Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Population Vacuum

The Population Vacuum is a method by which major metro areas maintain affordability, efficiency at high population, and high living standards to “vacuum” up surrounding population growth. This limits urban sprawl and confines greater and greater numbers into as small an area as is feasible.


• Living must be affordable. A frequent reason for urban sprawl is the availability of large housing at prices that are in line with the average person OUTSIDE of already developed areas. Thus, people either in search of starter mansions or those merely in need of expanded housing for a new family have great incentives to look into virgin land. By ensuring large amounts of affordable, large housing in cities, and then making those cities eminently attractive, a metro area can act as a vacuum and attract those people and even cause a reduction in extant areas of sprawl.

• A city must be eminently attractive. It must match non-urban areas in as many aspects of attractiveness as it can. This will result in fewer people being driven to small towns. A drop in overall property taxes would result, but that should be offset with room to spare by taxes from the increased economic activity resulting from such population density. Areas to match as follows.

o Crime: A city must work hard to keep crime rates low. This does not mean more cops, it means better efficiency overall and finely targeted laws to reduce inefficiencies.

o Availability of nature: A city must not just have parks, it must be tightly integrated with parks. Gardens must be built into the overall design of buildings, blocks, and sections of the city. A 5/1 ratio of urban area to garden area is a target.

o Lack of pollution: Pollution must be a primary concern for city leaders. It must be kept under control at almost any cost.

o Elbow room: The design of the city must allow for “movement space,” or space in which an individual can move about without bumping into other people. This obviously applies to house size, but it must also be integrated into the side of streets, sidewalks, and general city layout. Sidewalks need not be actual sidewalks, but merely walkways that traverse the city. In a city of 10 million, walkways of 100 feet wide or more would be ideal.

o Noise: Perhaps the hardest area to match, noise must be kept under control without squelching the vibrancy of the city throughout the day and night. This could be achieved through heavy construction of underground roadways, walkways, and buildings. Separate the living areas from the noise-generating aspects of the city, the major perpetrator being traffic.

o Ease of automotive movement: Complex integration of major roadways and smaller transit lines to reduce the stop & go of city driving. Eliminate stop lights and intersections in favor of ramps and rotaries.
The city must also highlight, expand, and nurture the many aspects of a city that rural areas cannot match. These are as follows.

o 24/7: A city of sufficient population can remain active 24 hours per day. This allows for restaurants, entertainment, and destinations at any time. A city must foment this sort of behavior and stimulate activity at all times.

o Variety: A city is a complex mess of things. A city must encourage this variety and diversity through aggressive immigration campaigns from other cultures, encouragement of small business, and facilitation of mixing between areas of the city and different groups.

o Support: A strong system of governmental support is possible within a condensed population. Transportation, medicine, education, and economic support are all superior to rural areas.

Ideal Sufficiency: A city must strive to be self sufficient in as many ways as possible. This increases efficiency by streamlining supply routes and reducing travel times. Prime candidates for self-sufficient industry are agriculture through gardens and hydroponics, and power through solar, wind, and if coastal, tidal power generation. Nuclear power is also a viable option but less ideal than the totally non-polluting forms.

Over-stimulation: A city must have areas of quiet rest. Less-populated areas of the city without major structures with a substantially smaller degree of stimulation.

Under-capacity: A city must always keep its population under the capacity of the city’s infrastructure. If it doesn’t the vacuum will suck up surrounding populations, pressurize them, and then eject them back into rural areas and actually encourage urban sprawl. If the population exceeds capacity *cough*LONDON*cough*, all of the previously listed things that make rural areas attractive will deteriorate within the city and efficiency will dive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Question Begged

I've just discovered the modal ontological argument. I'd been aware of the ontological argument for some time and actually consider it a rather strong argument, although not for what its proponents had thought.

The ontological argument is an argument for the existence of God. It goes something like this.

  • God is that which no greater can be conceived

  • It is greater to exist in reality than in idea alone

  • Therefore, God cannot simply exist in our heads, because a God that actually exists is greater than a God that doesn't actually exist

I've always felt that this is a completely sound argument for the existence of an ultimate entity. Entities seem to exist on a spectrum, and there must be something at the ends of either spectrum. Be it free-floating amino acids on one end, and some sort of galactic intelligence on the other. But the argument says nothing about the ultimate intelligence, only that it must be there.

That's my take on it, but regardless of any novel interpretation, the argument is not widely supported. Alvin Plantinga is perhaps the most notable proponent of the argument, and being a logician, he's applied what he knows to the argument and created a modal ontological argument.

Modal logic deals with possibility. E.g. it is possible that "A". But the corollary to possibility is necessity. It is necessary that "A". Modal logic also uses as the core of its thought a concept that's getting a lot of play recently, what with string theory and all that: possible worlds. Anything that is possible is actually happening in different realms of existence. There is a world where I am the king of England and another in which I died at birth. If it's logically possible, it exists.

Thus, something is possible if it exists in at least one possible world. It is necessary if it exists in all possible worlds. And it is contingent if it exists in some possible worlds.

Using these concepts called modal operators, Plantinga sets out to argue for the existence of God. I find the entire argument to be, like everything else in the philosophy of religion, to be circular; a giant, begged question.

I stole this specifically from here.

(1) If God exists then he has necessary existence.
(2) Either God has necessary existence, or he doesn’t.
(3) If God doesn’t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
(4) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
(5) If God necessarily doesn’t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn’t exist.
(6) Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t exist.
(7) It is not the case that God necessarily doesn’t exist.
(8) God has necessary existence.
(9) If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
(10) God exists.

Premise 2 is a restatement of premise one. And premise 3 adds nothing. It's a rejiggering of "either God as we conceive of him exists or he doesn't."

1. If god exists, then he has necessary existence.
  • Basically Iff (if and only if) G (God exists), then N (he is necessary)

  • Which is G = N

  • If God exists, then God exists.

  • Oh yeah. There's a masterpiece of logic.

2. Either God has necessary existence or he doesn’t.
  • Basically, either God exists or he doesn’t exist, because if he exists, he has necessary existence.

  • This is the first part where the usage of existence jumps around. He both exists and has existence as though it's a property.

3. If God doesn’t have necessary existence, then he necessarily doesn’t.
  • Once again, semantic dodge. If God doesn’t exist, then he doesn’t.

4. Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t.
  • Either God exists or he doesn’t exist.

5. If God necessarily doesn’t have necessary existence, then God necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • If God necessarily doesn’t exist, then he doesn’t exist.

6. Either God has necessary existence, or he necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • Either he necessarily exists or necessarily doesn’t exist.

7. It is not the case that God necessarily doesn’t exist.
  • It was dealing with possibility earlier on to reach this point. IF God doesn’t exist, then he necessarily doesn’t exist. The first “if” is not answered. Only IF God exists, does he exist. Only IF God exists, does he not necessarily not exist. And ONLY IF God doesn't exist, does he necessarily not exist.

8. God has necessary existence.
  • He only has necessary existence if he exists, which has not been determined

9. If God has necessary existence, then God exists.
10. Therefore, God exists.

My slight re-wording of the argument might seem like I'm playing with words to achieve my goal, and I am. But that's because the argument is playing the same damned game. The argument jumps back and forth between existence as a property or a state and conveniently forgets that the actual question is never answered.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Socialized Loss for the Masses.

I've been getting all self-righteous over the bank bailouts, recently. I started off not caring too much, but have since managed to work myself up into such a froth that I could be used as shampoo.

I recently saw an interview with some guy on Frontline about the economy and how strongly people's perceptions fluctuate (more on this later). I'm always one to point out the stupidity of most people. Or, perhaps stupidity is too strong. Maybe contempocentric is better. Some study who's author is lost to bad memory found that a majority of people perceive time strangely. Namely, for the average person, events that are five years away are perceived identically as those six months away. Meaning that people only start thinking about events in a "is imminent" sort of way is after they start being less than six months off.

What this means is that people are fabulously good at not thinking about the past after events have passed and finished and events that are going to happen in the future. We're a fundamentally reactive species that exists in the "now."

This is obviously not an inherently bad thing. If we spent all of our time worrying about the past and future we'd go nuts. Being contempocentric to a degree is actually important. The problem is that humans take it to its limit and behave in a contempocentric way, while living in a world that allows consequences to carry on for decades. Behold climate change, credit cards, and over-eating.

But that also means that political winds will blow based on events that are only a year in either direction. Now back to that Frontline documentary. Some talking head pointed out how people get very conservative during good times and very liberal during bad times. Noam Chomsky talks about privatized gain and socialized loss, but he specifically attacks big business. And while that's true, the average person is the same way. They just have less clout than a big company.

When times are good, the conservative ideal of "succeed for yourself" feels great. "Keep your hands off of my money!" people will yell. But when the world turns, and they lose their job, they start crying for help. And sure enough, the people who have to help bail that previously-conservative person out will likely yell to stay away... that is until they lose their job.

This type of systemic hypocrisy is most rampant in those so ignorant that they have NO idea about how the system around them functions. They live in their little world, controlling their little things, thinking about stuff that's six months off and six months past. This type of person is no better illustrated than the man who yelled to "keep your government hands off [his] Medicare!" at a South Carolina (natch) town hall meeting.

I've uploaded that talk Chomsky gave on socialized loss. It's worth a listen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caution. Time-Traveling Children

Seriously, who the hell drew this sign? And who approved it?! Was the artist 120? The last time children dressed like this was 1905.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


It's unfortunate that our culture is so obsessed with the magical afflatus that crashes into some haggard inventor, and after facing the standard array of road-blocks and obstacles, succeeds as justice dictates he should. This idea that the inventor is what is important, and that he/she deserves success is just plain stupid. Unfortunately, our patent system is built around that idea.

What should be exalted is the discovery of how to use the invention. This aspect of the scenario is never discussed in the fables of invention. In those stories, the application is already widely known and the haggard inventor's creation is somehow an immediately accepted Godsend to all it touches. See Flash of Genius.

Reality is much more complex, and in most cases, the most difficult aspect is taking whatever was created and figuring out what the fuck to do with it. The computer had been around for years before Apple, but it was the innovation of the package and software that created the digital age.

Techdirt is an utterly fantastic blog discussing the nature of innovation, invention, and technology. It's also a great blog to read if you'd like a crash-course in applied economics and patent/copyright law. UPS has sponsored a series of short videos discussing technology and innovation, they'll take up less than ten minutes of your life and will hopefully inform and entertain.