Sean King

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San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Three Must Read Books for Summer

Yes, I have summer on the mind already, so here they are:

* Atlas Shrugged (you could just wait of the movie, but movies are never as good)

* Liberal Fascism

* The Road to Surfdom

All three make a common point that continually fascinates me: They all illustrate how the desire to "do good for others" is the root of totalitarianism. Due largely to these books, I'm naturally skeptical of "do gooders".

Atlas Shrugged, New Scene Released:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Common Gene Testing Exposes Family Secrets

Like, for instance, incest.

But, incest isn't the only such secret such tests can expose. For instance, many people have discovered from genetic testing that, thanks to parental infidelity, their siblings are really only half-siblings.

While birth control and the availability of abortion might reduce the incidence of such family secrets today, they had to be extremely common prior to the 1960's. I don't know how common, but I'm guessing as many as one in ten, certainly as high as one in 20, births resulted from undisclosed marital infidelity in the days before birth control and abortion.

For this reason, I've always been skeptical of tracing one's family tree back more than just a generation or two, if that far. With each generation, especially those born prior to the 1960's, the odds that your family line became corrupted with genetic material from an "outsider" increase exponentially. Family trees are a fascinating way of tracing one's cultural heritage, but I'm guessing that they are far less accurate than most suspect in tracing one's genetic heritage.

Given the emphasis on "royal blood" in European aristocracy, I think it would be fascinating for scientists to perform genetic tests on several royal families and their supposed "blood" ancestors. I suspect that we wouldn't have to go back more than just a few generations before we discovered that any impostor had gained the throne, or perhaps some lessor title of nobility.

Time Magazine Discusses the Singularity

"2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal"

It's an excellent article, though if one is not already familiar with the idea of the singularity, the article doesn't explain it all that well. The singularity, or at least Kurzweil's understanding of it, is not the point at which humanity becomes immortal, but rather it is the point at which greater-than-human intelligence arrives on the scene, making predictions about what happens beyond that point all but impossible. Limited human intelligence can't predict how greater-than-human intelligence will mold and interact with the world with any greater accuracy than a dog can prognosticate about human political or economic affairs. Immortality (or indefinite life span) is a completely different but somewhat related topic, and its achievement will likely precede the Singularity by a decade or more.

In reading the comments under the article, I'm reminded once again of just how controversial the idea of indefinite lifespans is. People have a visceral reaction to it, almost universally negative. Those few who embrace the idea are someone freakishly called "transhumanists" and comprise a relatively small percentage of the population.

I think the idea of immortality frightens people because most of us hate having our assumptions challenged, and no assumption is more deeply ingrained than that of certain death. When our most basic assumptions are undermined, humans are forced to deal with uncertainty, and we detest and fear uncertainty as much as anything. And, if not even death is certain, then...what? That's the unspoken issue that most have with indefinite life spans.

Here's what I had to say on this subject in only my second ever blog post back in 2008:

The more interesting implications of indefinite life expectancies are not the practicalities of managing the environment, but rather the philosophical/religious ones. Many insist that death gives meaning to human lives, and that fear of death is important to our spiritual/psychological/philosophical well-being. But, I have to say, once one comes to truly believe as I have that indefinite life expectancy is not only possible but is only a decade or two away, contemplating living forever, or even for several centuries, is nothing short of terrifying. As a result of this fear, isn't an axiom like "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die" equally as compelling, maybe more so, when rephrased as "eat, drink, and be merry, for you will be living one hell of a long time and you might as well enjoy it"? In other words, which is more terrifying and which results in more soul-searching: The thought of dying (and all that entails), or the thought of living forever?

For me, it's the latter.

Kurzweil Predicts a Watson Victory:

We'll find out tomorrow.

Bill Maher...

...questions Obama's Christianity: "I just don't believe it."

Or, maybe he just doesn't WANT to believe it. And, that's the problem with Obama's Christianity--neither left wing secularist nor right wing Christians want to believe he's a Christian.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

You Think the "Tone" of Politics is Bad Now?

You should have been alive in 1824 when Andrew Jackson ran for President.

Why Europeans Can't Make Soup

Europeans can't make soup because they don't have a "melting pot." Consider what British Prime Minister Cameron recently had to say"on the subject":

Speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Mr. Cameron condemned what he called the “hands-off tolerance” in Britain and other European nations that had encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”
“Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries,” he said. “We have to get to the root of the problem.”

In what aides described as one of the most important speeches in the nine months since he became prime minister, Mr. Cameron said the multiculturalism policy — one espoused by British governments since the 1960s, based on the principle of the right of all groups in Britain to live by their traditional values — had failed to promote a sense of common identity centered on values of human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law.

Similar warnings about multiculturalism have been sounded by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. But, if anything, Mr. Cameron went further. He called on European governments to practice “a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism,” and said Britain would no longer give official patronage to Muslim groups that had been “showered with public money despite doing little to combat terrorism.”
Mr. Cameron continued: “We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. So when a white person holds objectionable views — racism, for example — we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.”

All too often, "multiculturalism" is simply a pretext for the discrimination, segregation, and racism for which Europe is famous. However, unlike Europe's past overtly racist policies, multiculturalism doesn't claim to "force" minority groups into ghettos or actively deny them the benefits of a free society or explicitly refuse minority groups equal protection of the laws. And yet, it accomplishes these same things by a much less objectionable means--that is, by purporting to "honor" the "right" of minority groups to live by their own rules out of "respect" for their independent "cultures", going so far as to actively discourage minorities from assimilating through special laws designed to "protect" their "cultural heritage", governmental subsidies of culturally inspired special interest groups, and a nation-wide "education" campaign designed to convince the population that honoring minority cultures means treating minority individuals differently than everyone else. But, as Cameron points out, when respect for one's culture means that we treat individual citizens differently than others simply due to their religious, racial or cultural background, the long-term effects of multiculturalism--segregation and discrimination--are indistinguishable from overt racism.

That's not to say that minority cultures should be forced to assimilate in any culture, but neither should they be discouraged from doing so as is done in Europe.

By and large, I think the US has done things pretty much right. In the US, we honor and respect minority subcultures, but we also hold them (mostly) to the same legal and societal standards as everyone else. The result is that, after a couple generations, American immigrants have almost universally been assimilated into the great American "melting pot", and both America and its immigrants are better for it. The result is an American society which can be likened to a deliciously complex, fully cooked, and reasonably homogeneous soup. Sure, there's a carrot here and a potato there, but the flavors of each ingredient have "melted" into one, and the result is wonderfully rich, highly complex and undoubtedly unique broth. And yet, despite the consistency of the soup, no one who has traveled America more than a trifle would ever suggest that it lacks cultural diversity.

Compare Europe. In Europe, "melting" is actively discouraged (since their purported desire is to preserve and "honor" distinct and separate "cultures"). Consequently, the elements of the soup are not permitted to sufficiently co-mingle and simmer, since each one is valued only to the extent that it is uncorrupted and unique from the others. There is no melting pot in Europe, and the result is an undercooked and inconsistent stew of sorts that no one finds even remotely satisfying.

How Fast You Walk at a "Normal" Gate Predicts How Long You'll Live

Really, it does.

Tim Sykes should live forever then.

The Singularity is Here?

Supercomputer "Watson" to take on past Jeopardy champions on February 14th.


50-inch plasma HDTV's for less than $600? Yep.