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Comment Re:Ask Doctors ... (Score 5, Interesting) 786

You should talk to Doctors. They seem to have a quite different opinion of Medicare

You should also look at world-wide comparisons. Medicare and other public healthcare programs in the US account for more dollars per capita spent than all or almost all universal health-care systems in other countries, and deliver lousy results comparatively.

Canada--with our nominally single-tier, public, single-payer health care system--has longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, and better outcomes by any number of other measures. Critics (sometimes justly) focus on input measures like wait-times, but at the end of the day what matters is that we are getting health care and getting good outcomes. We aren't even the best in the world--just middling-decent as these things go.

So the real question is not "why can't government launch a website" but "why can't the US Federal government, alone amongst all governments in all developed nations, provide a reasonable level of basic, universal health care at costs comparable to those in every other developed nation on Earth?"

This isn't a "government" problem. It is a uniquely American problem, and the solution does not lie in any general ideological fix, but in the detailed structure of the specifically American, particularly broken, Federal government.

Comment Re:How To: (Best Guess) (Score 4, Interesting) 227

Step 5: Model Linux's ecosystem: standards win since they're multiply-implemented.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more mention of standards here, although I've had variable success with standards myself, and good success with open non-standard systems.

Good chioces: Qt, VTK, OpenGL has been extremely long-lived.

Mediocre choices: XML, wx (I moved to wx from Qt when TrollTech went insane over licensing, but have been slowly migrating back in recent years as wx support has decayed on platforms I'm interested in.)

Bad choices: XSLT, VRML

I still use XSLT for some stuff, but VRML was a mistake. Apparently you should stay away from four-letter-acronyms.

Summary: although I prefer standards over non-standards, open vs closed is the fundamental divider between good vs bad bets. Not everything open will survive, but nothing closed will.

Comment Re:Generalized Master Equation... (Score 1) 530

Although I agree this is a fruitful and valuable approach to these problems, it seems to me to side-step the fundamental question, which is, "Why is there a classical world at all, or why is it only the classical world we are conscious ofl?" That is, why is consciousness in particular restricted only to the awareness of one particular entangled state, when all of them exist at the same time?

Decoherence approaches don't actually address this question. They simply take for granted that the only way we can become aware of the existence of quantum physics is via interference phenomena, and once coherence is lost due to entanglement with external sources of entropy, the possibility of awareness of the multiplicity of states necessarily vanishes.

But why is this a necessity? That is, why aren't we consciously aware by means other than interference phenomena of the underlying quantum-mechanical laws that govern the world of our experience? Is there something about the physics of consciousness that makes it so relentlessly classical? (I take suggestions that there is anything particularly "quantum" about consciousness, from Penrose to Chopra, as being obviously wrong-headed: the brain is a highly dissipative system.)

Comment Re:Liberal strategy (Score 1) 1144

There is apparently a notable body of scholarly work that argues presidential democracies are uniquely unstable compared to parliamentary ones: http://www.amazon.com/The-Failure-Presidential-Democracy-Perspectives/dp/0801846404

Westminster-style parliamentary democracy has stood the test of time pretty well, and been implemented successfully all over the world. American-style presidential democracy has barely worked in the US and never worked well anywhere else.

This is deeply unfortunate, as it means the issuer of the world's reserve currency is likely to become increasingly unstable and ungovernable in the coming decades. If the Democrats hold the line in the current crisis, and the Tea Party are sent packing in the next round of Republican primaries, there may be some breathing room, though, and I have a certain level of trust in the "genius of the people" in the United States to, as Churchill said, "do the right thing after they have exhausted all other alternatives."

Comment Re:Where to start with this one...? (Score 1) 408

why he bothered with such a lie I got no idea

Because he believes in the epistemic power of imagination, just like every non-scientist and anti-scientist, from Greenpeace to the Catholic Church, everywhere.

This is the primary distinction between the scientific, Bayesian world-view and the non-, anti- or pre-scientific worldview: the latter is fundamentally based on the idea that what we imagine has something to do with what is.

Rather than base their beliefs on Bayesian updating from evidence derived from systematic observation and/or controlled experiment, such people (sometimes called "philosophers" when they do this professionally, although there is also an important professional sub-type called "economists") chose their beliefs based on what they imagine, or can imagine, or can't imagine.

It's an incredibly common, and you see it amongst self-proclaimed skeptics as well. This is just one particularly absurd example, but believe me, when you (or I!) make claims based on our imaginings rather than ideas that have been publicly tested by controlled experiment and systematic observations (which is just what science is) we look precisely as foolish to those whose beliefs are grounded in the outside world rather than the contents of their heads.

Comment Re:Nature is amazing (Score 2) 213

Who says God doesn't have a bit of Rube Goldberg in him?

Everyone who claims god both all-powerful is not an evil, sadistic, bastard.

A god who could create this world without killing off the vast majority of every generation of every species of every living thing (except humans after we invented science and democracy and capitalism) yet did not do so is unequivocally evil by any sane standard of morality.

A god who could not do so is not all-powerful.

Evolution is the most vicious, inefficient, monstrously cruel mechanism for the creation of the diversity of life you could possibly imagine, and if you want to put that on your god, go right ahead. Just don't expect me or anyone with a gram of human decency to think that your god is anything but a monster, worthy only of our hatred and contempt, because god knows that's all he has shown us.

And again: if you claim that your had no choice but to use this hideous, genocidal mechanism to create us, you are doing nothing but claiming your god is bound by a higher power that imposes that necessity. And what value is god that's merely a beefed up space-alien with superior technology, but still limited by the laws of physics, or logic, or some other greater power that governs the whole ordinary universe, god included.

Comment Re:Yup, we're boned (Score 1) 510

It just boggles my mind that anyone could be so naive as to think emissions can be curbed significantly, in a relevant time frame, by multilateral international agreement.

No one believes that emissions can actually be curbed, but no one cares because no one (or hardly anyone) is actually interested in solving the problem. They are far more interested in using the problem as a justification for controlling other people, in exactly the same way that anti-abortion crusaders don't care about reducing unwanted pregnancy and anti-drug crusaders don't care about reducing drug addiction (not use, addiction and abuse... you know, the things that actually cause the vast majority of drug-related problems.)

We know that prohibitionists of all kinds don't care about the problems they claim to be solving, because prohibition is always a lousy solution. We've known that about drugs for decades. We've known abstinence-only sex education and restricting access to contraceptives increases teen pregnancy. But the people who advocate those things don't care about teen pregnancy: they care about controlling people. Same with drug warriors.

And it's the same with abstinence-only GHG opponents. If they cared about the problem they would be massively pro-nuclear (some are) and more than willing to explore geo-engineering possibilities, however unlikely.

Think about it: there is a class of person who claims that anthoropogenic climate change is likely to produce a civilization-ending event, but are adamantly opposed to even researching any potential solution that doesn't fit into their bizarrely Puritan moral universe.

Comment Re:Wait...what? (Score 4, Interesting) 208

...errr....don't you mean...not die out? And isn't the story here that a presumed barrier was crossed, not that it was a good thing...to some?

Nope. Hybridization is incredibly common amongst plants, so everyone who has ever given GMOs any thought has known all along that the genes would get loose. I've posted about this on /. and elsewhere for years, and presumably others have too.

The important story is that the GMO/hybrids are seeing some selective advantage, which is what people are surprised at: the assumption was that since these genes do not occur in these plants in nature, the odds of them conferring any selective advantage were extremely low. It would be like any random mutation: billions-to-one odds against being beneficial, because there are billions of ways of screwing up the molecular machinery of the cell and only a few ways of making it better (in part because organisms are by definition pretty well adapted to their environment in almost all cases... if they weren't they would have been out-competed by their better-adapted cousins.

I'm not opposed to GMOs as such, because it is stupid to be opposed to an abstraction as diverse as "GMO"--it would be like being opposed to "nuclear power", say, because one particular type of reactor has proven to be uneconomic. But putting responsibility for GMOs into the hands of a small number of global agri-corps seems to me a fairly bad idea because they are going to downplay the risks posed by the genes getting loose, be more concerned with deploying organisms that are profitable rather than sustainable (Roundup Ready plants are a good example of something I'm very leery of.)

Comment Re:Excellent! There pre-reading tests for dyslexia (Score 1) 105

Assuming that the smaller arcuate fasciculus is actually causal in dyslexia, of course.

This is where the utility of brain imaging comes in: it may help localize the causes of dyslexia in particular regions of the brain, guiding further research and perhaps leading to better remedial approaches to the condition.

Comment Ultralight VTOL (Score 1) 127

This is the VTOL equivalent of the ultra-light aircraft: take away everything but the barest essentials, and a "jet pack" is what you have left.

Unlike conventional ultralights, "the barest essentials" in this case don't even include wings, due to the greater thrust of jet engines.

Computer control is clearly very important to making this thing work--I bet there is a very clever stablization algorithm at work in the background, and various emergency control and landing modes that make it relatively idiot-proof.

Comment Re:Guillotine (Score 1) 351

Old reports of victims turning their eyes and looking at people were always brushed off as nonsense "because the brain dies right away" but this research, though not directly to do with decapitation, seems to refute that... even if consciousness lasts for another 10 seconds instead of 30.

I am not aware of any case of these reports being "brushed off as nonsense". Do you have any citiations for this?

Quite famously, during the Terror, one of the aristocratic victims agreed with a friend or servant that they would blink their eyes for as long as possible after decapitation. They blinked something like ten times, well into the 10+ seconds range. I have read of this in several histories of the French Revolution, and in no case was there any suggestion that anyone anywhere ever brushed it off because of some unsubstantiated belief about "the brain dies right away".

Nor have I ever heard the myth in the summary that any non-religion-addled neuro-scientist has ever suggested "near death" experiences are anything but the activity of the dying brain. I have certainly never heard any neuro-scientist ever suggest that the brain dies instantaneously, and it would be incredibly bizarre if that were the case, as it contradicts absolutely everything we know about how the neuro-chemistry of the brain works.

Comment Re:on a volcano spewing CO2 (Score 1) 232

They conveniently ignore the fact that these are bad things, not good...

What are these "good" and "bad" of which you speak? You seem to be under the misapprehension that climate is a one-dimensional phenomena that can be fully chararcterized by it's value along a single good/bad axis. This is not science: it is politics, pure and simple (very simple!)

As soon as you talk about "better" and "worse" or "good" and "bad" you are only talking about politics, not science. No GCM anywhere has any represention of "good" or "bad". No GCM output is a table of "good" or "bad" values.

Climate is complex and very likely being influenced by human activity. Dumbing the discussion down and talking primarily about politics rather than science is not a recipe for fixing any of the issues.

Comment Re:More buck for the bang? (Score 2) 323

Let's assume that the initial print run is 5000 (apparently not atypical in the US for hardcovers: http://www.ian-irvine.com/publishing.html, see "Lesson 11"). That $3.55 for pre-production comes to almost $18,000. Given how poorly edited most books are, and the degree to which layout is automated (I've created both e-books and print books myself, with purely open source tools, and can script the whole process so a monkey could do the work with a push-button) that seems like a huge amount of money.

I'm not saying you're wrong, just saying that everything I know about traditional publishers points to them being fantasitically inefficient organizations, whose bloated processes are preserved simply by their scale, and the way the marketing channels for books create large barriers to entry for smaller presses.

While it's true that "a score is not an album", that hardly proves that Indie bands cannot exist and thrive, and independent authors should be the Next Big Thing in publishing. We're still about a decade behind muscians in this, I think, but it'll happen, and when it does e-books will be the place it happens.

Editing and production are just not that difficult, and freelance professional editors are surprisingly cheap (results, however, vary markedly even while prices do not.)

Comment Re:Control (Score 1) 416

So even if every government and every state and every person suddenly did everything they could to reduce greenhouse gas emissions...

TFA also mentions this "abstinence only" "solution" to the problem of climate change, and I'm damned curious: given that "just say no" is a proven failure in every single area of social policy where it has ever been attempted, and given that this failure is well-known and frequently derided on the Left, why is it that every single liberal person on the planet thinks that it is the only "proven effective" means of reducing human impact on the Earth's climate?

The purveyor's of abstinence-only solutions have--demonstrably--zero interest in actually solving the problems they purport to be concerned about, but are in every single case primarily interested in controlling the behaviour of other people. This is demonstrable because if they were interested in solving the problems the claim to be concerned about, they would be willing to enact social policies that had a chance of reducing those problems, whereas "abstinence only" is empirically proven to always increase them.

One can only assume that the same is true of "abstinence only" climate crusaders: they don't actually care about the Earth's climate. They are simply glomming on to a convenient excuse to impose their controlling little will on everyone else.

Unfortunately, for those of us who are actually worried about the planet's future, they are standing in the way of a myriad of approaches--such as increased reliance on nuclear power--that would actually help solve the problem.

Comment Re:A practical algorithm for manuscript quality. (Score 1) 128

The average quality hovers somewhere between execrable and toe-curlingly awful, and they get dismissed after a glance through the first page.

And yet 99.999% of the remainder still gets rejected.

Why don't all publishers move to purely electronic submissions with simple algorithms to spell and grammar check each incoming MS? There are even well-researched, validated reading-score algorithms that might also be used for further filtering.

This would instantly reduce the role of human readers to almost nothing, according to the definitive statement of virtually every publisher or editor who has ever written anything about submission quality.

That is, if slush is so obviously, screamingly, overwhelming bad, why aren't publishers streamlining their filtering of it, and in the best case rejecting everything being caught by the filter instantly, thereby reducing their turn-around time on everything else?

One suspects that either the quality of slush isn't so bad, or the publishers are just massively incompetent.

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