Periscope Depth

I still had two strong legs and even wings to fly

In lieu of actual content, here are some entertaining links:

#: I pick on the kid a lot, but really, Ezra Klein does not strike me as very bright. In talking about using carbon taxes to fund government programs, he says the following (emphasis mine):

This is the problem when people talk about replacing, say, payroll taxes with a carbon tax. If you want that carbon tax to fund Medicare and Social Security, as payroll taxes do, then you have to tax carbon at a rate that ensures stable, large returns. Alternately, if you want to tax carbon at a rate high enough that we stop emitting so much carbon, then your tax base is, by design, going to rapidly dry up, and Medicare and Social Security will no longer have funding.

In general, there are two types of taxes: taxes that fund things, and taxes that stop people from doing things. Taxes that fund things cannot be taxes that stop people from doing things, as if people stop doing the thing, there will be nothing to tax.

Really, Ezra? Two types of taxes? Oh man! Quick – somebody tell me which kind I’m paying, so I don’t inadvertently bankrupt public schools or defund the U.S. adventure in Iraq or build shoddy bridges. Am I being taxed to finance the latest project or as penance for my sins? Am I supposed to do less of what I’m doing or do more of it? No one told me! I live in a world of terror and mystery! AAAH!

#: Adobe launched a beta test of their new Photoshop Express product yesterday, a user-friendly entry into the image editing software so popular it’s become a verb. You can sign up for free and use it online. Seriously. You don’t download anything to your desktop; you just manipulate images in your browser. In other news, expect nothing productive of me for the remainder of this month.

#: As a fan of fantasy literature and Bayesian rationality, I was surprised to find peanut butter in my chocolate in one of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s latest posts:

In one of the standard fantasy plots, a protagonist from our Earth, a sympathetic character with lousy grades or a crushing mortgage but still a good heart, suddenly finds themselves in a world where magic operates in place of science. The protagonist often goes on to practice magic, and become in due course a (superpowerful) sorcerer.

Now here’s the question – and yes, it is a little unkind, but I think it needs to be asked: Presumably most readers of these novels see themselves in the protagonist’s shoes, fantasizing about their own acquisition of sorcery. Wishing for magic. And, barring improbable demographics, most readers of these novels are not scientists.

Born into a world of science, they did not become scientists. What makes them think that, in a world of magic, they would act any differently?

If they don’t have the scientific attitude, that nothing is “mere” – the capacity to be interested in merely real things – how will magic help them? If they actually had magic, it would be merely real, and lose the charm of unattainability. They might be excited at first, but (like the lottery winners who, six months later, aren’t nearly as happy as they expected to be), the excitement would soon wear off. Probably as soon as they had to actually study spells.

#: Finally, the Onion once again highlights the path to truth: Study: 93% Of People Talked About Once They Leave Room. I won’t even bother quoting the article, since headline writing has always been the Onion’s strongest suit. But seeing it satirized by America’s paper of record helped me see that yes, it is silly to worry about this sort of thing – which is something I frequently do.

I worry about a lot of stuff. I worry about being talked about behind my back. I also worry about saying something stupid, looking foolish in public, getting in trouble for something I didn’t do, losing my job, wrecking my car, breaking my spine, suffering hideous facial scarring, being arrested, getting rejected by girls, hooking up with girls and then having things be awkward, entering relationships with girls and then coming on too strong, never seeing a girl again, running out of money, having too much money, looking immature, growing old, wasting time, being too serious, being too silly, and skin cancer. Among other things.

I used to spend a lot of time brooding over these unlikely scenarios – high walls in my mind that I could never imagine myself getting over. “I don’t know how I could possibly survive something like that happening,” I’d think.

But you know what? There’s only one thing in my life that I’m not going to survive – and I have no way of guessing what that is. Everything else should be cake.