Showing posts from March, 2019

Luke, I am your father

I recently spent some fun time in New Orleans.  It was my first trip to Louisiana, so I thought I might read up a bit.  High on the list of recommended books is Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men , so that was my first, and since it's pretty long (656 pg) it took several evenings, etc. It has some structural similarities to a couple of other books I've been thinking about lately, Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  In each case the story is told by a narrator but the central character, part man and part myth, is often offstage. That central character in ATKM is Willie Stark, a thinly disguised simulacrum of Huey Long, the Governor and later Senator.  The narrator, Jack Burden, is a troubled, cynical, and difficult child of privilege who nonetheless rejects family money.  After various failures (a PhD dissertation abandoned almost complete, a rejected proposal, a failed marriage) he finds work as a reporter and starts covering

Hereditary Feeblemindedness

Notes for a review of She Has Her Mother's Laugh.    Case studies in catastrophic misunderstandings. It seems plausible that people had some ideas about how progeny resembled parents in prehistoric times, but those ideas were oversimplified and often quite wrong.  Aristotle thought that fathers were solely responsible for the children's ancestry, for example. At one point, the royal families of Europe, and the Hapsburgs in particular, thought that blood determined heredity, and in order to maintain the purity of their royal blood, only married other royals of their own family.  Because all of us harbor some deleterious recessive genes, this kind of strict endogamy is a good recipe for concentrating them, and over the generations the Hapsburgs lost their health, their fertility, and their minds, in the process promoting the decline and ultimate collapse of the Spanish empire.  The damage done by the sangria pura doctrine didn't stop there.  It was also invoked by the inq

Fair Enough?

New York City's most elite high school recently admitted less than 1% black students in its most recent class, from a city which is 25% black.   30% of the 2019 class at Harvard identify as Asian, compared to about 6% of the US population. Both groups are complaining about being discriminated against.  The Asian group claimed that admission for them required higher grades and SAT scores than other students.  Those representing the black students claim that the admissions tests are unfair to black students. The problem, obviously, is that there are two often conflicting standards for fairness: admission by best performance or admission by proportional representation.  NYC is still using a performance based system, while Harvard and many other elite colleges try to work a sort of compromise. There seem to be legitimate arguments for each approach.

Red, Dead, No Redemption

Galaxies may or may not have a social life.  Many, like our Milky Way, live in groups of a few dozen.  Others are loners, and still others live in clusters of hundreds or thousands.  Loners and group members tend to be actively forming stars, and consequently have the large, extremely bright young blue stars that only live for a few millions or tens of millions of years.  By contrast, most of the galaxies in large groups, especially the big elliptical galaxies, aren't forming stars, haven't for  perhaps a few billion years or so, and consequently have only old, red, and small stars - they are red and dead in the professional parlance. We know why, in a sense.  They lack the cold molecular gas clouds where stars form, and instead, are embedded in hot ionized gas at a million or so kelvins.  However, this presents another puzzle.  Galaxy clusters typically have one or more of the very large cD ellipticals at their center.  Their large gravity draws in the hot ionized gas and in

Powerful Economic Forces that Nobody Knows How to Stop

Paul Krugman used those words to describe the plight of rural America , and other parts of the world with similar problems.  It's not just rural America, though, it's in the cities too.  In rural America it's the continuing advance of mechanization that's making farming, the occupation that formerly employed most of the human race, a job that can be done by a few.  This trend has been going on for over a century, but in the middle of the twentieth century factory jobs replaced the farming jobs with better paying ones, but now those factory jobs are largely gone too. The powerful and uncontrollable economic forces are crushing much of the newly created global middle class.  In my opinion, it can only get worse, as both unskilled and skilled jobs go increasingly to automation and robots. Right now the US is continuing to see a flurry of job creation, but there is little sign that many of these jobs will be high quality or good paying ones.  For many workers, or at lea

Before the Bar

Supernaught mentions that Sabine H. is suing Lubosh.  Lubos had previously mentioned it.  The provocation is the stream of criticism and insults directed her way since she criticized a new super-collider. I've been on the receiving end of some of the Lumonator's attacks, and it's not pleasant.  The trouble is that Motl has no sense of proportion or propriety.  He isn't content to attack your logic and knowledge, but seems compelled to go after your species, phylum, gender, education, family, etc. I still think, however, that using the courts in scientific battles is a really bad idea.  I'm not sure how Hossenfelder will fare in EU courts, but I think she would have a hard time prevailing in a US court.  She did make herself a very public figure in this debate by writing a New York Times OpEd against the collider, and US courts have a tendency to say that once you have become a combatant, you are fair game.  The exception would be if some of Lumo's comments w

Magic Light Machines

A variety of technological devices have fueled discovery through time, but two closely related technologies have done most of the heavy lifting: microscopes and telescopes.  Variants on these two technologies have exposed the world of the small and the world of the large.  In biology, they have revealed the workings of the cell and the molecular engines that make them work.  In physics and astronomy the atom, the nucleus, and the world of the planets stars and galaxies have been revealed. For the past century and one half, our most powerful microscopes have relied on acceleration of particles, so much of the work depends on virtual rather than real photons.  Is the LHC our last, best microscope? Sabine H. and like minded colleagues would like it to be, and they have some good arguments, but I can't agree.  I suppose that my opinion is driven mostly by emotion, but I just hate the thought of giving up on our long, amazingly successful journey "inward bound" to borrow t

How to Destroy Your Brand Without Really Trying

Boeing, the world's leading manufacturer of passenger aircraft, has flown into a crapstorm of potentially epic proportions.  Its best selling new plane has had two recent crashes and the flight controls are suspects in both. According to Jeff Wise, writing in Slate , a leading suspect is a dubious business decision that led to technical compromises that may have affected airworthiness. To maintain its lead, Boeing had to counter Airbus’ move. It had two options: either clear off the drafting tables and start working on a clean-sheet design, or keep the legacy 737 and polish it. The former would cost a vast amount—its last brand-new design, the 787, cost $32 billion to develop—and it would require airlines to retrain flight crews and maintenance personnel. Instead, it took the second and more economical route and upgraded the previous iteration. Boeing swapped out the engines for new models, which, together with airframe tweaks, promised a 20 percent increase in fuel efficienc


Back when America was still great, parents who wanted to get Dumb jr. or Jared into an elite school despite the kiddos being only slightly brighter than John Harvard's statue in the Yard knew that they had to spring for a building, an institute, or at least a couple of endowed professorships. Now that Libruls and Lena Dunham have destroyed our morals, small time richies and celebrities have been bribing their kids in for a few miserable hundred K.  It's an outrage. Not to worry though, the FBI is on the case.

47 Months

A lot of people are angry about the pro Trump judge who gave Manafort a sentence 1/6 as long as the guideline.  Not me. In my mind, the only reasonable excuse for putting anybody away for more than 5 years is a well founded fear that they could commit similar or other crimes if released.  In Manafort's case, it would seem fairly simple to keep him from similar actions in the future. Also, nobody should be kept in solitary confinement.

Cool It!

300,000 years after the big bang, after the expansion of the universe had cooled it enough for electrons to recombine (or, actually, combine for the very first time) with hydrogen and helium nuclei, the distribution of baryonic matter (which, in the peculiar argot of astrophysics, means both baryons and electrons) was very uniformly distributed, with density perturbations typically one part in 100,000.  So how do you get that stuff to cluster to the point where density perturbations are 199 parts in 200 to form galaxies or another 10^20 plus to form stars? The first part of the answer seems to require dark matter, which, being impervious to the smoothing effects of photons and electrical interactions, had already gotten rather more concentrated.  It's clumps attracted the now neutral baryonic matter. However, just as expansion of the universe had cooled the overall cosmos, local contraction (to form galaxies and stars) heats it back up, and that heat generates pressure which re


Sabine H. is exercised over scientists trying to promote their research with hype .  She complains that Francis Bacon's "Merchants of Light" have been replaced by "Merchants of Hype."  She is very good writer and I have a certain amount of sympathy for her point of view - I mean, who among us has not seen one of our brilliant and insightful proposals languish while some rival with a better PR department gets funded? On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that hype isn't a new invention, and it wasn't new when C. Columbus was trying to pitch his voyage to India  project to Queen Isabella, or even when Joe caveman was pitching his great idea for catching a mastadon to his buddies Moe and Doe. Sabine got a lot of publicity when she scored a NYT Oped against funding a new super collider.  Does she have a good case, or is it just sour grapes about her own research not getting the support she would like?  I have no idea, but she expands her jihad against t

Molesting the Flag

Is it just me or did anybody else find the images of Trump hugging the flag vaguely emetic?