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Comment Re:Cradle of Civilization My Ass (Score 1) 796

That depends where you draw the line. I personally draw it somewhere around "believes in ghosts", but let me pick a less controversial goalpost, which I think all the reasonable people I know would agree with, particularly including the religious ones: most Americans thought evolution is false in 2009. (Good news! Percentage down since 2004.)

That does not include those who believe evolution was guided by God. It only includes those who believe God created humans in their present form, i.e., we didn't evolve. However, it does include those who believe we didn't actually evolve, but God created the universe to appear in every way as if we did. That's not a scientifically testable hypothesis, so is compatible with all the evidence for evolution. As far as I know, there aren't many people that believe this without also claiming literal truth of the bible (which is testable and appears to be false, absent the God-faked-the-physical-world escape clause). However, I'm not an expert in the demography of American Christian fundamentalists.

Other different sources, with different phrasings of the question, include: just below 40% in 2006; 39% in 2009; 40% in 2010; 41% in 2011. So the CBS numbers are higher than most, but you would have a hard time arguing that it's much less than 40%.

Now, most churchgoing folks are indeed nice, sane, civilized people. But fundamentalism is not a "big media" invention; there is a real, serious problem with people believing, and therefor potentially acting, counter-factually.

Now, I am an atheist. I recognize that faith and science are compatible. Make any untestable statement you want, as long as you recognize that it's an article of faith. Science only deals with testable claims and the physical world. We may have more nuanced disagreements about morality, rationality of faith, etc. However, the argument above doesn't enter into metaphysics or moral philosophy. It just says: if a religious fundamentalist is someone who denies scientific facts on a religious basis, then we have a lot of them in the US, not a tiny minority.

Comment Re:Python (Score 1) 525

On the learning-languages-online side, the current crop of languages and online guides seems to do a good job, or at least a better job than in the past, on engineering issues. In "my time" you would have first really thought about these in a real programming course at college. These days, there are a lot of huge codebases out there, accessible online, and engineering issues are more central to the community at large. There's quite a lot of religion online when it comes to software engineering, but there was at college, too. So you have to go beyond the language guides to get a well rounded picture of SE, but at least they consider the issues.

On the structured-learning side, just to amplify the parent's point, the online approach basically gets you nothing of formal semantics, discrete mathematics, mathematical logic, etc. Formal semantics is really only useful if you go into a specialized field (compilers, formal methods tools, programming language design, etc.), but is still great, if you're interested in it, for its beauty and the perspective it gives. Discrete math is important to all programmers, at least to understand complexity theory and the algorithms they use everyday. And it's hard, although if you have the self-discipline, you can find those courses online. But the harder stuff is where it's really nice to have people around to learn with and from.

Finally, another poster mentioned the bits-between-your-toes aspect of a good CS education, which you lose by attacking from the programming language side, particularly online. I think BASIC was mentioned, although I'd recommend C, Forth, or especially a simple assembly language as being educational in this regard. Are there some good assembly learning guides online for relatively simple processors, either impractically obsolete but really simple for learning (e.g., 6502), or practical but not too complicated (e.g., ARM, MIPS)? It's also hard to build your own computer hardware online, which is a great joy of the EECS college experience, though maybe less essential than understanding a few assembly languages.

For the original question about an 11-year-old, that is old enough to learn a simple assembly language or Forth, so that supplement online Python in a non-trivial way. (11 might still be too early for them to read the Python implementation, which is always another way to learn how things work, if not always ideal pedagogically.)

Comment Re:question for outraged white liberals (Score 1) 1208

I kind of agree with you, but kind of not, in the sense that you may be exaggerating and being extra divisive.

It probably would be good to face class a little more directly and rationally, and yes, that would kind of throw a bone to the left, which the right can't seem to abide.

On the other hand, admitting that, maybe, growing income inequality is not entirely the fault of the losers does not require validating Marxism. Maybe it validates some of Marx's ideas, but wherever you fall w.r.t. Marxism and its modern descendants, you must admit there's a gap between the existence of a class problem, and the revolutionary aspects associated with Marxism?

In many liberal democracies, like the US, we seem to swing back and forth over time, and we're over to the right now. Maybe it really is the end, and we don't swing back without revolution, but I'm not convinced yet. (Maybe I'm a little closer to convinced than I like to think about, but not quite yet.)

There are, after all, a lot of right-wing voters on the wrong side of the tracks, and there are even conservative reasons to fix growing income inequality. It's not necessary to convince everyone in the US to come over even as far left as myself to convince them that maybe there's a problem.

Sure, it usually feels like hitting your head against a brick wall, but such is political discourse in the US, as it has ever been...

Comment Re:sure it is (Score 2) 443

Don't get me wrong on this, because I think all the variety in the market is great, and I love having choices, and I was really looking forward to buying a Prius and doing fun stuff with it. (This was before Volt was available.) But:

I did recently buy a car, and did the math on a few, and gasoline prices have to go really high to break even. One issue, really a good thing, is that efficient gasoline cars are already past the TCO node where the cost of gasoline = cost of rest. They've started down the path of diminishing returns for fuel efficiency. That's one reason the cost premium of a hybrid or electric hurts so much.

In my case, Prius beats Matrix when gasoline averages something like $7/gal, over the life of the car. I didn't expect that to happen, so I picked Matrix.

You may be right, we may get to $7/gal, even beyond, but here's why I dodn't expect gasoline to get a whole lot more expensive than $5/gal (2009$):

There are a number of fuel technologies waiting in the wings when gasoline gets that expensive, which the oil companies will resurrect and improve. There are a lot of neat, new fuel technologies, but don't forget that there are also old standbys, industrially proven processes, for fuel synthesis from coal and natural gas. They've been more expensive than drilling, and they're capital-intensive, so oil companies aren't going to build plants on a whim, but they're not outrageously expensive.

That's in the medium term. In the short term, sure, oil is volatile, so there will be price spikes.

In the long term, I'm looking forward to all kinds of neat synthetic fuel technologies based on all kinds of energy sources. An estimate of $3/gal + CO2 capture for electrolytic synthetic fuel, while it may be optimistic, shows the scale of the possibilities for post-fossil liquid fuel. We don't really know how much industrial atmospheric CO2 capture will cost, yet, though.

Anyway, the point being, fuel may never get much more expensive, despite how things look. Hybrids and electrics have a bright future, but it lies along the path of overall cost reduction.

I fully expect my next car to be a turbine-electric, like the old Capstone demo. Microturbines and electric drivetrains will get cheaper. There's no fundamental reason I know why they can't be cheaper than piston cars; piston engines are just, for now, very well established, finely tuned, efficient technology.

Comment Re:Trust?? (Score 1) 1128

Even scientists don't trust scientists. That's a part of science.

Conflating trust of science (i.e., not seeing conspiracy theories in every consensus of the scientific community) with trust of scientists is setting up a straw man. No single individual can replicate every result, even in low-tech experiments that you can do in your garage.

Comment Re:Obvious (Score 1) 1128

No, it explicitly happened before Reagan, that's just when it really came above board. It was in full swing for Reagan's first run (Moral Majority, etc.), but Nixon courted the South on a semi-religious, anti-hippie basis, in 1968. The religious aspects of the "Southern Strategy" apparently grew after that, but it was there earlier.

Comment Re:I don't think so. (Score 1) 1128

As far as I understood it, MTBE is an octane booster, i.e., prevents knocking in a given grade of gasoline by boosting its octane number. (Ethanol does the same, but is added more as a political boondoggle than for that reason, in practice.)

I don't know if MTBE has an effect on emissions, but that's not why it was added to gasoline, as far as I know.

Comment 100 households (Score 1) 95

40-50 tons may sound like a lot, but I burn around 20 tons of wood to (mostly) heat my (admittedly large) house, with maybe 10 rooms. Supposing you could fit an entire family in something like a room, and the shredded bills really do have the heat content of brown coal (which is something like 2x wood per mass), and further supposing they are using a modern heating system (like an apartment block with a big gasification boiler) that's 2x more efficient than mine, that's still only like 100 households.

That's certainly a good thing, but hardly worth mentioning beyond the publicity value. You'd think that the bulk biomass market would be a more efficient way to merge the shredded bills into the supply stream. (A guess on my part.)

Comment Profit = jobs? (Score 1) 320

I know it's slightly off topic, but are we really so detached from reality that we actually believe that we have more jobs when profits are higher?

There's an optimal balance where profits are enough to motivate investors, but companies spend as much as possible on production. Profit is an inefficiency that has value only insofar as it keeps capital flowing in from investors, when needed. The idea that corporate ethics implies maximizing profit at the cost of all other business objectives has done quite enough damage to investors. If you bleed off too much profit, you destroy value for the investor overall. (In fact, if that profit isn't going straight to dividends or back into the business, which it usually isn't, then it's probably bad for the investor, even in the short run.)

I'm not one of these types that argues that America is going down the toilet because we lost manufacturing jobs, and we should freak out. But the argument that manufacturing is not as valuable to the economy because it's less profitable than being Apple is nonsensical. There are only so many Apple shares around, and their value depends on other businesses with solid value as well, which aren't as profitable but have other advantages.

China != the company that builds iPhones. China as a whole is making a whole lot more from iPhone production than the profit, which, according to the article, is quite reasonable anyway.

Likewise, America != Apple. Since Apple's profitability is so much higher, its value to America is proportionally lower, knowing that Apple's profit doesn't generally get spent proportionally in America. (Not that Apple isn't great or I'm not glad to have their jobs in the US. That doesn't happen because they're so profitable, though. It's just correlated with profitability, i.e., Apple is good at what they do, they make money, they can afford to bank a lot of cash, and they can also afford to hire the best people. Then, they use their cash and people wisely to do their business well, a virtuous cycle.)

Associating corporations and their profits with their home countries makes no sense, even if they operated entirely within their home countries. The purpose of corporations is to allow capital to flow freely, including across national borders. Corporations are only boons to countries to the extent that they spend money and pay taxes in those countries.

Comment Re:What? (Score 1) 106

The scary part is the effectiveness of the indoctrination, if documentaries like National Geographic Inside Undercover In North Korea can be taken at anywhere near face value. Of course, with any visit, there is staging, but it really seems like there are too many cataract patients too believably thankful to Dear Leader to be under duress. Anyway, they're effective enough to scare me.

It's scary because of the idea that you might need to kill a large fraction of the country in a conflict, that they would throw themselves on your sabers for no good reason.

One hopes that they were just very effective at choosing the best actors for the cataract surgeries. Everyone involved is surely in constant fear for their families and would act thankful to the best of their ability. But you're not quite sure, because a couple of generations have been raised under this indoctrination now, so there is the real fear (to the lay person such as myself) that Kim Il Sung simply got it "right".

Comment Re:Why have Americans become nancies? (Score 1) 225

Your argument is that financial risk, which was carefully hedged by the risk-taker to be almost all upside, is equivalent to mortal danger?

While I don't agree with the general point, your counter-argument doesn't even make sense.

(I think you could make an historical argument that Americans have always been panicky, litigious, etc. I'd have to agree that we weren't always so pathetic when it came to physical risk, but we have always overreacted to some physical and financial risks, often to our own harm and loss of civil liberties. But, being willing to take financial risks with other people's money is not quite the same thing as being willing to die in a fireball with your family for the sake of a corporation's competitiveness and profitability.)

Comment Re:Waste of everyone's time (Score 2) 920

I have recently experienced some modest insight into this incomprehensible (to me and perhaps you) way of thinking (legal = right) by seeing Sandel's lecture on communitarian moral philosophy and recalling a TED talk on the empirical psychological differences between liberal and conservative values.

Of course, it wasn't that I thought of all conservatives as slavering idiots or scheming monsters or anything. You can basically understand and respect their motives by knowing and listening to them; you don't need no fancy book lernin. Conversely, approaching from a different angle doesn't make them any less wrong, when they're wrong. Still, it was interesting and humbling to look at the issue a different (for me) way.

I still don't agree with the communitarian idea that we need a moral explanation for group-oriented choices, or the idea that many people have that adhering to group law is in itself a moral good. I wasn't compelled by any of the examples I saw in Sandel's lecture, of situations where you would allegedly need to choose between a group (communitarian moral) obligation and a liberal moral one. I would still call it immoral to help your friend bury a body, no questions asked, just because they're your friend. However, these ideas do provide another way to look at things from the perspective of my many brothers and sisters who do think that way, either communitarian or conservative.

By way of kudos to Sandel, I had no idea he was a communitarian (even if a moderate one) after watching his course lecture videos. Being more or less ignorant of this subject, I hadn't read about his criticism of Rawls. Maybe you could tell he wasn't totally on board with the libertarians, but he still gave the ideas a fair hearing, it seemed to me (if in my ignorance).

(Terminology alert: if you have trouble distinguishing the word "liberal" in the political context from the term in the philosophical context, please fix that before replying. It's trivial to do so.)

Comment Re:Why bother with a 4th amendment at all (Score 1) 578

Maybe he did mean that, but he didn't say it, and I didn't hear it.

I think it's about half, too. Indeed, it's not all conservatives, although it's a disproportionate number of conservatives. I know liberals who are (I would say) inappropriately paranoid, and, indeed, it's that fraction that pushes the present administration over the edge from what most liberals would like to see. The right-leaning atmosphere made for some quite conservative Democratic choices in the last presidential race.

Likewise, on the Republican side, there is a large minority of libertarian-leaning and other relatively level-headed (yes, I'm biased) conservatives that would like to see civil liberties protected. You can see the evidence for this in that it was a small handful of Democrats and Republicans both that voted in Congress to protect civil liberties when everyone was frothing at the mouth after September 11, 2001. (Voting against AUMF, Patriot Act, etc.)

This is Slashdot, not Fox News or MSNBC, so I kind of assume readers here will not interpret a statement like the GP's strictly along party lines like you seem to imply. Maybe I'm underestimating the peanut gallery here, and sure there are plenty of partisans, but I generally perceive a fairly good comprehension of this problem being bi-partisan.

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