Thursday, February 19, 2009

Damn Weirdo

Unhappiness begins when one realizes that one is a weirdo, a misfit. Given that the human is a tribal animal, this distress is an understandable survival instinct.

A rough contentment begins when one realizes that one no longer cares that one is a weirdo.

Gratitude sets in when one realizes that one lives in a society that allows weirdos to survive.

I love Western civilization.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Retail Shrinkage and Ethics

Al Fin--an excellent website that everyone interested in science news, futurism, transhumanism, and the like should read--recently mentioned surveys of student cheating as evidence of declining ethics. I replied that retail shrinkage as a percent of sales over time would be a better measure. This inspired me to see if I could find any data.

I managed to find this document that gives shrinkage rates from 1991 to 2001. They were:

1991 1.79
1992 1.91
1993 1.88
1994 1.95
1995 1.83
1996 1.87
1997 1.77
1998 1.72
1999 no data
2000 1.69
2001 1.80

I then found the rest of the numbers by searching on "National Retail Security Survey" with the appropriate year.

2002 didn't find
2003 1.65
2004 1.54
2005 1.60
2006 1.57
2007 1.40

Take the numbers I searched for by hand with salt, for I found somewhat contradictory information at various sites. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be any strong upward trend in shrinkage over the last couple decades. Of course, shrinkage is going to vary with anti-theft technology and the economy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lesbianism, Steve Sailer, and NOW

On a Web forum (PW: Tim) where I spend too much time arguing with people on the Internet, I posted a link to this article by Steve Sailer. Those readers with some life experience can fill in for themselves the distress and consternation this caused among the usual suspects.

My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to do at least a little research on the leaders of feminism to see for myself if lesbians make up a high percentage of them. I went to the NOW site and looked up their officers. It listed four:

Kim Gandy (president)
Olga Vives (vice president)
Melody Drnach (vice president)
Latifa Lyles (vice president)

As the national officers of a prominent organization, surprisingly little about these women turns up in a Google search; nevertheless, there is some evidence to be had.

Ms. Gandy's official biography (liked above) indicates that she is straight or primarily straight.

Ms. Vives' biography screams "lesbian" at me. Fortunately, I found confirmation of my intuition here. In case that link doesn't render properly:
Olga also brings many insights from her experiences as a mother of three, an immigrant, a lesbian and a Latina.

Ms. Drnach's official biography also gives off a lesbian vibe, but of a less strident sort. After all, she likes her dog and her nephews. As confirmation, I also found this biography. The money quote:
Melody also serves on the Board of RI Stonewall Democrats
If one then looks up Stonewall Democrats, one finds:
The National Stonewall Democrats is a grassroots network connecting LGBT Democratic activists from Seattle, Washington to Austin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas to Atlanta, Georgia.
The evidence is strong that Ms. Drnach also is a lesbian.

The Google search on Ms. Lyles yields lots of sites, but the ones I checked don't answer the question of interest. However, her official NOW biography states that she has a fiancée. If the person who wrote the biography spelled correctly, it indicates that Ms. Lyles, too, is either lesbian or primarily lesbian.

Therefore, out of the four national officers listed on the NOW site, three are probably lesbians. Perhaps this Sailer guy isn't as ignorant as many of his detractors seem to believe.

Note that I have no problem at all with the leadership of NOW being much more homosexual than the general population. I do think it is unjust to imply that one is bigoted for noting this fact, or for concluding that most other feminist organizations probably share this property.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wonderful Dream

Ted Kennedy had a vacation home in Nova Scotia. An old cantilever bridge was near his house. The bridge was in bad shape and was supposed to be torn down. Kennedy wanted the old bridge preserved and protested its impending destruction.

For some reason, George W. Bush got involved on the side of tearing the bridge down. That side eventually prevailed in court.

On the day of the scheduled demolition, Bush, Kennedy, and Kennedy's good friend Al Gore all showed up at the bridge. Because of the notoriety of the persons involved, it became a news item, and I was watching the scene on television.

The three politicians stood near each other. Gore, with lots of finger pointing, began to give a speech decrying the loss of such a historic structure. He declared that he wouldn't allow such a travesty to happen, and he and Kennedy opened their suit jackets.

Both were wearing vests made of dynamite. They took Bush hostage and forced him to climb with them up into the trusses of the bridge.

Some stuff I have only a hazy memory of happened, and then a newscaster came on. He said that because of the importance of the persons involved in the hostage crisis, authorities were using every conceivable resource available.

Accordingly, they had ordered complete gene sequences of the three men to see if any useful insight could be gained. To the surprise of all, the gene sequences revealed that George Bush was really a chimpanzee and that Al Gore was a space alien.

I woke up laughing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stand on Zanzibar

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner is an incredible exercise in speculation, one of the most impressive SF masterworks ever, but I believe it is wrong about two of its central conjectures--that population is going to keep increasing out of control and that we are going to face diminishing resources.

As for population, we have good contraception and are developing better contraception. Once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, its members appear to be willing to use that contraception. The entire First World, and I believe most of the former Second World (the old communist countries), now have birthrates below replacement level. Some people speculate that the forces of natural selection will again start forcing the population back up, but I fully expect that societies will forcefully intervene if it looks like excessive breeders are going to turn the world into a hell.

As for scarce resources, I think we are going to be awash in increasing resources for the rest of our perhaps long lifetimes. There might be temporary recessions or even depressions, but I think the overall trend is going to be upward. Personal services will get increasingly expensive, but material wealth will get increasingly inexpensive. I will give some examples I've seen on the science-news sites lately.

The news out of photovoltaics looks great. The price is falling. The efficiencies are going up. There are several different new technologies coming online. There is lots of venture capital.

The news out of biotechnology looks even better. Prices aren't just falling; they are plummeting. There is at least one big story out of biology every week. See this site for examples. It certainly looks like that within five to ten years, whole genome sequencing is going to be a consumer item.

The number of simultaneous experiments that biologists can run keeps going up by orders of magnitude. The rate of experimentation, of course, is one of the things that paces the rate of scientific discovery. I could go on, but the site I recommended does a better job than I can in a short blog entry.

Then there is robotics. Progress has been slow, but robots and automation have steadily gotten better, and they are starting to look really good. Replacing human labor lowers costs and increases production, and those are the factors that increase wealth. You can now get consumer robots that are actually useful and inexpensive enough for the middle class. They can vacuum and scrub your floors and mow your lawn.

There is an abundance of most metals we use in building things. The big bugaboo is petroleum. Some hysterics are predicting peak oil and the end of civilization. If humanity does something stupid, civilization might end, but it isn't going to be because of crude oil. There are many ways we can work around petroleum shortages; I'll spin just one scenario. Consider that we already know how to build breeder reactors. Uranium-235 is fairly rare, but the earth has lots of U-238 and thorium. Breeder reactors can turn those into useful fuel. Therefore, if we wanted to, we could easily provide electricity for the entire planet through nuclear fission.

Lack of petroleum for transport fuel would be a pain in the butt for a while, but with lots of electricity and only current battery technology we could still get over a hundred miles per charge for rechargeable vehicles. Transportation might be more inconvenient, but it certainly isn't a civilizational risk. The above assumes current batteries, but batteries are another technology that is attracting venture technology. The way to bet is that we are soon going to have good batteries.

In short, I see lots of good news coming out of science and technology and not a lot of bad news. Anyway, for those readers who are interested, here are some of the sites that provide my ideas:

Al Fin
Science Daily
Advanced Nanotechnology

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blank Slaters

The defining characteristic of a blank slater is the belief that human intelligence, personality, and physical attributes are largely trainable and conditionable. The definition of largely is of the I-know-it-when-I-see-it variety. So far as I know, there had been no formal definition of blank slater attempted by anyone who uses the term.

If you care about mine, I believe that intelligence differences in adulthood are somewhere between .6 and .8 heritable in First World countries, with the true factor most likely being toward the .8 end. See here for a short summary of the latest Minnesota Twins Studies findings.

Anyone who believes that intelligence differences are only trivially heritable, say less than .3, I would most likely consider a blank slater.

I believe that broad personality differences are about .5 heritable. Again, I would tend to classify as a blank stater anyone who believes they are significantly less than that.

I believe that there are other intellectual capacities, such as musical ability, that have a large genetic component. I know of no study that tried to measure it.

I believe that athletic abilities have a huge heritable component. Take, for example, a persons ration of fast twitch muscle fiber to slow twitch muscle fiber. That is ratio is inborn, and it has a major effect on what sports a person can be good at. I would characterize anyone who thinks a good athlete can be created by taking a random student and making him practice a lot as a blank slater, good being defined as, say, a high-school star.

I used to laugh at the people who declared that blacks average so much better in basketball than whites because blacks play so much more basketball as kids. No, white me can't jump because white men are usually born with less fast twitch fiber in their legs than people of West African descent.

Now, the average person, when asked, isn't going to be willing or able to provide his heritability estimates on demand. One can, however, recognize blank slaters by what they do. Using NCLB again as an example, one can see that the congress that passed it and the media who continue to treat NCLB's goals as reasonable are working from blank-slate assumptions.

Those who believe that different races, sexes, and ethnicities would be proportionally represented in a given job if hiring were free of discrimination are working from blank-slate premises.

Those who believe that their schools are failing black students who score about one standard deviation below white students on academic tests are working from blank slater premises.

The fact is many human differences are inborn. They are either genetic or the result of something that happened in the womb. They are intractable. Pretending it isn't so doesn't make it not so. It just gets in the way of doing things that might actually work.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


This sounds interesting. Also see the NYT article.

It reminds me of what I read about twenty years ago or so, AI researchers trying to build huge databases to give computers context of the natural world and the human social sphere. This idea, if it takes off, would harness the information and skills of millions of participants.

Furthermore, Google is trying to build an AI, and I'm sure the Google AI would be just as happy to slurp up the Freebase database as Freebase is to slurp up Wikipedia and other databases.

Folks, we are building God.