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Backdoor Barr

August 8, 2019

It’s unsurprising that Attorney General Barr wants a backdoor to encrypted data. It reflects this administration’s authoritarianism bent. Barr doesn’t understand the technology. And he doesn’t care about the clear 1st amendment issue. A nation like China can jail people just for having encryption apps on their phone. That would be an ugly step for a democracy. (Interestingly, the first moves to liberal government banned the use of torture, whose purpose was the same: to reveal information someone wants to keep secret.)

Door was photographed in Spain. Which now lacks an inquisition, and is no longer Catholic. Though its recent fascism may yet lurk.

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Quantum Darwinism

August 6, 2019

There is a real sense in which the measurement problem is solved, if physics can explain how to recover the features of the seemingly classical world from quantum theory. Which underlies the recent interest in Quantum Darwinism. To my thinking, the hard and important thing would be accounting for the Born rule from QM, possibly with some added assumption that is simpler and crisper than the Born rule. Something Zurek tries.

Fantasies and invasion

August 5, 2019

It is not a myth that the US is a nation of immigrants. In the decades prior to WW I, when anyone who wasn’t Chinese could enter, we took in twenty million immigrants, swelling our population to 99 million. Nothing like that is happening today. There is no possibility that the nations from central America could so swell our ranks in proportion, for the simple reason that they don’t have that many people.

Historians and sociologists are going to look back at this time, and puzzle over how and why the nativist fraction of the right wing became so convinced that we were endangered by an “invasion.” Part of it, of course, are media, like Fox News, and politicians, like Greg Abbott, who stir and succor that rage.

In a way, it is dumbfounding to hear that someone fears the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Texas was Hispanic long before it was independent. What exactly is it that those who fear that think is going to terribly change, if this state becomes somewhat more Hispanic? More Spanish spoken? More restaurants serving horchata? That is when authors like Ann Coulter and Patrick Buchanan start talking about changing culture. I will take the culture change from millions of central American immigrants over the culture change from those authors and their fans. It is their culture of hate that I oppose.

Of sins past

August 2, 2019

I am not the least surprised that various Catholic orders of nuns dealt in slaves in the early 19th c. Slavery then was a standard part of the American economy. Nor am I much surprised that today there is a Catholic charity to help priests disgraced by their acts of sexual abuse. A religion like Catholicism needs loyalty more than most anything else.

As to the aspect of racism in that first, I suspect many people today forget or overlook how casual that was, up until the recent past. The recently discovered conversations between Nixon and Reagan are a small example of that. Some of my friends abroad no doubt will remind me it still is pretty casual in many parts of the world.

We live at an odd time and place, when even the politicians who sell hate and lies to attract their base feel obliged to disclaim any racist bone in their body. And biographers write hilariously bad apologies to dispel it from their subjects. Conservatives seem to think something rather silly, that if only they can show that their inner thoughts are free from any racist taint, that if they somehow have purified their inner psyche from any cultural influence carrying such patterns, then their policies and practices also become sanctified. That displays quite a childish view of how the world works. During the Civil War, had there then been surveys and the practice of measuring such things, I suspect soldiers on both sides would have shown much the same range of racial attitudes. The important difference wasn’t that the soldier wearing grey was more racist psychologically than the one wearing blue, but that he was fighting to preserve slavery. Any discussion of Reagan’s racism completely misses the point, when it ignores his opposition to civil rights and his plying of the welfare queen stereotype. If he told himself he was colorblind, that shows only that then as today, conservatives were stupid about such things.

Varieties of clean energy

August 1, 2019

Forbes has a nice write-up of NetPower’s zero-emission natural gas power plant in LaPorte, first fired last year. There are many ways to sustain power production while reducing CO2 emissions. More technology is needed. As always. And more technology will be made. This isn’t magic. The barriers to reduced CO2 emissions aren’t anything inherent in techology or the economy. They are solely political.

There are two interesting features of the technology above. First, it is zero emission only with appropriate disposal of the high-pressure CO2. Such as injection into a disposal well. Second, it is fueled by natural gas, still a fossil fuel. That makes it more amenable to the fossil fuel industry than other alternatives. Does that mean that industry might turn environmentally friendly in its politics? Of course not. The denialist message it funds not only has been quite successful in conservative politics, but still provides it the most space for continued profits into the future. Don’t expect the slightest budge there, just because the environment is on the line.

Tender youth

July 31, 2019

When his advice book on relationships was published, Joshua Harris was 23.

Now, prodigies in their twenties have written great poems, composed lasting works of music, done groundbreaking research in fields from economics and history to engineering and physics, invented fabulous technology, advanced mathematics, gone on great adventures, and likely set most athletic records. I believe in encouraging the young.

Yet, I venture that no one so young has penned a substantive and worthwhile advice book on relationships. The reason is simple. People change over the decades. As do their relationships. Any substantive advice on relationships requires some perspective on that. An author who is 23 simply hasn’t been an adult long enough to gain that perspective.

Harris is now older and wiser. He is retracting his past views, and divorcing his first wife. Your twenties are a great decade for questioning the faith in which you were raised, and asking why it is you were so lucky to be born into the “right” one, when the majority of the world was raised in “wrong” ones. That majority believes in their gods in the same ways and for the same reasons you believe in yours. It is a question easier to ask when you’re young. Many get too set in their ways and too hemmed by social ties and habits to ask it seriously when older. Kudos to those who manage to do so anyway. Better to escape late, than never.

√Čvariste Galois, shown in the sketch, did significant mathematical work that led to Galois field theory. Before dying in a duel at twenty. Should I have cautioned that this post turns to a story of tragedy? The evidence on trigger warnings seems to be that they are not helpful.

Will Republicans apologize? Pull the other one.

July 30, 2019

Ah, it seems like just yesterday that some liberals were tying themselves in knots because Antifa goons assaulted a journalist, and the right-wing media, doing what it does so well, wrote some articles with gussied accusations that it all was the fault of liberals.

Well, now this week the FBI says what everyone knows, that most terrorism in this nation is associated with the right wing and white supremacy. And as if on queue, a white supremacist commits mass murder at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Right on the heels of Trump telling four minority members of the House, three of whom are native born Americans, to go back where they came from.

Are the conservative authors who feign dudgeon over Antifa now demanding that the right wing give a second thought to the white supremacy in its own ranks? Demanding, say, that Republicans ban Confederate flags at its rallies?

No, of course not. They’re happy with white supremacists who advance their cause. They don’t give a rat’s ass about their own unpleasant associations, whether that connects them to terrorist violence, or how that further degrades the American body politic. Expecting them to look seriously at those questions is like expecting Beavis to read Kant. What Beavis does is tell the philosophy professor, “your argument is dumb,” then watch the latter go into introspective catatonia worrying about his own argument’s weak points. When the philosophy professor tells Beavis he hasn’t even made an argument, he and Butthead just laugh.