Showing posts from January, 2012

Süßkind vs. Larry Summers

Early in Confidence Men, it looks like Ron Süßkind is auditioning Larry for a villain's role. Most interesting to me was his argument that the feminism issue was a theatrical side show on the real reason Larry got the boot as President of Harvard. Susskind says or implies that the Summers' real sin was meddling in the management of Harvard's endowment by getting it into the financial derivatives market, a venture which made a bundle at first but ultimately cost 1/3 of Harvard's ginormous endowment.

Decimal Points: Income by Percentile

Somebody noted that it's hard for Americans to get too worked up about rich guys running for President because everybody running is pretty rich compared to an average American. Determining exactly where one winds up on the income scale seems to be a bit of an inexact science, since estimates vary a bit, but to be a bare minimum one per center you need to make something like $400,000 per year. One percenters are a fairly diverse lot, but executives are the largest component by far, though large numbers of doctors, financial professionals, and some lawyers also make the cut. Add in a few actors, athletes, salesmen, lottery winners, etc.
The President qualifies, probably on the basis of salary alone, but he also makes some from his book sales. The jump is steep to the next factor of ten, the 0.1%. It takes about $2 million to qualify here, and the Obamas missed last year, though not by too much. Candidate Newt Gingrich made it easily with his $5 million dollar income, but he wou…

The Last NR?

Josh Marshall:
Mitt puts Newt in a crate, ties the crate to the roof of the car and starts driving the family all the way to the nomination.

Death Spirals, Alcoholic Vertigo, and D2O

I love this science video (via Andrew Sullivan) - presented at a frenetic pace that inhibits any boredom:

Crazy About You

If you happen to be science, the arts, politics, philosophy...
Via Marginal Revolution, a new paper looks at the relationship between family psychopathology and intellectual specialization. It turns out that this idea is not exactly new:
A link between intellect and temperament has long been the subject of speculation. Aristotle claimed that “those who have become eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia”, while the physician Benjamin Rush noted a link between manic episodes and “talents for eloquence, poetry, music, and painting” ... Studies of the artistically inclined report linkage with familial depression ..., while among eminent and creative scientists, a lower incidence of affective disorders is found ... In the case of developmental disorders, a heightened prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has been found in the families of mathematicians, physicists, and engineers ... These threads of evidence suggest that int…

Brad DeLong & Comment

Quote of the Day: January 25, 2012
"The history of enterprise in antiquity therefore falls naturally into two periods. First is the development of economic practices in Mesopotamia circa 3500-1200 BC. By the end of antiquity we find gain-seeking shifting away from productive enterprise to land acquisition, usury, profiteering from political office, and extraction of foreign tribute by force…"

--David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, The Invention of Enterprise

12:59 AM in Books, Economics, Economics: Growth, Economics: Health | Permalink

Gene O'Grady said...
Uh, when was this end of antiquity?


Obama hewed closely to the tradition of making the State-of-the-Union speech a sort of national soporific. Predictions that he would throw down the gauntlet to the Republicans turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
The experience of watching it was sort of like paging through the more boring sections of one those mail order catalogs that specialize in stuff I would never buy.

Mirror of Grubsdnal

From the comments on Landsburg's post discussed in my previous post:

Steve’s mirror world shows that Mitt pays 40% of what would have been his income in Timm’s tax free world, but it also provides a handy tool for exploring other revenue structures. Suppose the taxmen of Mitt’s world distributed the tax burden somewhat differently – instead of 35% of salary and and 15% of investment income, they might (crudely) try to maintain revenue by making the charge 50% of salary and 0 % of investment income. That would wind up costing Mitt 50% of his total income.

Hmmm? Maybe it’s not investment tax that’s hurting his bottom line. Suppose we reverse the tax rates to 0% of salary and 50% ofinvestment income. In that case he only pays 25% of his Timm world income. That makes it look like it’s tax on salaries that really hurts the saver.

Am I missing something?I doubt it.

More Sophistry From Steve Landsburg

I have tried to swear off economics Prof Landsburg, but he been making the same flawed argument for years now, so I can't resist deconstructing it. He wants to argue that Mitt Romney is overtaxed. As usual from SL, this requires a heavily hypothetical backstory:
To understand Mitt Romney’s tax burden, you have to compare him to his doppelganger Timm Romney, who lives on a planet with no taxes. In the year (say) 2000, Mitt and Timm both earned (say) a million dollars. Timm invested his million dollars, saw it double over the past decade or so, and cashed out his investment this year, leaving him with two million dollars. Mitt, by contrast, paid 35% tax in 2000, leaving him with $650,000. He invested it, saw it double, and cashed out last year, paying 15% tax on the $650,000 capital gain. That leaves him $1,202,500, which is about 60% of what Timm’s got. In other words, the tax system costs Mitt almost 40% of his income.That is, 40% of his imaginary income in a universe with no t…

Cowen on Autism Spectrum

Tyler Cowen writes on Autism, economics, and the new DSM definition. One interesting sentence:
It’s well known that the DSM process itself is, for better or worse, heavily influenced by various interest groups, including pharmaceutical lobbies. the first two comments form a priceless couplet.

MoDo Hits A Sentence Out Of The Park

Maureen Dowd's NYT column:
FOR eight seconds, we saw the president we had craved for three years: cool, joyous, funny, connected.
The rest of the essay may be less acute, but it's not a bad analysis of why Obama's hard core supporters are so disappointed in him.

Is Tim Maudlin An Idiot?

Well, probably not, since he has apparently just been hired by the world's top philosophy department. Physicists of my generation often have a deep distain for philosophy, especially, perhaps, for philosophy of science. I thought maybe we might have caught that from our hero, Feynman, but I remember debates and recriminations with my philosophy of science prof well before I knew much about Feynman.

Be that as it may, why does Prof Maudlin say something this stupid:
What people haven't seemed to notice is that on earth, of all the billions of species that have evolved, only one has developed intelligence to the level of producing technology. Which means that kind of intelligence is really not very useful. It's not actually, in the general case, of much evolutionary value. We tend to think, because we love to think of ourselves, human beings, as the top of the evolutionary ladder, that the intelligence we have, that makes us human beings, is the thing that all of evolution…


Somebody asked me last night what let Gingrichwin big in South Carolina. I think Michael Tomasky nails it:
This is what conservatives want. They want someone who can stand on a stage with Obama and say, “You are our nightmare. You are the destroyer. You are the un-American and the anti-Christ, and I smite you.” For conservatives, it’s personal with Obama. He blinds them with hatred.

So they don’t really want someone who can “beat” Barack Obama, which is the question the exit polls asked. They want someone who can humiliate him in prime-time television, put him in his place, expose him to the world such that all the deluded idiots in this country who still like Obama finally and blazingly acknowledge the
truth that has so long been obvious to them. As Newt supporter Sam Pimm told me at the Gingrich victory event, “I would buy a ticket to see Gingrich debate Obama. Newt versus Obama is going to be something to see.”

If winning stems from that, so much the better. Rank-and-file conser…

One Wack Job

Arun reports:

NEW YORK - The owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, Andrew Adler, has suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu consider ordering a Mossad hit team to assassinate U.S. President Barack Obama so that his successor will defend Israel against Iran.
What an asshole. This nutcase, Andrew Adler, owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, has probably done more damage to Jews in America than anybody since the Rosenbergs. Of course his despicable nonsense is a first cousin to and natural outgrowth of the lies and slanders spewed by the right wing noise machine.
It's hard to see an upside for anybody in this. Chemi Shalev examines the entrails.

Fermi Question

The proliferation of planet discoveries now makes the question of the absence of aliens a lot more pointed. There now seem to be billions and billions of planets, many of them likely rather Earthlike, so where (as Fermi asked) are all the aliens?

I asked this question of a deep thinker I know.

His opinion: "It probably means we will destroy this place in the next few hundred years."
There is no shortage of evidence thaat we aren't smart enough to handle the power technology has given us to screw up.

Blowing Up Nuclear Scientists

Iran claims to have made arrests in the case of assassinated nuclear scientist. Not sure about the crdibility of the links of the arrested to the assassination, but if they got those responsible, it could get interesting.

So far they blame the US, the UK and Israel.

Autism and Genius: Chapter Next

A very interesting CBS Sixty Minutes program today told the story of Jake, a kid who started showing autistic symptoms at age two and began regressing in his development. His parents tried everything, and finally found that one thing he loved was numbers. His development of his love of numbers and math coincided with a return of some social skills and language. By age eight, he was a math prodigy, auditing university math classes and getting the highest scores on math tests. Now thirteen, he is a college sophomore and intends to study for a doctorate in physics. He was the youngest person to have published in Phys Rev A
By now, he has an excellent vocabulary, speaks like a very self-possessed adult, and interacts easily and naturally with his fellow college students. Allegedly he has maxed every IQ test he has taken.
One special talent he possesses is a superb, probably eiditic memory for things he is interested in. He claims to never forget any math or physics problem he has ever…

False Flag

Iran has claimed they have evidence that the US is behind the string of assassinations of Iraqi nuclear scientists. Most consider Israel a much more likely candidate. Kevin Drum finds a story claiming that Israelis posing as Americans are the real culprits. This type of false flag operation would seem tailor made for Israel's attempts to drag us into a war with Iran.
According to Perry's sources, nothing was done about the Israeli program until Barack Obama took office, at which point he "drastically scaled back joint U.S.-Israel intelligence programs targeting Iran":

"We don't do bang and boom," a recently retired intelligence officer said. "And we don't do political assassinations." Israel regularly proposes conducting covert operations targeting Iranians, but is just as regularly shut down, according to retired and current intelligence officers. "They come into the room and spread out their plans, and we just shake our heads,&quo…

When Does a Greenhouse Run Away?

Over at Lumoville, an alleged professor of atmospheric science is claiming that a runaway greenhouse is impossible on Earth, so I thought I might try to discuss what the necessary and sufficient conditions for one are - Cliff Notes version.
The atmosphere, or rather some of the gases in the atmosphere, are fairly transparent to incoming visible radiation but opague to outgoing thermal radiation. This one way transport warms the Earth a good deal beyond what its temperature would be in their absence. The most important such gas is water vapor. Water vapor is the key, but not the only, player in runaway warming.
A tale of two feedbacks.
The blanket of water vapor around the Earth warms it. Suppose we warm the surface. That increases the amount of water vapor entering the atmosphere and consequently tends to warm it. That's a positive feedback, people, and positive feedbacks are unstable - a little bit of warming produces more warming, which in turn produces still more warm…

A Nobel Prize Isn't Just

...a pile of money and eternal glory.
Sean Carroll notes that you might also get a special parking permit and mocked on global television by Sheldon Cooper, like Sal Perlmutter.
Brian Schmidt, in the comments, complains that he didn't get either. Sean mocks Brian's deuteronope compromised fashion sense, and Bob Kirshner defends his old student. Also helpful Nobel fashion advice.

Default, Dear Brutus

The long, slow-motion train wreck of the Euro continues, picking up a bit of speed with the downgrade of a bunch of European debt and the collapse of negotiations to "voluntarily" restructure Greek debt. The point of the so-called voluntary restructuring is to avoid triggering the now notorious credit default swaps (CDS) which continually threaten to send a cascading chain reaction of bankruptcy through the financial world. Why the damnable things - which Warren Buffet called "instruments of mass financial destruction" - were not banned, abolished, and consigned to the lowest depths of financial hell after 2008 I will never understand.
Actually, I do understand, but I just don't like it. They weren't banned because international investment bankers love them - they allow them to make hugely profitable bets with other peoples' money, and stick the losses to taxpayers when they go bust.
It seems increasingly likely that the Merkozy "solution" - a…

More Fire

Lumo writes on the subject of my previous post. I fear I left a somewhat intemperate comment. Nonetheless, should the great eraser strike, I repeat it here:
Ah yes, Comrade Stalin, you would fire every researcher who ever studied any question that might be dangerous to your cracked pottery. Your fear of reality suggests that there might be a hint of a scientist hiding somewhere in your fanatical mind, and that the fanatic is terrified that the scientist might wake and send your tower of lies tumbling down.

A couple of points that you might have preferred to ignore: we already have one example of a runaway greenhouse planet in the Solar system: Venus. Also, 5000 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere may or may not have occurred in the past, but if it occurred more than several hundred million years ago, that experience might be irrelevant to today's hotter Sun conditions.

Hardly anybody thinks that the runaway greenhouse is likely for Earth - but one guy who do…

The Fire Next TIme

...the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up...2 Peter 3-10, KJV.Astrophysics and biblical prophecy agree - hot times are coming - really hot. At some point during the next two billion years, the gradual warming of the Sun as more and more helium "ash" accumulates in the center will cause a runaway greenhouse effect as more and more water vapor accumulates in the atmosphere until the oceans boil.
At that point, it's game over. The temperature will rise to about 1400 C and stay there until nearly all the hydrogen in the atmosphere has been lost to space, at which point old Terra will become another carbon dioxide furnace like Venus - not as hot as 1400 C but still plenty hot.
There is the question of when. Could we accidentally accelerate the day of doom into the present by dumping a heck of a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere? Jim Hansen thinks so, but oth…

Funny Numbers

I've been reading about IBM's new technology that stores a bit on just twelve atoms - good enough to store a whole byte on 96 atoms. I think I can follow the arithmetic so far. Next it decides to get funky. The linked story and another on CNN say that it now takes about a million atoms to store a bit. The CNN story adds that it takes half a billion to store a byte. Hmmm?
These numbers imply, say both stories, that we should now be able to achieve data densities 100 times greater than present technology. Elsewhere, the linked story thinks that it only takes 1/83,000 as much space to store a bit in the new scheme. Hmmm again?
I seem to get 1,000,000/12 = 85,000 and 500,000,000/96 = a little more than 5,208,333. No wonder we old people have so much trouble keeping up with technology.

New York Times Shocked

More On Romney the Vulture

From Andrew Sullivan, more Bain adventures:
Here's the New York Post, for Pete's sake, making the case last year against the shifty Wall Street games of Bain:

Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies and often increased short-term earnings so those businesses could then borrow enormous amounts of money. That borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends. Then those businesses needed to maintain that high level of earnings to pay their debts...

* Bain in 1988 put $5 million down to buy Stage Stores, and in the mid-'90s took it public, collecting $100 million from stock offerings. Stage filed for bankruptcy in 2000.

* Bain in 1992 bought American Pad & Paper (AMPAD), investing $5 million, and collected $100 million from dividends. The business filed for bankruptcy in 2000.

* Bain in 1993 invested $60 million when buying GS Industries, and received $65 million from dividends. GS filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

* Bain in 1997 invested $46 million when b…

Adventures in Vulture Capitalism

Kevin Drum and Reuters tell the story of one of Mitt's adventures in vulture capitalism. The CLiff Notes version:

Bain buys company pretty cheap. Has company borrow a potful of money, and uses the money to pay Bain a gigantic dividend. Company now owes so much it can't pay or continue in business. Bankruptcy declared, workers are laid off, creditors, including the workers pension funds, are stiffed. All made possible by that miracle of modern capitalism, the limited liability corporation.

Details at link above.

Terrorism Against Iran

Four Iranian scientists thought to be associated with its nuclear program have been assassinated in the last two years. Iran blames the US and Israel, but at least one observer points the finger at the Israeli Mossad and the MEK, an anti-regime Iranian terrorist organization. I don't know anything about the author, but this sounds plausible to me. The US, after all, is still trying to get Iran to talk, and this sort of terrorism tends to be exactly the opposite in its effects.
If Iran were determined to retaliate in kind, it would find Israel a very hard target, but the US, not so much. Just such a scenario, provoking a US war against Iran, is probably exactly what Netanyahu dreams about.


Gus is the cat at the theatre door. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a "scene workshop" based on Moliere's Tartuffe. We used as a script Richard Wilbur's translation into rhymed couplets. If, like me, you didn't know what a "scene workshop" was, in our case it consisted of eight actors learning a selection of scenes from the play, and presenting them as a play with no special costumes and only a very minimal set, with a narrator filling in the missing details.
Somewhat to my surprise, a bunch of people actually showed up, and, allegedly, payed money to see this.
I hadn't been on stage for twenty years or so, and was much older than most of the rest of the cast, so I was appropriately terrified. Fortunately, I managed to remember most of my lines and the audience didn't throw fruit or even boo.
It was a heck of a lot of fun.
Of course my head is still filled with all these rhymed couplets.

Europeans Are Not a People the title of a recent Andrew Sullivan post, and an occasional theme of his these days. They lack, it is said, a common language, common views of government or a common view of what Europe is or ought to be. All quite true, of course, and absurdly irrelevant. Exactly the same could have, or in some cases, still can be said of Canadians, Americans, Britons, Italians, Spaniards, and countless others.

Peoplehood is not something that comes out of the soil or is imposed by genetics. It's created by someone's vision the promotion of common purpose. Europe has gotten a great deal out of the fragile unity they have managed to create so far, including relatively unprecedented prosperity, freedom from internal wars, and safety from the ravening beasts on its borders.

They have gotten those advantages for going on sixty years now, just long enough that almost everyone who remembers what went before has perished. It will be sad, I think, if they tear themselves apart again and …

What Does IQ Measure?

I have more than once said that nobody knows what (biological substrate) IQ tests measure, only that they have high consistency, at least over short intervals.  There is another sense in which we know exactly what they measure: speed and skill in solving a wide variety of cognitive problems.  Those cognitive problems usually encompass verbal, mathematical, spatial, and pattern recognition tasks.  Skill (and speed) at each of these tasks is known to be teachable, at least in part.

Why then, should there be this prejudice that IQ is not teachable?  Mostly, I think, because those skills can't be taught quickly.  No one becomes a chess master in 1 or even 100 lessons, and no one acquires a large functional vocabulary without years of reading and writing.  So, if IQ measures one's teachability and is itself teachable, does that just mean there is nothing there but education?  Probably not.  We differ in reaction time, working memory, and our ability to convert working memory to per…

Krugman Counter-punching

This stupid blogger interface has a nasty habit of deleting an entire post just when I'm ready to put it up - I've never found out what provokes it.  Maybe someday I will attempt to recreate this post on Krugman's response to Cowen and Tabarrok.

Kevin Drum Unloads On Katrina vandenHeuvel

.. and other liberals who find something to like in Ron Paul.
Can we talk? Ron Paul is not a charming oddball with a few peculiar notions. He's not merely "out of the mainstream." Ron Paul is a full bore crank. In fact he's practically the dictionary definition of a crank: a person who has a single obsessive, all-encompassing idea for how the world should work and is utterly blinded to the value of any competing ideas or competing interests.

This obsessive idea has, at various times in his career, led him to: denounce the Civil Rights Act because it infringed the free-market right of a monolithic white establishment to immiserate blacks; to dabble in gold buggery and advocate the elimination of the Federal Reserve, apparently because the global economy worked so well back in the era before central banks; suggest that the border fence is being built to keep Americans from leaving the country; claim that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and should be di…

Learnin' and IQ

From Tyler Cowen, one of my favourite polymaths:
Children who have more schooling may see their IQ improve, Norwegian researchers have found.
I need to dig into the details, but the effect seems improbably large.
Using data on men born between 1950 and 1958, the researchers looked at the level of schooling by age 30. They also looked at IQ scores of the men when they were 19.

“The size of the effect was quite large,” she said. Comparing IQ scores before and after the education reform, the average increased by 0.6 points, which correlated with an increase in IQ of 3.7 points for an addition year of schooling, Galloway said.Let's see, between 1933, when Feynman's IQ was tested in school, and 1948, when his big contributions hit publication, Feynman had something like ten years of intense school and 3 years of super school at Los Alamos - could work out to an additional 48 IQ points, bringing his adult IQ up to a respectable 173;-)