Showing posts from 2018

Ain't Goin'a Study Math No More

Steve Hsu has been writing lately about Harvard's Asian problem.  Harvard's Asian problem is that it is being sued by Asian students for allegedly systematically rating them lower in "personality" in order to keep their numbers lower.  According to Wikipedia, Asians make up 5.6% of the American population, and according to Steve, 16% of Harvard and all Ivy League undergrads.  By contrast, at Caltech and Berkeley, where admissions are race blind, they make up 39% and 40% respectively.  Jews, who make up 1.5% of the US population, constitute 26% at Harvard, 23% of the Ivies, and 6% and 10% at Caltech and Berkeley.  Asians are clearly overrepresented by population but also, apparently, underrepresented by percentage of the academically talented at the Ivies.

I will let Steve, an Asian, Caltech grad and Harvard Ph.D., and the courts argue out the case of the students, but I got distracted by another post of his on performance by ethnicity of various groups on some elite …

Dr. Malthus, I Presume?

There are many theories of what makes rich countries richer than the poor ones: honest government, an educated population, a market economy, better citizens, suppression of corruption.  I would guess that each of these has some weight in the final analysis.  Being blessed with natural resources, or at least, with oil, can help for a while.  Having a war on your territory is obviously a big negative.

For me, though, Dr. Malthus is still king of the heap.  His observation that the exponential character of reproduction could outpace any plausible increases in productivity is still the key to understanding relative economies.   Indeed, many countries blessed with enormous wealth have seen the profits gobbled up by every increasing numbers of hungry mouths.  The countries that have stayed rich for a long time all seem to have low fertility.

Such diverse countries as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Czechia and Cuba have all seen rather dramatic per capita economic growth in this century.  What they ha…

Cry for Argentina

Argentina looked listless, incompetent and clueless in its crushing 3-0 loss to Croatia.  They couldn't pass, couldn't win 50-50 balls, couldn't keep possession and couldn't get the ball to Messi.  And, in the end, they couldn't even get back on defense.

Croatia beat them up, physically and mentally.

Soccer: Da Rules

My latest attempt to tell the soccer world how to play its game is inspired by the Colombia-Japan travesty.  Clearly the penalty for a goal stopping handball in the penalty foul needed to be severe, but I expect that the one awarded (red card at three minute mark plus a penalty kick) was worth at least three goals - and that's ridiculous.  The stupidest rules in soccer are the penalty kick, the red card, and the one on one soccer game to resolve ties.  I propose to ditch all three.  Also, soccer has way too many fouls and way too variable penalties for fouls.

In the case of a foul like the Colombian handball foul, simply copy basketball's goal-tending rule and award the point.  If you really need to sit down a player, do it for a prescribed time, as in hockey. Say ten minutes in the penalty box for a severe foul like the Colombian foul.  Other fouls by the defense in the penalty box should get 5 minutes plus a corner kick.  All other fouls would get time in penalty box plus a …

Applied Molecular Biology: Eggplant

For: Eggplant Parmesan

Casting Shade on Bohr

The semi-famous philosopher Tim Maudlin takes on a couple of books in a review entitled
The Defeat of Reason.  One of the books, What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker, is concerned with Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, and I won't discuss the other one.  I first heard of the book, the review, and an apparent comment on the review by linguist and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker via a critique by Lubos Motl.  Lumo's review, as usual, was long on invective but short on fact and logic, but it did pique my interest.

If I recall correctly, I once wrote a post entitled "Tim Maudlin is an Idiot", so I'm not a member of his fan club.  He is, however, a philosopher who knows a lot about quantum mechanics and history, so my dismissal was perhaps a bit harsh.  That said, I am not impressed by his review, and, based on that review, unimpressed by the book.

The basic argument appears to be that Ni…

Mexico 1, Germany 0

A lot of teams are probably wondering today where they can find some more of those prostitutes the Mexican team allegedly partied with before the World Cup.

Their shocking victory over the Germans was hard earned, but they also had to get pretty lucky, and get some darn good goalkeeping.  Both teams, but especially Germany, left a number of goals on the field, as a large number of good opportunities were squandered.

Mexico looks dangerous, and so, of course, does Germany, but they need to figure out how to patch a leaky midfield.

Rakhigarhi: DNA vs PC Indian Style

Vasant Shinde, the principal investigator on the Rakhigarhi DNA from the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) has given an bizarre interview on his results.  Apparently they were not very successful in their attempts to extract ancient DNA, probably not too surprising since both they and their Korean partners were beginners in the business, but they do seem to have gotten useful DNA from two skeletons.  Those genomes showed Iranian DNA but no Central Asian DNA.  Now for the weird part.  From an article in The Tribune:
Three years after digging out human skeletons from the Harappan-era graveyard in Rakhigarhi village, archaeologists have concluded that there was no large-scale influx of foreigners or migration of locals, indicating those living in Haryana and the Ghaggar basin now are descendants of original inhabitants.Prof Vasant Shinde, Vice Chancellor of Deccan College, Pune, said on Friday that the DNA analysis of 5,000-year-old skeletal remains belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisatio…

Spain vs. Portugal

Just watched now.  Wow! If Americans could pass like Spain I'd watch American soccer.

Locking Him Up

Manafort's jailing could be a come to Jesus moment for both him and Michael Cohen.  TBD.

Quotas: Harvard

Harvard systematically discriminates against Asian students, claims a new lawsuit, according to a New York Times article by Anemona Hartocollis.  The discovery process has revealed some long secret details of the school's admissions process.  It seems that while Asian students systematically score better than others on such traditional qualifications as academic performance, test scores, and extracurriculars, they systematically score worse in personality.  As a white person, I suppose I ought to be grateful that we as a group are so damn personable, but it might be nice if it were in some less subjective (and easily manipulable trait).  One of the most damning revelations:
Alumni interviewers give Asian-Americans personal ratings comparable to those of whites. But the admissions office gives them the worst scores of any racial group, often without even meeting them, according to Prof. Arcidiacono. Whites apparently would be the main losers if the personality evaluations were disco…

The Origin of Language

Humans have a few traits that are less common among our fellow animals.  Few mammals make a habit of walking on two legs for example.  Aristotle noted that we are social animals, not exactly a rare trait but we are social to an extreme degree found mostly in the social insects.  There are two traits in which we are way ahead of all others though - tool making and language.  Because rock is durable and can endure through ages, we know a great deal about how tool making among humans developed and was refined over the past two and a half million years, but before the very recent invention of writing a few thousand years ago, we know nothing about the history of language.

A new theory argues that the development of these two master skills of the human race was linked, and that language developed in response to the brain changes that evolved in order to plan the construction of complex tools.  Ben James, writing in the June issue of The Atlantic, discusses the theory.

The crucial linking n…

The Sociopath

What makes a sociopath?  It's probably not weak dads and controlling mummies.  The evidence seems to indicate that they are lacking some fundamental bits of brain wiring that most of us have in the limbic system.  Such, at least, is the argument presented in Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, a book that I recently reread.  Psychopaths, another word for sociopaths, lack empathy but also seem lack emotional anticipation of punishment.  If you tell a normal person that you will give them a painful electric shock when your count reaches ten, they will react with changes in heart rate and other symptoms of stress as the shock approaches.  Not so the psychopath, who doesn't react until the shock happens.  Repeated exposure to the shock makes normals even more stressed, but not the sociopaths.
This failure to identify with their future distress seems to be related to their lack of empathy.  It's also what makes them likely recidivists.  A supposedly reliable method for ident…


Our world is infested by parasites; what keeps them down is partly Democracy and blah; partly that anywhere that becomes too uncompetitive gets out-competed. That's not a careful analysis, but what I mean is that we accept a balance as we must: as long as society functions, and produces enough wealth for all or most, we tolerate some parasites. And at least at the moment it is working: the share captured by the unproductive isn't too high...........William Connolley Libertarians generally, and rich people especially, are preoccupied by slackers - those they perceive to not be pulling their weight.  Of course we don't all quite agree on who those "parasites" are.  There are some obvious suspects - the young, the aged and infirm.  Then, of course, are the unemployed.  People like that creep Mitt Romney think they are anybody who doesn't pay income taxes, even if the other taxes they pay amount to a higher tax rate than paid by Romney and his rich fans.

Most of …

Literature: By the Numbers

BBC Culture asked writers around the globe to pick stories that have endured across generations and continents – and changed society.  They asked 108 critics to pick their top five, and came up with a top ten and top 100 list - which ought to suggest that there was substantial diversity in the critics opinions.  The changed society component of this game means that literary merit is not the sole criterion, and indeed that is evident.  Of the top five, I had only read numbers four and five:
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958) Of these, I think only number one and perhaps number four count as among the greatest works of literature, but the influence on history of Stowe's book was immense. Six through ten are all truly great though:
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
7. Don…


Human evolution took an unusual turn a couple of million years ago.  Some species started growing giant brains, and some of the brainiacs eventually displaced all the other human species, including other brainiacs like the Neandertals.  This path was not taken by any other ape or really, by any other animal.  Why so?  It's clear today that that brain growth facilitated a whole lot of other human progress, like speech, manufacture of complex tools, and cooperation in large groups, but evolution is always about the past, not the future, so why did the brain growth mainly come first?  Or perhaps we should ask why it stopped just as those things were reaching a critical mass?

The disadvantage of a big brain is that it has a high metabolic cost.  It's the intellectual equivalent of having a car with a big V-8 (or V-10 or V-12) engine.  Powerful but expensive to operate.  And that's not even counting the cost of having young who might decide to become philosophy majors.

A paper i…