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Showing posts from June, 2015

German Propaganda...

...has been remarkably successful in portraying the Greeks as the villains of the current debt fiasco, and Europe has bought into it, big time. The US has been slightly less gullible, probably because we were less of a target, but also because several of our top economists have repeatedly called "bullshit" on this particular pile of crap. Of course it helps the propaganda machine that the Greeks, both citizen and government, have screwed up badly, especially before the financial crisis of 2007. Most bankruptcies involve either really bad luck or stupidity on the part of both borrower and lender. The Greek disaster initially involved all three: reckless borrowing by an irresponsible Greek government, reckless lending by (mainly German) banks, and the bad fortune to get caught up in a global financial meltdown. The blame for this really bad situation becoming a disaster lies almost entirely with the Troika (EU and IMF) who imposed a brutal austerity which crushed the Gr…

Creepie Stool

Jenny Geddes, in the guise of James Annan, has thrown hers at the Pope.

Krugman on Greece

Krugman votes for Grexit.Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro. To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus. So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.Creditors and rentiers still rule the world.

Prexit?

Puerto Rico is now Puerto Pobre. The governor of Puerto Rico has decided that the island cannot pay back more than $70 billion in debt, setting up an unprecedented financial crisis that could rock the municipal bond market and lead to higher borrowing costs for governments across the United States. Puerto Rico’s move could roil financial markets already dealing with the turmoil of the renewed debt crisis in Greece. It also raises questions about the once-staid municipal bond market, which states and cities count on to pay upfront costs for public improvements such as roads, parks and hospitals.Apparently there is no provision in law for bankruptcy by a State or territory. Maybe it will have to leave the dollar zone.

Tracking the Post Office

A little over a week ago, my package destined for me in Las Cruces, NM left Salt Lake City (820 miles from Las Cruces), Traveled the 535 miles to Denver (616 miles from Las Cruces), next traveled the 795 miles to Dallas (680 miles from Las Cruces) so far having traveled 1330 miles to get 140 miles closer to the destination (all distances road miles). I wonder if their routing routines are optimal. What da ya think?

Small Numbers

The percentage PhD's in physics awarded to black women is roughly the same as the percentage of same who have become Grand Dragons of the Ku Klux Klan: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/24/chanda-prescod-weinstein_n_7574020.html

Ms. Haley, Tear Down That Flag!

In response to the latest gun violence, racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina, several states, including South Carolina have begun at least token efforts to remove the Stars and Bars from their Capitols, flags, and licence plates. I support all these efforts. Also, Amazon, WalMart and others have removed Confederate memorabilia from their shelves. I'm less enthusiastic about these. It's true, of course, that these items have served as badges, slogans and rallying points for racism, but they aren't the cause of racism, and making them slightly harder to obtain is hardly going to cure it. It might well have the opposite effect. Removing implicit or explicit official sanction of racist badges is one thing, but half-hearted attempts to suppress them in private use is quite another. There is a somewhat silly debate going on about whether Dylann Roof's murder rampage was terrorism, racism, or just the actions of a troubled and deranged individual. The answer, …

Heat Deaths

Both India and Pakistan have experienced killer heat waves this summer. Pakistan's most recent one has already killed 800. Although the subcontinent's contribution to the world's excess CO2 has so far been small, it's population is among the most vulnerable to global warming. It is a cruel irony that the most useful thing for coping with the heat - more reliable electricity - is also likely to exacerbate future warming, as much of the future increase in emissions is likely to come from the developing world. Rapid development of low carbon energy sources is needed, and that probably means nuclear.

Climate Pessimism

My friends in the climate denialist camp like to call themselves skeptics. They call me a climate alarmist. I prefer to call myself a climate pessimist, by which I mean than anthropogenic climate change is happening, probably going to be catastrophic, and unlikely to be avoided, mostly because humans are too foolish, or more precisely, too poorly organized to cope with the challenges presented. Ezra Klein has promoted his own version of climate pessimism here, and while I largely agree with him, I think he still underestimates the difficulties. Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has advanced what is widely regarded as a serious climate plan, but I'm not buying it. Supposedly he wants to eliminate fossil fuels in 35 years. As the saying goes, if frogs had fur, the world could be made safe for chinchillas. The problem is how to get there from here. His vague mix of cap and trade and efficiency measures won't cut it. The world has been fooling around w…

Grexit

Larry Summers and Kevin Drum. Summers: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras needs to do what is necessary to make reaching an agreement politically feasible for his fellow Europeans....He needs to be clear that he will accept further value-added tax and pension reforms to achieve primary surplus targets this year and next, but that he expects a clear recognition that if Greece does its part, debt will be written off on a large scale. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European authorities must do what is necessary to make policy adjustments politically tenable in Greece. That means acknowledging that the vast majority of the financial support given to Greece has gone to pay back banks rather than to support the Greek budget. They must agree on debt relief and recognize the degree of adjustment in Greek spending that has taken place: with nearly 30 percent of government workers laid off. It also means announcing their intention to accelerate economic growth throughout Europe.Kevin:�…

Free Energy Ain't Free

All organized activity, notably including life and civilization, depends on thermodynamic free energy, sometimes known as negative entropy. Plants get it from the Sun, heterotrophs (like you, reader, and I) depend on the foods we eat, and civilizations, increasing depend on fuel, especially fossil fuel. The industrial revolution and the relative prosperity it brought were bought with fossil fuel and the free energy it supplied. Of course we are finding out that that free energy did not come cheaply. The fossil fuels are a finite resource, and their use imposes costs on the planet. Coal is the most abundant such fuel and it's also the cheapest. King Coal made and ruled the industrial revolution but it also brought bitter consequences. The great London Smog of December 1952 killed 4,000-12,000 people and cows in their farm fields. It was a wake up moment for action against air pollution and cities in Europe and the Americas gradually cleaned up their acts. Most of the environ…

Crazy vs. Terror

For some reason there is some debate over whether the mass murders at the Charleston church should be called terror or just crazy. What's the difference? For me the difference is motivation and organization. The crazy guy may imagine that he is responding to instructions from God, the Devil, or Slender Man, but the terrorist is responding to an actual political movement and organization. Most of the domestic terrorists/mass murderers we have seen in the US seem to have at least a toe in both camps. Most are troubled loners, not recruits or apparatchiks, but they draw at least some of their inspiration from organized hate groups. Dylann Storm Roof, the Charleston shooter, appears to follow this pattern. Most of the school shooters, and the Denver theater shooter, by contrast, appear to fit more into the purely crazy mode. A few, like the shoe bomber and the Times Square would be bomber, look more like politically motivated terror recruits. Intelligence and surveillance…

Population III? Footprints of the Giants.

According to cosmology, the first stars in the universe would have been built solely from hydrogen and helium with a trace of lithium, because the primordial nucleosynthesis would only have had enough time to make helium and that lithium trace. Such stars would have been more transparent to radiation than stars containing other elements (which astronomers call metals), and consequently could have been much larger than those that exist in the universe today. Today's New York Times has a Dennis Overbye story claiming that the signatures of these early monsters have been found in a galaxy seen as it was only a few hundred million years after the big bang. Astronomers said on Wednesday that they had discovered a lost generation of monster stars that ushered light into the universe after the Big Bang and that jump-started the creation of the elements needed for planets and life before disappearing forever. Modern-day stars like our sun have a healthy mix of heavy elements, known as…

Gallows Humor: Price of Progress

New Delhi has perhaps the world's worst air pollution - so bad that almost half of the city's school children have already suffered irreversible lung damage. Meanwhile, India has ambitious plans to continue rapidly expanding coal production and coal fired electrical generation. It's a grim reality, but some find humor in the situation. I couldn't.

Natural History of the Lynch Mob

The lynch mob should not be thought of as an aberration. It's more like a natural manifestation of our human nature. Christopher Boehm, for one, has argued that collective punishment of deviance played a key role in the human development of altruism and conscience. The most common and least drastic version is shaming of the perpetrator. It's not a minor punishment for most persons, and in fact was largely abandoned as a legal punishment in the US because it was thought too harsh. Hunter gatherer societies deal with more serious offenders, or those (like psychopaths) who ignore shaming, by ostracism or lynching (murder by the group) We have near contemporary evidence for group punishments among contemporary hunter gatherers, and highly suggestive circumstantial evidence of lynchings of deviants from thousands of years ago. The lynching was a key tactic of racial oppression in the United States until quite recently, and is prevalent in many parts of the world even today. …

Did George and Barbara Bush Have Any Intelligent Children?

Well, none that I've heard of. Paul Krugman cites a couple of the Jeb Bush campaign's latest ignorant blatherings in this aptly named post: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/dont-know-much-about-history-jeb-bush-edition/

Sex and the Single Robot

Can there be any doubt but that the human race is doomed? Some engineers, it seems, are working on sex dolls that can converse and presumably exhibit other lifelike responses.Meanwhile, I'm having my own trouble with the servants. Once again it seems that the maid (AKA my Roomba) has latched onto the footman (AKA, my walking shoe), dragged him under my bed, and had her way with him (AKA, attempted to digest my shoestring). Now I need a robot that will pick up my shoes and put them away.

PC Violation

Another Nobel Prize winner has been crucified for daring to utter comments that are presumed to insult a protected group. Paul Hunt is the target in this NYT article.A Nobel laureate has resigned as honorary professor at University College London after saying that female scientists should be segregated from male colleagues because women cry when criticized and are a romantic distraction in the laboratory. The comments by Tim Hunt, 72, a biochemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001 for groundbreaking work on cell division, added fuel to a global cultural debate about discrimination against women in science.He was pressured into resigning his position. It's bizarre to me that faculties members can survive torturing their students, exploiting them financially and sexually, but still get run out of town for making statements that are (a) widely believed and (2) arguably true. The NYT quote is this: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Mr.…

Oh What an Entangled Web We Weave...

I looked up "entanglement" in the indexes of half a dozen quantum mechanics texts I have around here. Didn't find it. The spooky quantum entanglement that so bothered Einstein doesn't feature heavily enough in any of them to make the index. Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum isn't like that. Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman put quantum entanglement at the center of their book. For them, entanglement is the most novel and one of the most important features of quantum, as well as one that is consistently neglected in textbooks. I happened upon the book more or less by accident. I was wandering through a bookstore with one of my old graduate school office mates, arguing, as usual, about Bell's Theorem, realism in quantum mechanics, and so on. I suddenly realized that I really was a bit unclear on exactly what was meant by quantum entanglement. Since it was a bookstore and we were in the physics section, I looked around for a QM book and there w…