Fuzzy little things that I find interesting.

Political musings from someone who thinks the S-D curve is more important to politics than politicians.

My answer to a question on Reddit

Is America to you more of a political/ideological concept, or is it a strictly defined nation?

Ours is a nation unlike most others that are organized on the basis of a common people sharing a single common culture and a single language who comes into possession of a territory and which projects its cultural norms through force of law.

Ours is a nation organized ultimately on a founding philosophy of the freedom of man and a political creed that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Because we are founded on a philosophical principle rather than on a common culture sharing a common religion and a common language, there is no reason that anyone, no matter where they were born, cannot become an American–since all that requires is moving here and belief in our founding creed. There is also no reason why we couldn’t admit every nation on the face of the planet as a state in the United States–note that admission would require that each admitted nation be reorganized as a Republic subject to strict voting oversight and strict adherence to the restrictions imposed by our Constitution. Restrictions that are intended to make our states more efficient in protecting the freedoms of its citizens.

There is, more importantly, no reason why the rest of the world can’t adopt our founding creed–replacing whatever cultural norms and cultural ideals that make the bedrock of that nation with a fundamental belief in the Freedom of Man, adopting similar notions to the Lockean ideal of the Pursuit of Happiness and an understanding that all Men are created equal regardless of the circumstance of their birth or the environment in which they live.

I don’t mean the rest of the world should become American. But if the rest of the world were to recognize–to the degree American civic philosophy recognizes–that freedom of personal choice to act as we will, believe as we will, speak as we will and create as we will unfettered by the limitations of those who may disapprove is the only true way to do justice to the full potential of every individual (to borrow a line from Star Trek)–then there would be no need for America as a “shining city on the hill,” and America could recede into the company of nations as one amongst many, unremarkable except that our history got us here first.

Secretly, I suspect most Americans actually wish for this.

Unfortunately there are too many people who believe that this sort of individual freedom is dangerous to a national community–that if you wear a hijab or worship in a synagog or believe in the flying spaghetti monster makes you a danger to the Body Politic.

And there are too many people who believe individual freedom stands in opposition to Progress–that either defending the rights of man is an anarchism or worse–that the “rights of man” should include every pampering swaddling idea anyone has ever come up with, essentially denying us of agency, as the State “takes care” of us, and flushing centuries of philosophy centered around personal self-development down the toilet.

So I don’t think America is in any danger in my lifetime of being “out-freedomed” by any other nation, since few nations have politicians who have truly cracked Locke or Hume or Smith or Rousseau.

But I believe, barring a devastating war or massive disease, the arc of history around the world has been towards greater personal freedom and greater economic freedom. So I believe sometime in the next hundred to a thousand years, the vast majority of the world will adopt principles similar to ours–and the notion that every man should be completely and totally free to choose how to live, what to believe, how to dress, what they say, what they create, how they work, what they buy, where they live and who they love will seem completely natural and the only sensible way to organize a planet.


Isn’t this how “Black Mirror” started?

AI Just Learned How To Boost The Brain’s Memory

But if we can’t grok our own brains, maybe the machines can do it for us. In the latest issue of Nature Communications, researchers led by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Michael Kahana show that machine learning algorithms—notoriously inscrutable systems themselves—can be used to decode and then enhance human memory. How? By triggering the delivery of precisely timed pulses of electricity to the brain.

And then you find yourself in a recliner looking at a virtual view screen showing the contents of a small stuffed monkey’s eyes, and two buttons: one with a smily face, and one with a frown.

And then he makes the same mistake he bitches about for nearly 18 paragraphs.

Why I barely read SF these days

Now, what’s my problem with contemporary science fiction?

Simply put, plausible world-building in the twenty-first century is incredibly hard work. (One synonym for “plausible” in this sense is “internally consistent”.) A lot of authors seem to have responded to this by jetisoning consistency and abandoning any pretense at plausibility: it’s just too hard, and they want to focus on the characters or the exciting plot elements and get to the explosions without bothering to nerdishly wonder if the explosives are survivable by their protagonists at this particular range. To a generation raised on movie and TV special effects, plausible internal consistency is generally less of a priority than spectacle.

When George Lucas was choreographing the dogfights in “Star Wars”, he took his visual references from film of first world war dogfights over the trenches in western Europe. With aircraft flying at 100-200 km/h in large formations, the cinema screen could frame multiple aircraft maneuvering in proximity, close enough to be visually distinguishable. The second world war wasn’t cinematic: with aircraft engaging at speeds of 400-800 km/h, the cinematographer would have had a choice between framing dots dancing in the distance, or zooming in on one or two aircraft. … which is why in Independence Day we see vast formations of F/A-18s (a supersonic jet) maneuvering as if they’re Sopwith Camels.

All valid points: the current images we use to show space battles or air battles make no physical sense, asteroid belts are a hell of a lot more sparse than depicted, the internal consistency of modern “science fiction” often sacrifices the “science” in order to get to the “fiction”–and even scuttle internal consistency to tell a personal story.

And yet…

… Alienated labour as we know it today, distinct from identity, didn’t exist in its current form before the industrial revolution. …

(Eye-roll) Really? So the specialized economies of Rome and Egypt, and even the specialized economies of the Chumash Indians where boat carving was segregated from hunters or gathers or other tool makers–all that was just fucking chopped liver? No elders, no tribal leaders, no Senators, no stratified social classes, until the fucking Industrial Revolution?

(Hangs head.)

Similarly, if I was to choose a candidate for the great clomping foot of nerdism afflicting fiction today, I’d pick late-period capitalism, the piss-polluted sea we fish are doomed to swim in.

*sigh* Yeah, things suck so much more now than they did for my Native American ancestors, living to the ripe age of 50 if they were lucky, living in the dirt without technology, hoping to have enough food stored up to survive the winter while living mean lives of poverty.

I’m sorry, but this Marxist drivel is just fucking pathetic.

It seems inevitable but it’s a relatively recent development in historic terms, and it’s clearly not sustainable in the long term. However, trying to visualize a world without it is surprisingly difficult.

Perhaps it’s hard to imagine a world without capitalism, because at some sense, small-‘C’ capitalism (where individuals with specialized jobs use a medium of exchange to regulate trade) has existed since the last mother-fucking ice age? I mean, what the fuck does this moron think the Sumarians were recording on those cuneiform tablets some 5,000 years ago? Quite a few of them contain accounting records, trade records, and one even contains a customer service complaint, with a trader complaining about the quality of the copper he received in 1750 BCE.

So perhaps its difficult because at some fundamental level, trade and capitalism of some form is as inevitable as the sparsely populated asteroid field?

There is a reason why Star Trek economics is so… sad. And poorly thought out. After all, how does a species which has forgone monetary based economics engage in trade? Are all trade treaties in Star Trek basically large scales of “we’ll trade you 500 cows for 2,000 chickens?”

What kind of pathetic world-building is this?

Yes, world building is damned hard. It requires a lot of rather deep thinking, and a lot of people don’t seem to be willing to do the work–or even question their own assumptions.

But the same thing that applies to asteroid fields or framing dog fights with supersonic aircraft also applies to the field of economics.

In fact, I’d suggest it applies even more so to economics than to other fields of endeavor, since economics describes, in essence, the way we humans behave in a world of finite supply and infinite desire.

And sweeping all that away with some form of “Space Communism”, or trying to think through an idealistic Utopia (I’m looking at you, United Federation of Planets) is the worst sort of world building, because it presumes “human beings” whose fundamental motivations are so radically different than ours, we may as well be reading science fiction where the primary characters are all ants.

After all, economics is what happens when people want more than we can have. And we’ll always want more than we can have, if only because there are only so many stars in the heavens, and only so much ground on the Earth, and we’ll always want more than our neighbor, even if our neighbor has way more than we can presently imagine.

Well, Marxism “infected” other fields of study, which required such silliness as ideologically correct mathematics…

By the way, I’m not joking about ideologically correct mathematics which is mathematics that properly places the Hegelian dichotomy between the material and the abstract, demanding a proper synthesis that avoids the “contradictions” observed by Engels. And that leads us to insufferable bits of bullshit like this:

The inability of traditional mathematics to deal with qualitative as opposed to merely quantitative change represents a severe limitation. Within certain limits, it can suffice. But when gradual quantitative change suddenly breaks down, and becomes “chaotic,” to use the current expression, the linear equations of classical mathematics no longer suffice. This is the starting point for the new non-linear mathematics, pioneered by Benoit Mandelbrot, Edward Lorenz and Mitchell Feigenbaum. Without realising it, they were following in the footsteps of Hegel, whose nodal line of measurement expresses the very same idea, which is central to dialectics.

It’s why engineers in the former Soviet Union found themselves at odds with political officers who enforced the strict Marxist-Leninist framework that was the supposed source of all objective and philosophical truth.

Think that sort of amazing bit of intellectual bullshit can’t happen in the United States?

Think again, comrade:

Scholars Suggest Women’s Studies Students Should ‘Infect’ Other Fields of Study

Two academics at the Arizona State University authored an academic article arguing that students of women’s studies should “serve as symbolic ‘viruses’” in order to “infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.”

The article, published in Géneros: Multidisciplinary Journal on Gender Studies and titled “Women’s Studies as Virus: Institutional Feminism and the Projection of Danger,” was authored by Arizona State University women’s studies professor Breanne Fahs and Arizona State graduate student Michael Karger.

The paper “theorizes that one future pedagogical priority of women’s studies is to train students not only to master a body of knowledge but also to serve as symbolic ‘viruses’ that infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.”

“While this metaphor works imperfectly—we do not advocate the killing of the host, for example,” the authors write, “it situates women’s studies as an insurrectionary field and extends its already ‘dangerous’ status in compelling ways.”

“We do not advocate the killing of the host.”

Famous last words.

There’s your problem right there.

Thoughts on Challenging the Climate Orthodoxy

The most important answer is that what the “experts” are saying and what the media and the general public are saying the experts are saying is completely different. There is a bait and switch going on, where the majority (though maybe not the most vocal) of the experts are very careful and conservative (little c) in their claims, but they are portrayed as being all-in en masse on the most outrageous and spectacular of the claims by activists.

More importantly, it is clear that the public message of global warming (of major impending disasters ranging from crime rates (murder, rape, robbery) to soar to the start of the Syrian civil war) differs from the more conservative claims being made by the scientists themselves. Worse, we are being sold a range of unscientific “tipping-point” disasters, ranging from the Arctic sea melting to sea level rises. “Tipping points” are inherently unscientific because they require the presumption that at some point in the future we will see a previously unobserved event which cannot be reversed. Remember: science is about observation–so any pronouncement of an unobserved event based on an untested hypothesis is not a scientific theory by definition.

And it is very clear from the public message (rather than the scientific journals on climate) that as we caused global warming, we must combat global warming–and do so with a wide variety of large scale political changes ranging from giving up single-unit family homes to changing our diet to giving up children (by law if necessary). On the economic front, activists suggests economic freedom is causing climate change, so we must curtail economic expansion and restrict economic choice in order to achieve some sort of climate-driven social justice.

Beyond that, it’s clear that in some corners, we can only fight global warming through abolishing capitalism itself. For every article suggesting that “conservatives are paranoid to think global warming is a trojan horse”, there are dozens suggesting that capitalism is indeed the problem and must be curtailed. (And even the alternet.org story goes on to suggest that while conservatives are paranoid, we can only fight global warming “radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their ‘free market’ belief system.”)

That is, global warming (today, “climate change”, because we just received a record-breaking snowfall in Raleigh just a few days ago) is being sold by activists to the public more than a scientific curiosity that may have implications on future development patterns.

It is being sold as an existential threat to our very existence.

And anyone who suggests otherwise–either suggesting that perhaps temperature trends are not what is being reported, or by suggesting that while global warming is indeed taking place and is indeed man-made, the ramifications are not as bad as reported–are being called “deniers” (with echoes of Holocaust Denial).

God help you if you point out that if you follow the discussions of some observations on economic expansion (see map at link), you can’t help but notice that the ares in deepest red, the areas which may have the largest effect on future global warming, the areas where we may just have to impose economic restrictions in order to ‘save the world’–are all areas where people happen to have darker skin color than those who are the strongest believers in the “global warming as social justice” orthodoxy.

In that gap between what the experts are actually saying in scientific papers (and in the debate over the data being presented), and what the media, the politicians and the activists are saying (in their desire to craft legislation that seeks to fight global warming by massively altering how we live our lives–though never theirs; they never want to cut their own lifestyles–comes doubt.

Not doubt that the climate is changing. But doubt in the package of solutions being sold to us as a cure to global warming–a package of solutions that look a lot less like trying to heal the planet, and a lot more like giving up power to a handful of technocrats while we all become apartment dwelling childless vegetarians, giving up on dreams of a quiet home in the suburbs with two kids, a car in the garage, and a steak on the barbecue in the back.

Because you don’t hate Mother Gaia, do you?

Brevity is the soul of wit.

A recent scientific paper with a one-word abstract:



A dusting of snow can even make a utility shed look pretty.

It’s a trap!

If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this contains spoilers. You may wish to stop.

‘The Last Jedi’ Ending Almost Cut the Mysterious Broom Boy”

Ultimately, though, he stuck with Broom Boy. With this final moment, Johnson is expanding the Star Wars universe in a clever, concise way. As he says in the quote above, “we now have a galaxy that has seen this beacon of hope and is getting inspired to fight the good fight.”

That said, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before there is an entire spin-off comic book about Broom Boy, and his many sweeping adventures.

Do you know why “Broom Boy” as the person at the very last scene worked?

Because he represented the idea of hope: the hope of a young boy (or girl) looking up at the stars and seeing all the potential of the universe. He’s the younger version of us: of when we were young and we daydreamed of distant shores, and had all the potential in the world in front of us. And he’s special–but special in a way which we all can be, if we just stop paying attention to how we grab the broom.

Which is why I think it would be a serious mistake to develop him as a character in the Star Wars universe.

Because when he stops being that “every child with a dream” and becomes a specific person with specific powers and specific adventures–he stops representing that hope and those dreams of all of us.

And he becomes special–separate from you and I, no longer representing our hope and dreams. And his power stops being the power of faith and becomes a high midichlorian count: a genetic aberration which makes him one of the “chosen few”, a Bodhisattva by right of birth rather than what we all can become if we just believed.

Bad User Interfaces

Hawaii missile alert: How one employee ‘pushed the wrong button’ and caused a wave of panic

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert.

Well, there’s your problem right there.

Can we require more user interface designers to read Designing with the Mind in Mind before building interfaces like this one?

Raleigh has some great restaurants.

It’s that time of year when Raleigh holds “restaurant week”, when participating restaurants create a fixed-priced “taste” menu so you can try out new restaurants.

It’s how we found Irregardless Cafe.

I’m amazed at just how many good restaurants Raleigh has. (And those are just the participating restaurants; Raleigh has more than just these.)