are a matter of Islamophobia sounds familiar. It makes exactly as much sense as the claim that the prosecution of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was motivated by antisemitism.

In other words, the claim does not make sense. These hearings are the new McCarthyism: The opponents are people shouting from the rooftops they're afraid to speak above a whisper.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Warning: I Am Not an Authority on This

According to Phil Zuckerman:

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world.
On the other hand, if you bother to read the manual:
Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
and also:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
On the other hand, I am very much aware of the fact that it's easy for someone who doesn't belong to a religion to post idiotic things about it, so you might take the above with the proverbial grain of salt.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Oddity in Wikipedia Article

The Wikipedia article on EROEI (energy return on investment) mentions solar breeders (“a photovoltaic panel manufacturing plant which can be made energy-independent by using energy derived from its own roof using its own panels”) but not nuclear breeders. Nuclear breeders, of course, can render EROEI concerns irrelevant:

As far back as 1943, Manhatten project scientists including Phil Morrison, Harrison Brown and Alvin Weinberg began to understand the energy implications of nuclear energy. Weinberg later wrote:
Phil Morrison could hardly contain his excitement as he showed me his calculations. If uranium were burned ion a breeder, the energy released through fission would exceed the amount of energy required to extract the residual 4 ppm of uranium from granitic rock.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

I Predicted This

Three years ago, I predicted:

If stagflation is back, we can expect to see crackpot economics to go with it:


The Malthusians will claim high commodities prices prove they were right after all. They will also claim unemployment is due to population growth outrunning job growth. (Isn't it amazing how they only seem to be right immediately after lots of funny money has been printed?)

More recently, according to an article in, of all places, the Telegraph (seen via, of all places, National Review Online):

The world population has surged 18pc since 2000. Meanwhile, except during the global financial crisis of late 2008 and early 2009, the cost of food has steadily risen. The suggestion is that, just like the market for oil and metals, food and other “soft commodities” have become locked in a “super cycle”, the implications of which are only just beginning to be understood….This trend, as with so much else these days, is being driven by the rise of India, China and the other large emerging markets. As incomes in these hugely populous countries keep rising, their new middle classes are rapidly shifting from a vegetable to an animal-based diet. Meat is an extremely crop-intensive form of protein, as any vegetarian will tell you. So this massive wealth-driven Eastern diet-switch is fuelling the demand for soft commodities.


Not only by encouraging the switch to biofuels, but also by exacerbating food production and distribution costs, high oil prices can drive up food prices too – even though only oil is non-renewable. Last week, global oil markets tightened further, with Libya’s production now down at least 1m barrels per day – around 1.3pc of global production. As a result, futures contracts scraped $120 a barrel and UK petrol prices climbed above £1.30 a litre.

Let's see… The U.S. prints up lots of funny money, which winds up overseas, bidding up dollar-denominated commodity prices. This is considered to be the results of overpopulation (maybe an overpopulation of stupid but industrious financiers).

I must admit there are other causes of weird commodity prices: We have been burning corn in our gas tanks instead of fossil fuels and fossil fuels in our power plants instead of uranium. To make matters worse, there's the promise of more idiotic regulations in the future.

Why Conservatives Aren't in Hollywood

They're in the video-game business (seen via Space for Commerce) instead.

I Suspect This Is Common

I'm sure the scenario in this Cectic comic is common (except for the tattoos). It explains so much…

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Are “Pickup Artists” Darwinian?

Kay Hymowitz (and many others) have called “pickup artists” Darwinian:

By far the most important philosopher of the Menaissance is Charles Darwin. The theory that human sexual preferences evolved from the time that hominids successfully reproduced in the primeval African grasslands can explain the mystery of women's preference for macho - or alpha - males. At the same time, evolutionary theory gives the former wuss permission to pursue massive amounts of sex with an endless assortment of women. Culture, in both its feminist and Emily Post forms, hasn't won him any favor with women, so he will embrace Nature in all its rude harshness.
I disagree. Somehow, I doubt if the typical pickup artist has that many kids. If he's poor, he won't succeed as a pickup artist for long and if he's rich, he's unlikely to stay rich in the face of paternity suits.

If you're looking for the real Darwinian Superman, it's this guy. (There are also Darwinian superwomen.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Go Nukes!

After reading a description of an energy-efficient building (seen via the Enterprise Blog (seen via National Review Online)), I'm more in favor of nuclear energy than ever. From the article:

Each cubicle is on a strict energy budget of 55 watts. That means employees get a phone, a laptop and a task light. That's it.

Combination print-fax-copy machines are centrally located; each is shared by about 50 workers. "It's been…different," says Jennifer Daw, a project manager in the building.

Asked what she misses about her old office, Ms. Daw doesn't hesitate: "My heater. That's at the top of my list," she says. "But I drink lots of hot water," she adds, waiting for the communal microwave to warm a mug of tea. Overall, she says, she finds the new space pleasant.

If it's communal it doesn't use energy, of course. (I've commented on the same type of opinion before.)

Megan McArdle pointed out a problem with the energy-efficient devices:

In fact, when I look back at almost every "environmentally friendly" alternative product I've seen being widely touted as a cost-free way to lower our footprint, held back only by the indecent vermin at "industry" who don't care about the environment, I notice a common theme: the replacement good has really really sucked compared to the old, inefficient version.  In some cases, the problem could be overcome by buying a top-of-the-line model that costs, at the very least, several times what the basic models do.
Right-wing candidates often run on a platform of stopping new regulations. I think we should try to repeal old idiotic regulations instead. We can start with the toilets that don't work …

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Explaining Charlie Sheen

He's a method actor. If he's playing the role of irresponsible twit, he must live the part.

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