December 30, 2009, 10:52 pm
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Presented in link form for your added convenience.

After-the-Fact Whorage
December 30, 2009, 9:18 am
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Thanks to, The Fourth Checkraise (multiple) and American Digest (also see here) for some nice recent linkage. Those are all blogs I read and are on my blogroll (or if they weren’t, I’ve since remedied that).

UPDATE: And for the record, I don’t hate smart people either. But ‘Smart People’, on the other hand…. ;-)

Why I’m Not Likely To Become A Trillionaire
December 29, 2009, 2:56 pm
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Somewhere deep in a climate-change argument I got into with someone, I ended up coming up with the following, which I think nicely encapsulates the #1 problem I have with climate-change believers:

One effect in isolation is not sufficient to describe a multidimensional physical system.

Of course that one effect I’m talking about is ‘the greenhouse effect’. Because most climate-change believers think their case is made instantly just by pointing to the greenhouse effect. They think that’s all they need to do and they’re done. They are wrong.

Actually though, I do need to amend my principle slightly to the following:

One effect in isolation is not sufficient to describe a multidimensional physical system, unless it is shown that it is.

What we have are essentially a politicized army of self-anointed climate experts seeking to overhaul my life based on their third-grade-level Oral Report on “The Greenhouse Effect” complete with arrows drawn on their giant posterboard coming down from space, hitting the earth, and then bouncing/cycling up and down forever. This argument, such as it is, is based – almost as a matter of pride – on reducing the entire complex oceano-atmospheric-biosphere system governing the earth’s climate evolution to a completely one-dimensional story:

CO2 up, temperature up – CO2 down, temperature down

The climate, in all its glory and diversity, has only one single dimension in the view of these SCIENTIFIC GENIUSES WHO STAND ON THE SIDE OF SCIENCE. That dimension being ‘How much CO2 is there’. Oh, maybe they’ll admit that there’s more to it than that – but they really genuinely love telling only the one-dimensional story, don’t they? When push comes to shove, that’s the basis of their argument, is it not?

To give the example I use often: if one effect were always enough, then I could point to the fact that my bank account earns interest (“The Interest Effect”?) and automatically conclude that I’m going to be a trillionaire. To any doubters I’d just say: “It’s very simple. My bank account earns interest. Therefore each day it has more money in it than the day before. So, given enough time, this system is going to blow up to infinity. It will certainly surpass 1 trillion!” I could even make a giant poster-board with upward-pointing arrows about it and everything. All of which, of course, freely and stupidly ignores all other possible effects on the size of my bank account, such as rent, bills, trips to Vegas, etc. etc.

Let’s be clear about something though: there certainly are physical systems where one variable is likely to be enough to describe them well enough for your purposes. A dropped ball in a vacuum hits the ground with what force? The initial height, one variable, is pretty much all you need. A planet’s orbital period can be gauged from the one variable, its orbital axis (through Kepler’s laws). The conservation of energy says that the initial energy of a system in isolation stays the same. Etc.

The climate properties we are interested in are not like these systems. Unless you show that they are. Which virtually none of the people using this argument have. Maybe this is unfair to expect of them, although I’m not sure why if they’re all going to posture as such Smart People on the side of Science all the time, but in any event they don’t get to just ignore or wish the problem away.

The climate is a humongously-many dimensional system. Yes maybe if CO2 goes up, the temperature goes up, because there’s a greenhouse effect. But maybe other stuff happens. Maybe all the extra energy just stirs up the oceans a barely-perceptible amount, which absorb it all like a flywheel. Maybe there are feedback, self-limiting or cycle effects, like when predators eat all their prey, thriving for a while, but then start starving when they can’t find any more prey, which therefore start increasing, etc. To really get a handle on any of this, you need a model. A real model, not the third-grade version. Well, climate science has its models. And I think they’re a load of crap.

You don’t? Why not? Have you looked at those models? (I have.)

This is the problem I have with the one-dimensional story. The one-dimensional story bypasses all these considerations that are really central to the issue. The one-dimensional story is for simpleminded one-dimensional people who don’t want to bother to dig into the real story but do want the benefits/power/honor they think will accrue to them in the telling of it; for people who don’t want to do the leg-work but do want to skip ahead to the part where they get to tell other people what to do: in other words, it’s tailor-made for Smart People.

Smart Terror Management 101
December 28, 2009, 6:36 am
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Needless to say, the government’s reaction to the failed terror attack has been a case study in quintessential Smart Personism:

  1. Regardless of what happened exactly, assert unabashedly and brazenly and without factual basis that you did everything right.
  2. Use the sweeping, unaccountable, arrogant power you’ve Smartened yourself into to disrupt and insert yourself into the lives of all those normal, mostly-not-Smart People who don’t really matter anyway.
  3. Don’t waste your breath trying to justify (2) on any sort of logical grounds. Let all complaints and debate fall on deaf (but Smart) ears. Remember: you’re Smart, so whatever you came up with is axiomatically Smart, no matter how dumb-ass it is, and anyone who criticizes you is automatically being Dumb, and probably a racist who didn’t go to as good a college as you. And even if, in the end, what you come up with turns out to be not so smart after all, you’ll just fix it later. Indeed, they’ll probably need to keep you around for even longer and for more money just to fix it later. So much the better!
  4. Finally, go around insisting that (1)-(3) is how things are always supposed to work in a Smart world. Bad stuff happens to little people (or is barely avoided), but you, a Smart Person, Smartly ‘manage’ the aftermath in ever-more intrusive ways. That’s why you get paid the big bucks. That’s how things are supposed to be and it is wrong and Dumb of anyone to suggest otherwise.

UPDATE: The above response is nothing more than what was instilled in Smart People from their childhood, of course. They were told they were ‘gifted’, so nothing they did could be wrong, not really. The major skills they learned – grade-grubbing, asking for ‘extra credit’ opportunities, creating and padding their college applications – mostly revolved around arrogantly citing their own supposed accomplishments. And just as their adolescence taught them that the world owed them things – ‘gifted’ classes, a spot in an elite college, etc. – they see no reason this shouldn’t continue. So if disrupting the hell out of the rest of the country for no good reason is what it takes to cover their asses and hide the fact that they have no real-world solutions to the problem, then so be it.

The Power Of The Phrasing
December 27, 2009, 8:34 pm
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Sometimes it’s all in how you phrase it.

If I were to ask you, Should private groups of people be required by the government to sign contracts, with anyone who asks them to, that are virtually guaranteed to lose them hundreds of thousands of dollars on each one? You’d probably say no if you had any sanity. At the same time, more likely than not you’d totally agree that “insurance companies shouldn’t be allowed to deny coverage to those with a pre-existing condition” – even though that’s exactly the same thing.

Resolving the Smart People Paradox
December 27, 2009, 3:35 pm
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The Smart People paradox is that, as a Smart Person – thus going through life knowing how smart you are – the world doesn’t always seem to need or value your Smarts as much as you know, deep down, they should. To remedy this sad state of affairs, you need to find some aspect of society that you can claim is going horribly wrong and that only a Smart Person (such as yourself, and all the Smart people you went to college with, etc.) can fix, in return for a six+ figure salary in perpetuity, a large house in the suburbs, and important schools for your ‘gifted’ kids, and all the rest.

The paradox is that once you find such a problem you can’t actually fix the problem. Right? If you did, there would go the salary, the ‘gifted’, etc.

Anthropogenic Global Warming is the perfect solution for this dilemma faced by poor, downtrodden Smart People everywhere. Here is a problem that (you can argue, using your Smarts) all of society should bend all its effort and capital towards. It is a globe-threatening problem, so it requires a global solution, which means tapping tax money from not just here or there but heck, why not from everywhere (but mostly from the US cuz we have deep pockets). As a problem, it can’t actually ever be proven to be ‘solved’, not even in principle, for the same reason that it can’t be proven to exist in the first place. (If you doubt me, quick try to fill in the blanks: “We will know that global warming is solved when we measure the variable ____ at time ___ and the measured result is less than ___.”) The solution methods all involve intellectual-intensive make-work products that can supply an infinite number of man-hours of busy work for overeducated Smart People from virtually all the favorite Smart Person fields of endeavor: laws and regulations (for the law-degreed), endless chemical monitoring and filtering (for those with engineering degrees), newly-invented financial derivatives and securities (for the finance types), unendingly highly-marginal improvements to numerical modeling and 3-D color data visualization (for the science/math types), all supported by heavy IT support (for the computer geeks).

If you were to describe this project that Al Gore blithely insists on everyone else creating, to a group of investors, they’d quickly observe that you are describing the largest corporation in the history of humankind. But this is all going to be created by government fiat so no need for any pesky concerns over feasibility, scalability, achievement metrics, or (god forbid) rational cost-benefit analysis. Instead, just think of all the career opportunities for otherwise-unemployable Smart People! And the best part is: while the Smart People are all busy living the cushy lifestyles supported by the budding and indefinite AGW-stopping infrastructure we’re going to build, they’ll get to tell themselves they’re saving the world by doing it. Just by existing, and going to their make-work, and collecting their six+ figure paychecks.

Saving the world.

This is something Smart People of times past could only dream of. Smart People of the 1950s might have had to work for Lockheed-Martin or Dow or something. No longer. Now you can be Smart, and Smarten yourself into a phony job (made up by other Smart People), and you’ll all get to tell yourself and everyone around you that you’re saving the world while doing it. If factory workers and truck drivers have to be taxed more, have their movements restricted, and afforded fewer overall opportunities to support all this, well hey. They’re not Smart. And probably racist too.

Al Qaeda’s Real Strategy
December 27, 2009, 2:28 pm
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What are they going to do, make us all roll up our pant legs?

By this point the following theory half-suggests itself: Al Qaeda isn’t really trying to blow anything up. Not really. They’re just trying to make our society come to a halt (and reverse its progress) by making us waste countless man-hours and GDP doing dumb things on a massive scale.

Levitt and Dubner make the point in SuperFreakonomics that the “shoe bomber” (who didn’t actually detonate any bombs) may have caused far more net damage to society than is generally believed. Every. single. person. now has to take off their shoes at an airport. This is dumb. It is wasteful. It is demeaning. The operating theory behind it (that all shoes are capable of concealing bombs, and that shoes are especially likely to be concealing bombs) is ridiculous on its face. Why only shoes? Why not jeans, and dresses, and bras? What’s so special about shoes?

The answer is: ‘because there was that Shoe Bomber dude’.

This is reactive and backward-looking security at its most lamebrained.

Now this Nigerian seemed to have bomb-making materials under his pants. Great. There go our pants. “Take ’em off!”, will go the Smart security cry. “For safety.”

Al Qaeda’s real strategy at this point, you see, is not to actually wage real attacks. It is to come up with fake attacks (whether or not they are actually likely to work doesn’t much matter) that will force our security efforts into dumber and more wasteful backward-looking acts of silliness.

That’s my theory, anyway. And I’m not entirely joking….


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