Showing posts from July, 2015

More On Cecilicide And Public Shaming

Public shaming in the age of social media has created lynch mobs on a scale never before seen. Public shaming has always been terrible punishment for most people - so terrible that our legal system largely abandoned it. Global social media has multiplied its scope and impact immensely. Consider again the case of American Dentist Walter Palmer. Via Kevin Drum , From Max Fisher in Vox. When an American dentist named Walter Palmer killed a beloved lion named Cecil, the social media platforms that allowed outraged web users to spread the story also enabled them to do more than just fume. It gave them the power to act on their anger, to reach into Palmer's life and punish him for what he'd done, without having to wait for the wheels of more formal justice to turn. Web users uncovered Palmer's personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and

For Chris Matthews

I caught Chris Mathews inveighing against the Republicans who called Donald Trump "classless" the other day. "What does that even mean?", he asked. Uncouth. Lacking in education, manners, and refinement. Crude. Coarse. Rude. Boorish. Obnoxious. Uncivilized, uncultured, uncultivated, unrefined, Bush-league, common, plebeian, low, rough, loutish, oafish, churlish, uncivil, impolite, discourteous, disrespectful, unmannerly, bad-mannered, ill-bred, indecorous, crass, indelicate; vulgar, crude. Chris probably doesn't know most of those words either, but if he gets stuck, he can look in the mirror and point at the reflection.


Catherine Thompson of TPM has a mini piece on New Hampshire Trump supporters. I'm not sure what to make of it, except that they are pretty ignorant, very angry, and want somebody as pissed off as they are. Pretty sure that's while people voted for Hitler.


I'm not a big fan of trophy hunting (or any kind of fan of trophy hunting, for that matter), but the fury against the dentist who poached the lion they call Cecil may be a bit of an overreach. Hunting is not only a basic human instinct, but it's also mainly legal. Of course if he has some culpability in the poaching (luring a collared animal from the game preserve), then go ahead - throw the book at him. But leave his family alone.

Jonathan Pollard

After thirty years in the clink, Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard is getting out. I recall attending a bar mitzvah a decade or more ago where the rabbi interrupted the service to implore the audience to petition their politicians to work for his release, and he explained that Pollard had done nothing to harm the US. I barely restrained my impulse to stand up and shout "Bullshit!" Pollard gave away key US secrets, and they made their way to Moscow as well as Tel Aviv - and whatever his religious motives he got paid for it. Fred Kaplan has the story in Slate : At his sentencing hearing, Pollard, who’d been a U.S. Navy intelligence official, painted himself as a devout Jew who’d stolen classified documents dealing only with Arab military might in order to help Israel stave off an invasion; none of his actions, he claimed, harmed American security. Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. called Pollard to the bench, showed him a classified affidavit that the Department of Defense had submitt


"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself...........Joseph Campbell" I saw that quote on the back of a Special Forces tee-shirt while waiting for a burger at the local Five Guys. It made me think of the dispute over Donald Trump's claim that John McCain was not a war hero. Hero is one of those words with lots of meanings, and the Special Forces/Joseph Campbell version is a pretty rigorous one, seemingly implying that there are no live heroes. In any case, John McCain is a man who repeatedly went into deadly danger for his country, and paid a huge price for it. It's good enough for the hero designation in a lot of vocabularies. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a guy who coasted through that war on deferments. So whether McCain makes that tough hero standard or not, Trump pretty clearly is utterly lacking in standing to make the critique - but he probably qualifies for the title of "war coward" himself.

Scoundrel Times

History supplies an endless list of scoundrels, pirates, thieves and murderers who subsequently prospered. Their opposites, if not necessarily less common, are less prominent, and apparently less influential. The Spaniards who came to Mexico with Cortez came to steal the Native American's gold, and save their souls for Christianity, but the catastrophe they brought had little to do with either purpose. Nearly 90% of the population of pre-Columbian Mexico perished as a result, but the overwhelming majority of them seem to have been killed by the diseases that the Spaniards brought. Disease and villainy more or less totally exterminated the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Caribbean. The immense Native American genocide was mainly accidental, though one will not have any trouble finding plenty of villainy as well. Many other genocides have a similar character, possibly including those of Stalin and Mao, but deliberate class extermination was also a motive. The Great Bengal fami


After a somewhat slow start, the Arctic melting season has picked up a lot of steam. Few Arctic watchers expect this year's melt to match or exceed 2012's extraordinary record (ice Area more than 2.5 x 10^6 km^2 below the 1979-2008 average), but it looks like the relative rebounds of 2013 and 2014 (both well over 10^6 million km^2 below the average, and both below anything seen before 2006) might be over. Prediction in the Arctic is a highly inexact art, but there are six or more weeks left in the melt season.

Bad Vibrations

Paul Krugman explores the evolutionary psychology of tattoos, Italian Academic incompetence, and Heritage foundation economics. Henry Farrell — who recently said some very interesting things about Very Serious People — writes me about my musings on hipster style, and refers me to a review of a book on codes of the underworld. The book notes that tattoos and such play a role as signals of criminal identity, which work precisely because they make it hard to participate in non-criminal society. But there’s more: criminals actively cultivate a reputation for incompetence at non-criminal business, designed to reassure both their colleagues and the victims of their extortion that they won’t break their implicit contracts by going legit. And the author, Diego Gambetta, adds a wonderful parallel: according to his account, Italian academics, who do a lot of horse-trading in appointments etc., cultivate a reputation for incompetence at actual research, again designed to reassure those with wh

Haters Gonna Hate Hate Hate...

I was glancing at the work of a blogger I had once respected - not you, Lumo, I always knew you were as nuts as you are brilliant - and saw that it was frothing with racist and cultural hatred. It started me thinking about what makes a seemingly intelligent and reasonable person go off the rails. There are lots of reasons, I suppose - recent terrorist incidents point to a mix of mental illness and fanatical ideology. One potent source of the latter is the cultural disruption caused by cultural globalization. The long history of civilization is strewn with the wreckage of cultures - most of them now lost to history - digested and absorbed by conquest or assimilation. The economic globalization which has transformed the world in the last few decades has a cultural counterpart as the internet, television, and video instantly transmits fashion and attitude to every part of the world. There is a common thread that connects the nut jobs of the American religious right with the Mosque b

Chasing Utopia

Maddy Crowell has a long article on Auroville, India in Salon. It's called Trouble in Utopia, but I think my title is more accurate. A punchline: When I arrived back in Pondicherry, I began talking with a bar owner there about Auroville. Originally from Delhi, he told me he’d spent some time in Auroville, mostly, he admitted, because he was chasing a girl. I asked him what he thought of Auroville. “That place,” he waved his hand at the ground. “They’re all looking to be cured. The ones who are cured, they leave. The rest, they’re stuck.” “Cured of what?” I asked. “That,” he responded, “is the question.”

It's So Sad

Just today, Taylor Swift was telling me that we used to have Mad Love, but now all we've got is Bad Blood. I should have appreciated her more during the good times. link

Ressentiment: US Style

Donald Trump.

Star Dust

The dust grains produced when big stars spill their guts via supernova or stellar wind are tiny: mostly micron or submicron scale grains. These are the stuff that planets are made of. It takes about a billion such grains to make a millimeter sized particle, and a billion of the latter to make a something of meter size. Another factor of a trillion is needed before mutual gravitational attraction can become significant. Each of these scales, and the additional factor of a billion before you get to a real planet has its distinct and complicated physics - some of which remains poorly understood. That first factor of a billion might be the best understood. Friction with the gas in the circumstellar disk slows down those tiny particles to tiny collision velocities where they readily stick together. By the time they have fallen to the center of that disk (under the influence of the perpendicular component of the star's gravity) they have already grown to millimeter size. It take

Blame Canada: Euro Division

Among the many angry complaints I got about my last post, there was one that got my attention as particularly apt. I will paraphrase it as: What does the German taxpayer owe Greece? (The original was expressed a bit more shrilly - you can look it up). After thinking about it, I decided that the answer had to be: nothing. But that made me think of another question: What does the EU owe Greece? Greece, of course, owes the EU and Germans a lot of money, but is there any reciprocal responsibility? I say yes, and yes because through its control of the money supply the EU has the ability to totally destroy the Greek economy, a power the EU just used to subvert democracy in Greece in a particularly brutal way. With great power comes great responsibility.* So what does it owe Greece? An opportunity to leave or stay without total economic destruction. Either one will cost the EU, but see Spi, loc. cit. *Wisdom of Spiderman, vol. 1

Ressentiment: Greeks and Germans

My commentators have been almost unanimous in assigning the most scurrilous faults of character to the Greek people- a remarkable tribute to the power of the EU/German propaganda machine. For these faults the EU and most of my commentators prescribe 100 years of privation and debt peonage. It might not surprise you that Paul Krugman gets a lot of hate mail, and lately a lot from Germany. Some of these latter have compared his criticisms to the German persecution of Jews and others. Because, I guess, criticizing a country's policies in the NYT is just like systematically exterminating a whole people. Nietzsche, who had a keen instinct for his countrymen's weaknesses, loved the word Ressentiment. Here is Wikipedia on the word: Ressentiment (French pronunciation: ​[rəsɑ̃timɑ̃]), in philosophy and psychology, is one of the forms of resentment or hostility. It is the French word for "resentment" (fr. Latin intensive prefix 're', and 'sentir' "t

National Character

Is there such a thing as national character? Any truth to stereotypes? I looked up a few national stereotypes - bear in mind that such stereotypes are usually created by enemies. A few samples: Spaniards: – lazy; party animals; womanizers Irish – loud; no sense of cuisine; impulsive; glass of whiskey or beer in his/her hand; Greek – big and overweight; lazy; eat souvlaki and olives and drink Ouzo or red wine all day; French – good lovers; best cuisine in the world; chaotic; irresponsible; Germans – mechanical; organized; boring; no sense of humor; British (UK) – drinkers; lousy food; stiff upper-lips; ultra-traditional; Read more: I shortened all the lists, but more or less everybody eventually gets accused of being a drunk. Full disclosure: According to 23 and me, my ancestry is German, French, English, Irish, Czech, and Norwegian, in more or less that order. I wouldn't put

Wow! IMF to Europe

From the NYT: FRANKFURT — The International Monetary Fund threatened to withdraw support for Greece’s bailout on Tuesday unless European leaders agree to substantial debt relief, an immediate challenge to the region’s plan to rescue the country. The aggressive stance sets up a standoff with Germany and other eurozone creditors, which have been reluctant to provide additional debt relief. The I.M.F role is considered crucial for any bailout, not only to provide funding but also to supervise Greece’s compliance with the terms. A new rescue program for Greece “would have to meet our criteria,” a senior I.M.F. official told reporters on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “One of those criteria is debt sustainability.” So, the Troika is no more, and somebody has their head screwed on right. Lagarde? Obama?

Krugman Discusses The European Mindset

Thinking of some of my brighter commentators. One of the ideas floating around in the aftermath of the sack of Athens has been that of, in effect, deposing Syriza from outside and installing a “technocratic” government. It wouldn’t be the first time in this dismal saga, and I won’t be surprised if it happens, for a few months anyway. But let me note, as I have before, that what Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works; they’re people who subscribe to the approved fantasies, and never change their minds no matter how badly wrong things go. Despite the overwhelming evidence that austerity has exactly the dire effects basic textbook macro says it will, they cling to belief in the confidence fairy. Despite a striking lack of evidence that “structural reform” delivers much of a growth boost, especially in an economy suffering from a huge output gap, they continue to present structural reform — mainly in the form of disempowering workers — as a sovereign remedy f

Greek Deal?

There seem to be a lot of still moving parts, but it doesn't look like something that can work to me, mainly because there doesn't seem to be any debt forgiveness built in. If not, this is another kick the can measure which is likely to inflict further destruction on the Greek economy before Greexit.

Euro Demands

I thought I was joking when I said that Greece was to become a colony of Germany. It seems not. This list of Euro demands is what one imposes on a defeated enemy. Krugman continues his rant against Merkel: Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro. Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for. Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German moralit

Merkel Plays the Part

... of Shylock to the hilt. Shakespeare gave Shylock all the best lines, but reality is less kind to the German Chancellor. Meanwhile, Paul Krugman can't decide whether he is angrier at Merkel for her intransigence or at Tsipras and Syriza for it's failure to do any contingency planning. 1. Tsipras apparently allowed himself to be convinced, some time ago, that euro exit was completely impossible. It appears that Syriza didn’t even do any contingency planning for a parallel currency (I hope to find out that this is wrong). This left him in a hopeless bargaining position. I’m even hearing from people who should know that Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is right, that he hoped to lose the referendum, to give an excuse for capitulation. 2. But substantive surrender isn’t enough for Germany, which wants regime change and total humiliation — and there’s a substantial faction that just wants to push Greece out, and would more or less welcome a failed state as a caution for the rest. 3.

Astro FOTD: Angular Momentum

The clouds of dust and gas from which stars form usually have a specific angular momentum several orders of magnitude larger than typical stellar and planetary systems. Consequently, proto-planetary systems need a mechanism for ridding themselves of excess angular momentum. Turbulent mechanisms involving magnetic or gravitational interactions in the proto-planetary disk are believed to transport angular momentum outward. Schematically, imagine a disk rotating with Keplerian velocities (gravity just providing the required centrepetal force), if an inner portion is linked by magnetic flux lines to an outer portion, magnetic tension will supply a braking torque to the inner portion, thus transporting angular momentum outward.


People who proclaim themselves a gender they were not born into are admirable heroes. Those who proclaim an ethnicity they were not born into are despicable fakers. Is that interesting or not?

Greek Capitulation

After months of futile struggle Greece has agreed to surrender and forfeit its sovereignty to Germany. It will officially be a colony of Germany, giving that country its long desired Mediterranean seaport. Greece will be eligible to officially become a state of the Federal Republic in 2057 or whenever every Greek has learned German, whichever comes later. Meanwhile, in other news, Chancellor Merkel has demanded that England return the Elgin Marbles.

Greek Play

Saw a local production of a show about the Greek debt last night. Greece was personified by Antonio, a mostly amiable dunce who lent out borrowed cash to a neer-do-well friend. Naturally, things went badly, and the EU demanded its pound of flesh. Of course plays aren't reality, so in the end things turned topsy-turvy for Shylock, er, the EU, and it lost a bunch of cash and had to convert to Krugmanisn.

Communism, Socialism, Capitalism

Since some of my commentators are deeply confused about the differences. The most obnoxious feature of Communism is that it is totalitarian and repressive. Some other governments are that way too. The most obnoxious feature of democratic socialism is that it doesn't work. Free riders and other parasitic phenomena make it unworkable. Capitalism works reasonably well when combined in proper proportions with some state action. Pure capitalism is a crackpot theory which has never been tried and probably won't be. Economics is confusing, since some officially Communist countries, like China, are mainly capitalistic, and some officially non-Communist countries are mainly Communist, like Russia.

Bailing out Texas

Krugman and others have written lately about the biggest US bailout - the saving and loan disaster of the 1980's and early 90's. Deregulation, Reagan and Volker created the crisis, with plenty of help from Congress. A lot of the bailout money went to institutions in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma (big oil States hit by falling prices and the Bush crime family fraud division). Krugman implies that Manhattan bailed out Texas: Ahem. As it happens, the people of Manhattan did bail out Texas, big time. I wrote about it here. The savings and loan crisis, which was very costly to taxpayers, was mainly a Texas affair: The cleanup from that crisis cost taxpayers about $125 billion (pdf), back when that was real money. As best I can tell, around 60 percent of the losses were in Texas (pdf). So that’s around $75 billion in aid — not loans, outright transfer. Texas GDP was about $300 billion in 1987. So this was equivalent to giving — not lending, not even taking an equity stake — Sp

Piketty on German and Greece

Debt and morality. From an interview in Die Zeit. Piketty: ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts? Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice. ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today? Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the co

Who Won Anyway?

Greeks gave an empathetic "No" to EU demands. It looks like various Greek haters got their wish, but so did some with opposite views. Here is one of the latter, Paul Krugman in the NYT: Of course, that’s not the way the creditors would have you see it. Their story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice. But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense. What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on b


... seems to make you dumber, shorter, and less educated. On the positive side, it doesn't seem to affect blood pressure or cardiovascular health. Not sure I understand this part, but the authors concluded that this showed cognitive ability and height had been subject to positive selection.

Book Review: Fundamental Forces of Nature

Kerson Huang's Fundamental Forces of Nature: The Story of Gauge Fields is one of the rare examples a semi-popular physics book with lots of equations. It tells the story of the gauge revolution and the standard model with many words and a sprinkling of equations. My own graduate work happened mostly before the gauge revolution in a department dominated by anti-field theory S-matrix people. My quantum field theory classes suffered from rather severe deficiencies in the book, the teacher, and, of course the student. Anyway, I didn't learn much. My work never used quantum field theory either. From time to time I've tried to remedy this gross deficiency in my education, and I've accumulated a considerably library of QFT books in the process, but somehow I always seem to get distracted or run out of energy before I get to renormalization - which, in any case, was mostly smoke and mirrors when I was a grad student. It's pretty hard for me to gauge (LOL) how much s

Up From Racism

Tim Parrish on how he almost became a Dylann Roof and how he managed to extricate himself from his own corrosive racism. A good and instructive read. He mentions that it's a demon one never completely escapes: On my worst days, if a black person does something I don’t like or reinforces a stereotype still lodged in me, the N-word comes to mind quickly and sharply. Then I have to gather myself, bring reason to bear, once again dredge up the roots of these thoughts, and once more disconnect racist wiring laid in me since my childhood and recharged today by white institutions and media. He thinks racism is a curable or at least treatable disease: What about young men like Dylann Roof? Was there a method to point him down a different road—one that didn’t end with him looking for an hour at individual people’s faces, talking with individual human beings, doubting his intent, and yet still pulling the trigger time and again? Perhaps with sustained mental health support, perhaps wi

Due Diligence

Just got a note from my broker on the Greek situation. While the note was intended to damp down the (so-far, mild) market hysteria over default, the content was borderline moronic, repeating all the stupid cliches I have railed against here. (It's all about socialism, blah, blah, blah). Whatever happened to the idea that bankers ought to exercise due diligence before loaning out the money entrusted to them? I'm pretty sure my local banks do some checks before they loan somebody $20 k to buy a car. So how the heck do banks get off the hook for lending out tens of billions to a country (or Commonwealth, or City) that rather transparently is quite likely to have difficulty paying up? Well, says Commentator hist, the politicians told everybody it would be OK. Cause politicians are famous not only for probity but prophecy, I guess. They do know you can't repossess a country (city or Commonwealth) right? It's a story as old as Sumer (at least). When times get good ev

World Cup

The US was pretty lucky to escape with a 2-0 win vs Germany yesterday, but they mostly played better. Another familiar FIFA failing was in evidence though when they let two clearly concussed women keep playing. FIFA is so rotten that it really should be abolished. National federations should agree to withdraw and start a new version. It would be much less painful than withdrawing from the Euro. From the NYT story: “If #FIFA has learned anything … both players should be taken off immediately,” Taylor Twellman, a former most valuable player in Major League Soccer whose career was curtailed by concussions, wrote on Twitter. “Amateur hour #FIFA,” Twellman added in a separate post on Twitter. “All show, no substance with player safety particularly head injuries.” Briana Scurry, the American goalkeeper whose save during the penalty shootout made the difference in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China, and who has also suffered concussions, expressed similar concerns about Tu