Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Macaroni

Where did Yuri Milner get all that money that he gave away to 9 lucky physicists? Wired has an account.

The story appears to be that he is a very successful investor, especially in Silicon valley. It's a bit short of detail in some interesting spots. One excerpt:

The message seems clear: Milner may have invested in virtually every social media powerhouse, from Facebook to Twitter to Spotify. He might be the vanguard of an entirely new financial philosophy. He might be the most controversial money guy in Silicon Valley—sought after, feared, and derided in more or less equal measure. But at heart he is just a nice Jewish boy.

And it seems he has a Macaroni factory back in Russia.

Flush

String Theory, Quantum Computing, and Cosmic Inflation share the distinction of being heavily hyped frontier subjects in physics that have yet to yield a lot of concrete testable results. Thanks to a new physics prize sponsored by Russian zillionaire Yuri Milner, 6 string theorists, 2 inflationistas, and a quantum computer are now rather rich - $3 megabucks each - however.

Four of the physicists work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.: Nima Arkani-Hamed, Juan Maldacena, Nathan Seiberg and Edward Witten. They work on theories trying to tie together the basic particles and forces of the universe, particularly with a mathematical machinery known as string theory.

The other winners are Andrei Linde, a physicist at Stanford who also worked on cosmic inflation; Alexei Kitaev, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology who works on quantum computers; Maxim L. Kontsevich, a mathematician at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris whose abstract mathematical findings proved useful to physicists unraveling string theory; and Ashoke Sen, a string theorist at Harish-Chandra Research Institute in India.

Mr. Milner personally selected the inaugural group, but future recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, to be awarded annually, will be decided by previous winners.

Any thoughts on whom was selected and whom not? I noticed that except for Witten, the colossus of string theory who spans generations, none of the early generation of string pioneers made the cut (Green, Schwartz, Susskind...).

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mitt has Seen the Future...

And it seems to be socialized medicine, Israeli style.

Speaking today to a small group of Israeli contributors to his campaign, the GOP presidential candidate—and supposed sworn enemy of government controlled healthcare—had kind words for the success of Israel’s healthcare system.

When our health care costs are completely out of control. Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation”

A healthy nation, indeed.

With a life-expectancy rate that is the 4th best in the world (the United States is 38th) and a reputation for delivering high-quality care to all of its citizens by utilizing the most advanced medical technology available in a hospital system we can only envy from afar, Governor Romney is right to be impressed with the Israelis’ ability to deliver excellent care while keeping spending down to 8 percent of GDP as compared to 18 percent here in the United States.

If only Romney’s appreciation of Israel’s success did not fly smack in the face of his constant, ideologically based rhetoric guaranteed to insure that only the wealthiest Americans get a taste of the healthcare Israelis receive as their birthright.

Or does the Governor simply not understand that Israel’s healthcare success story—including their ability to control costs— is the direct result of the nation’s socialized healthcare system that has existed since the country’s founding in 1948 and institutionalized by law in 1995? Today, the nation of Israel requires that every Israeli belong to one of four health maintenance organizations (that’s right…mandated participation)—each operating as a non-profit and each funded by the Israeli government via a progressive tax that every citizen is obligated to pay based on their earnings. What’s more, the uniform benefits offered by the HMOs are established by the central government and must be made available to every single citizen—regardless of their medical circumstances (the phrase ‘pre-existing condition’ apparently does not exist in the Hebrew language.)

And those basic benefits made available to all Israelis are pretty darn good.

They include medical diagnosis and treatment, preventative medicine, any required hospitalization for any reason whatsoever, surgery, organ transplants, ambulance or transport service, treatment for drug abuse and alcoholism, medical equipment and appliances, obstetrics and fertility treatments, all prescribed pharmaceuticals, and physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Isn't Our Children Learning?

The answer, it seems, is Algebra, or so says Andrew Hacker, writing in today's New York Times.

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t...

It seems - at least to Hacker - that the main reason kids drop out of high school and college is algebra.

Another dropout statistic should cause equal chagrin. Of all who embark on higher education, only 58 percent end up with bachelor’s degrees. The main impediment to graduation: freshman math. The City University of New York, where I have taught since 1971, found that 57 percent of its students didn’t pass its mandated algebra course. The depressing conclusion of a faculty report: “failing math at all levels affects retention more than any other academic factor.” A national sample of transcripts found mathematics had twice as many F’s and D’s compared as other subjects.

And I was hoping that it might at least be Calculus.

I might have mentioned that I once taught an early sequence engineering course that all aspiring engineers had to pass, Engineering Dynamics, which consisted mainly of vector algebra and calculus. To my chagrin, after the exam I found half my students flunking. I was upset enough to go to the Dean and ask what I was doing wrong. He told me half the students always flunked and that was how prospective engineers learned they were actually business majors.

Oh well.

Hacker seems to be arguing that failure to master Algebra should not deprive students of the benefits of various banners of academic accomplishment. We could probably solve all this by adopting Freeman Dyson's suggestion of just awarding every American a PhD at birth.

Oh Dear

Paul Krugman unearths evidence that European Central Bank Chief Mario Drahi's grasp of economics may be as dubious as his grasp of aerodynamics. Drahi:

The euro is like a bumblebee. This is a mystery of nature because it shouldn’t fly but instead it does. So the euro was a bumblebee that flew very well for several years. And now – and I think people ask “how come?” – probably there was something in the atmosphere, in the air, that made the bumblebee fly. Now something must have changed in the air, and we know what after the financial crisis. The bumblebee would have to graduate to a real bee. And that’s what it’s doing.

One hundred years ago aerodynamicists didn't understand bee flight, so Drahi's ignorance on that point might be justifiable for an economist. Bees, of course, have had a few hundred million years to master aerodynamic tricks unknown to students of flight a century ago. On the other hand we might hope that he is more up to date on economics.

Krugman:

The thing is, we know pretty well why the bumblebee was able to fly: massive capital flows from the core to the periphery, which led to an inflationary boom in said periphery, and which therefore also allowed the German economy — which was in the doldrums in the late 1990s — to experience a big gain in competitiveness and hence a surge in its trade surplus without needing to go through painful deflation. This meant, in turn, modest inflation in the eurozone as a whole — slightly above 2 percent over 1999-2007...

And as for graduating to a real bee — that will take time that Europe doesn’t have.

What's the matter with kids today...

It seems that half the blogs I follow are on to this Nature Scientific Reports article, first linked by Kevin Drum, on the decline and fall of popular music. The authors do some kind of fancy mathematical analysis on the million song database and discover that:

Here we unveil a number of patterns and metrics characterizing the generic usage of primary musical facets such as pitch, timbre, and loudness in contemporary western popular music. Many of these patterns and metrics have been consistently stable for a period of more than fifty years. However, we prove important changes or trends related to the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenization of the timbral palette, and the growing loudness levels. This suggests that our perception of the new would be rooted on these changing characteristics. Hence, an old tune could perfectly sound novel and fashionable, provided that it consisted of common harmonic progressions, changed the instrumentation, and increased the average loudness...

Here we study the music evolution under the aforementioned premises and large-scale resources. By exploiting tools and concepts from statistical physics and complex networks16, 17, 18, 19, we unveil a number of statistical patterns and metrics characterizing the general usage of pitch, timbre, and loudness in contemporary western popular music. Many of these patterns and metrics remain consistently stable for a period of more than 50 years, which points towards a great degree of conventionalism in the creation and production of this type of music. Yet, we find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels (threatening a dynamic richness that has been conserved until today). This suggests that our perception of the new would be essentially rooted on identifying simpler pitch sequences, fashionable timbral mixtures, and louder volumes. Hence, an old tune with slightly simpler chord progressions, new instrument sonorities that were in agreement with current tendencies, and recorded with modern techniques that allowed for increased loudness levels could be easily perceived as novel, fashionable, and groundbreaking.

Yeah, whatever. Old music is boring. That might be because I've heard it too many times.

If you don't find novelty in modern music, you might be measuring the wrong dimensions. The overwhelmingly dominant influence in most pop today is hip-hop, which has produced much more vocal complexity.

For what it's worth, Scientific Reports gave the article the buzzwords:

Evolution, Mathematics and computing, Applied physics, Statistical physics, thermodynamics and nonlinear dynamics

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Capitalism

... is an economic system with some wonderful properties. Too bad it's so rarely tried.

What's a Mother to Do?

I seem to recall that Tyler Cowen recently wondered which explanation of the big slump was the right one: Krugman's insufficient final demand or Bernanke's global savings glut. Possibly it occurred to the famously erudite Cowen that they are the same thing, since I can't seem to find that post anymore.

Move Right Along...

...Nothing to see here folks.

Last week Spanish and Italian bond yields leaped again and world markets spasm-ed. ECB chief Mario Drahi then stepped up to say, don't worry, we won't let the Euro fail. Amazingly, this did the trick. Skeptics wonder how many arrows Drahi has left, and when he is going to act instead of just talking.

Prediction: Another major spasm before September. One of these days it might be the big one.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Euro Rant of the Week

The economic gods, if such gods there be, seem to have a well developed sense of irony. The number one tool in the ironic gods toolbox, Homer noted, is the Cassandra trick. Send the people a prophet who will speak truly but never be believed. In the case of the Euro, there were more than a few such prophets who noted that the ECB's prescription seemed certain to fail. The Euro center, which I will just call Germany, was terrified of getting stuck with the bill, so forced Europe to adopt policies which seem certain to ensure that Germany and everybody else gets stuck with a really large bill.

In my mythological version of this story, when the weaker Catholic economies entered the Euro, Germany rushed to lend them big bucks, a bit careless of their ability to repay. The money went to inflate a housing market and buy lots of highways, roundabouts, Museums and other cool stuff. When the housing bust hit the world, tax receipts collapsed and a lot of bills became tough to pay.

At this point, there was a chance to act: wipe out the weak banks and stiff the big lenders. Naturally, this alternative was not attractive to Germany. So it was arranged that the mostly private liabilities of the underwater borrowers be nationalized, thus putting their whole countries on the hook for the mistakes of borrow and lender.

Well, many of those countries are now underwater and sinking fast. Germany keeps shoveling out more money, but its chances of getting most of it back are looking slimmer.

We shall see.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Penn State

The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones, so let it be with Jo Pa.

The NCAA has imposed a severe and severely humorous penalty on Penn State for the sins of a now dead coach and some other deposed officials. The humorous part is that the main penalty is imposed on those completely innocent.

It's also pretty funny that they "took away" 100 wins from a dead but guilty coach.

The NCAA would be a joke if it wasn't a force of such maleficence in the world. Nah, it't still a joke. They are annoyed because their designated football Saint turned out to have very clay like feet. Ironically, the crimes Paterno committed were in the name of protecting that reputation that the NCAA loved so much.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Robots are Coming

Luis von Ahn, the inventor or Duolingo, also invented Captcha, the software that allows you to filter out robot commenters, and reCaptcha, software that allows robots to solve Captcha type problems better than any human can.

Just sayin'.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Deep Thoughts

People have a natural human tendency to think anyone who disagrees with them is either an idiot or an asshole.

Anyone care to disagree?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Class Warfare Election

Class warfare has been a frequent Republican rallying cry for the past several years. Paul Krugman doesn't exactly embrace the rhetoric, but he thinks Dems need to make the electoral case.

The richest Americans pay income tax at a rate less than half that of what they payed in 1960. The rest of the 1% pay less too, but the middle class pays more. It's class warfare alright, and the middle class has been losing for a while.

Romney has promised big additional tax cuts for the richest, while the lions share of Obama tax cuts would go to the middle class.

The impact at the top would be large. According to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the Romney plan would reduce the annual taxes paid by the average member of the top 1 percent by $237,000 compared with the Obama plan; for the top 0.1 percent that number rises to $1.2 million. No wonder Mr. Romney’s fund-raisers in the Hamptons attracted so many eager donors that there were luxury-car traffic jams.

What about everyone else? Again according to the policy center, Mr. Romney’s tax cuts would increase the annual deficit by almost $500 billion. He claims that he would make this up by closing loopholes, in a way that wouldn’t shift the tax burden toward the middle class — but he has refused to give any specifics, and there’s no reason to believe him. Realistically, those big tax cuts for the rich would be offset, sooner or later, with higher taxes and/or lower benefits for the middle class and the poor.

So as I said, this election is, in substantive terms, about the rich versus the rest, and it would be doing voters a disservice to pretend otherwise.

Count on Obama to endorse this shortly after Hell freezes over.

I haven't Posted Much

... Mostly because I'm too hooked on Duolingo right now, and it's eating up my free time.

Political and economic demoralization might be a factor too.

Wholly Fictitious Dialog

Me: I don't think Altamont (December 6, 1969) was that funny.

WB: I thought it was a riot.

SC: Bazinga

Altamont (December 6, 1969) was supposed to be the West Coast Woodstock, but it ended poorly. Because the stage wasn't elevated, the Rolling Stones gave the Hell's Angels $500 worth of free beer to sit on the stage and keep overly aggressive fans off. This combination turned out to be a sub-optimal choice. The fans were high on some mean drugs, and fights quickly broke out. Numerous fans and several performers were significantly injured in the mayhem, by each other and the Hell's Angels. The violence culminated when an enraged teen-aged fan, high on methamphetamine, charged the stage and drew a pistol, perhaps with the intent of killing Mick Jagger. One of the Hell's Angels stabbed him to death before he managed to do anything.

Bad feelings ensued all around.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Another Helping, Bitte

Spain signs up for another plateful of Mrs. Merkel's famous crap sandwich. Hey, if austerity is killing us, we probably need more austerity. Matt Iglesias doesn't think this is likely to end well.

For all the fancy chart wars around European austerity, I don't see how anyone can seriously deny that this kind of action is going to further crimp Spain's economy. In all modern advanced economies—including major exporters like Germany—the majority of employment is in local service provision. A big reduction in Spanish citizens' purchasing power will devastate those sectors without doing much of anything to directly bolster net exports.

Interestingly Rajoy "did not touch pensions," seemingly a similar dynamic to what you see in the United States where GOP zeal for budget cuts is combined with promising to never reduce spending on the currently elderly.

Once nobody works and the only people getting money are pensioners, then what?

Somewhere I read that due to debt hierarchy arrangements, the terms of the money come with possibly dangerous consequences for investors and perhaps other depositors.

Full Service Organization

Feel like a shopping spree? A brand new 2 billion dollar mall is waiting for you. Need a book? They've got a publishing house for you too. Newspapers. Radiostations. A million acres of farmland, so they probably grow something you need too. Insurance? Got you covered. How about a nice vacation in a tropical theme park? Got you covered there also. The network of corporations that have all this stuff are all completely owned by one other corporation, which is owned, in corporation sole, by one man.

They've got some universities too. That's not all, of course, most of their business is highly secret.

I probably should have mentioned that they can also provide spiritual consolation, or at least spiritual something, as well. In fact, the chances are that they have a church in your town, at least if you live in the American West.

For Mormons God and Mammon are on the same side. Such, at least, is the story Caroline Winter tells in her Business Week story called How the Mormons Make Money. Pretty interesting, though hardly scandalous - unless you count the tax avoidance parts.

And, oh yeah, the one guy who owns it all: Church President and living Prophet Thomas S. Monson.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Libertarian Kindling

Brad DeLong and colleagues explain why the George Mason Econ Department should be consigned to the eternal and temporal flames.

Some More Birther Nonsense

Lubos has picked up on some of the latest birther nonsense - the notion that Obama's Social Security number had originally belonged to someone else and that the the SSN he uses was only given to Connecticut residents. Both claims are false, though it is a bit curious that he has a Social Security number usually associated with Connecticut zip codes. Snopes has the gory details, including a plausible explanation for the leading digits of his SSN.

More to the point, there would be no obvious point in his getting, much less using, a fraudulent SSN. SSN are not restricted to US citizens - I would bet that Lumo and Wolfgang probably have them, as they have both worked in the US IIRC.

UPDATE: Lumo's commentators have also given relatively comprehensive explanations.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Ether

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the physicist’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name…………………………………. Not Quite W. Shakespeare

We are, of course, talking about the Higgs particle – apparently found now, not quite a half-century since Peter Higgs lent them his name and gave to them their local habitation. To the uninitiated, the oddest thing about them is their ephemerality. Their work is everywhere, lending mass to this, that and everything, but it took decades and a ten billion dollar machine to find them. How could that be?

That question is intimately bound up with the nature of that “airy nothing” mentioned earlier. It is sometimes said that Einstein killed the ether – the notion that space was pervaded by an invisible fluid that transmitted light – but the long term effect of his theory and quantum mechanics was to replace that space filling fluid with a different one that lived in space-time, the quantum field theoretic “vacuum.”

The picture that quantum field theory gives us of the vacuum is far from empty, and in fact it swarms with activity, with so-called virtual particles winking in and out of existence at an incredibly frenetic pace.

How could we not notice them, then? The answer to that is purely quantum mechanical. The virtual particles don’t have the energy or momentum to exist on their own. They have to somehow “borrow” it from the vacuum, and the vacuum is a very strict lender – what you borrow, you must give back, and the more you borrow, the less time you are allowed to keep it. To notice the virtual particles, you need a very quick, fine and delicate probe. One such is the electron bound to a hydrogen atom. Quantum field theory turns out to predict with exquisite mathematical precision just how much the orbit of that electron is affected by the virtual particles, and the effect that has on the spectral lines that that atom emits. The calculation of that “Lamb shift” and its measurement were the first truly solid evidence of the reality of that busy vacuum picture. That happened sixty plus years ago, and plenty of further evidence has appeared since.

One of the many particles believed to live in that vacuum was the Higgs. Its signature is everywhere. Much of our understanding of how other particles behave is inferred from the postulated properties of the Higgs, but the purported protagonist kept out of sight. How so? Well, he had a few characteristics that made him hard to see. One is that he decays very quickly. Another is that he is very heavy, so to promote him from virtual particle living on borrowed energy supplied by the vacuum to real article means that you need to pay off that huge loan that he got from the vacuum – and you need to be darn quick about it. That’s what the ten billion dollar machine is for, to provide enough energy in a small package (a collision between two quarks, each themselves embedded in a different colliding protons) to pay off Higgsy’s vacuum loan and set him free. It’s a very short lived reality, though, as he almost instantly decays into a bunch of other particles. It’s those decay products that lived long enough to testify that the Higgs lived at all.

Another stupid grammar lesson

When Duolingo tried to tell me that "I enjoy this beer since yesterday" was grammatical English, I put in a complaint. I thought maybe they would try to fix their errant computer translator. Well, instead they sent me a note from an actual human, who asserted that the sentence in question made sense. It doesn't of course, though I suppose the problem is actually at the semantic level. Because "since", when applied to time, refers to a period that started in the past and ends in the present, it needs the present perfect tense.

Unfortunately I couldn't complain to the author at her donotreply address.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

What's New, Higgsy?

... everybody's talking ...

... I was lost, and now I'm found...

Or at least it walks like a duck.

Well, it's nice to have found something, even if it did cost 10 GBucks.

Bee notes that the last previous elementary particle discovery occurred when she was in high school. She also has a nice meditation on the present state of things.

And so, strangely, on this sunny day for high energy particle physics, I feel somewhat blue about the prospects. It's been almost two decades since the last discovery of a particle that we presently believe is elementary, the top quark in 1995, which was the year I finished high school. It's been a long way and an enormous effort to that little bump in the above plot. There isn't so much more we can do with hadron colliders. If we try really hard, we can ramp up the energy a little and improve the luminosity a little. Of course what we want next is a lepton collider like the ILC that will complete the picture that the LHC delivers.

But we have a diminishing return on investment. Not so surprisingly - it's the consequence of our increasingly better understanding that it takes more effort to find something new. And to make that effort of blue sky fundamental research, we need societies who can afford it. There's an economic question here, about the way mankind will develop, it's the question whether or not we'll be able to take care of our survival needs, and still continue to have enough resources to push the boundary of nature's secrets back further.

I know the feeling. Higgs was already the target when I was in grad school, and it now seems a bit unlikely that any new elementary particle will be found in my lifetime. We've found the last marble in this particular scavenger hunt, and so far it looks just like another marble.

Note to those who find the above too cryptic. This post is about finding the Higgs particle, or at least a particle that's a strong candidate to be the Higgs, at CERN. Some technical detail can be found at the links and popular stories are everywhere, including the NYT.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Duolingo

Duolingo is the brainchild of reCaptcha inventor and professor Luis von Ahn. His idea was to teach language on the web while recruiting the students to translate the web. It has a number of cute features, in addition to getting students into translating real stuff at an early stage. There are social network features, and my favorite, a video game like interface where you accumulate points and level up by completing lesson and doing translations.

Leveling starts out a bit easy, I think - it only took me 400 points to reach level five, but level six required 200 more and level seven is 400 more. So far the vocabulary is fairly complimentary to Pimsleur.

Grammar Lesson

I wrote:

Anderson Cooper has just announced that he was gay.
and Wolfgang replied:

Does this mean he no longer is ?

This critique sent me into a deep grammatical funk. Wolfgang's point makes sense, but somehow, the alternate construction doesn't feel quite right.

The funk eventually sent me to the inter-tubes, where I found:

If the primary clause is in past tense, then the subordinate clause also must be.

Aha! Ammo!

Unless the subordinate clause expresses a general truth, as in "Columbus knew that the World is round."

So is AC's gender orientation a "general truth" or just a special truth, as in:

Wilma whispered that she wanted waffles.

Beats me, but another filter might be the question of time frame. Wilma might have wanted waffles back then, but who knows about today. Anderson, I expect, is still gay.

Here is another one:

The Lord Chamberlain announced that the King was/is dead!

Well, the guy who had been the King is presumably going to remain deceased, but, if I recall correctly, the next words out of the LC's mouth are:

Long live the King!

Monday, July 02, 2012

From the Language Lab

...of the world's slowest language student.

I have added Duolingo to my Spanish software armamentos.

It joins Rosetta Stone - OK, but the picture book business eventually gets really boring - and my current favorite, Pimsleur, which is excellent but highly focused on travel situation Spanish.

Duolingo is a free program on the web. At the moment, it has the truly annoying habit of capturing any access from my computer and plunging it into the middle of my lesson. Need to figure out how to sign the **** out.

News

Anderson Cooper has publicly announced that he was gay. Reputedly this fact was news to 3 of the 57 people who still watch CNN. Rumor has it that Wolf Blitzer will officially announce that he is boring next week.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

David Brooks Smackdown

Via Brad DeLong, Samir Chopra:

David Brooks Went to a Springsteen Concert, and All I Got Was a Stupid Op-Ed

Brooks finds that audiences ‘in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula’–reaching which, I presume, requires three weeks of hard hiking from the nearest trailhead–’singing word for word about Highway 9 or Greasy Lake or some other exotic locale on the Jersey Shore.’ Amazing. In Europe? When did they get television, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet? This is pretty mind-boggling stuff. Here is an American rock star, surely the most obscure type of cultural figure there could be, and folks in Europe, a land separated from the US by a BIG ocean, know the lyrics to his songs.

Dude, it was a business expense, OK?

Bad Weather

The old story about the frog allowing himself to be cooked when the temperature of the water he's in is raised slowly enough is apocryphal, but the notion isn't crazy, at least when applied to humans. We tend not to notice gradual changes. That's especially true when the relevant changes take place over generations. That's one reason the story of human induced (anthropogenic) global warming (AGW) has trouble maintaining traction.

Extreme weather events tend to get attention, though. This Summer in the US we have had the massive fire events in the West and the big 29-30 June derecho event in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. Both have occurred in the context of record heat. Are these the signature of AGW?

As usual, the considered scientific answer is maybe. We have had bad fire seasons before, and we have had severe derecho events before. The pattern of Western drought and intense heat we have seen is a prediction of global warming models, as is the kind of derecho spawning dynamics we have seen in the Midwest and East. If those models are believed, such weather seems certain to become more common. For right now, though, they are just small pieces of a pattern of circumstantial evidence.

The WSJ on Jonathan Haidt

Holman Jenkins has a great article on Jonathan Haidt - not mostly about the book, but an interview about his ideas, especially those on liberals vs conservatives.

........As we sit in his new office at New York University, he professes an immodest aim: He wants liberals and conservatives to listen to each other more, hate each other less, and to understand that their differences are largely rooted in psychology, not open-minded consideration of the facts. "My big issue, the one I'm somewhat evangelical about, is civil disagreement," he says...

In India, where he performed field studies early in his professional career, he encountered a society in some ways patriarchal, sexist and illiberal. Yet it worked and the people were lovely. In Brazil, he paid attention to the experiences of street children and discovered the "most dangerous person in the world is mom's boyfriend. When women have a succession of men coming through, their daughters will get raped," he says. "The right is right to be sounding the alarm about the decline of marriage, and the left is wrong to say, 'Oh, any kind of family is OK.' It's not OK."...

"I spoke to some Democrats about things in the book and they asked, how can we weaponize this? My message to them was: You're not ready. You don't know what you stand for yet. You don't have a clear moral vision." ...

Mr. Haidt also considers today's Republican Party a curse upon the land, even as he admires conservative ideas. He says its defense of lower taxes on capital income—mostly reported by the rich—is indefensible. He dismisses Mitt Romney as a "moral menial," a politician so cynical about the necessary cynicism of politics that he doesn't bother to hide his cynicism. ...

There is more, almost all worth reading.