Natura non facit saltus
Debunking the Paradigm Shifters
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Sunday, Nov 30, 2003
John sends this story about how LED light bulbs will obsolete the incandescent bulb.
It sounds great, and it will probably eventually happen, but LED bulbs are still to expensive and may be for another 10 years. In the meantime, it is the compact fluorescent bulbs that are gaining market. In California they are cheap because they are subsidized by the power companies. They use ordinary bulb sockets and come on instantly.
CBS is finally broadcasting The Reagans on Showtime, and the NY Times complains that CBS is not showing it more widely. Its TV reviewer seems to think that conservatives overreacted to the script, and then CBS overreacted to the criticism.
The script had Reagan declaring, "I am the Anti-Christ". That sounds fair to the average NY Times Reagan-hater, I guess. That line was probably dropped from the Showtime version, but the show is still a hatchet job.
The reviewer tries to defend the show by saying things like, "Mr. Reagan did not grasp the scale of the [AIDS] epidemic." I think that this is very unlikely. Nearly all 1980s estimates of the future AIDS death toll were grossly exaggerated. It is virtually certain that Reagan was briefed on AIDS and was told that the AIDS epidemic would be much greater than it actually turned out to be. If Reagan was skeptical about the magnitude of those estimates, then he is smarter than a lot of scientists.
Friday, Nov 28, 2003
I keep running across people who think that Al Gore lost the presidential election while winning the popular vote, and was the only one in modern times to do that.
Gore needed more than 50% of the popular vote to win it; he got 48%. Clinton won the 1992 and 1996 elections without winning the popular vote. J. F. Kennedy won the 1960 election without even getting a plurality of the popular vote. (It is widely misreported that Kennedy got more popular votes than Nixon in 1960. The only way to do a count and have Kennedy ahead, is to count all the Harry F. Byrd votes as votes for Kennedy. But they were not votes for Kennedy, and Byrd got his own electoral votes. For some explanation, see this.)
Rove's antics get goofier and goofier, this time with a surprise Bush visit to Baghdad. What's next skydiving into Jerusalem? The last PR stunt of Bush flying a jet is now being used in Democratic ads against him.Bush lost 4 states in 2000 by margins smaller than Buchanan's votes. Bush can certainly hope to win those 4 states.
I think you mean "dream" rather than "hope". Wisconsin is a state that Bush lost by less than Buchanan's votes. But Nader won 4% there! Bush doesn't have any chance of winning Wisconsin in 2004.John responds:
I don't know what planet Andy is coming from with his rants against Bush and predictions of defeat. I say you can put a fork in it as things look now, Bush's reelection by a comfortable margin is virtually assured.Andy responds:
I'd like to see John describe which new states he thinks Bush will win, and how many people who voted for Gore or Nader in 2000 will admit they were wrong and vote for Bush this time. Also, how does John explain the lastest poll that I saw, which said 47% favored Bush's reelection but 48% did not?
Here is another stupid anti-semitism charge. This time the offensive term is rich Jew.
Illegal to trap a mouse
I didn't realize that California (under Gray Davis) passed a law banning use of a mousetrap, unless one has a license. A license costs $78.50 and requires meeting a "complex test".
The Dept. of Food and Game says:
"We're not enforcing this for personal use," said Paulson, who then added that, because of the force of law, the statute must be enforced for commercial use.
Wednesday, Nov 26, 2003
Google rank problems
Google is manipulating its search results again. Google's claim to superior searching has always been its Page Rank algorithm. But it doesn't work because vendors are able to boost their rankings by creating artificial links. See NY Times, or SearchEngineGuide.com.
Also, SCO may sue Google for using Linux without a Unix license.
Everyone in Silicon Valley is hoping that the Google IPO will energize venture capital investment, as the Netscape IPO did in the mid-1990s.
Google's foes have a much firmer hold on customers, argues Seth Godin, a well-known Internet consultant and editor of last summer's widely distributed online book What Should Google Do? Competitors have troves of personal information about users that they draw on to customize products, ads, and servicesconsider the way My Yahoo brings you information on everything from your portfolio to fixing your house.
Bernie Goetz has gone soft
He doesn't carry a gun anymore, and promotes vegetarianism instead! (I don't think that this interview is a joke, but it is hard to tell with PETA enthusiasts.)
Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
The WSJ had a Nov. 20 article on how Chinese automobile drivers are the worst in the world. The "highly motorized countries" have 60% of the world's vehicles but only 14% of the deaths from car accidents. Asian countries have 44% of the world's traffic accident deaths with only 16% of the vehicles. No data on Chinese drivers in the USA.
This Australian survey claims that blondes have the fewest accidents. It was based on "who described themselves as blonde", so it is not clear if they just had blonde hair, or if they were blonde according to my dictionary definition, which is "Being or having light colored skin and hair and usually blue or gray eyes".
Monday, Nov 24, 2003
Stem cell research
Bob recommends this Weissman interview promoting US support for stem cell research.
I find the attitudes of scientists like Weissman annoying. He makes a trip to Washington and lobbies for research grants to support his pet projects. If the politicians do not buy his pitch, he derisively puts them down as either ignorant or playing politics.
Did you read it? Here is a guy who isn't a Bush hater, whose science is impeccable, and has a clear explanation of the immediate benefits of nuclear transplantation.Yes, I doubt that Frist was ignorant of any relevant facts. Weissman said:
I talked to Senator Bill Frist, a trained scientist physician, who was in the field of transplantation and as I went through three of the four arguments, the ones that I told you, like my biomedical colleagues, he had not heard previously or understood the kinds of concrete and important medical research opportunities that would be lost.So Weissman told Frist his speculations about future research opportunities, and Frist did not already share those speculations. For that, Frist is ignorant?!
Weissman argues that in supporting those who want to ban all nuclear transplantation Bush is either ignorant of the scientific facts about nuclear transplantation as Frist was or "that the President is going to make a purely politically decision". Weissman is giving Bush the benefit of the doubt in assuming that he is ignorant.The interested parties include scientists who want to do stem cell research, taxpayers being asked to pay for it, religious groups who have moral and ethical problems with cloning, people who may potentially benefit from the research, drug companies who want to develop commercial products, and others. Bush's job, as an elected official, is to make a political decision that balances those interests, as well as the law, the budget, and other factors. Why would anyone complain that Bush is making a political decision?
It is his job to make political decisions all day long! Those politicians who support stem cell research are also making a political decision in favor of certain constituencies.
Only an arrogant scientist like Weissman would present such stupid arguments.
It is indeed the job of President Bush to make political decisions. In addition to political decisions it is Bush's job to make decisions which we all hope are beyond politics. The issues that the consensus places above politics are often life and death decisions such as war, but include issues of justice and the common good. Mr. Clinton was rightly criticized for politicizing Presidential pardons because we all believe that the Presidential pardon power is reserved for insuring that justice is done. Similar criticism is due Mr. Clinton for not allowing stem cell research and his lack of action against terrorism and Saddam Hussein both for political reasons.
Patenting a number
This news article is satire:
In a move that has surprised naïve observers, the US Patent Office has announced that from now on it will consider ‘serious’ applications to patent specific integer numbers.The author obviously didn't realize that the Patent Office has already allowed patents on specific integer numbers. As reported in Scientific American in 1995:
Roger Schlafly has just succeeded in doing something no other mathematician has ever done: he has patented a number.Here is another joke article about Microsoft patenting zeros and ones.
Sunday, Nov 23, 2003
Quantum computation may be impossible
A lot of people seem to think that quantum computers will eventually be built, and they execute super-polynomial algorithms in polynomial time. This paper explains how such computers depend on features of quantum mechanics that have never been tested, and we really don't know whether quantum computation is possible or not.
Saturday, Nov 22, 2003
Science has finally explained the British accent -- it is caused by brain damage! An American woman who had never been to Britain suffered brain damage, and now talks with a strong British accent.
Friday, Nov 21, 2003
Dinosaurs in the Ice Age?
I am trying to figure out this headline in today's San Jose paper:
Meteor hit Earth ages ago, study saysThere have been many ice ages. The vast majority of the known ice ages occurred in the last 4 million years, after N. America became connected with S. America. (It is thought that blocking the Central American ocean currents made the Earth's climate unstable.) When people refer to the Ice Age, they usually mean the last one that peaked 20,000 years ago.
But the headline writer seems to think that the dinosaurs were wiped out during the last ice age. The woolly mammoths and the saber tooth tigers did go extinct then, but the dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago, and there was probably no permanent ice on Earth at that time. I think that he is a little mixed up.
BTW, just because a meteor impact coincided with a mass extinction, it doesn't necessarily follow that the meteor was the cause. There have been three great mass extinctions in Earth history, and each is believed to have been accompanied by a giant meteor impact. But each is also thought to have been accompanied by a range of volcanic blasts that may have been as violent as the meteor impact. Maybe the volcanoes causes the mass extinctions. (The obvious hypothesis that the meteors causes the volcanis eruptions has been rejected by geologists.)
Foreigners taking US jobs
John sends this LA Times story on a National Science Foundation study on how science and engineering jobs are shifting to foreigners:
The percentage of college-educated scientists and engineers who are working in the U.S. but were born elsewhere jumped from 14% in 1990 to 22% in 2000, a foundation study of workforce trends reported.This much should be obvious. We have had a national policy of importing foreign scientists and engineers in order to replace white men and depress wages. Unemployment of American scientists and engineers is consequently higher than it has ever been. "Young people simply aren't being attracted by these careers."
So what does this committee of academics recommend? Continue to import more foreign workers and pay more federal subsidies to US college students to pursue science and engineering careers!
This is crazy. People who opt out of science and engineering are rationally responding to the market. The jobs are mostly going to low-paid immigrants. Trying to trick students into ignoring the market pressures will only increase the unemployment rate (if successful). The study authors are nearly all employed by universities, and what they really want is an excuse for the feds to grant additional subsidies to universities.
John writes that he is convinced by this argument that the current Medicare bill is actually good for conservatives who don't want a complete federal takeover of the medical sector.
Thursday, Nov 20, 2003
Most of the commonly-given arguments for and against gay marriage are pretty weak. But people ought to at least get some terminology and facts straight.
A new Pew poll says Religious Beliefs Underpin Opposition to Homosexuality. But the poll questions don't really involve opposition to homosexuality. My dictionary defines:
homosexuality -- A sexual attraction to (or sexual relations with) persons of the same sexBut of course none of the questions really asked whether anyone was opposed to anyone having same-sex attractions. Instead, it asked questions like these:
Q.17 Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?These questions are loaded for several reasons. First, there is considerable public doubt about whether the term "gay" means someone with a particular inborn sexual orientation, or describes a behavior choice. Other poll questions show that the public is sharply divided on the question.
Second, whatever your definition of "gay", it is a fact that gays are allowed to marry. Gay men marry women all the time, and no one objects. Well, maybe the wife objects, if she doesn't know he is gay, but no one objects to their legal right to marry. It seems theoretically possible that a "gay gene" might be discovered, and the state might force a gay gene test to get a marriage license for the purpose of forbidding gays from marrying, but no one is advocating that.
Third, marriage is defined by both religion and government. Many people get married only within their church, and only bother to satisfy the requirements of the church. They never get an official govt marriage license, and the state recognizes their marriage anyway. If you ask them about gays being allowed to marry, their first thoughts would be about whether their church permits it.
The poll could have asked the question in a more straightforward and neutral way with, "Should the state recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex?".
Tuesday, Nov 18, 2003
Anti-ERA forces proved prescient
Volokh says on his blog says that ERA foes in the 1970s were widely accused of using emotional scare tactics about the legal effects of ERA, and have been proven correct by later court actions.
Then he says:
I don't think the coalition that supported the ERA knew that it would be helping resolve the gay marriage question; had they known this, they should presumably have carved out an exception for this. It may also have been worthwhile to carve out exemptions, perhaps to specifically protect certain privacy rights, protect girls-only sports teams, and possibly allow the exclusion of women from combat, though that's a very tough question.I think that Volokh is wrong about this; the ERA promoters would not have agreed to any such exceptions. They would say that there can be no compromise on equal rights, and that the courts would not mandate homosexual marriage until the public was ready for it. They wanted to achieve social change thru the courts, and did not want to pass separate laws for putting women in combat and authorizing homosexual marriage.
As Volokh points out, Mass. passed a state ERA in 1976 with promises that it would not approve homosexual marriage. But the court said that it was ignoring the intent of the law, and believes that the constitution must be adapted to "changing circumstances and new societal phenomena".
Sunday, Nov 16, 2003
More faulty sex science
It is standard dogma that the criminal recidivism rate is highest, by far, among sex offenders. Such factoids are commonly used to justify long sentences, creating new punishments for released offenders, maintaining permanent registries of convicted sex offenders, etc. But I have never seen any scientific justification for the claim.
Now a study shows that just the opposite is true:
The Justice Department study of 9,691 men convicted of rape, sexual assault and child molestation who were released in 1994 found 43 percent were arrested for any type of crime within three years, compared with 68 percent for all other former inmates.If the convicted sex offenders are not such a threat, then laws like Megan's Law need to be rethought. Many people on those lists have only been convicted of very minor offenses, and they deserve a chance to lead normal lives. I'd rather find out about the serious violent criminals in the neighborhood.
I also don't agree with locking up sex offenders beyond their sentences because of what they might do, as they do in NY and elsewhere. The secret opinion of a govt psychiatrist should not be enough to keep someone in jail who would otherwise be free.
Saturday, Nov 15, 2003
I just turned on Kazaa Lite, and all anyone wants is my copy of the Paris Hilton video.
Thursday, Nov 13, 2003
Make your own machine gun
The liberal 9C appellate court decided that the feds cannot punish homemade noncommercial child porn, because it has no jurisdiction under the interstate commerce clause. So, following the same logic, it just decided homemade machine guns are legal also.
No foreign language
San Diego State Univ is dropping the word foreign because:
The term 'foreign' has been used to designate something alien and is as ethnocentric and inappropriate as using 'oriental' to designate a person of Asian descent.I agree with that statement, but what's the problem?
Costa Rica schools are better?
I just talked to my local school district about how they place incoming students in elementary school. Apparently they often place kids by age, but it is sometimes difficult when students come in from overseas. She said Costa Rican students are far ahead of American students!
Wednesday, Nov 12, 2003
No free speech in England
A bishop faces criminal prosecution for saying:
Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject - that's in the area of psychiatric health.The politically correct view is to say that no such reorientation is possible. But Columbia Univ. psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer has studied this question, and found 200 such successful reorientations. Here are his slides.
Indeed, I am not sure that there is any scientific proof that there is such a thing as homosexual orientation. It has never been observed in the animal world.
Homosexuality has been observed in animals. Since it is genetic, it is completely hopeless to change. It is offensive to even suggest that it can be changed, because that implies that gays should change their very nature in order to conform to the straight society.Homosexual behavior has been observed in animals, but never in preference to heterosexual behavior, and never as a sexual orientation.
The politically correct dogma is to say that it is a scientific fact that homosexuality is an orientation and not a preference, that homosexuality is inborn and normal, and that homosexuality cannot be changed. There is no scientific proof of any of these things. Attempts to prove them, such as by looking for a "gay gene", have all failed.
The extent to which people should conform to the straight society is a political question. If you hear someone claim that it is a scientific fact that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable, then ask to see the scientific paper which proved it. It doesn't exist.
Best guy movies
Men's Journal has a list of the best guy movies. The Deer Hunter was eliminated because it had Meryl Streep in it. No movie with Meryl Streep can be on a guy movie list.
Rev. Banana dies
This Reuters/NYTimes story sounds like a joke. The Rev. Banana suffered a damaged image when he was convicted of committing sodomy while he was president of Zimbabwe, which is euphemistically called "post-independence".
Before 1980, Zimbabwe was ostracized for its white minority govt. But today it is under black tyrannical rule, and people are starving.
Spot the fakes
I thought that this Playboy quiz was performing a valuable public service. But the Playboy.com server just returns random results! Very annoying.
Tuesday, Nov 11, 2003
John says you can't joke about illegal aliens, and sends this LA Times story about employees of a Monterey County government department having to receive racial sensitivity training. It says they circulated an anti-immigrant cartoon, that you can view here.
As you can see, it is not a cartoon, and it is not anti-immigrant either. It is a parody of the new California drivers license for illegal aliens. Lawful immigrants were already able to get drivers licenses.
Part of the humor of thee Mexifornia drivers license is that it shows a picture of a Mexican actor in the 1948 western movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He impersonates a policeman, but when asked for ID, he says, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!". Listen to it here. It has become the battle cry of people who resent having to show ID.
Here is a good list of the ten most overpaid jobs in the U.S.
Sunday, Nov 09, 2003
Most of the American hepatitis (HBV) comes from Asian immigrants, and it is then spread to others with unsafe sexual practices. But how are all those Chinese people getting it, as China is not known for high promiscuity? From this WHO study, they may be getting it from vaccines!
Forty per cent of all the health injections given globally in 2000 were performed with reused needles, according to a World Health Organization study. In some countries, three out of four injections were unsafe.
Friday, Nov 07, 2003
Calif. Atty Gen. Lockyer says he voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but now he wants to run against Arnold in 2006 and in the meantime he is going to do his best to smear Arnold with hearsay about criminal allegations. Lockyer claims to have personal knowledge of Arnold's groping, but he doesn't know who the alleged victim is or whether there is any way to contact her. I've never heard a state attorney general make such an irresponsible set of allegations.
Slate continues to build the case against Reagan by quoting someone who said:
Unquestionably, Reagan's political and economic ideas were in some respects simplistic: I once heard him say that one million Sears Roebuck catalogues distributed in the Soviet Union would bring the regime down.I don't think that anyone would have objected if the CBS miniseries had stuff like this. The complaint is that the show was false and malicious, and painted a seriously inaccurate view of history.
Update: The TV show script is here.
Wednesday, Nov 05, 2003
Here are the 14 cognitive breakthroughs since 800 B.C.
Artistic realism; Linear perspective; Artistic abstraction; Polyphony; Drama; the Novel; Meditation; Logic; Ethics; Arabic numerals; the Mathematical proof; the Calibration of uncertainty; the Secular observation of nature; and the Scientific method.
Change red lights
For $500, you can buy a simple gadget that will change traffic lights at will. For responsible motorists only. You can order one here.
Buffet's property taxes
Warren Buffet finally details his property tax complaint. He pays $14,401 per year on his over-assessed Omaha home, and $14,266 per year on his under-assessed Laguna Beach California property (which actually includes 2 adjoining houses).
So where's the inequity? The Omaha taxes are higher, as a percentage of market value. That is another way of saying that California property values are higher than Omaha's, as compared to the costs of maintaining schools and fire depts. That sounds reasonable to me.
Buffet's Laguna Beach taxes would be higher, but he bought one of his houses before property values skyrocketed. Sure, Buffet could afford to pay more. But most people in his situation could not afford to pay skyrocketing property taxes. People who bought houses back in the early 1970s are, for the most part, retired, living on fixed incomes, and not using significant local govt services. Property taxes support the schools, and Buffet's kids have been out of school for a long time. I doubt that they ever did goto school in California.
Tuesday, Nov 04, 2003
Cat owners can behave strangely because their are infected with cat parasites. Read the FoxNews story.
I occasionally get gripes about my Patent Agent FAQ. My critics (such as those on usenet) seem to have the following in common:
I think that the core of the problem is that patent agents are licensed directly by the US federal govt, and therefore they do not have to pay attention to state bar assn rules. Some of those rules benefit the legal profession, and some are just nuisances, but either way they don't like the fact that some people can ignore them and still dispense legal advice. (For some of the worst complainers, search for Steve Marcus, Paul Tauger, and Ernest Schaal.)
Sunday, Nov 02, 2003
John sends this story about an effort to rename the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after Edward Teller. The article repeats the silly rumor that a character in the Dr. Strangelove movie was modeled after Teller. The character appeared to be a ex German Nazi turned American general, not a Hungarian-American Jew like Teller. Teller deserves some sort of official recognition, and the Lab was associated with Teller throughout its existence.
Nielsen ratings say that 9.4 million women in the USA visited porn web sites, and that nearly one in three visitors to adult web sites is a woman. I think that if you look at total porn consumption, including books, magazines, TV, etc, you'll find that women consume more than men. Men consume most of the hard-core porn, but women consume most of the soft-core porn.
Isn't anyone lying anymore? Slate has a feature called Whopper of the Week which would have an example of a public figure lying. But lately, they seem to be just political attacks, without anyone really being caught in a lie. Sometimes it is difficult to even understand why the Slate editors even think that the statement is a lie.
Slate also has a Bushism feature that consists of finding G. W. Bush quotes that sound silly when quoted out of context. It usually doesn't even give the context, so you can see for yourself what Bush meant.
Former Sec. of Labor Reich says that trends towards more engineering outsourcing overseas are just fine with him, but that it would help to have more govt subsidies to universities. That's right, he currently works at a university and not in engineering. I think that those subsidies should be cut, so that universities will outsource their policy professors instead of hiring bozos like Reich.
If the stories about the CBS miniseries are accurate, then I hope that there is a public boycott of CBS and the miniseries sponsors. It is a malicious distortion of the facts.
Update: CBS has now dropped the program. It had tried to edit it to remove some of the more offensive and libelous lines, but the program was hopeless. CBS was going to broadcast it during November ratings sweeps, but it probably couldn't find advertizers to absorb the negative publicity.
The show waw produced by a homosexual pair who previously did a show on Judy Garland. The whole show is an attempt to smear the Reagans. They invented quotes and events that never happened, and which are inconsistent with what is known about the Reagans. It is amazing that CBS could spend $9M on this. I hope people boycott Showtime, if CBS shows it on Showtime. CBS has gone right to the edge of what they can get away with under US libel law, and they shouldn't get away with it.
Update: There is a lot of leftist grumbling about the cancellation. The Si Valley paper says that it could set a dangerous precedent. I guess they think that expecting TV networks to tell the truth is dangerous. Slate says that it is troubling that CBS would bow to criticism, and that it would have been possible for factual criticism of Reagan. Yeah sure, factual criticism is fine. But this show was false, and maliciously false.
Bob says that CBS only dropped the show because of an internal review that concluded that it was inaccurate. He said he knows this because an industry insider said so on a PBS news show. What self-serving propaganda! A CBS press release said that the decision had nothing to do with the protest.
CBS reviewed the script, and knew about the inaccuracies all along. After Drudge and the NY Times exposed some the malicious errors, CBS adamantly said that they would stick with the show, and implied that they thought that the controversy would be good for ratings. Then, 2 weeks later, CBS discovered that opposition to the show was so deep that no one wanted to sponsor the show. At that point, canceling it was a simple business decision. The show was going to lose money.
Saturday, Nov 01, 2003
Global warming debunked
John writes that a major global warming study has been debunked.