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Showing posts from 2019

The Second Coming of God

Has the self declared "King of the Jews" and "Second Coming of God" gone off the edge?  Is he having a psychotic break?  Some shrinks think so, but not to worry, the faithful still worship him and Moscow Mitch and Leningrad Lindsey still have his back.

What is Culture?

One of the most popular myths is the notion that there used to be an ideal culture that was disrupted by evil forces, colonial conquest, immigration, television or whatever that could be gotten back to if only.  It is a myth because culture is something that is created continuously by the people living in it, in response to the environment, contact with other cultures, history, and the continuing genius of the people living it.

I think that the biggest revelation for me in Pinker's book The Language Instinct was the fact that groups of people thrown together without a common language spontaneously invent one.  This is true even for deaf children who can't speak or hear - they invent a sign language.  It only takes about a generation, but the invented language is full featured, richly expressive, and internally complete.

It appears that the same is true of culture.  When Zora Neale Hurston went back to her birthplace to anthropologically investigate her fellow southern blacks, …

Greenland

Trump is reportedly contemplating trying to buy Greenland, perhaps contemplating all the potential golf courses after global warming does its work.

Personally, I'm kinda hoping Canada would buy the US.  Would selling Texas back to Mexico help sweeten the deal?

A Humane And Effective Immigration Policy

I start with three fundamental principles: 1) We don't want unlimited immigration, 2)We need much of the labor our millions of undocumented immigrants provide, 3)Our policies should be as humane as possible consistent with 1 and 2.

Current policy targets the undocumented with terror campaigns but almost always ignores employers.  My policy would reverse this - only the employers of undocumented immigrants would be targeted.   If ICE were to raid, say, a Trump enterprise and found 100 undocumented workers, the workers would be ignored but the employer would be fined on a sliding scale - say $100 for one undocumented, $1000 for each more than ten, and $10,000 for each more than 40.  Higher fines if necessary to suppress illegal employment.  This would be far easier to enforce than current policies targeting individual workers.  There would be no sanctions for the individual workers, though they would likely lose their jobs.

Guest worker programs:  Many more guest workers would be pe…

Immigration: Waves and Crises

Hysteria over immigration is hardly new.  The US saw large waves of immigration from 1890 to 1910 and reacted strongly with riots, discrimination and federal action.  Books and pamphlets warned of contamination of the nation by inferior races.  In that case, the "inferior races" everyone was worried about were Italians, Poles, Jews and other East and South Europeans.
A book that embodied the spirit of the times was: The Passing of the Great Race, by Madison Grant.  Grant was a highly educated New England patrician, an explorer, naturalist, and a pioneer in attempting to preserve the Bison and other rapidly disappearing fauna of the American West.  After these adventures, he devoted himself to the study of so-called scientific racism, and his book summarized and popularized these notions.

His book was rooted in the idea of separate origins of the various races of man, and the notion that there were higher and lower races.  The highest races, he proclaimed, were the Nordic or…

Coverup

Jeffrey Epstein's apparent suicide today stinks of coverup.  Police and prosecutors had clear indications of a risk of suicide or murder when he was previously found unresponsive in his cell with marks on his neck.  Those have never been publically explained.  Moreover, the "suicide" if that's what it was, was simultaneous with the first release of testimony implicating many powerful people in Epstein's pedophile ring and the coverup of his first conviction.

With every reason to believe that Epstein was about to commit suicide, or be murdered, he was somehow allowed to have the means and opportunity to kill himself - either that, or he was murdered in his cell.

India Stirs the Pot in Kashmir

There is plenty of blame to go around in the long running India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, but the latest move comes from India.  Kashmir is a popular contender in the "most likely to trigger a nuclear war" trouble spot lottery, and India got a bloody nose in their last attempt to gin up a conflict there, so why now?
Beats me, but religious fanatics in India seem to be driving the bus now.
Government authorities severed internet connections, mobile phone lines and even land lines, casting Kashmir into an information black hole that made it very difficult to discern what was unfolding. For years, India’s Hindu nationalists have wanted to curtail the special freedoms enjoyed by Kashmir, a mountainous, predominantly Muslim territory that has turned into a tinderbox between India and Pakistan, both of which wield nuclear arms. If another conflict starts there, and it turns nuclear, there would likely be millions of casualties, many of them in neighboring China, which would…

Headline: Trump Claims Deadly El Paso, Dayton Shootings Were Caused By ‘Mental Illnes

So when can we schedule his (Trump's) lobotomy.  Can't be soon enough.

That Devil Ag

Agriculture gave us the civilization and the world we live in today, but it was hardly a win-win for the human race during most of its existence.  I previously mentioned a few of the downsides: epidemic disease, malnutrition, war, slavery, bankers and lawyers.

I would like to focus here on how agriculture created hierarchy and the repression of women.  Mobile hunter-gathers (HG) have hardly any property - only what one can carry.  Similarly they have few children, because a woman can usually only carry one.  Once agriculture is created, land becomes the central item of property, and it cannot be moved and is capable of only limited subdivision if it's to sustain the owner.  Since farmers typically have many children, usually only the oldest son can inherit.  Others become landless, with the option of going to war or becoming landless workers.  Almost always, land ownership becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few, and societies usually divide up into the rel…

12 Years, 10 Years, 18 Months - Yesterday?

Supposedly what scientists say is how much time we have to do something drastic about carbon emissions.

It's a crock, but not because drastic climate change isn't happening.  To start with, a lot of climate change is already baked in the cake.  Even if we could stop emitting carbon tomorrow, or yesterday, or even last year,  oceans would continue to rise, the Arctic and Antarctic would continue to melt, and heat waves will continue to get worse.

Of course the more carbon we emit, and the longer we continue emission, the worse it will get.

So it's past time to start thinking about amelioration as well decarbonization.

On a possibly more optimistic note, I recently drove through big chunks of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  One interesting thing I saw was hundreds or maybe thousands of acres of mostly new solar panels. Much of this land is very desolate, so solar panels don't crowd out any other human uses.  The Sun shines nearly every day there.

The US generates a bit …

The Party of Racism

Was anybody surprised by the tapes revealing the sainted Reagan as a virulent racist?  In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Bill, the Republican Party managed to resuscitate itself from the near death experience of the Great Depression by becoming the party of American racism - albeit more of a wink and a nod racism than the old southern racism of lynchings.  So there is nothing surprising about the Party's leading lights talking like this.  Racist Ronnie: 
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan said. Nixon liked the description so much he later repeated it multiple times.

It's a party that's been rotten to the core for at least 50 years.

Your Mileage May Vary: Dem Debate I

The CNN questioners, especially Jake Tapper, my current favorite for most annoying non-Fox News personality, seemed determined that Sanders and Warren get almost all the questions.  Both made effective opening statements, but IMHO, went rapidly downhill from there.  I was deeply annoyed by their seemingly fanatical devotion to Medicare only.  I'm on Medicare (as well as private insurance) and it is mostly great, but Medicare, like any medical insurance system, limits treatments.  That will not change.

Forcing everyone into Medicare is deeply unpopular and the notion that it won't cost anybody but maybe a few rich people is ridiculous.  Warren was my favorite candidate at the start of the debate but she lost a lot of credibility for me with her devotion to Medicare only and the Green New Deal.

I imagine Warren had prepared this zinger in advance: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we real…

Buying Books to Sequester Carbon

I have always thought that books were a good way to sequester carbon.  Much of a book consists of carbon, and books can last a long time.  My faith in this possibly crackpot idea has been slightly shaken by some calculations showing that the carbon cost of making a book can be rather high - in one case as much as 34 kg/kg of book.

Carbon footprints have always looked more like superstition than science to me, especially when the estimates differ by a factor of 30 or so.  In the case cited, much of the calculation seemed pretty dicey - the carbon cost included the carbon incorporated in the book plus the carbon that the tree cut down might have taken from the atmosphere in the future. 

Oh please!  Trees grown for fiber are going to be cut down sometime and wouldn't live forever anyway.  Also, they will be replaced by new trees that will in turn grow and take up carbon, and the carbon taken from the tree is now a durable book.

Of course I now buy most of my books in electronic form.

Sports, Race, and Racism

Nature has a review of a new book called Skin Deep: Journeys in the Divisive Science of Race, by Gavin Evans.  The US now has a frankly racist President, and by it's cowardly acquiescence, a frankly racist political party, the Republicans.  All indications are that the 40% or so of the population that identify as Republicans buy fully into Trump's resurgent racism.  So the topic remains as relevant as ever.

Nonetheless, I can't say that I'm very impressed by Angela Saini's review.  There are just too many places where weak endorsements take the place of fact and logic.  She rightly notes that biology has not been kind to conventional definitions of race - differences among individuals are mostly not correlated with so-called races.  However, when it comes to specifics, she, and perhaps our author, seems confused and dogmatic.

Consider:
Evans zooms in on two focal points of racial stereotypes: sport and intelligence. His section on the success of Kenyan marathon ru…

Modernity

What is modern? 

The root of the word modern seems to mean "of the present time," so in that sense both the hipster living in a NYC condo and the hunter gatherer in the Amazon rain forest today are equally "modern."  Like nearly all words, though, the word has many meanings, some of which are intended to praise new or approved changes in society.

I will use it in just that sense.

To me, one of the dominant social changes of the past couple of hundred years has been the emergence of rights for marginalized social groups and especially for women.  It's easy to forget that less than 100 years ago, women could not vote in most of the US, couldn't vote even a few decades ago in even such a modern state as Switzerland.  Of course women remain severely restricted and oppressed in much of the world even today.

The change has been traumatic for many traditionally male dominated societies.  The Ayatollah Khomeini  apparently became exercised enough to enter politics …

Epstein

One of the mysteries in the Jeffrey Epstein case is how he made his money.  Allegedly a hedge fund guy, he seems to have left almost no visible trace of his investing.  One popular theory is that he made his cash as a pimp/blackmailer.

Given this suspicion, the fact that Epstein turned up severely injured in his cell suggests either unconscionable carelessness or complicity on the part of the prosecutors and jailors.  His list of powerful and wealthy friends, including accused pervs, Clinton, Trump, Prince Andrew, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Alan Dershowitz and many others suggests that there are many among the rich and powerful who would rather have him dead than talking.  He should be in isolation and under twenty-four hour surveillance.

White Privilege

The NYT Magazine has an article entitled:

I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.  The subtitle is: "My college class asks what it means to be white in America — but interrogating that question as a black woman in the real world is much harder to do."

So much so, evidently, that in a very long article ruminating on the question she almost never asks the question, much less gets an answer.  I suppose I got off on the wrong foot by wondering why a Yale professor of poetry would use the word "interrogate" in such a strange way.  In my dictionary, questions are asked and persons are interrogated.  The root of the word interrogate means to ask a question of someone.

I also think that the whole concept of "white privilege" is a bad idea, but not because persons of color don't experience lots of outrages and inconveniences that whites usually don't.  It is a bad idea for a few reasons, one of which is that the root meani…

My Household Robot

I hear that Amazon is working on  a household robot.  Nobody seems to know much about it, but my impression is that it is supposed to be something like Alexa with wheels and cameras.  That sounds like a terrible idea.  A household robot better be able to do some stuff, so it needs lots of smarts and some good manipulators.

"Vesta, get me a beer!"  (Supposedly they are calling it Vesta).

So what are the minimum capabilities a household robot needs?  I have a few ideas.

1)Set the table for dinner.

2)Collect dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

3)Empty clean dishes from dishwasher and put them away.

4)Pick up toys, other stuff off floor and put away.

5)Make the beds.

6)Do the laundry.

Anybody have other ideas that might be implementable in the next decade or so?  Assume your robot has good cameras, can map the house, recognize many common objects, and has manipulators something like hands and arms.

Aristocracy in America: Notes for a Review of “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn.

At the very start of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, the governor, John Winthrop, had declared the philosophy of the rulers: “… in all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjection.” Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States (p. 48). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
We Americans like to think of the US as always the land of opportunity, but the facts are pretty different.In British America, an aristocratic society was established very early.
It seems quite clear that class lines hardened through the colonial period; the distinction between rich and poor became sharper. By 1700 there were fifty rich families in Virginia, with wealth equivalent to 50,000 pounds (a huge sum those days), who lived off the labor of black slaves and white servants, owned the plantations, sat on the governor’s council, served as local magistrates. Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States (p. 47). Harper P…

Joe Biden

I'm a strong anybody but Trumper.  But Joe Biden has a lot of negatives in my mind.

Start with the fact that he is too damn old (so are Trump and Bernie).  Biden's ship took on some water after Harris hulled him in the first debate.  It was a prepared but rather unfair attack, since Harris has subsequently waffled on whether she supports the kind of involuntary busing Biden opposed.

That attack did not bother me much, but Biden's muddled and inarticulate response did.  Trump is a master of the attack from left field, the over the top smear, and if Biden is this slow on his feet on a topic he should have expected, I can imagine Trump running all over him.

I also find Biden's threats to punch Trump childish, but it could be the biggest pay-per-view ever.

How to Make a CRISPR Baby

Many of the steps are the routine ones now used in IVF.  Start with the fertilized egg, grow the embryo until it consists of a number of  cells, but not so many that they aren't still all totipotent.  Treat with CRISPR-Cas9 incorporating the desired genetic changes.  Separate and again grow embryos to multicellular stage, check for embryos incorporating the desired changes, implant and wait 42 weeks.

At least two or three CRISPR babies have already been born.

The scientist responsible has been widely censured for unethical research, but it is unlikely to stop more of it.  His changes were in the gene for a cytokine called CCR5.  The change he made limits or eliminates the expression of the protein.  This gene is involved with inflammatory responses, but details are poorly understood, but one effect is widely known - those who inherit two copies of the so called delta32 variant are essentially immune to some types of HIV, since HIV invades white cells by latching on to CCR5.

There …

Genetically Modified Humans

Not very long from now, 5 years or maybe as much as 10, prospective parents will be able to have their future children's DNA edited to eliminate some or all of those numerous genetic diseases lurking in all our genomes.  Likely enough, some clinics, possibly rogue clinics in nonconforming countries will also offer genetic enhancements - maybe boosting height, or deleting less attractive facial features, tendencies toward obesity or enhancing athletic prowess.

There is a gene found in mice, humans and most other mammals called myostatin.  It's function is to keep the body from building too much energy consuming muscle.  Deleting or down-regulating this gene produces muscular hypertrophy.  CRISPR has already been used to produce super muscled mice, goats, and cattle.  Occasional mutations of this gene have produced some breeds of ultra muscled cattle and even, in at least one case, a super-strong child.

With CRISPR, this kind of modification is cheap and easy.  For now, most maj…

Europe Rising

In women's soccer, that is.  In most other respects it's going to hell in a handbasket, though maybe no as fast as the US and UK.
The US narrowly beat the UK, France, and Spain to go to the finals of the World Cup, but those games were close, especially with France and the UK.  Either could easily have gone the other way.  The US ought to be a favorite in the finals too, especially if Rapinoe and Lavelle can get healthy, but it is clear that Europe can now play very well too.

According to this excellent NYT article, Europe's rapid advance has been built on the adoption of women's teams by the European super clubs.

The explanation for that success is, at first glance, remarkably simple. The well-financed national federations of developed countries that are forces in the men’s game have turned their resources and their expertise on to their women’s teams; the even richer clubs in those countries have invested yet further.That has allowed players, for the most part, to tu…

It's a Hard Luck Life

... if you're a bacterium.

(notes for an eventual review of A Crack in Creation by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg)

The life of a bacterium tends to be nasty, brutish, and short.  About half the bacteria in the ocean are killed every day by even smaller predators, bacteriophages.  Phages are virus that prey on bacteria by invading them, hijacking their cellular machinery to make more copies of themselves, and then exploding the victim bacteria to spread thousands of copies of themselves.

On the other hand, some bacteria  have lived a very long time.  Because they multiply by dividing, it's reasonable to say that every bacteria alive today has been alive since the very first.  Of course the same is true of all the cells of our body, all of which are descended in unbroken living descent from those first bacteria.

So how have bacteria alive today survived this ferocious predation by phages, not to mention all the other hazards of existence?  The answer is that they hav…

Book Review: Black Hole Blues

I bought my copy at a public lecture by the author, Janna Levin.  She cuts a striking figure on stage,  trim and athletic looking in a black leather suit above dramatically high heels, pacing restlessly as she speaks.  Her story is dramatic: the first direct detection of gravitational waves.  Face to face, she is a tiny image of concentrated energy.  I find it easy to imagine that one career is a bit too small to contain this astrophysics professor, author and artist.

Einstein's paper predicting gravitational waves was published in 1916, but their first direct detection needed to wait almost exactly 100 years.  Black Hole Blues, and Other Songs from Outer Space, is mostly the story of the building of the giant instruments that aimed to find Einstein's gravitational waves.

Why did it take so long?  Because gravity is a very weak force - the electrical force between two protons is about a trillion-trillion-trillion times as strong as the electrical force between them.  As a resu…

US 2 - France 1

I really hate the rope-a-dope defense the US spent much of the game in.

Although they couldn't manage to finish, I thought the French played better overall.

US defence was pretty good though, and the US goalie got lots of practice in.

Group Stage B: Promises, Promises

OK, I only made it through the first 90 minutes of the debate so far - I'm old and need my sleep.

Most annoying thing - candidates blabbing endlessly after their time is up.  My cure - either shut off candidates mike after their time is up or allot each candidate the same time at the beginning and shut off their mike after they used up their time.  Also, just shut off Chuck Todd's mike.

Overall impression: see title.  Much is promised, details obscure.

Kamala Harris and Bernie probably the most effective, but I don't trust Harris and hate the thought of Bernie being the candidate.  Joe wasn't terrible, but he and Bernie are too damn old.

Williamson was actually interesting, and Mayor Pete was more concrete than most.  Yang had an interesting point about jobs and robots but was otherwise the invisible man.  He and the others can go home - don't call us, and don't expect us to call you.

The Worst Thing About Women's Soccer

The soccer hooligans.

Or holliganettes, as they are more technically known.

After England's devastating 3-0 win over Norway, drunken mobs of moms and preteen girls took to the streets of Le Havre, burning and looting wherever they went.  Some were armed with Nerf versions of baseball and cricket bats and plastic water bottles.

The local gendarmerie were overwhelmed.  Some were seen bloody and weeping in the streets.

A few old timers said that it was the worst thing they had seen since the war.

Locals blamed the Brits.

Spit and No Polish

I almost felt sorry for Eric Trump, who got spit on by a waitress.  I don't approve of spitting on people, public figures or no, though I do sympathize with the motivation.*

But Eric, come on!  He's practically the most obscure Trump, and certainly the most picked on by the likes of Colbert.  There have to be more deserving Trumps.

*Full disclosure:  I did once spit at a parked (and empty) car with an offensive bumper sticker.  No harm was done to car, bumper, bumper sticker or street, but I do feel some shame about the whole thing.


Dem Debates: Group Stage A

I've now looked at a few of the reactions by the media and am totally unimpressed.  In my opinion, nobody looked great and nobody looked very bad, except Tim Ryan, who got gutted by Tulsi Gabbard for his ill-considered blather about needing to "stay engaged" in Afghanistan.  His weak comeback that if we let the Taliban thrive, they would fly planes at our towers again was destroyed when Gabbard pointed out that the Taliban didn't attack us, it was al Qaeda, and they came from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan.

Nobody in the media elite seemed to find this interesting in the least.  The questions the moderators asked were not as stupid as those we have seen in past debates, but they weren't very pointed either.  Washington Governor Inslee, running on climate change, was challenged by somebody who pointed out that carbon taxes had failed in his state as well as in France and Australia.

Nobody talked about the cost of any of the extravagant programs proposed - probably …

Football: A Modest Proposal

It's World Cup time, so it's time for the next edition of CIP's ideas for fixing soccer.  (Actually the games I've seen have been very exciting).

1)Keep the damn time on the scoreboard clock.  I mean really.

2)Replace the ridiculous penalty shot shootouts with a seven on seven overtime.

3)Get rid of penalty shots altogether.  Replace with hockey style time in the penalty box.

4)Experiment with replacing the throw in with a kick in.  (Pele's suggestion).

5)Replace the stupid group and knockout system with a seven round Swiss System tournament. This could eliminate the need to play off ties.  Each team plays seven games and winner has highest score after seven rounds.

Not Enough Guns

The Golden State Warriors started the playoffs with three of the greatest shooters in the game.  This tended to obscure the fact that they didn't really have any others who could consistently hit the open three.  Once their number one scorer went down they struggled but battled their way into the finals, with Klay and Steph consistently doubled.  Even when Klay went down, they were in the game until the final seconds.

Toronto had at least seven guys who could shoot, and six who were hitting threes.  In the end, they had more strength in numbers.

Next year looks tough for the Warriors, even if both Klay and KD sign up for more.  Both are likely to miss much or all of next season.

They badly need a quality shooting guard or two and a stretch 4 who can hit the corner 3.  A center who could put up big numbers would also be nice.

Dynasties tend to be brief in today's NBA.  Free agency, the salary cap, and the wear and tear of 100 plus games combine to bring down the mighty.

Edward O. Wilson

I recently wrote a review of Wilson's latest book, Genesis, here.  Wired has a new interview with Wilson, which discusses his life and work, and Genesis in particular.

The centerpiece of Genesis is Wilson's theory of group selection.  In the interview, Wilson makes a point of the validation of his model using mathematical modelling.

The interview is highly recommended.

Book Review: She Has Her Mother's Laugh

by Carl Zimmer.

Lee recommended this book to me, and it is really excellent.  It took me a while to read it, since I was busy with other things, and because I like to take time digest what I've read.  I have taken three graduate/undergraduate courses in evolution and human genomics in the last couple of years, but I was very gratified that Zimmer still had a lot to teach me.

It's aimed at a popular audience, but it is wide ranging and admirably documented with hundreds of endnotes.  Zimmer is a talented writer, and he knows how to tell a story and how to explain the sometimes complex workings of heredity.  He does an admirable job of explaining both the history and the latest (up to 2015) developments in this rapidly developing field.

If you take a biology or evolution course you will get a kind of cartoon version of Mendel's and Darwin's work and thought.  The reality is considerably more nuanced, and Zimmer will explain it, as well as the many steps that led to the m…

Your Genome is a Mess

Your genome, and mine, are cluttered with trash.  Some of it is mostly just useless, only occasionally becoming dangerous, like the one million plus Alu units in your genome.  These Alu units each consist of about 300 base pairs each, interspersed at random places in the genome, and have no known function except propagating themselves - classic junk DNA.  Every time a cell divides, your body wastes a lot of energy duplicating these 300 million base pairs.

Each of us also is likely to be packing around a number of dangerous recessive alleles - gene copies which don't do much damage unless you inherit a copy from each parent.  These are a good reason to avoid excessive inbreeding.  Overly inbred populations like Ashkenazi Jews, many Arabs, and some Indian Jati have a heavy load of genetic disease in consequence.

Gene copying in humans is a rather precise process, with only about one mutation in ten billion base pair copies, but with 3 billion base pairs to be copied in every cell di…

Fixing The Court

Republicans have made a multi-decade project of peopling the federal courts with anti-abortion and pro-business ideologues.  Mayor Pete has an idea for fixing this - he wants the Supreme Court to have 5 Republican and 5 Democratic party appointees plus 5 supposedly non-partisan justices appointed for one year terms by the other ten.

This is a pretty terrible idea, based on the number of problems I can see in ten minutes contemplation.  What if, say, the Republican Party is burned to the ground as justice and common sense dictate, and is replaced, say by two parties?  How much of their time will the ten spend wrangling over what other five to appoint?  Will they need to hire and supervise investigative staffs.  This would also be a pretty major wound to the Constitution.

I have a proposal which, IMHO, is both better and simpler.  Require all judges to be confirmed by a supermajority of the Senate, say 2/3 or maybe 3/5.  This should ensure that no extremists get appointed, or at least t…

Emerson wrote...

"...When you strike at a king, make sure you use a milkshake."

OK, I'm pretty sure that is not what he really said, since milkshakes probably hadn't been invented yet.  This latest fad in political pseudo violence strikes me as a pretty bad idea, even it was mildly amusing the first time it happened.

It can be a cheap laugh at already ridiculous figures, but mainly it just makes their supporters mad - and they are already mad enough to be very dangerous.  Calmly pointing out that their ideas are bad is less satisfying, but who knows, it might even work sometimes.

Cracked

Image
I remember my first portable computer.  It was only slightly smaller than a D6 Caterpillar tractor, and it weighed about the same, but it did have a nice nine-inch monochrome screen with green letters on black.  You had to dial a number on your old-fashioned landline phone and then place the screeching headset into the double cupped receiver to connect by 300 baud modem.  If you whistled while you worked, it would probably crash.  I believe that was before my back surgery.





I read recently that 86% of women devalue a date who has a cracked cell phone screen.  Not so terribly long ago I paid good money for Pixel 2 XL, which, despite the XL was fairly thin and light - until, that is, I let them sell me a screen protector and a massive rubber case.  It is still slightly smaller and lighter than a Bobcat S70 skid loader.



Which would be OK except for the fact that my screen is cracked.

Or maybe it's just the screen protector.  I'm afraid to take it off for fear the whole thing will …

Wolfram on Gell-Mann

Lubos has posted a great reminiscence of Murray Gell-Mann by Stephen Wolfram.  It's one of the best things I've read on both the man and his science - both sympathetic and deeply insightful. 

Highly recommended.

Geeks and Freaks

I have frequently mentioned that modern genomics strongly supports the idea that race is fundamentally a social construct.  What that means is is that most human genetic diversity is not linked to conventional ideas of race.  It doesn't mean that conventional ideas of race are unimportant or imaginary.  Social constructs have great power - another couple of social constructs one might mention are money and nations.  Your inferred race has great power to affect your life and life prospects.

Probably the most usual way race is identified is by skin color.  Of course there are a number of dark skinned peoples in the world who aren't especially related: Africans, Australian natives, Melanesians, and some South Asians.  It's also true that Africans as a group have more genetic diversity than the rest of the world combined.

However, ancestry related differences are not imaginary.  About one third of the humans, mainly from Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa, have adult …

Congress is Pissed

... and can you blame them?  All they wanted was for Robert Mueller to do their job for them, and he didn't.

Tough luck Nancy. 

Just impeach the bastard.

Book Review: The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time and space are central not only to our common sense, but also to physics and philosophy.  The title phrase is excerpted from the very short surviving fragment that is our oldest writing of Greek philosophy, by Anaximander of Miletus.  Rovelli's examination of time is based on modern physics, but it leans heavily on ancient philosophy as well, with Aristotle, Augustine, Husserl, Kant, Hegel, Reichenbach, and many others making appearances.  Paul McCartney, the Grateful Dead, and the Mahabharata also get quoted.  Most chapters start with a quote from one of Horace's Odes.

So what is the nature of time?  Rovelli's first exhibit is due to Aristotle, who saw time as the ordering of events.
Aristotle is the first we are aware of to have asked himself the question “What is time?,” and he came to the following conclusion: time is the measurement of change. Things change continually. We call “time” the measurement, the counting of this change.  Rovelli, Carlo. The Order of Time…

Murray Gell-Mann 1929-2019

George Johnson has a nice obituary for Murray Gell-Mann, who until his death yesterday at age 89 was probably the greatest living physicist.  He was a giant of the golden age of particle physics.

A la recherche du temps perdu

Not Proust, but cosmology.

We seem to have lost about a billion years of our history.  Recent careful measurements of the age of the universe have produced a puzzle.  We were pretty sure that the Universe was 13.8 billion years old, and we had two kinds of evidence for that, both stemming from measurement of the expansion of the Universe.  The Planck space telescope's measurements of certain standard rulers, the so-called baryon acoustic oscillations, provided standard rulers and measurements of distant supernovae and galaxies provided so-called standard candles.

Now, however, a very careful new analysis combined with new data seems to show a Universe about a billion years younger than previously thought, or, rather, two conflicting estimates of that age.  Unless there's some major error, and the measurements were very carefully done, we have a problem with our basic model, the Lambda CDM model, which combines dark energy and cold dark matter.

Some details in this news story: 

I. The Persecution and Destruction of the Humanities...

at the hands of the sciences, engineering, and capitalism triumphant.

Myth or reality?

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the field of humanities includes, but is not limited to, the following subjects:Modern languagesClassical languagesLinguisticsLiteratureHistoryJurisprudencePhilosophyArchaeologyComparative religionEthicsHistory, criticism and theory of the arts Art and music left tangible evidence in the prehistoric record tens of thousands of years before we had writing and concrete evidence of history and philosophy, but the surely the impulses behind them are ancient as well.  The Western tradition in philosophy, science and history all have their origin in ancient Greek civilization.  Philosophy and science show their first traces in works of the Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, who seem to have sought for naturalistic explanations for the phenomena of the world.

Philosophy's greatest contribution seems to have been critical thinking, and …

Desperately Seeking The Next...

Game of Thrones.  Not me, but every major supplier of streaming media.  How can they make the magic money machine crank out viewers again?

It's a bit presumptuous of me to have a strong opinion, since I only watched a couple of episodes, but hey, presumptuous ought to be my middle name.  In my defense, I did read four of the books before I gave up after concluding that (a)the series wasn't getting anywhere, or at least not fast enough to hold my interest, and (b)George R R Martin was a sadistic sicko.

But back to the topic: what were the secrets of the success of GOT?  My guess: sex, violence, nudity, sadism, and a multithreaded plot of enormous scope.  And dragons.  And other monsters.

Of course nobody should be confident that that's what the viewing beast will want next time, but those are timeless themes.  My favorite set of books in the SVNSP department is the John Carter of Mars series, though unfortunately it has already been made into a fairly unsuccessful movie.  M…

Book Review: Genesis, the deep origins of society

(by Edward O. Wilson)

Wilson has written thirty some books, several of them path breaking, and many of them thick tomes, and this is his latest.  The subject is one of my favorites, and he brings his vast erudition and insight to the task.  This is a very short book, only 153 pages total and less than 120 uncrowded pages if you subtract the front and back matter.  At 89, I guess Wilson has slowed more than a bit.  He remains a graceful writer.

This is probably a good book if you want a very short introduction to the fundamental ideas of sociobiology, but I was disappointed, partly because I was pretty familiar with the contents and especially because I have read his earlier and far more comprehensive book The Social Conquest of  Earth, which covers much the same ground in more detail.  Also disappointing was the very short section on the origins of human society, largely based on plausible speculations with very little supporting detail.  He can still come up with some gems, though:

T…

Altruistic Molecules

The word combination is a bit bizarre.  Altruism, putting others before oneself, does not seem like something that could be attributed to a molecule.  I think there is a way of seeing how it makes sense, however. 

There is a hierarchy of complexity in evolution, with molecules cooperating to form cells, bacterial cells cooperating to form eukaryotes, cells cooperating to form animals and organs, and animals cooperating to form societies.

Altruism seems contrary to the principles of evolution since survival of self and progeny trumps everything else.  Why would those first primitive molecules that could self-reproduce, however imperfectly, sometimes sacrifice themselves to help produce others molecules?  Nonetheless, that's exactly what happens in every living cell.  Of course we know why this works - because this sacrifice ends up producing more molecules like themselves, virtual if not precisely actual copies.  What is hard, though, is seeing how the cooperation could develop in …

Marx Was Right...

...said Edward O Wilson.  He added that except he had the wrong species - Marx was right about ants and wrong about people.  This is a sharper critique than might be obvious, since we, or maybe I should say Wilson, knows a lot about the details of their biology that make ants good communists, and the vast differences that make humans unsuited.

This kind of critique, and the fact that he regarded Marxism as a religion rather than a serious scientific or philosophical idea, helped make him unpopular with his Harvard Marxist colleagues like Lewontin and Marx sympathizers like Gould. 

What really outraged them, though, was Sociobiology, the idea of scientifically studying the genetic and evolutionary basis of societies, human and animal.  This notion managed to be anathema both to the left and the right.  To the left, because it undermined the theoretical rationale of Marxism, and to the right because it struck an equally deadly blow to more conventional religions.  If society is neither …

Heart of a Dragon

For me, the Warriors vs. Rockets series this year was one of the most incredibly dramatic ever.  Every game was ferociously contested, and dramatic elements were abundant.  Steph Curry goes down with a dislocated finger.  James Harden has both eyes injured and bloody.  Both come back, and Harden continues to play brilliantly.  Curry, with injured finger and ankle, has several weak games.

For the first five games, each team holds its own court, with Warriors barely winning game five after their best player, maybe the best player in basketball, Kevin Durant, goes out for the series with a leg injury.

Back to Houston, with its Hall of Fame backcourt of Harden and Chris Paul, ferocious power forward P J Tucker, and deadeye shooter Eric Gordon.  Warrior's Klay Thompson is deadly for the first half.  Rocket James Harden, maybe the most unstoppable offensive player in basketball, matches him.  Curry has his first scoreless playoff half in history.

The final half was an epic see-saw battl…

Confederacy of Dunces: Boeing Department

Boeing Board of Directors is heavily populated with financial engineers and celebrity idiots.  No wonder the damn planes crashed.

Revolution in Venezuela

Trump and pals have been trying to engineer a revolution against Maduro.  Putin is trying to keep him in.  So far, the revolt is not going so well.  This fits with a lot of other experience we've had lately.  Angry people are not enough to overthrow a dictator with loyal generals and a few armored vehicles.  That goes double when a lot of the impetus is coming from an outside power - namely us.

Caticide

Feral cats are killing off many of the indigenous small animals of Australia.  Australia has responded with a program of mass felicide.


In the deep winter weeks of last July, Shane Morse and Kevin Figliomeni nearly always got up before the sun rose. They awoke next to the remains of a campfire or, occasionally, in a roadside motel, and in the darkness before dawn they began unloading poisoned sausage from their refrigerated truck. The sausage was for killing cats. One morning near the end of the season, Morse and Figliomeni left the Kalbarri Motor Hotel on the remote western coast of Australia, where they dined on steak and shellfish the night before, and drove along the squally coastline. They kept their eyes fixed to the sky. If it rained, there would be no baiting that day.

Free College

I recently found an old tuition receipt from my undergrad days.  College wasn't free then, but it was cheap: $99 per term.  In constant dollars, that would be about $800 dollars today.  The average equivalent for state universities today is about $5000/term, up to $25,000 per term at private colleges, roughly tripling in real dollars since then.  Meanwhile, the US GDP per capita in real, inflation adjusted dollars has roughly tripled since then.  It's absurd to claim that our then much poorer country could afford nearly free college or at least cheap college then but can't now.

Elizabeth Warren's proposal for free tuition at public colleges is an idea whose time is overdue, as is her proposal to forgive substantial portions of existing college debt.  College debt is now the largest component of personal debt in the US, and it exerts a crippling effect on the economy.  Heavily indebted students can't afford to buy houses, start businesses or establish families.

A ne…