The Passage of Time

There will be adults that were born after it happened.

There will be adults who have been alive shorter than American military involvement in Afghanistan.

There was once a time when you did not have to sacrifice your dignity every time you took an airline flight. There was once a time when one’s tax dollars weren’t funding this indignity. But there was never a time when this sacrifice of your dignity gained you real protection.

There will be adults who never remember that time. Keep the memory alive. Keep and pass on the mindset that this shouldn’t be normal. It should never have been normal to overreact to this degree, both domestically and internationally, to a cause of death this much more infrequent than causes of death that don’t get nearly this level of responding action.

Respects to the victims of the September 11 attacks, and also respects to the far greater number of victims of America’s response to the September 11 attacks.


A Geographical Puzzle Based on the Electoral College

Find a set of states of the US such that:

  • No pair of them border each other.
  • Their electoral votes combine to at least 270, the quantity needed to win a presidential election.

This is actually very difficult. I’d be extremely impressed if anyone can do this without looking at an electoral college map.

This puzzle somewhat demonstrates the unusually decentralized and relatively evenly distributed nature of the US’s population, as well as the dampening effect of voting power imbalance prescribed by the electoral college.

Americans want Scientists more involved in Political Discourse, until Facts from Scientists make them Uncomfortable

Americans increasingly want scientists involved in discussion of policy, something that would be great if wanting them also involved listening to them. The American pastime that is still true today, though, is selectively endorsing what scientists have to say when the truth is convenient.

This phenomenon is recently well exemplified by public outrage over a statistics-delivering tweet by one of America’s finest voices in science, Neil deGrasse Tyson. An online tsunami involving multiple Twitter-verified people condemned Tyson’s tweet as insensitive and tone-deaf, many claiming Tyson does not deserve respect due to his tweet.

Terrorism Panic Returned

One of the top tweets in response to Tyson’s post is this post relating the issue to America’s reactions to terrorism, speaking as if how America completely altered airport screening in response to terrorism was a good thing. This is incredible: I thought for sure America has learned from the TSA, the NSA, and their various unsavory paternalistic friends how incredibly costly it is (in both money and human dignity) to act on overreaction to the horror of well-media-covered terrorist acts when a nation has many more quiet problems claiming far more lives. Yet here comes this esteemed post asking that this reactive yoke on American wellbeing that hasn’t even left us yet be brought back. The sort of people that would’ve told the few congresspeople who opposed the Iraq War that they’re being insensitive towards the victims of 9/11 are still here.

Too Soon?

Criticism that it was insensitive or tone-deaf for Tyson to post these statistics in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings is very unfounded. Whereas Tyson went out of his way to make it clear he thinks this country should not have to deal with mass shootings (except to people who think use of the word “horrifically” sometimes applies to acts they’re okay with), most commenters are explicitly denouncing the bringing up of medical errors, disease, suicide, accidents, and other gun deaths. This reaction to the far more people who died of the other causes is vastly more cold than Tyson’s actual acknowledgment of the problematic nature of the commenters’ tragedy of choice. If anything, those criticizing Tyson along these lines have a shortage of empathy for the people who died of medical errors, disease, suicide, accidents, and other gun deaths as recently as those that died in the mass shootings did. Many that responded went so far as to silently remove “other gun deaths” from the list of death causes Tyson cited to claim that there’s an important difference between intentional tragedy and accidental tragedy, a doubly-faulted claim that was maliciously framed to cherry-pick the items from the list they could feasibly apply their ill-conceived argument towards.

This case demonstrates a frequent trait of the sort of people that cry tone-deaf: they only care about the tone of those speaking against their favorite issues. Their often-worse personal insensitivities are defects they choose to remain oblivious to. And unfortunately, the internet outrage machine enables these people to effectively carry out their anger, when the time is right.

Emotions Should Matter

Emotions should matter. Most of us, if not all, can agree that emotional wellbeing is important to the human. It’s good to be aware of how to phrase things in ways that don’t rub off badly.

But from reactions, it’s clear that there’s no way this information could’ve been phrased in a way the public would’ve been happy with. What was attacked was the information’s presence itself, when Tyson clearly put an effort into phrasing the statistics in a way that acknowledged recent tragedy. No one is forced to read Tyson’s tweets, but the bringing of facts letting people know of many more people that are often overlooked was considered just too much to even see the light of day.

And this is where emotional reaction oversteps its appropriate bounds: when emotion guides our actions and decisions in ways that turn out to be the more harmful choice, when it screams “say no to facts”. And this is precisely the problem Tyson was trying to bring attention to.

And in the end, Neil deGrasse Tyson ended up apologizing for bringing facts to the public. Why aren’t there more scientists involved in policy? Oh right, because it’s an environment hostile to scientists.

American Presidential Primaries: Campaigns

The following is a juxtaposition of the current and the previous three US presidential primary seasons for the Democratic and Republican parties, in days relative to the Iowa caucus. Each + indicates a campaign’s announcement and each – indicates a campaign’s withdrawal.

Day Obama/McCain election Obama/Romney election Trump/Clinton election This election
Iowa-1081 +Donald Trump
Iowa-920 +John Delaney
Iowa-819 +Andrew Yang
Iowa-626 +Mike Gravel
Iowa-449 +Richard Ojeda
Iowa-388 +Tulsi Gabbard
Iowa-387 +Dennis Kucinich +Julian Castro
Iowa-378 +Kamala Harris
Iowa-374 -Richard Ojeda
Iowa-373 +John Edwards
Iowa-371 +Marianne Williamson
Iowa-367 +Cory Booker
Iowa-359 +Elizabeth Warren
Iowa-358 +Amy Klobuchar
Iowa-357 +Chris Dodd
Iowa-353 +Bill Weld
Iowa-349 +Bernie Sanders
Iowa-348 +Sam Brownback
Iowa-343 +Hillary Clinton
+Duncan Hunter
Iowa-340 +Mike Huckabee
Iowa-339 +Jay Inslee
Iowa-337 +Joe Biden
Iowa-336 +John Hickenlooper
Iowa-327 +Barack Obama
Iowa-326 +Beto O’Rourke
Iowa-324 +Mitt Romney
Iowa-323 +Kirsten Gillibrand
Iowa-322 +Rudy Giuliani
Iowa-315 +Ted Cruz
Iowa-312 +Wayne Messam
Iowa-305 +Tim Ryan
Iowa-301 +Mike Gravel
+Eric Swalwell
Iowa-300 +Rand Paul
Iowa-298 TODAY
Iowa-297 +Ron Paul
Iowa-295 +Hillary Clinton
Iowa-294 +Marco Rubio
Iowa-277 +Tommy Thompson +Bernie Sanders
Iowa-276 +Tom Tancredo
Iowa-274 +Barack Obama +Ben Carson
Iowa-273 +Carly Fiorina
Iowa-272 +Mike Huckabee
Iowa-257 +Gary Johnson
Iowa-253 +John McCain
Iowa-252 +Jim Gilmore
Iowa-250 +Rick Santorum
Iowa-249 +George Pataki
Iowa-247 +Martin O’Malley
Iowa-245 +Lindsey Graham
Iowa-243 +Lincoln Chafee
Iowa-242 +Rick Perry
Iowa-239 +Newt Gingrich
Iowa-237 +Ron Paul
Iowa-235 +Tim Pawlenty
Iowa-231 +Jeb Bush
Iowa-230 +Donald Trump
Iowa-227 +Bill Richardson +Herman Cain
Iowa-222 +Bobby Jindal
Iowa-216 +Chris Christie
Iowa-215 +Mitt Romney
Iowa-214 +Jim Webb
Iowa-211 +Rick Santorum
Iowa-204 +Michele Bachmann
Iowa-203 +Scott Walker
Iowa-196 +Jon Huntsman
Iowa-195 +John Kasich
Iowa-186 +Thaddeus McCotter +Jim Gilmore
Iowa-173 -Jim Gilmore
Iowa-148 +Lawrence Lessig
Iowa-145 -Tommy Thompson
Iowa-143 +Rick Perry -Rick Perry
Iowa-142 -Tim Pawlenty
Iowa-133 -Scott Walker
Iowa-120 +Fred Thompson
Iowa-111 +Alan Keyes
Iowa-104 -Jim Webb
Iowa-103 -Thaddeus McCotter
Iowa-101 -Lincoln Chafee
Iowa-91 -Lawrence Lessig
Iowa-76 -Sam Brownback -Bobby Jindal
Iowa-42 -Lindsey Graham
Iowa-34 -George Pataki
Iowa-31 -Herman Cain
Iowa-14 -Tom Tancredo
Iowa-6 -Gary Johnson
Iowa Caucus -Chris Dodd
-Joe Biden
-Mike Huckabee
-Martin O’Malley
Iowa+1 -Michele Bachmann
Iowa+2 -Rand Paul
-Rick Santorum
Iowa+7 -Bill Richardson
Iowa+9 -Carly Fiorina
-Chris Christie
Iowa+11 -Jim Gilmore
Iowa+13 -Jon Huntsman
Iowa+13 -Rick Perry
Iowa+16 -Duncan Hunter
Iowa+19 -Fred Thompson -Jeb Bush
Iowa+21 -Dennis Kucinich
Iowa+27 -John Edwards
-Rudy Giuliani
Iowa+32 -Ben Carson
Iowa+35 -Mitt Romney
Iowa+43 -Marco Rubio
Iowa+61 -Mike Huckabee
Iowa+83 -Mike Gravel
Iowa+92 -Ted Cruz
Iowa+93 -John Kasich
Iowa+98 -Rick Santorum
Iowa+103 -Alan Keyes
Iowa+120 -Newt Gingrich
Iowa+156 -Hillary Clinton
Iowa+161 -Ron Paul


Automation Creating Other Jobs Rather than Just Taking Away Jobs is not a Good Argument Against UBI

It is often argued that robots are not here to take your jobs because robots themselves open new opportunities for jobs while they make certain jobs obsolete. This is often used as an argument against Universal Basic Income (UBI).

One level at which this argument is invalid is that shifting from one job to another is still nowhere near easy, and a Universal Basic Income helps provide a padding for the time spent undergoing this shift and gaining the appropriate skills for the next job.

There’s another problem with using this as an argument against UBI, though: the process of automation creates economic efficiency, providing the owner of the machines massive value from machines’ significant reliability advantages over people. Without the UBI, the owner of the machines, probably someone already quite well off, reaps all the monetary benefit of automation, when the economic benefits of automation should be reaped by all the people. People should be looking forward to the stage in the progress of society when, due to the brilliance of innovators and engineers past, the infrastructure is created to be able to sustain a world where people do not have to work to have a baseline living: with how impressive robots are, this shouldn’t be considered a radical idea. It’ll be a while until we get there, but the people should know how far on the way there we are from how many jobs are fulfilled by robots, and people should demand that they get their fair share of the value created by automation—value added not from the pain of labor of any human—and that as the GDP of a nation climbs up propelled by automation, it isn’t just that the worth of the people who own the machines increases while the rest stay where they are.

Jobs should exist because things need to get done, not because humans morally must work. If more things are getting done by machines, humans deserve to need to work less.


I have a gradually strengthening opinion that the best indicator that someone has absorbed the most important lessons of history is a great reduction of the frequency of asking “How could these people have been so stupid?” History is most learned when one grasps the conditions, forces, and influences that cause people and groups of people to take actions and support causes and leaders they have come to evaluate as reasonable that to one’s local context appears ridiculous. The recognition of these patterns during one’s life is history’s most valuable takeaway.

Still Alive?

For the following people, answer whether they are currently still alive or have died.

Saul Alinsky
Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Edsger Dijkstra
Mikhail Gorbachev
Jiang Zemin
Henry Kissinger
Benoit Mandelbrot
Wilma Mankiller
Slobodan Milošević
Maryam Mirzakhani
Hosni Mubarak
I. M. Pei
J. D. Salinger
Boris Spassky
Desmond Tutu

Answers (highlight):
(Note, of course, that as the future comes, this list will probably get less and less accurate.)

Saul Alinsky is dead.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali is dead.
Edsger Dijkstra is dead.
Mikhail Gorbachev is still alive, and is currently 86.
Jiang Zemin is still alive, and is currently 91.
Henry Kissinger is still alive, and is currently 94.
Benoit Mandelbrot is dead.
Wilma Mankiller is dead.
Slobodan Milošević is dead.
Maryam Mirzakhani is dead.
Hosni Mubarak is still alive, and is currently 89.
I. M. Pei is still alive, and is currently 100.
J. D. Salinger is dead.
Boris Spassky is still alive, and is currently 81.
Suharto is dead.
Desmond Tutu is still alive, and is currently 86.

In particular, the last one is a rather chilling memory lapse for me. I clearly, clearly remember learning that Desmond Tutu died in a plane crash. I still haven’t resolved what caused me to think that.

[UPDATE: Thanks to K. Sun for letting me know the age of Boris Spassky I previously wrote (86) was incorrect.]