Showing posts from June, 2020

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…