Showing posts from September, 2017

Taking a Knee

Apparently Colin Kaepernick came up with the taking a knee during the anthem gesture after long discussions with a Green Beret who argued that taking a knee was both respectful of the flag and distinctive enough to be recognized as a protest. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word Baruch and its Arabic cognates Barak and Mubarak, each meaning blessed, seem to be derived from words meaning "knee" or "to kneel." FWIW

Helicopter Time

General Russel Honore, who led the relief effort to New Orleans after Katrina, didn't exactly mince words when reacting to Trump's pussyfooting on the question of suspension of the Jones Act for relief to Puerto Rico (he did suspend it for Texas and Florida). Honore said: "That SOB who rides around in Air Force One doesn't give a damn about poor people or people of color." I don't think he was talking about the pilot or the chief steward. Honore also said that what was really needed was an infusion of cash for an economy where credit cards no longer work and almost everybody is now jobless. Hell yes, and as Honore says, hire the unemployed to clean up and rebuild.


So what is known about the genetics of speed? In the cases of horses and dogs, quite a lot. For humans, maybe not as much, since we don't deliberately breed people for speed. Still, there is quite a lot that is known. One big factor is limb conformation, specifically the lever arm of the attached muscles. This has to do with the relative lengths of the limbs and where exactly the muscles are attached. These things are mostly controlled by genetics and completely immune to training. The strength and composition of the muscles involved is also important, and in particular the types of muscle fibers composing the muscles. Muscle fiber type is specified by genetics, while training has the ability to strengthen muscles, but can't change the type. Recruitment, the degree and ease with which fibers are neurally activated is partially genetic but can be increased by training. Muscle training essentially works by increasing the size of individual fibers and improving their rec

More on Genes

Arun Gupta: Americans of the stupid variety keep trying to justify the way things are by genetics. But the fact is that culture (learned behavior) is far stronger . I have pretty good reason to suspect that the "American of the stupid variety" he has is mind is your humble correspondent. But let's consider the merits of the claim. It seems to me that claiming that culture is much more important than genetics is a bit like claiming that the brain is more important than the lungs. Both are essential, but the relative importance of the two depends on context. In this case, the crucial qualities under consideration are running speed and what the football scouts refer to as athleticism - essentially acceleration in changing one's state of motion. These are matters of details of body mechanics like limb proportions and the relative size of the achilles tendon. Training can affect muscle strength and reaction times, but the above mentioned critical matters are det

Insults: Advantage Kim

I think Kim Jong Un is currently leading the insult contest with "Deranged Dotard" crushing "Rocket Man." I mean, come on. Rocket Man sounds more like a compliment than an insult, so it lacks sting. "Deranged Dotard" is not only clearly insulting but it seems appropriately descriptive.

Sue the Bastards: Football Kills Your Brain

Ken Belson in the NYT: Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who committed suicide in April while serving a life sentence for murder, was found to have a severe form of C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head trauma that has been found in more than 100 former N.F.L. players. Researchers who examined the brain determined it was “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age,” said a lawyer for Hernandez in announcing the result at a news conference on Thursday. Hernandez was 27. C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, can be diagnosed only posthumously. Hernandez is the latest former N.F.L. player to have committed suicide and then been found to have C.T.E., joining Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, Andre Waters, Ray Easterling and Jovan Belcher, among others. Seau and Duerson shot themselves in the chest, apparently so that researchers would be able to examine their brain. Hernandez was found hanging in his prison cell.

Genetic Differences

I think I read that Jimmy the Greek got fired from his sports job for saying that blacks dominate American sports because they have more talent. It's probably more complicated than that but the science of human genetic differences is controversial mainly because of its potential implications for the subject of racial differences. What with White Supremacists and Nazis making a comeback, it's hardly possible to dispassionately discuss such matters. The standard line on the left, I think, is that race is a social construct. Well, of course, but that doesn't mean that it isn't related to biological history. I think that the left - and I'm slightly left myself - overplays its hand when it insists that noticing differences correlated with race is evidence of racism or other dastardly crimes against propriety. If you publicly insist on a claim that anyone can see is false you discredit yourself more than anyone else. I would guess that anyone who follows sports in

Sonic Warfare in Cuba

For sometime American and then Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba seem to have been subjected to some kinds of weird sonic attacks, which have caused hearing loss and even brain injury. Aa central oddity is that the Cuban government would seem to have no obvious motive for such attacks. As reported by Josh Lederman, Michael Weissenstein, and Rob Gillies on TPM: The Cuban president sent for the top American envoy in the country to address grave concerns about a spate of U.S. diplomats harmed in Havana. There was talk of futuristic “sonic attacks” and the subtle threat of repercussions by the United States, until recently Cuba’s sworn enemy. The way Castro responded surprised Washington, several U.S. officials familiar with the exchange told The Associated Press. In a rare face-to-face conversation, Castro told U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis that he was equally befuddled, and concerned. Predictably, Castro denied any responsibility. But U.S. officials were caught off g

Nuclear Targeting Strategy

Every President from Eisenhower to Reagan had looked at our nuclear war plans and been appalled. Several, including Kennedy and Carter had resolved to do something about a hair trigger plan that promised to destroy civilization and perhaps all human life. All were defeated by what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, which had the US Strategic Air Command close to its heart. ON JANUARY 25, 1991, General George Lee Butler became the head of the Strategic Air Command. During his first week on the job, Butler asked the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff to give him a copy of the SIOP[The US Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear war]. General Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney had made clear that the United States needed to change its targeting policy, now that the Cold War was over. As part of that administrative process, Butler decided to look at every single target in the SIOP, and for weeks he carefully scrutinized the thousands of desired gr

The Mark of Cain

Recent hurricanes, the incredible shrinking airline coach seat, and, especially the recent Equifax data breach, have reminded me of how important I believe government regulation to be. Which gives me yet another excuse to bash libertarianism. I believe that I first encountered libertarians in high school, and I reacted with an instant hostility which has neither evaporated nor abated in the succeeding sixty years, though reading Ayn Rand certainly refreshed my immune reaction. I have sometimes tried to comprehend the deep roots of this distaste, with only modest success. I consider myself a liberal, more classical than modern, so I share some values with the libertarians, but certainly not all. In the Bible, after Cain had whacked his brother Abel, God asked him, perhaps rhetorically, "where is your brother?" Cain replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" That question, or rather its answer, is the central difference between liberals and libertarians. To put

Evacuations and Uncertainty

Irma spent the night slow dancing with Cuba. Very bad for Cuba but probably spared Miami and the East coast of Florida the worst effects of the hurricane. If so, those who evacuated Miami at considerable cost and trouble may be outraged. The thing always is that prediction of hurricane path and especially intensity, though drastically improved, is not, and is not likely to become, an exact science. On the other hand, if evacuations had not happened, and the quite likely event of a direct hit on the East coast had happened, the casualties could have been immense. All of which invites the question: is there a better way? I think there is. It's not cheap, but I think it would save lives and money over the long run. I've mentioned the basic idea before. Build large, well-equipped, durable, and multi-use shelters near as many flood prone regions of high density population as possible. This should be accompanied with two other policy changes: phase out flood insurance and d

Category Six

Weather Underground has an extremely popular weather blog that used to be called Category Six. (I think that the new name is Weather Underground Category Six). Anyway, the name led some noobs to think that Hurricane Irma was in fact a category six hurricane. There isn't any such, but should there be? Maggie Astor, writing in the NYT, mentions some of the arguments while saying that its not going to happen: As Irma churned west with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour on Tuesday, making it among the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, some armchair meteorologists suggested that there should be. On the surface, that makes some sense: The difference between successive categories on the existing scale ranges from 14 to 26 miles per hour, and Irma’s winds were 28 miles per hour past the Category 5 threshold. In the years ahead, hurricanes are quite likely to become stronger, and the strongest ones more frequent. But Category 6 still is not going to happen. Why not?


Hurricane Irma is now a true beast, with 180 mile per hour sustained winds and gusts up to 220 mph. Very few structures can sustain such winds, and it will cause terrible devastation wherever it strikes. Worst case scenarios devastate all of Florida and much of the Atlantic seaboard. Best case scenarios are mostly still pretty bad for somebody.

NK Fusion Bomb

The bomb tested by North Korea had a yield 10-15 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, so was it a true fusion bomb? We don't know yet, but it seems likely. 120 Kilotons, while on the small side for a fusion bomb, is really big for a fission bomb. One possibility is that it was Sakharov's First Idea type layer cake bomb, a simpler fusion assisted type of bomb which probably can't get either really big yields or fit on a reasonable sized missile. Ulam-Teller type designs, used by all the other thermonuclear powers are able to be both compact and extremely powerful. In any case, a 120 kiloton bomb can devastate a large city.

Harvey and Climate Change

I have a message for Nick Kristof and everybody else who thinks that Harvey's devastation is a perfect occasion for discussion of climate change. STFU! It's not that I don't care about climate change, but there is something much more urgent to deal with. The Houston catastrophe may have been exacerbated by climate change (or not) but much of the disaster can be traced directly to failure to plan for an almost entirely predictable flood event. Houston and the Texas coast grew recklessly and essentially planlessly and its citizens paid the price for their governments' failure to plan. Houston and other coastal cities will rebuild, but decisions made in the next year or so can profoundly affect what happens the next time a big hurricane comes ashore in the US, and there will be many such next times, starting as soon as next week. By contrast, what we do about climate change won't do anything to protect our coastal cities anytime in the next several decades. Davi

You Won't Believe

I might have previously mentioned that everyone in Hollywood who can afford a publicist has a stratospheric IQ*, or at least one higher than Richard Feynman, and that 160 seems to be the mode of the distribution. So does everybody named Trump, except for Eric who is reportedly a couple of IQ points short of the Feynman standard. So do most prominent athletes, including those you would swear couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel. Football players are not prominently mentioned on the list, probably because the NFL tests everybody with the Wonderlic, and the average NFL Wonderlic score is 20, while an IQ of 100 corresponds roughly to a Wonderlic of 22. Quarterbacks and offensive linemen are the brainiacs of the NFL, averaging about 24. By comparison, a Wonderlic of 29 would correspond to IQ 115. Pat McInally, a Harvard grad, was the John von Neumann of the NFL Wonderlic, scoring a perfect 50 out of 50. I expect that a few of the numbers

Hurricane Season

Irma is a big powerful major hurricane that is still far out in the Atlantic, but several models a pushing it into the East Coast near one or another major cities (DC, Philadelphia, or New York). It's much too early to put much credence in these models, but emergency responders there need to be prepared. By the time landfall is imminent, it will be way too late.

Aryan Invasions

The Indo European (IE) Languages are the most widespread in the world, now spoken virtually everywhere, but widespread in Eurasia more than 2000 years ago. The discovery of deep affinities between many of the major languages of India and those of Europe was one of the seminal events in linguistic history, but soon became ensnarled in racist and political controversies. The sequencing of ancient DNA from human fossils seems to have clarified the prehistory of Europe: an early population of hunter gatherers was largely but not completely replaced by neolithic farmers from the Iran and the Middle East, and they in turn were substantially replaced by mostly male pastoralists from Central Asia. These pastoralists are very likely to have brought the Indo-European languages. The situation in India is more fraught, partly because many Indian nationalists are offended by the idea that their civilization might not be autochthonous, but more importantly because we don't yet have good anci