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:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
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Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress

Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spell-Checker Problems

PhD Comics is pointing out a problem with spell checkers. This is not new. I recall WordPerfect 5.1 objecting to “Geophys.” and offering the following suggestions:

  1. gaffes
  2. gaffs
  3. gifts
  4. goofiest
  5. goofs
  6. guffaws
I don't think the program took Geophysics seriously.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Refuting Imaginary Theories

According to Tim Worstall, The Guardian is criticizing imaginary theories of economics, e.g., the theory that human beings act like “economic man,” a theory that is thought to be part of economics but only in the imaginations of non-economists. As I've said before:

It's as though they were rejecting modern physics on the grounds that not everything is relative or Darwin's explanation of evolution on the grounds that the fittest don't always survive.
Question: Is the theory that economics dictates that people act like “economic man” responsible for Steven Chu's belief that it's legitimate to force people to not waste their own money?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Didn't Breivik Shoot Muslims or Libertarians?

The answer is, of course, obvious: They would return fire.

On the other hand, maybe obviousness isn't much evidence

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Example for a Philosophy Class

Recent events in Norway have shown that it's possible for a conclusion to be:

  1. bleeping obvious;
  2. wrong.
In other words, the British police were right to not jump to conclusions about how Amy Winehouse died.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Slogan against Parental Licensing

… can be found here.

Last March, an Accident Waiting to Happen, Finally Happened

Last March, there was an explosion at a calcium carbide plant (seen via Classical Values) causing an acetylene shortage.

This sounds so much like a nuclear power accident that I anticipate a protest movement coming up, followed by claims that only “crony capitalism” made investment in something so obviously dangerous possible.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Few Notes on the Norwegian Terror Attacks

Maybe we shouldn't jump to conclusions about the identity of a terrorist ahead of evidence.

According to Richard Pape, terrorist actions are frequently in response to a perceived occupation by foreigners. This fits the pattern, although it was someone from a different ignorant army this time.

One possible response is to tighten access to anything that might be used for an attack. If somebody starts a terror attack by using household cleaning supplies, will we ban bleach or ban rust remover?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weather Update

The coconut oil in my kitchen melted. The house is air conditioned but with a limited amount of cooling ability.

Horse Manure

According to a comment on the transhumanism essay discussed here, The Age of Batshit Crazy Machines is “an excellent rebuttal to fascist techno-utopianism.” When I looked at it, I saw:

They dismiss their opponents as "luddites", but don't seem to grasp the position of the actual luddites: It was not an emotional reaction against scary new tools, nor was it about demanding better working conditions -- because before the industrial revolution they controlled their own working conditions and had no need to make "demands". We can't imagine the autonomy and competence of pre-industrial people who knew how to produce everything they needed with their own hands or the hands of their friends and family.
We are speaking here of horse manure. The essay is a load of horse manure and the working conditions before the industrial revolution usually involved shoveling horse manure. If you're not using steam etc. you're using the muscles of someone or something.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Two Unexpected Results

First: According to the European Space Agency (seen via Next Big Future):

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity describes the properties of gravity and assumes that space is a smooth, continuous fabric. Yet quantum theory suggests that space should be grainy at the smallest scales, like sand on a beach.

GRB 041219A took place on 19 December 2004 and was immediately recognised as being in the top 1% of GRBs for brightness. It was so bright that Integral was able to measure the polarisation of its gamma rays accurately.

Dr Laurent and colleagues searched for differences in the polarisation at different energies, but found none to the accuracy limits of the data.

Some theories suggest that the quantum nature of space should manifest itself at the ‘Planck scale’: the minuscule 10-35 of a metre, where a millimetre is 10-3 m.

However, Integral’s observations are about 10 000 times more accurate than any previous and show that any quantum graininess must be at a level of 10-48 m or smaller.

“This is a very important result in fundamental physics and will rule out some string theories and quantum loop gravity theories,” says Dr Laurent.

It's well known that quantum mechanics and the General Theory of Relativity are incompatible at the smallest conceivable scales. Until now, it seemed clear that quantum mechanics must hold and GTR become an approximation. Now it looks like quantum mechanics must give. This has implications for, among other things, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. MWI is based on a literal interpretation of the formalism of quantum mechanics. There might or might not be any room for it in the more complete theory.

Second: According to Eureka Alert:

What spreads the sea floors and moves the continents? What melts iron in the outer core and enables the Earth's magnetic field? Heat. Geologists have used temperature measurements from more than 20,000 boreholes around the world to estimate that some 44 terawatts (44 trillion watts) of heat continually flow from Earth's interior into space. Where does it come from?


KamLAND detected 841 candidate antineutrino events between March of 2002 and November of 2009, of which about 730 were reactor events or other background. The rest, about 111, were from radioactive decays of uranium and thorium in the Earth. These results were combined with data from the Borexino experiment at Gran Sasso in Italy to calculate the contribution of uranium and thorium to Earth's heat production. The answer was about 20 terawatts; based on models, another three terawatts were estimated to come from other isotope decays.

In other words, the Earth is giving off more than can be expected from the neutrino count. One conclusion is that my back of the envelope calculation of the amount of fissionable material on Earth was off. Another conclusion is that there might be an energy source down there we don't know about. Maybe the theory in “The Demon Under Hawaii” by Geoffrey Landis (Analog, July 1992)—that an alien spacecraft is buried on Earth, still giving off heat from its dilithium crystals—is actually true.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another Counterexample

There are other counterexamples to the theory that free societies are likely to found among islands, swamps, and mountains. For example, Polynesia was noted for islands being governed by absolute monarchs.

In Western Civilization, it was hard to establish a tyranny over an island because people could move to a neighboring island but it wasn't that easy for the king to conquer the neighboring island. <wild-guess>I suspect that in Polynesia the islands were too far apart for private citizens to escape.</wild-guess> Do I have any readers who might know something about Polynesian history?

If the above scenario is true (Polynesian islands were close enough for a government that could draw on the entire resources of an island to organize sea travel but it was beyond private means), that has implications for the future of freedom. In other words, we had better find cheaper ways to get off the planet.

On the other hand, if space travel is too easy, that might lead to scenario resembling Japan, in which the islands were close enough for a government to conquer the whole archipelago.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Some People Object to Transhumanism

I would like to call your attention to Entries 5, 6 and 7 here:

5. Responsible Reproduction: Having children will be framed almost exclusively in the light of responsibility. Human reproduction is, at the moment, not generally worthy of the term “procreation.” Procreation implies planned creation and conscientious rearing of a new human life. … Parental licensing may be part of the process; a liberalization of adoption and surrogate pregnancy laws certainly will be. …

6. My Body, My Choice: Legalization and regulation will be based on somatic rights. Substances that are ingested – cogno enhancers, recreational drugs, steroids, nanotech – become both one’s right and responsibility. Actions such as abortion, assisted suicide, voluntary amputation, gender reassignment, surrogate pregnancy, body modification, legal unions among adults of any number, and consenting sexual practices would be protected under law. …

7. Persons, not People: Rights discourse will shift to personhood instead of common humanity. I have argued we’re already beginning to see a social shift towards this mentality. Using a scaled system based on traits like sentience, empathy, self-awareness, tool use, problem solving, social behaviors, language use, and abstract reasoning, animals (including humans) will be granted rights based on varying degrees of personhood. …

Combining 5 and 6: You can do anything you want … provided we agree with it. (It's additional evidence that, as I've mentioned before, The Abolition of Man was not a straw-man argument.) Combining 6 and 7: If your brain is currently off, you have no rights … but don’t you dare take away my dope!

The really worrisome part of combining 6 and 7 is that they may claim that only drug users (of whatever drug happens to be trendy at the time) are truly human. It makes at least as much sense as the rest.

A Leftist Cliche Has Come True

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal:

This army, whose might has always been justified by the imaginary threat from India, has been more harmful to Pakistan than to anybody else. It has consumed annually a quarter of the country's wealth, undermined one civilian government after another and enriched itself through a range of economic interests, from bakeries and shopping malls to huge property holdings.
We finally find a military organization that is partly funded by bake sales.

The University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople

For some reason, this headline at The Wall Street Journal:

Frigid North Dakota Is a Hot Draw For Out-of-State College Students
reminded me of P.D.Q. Bach.

Uniformity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Sarah Hoyt is complaining about the apparent uniform leftism among SF writers (seen via Transterrestrial Musings). I have also seen a complaint on Usenet about the apparent uniform libertarianism among SF fans. Apparently, uniformity is in the eye of the beholder.

By the way, I have a couple of complaints.

A complaint about Google

At first, I tried inserting a link by going to Google groups Advanced Search and looking up the Message ID: 9adbr3$2jj$ only to get the following error message:

We're sorry, but we were unable to find the topic you were looking for. Perhaps the URL you clicked on is out of date or broken?
I had to search through the thread page by page to find the message.

A complaint about WordPress

I tried posting a comment about the Usenet thread at Transterrestrial Musings only to find it was rejected by WordPress on the grounds it looked “spammy.” I had to post the comment without a link.

Friday, July 15, 2011

No Blood for Oil!

I was reminded of the above slogan by the following:

The government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, also issued a warning that he said he hoped would make headlines around the world. "We will die for oil. We will kill for oil," Ibrahim said. "We will kill everyone who comes near our oil. Rebels, NATO, we don't care. We will defend our oil to the last drop of blood that we have."

Now repeat after me:

What do you mean “It only applies to one side?”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Once you have proved a2b2 = (a + b)(ab), you have also proved p2q2 = (p + q)(pq). If a syllogism is valid, you can substitute other terms in it and it will still be valid.

In related news, Dale Carrico wrote:

IV. To declare that money is speech is to ensure that only money talks.
It makes just as much (or as little) sense to say:
IVa. To declare that print is speech is to ensure that only print talks.
I won't more than mention the fact that, according to VI, I do not exist or that XLII sounded familiar.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is It Worth Enduring Discomfort to Extend Life a Tiny Bit?

Sometimes it is. A very drastic diet (the only treatment then known for juvenile diabetes) enabled Elizabeth Hughes to extend her life just long enough to be treated with insulin.

Maybe printing out her story and taping it to the refrigerator will help me to continue to lose weight. (I've already lost more than Ms. Hughes's body weight at minimum.)

One last point: Sometimes it is worth delaying that last train.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who's behind the Anti-Knife Campaign?

Most sane people will look at the knife-control campaign as due to either hoplophobes or control freaks. There's another group that might support knife control: labor unions.

If knife control laws are passed, they won't ban all knives. If you need a watermelon sliced, you can take it to a licensed, regulated (and, of course, unionized) slicing shop. Everybody knows we need to license anything dangerous…

I earlier discussed knife control here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Robert Heinlein Quote on Social Scientists

After reading this article, I was reminded of a Robert Heinlein quote from Methuselah's Children:

Ford slapped the report on a stack cluttering his old-fashioned control desk. The dumb fools! Not to recognize a negative report when they saw one-yet they called themselves psychographers!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

A Counterexample

I just realized there's a counterexample to the theory that rugged territory is associated with less government: the Inca Empire.

This was mentioned in The Art of Not Being Governed and attributed to the fact that the upland kings in South America could afford a better army than the lowlanders.

Another possible explanation is that South American civilization did not have iron but did have bronze, a much more expensive metal. That in turn meant only royalty could afford the best weapons which would weaken potential resistance to State power. (I've mentioned the effects of that before.) As for why the State was stronger in the mountains, maybe it's because the local domestic animals were llamas instead of horses.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

I'm Disappointed in Iowahawk

When he compiled the Republican version of Beatles songs, he should have included the praise of a free-market economist: I Am the Walras.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

This Sounds Familiar

Megan McArdle point out that enforcing immigration regulations has a strong downside:

The people who blithely assert that we could always get Americans to do this job by paying a higher way are wildly underestimating what's involved in becoming a skilled picker. It is not something you learn to do of an afternoon. If we shut out the immigrants, we will see a lot more ruined crops.
She also made the same point a few years ago:
Er, industry also knew how to make low-flow toilets, which is why every toilet in my recently renovated rental house clogs at least once a week. They knew how to make more energy efficient dryers, which is why even on high, I have to run every load through the dryer in said house twice. And they knew how to make inexpensive compact flourescent bulbs, which is why my head hurts from the glare emitting from my bedroom lamp. They also knew how to make asthma inhalers without CFCs, which is why I am hoarding old albuterol inhalers that, unlike the new ones, a) significantly improve my breathing and b) do not make me gag. Etc.
It's amazing how we see the same fallacies on the right and on the left.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Web Page I Didn't Bother Finishing

I started reading 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox "News" Uses to Brainwash Americans. I got to 1 (Panic Mongering) and thought “Fukushima.” I got to 2 (Character Assassination/Ad Hominem) and thought “Sarah Palin.” I got to 3 (Projection/Flipping) and decided not to bother finishing it (even despite the fact that I agreed with the first four words).

Are Frontiers Always Free?

Many Americans (and most American science-fiction fans) think the fact that the U.S. is a free society is because it is a frontier society. You can see a typical example of this reasoning in “Margin of Profit” by Poul Anderson. On the contrary, there have been unfree frontier societies. We can start with the southeastern U.S. in the early 19th century and continue with such examples as the State of Qin or the fact that Russia institutionalized serfdom just when it was becoming a frontier state. Apparently the labor shortage characteristic of frontier societies encourages the extraction of labor by force (ObSF: the Draka novels by S. M. Stirling).

I suspect that if any external feature is associated with free societies, it is ease of defense. If we look at the parts of Western civilization that have been free as a matter of ancient tradition, they include islands, swamps, and mountains. There are two reasons for this: 1) If you live in a rugged areas, someone else's king can't enslave you. 2) Your king can't enslave someone else. In non-rugged areas, eventually the most powerful governments will be those best equipped to conquer their neighbors.

I've heard that The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott has a similar thesis but I haven't read it.

A final note: If American freedom were only a matter of having a frontier, you could plausibly argue that it is obsolete. In the real world, that is not necessarily the case.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Is Amazon a Blackmailer?

According to BoingBoing:

NPR did a piece today on the new law signed by CA governor Jerry Brown requiring online retailers like to start collecting sales taxes, even when they're not based in the state. Amazon argues the law is unconstitutional, says it won't collect the tax, and this week severed ties with roughly 10,000 small businesses and bloggers who reside in the state, and made revenue through affiliate links on their sites. Search engine blogger Danny Sullivan, who was one of those bloggers receiving modest commission cash through the program, "suggests that Amazon's tactics carry a tinge of blackmail."
If Amazon is indeed acting as a blackmailer then it is a very bad tactic to give in to their apparent demand. The problem with giving in to a blackmailer's demand is that such an action encourages potential blackmailers. For example, withdrawing from Somalia turned out to be a bad idea since it gave Osama bin Laden the idea that the U.S. would back down in response to a terrorist attack.

On the other hand, I doubt if Amazon could get away with blackmail. If it remained profitable to deal with their California affiliates, we can expect competitors to come along and grab their former market share.

Why otherwise sane people support minimum wage laws

I suspect the above reasoning is why otherwise sane people support minimum wage laws. When we wingnuts say capitalists will hire fewer workers as a result of minimum wage laws, that is interpreted as blackmail being announced by the mouthpieces of the board of directors of Capitalism Incorporated. Never mind that capitalism doesn't actually have a board of directors. The apparent belief is that if the minimum wage is reduced or eliminated, Capitalism Inc. will make more demands. “Let's insist that consumers be forced to buy things and that defaulting debtors have their foreheads branded O for Overdrawn!” (I got that last item from Milburn Drysdale in The Beverley Hillbillies.)

Saturday, July 02, 2011


According to people who haven't bothered paying any attention to their supposed opponents:

Now the very industry that publicly denies the very reality of climate change, is looking to climate experts for help. They cooperated with consultants who analyzed oil and gas industry's ability to absorb impacts from a changing climate. The resulting report was a terse assessment showing that the oil and gas industry was far behind the climate action curve.
Not all of my fellow wingnuts are denying that large parts of the troposphere are somewhat warmer now than a century ago. We're denying that capitalism is the cause.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Patriotic Oddity

The Daily Beast had a list of the 20 most patriotic states based on voter turnout, military service, and support for veterans (seen via The Brothers Judd). I noticed an oddity: Ten of the top 20 border Canada. Six of the top ten border Canada. The top three border Canada. This is out of 13 states altogether on the Canadian border (I'm counting Ohio and Pennsylvania).

Aren't you glad to know our northern marches are guarded by patriots? On the other hand, it looks like New York and Michigan are weak points.

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