“The boys are all ready;
They’ve laid out the plan,
They’re setting the stage
For the man-made man.
We’ve worked out the kinks
In your DNA
So sayonara, kid
Have a nice day.”
Warren Zevon and Larry Klein. “Sacrificial Lambs“. 2002.  

So, some researchers did a study and found out that there is a gene that predisposes people towards a “liberal” political stance. James Fowler, the lead researcher, said:

“The way openness is measured, it’s really about receptivity to different lifestyles, for example, or different norms or customs… we hypothesize that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward seeking out new experiences will tend to be more liberal.” 

This is kind of what I mean when I talk about Cosmopolitan thought vs. Nationalist thought. As I said here: “nationalism places far higher importance upon symbols and traditions than does… cosmopolitanism.” So, Liberalism, or what I call “Cosmopolitanism”, is much more willing to experiment with different customs, symbols and societal norms.

Interestingly, however, I am politically what people consider a “Liberal” on most issues, yet I don’t particularly enjoy “seeking out new experiences” in my personal life. I very much enjoy having a routine and sticking to it.

Private Buffoon has an interesting post about the history of cholera and how Dr. John Snow‘s study of it in 1850’s London led to our modern-day understanding of epidemiology.

I read a great book a while back about this called The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. It’s a fascinating book, though I would caution against reading it when you’ve just eaten, or are about to eat.

Most of the book is about the Broad street cholera outbreak, but the last chapter is a philosophical rumination on the structure of cities and city life. Both parts make for good reading. Just be aware that the title of his post applies to much of it.

I first learned about affirmations from Scott Adams’ book The Dilbert Future. Basically, the idea is that you write down whatever you want to achieve 15 times every day, and eventually you’ll get it. For example:

“I, John Smith, will become a millionaire.”  (x 15)

Assuming, of course, that your name is John Smith and you want to be a millionaire. If John did this enough, the thinking goes, he should become a millionaire eventually. In his book, Scott Adams recounts numerous instances in which this process worked for him. If what he says in the book is true, it’s pretty eerie. But I didn’t believe him when I read it, and I’m not sure I do now.

What really interests me isn’t even whether it works–though that would be useful, of course. But first, what I really want to understand is: how it could work; in other words, is it even theoretically possible? I realize that’s a strange thing to say, but it’s not as odd a concept as you might think–for example, some physicists believe that it’s theoretically possible to travel through time by entering a black hole–it’s just that there is nothing in the Universe that could survive the trip.

Scott Adams does have some theories on the nature of reality that could explain how affirmations work, but I am skeptical. I hate to try something out when I have no reason to think it will work other than anecdotal evidence.


I meant to blog about this at the time, but I didn’t, so here it is now:

A week after the Gulf oil spill started, Rush Limbaugh said:

“You do survive these things. I’m not advocating don’t care about it hitting the shore or coast and whatever you can do to keep it out of there is fine and dandy, but the ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and was left out there. It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Which, like virtually everything Limbaugh says, upset people. But he is right–sort of. But he also makes a huge mistake.

It has always seemed to me that people draw a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural”, but really they shouldn’t. After all, are machines not made from naturally occurring elements? People have merely interacted with these elements to produce a new organism which produces different output. It is as natural a reaction as one could wish.

Strictly speaking, anything which can be said to exist is “natural”, precisely because if it were not natural it could not exist.

Limbaugh seems to assume that because the oil will be absorbed “naturally”, it is okay. When in fact the planet’s reaction–perfectly natural though it may be–may have dire long-term consequences for the living creatures currently inhabiting it.

So yes, it is literally impossible to harm “nature”. Nature is everything. The worst we can hope to do is to alter our environment so as to make it unlivable. (Which, by the way, I don’t think the oil spill has come close to doing.) But the point is that just because something is “natural”–which everything is–has absolutely no relevance to whether it is good for human life or not.

South Korea has placed robots with machine guns along the North Korean border. The most interesting/troubling quote:

 “Techwin spokesman Huh Kwang-hak was quoted as saying by Stars and Stripes: ‘But these robots have automatic surveillance, which doesn’t leave room for anything resembling human laziness. They also won’t have any fear (of) enemy attackers on the front lines.'”

 Yes, can’t leave that sort of thing up to the meatbags, can we?

So, it sounds like robots might not be the future of the military after all. At least, that’s what this guy Fred Kaplan says. He claims there isn’t going to be much demand for armed ground robots, contrary to conventional wisdom.  I’m inclined to disagree with him, though. I think it’s inevitable, but it will probably take longer than anyone thinks.

More generally, I have mixed feelings about this stuff. I’ve praised President Obama for his increased use of drones to fight terrorists, but at the same time, it does raise some troubling legal issues. And the ground robots they have now do look pretty pathetic, to be honest. I imagine it’s harder to control a thing that has to maneuver on the ground than in the air, in some ways.

The major leap, of course, is going to be when the military decides to have autonomous robot soldiers. I know, I know, it sounds insane, but I think that A.I. will ultimately reach a point where we trust limited combat programs more than we’ll trust a human being to be able to make decisions in the heat of battle.

After all, they’ll say, it’s much too serious to leave that up to an emotional meatbag.

Well, that’s not good. And more bad news: Hurricane season starts on Tuesday.

UPDATE: This reminds me of why weather control is so important. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Whoever figures it out first will rule the planet. Alas, the Chinese government is making progress on this, while we can’t even plug a damn pipe.

This is bizarre. He claims to have been doing this for 70 years.

I assume that it’s some sort of hoax, though it’s hard to see how he’s pulling it off.

On the other hand, if it isn’t a hoax and everyone learned how to do it, the decrease in demand for food would probably cripple the economy, so I figure the Indian government will probably hush it all up,send the guy somewhere secret, and hide all the relevant studies in a giant warehouse; like at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

This is pretty cool. The article concludes:

“The X-37B might lack a flashy name, a made-for-the-movies mission and public hoopla, but this space plane’s low profile might be just the thing that helps it beat the long odds and become a success.” 

Actually, “X-37B” sounds exactly like the sort of name that Secret Projects have in science fiction. Perhaps it will be our first line of defense against The Reapers.

(Hat Tip to Huffington Post)