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Comment Re:Basis of the US economy (Score 1) 567

This is a problem with the US economy in general - it is based on growth.

If by "growth" you mean primarily population growth, this is balderdash.

Historically speaking, the way the US became an economic giant was by increasing productivity at rates far higher than mere population growth (thereby raising living standards and income per capita.) Things like mechanization, industrialization, automation, and the information age have made it possible for an individual in each successive generation to produce more than individuals from prior generations. If the US economy only grew at the same pace as the population, then on a per capita basis that's the same as standing still, which is clearly not the case for most of US history.

In fact, I'd argue it was the lack of population that fueled American innovation since early colonial times. When confronted with vast resources and a shortage of labor, the early pioneers were forced to develop the technologies that could amplify any one individual's efforts. (At least in the North. In the South they attempted to solve the labor shortage through the importation of slaves.) Contrast this with Europe, which had the inverse problem of large population and limited land, which made increasing individual productivity less of a priority.

If the US population stopped growing today, economic growth would still be fueled by gains in productivity, just as it always has been.

Comment Re:Or... (Score 1) 446

We weren't in Afghanistan before 9/11, and yet Al Qaeda used it as a base of operations anyway. Furthermore, leaving Afghanistan won't make it suddenly peaceful and terrorist-free... much the opposite, in fact. Premature withdrawal gives us the worst of both worlds: all the hatred engendered by the original invasion and occupation, plus a power vacuum in the region created by leaving the work of reconstruction half-finished. Sounds like the perfect environment for incubating more terrorists. Pretending we can simply walk away without negative consequences is naive at best.

That said, I agree that our meddling in the Middle East has caused enormous problems, and the less meddling we do the better off we'll be. The problem is that there's no easy solution to the current predicament: occupation with troops, drone strikes, or complete withdrawal... they each have drawbacks.

Comment Re:Make fun of them all you want. (Score 2) 148

Maybe not France, they can give up for a very low cost in defense spending.

Number of US soldiers killed before the courageous Americans cut and run from Vietnam: 47,000

Number of French soldiers killed before the army mutinied in WWI (refusing to engage in pointless offensives, fighting only to maintain defense): 978,000

Talk all you like about French cowardice, my dear armchair General, but when the going gets tough it is the Americans who get going... straight for the exits.

Comment Re:Captain Obvious (Score 1) 341

Letâ(TM)s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, using the Chevy Volt as an example. In electric mode, the Volt gets about 22 kWh / 100 km, (so it is one of the least efficient electric vehicles out there⦠the best ones get 10 kWh / 100 km). Coal power generation produces about 1 kg of CO2 per kWh, so the âoeCO2 efficiencyâ of the Volt on an entirely coal-fed diet is 22 kg CO2 / 100 km.

The closest analog for the Volt that I can find is the Chevy Cruze, which the EPA rated about 9.8 L / 100 km for inner city driving. (Please feel free to correct me if you find a gasoline car which is a closer match for the size / power of the Volt). Burning gasoline produces approximately 2.4 kg of CO2 per L, so the CO2 efficiency of the Cruze is 23 kg CO2 / 100 km. Even given our unrealistic assumption of 100% coal-derived power, the electric vehicle comes out (slightly) ahead.

Keep in mind, coal accounts for only 45% of American electricity, while cleaner-burning natural gas accounts for another 23%. (The remainder comes from nuclear, hydro, wind, etc.) Natural gas produces 0.2 kg CO2 per kWh, as opposed to 1 kg, so in a more realistic calculation the Volt gets about 10 kg CO2 / 100 km, which more than twice as efficient as the gasoline car! The comparison gets even more favorable to electric when you consider other, more efficient electric cars (the Volt is one of the worst).

I should also point out one other way my quick calculation above is biased in favor of gasoline: the CO2 number for electricity includes losses due to transmission and distribution, while the number for gasoline does not (I only counted the CO2 of the gasoline that ends up in your tank.) For a true apples-to-apples comparison, we should include the considerable CO2 emissions that come with refining and shipping petrol.

Iâ(TM)ll admit my numbers are rather simplistic, so if you can point out any errors Iâ(TM)ve made I would welcome the correction. However, it seems to me pretty clear that you have no idea what you're talking about when you say it is "obvious" that electric cars are not greener than their gasoline-burning predecessors.

Comment These guys don't screw around (Score 4, Informative) 31

They conduct their launches from a marine platform that they tow out to sea using the fully functional submarine that they built for a previous project.

Also, in reply to the surprising number of negative responses questioning why a bunch of enthusiasts should build a giant rocket...
a) because it's awesome, and
b) because they can. /. is a community of hackers (in the proper sense of the term), and building your own manned rocket qualifies as an epic hack. Technology shouldn't be just a shiny black box made by a corporation somewhere for us to consume in the approved ways... it should be something we tear apart and put back together, modify it and use it to unconventional ways that were never intended.

The world is full of black boxes, and full of people who want to tell us never to peak inside. Good on these guys for ignoring the nay-sayers and having the courage to build something awesome.

Comment Re:Spoilers (Score 3, Interesting) 323

For most of human history as it turns out, women were not given much choice on who they'd have sex with, and rape was a viable and commonly-practiced method of procreation.

Now it's your turn to back up your assertions. While I agree that there has been a significant power difference between the genders for most (if not all) of human history, that is different from saying women had not much choice in the matter of who they ended up with. Humans are relatively unique among the primates in using pair-bonding as the dominant reproductive strategy (where almost every male has a chance to pass on his genes), rather than the alpha-male hierarchy seen in chimp, gorilla, and other ape societies. Genghis Khan is notable because he is the exception, rather than the rule, in our social organization.

Moreover, I would argue that human intelligence, and much of the culture that flows from it, is a sexually-selected trait, much like the feathers on a peacock's tail... females are generally attracted to men who can conspicuously show off their mental agility and creativity through displays such as music and dance, or through the accumulation of wealth. If women had no choice in who they mated with, these displays would be pointless from an evolutionary perspective. It is precisely because women had a choice in who they paired with that the selection pressure for intelligence far exceeded what was necessary for mere survival of the species.

Comment Re:Abused, yes. Most abused, probably not. (Score 2) 287

Sorry to disappoint you, but a group cannot produce more than the sum of each person.

It depends how you define the "sum", but it is very clear that some ways of organizing labor result in far more productivity than what you would get if each person on the team simply worked on their own. Adam Smith had a very memorable description of a pin factory in his book The Wealth of Nations:

"One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; [...] I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. [...] But if they had all wrought separately and independently, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day"

The division of labor, which later lead to the assembly line, was one of the key innovations behind the spectacular increases in productivity during the Industrial Revolution. Evidently there are ways of organizing teams to produce results greater than the sum of the individual contributors.

Comment Re:This is what they mean by "frictionless" (Score 1) 122

My favorite permutation of this is the 3rd party billing "feature", turned on by default by your friendly neighborhood cellular service conglomerate.

3rd party billing allows for businesses to add charges to your phone bill, and the carrier makes no effort to verify whether you actually agreed to anything. That means a crook can add arbitrary monthly charges to your bill simply by knowing your phone number and claiming you opted in. Best of all, the carrier won't reverse the charges even if you can prove you didn't request the damn thing... it's up to you to pursue the scammers for a refund.

Do yourselves a favor and tell your cellular service provider to turn off 3rd party billing, and tell them this sort of thing should be turned off by default.

Comment Re:Missing the point... (Score 4, Insightful) 1469

From the context of his remarks, I don't think Akin was referring to false versus truthful claims of rape per se, but rather that he was referring to the distinction Republicans are trying to draw between "forcible rape" and all other forms (i.e. statutory rape, or situations where the woman is unable or unwilling to fight back against her attacker.) The Republicans tried to pass a bill with the "forcible rape" distinction, but backed down after public outcry, so Akin's remarks aren't really outside his party's official position on the matter... he's being disowned by the party only because he drew attention to their stance.

Comment Re:This looks like a job for Super Man. (Score 1) 318

Almost all large American cities (you know, the places that tend to have the largest police forces) have "Liberal/Progressives" in power. Of the ten biggest cities in the US, only New York and San Diego have non-Democratic mayors. Quite simply, police brutality is a function of a city's size more than its politics. Thanks for trying to make a partisan issue out of it, though.

Comment Re:Lovely (Score 1) 178

Remind me again, which party was responsible for the Willie Horton ads? Which party used false rumors about McCain having an illegitimate black baby to destroy his chances in the 2000 primaries. Which party has pursued a "Southern strategy" for the last half century to capture the white vote in the old Confederate states?

I'm sure it's pure coincidence that many of the policies promoted by that party just happen to disproportionately benefit rich white males, and disproportionately harm minorities. But sure, the real racists are the other side for occasionally calling them out on it.

Comment Re:not to mention (Score 1) 195

If it's OK for Sony BMG to benefit from being part of the Sony brand when things are good, then it is only fair for the reverse to occur when one division behaves badly and generates bad publicity. (In Sony's case, there have been many terrible anti-consumer decisions made by multiple divisions over the years, which indicates that the source of the rot is at the top.)

Since I never bought entertainment media from Sony BMG anyway, for the purposes of my boycott I consider anything carrying the name Sony as "close enough".

Comment Re:He's not just a researcher... (Score 1) 1198

I've had the privilege of meeting Steve Mann (he lectures at the University I attended, so I sat in one some of his lectures and talked to him after class a bit). He quite literally wrote the book on wearable computers (http://wearcam.org/cyborg.htm), and a good portion of the book covers the hostile reactions people have to someone wearing conspicuous recording devices.

Come to think of it, I've previously commented on /. about my gut reaction upon first encountering Steve Mann wearing his glasses (http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2943031&cid=40478747). In short, I found the experience to be rather unsettling, despite the fact that Dr. Mann is a really nice guy. The cameras are mounted on the surface of his glasses right in front of his eyes, which really interferes with eye-contact. As social creatures, eye-contact is hugely important in establishing rapport... deliberately taking that away generates a surprising amount of animosity at a subconscious level.

That said, I am in no way trying to justify the actions of the thugs who assaulted Dr. Mann. I hope they get punished appropriately.

Comment Re:Sciodiots (Score 4, Informative) 131

Actually, there are examples of "one off" events in early human history, such as the migration out of Africa by a subset of the ancestral human population some 50,000 years ago.

According to Nicolas Wade's fascinating book "Before the Dawn" (yes, the same Nicolas Wade from TFA), all the genetic evidence points to a single band of maybe 150 people leaving the rest of the ancestral human population behind in Africa, and populating all the rest of the world. Of course, the natural question is, why didn't other waves follow them in all the millennia since then?

The answer is, in part, that the first migrants already blocked the exits. The original departure from Africa was less a migration than it was an expansion... individuals tended to live in roughly the area they were born, and it was only the ever-growing population numbers that drove the advancing wave of modern humans through Asia and Europe generation after generation. The modern humans had a strong advantage (probably language) over the archaic hominids already occupying the new lands, but the human population in Africa had no such advantage over their brethren once the first wave spread out past the Red Sea. Hence, the migration out of Africa appears to have been a one-time event of the type you so quickly derided as nonsense.

Comment It's not just a problem with sectarianism (Score 4, Informative) 445

I would argue that on top of the sectarian issues in this particular case, there is a major lack scientific achievement in that region of the world. Dr. Abdus Salam is one of only two Nobel laureates from a Muslim country. Islamic Universities have a shockingly low output (only 300 out of the 1800 universities in the region have even _one_ faculty member who has ever published anything. Compare that to Western Universities where typically every faculty member will have publications.)

Part of the problem might be the rote learning paradigm that dominates in the middle east. Free inquiry and critical thinking are probably discouraged in a region dominated by so many authoritarian regimes. However, I would argue that one of the main reasons science has failed to flourish in Arab-Islamic countries is the legacy of one man: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali.

Al-Ghazali helped codify and unify several competing schools of Islamic thought, binding them around the central premise of rejecting outside influences to concentrate on spiritualism and devotion to God. While European philosophy focused on understanding the material world, al-Ghazali focused instead on the supernatural. After the Crusades destroyed the Islamic world's scientific Golden Age, al-Ghazadi's anti-scientific philosophy held sway and kept the region from experiencing the kind of Renaissance that moved Europe out of the dark ages.

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