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
 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Have Trouble Taking Ebola Hysteria Seriously

Back in the 1990s, most of the hysteria (or maybe it was gloating) about Ebola came from environmentalist wackos. A claim was that such outbreaks were due to human beings moving into “new lands.” I'm not sure where the people saying that thought human beings evolved in the first place. Another common claim is that the Ebola outbreak was due to high population densities, even despite the fact in the real world, Ebola originated in a rainforest on a thinly-populated continent.

In short, the Ebola hysteria sounds too much like people trying to come up with reasons to believe the Earth goddess is fighting back against that crime against nature known as civilization.

The people hysterical about Ebola in the 1990s had a few things in common with the people hysterical about Ebola today. There's opposition to Julian Simon's theories, a self-congratulatory belief that they are paying some attention to basic science (unlike the Other Side), and bizarre, not completely debugged, religious rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Something Else to Worry About

No, it's not Ebola, ISIS, or that the three branches of the Federal government are Moe, Larry, and Curly this time. Spiders are starting to learn how to use tools. When we also recall that spiders have some of the highest ratios of brain size to body size of any creature

What does this imply about Spiderman?

Addendum: Another spider nightmare.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Caplan Criterion

Bryan Caplan recently tweeted:

.@MarkSKrikorian Good rule of thumb: If you think it's wrong to punish natives for X, I I think it's wrong to punish humans for X.
The converse might be worth applying. If it is legitimate to temporarily close off houses in response to an epidemic, it is legitimate to temporarily close off borders in response to an epidemic.

It might make sense to put a time limit on any border closings. The traditional time limit was forty days (the origin of the term “quarantine”).

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Boy Who Cried “Wolf!” and Nativists

The nativist claim that Ebola proves we MUST close our borders would be more believable if they hadn't been making the same claim for years. The nativists who cry “foreigners!” sound a lot like the boy who cried “wolf!”

On the other hand, they might have a point for once. Control of contagious disease was a traditional activity of classical liberal governments. I have seen complaints that such governments were more concerned about contagious disease than malnutrition.

On the gripping hand, there is the common problem of activity creep. Once it is considered proper for governments to intervene in epidemics, they have an incentive to consider more events to be epidemics.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Two Consequences of Malthusian Theories

According to Malthusian theories, elementary science implies that unrestricted reproduction is irresponsible. In other words, the widespread dissemination of Malthusian theories will suppress the number of people raised to believe in both what is called elementary science and responsible behavior. That, in turn, has two effects: 1) People who believe in what is called elementary science will tend to be more irresponsible. 2) People who are trying to be responsible will be skeptical of science.

This might be an explanation for both environmentalist wackos and creationists.

For the record, I hold that overpopulation overshoot is a common problem in animals but we're plants.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Obama Really Is a Marxist

Good heavens. President Obama really is a Marxist. Just overthrow capitalism and the Millennium will arrive even without establishing a dictatorship. The Obama administration is what happens when a Marxist refuses to be a dictator. In other words, things could be worse.

In other unexpected news, President Obama turned not to be an affirmative-action beneficiary.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

A Controlled Experiment

The U.S. invaded Iraq and … it's a mess.

The U.S. did not invade Syria and … it's a worse mess.

Yes. I know it's a small sample … but a sample size of two is better than a sample size of one.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Non-Human Elveshams

In “The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham” by H. G. Wells, Egbert Elvesham carried out a Grand Theft Me in which he swapped bodies with a much younger man. I've wondered about the possibility of transplanting a mind from a human body into an animal brain, preferably a large animal brain such as that of a cetacean or an elephant. That might be an interesting topic for an SF story. I don't recall if it has ever been done although the opposite took place in Beyond Humanity by Justin Lieber.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Note on the “Em” Revolution

For the past few years, Robin Hanson has been speculating on the effects of an ems, human emulating robots. One obvious possibility is that robots (who can work cheaply) will drive wages down to near zero. That might not be a problem if prices are also near zero. On the other hand, not all the components of prices come from wages; some come from land or capital. In other words, if you own a home or other large good, you had better hang on to it. Someday you might have to make ends meet renting it to the ems.

Another way to look at this is that people who are prepared need not worry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Read These Together

The following (seen via Arnold Kling) sounded quite alarming:

In 1998, about 28 percent of American men 80 and older had a functional limitation; by 2006, that figure was nearly 42 percent.
The above would have sounded even more alarming if I hadn't read the following first:
In 1976, 8.3% of students in U.S. public schools were officially disabled.  By 2010, the disabled share was up to 13%.
Maybe we're counting disability differently nowadays among both young and old. I'd like to know if the percentage of disabled pets is increasing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Note to Pajamas Media

I have no objection to sponsored email but the ads should not shout “THIS IS BULSHYTT!” They should not start off:

This Hushed-Up Cure for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer's and Cancer Has Been Censored, Banned, and Blacklisted... Until Now!
In case you were wondering the ad purports to be about telomerase, a substance so secret that it's been covered at PJ Media. Besides, the use of “natural” products by researchers is not top secret.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Argument from Authority?

The following style of argument is sometimes found and is very annoying:

The scientists in this field say X.

Wait a moment… Here's a scientist in this field who says Y.

“I think that’s called argument by authority.”

Apparently, someone saying “Science proves my side right” isn’t using an argument from authority until he/she cites a specific scientist. This is the opposite of [CITATION NEEDED]. They might even explain why some people cite a “landmark study”, but can't be bothered to give you a reference.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Suggestion on How to Handle ISIS

Maybe we can ask China for help.

Unlike many potential allies, China is interested in keeping oil prices down.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaker Wanted

If the Democratic 2012 victory was made possible by a unified central database, it should be possible for a leaker to grab a large part of it. There must be a scandal in there somewhere.

Paging James O'Keefe …

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Both Sides Can Cite This

According to The Wall Street Journal's review of The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist:

For example, the Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana—a local bank chartered in 1827—enjoyed a lucrative relationship with Baring Brothers of London, a firm that lobbied successfully to persuade the Louisiana legislature to back the association's bonds with public credit. Thus if the association failed to pay off its bonds, Louisiana's taxpayers would be liable for the debt. Baring would eventually handle some $2.5 million in bond sales for the association, marketing to clients in Britain as well as the European continent.
Both sides in the debate on whether slavery is capitalist or not can cite the above.
  • Liberals: See? I told you so. Governments bail out businesses just like capitalism.
  • Conservatives: See? I told you so. Governments bail out businesses just like liberalism.
These are all reasons to believe if you already believe

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amazing News about Philosophy

Philosophy turns out to be useful for something after all.

Now all philosophers need is rigor and sense ….

Friday, September 12, 2014

It's Programmer's Day

The 0x100th day of the year.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Meta-Analysis Needed

It looks like the most problematic social science papers in recent years have been on the topic of priming effects (example here and sarcasm there and my earlier comments yonder). This research is commonly cited by people claiming free will doesn't exist.

There's another problem field in social science: neuropsychology. It is noted for small sample sizes and being used as an excuse to disbelieve free will.

We need a meta-analysis. Is there a correlation between whether the media reports of a social-science study emphasize its supposed challenge to free will and the shoddiness of the study? Shoddiness might be measured by either the smallness of the samples or the lack of replication.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

One Way to Identify a Racist

Someone who wants to “reinforce the border” is not necessarily a racist. He/she might be excessively paranoid about rest of the world and excessively trusting of the US government (please note that a border fence, for example, can be used to keep people in and that the border controls are likely to be run by possemaniacs or sadists) but that might not be racism. It's racism when someone only wants to fortify the southern border and ignores the northern border.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Possible Scottish Independence

Who will have control over North Sea oil and gas? Could Scotland be tempted to go down the Venezuela route?

Will Scotland retain the British monarchy? Or will they insist on the heir of Bonnie Prince Charlie? Who is that, anyway?

Will this inspire similar movements in the rest of the British Isles? Will the Heptarchy return? Will East Anglia rise again? Will the same people cheering this also cheer Ulster independence? What about independence for Connacht, Leinster, and Munster?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

An Old Complaint about Reagan

Back in the 1980s, one common complaint about Reagan (typical example here) was that he was less than enthusiastic about enforcing laws that he wanted Congress to repeal. We see an echo of that today in conservative complaints about Obama's lack of enthusiasm for enforcing immigration laws.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

How to Be Beheaded

If you're about to be beheaded, please don't be meek about it; that's unlikely to save you. Margaret Pole can be a role model:

She was dragged to the block and, as she refused to lay her head on it, was forced down. As she struggled, the inexperienced executioner's first blow made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. Ten additional blows were required to complete the execution. A probably apocryphal account states that she leapt from the block after the first clumsy blow and ran, pursued by the executioner, being struck several times before she died.
Alternative possibility: Have a bomb in your belly (ObSF: “If This Goes On…” by Robert Heinlein) set to go off if you're decapitated and your heart stops.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Radical Immigrants to Minnesota Raise Their Children to Overthrow the US

It's time to deport the Finns.

On the other hand, many of them went to their idea of a Promised Land.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Douglas Adams, Enormous Integers, and Infinity

John Baez's discussion of enormous integers and infinity:

Here’s a puzzle due to the logician Harvey Friedman. It too has an unexpected answer.

Say you have a finite alphabet to write with. How long can a word be if no block of letters in this word, from the nth letter to the 2nth, is allowed to appear as a subsequence of a bigger block from the mth letter to the 2mth?

If you have just one letter, this is the longest it can be:

AAA

If you have two, this is the longest it can be:

ABBBAAAAAAA

Puzzle: How long can the word be if you have three letters in your alphabet?

Friedman showed there’s still a finite upper bound on how long it can be. But, he showed it’s incomprehensibly huge!

Now Friedman is one of the world’s experts on large cardinals—large infinite numbers. So when he says a finite number is incomprehensibly huge, you sit up and listen. It’s like seeing a seasoned tiger hunter running through the jungle with his shotgun, yelling “Help! It’s a giant ant!”

reminded me of the following Douglas Adams quote:

The car shot forward into the circle of light, and suddenly Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.

It wasn't infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity—distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, but it was just very very big, so big that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

I'm reminded of the saying “This is not mathematics. This is theology.” (about the more abstract parts of mathematics).

Monday, September 01, 2014

“Can” vs. “May”: The Difference is Important

Leftists are opposed to Uber, etc. because of the following simple syllogism:

  1. Under laissez-faire capitalism, businesses can do anything they want.
  2. Businesses want to suppress competition.
  3. Laissez-faire capitalism will thus lead to monopoly.
They went wrong at just one word: They think laissez faire means “businesses can do anything they want” instead of “businesses may do anything they want.” I suspect some of them simply do not know there is a difference.

On the other hand, according to stereotype, English majors are more likely to be leftists. Shouldn't they, of all people, know the difference?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Few Questions about Integrative Complexity

According to social scientists (slight pause for laughter) investigating “Integrative Complexity,” lack of Integrative Complexity can cause violent conflict. I have a few questions:

  1. Has this been checked by people who were not already fans of Integrative Complexity?
  2. Has anybody predicted a future conflict by this technique? Or has it only been used to “predict” the past?
  3. Is my earlier post on Integrative Complexity correct?
  4. Does the Moral Foundations theory mean conservatives have more Integrative Complexity than liberals? Or do liberals hold a copyright on Integrative Complexity?
  5. Do the supposed contradictions of the Bible (e.g, between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5) actually mean it is Integratively Complex?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Are Immigrants Government Agents?

I recently realized that conservatives seem to be more accepting of a relaxed policy on immigration when there's a Republican President. In my humble opinion, this makes absolutely no sense. Wouldn't it make more sense to support government activity when one of yours in charge of the government? The only way this even comes close to making sense is if you either assume that immigrants are government agents or if you assume that immigration is a matter of people being forced into the US at gunpoint. (The latter was public policy prior to 1808, so it's only 99% absurd instead of 100% absurd.) Can anybody else explain this?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Odd Thought about ISIS and Hamas

They don't have a well-known charismatic leader on top. I suppose the deaths of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muammar Gaddafi had an effect. The people in charge are keeping a low profile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does Kennewick Man Disrupt the “Narrative”?

Contrary to many of Instapundit's commenters, I doubt if Kennewick Man will disrupt the “Narrative.” Even if the ancestors of Native Americans pushed Kennewick Man's relatives “into the sea,” the Enlightened Ones will still think the Native Americans are the proper owners of America. If you get to a place by land, you are thought to have a right to stay there and possibly even take it over. If you get to a place by water, you don't. (I've mentioned this before.)

For example, Mexicans get to the United States by land so they must be defended; Cuban refugees get to the United States by water so they must get sent back. Israelis of European descent, Protestant Ulstermen, or white Rhodesians got to Israel, Ulster, or Rhodesia by water so they're regarded as illegitimate. Arabs invaded Palestine/Israel by land so that it is regarded as legitimate. Most Europeans colonial empires were established by naval conquest and are regarded as illegitimate but Russia's colonial empire in Siberia was established by land is thus legitimate. (Trying to identify who came up with this distinction will be left as an exercise for the reader.)

In the present controversy, the ancestors of Native Americans arrived by walking across Beringia, which means they have a right to be here whether or not they were first. Kennewick Man's relatives arrived by water so they don't. It's as simple as that.

Addendum: Atlantean/Hyperborean?

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Told You So

A few years ago, I said:

If a powerful nation gets a reputation of supporting any dictator who might be likely to be overthrown by a totalitarian movement (for the purposes of this discussion it doesn't matter if said movement is communist, religious, or racist), then dictators have an incentive to prop up such movements.
This weekend we see:

Earlier in the three-year-old Syrian uprising, Mr. Assad decided to mostly avoid fighting the Islamic State to enable it to cannibalize the more secular rebel group supported by the West, the Free Syrian Army, said Izzat Shahbandar, an Assad ally and former Iraqi lawmaker who was Baghdad's liaison to Damascus. The goal, he said, was to force the world to choose between the regime and extremists.

 
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