Friday, July 03, 2015

Inbreeding...

... seems to make you dumber, shorter, and less educated.

On the positive side, it doesn't seem to affect blood pressure or cardiovascular health.

Not sure I understand this part, but the authors concluded that this showed cognitive ability and height had been subject to positive selection.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Book Review: Fundamental Forces of Nature

Kerson Huang's Fundamental Forces of Nature: The Story of Gauge Fields is one of the rare examples a semi-popular physics book with lots of equations. It tells the story of the gauge revolution and the standard model with many words and a sprinkling of equations.

My own graduate work happened mostly before the gauge revolution in a department dominated by anti-field theory S-matrix people. My quantum field theory classes suffered from rather severe deficiencies in the book, the teacher, and, of course the student. Anyway, I didn't learn much. My work never used quantum field theory either.

From time to time I've tried to remedy this gross deficiency in my education, and I've accumulated a considerably library of QFT books in the process, but somehow I always seem to get distracted or run out of energy before I get to renormalization - which, in any case, was mostly smoke and mirrors when I was a grad student.

It's pretty hard for me to gauge (LOL) how much somebody innocent of physics would get out of this, but for me it was great. Huang is good at explaining ideas in words and he includes lots of pictures, but I think one should at least understand calculus if you want to follow the book. The idea of gauge as a fiber bundle over space-time is introduced with the electromagnetic field, and with it, the gauge covariant derivative. He shows how all the fundamental forces of particle physics take this form.

One of his overarching themes is the elimination of action at a distance from physics, via local gauge invariance.

The final chapters are mostly devoted to the ideas of fixed points and the renormalization group. I found the renormalization group material the most difficult to follow, perhaps because its the part I've never understood. For me, at least, the book has lots of pithy insights.

He throws in some more philosophical notions as well. Why gauge fields, for example, and why those particular gauge fields. He makes a nod to grand unified theories and string theory, but complains that they tend to make things more complicated rather than simpler. My favorite is the observation that the Feynman path integral is just the partition function of statistical mechanics with imaginary time, where time t = i hbar/T, where T is temperature.

This is not a textbook. There are no problems, no real derivations, and only the barest technical details. It is, though, a book that might be a bit of a guide for the perplexed student, wondering what it all means.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Up From Racism

Tim Parrish on how he almost became a Dylann Roof and how he managed to extricate himself from his own corrosive racism. A good and instructive read. He mentions that it's a demon one never completely escapes:

On my worst days, if a black person does something I don’t like or reinforces a stereotype still lodged in me, the N-word comes to mind quickly and sharply. Then I have to gather myself, bring reason to bear, once again dredge up the roots of these thoughts, and once more disconnect racist wiring laid in me since my childhood and recharged today by white institutions and media.

He thinks racism is a curable or at least treatable disease:

What about young men like Dylann Roof? Was there a method to point him down a different road—one that didn’t end with him looking for an hour at individual people’s faces, talking with individual human beings, doubting his intent, and yet still pulling the trigger time and again? Perhaps with sustained mental health support, perhaps with stricter gun laws, perhaps with someone to show the lies and warped conclusions of right-wing propaganda, he would have turned.

But in our country such resources and laws are shamefully lacking, especially for an isolated, young man with limited means. For Roof, the questions are the same as those regarding other mass shooters. But the more pressing questions concern people like my former racist mentor, who blaze against anything progressive.

Due Diligence

Just got a note from my broker on the Greek situation. While the note was intended to damp down the (so-far, mild) market hysteria over default, the content was borderline moronic, repeating all the stupid cliches I have railed against here. (It's all about socialism, blah, blah, blah).

Whatever happened to the idea that bankers ought to exercise due diligence before loaning out the money entrusted to them? I'm pretty sure my local banks do some checks before they loan somebody $20 k to buy a car. So how the heck do banks get off the hook for lending out tens of billions to a country (or Commonwealth, or City) that rather transparently is quite likely to have difficulty paying up? Well, says Commentator hist, the politicians told everybody it would be OK. Cause politicians are famous not only for probity but prophecy, I guess. They do know you can't repossess a country (city or Commonwealth) right?

It's a story as old as Sumer (at least). When times get good everybody gets greedy, and every foolish borrower can find an equally foolish lender. In ancient Sumer, lenders who got stiffed were allowed to enslave the unlucky borrowers. Germans seem to really hate the fact that that went out of fashion, but it turned out to be rather catastrophic for Sumer too. In bad times, the broke farmers grabbed their herds and set out across the desert, and then it was the bankers who were broke.

World Cup

The US was pretty lucky to escape with a 2-0 win vs Germany yesterday, but they mostly played better.

Another familiar FIFA failing was in evidence though when they let two clearly concussed women keep playing. FIFA is so rotten that it really should be abolished. National federations should agree to withdraw and start a new version.

It would be much less painful than withdrawing from the Euro.

From the NYT story:

“If #FIFA has learned anything … both players should be taken off immediately,” Taylor Twellman, a former most valuable player in Major League Soccer whose career was curtailed by concussions, wrote on Twitter.

“Amateur hour #FIFA,” Twellman added in a separate post on Twitter. “All show, no substance with player safety particularly head injuries.”

Briana Scurry, the American goalkeeper whose save during the penalty shootout made the difference in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China, and who has also suffered concussions, expressed similar concerns about Tuesday’s collision.

“This is why we need a head injury substitution that doesn’t count towards the 3” already permitted, Scurry wrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

German Propaganda...

...has been remarkably successful in portraying the Greeks as the villains of the current debt fiasco, and Europe has bought into it, big time. The US has been slightly less gullible, probably because we were less of a target, but also because several of our top economists have repeatedly called "bullshit" on this particular pile of crap.

Of course it helps the propaganda machine that the Greeks, both citizen and government, have screwed up badly, especially before the financial crisis of 2007. Most bankruptcies involve either really bad luck or stupidity on the part of both borrower and lender. The Greek disaster initially involved all three: reckless borrowing by an irresponsible Greek government, reckless lending by (mainly German) banks, and the bad fortune to get caught up in a global financial meltdown.

The blame for this really bad situation becoming a disaster lies almost entirely with the Troika (EU and IMF) who imposed a brutal austerity which crushed the Greek economy and destroyed any potential it had to repay. The big banks (again, mostly German) bear most of the blame for the Troika's bad behavior - the same folly that led them to make stupid loans made them cling to the fictional repayment of these loans long after the money was gone.

The propaganda effort follows the traditional formula of modern masters like Reagan and his predecessors in the Soviet Union and Germany: blame the victim. Find (or, more usually, just invent) examples of somebody in Greece getting away with something and extrapolate to every Greek. Ignore the fact that almost all the disasters have been provoked by the bad economic policies of the T.

I notice that the US has been getting a late dose of the same garbage.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Creepie Stool

Jenny Geddes, in the guise of James Annan, has thrown hers at the Pope.

Krugman on Greece

Krugman votes for Grexit.

Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.

To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

Creditors and rentiers still rule the world.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Prexit?

Puerto Rico is now Puerto Pobre.

The governor of Puerto Rico has decided that the island cannot pay back more than $70 billion in debt, setting up an unprecedented financial crisis that could rock the municipal bond market and lead to higher borrowing costs for governments across the United States.

Puerto Rico’s move could roil financial markets already dealing with the turmoil of the renewed debt crisis in Greece. It also raises questions about the once-staid municipal bond market, which states and cities count on to pay upfront costs for public improvements such as roads, parks and hospitals.

Apparently there is no provision in law for bankruptcy by a State or territory. Maybe it will have to leave the dollar zone.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tracking the Post Office

A little over a week ago, my package destined for me in Las Cruces, NM left Salt Lake City (820 miles from Las Cruces), Traveled the 535 miles to Denver (616 miles from Las Cruces), next traveled the 795 miles to Dallas (680 miles from Las Cruces) so far having traveled 1330 miles to get 140 miles closer to the destination (all distances road miles).

I wonder if their routing routines are optimal.

What da ya think?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Small Numbers

The percentage PhD's in physics awarded to black women is roughly the same as the percentage of same who have become Grand Dragons of the Ku Klux Klan: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/24/chanda-prescod-weinstein_n_7574020.html