Showing posts from June, 2011


There is increasing suspicion that the Republicans aren't bluffing , and really are willing to destroy the economy for what they hope will be political profit.  Obama's weakness and unwillingness to fight back has encouraged them to go for broke, and their crazy idealogues are living in an imaginary universe anyway. Of course a whole gamut of historical catastrophes has been launched in just this fashion. Obama showed a hint of pugnacity in his last press conference - enough to provoke the usual right wing nut jobs to peurile insults - but I don't think a hint will do it.  I think he needs to drop the kid gloves and stop playing golf with the enemy.  He needs to start naming names and telling the voters that these people are enemies of our nation.

Class Warfare!

Drudge and National Journal say Obama has declared class warfare . He had the audacity to try to put kids before private jets. Shades of Robespierre and 1793. I say about f****** time. My class has been losing this war for thirty plus years now, and it's about time we start fighting back.

Is Obama Hopeless?

Despite very difficult circumstances, Obama did get some things done, notably health care.  In other regards, he seems to have proven amazingly weak.  Perhaps it's just lack of experience - the tactics that served him well as community organizer and law review editor are not suitable for a President.  Brad DeLong notes a David Frum critique with approval (!).  (It turns out that Frum is riffing on a theme by David Brooks ) Frum: Obama is His Own Worst Enemy FrumForum: [Obama is] not an alien, he’s not a radical. He’s just not the person the country needs. He’s not tough enough, he’s not imaginative enough, and he’s not determined enough. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the president ran out of ideas sometime back in 2009. In the face of opposition, Obama goes passive. The mean Republicans refused votes on his Federal Reserve nominees and Obama … did nothing. Would Ronald Reagan have done nothing? FDR? Lyndon Johnson? With unemployment at 10

Is D-Dalus for Real

Via Wolfgang I learned about a purported new type of aircraft supposedly introduced at the Paris air show.  It supposed performance is remarkable: At the heart of D-DALUS is a revolutionary propulsion system containing a number of patented inventions, including a friction free bearing at the points of high G force, and a system that keeps propulsion in dynamic equilibrium, thereby allowing the guidance system to quickly restore stability in flight. The propulsion consists of 4 sets of contra-rotating disks, each set driven at the same rpm by a conventional aero-engine. The disks are surrounded by blades whose angle of attack can be altered by off-setting the axis of the rotating disks. As each blade can be given a different angle of attack, the resulting main thrust can be in any required direction in 360° around any axis. This allows the craft to launch vertically, remain in a fixed position in the air, travel in any direction, rotate in any direction, and thrust upwards thereby


107 F today (42 C). 102 F at 8:15 PM and the Sun down.

OK, You Dirty Rats...

Republicans seem to have painted themselves into a total corner on the debt "ceiling" talks.  I don't see how they are going to get out of this unless they are counting on a total fold by Obama. Oh wait.

Both Sides Now

I've looked at clouds from both sides now... Joni Mitchell We have a President who can see all sides of every issue, and Maureen Dowd is not happy about it . It's not the seeing that's annoying, it trying to be on every side that is. In Afghanistan, he wants to go but he wants to stay. He’s surging and withdrawing simultaneously. He’s leaving fewer troops than are needed for a counterinsurgency strategy and more troops than are needed for a counterterrorism strategy — and he seems to want both strategies at the same time. Our work is done but we have to still be there. Our work isn’t done but we can go. On Libya, President Obama wants to lead from behind. He’s engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi while telling Congress he’s not engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi. On the budget, he wants to cut spending and increase spending. On the environment, he wants to increase energy production but is reluctant to drill. On health care, he wants to get everybody covered b

Get Bachmann!

Matt Taibbi got a call from God. God, or maybe it was an editor of the Rolling Stone, told him to write a hit piece on Michele Bachman . On the surface, this wasn't one of God's tougher assignments. It's not really like telling the Pharoah to shove it or sacrificing your beloved son. After all, Bachmann is a certifiably extreme character who attributes all her own decisions to personal interventions by the almighty as well a serial exaggerator and mis-speaker. Disclaimer: I don't speak for God, at least so far as I know, but Matt, you blew it big time. Never mind the ugly hints about plaigerism from G. R. Anderson's stuff . I'm talking about the general frothing at the mouth tone of your article, which paradoxically starts by warning us against laughing at Bachman. The facts about Bachmann are alarming enough, I think, and are told rather better, if not exactly dispassionately, by Michelle Goldberg in The Daily Beast .


Via Andrew Sullivan : "Love should be treated like a business deal, but every business deal has its own terms and its own currency. And in love, the currency is virtue. You love people not for what you do for them or what they do for you. You love them for the values, the virtues, which they have achieved in their own character,” - Ayn Rand. This is Rand the clueless dogmatist in pure form - that is to say, not 100% wrong but reality twisted until it's deeply and fundamentally wrong. Part of Rand's problem was that she didn't believe in instincts, and love is among the more fundamental human instincts. Certainly love has something in common with admiration - the actual name of the emotion she attempts to describe, but love is probably more likely to be the cause of admiration than the result. The core problem, I think, is that love is fundamentally a matter of empathy, a human characteristic that Rand despised and plausibly lacked. The triggers for romantic love ar


Sometimes it seems that the oldest problems in science never seem to get solved.  Contact electrification, the transfer of charge by contact between surfaces, was one of the first subjects of science, investigated by Thales of Miletus two and a half millenia ago, and its one of the first sorts of things I remember playing around with in high school physics.  John Timmur, of Ars Technica, has an article on a new Science paper (no reference or link!) in which the process is investigated using Kelvin atomic force microscopy.  The authors found a few surprising results. But it wasn’t until last year that some of the authors of the new paper published a surprising result: contact electrification (as this phenomenon is known among its technically oriented fans) can occur between two sheets of the same substance, even when they’re simply allowed to lie flat against each other. “According to the conventional view of contact electrification,” they note, “this should not happen since the chem


A new car ad for the something or other celebrates the diligent guy with "his head down, working his butt off." In my field, we tend to celebrate a kind of opposite - the guy with his butt down, working his head off. Most trouble comes from those with those two anatomical features co-located.

Rare Celestial Alignment

It's probably not too common that Paul Krugman and Lubos Motl agree on matters of financial policy, so I will note that they are largely on agreement on one aspect of Greek default - that it should occur as soon as possible.  To be sure, their reasons are almost diametrically opposed: Lubos wants default because he wants to enjoy the spectacle of Greek suffering, and because he thinks default won't have much impact on the rest of Europe, or at least on him personally.  Krugman, on the other hand, thinks default now (rather than later) will minimize Greek suffering and minimize the inevitable global financial trauma that will ensue. I will go along with Krugman, both because I approve of compassion and because he actually knows a good deal about international economics, but that leaves the question of who is on the other side of this issue.  The other side consists of the European Central Bank and the bankers it represents - the people to whom Greece (and Ireland, and Portug

Drive, She Said...

A prototype disk drive based on phase-change memory can outperform an off-the-shelf flash hard disk ..............Technology Review. Once upon a time there was a technology that involved storing information by imprinting tiny magnetic domains on spinning discs.  Information was accessed by positioning a magnetic sensor above the region where the information was stored.  The people of that time called these information storage devices " disc drives " or "hard drives."  More or less contemporaneously an alternate technology was invented wherein information was stored in arrays of electronic gates, which could be read by electronic switching mechanisms. When versions of the latter were invented which could store information without substantial current consumption ( non-volatile electronic memories -floating gate transistors ) they started to compete with the disc drive in some applications.  Rude and unschooled youths tormented the old-timers by calling these new m


The engine of the Euro-spaceliner sputtered dangerously, and the passengers shrieked in fear.  Finally, at 100 miles (160 km) up, Captain Merkle and First Officer Sarcozy cut the engtines. "Not to worry," said the Captain, whose knowledge of physics allowed her to do this sort of calculation in her head, "This thing won't crash into the earth for at least twenty minutes." The passengers cheered and ordered more drinks. Much of the world's financial trepidation today is inspired by those Euro denominated bonds from countries that look like they are going to have a heck of a time paying up, especially Greece, but also Ireland, Portugal and Spain.  All of the above are in deep recession and have a lot of borrowed money, and the fear of the bondholders is that their Euro-cash may just be Euro-trash. Another bailout has been agreed by all the principals - except of course the Greek people - but the crash has simply been put off, since there is little prospe


Everything is Rent.............. Rent by Jonathan Larson Before agriculture, each person or family was responsible for making its own living.  Once our ancestors settled down, another option was opened up - "ownership" of the previously common land and extraction of rents from others allowed to use it.  Chieftains, priests, and kings became the first rentier class, but the idea of living by the sweat of someone else's brow was popular enough to give rise to new classes of property and new classes of rentiers. The invention of banking and capitalism more generally gave us all an opportunity to become rentiers - if we could manage to save money. This presented a bit of a problem - if we are all to live by the sweat of someone else's brow, whose brow will sweat? To be continued. PS - I think this post is going to be about Greece.

Here Come The Cyborgs

Can man and machine be fused to yield a superior product?  Early results from rat and machine show some promise.  Benedict Carey, writing in the New York Times, has the story: Scientists have designed a brain implant that restored lost memory function and strengthened recall of new information in laboratory rats — a crucial first step in the development of so-called neuroprosthetic devices to repair deficits from dementia, stroke and other brain injuries in humans.  Attack of the Ratborgs coming?

Electoral Politics For Fun and Profit

Winning Would Be Inconvenient I note that some of my favorite news sites are celebrating Gingrich's decline in the polls, but more or less ignoring the reasons his top aides quit en masse.  They complained, IIRC, that his campaign was more about product placement than winning the nomination - campaign stops were timed to promote his commercial product rather than winning the primaries. This was a typical quick pick up by Gingrich and spouse, but they were hardly the pioneers in this type of politics for profit.  Sarah Palin's career in politics can far more easily be explained by pursuit of the easy buck than political ambition.  She made tens of millions off her feckless pursuit of the Vice-Presidency, and even managed to use it as a good excuse for dumping that lousy job she had, which required spending a fair amount of time away from home in Alaska's capital. It could be argued that Bush junior was the real pioneer here.  Somebody once observed that he never really

Bobo Brooks

The right having entered one of its periodic spasms of anti-intellectualism, I suppose that it's only fitting that The New York Times' David Brooks should be the most prominent conservative intellectual scribbler.  Brooks is a thinker with an even-handed disdain for facts and logic, which I suppose is handy when your job is making a case for the policies advocated by somebody like Paul Ryan. Brad DeLong disinters an epic takedown by Sasha Issenberg: Boo-Boos in Paradise: Brooks is operating in a long tradition of public intellectualism.... Whyte, who was an editor for Fortune in the 1950s, observed how people lived, inferred trends, considered what they meant, and then came up with grand conclusions about the direction of the country. When, in 1954, he wanted to find out which consumers were trend-setters, he went into Overbrook Park and surveyed 4,948 homes.... Brooks, by way of contrast, draws caricatures. Whether out of sloppiness or laziness, the examples he conjures

The Book of Mammon

With Republicans competing with each other to say how they are going to save the country by eliminating the Federal government and giving trillions to really rich people , you might think that an old fashioned Democrat, a Truman say, a Kennedy or even a Clinton would be preparing an old-fashioned pachyderm barbeque, with plenty of hot sauce. Mentioning a few things about the relentless Republican war on the middle class, the failed policies they continue top double down on, might seem like a good idea. We haven't seen any of that from Mr. No Drama Compromise, and the odds don't look good. If you think W did a job on America, wait 'til you see what Bachman will do.  Should be interesting times.  time to hope you get a spot in the kleptocracy.

Scary Movie

The Wall Street Journal has up a story called:  The Terrifying Truth About New Technology  Do robots and Twitter make you nervous? Growing old is what you're really afraid of Well, I'm not really afraid of Twitter, even though I can't type with my thumbs, but author Daniel H Wilson's Roboapocalypse  does sound pretty much right on. Wilson, 33, thinks us geezers are afraid of being left behind by the ongoing techno-revolutions, and that's not entirely untrue, but I personally am a lot more afraid of getting too old to drive, so bring on the robocars. Wilson: The fear of the never-ending onslaught of gizmos and gadgets is nothing new. The radio, the telephone, Facebook—each of these inventions changed the world. Each of them scared the heck out of an older generation. And each of them was invented by people who were in their 20s. Mark Zuckerberg didn't create Facebook for people with kids and mortgages. Technology is created by the young, for the young.

The One Hundred Greatest Non-Fiction Books

Once again the list of the title has been compiled by some moderately well-read idiots, this time at The Guardian .  I always hate these lists, mainly since I usually haven't read most of them.  Oddly enough, nearly all these great books were written in the twentieth century, most of them during my lifetime.  It's non-fiction, so the Bible doesn't make it but Herodetus does - I guess you have to draw the line somewhere. Clay Shirky makes the cut, but Aristotle doesn't.  Hawking Si; Penrose No.  Marx, Ja; Adam Smith, Nein. I was happy to see that Doug Hofstadter's Goedel, Escher, and Bach made the list, but Euclid, perhaps the most influential non-fiction book of all time didn't.  Look in vain also for Copernicus, Galileo, Newton... Oh well.

Art and Common Sense

I hear that there is a certain amount of consternation in liberal circles over the fact that David Mamet, perhaps the leading American playwright of the day, has "converted" from liberal (his claim) to conservative.  And not to any old intellectual conservative either, but to a Sarah Palin loving Glenn Beck and Rush what's his name listening National Palestinian Radio wingnut. I don't know anything about Mamet personally, and only a little about his plays and movies - think Glengarry Glen Ross - but I can hardly be surprised that some elderly rich Zionist turns into one of his own characters.  It's not exactly rare for scientists to lack common sense, but its practically mandatory for artists. John Gapper has a lunch interview with him in Financial Times via Slate .

Good and Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen, who has often been featured on these pages as an expert on autism, has a new book out, reviewed here in the New York Times.   In the US, it's title is The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty .   From Katherine Bouton's review, cited above: “My main goal is to understand human cruelty, replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy,’ ” he writes at the beginning of the book, which might be seen as expanding on the views on empathy expressed in his 1997 book, “Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind” (Bradford). Evil, he notes, has heretofore been defined in religious terms (with the concept differing in the major world religions), as a psychiatric condition (psychopathology) or, as he puts it, in “frustratingly circular” terms: “He did x because he is truly evil”). Dr. Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Cambridge and director of the university’s Autism Researc

The Artistic Impulse

Evolutionary psychology faces a fundamental challenge if it is to explain a few peculiarly human activities, such as music, mathematics, and art.  How could these abstract activities have had a survival value in their origins?  To try to make the point more acute, how could the guy sitting by his campfire decorating his spear have gotten a competive advantage over his counterpart investing the same time and effort into doing him in? It seems very plausible to me that the artistic impulse had its origins in ordinary pride in workmanship.  Fashioning a really effective stone arrowhead is far from being a trivial task.  I have noted previously on this blog that the human hand is equipped with muscles and control that our fellow great apes lack, and that these muscles give us a precison of control that they lack - chimps, at least, seem to be able to grasp the notion of making a projectile point but lack the fine motor control to be good at it. Just as the muscles and wings necessary f

What A Leader Might Do

If we had a President who knew how to lead, he might call the country to listen, tell them we are facing a crisis, and that his opponents have chosen to play games instead of facing the true needs of the country, remind them that in a time of severe financial stress certain Senators are obstructing excellently qualified appointees to key positions and gambling with the countries solvency. He could call for a massive jobs program, pull back many of our troops, baldly state that the initial stimulus had been too small, and ask the country to choose between a certainly painful austerity and an expensive but temporary stimulus, to be followed by tax increases. The President we have shows no signs of being that man.  He seems rather to think that his job is to mediate between factions in the Congress.  The country is quite likely screwed.

A College Education

I seem to recall that it was our education President, W, who so poignantly asked: "Is our children learning?"  Not so much, was the answer in our elementary and high schools, and a new book,  Academically Adrift , by Arum and Roksa says ditto for college. In particular, they found: that gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during the first two years of college were small or practically non-existent for a sizable number of students. Students are studying less and learning less, it seems.  Teachers are giving less homework and grading it more leniently. In an interview , Roksa notes that: There is notable variation in academic experiences and outcomes across fields of study. Students majoring in traditional arts and science fields — including social science, humanities, natural science and mathematics — demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields

Our Prophet

WB has speculated that his dog is a psychopath .  I have my doubts.  Dogs are social animals, and have the shame instinct, and desire for approval.  Cats - not so much.  The characteristics that mark off the psychopath intersect heavily with the difference between the normal person and the solitary beast of prey - the instincts that make man a social animal. Ayn Rand's early journals show an infatuation with William Edward Hickman, one of the most famous persons of 1928.  She described her hero based on Hickman: Other people have no right [to exist], no hold, no interest or influence on him. And this is not affected or chosen -- it's inborn, absolute, it can't be changed, he has 'no organ' to be otherwise. In this respect, he has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel 'other people.' Ah yes, the Nietzschean Superguy, once again - the "blond beast" of prey. So why did Rand celebrate Hickman?  In her words: It

Billions and Billions

MIT puts out a nice Technology Review Magazine.   I'm always learning new stuff there, like about this new Ultra resolution video display : Samsung has shown off a prototype of an ultra-high-definition 3-D television. The 70-inch prototype uses a novel electronic circuitry to control eight billion pixels. It's not likely to go into volume production soon, and there isn't any content to display on it, says Paul Semenza, a senior analyst at Display Search. But at last month's Society for Information Display conference in Los Angeles, the display drew crowds and garnered a best-in-show award. I can certainly understand why. Eight billion pixels is a lot, even on a 70 inch screen - roughly 6000 per mm^2, if my math holds up. The smallest resolvable objects ought to be on the order of 25 micrometers on a side. Eight billion, by the way, is about 4000 times as many pixels as an HD-TV. You can't really call this display "retinal" though, since the fovea of t

Flimsy Online Questionaires

C:The defendant stands accused of being the epitome of a syndrome characterized by: categoriz[ing] their fellow human beings after answering a few suggestive questions in flimsy online questionaires. How does he plead? D: I deny and repudiate the allegation.  I did post an online questionaire, probably one as flimsy as anything else constructed only of magnetic codes on some hard drive somewhere, but a quiz developed and extensively tested by leading researchers.  It is and was a screening test, as described in Wired, one of the secondary posters: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and m