Showing posts from May, 2011

The Origin of Religion

The religions of complex societies seem to be quite different from those of primitive societies.  In particular, these religions of the complex societies have gods that require worship and appeasement.  Moreover, they form much of the social glue that hold societies together.  New evidence from archeology clarifies how this process occurred.  Via Tyler Cowen, this National Geographic article by Charles C Mann lays out the case that organized religion predated agriculture:

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it. When foragers began settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between th…

Genealogy of Morals, Essay 2

it is only the bad conscience, only the will for self-abuse, that provides the necessary conditions for the existence of altruism as a value.
.............Nietzsche, Friedrich (2010). On the Genealogy of Morals (A Modernized Translation with a New Introduction and Biography) (p. 87). Kindle Edition. Nietzsche's anaysis of punishment and conscience is quite penetrating. He argues convincingly that conscience does not originate in punishment, instead arguing that it is imposed on the populace as a condition of civilization. In his view, the imposer is his magical creative conquerors, but I think that part is his typical romantic nonsense.
I am surprised that he does not see its origin in the more primitive notion of shame - a fundamental social instinct far predating civilization, though FN would have been unlikely to have known that.
Something like shame actually seems to exist in other social animals such as dogs and chimpanzees. As social animals, it behooves us to have a dece…

Collective Action: Getting the Lead Out

Kevin Drum reads James Q. Wilson on the decline of violent crime in the last couple of decades.
Crime guru James Q. Wilson surveys the evidence for why violent crime rates have dropped so dramatically over the past two decades. The state of the economy, he says, seems to have little to do with it:
The biggest effect seems to be due to getting rid of lead based paints, so that kids have less lead in their developing brains.  Bottom line:
So if I can put words into Wilson's mouth, the decline in crime is perhaps one-quarter due to increased incarceration, one-quarter due to reduced cocaine use, and one half due to reductions in blood lead levels in children.
Note that getting rid of lead based paints and reducing cocaine use are both the kinds of actions libertarians abhor.

Air France Flight 447

Suppose you found yourself in the cockpit of an airliner showing signs of stall and plunging rapidly toward the ground.  If you had never had a single flying lesson, and hadn't read about flying, you might be excused - but not forgiven - for pulling back on the stick to try to gain altitude.  Why would three professional pilots, presumably trained from their earliest flight experiences on how to deal with a stall by pointing the plane down, make that kind of error?  Yet that seems to be exactly the error they did make.

Cruising at 35,000 feet and nearly four hours into what seemed a routine overnight flight to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, an Air France cockpit crew got a stall warning and responded by doing what even weekend pilots know to avoid: They yanked the nose of the plane up instead of pointing it down to gain essential speed.

Apparently confused by repeated stall warnings and reacting to wildly fluctuating airspeed indications, pilots of Flight 447 continued to pull back sh…


I remain a fan of The Big Bang Theory but I really can't approve this Freindzification trend this year. 

I think I prefer more Big Bang physics and less indiscriminate banging of each other.

Watch Yourselves, Steve J and Bill G

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg is stoking his blood lust.

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, has started slaughtering his own food, including slicing the throat of a goat with a knife, as part of a sustainable living project . . .

Rare Variants

Let us consider another surprisingly common “rare” variant of human nature: the psychopath. Yes, I have been thinking about Jon Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test. My interest was piqued when I caught an interview with him on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. As is my want, I saw some connections to my thoughts about Asperger’s and to Rand and Nietzsche.

From the standpoint of society, psychopaths are a major nuisance. The make up a rather large fraction of the prison population and commit a large fraction of the most serious crimes. Even when they don’t commit crimes, they tend to leave large trails of devastation behind them. Estimates are that psychopaths constitute about 1 % of the total population – a surprisingly large fraction unless psychopathy either is associated with some selective advantage or results from a common developmental accident.

You might note that I assume that being a psychopath is an organic condition. The evidence supports that idea in a few ways. Psychopathy…

Genealogy of Morals

Prefaces and Essay 1.

In essayI, Nietzsche applies his historical and philological method to the meanings of "good" and "evil."  He argues that there original sense was assigned by an aristocratic class of conquerors, and that "good" was synonymous with strength, health, high birth and military vigor, whereas "evil" applied to the conquered - the weak, the ill-born, and the slaves.  Over time, he says, the resentment of the slaves gradually won a victory whereby "good" became associated with the decadent values of the Sermon on the Mount - poverty, humility, weakness, etc.

Nietzsche's aristocratic infatuation was great enough that he fabricated a noble ancestry for himself - one utterly unfounded in reality.  That infatuation, combined with his obsession with race, violence and decadence was the source of much of the poison in this book.  For me, almost every intellectual element of Nazism is here: the master race, the Aryan race, …

Why Can't I Log on to Blogger From IE8?


F W Nietzsche Liveblogs the Robot Revolution

Zarathustra, Prologue 3.

When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town which adjoineth the forest, he found many people assembled in the market-place; for it had been announced that a rope-dancer would give a performance. And Zarathustra spake thus unto the people:

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is something that is to be surpassed. What have ye done to surpass man?

All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man?

What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.

Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a disharmony and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I bid you become phantoms or plants?

Lo, I teach you the Superman!


I have decided not to seek the Republican nomination for the Presidency this (2012) election cycle.

Bee Killers?

Microwave radiation levels in cities today are roughly one million times the ambient levels in pre-electronic times.  Are honeybees the canaries in this coal mine?
Cellphone transmissions may be responsible for a mysterious, worldwide die off in bees that has mystified scientists. Dr. Daniel Favre, a former biologist with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, carefully placed a mobile phone underneath a beehive and then monitored the reaction of the workers. According to a story in The Daily Mail, the bees were able to tell when the handsets were making and receiving calls. They responded by making the high pitched squeaks that usually signal the start of swarming. "This study shows that the presence of an active mobile phone disturbs bees -- and has a dramatic effect," Favre told the Daily Mail.
We report ...


Since the World apparently did not end last night, I suppose I ought to do some laundry.


I am now beyond Beyond Good and Evil.  As predicted by Wolfgang, I don't "get" Nietzsche.  Whether those more righty in in orientation would get him I'm not sure.  Hitler was a fan, but it's not clear that he actually read him. Rand read him and borrowed heavily from him but insisted on lying about it.

Advice to others inclined to read Nietzsche: don't start with BG&E.  I have dipped into Genealogy of Morals, and it seems much more digestible.  Nietzsche says to start with Ecce Homo and Zarathustra is another pre-req.

Among the memorable Nietzsche quotations is one from the latter: 

Thou goest to women? Do not forget thy whip.What he had in mind might be guessed from the famous photo on the cover of my (virtual) copy of Genealogy - a picture of Lou Salome kneeling in a cart, wielding a whip, with Nietzsche and Paul Ree standing in for the donkeys.

Math, Science and Autism

The link between autism spectrum and scientific talent seems to be as controversial as ever. I recommend this article to Lee, Arun, and Wolfgang particularly. Some excerpts:

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has spent much of his career championing the positive side of autism. His most recent finding, to be published shortly in the Journal of Human Nature, is that talented mathematicians are at least twice as likely as the general population to have the condition. He also found, by comparing maths undergraduates at Cambridge University with undergraduates of other disciplines (law, medicine), that mathematicians are more likely than students of other subjects to have a sibling or parent with autism.

That, he says, points to genetics: his theory is that there is a group of genes that codes for both mathematical ability and autism. “This association between maths and autism keeps cropping up,” he says. Finding these maths genes could be a milestone on the way to finding the genes associated …

Take That, Amy Chua

Andrew Sullivan finds this:

Lynda Sharpe roots it out:
Plunk two little rats together and it’s almost impossible to stop them whooping it up. But thwart a young rat’s zeal for play (by rearing it alone or with drugged companions that won’t play) and you create an adult that loses its cool in social situations. When things start getting edgy, play-deprived rats either succumb to rat-rage or scarper, quaking, to a corner. And the lack of play is responsible, because if you let an isolated rat fool around for just one hour daily, it turns into a normal chilled dude
Re the Tiger Mom, though, I have since met a former law student of hers who said that (a)she has her own group of devoted students, usually called the "Chua Pets," and (2) is known around the law school as a soft touch.

Autism Spectrum Miscelleany & TBD

One popular theory of Autism posits that it is a defect of the mirror neurons.  Here as elsewhere, the evidence is contradictory.  According to various studies, in Autistics the mirror neuron system is either deficient, normal, or developmentally delayed.

The genetic evidence is also confusing.  A large number of genes appear to be associated with the autism spectrum, but none seem to be definitive.  In some cases, it appears that genetic changes not shared with the parents are involved.  Others have peculiar behavior, in that an allele inherited from father may act differently than one inherited from the mother.

Bottom line: this is not yet understood, but evidence is accumulating rapidly.

My guess is that it will turn out to be several independent conditions that are only catastrophic when to many of them occur together. 

Finally, Arun has suggested, probably in jest, that the reason several commentators (himself included), object to the topic is that they might have AS.  You can s…


If there is anything evolution ought to be good at, it’s eliminating harmful genes. There at least a few genes in our pool, though, which are surprisingly common despite being very harmful. The classic example is sickle cell anemia. At least before modern medicine, if you got two copies of the sickle cell gene, you were very likely to die early from sickle cell anemia. Having one copy, however, tended to make the symptoms of malaria milder and make surviving it more likely. This double edged quality helped this otherwise purely harmful gene survive and prosper. You might ask your intelligent designer friends to explain that, though no doubt they have some BS answer.

I want to consider the surprising results of a recent South Korean study in the light of the above.

In the first study to take a broad-population look at the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders — types of autism ranging from severe symptoms to the milder Asperger's syndrome — researchers found a rate of 2.64% a…

Fatal Tell

Would you want to know when you are going to die, or at least when the physical decrepitude of age will overwhelm you? It seems that there is a message, if not exactly to the main, at least to sophisticated molecular analytic engines, written in your cells.
For the most part, we live longer than our individual cells. Cells are constantly breaking down, being shed, and replaced by the products of new cell division. There is a problem with the replication of chromosomes that takes place prior to cell division however, in that the enzymes that mediate it cannot fully replicate the ends of the chromosomes. Consequently, in order to protect us from losing genes with every division, our chromosomes are equipped with special end caps, called telomeres. Cell division does shorten these telomeres however, and this limits the number of times a cell can divide. Consequently, every cell division is a step toward ultimate doom.
You might want to ask why the Intelligent Designer would play su…

Reactive Impedance

About those AS posts: A physicist and frequent reader of my blog said something like this to me: “it’s really weird how several commenters seem deeply offended by the subject!” I noted my own surprise – I thought the subject was intrinsically interesting, occasionally amusing, and replete with insight into how the human mind worked. Obviously, some people – people I know to be very bright, by the way – disagree.
I asked if he had taken the test. “AQ = 30,” he said, “and it would probably have been higher when I was in school.”

I happened to run into an old psychologist acquaintance at a cocktail party, and I couldn’t resist discussing my theories with him – they are not really my theories, since I quickly learned that others had come up with them before me. He, an old-line Freudian, was deeply skeptical, but he found the evidence interesting.

National Suicide

It's a bit shocking how easy it is to persuade a country to commit national suicide.  I just heard on ABC's This Week 9 out of ten Americans believe that the National Debt Limit should not be raised.  Of course most of them don't have any idea what that implies, I suppose, but plenty of those who do, or should, are prepared to take advantage of our national stupidity in their attempt to blow up Social Security and Medicare.  Douglas Holtz-Slimeball-Eakin was leading the charge on ABC.  Paul Krugman was a pretty lonely voice in saying "don't give in to blackmail."

If history is any guide, I expect that Obama will negotiate ingratiatingly and produce elated congratulations when he manages to give the Republicans only half of Czechoslovakia.

Bizarro World Event of the Day

The head of the International Monetary Fund is expected to be formally arrested on charges including criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, a New York police official told CNN late Saturday night.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was being questioned by police Saturday in connection with the alleged sexual assault that day of a Times Square hotel housekeeping employee, New York Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.
Strauss-Kahn was also expected to be a leading candidate in coming French presidential elections.

Would Nietzsche have approved?

Today's Hits

Have I mentioned that I usually have something playing on my mental jukebox, whether I will or nil?  Yes I have.

Today's most popular (not with me - with the damn mental DJ - I'm sure that I have much more sophisticated tastes;) ) :

Christina Perri - Jar of Hearts


I share that aversion to philosophy that seems common to a certain type of physicist - we take Feynman as our guide.  The most interesting subject for philosophy is human nature, and nearly every philosopher felt obliged to take a crack at it.  

Somewhere, I seem to recall, Richard Dawkins said, or quoted, something to the effect that anything written about human nature before 1859 could only be of historical interest.  An exaggeration for effect, but certainly almost everything mysterious about human nature was radically clarified when viewed through the lens of "that mediocre man" (as Nietzsche styled him) Charles Darwin.

Nietzsche himself invented "The Will to Power" as his master principle for life, itself just a slight reworking of S[c*]hopenhauer's "Will to Live".  Schopenhauer was closer in the game of philosophical horseshoes, but Nietzsche was unfortunate enough to write after his master idea was already refuted and superseded.

*Belette insi…

More Asperger’s Stuff, and a Quiz

Gus is the cat at the theatre door….
…………..T S Elliot
First, another couple of members for my Aspie hall of fame … Michaelangeloand F. Nietzsche.
Should there be an afterlife, Nietzsche, at least should find some philosophical company – other philosophs often mentioned for Aspiedom include Socrates, Quine, Wittgenstein, Kant, Spinoza, Russell and Gödel.
But how about you? Here is a convenient short test for self administration.
Some scores below:
An average woman, so they say, gets a 14, while the average man rates 18. Male scientists, and female physicists, come in at 19.
24 is claimed to be the score expected of math contest winners.
32 is supposedly Asperger’s territory.
I took the test twice, once as myself, and secondly trying to remember my 14 year-old self. I got a 28 and a 36. I know a few autistic spectrum people, and frankly, I don’t seem much like any of them to me. On the other hand, if you aren’t good at reading people, how can you tell?
Scores, anyone?

Mile Marker 206 (Beyond Good and Evil)

The time for petty politics is past; the next century will bring the struggle for the dominion of the world—the COMPULSION to great politics.
…………..Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (2008). Beyond Good and Evil (Optimized for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 1686-1687).

A great work of art or thought ought induce some indignation, otherwise how could it challenge or add to your insight. Only if it survives that indignation does it deserve to be paid attention to. Nietzsche at least passes the first test of being profoundly irritating.

At least he now makes a little sense. Am I reading a bad translation, or is he really this obscure. I understand him better and like him less. Yes, he saw many things that lesser minds missed. My problem is that I really can’t forgive him his consequences. He liked the old morality where consequences counted for more than intentions – and so he should be judged. I see him brewing so many of the evil spirits that possessed Germany in the twentieth century and…

Basketball Stats

One evil effect of the computer is that now basketball commentators can lard their broadcasts with all sorts of statistics, including some pretty lame ones (JJ shot 36% from the three point line in the regular season, but so far in the playoffs he is only 1 of 9, for 11%).  While my son and I were watching the Bulls-Hawks game tonight, one of the announcers stated with apparent surprise that the team that went ahead 3 to 2 (games) in a seven games series had an 83% chance of winning the series.

Should that surprise us?  If the teams are perfectly evenly matched, so that in the long run they should each win the same number of games, then the odds of winning an individual game are 50% for each team, and team with only 2 wins should have a win fraction of .50 x .50 = .25 and the favored team should only win 75% of the time. 

My son pointed out, though, that if the 3:2 ratio of wins faithfully reflected the odds of winning an individual game, then the weaker team had only a probability o…

Salt and a Battery

Putting energy to work requires solution of a pair of problems: finding a source and storing the energy until we are ready to use it. Biological systems have developed elaborately multi-layered solutions. Mostly our source is the Sun. The invention of photosynthesis was the big breakthrough, taking energy from the Sun and storing it in carbohydrates (which, for future reference, pack about 17 MJ of energy per kilogram of weight). Other systems facilitate short term storage (ATP) and long term (fat).

Some of that energy of photosynthesis was tucked away in the decaying organic matter that became the fossil fuels that tens of millions of years later are our primary source of energy. Those fossil fuels, in various refined forms, are admirably suited to be both sources of energy for us and compact, highly portable, high-energy storage media ready for use in our combustion engines.

We have gotten better at extracting energy more directly from the Sun, especially in the form of electrici…

The Problem of Pakistan

There is a case to be made that Pakistan is our most dangerous enemy in the world right now.  It is a major sponsor of terrorism in its own right, has nuclear weapons, and has sold the technology to our other chief foes, Iran and North Korea.  It hides and aids our foes the Taliban and al Quaeda.

Nonetheless, they feel safe against our retaliation because they have nuclear weapons and sit astride our supply lines to Afghanistan.  Our choices:

Get out of Afghanistanand, forget about them - let India and China deal with themor, try to pull the nuclear stinger.  That would be a very risky course.or, continue on, punishing perfidy in subtle ways.


What is an instinct? It’s usually defined as an innate tendency to a behavior, especially as contrasted to learned behaviors. Baby birds, for example, fly upon reaching sufficient physical maturity without the help of any lessons. Similarly, ants and termites don’t need instruction on how build their elaborate nests – the program for that is already in the firmware when shipped. Such preprogrammed behaviors are hardly absent in primates or humans, but they do tend to become more complicated by the necessity of learning.

Birds learn too, of course, and so do bees, but the element of learning is far more prominent in humans. Human babies are born with instinctive tendencies to crawl, walk and speak but they can’t do any of them at birth, and each skill requires progressively more learning. Other instincts are perhaps even more subtle. Humans and our fellow higher primates can all throw, but only humans seem to be able to do so with range and precision. It takes a lot of mental m…

On Pointe and in a Tutu

There has been a certain amount of legalistic chatter about the legality and morality of gunning down bin Laden at a moment when he wasn't actually manning a machine gun.  I think this is nonsense.

Not because he deserved it, even though he richly did.

Not because justice was done, it wasn't.

Because this is war, and killing the enemy is what you do.  Most of the people killed in war are far less culpable than bin Laden, but if they are trying to kill us, we need to kill them first.  Even if they are on pointe and in a tutu, or pajamas.

The SEALS carried out a very dangerous mission at great risk to themselves and even managed to avoid most collateral casualties.  Congratulations to them, and all those who supported their efforts.


God particle still the unmoved (and unseen) mover.

From Peter Woit.
ATLAS this weekend has finally released their latest analysis of the gamma-gamma invariant mass spectrum, carried out in response to claims from within their collaboration that a 4 sigma Higgs signal had been observed in this channel. The result? Nada:
The dominant background components are measured and found to be in agreement with the Standard Model predictions, both in terms of overall yield and invariant mass distribution. No excess is observed.
Top experts often comment on Peter's blog.

Nietzsche vs. Rand

On the second card: Mozart vs. Traffic Noise.

Andrew Sullivan

If you aren't reading Andrew Sullivan, you are probably missing a lot.  Among today's hits, thylacines, Abbottabad (poem), Muslim humiliation, and this:
Alex Carp interviewed architect Eyal Weizman:

People tell you that architecture is built to protect you against the elements. Primarily architecture is built to protect you from other people. More interesting for me is the way in which power operates through an ability to both control and interrupt.

Look at Gaza, bounded by a perimeter fence that is its master. How many calories should enter into Gaza? Israeli soldiers sit and calculate this, which has been documented by NGOs. Two thousand one hundred calories per adult male, one thousand seven hundred calories per adult woman, then children according to gender and age, and that’s what’s flowing. Or electricity. How many megawatts should be allowed in? How much water should enter? That’s what the wall does—it’s a membrane that regulates and controls people by modulating flows, r…

Atlas Shrugged

Done at last and somehow I feel that I ought to have something to say about the whole thing.  I undertook this to try to find out why so many people seem to find this book so inspirational.  I guess that I've said enough about why I don't like it.  There are a few sentiments expressed in the book that I can applaud: having a purpose and a goal, for example(like *finish*this*damn*book*, perhaps).

So why did I invest a large part of my free time over the past few weeks in these 2/3 of a million words?  I had read some Rand before and was pretty confident that I wouldn't like this one or learn much from it.  I blame Bobby Fisher.

I have been fascinated by his peculiar tragedy for nearly half a century.  What caused this brilliant individual to launch into a succession of progressively more self-destrustive acts even as he reached a peak of success?  Frank Brady's excellent book, Endgame: Bobby Fisher's Remarkable Rise and Fall, gave me a theory, a theory that started …

Words of Wisdom

Hermione Granger:
What an idiot!

Dearest Dagny,

Yes, I listened to the speech - the whoo-ho-hole thing, all leventy'leven hours of it. Congratulations, you are now screwing the most tiresome bore in the history of the multiverse. And, yes, it's true about Frisco and I - but don't take it personally that we both gave up on women after you. We are a couple - not that we would be if there were any chicks in this People's Hellhole de Colorado.

What I wouldn't give right now for the chance to buffalo one bureaucrat or confuse a tax collector. I'm going nuts. I didn't become a master metallurgist just to become the country blacksmith to a bunch of vacant eyed wackos - no offense.
How do you bust out of this joint, anyway - you managed it once?



The Wizard Speaks

This is the story of a very powerful wizard who, at a crucial moment in human history, when everything has gone to crap from a combination of his sabotage, witless leadership, and the awful burden of a false morality, uses his invincible magical spell to sieze control of all the world's radios.

The speech he gives is a little like one of those you hear from the dirty and wild-haired homeless man on the street corner.  There is a lot of talk how everybody is getting just what they deserve for believing some theory of existence other than his, and then he expounds that theory at considerable length.  
I shouldn't be too hard on the author. These are the heartfelt thoughts of an original and fairly intelligent erson who has worked hard to develop a theory of human nature from scratch.It's passionate, rising ocassionally to something approaching eloquence, but ultimately I am reminded of the review that goes something like this: "this work contains material that is both…

Of Good and Evil

Page 859 and sometimes I get so bored I need to distract myself with a post. I have been collecting some virtues and vices ala Rand. Nietzsche would recognize them:

Wisdom of Ayn Rand
Good..................................... Evil
Selfishness ...........................Altruism
Business ...............................Government
Mind ...........................,,,......Emotion
Ordinary Hood ....................Robin. Hood
Sabotage .............................Taxes = Murder = Cannibalism
Strength ..............................Weakness
Justice .................................Charity
Ruthlessness .......................Pity
Laissez Faire Capitalism ...Anything Else
Certainty ............................Uncertainty
Self Righteous Whining (good guys) ..........Self Righteous Whining (bad guys)
Greed .................................Need
Egocentricity .....................Family Feeling
Engineering .......................Science
Sex for Dagny ...................Sex for Anybody Else
Cult of…

I Don't Think Pakistan Is Going To Be Able To Explain This

Andrew Sullivan:

Pakistan has a lot of 'splaining to do. Really, this $1 million McMansion - eight times as big as its neighbors - in a vacation resort cannot have been unnoticed by the Pakistani intelligence services. If they've known about this for years and milked their ally for money while harboring the mass murderer of thousands of Americans and others, well, this could become a huge source of popular rage for Americans, however hard the elites want to use this leverage against Pakistan on pragmatic grounds.

Live Blog From Abbottabad

Via Brad DeLong

This guy seems to have heard the copter coming.


Finally, it seems, we have gotten bin Laden.  It seems impossible to believe that he was hiding in a mansion in Islamabad without the connivance of Pakistani intelligence, or major elements of it.

Time to get the hell out of Afghanistan.  If, as seems likely, Pakistan was demonstrably aiding bin Laden, some revenge is in order, but not by military means.  Just don't give them another penny, don't let them trade with the US, and don't let them do any other business that we can thwart.

UPDATE:  It's claimed (at least by Pakistan) that the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) led the US to bin Laden.  If so, it was damn late.  I'm far from sure that that gets Pakistan off the hook.  Maybe Obama squeezed them hard enough to make them give him up - I would sure like to know more.

UPDATE II: It looks like word of Pakistani cooperation was bogus.

That Flushing Sound You Hear

...Just might be the EU.

Kevin O'RourkeVia Brad DeLong

This post was written by Kevin O’Rourke

Colm McCarthy makes some important political points in today’s Sunday Independent. He points out, quite correctly, that the ECB’s policy of favouring an Irish sovereign default later over a private banking default now (and it is important to be clear that this is exactly their position, whether or not they publicly admit it) is going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to get public buy-in for the further austerity measures coming down the line; and is also virtually certain to lead to increasing anti-EU sentiment here (and in the rest of the periphery as well).

But it’s worse than that. By confusing fiscal and banking crises in the public mind, the ECB is also fuelling anti-EU sentiment in the core, since core taxpayers understandably resent the notion that they should subsidize feckless peripheral taxpayers. By contrast, greater honesty about the fact that we have a Europe-wide …

Justice and Charity

Justice is the opposite of charity, Dagny tells Cherryl.

This is a good example of Rand's twisting the meaning of words to fit her twisted ideology - another good trick she learned from Lenin and Stalin.  In fact, both of these concepts (and words) stem from the same empathetic impulse.  Charity stems etymologically from the word carus, meaning "valued," and is related to the word care.
Even our closer pre-human ancestors have primitive notions of justice, and those notions relate to cooperative action.  Pairs of certain monkeys will cooperate to gain rewards for each, if the rewards are equivalent, but will refuse cooperation when they aren't - they will forego their own reward rather than help another get a disproportionately large reward.  The root of this behavior is a notion of caring about the other, and what the other gets.

Of course one could argue that this notion of justice stems from envy and our conventional notion of charity stems from compassion, but bo…

The Villains

From a literary standpoint, one thing that Atlas Shrugged lacks is interesting villains.  The most interesting villain, such as he is, is James Taggert, the brother of our heroine.  Rand's obsessive need to degrade anyone not espousing the party line keeps him from being actually interesting, but you can see some hints nonetheless.  In many ways Taggert is a more real businessman and capitalist than her heroes.  Her heroes prosper by various feats of magic - conjuring electricity from the air, oil from a stone, and high temperature alloys from mixture of copper and iron - but Taggert's art is the art of the deal, made to look as disgusting and disreputable as possible, but still recognizably closer to what many businessmen spend their efforts on.

For those who, unlike Rand, prefer not to fake their reality to fit the religion of the cult, this kind of deal making is a more fundamental aspect of human nature than the kind of "make the trains run on time" activity she …