Showing posts from June, 2018

China Since 1968

In 1968, China was one of the poorest nations in the world, in per capita GDP ($671 in inflation adjusted dollars). Only Rwanda and Malawi were poorer. It also had one of the world's highest fertility rates. Fertility began to decline sharply in that year, from 6.37 in that year to 2.8 in 1979, the year the one child policy was introduced. By 1993 it had reached 1.87, well below the replacement rate, and has remained below it ever since. Note that most of the decrease occurred before the "one child" policy was introduced. Per capita GDP increased relatively slowly during the eleven years while fertility was declining to 2.8, but accelerated sharply thereafter, and had increased 25 fold (2518%) by 2018. Note that all the fertility decline occurred while China was still a very poor country, and that nearly all of the rapid economic progress happened after fertility had dropped to low levels. I have included a graph with a trace of Chinese GDP per capita vs fertilit…

Genes: Smart's, Don't It

According to a new study reported in Science, researchers have now found more than 1000 genes associated with high intelligence.
Being smart is a double-edged sword. Intelligent people appear to live longer, but many of the genes behind brilliance can also lead to autism, anxiety, and depression, according to two new massive genetic studies. The work also is one of the first to identify the specific cell types and genetic pathways tied to intelligence and mental health, potentially paving the way for new ways to improve education, or therapies to treat neurotic behavior.  The studies provide some of the first “hard evidence of the many genes and pathways” that work together in complex ways to build smart brains and keep them in balance, says geneticist Peter Visscher of the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who was not involved in the work. This tends to confirm the frequent speculations that many classic geniuses, including N…

Malthus Yet Again (And Some More on Demographic Transition)

I'm always shocked by how many otherwise intelligent people seem to doubt Malthusian logic.  Of course the anti-evolutionists and flat-earthers are beyond persuasion, but I doubt that they are common among my readers.  So let me tilt at that windmill one more time.

The details of Malthus's argument are a bit dated, but the logic is enduring.  It is the central pillar of Darwin's theory of Natural Selection.  The fundamental notion is that any population is ultimately constrained by available resources, and this applies to bacteria on a petri dish, lemmings in a field, or humans on planet Earth.  Of course Malthus knew that humans could make more land available for agriculture by clearing forests, draining swamps, irrigation of dry lands, etc.  Modern techniques that apply fertilizer and pesticides to capture more of the potential productivity have a similar effect.  The Malthusian point, though, is that ultimately these cannot compete with exponential increase in populatio…

Rules of Measure

The long periods between anything happening in a typical soccer game have given me a lot of time to reformulate my new rules for football.  There are a lot of fouls where the penalties are either too light or two severe.  Pulling down or deliberately tripping a player on an open run at the goal is one that earns a yellow card.  Not really enough, and for players already on a yellow, the red card is so severe that it's rarely enforced.  The referees in this World Cup have been instructed to be very sparing with red cards because FIFA doesn't like 10 on 11 (or 9 on 11) games - and neither does anyone else.

There are far too many fouls that go uncalled in the penalty box (take downs, jersey pulls, wrestling holds).  These too usually go uncalled.

My  new suggested revisions:

1) Replace throw in with free kick in. (This one is actually due to Pele)

2) Allow 5, 7 or perhaps more substitutions in a game.

3) In the event of a red card, the offender is sent off but may be replaced.  A…

Headlines, Threadlines

I was scanning Intertube headlines when I came across this one: Why Understanding Passing Is Key to Appreciating FX’s Pose.  Now I don't know anything about FX's Pose, though I assume that it must have something to do with soccer, because that's where passing can really be the key.  Who really understands passing, I asked myself?  Spain, that's who.  Of course you also have to finish, and play defense, which is where Spain could have done a bit better against Morocco.  It was a good game, though I was a bit disappointed when Spain pulled out a draw.

Anyway, I started reading the article:
Blanca Rodriguez (MJ Rodriguez)—of FX’s excellent, groundbreaking new series, Pose—has had enough. She’s frustrated that her ideas for ball costumes keep getting stolen by house mother Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson), and having recently been diagnosed with HIV, she’s thinking of her legacy.  I mean uniforms are important, but does this really have a place in an article ostensibly…

Triumph of the Corporatist State

Marching under the banner of some dimwitted version of Libertarian economics, the Supreme Court gutted American antitrust laws.  On another front, though ExxonMobil sock puppet Lamar Smith is retiring, his work is largely done.  DMSP satellite F-19 died, F-20 was executed by order of Congress, and F-18, long past its design lifetime, is looking shaky.  Soon the US will lack the ability to monitor Arctic Ice or provide US troops with crucial weather info, and potential replacements are half a decade away.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his scoundrels walk more and more the fascist line, threatening companies that make logical responses to his idiotic tariffs and blaming scapegoats (speculators) for the resulting price increases.

Tumbling Exercises

One amusing feature of the World Cup for the occasional soccer watcher is the prevalence of spectacular falls by players who happen to get a foot stepped on or ankle clipped.  I awarded 4.5 points for degree of difficulty to one player who cartwheeled a few times yesterday, and added another 2.5 for artistic expression for his realistic impression of someone rolling about in agony.  Of course he was up and playing again in a few seconds.

Oddly enough, nothing like that happens when players in football or basketball get hurt, though usually they cannot return to the game.

To digress, I thought England looked impressively efficient in its demolition of Panama.  Of course the defense was not the best.  Harry Kane got a somewhat freakish hat trick on the basis of two penalty kicks and a (probably accidental) heel clip on a ball that likely would have gone in regardless.  Have to see how England's sometimes shaky defense will hold up against tougher competition.

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…