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Showing posts from June, 2005

Problems Problems

Commenter Lee is convinced that energy is the world's number one problem and he makes a good case here. He recommends lectures by David Goodstein, Nathan Lewis, and Steven Koonin. The main purpose of the present post is to provide those links.

The Goodstein and Lewis lectures were Caltech Watson lectures and can be viewed online at the Caltech Today Streaming Theater. Koonin's Fermilab colloquium is on streaming video here.

Goodstein is Professor of Physics and Vice Provost at Caltech, and has taught Caltech's hallmark Physics 1a course forever (The capacity of the Ph 1a lecture hall determines how many Freshman are admitted each year - about 215). Lewis and Koonin took a major role in debunking cold fusion, though that's probably the least of their accomplishments. Lewis plays a parallel role with Goodstein in teaching Ch 1a, another course every Tech Freshman takes. Koonin was Provost at Caltech till 2004 and is now chief scientist of B.P. International.

Lee…

Vietnamization

Be sure to catch Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen today .
About two years ago I sat down with a colleague and explained why Iraq was not going to be Vietnam. ... On Tuesday President Bush proved me wrong. Iraq is beginning to look like Vietnam.
Read it. He has lots of dispiriting specifics. unless Bush rethinks his strategy, fires some people who long ago earned dismissal, examines his own assumptions (what's the point of continuing to isolate Iran and Syria when we need them both to seal Iraq's borders?) and talks turkey to the American people, he will lose everything good he set out to do, including the example Iraq could set for the rest of the Middle East.

Jailing Judy

The New York Times has brought William Safire back from the undead to make a pretty weak case for Judith Miller. If they could jail journalists for lying, Safire would never get out of the slammer. A few of his whoppers and laughers:The Supreme Court has just flinched from its responsibility to stop the unjust jailing of two journalists - not charged with any wrongdoing Actually Bill, contempt of court *is* wrongdoing, even in New York.The case was about the "outing" of an agent - supposedly covert, but working openly at C.I.A. headquartersDamn, as open as that - right in CIA Headquarters. That's sort of like putting up a billboard in Times Square, huh?

His next absurdity is so ironically wrongheaded that I almost laughed and cried at the same time. After spending two years and thousands of F.B.I. agent-hours and millions of dollars that could better have been directed against terrorism and identity theft, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, admits his investigation h…

Poll Numbers

Via Kevin Drum I linked to this CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showing the President's poll numbers sinking, especially on the war. The commenters on Kevin's post were mostly celebrating like they had won the World Series.

If you are a Democrat doing a victory dance right now, you are probably nuts. The President still has a very unified party, all three brances of Government including an ever strengthening grip on the judiciary, and the vast majority of the corporate media. Any number of things could occur which would greatly strengthen the President without helping the country much in the long run: Oil could drop to $35/bll for a couple of years, the economy could continue slow growth, political progress may occur in Iraq (this would help the country a lot), or terrorists could strike again in the US (and this would hurt the country a lot but help the President - at least for a while).

Democrats need to think hard and come up with good candidates and issues for 2006. We ha…

Blah Blah Blah

The President gave a nice but largely content free speech to a bunch of American Soldiers wearing French hats. There was nothing new in it - stay the course, build freedom in the Middle East, train the Iraqis. He was certainly more coherent and articulate than usual - his teleprompter skills have clearly improved. David Gergen on CNN thinks the speech will stop the hemorrhaging - for a while.

Inconvenient Science

Science has often been inconvenient for those in power. Knowlege *is* power, and those in power like a monopoly so as to enhance their power. The most inconvenient science is that which exposes power built on lies. Bruno and Galileo were famous victims, but in many small ways, the war continues. The continuing guerrilla war of fundamentalists vs. Darwin is the most famous example, but probably the more serious problem for society is the disinformation campaign conducted by corporate interests and their mainly Republican flunkies.

Tobacco was the model for most subsequent propaganda wars. The tactics are well developed: lie, obfuscate, buy a few scientists to give your lies some credibility, and above all, hide all the truth you know. Recently exposed big-lies concern the safety of several prominent drug types: cox-2 inhibiting non-steroidal anti-inflamatories (Celebrex, Bextra, Vioxx, for example), menopausal homone replacement therapy, and the cholesterol lowering statins. Probabl…

Shield Laws

Well, the supers declined to issue Judith Miller and Matt Cooper get out of jail free cards. I don't know if this will further the investigation of the Plame affair, but nobody but the press seems very sympathetic. I know I'm not.

Washington Monthly founding editor Charlie Peters issued a plea for Cooper on Kevin Drum's Political Animal. His plea was met with an almost unanimous storm of protest in the comments section, which I recommend. Not only did he argue an unpopular cause, he also argued it very badly, e.g. Matt is not only a fine reporter, he is a caring husband and father, a kind and thoughtful friend, and an all-round good citizen. And he has a marvelous sense of humor.

...If you agree, please write Judge Thomas Hogan appealing for a merciful sentence. Do not tell the judge he’s wrong about the law. Just concentrate on Matt’s personal character and family situations, explaining why he should not be put in jail.
There may or may not be good reasons not to jail…

Lost in Translation?

Kerry Sieh and Siman LeVay have written a widely (and justly) praised book on earthquakes and volcanoes called The Earth in Turmoil. It's a fine book and I recommend it highly, but I found this little oddity on pages 82 and 83: How many ruptures of the fault did it take to produce the 420 foot offset? If every rupture produced an offset of 30 feet, as the 1857 rupture did, then it would take a total of about 13 ruptures.Well, Kerry Sieh is the Robert P. Sharp Professor of Geology at Caltech, and I would think that some at that institution might find the math a bit funky. I suppose that it's true that 420/30 is "about" 13, since it's exactly 14, but what's going on here?

My best guess is that the original computations were done in meters, and that something was lost in translation in the round off in one unit system or both.

Swampwater

Since civilization was already over (see below) I waded into the fetid waters of Fox News Sunday this morning. Rumsfeld was the guest and, to my surprise, was fairly aggressively questioned - aggressively by the dismal standards of the modern corporate media anyway. Since he also appeared on Meet the Press, giving similar answers, I may conflate a few of his anwers in the following, but here are some lowlights: ...I don't make those decisions.Said specifically about troop levels in Iraq, but pretty much his answer to anything that might imply personal responsibility of any sort. Others: torture - Bush decided that, cost of the war - Wolfie must have been just freelancing, etc.

As usual he was bobbing and weaving with all the speed his seven-decade plus mind could manage. What a coward and what a liar!

When the subject turned to GITMO and the rest of the Bush Archipelago, his usual line of bull took a slightly comic turn: ... [the prisoners] are suicide bombers, terrorists... …

The End

It's official. English speaking civilization is over in the United States.

Linguistic conservatives and right-thinking people everywhere have increasingly become concerned with the trend towards usings "begs the question" to mean "invites the question" rather than its correct, proper, and divinely ordained meaning of "presumes that which it purports to prove."

From Daniel Gross's New York Times (!) story this morningThat begs a question: When housing is the biggest single expenditure for most Americans, and when half of the nation is fretting about a housing bubble and the other half is logging on to CondoFlip.com, how can inflation remain tame?
I weep for our country.

Aid and Comfort

Michael Moss has a story in the NYT telling about one more way Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush have given aid and comfort to our enemies. When Rumsfeld went to Iraq to tour the Abu Ghraib prison camp, military officials did not rely on a government-issued Humvee to transport him safely on the ground. Instead, they turned to Halliburton, the oil services contractor, which lent the Pentagon a rolling fortress of steel called the Rhino Runner.Nothing wrong with that. The crime consists in the fact that Bush, Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld's careerist bureaucrat Generals have consistently dragged their feet on providing our troops comparable protection. The Army has known for 25 years that the Humvee is unsuited to the kind of operations we are now carrying out in Iraq. Moss gives example after example of how a slow moving bureaucracy and incompetence have slowed the delivery of adequate systems to the troops.

In addition to the deficiencies of the armored Humvee, procurement has been slo…

Blame Canada?

The Rassmussen Report has a poll up showing that more Americans (49% to 44%) now blame Bush more than Saddam for starting the war. My first response was "Well Duh!" but I suppose there should be some joy over the return of the prodigals from stupidity.

I watched part of Total Recall on the tube today. Recall the point where the Doctor is trying to convince Arnie that he is living in a dream? Arnie asks him if shooting him would hurt him in that case. The Doc replies with some good BS but is betrayed by a little drop of sweat rolling down his face. James Wolcott blames the deterioration of Bush's poll numbers for Rove's shrill attack on Dick Durbin. Maybe little Rovian outbursts are his equivalent of the Doc's drop of sweat. Let's hope so anyway.

Bad Tasting Medicine

I was listening to one of those man-in-the-street interviews on energy policy yesteday, and it was a pretty disheatening experience. The people interviewed seemed rather better informed than most, but could not shift their attention beyond the ends of their noses. The overriding concern was about how can we get gasoline prices back down. Hello people - that ain't gonna happen. This is not the time to be thinking about short term palliatives - this is the time to start that painful therapy that might just save the nation and our children.

Brad Delong points us to some medicine prescribed by Rick Pelstein and quoted approvingly by Max Sawicky. We are headed off the cliff, or down the tube, and: The U.S. has to get out of Iraq, ASAP.

The U.S. must have national health insurance.

The Federal Gov will need to increase taxes -- over the next 75 years -- by about ten percentage points of GDP.
The tsunami is coming, and everyone is rushing down to buy beachfront property with interes…

The Warrior King

Paul Krugman is a national treasure, one of the few redeeming lights in the generally sorry performance of the press. Writing his NYT column "The War President" from Vienna he opens with: In this former imperial capital, every square seems to contain a giant statue of a Habsburg on horseback, posing as a conquering hero.

America's founders knew all too well how war appeals to the vanity of rulers and their thirst for glory. That's why they took care to deny presidents the kingly privilege of making war at their own discretion.
But after 9/11 President Bush, with obvious relish, declared himself a "war president." Krugman doesn't talk about Congress, but it was clearly guilty of abdicating its constitutional duty to declare (or not declare) war.

His main point is that we can't afford not to figure out how we got into this mess: Leading the nation wrongfully into war strikes at the heart of democracy. It would have been an unprecedented abuse of pow…

Rocky II: We *still* don't need no stinkin' dark energy.

I have pretty much given up posting on physics. This is because I don't know jack-shit about physics. Lubos posted a question on the S-Matrix today and I had a momentary rush - hey I studied this in grad school. I even picked up Taylor's Scattering Theory and looked up why S-Matrix poles below the real axis don't matter - but I couldn't really follow his argument, I've forgotten too much, so NEVERMIND. So I try to follow Feynman's dictum to only talk about stuff nobody knows anything about. I still really care about physics, though, so here's an exception.

Kolb, Matarrese and Riotto, undismayed by the less than enthusiastic reception received by last month's paper (with Notari), have expanded on why cosmic acceleration doesn't really require dark energy:

astro-ph/0506534

The gist of the argument is We elaborate on the proposal that the observed acceleration of the Universe is the result of the backreaction of cosmologic…

Obsolescence

My wife posted a long list of questions to be used in deciding what to throw out. A few highlights.

a) Would I pay to ship it to Australia?

b) Is it an irritant?

c) Is it old, outdated, rusty, inoperable, broken, replaced, unnattractive, out-of-style, unsafe?

On the positive side, I haven't been replaced. Yet.

San Antonio

What a game! What a series! I love the way these two teams play basketball! The best NBA finals in a while.

Mr. Rove - your pants are on fire - again

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and Kevin Drum's Political Animal have posts up on the recent antics of Bush's chief slander monkey, Karl Rove. What a lying scumbag.

Bully Bully

Fred Becker at Wonkette has a post up to remind us why intellectuals hate Bush. It's the old high school Bully the Nerd play:THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate the Secretary of Energy joining me today. He's a good man, he knows a lot about the subject, you'll be pleased to hear. I was teasing him -- he taught at MIT, and -- do you have a PhD?
SECRETARY BODMAN: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, a PhD. (Laughter.) Now I want you to pay careful attention to this -- he's the PhD, and I'm the C student, but notice who is the advisor and who is the President.
Good clean fun, but Wonkette suggest widening the domain of applicabilityThe Army should try this to get its recruitment numbers up: "Now I want you to pay careful attention to this -- he's the soldier, I'm the one who avoided active service, but look who's sending people to die?"

Volunteers

tacitus has been a pretty reliable pro-war rightie, but he's had a not-quite-epiphany too. He spent an evening talking to a friend who had just returned from aid-station duty in Iraq, and was now tending the maimed back in the US. She's had it and she's getting out: My friend is lucky -- she's only been to war once. I know others who have been to war twice, and probably a third time before the year is out. It's not that these people have no sense of duty: to the contrary. But they don't see the sense in the open-ended mission, plagued by strategic incoherence, and chronically undermanned. It's impossible to blame them. "I've read about the recruiting problems," she said, "And I think, no joke." Unfortunately, the lesson tacitus takes from this is The volunteer soldiers have proven themselves fine warriors. But the volunteer Army has failed. This is its first war of any meaningful length, and its lessons are clear: it cannot sustain…

George of Iraq

Now that Andrew Sullivan seems to be recovering from Bush infatuation, he keeps finding stuff that makes me regret some of the nasty things I've thought about him. One of his quotes of the day: "[We] have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. [We] have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows... Our unfortunate troops,... under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad." - T.E. Lawrence, Sunday Times of London, August 22, 1920.
We pay a very high price for choosing stupid leaders. And another one for not learning history.

Linked via tacitus.

Condi for President?

Well, the Secretary of State seems to have at least one non-fan. Here is Riverbend on Condi from Bagdad: She stood in the crowded room as her drove of minions stood around her... A huddling mass trying to draw closer to her aura of evil. The lights flashed against her fangs as her cruel lips curled into a grimace. It was meant to be a smile but it wouldn't reach her cold, lifeless eyes. It was a leer- the leer of the undead before a feeding...

The above was not a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer- it was just Condi Rice in Iraq a day ago. At home, we fondly refer to her as The Vampire. She's such a contrast to Bush- he simply looks stupid. She, on the other hand, looks utterly evil.
She also talks about the bombs, theories about the culprits, and especially about the outrages at GITMO and Abu Graib. A summation: By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secu…

Lying or Just Dumb?

E. J. Dionne speculates in today's Washington Post that the real problem with Bush/Cheney's approach to the war was less duplicity than stupidity in How Cheney fooled himself. The Downing Street Memos reveal a White House that couldn't be bothered with planning for the aftermath of conquest. A prewar Meet the Press interview with Cheney reveals all the self delusion:Russert asked: "If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?"

Cheney would have none of it. "Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is the…

The Curve

Kevin Drum has a post on Grade Inflation up today, but the data, and further commentary come from Alex Tabarok here. The interesting conclusions are that a)there was steep inflation 1967-72, probably associated with the Vietnam War and a second, more gradual inflation from 1987-lates data, and b)more junior faculty are easier graders. Tabarok, a self-described tough grader, also argues, on the basis of a to me only slightly related French experiment, that grade inflation isn't all bad. In May of 1968 French students rioted, were suppressed by the police, but then joined by 10 million striking workers leading to a near revolutionary situation. To quiet things down many students that year were accepted to universities which in former and later years they would not have qualified for.It seems that those students admitted under the looser standards did OK, in school and in life.

If you want to answer the question of whether grade inflation is bad, you have to first decide what grad…

The Last Refuge

Wars have always been popular with tin-pot dictators, regular-pot dictators, and politicians in trouble. The reason is pretty simple - when the nation is at war, any attack on the leader can be portrayed as an attack on the soldiers and an attack on the nation. This phenomenon was probably what Samuel Johnson had in mind when he defined patriotism as "The last refuge of the scoundrel." Bartleby.com offers riffs on this theme by Ambrose Bierce and H. L. Mencken:
“In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, at entry for patriotism, The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce, p. 323 (1946, reprinted 1973).

H. L. Mencken added this to Johnson’s dictum: “But there is something even worse: it is the first, last, and middle range of fools.”—The World, New York City, November 7, 1926, p. …

Selling Out

David Brooks has a morality play of a column on Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist today. The theme is "earnest do-gooder goes to the Senate and loses his soul." Brooks likes the first Dr. Frist Frist's motto in his high school yearbook was, "But I don't like to rest." He excelled at everything and noted, "Not surprisingly, with the family emphasis on self-worth, I longed to be first in everything, to be king of the hill, the grammar school capo di capo. I imagine I was quite insufferable."

And yet when I spent a week in Nashville a few years ago interviewing people who had known Frist, I found they all revered him. I came across story after story of Frist performing some act of personal kindness, ranging from saving lives in Africa to writing out a 40-page memo on the ecology and history of Nantucket for an acquaintance who was going to vacation there.But life in the DC snakepit takes its toll:Frist too appears to have been gradually altered.…

Love your enemies...

...says the Lord, as quoted in Luke 6:35 and Matthew 5:44. This is a moral duty for Christians, but it can also be a strategy - "keep your enemies close" (Sun Tzu in The Art of War and also Al Pacino in The Godfather II). Nobody has used that strategy better than Bill Clinton. Matt Drudge quotes Clinton on George H. W. from the CBS Late ShowClinton, "I think we're good friends. I like him very much. I've always liked him. When he was vice president, I was still a governor. We worked together on a number of things. He hosted the governors, in 1983...at Kennebunkport."

When they made an announcement about raising funds for Tsunami relief in Houston former First Lady Barbara Bush "announced us. And she said she has started to call me son. I told the Republicans there, I said don't worry, every family has one, you know, the black sheep. I told them, this just shows you the lengths the Bushes would go to get another president in the family. I wish I …

(Hat) Size Matters?

A researcher at Viginia Commonwealth has allegedly discovered that another popular stereotype is true. Yes, Virginia, size matters, at least brain size. “For all age and sex groups, it is now very clear that brain volume and intelligence are related,” said lead researcher Michael A. McDaniel, Ph.D., an industrial and organizational psychologist who specializes in the study of intelligence and other predictors of job performance.
The study evidently collates MRI measured brain volume and IQ scores from 26 previous studies and finds a strong correlation.

The paper is here and the abstract is: The relationship between brain volume and intelligence has been a topic of a scientific debate since at least the
1830s. To address the debate, a meta-analysis of the relationship between in vivo brain volume and intelligence was conducted. Based on 37 samples across 1530 people, the population correlation was estimated at 0.33. The correlation is higher for females than males. It is also higher for…

Fragging?

Michele O'Donnell and Damien Cave of the NYT report what is possibly the second Iraq war related fragging in this story. One or two fraggings don't make an epidemic, but murder of superior officers is not a sign of good morale.

MTV killed the Radio Star?

David Brooks laments the decline and fall of middle class culture in his NYT column.I was emptying some boxes in my basement the other day and I came across an essay somebody had clipped on Ernest Hemingway from the July 14, 1961, issue of Time magazine. The essay was outstanding. Over three pages of tightly packed prose, with just a few photos, the anonymous author performed the sort of high-toned but accessible literary analysis that would be much harder to find in a mass market magazine today. Brooks sees the disappearance of a "middlebrow culture."Back in the late 1950's and early 1960's, middlebrow culture, which is really high-toned popular culture, was thriving in America. There was still a sense that culture is good for your character, and that a respectable person should spend time absorbing the best that has been thought and said.So what happened? Middlebrow culture was killed in the late 50's and 60's, and the mortal blows came from opposite direc…

Accountable?

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post goes after Dr. Bill Frist, Tom "The Hammer" Delay, and some of their colleagues in Where's The Apology?
Bending the Facts on Schiavo
.We are entitled to our moral, ethical and philosophical commitments. We are not entitled to our own facts.
More specifically:The autopsy in the Terri Schiavo case provides a rare moment of political accountability. We should not "move on," as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested. No, we cannot move on until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo's condition take responsibility for what they said -- and apologize.Frist wasn't content to speak as a prolifer -- he offered an extensive opinion as a doctor, citing medical textbooks.In the midst of his impressively detailed medical review, Frist declared flatly: "Terri's brother told me Terri laughs, smiles, and tries to speak. That doesn't sound like a woman…

Impeachment Now!

I have been watching a rump committee of House Democrats meeting on the Downing Street Memo on C-SPAN. Congressman John Conyers is leading it and Joe Wilson, Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern and Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan are among the witnesses. I have rarely seen such spunk from Democrats.

The key question being asked is what did the President know and when did he know it? The Downing Street memo strongly implies that the President and his minions deliberately lied to the Congress in order to take the country to war. The Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen do not appear to making that charge yet, but they are saying that there is probable cause for a formal investigation. If so, many have plainly stated that that would clearly be grounds for impeachment.

There is no prospect of actual impeachment, of course, and probably not even a chance of an investigation unless Democrats get control of one House of Congress in 2006. Perhaps this hearing will inspire our cowardly …

Commencement Pearls

The Governator at Santa Monica College (his Alma Mater)Work, work, work! Study, study, study! Win, win, win! His remarks were occasionally drowned out by protestors.

Anna Quindlen at Barnard College (hers) After truly malicious truncation by me.None of what you've learned in college means anything...
Alan Greenspan at the Wharton School:It seems clear that, if the CEO chooses, he or she can, by example and through oversight, induce corporate colleagues and outside auditors to behave ethically.Or not.

Warren Beatty at Berkley: My parents and grandparents were teachers, and I became rich and famous 46 years ago...[Deletia which utterly changes the context of the next sentence] ...Does that make me a "girly man"?Of course not Warren - you were born that way.

Sandra Tsing Low at Caltech (her AM) Dare to disappoint your father...She added that this advice went double for Asian students. She explained that after graduating in physics, she had gone into the liberal arts, which...f…

Motl & Smolin on Einstein

From Lubos Motl's comment I learned of Lee Smolin's Physics Today article Why no new Einstein?. Smolin thinks that physics departments in the US are not well structured to encourage the most creative and profound young physicists. Lubos offers tepid lip service to this notion and proceeds to prove that he misses the point entirely - not exactly unusual in his case. Along the way Lubos slams Einstein for knowing less differential geometry than is common among modern graduate students and for continuing to argue with orthodox quantum mechanics. He also throws in Minkowski, his high school high teacher, certainly had a reason to call Einstein "the lazy dog". Einstein's poetry was mediocre and his violin skills were so-so. I'm not quite sure whether Lubos is just creating a self-parody here or actually thinks he has said something interesting. More from LubosLater in his life, Einstein showed his inability to understand the new conceptual breakthroughs, esp…

The Pretender

One of my little tics at college campuses, or at least at cool campuses, is to buy a jacket, sweatshirt or T-shirt. I've never done this at a college where I've attended or taught, though. I was shopping at a college bookstore the other day and looking through the offerings when a student of my acquaintance asked: "Do you want one of these lame 'parent of' sweatshirts or would you rather pretend you actually went here?" I opted for the latter of course.

I think this quirk started one cold summer day in Oxford when my wife and I were freezing our butts off. I bought my wife an "Oxford University" sweater, and we set off, slightly warmer, only to be accosted by a rather belligerant limey who demanded to know if she was in fact a student. We were a little embarrassed, but I was a lot bigger than he was, and he eventually wandered off, no doubt to curse Americans, the decline of real cider, and the loss of empire.

Uh oh - I guess I lied. I did buy a…

Country Mouse returns gratefully to the sticks

Four days on the LA freeway/parking lots - felt like a hundred. Knew that I had gotten back into the old Orange County when we stopped at the Holiday Inn and noticed we had just missed the weekly meeting of the Rush Limbaugh Society. Win some/lose some.

Ozymandias

One of my favorite activities is walking around college campuses, especially nice ones with good bookstores. I was perambulating about one of the prettier ones yesterday, admiring the lush lawns and perfect gardens. Along the way, I like to check out the monuments to the famous and famously wealthy - The Millikan Library, the Beckman Wedding Cake, the Moore laboratory, the Beckman this and Beckman that, and, of course, the No Dogs Allowed Lily Pond.

It's always a shock to notice that just steps away from this tribute to power and priviledge, there is a third world scene of unspeakable squalor. I'm writing, of course, about the undergraduate residence halls. Long ago, when I was a student, men's and women's residence halls were strictly separated. I guess the theory that having women among the men would lead to greater neatness didn't work out.

You gotta have some jews...

...to succeed on Broadway, or so Spamalot would have it.

A few days ago I commented on a NYT story linking genetic diseases among Ashkenazi Jews with higher intelligence. I was pretty skeptical, but in the meantime have been reading the study, and I have to say that they make a better case than I expected. The basic logic is motive -> opportunity -> evidence (evolutionarily speaking).

Motive: Strong selective pressures existed in the period in question - rich people left a lot more descendants than poor people. Jews in Europe were confined to primarily intellectual occupations, like banking, trading, and tax farming. Smarter people had a lot more likelyhood of leaving descendants. Of course this part relies heavily on the heritability of IQ and the effectiveness of IQ as a predictor of academic and business success - both of which are controversial even though established indisputably, in the opinion of most experts.

Opportunity: Because there was relatively little gene flow…

Dumb and almost as Dumb?

Michael Kranish reports Kerry's Yale grades in This Boston Globe Story. Suffice it to say that he was more George Bush than Bill Clinton academically. Not one A in four years, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't majoring in rocket science.

Grade inflation, yada yada, but Yale was more the social than the academic elite in those days. There were many moments during the campaign and debate when his lack of mental agility disappointed me, but I figured it was fatigue plus some senile degeneration of the reflexes (he's my age, approximately). It looks like he was actually never that smart - perhaps sort of a Gilderoy Lockhart one-talent (marrying rich) type.

Hey, we Democrats have enough problems - lets not nominate any more dummies. No nomination without a college transcript and SAT scores!

Fish or Fowl?

Via Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles, who linked to Mirriam Burstein of The Little Professor I read Stanley Fish's NYT Op-Ed piece on Teaching Freshman Composition. Burstein calls Fish the "...the worlds most famous English Professor," and I suppose it must be true, since I had heard of him, and he's the only English professor with whom I'm not personally acquainted that I have heard of.

It seems that Fish, who is dean emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has a new idea for how to teach Freshman Composition. Fish notes thatWe are at that time of year when millions of American college and high school students will stride across the stage, take diploma in hand and set out to the wider world, most of them utterly unable to write a clear and coherent English sentence.
So far this is pretty unsurprising to anyone who has, say, reviewed a technical paper. Fish's novelty is his diagnosis and proposed cure. Most composition courses that American s…

Humility vs. Hypocrisy

In his first speech to the public, the then newly elected Pope Benedict XVI said:Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.
So was he a monk living in some cave for the past 50 years? Not exactly: he became a Cardinal 28 years ago and head of the Inquisition (OK, they don't actually still call it that) 25 years ago. This "simple and humble labourer" has spent his life in the church as professor, politician, and very senior bureaucrat. Does this kind of dissembling bother anybody else, or is it just me?

Snarktown Queen

Slate is the queen of the snarky headline. The headlines are also exceptionally dishonest. Queen for a Day: Why Danica Patrick is overrated has little to say about how or why Danica is or is not overated. It's actually about why Indy Car racing gets no respect, and not a bad story at that. A similar bait and switch strategy generates their Deep Throat headlines. Slate is not that far from being a good magazine, but it could be a lot closer.

At least it has Doonesbury, in color, unlike my local weekday paper.

Dinner time aboard the Titanic

The winners are still winning. Mainly because they are still making the rules. David Cay Johnston's latest NYT article, Richest Are Leaving Even the Rich Far Behind, tells how the US is seeing a virtually unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of the very richest. If you read only one thing on the US tax system, this should be it. The hyper-rich in his definition constitute only the top 0.1% of taxpayers. The minimum for membership in the club is an annual income of $1.6 million or more. A slightly larger group, say 0.2% has assets of $10 million or more.

This group has seen its inflation adjusted income increase by 250% since 1980, and its share of the national income has doubled. The rest of the top 10% got a much smaller share gain, while the other 90% lost ground.The Bush administration tax cuts stand to widen the gap between the hyper-rich and the rest of America. The merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, will shoulder a disproportio…

Before these guys from Utah...

... published their studies of genetic diseases among Ashkenazic Jews you already knew that they were smarter than the rest of us, just like you knew that orientals worked harder, and blacks could run faster and jump higher - in short that we aren't really underachievers and it's not our fault that we got the short end of the genetic stick. Of course if you happen to be Ashkenazic, oriental, or black, you're out of luck - any failure to achieve is strictly your own fault.

The conclusion the University of Utah scientists came up with is that the cluster of genetic diseases restricted to Ashkenazis has some countervailing genetic advantage."Absolutely anything in human biology that is interesting is going to be controversial," said one of the report's authors, Dr. Henry Harpending, an anthropologist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

He and two colleagues at the University of Utah, Gregory Cochran and Jason Hardy, see the pattern of genetic dis…

Gauleiters and Commissars

Reading Bob Woodward's fascinating account of how Mark Felt became Deep Throat, I was struck by a passage where Woodward was discussing the Nixon political operatives being dispatched to staunch the bleeding. Felt, a much more learned man than most realized, later wrote that he considered Huston "a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community." The word "gauleiter" is not in most dictionaries, but in the four-inch-thick Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is defined as "the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control."

There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to "identify every member of every hippie commune" in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society.

Every President tries to put his people in key places, but t…

Dangerous Ideas

Wonkette, Brad Delong, Sean Carroll, and much of the rest of the liberal blogosphere has been mixing outrage and amusement at Human Events Online's list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
The Kinsey Report, Alfred Kinsey
Democracy and Education, John Dewey
Das Kapital, Karl Marx
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
The Course of Positive Philosophy, August Comte
Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes
And, like every good list, some honorable mentionsThe Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich
What Is To Be Done, V.I. Lenin
Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
Beyond Freedom and Dignity, B.F. Skinner
Reflections on Violence, Georges Sorel
The Promise of American Life, Herbert Croly
Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucaul…