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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Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“…The Geometry of the Dream-Place He Saw Was Abnormal, Non-Euclidean, and Loathsomely Redolent of Spheres and Dimensions Apart from Ours”

My reaction to the tumor shapes at Object Breast Cancer (seen via BoingBoing) was: IT'S CTHULHU!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The “Ugliest Man on Campus” Contest Can Continue

A few months ago, I mentioned the study that claimed childhood attractiveness is correlated with intelligence. It turns out that there is some evidence that childhood attractiveness is not correlated with adult attractiveness, after all. I suppose that means MIT's Ugliest Manifestation on Campus contest can continue.

Then What WILL They Wear?

A few decades ago, Morris Bishop wrote “The Crusty Professor's Song” (also found here) about changes in university dress codes since the days of stand-up collars. It ends:

Maybe time will banish
Sweatshirts, dirty jeans
Maybe these will vanish
From collegiate scenes
Students will not wear
Dirty sweatshirts, dirty jeans
Jackets, coats, waist coats, vest
Caps and hats, garters, spats
Cuff-links, cuffs, tie-pins, ties
Stand-up collars, stand-up collars
Never any more.

Then what WILL they wear?

The answer turned out to be pajamas.

As for what will follow pajamas, I will quote Arthur C. Clarke:

I have no idea what it will be, and am in no great hurry to find out.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Next Step after Gay Marriage

Someone wants to marry a building. I'm not sure what the kids will be raised as…

On a serious note, she said:

"If corporations can have the rights as people, so can buildings," said Aivaz, referencing a Supreme Court decision on political advertising. "I'm doing this to show the building how much I love it, how much I love community space and how much I love this neighborhood. And I want to stop it from gentrification.”
Corporations represent people. Who does the building represent? By the way, what are they planning to do with the site? Somehow I don't think an empty building is preferable. Even if they're constructing houses for the 1%, that gets the 1% out of other neighborhoods.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm an Effete Intellectual Snob

I scored 5 on this test and I'm still a reactionary crackpot.

An Effect of the “Contraception Revolution”

An article on Alternet is looking forward to perfect contraception, apparently because it will supposedly make pro-natal religions obsolete. I suspect the contrary will happen. It will merely cause pro-natal people (who tend to be religious) to outbreed the rest.

An effect of slightly-imperfect contraception

While reading the above-mentioned article, I realized that slightly-imperfect contraception has produced lower birth rates among people who are both irreligious and smart. In other words, it is promoting religious smart people and atheists who are ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray. That might explain the New American Divide.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One Problem with Newt Gingrich …

… is that he wants the Moon to be a state. Why can't it be an anarchy instead?

On the other hand, there is the saying “governments are for gravity wells” and the Moon has a gravity well…

Monday, January 23, 2012

So That's Why People Think He's a Flake

In response to the latest Edge question: “What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, or Beautiful Explanation?” Aubrey De Grey discussed, instead of something related to gerontology, the end of monogamy:

My claim is probably obvious by now. It is simply that there is nothing about sex that morally distinguishes it from other activities that are performed by two (or more) people collectively. In a world no longer driven by reproductive efficiency, and on the presumption that all parties are taking appropriate precautions in relation to pregnancy and disease, sex is overwhelmingly a recreational activity. What, then, can morally distinguish it from other recreational activities? Once we see that nothing does, reflective equilibrium thus forces us to one of two positions: either we start to resent the temerity of our regular chess opponents in playing others, or we cease to resent the equivalent in sex.
Those parts of society “driven by reproductive efficiency” will outbreed the rest whether or not lifespans are extended. As I've said before:
As for whether we should pay attention, if medical research stagnates the anti-natalists will disappear. On the other hand, if cryonics actually pays off we might have them to kick around forever. At first, they will be outvoted in elections and outbid in decision markets. Later they will be ignored completely as they become an infinitesimal fraction of the population.
I'm reminded of the people who used to think the work ethic would become obsolete. That didn't happen either.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If We Need More Biodiversity…

… we need more human activity.

It's interesting how many of the crises that leftists are concerned about can be best handled by doing the exact opposite of everything they recommend.

Applying the Golden Rule to Foreign Policy

Apparently, Ron Paul has been calling for applying the Golden Rule to foreign policy. If I recall correctly, Ron Paul is on the restrictive side of the immigration debate, frequently defended on the grounds that large-scale Mexican immigration is some kind of invasion. So… since I'm in favor of having the United States invaded (by Ron Paul's standards), clearly I must be in favor of invading other nations. Similarly, during the recent “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations I wondered if the demonstrators should be bombed. Obviously, I should be in favor of bombing other nations as well.

Correcting a Wall Street Journal Headline

The headline “Exodus of Workers From Continent Reverses Old Patterns” should be “Exodus of Workers From Continent Restores Old Patterns.” After all, between 1492 and the early 20th century, Europe exported people.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Global Warming Is a Religion After All

Tim O Reilly proves it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hate-Speech Laws, Fence-Posts, and SOPA

Back in my Usenet days, I would frequently criticize hate-speech laws, even when the absence of such laws allowed neo-Nazis to spread propaganda:

There is also the matter that if the neo-Nazis are close to taking over, exposing their plans could possibly be interpreted as "hate speech." The absence of hate-speech laws also makes it difficult for Nazis to start repression if they ever do take over. Once they take over, they will have to hire censors, they will have to deal with people claiming to be censors who are leaking information, they will have to deal with the fact that most policeman will refuse to get involved in book burning, they will find that whatever level of government they take over will be opposed by other levels, if they actually try a massacre, they will find that any similar groups will have access to uncensored information and can be prepared, and they will find that most of the "60 million guns" in the U.S. are turned in their direction.
Let us suppose that the federal government wanted to censor something on the Internet. (Humor me.) Right now, they would have to set up a bureaucracy to blacklist web sites. That may be simple enough, but the bureaucracy would also have to go after people who circumvent the firewall. They will also need internal investigations to stop bureaucrats from leaking the data they want to censor, etc. The censors might also be out of office before the bureaucracy can be set up. In other words, Internet censorship would not be very effective right now, which may help dissuade would-be totalitarians from even trying to start it. If we pass SOPA or a similar bill, we'll have the bureaucracy and will be just an election or two from censorship.

Along similar lines, see this Samizdata discussion of fence-posts:

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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Has the State Taken Possession of Our Kidneys?

If the State can tell you whether you can donate your own kidney to your own child it has taken possession of your kidneys and may decide that somebody it chooses needs them more.

The State might not be at fault this time; it is currently possible to go somewhere else. When the State sets treatment guidelines there will be no “somewhere else.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Difference between Urinegate and the Abu Ghraib Incident

The Abu Ghraib made enemy fighters less willing to surrender. Urinegate might make them less willing to fight to the death.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Iron Lady and Dwight Schrute

Virginia Postrel's review of The Iron Lady reminds me of an episode of The Office in which Dwight tries to keep Jim away from the office by reminding him of his family. Was the movie an attempt to keep conservative women out of politics? If it's successful, will it be followed by attacks on conservatives for not having women in their leadership?

Saturday, January 14, 2012


According to Andrew Stuttaford:

From the WSJ’s interview with Rick Santorum:
Mr. Santorum also believes that making babies creates wealth. It’s very difficult to grow an economy with a shrinking population, he says, pointing to the “demographic winter in Europe” as a cause of that region’s troubles.
This is somewhat akin to arguing that the United States risks starvation because there are fewer farm workers than there once were.  Times and productivity have moved on. The belief that rising per capita income (the number that counts: the overall size of the economy is a relative irrelevance) depends on population increase is an idea that technology and globalization ought to have left behind.
Why? What astounding piece of technology has made people obsolete? (If you answer “Watson,” I've already considered that.) I suspect that the older arguments for slow arguments for slow population growth are becoming less relevant. Capital investment is still important but capital can multiply faster when it consists of bits instead of atoms. Globalization might seem more relevant on the grounds that local population is less important than it used to be … but it also makes global population more important.

But wait, there's more. We also see:

Indications (pre-dating the 08/09 slump) that the American economy has been finding it increasingly difficult to generate jobs at a rate that keeps pace with the country’s growing population are a warning sign of further difficulties to come.
The “economy” is not a single Huge Thing with a limited number of jobs it can generate. It consists of human beings. (It's possible that the decline in question is due to a decline in the startup demographic.)

I won't more than mention the possibility that the total population is the important number and per capita income is merely a means to that end.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Find More Paradoxes

Maverick Philosopher (seen via Fourth Checkraise) is asking for more paradoxes of illegal immigration. I have a few:

  • The Paradox of Partial Globalization. Why would allowing imports be good when for the products of human labor but not for the humans themselves?
  • The Paradox of Part-Time Libertarianism. Why are competition-reducing regulations bad when the competitors were born in the right place but good when the competitors were born on the other side of an imaginary line?
  • The Paradox of Part-Time Opposition to Malthusian Theories. Why is increasing the population good when the new people come from the womb but not when they come from the boat?
In short, why are the mainstreams of both the right and the left on the wrong sides of this issue?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Very Real Danger of Believing Bulshytt

In the Atlantic, Ari LeVaux (seen via BoingBoing) tries to tie a recent paper on microRNA to the supposed dangers of GMOs. Apparently any recently-discovered phenomenon that hasn't been analyzed yet is regarded as dangerous until proved otherwise. (ObSF: Beowulf Schaefer's motto in Larry Niven's Known-Space series: “If you don't understand it, it's dangerous.”) There's only one minor problem: MicroRNA can be found in “natural” foods and not only in GMOs. If some of them really do turn out to be dangerous, it might even be possible to design GMOs that don't have the dangerous ones.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Update on Guns and Tex-Mex Food

Several years after I mentioned it, NCBI ROFL is treating the link between guns and spices with the seriousness it deserves.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Question about the “Santorum” Insult

I have a question about the attempt to turn the surname of Rick Santorum into a vulgar term. What's the point of it?

This won't turn us reactionaries against him. (Many of us reactionaries haven't heard of the vulgar term and most of the rest of us simply ignore it.) This won't turn the “mushy middle” against him either. (Most of them haven't heard of this yet and are likely to be put off by anybody who tries reminding them.) It might get out the vote a little on the left but most of the leftists who've heard of this are already “knee-jerk” Democrats.

There's also a possibility that this might cause a relapse of “homophobia” among people who would otherwise ignore homosexuality entirely. Another possible side effect is that middle-of-the-road people will attribute the results of Google searchers to evil “hackers” and vote for Congressbeings who support SOPA.

There's only one result of this that might benefit the left. It might discourage former leftists who have been having second thoughts from coming out. If anybody in the middle is reading this, you might try reflecting on what that attempt to censor political discourse implies about the left. Are they afraid of contrary opinions?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

More Predictions

You can find more predictions of the year 2000 (from the year 1900) here (seen via Io9). I'd count 5, 8, 9, 10, 18, 19, 21, 29 as hits … a better batting average than Robert Heinlein.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Rating Heinlein's 1952 Predictions

In 1952, Robert Heinlein made a series of predictions (my comments are in italics):

  1. Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door — C.O.D. It's yours when you pay for it.


  2. Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between the sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure.

    Hit, at least for now.

  3. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to repel an attack from outer space.


  4. It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a "preventive war." We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.

    Miss. You can quibble on the grounds that Gulf War II had not yet taken place by 2000, but it didn't take much longer.

  5. In fifteen years the housing shortage will be solved by a "breakthrough" into new technologies which will make every house now standing as obsolete as privies.

    Miss. The alleged housing shortage was solved by the prosaic means of building more homes the old-fashioned way.

  6. We'll all be getting a little hungry by and by.

    Miss (and how!)

  7. The cult of the phony in art will disappear. So-called "modern art" will be discussed only by psychiatrists.

    I regret to say this is also a miss. On the other hand, we philistines are less intimidated by artists than before.

  8. Freud will be classed as a pre-scientific, intuitive pioneer and psychoanalysis will be replaced by a growing, changing "operational psychology" based on measurement and prediction.

    Hit, mostly. Psychology is still a bit dubious … and the neurological part is particularly noted for pathetically-small samples.

  9. Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered; the revolutionary new problem in medical research will be to accomplish "regeneration," i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg, rather than fit him with an artificial limb.


  10. By the end of this century mankind will have explored this solar system, and the first ship intended to reach the nearest star will be a-building.

    Miss (sigh).

  11. Your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag. Your house telephone will record messages, answer simple inquiries, and transmit vision.

    Hit, mostly. The personal telephones are likely to answer queries and transmit vision.

  12. Intelligent life will be found on Mars.


  13. A thousand miles an hour at a cent a mile will be commonplace; short hauls will be made in evacuated subways at extreme speed.


  14. A major objective of applied physics will be to control gravity.


  15. We will not achieve a "World State" in the predictable future. Nevertheless, Communism will vanish from this planet.

    Hit, mostly. What's left of communism are nationalist governments that pay a decreasing amount of lip service to Marx.

  16. Increasing mobility will disenfranchise a majority of the population. About 1990 a constitutional amendment will do away with state lines while retaining the semblance.

    Miss, I think. State lines are gradually being erased by Federal obnoxiousness instead of a Constitutional Amendment. On the other hand, there have been some steps back from the brink, e.g., the 55 mph speed limit is back to a state matter.

  17. All aircraft will be controlled by a giant radar net run on a continent-wide basis by a multiple electronic "brain."


  18. Fish and yeast will become our principal sources of proteins. Beef will be a luxury; lamb and mutton will disappear.


  19. Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will "Civilization" be destroyed.


Four hits out of 19. That's better than Sturgeon's Law but not by much.

If we look for systematic errors, four of the misses were a matter of overestimating space travel and two of them were a matter of underestimating agriculture.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Use for the Litany of Tarski

The only possible response to this alleged pro-choice argument (from someone who was pro-life until she got pregnant) is the Litany of Tarski:

If the sky is blue
I desire to believe that the sky is blue
If the sky is not blue
I desire to believe that the sky is not blue.
The fact that someone has a motive to believe X is not any kind of argument for X. It is better to be a hypocrite than to lie to yourself.

Sometimes We Wingnuts Are Too Paranoid

I doubt if the use of an octopus metaphor implies antisemitism. That claim didn't make sense when used by the other side and it doesn't make sense now.

In any case, the first thing that comes to my mind when I see an octopus metaphor is the novel THE OCTOPUS: A Story of California by Frank Norris. Octopus metaphors are so common that there's even a blog devoted to them.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A Minor Problem with the Song “The Word of God”

There is a minor problem with the song “The Word of God” (mentioned on LessWrong): The song sets up a contrast between “Humans wrote the Bible” and “God wrote the world.” Humans are also part of the world and anything written by humans was indirectly written by God.

Yes. I will admit this applies to more than one religious tradition.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

We're Waiting

A few years ago, environmentalists claimed:

Over 4.5 Billion people could die from Global Warming-related causes by 2012
We were promised an eco-catastrophe but did we get one? Nooooo…

I'm also reminded of a line in the movie Jacob's Ladder:

According to this, you're already dead.

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