Showing posts from October, 2017

Trick or Treat

Organized candy fests at schools, churches and community centers seem to have depressed Tricker-Treater turnout. Of course my neighborhood is also getting older. By six O'Clock it was apparent that we had way too much candy. Even handing it out by the fistful wasn't enough. In the good old days kids used to show up by the vanful around 8:00 PM - from whence we never knew. Whence ever, they were no shows tonight. After 7:15 we seemed to mainly get tweens and teens.

Corporate Power Today

Let's abandon the libertarian world for a moment to consider the News industry in the US today. The US has two national newspapers (the NY Times and the Washington Post), or perhaps 2 1/2 if you include the Wall Street Journal, which doesn't really have fully national reporting nor editorial content. The WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the NYT is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family (though the largest shareholder is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim), and the Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Like other Murdoch news enterprises, the WSJ is predictably right-wing and pro-Trump. The WP and NYT are usually considered liberal and anti-Trump but both work hard at trying to be non-partisan - which is really hard when you are tying to report the truth. There is no significant leftist press in the US. There are also three national News Television networks, Fox, owned by Murdoch, being hard right and pretty much a dedicated Trump propaganda site. MSNBC is…

A Brief Segue Into Contestable Markets

Since the Stoat has derided me for my purported ignorance of contestable markets, let me use his own petard* to hoist him above the castle walls: A perfectly contestable market has three main features: No entry or exit barriers No sunk costs Access to the same level of technology (to incumbent firms and new entrants) A perfectly contestable market is not possible in real life. Dr. Connolley thinks that Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have contestable effective monopolies. Did he even read the three "essential features" in his link? None of them comes close to applying to these corporations. In particular, sunk costs are in the tens of billions, technology is protected by a vast patent web, and entry costs are enormous. My free advice: Mr. Connolley should stop reading Tim Worstall and read some actual economists. On second thought, never mind. Economics is heavily populated with dolts and scoundrels with PhDs and professorships. But Tim is an idiot. *I mean Wikip…

One More Try

I tried asking the question "what do libertarians think should be done about untrammelled corporate power?" Or at least I thought I did. Based on the answers I got, most people seemed to think I was complaining about the quality of service I was getting from Amazon or Google. I was expecting something more along the lines of either "corporate power, what corporate power?" or "the magic of the market and its invisible hand will fix any problems." Let me adduce a few examples of that rampaging corporate power. The most extreme example is probably the British East India Company, a corporate entity with its own army which overthrew dozens of independent nations and killed, directly or indirectly, millions of people. Similar rampaging corporations on a smaller scale were the slave trading companies that terrorized Africa for centuries, the corporate arms of King Leopold of Belgium, and Cecil Rhodes and the Rothschilds, each responsible millions more murd…

A Question for Libertarians

I will take a break from my usual pastime of Libertarian bashing to ask a question: Does libertarianism have an answer for the extraordinary power and control of our lives achieved by the giant transnational corporations? I am thinking primarily of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet(Google) and Microsoft. Their resources now dwarf those of many or most nations, and their business means that they possess an extraordinary amount of information about us, likely more than any country.

League of Extraordinary Gropesters.

It's not news that sexual assault and sexual harrassment is not confined to Hollywood and Fox News. Four recent US Presidents (Kennedy, H.W. Bush, Clinton and of course Trump) have now been credibly accused. A well known CNBC panelist was just suspended following accusations by five women. It is extremely likely that these cases are only an insubstantial tip of a vast iceberg. We discussed the topic in my history class and every woman in the class reported being a victim. Almost every woman either has been a victim or knows several women who have. We probably can't hope to remove these predators from our society, but making serious examples of the top predators should be a priority. If even half the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are true, he undoubtedly belongs in jail. I don't know the details of the O'Reilly case, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same is true of him. These crimes should be priorities for District Attorneys, especially in view …

Anomalies in Physics Publishing

Several decades ago, as a physics undergrad, I bought Sears and Zemansky's University Physics for $9.95 (the price was on the inside of the front cover). It was already a third edition at that point. The current 14th edition has acquired new authors and lists for 309.80, and for another couple of c-notes you can get the solutions manual and some other aid. I'm going to guess that mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, and optics haven't changed that much, but the book has fattened up to 1600 pages. What a ripoff, but you can get slightly older editions for less than my price for edition 3. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, I found a beautifully bound and printed copy of an 700 plus page advanced textbook/monograph for less than $25 bucks - including shipping from New Delhi, India. Published in the US, printed in the UK, it somehow made its way to India and back (via Germany, and Ohio) to Las Crucesfor a dirt cheap price. Wierd.

Condolence Calls

Such calls are hard, and Donald Trump has zero talent for empathy. I think that it was as inappropriate for the Congresswoman to release his inappropriate comments as it was for Trump to make them. However, General Kelly's strident and seriously inaccurate attack on her was even worse, if possibly excusable on the grounds of his personal experiences with that most awful of condolence calls. Maybe we should all dial it back on this subject.

Spurious Correlations and Spearman's g

Spearman's g, of course, is IQ. When various tests of mental abilities (verbal, mathematical, and geometrical, for example) are given, it is found that scores tend to be positively correlated, so that better performance on one type of test is correlated with better performance on others. Factor analysis is a tool for analyzing such correlations. If we measure a couple of parameters that are strongly correlated, like human height and weight, for example, and display them on a graph, they will tend to cluster in a roughly elliptical region along a line. Factor analysis finds the line of best bit. For poorly correlated variables, like perhaps time of day and height, clustering will be less evident. Factor analysis works in higher dimensions too. The essential idea is to transform the original measurement variables into linear combinations that resolve the highest amount of variance. If one measures a large number of variables, or simulates a large number of random variables, …

Chandra's Birthday

Today's Google doodle celebrates S. Chandrasekhar's 107th birthday, and hooray for that. I have several of his books and his writing was as clear as his thinking. I guess the doodle is trying to illustrate that white dwarfs can be heavy compared to some main sequence stars, but an actual white dwarf has only about one millionth of the volume of its main sequence counterpart.

How the Kochs Got Back in the Driver's Seat

The Koch brothers didn't support Donald Trump and a lot of his rhetoric seemed dangerous to them. A few months down the road, though, the White House is populated with Koch people and the Kochs' Libertarian agenda is running the show, especially where it can do the most damage to the environment and do the most for the Kochs' vast wealth. Jane Mayer, writing in the New Yorker, tells the story. The Key piece of the puzzle turns out to be Vice President Mike Pence, whose public face as Trump's amiable sycophant obscures our view of the long time made guy in the Kochtopus. Excerpt: The Kochs, who are not religious, may have been focussed more on pocketbook issues than on Pence’s faith. According to Scott Peterson, the executive director of the Checks & Balances Project, a watchdog group that monitors attempts to influence environmental policy, Pence was invited to the Koch seminar only after he did the brothers a major political favor. By the spring of 2009, Koch…

Evil Genius

The evil geniuses who populate comic books and bad science fiction movies are usually bent on world domination or just messing up everybody else's lives. That type of evil genius, quite fortunately, seems rare or maybe nonexistent. I suppose that we would like our geniuses to be saintly, but that's not very common either, and some geniuses are definitely evil, but their evil seems to be more prosaic than the stereotype. Bill Cosby was definitely a comic genius, if such a thing exists, but he was also apparently a serial rapist. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski also come to mind. Even Harvey Weinstein seems to have had sort of a genius for making movies. Of course many ordinary jerks and "fucking idiots" are also sexual predators, but being wealthy, powerful, or a famous genius provides a lot of extra insulation from the consequences. Power corrupts, in Lord Acton's famous aphorism, and genius is a sort of power. It apparently doesn't take a lot of dif…

More Libertarian Work

The Washington Post and the Sixty-Minutes television show collaborated on the story of how deregulation, corporate greed, and a few corrupt Congressmen trigger the American opioid epidemic which has now killed more than three times as many Americans as the Vietnam War. Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets. By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight. A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years. …

One of Our Apex Predators is Down

...And his fellows are quickly ripping apart his corpse. Harvey Weinstein, I mean, and the Academy has kicked him out. Even his brother is dissing him. The carnage is possibly prompted by fear that the contagion will spread. I mean that their own crimes will come out. Meanwhile, the predator in chief (or PRIC, for short) remains safely ensconced in his golf resorts. I wonder if the swift fall of Weinstein will prompt his accusers to push forward. Let's hope so.

Violent Relaxation...

...sounds like a new form of extreme sports for the overly energetic, but it's actually a process of some importance in galaxy formation. The virial theorem relates the time average of the kinetic energy of a system of gravitationally bound particles to its potential energy: Tav = -(1/2)V. A system in which this kinetic energy is close to this average is called relaxed. Suppose one starts with an arrangement of, say 100, mass particles with random velocities and turns on gravity. Initially, there is no particular relation between the total kinetic energy and the potential energy (except they should be bound, so T +V < 0). After a few particle crossing times (the time for a typical particle to cross the distribution under influence of other particles gravity) one should find that the ratio approaches the virial average. Such a system is said to be relaxed. One process that leads to relaxation is gravitational encounters between pairs of individual particles, which tends t…

Why Do We Still Suck at Soccer?

For the first time since 1986, the US failed to qualify for the World Cup - and failed in truly humiliating fashion. Why? Brian Phillips blame leadership. The problem seems to be that American players just aren't very good - though I thought they played credibly in Brazil. At least a few factors probably play a role. The level of youth teaching is generally quite poor. Soccer is a second class sport, played mostly by suburban kids whose parents have too much sense to let them play football. The suburban dominance probably also means that many top athletes don't get the chance to play or just prefer the bigger rewards in football and basketball. Arun suggested, no doubt sarcastically, that genetics might play a role. As in other sports where foot speed and agility are at a premium, this makes sense, and indeed many of the top players all over the world have Afro-European ancestry. Of course the US also has plenty of athletes of such ancestry, but maybe they just play …

Why Do Powerful Men Sexually Exploit Women?

Oh wait - I know the answer to this one! Because they can! And because they can get away with it. The recent ignominious fall of Harvey Weinstein is just the latest blip in a story older than the casting couch, older, in fact, than history. Of course now that he is down, even a few old buddies are having a kick at his still squirming body, but before the fall he managed to intimidate numerous famous actresses, the New York DA, NBC and other prominent media outfits into silence. This story is getting monotonous: Ailes, O'Reilly, Cosby; Kennedy, Clinton, and Trump. Some who have fallen and plenty of others still on the loose. One might think that Hollywood is something of a worst case scenario. Immense power, and plenty of young women willing to use their bodies to take a step up - easy for a powerful man to imagine that it's all there for them, whether the women are willing or not. The Lewinsky case suggests that it's not much different for politicians.


Ross Doughhat has a column entitled "The Pigs of Liberalism" featuring his older look alike, Harvey Weinstein. Ross starts off his improbable tirade with: If you are surprised by the news that Harvey Weinstein of Miramax fame, a man well known for profane tirades and physical altercations and scrounging M&Ms off movie theater floors, is also the sort of charmer who loafs around semi-nude while asking subordinates for “back” massages, then you can be surprised by just about anything: the sun rising in the east, the fact that movie stars employ plastic surgeons, the news that “The Artist” didn’t actually deserve to win Best Picture.Doubtless Ross would be surprised to hear that 95% of Americans think Harvey Weinstein might be a dentist. Among the 5% who have noticed his name in the credits of some excellent movies, I would guess that less than 1 in a thousand has any clue to his sexual habits or proclivities. Obviously, Mr. Douthat was in that select group, which makes…

Test these Suckers!

Donald Trump, perhaps offended by being called a "fucking moron" by his own Secretary of State, challenged Tillerson to an IQ comparison. Given that both men are well into the age of IQ decline, any past scores are irrelevant, so a new test is clearly called for. MENSA, a society of misfits dedicated to celebrating their own IQs, purportedly in the top 2%, has offered to host a test for both. Personally, I suspect that an IQ test aimed at the top 2 % might be too tough for both, and Trump has a busy golf schedule, so perhaps something like the Wonderlic might be more appropriate. Personally, my money is on Tillerson to score in the offensive-tackle to quarterback range, while I've got Trump out there with the cornerbacks. Actually, I'd like to see IQ tests made mandatory for all candidates for public office. If you need an IQ test to play linebacker in the NFL, why not one to serve in Congress, or as President?

Inspired by Pence Clown Show*...

...Alexandra Petri imagines a few more protests for the Vice President.After briefly refusing to dignify a football game with his absence, Vice President Pence jetted to California for a previously scheduled event, and I guess President Trump thought this was how protests ought to go. Below are a few more ideas for protests that Pence doubtless has planned. Take Secret Service detail 80 miles out of the way to glower at a yard sign that says “No Matter Where You’re From, I’m Glad You’re My Neighbor.” Pointedly refuse a piece of toast because it appears to contain an image of the Virgin Mary and his wife is not present to guard his virtue. *Pence flew to Indianapolis and went to the Colts vs. 49ers game just to watch the opening ceremony and walk out when some of the players knelt for the anthem. Good use for taxpayer bucks. Good use for the second dumbest guy in DC.

Ethics, Economics, and Climate

The Stoat has a nearly impenetrably referential post on the subject as above. As usual, reading the post left me pretty much entirely clueless about what he was talking about, but because I had more important work that I wanted to avoid, I read a couple of the links. I discovered that a few years ago he seemed to be able to express himself more clearly, though even then he wasn't willing to give his stuff a descriptive title.
His point, then and now, as I understand it was:
So I’ll be more explicit, here, and argue for solving GHG emissions as a matter of economics, to be handled by taxation, rather than as a matter of morality, to be handled… somehow. Context: Eli wants to handle it as ethics. And a fair amount of the comments on Can global emissions really be reduced? are about this. Oddly enough, I agree with this, but I think that posing potential solutions as economics versus ethics is profoundly misleading, mostly because they are inextricably intertwined. Ethics is …

Jews, What Jews?

From the NYT: The architecture of Canada’s new National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa is both symbolic and haunting, with six concrete triangles depicting the stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, and that marked millions of them for extermination during World War II. But while the structure’s design embodies Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, a plaque placed outside it failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism, an omission that has drawn furious criticism.There were Jewish victims of the Holocaust? Who knew? Not Donald Trump, of course, but apparently he wasn't alone.

Weiss, Thorne, and Barish

Win Physics Nobel, surprising exactly nobody. Discovery of gravitational waves, 100 years after they were first predicted, is clearly the biggest physics discovery of the twenty-first century (so far). The only surprise was that GR waves didn't win last year.