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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Other interesting web sites:
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Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
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Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, October 31, 2011

Paying by Check …

… is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. (I was reminded of that by the mouse-over text of this XKCD.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Update on the Neutered and Lobotomized Chemistry Sets

Drbuzz0 is considering trying to revive the Atomic Energy Lab.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This List of Nuclear Accidents Is Incomplete

A list of nuclear accidents somehow didn't include all the leaks in nuclear power plants that occur in restrooms.

The list in question has to be one of lamest excuses to suppress a technology I've ever seen. It includes the times a nuclear-power plant worker brought a porno magazine to work or accidentally shut down a reactor while cleaning the control room. It includes an “attack” on a nuclear-power plant by jellyfish and numerous instances of reactors being shut down by false alarms. A typical scenario can be summarized as “Some trivial problem occurred. The reactor shut down and was later restarted.” For example:

Nuclear Power's Dirty Little Secret

One June 17, 1970, an operator at the LaCrosse nuclear plant near Genoa, Wisconsin, used a dust cloth to clean the control room. The cloth snagged the identification tag attached to one of the key switches and moved it around to the OFF position. The repositioning of this single switch caused the reactor to automatically shut down.

To prevent this unfortunate event from happening again, the control room operators were instructed to use a feather duster when cleaning. [23]

The training program for operators consists of more than a year's worth of classroom instruction and simulator exercises. The proper techniques for feather-dusting are not covered during this otherwise comprehensive training.

Another scenario is that of becoming aware of a potential problem and fixing it:

Easy Doesn't Do It

In late May 1990, the Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina was shut down because the operators flunked their requalification exams. In early May, fourteen of 20 operators and three of four operating crews had failed the test. On May 19 20, all four crews and eight of 27 operators failed re-tests.

A spokesman for the plant attributed the failures to a change in the retraining program requested by the NRC. According to the spokesman: "The NRC exam is very difficult." [24]

Hopefully, nuclear power plants will only have easy accidents. Hard accidents can be so darned inconvenient.

Does that mean they fired Homer Simpson?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Disagree with This Characterization of Washington, DC

According to Mike Church, Washington, DC is “Mordor on The Potomac River.”

The proper term is “Angband.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wasn't This by Robert Heinlein?

A “self-made” billionaire wants to mine the moon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Student-Loan Bankruptcy and the Signaling Model of Education

Matthew Yglesias points out:

But there’s something special about student loans. Two things, in fact. If you default on your mortgage, the bank gets to take your house. Same thing with an auto loan. And if you can’t pay your credit card bill, you can discharge the debt in bankruptcy. But the lender can’t repossess your degree, and the 2005 bankruptcy bill made it impossible to discharge the debt.
Wait a moment… Why can't a degree be repossessed? According to the signaling model of education (commonly found at EconLog and Overcoming Bias), college degrees are mainly an expensive way to signal a combination of intelligence and reliability. If someone defaults on a student loan, it makes sense for the degree to be revoked as his/her reliability is now in doubt.

In any case, prior to 1998 student loans were bankruptable. The very next year a long-dormant student protest movement came back from from the dead, filling a much-needed gap in political discourse. The non-bankruptable nature of student loans is a recent and regrettable innovation. It's not a traditional feature of capitalism.

My slogan for cutting off the oxygen supply of Occupy Wall Street: Forward to 1998!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Morton's Fork on “Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me”

A few minutes ago, I heard a classic example of Morton's Fork on the NPR news quiz “Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.” Approximate quote from memory:

A survey of our listeners showed that one fifth of you bought a lottery ticket in the past year. That means two things: One, four fifths of you are smart. You're not going to throw a dollar away on a bad bet. That means you must have money saved up you can donate to NPR. Two, one fifth of you are dreamers willing to take a wild chance. You should know there's a possibility NPR will pick a new radio host from its contributors and it could be you.
Warning: I was not taking notes and I'm too lazy to listen to it a second time, so I might have a detail or two wrong.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Next Step

The next step after assassination boardgames is, of course, a Broadway musical … except it's been done.

Who Is Responsible for Neutered and Lobotomized Chemistry Sets?

It's people who think like this.

Having It Both Ways

A few months ago, I said that some people claim that scarcity is inevitable and therefore capitalism is obsolete and that others claim that abundance is inevitable and therefore capitalism is obsolete. I have finally found someone who makes both claims.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reinventing Conservatism?

According to one of the theorists reputed to be behind the recent Occupation of Wall Street:

The process is what scholars of anarchism call "direct action." For example, instead of petitioning the government to build a well, members of a community might simply build it themselves. It is an example of anarchism's philosophy, or what Mr. Graeber describes as "democracy without a government."

Wait a moment… Isn't doing something yourself instead of waiting for a government to do it also known as “capitalism”?

On the other hand, we also see:

Soon after the magazine Adbusters published an appeal to set up a "peaceful barricade" on Wall Street, Mr. Graeber spent six weeks in New York helping to plan the demonstrations before an initial march by protesters on September 17, which culminated in the occupation.

Does this mean they have no objection to a “peaceful barricade” around Zuccotti Park?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bait and Switch

It looks like the Occupation of Wall Street is an example of bait and switch. They take a demonstration that is energized by people in a state of indentured servitude and use it to assert crackpot ideas.

By the way, the restrictions on development proposed will produce a poorer society where it's even harder to repay debts.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What If the Alps Didn't Exist?

Was the development of freedom in Western Civilization due to the Alps? Mountainous areas tend to have less government than lowlands but in most civilizations the mountains tend to be on the periphery, with the result that freer areas can be dismissed as populated by barbarians. (We have a little bit of this kind of reaction to the US and, within the US, to the western US.) In the case of the Alps, we have a mountain range in the middle of the civilization, which makes it harder to dismiss.

There was another effect of the Alps. In the fifteenth century, it looked like absolute monarchy would be the wave of the future. In the absence of the Alps, Francesco Sforza or Charles the Bold (or some other megalomaniac) would have been able to expand. In another century or two, Europe might have been wall-to-wall absolute monarchies.

There's another point: We can't expect history to work the same way on different planets. If we encounter extraterrestrials, they might model their reactions on their equivalent of Louis the XIVth.

Monday, October 10, 2011

If Student Loans Are Non-Bankruptable

If student loans are non-bankruptable, would they be an example of indentured servitude?

Meanwhile, an earlier bout of student activism was stopped by abolishing the draft. I suspect the current bout can be stopped by allowing student debts to be discharged. This might also discourage lenders from making loans to people studying bulshytt (as Neal Stephenson would put it).

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Are Conservative White Males Are More Likely to Be Climate Skeptics?

Are conservative white males are more likely to be climate skeptics? (The original paper can be found here.) After all, everybody knows races are imaginary categories…

Addendum: Although this study doesn't qualify as a small-sample study, I noticed that the very first reference (which was needed to support their dubious interpretation of the results) was to the small-sample study I earlier discussed here.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Brideshead Revisited and the Third Amendment

It looks like part of the plot of Brideshead Revisited includes what would be a violation of the Third Amendment in the United States.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Lewis Carroll on Occupy Wall Street

According to Lewis Carroll:

A SURD is a radical whose meaning cannot be exactly ascertained. This class comprises a very large number of particles.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Common Assumption on the Left

I've noticed what I think is a common assumption on the Left: The amount of government is approximately constant. As a result, political controversies can never be about the amount of government but only about who gets to be in charge.

This explains their beliefs that deregulation goes along with fascism, that anarchism goes along with socialism, or that corporations and property rights are necessarily creatures of government. It might even explain their belief (during the Cold War) that Amerikkka was just as totalitarian as the Soviets.

This might also explain their tendency to overemphasize the importance of regulations that they don't like. To take just one example, they will assume that the Price–Anderson Act was responsible for nuclear energy even though the cost of major nuclear accidents is around ⅕¢ per kilowatt-hour.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What Counts as Cyberbullying?

According to four [expletive deleted]s in the New York State Senate (seen via the Volokh Conspiracy):


I have a better idea. How about the following principle:

State formation should be treated not as a right but as a privilege — a special entitlement granted by potential rulers, subjects, or citizens on a conditional basis that can be revoked if it is ever abused or maltreated.
Yes, I think preventing bullying is an excellent idea. I also think such laws are more likely to be used by bullies against the rest of us.

Meanwhile, could a post like this be cited for violating anti-cyberbullying laws?
Almost certainly.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A Suggestion for Riot Control

There's a simple way to stop the “Occupation of Wall Street” without police brutality: Make it legal for motorists to run over rioters. This is in accordance with the “a pack not a herd” principle.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Open to an Inflated Self Image

On Small Sample Watch I posted a quote about research that purports to show that some people who take psychedelics become more “open.” When we look at the questions used to test openness, we find:

  • I have a rich vocabulary.
  • I have a vivid imagination.
  • I have excellent ideas.
  • I am quick to understand things.
  • I use difficult words.
  • I spend time reflecting on things.
  • I am full of ideas.
  • I am not interested in abstractions. (reversed)
  • I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
  • I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. (reversed)[31]
Maybe we can replace many of the above items with:
  • I have an inflated self image.

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