Friday, August 31, 2012

The Clintster

I guess that the Republicans picked Eastwood for his devotion to family values. He might even be sort of an honorary Mormon (Mitt's great grand pop old school version), having fathered seven children by five different women, only two of whom he was married to. That doesn't count two that long time girlfriend Sandra Locke aborted on his instructions.

I guess it was Dirty Harry who really made their days.

Best Lines of the Night

Belonged to invisible Obama.

Big Tent

Eastwood's speech: outreach to the stoner vote AND all the invisible black people in the audience.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Republican Government

Republican forms of government have a rather discouraging history. They usually degenerate into oligarchies when the wealthy seize the levers of power, and dictatorships not long after.

It typically takes a few hundred years.

The Big Lie

It might have been Hitler who said that a big lie is more effective than a little one.

This election, the Republican Party, having experimented a bit with the big lie in the Bush Years, has gone all in on a comprehensive set of big lies. Almost every principal policy element of the Romney and Ryan Speeches was a lie, and not a little lie but a big one.

They have promised more spending and less taxes, to cut Medicare and keep spending ever more on it, and to create jobs by magic. In fact, most of what they can do to create jobs is exactly what the Republican Congress has fought fiercely to prevent Obama from doing.

The only Romney promises I believe are more wars and more discrimination against homosexuals, immigrants and the poor.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Sea ice area continues to plummet in the Arctic Ocean, and paths are again open (at least visually) on both Russian and Canadian sides. Areal extent is about 400,000 km^2 less than previous record lows and could go lower in the next two or three weeks. The most remarkable feature - to my uneducated eye - of this years melt is the enormous collapse of the Arctic Basin ice facing the Kara Sea. It seems to be rotting from the edges and the inside, like some huge blowtorch had been turned on it, and the melt goes to the very deep North.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Republican Party Today

I guess the Republicans do have some standards.

RNC attendee booted after allegedly throwing nuts at black CNN camerawoman, said ‘This is how we feed the animals’

Classy guy. Classy party.

Gag Reflex

I could only take five or ten minutes of Chris Christie before my gag reflex took over, but my wife watched both him and Ann and said they were really good.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Reefer Stupidity

It's not exactly news that smoking pot dims the mental faculties, at least at the time. Regular users do tend to be slow of speech and mind.

A new study apparently finds that starting young tends to make the damage permanent, costing the user about 8 IQ points in adulthood.

Researchers found persistent users of the drug, who started smoking it at school, had lower IQ scores as adults.

They were also significantly more likely to have attention and memory problems in later life, than their peers who abstained.

Furthermore, those who started as teenagers and used it heavily, but quit as adults, did not regain their full mental powers, found academics at King’s College London and Duke University in the US.

They looked at data from over 1,000 people from Dunedin in New Zealand, who have been followed through their lives since being born in 1972 or 1973.

Participants were asked about cannabis usage when they were 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38. Their IQ was tested at 13 and 38. In addition, each nominated a close friend or family member, who was asked about attention and memory problems.

On the other hand, if you wait until age 20, when the brain has developed, decreased mental function appears to be temporary and no significant permanent damage is observed. But I suspect that most tokers start early.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blame Dear *Old* Dad

Arun has already noted this story, that the link between paternal age and autism seems very strong. The problem, it seems, is that mutations accumulate in the germ cell line so that a older fathers pass many more such mutations to their offspring.

The findings also counter the longstanding assumption that the age of the mother is the most important factor in determining the odds of a child having developmental problems. The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, increases for older mothers, but when it comes to some complex developmental and psychiatric problems, the lion’s share of the genetic risk originates in the sperm, not the egg, the study found.

Previous studies had strongly suggested as much, including an analysis published in April that found that this risk was higher at age 35 than 25 and crept up with age. The new report quantifies that risk for the first time, calculating how much it accumulates each year.

The research team found that the average child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to paternal genetic material. The number increased steadily by two mutations a year, reaching 65 mutations for offspring of 40-year-old men.

The average number of mutations coming from the mother’s side was 15, no matter her age, the study found.

These mutations commonly show their teeth in mental illness, presumably because so many genes are involved in brain building.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Arun's recent post on the subject of Indian origins piqued my interest in the subject. There are a few oddities about the population of India, including evidences of ancient occupation of the place by peoples very similar to the present inhabitants and a wide variety of physical types. In addition. a dominant language, closely associated with Indian elites for millenia, is closely related to a large group of European languages and appears to be descended from a common ancestor.

The conventional interpretation has been that the Indo-Europeans, perhaps the first masters of horses as weapons of war, conquered many territories, including India, and left the local populations with their language, elements of their culture, and some of their genes. The study cited by Arun appears to challenge this. Such views are popular in India, probably in part due to nationalistic feelings and reluctance to concede local cultural autonomy.

A more recent study is more friendly to the conventional theory. It found that while the Indian population is overwhelmingly dominated by old Asian genes, there is (1) a significant admixture of European genes and (2) the European gene content varies among castes and increases with increasing caste status (3)there are differences between what the mtDNA (maternal line) and Y chromosome (paternal line) data show.

Genetic distances estimated from Y-chromosome STR polymorphisms differ significantly from zero (p < 0.001) and reveal a distinctly different pattern of population relationships (Table3). In contrast to the mtDNA distances, the Y-chromosome STR data do not demonstrate a closer affinity to Asians for each caste group... ...

For Y-chromosome biallelic polymorphism data, each caste group is more similar to Europeans (Table4), and as one moves from lower to middle to higher castes the genetic distance to Europeans diminishes progressively. This pattern is further accentuated by separating the European population into Northern, Southern, and Eastern Europeans; each caste group is most closely related to Eastern Europeans. Moreover, the genetic distance between upper castes and Eastern Europeans is approximately half the distance between Eastern Europeans and middle or lower castes. These results suggest that Indian Y chromosomes, particularly upper caste Y chromosomes, are more similar to European than to Asian Y chromosomes. This underscores the close affinities between Hindu Indian and Indo-European Y chromosomes based on a previously reported analysis of three Y-chromosome polymorphisms (Quintana-Murci et al. 1999b).

This study supports the idea of an admixture of European genes into what either already were or subsequently became the upper castes, and that the European genes were mainly from the European males.

It seems safe to say that as genetic analysis proceeds evidence for one theory or the other will become overwhelming. It also seems likely that politics and science will continue to be uneasy bedfellows.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


and his blog have once again vanished into the cyber zone of the past light cone, leaving only decaying quantum correlations as reminders - of the blog anyway. He is also promising that he is physically moving, but has left few hints as to where he might be headed, though I personally am skeptical about Alpha Centauri - it's just not that hospitable for life.

But I will keep an eye out for any connections from extra-solar URLs.

Weather or No...

I'm not a big fan of the notion that God arranges natural disasters as morality lessons for the human race - I can think of a lot simpler ways he could communicate, if he was in the mood, but a lot of Republicans think otherwise. Dana Milbank wonders if the Big Guy is trying to tell them something.

Has God forsaken the Republican Party?

Well, sit in judgment of what’s happened in the past few days:

●A report comes out that a couple dozen House Republicans engaged in an alcohol-induced frolic, in one case nude, in the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is believed to have walked on water, calmed the storm and, nearby, turned water into wine and performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

●Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri’s Republican nominee for Senate, suggests there is such a thing as “legitimate rape” and purports that women’s bodies have mysterious ways to repel the seed of rapists. He spends the next 48 hours rejecting GOP leaders’ demands that he quit the race.

...and so on.

None of this should surprise those of us who think the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the other guy...

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Apartheid Road

It is getting very hard for some who considered themselves friends of Israel to stomach what it seems to be becoming. Unfortunately not an isolated incident.

Seven Israeli teenagers were in custody on Monday, accused of what a police official and several witnesses described as an attempted lynching of several Palestinian youths, laying bare the undercurrent of tension in this ethnically mixed but politically divided city. A 15-year-old suspect standing outside court said, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab.”

Two suspects were escorted to a courthouse in Jerusalem on Monday. The police said that scores of Jewish youths were involved in the attack late Thursday in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square, leaving one 17-year-old unconscious and hospitalized. Hundreds of bystanders watched the mob beating, the police said — and no one intervened.

This sort of thing is the all but inevitable side effect of the settler movement and the fanatics who now control Israeli politics. This is the country that Sheldon Adelson and Mitt Romney want us to go to war against Iran for. How much longer are Americans going to sign up for more of that?

Niall Ferguson: Dolt

Newsweek recently grievously chastised Fareed Zakaria for some "plagiarism" so slight as to be nearly invisible. Meanwhile, Niall Ferguson, Harvard Prof (right-wing affirmative action hire??) puts up a patently dishonest attack on all things Obama and gets a major cover story.

Paul Krugman attacks one egregious point:

There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking — but this is the one that jumped out at me. Ferguson says:

The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.

Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.

Ferguson got a chance to respond and came out with guns... uh ...

Krugman counters in his Conscience of a Liberal blog by saying: “The ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit—because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.” But I very deliberately said “the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA,” not “the ACA.” There is a big difference.

What Krugman said, remember, is that Ferguson's juxtaposition of the two sentences linked by the "but" was extremely misleading in that it implied that the second contradicted the first. Ferguson's "defense" is that he did that in full knowledge that what he implied was not true. Now it is possible to argue that the CBO analysis is wrong, and Ferguson does try that tactic here, but that's not what he said. The essence of a lie is intent to mislead, and Ferguson just pleaded guilty to that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The MacGuffin

Every good tale of adventure and suspense needs a good MacGuffin, a plot device that focuses the intentions of the central characters and gives the story coherence. Often that Macguffin is the title character - "The Purloined Letter" or "The Cask of Amontillado." Jo Rowling's Harry Potter books are masterful examples: the philospher's stone, the chamber of secrets and so on.

This seemingly obvious fact was unknown to me until I translated a short article on Alfred Hitchcock from the Spanish. It helps explain why the fiction I try to write has a way of running out of steam.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Game Theory

The two big physics ideas of the twentieth century were relativity and quantum mechanics. By 1930 they had been unified in relativistic quantum mechanics. There was a serious problem though. Any calculations that went beyond a certain level of complexity gave infinite answers. This thorny problem was not solved until 1949, when several investigators found a way to get real (and extremely precise) numbers out of the calculations. At the time, those investigators mostly seem to have thought they had found a cute calculational trick, but subsequent history proved that what they had found was something much deeper.

That development was mostly a matter of four physicists: Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga – who shared the Nobel Prize – and Freeman Dyson, who didn’t (he was robbed, says Steven Weinberg). Dyson’s long career has since taken him many directions, including nuclear engineering, cosmology, biology, and even science fiction, to name just a few, but he is still around, and at an age when most of us will be pushing up daisies he has just added another remarkable scientific accomplishment to his collection. He and William Press have found a new class of solutions to the paradigmatic game theory icon, The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

This game, and its surprisingly broad implications for economics, biology, and human nature has been the subject of intense analysis for decades, including playing a key role in several Nobel Prizes in Economics. UPDATE: Lumo has more details than the TR article and updates

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ochocinco Ochoseised

Condoms are promoted for safe sex, but it doesn't always work out that way. It seems that Chad Johnson, formerly Chad Ochocinco, yet previously, Chad Johnson, was a NFL receiver so fond of his jersey number 85 that he made it his name. He had also gotten a gig with his new wife on their own reality TV show. Unfortunately, the wife found a receipt for condom purchases on him and took offense. This resulted in a fight, a head-butt, an arrest, and now Johnson has been eighty-sixed by wife, TV network, and NFL team.

So maybe there really isn't any "safe" sex.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


It seems plausible that the Ryan pick stunned a lot of Romney's liberal critics, just as it sent right wingers into transports of joy.

What I can't get past is Ryan's infatuation with Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand.

The mostly backstage hero of the book is John Galt, a man with superhuman powers of invention (he generates electricity from the air, and effortlessly extracts oil and gold from some random rocks in a Colorado canyon, as well as inventing an invisibility shield, etc.)

Galt's ambition is "to stop the engine of the world." That ambition stems from his dislike of the American system of government, and he carries it out with the ruthless fanaticism of a true sociopath - the billions he will kill in the process are nothing to him. He is also given to endless uni-bomber style blather about his own crackpot philosophy, mostly a really dumb guy's rehash of Nietzsche.

His only human trait is stalker's obsession with the heroine, who is clearly intended to be a way cooler version of Rand herself.

And Galt's devoted acolyte (he makes his staffers read the thousand turgid pages of the book) will be the next Vice-President, or, as Romney introduced him, "The Next President" of the US. Well, if so, they might just stop the engine of the world.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


... in comedy...

Is everything.

It is safe to assume that Romney’s political advisers want nothing whatsoever to do with a vice president who will inevitably make the abolition of Medicare the centerpiece of his campaign. The Obama campaign will guarantee that this is the case.


So is the joke on Bruce Bartlett, Romney, or the unfortunate American people?

Holy Crap!

The Republicans really are going to run Richie Rich and his cousin Richer on a platform of abolishing Medicare and giving more money to Rich people.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Both the Northwest and Northeast passages through the Arctic appear to be open today.

Sea ice extent has been at record low levels for about two months now, and it is highly plausible that all time (since measurement began) minimum records will be broken in the remaining four weeks or so of the melt season. Today's level was only slightly exceeded by four previous yearly minima.

Arctic sea ice loss is a predictable and predicted consequence of Anthropogenic Global Warming, so it is a canary in the coal mine for those with ears to hear. Also bad news for polar bears, of course. It will be interesting to see if it, as has been previously speculated, leads to unusually snowy winters in some parts of the world this year.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


... seems to have evaporated, mostly over German foot dragging.

I find it hard to be optimistic, but the markets are not panicking - yet anyway.

Long Time

Haven't blogged for a bit. Between Duolingo and the Olympics haven't had much time.

I have worked my way through about half the lessons of Duolingo and translated about a thousand Web sentences, and think I can see a significant improvement in my Spanish. Of course I still can't understand ordinary conversation, much less converse fluently, but my reading is quite a bit better.

I still have a high opinion of the site.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Cold Confusion

The lesson of the Water Powered Car breakthrough.

Not every great perpetuum mobile invention violates the second law of thermodynamics.

Some violate the first law.

Your Cheatin' Heart

We humans love gossip. It probably plays a key role in what makes us the way we are. Why so?

For one thing, it's probably what keeps us from cheating even more than we do. Plato devotes one of his dialogs to the subject. It features the Ring of Gyges, evidently one of those created by Sauron, which confers invisibility. Gyges, a humble shepherd who found the ring, parlayed it into a kingdom. Socrates, though, thought that an internal moral compass would keep the honest man honest. Maybe so, but studies show that there aren't many such.

Shaq didn't participate in Plato's dialog, but he called it. People cheat because they can. Jonah Lehrer and Kristen Stewart probably thought that they could get away with cheating, so they did. To be sure, she probably had the better excuse - youth and hormones - but he had more to lose and less to gain. Not to minimize her current pain, but Kristen Stewart will still be young, beautiful, and rich whether Cedric/Edward (Robert Pattinson) takes her back or not. Jonah Lehrer's next gig is unlikely to be so easy to come by.