How NOT to be an environmentalist

May 31, 2011 at 11:57 am (Politics, Price theory)

Germany plans to completely abolish nuclear power in a decade. As always, the Greens have managed to do the single thing that will most contribute to global warming and pollute the environment at the same time. When the German industry can no longer rely on electricity generated by nuclear fission, they will turn to the second best option: coal. Note that nuclear power has not killed a single person for over two decades. Coal, on the other hand, claims the lives of tens of thousands of people in China every year, through mining incidents and lung disease. The problem, of course, is that Western countries only care about Third World livelihood when the unions tell them to.

As a few case studies have shown us, the problem with nuclear power is mostly an illusory one. When the leaders of a country have the sufficient courage and commitment to develop nuclear energy, its citizens eventually see that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Hence why the French (who have relied almost exclusively on nuclear power for three decades) are still highly favorable towards nuclear energy, despite years of incessant propaganda from competitors in the energy sector. Let me end with one of my favorite quotes from Professor Steven Landsburg:

“…I am frankly a lot more worried about my daughter’s becoming an environmentalist than about her becoming a Christian…we face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin…”


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“The Capacity to be Alone”

May 27, 2011 at 12:18 am (Humans, Mathematics, Personal experiences)

I realized several important things in my freshmen year at college:

  1. That my real talent lies in academics and not in organizing;
  2. That my real interest lies in economics and not in literature and philosophy;
  3. That I frankly am not good at mathematics.

The latest is not a life-changing discovery by any means, certainly not comparable to the first two; but it is important. To elaborate, I don’t think anybody in fact is really good at mathematics. One begins to realize quickly after studying point-set topology that pure mathematics is far less about the quick wits and clever intuition that underlies success in high school algebra, and far more about hard work – a willingness to spend hours and hours on what seems to be a trivial problem, but which you simply cannot grasp.

Even the old trick of staying up until mornings to solve the problem no longer works; some concepts crack only at the right moment, often when you least expect it. I had always thought that Einstein’s famous quote (of genius being 90% perspiration) and more recently Terence Tao’s comments were merely modesty.  Now I understand that there is, of course, no modesty involved when one consider the kind of work ethic that it takes to be such successful academics.

But hard work is not impossible. I have found that there is a far more substantial limit to my mathematical ability, namely the state of my mind. I trust that the passage that follows will be a sufficient explanation for what I mean here. From the great French mathematician Alexander Grothendieck:

“…Since then I’ve had the chance, in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome, to meet quite a number of people, both among my “elders” and among young people in my general age group, who were much more brilliant, much more “gifted” than I was. I admired the facility with which they picked up, as if at play, new ideas, juggling them as if familiar with them from the cradle — while for myself I felt clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track, like a dumb ox faced with an amorphous mountain of things that I had to learn (so I was assured), things I felt incapable of understanding the essentials or following through to the end.Indeed, there was little about me that identified the kind of bright student who wins at prestigious competitions or assimilates, almost by sleight of hand, the most forbidding subjects. In fact, most of these comrades who I gauged to be more brilliant than I have gone on to become distinguished mathematicians. Still, from the perspective of 30 or 35 years, I can state that their imprint upon the mathematics of our time has not been very profound. They’ve all done things, often beautiful things, in a context that was already set out before them, which they had no inclination to disturb. Without being aware of it, they’ve remained prisoners of those invisible and despotic circles which delimit the universe of a certain milieu in a given era. To have broken these bounds they would have had to rediscover in themselves that capability which was their birth-right, as it was mine: the capacity to be alone.”

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Weekly news: 2011-05-29

May 25, 2011 at 7:10 pm (Politics, Rochester, Weekly news)

1. In Tuesday’s special election in the NY 26th Congressional District, Democrat Kathy Hochul won against Republican Jane Corwin by a 47.1-42.6 margin in a district previously held by Republicans since 1970. The whining ensues. The “Tea Party” candidate Jack Davis, a protectionist who was previously registered as a Democrat and before then a Republican, received 9.2% of the vote.

Recent polls have shown Democrats regaining a slight lead for the generic congressional ballot in 2012. They will likely win the Senate vote by a larger percentage if the public opinion remains constant, since the states up for election favor Democrats. However it is likely that they will still lose several seats, since 2006 (the last time the seats were up for election) was an extremely favorable year for Democrats. The House races are basically a toss-up at this stage.

2. A case study of the problem with American journalism. Excerpts below:

The first Bush-Gore debate, according to Frank Bruni in his personal memoir:

“By any objective analysis, Bush was at best mediocre in the first debate, in Boston. … in all of [the debates], he was vague. A stutter sometimes crept into his voice. An eerie blankness occasionally spread across his features. He made a few ridiculous statements…”

The very same debate, according to Frank Bruni in the New York Times:

“It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan, the Yugoslav president who refuses to be pried from power. … Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic’s challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. … as Mr. Gore loped effortlessly through the Balkans, barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin, it became ever clearer that the point of all the thickets of consonants and proper nouns was not a geopolitical lesson. … it was more like oratorical intimidation…”

3. Breitbarts’ “TwitterHoax” – An illustrative guide to how the right-wing manufactures scandals. Excerpt:

“[She] said she was harassed for weeks online after she started following Weiner on Twitter and the congressman added her to the list of about 200 people he follows. Her harrasser “started posting about me, saying, ‘Oh, the congressman is following school girls,’ tweeting it over and over. It was very annoying,” [she] told the Daily News. When the crotch shot appeared online, she said the same Twitter user was the first to comment on it.

“Since I had dealt with this person and his cohorts before, I assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the congressman and harassing his supporters,” she said. “Annoyed, I responded with something along the lines of ‘are you f***ing kidding me?’ and ‘I’ve never seen this. You people are sick,'” she said.”

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Learning Chinese

May 25, 2011 at 10:33 am (Arts and languages)

There is in recent years a growing trend of native English speakers attempting to learn Chinese in North America and in Western Europe. It is often seen by students and parents as a marketable skill given the rising economic status of mainland China as well as the growing Chinese population in the U.S. and Canada. Quite frankly, however, I find it a silly endeavor. Here are several reasons NOT to learn Chinese:

1. It is (almost) impossible. Written Chinese is one of the most difficult written languages in the world today. There exists more than 120,000 characters, about 30,000 of them commonly used, and about 5,000 of them necessary for daily communication. A typical Chinese course teaches you about 100 characters, which is about the amount that a Chinese toddler needs to maintain his daily necessities: ask for food, water, and toys. In addition, many words in Chinese consist of more than one character. Finally, characters and words have different meanings depending on context. That gives rise to, by my rough estimate, a few trillion possible combinations of characters that may or may not have a valid meaning.

…Now you add onto all this the fact that there is a pronunciation associated to each character depending on its context of usage as well as location in the sentence.

Probably the best evidence of the difficulty of Chinese is the existence of a unique form of television show in China, in which foreigners (many of whom having lived in China for decades) make their best attempt to speak Chinese. It was a highly successful and popular television show. Critics called it cruel and humiliating.
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“Why Nerds Are Unpopular”

May 23, 2011 at 5:24 am (Humans)

A spectacular, spectacular essay that touches on a surprising number of issues. If I had to recommend one and only one essay for every American (adult or child) to read, this would probably be it. The author also has a large collection of other essays on the web. All of them are worth reading.

Some excerpts:

“Around the age of eleven, though, kids seem to start treating their family as a day job. They create a new world among themselves, and standing in this world is what matters, not standing in their family. Indeed, being in trouble in their family can win them points in the world they care about. The problem is, the world these kids create for themselves is at first a very crude one. If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world.”

“As a thirteen-year-old kid, I didn’t have much more experience of the world than what I saw immediately around me. The warped little world we lived in was, I thought, the world. The world seemed cruel and boring, and I’m not sure which was worse.”
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Weekly news: 2011-05-22

May 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm (Weekly news)

1. “This district is about to get sued…” A summary of the recent case in which a public school in Louisiana planned to hold a public prayer at graduation (which is against state law). An atheist student asks the school to cancel the prayer and was publicly insulted by teachers, bullied by mobs of students, and then abandoned by his parents. Here is the Facebook page supporting the student.

2. “Israeli Troops Fire as Marchers Breach Borders” – Someone currently at Palestine told me that Israeli troops have started using tanks on protesters who are armed only with flags.

3. “CIA chief’s letter confirms torture did not lead to Osama bin Laden

4. “Parents keep child’s gender secret” – How leftist “revolutionaries” raise their kids.

5. No rapture yet.

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