Showing posts from July, 2011


It looks like a plausible deal on the debt limit has been reached, and if the pundits are close on the content, the result is a sweeping victory for the Tea Party and the Republicans as well as stunning defeat for Obama. More seriously, it will very likely do further damage to an already slumping economy and take another big step toward Republican victory in 2012 and the resulting and prophesized end of the World.


Haven't we now reached the point in Washington's little psychodrama when somebody is supposed to pull a rabbit out of the legislative hat and rescue the heroine?

Twitter Stats

Obama's recent numbers don't exactly confirm the stupid story referenced in the previous post. July 29, 2011 9,371,377 692,544 1,639 July 28, 2011 9,387,818 692,698 1,530 July 27, 2011 9,368,306 692,766 1,525 July 26, 2011 9,353,840 692,808 1,525 July 23, 2011 9,289,552 693,038 1,514 July 22, 2011 9,268,591 693,099 1,505 July 21, 2011 9,252,739 693,164 1,502 July 20, 2011 9,235,345 693,245 1,499 July 19, 2011 9,221,297 693,303 1,499 July 18, 2011 9,198,308 692,590 1,493 July 17, 2011 9,151,165 692,727 1,477

Notes From the Moronosphere

The latest cause célèbre in the idiot press is the notion that Obama's call for people to tweet their Congresspeople to compromise somehow backfired, since apparently some thirty thousand or so of his followers protested by dropping their followership - or whatever the heck it's called. A more interesting number would be hoiw many tweets Congress got. That thirty thousand looks big unless you compare it with his total - nine million plus. There it's hardly noise. It's hardly a significant protest on a controversial issue.


An innovative solution to the debt ceiling has caught the idea of both Wolfgang and Paul Krugman . It's got to be good.


Kevin Drum asks: Why Is Obama Such a Wimp? Bruce Bartlett has apparently theorized that it was because he never negotiated with Big Labor or The Soviet Union. Those hard-nosed types may well play differently than they did at the Harvard Law Review, and today's Republicans sure do. It's probably for the best - if Obama had been negotiating with Krushchev, there would probably be Russian tanks patrolling the Champs-Elysees right now. The guy really does seem hopeless. I read today that he wasn't getting any sleep because he was looking everywhere for a compromise. WTF? We really could use somebody with a pair in the WH. Hillary, where are you now?

Those Stupid Old People

Paul Samuelson was a brilliant Nobel Prize winning economist who used to write a column for Newsweek. Robert J Samuelson is some idiot hack that Newsweek hired to write about economics after Paul Samuelson left. His lack of knowlege of economics hasn't really handicapped his career since his actual job is to be a reliable right-wing mouthpiece. His latest column in the WaPo is It’s the elderly, stupid. Naturally, he leads with some transparent falsehoods. ...we’ve heard almost nothing of the main problem that makes the budget so intractable. It’s the elderly, stupid. By now, it’s obvious that we need to rewrite the social contract that, over the past half-century, has transformed the federal government’s main task into transferring income from workers to retirees. In 1960, national defense was the government’s main job; it constituted 52 percent of federal outlays. In 2011 — even with two wars — it is 20 percent and falling. Meanwhile, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid

Chicken and Egg

The toughest problem in evolution has always been origins. Once scientists figured out the way the skills of life were partitioned among DNA, RNA and proteins, the question became how the whole complex system could have originated. Bacterium, yeast, tree, worm, dinosaur and human looked pretty different until we started figuring out how they all worked, but once we had they all started looking pretty similar. Inside each is (almost) the very same system of DNA genes, RNA helpers and proteins, doing the same things to keep us all alive. This fact is stupendously obvious signal of the common origin of all life, but it’s a lot more silent on the question of what those origins were. We have a pretty clear if imperfect picture of how tree and dinosaur evolved out of bacteria, but we have many fewer clues as to how the first bacteria evolved out of non-living chemicals. The real problem is that neither contemporary life nor the fossil record has preserved anything much in the way of in

Reason Not to Retire:

My wife recently started receiving social security retirement checks, and they sent me a letter saying that I might be eligible for an SS spousal benefit. It turns out that I am, probably for about what I could make working for McDonalds, but there is a catch - when I stop working and collect my own retirement, the SS benefits stop. Congress has made some funny laws.

Reasons to Retire:

Math is hard.................Barbie The next thing I probably ought to do in my current project is figure out how to do multi-fractal analysis and modeling of my data. But like Barbie said, and I don't know how to do that, and learning gets hard when you get old and dumb.

Physics ArXiv: Happy Birthday

Lubos Motl notes that the Physics ArXiv, one greatest devopments in scientific publication since Gutenberg, is about to turn twenty years old. Paul Ginsparg, a string theorist, was the inventor. Lubos also reminds us of a New York Times retrospective on the ArXiv from ten years ago. That article leads with the neat human interest story of how the ArXiv made Lumo famous - and of course added to his legend. If I recall correctly, that article was one of my first introductions to Lumology, a subject that has continued to interest me ever since.

Book Review: The Science of Evil

...a born devil, on whose nature, nuture can never stick................W Shakespeare, The Tempest Simon Baron-Cohen, in his book The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty argues that most of what we call evil can be explained as a failure of empathy, and that further, empathy is a fundamental human trait, orchestrated in the brain by an elaborate set of neural systems comprising the empathy circuit. To that end, he musters fascinating case histories, psychological tests, and the results of neuroimaging and genetic studies. I found the case most convincing for certain extremely empathy limited individuals whose bad behavior seems closely tied to their apparent inability to understand how other think and feel, and usually, their own thinking. The situational cases of loss of empathy, whether due to social pressure, war, or extreme stress seem more problematic. A secondary, and in my opinion far more convincing case is made that psychology as a science has drastical

Supersymmetry Prediction Confirmed

And it was apparently worth a case of 18-year old scotch . John Baez reports: Earlier this spring I won a case of scotch from the particle physicist Dave Ring, on an old bet about whether the LHC would see “strong evidence for supersymmetry” after one year of operation. A true gentleman, he sent me an email saying “I believe I owe you a case of scotch. I knew they’d go over schedule at the LHC, but not by this much!” And he even got me 18-year-old Laphroaig.

I Hate Listening to Obama

... because I'm pretty sure I will wind up cringing a lot. However, hope springs eternal, so listen I will. Maybe he really will give the Repubs hell this time.... Just kidding ... sob.

Reagan and the Debt Ceiling

Tom Raum points out that not only did Reagan raise net federal taxes but that the debt ceiling had to be raised 18 time during his term in office. When he left office in 1989, federal taxes accounted for 18.4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, compared with the 18 percent average for the two decades before he took office. By contrast, tax revenues are forecast to be just 14.4 per cent of GDP in 2011. Some tea party-courting Republicans cite Reagan's low-tax, small-government mantra as they insist they won't support any increase in the government's borrowing power past Aug. 2, unless significant budget cuts are made and taxes kept constant. Yet during Reagan's two terms, he presided over 18 increases in the debt ceiling. He even publicly scolded Congress for playing hardball politics with the debt limit and bringing the nation "to the edge of default before facing its responsibility." That's a passage the White House and congressional

Wisdom of Solomon

One strategy in a tight spot is to convince your opponent that you are an insanely Mo ronic Fo ol, hereinafter abbreviated crazy MoFo . Solomon was argued to have been wise because, presented with the case of two women each claiming to be the mother of an infant, he offered to cut the infant in half and give each woman a share. Oddly enough, one woman was apparently nuts enough to accept his offer, so he gave the kid to the one who preferred an intact child. The real point of the story, so I have heard, was to convince Solomon's political rivals that he was a crazy enough MoFo to rip Israel apart to keep his political power. The crazy MoFo strategy is most effective when wielded against a wimp, as the House Republicans seem to be demonstrating against Obama. The trouble is that their crazy MoFo act appears extremely convincing - a heck of a lot of them really do seem to be crazy MoFos, and they aren't too bright either. Maybe we shall see when the bank runs begin.

Playing Defense: Badly

Obama COS Bill Daley was on Meet The Press, and it was cringeworthy. Pure defense, and that played badly. Americans hoped they were electing the Harlem Globetrotters and they got the Washington Generals . It's almost as if Obama thinks he was elected to be a Republican punching bag rather than a leader.

Good News, Bad News

Water is pretty essential to life, so we probably need to find some wherever we go. First the Good News: Looking from a distance of 30 billion trillion miles away into a quasar—one of the brightest and most violent objects in the cosmos—the researchers, led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), have found a mass of water vapour that’s at least 140 trillion times that of all the water in the world’s oceans combined, and 100,000 times more massive than the sun. Aside from the fact that it's pretty far away (and twelve billion years ago], there is another reason you shouldn't expect to find any of it in Perrier bottles soon. ...In this particular quasar, the water vapour is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years (a light-year is about six trillion miles), and its presence indicates that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is a chilly –53 degrees Celsius (–63

Statement by the President of The United States

On Fox News Sunday , ABC This Week , NBC MTP and CBS Face The Nation . Under our constitution, appropriations are authorized and money spent only by authorization of Congress. Congress has authorized expenditures by the Government, but that same Congress is now threatening not to pay for them, at great cost to our economy. I have attempted to negotiate with Congress, but the Republican House refuses to either authorize payment of our debts or pass a budget consistent with our expenditures. Instead, they have conducted a campaign of dissimulation to conceal the fact that they are refusing to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. Their apparent objective is to kill Social Security and Medicare, but they refuse to do so openly, preferring to pass the buck through fanciful constitutional amendments, smoke and mirrors. Just as Congress has sole responsibility for expenditures, it also will be solely responsible if its reckless actions severely damage the US and world ec

Kevin Drum on Greece

Kevin looks at comments by Cowen and Krugman and laments: Watching both the United States and Europe careen recklessly toward fiscal oblivion simultaneously is not something I thought I'd see in my lifetime. Just goes to show my lack of imagination, I guess.

Really Scary Movie

The end Triassic extinction cleared the way for the rise of the dinosaurs. It was a big extinction event. From Fox News (say what?): Micha Ruhl and researchers from the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have found that the mass extinction of half of Earth’s marine life over 200 million years ago was likely the result of a giant release of carbon methane in the atmosphere. This massive methane “burp” led to an increase in atmospheric temperature around the globe -- and organisms and ecosystems were simply unable adapt to their hotter environment. “We measured the isotopes of carbon in plants, from before the mass extinction event and then after the mass extinction. We found two different types of carbons and the molecules that were produced during that event,” Micha Ruhl told “So we started thinking of other sources of carbon that could have changed the atmosphere.” The original theory blamed the extinction and atmospheric

Long Term Capital Management

A capitalist we know specializes in long term capital investments and explains that by long term he means greater than 1 msec. What is the market function of such an investor? Or for that matter, of the sort of “short term” investors whose investments depend on powerful computers linked to the trading system by paths only a couple or so micro seconds long? Some have suggested that such traders are purely parasitic, and represent a sort of insider trading. There are about 31 billion milli-seconds in a year, so even a pretty large investment (say a billion Euros) for 1 msec. doesn’t provide much net capital, only about 0.03 Euros per year. One function such trades do perform is providing markets with liquidity – they make it easier to move money in or out of given investment. Is that important? For certain it is. Investment can be looked upon as a kind of information warfare. The buyer of a security is in effect guessing that he understands the future value of a security better

"Spit Shake and Pinky Swear"

I don't think Megan McArdle is impressed : Maybe this works for Greece, although I'm kind of skeptical. The internets seem to think that the deal on privately held bonds represents a roughly 20% haircut on Greek debt. This debt swap solves the problem of the upcoming roll overs, which were going to be catastrophic at the double-digit interest rates that Greece would currently have to pay. But even with longer terms and lower interest payments, the budget gap is still going to be pretty huge. l I'm not sure this plan solves the political problem of cutting domestic spending in order to pay foreign creditors . Nor the economic problem of pegging Greek monetary policy to Germany's. But even if it maybe kind of works for Greece, what about the rest of the Eurozone periphery? For them, this plan amounts to saying "austerity will continue until morale improves". The spreads on Spanish, Italian, Irish, and Portuguese bonds are not widening because invest

Empathy: Evil Spirits

Nietzsche* didn't care for empathy. He argues in a few places that it was a Judeo-Christian plot to restrain the aristocratic and creative impulses of human nature. Of course he didn't understand evolution, much less neuroanatomy, so he probably shouldn't be blamed too much for getting the main point upside down - or perhaps he should - he certainly caused enough downstream grief. Simon Baron-Cohen, in his new book: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty takes a very different tack. Baron-Cohen recalls being told as a child that the Nazis made lampshades out of human skin. The imagery has stuck with him through the years and he has devoted much of his life to trying to understand the problem of cruelty. He presents some samples, including some more egregious ones from Nietzsche's blond beasts, but enough from others to show that monsters come in plenty of human types and races, and anyone with a bit of history can provide endless examples

Presidential Leadership

What leadership looks like. It doesn't translate precisely, but the spirit was there. FDR in Madison Square Garden in 1936: For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent. For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up. We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Govern

It's The Stupid Economists

Paul Krugman and other neo-Keynesian economists have often lamented the eccentric turn so-called fresh-water economics has taken, rejecting Keynes insight s in favor of mathematical models which look pretty but can't match real world behavior.  The Chicago school offers aid and comfort to some of the craziest ideas of the Republican right.  Krugman says: The point is that GOP ignorance on macroeconomics isn’t like GOP ignorance on, say, climate science. In the latter case the bad science comes from a handful of essentially bought and paid for “skeptics”. In the case of macroeconomics, the nonsense is coming from established economists with lots of widely cited papers. Paul Ryan doesn’t have to distill his madness from the scribbling of hacks at Heritage (although he does that too); he can get it over some nice wine from tenured faculty at the University of Chicago. I really wonder if he's right on that, though. Maybe all the Chicago econics is just the like the fake clima

Humble Day

Well one Murdoch came out of the testimony to the Parlimentary committee looking good.  When some dastard tried custard the old bastard , Wendi Deng, AKA the third and current Mrs Rupert M, reacted with alacrity, clocking the malefactor and giving him a dose of his own pie.

Stellar Considerations

Default, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.................[not quite] Julius Caesar, by W Shakespeare Because Bill's perspective is always worthwhile.


Movement of Earth's tectonic plates AKA continental drift, and all it implies - earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain building, geothermal power are all powered by heat sources within the planet.  Ditto our planetary magnetic field.  Some of this heat was left over from the slow cooling of our initially molten planet, but much comes from the decay of radioactive elements incorporated in it - a legacy of their formation in ancient supernovas. A new experiment has quantified the fraction of the heat that stems from radioactive decay by analysis of anti-neutrinos originating in decays in the Earth. Using the Kamioka Liquid-scintillator Antineutrino Detector (KamLAND) located under a mountain in Japan, they analyzed geoneutrinos — ones emitted by decaying radioactive materials within the Earth — over the course of more than seven years. The specific amount of energy an antineutrino packs on the rare occasions one does collide with normal matter can tell scientists about what material

Bitter Defeat, Deserved Victory

The US side outplayed Japan for nearly the whole game, but squandered chance after chance in front of the Japanese goal.  The derided Japanese keeper came up with the crucial saves when needed, especially in the penalty shootout.   Japan scrapped and scrapped and took advantage of a crucial US failure. Congratulations to Japan.

Blood in the Water

Top Murdoch Honcho and PM Cameron buddy Rebekah Brooks is reported to have been arrested in the phone hacking scandal. She got a 3.5 million pound severance package from Rupert - will that be enough to firewall the family?  I don't think you get to commute to jail by helicopter .

Captain Sourpuss Reviews HP 7 II

OK, there are a few things I really hated about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part II, the movie. (1) 3-D (2) The fact that the film appeared to have been shot through a dirty beer bottle.  The lighting was so bad that I could hardly recognize most of the characters, much less see what they were doing. (3) The climactic showdown between Harry and Voldy.  The bang-bang nonsense sucked all the drama out of their confrontation. (4) The narrative compression required to make this the shortest HP movie.  I don't see how anyone not deeply initiated could figure out what was happpening. I also didn't care for the treatment of Snape's memories.  This is a lovely episode in the book - not so much in the movie. Yates made one good movie (VI) and four bad ones.

Jane Austen's Critics

Tyler Cowen finds that Emerson didn't like Jane Austen .  His commentariat notes that Twain had a problem with her as well. Twain:  I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone... Another reader wonders why Twain kept rereading P&P if he hated it so much. I remain a fan of Twain, Austen, & P&P in particular.

Book Review: The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry , by Jon Ronson. The psychopaths, it seems, are different than you and I.  For one thing, their brains appear to be wired differently to the extent that their amygdalas have abnormal reactions to stress.  For another, they lack empathy.  Also, they tend to be career criminals and general purpose malefactors.  These traits, and the evidence for them, is one subject of Ronson's book - the central subject perhaps, but hardly the only one. This book could almost be a series of separate articles, but they are united by Ronson's highly engaging style, some historical context, and by an overarching theme: our evolving attitudes towards mental illnesses and eccentricities and the forces that shape them. I have previously written about  the test of the title , but what I wrote then was based on an excerpt.  One contrasting theme of the book is the author's evolving attitude toward the test itself.  At first he saw it

Uneasy Lies The Head

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown ........... Shakespeare Henry IV, Part II. So it is with us and our slightly distant primate cousins , so it seems. A 9-year study of wild baboons in Kenya by Princeton University and the Institute of Primate Research may turn conventional assumptions of alphas males upside down. The study found that alpha males have high testosterone levels, which allows them to dominate other baboons, get access to more food, and attract better mates. This is expected. Surprisingly, though, the alpha males also have high levels of stress hormone glucocorticoid, which scientists measured from their feces samples. In fact, the stress of alpha baboons was on par with low-ranking baboons. The convention wisdom is that access to food and females provides life security and thus less stress for dominant males. Conversely, weak males who are constantly threatened by starvation and physical violence from stronger males are thought to be more stressed. The st

Motl Math

Lubos has an interesting post entitled: Why is the sum of integers equal to -1/12 This idea, first explored by Leonard Euler, turns out to be related not only to the original series Euler was looking at but to numerous regularization schemes in QFT and String Theory - as Lumo shows. Of course the integers don't actually have a finite sum - at least not under the usual rules of arithmetic, but the math that leads to Lumo's result is amusing and instructive - see his post for some of the details.  (And Wikipedia on the Riemann Zeta Function ) It's well known that Dirac and several other famous figures in quantum theory were deeply distrustful of the whole idea of renormalization.  Maybe the Euler-Lumo result is a hint that they were right after all. Of course that would still leave the problem of explaining why it works.

Possible Hazards Found to be Associated With Russian Roulette

Kevin Drum thinks the Republican's have painted themselves into a corner and are now scrambling desperately to find a way out.  Except for those who aren't. Republicans now seem to be a hair's breadth away from outright panic. Graham is right: at this point, no matter how desperately they try to pretend that it's Obama standing in the way of a deal (and that's clearly the conservative talking point of the day), it's simply too obvious that it's Republicans who are unwilling to say yes. Obama is almost embarrassingly eager for a deal, but they won't agree to send him a clean debt ceiling increase, they won't agree to a grand bargain, they won't agree to a medium-sized bargain, and they won't agree to revenue increases even in the form of closing virtually indefensible loopholes on hedge fund moguls and other assorted members of the millionaire class. Hell, a sizeable chunk of the GOP's tea party faction actively thinks that default woul

Days of July

Like Kennedy, Obama made the mistake of looking weak to his enemies.  In Obama's case, the enemies are the wingnut right.  The debt ceiling has become Obama's version of the Cuban Missile crisis.  Kennedy (and the East Coast of the US) narrowly managed to survive the crisis with a mixture of patient caution and steely resolve.  In the end, nuclear war was avoided by a very thin margin. Can Obama manage to lead the country through a crisis that might end in an almost equal catastrophe?  Should I be buying gold coins and ammunition?  I couldn't afford many gold coins, I'm afraid.

More Terrorism

Another terrorist attack in India , and it's once again plausible that the trail leads back to Pakistan.  What are India's options? The trouble with low level conflict between nuclear powers is that it's very hard to respond openly without provoking nuclear war.  If India thought that it could take out most of the Pakistani nuclear deterrent in a first strike, it might be an option, but the cost would be certain to be very high, even if fully successful.  Does India have any useful economic weapons?  I wonder.

France 1, US 3

France dominated the World Cup Soccer semi-final for approximately 65 minutes, but it wasn't enough.  France's possession game had the US on the brink of disaster for much of the game, but after Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan came in the tide turned and two quick goals finished off the blues. Good to great defense beat great mid-field play - with a little help from some killer instinct goals.

Shock! (Shadenfreude Edition)

Rupert Murdoch seems to have encountered a bit of a headwind . Paul Krugman: At this point it’s starting to look as if News Corp is better viewed as a criminal enterprise than as a media organization.

Trials of Job

Giles Turnbull of The Morning News tries his hand at some challenging job interview questions . Below are a few of the slightly challenging mathematical or Fermi type questions for our readers: Goldman Sachs: Suppose you had eight identical balls. One of them is slightly heavier and you are given a balance scale. What’s the fewest number of times you have to use the scale to find the heavier ball? Though I've got to say I would have hoped for something slightly more original than this oldie from GS. Can't they afford a dept of hard job interview questions? Towers Watson: Estimate how many planes there are in the sky. Jane Street Capital: What is the smallest number divisible by 225 that consists of all 1’s and 0’s? I got two different answers, both guaranteed to be correct! Susquehanna International Group: Five guys, all of different ages, enter a bar and take a seat at a round table. What is the probability that they are seated in ascending order of age? Another one wit

Back to Bizarro: The Lynch Mob

The arrest of the head of the IMF (who, at the time, was also a prominent candidate for the French Presidency) on sex charges in New York six weeks ago was a bizarro world bombshell , expecially when police started leaking incriminating details.  Today he was released from house arrest and the case against him is in tatters .  Twenty-eight hours after a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York said she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, she spoke by phone to a boyfriend in an immigration jail in Arizona. Investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office learned the call had been recorded and had it translated from a “unique dialect of Fulani,” a language from the woman’s native country, Guinea, according to a well-placed law enforcement official. When the conversation was translated — a job completed only this Wednesday — investigators were alarmed: “She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’ ” the offici