Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ingsoc prevents thoughtcrime.

It's getting pretty much official, as demonstrated in the Padilla case. You don't have to actually have done anything. Just expressed a desire or an interest.

Padilla's no choirboy. But the original charge--planning a dirty bomb--you remember, the one that justified holding him in solitary confinement for three years? Never actually filed. And he expressed a desire to maim and kill on American soil. For that, he's serving a life sentence. Longer than he'd serve for actually killing someone, in some jurisdictions.

The process has turned the phrase "American justice," once a beacon to the world, into a joke.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Finally, it all makes sense.

God is an atheist.

Bailing Out The Rich

The Federal Reserve is cutting the discount rate to make things easier for the credit markets. Exactly the wrong move.

Yes, the markets have had a rough week. Yes, they're dragging everything down. Yes, including stuff I own.


The problem is that there has been absolutely insane risk-taking in the mortgage and credit markets, mostly with borrowed money. Bad practices that a first-year business student would know were ridiculous. As long as markets keep going up, everyone makes money. But if the markets dip, margin calls get made, and all of that leveraging has to be dealt with in a hurry.

The only way the situation will get cleaned up is by market discipline. The only way people learn is by dealing with the pain of mistakes. Yes, some hedge-fund millionaires are hurting. The entire point of hedge funds (much less regulated than mutual funds) is that 'high-net-worth' individuals are able to make riskier investments in search of higher rewards; that if you're investing a few mil, you presumably can do (or hire) the kind of due diligence not feasible for Joe Retail Investor.

Note the key word there--riskier.

By trying to prevent the inevitable, all Ben's doing is dragging it out, postponing the day of reckoning. Yes, the losses are real. They knew the risks when they bought. If I invest in something and it goes up, I get the profit. If it doesn't, I eat the loss. I don't ask for (or expect) a bailout.

But again, the hedgies play by different rules. And the rest of us deal with the messy aftereffects.

A more thorough discussion is here.

Update: Allan Sloan calls it correctly here.

Moyers On Rove

"It’s so easy, as Karl knew, to scapegoat people you outnumber, and if God is love, as rumor has it, Rove knew that, in politics, you better bet on fear and loathing. Never mind that in stroking the basest bigotry of true believers you coarsen both politics and religion."

Full article here. Moyers and I don't quite agree on a lot of things, but this time I think he's called it about right: Greed and God became the formula for winning elections. And a few election cycles later, he leaves behind a shambles.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ready to go. I think.

After living at my desk the last few days, I think I'm ready to go for the semester.

I'm forgetting something, of course. And I'll remember it late Sunday, for Monday's class.

But I'm certainly enjoying the illusion of being prepared.

Coffee prevents the plague!

It's true; I drink coffee regularly, and have never once had the plague. Nor have any of my coffee-drinking co-workers.

Fascinating what used to be seen as medicinal. Coffee, of course, was originally seen as medicinal, then as a bad habit... Not as condemnation-worthy as opium, but bad enough.

For sheer oddness, though, my personal favorite is probably powdered mummy, taken to thicken the blood. (And darn it, ever since the FDA crackdown on fake mummy, my blood's felt thinner.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Quote of the day

It now remains for us to complete the task that the immortal Turd Blossom has thus far so nobly advanced: to make the entire country think "crook" when they hear the word "Republican" and "bigoted boob" when they hear the word "conservative."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sims R Us

An interesting update on the idea familiar to every reasonably bright 11-year-old: What if our world and everything in it, including me, is just part of someone's dream? How would we know? Would we know? Would it make a difference?

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

We couldn't tell we were part of a simulation, unless very subtle errors were introduced and clues left to point us toward them. But what sort of inconsistency/error in our observed world leads to the inescapable conclusion "The universe is actually a simulation"? Some oddness in the binary expansion of pi, as hypothesized in Contact? No, not really... the law of large numbers demands that if you follow pi out far enough, and its digits are essentially random (as they appear to be, though there are some interesting properties that no one's quite explained, such as why the digit 5 doesn't appear quite as often as it should)....sooner or later, you're going to get some whopping big coincidences, that not having whopping big coincidences would itself be extremely unlikely. Including something that could be interpreted as ASCII if you looked at it right.

And that's the issue. Strictly speaking, it's not a scientific hypothesis, since there's no way to disprove it. It's an interesting bit of logic, but ultimately one possibility among many:

But there are a couple of alternative hypotheses.... One is that civilization never attains the technology to run simulations (perhaps because it self-destructs before reaching that stage). The other hypothesis is that posthumans decide not to run the simulations.
To draw a comparison: Suppose I spend the evening playing Sims. To whatever extent they're "real," would knowing they're in a simulation make their immediate wants any less "real" to them? If they knew they were just data files and onscreen renderings, would they have a crisis of faith? Suicidal despair? Not likely.

If I turn out to be a sim in someone else's game...what difference does it make when I get up in the morning? What do I do differently, knowing I'm a sim? It may only be a simulated job and a simulated apartment, but it beats sleeping on the simulated streets.

Update: Someone's already been giving some thought to how to live as a simulation.

Photo of the day

"Darn it, Karl, I keep tellin' ya, I'm the President, that means I get to lead...."

From the front page of today's Times.

From the "yeah but..." dept...

Andrew Sullivan gets excited thinking about Huckabee as the vice-presidential candidate:

All of them - Giuliani, Romney, McCain, FThompson - will have problems with the Christianist core of the GOP. Hillary will only bring out so many base Republicans. Putting Huckabee on their ticket would go a long way to encouraging more to emerge from their nooks. He's also a press fave, which can only help a GOP in a popular mire. And he has a sense of humor and genial demeanor, which are key for any candidate running on morality.
Well, yeah. If you overlook the fact the he's a total loon. Of course, this is the GOP we're talking about, where being a loon not only isn't a handicap, it can be a positive asset. So maybe he's on to something after all.

SCO Update

Friday's stock close: $1.56.
Trading as of 8:43 CDT Monday: $0.45.
Net change: -71%.

The market has rendered an opinion, regardless of what SCO put into their press release.

Meanwhile they've got about $6 mil in cash left and they're still losing money every quarter. And they've just lost (most of) their one hope of getting any significant income in the future.

Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch. Do I hear a fat lady singing?

I suppose he'll call this progress

A new study guide in Russia presents a...well... a "fair and balanced" view of Stalin. Yes, a lot of people died, but there have been a long line of autocrats, and sometimes a strong leader is needed to bring about change. Besides,

Political and historical studies show that when they come under similarly serious threats, even “soft” and “flexible” political systems, as a rule, turn more rigid and limit individual rights, as happened in the United States after September 11, 2001.

This regime Administration is being compared to Stalin. And unfortunately, the comparison is not without merit. When he gets back from vacation, someone please explain to President Doofus that comparisons to some well-known world leaders aren't particularly flattering.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

And They Will Know We Are Christians, Part Deux

What do you do at "Love Demonstrated Ministries" with a teenage camper who can't run as fast as the rest of the campers?

Tier her to the back of the van and drag her, of course.

Tough love? Or just abuse with a religious patina to legitimize it?

I know which one I think it is....