Problem solving

Let’s say you’ve been keeping cats for a while, and you’ve been feeding them outside in the yard. Every time the bowl gets low, someone pours in more cat food.

One day you notice that you’ve been going through multiple bags of cat food per day. Then you look outside and notice that there are entirely too many stray cats in the yard. You’ve successfully deduced that the stray cats coming in your yard from all over the neighborhood are eating all of the extra cat food you’ve been buying. Now how do you solve this problem? Do you:

a) Keep putting cat food in the yard. Round up as many stray cats as you can find and drop them off next door. Repeat as necessary.

b) Keep putting cat food in the yard. Build a large wall around your property to keep the stray cats out.

c) Keep putting cat food in the yard. Patrol the perimeter of your property with a gun to keep the stray cats out.

d) Keep putting cat food in the yard. Adopt the stray cats that are currently in your yard, but this is it! After this you aren’t taking in any more, and that’s final. Repeat as necessary.

e) Stop putting cat food in the yard. Feed your cats and only your cats in a place where the strays can’t get access to the food.

Let’s say you go with (e).

Result? There’s fewer cats in the yard, and the ones that do show up aren’t eating any of your cat food. You’re buying significantly less cat food than before. There’s also a distinct shortage of mice on the premises. Life is good.

Of course if this decision is made by committee, especially if that committee features heavy representation from the ones that originally advocated adopting several cats and feeding them outside, this solution might meet with some resistance…

A glorious burst of sanity

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that dying patients have a due process right to access drugs once they have been through FDA approved safety trials.

Yes, 70 years after the FDA was first imposed on us, and 40 years after its demands were intensified, a court has spelled out that people whose lives are in danger have a right to buy drugs that might save them, and others (including pharmaceutical companies) have a right to come to the aid of someone whose life is in danger without interference.

Will this bit of clear thinking and respect for people’s rights make it into Supreme Court precedent? Stay tuned…

Space Jockey

In Space Jockey, Robert Heinlein showed us a (roughly present-day) world in which commercial rockets routinely brought paying passengers and cargo to the moon, but the machines that plotted the trajectories were much too large to bring on board.

In the real present day, of course, you can plot a trajectory to anyplace you like with a machine that fits in your pocket. What you can’t do is actually go anywhere.

Where did the portable trajectory-plotting machine come from, and what happened to the rocket that was supposed to go with it?

I am firmly convinced that the answer can be found by comparing and contrasting the laws and regulations governing rockets (and high-density energy sources, on which rockets inevitably depend in the absence of wormholes big enough to send real power through) and those governing computers.


According to some of our friends on the left, starting a war against Iran will cause them to do the following:

Then we’ll get flowers and candy–not to mention a massive Shia uprising in Iran and Iraq, and terrorist reprisals at home. Nothing like another 9/11 to set the mood for the midterm elections.

What, other than the prospect of an American military response, is stopping them from doing this right now? Is there anything on Earth that would stop the Iranians from giving us “a massive Shia uprising in Iran and Iraq” (as opposed to the helpful cooperation they’re giving us now in Iraq?) and terrorist “reprisals” at home the minute they get working nuclear weapons to ward off any possible non-nuclear attack on them?

I guess you can assume that the Iranians wouldn’t do such a thing unprovoked, even if they thought they could get away with it, and that George W Bush would go to war even though he knew they couldn’t possibly be a threat now or in the foreseeable future… if you were willing to assume that the Iranian mullahs were more sane, reasonable, responsible, and respectful of other people’s lives, properties, and liberties, than George W. Bush.

That’s not an assumption that some of us see any reason to make.

Babies and market signals

Why do human beings respond to market signals and have a profit motive?

Because, for many generations, people who did were able to feed more babies with less effort than people who didn’t, and thus left behind more people who behaved as they did.

Now I’m not asserting that there’s a gene for profit motive. There are genes that influence problem solving ability, genes that influence drive and ambition, genes that influence the criteria by which women evaluate potential mates, and so on. All those genes lead to a creature capable of interpreting market signals and posessing some inclination and ability to respond to them when they present themselves.

But a changing environment leads to a change in the characteristics that lead to more surviving descendants. There have long been market signals that tell us we can profit by dividing our resources with fewer (or no) children; however, until recently, collecting that profit has been exceedingly difficult for most people. Today, of course, that is not so; keeping all of our resources for our own enjoyment by preventing childbirth is fairly easy for those that posess the same problem solving abilities and the profit motive that enabled our ancestors to earn more resources for the children they couldn’t easily avoid having.

Add to that the fact that death during childhood is now almost unheard of, and the formula for leaving behind lots of surviving kids and grandkids in our society is drastically different. The strategies might include:

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