Too much Star Trek

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s a guy who thinks the replicators on Star Trek are real. Maybe it’s another article from the delusional weirdos of the Singularity Hub. Maybe it’s just that I get really annoyed with physicists who think they understand biology. But yeah, Thomas Hornigold believes that we’ll be able to make desktop replicators that will make anything you want.

These tiny factories will be large at first, like early computers, but soon enough you’ll be able to buy one that can fit on a desk. You’ll pour in some raw materials—perhaps water, air, dirt, and a few powders of rare elements if required—and the nanofabricator will go to work. Powered by flexible photovoltaic panels that coat your house, it will tear apart the molecules of the raw materials, manipulating them on the atomic level to create…anything you like. Food. A new laptop. A copy of Kate Bush’s debut album, The Kick Inside. Anything, providing you can give it both the raw materials and the blueprint for creation.

Just copy biology! It’s not physics, it’s got to be easy!

In recent years, progress has been made towards this goal. It may well be that we make faster progress by mimicking the processes of biology, where individual cells, optimized by billions of years of evolution, routinely manipulate chemicals and molecules to keep us alive.

All we need is energy from the solar panels we’ll build with our replicators to power our replicators!

Suddenly only three commodities have any value: the raw materials for the nanofabricator (many of which, depending on what you want to make, will be plentiful just from the world around you); the nanofabricators themselves (unless, of course, they can self-replicate, in which case they become just a simple ‘conversion’ away from raw materials); and, finally, the blueprints for the things you want to make.

Let me just point out some basic biological realities.

Biological machines are not generic synthesize-anything machines. Enzymatic reactions are narrowly specific: they require very specific inputs (not just a bucket of dirt) and they are honed by evolution to produce very specific output — not just a particular molecule, but a particular chiral form of that molecule. There are very few general, ‘programmable’ molecular machines — ribosomes come to mind — but that’s only going to be useful if you want to produce proteins. Proteins are remarkably flexible, but still, they’re not sufficient if you want to make solar panels, or batteries, or a car.

He trivializes the difficulty of making the ‘blueprints’. I presume he’s thinking of genes, which are not blueprints, and that you’ll just be able to feed in the ‘language’ of your replicator, and it’ll build something complex for you. We don’t understand all the processes that build a cell, so that’s a long way off, and you have to consider the nature of what organic processes assemble. Are you going to build a cell phone made of meat, or wood, or chitin?

He’s also trivializing the energy requirements. You’re going to have to provide your bio-replicator with chemical energy — or you’re going to have to include a fairly complex mechanism for transducing electrical or light energy into chemistry. It’s doable, cells do it all the time, but it’s still a rather elaborate process with more energy losses.

And then there are the raw materials. Water & dirt? You mean organic carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen, and oxygen and hydrogen — fertilizer and gases and water. Can you grow a stalk of wheat in your cubicle? If you can’t do that, what are you doing babbling about the far greater task of fitting a whole farm, fields and livestock, plus an electronics factory, plus an IT department, all into a box on your desk, with negligible requirements for energy or feedstocks. And it has to come preprogrammed with the capability of synthesizing anything.

Singularitarians. They’re the 21st century version of happy clappy religious fanatics.

Why you shouldn’t let virginal sex-haters write sex advice

From Reddit:

The common mode of sexual intercourse is not even natural. Our genitals are not for pleasure, they are for procreation, and that occurs when two people are very much in love and wanting to reproduce. Nature takes its course when the couple are asleep laying naked and embraced. Procreation occurs by the vagina acting as a vacuum, drawing the flaccid penis inside to a climax and eventually, ejaculation.

The vagina then releases the penis, all the while not disturbing the peacefully sleeping couple.

Forceful sexual intercourse is unnatural.

Before you start screaming “POE!”, note that I don’t give a fuck about poes. If they’re saying it, they’re saying it. I also looked into this person’s posting history, and this is all they write about, how yucky sex is.

You didn’t really want to read Milo Yiannopoulos’s book, did you?

You may recall the scandal: Yiannopoulos got a $250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster, which was then cancelled after it was revealed that Yiannopoulos was saying all these nice things about pedophilia. Yiannopoulos then turned around and is suing Simon & Schuster for $10 million over that cancellation, which is probably a terrible mistake for him, because the publisher’s defense is that it was a very bad book, unsuitable for publication, and that it wasn’t just his endorsement of pedophilia that got him canned.

To that end, their defense in the lawsuit was to include the entire draft of the text, with the editor’s comments. They’re hilarious. You can tell the editor hated the book. Some of the highlights are included in this twitter thread.

Apparently, you can download the whole thing via the New York county clerk’s website, where it is filed. I didn’t, because goddamn, Milo’s 15 minutes are totally up.

History will eat the rich, but unfortunately they’re dragging the rest of us down with them

Brad DeLong has a few words of warning for the rich plutocrats who support Trump and are enjoying the ill-gotten gains of their gigantic tax cut. Pay attention to history, because it really sucks to be rich under a tyranny. You’ve created a machine that sucks wealth upward, and when you’ve got all the money, you become the target.

To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur.

The political descendants of the politicians today you support who lead chants of “lock her up“ will be the greatest threat to the liberty, the wealth, and perhaps even the lives of those of your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are plutocrats. Look ahead into the future a little bit. Do not focus on the pile of moolah under your nose.

It did not take long for the breakdown of elite political norms provoked by the desire of the political military plutocrats of the Roman Republic to aggrandize the benefits of the post Hannibal creation of the empire to lead the vultures home to roost. In Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica led a mob of senators into the street, shouting “Now that the consul has betrayed the state, let every man who wishes to uphold the laws follow me!” to murder the tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and annul the Lex Sempronia Agraria as too great a distribution of the profits of empire away from the oligarchy. Ten years later Lucius Opimius armed himself with the legal figleaf of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum before murdering Tiberius’s brother Gaius and 3000 of Gaius’s affinity. Thus was the Roman Republic set on to the “why speak of laws? we carry swords” road of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, and Octavian—and that road ended at a place where the wealthy found themselves attainted and executed at the pleasure of the princeps in order to fund bribes to praetorians.

Under the Roman Empire, the way to become the subject of a treason trial wasn’t necessarily to have committed treason — it was to have a big pot of wealth that the Emperor wanted. Look up the law of maiestas. Look up delatores. If we go down that path,the rich are going to have to hide, or face death, disgrace, and most intolerable to you greedy motherfuckers, confiscation of all of your properties by the Top Dog, whoever that is.

We aren’t going to last as long as the Roman Empire, though. One thing about an imperial tyranny where a few authoritarians can lay down an iron law is that it can last quite a long time — 1500 years of bloody imperial Roman history was quite impressive. We’ve added something novel to the mix here in the United States of America: we’ve given all the citizens a megaphone, and every lunatic fringe element is babbling away. The likes of Alex Jones gibbering away incessantly in the background, the transparent propaganda of Fox News hypnotizing the foolish, militias popping up everywhere with ludicrous interpretations of the Constitution, megachurches peddling death cult Christianity — in addition to undermining democracy, the right-wing authoritarians have normalized crazy. Destabilizing the country is what they want, but they’re going to reap what they sow.

You know, I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb, where there was fear of a looming apocalypse everywhere. We thought that what was going to kill us was our dangerous technological brilliance — we were just too dang smart for our own good. We were wrong. It’s our ignorance that is going to destroy us, our contempt for the social sciences and humanities, our dismissal of the importance of history, sociology, and psychology in maintaining a healthy, stable society that people would want to live in. A complex society requires a framework of cooperation and interdependence to survive, and without people who care about how it works and monitors its functioning, it’s susceptible to parasites and exploiters and random wreckers. Ignorance and malice allow a Brexit to happen, or a Trump to get elected, or a Sulla to march on Rome to ‘save the Republic’.

This is my dream

We must destroy the Republican party. Fairly, but utterly.

Then in 2020, Trump must be crushed at the ballot box. His corrupt administration must be thoroughly investigated, and any criminal acts punished. More importantly, the economic base of Republican plutocracy — Wall Street, monopolist corporations, and idle rich heirs and heiresses — must also be crushed. Monopolies must be broken up, taxes on the rich and corporations dramatically increased, and the size, profitability, and power of Wall Street sharply reduced with cricket bat regulations.

Meanwhile, Democrats must strengthen their own political base by strengthening democratic freedoms. They should make D.C. and Puerto Rico states, establish an inalienable right to vote, make Election Day a holiday, and strengthen and update labor law to spark a new wave of union organizing. Then they must overhaul the economy to cut the middle and working class in on the fruits of the last 40 years of economic growth, actually provide health care for all, and perhaps strengthen the welfare state for parents and children. Only by establishing a new political economy that functions for the great majority of the citizenry — as FDR and the New Deal Democrats did in the 1930s — can Republicans be firmly exiled from political power. For a political party as diseased as the GOP, a generation in the political wilderness is just what the doctor ordered.

You’ve mistaken “head exploding” for “laughing at your expense”

I despise internet hyperbole, no matter who does it. It’s one of the things I like least about the left-leaning news site Raw Story — they periodically erupt with click-baity inane headlines on the order of “Internet Decides Donald Trump is a Moron”. No, the internet decides nothing, and all you’ve got is a collection of tweets from people who don’t like Republicans. Of course, the right wing does it too, perhaps even more, and here’s an example: Trump Makes “Merry Christmas” Great Again; Leftist Heads Explode. How are your heads feeling today, fellow lefties?

We may not all have stopped saying it, but we did feel the weight of it outside of conservative regions like the South. We understood that “Happy Holidays” was preferred and that we risked offending and insulting others—or losing our jobs, i.e. mine in academia—by uttering the words “Merry Christmas.”

I felt it when I lived in Massachusetts, as I’ve attested in a post about my experience with this socio-cultural and economic pressure. No one said, “if you say ‘Merry Christmas,’ you’re out of here.” They didn’t have to. The left uses the fact that conservatives and others on the right don’t want to offend or upset others. They know we don’t like to make a fuss and that we are likely to turn the other cheek or remain silent when we are attacked or in the face of controversy . . . particularly when our jobs are on the line.

Unbelievable. The whole point of that post is the claim that Donald Trump successfully annoyed the Left and was pushing leftist buttons — that he was trolling and doing this specifically to rile up others.

You know, that’s kind of the opposite of not wanting to offend or upset others. This twit is openly chortling about offending and upsetting leftists! That was the whole point of Trump’s tweet!

In case you’re wondering about the referenced post about their experience, it’s more of the same — imagined offenses against kind, gentle, well-meaning conservatives.

In Massachusetts, I worked in Boston but lived in a smallish, mostly blue collar town. In Boston, it was “Happy Holidays” . . . if one dared recognize that there even was a December holiday (or reason to be happy). Out in my town, it was the general sense that “Merry Christmas” was preferred, but I had to say it first, and the person to whom I said it would look around nervously, blush, and then finally, with a sense of strong defiance or of quiet camaraderie, say “Merry Christmas” back.

Look, this is just plain stupid, and the reverse of the facts. If you are working in academia or living in a large city, you know that some of the people you meet are going to be Jewish, or Muslim, or atheist, and wishing them a merry Christmas is rude and insensitive (although I’ve also noticed that those people are usually willing to take the greeting in the spirit it is given, and not sweat the implications). We’re actually aware of the context and the environment, and being able to wish someone well in a non-sectarian way is a good thing. The only people nervous about saying “Merry Christmas” are conservatives who are vaguely aware that they’re being exclusive.

The reason people were laughing at Trump is not that they were angry, but that 1) it’s another Trumpian lie, and 2) it was clearly aimed at the kind of narrow, hypocritical, conservative white Christian dumbass who wrote that post. If you want to know how we really feel, ask the Rude Pundit.

One of the fun parts of being a total atheist is that you don’t give a damn what religion someone believes. Seriously, someone can tell me they think that God is a toilet and shitting is the way to give thanks to Him for His blessings of indoor plumbing. It doesn’t fucking matter. In fact, unless you are making laws according to your religion and imposing them on me or you’re harming others based on your faith, why should I care? You’re just a harmless person who believes that fairy tales are real and, c’mon, who gives a fuck? You think Cinderella really went to a ball so you wear glass slippers around your neck? Groovy, man. Enjoy.

So when President Donald Trump made a big fuckin’ deal about being “allowed” to say, “Merry Christmas” again, I wondered who the fuck was stopping him. I mean, you wanna say, “Merry Christmas” or “Hail Satan” or “I fuck unicorns,” I’m not gonna care (ok, I’ll be a little judgmental about the unicorn fucking – or at least curious as to what that fucking is like). Who said you couldn’t say, “Merry Christmas”? Everyone I’ve known ever has always said, “Merry Christmas.” I say, “Merry Christmas” and I think that Jesus is a fictional character in an overlong, poorly-plotted book.

Ahed Tamimi: now that’s bravery

Tamimi is a Palestinian teenager who was protesting the occupation of her home by Israeli soldiers — and she is not shy about kicking and slapping these heavily armed men who tower over her.

If you’re wondering why Tamimi is so furious, you haven’t been paying attention. The government of Israel has been following a pattern of brutal oppression for decades.

Two Fridays ago, one week before Ahed chased the soldiers from her yard, it was her cousin Mohammad, one of her little brother’s closest friends. A soldier shot him in the face. The bullet—rubber-coated but a bullet nonetheless—lodged in his skull. A week later, he was still in a medically-induced coma.

If you’ve seen the video that led to her arrest, you might have wondered why Ahed was so angry at the soldiers who entered her yard, why she yelled at them to leave, why she slapped them. That’s why. That and a thousand other reasons. Her uncle and her cousin killed. Her mother shot in the leg and on crutches for most of a year. Her parents and her brother taken from her for months at a time. And never a night’s rest without the possibility that she might wake, as she did early Tuesday morning, as she had so many times before, to soldiers at the door, in her house, in her room, there to take someone away.

Tamimi has now been arrested. Apparently trying to throw soldiers who are occupying your front yard out is a crime so heinous it warrants threats of life imprisonment.

The gulf between the two opposing fantasies that define Israel’s self-image has only grown with the years: a country that still imagines itself to be David to the Arab Goliath—noble, outnumbered, and brave—while taking pride in the unrivaled lethality and sophistication of its military. Ahed made both those convictions crumble. Before the world, she had again revealed Israel to be the bully. And watching that video, they knew that their guns are worthless, their strength a sham. For revealing those secrets, for showing the world how weak and fearful they know themselves to be, Ahed had to be punished. And so the Defense Minister of the country with the most technologically advanced military in the world stooped from his throne to personally promise that not just Ahed and her parents but “everyone around them” would get “what they deserve.” The Minister of Education was more specific: Ahed should be locked up for life, he said, so serious was her crime.

That’s not all. Some Israelis think the appropriate response would be to torture or rape her.

Prominent Israeli journalist Ben Caspit caused international furor last week, when he wrote in his Maariv article that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.

Israel is our ally, as is Saudi Arabia. When will we wake up and realize that our friends are horrible and abusive, and maybe shouldn’t be our friends?

(Maybe when we wake up and realize the US has been horrible and abusive to its own citizens.)

How to confound a flat-earther

Use the principle of Kook Neutralization. Confront them with a hollow-earther.

Cluff is against the claim made by the flat-Earthers. I don’t know how the flat-Earthers can be so confused. They are obviously wrong. The world is not flat – it’s hollow. They reject all the evidence, he said. Unlike, the flat-Earthers, the hollow-Earthers believe that our Earth is spherical but with a hollow body. Their conspiracy theories also suggest that the moon, the stars, the Sun, and other planets are all hollow bodies.