Showing posts from May, 2005

Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio?

Former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt, 91, came out as "Deep Throat" today. The nation owes him a debt of gratitude for putting truth and country first at considerable personal risk. Without him, it is entirely possible that Nixon's lies and subversion of the constitution would have gravely injured the Republic. We could use some more brave souls to reveal all the crap the current group is pulling? Of course it would help to have a press that cared. Getting rid of the independent counsel statute turned out to be a big mistake. I hope that if Dem's ever regain control, they will reinstitute it, possibly with some safeguards against frivolous fishing expeditions like Ken Starr's.

Christian Sentiment?

George Bush must love America's enemies - he's made so many of them. From the WaPo's story on his Press Conference today. President Bush today dismissed as "absurd" a charge by Amnesty International that his administration has created "the gulag of our times" at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and he asserted that allegations of mistreatment have originated from detainees who "hate America" and are trained to lie And, oh yeah, American soldiers, the FBI, the Red Cross...

The Rich get ... Personal Chefs

From the NYT contiuing coverage of Class in America . Increasingly, the nation's richest are spending their money on personal services or exclusive experiences and isolating themselves from the masses in ways that go beyond building gated walls. These Americans employ about 9,000 personal chefs, up from about 400 just 10 years ago, according to the American Personal Chef Association.

Crime and Abortion

No doubt the most controversial chapter in Freakonomics , reviewed below, concerns the link between Roe vs. Wade and the huge drop in crime that occurred in the 1990's. Leavitt make the case that a large fraction of that drop was due to Roe vs. Wade's legalization of abortion, and the resulting boom in abortions among precisely those women whose children are most likely to go on to criminal careers: poor, uneducated, unmarried and otherwise disadvantaged. His argument rests on the following points: 1)The chronological correlation - crime started dropping precisely when that cohort of children would have entered their peak criminal years, moreover, in states that legalized abortion about 3-4 years earlier, the decline started about 3-4 years earlier. Similar effect were found in other countries. 2) The observed fact that those women whose children were statistically most likely to become criminals were those who had most of the abortions. 3) The decline in crime was observe

Good Wine in a Dumb Bottle

Freakonomics , a Review. Book Title: Dumb Book Subtitle (A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything): Dumber Chapter Titles: Really Dumb Italicized text: An obnoxiously effusive paean to the first author, presumeably written by the second. This stuff would make Rush Limbaugh or a Rap Star blush. The rest of the book: To my surprise, very good, packed with interesting tidbits of information giving insight to much of ordinary life. One prominent theme is the way information and circumstance lead to incentive structures different from the ostensible ones. Examples include explaining how it can pay a real estate agent to get the buyer to offer a lower bid or why it can pay Sumo wrestlers to throw matches. Sometimes the discussion involves the results of applying statistical methodology to unconventional subjects (drug dealer earnings, honor system bagel sales) and sometimes just a rousing good story (how Superman helped rout the Ku Klux Klan). I recommend it. Skip any

Welcome to Blogistan

From time to time I push the "next blog" button and cruise random climes of the blogosphere. I am often surprised by how many good writers there are out there, public diaries, literature, and poetry. Of course there is also an infinite sea of clutter, in which category I include all the stuff in languages that I can't read. I can't quite decide if I should mention some of those I like or not - many of them seem so personal that I sort of hate to intrude - on the other hand, the authors are publishing them for the world to see. Many have lamented the decline of the private literary forms of yore - the letter and the diary - but I suspect that they would be reassured if they clicked on the old "next blog" link once in a while.

Advice and Dissent

One of the more annoying affectations of columnists is addressing their columns to the President. Tom Friedman of the NYT apparently thinks his key role as an Iraq War enabler should entitle him to be heard by the Pres. In this, his latest folly he asks the President to shut down the Gitmo torture center. Fat chance. Of course he does have some rather good arguments: If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press. It is all a variation on the theme of a May 8 article in The Observer of London that begins, "An American soldier has revealed shocking new details of abuse and sexual torture of prisoners at Guant

About that groveling Newsweek apology

From the WaPo: Nevermind .


Juan Cole has written a post about our prospects for victory in Iraq entitled Sometimes You are Just Screwed . You can probably catch his drift just from the title, but many of the details are interesting. The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement any time soon for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed. The guerrillas have widespread popular support in the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq, an area with some 4 million persons. Its cities and deserts offer plenty of cover for an unconventional war. Guerrilla movements can succeed if more than 40 percent of the local population supports them. While the guerrillas are a small proportion of Iraqis, they are very popular in the Sunni Arab areas. If you look at it as a regional war, they probably have 80 percent support in their region. The guerrillas are mainly Iraqi Sunnis with an intelligence or military background, who know where secret weapons depots are containing some 250,000 tons of missing munitions, and who k

Black Holes a Go Go

I was playing a game of Go with my friend Prof C the other day. He's a former EE professor who made it fairly big in the PC boom days of the 80's, cashed out in the early 90's, and quit to pursue other interests, which, as it turned out, were deep water sailing and busty blondes half his age. After a series of costly and painful mishaps involving each took a big piece of his cash stash, he figuratively adopted the Oddesyian solution of walking inland with an oar on his shoulder until somebody asked "What's that?" Which is how he wound up in arid and mostly blonde free Nuevo Mexico, playing the ancient oriental board game with your humble servant. He's got an exquisite 10-inch thick kaya board and top grade slate and clamshell stones in a cherrywood bowl, so I guess he isn't quite poor yet. As usual, he had black, adopted a san-ren-sei strategy and immediately went on the offensive. When the position got tense, he pondered a while and then said: &qu

Saving President Larry

Much to my surprise, John Tierney actually has an interesting column in todays NYT. It seems economists in Pittsburg did an experiment where they paid men and women to do calculations, first at a piece rate of $0.50 per and then in four person tournaments where the winner got $2 per correct answer and the losers nothing. On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round - take the piece rate or compete in a tournament - most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst. The men's eagerness partly stemmed from overconfidence, because on average men rated their ability more highly than the women rated theirs. But interviews and further experiments convinced the researchers, Muriel Niederle of Stanford and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, that the gender gap wasn't due mainly to women&

Phrist vs. Philibuster: Gotterdammerung

Well, the big vote on filibusters is coming, and I'm not optomistic. It will seemingly come down to whether or not six Republican Senators can be found who will put principle ahead of their fear of the wrath of the RtLers. Oh well.

Discrimination by Sex

I found this somewhat improbable story via slashdot. In the (in my opinion, unlikely) event that this study is confirmed by further study, we may have the long sought explanation for the paucity of women in science and engineering. So give it up Sean - it's got to be hormonal. The conclusion of the study was that parental occupation has a strong influence on the sex of the children. But according to calculations by chief researcher Satoshi Kanazawa, for engineers and other "systemisers" the ratio is 140 boys per 100 girls. Nurses and the like produce around 135 girls for every 100 boys, the study found. Mr Kanazawa predicted that a physicist and a mathematician would be the most likely pairing to produce a boy, while a therapist and a chat show host would be odds-on favourites for a daughter. If we further assume that children's occupations will resemble those of their parents, we can explain why there are so few female physicists. The problem is, they can't r

String 'em up!

Peter Woit has a post Game Over on the End of String Theory . He and his commentators are pretty sure the beast is dead, now if they can only manage to pound that stake... My reaction: Well maybe. A long time ago in a galaxy on a 3-brane remarkably resembling this one, I was a student in a department where quantum field theory was considered dead, dead, dead. Even my QFT prof, a former student of Chew, could hardly be bothered with teaching us such an obsolete subject, and dull student that I was, I didn't learn much. Before I graduated, t'Hooft et. al. had showed this view to be wrong, wrong, wrong, and the revolution was in full swing.

Operation Enduring Shame

Tim Golden has a truly horrifying torture story in todays New York Times. The opening sentence sets the sickening tone: Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him. The agonizing tortures inflicted on him as he was dying are reminiscent of the torture and crucifixion of Christ - including the crucifixion like position he was chained in and the sadistic guard who, when he asked for water, cut a hole in the bottom of the water bottle and sprayed him without letting him drink. A final cruelty lay in the fact that his captors mostly believed him to be totally innocent. I have rarely been so ashamed of my country and my army. After a long cover-up, the low ranking enlisted perpetrators are being prosecuted, but as usual, none of the senior officers are being pursued. After World War II we hung Japanese soldiers for these types of crimes, and their colonels, and generals, and minister of defense. The story makes clear that this was

This week's physics puzzler.

This question is prompted by a passage from Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos . Greene is discussing the fact that in our usual experience entropy is proportional to volume (other things being equal) whereas for black holes the entropy is proportional to the area of the horizon. On page 479 of chapter 16 he says Were you to double the radius of a black hole, its volume would increase by a factor of 8 while its surface area would only increase by a factor of 4. This is misleading. His radius, area, volume relations are only valid for flat space, in curved space the ratios are different. The radius circumference relations for a circle on the surface of a two sphere illustrate the point. So here's the question, in two parts: a) What are the radius, area, volume relations (for a surface r=constant) in a Schwarzschild space-time? b) Do the notions of radius and volume even make sense for a black hole?

50 Million Ways to Say You're Sorry

Harvard University has announced a new program to promote women and minorities in science and technology. Lawrence H. Summers, the embattled president of Harvard University, announced yesterday that the university would spend at least $50 million over the next decade to recruit, support and promote women and members of underrepresented minority groups on its faculty. Cynics might claim this is just the latest of the ritual public abasements Summers has been forced to undergo for his sins against political correctness, but we should give the alternative interpretation the consideration it deserves: when a school lacks a big name and a big pocketbook, some sweeteners are probably needed to attract a qualified staff. In another story, NPR's Morning Edition today reported that this year 200,000 more women than men will receive college degrees. This is evidently just one of many symptoms that young men are having a tough time in life these days. This sad story prompted the NPR intervi

Classical Mechanics: Hospitals Rule

Episode II of the NYT's series on class in America is up, with Janny Scott's Life at the Top in America Isn't Just Better, It's Longer . Three people, three economic classes, and three heart attacks, with divergence in care and results. The most striking difference appears to be in the hospitals where they first showed up, but the difference in care continues. This kind of anecdotal story isn't expecially impressive to me, because so many aspects could just be accidental - the rich guy having heart attack close to a good hospital, for example. It's a long article, but the following three paragraphs present the theme: Class informed everything from the circumstances of their heart attacks to the emergency care each received, the households they returned to and the jobs they hoped to resume. It shaped their understanding of their illness, the support they got from their families, their relationships with their doctors. It helped define their ability to change t

Class Warfare: Revenge of the Sith

In parallel with it's new series on class in America, the NYT has announced it's own offensive in the war against the non-rich. They intend to start charging $50 for their "premium content," including their op-ed columns. The only one I will actually miss will be Paul Krugman, and I'll miss him a lot, but probably not $50 worth. This event is the internet's equivalent of the 18th century Enclosure Acts in England or the advent of barbed wire in 19th century America. The end of the open range and the small net farmer. It is all but inevitable that the great era of the free internet is ending. Soon most free sources of news will disappear behind fences and become available only to the prosperous. Hey, for $20-25 I would have taken them up on it.

Football 1; Physics 0

NPR had This Story on a Georgia physics teacher who was fired for docking a football player's grade for putting his head on his desk and sleeping through a class. What the heck was this guy thinking - the kid was a football player - and in Georgia yet. The school board's position was evidently that school policy prohibited basing the grade on anything but academic performance, while the teacher tried to argue the bizarre notion that staying awake in class was part of the kid's academic performance. I mean like sheesh, it's not like the kid was some geek - he was a friggin football player . Not that I'm completely unsympathetic to the teacher's position - I've been a teacher. I admit being a bit distressed when, after I asked my son about his mathematical methods teacher, he said that he wasn't really sure, since the only time they had met was when he turned in his take home final. I might even have wondered aloud why I was spending North of $30k/

100 Greatest Americans has a post up knocking a planned Discovery Channel Series on the Greatest Americans. He seems to consider it an example of the reality genre, though I would class it with The Most Extreme Insects myself. He rightly regards many of the choices as ridiculous, e.g., Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Bush, Condeleeza Rice, and Dr. Phil to name a few. His own suggested replacements include some bizarro choices (Milton Friedman, Julia Child, Robert Mondavi!) and he disses some genuinely good choices (Nikola Tesla, Harriet Tubman, Babe Ruth). The list essentially ignores the major American artists, scientists, and writers.

Classical Mechanics

Janny Scott and Dave Leonhardt of The New York Times have begun a new series on class in America. Several themes emerge in their opening overview: many of the traditional markers of social class have disappeared, Americans still believe in income and class mobility, but actual class mobility has recently decreased and is less than in many other countries. For example: Most Americans remain upbeat about their prospects for getting ahead. A recent New York Times poll on class found that 40 percent of Americans believed that the chance of moving up from one class to another had risen over the last 30 years, a period in which the new research shows that it has not. Thirty-five percent said it had not changed, and only 23 percent said it had dropped. More Americans than 20 years ago believe it possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich. They say hard work and a good education are more important to getting ahead than connections or a wealthy background. In fact, though One surp

I take it all back Josh!

OK, so maybe I got a bit snippy with Josh Marshall yesterday (not that I'm even an insect on his windscreen), but today he makes up for all with this note and pic . Of course I'm still waiting for that other shoe to drop on the yellowcake story.

Blogged Out Too?

Is it just me, or did Josh Marshall used to be more substantive? I'm not sure how many more posts about bamboozlement I can take.

Up to date in Kansas

William Saletan has a Slate article arguing that Intelligent Design, the latest incarnation of Creation Science, and about to be adopted in Kansas, is so much less obnoxious that the previous version that scientists and liberals should take it seriously, or at least give it a fair hearing. To my considerable surprise, I found myself more or less in agreement, subject to the usual caution that selective quotation can make anything look good (or bad). The new challenger, ID, differs fundamentally from fundamentalism. Like its creationist forebears, ID is theistic. But unlike them, it abandons Biblical literalism, embraces open-minded inquiry, and accepts falsification, not authority, as the ultimate test. These concessions, sincere or not, define a new species of creationism...that fatally undermines its ancestors. Creationists aren't threatening us. They're becoming us. There are two main aguments against "Creation Science:" by explicitly invoking a deity, it violat

Living Well

Living well is the best revenge is a popular formulation, and probably a good strategy for a happy life. Genghis Khan had a slightly chillier view: "The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms" Retrieved from ""


David Brooks descends into self parody in his latest excerpt from the Heritage Society talking points (poorly disguised as an NYT column). His theme is that Bush's SS plan is a call for shared sacrifice of the type Democrats have repeatedly asked for. Sometimes you had to walk through Democratic precincts in a gas mask, the lofty rhetoric was so thick. The gas mask won't help David, that stench is your own hypocrisy. Over the past few weeks, the president has called their bluff. By embracing the progressive indexing of Social Security benefits, the president has asked us to make a shared sacrifice for the common good. He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty. He has asked us to redistribute money down the income scale. Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks? Pretending people who make $60k are rich like Donald Trump i

Our Friend Ben

Some British tabloids have uncharitably described Pope Benedict XVI as the "Nazi pope," based presumeably on his teenage membership in the Hitler Youth. His real antecedents, though, are in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which he long headed, and which was long known as the Holy Inquisition. That name, but little else, was discarded in the twentieth century. The Roman Catholic Blog has a link to this Associated Press story on the ouster of Thomas J. Reese as editor of the Catholic magazine America . This was a apparently a pre-papal act of then Cardinal Ratzinger, but it clearly bears the stamp of an authoritarian personality. Many American Catholics think that the Catholic Church has put its intolerant and occasionally genocidal past behind it. Those who do ought to check out this entry about Torquemada in the Catholic Encyclopedia. This fragment caught my eye At that time the purity of the Catholic Faith in Spain was in great danger from the numerous

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

Blink! by Malcolm Gladwell, is the NYT #2 bestelling book ...about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant. Gladwell, the best-selling author of The Tipping Point, campaigns for snap judgments and mind reading... While I didn't go so far as to actually buy or read the book, I did spend two seconds looking at the picture of the cover, and decided to try putting its advice into practice. I assembled a few books on biology and evolution, spent a couple of seconds looking at the cover of each, and blinked*. Sure enough, there I was, back in Kansas. *three times, for luck

Blogged Out

I found Sean Carroll's Bad news pretty depressing, mainly because he and Lubos were the inspiration (if I can call it that) for my trying the form. I had forgotten how depressing and cut-throat the tenure struggle was. I can't seem to even get up any enthusiasm for piling on Tom Delay. On another depressing topic, the NYT reported that even ugly kids mommies don't love them. Or at least not as much as pretty kids moms love them. Oh well. Fortunately my kids are gorgeous.

Torquemada in the WH

Don't miss Eugene Robinson's Torture Whitewash in today's Washinton Post. A year later, only the low-ranking grunts who grinned and gave thumbs-ups while committing these sadistic acts have been made to answer. Only one ranking officer -- a reservist, a woman, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski -- has been sanctioned. The White House and Pentagon officials who opened the door to these abuses, and the careerist Army brass who oversaw the brutality, sit comfortably in their offices, talking disingenuously of "rogue" privates and sergeants. The sorry performance of the US press and the US Congress are the essential underpinnings of this whitewash.

God and Math in the Academy

An odd aspect of existence is the compulsion we have to try to make sense of the world. OK, maybe that's not so odd, evolutionarily speaking, but it certainly seems odd that one of our attempts has been so successful. Magic, religion, science, and math are all aspects of that effort to tame reality, but what Wigner called "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in explaining the physical world continues to amaze me. Roger Penrose's Road to Reality reminded me of that once again. All of which is prolog to saying that I haven't quite decided what to think about the Carr and Giddings article in the May Scientific American about creating black holes in the LHC. On one level it seems like a prayerfull plea to The Lord to bail out string theory, or maybe just "wouldn't it be cool if..." I don't see much compelling reason in string theory or out to suspect that it will happen, but I guess it would be cool. On the other hand, I might find

...let me count the ways

Not that anybody asked, but why does the President offend me so much? There are lots of reasons, but the thing I really hate is the systematic, Orwellian, dishonesty. Tax cuts for the rich are called jobs programs, programs to destroy the environment are called programs to save it, war is called peace, torture is called justice. As usual, Paul Krugman says it better here in his NYT column. Krugman shows how the President's program targets the middle class, and, more importantly is really intended to destroy Social Security, not save it. Remember, these are the people who named a big giveaway to logging interests "Healthy Forests." Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing. Because the middle

Backroom Dealer

David Brooks reports a hidden deal offered by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to Bill Frist in this column. Bill Frist should have taken the deal. Last week, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, made an offer to head off a nuclear exchange over judicial nominations. Reid offered to allow votes on a few of the judges stuck in limbo if the Republicans would withdraw a few of the others. But there was another part of the offer that hasn't been publicized. I've been reliably informed that Reid also vowed to prevent a filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee. I'm most interested in how Brooks got the story. Maybe he dug it out, but I suspect somebody, probably a swing Republican, fed it to him. Brooks backs the party line that the nuclear option will work, but maybe some other Republicans are sending Frist a smoke signal. The rest of the column is well worth reading. "This way madness lies" is a key theme.