Showing posts from March, 2016

Nano Aggressions

When strangers meet in the jungle, some ethnographer wrote, they start by asking each other about their families and other affiliations, looking, said the ethnographer, "for some excuse not to have to kill each other." Modern encounters are usually less fraught, but we retain the curiosity about each others origins. I recall reading an editorial by some guy with a South Asian name complaining about the micro-aggression of being asked where he was from, especially when the interlocutor wasn't satisfied with "Portland." Clearly, the questioner wanted some information about ethnicity but was reluctant to be so blunt. I have reached the age when I have almost as many doctors as I have surviving high school classmates, and a large percentage of them are either Hispanic or South Asian, mainly, I suppose, because a lot of Indians become doctors and we live in a largely Hispanic area. Many years ago my primary care physician was a woman from India, but she created

Is Trump About to Slump?

Hard to guess, but he looks to be in trouble in Wisconsin, and has also seen some erosion in other polls. Sanders also looks to be gaining, but the hour is late. New York and California may tell the tale. I'm not looking forward to Cruz vs Sanders.

I Beg to Differ

Tyler Cowen links to a study that concludes that diversity on a board or committee is a poor predictor of opinion diversity expressed. A robust finding is that a subject’s lack of ability predicts both a true propensity to accept others’ judgment (informational social influence) and a propensity to agree despite private doubt (normative social influence). Thus, as an antidote to conformity in our experiments, high individual ability seems more effective than group diversity. - See more at: I have no knowledge or opinion of the design or merits of the study, but it does have a certain plausibility - the guy who has always been the smartest kid in the room has more confidence in his opinion than the slower students. On the other hand, those smartest kids on the block are probably more likely to make the mistakes of hubris .

Algebra Too

Algebra seems to have had it's earliest roots in ancient Babylon, though many important ideas were contributed by Indian, Greek and other civilizations. The word itself is Arabic, from a word meaning "reunion of broken parts," and the subject was extensively developed by Arab mathematicians at the beginning of the second millennium. Most of us encountered some of the basic ideas, like solution of linear and quadratic equations in elementary school or (for old guys in benighted climes like me) high school. The most critical early contribution of the West was the invention of analytic geometry by Descartes and contemporaries. This unified the ancient streams of geometry and algebra, and was critical to the further development of nearly every area of mathematics. We got some of that in high school too. Methods for solving linear and quadratic equations were known to the ancients, but early Western mathematicians* also found closed form solutions to cubic (powers to x^3)

"Math is Hard" - Barbie.

So this crazy old guy decided that he wanted to understand what a scheme was. It turns out that this requires a certain amount of knowledge of rings, a subject the old guy may have been exposed to many decades ago, as well as a whiff of algebraic topology , a subject that subject old guy is entirely innocent of. It turned out that the guy had some algebra books around, all of which talked a bit about commutative rings, and he was able to acquire an "Indian subcontinent only" copy of Munkres Topology , a book probably familiar to anyone who has ever wandered into a math graduate department. Nobody, or at least not this guy, can learn math without doing problems, which, in higher math, means doing proofs. It was kind of shocking for our subject to learn that he had lost more than a few steps in this skill in the intervening five decades or so. It's quite a sad story, actually. I really feel quite sorry for him. Maybe he will get better with a little practice.

Check in the Mail: Helicopter Drops

If we accept the increasingly prevalent wisdom that the world has a savings glut and a demand shortfall, can anybody, will anybody, do anything about it? It's now widely accepted that an inflation rate of 2% or slightly more is needed to sustain growth, but central banks flee from it in terror. The austerity madness continues to rule. Some might say "what about Abenomics? Didn't it fail?" What a joke. Japan pushed inflation above 2% for barely a year and has now retreated to effectively deflationary levels. Martin Wolf says it might be time to bring out Milton Friedman's helicopters. Martin Wolf: Helicopter drops might not be far away: “The world economy is slowing, both structurally and cyclically… …How might policy respond? With desperate improvisations, no doubt. Negative interest rates… fiscal expansion. Indeed, this is what the OECD, long an enthusiast for fiscal austerity, recommends…. With fiscal expansion might go direct monetary support, includi

Trump as a Boorish Clod

One constant for Trump is his contempt for women. The latest exchange between him and Cruz , where Trump opponents posted pictures of Mrs. Trump's nude magazine spread and Trump responded by calling Cruz's wife ugly, is merely another crude example. Trump has no use for women except as sex objects. He comes by his chauvinism honestly. The Trump fortune was built by Grandpa the brothel owner. The spirit of the pimp lives on in his grandson. This article provides a few more examples: Humiliating women by decrying their ugliness is an almost recreational pastime for Trump. When the New York Times columnist Gail Collins described him as a “financially embittered thousandaire,” he sent her a copy of the column with her picture circled. “The Face of a Dog!” he scrawled over her visage. This is the tack he took with Carly Fiorina, when he described her facial appearance as essentially disqualifying her from the presidency. It’s the method he’s used to denounce Cher, Bette M


When I picked up my copy of the cheapo paperback edition of a certain mathematical classic probably known to every math grad student, I happened to notice a fairly bold notice in the upper left hand corner of the cover: Circulation of this edition outside the Indian Subcontinent is UNAUTHORIZED. I had a momentary picture of jackbooted Indian Army thugs breaking down my door to seize the UNAUTHORIZED property. Then I realized that India probably didn't give a crap. The jackbooted thugs would likely represent some more domestic publishing organization, like the one that charges six or eight times as much for its US edition. It's hardly a pirated copy, since the publisher name is the Indian branch of the same corporation. Also, I purchased the book from a famous mail order house which shares its name with a big South American river. In any case, it makes me wonder about the exact legal status of such cheap editions intended for, say, the Indian subcontinent. Is it legal t

Time to Crush ISIS

Roger Cohen, writing in the NYT , thinks Obama's slow-motion war on ISIS is not working. Obama clearly believes that the dangers of a more all out attack on ISIS outweigh the advantages, but can this idea be sustained while the casualties in Europe and potentially, the US, pile up? I doubt it. Even if Obama is right, I doubt that the public will sit still for years more of terror while the Islamic State still exists. Cohen: BARCELONA, SPAIN — It is not working. President Obama’s slow-but-steady strategy to defeat the Islamic State is clawing back a little territory in Syria and Iraq but is doing nothing to dent the charismatic appeal of the militant group, disrupt its propaganda or prevent it from killing Europeans... The dangerous thing about this territory, which the group calls a caliphate, is not so much its oil revenue, or training facilities, or proximity to the West, or control over several million people — it is its magnetic assertion of Sunni jihadi power. The Uni

What a Dope!

Higher mathematics is a young man's game. So why do I have a new book on Algebraic Geometry? (My third, I think.) Because I got this stupid idea that I should understand what a scheme was. What an idiot!

By Any Means Necessary

Obama should call Congress back to Washington and ask for a declaration of war against ISIS, and authorization to destroy it by any means necessary.

"This is War"

Declared Senator Ted Cruz, as he hurried back to Washington to introduce a declaration of war in Congress. OK, he didn't really do that latter stuff, he just spouted some inflammatory but otherwise meaningless rhetoric. He wants police patrols of "Muslim neighborhoods" in the US to make sure that they get radicalized. What a dumb-ass. And he's only the second scariest guy running for President. Meanwhile, in Belgium, where there already are lots of radicalized Muslims, they are forced to ponder the consequences. When Ulysses Grant was President, at one point the Ku Klux Klan had become such a grave threat (in his opinion) that he suspended habeas corpus, one of the key legal rights of Americans. That and other firm tactics rapidly destroyed the Klan and it didn't rise again until D.W. Griffith's propaganda masterpiece, The Birth of a Nation resuscitated it many decades later. Suppose Belgium is prepared to take similarly draconian measures, suspending

Carrot and Stick: Cuba

For half a century, the US attempted to destroy the Communist regime in Cuba with brutal sanctions which inflicted terrible suffering on the Cuban people but hardly any at all on Cuba's Communist leaders. During that time, most of the other Communist countries in the world moved sharply away from Communism and many of its brutal repressions. Why? Not because of sanctions or punishments, but because they could not resist participating in the benefits of market economies. It's been obvious for many years that our sanctions against Cuba were counterproductive, not damaging the Castro regime but propping it up. We persisted in those policies because of the disproportionate power of a fanatical anti-Castro lobby of Cuban Americans. That generation is now dying off, and younger Cuban Americans have been paying attention to what worked with China, Vietnam, and other formerly hard-line Communist states. That change made it possible for Obama to open the path to Cuba. Should w


Some recent headlines that are all too non-literal: Krugman Eviscerates Republican Establishment: You Made Trump! Krugman Throttles GOP Elite for Their Dishonesty About Trump Oh well. One can dream.

Collectivism and Property

If there is one thing worshiped by the propertied rich, it is property. If property is their God, collectivism is their Satan. Ultimately though, property is a collective notion. For our hunter-gatherer forbears, property consisted only of stuff one could carry on one's person. Something like the modern notion of property only came into existence with agriculture, with land and domestic animals to defend. The thing is, an individual by himself is nearly as helpless to defend a patch of agricultural land as Charles Koch would be to defend his far flung empire without the collective apparatus of the state and it's appendages. The state originated and grew in response to that need. In the libertarian fantasy, the state exists for no other purpose. But the essence of a state is its collective nature - it can only exist as some kind of a bargain among its participants. In particular, a state is a concentration of power, and those who control the power wield it for their own

Creating Trump

Paul Krugman has been prominent in pointing out that Donald Trump is the creation of the Republican elites with their persistent Conservative bait and switch tactics: fomenting working class fear and anger and delivering nothing but tax cuts for the rich. Those tactics their had modern American origin in the John Birch society (which copied them from the Communist Party), one of whose eleven founding members was Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, the immensely wealthy brothers whose annual strategy sessions attract a who's who of the American right wing mega rich as well as camp followers like the late Antonin Scalia and fellow Supreme Court Justice Thomas. The brothers, also early Birch Society members, later went their own way, but kept the tactics. After the Republican defeat in 2008, it was at the 2009 Koch conclave that the Republican strategy of total resistance to Obama and demonization of him was adopted. Josh Marshall has a particularly clear analysis of how

Another AlphaGo Masterpiece

Lee Se-dol went down again, and again, the computer played amazing go. Lee tried a sharp if desperate invasion with move 125, but when that failed, it was game over. Lee said that the failure was his, not humanities, but that's obvious nonsense. No human would have played better. For those who want to inspect the wreckage on their own computers, the .sgf file is included in the story here . Elsewhere , DeepMind leader Demis Hassabis has some not very illuminating comments on where DeepMind might go next, none of them remotely as interesting as my suggestions .

Ice, Ice Baby

Arctic ice area and extent have been hovering at or near near record lows, mainly because warm storms have been steered into the Arctic taking temperatures in the East to very warm levels. The next week or more will be colder, giving the ice what is likely a last chance to increase. In April, melting season will begin in earnest. As of now, there is a lot of thin ice and open water in the Eastern Arctic. Will that be important for this year's melt season? TBD.

New IQ Tests for Smart Computers

Now that computers have knocked off the best human games, how about some more realistic type problems. My suggestions: (1)Writing a top ten Country or Pop single (words, music, and production). (2)Given an appropriate budget and the necessary geological and terrain data, design a gorge spanning bridge that passes muster with top civil engineers. (3)Given an elementary or intermediate physics textbook, use natural language understanding to read it and solve the problems. It's program can include all appropriate background, but not the specific content of the text. (4)Write a Tony Award winning Broadway Musical. (5)Devise and implement a program to control and mitigate the adverse effects of humans on the global environment;-)

Suck It, Humans! Go Gone.

The toughest game, the one that emphasized human intuition, seems to be gone. Google's AI machine, AlphaGo crushed the best human again today, and it wasn't even close. Lee Se-dol, the best human player in the world, and plausibly the best human player ever, went down again and this time nobody could find significant mistakes in his play. From the New Scientist: In the minutes after today’s match ended, Jackson said AlphaGo’s flawless play left him in shock. “Things that looked questionable in hindsight turned out to be correct. That’s its hallmark.” At yesterday’s post-game press conference, Lee looked shell-shocked. Today he seemed resigned. One reporter asked what AlphaGo’s weaknesses are? Lee laughed: “Well, I guess I lost the game because I wasn’t able to find out.” This is a huge milestone for artificial intelligence. The methods and techniques which conquered the best humans in chess had proven hopelessly impotent against go. One of the most shocking things is

Dark Money: My Book Report I

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer. Does it seem odd to you that one political party is populated exclusively by candidates who advocate tax policies that would generously reward the richest Americans and destroy social programs very popular with the average American? That the US has a health care system that delivers fairly poor quality care, and that only to the well off, but still costs far more than those of other developed countries? Jane Mayer's account of the remarkable institutions that have developed promote this state of affairs is a terrific and, for me, terrifying read. From the Amazon blurb: Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middl

Alpha Go Wins First

Alpha Go won the first game in it's match against the world's best human player , Lee Se-dol. Go is probably the deepest game humans play, much more dependent on intuition than chess. It doesn't look good for that old wetware computer.

Fruitless Schemes

Alexander Grothendieck was one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century, and his central achievement, so I hear, was the notion of scheme . What the hell is that, you might ask, or at least I did, and in a moment of moral weakness, I thought I might try to find out. Wikipedia , sad to say, was little help: To be technically precise, a scheme is a topological space together with commutative rings for all of its open sets, which arises from gluing together spectra (spaces of prime ideals) of commutative rings along their open subsets. That didn't help me much, even though I sort of know what a commutative ring and a topological space are. However, the further reading had this article: Can one explain schemes to biologists? , an obituary for Grothendieck that attempted to do just that. I'm not sure how biologists did, but I flunked. His best known work is his attack on the geometry of schemes and varieties by finding ways to compute their most importa

School Daze: The Human Genome

I went back to school this semester. Thanks to the generosity of the citizens of NM and the misplaced priorities of the State Legislature, it is very cheap for old geezers (like your humble correspondent) to take university classes. One course I am taking is Human Genomics (AKA, BIOL 550), which is fundamentally a reading course wherein we read a lot genomics papers, mostly from the last 2-5 years. The amount of progress in this area recently has been phenomenal, driven mostly by the rapid fall in the cost of sequencing genetic data but also by the development of powerful statistical algorithms that permit analysis of the enormous quantities of data. The human genome, like those of all* the other life on Earth, is encoded in DNA molecules, enormously long chains of four different nucleotides. The human genome, for example, consists of about three billion of these, each of which is paired with a complementary nucleotide in a complementary chain. Together, these chains form the fam

Walls and Tariffs

Great Caesar dead and turned to clay, could stop a hole to keep the wind away......WS, Hamlet. UPDATE: The following is a repost of something I wrote a few years ago. I thinks it's appropriate to the question of the utility of tariffs, which form a sort of wall against the outside, which is why political entities have nearly always liked them, to the distress of economists who like Ricardo's arguments. The real purpose of such walls, whether stone walls of farms and castles or tariff barriers, is to facilitate internal integration and external competition - to fight entropy. SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall .........................Robert Frost, Mending Wall Physicists call it entropy. But there are also lots of things that do love walls, including neighbors, cells, cultures, nations and firms. Which is to say, all those things that like to live in a state of relatively low entropy. We build fences to keep order in and disorder out. Matthew Yglesias,

Repub Debate

I don't know about the rest of you, but I know I slept better having been assured that DT's dick was longer than his fingers.

Protecting Protectionism and Other Economic Inefficiencies

My job needs protection and so do I.............................Apologies to Neil Young. A lot of human behavior is not economically efficient. I would argue that much of that behavior has sound logical roots in a science more fundamental than economics, biology. Recently, a certain ferocious Mustelid took on India's failed attempt to protect its incipient solar panel industry. Success, he argued, would only have ensured that Indian purchasers of solar stuff would pay more than they otherwise might. That's very sound and Smith/Ricardo, but history suggests that there is more to the story. When the dark satanic mills of Manchester were cranking up, they benefited from trade laws that protected them from competition with Indian weavers and later, when their efficiency was sufficient, free trade at the point of a gun allowed those same mills to turn whole villages of Indian weavers into boneyards, and protectionist schemes protected them against competition from the Colon


Among my many faults is a tendency to want to be in every intellectual fight I see. When The Weasel writes some nineteenth century denunciation of economic protectionism, I want to point out some useful counterexamples and the intellectual bankruptcy of the underlying theory. When Wolfgang writes about qualia or Nietzsche, I'd like to offer a contrasting view. When Arun writes about Y-DNA and the AIT or about about how Western scholars have no right to write about the Mahabharata, I have an opinion on those things too. Naturally things as fraught as climate and politics are catnip for the pugnacious mind. Could the Oscar Robertson of old have guarded Steph Curry? I've got an opinion on that too. I'm not quite dumb enough to think I or anyone can have an intelligent opinion on all these things, but I have found argument a very potent learning tool. If you have an idea, test it in intellectual debate. It's the Socratic method, and it still works. If everybody is

The Big Bank Theory

Guess who was sitting in Sheldon's spot. ( Via the Lumonator)

Bargain Days

Daily Beast Headline: Trump’s Latest Acquisition: Christie’s Soul Hope he didn't overpay.

Premature Pivot?

Trump made a few "pivoting toward the center" moves in his victory speech last night. Is it too soon? Probably not, but if his fans get disillusioned it could all tumble down in Florida and the Midwest.

Supa Tu

The wins for Cruz and Rubio aren't bad news for Trump, since each now has a rationale for remaining in the race for a while, thus dividing the anti-Trump vote. They will probably both stick around for at least the next two weeks.


I watched parts of three victory speeches tonight: Clinton, Rubio, and Trump. Rubio's was definitely the best. I guess he must have won big.

New CDS Slogan/Talking Point

You might recall that the satellite record is the "gold standard" for the CDS/Global Warming Skeptic community. Feb 2016 Satellite Temperatures. About that new slogan: It has been zero years and zero months since a temperature increase. Preliminary surface temps also show a big record for 2/2016. Even if human CO2 release went to zero tomorrow, there is still lots of warming already baked into the cake.

Behind Every Great Fortune a great crime*. Fred Koch, according to Jane Mayer's Dark Money , made his big bucks building refineries for Stalin and Hitler. Koch, a founding member of the John Birch Society, came to regret his association with Stalin, but he liked Nazi Germany enough to hire a Hitler loving German nanny for his children. He also showed a fondness for pre-WWII Italy and Japan. The refinery he built for Hitler was the prime source for the high octane aviation gas used by the Luftwaffe, and the destruction of the refinery cost the lives of hundreds of allied airmen and tens of thousands of Germans on the ground. Gramps Trump made his fortune another old fashioned way. According to Wikipedia : Trump made his first fortune operating boom-town hotels, restaurants and brothels[1] in the northwestern United States and western Canada.[2] The apple doesn't fall ... *Balzac via The Godfather.