Mimsy Were the Borogoves

For the wisdom of the wise are the criterion of your madness.

Of (Laboratory) Mice and Men—Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
Running rats Fantascope

Artist’s rendition of federal research funding.

The more I read about the supposedly breakthrough research being done today, the more it seems that in many research areas, especially medicine and biomedical, competition for subsidies decreases innovation. It isn’t just that research tends to focus on old ideas that appeal to bureaucrats and politicians instead of new ideas that might represent a valuable breakthrough. More and more, the research isn’t focusing on anything other than replicating the buzzwords that appeal to bureaucrats and politicians.

Researchers don’t seem to be looking for mice that have, say, Alzheimer’s, or induce Alzheimer’s in mice, and then for a way to cure or alleviate the mouse’s Alzheimer’s. That’s hard. It requires identifying Alzheimer’s by more than just its symptoms. Instead, so many studies seem to take test animals, induce symptoms that look like the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and then the press reports that we now have insight into how Alzheimer’s works.

It makes everyone look great. The researchers, the reporters, the bureaucrats, and the politicians. What it doesn’t do is bring us closer to a cure. It doesn’t need to. When money comes from funding, the potential patient isn’t a potential customer.

Often, such studies seem like breaking a mouse’s legs to learn how to cure polio, or sometimes even paraplegia.

Sometimes these studies even find that if they stop doing the things that induce the symptoms, the symptoms go away. This, also, is headline-making. Worded correctly, it can sound as if a cure has been found for the thing that looks like the symptoms induced.

But there is a big difference between knowing how to induce symptoms that look like the symptoms of disease X and knowing anything at all about disease X itself. Unfortunately, even the scientific press is getting confused by this more today than they were even five years ago when I started subscribing to Science News.

I put a lot of the blame on federal funding. It is, I suspect, a lot easier to get funding for the very high chance of being able to induce symptoms that look like disease X than it is to get funding for the very low chance of getting real answers about disease X.

When Senators demagogue that we should limit opioid prescriptions to seven days “because no one needs a month’s supply for a wisdom tooth extraction”, ignoring (a) all the evidence about what can go wrong with tooth extractions, and (b) that there are other reasons for needing pain medication than dental visits, such as, say, cancer, remember that these are also the people who set the bar for federal research funding.

After that tweet, the level of funding for any research that might recommend longer terms on pain medication went down. Bureaucrats don’t like to get caught in congressional crossfire.

Building the Replica 1 Plus Apple 1 kit—Wednesday, May 1st, 2019
Replica 1 first step: resistors

The first step is to put the resistors in. What a wide expanse of green!

This is a photo of an Apple 1 kit running on my television set. It’s the Briel Replica 1 from ReActiveMicro. The kit was mostly dead easy to assemble. The hardest part was trusting myself when the instructions weren’t completely clear. The biggest lack—and it was only in, I think, two cases—had to do with polarization, that is, which direction a part needs to be. The instructions almost always mention whether a part is polarized. In two cases it does not:

  1. The crystal is not polarized, as far as I can tell.
  2. The 6821 chip does not have a notch to orient it to the socket. It does have a dot, and the dot is on the same side as where the notch would be if it had one.

The board itself is laid out nicely. The resistors and capacitors have their ratings listed on the board. This made the kit almost, but not quite, paint-by-numbers easy. If you’ve done electronics soldering in the past, you should have no problem putting this together.

The only problem I ran into was, during testing, everything went right; then I plugged the PS2 keyboard in and everything that went right kept happening over and over. What’s supposed to happen is that you reset the computer to get the cursor. This worked. Then it continued happening without pressing reset. I kept getting a new cursor, floating down the left of the television set—but only after I hit reset once myself.

I did what the instructions recommend when it doesn’t work, I went over the soldering on every part, joint by joint. I went over the entire underside, part by part, joint by joint. I found some soldering jobs that were worse than others; I fixed them. But there was really nothing that should have been causing a bad connection or a short.

I plugged it in again, pressed reset, and this time waited before pronouncing it a success and plugging in the keyboard. Sure enough, about every 1 ½ seconds I got a new cursor. Just a line of backslashes going down the left of the television set.

Spotting the wild Fascist—Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

“…how do we prevent the genocidal horrors of the Nazi regime from ever recurring? …we’ll start with the roots of Italian Fascism. It originated as a kind of live-action role-playing game for disgruntled Italian WWI vets led by a charismatic war hero, aviator, and poet named Gabriele D’Annunzio. Compared to what it evolved into, early Italian fascism had a rather charming opera-bouffe quality about it—theoretical ideas that were incoherent to the point of surrealism, lots of prancing around in invented uniforms, and dosing of opponents with castor oil.”

The Collusion National Network—Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

When it comes to the seven stages of loss, CNN’s stages after Mueller’s conclusion of no collusion all seem to be bargaining: no collusion must mean collusion! We’ll agree that there was no collusion but only on condition that it proves collusion! If people read the Mueller report, they are colluding! We read the 400-page report in 15 minutes. We find collusion! Collusion! Collusion! We were always skeptical of collusion, so believe us when we say collusion!

This Babylon Bee article is barely satire. My social media feeds are filled with sophistry explaining why no collusion doesn’t mean no collusion. And most of them seem to be from CNN.

Congratulating themselves for having been skeptical of the collusion story, and literally at the same time pushing the conspiracy theories that there was still collusion.

They have become completely unhinged. CNN’s Toobin, for example, seems to think that most people would be perfectly happy to be subject to an investigation like this for two years. Not being happy with it—or being happy that it’s finally over and you’ve been vindicated—is acting like a guilty man. Because all of us look forward to IRS tax audits, and are sad when they finally realize, hey, we shouldn’t have been destroying your life and your reputation for two years.

You know what guilty people do when their lies are exposed? They double down, making their lies more and more outlandish and less and less believable.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has decided to do an impression of Kevin Bacon in Animal House. Remain calm! All is well! Avoid partisan interpretations of the Mueller report! At the same time that CNN is running a panel of partisans talking about the Mueller report. You know, following two years of unhinged partisan interpretations of the Mueller investigation. And any other random, unbelievable allegation that came their way.

Although if you’re going to go into an unhinged meltdown, there is no greater movie. I just picked up the soundtrack on Record Store Day and it’s still amazing. Will CNN escalate into driving the Eat Me! vehicle into FBI headquarters?

Science by consensus is barbarism—Wednesday, April 17th, 2019
Climate in Space

Scientists have again landed a spacecraft on a proverbial dime on a planet 40 million miles away that rotates at 241 meters per second. Think I’m gonna trust them on this climate change stuff.

“Sound reasoning” was the comment. But there is no reason in that paragraph. It’s about as far from science and reason as you can get. Regardless of how you feel about spacecraft engineers and climate researchers, they are not the same people, and science does not work by some magical transference of authority. That’s its whole point. Science is not a tribe. It’s a method.

Tribalism as science is unsound, unreasoning, and barbarous. That because these engineers over here built something that works, those researchers over there must be right, merely because they are part of some fungible tribe of scientists. Science by consensus is literally—and I use the word literally, literally—anti-scientific thinking and about as unsound, unreasoning, and barbaric a method of solving problems as you can find; it will create far more problems than it solves, and some of them will be deadly.

Science is about the scientific method; it is the opposite of tribal consensus. It’s “the belief in the ignorance of experts.”1

Belief in the infallibility of experts is pre-scientific thought. Only priests are never wrong. Science by consensus is and always has been barbarism. Everyone knows the earth is flat. Only hicks believe in flaming rocks that fall from the sky. Some people are not people, and so can be treated as animals.

And the flip side of that, that people are people, and are more important than animals, is a civilized value easily lost to the new barbarism.

The scientific method is pure, distilled civilization, and it is completely unnatural. Constructing a theory and then trying as hard as possible to prove it wrong is completely unnatural behavior. But it is the only way science works.

We are entering a new witch-hunt in which scientists are derided as deniers, and tribalists proclaim themselves worshippers of science. To paraphrase Mencken and Chesterton, it is one thing to believe in witches, entirely another to believe in witch smellers. When barbarism comes, it will come in the name of a scientific consensus that scientific thinking must be ostracized. The witch-smellers, the barbarians, will redefine science to mean religion—as they always have when the thread of civilization frays.

Back Seat Baby: Have airbags become a Rube Goldberg machine?—Wednesday, April 10th, 2019
Steam power tooth extraction

It’s perfectly safe… as long as you take all the proper precautions. (Wellcome Images L0015008, CC-BY-4.0)

Perhaps the best example of a deceptively useful prescriptive mandate is the airbag mandate. That cars with airbags are safer than cars without airbags, for the most part, is undeniable. It is also not the right comparison. The right comparison is between airbags and what we would have if airbags were not mandated. Airbags take up a lot of space and resources that could be used for other safety features. The more I learn about the amount of resources airbags use in cars, and how much effort is necessary to keep them from causing injuries, the more it seems likely that they monopolize space and effort that could be used to create a far safer and more effective safety mechanism.

Take a serious look at what airbags cost in terms of space, weight, and design. Look at all the places and parts that airbags occupy in your car. Look at all the behavioral changes we’ve needed to make to avoid being hurt by them. To a large extent, cars today are airbags with extra features attached. So much of a car’s design is, how can we fit a car around these airbags? Your dashboard is no longer a feature in your car; it is something to be avoided. You can’t put your feet up: if the airbag deploys it will smash your feet into your face, turning a minor accident into a deadly one.

Airbags are designed to turn themselves off if there’s a kid in the front seat. When airbags deploy on short people, they kill. It’s so dangerous that it is now illegal in some states for young children to be in the front passenger seat. Short people are encouraged to ride in the back no matter how old they are.

Which may make you wonder about short drivers. Sure enough, short drivers need to do all sorts of things, from adding extenders to the controls, so as to not sit too close to the airbags, to asking permission from the government to turn airbags off.

Do you read books or tablets in the front passenger seat while someone else is driving? That’s also not recommended. You should do that in the back seat. In the case of an airbag deployment, that book or tablet becomes a projectile. The airbag will deploy it into your face, stomach, chest, neck… God help you if you’re writing with a pen or pencil, or handling some other vaguely pointed object.

You’re not even supposed to have anything in your pocket.

Prescriptive vs. performance mandates—Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019
Denmark car crash

Patient: “It hurts when I do this.” Doctor: “We’ll design it so that when you do this your arm will accordion but you won’t be hurt.”

Performance mandates are often proposed as a solution for ensuring that government technology requirements don’t block innovation in the same way that mandating specific technology does. For example, mandating that cars use specific technology to reduce emissions is prescriptive. It doesn’t matter what emissions the car actually produces, what matters is that the car use, say, a catalytic converter. Under such regulations, a perfectly clean car that doesn’t use a catalytic converter is designated dirty. On the other hand, a regulatory environment mandating crumple tests would be performative. It doesn’t matter how the car reduces the impact the passengers feel, just that it does so to the extent mandated.

A performance mandate mandates outcomes; a prescriptive mandate mandates how the outcomes are arrived at, locking in specific technology. Performance mandates are an attempt to replicate the amazing transformative effects that result from letting people decide what features they want and how much they value those features.

But performance mandates don’t actually do what they’re supposed to. For all the good intentions, they’re still not the choices of the people who matter. They’re the choices of government bureaucrats and their definitions. Government definitions always skew innovation away from revolutionary breakthroughs and toward gaming the mandate: any progress is toward pleasing the bureaucrats and their definitions, and not the actual users of the product. Performance mandates don’t come anywhere near the strength of millions of people all making decisions independently. They’re no different than the fake-market exchanges that caused California electricity to become both expensive and unreliable back when I lived there, or the insurance exchanges that that are doing the same right now. Bureaucrats don’t understand the power of people’s choices, nor do they trust people to make choices. It’s crazy to expect them to successfully emulate people’s choices.

The left’s vicious racial shaming—Wednesday, March 27th, 2019
Is this fair? Occupy Democrats white privilege meme

This is a lie, designed to create racial hatred in America.

There’s an old saying that when a Republican does something wrong, the fault is on the Republican Party, but when a Democrat does something wrong, the fault is on America. It’s a variation of the name that party game, where a Bob Filner’s party is hidden deep if mentioned at all, and a Democrat like Virginia’s Governor Northam is reported as a Republican as soon as he shows up in blackface and his wife starts handing out cotton.

This goes back to the founding of the Republican Party and its opposition to the racial politics of slave-holding Democrats. Democrats wanted to break up the Union. So they accused Lincoln of wanting to break up the Union.

Projection is not just a river in Egypt.1 The left loves to project their faults on the rest of America.

In the wake of Jeremy Northam’s blackface, Elizabeth Warren’s redface, Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism, and other racist and sexist scandals among Democrats, the left is desperate to divert attention from their own failures by blaming America. This recent meme decries white privilege, not among the elite like Northam and Warren, but among everyone else. It compares two people without a job who endangered their children. One, a black Arizona woman who left her children in the car while she was at a job interview, had her child taken away and was sentenced to jail; the other, a white Arizona woman who got high and drove away with her child on the top of her car, kept her child and got probation. The hashtags? Black Lives Matter. White privilege.

It is worse than fake news. It uses real names of real people and makes up the rest. Both women were sentenced to probation for about the same period of time. Both had their children taken away. Arguably, both should have. Regardless of how you feel about leaving kids in cars, Phoenix, Arizona, is not the place to do it.

All the obvious examples of privilege from Democrats, and they had to make up lies about private individuals obviously going through bad times. For all their failures, these women are clearly struggling through serious issues, did not need the publicity, and were probably hurt by the left’s lies.

The left doesn’t care. They don’t care about the individuals they hurt.

Older posts.