Friday, November 30, 2012


...sounds to me like it should be part of a tobacco pitch, but apparently not.

Some of you may recall that I'm something of a student of the Austro-Bahamian school of economics, as exemplified by the writings of its foremost exponent. Of course his works are occasionally a bit cryptic, even Derridesque, perhaps.

Anyway, he recently trashed the famous IS/LM model, which made me think that if it's that bad, I really ought to at least try to understand it.

It seems that the model is actually two curves, often drawn as straight lines, in a space that represents interest rates (vertical axis) and gross domestic product (horizontal axis), as above. Now if you suspect that econo-space might have more dimensions than two, just consider it a two-slice of that hyperspace. The two curves represent hypothetical equilibria, with the participants being S, the propensity to save; I, the demand for investment; L, the so-called liquidity preference; and M, the money supply.

The working assumption is that propensity to save depends on the interest rate, and that the demand for investment depends on the interest in an inverse way. The market, in theory, should adjust interest rates until the supply of savings matches the demand for investment. Next we assume that the GDP depends on the interest rate, so that lower (real) interest rates increase GDP. Consequently, the IS curve is expected to slope downward and to the right.

The second curve is based on another posited equilibrium, that between liquidity preference (preferring to keep your cash in checking, or under the bed, instead of in bonds) on the one hand, and the supply of money that the Fed (or whomever puts in the system). Liquidity preference should decrease with increasing interest rates and interest rates should decrease with increasing money supply. Since GDP is expected to increase with increasing money supply, this curve is usually expected to slope upward to the right.

The intersection of these two curves, the first in what might be called in "real" space, and the second in"monetary" space, supposedly represents a grand equilibrium.

Problems and defects of IS/LM are discussed in A-B above, and in the Wikipedia article, both linked above. The meaning, use and applicability of the model to present circumstances is discussed rather nicely by Krugman.

Corrections to my interpretation welcomed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Palestinian Resistance

The Palestinians have been rather slow to grasp how the world works these days. Partly this is due to the fact that it's convenient both for their leaders and Israel to nurture the myth that armed resistance is likely to aid their cause. Most of the problem is simply human nature, of course. If realistic goals are unachievable, then why not cling to the fantasy of throwing the Jews out by force?

They haven't yet grasped the lesson of Gandhi, or if they have, how to use it. Jeffrey Goldberg explains to them the tactic they need to adopt:

There is, however, a strategy the Palestinians could implement immediately that would help move them toward independence: They could give up their dream of independence.

It’s a very simple idea. When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn’t ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: “Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular. We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel’s rulers.”

Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.

Goldberg is probably wrong about it working quickly, but quickly or slowly, I think its the only reasonable strategy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rent Seeking

The quickest way to get rich is to occupy some valuable resource and collect a lot of rent for doing it. Wikipedia on Rent Seeking:

In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth. One example is spending money on political lobbying in order to be given a share of wealth that has already been created. A famous example of rent-seeking is the limiting of access to lucrative occupations, as by medieval guilds or modern state certifications and licensures. People accused of rent seeking typically argue that they are indeed creating new wealth (or preventing the reduction of old wealth) by improving quality controls, guaranteeing that charlatans do not prey on a gullible public, and preventing bubbles.

Many current studies of rent-seeking focus on efforts to capture various monopoly privileges stemming from government regulation of a market. The term itself derives, however, from the far older practice of appropriating a portion of production by gaining ownership or control of land.

One problem with rent seeking is that unlike innovation or production, it doesn't add anything to the economic pie.

Chrystia Freeland, in her book Plutocrats, has a fascinating chapter on how rent seeking has led to vast new fortunes all over the world. the precipitating event was the wave of economic liberalism (not to be confused with what conservatives in the US consider to be liberalism) that swept the world since the 1980s. The collapse of the Communist regimes, and socialist ideas more generally, led to a vast sell off of government owned enterprises. Because these companies had been badly run under socialism, they were often undervalued, so the bold and competent who had money could often pick up bargains, especially if they had valuable contacts and were willing to appropriately grease the wheels with bribery.

This led to an explosion of billionaires in Russia, India, Mexico and other countries.

Rent seeking in other countries like China and the US was usually more indirect, but active nonetheless. The key is usually the manipulation of government officials and institutions. Raj, the pseudonymn of one of Freeland's informants, has a perspective: “

You could be a billionaire if you moved to India, too,” he tells me. “All you need is the luck to meet the right government official and a willingness to risk going to jail.”

Freeland, Chrystia (2012-10-11). Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (p. 202). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Of course it's not always necessary to take that risk. In the US it's perfectly legal to bribe Congress and other officials with campaign contributions, even tens of millions to Super Pacs, thanks to our Supreme Court, itself populated by some judges (Scalia, for one) who don't think they are being bribed by taking rides on private jets and accepting other valuable considerations.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Own Worst Enemy

NPR had a story this morning on the dark and bloody history of nutmeg. Along with some culinary commentary, it detailed how the Dutch committed a massive genocide in their pursuit of profit from this seemingly inoffensive seed. No cause, it seems, is to trivial to provide an excuse for genocide.

When we create monsters for science fiction or fantasy, it's wise to remember that they are all images of ourselves - we really can't imagine anything worse. That said, there do seem to be a lot of admirable aspects to our character as well. So it's only logical, I say, to try to organize ourselves so as to maximize the "better angels of our nature" as Lincoln put it.

So what do we know about how to do that? Capitalism and Republican government? Those Dutch merchants of death were pioneers in both. Socialism? Can we forget it's incomparably more bloody history in the last century? Appeals to magical realism in either flavor will hardly cut it.

There are trends, though. Genocide has a bad reputation in the world today, despite a few obnoxious exceptions.


A TPM reader explains one reason Republicans lost - they disrespected too many Americans.

I am sure that many people (like me) took the insults and disrespectful behavior towards President Obama in a very personal way.

Many of us have experienced racism from “non-racists” all too frequently. As an Asian-American, the questioning of Obama’s American-ness really strikes a raw nerve...

I would just add that not only ethnic minorities were offended by the Republican's tactics and rhetoric - though they had plenty of excuse to be. The disrespect shown to voters and the institution of the Presidency were also disgraceful, as was the general contempt of the democratic process.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adéu a Catalunya

Or maybe not.

Catalonia is the wealthiest region of Spain, and they are tired of paying the bills. Call it the Germany of Spain. The voters have rather narrowly returned the main separatist party to power, with a smaller plurality than they held before, but a certain amount of separatist momentum.

The incumbent regional president Artur Mas secured a second term and with it a mandate to seek secession from Spain in defiance of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

But his centre right Convergence and Union (CIU) party fell short of the absolute majority they hoped for, winning only 50 of the 62 seats they secured in the 135 seat assembly at the last election two years ago.

The separatist left wing ERC party, which also strongly supports self-rule, doubled its share of the vote, securing 21 seats, however.

Acknowledging that his support fell in favour of leftist parties, Mr Mas said alliances would have to be sought.

If they are smart, they will take this opportunity to get a better deal from Madrid. Most likely, though, they will really try to separate, and incur all the bad consequences thereof. That is, they will either cause another civil war, or become another European micro state and cannon fodder for the next European war.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Best of Both Worlds

In a way, the great polling debacle of 2012 worked out well for everybody. Usually only one side gets to celebrate their victory in an election, but this time everybody did. The Republicans celebrated before the vote, and the Democrats celebrated afterwards.

A Modest Proposal

Richard Cohen, one of our nation's longest serving total editorial doofuses, has identified the critical moral distinction between Hamas and Israel:

Of all the points of disagreement between Israel and Hamas, maybe the most profound is this one: Israel cares more about sparing innocent lives — including those of Palestinians — than does Hamas. Not only have Hamas and other militant groups this year sent more than 700 rockets crashing haphazardly into southern Israel, but also Hamas instigated yet another war where the chief loser will certainly be its own people. If hell has a beach, it’s located in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is a congested, fetid place. It is densely populated and in the slums and housing blocks, Hamas has hidden its weapons, explosives and rocket launchers. Israel has gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. Its air force has used new, highly accurate ammunition aiming for rocket-launching sites and government installations. For the most part, it has succeeded.

Commenter Malcolm Lloyd suggested that this terrible moral inequity could be remedied if the US would spend a few billion on outfitting Hamas with weapons accurate enough for more discriminate murder. Given the means, perhaps Hamas would be wise enough to see the moral superiority of dispatching an occasional Israeli general or defense minister (and his immediate neighborhood) instead of random citizens.

History of Thanksgiving

Every year the peoples of the world (if by "world" you mean the US) gather to celebrate the Lord's deliverance of us and our fellow mammals from the rule of the dinosaurs. In honor of the asteroid that was the hammer in His hand, we celebrate by watching the collisions of massive bodies, especially the Redskins and Cowboys. Then we devour the roasted body of one of the larger surviving dinosaurs, usually a turkey.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Democrats and Republicans

Democrats and Republicans, what's the real difference?

Via Tyler Cowen:

Stunningly, the postponement of marriage and parenting — the factors that shrink the birth rate — is the very best predictor of a person’s politics in the United States, over even income and education levels, a Belgian demographer named Ron Lesthaeghe has discovered. Larger family size in America correlates to early marriage and childbirth, lower women’s employment, and opposition to gay rights — all social factors that lead voters to see red.

About Those Republicans

Paul Krugman takes a couple of swings at Marco Rubio and his party.

But we shouldn’t let go that easily. Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics — although he graciously added that “I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Gee, thanks.

What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold.

Teh and Other Errors of Transposition

I think, or at least imagine, that as I get older I suffer from more errors of transposition like typing "teh" for "the" and "alos" for "also".

My current crackpot theory is that these arise in typing because the corpus callosum isn't funtioning as well as it should to transfer control from one side of the brain to the other.

Schadenfreude Department


A few favorite excerpts:

NeoConScum | October 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm Michael Barone, nobody’s dummy, is now saying that this may very well be a 1980 type, late in the cycle, ‘landslide’ of the Reagan-Carter kind. My-O-My, how nice it would be to take it so BIG that the expected whiners & shriekers have NO traction for their post-election lies….

Mary Sue | October 28, 2012 at 7:37 pm Watching on Twitter, libs are working overtime to build narrative Romney is not leading national polls and Ohio firewall is insurmountable. Sure they’ve been working this narrative for a while now but today it is just astounding how dedicated they are to resurrect the magical air of inevitability. I am fully convinced some pollsters will go down with the ship. PPP just dumped a load of manure to feed the narrative, good Soros soldiers to the end. This is going to be painful to watch….

I'm going to guess that it was...

JerryB | October 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm Rush has it right. The polls are converging on reality so that on Nov. 7 they can claim competence. This election has been Romney’s for more than 6 months. . .

There is more where those came from.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Frampton Sentenced

Paul Frampton, a UNC physic prof who knowingly or possibly unknowingly got involved in a drug smuggling scheme, is due to serve some time in Argentina.

It's a story with a lot of cautionary themes for naive elderly physics profs.

The Real 47%

It turns out that they were the Romney voters.

Hazards of Verbal Overkill

Over the last couple of decades, the right has become increasingly bold about railing against government programs and proclaiming Democrats to be socialists. One problem with this kind of verbal overkill is that the accusation loses its force. The 2011 Pew poll on American attitudes about socialism and capitalism shows a generational shift in American attitudes as well as sharp ethnic and economic divisions. Pro capitalism musters only 50% overall, though Americans are still pretty anti-socialism by 60% to 31%.

Unsurprisingly, pro capitalist sentiment is concentrated in the relatively well to do and conservative Republicans. The same groups are anti-socialist, but the real core of anti-socialism is, ironically enough, those 65 and older (72-13). I say ironically, because the two big socialist programs of the US government are Social Security and Medicare, programs which have overwhelming support among their over 65 beneficiaries.

Not only does a plurality (49-43) of young people hold a favorable view of socialism — and, by a tiny margin (47-46), a negative view of capitalism — so do liberal Democrats, who view socialism positively by a solid 59-33; and African Americans, 55-36. Hispanics are modestly opposed, 49-44, to socialism, but they hold decisively negative attitudes toward capitalism, 55-32.

If American capitalism is to remain healthy, it looks like some sales strategy beyond hysteria might be needed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rock of Ages vs. Ages of Rocks

Should we care about what a politician thinks about the Age of the Earth? Andrew Sullivan comes up with a far fetched reason - that is, a reason that depends on logical consistency and the laws of physics.

I have another reason. The GQ question for Marco Rubio on the age of the Earth was a gotcha, but it was given to him because he is a "creationist." The fact is that creationism is so contemptuous of modern science that it's impossible for a creationist to back sensible education policies, public health policies, or appropriate legal measures for rape victims.

The modern Republican party is a festival of obsolete superstition and denial of modern science, and that's one good reason never to elect a President who buys into that superstitious nonsense.

And I don't see any relation to any purely hypothetical questions on some other dubious science Nancy Pelosi might or might not be asked about someday. Politicians should be graded in the actual universe, not a hypothetical one. If some Democrat says that we ought to include pyramid power in our national health insurance he will make an immediate entry on to my eighty-six list - but not until he does say it or write it, whatever you might guess he would say about it.

Ontology of the Natural Numbers

From time to time WB puts up a short post with two, three or four fascinating issues/questions/problems. Besides triggering considerable envy of his concision and breadth, this usually gets me thinking, usually about things I haven't thought about for years.

In particular, I wondered what a machine intelligence/semantic web version of an ontology for the natural numbers would look like. Recall that such a specification of a conceptualization should have some concepts or categories, some rules relating them, and perhaps some instances as well as an inference scheme for deducing implicit consequences. As it happens, just such a conceptualization of the natural numbers has been developed - the Peano Axioms. We have a concept, the natural number, an instance '0', the notion of the successor of a natural number, some relations among numbers, and first or second order logic for an inference engine.

Notice that this conceptualization doesn't say anything about the "ultimate" meaning of a number, about alternate conceptualizations that might or might not be equivalent, or the relation to our intuitions or physical models of numbers.

This eschewing of ultimate meaning evades some difficult or perhaps impossible questions, but it turns out to be amazingly powerful.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No Innocent Victims

Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli PM, wrote that he wants to "flatten Gaza" in a recent Jerusalem Post editorial.

“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza.

The dead civilians are not innocent bystanders, he says.

The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.

Of course the same principle applies many times over to the Israelis, who have chosen war in election after election.

The disproportion in military technology is such that Israel could kill ten thousand Palestinians for every casualty the Palestinians inflict, but it could be that Israel will face some sort of judgement of history. For now, they are safe in their American alliance, but the middle East is becoming less critical to US strategic interests, so who knows.

Is Marco Rubio Too Stupid to be President?

All I can say is that opinions differ on that question, exhibiting a diversity similar to those on the shape of the Earth.

Marco Rubio, Senator from Flo Rida and Republican dream candidate of the future, probably wasn't really as stymied by ignorance as he pretends below:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.

I'm going to make a wild guess that cowardice rather than ignorance was his cardinal flaw here. He dasen't rile up the ignoranti of the base. I will make another WG too - he's not an economist either.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat weighs in on the hazards of leading a party committed to denying big chunks of modern science and suggests cagier responses for politicians confronted with gotcha questions designed to expose that fact.

A Micro Ontology

Aristotle was our first famous ontology builder. Here is a tiny one he built: (a)Category: Men; (b)Member of category of Men: Socrates (c)Rule for category of Men: All men are mortal.

This ontology summarizes one fact about the category of men, and permits a deduction about its members, to wit:

Socrates is mortal.

The ontologies I'm familiar with look like more elaborate versions of this: A semi-hierarchical set of categories, rules relating the categories, rules for assigning membership, and a deductive system to determine implicit relationships.

A board game like Clue requires building a mental ontology based on a few categories like location, suspect, and murder weapon. One then accumulates evidence that permits deducing specifics.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


What is the meaning of the sentence "That dog won't hunt." Or maybe of the sentence "Tomorrow is Sunday." Or maybe of the sentence "Two plus two equals four." It's this last question that perplexes Lundberg and perhaps, Wolfgang.

My problem is more basic - what are we doing when we assign meaning to any sentence? The best answer I can come up with is that "meaning" is all about conveying a message from someone to someone else. That means that meaning is contextual - it depends on speaker (or writer) AND on listener/reader. The "Tomorrow is Sunday" sentence has a meaning only in the context of a specific space-time locale. "That dog won't hunt" can be specific but is likely to be metaphoric. "Two plus two equals four" can be an example clarifying the meaning of the word plus, an experimental discovery, or a theorem in Peano arithmetic.

Hope this helps clarify the "ontological status of numbers" - but I'm not optimistic.

I find it slightly amusing that the philosophical study of ontology, or the nature of existence, has been kidnapped by artificial intelligence to mean the specification of a conceptualization, that is, the relationships that exist among concepts (usually words) in some domain of discourse. It is one of the primary tools of machine understanding. I thought my exposure to this kind of operational ontology made a lot more sense to me than the stuff I read in the philosophical literature.

Genocide Lite

Andrew Sullivan finds this quote from a high-ranking Israeli government official:

"The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years," - Eli Yishai, Israel's Interior Minister.

So how do we justify calling the country run by this kind of person our most import ally? How much difference is there between this strategy and the German strategy of "systematic under-feeding" in the concentration camps?

Yishai is wrong about the forty years, of course. You can't keep a people in the middle ages without making their society a vast highly-regulated prison camp.

Israel has already lost Europe. If it continues it's neo-fascist drift, it will lose the US as well.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Krugman 2, US 1, Europe 0

The results of the great austerity experiment keep on coming in, and the Austerians keep winding up with egg on their faces. The US, which got a mini-Keynesian stimulus package and some monetary radical action is not in great shape, but it's a lot better off than Europe, which careens toward another recession even as it's South plunges into deepening depression.

Krugman has a series of posts documenting the catastrophic results (here, here, and here, for three) of European economic policies.

I am a bit puzzled though, by his insistence on attributing Europe's wayward course to mistaken economic theories. To be sure, the theories are there, and serve as convenient rationalizations, but I suspect the reality is just that the European economy is being managed for the short term profits of bankers and the pacification (or mystification) of German voters.

Self Defense

The rationale - the unarguable rationale - for Israel's latest assault on Gaza is that Israel has a right to self-defense. The validity of that argument should not obscure from us the fact that the violence Israel is responding to is the natural result of unbearable provocation by Israel. Having summarily trashed every reasonable chance for peace, disrespected his allies, and encouraged the most radical elements of his own society, Netanyahu now has few options.

In the longer run, Israel's policy of suppression of it's Arab population by terror is unstable. The two-state solution now looks out of reach. The apartheid style policy it is now pursuing is not likely to last forever either. It's hard to believe that the "Greater Israel" policy can be sustained by any means short of genocide.

The racist and theocratic state is an anachronism in today's world, and the exploding ultra-orthodox settler population is making Israel more racist and theocratic. Meanwhile, the Arab states are taking halting steps toward modernity. If they achieve it, Israel's vast technological edge is likely to vanish at about the same time it's eighteenth century draft dodging ultras gain full control of the government.


I've always been skeptical of the notion of prodigy. I think my default suspicion was that prodigy was the product of unusual focus and a "Tiger Parent" unleashed. The evidence seems to prove that idea wrong. Andrew Solomon, a psychologist who studies prodigies, has written on the subject in the New York Times Magazine. Many prodigies are subjected to harsh, controlling, or even brutal educational methods by their parents:

I once told Lang Lang, a prodigy par excellence and now perhaps the most famous pianist in the world, that by American standards, his father’s brutal methods — which included telling him to commit suicide, refusing any praise, browbeating him into abject submission — would count as child abuse. “If my father had pressured me like this and I had not done well, it would have been child abuse, and I would be traumatized, maybe destroyed,” Lang responded. “He could have been less extreme, and we probably would have made it to the same place; you don’t have to sacrifice everything to be a musician. But we had the same goal. So since all the pressure helped me become a world-famous star musician, which I love being, I would say that, for me, it was in the end a wonderful way to grow up.”

The failures, of course, have a grimmer trajectory.

Other prodigies seem to bloom without any special pressure. Others are obviously self-propelled. Natasha, who began picking out tunes on the piano as an infant, answered one question about her parents:

“What did they do to make me practice?” she asked when I first interviewed her, at 16. “What did they do to make me eat or sleep?”

Some parental accommodation is essential. Musical prodigies need instruments and teachers. It can be extreme, as with Mark and Chloe:

At 6, Marc won a fellowship for gifted youth that covered the down payment on a Steinway. By the time Marc was 8, he and Chloe were flying to China frequently for lessons; Chloe explained that whereas her son’s American teachers gave him broad interpretive ideas to explore freely, his Chinese teacher taught measure by measure. I asked Marc whether he found it difficult traveling so far. “Well, fortunately, I don’t have vestigial somnolence,” he said. I raised an eyebrow. “You know — jet lag,” he apologized.

According to Solomon, prodigious talent, manifested usually in music, mathematics, chess, or athletics, has neurological parallels with and other commonalities with certain brain disfunctions.

Despite the past century’s breakthroughs in psychology and neuroscience, prodigiousness and genius are as little understood as autism. “Genius is an abnormality, and can signal other abnormalities,” says Veda Kaplinsky of Juilliard, perhaps the world’s pre-eminent teacher of young pianists. “Many gifted kids have A.D.D. or O.C.D. or Asperger’s. When the parents are confronted with two sides of a kid, they’re so quick to acknowledge the positive, the talented, the exceptional; they are often in denial over everything else.”

Friday, November 16, 2012


From TPM:

The most ancient and distant galaxy yet observed — the light from which traveled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth — has been pinpointed by scientists taking an unprecedentedly deep look through the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA announced on Thursday.
I've got a problem with this characterization.  This galaxy, as we see it, is not old but extremely young, only a few hundred million years, compared to our galaxy's 13 billion plus.  But I see it everywhere.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


It's bad form to comment on an article that one finds so annoying that you couldn't stand to finish it, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I don't know who the hell Andrew Piper is, but he has written an article on why e-reading isn't really reading, because, apparently, Augustine was converted by reading a book and  the tactile sensation of the paper is evidently the most important sensory input one gets from the page.

Aristotle regarded touch as the most elementary sense. It is how we begin to make our way in the world, to map it, measure it, and make sense of it. Touch is the most self-reflexive of senses, an insight affirmed by the German researcher David Katz, who established the field of touch studies in the early 20th century based on his work with World War I amputees. Through the feeling of touch, we learn to feel ourselves. Touch is a form of redundancy, enfolding more sensory information into what we see and therefore what we read. It makes the words on the page richer in meaning and more multidimensional. It gives words a geometry.
Pretentious claptrap.  My near vision is not so great, and hence I nearly always read on computer screen, Kindle, or phone.

Twenty Sixteen

When you read "2016" you quite naturally  feel a little spurt of nausea, disgust, and pain.  That's only normal.  Now if you follow that with a bit of adrenaline and interest, you are a hopeless political junkie.  This post is for you.

The dumbest mistake the Democrats could make now would be to take Hispanics for granted.  The second dumbest would be to take blacks for granted.  Republicans may not be in a position to appeal to black people anytime real soon, but they sure as hell are going to make a run at the Hispanic vote.  They have a number of potent potential weapons, especially Jeb Bush.  If he chooses not to run, there are several young guys who might fill either position on the ticket.  Moreover, Republicans have demonstrated that in Texas, a majority minority State, they can win a lot of Hispanic votes.  This partly because the Democrats in Texas are a mess, but mainly because they (the Republicans) have bothered to try.

To be continued.

More Omens of the Apocalypse

The times they are a changing...  Via Andrew Sullivan

Bil Browning reflects:
While the media has been drooling over the success of female candidates this year, there's several other notable results. ... We now have our first non-theist (Kyrsten Sinema - AZ), our first Hindus (Tulsi Gabbard - HI and Ami Bera - CA), and our first Buddhist senator (Mazie Hirono - HI). Sinema is also the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Krugman's Characterization of Republicans

Comes up lame:

All About the Patriarchy

There’s a strand of thought — I identify it especially with Corey Robin, although he’s not alone — that says that conservatism isn’t really about the things it claims to be about. It isn’t really about free markets and moral values; it’s about authority — the authority of bosses over workers, of men over women, of whites over Those People.
Dear Paul,

Read Jonathan Haidt and be enlightened.


Speaking of Ridiculous

The clown show continues.

Mitt Romney has a simple explanation for donors as to why his presidential campaign came up short: President Obama gave out too much stuff.

With local critique.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) strongly condemned Mitt Romney Wednesday night for remarks the former Republican nominee made blaming President Obama’s re-election on “big gifts” for minorities and women.
Acknowledging that Romney is an offensive jerk is a good way for Republicans to begin rehab.

Desperate Housewives of Tampa ...

There be some crazy bitches out there...

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Scandal That Keeps On Giving

More on the woman who reported the harassing emails from Broadwell:

Meanwhile, it has come to light that the FBI agent contacted by Kelley about the emails she received from Broadwell was removed from the case. According to officials, the agent’s supervisors said he had become infatuated with Kelley and had sent her shirtless photos of himself.
It would be hard to make this stuff up.

Corruption in Science

In physics, chemistry, geology, anthropology and a number of other sciences the risks of fraud and various forms of cheating are great and the penalties for getting caught are drastic - loss of your career. For the most part, nobody else has a big stake in your opinions.  Medicine has more cheating and the penalties, overall, are less.  Vast fortunes hang on promising new treatments, and big funds flow toward projects that seem promising and if you lose your job at a research U, you can still go into clinical practice.

Economics is different, especially from the first group of sciences.  The most efficient and common way to get rich is getting a government to put a money spigot in your pocket, so there is a big incentive for the rich and would be rich to influence where those money spigots get placed.  Consequently, influencing government economic (and other) policies is a high payoff activity.  If you get to be a high profile economist, those funds can flow to you, provided your opinions please somebody with a big stake in the economic outcome.

Pablo Escobar would never have become rich if the US hadn't had a war on drugs.  Bill Gates is rich because the government grants him some exclusive licences and protects them.  Sheldon Adelson is fabulously wealthy partly because China prohibits gambling except in his casinos in Macao.  The history of some of the first fortunes in the US is an instructive one.  During the revolution, the Continental Army and it's suppliers were paid largely in script - promises of payment upon sucess of the revolution.  After that revolution, the government couldn't get around to paying.

When the Constitution was adopted, and Alexander Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury, the script holders had been unpaid for many years, and Hamilton's banker friends bought up the script for ten cents on the dollar, or less.  Hamilton then insisted that the new government pay its debts, and they became rich.

The fortunes of many of the Russian oligarchs were acquired rather similarly.  Guess who advised the post Communist government on how to privatize the old socialist industries.

Uh Oh...

Will Rogers famously noted that he wasn't a member of any organized political party . . . he was a Democrat.  James Fallows, via Paul Krugman, presents some evidence of worrisome changes:

James Fallows says something I’ve been thinking, too:
For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans. It is almost stupefying to imagine that.
Krugman seems to think that might be a good thing.
Still, hubris and all that: this newly effective coalition could be shattered if taken for granted. And you know what could really produce the kind of dispirited base that was supposed to doom Obama in 2012? A sellout on key Democratic values as part of a Grand Bargain. If, say, Obama raises the retirement age in return for vague promises on revenue (promises that would be betrayed at the first opportunity); if he appoints a deficit scold to a major economic post; it could all fall apart.
Take that, Erskine Bowles.  It's not too soon to start worry about Obama turning from warrior king to lord of the wing-nut appeasing wimps.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Epistemic Closure

Epistemic Closure is a somewhat obscure philosophical concept which has been appropriated (quite inappropriately) by some on the right who have wandered from the path of true belief to describe what we heathens like to call the the right-wing echo chamber.  The key idea is that it's quite possible to live in a world of Fox News, Glenn Beck, Drudge and talk radio and get lots of reinforcement for beliefs which have no grounding in fact, or perhaps without suspecting that most others regard these beliefs as nuts.

Richard Feynman liked to say that the first duty of the scientist is to doubt his own theories.  Several religions take an opposite point of view, insisting that the highest virtue is to believe in the face of lack of evidence or even in the presence of contradictory evidence.  These, of course, are the people who mark themselves off from those who belong to what they scornfully call the "reality based community."  The Republican Party (I think) has embraced this "we create our own reality" notion for many years, and it rose up to bite them this election - in just the nasty way that the real reality always likes to.  In the face of plenty of evidence, they seem to have clung to the notion that (almost) all the polls really were wrong and were apparently genuinely shocked when they lost.

Of course Obama made a somewhat similar type of mistake when he blew the first debate.  Despite the evidence that Romney was a reasonably skilled  and highly experienced debater with a habit of making stuff up out of whole cloth, Obama was so blinded by his personal contempt for the man that he failed to prepare effective counters.  Instead of an echo chamber though, he got a thorough spanking by those who were forced to explain how badly he had screwed up.  If Michelle's face post debate was any clue, she was first in line with the bad news.

Andrew Sullivan reports some reflections on the psychological roots of our tendency to lock ourselves into various forms of reality denial from Nobel Economist Daniel Kahneman:

Essentially, we have two different thought systems that work very differently, and Kahneman refers to them throughout the book as characters he calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 is a marvel honed by millions of years of evolution that runs on automatic (and can’t be turned off). It’s a virtuoso at jumping to (usually correct) conclusions on the basis of very little information. A master at coming up with shortcuts (heuristics) that usually work, we couldn’t get through a minute of our day without it. As Kahneman points out, most of what we know about System 1 would have “seemed like science fiction” 30 or 40 years ago. Unfortunately, System 1 can’t be reflective. It can’t know what it doesn’t know, but it always knows that it’s right. And because it works so much faster and more smoothly than System 2, it almost always overrules our more rational selves.
System 2 is generally clueless about System 1’s flaws. It’s too slow and inefficient to handle immediate matters; it consumes huge amounts of energy, takes effort and time, and requires a great deal of self-control. Since “laziness is built deep into our nature,” we mostly glide along on System 1. System 2 is supposed to be the overseer, the skeptic, the doubter, but it’s often busy and tired and defers to System 1, which is gullible and biased. In fact, System 2 is often an apologist for System 1. “Its search for information and arguments is mostly constrained to information that is consistent with existing beliefs,” Kahneman explains.
These notions are also fundamental to Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind  which I have frequently written about previously.

El estudiante de español

Sigo haciendo progresos lentos en mi estudio del español. Yo trato de leer un poco de español todos los días. Estoy leyendo algunas novelas bastante simples, tratando de entender los tiempos verbales, y leyendo algunas noticias. No puedo entender el lenguaje hablado a menos que sea muy lento, y realmente no puedo hablar o escribir mucho.

Encontré un predicador de radio que era fácil de entender, pero su programa es demasiado temprano en la mañana para mí.

The Bad Guys

It has been suggested that my "critique" of the Republican party base is the moral (or rather immoral) equivalent of the Republican's demonization of Obama.  Is it?  Well I did call them "feverish, Christianist, elderly, uneducated and often racist ..."   

That is pretty impolite, but can I claim truth as a defense?  Polls and results show that the strongest support for Romney comes from white southern males, that the elderly and evangelical Christians are over-represented.   How about "feverish?"  Despite the fact that I hardly conceal my political point of view, I continue to get these emails making hysterical claims that Obama is some secular or otherwise version of the Anti-Christ, birther non-sense, and otherwise unfounded and hysterical projections of doom by Obama.  I have never, ever, ever received anything remotely analagous from Democrats.  Similar stuff is spouted or coyly countenanced by Republicans great and small as well as the ever present right-wing noise machine of talk radio, Fox, and Sinclair.

"Uneducated" was probably an overreach.  On average, Republicans may be slightly more educated than Democrats, but their ideology has a lot of elements of essential stupidity: evolution denial, climate change denial, etc.  Let me apologize for "uneducated' and substitute "willfully ignorant."

Friday, November 09, 2012


It seems that the poll unskewing, poll denial, and bizarre optimism of Fox, Drudge, and the right -wing pundits was apparently shared by all the top players in the Republican party.  The campaign and candidates were apparently genuinely dumbfounded when things turned out just the way Nate Silver and Bayesian statistics had predicted.  I guess more of the Republican reality denial is genuine rather than merely feigned than I suspected.

And, it seems, the base, or at least the tweeting heart of the Southeastern core of the base, really is racist.

She Done Him In

Thanks to Jon Stewart and The Daily Beast you can meet the lady whose dissertation done our Bond (AKA "Peaches") in.  There is enough irony here to build Britain's WWI grand fleet.

Interview with Paula Broadwell.

UPDATE - Plot thickens, from Sari Horowitz and Greg Miller in the Washington Post.  

The collapse of the impressive career of CIA Director David H. Petraeus was triggered when a woman with whom he was having an affair sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him, according to three senior law enforcement officials with know­ledge of the episode.
The recipient of the e-mails was so frightened that she went to the FBI for protection and help tracking down the sender, according to the officials. The FBI investigation traced the threats to Paula Broadwell, a former military officer and a Petraeus biographer, and uncovered explicit e-mails between Broadwell and Petraeus, the officials said.
The story is evolving from tragedy to melodrama.

Bond, James Bond

News Flash!

The world's least secret agent, James Bond, AKA  Agent 007, was forced to resign from MI6 today after a long series of sexual indiscretions were revealed.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Civil War

Heritage Action, an arm of the Republican "think" tank The Heritage Society, just called for war against Obama. These assholes are a disgrace to the country.

Somebody ought remind them of the definition of treason and the penalties that apply.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

That River in Egypt...Again

Republicans lost pretty convincingly this time, in part because they started believing their own bullshit.    Because they were wackos who thought Obama was an Anti-colonial Kenyan Socialist Muslim they became convinced that everyone would.  They catered to their feverish, Christianist, elderly, uneducated and often racist base in ways that offended a whole lot of other people.

When polls started showing that their bullshit wasn't working, they tried pretending the polls were a liberal conspiracy.  Well, reality bit.  And it continues to bite in lots of ways.  Unfortunately, the idiots are not the only ones who get washed away in the floods.

Taxes for Thee, But Not for Me?

California and Obama each plan to pay for some pricey stuff by taxing the wealthy.  I can't really object on principle, since I figure the rich are undertaxed, especially the very rich, but I think this is a course that's not a stable economic strategy.  The fact is, that the level of services we are getting requires that we all pay more, and we really ought to acclimate to that.

Also, the rich, and especially the really rich, are a lot more mobile than the rest of us.  Make taxes too high and they go somewhere else.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Science 1 - Bullshit Mountain 0

Nate Silver and the other scientific poll aggregators cleaned the clocks of the professional pundits  (Will, Noonan, Barone, Rove, etc.) especially the Fox News pundits.

Monday, November 05, 2012


The election is finally about to happen - except where it has already happened, at my house, for example.  Republican leaning pundits (and even knowledgeable analyst Michael Barone) are predicting a Romney mini-landslide.  The poll aggregators see an excellent chance of an Obama victory.   Almost everybody sees a tight, tight race.

I can't stand the tension much longer.

Friday, November 02, 2012

I will Never, Ever, Ever...

...get this silly song out of my head.

Actually, I quite like it, but I wish it would stop playing in my head when the radio is off.