Showing posts from 2020

In the Beginning

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. ............... Genesis 2:7, KJVModern theories of the origin of life, call it clay.  Clay, it happens, can catalyze the formation of strands of RNA up to a few dozen bases long.  It can also catalyze the formation of lipid and protein vesicles which have some of the properties of cells.  Such vesicles can provide convenient reaction chambers for RNA molecules to form longer chains, possibly reproduce, and maybe even serve as templates for linking amino acids into simple proteins.Sound plausible?  Hey, don't blame me, it's Genesis.

Breathing Lessons

Once upon a time, two new animal body plans were invented  - OK, it was during the Triassic, 230 million years or so ago. They were, respectively, the prototypes of the mammals and the dinosaurs.  Because the Triassic was notoriously low on oxygen, with maybe half the concentration of today, breathing was tough, and lots of the less talented perished.  Mammals had an innovation, the diaphragm, which allowed walking and breathing at the same time, an advantage not enjoyed by lizards. Dinosaurs had another, a two cycle lung.The mammalian lung is a cul-de-sac.  Air comes in and leaves by the same path.  The dino lung, though, is a sort of two cycle lung that separates inhaled and exhaled air except at the ultimate intake and exit.  This lung, subsequently inherited by, among others, birds, is more efficient.  At 5000 feet, the bird lung is about twice as efficient as the mammalian version.  Given that during the Triassic and early Jurassic oxygen levels were more like those now found at …

Hidden Agendas

I sometimes read a little Scott Aaronson.  He is obviously a bright and, I think, extremely sincere guy, but many of the questions he is interested in don't interest me that much - like a recent discussion of whether rational thinkers (or Bayesian agents with common priors) can honestly disagree.  That particular notion is not very interesting to me since I don't really believe humans can usefully be approximated by either Bayesian agents with common priors (or rational thinkers, for that matter.)Anyway, I wound up reading a post on Robin Hanson.  In it he vehemently argues that Robin Hanson is absolutely not insincere or possessed of a hidden agenda.  I found this amusing since in the same post he discusses a recent book of Hanson's whose theme is that much of human activity is not directed towards its ostensible end but rather consists of "signalling."  Which pretty much by definition is insincere behavior with a hidden agenda.

Heat Death

The Permian-Triassic extinction was the granddaddy of all post Cambrian mass extinctions.  While the cause has been contentious, evidence has piled up in favor of Death by Greenhouse - a tremendous increase in global temperatures caused by very high levels of carbon dioxide, coupled with low levels of oxygen.  Plants and animals do not do well at high temperature, and high ocean temperatures can limit marine oxygen.Seen from our vantage point so long after, the Permian extinction was a repeat of what happened at the end of the Devonian, itself the first of what we now call greenhouse extinctions. Many more were destined to come at the end of the Triassic, multiple times in the Jurassic and Cretaceous, and ending with the last-known greenhouse extinction at the end of the Paleocene epoch, some 60 million years ago. But none were ever to be so great as the Permian event, or to unleash a more diverse assemblage of animals in the aftermath of extinction.Ward, Peter. A New History of Life…

Fascist Party, USA

The Republican Party has been jumping thru its a*****e to please Trump so long now that it never even noticed that it had become the fascist, or maybe, monarchist party of the US.  The constant barrage of obvious lies, the obsequious fawning, the failure to even present any platform beyond fidelity to the glorious leader, the interminable Castro-like ranting speech, the open flouting of the Hatch Act, the contempt for the tradition in pimping the people's house as another vulgar Trump palace are all signs of a party bent on destroying democracy in the US.I feel what any decent people in Germany must have felt in 1933.

Minor Crimes Against Nature

Trying to whistle the Queen of the Night's aria from The Magic Flute.  Me.

Tractatus Philosophicus

Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, but the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing.  What did the second wisest man in Athens know?Descartes concluded that he existed because he thought.What did he think?Schopenhauer believed that the World consisted of Will and Idea.Who was Will?Bertrand Russell concocted a fundamental challenge to set theory based on the old puzzle that in a certain town the barber shaved only those who did not shave themselves.Who shaved Bertrand Russell?Thales is considered the first Greek philosopher.He believed everything in the World consisted of water.How many times did Thales have to get up to pee every night?Saint Thomas Aquinas found seventeen proofs that God existed.How many proofs do we have that Aquinas existed?Baruch Spinoza identified God and Nature.Did he pick them out of a lineup, or what?Was either one ever convicted?Karl Marx invented Dialectical Materialism.He is mostly famous for his really great beard.What dialect did he actually speak?

For a smart guy, you don't sweat much

Actually that may have it backwards.  Humans have about twice as many sweat glands as chimps, why?According to Bill Bryson's The Body: A Guide for Occupants, the reason may be that we needed a more potent cooling system for our big brains.No doubt it also helps for running in the Sun.

Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

In The Devil in the White City, author Erik Larson interleaved the story of Chicago's Columbian Exposition with that of a particularly depraved serial killer operating nearby at the same time.  Similarly, his also nonfiction Thunderstruck tells the story of Marconi's development of radio and another sensational crime.  I bought the book because I was interested in the early development of radio.While the crime at the center of the book has many peculiar and suspenseful aspects, I was quite disappointed in the history of Marconi.  Larson has unearthed many stories of his fanatical dedication, and his struggles with rivals and competitors, the book, and I expect the author, is almost entirely innocent of any discussion of the actual technical difficulties encountered and overcome.There is much about giant towers and antennas, their destruction by weather, giant sparks illuminating the darkness and shattering the silence with their thunderous booms, their is almost nothing about …

A Reach

A man's reach should exceed his grasp...............Robert BrowningYeah, thanks for the bad advice, Bob.In my case, the exceeding now consists mostly of still buying math and physics books.  This despite shelves, real and digital, groaning with books yet unread.  Probably more to the point, I'm too damn old to ever finish them, and, in fact, probably much too dumb to absorb much math anymore anyway.Oh well.

Review: The City We Became, by N. K. Jemison

I had read another trilogy by this author, and quite liked it, but I can’t say the same about this book.  The peculiar notion than propels it is that cities can reach a certain stage where they are born, and it is New York’s time.  There are malign powers that oppose this, and some humans become atavars of the city to facilitate the birth.  They constitute the principal characters in the book.They are chosen, given certain magical powers which they need to learn how to use, and need to fight the malign power or powers.  Although this is allegedly science fiction, it is really just magic, occasionally embellished by more or less silly references to many-worlds, muons, quanta and even, at one point, including the Navier-Stokes equation.The most tedious elements of the book are frequent disquisitions on various hocus pocus stuff that feels like a bad nightmare combining New Age BS with primitive folk legends and poorly digested multi-universe speculations.“The problem,” the Woman continu…

Reading in the Time of Quarantine - John Grisham

Has John Grisham sold more books than there are atoms in the Milky Way?  Not quite, but close.  He is my go-to author for page turning suspense, and fortunately, he has written a lot of books.  I have bought 12 so far this quarantine, and have read ten.  A commentary and some capsule reviews below.I expect that Grisham is fabulously wealthy by now, with hundreds of millions of books sold and a potful of highly successful movies adaptations, but he started out as a street lawyer, defending the little guys and fighting the big guys, and his sympathies as an author are clearly with the little guys.His villains tend to be the evil rich corporations, and the many inequities and iniquities of the legal system and his sympathies with the people it can grind up.  He is a southerner, and race is another frequent theme.  His bad guys tend to be very bad and his good guys more nuanced.A Time to Kill: Grisham’s first novel, and it failed to sell well – until his second novel became a zillion sell…


I remember being surprised as a student when I learned that a solid body, rotating on other than its principal axis, could suddenly shift to start rotating about another axis.  It turns our that this phenomenon can occur even with planets, and when it happens, it is called True Polar Wander, or TPW.  It turns out the Earth has experienced a  few of these events, where the axis of rotation changes by sixty degrees or so.  As you might expect, these tend to be rather catastrophic events.  Imagine, say, New York winding up at the North Pole.  Typically these result in mass extinctions.So what could produce such a thing?  Perhaps a major volcanic eruptive event or mountain building episode might place a major mass in an unbalanced position with respect to the axis.

Racism USA

In an earlier comment, William Connolley wrote that he thought the US was "wealthist but not racist."  I want to assure him that he is quite wrong.  The history of racism in the US started with slavery but continued with Jim Crow.  The cardinal principle of Jim Crow was denying blacks the right to vote.  This policy was ensured by law and violence, with widespread lynching being the go to sanction.  The passage of the voting rights act during the 1960's was the first solid hole in this policy, and it turned the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican.Ever since, the Republican Party has depended on racist support for it core voters.  The scumbags of the Republican Supreme court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and ever since the Republican Party has made a career of suppressing the black vote.  Techniques today are a bit more subtle than in the hay day of the KKK - burdensome voter registration rules, placing voting sites far from predominantly Black neighborho…

Men are from Mars...

...and women and bacteria too.
Early Earth had some disadvantages as a place for life to start.  For one thing, there was little if any land - perhaps a few volcanoes poking up here and there, and water does not like nucleic acids like RNA.
Mars, on the other hand, had several things Earth lacked, as well as things Earth had, like water.  In particular it had deserts and ice caps, both of which Earth lacked.  For that reason, there is a significant number of origin of life partisans who think that life started on Mars and then got transferred to Earth.
It turns out that Earth does have a lot of stuff we got from Mars - a billion tons or so.  Asteroid impacts on Mars blast a bunch of Mars out into the solar system, and some of it makes its way to Earth.  Simulations show that bacterial spores could potentially survive the trip.
These considerations are one reason that the search for traces of ancient life on Mars are taken seriously.

Critical Structure Corruption

I got the blue screen of death on my old computer today, together with the title error message.  Microsoft immediately began its repairs.
It occurred to me that the same things was exactly what was wrong with my country: Critical Structure Corruption. Too bad I can't just push the resent button to flush all that corruption into the sewer.  Of course there wll be a chance in November, but Windows 10 is a lot quicker.

Distraction in his aspect

How to distract myself from horrors being done to my country has become a problem.  Some reading helps, but my latest John Grisham novel turns out to have a theme similar to much of the chaos Trump has unleashed: police overreach and out of control police violence.  That is just too topical.
Jigsaw puzzles are good, but hard on my elderly eyesight.
I've tried science fiction, but it isn't really doing it for me.  The old classics of the golden age I have mostly read and others are just a little too overcome by events.  The cyber punk themed stuff I find a bit tiresome - though I did like Neuromancer.  I keep searching for a writer I can really like.  If an author starts out with his own 500 word invented vocabulary, I usually give up in disgust.
So what about the hard stuff?
I have been looking into a few origin of life books, but I may need more chemistry.  The one I'm reading now is painfully slow at getting to any point.  The authors use the phrase "We will argue...&qu…

Things Fall Apart

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind...Proverbs 11:29
Tens of thousands of Americans are dying, and millions sickened, due to malice, incompetence, and stupidity of one man, with the acquiescence of  his corrupt and cowardly party.  That is bad, it is true, but I'm more upset about the roughly 40% of Americans who still applaud his fascist path of destruction through America.
Why so?  
For a few, I imagine, it is greed.  Trump has been good to the stock market and especially to the big hedge fund player who manipulate it.  He was lucky enough to catch three years of the boom that started under Obama.
For most, I think, it is anger.  Anger is lifeblood of fascism, though somewhat ironically, Trump and friends are the embodiment of the self dealing and corruption that is one of the things that they are angry about.  Of course a lot of that anger originates in racism.  Americans who have not completed college have had a rough three decades, and every demagogue knows tha…

Old Yeller - and the state of rhetoric

Joe Biden yelled at me for a while today.  I think he was talking about the economy, but it was hard to listen what with him yelling all the time.
Joe has been a professional politician since Demosthenes was in a short toga, so it is a little surprising that he never learned how to give a speech, or at least modulate his voice a little.  A loud voice of constant intensity is almost as soporific as its quiet counterpart, and lots more annoying.  Obama might have allowed one to get cat naps in the long pauses between words, but at least he displayed some animation and variety.
No doubt Biden wants to counter Trump's claims that he is "sleepy" but, Joe, Joe, this is not the way to do it.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I …

Minimum Wage

Economic theory says that in a competitive economy for workers, an increase in the minimum wage should cause job losses.  Experience of minimum wage increases in various US States and in the UK shows that this has not been the case.
Why not?  The most reasonable explanation is monopsony, theequivalent of monopoly power in employment opportunities.  Much other data shows that this indeed the case.  Anne Case and Angus Deaton discuss the details and implications in their book Deaths of Despair.
When labor markets are competitive, a government-imposed minimum wage that is higher than the going wage will cause employers to lay off workers. This is what the economics textbooks commonly say. There have been many studies that have looked for such outcomes. Although the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009, many states have raised their state minimum wage since then, providing many opportunities for studying the effects. The most comprehensive and persuasive study to date, by the e…

The Meaning of Life

One View:
Our contention is that, despite the remarkable complexity of living order, the aggregate function of the biosphere is a simple one: it opens a channel for energy flow through a domain of organic chemistry that would otherwise be inaccessible to planetary processes.
Smith, Eric. The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth (p. 28). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition. 
This has implications for the probability of life occurring on other planets and in the Universe.  The alternate view is that its origin on Earth was something of a freak accident.
The fundamental idea is that free energy flows tend to create complexity, and that life is something of a phase change, or perhaps a series of phase changes.

Origin of Life on Earth

A great mystery is how living matter can be created from nonliving. This puzzle is so deep that many creationists  insist that it could not happen by natural means, and required direct intervention of a creator.  Of course zillions of cells manage the feat every day, without any obvious supernatural assistance, but they do have the benefit of an army of cellular machines which are exquisitely designed for the purpose, machines which are manufactured by the cells themselves, from blueprints stored in their DNA.
So how did the whole intricate process arise? The trick is to get enough of the cellular apparatus in place for something like evolution to take place.
Cellular life requires both metabolism and heredity as a minimum, but together they pose something of a chicken and egg problem.  In modern cells neither can exist without the other, but which came first?
Of course such questions are not yet answerable so they are controversial among researchers.  Also controversial is the crucial q…

A Miracle of Rare Device

Book Review: The Devil in the White City, by Erik LarsonOne of the stars of the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 was Gustave Eiffel’s marvelous tower.That fair celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.With the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the New World approaching, the United States wanted to do something to top Paris, showcase the arrival of the US as a world power and center of technological innovation.A fierce competition emerged between US cities to host and build the Fair.To the surprise and consternation of the cities of the East, the upstart Midwest city of Chicago won the competition.The World’s Fair and Columbian Exhibition of 1893 was Chicago’s chance to show that it wasn’t just the dirty, smelly, hog butcher of the world, and they mustered most of the great architects in the US to design it.Daniel Burnham was the lead architect and Fredrick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park and Biltmore, designed the grounds and landscape.The fair featured a…

The Second Coming...

...of the coronavirus is here in the USA.  Thanks to a despicably corrupt President and some nitwit governors, we have seen a new peak of infections here.  Where it will end, we don't know, but here is what W. B. Yeats had to say on the subject 100 years ago (very slightly edited):
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion whale body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant …

Mathematics Consists of...

...two mutually unintelligible languages, one spoken by mathematicians...
In his book on Differential Geometry, Loring Tu includes a story about a remark by Physics Nobel winner C. N. Yang.
“Gauge fields are deeply related to some profoundly beautiful ideas of contemporary mathematics, ideas that are the driving forces of part of the mathematics of the last 40 years, . . . , the theory of fiber bundles.” Convinced that gauge fields are related to connections on fiber bundles, he tried to learn the fiber-bundle theory from several mathematical classics on the subject, but “learned nothing. The language of modern mathematics is too cold and abstract for a physicist”
Tu represents that his book is intended to be intelligible to physicists, and prerequisites are just his previous book "Introduction to Manifolds,"  a bit of point set topology, and, evidently, some abstract algebra. Seven chapters into the present book,…


Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...............Yeats, The Second Coming
I watched a bit of Obama's last speech to the Washington Correspondent's Annual dinner.  My reaction was a deep shame that the US could have fallen so far in four years.
How did we go from Obama to the present horrifying incumbent so fast?

US Covid-19

California, Texas, and Florida are the new centers* of US infection.  California has already passed New Jersey, and we can only hope that it won't challenge New York).  Most of the blame goes to the the incoherent and counter productive policies of the Trump administration.  The contrast between countries that handled coronavirus well (New Zealand, Vietnam, Norway and even China) and those run by morons (Brazil, US, UK, Sweden) is stark.
*Earthquakes have epicenters, pandemics do not.

Revolution for the Hell of It

My State made the national news today because yesterday a man was shot in a scuffle between demonstrators trying to tear down a statue of Juan de Oñate in Albuquerque and a group calling themselves the New Mexico Civil Militia..  Oñate was a Spanish explorer, conquistador, and first governor of the Spanish province of Santa Fe.  He is a controversial figure due to his savage response to the murder of a baker's dozen of Spanish settlers by Indians from the Acoma Pueblo.
His response destroyed the Pueblo, killed 800-1000, and enslaved many more.  Surviving men over 25 had their right foot cut off.  Oñate was eventually convicted of excessive force by Spain and temporarily exiled from New Mexico and Mexico City.
His name and statues have long been prominent and controversial.  My sons graduated from Oñate High School here in Las Cruces.  One of his statues had its right foot cut off some years back - a condign punishment if ever there was one.
Interestingly enough, Oñate was married to …

Are Races Real?

No and yes.  Biologically, they are not very real, since the variations we see between so-called races are small compared to those within any of them.  However, as social constructs, they can be very real, strongly influencing the ways people interact with each other and how they view themselves.  
Social constructs (including money, nations, corporations, etc.) have tremendous influence on our lives, but they also are pretty ephemeral compared to biological realities.  Of course there are real differences among people that are correlated with ancestry.  Some time after leaving Africa, most Eurasians developed lighter colored skin, which seems to be adaptive in climates where sunlight is in short supply.  Most of these differences are as superficial as the melanin proportion in our skin cells.
Since those who first developed racial theories were light skinned, it was not coincidental that they picked skin color as a defining characteristic, and their own type as the highest.    Who got …

Unsurprising Story of the Week: Billy Barr was a High School and College Bully

Dana Millbank reports that our Attorney General, like his boss, was a childhood bully:
Apparently he and his three brothers were known as the "bully Barrs."
The story indicates that favorite targets included Jews and students against the Vietnam War.  Barr, like his chief, Cadet Bone Spurs, did not serve and has told conflicting stories about whether he even registered for the draft as he was legally required to.
Many or most childhood bullies outgrow it, but evidently the more morally depraved among them do not.

SAT, ACT, Bye Bye?

If you want to get into university in the US, especially a highly ranked or elite university, you probably need to take either the SAT or ACT exams.  These are slightly different test of your language, mathematical and a few other skills and talents.  They have traditionally been one of the main filters used to select the elect and the damned, college wise.
These exams have been heavily criticised, mostly for the fact that some disadvantaged minorities do poorly on them compared to children of the wealthy and others willing and able to pay for elite high schools and expensive test preparation.  As a result, many elite schools have multiple standards for admission.  If you are a disadvantaged minority or an advantaged legacy (child of graduates) your score is treated as if it were maybe a couple of hundred points higher.  One the other hand, if you are Asian, subtract a hundred points or so.
A few year back, the gigantic California University system was subjected to a new State law that …

Mini Review: The Whistler, by John Grisham

A thriller featuring lawyers, killers, and a corrupt judge, but no (or hardly any) courtroom action.
It must have been exciting, since I blasted through all 474 pages in one day.  My favorite of the last several Grisham's I've read.

Book Review: Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

By Ann Case and Angus Deaton.

The authors start with a puzzle: after many years of declining mortality rates, White Americans in midlife have seen a significant increases in mortality rates in recent decades.  This trend is not seen in other rich countries, though there are bits of it in the UK and especially in Scotland.  A closer look shows that this increase in mortality is almost entirely confined to those without four year college degrees.

The increase in mortality is not the only sign of social dysfunction seen in this group.  Rates of marriage, home ownership, voting and church membership have decreased, while out of wedlock births and damaged families have sharply increased, to name just a few of the many indicators cataloged by the authors.

So what is killing the members of this group?  The major role is played by what the authors call deaths of despair: suicide, drug overdoses, and alcoholism.  The drug overdoses in particular were promoted by a specific set of bad actors, t…

Peaceful Protest

AMENDMENT I [US Constitution]
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The recent days of anger and protest over the murder of George Floyd have shown us plenty of examples of police doing what they seem to do best - beating up peaceful protesters.  Of course the worst examples involve our crypto-fascist President and his chief henchman, William Beria, er, Barr, but is it possible that many of the police just can't recognize a peaceful protester? We do know that when citizens outraged by requirements to be masked illegally occupied a State Capitol building, police were on their best behavior, stepping politely aside.  So what was the difference?  Those protesters proclaimed their peaceful intent by showing up equipped with AK-47s and WalMart flack jacket…

Why I Hate Libertarianism: Part XXIV

I'm a mild mannered man.  OK, that could be an exaggeration.  Let's compromise on a "nonviolent person."  One thing that has long reduced me to incoherent fury is libertarianism.  I remember being outraged by it in high school and college.

So let me try to be slightly more coherent.  I've thought about it a lot, and I think I can finally clearly identify the part I object to.

Man is a social animal.  Not quite as eusocial as an ant or honeybee, but obligately social nonetheless.  The essence of any society is the principle that we are all in this together, and libertarians reject this explicitly.  So, for me, libertarianism is both antisocial and anti-human.

The other part of my anger is watching how libertarianism works in practice.  The US is perhaps the most libertarian society in the advanced world and the result has been a system in which the wealthiest and their corporations loot and pillage the general populace with the support of the government.  Of cours…

Theory and Practice

Some time ago I was flying in an aisle seat when a tiny stewardess was having a tough time closing the overhead compartment directly above me.  I happened to be reading a book on Theory of Vibrations.  The stewardess would grab the compartment door in both hands and do a massive two-handed slam.  From my vantage point directly underneath, I could see that the force of her attempts was generating rather large waves in the compartment door.

After three or more tries she stopped to catch her breath or perhaps to contemplate her choice of career, and I reached up, gently pulled down the door, and pushed it shut with one finger.  By this time her antics had attracted the attention of several nearby passengers who burst into laughter.  I gave her a smile, and she said something like "I'll get you," and went back to her duties.

My point here is that our actions and decisions are guided by a theory of the world. Partly because of the book I was reading, I could form the idea tha…

Well that was Lame: John Locke

One of my besetting faults is a tendency to want to begin at the beginning - a tendency sometimes useful but often disastrous.  So it was in my encounter with noted political philosopher John Locke.  The mistake I made was starting with the first of his two treatises on government.  It is, it turns out, intended to be a "confutation" of the work of Sir John Filmer, an extreme defender of the divine right of kings.  The divine right proposition doesn't have that many modern defenders - Donald Trump and William Barr being the only ones I can think of - so I quickly found Locke's argument tedious.

I only got a short way into the book, but it seems that Filmer derived this supreme authority from the primacy of Adam but didn't otherwise  justify it.  So one sentence was all the argument I needed. 

Consequently, in my Encounter with Prominent Philosophers contest, we have:

Locke - |1|

Measure - 0

Quarantine Days: Book Report

Now that classes are over, what intellectual stimulation I get comes from books and jigsaw puzzles.A few books I have been reading.
John Grisham, The Reckoning: A murder/tragedy in three acts.The main character walks into a church and guns down the popular preacher.The central character is a war hero whose travails as soldier, prisoner of war, and guerilla fighter in the Philippines after the Japanese invasion form the core part one.A why done it.
Isaac Asimov, Foundation: I found this science fiction classic pretty boring.The hard science is either magic or overcome by events, character development is nil, and tense standoffs resolved by Deux Ex Machina.
Dan Simmons, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion: Two self-contained volumes of a four volume series.The reference to Keats in the titles of the book is not incidental.Keats and his poetry are prominently mentioned.The first volume is structured as a series of Cantos, pilgrims’ stories modeled after the Canterbury Tales.The pilgrims in t…

Early Openers

Several States in the US have reopened for business despite little or no evidence that they had Covid-19 under control.  Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida have already seen substantial spikes in infection rates.  Arizona and Wisconsin have had rather modest numbers to date, but Texas and Florida seem poised to become major infection centers.

We can hope that people will display common sense and that big time increases won't happen, but indications to date are not promising.

We should have clear indications by early June.

So what happens if those States are festering masses by then?

Degree of Difference

Mortality figures at all ages have been declining at least since 1900.  This trend is long standing in the advanced countries, but in the US, there has been a break in recent decades in one large demographic group - middle aged non-Hispanic whites.  Among them, we have seen a steady increase in mortality.

Interestingly enough, this increase has occurred almost exclusively among whites without college degrees.  This fact is at the center of a new book by Anne Case and her economics Nobel winning husband Angus Deaton:

The 200 Club

The nations that have suffered more that 200,000 Covid-19 infections are members of a Hall of Shame that right now has only six members: Britain, Italy, Spain and new recruits Brazil and Russia, and of course the US, which has more infections than the next six nations combined.  Comparing these losers to the countries which have had many fewer, like New Zealand and South Korea suggests the role of government incompetence.  An even more disastrous performance is that of Belgium, which at least has the excuse of hardly having any government.

I know a lot about the sorry performance of the Trump regime, and a bit about the mistakes of Britain and Sweden - another unpopulated loser, but not so much about what went wrong elsewhere.  Of course Brazil is ruled by a Trump knockoff bozo, and Russia by Putin, but what about them.

Anybody have any clues?

Quarantine Days: Prophecies of an Unreliable Cassandra

1)After Covid, the economies of the West will be crippled or smashed.

2)The US will probably not be able to maintain strategic dominance.

3)The Dow will be sub 15,000 at Christmas.

4)About half the jobs lost will not come back anytime soon.

5)Many jobs in stores and warehouses will be automated.

6)China will move forcefully to assert number one status.

Biden Sex Problem

Joe Biden has a sexual assault problem, and the dominant impulse in the Democratic Party right now is to sweep it under the rug.  This really sucks and has the makings of a disaster for the Party and country.  Senator Gillibrand, who led the lynch mob against former Senator Al Franken, has signed on in support of Biden.

No, it hardly matters that he is accused of far less than Trump, or less even than Trump has admitted to.  Corroboration for Tara Reade's accusations seems to have reached a critical mass.  The most credible defense of Biden that I have seen is here:

Supposedly, Biden will respond to the accusations on television tomorrow.  If his response is simple denial, he should not even bother.  O…

Quarantine Days: The Dumb Kid

Planetary formation is complicated.  Interstellar dust grains are small, typically a few tenths of a micron, and it takes a lot of them to make an Earth sized planet - about 10^38 of them (a quintillion quintillion or so).  They don't have forever to get the job done, at most a few million years from collapse of the presolar nebula to clearing of the disk by radiation pressure and the stellar wind.

The collapse of the nebular cloud into a disk brings the grains into closer proximity, where they can grow by contact and sticking.  Over a few hundred thousand years they can grow to centimeter size or a bit larger, but after they reach ten centimeters or so, the problems begin.  Probably the worst problem is that these pebbles are still coupled to the much larger mass of gas but not strongly coupled enough to be carried with it.  The gaseous disk, being partially supported by pressure, moves at sub-Keplerian speeds, but the pebbles, which are not held up by pressure, need to move fast…