Sunday, December 17, 2017

UFOs

I've seen a UFO or three in my life, though most of them were ultimately identified, at least tentatively: high-altitude research balloons, Iridium flashes, and some really scary insects. They are back in the news because of a recently revealed Pentagon program to study them, funded, apparently, because of the interest of a powerful Senator from (naturally) Nevada.

I'm as interested in space aliens as the next skeptical but romantic scientist, but I'm kind of dubious of reports of aliens zooming around in our atmosphere. If aliens who could cross the space between the stars really wanted to unobtrusively study us, why wouldn't they just park a few million miles away and listen in on our TV and talk radio? If they needed a closer look, how about sending robotic cockroaches and butterflies?

Of course the reports of alien abductions and returns could just be the alien version of catch and release sport fishing.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Net Neutrality

Ever since the FCC repealed net neutrality my internet speeds have declined to glacial rates - sometimes too slow to even run an internet speed test.

Coincidence? Maybe. But these are paranoid times.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Are Blockchains Vulnerable

Lumo is talking about the possibility of something called a 51% attack on blockchains. I don't know enough to have an opinion, but I would be interested in the opinions of those who do.

Alabama Does The Right Thing

Dems are celebrating a big win in the Alabama Senate race, but it's way too early to start patting themselves on the back. It took an exceptional alignment of the stars for Doug Jones to win and such circumstances are unlikely to repeat: the sexual predator accusations, the fact that Moore was already unpopular in Alabama, and the hostility of the mainstream Republican party.

The old line Repubs are celebrating another ding in Steve Bannon, but there is plenty of evidence that Trump and Bannon still speak for a big chunk of the electorate. I think Dems will need to further erode that support if they are going to get to majority status in Congress.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forming Planets

In the current universe, stars form in large molecular clouds, usually having masses thousands of times that of the Sun. Consequently, they usually form in clusters of hundreds or thousands of stars. The discovery of thousands of extra-solar planets in the last couple of decades has demonstrated that many of these stars have planets. So how do these planets form?

The molecular clouds out of which stars form are turbulent, and consequently the blobs that condense to form stars have angular momentum - quite a bit more angular momentum than a star, and more, in fact, than a typical stellar system with planets. One way to deal with the angular momentum is to form a binary or multi-star system, two or more stars orbiting each other, and this is extremely common. Another way is to produce a planetary system, and for our solar system, most of the angular momentum is in the planets - mostly in Jupiter.

When a overdense "core" region of a cloud stars contracting under gravity, the angular momentum means that a significant fraction of the mass will form a disk perpendicular to the angular momentum vector (or, if you prefer, in the plane of the angular momentum bi-vector). This disk is flattened by gravity and viscosity, and its angular momentum resists being sucked into the star.

Our solar system seems kind of neat and simple. The planets close to the Sun are either metallic like Mercury or stony and metallic like Venus, Earth, and Mars, while out beyond the "snow line" where ices could condense, we have the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and the ice giants Uranus and Neptune. Everything in its place so to speak.

The discovery of exoplanets revealed that the Universe is not that simple. There are hot Jupiters and Neptunes orbiting their stars far closer than Mercury, where they couldn't possibly have formed. Unravelling puzzles like this is one reason planetary formation science is now one of the hottest topics in Astrophysics. It's a good subject for generalists, requiring a mix of dynamics, thermodynamics and radiative transport, geology, chemistry, and stellar physics.

Friday, December 08, 2017

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

First they came, for Checkers, but I was silent, because I played chess. Then they came for chess, so I might have been a bit less silent, but hey, I still played Go. I whined when Go went down, but now, goldarn it, Alpha Zero has bested the strongest computer programs in Chess, Shogi, and Go, starting from scratch in each case (just the rules) and training itself solely by self-play, making zzero use of all the information humans have assembled over thousands of years of play. Even more annoyingly, it took only a few days to do it. Via Steve Hsu.

It's somewhat analogous to giving a five year old a chess set, explaining the rules to him, and coming back a few days later to find he was far better than the best player in the world. Clearly the best neural networks can now learn far more rapidly, and understand more deeply, than any human, at least in narrow domains.

All these games are narrowly constrained by definite rules and very specific outcomes. In most human activities we either have no definite rules or don't know the rules, so the strategies of Alpha Zero are not directly applicable. One domain where the rules are pretty definite is math. There have been a few situations where computers have been able to prove specific theorems of interest to humans, but I wonder if anybody has given a neural network like Alpha Zero the very simple axioms of say, group theory, and asked it to prove all the interesting theorems. An even better trick would be to get it to discover the interesting theorems.

Once More Into the Breach...

A few years ago, scientists managed to extract some DNA from 5000 year old bones at an ancient burial site at Rakhigarhi, now a village in India, but formerly one of the great cities of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), an ancient and mysterious civilization. One reason the civilization is so mysterious is that its writings, which consist only of a few short inscriptions, have never been deciphered, nor is it known if they even are actually writings.

That DNA is very interesting to students of India's demographic history, because it could shed light on a famous controversy over the origins of the Indo-European (IE) languages of India, and consequently on the history of Indian culture, religion and its great literature. Modern Hinduism is thought to have its origins in the Vedas, which were carefully preserved in an elaborate oral tradition for at least hundreds of years and only written down around the First Century BCE. The language of the Vedas is Vedic Sanskrit, an Indo-European language.

There are a few theories of the origin of the IE languages, the most prominent being that it arose in horse domesticating, cart riding pastoralists of the Eurasian steppe near the Black Sea. There is ample genetic and linguistic evidence that these peoples swept across the steppe and across Europe, conquering and wiping out nearly all previous languages. A corollary is that they also invaded India, either at or shortly after the collapse of the IVC.

Hindu nationalists as well as some scholars prefer an Out of India theory of IE origins. The Hindu nationalist semi-official mythology believes that Vedic culture survives from the IVC and therefore that Hindu Civilization is autochthonous, and are offended by the idea that Vedic culture might be due to invaders. Contemporary genetic evidence indicates that most current Indians are mixtures of two genetic strains, the so-called Ancestral South Indians (ASI) who have no close links with any other genetic group except Andaman Islanders and Ancestral North Indians, who are closely related to Northern Eurasians and ancient Iranian farmers.

The Aryan Invasion Theory, and its slightly more PC version, the Aryan Migration Theory, posit that the IE languages (and consequently, parts of the Vedic culture) were brought to India by invaders (or migrants) to India after the decline of the IVC. Consequently, the DNA from Rakhigarhi might provide crucial evidence. If that DNA looks just like modern Indian DNA, then the origin of Vedic culture in the IVC gains a lot of credibility. On the other hand, if it looks either like ASI DNA, or a mixture of ASI and ancient Iranian farmer DNA, the Aryan incursion theories look more plausible.

Now to the chase: we have been promised the results for well over a year now, but none have been produced. The non-Indian experts who did the analysis have said that the results are in the hands of their Indian co-author. From him, silence.

If you have any bit of paranoia you should now be convinced that (a) the results are not favorable to the Hindu Nationalist mythology and (b) are being suppressed for political reasons.

Note that political reasons may not be bad reasons. Hindu Nationalists have displayed a nasty violent streak, and those who fail to toe the line may be persecuted or even lynched, often on the basis of unconfirmed or baseless rumors.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Winter Comes...

...to Las Cruces, but it's having a lot of trouble getting here. It's snowing right now to the North, West, and East of us. It's even snowing South of us, in El Paso and Mexico. But here, the Sun is shining.

I mean if it's going to be cold anyway, could we at least get some snow?

WTF?

Here is the accusation which supposedly is bringing down Al Franken:

Dupuy said she “saw Al Franken” and asked to take a picture with him because her foster mother was a fan. “We posed for the shot. He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice,” Dupuy said.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Men (Still) Behaving Badly

Powerful men continue to fall in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's tumble. I doubt if it is news to many women that there are a lot of predators out there, but it keeps surprising men, including the perps, many of whom seem shocked to learn that their behavior was reprehensible. Of course that could be feigned, but I don't think all of it is. One would hope that the steady demolition of icons would cause predators to change their behavior, but it's probably way too early to tell.

I was watching a morning news show in which several women discussed a bunch of highly influential newsmen among the recently fallen, and the role they may have played in Hillary Clinton's defeat. The argument was that their predatory behavior was linked to pervasive disrespect for women, and that disrespect was reflected in the coverage of Clinton. I found their arguments pretty persuasive, but I also have to confess that whenever the camera focussed on the youngest one, my primitive brain could not resist announcing to me that "Damn, she's hot!"

So what's the cure, or is there a cure? Most cultures have considered the issue and concluded that men are inherently so dangerous that women need to be kept locked up, one way or another. Oddly enough, many women don't like this idea. An idea popular with the panelists was that more women in power would discourage male predatory behavior, and I think that that sounds reasonable, but I also guess that the predatory instinct is deeply embedded.

I recall somebody, perhaps Jared Diamond, writing about young chimpanzees but with an eye to their cousins, that the males competed obsessively for status, first dominating younger conspecifics, then females, and finally other adult males. It's not a purely male problem, as among humans, as well as our hairier relatives, females are attracted to those dominating males.

White women in Alabama are mostly planning to vote for Moore.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Interesting Headline:

New York City Has Genetically Distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ Rats.

But then I found out that the story was about rodents.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Defending Al Franken?

There are two accusations against the comedian/senator: first that he forcibly kissed the woman against her will, and second, that he groped her while she was sleeping and was photographed doing it. The trouble with the first accusation is that his accuser admits that she agreed to be in a skit in which he tried to kiss her, and further, that she agreed, however reluctantly, to rehearse the kiss. This is a gigantic hole in her story of being kissed against her will. Her problem was that she just didn't like the kiss. When you sign up for an acting gig, rehearsal is a an expected consequence, and the time to protest is before, not after. She also reports that she angrily pushed him away. That's not an appropriate way to react to a scene not going exactly the way you expected, and Franken was understandably offended, maybe as much as she was.

The second charge, groping, or simulated groping, is more serious, especially because it was photographed. Franken's revenge was nasty, offensive, and in bad taste. On the other hand, it does not seem like he actually touched her, and how much groping could you do through a flak vest anyway - that's armor that can stop a 9 mm bullet even without the ceramic inserts she was likely wearing.

She suffered a humiliating insult, but if he didn't actually touch her, it wasn't sexual assault. And she admits that she agreed to the kiss.

This does not excuse Franken, but it would seem to suggest a significant difference from many other offenses we have heard about. Of course if this sort of thing was a pattern of behavior rather than a one-off, the arithmetic changes.

Baruk Khazâd!

Oddly enough, the word axes is reputed to be the only word in English which is the plural of three different English words: ax, axe, and axis. Though I think that it's a stretch to consider ax and axe as different words. Ax and Axis both trace back to Proto-Indo-European words that sounded similar and had their modern meanings, but I'm not sure if they were related.

So far as I know, the dwarvish 'Baruk' (Axes) is not related to the Hebrew 'Baruch', בָּרוּךְ, (blessed), which is related to the semitic word knee.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Roy Moore

Moore has denied the allegations against him, and his supporters have attacked his accusers. How about lie detector test all around? I don't have that much faith in them, but willingness to take one is often a good indicator.

Louis C. K.

I've never watched his shows or otherwise been a fan, so the very credible sounding accusations against him didn't surprise and dismay me in the same way learning about Bill Cosby did. It seems that Louis C. K. is connected with practically everybody in comedy, as friend, former writer, or mentor. Is it really possible that none of these people had a clue what was going on? The rumors have been out there for some time, and the victims apparently were telling friends, colleagues, and others long before they were interviewed by the New York Times.

I think that Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Aziz Ansari and practically every night time host you ever heard of have some explaining to do. So far nearly all of them have kept their silence or been evasive or worse. Louis C. K. was Stephen Colbert's first boss in comedy and so far has been practically the only male to speak out at all.

A lot of these creeps are going to escape without any legal consequences, but at least they deserve public condemnation and being kicked off the airways.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Finally: A Good Election Night for Progressives

Big wins in Virginia, New Jersey, Maine, and locally, here in Las Cruces. Even the overwhelmingly victorious Republican congressional winner in Utah is a moderate replacing a right-winger.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

AI Going to Take Your Job?

Kevin Drum opined that real AI is going to take everyone's job, but he thinks real AI is still decades away.

Like objects in your mirror, AI that can do your job is closer than most people believe. It may well be that AI with a general intelligence exceeding humans is a few decades away, but the fact is that most jobs in today's world don't really demand that much general intelligence. What they do require is some specialized intelligence, and we already have AI that has proven very good at that sort of thing. Your cab driver, your radiologist, your check out clerk don't actually need to appreciate Shakespeare or the NFL to do their jobs, they just need some knowledge in a specialized area.

I think that it's underappreciated that the big thing holding back robots today is not intelligence but sensors and actuators. Humans, and for that matter, ants, are equipped with rich suites of each. Progress in making small sensors has been very rapid, although the specialized intelligence required to interpret the data is still limited. Actuators are a bigger problem, especially the kinds of versatile and precise actuators that can be as rugged and precise as human fingers, arms, and legs. The capability of muscles to maintain themselves is hard to replicate.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Professional Courtesy

Rand Paul, Senator and opthamologist, purportedly was assaulted by a neighbor, also a physician, in their gated community in Bowling Green Kentucky.

The alleged assailant is said to be a pain specialist.

The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram

If you were to understand only one thing about stellar structure and evolution, it ought to be the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It's a simple idea - a plot of the absolute luminosity (brightness) of stars against their surface temperature (often captured via their color, as measured by their relative brightness in two bands, the blue (B) minus the visual (V).) Below is a version, from the Wikipedia link, due to Richard Powell.

The most obvious feature of this diagram is the non-random distribution of the stars, with most of them being concentrated near a slightly curved line from lower right (low luminosity versus red color and low temperature) to upper left (high luminosity versus blue color and high temperature). This line is the main sequence, and consists of stars burning hydrogen in their cores, which is how they spend most of their lives. There is also a more diffuse blob of stars to the right of the main sequence, consisting of bright and cooler stars inhabiting the various types of giant categories. These have moved off the main sequence and are no longer burning hydrogen in their cores, and as their category names imply, are much larger than main sequence stars. Finally, there is another curve in the lower left of faint, hot stars, the white dwarfs, which are remains of stars having exhausted their nuclear fuel, and which have the mass of small main sequence stars but a million times less volume.

Note the vast range of luminosity among the hydrogen burning stars, from only one ten-thousandth of the Sun's luminosity to 100,000 times as bright, or nine orders of magnitude. The brightest stars are burning up their hydrogen a billion times as fast as the dimmest.

Making Fun of Fat People

A Pulitzer Prize winning columnist got in trouble for commenting on Huckleberry Sanders' weight. As a fat person, I suppose I should resent that. I mean there are lots of good reasons to knock her, like her incessant lying, slander, and ridiculous non-sequiturs. Should we really need to go after her fake eyelashes?

On the other hand, if we can't make fun of a person's appearance, what are editorial cartoonists to do? And Stephen Colbert's show might have to go to a half-hour format.

I'm probably insensitive and spoiled because my acquaintances seem to be polite enough to not knock my appearance to my face.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Football

Another former pro football star, now in declining mental health, has promised to donate his brain to research on CTE. His son was also a victim of football, a quadrapelegic as a result of a neck injury. They, like many other critics, believe that youth football, especially for younger players, should be banned.

Meanwhile, as every season, very serious football injuries continue to pile up.

One straightforward rule change could probably drastically change injury rates - ban unlimited substitution. Because of unlimited substitution, line positions in football are now dominated by 330 lb. behemoths who are so strong that they routinely injure others and themselves with size and strength. Current rules mean that they play in 12 second bursts for a small fraction of the clock time. If players had to play most of the game, offense and defense, with much shorter breaks, linemen would quickly get 60-70 lb (or more) lighter.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trick or Treat

Organized candy fests at schools, churches and community centers seem to have depressed Tricker-Treater turnout. Of course my neighborhood is also getting older. By six O'Clock it was apparent that we had way too much candy. Even handing it out by the fistful wasn't enough.

In the good old days kids used to show up by the vanful around 8:00 PM - from whence we never knew. Whence ever, they were no shows tonight. After 7:15 we seemed to mainly get tweens and teens.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Corporate Power Today

Let's abandon the libertarian world for a moment to consider the News industry in the US today. The US has two national newspapers (the NY Times and the Washington Post), or perhaps 2 1/2 if you include the Wall Street Journal, which doesn't really have fully national reporting nor editorial content. The WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the NYT is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family (though the largest shareholder is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim), and the Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Like other Murdoch news enterprises, the WSJ is predictably right-wing and pro-Trump. The WP and NYT are usually considered liberal and anti-Trump but both work hard at trying to be non-partisan - which is really hard when you are tying to report the truth. There is no significant leftist press in the US.

There are also three national News Television networks, Fox, owned by Murdoch, being hard right and pretty much a dedicated Trump propaganda site. MSNBC is probably the closest thing to a leftist news presence in the US (though very middle of the road by world standards) and definitely anti-Trump. CNN, the oldest and probably most complete news network, tries to be centrist but relentless hostility from Trump has pushed it into the anti-Trump camp.

All this is preface to the fact that AT&T is engaged in an attempted takeover of CNN's parent company, Time-Warner. Josh Marshall takes a hard look the process and the implications, especially in the light of some remarks by Trump confidant Roger Stone:

AT&T is currently trying to finalize an $86 billion acquisition of Time Warner. It’s actually behind schedule. But not to worry. The companies say they are extending their deadline “for a short period of time to facilitate obtaining final regulatory approval required to close the merger.”

AT&T needs the Justice Department’s approval for that deal. Normally, that decision would be housed off at the Antitrust Division at the Justice Department. But no one thinks that’s how it works in the Trump Administration. AT&T needs Donald Trump’s sign off, possibly mediated through the hand of Jeff Sessions but maybe not. Indeed, there has already been quite a bit of concern on Capitol Hill that Trump would try to hold up the AT&T deal as a way to exert pressure on Time Warner?

Why would the President want to pressure Time Warner? Because Time Warner owns CNN. And the White House has already put out word that it wanted to use the deal as a way to place pressure on CNN to rein in its coverage. Senators have pressed the administration to make the decision purely on legitimate antitrust grounds. Finalizing the deal has gone over schedule. It’s been suggested that to help move things along AT&T might suggest (or perhaps already has suggested) that it will rein in the “fake news” at CNN as a way to get President Trump to Yes.

Last night, as CNN’s breaking news about a Mueller indictment was rippling across the interwebs, Roger Stone went on a Twitter tirade ranting at various people. One Tweet thought was quite specific.

When AT&T aquires Time Warner the house cleaning at CNN of human excrement like @donlemon @jaketapper & dumbfuck @ananavarro will be swift

— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) October 28, 2017

Read the whole story.

A Brief Segue Into Contestable Markets

Since the Stoat has derided me for my purported ignorance of contestable markets, let me use his own petard* to hoist him above the castle walls:

A perfectly contestable market has three main features:

No entry or exit barriers

No sunk costs

Access to the same level of technology (to incumbent firms and new entrants)

A perfectly contestable market is not possible in real life.

Dr. Connolley thinks that Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have contestable effective monopolies. Did he even read the three "essential features" in his link? None of them comes close to applying to these corporations. In particular, sunk costs are in the tens of billions, technology is protected by a vast patent web, and entry costs are enormous.

My free advice: Mr. Connolley should stop reading Tim Worstall and read some actual economists. On second thought, never mind. Economics is heavily populated with dolts and scoundrels with PhDs and professorships. But Tim is an idiot.

*I mean Wikipedia reference, though technically a petard is a small bomb, as in Shakespeare's Hamlet "For 'tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his own petar." The word, like the English word "fart" and cognates in Russian, French, Sanskrit, Lithuanian and Greek (among others) is descended from the Proto-Indo-European root *perd-, one of two PIE words we have meaning 'fart," this one referring to the noisy kind.

One More Try

I tried asking the question "what do libertarians think should be done about untrammelled corporate power?" Or at least I thought I did. Based on the answers I got, most people seemed to think I was complaining about the quality of service I was getting from Amazon or Google. I was expecting something more along the lines of either "corporate power, what corporate power?" or "the magic of the market and its invisible hand will fix any problems."

Let me adduce a few examples of that rampaging corporate power. The most extreme example is probably the British East India Company, a corporate entity with its own army which overthrew dozens of independent nations and killed, directly or indirectly, millions of people. Similar rampaging corporations on a smaller scale were the slave trading companies that terrorized Africa for centuries, the corporate arms of King Leopold of Belgium, and Cecil Rhodes and the Rothschilds, each responsible millions more murders.

How about some more nearly contemporary examples. How about the tactics John D Rockefeller use to build Standard Oil. Details can be found in Ida Tarbell's works and, in slightly less detail, in Daniel Yergin's magnificent book The Prize. More recent still is the story of the great crash of 2008, as documented in several books. In each of these cases, legal and illegal activities, covered up or tolerated by law enforcement, used the power of concentrated wealth to produce results destructive of individuals and society.

Anybody want to try answering my real question?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Question for Libertarians

I will take a break from my usual pastime of Libertarian bashing to ask a question: Does libertarianism have an answer for the extraordinary power and control of our lives achieved by the giant transnational corporations? I am thinking primarily of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet(Google) and Microsoft. Their resources now dwarf those of many or most nations, and their business means that they possess an extraordinary amount of information about us, likely more than any country.

League of Extraordinary Gropesters.

It's not news that sexual assault and sexual harrassment is not confined to Hollywood and Fox News. Four recent US Presidents (Kennedy, H.W. Bush, Clinton and of course Trump) have now been credibly accused. A well known CNBC panelist was just suspended following accusations by five women. It is extremely likely that these cases are only an insubstantial tip of a vast iceberg.

We discussed the topic in my history class and every woman in the class reported being a victim. Almost every woman either has been a victim or knows several women who have.

We probably can't hope to remove these predators from our society, but making serious examples of the top predators should be a priority. If even half the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are true, he undoubtedly belongs in jail. I don't know the details of the O'Reilly case, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same is true of him. These crimes should be priorities for District Attorneys, especially in view of their shameful role in previous coverups.

Anomalies in Physics Publishing

Several decades ago, as a physics undergrad, I bought Sears and Zemansky's University Physics for $9.95 (the price was on the inside of the front cover). It was already a third edition at that point. The current 14th edition has acquired new authors and lists for 309.80, and for another couple of c-notes you can get the solutions manual and some other aid. I'm going to guess that mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, and optics haven't changed that much, but the book has fattened up to 1600 pages. What a ripoff, but you can get slightly older editions for less than my price for edition 3.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, I found a beautifully bound and printed copy of an 700 plus page advanced textbook/monograph for less than $25 bucks - including shipping from New Delhi, India. Published in the US, printed in the UK, it somehow made its way to India and back (via Germany, and Ohio) to Las Crucesfor a dirt cheap price.

Wierd.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Condolence Calls

Such calls are hard, and Donald Trump has zero talent for empathy. I think that it was as inappropriate for the Congresswoman to release his inappropriate comments as it was for Trump to make them. However, General Kelly's strident and seriously inaccurate attack on her was even worse, if possibly excusable on the grounds of his personal experiences with that most awful of condolence calls.

Maybe we should all dial it back on this subject.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spurious Correlations and Spearman's g

Spearman's g, of course, is IQ. When various tests of mental abilities (verbal, mathematical, and geometrical, for example) are given, it is found that scores tend to be positively correlated, so that better performance on one type of test is correlated with better performance on others. Factor analysis is a tool for analyzing such correlations. If we measure a couple of parameters that are strongly correlated, like human height and weight, for example, and display them on a graph, they will tend to cluster in a roughly elliptical region along a line. Factor analysis finds the line of best bit. For poorly correlated variables, like perhaps time of day and height, clustering will be less evident.

Factor analysis works in higher dimensions too. The essential idea is to transform the original measurement variables into linear combinations that resolve the highest amount of variance.

If one measures a large number of variables, or simulates a large number of random variables, chance will dictate that some of them will appear to be correlated. This fact has led astray numerous critics of IQ, including Stephen Jay Gould (in The Mismeasure of Man and now Arun G., a smart and well-educated guy whose anti-IQ zealotry seems to make him forget his math.

So how does one separate such spurious correlations from real ones? The test is durability. Purely random correlations disappear when more measurements are made. Moreover, their domain is narrow. Two independent measurements being randomly correlated can happen - three, ten or more, not so likely. The correlations of IQ exams have persisted over hundreds of different exams and millions of test takers. Moreover, they have been shown to correlate strongly with educational and other measures of successful performance.

Spearman thought that the correlation pointed to a single general ('g') factor that explained the correlations. We now know that this is a bit simplistic. Factor analysis can tease out several factors that exhibit significant correlations, but g has never disappeared nor has it ever been adequately explained.

Chandra's Birthday

Today's Google doodle celebrates S. Chandrasekhar's 107th birthday, and hooray for that. I have several of his books and his writing was as clear as his thinking. I guess the doodle is trying to illustrate that white dwarfs can be heavy compared to some main sequence stars, but an actual white dwarf has only about one millionth of the volume of its main sequence counterpart.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How the Kochs Got Back in the Driver's Seat

The Koch brothers didn't support Donald Trump and a lot of his rhetoric seemed dangerous to them. A few months down the road, though, the White House is populated with Koch people and the Kochs' Libertarian agenda is running the show, especially where it can do the most damage to the environment and do the most for the Kochs' vast wealth. Jane Mayer, writing in the New Yorker, tells the story. The Key piece of the puzzle turns out to be Vice President Mike Pence, whose public face as Trump's amiable sycophant obscures our view of the long time made guy in the Kochtopus.

Excerpt:

The Kochs, who are not religious, may have been focussed more on pocketbook issues than on Pence’s faith. According to Scott Peterson, the executive director of the Checks & Balances Project, a watchdog group that monitors attempts to influence environmental policy, Pence was invited to the Koch seminar only after he did the brothers a major political favor. By the spring of 2009, Koch Industries, like other fossil-fuel companies, felt threatened by growing support in Congress for curbing carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. Americans for Prosperity devised a “No Climate Tax” pledge for candidates to sign, promising not to spend any government funds on limiting carbon pollution. At first, the campaign languished, attracting only fourteen signatures. The House, meanwhile, was moving toward passage of a “cap and trade” bill, which would charge companies for carbon pollution. If the bill were enacted, the costs could be catastrophic to Koch Industries, which releases some twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year, and owns millions of acres of untapped oil reserves in Canada, plus coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.

Pence, who had called global warming “a myth” created by environmentalists in their “latest Chicken Little attempt to raise taxes,” took up the Kochs’ cause. He not only signed their pledge but urged others to do so as well. He gave speeches denouncing the cap-and-trade bill—which passed the House but got held up in the Senate—as a “declaration of war on the Midwest.” His language echoed that of the Koch groups. Americans for Prosperity called the bill “the largest excise tax in history,” and Pence called it “the largest tax increase in American history.” (Neither statement was true.) He used a map created by the Heritage Foundation, which the Kochs supported, to make his case, and he urged House Republicans to hold “energy summits” opposing the legislation in their districts, sending them home over the summer recess with kits to bolster their presentations.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Evil Genius

The evil geniuses who populate comic books and bad science fiction movies are usually bent on world domination or just messing up everybody else's lives. That type of evil genius, quite fortunately, seems rare or maybe nonexistent. I suppose that we would like our geniuses to be saintly, but that's not very common either, and some geniuses are definitely evil, but their evil seems to be more prosaic than the stereotype. Bill Cosby was definitely a comic genius, if such a thing exists, but he was also apparently a serial rapist. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski also come to mind. Even Harvey Weinstein seems to have had sort of a genius for making movies.

Of course many ordinary jerks and "fucking idiots" are also sexual predators, but being wealthy, powerful, or a famous genius provides a lot of extra insulation from the consequences. Power corrupts, in Lord Acton's famous aphorism, and genius is a sort of power.

It apparently doesn't take a lot of differential in power to trigger some men's inner scumbag. Supervisor and worker, professor and student, famous or slightly famous guy and admirers. I suspect that the scumbag gene is widely present, only I hope that most of us manage to suppress it.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

More Libertarian Work

The Washington Post and the Sixty-Minutes television show collaborated on the story of how deregulation, corporate greed, and a few corrupt Congressmen trigger the American opioid epidemic which has now killed more than three times as many Americans as the Vietnam War.

Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.

By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight.

A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years.

The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.

The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.

The US Libertarian lobby, which can't muster enough popular support to elect a dog catcher, continues to use its billions to corrupt every aspect of American life. The objective, I guess, is to make us hopeless pawns of our corporate masters.

We have draconian penalties for people who sell a few rocks of crack cocaine. Similar penalties would be appropriate for the corporations whose mischief killed these hundreds of thousands of Americans. I suggest the severe penalties for the corporations and their principal executives and enablers, but especially for the corporations responsible, a death penalty: forfeiture of all assets and loss of all equity.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

One of Our Apex Predators is Down

...And his fellows are quickly ripping apart his corpse. Harvey Weinstein, I mean, and the Academy has kicked him out. Even his brother is dissing him. The carnage is possibly prompted by fear that the contagion will spread. I mean that their own crimes will come out.

Meanwhile, the predator in chief (or PRIC, for short) remains safely ensconced in his golf resorts. I wonder if the swift fall of Weinstein will prompt his accusers to push forward. Let's hope so.

Violent Relaxation...

...sounds like a new form of extreme sports for the overly energetic, but it's actually a process of some importance in galaxy formation. The virial theorem relates the time average of the kinetic energy of a system of gravitationally bound particles to its potential energy: Tav = -(1/2)V. A system in which this kinetic energy is close to this average is called relaxed.

Suppose one starts with an arrangement of, say 100, mass particles with random velocities and turns on gravity. Initially, there is no particular relation between the total kinetic energy and the potential energy (except they should be bound, so T +V < 0). After a few particle crossing times (the time for a typical particle to cross the distribution under influence of other particles gravity) one should find that the ratio approaches the virial average. Such a system is said to be relaxed.

One process that leads to relaxation is gravitational encounters between pairs of individual particles, which tends to equipartition kinetic energies. The time to relaxation in such encounters depends on the density and number of particles. For an open cluster of about 100 stars, relaxation times are roughly ten million years, while for for globular cluster of 100,000 stars, the relaxation time is about half a billion years. Unsurprisingly, such systems are relaxed. For a big elliptical galaxy, though, the relaxation time may be 10^17 years, or millions of times longer than the age of the universe.

Surprisingly enough, then, such systems are also usually relaxed. Why so? Many derivations of the virial theorem depend on assuming that the moment of inertia of the system is not changing. However, if you start, say, a big mass of gas or particles from something approaching rest, and turn on gravity, it will rapidly contract, changing the moment of inertia and the overall gravitational potential. This kind of process can produce rapid ("violent") relaxation.

This kind of relaxation is thought to account for the relaxed state of most galaxies.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Why Do We Still Suck at Soccer?

For the first time since 1986, the US failed to qualify for the World Cup - and failed in truly humiliating fashion. Why?

Brian Phillips blame leadership. The problem seems to be that American players just aren't very good - though I thought they played credibly in Brazil.

At least a few factors probably play a role. The level of youth teaching is generally quite poor. Soccer is a second class sport, played mostly by suburban kids whose parents have too much sense to let them play football. The suburban dominance probably also means that many top athletes don't get the chance to play or just prefer the bigger rewards in football and basketball.

Arun suggested, no doubt sarcastically, that genetics might play a role. As in other sports where foot speed and agility are at a premium, this makes sense, and indeed many of the top players all over the world have Afro-European ancestry. Of course the US also has plenty of athletes of such ancestry, but maybe they just play football or basketball or tennis or golf.

Anyway, it looks like back to the drawing board for the next decade or two.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why Do Powerful Men Sexually Exploit Women?

Oh wait - I know the answer to this one!

Because they can!

And because they can get away with it. The recent ignominious fall of Harvey Weinstein is just the latest blip in a story older than the casting couch, older, in fact, than history. Of course now that he is down, even a few old buddies are having a kick at his still squirming body, but before the fall he managed to intimidate numerous famous actresses, the New York DA, NBC and other prominent media outfits into silence.

This story is getting monotonous: Ailes, O'Reilly, Cosby; Kennedy, Clinton, and Trump. Some who have fallen and plenty of others still on the loose.

One might think that Hollywood is something of a worst case scenario. Immense power, and plenty of young women willing to use their bodies to take a step up - easy for a powerful man to imagine that it's all there for them, whether the women are willing or not. The Lewinsky case suggests that it's not much different for politicians.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pigs

Ross Doughhat has a column entitled "The Pigs of Liberalism" featuring his older look alike, Harvey Weinstein.

Ross starts off his improbable tirade with:

If you are surprised by the news that Harvey Weinstein of Miramax fame, a man well known for profane tirades and physical altercations and scrounging M&Ms off movie theater floors, is also the sort of charmer who loafs around semi-nude while asking subordinates for “back” massages, then you can be surprised by just about anything: the sun rising in the east, the fact that movie stars employ plastic surgeons, the news that “The Artist” didn’t actually deserve to win Best Picture.

Doubtless Ross would be surprised to hear that 95% of Americans think Harvey Weinstein might be a dentist. Among the 5% who have noticed his name in the credits of some excellent movies, I would guess that less than 1 in a thousand has any clue to his sexual habits or proclivities. Obviously, Mr. Douthat was in that select group, which makes me wonder why he never bothered to post an expose. Especially, since he says:

The truth is that while not everyone knew exactly how Harvey Weinstein treated women, everyone knew what kind of man he was. The women he harassed didn’t have the power to restrain him, but plenty of powerful people did.

The point that Douthat really wants to make is that Liberalism makes us uniquely wicked, and liberal perps are less likely to be punished. This is laughable considering the long records of misbehavior documented for O'Reilly, Ailes, more Republican Speakers of the House than you can shake a stick at, not to mention the President. Weinstein was fired from the company he founded only about a week after the story broke. Trump is still President.

But conservative principles can still save us says RD. Women, keep to you kitchens, and don't forget the Pence rule.

Test these Suckers!

Donald Trump, perhaps offended by being called a "fucking moron" by his own Secretary of State, challenged Tillerson to an IQ comparison. Given that both men are well into the age of IQ decline, any past scores are irrelevant, so a new test is clearly called for. MENSA, a society of misfits dedicated to celebrating their own IQs, purportedly in the top 2%, has offered to host a test for both. Personally, I suspect that an IQ test aimed at the top 2 % might be too tough for both, and Trump has a busy golf schedule, so perhaps something like the Wonderlic might be more appropriate. Personally, my money is on Tillerson to score in the offensive-tackle to quarterback range, while I've got Trump out there with the cornerbacks.

Actually, I'd like to see IQ tests made mandatory for all candidates for public office. If you need an IQ test to play linebacker in the NFL, why not one to serve in Congress, or as President?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Inspired by Pence Clown Show*...

...Alexandra Petri imagines a few more protests for the Vice President.

After briefly refusing to dignify a football game with his absence, Vice President Pence jetted to California for a previously scheduled event, and I guess President Trump thought this was how protests ought to go. Below are a few more ideas for protests that Pence doubtless has planned.

Take Secret Service detail 80 miles out of the way to glower at a yard sign that says “No Matter Where You’re From, I’m Glad You’re My Neighbor.”

Pointedly refuse a piece of toast because it appears to contain an image of the Virgin Mary and his wife is not present to guard his virtue.

*Pence flew to Indianapolis and went to the Colts vs. 49ers game just to watch the opening ceremony and walk out when some of the players knelt for the anthem. Good use for taxpayer bucks. Good use for the second dumbest guy in DC.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Ethics, Economics, and Climate

The Stoat has a nearly impenetrably referential post on the subject as above. As usual, reading the post left me pretty much entirely clueless about what he was talking about, but because I had more important work that I wanted to avoid, I read a couple of the links. I discovered that a few years ago he seemed to be able to express himself more clearly, though even then he wasn't willing to give his stuff a descriptive title.
His point, then and now, as I understand it was:

So I’ll be more explicit, here, and argue for solving GHG emissions as a matter of economics, to be handled by taxation, rather than as a matter of morality, to be handled… somehow. Context: Eli wants to handle it as ethics. And a fair amount of the comments on Can global emissions really be reduced? are about this.
Oddly enough, I agree with this, but I think that posing potential solutions as economics versus ethics is profoundly misleading, mostly because they are inextricably intertwined. Ethics is supposed to tell us what we ought to do, while economics is mostly about the consequences of certain choices. I think Connolley wastes a lot of energy arguing that differences in moral principles prevent adequate agreement on goals. While this is true, economic means is equally obstructed by disagreement on goals.

The real question is, given the extent to which goals can be agreed on, what are the best methods for achieving them? The choices come down to economic incentives and punition. Punitive measures are probably appropriate in cases of fraud, like the Volkswagen case, but also usually consist mainly economic incentivization by fines, sometimes with a few symbolic perps getting jailed. The more famous economic incentives are taxes and exchange traded emission permits.

I think that Connolley and I both agree that taxes are the better choice. A lot of economists preferred emission permits, mainly, I think, in the vain hope that this would deceive the gullible into not realizing that they were intended to raise the price of gasoline and other petrochemical products. As it happens, they aren't that gullible, especially when there is a multi-trillion dollar industry dedicated to making sure they know exactly that.

So, I say, decreasing GHG emissions comes down to moral persuasion: persuading people that it is morally correct to impose taxes which will make certain aspects of their lives today more difficult in order to make a better future for their children and grandchildren. That is really hard, since the world is full of both scoundrels and honest men who don't accept the premise.



Thursday, October 05, 2017

Jews, What Jews?

From the NYT:

The architecture of Canada’s new National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa is both symbolic and haunting, with six concrete triangles depicting the stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, and that marked millions of them for extermination during World War II.

But while the structure’s design embodies Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, a plaque placed outside it failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism, an omission that has drawn furious criticism.

There were Jewish victims of the Holocaust? Who knew?

Not Donald Trump, of course, but apparently he wasn't alone.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Weiss, Thorne, and Barish

Win Physics Nobel, surprising exactly nobody.

Discovery of gravitational waves, 100 years after they were first predicted, is clearly the biggest physics discovery of the twenty-first century (so far). The only surprise was that GR waves didn't win last year.

Thursday, September 28, 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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Faster

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 recruitment.

It's also known that good to excellent sprinters have much higher proportions of fast twitch fibers than average persons, and that even their type of fast twitch fiber is special. Studies of elite sprinters (and jumpers) have also shown that they were "born fast", or at least that they were always the fastest kid on the block and all showed exceptional speed at their first exposure to competition and training. Elite sprinters, as I've mentioned elsewhere, are almost all American or Caribbean of West African or European and West African descent. Independently, this population is known to have relatively high proportions of fast twitch muscle fibers.

Some of these facts are captured in some homely expressions long known to coaches. On the limits of training: "I can make you faster, but I can't make you fast." On the athletic benefits of speed: "Speed never has a bad day." On areas where training doesn't help: "You can't teach height."

In conclusion, for one crucial athletic ability, speed, genetics is the essential substrate of exceptional capability.

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 determined by genetics and probably, childhood nutrition. Culture is almost certainly a very minor factor in running speed and athleticism.

So what about the linked story Arun adduced in evidence? I've read it carefully (when I first cited it) and again in response to Arun's comment, and I think his interpretation is utterly unreasonable. In one of the cases discussed in the story, the authors cite the case of a highly successful black center in college who was converted to tackle in the NFL. The story, and Arun, quote a history prof to the effect that a "tradition" of white centers accounts for the reassignment. The story, but not Arun, quotes the twice winning super bowl coach who drafted him:

“Trent is so athletic, so talented and so smart, he could play any position and play it at a Pro Bowl level. Could he be a great center or guard? Absolutely. But you win in this league with tackles.”

Tackles get the big bucks, tackles play the more crucial roles, so if you have the skills and talents to play either position, you play tackle. That sounds like a far more convincing answer to me. Other elements of the cited story also reinforce what I said. Still other elements are highly dubious, e.g.:

Any athlete may be able to compensate for a lack of genetic ability through practice and skill mastery.

This is bullshit. Everybody playing top level professional athletics has had plenty of practice and skill mastery. Everybody at that level is also, in some respects, a genetic freak. Diligent training will turn an ordinary Joe into a pretty good weekend athlete, but the gap between that level and pro is enormous.

Friday, September 22, 2017

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.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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.

Seau, Duerson and Waters were all older than 40, while Hernandez is one of the youngest former N.F.L. players to have been found with the disease. In July, researchers at Boston University released findings that showed that they had found C.T.E. in the brains of 110 of the 111 former N.F.L. players they had examined.

Combine this result with the recent study that showed that kids who started football at age of less than 12 showed signs of impaired mental function later:

Athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12, a new study released on Tuesday showed.

The findings, from a long-term study conducted by researchers at Boston University, are likely to add to the debate over when, or even if, children should be allowed to begin playing tackle football.

The results of the study by researchers at Boston University, published in the journal Nature’s Translational Psychiatry, was based on a sample of 214 former players, with an average age of 51. Of those, 43 played through high school, 103 played through college and the remaining 68 played in the N.F.L.

Former players should start suing the NCAA, that profoundly corrupt parasite on our universities.

Full disclosure: I think I was eleven or twelve when my two years older neighbor knocked me out with a swung baseball bat (accidentally).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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 America knows that despite whites being far more numerous in the country than blacks, most NBA teams are much more black than white. So are college teams. And nearly all the superstars are either black or mixed race identifying as black. In track, nearly all the top sprinters have some combination of West African and White ancestry, while the marathon is dominated by East Africans from Ethiopia, Kenya, and a few other countries. NFL Football is more complicated, with cornerbacks being nearly all black, wide receivers and defensive ends being mostly black, while offensive guards, centers and quarterbacks are majority white.

These differences have a lot to do with physical characteristics, especially size, strength, and speed. There are plausible evolutionary reasons why systematic differences might exist, one of the most obvious being that Europeans had to adapt to living in a cold climate. So when the modern human ancestors of Europeans moved from Africa to cold country, they experienced evolutionary pressures to develop blockier bodies, just like other animals living in cold climates. This could have happened partly due to loss of long limbed genes and partly due to interbreeding with Neandertals, who had been living in the cold climate for half a million years.

Other things being equal, being able to run fast and jump high are pretty useful, but a blockier body prevents that. Ergo, an evolutionary explanation for why White Men Can't Jump - it was cold. Speed is a factor for every position in the NFL except kicker, so blacks are overrepresented compared to their percentage in the population at every other position. Whites are relatively highly represented at quarterback and center, positions with less of a premium on speed. This article has the racial breakdown of every NFL position. Whites are a majority at only four non-kicker positions.

The average African-American has about 17% European genes, mainly, but obviously not exclusively, a legacy of slavery. It would be interesting to know how the genetics break down at the various positions.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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 guard by the way he addressed the matter, devoid of the indignant, how-dare-you-accuse-us attitude the U.S. had come to expect from Cuba’s leaders.

The Cubans even offered to let the FBI come down to Havana to investigate. While U.S.-Cuban cooperation on law enforcement had improved, this level of access was extraordinary.

If not the Cuban government, then who might be the perps?

There are a few candidates:

Investigators considered whether a rogue faction of Cuba’s security forces had acted, possibly in combination with another country like Russia or North Korea.

Another group with a clear motive would be diehard Cuban exiles, who bitterly resent normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, but it would be difficult for them to get the kind of necessary access that the previously mentioned would have.

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 ground zeros. He found bridges and railways and roads in the middle of nowhere targeted with multiple warheads, to assure their destruction. Hundreds of nuclear warheads would hit Moscow—dozens of them aimed at a single radar installation outside the city. During his previous job working for the Joint Chiefs, Butler had dealt with targeting issues and the damage criteria for nuclear weapons. He was hardly naive. But the days and weeks spent going through the SIOP, page by page, deeply affected him.

For more than forty years, efforts to tame the SIOP, to limit it, reduce it, make it appear logical and reasonable, had failed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, this was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” General Butler later recalled. “I came to fully appreciate the truth . . . we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Butler eliminated about 75 percent of the targets in the SIOP, introduced a targeting philosophy that was truly flexible, and decided to get rid of the name SIOP. The United States no longer had a single, integrated war plan. Butler preferred a new title for the diverse range of nuclear options: National Strategic Response Plans.

Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (Ala Notable Books for Adults) (pp. 456-457). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Command and Control is a gripping and chilling book, which I intend to review shortly. At its center is the Damascus Incident, in which a Titan II missile armed with a ten megaton hydrogen bomb exploded in its silo near Damascus, Arkansas, but that story, and the stories of the heroic responders to the accident is embedded in a detailed and scholarly discussion of the whole issue of how nuclear weapons in the US were controlled or not and made safer or (mostly) not.

From a review quoted on Amazon:

Financial Times “Command and Control ranks among the most nightmarish books written in recent years; and in that crowded company it bids fair to stand at the summit. It is the more horrific for being so incontrovertibly right and so damnably readable. Page after relentless page, it drives the vision of a world trembling on the edge of a fatal precipice deep into your reluctant mind... a work with the multilayered density of an ambitiously conceived novel… Schlosser has done what journalism does at its best when at full stretch: he has spent time – years – researching, interviewing, understanding and reflecting to give us a piece of work of the deepest import.”

Full disclosure: The book is required reading for the Nuclear History class I'm taking.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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 it less bluntly, do we each have an obligation to our fellows? The history of human society says yes. Libertarians say no.

The extreme libertarian is exemplified by Ayn Rand and her "heroes." It's no coincidence that they are routinely criticized by their families and others as "lacking human feeling." Many of them, like John Galt, the Voldemort like hero of Atlas Shrugged, are clearly psychopaths. The same was likely true of Rand herself. They lack empathy and take pleasure in tormenting others. Such people have always been the bane of human society. Among primitive peoples, they are often ostracized or murdered.

Unfortunately, civilization offers them more fertile ground, where they frequently rise or fall to positions that allow them to indulge their narcissistic or sadistic tendencies.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

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 discourage building in flood prone regions.

It's simply not feasible to evacuate millions or tens of millions of people for hundreds of miles. Such evacuations are dangerous, expensive, and frequently leave the evacuees worse off, for example, consider the East Floridians who evacuated to West Florida. If safe, well-equipped shelters were available within a few miles, people could much more safely, easily and quickly evacuate. Moreover, it would be both safe and sensible to wait until forecasts were far more certain.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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?

The purpose of the categories, known as the Saffir-Simpson scale, is to quantify a hurricane’s destructive power, and the destructive power of a Category 5 hurricane — one with sustained winds of at least 157 miles per hour — is virtually total. “A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse,” Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, wrote in an email. “Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

The scale classifies this level of damage as “catastrophic,” Mr. Feltgen said, and “what is left after ‘catastrophic’ damage?”

The problem with that argument is that a lot of modern concrete and steel buildings are built to stand up under 160 mph winds. It's much less clear that they can withstand 185 mph winds with 225 mph gusts, much less 200 mph winds with 240 mph gusts. Some catastrophes are worse than others.

“The scale was developed 1 to 5,” Joel Myers, the founder and president of AccuWeather, said in an interview Tuesday evening. “When you develop a scale 1 to 5, there can’t be any Category 6.”

Dr. Myers may have snoozed through this part of elementary school, but here's the deal Joel: after every integer, there is always another one, and the one after five is called "six." I say add a category six for, say 180 mph -200 mph, and if necessary category seven and maybe more.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Irma

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.

Monday, September 04, 2017

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.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

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.

David Conrad and Larry Larson, writing in the Washington Post, discuss what we know how to do but didn't do.

After that disaster [the catastrophic Midwest floods of 1993], the Clinton administration directed an experienced federal interagency task force to report on the flood and its causes. That report, “Sharing the Challenge ,” was prepared by Army Brig. Gen. Gerry E. Galloway and released in 1994. It made more than 100 recommendations for policy and program changes to address and reduce flood risks and improve the nation’s floodplain management everywhere, not just in the area along the Mississippi River that had been underwater. The government found that many policies were encouraging — rather than discouraging — people to build homes and businesses in places with increasingly high risks of flooding by allowing new building in those areas, constructing insufficient flood-control projects that give residents a false sense of security and subsidizing redevelopment after disasters without mitigation. That often compounded the costs and problems caused by floods.

Ultimately, though, very little changed. The lessons of 1993 were largely ignored, especially in parts of the country that were most vulnerable to flooding — such as Houston. Experts and policymakers have known for a long time that we need to change the way we approach flood mitigation and prevention, but that hasn’t stopped the nation from making the same mistakes over and over. Now, as the federal government prepares to spend billions more cleaning up from catastrophic floods, we’re in danger of doing it again. . .

The Clinton administration’s report seemed like it might change things at first. It suggested the government should offer voluntary buyouts to owners of buildings that flooded repeatedly, clearing the most at-risk land of businesses and residences and leaving it as open space that could be devoted to flood-tolerant uses such as parks, recreation areas and wetlands. Especially in states such as Missouri, Iowa and Illinois that had been hit hard by the 1993 disaster, governors supported this new approach. More than 10,000 buildings were bought so their owners could move outside floodplains. The federal government spent $121 million on this type of mitigation after the 1993 floods — acquiring land or elevating, relocating or flood-proofing buildings. That investment probably saved $600 million in disaster relief: The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that each dollar spent on flood mitigation saves $5 in future flood damage.

Don't mistake me. Human caused climate change is real and almost certainly implicated in events like this year's fire catastrophes in the West, but we need to patch the hole in the boat before we worry about how deep the ocean will be. Planning is urgent, and yes, planning should take into account climate change, but more uregently, basic hydraulics.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

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 on the clickbait site might be real - after all, Tommy Lee Jones got into Harvard before he was famous, so 130 is hardly crazy. But if Donald Trump has an IQ of 156, then Tom Cruise is six foot five.

*According to reliable clickbait sources, titled as above.

Friday, September 01, 2017

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 ancient Indian DNA. The reason for the first circumstance is likely tied to the racist character of the original Aryan invasion theory, in which invading Aryans, presumed European, brought Vedic civilization to the presumed primitive Indians. This theory neatly fit into the narrative of the occupying British power. Of course we now think that the Aryans were not European, but Central Asian. Unlike Europe, however, India already had a complex civilization (the Indus Valley Civilization, or IVC) at about the time of the Aryan expansion.

An alternative to the notion that the IE languages came to the world from Central Asia is the Out of India theory, which argues that they had their origin in the IVC. This idea is popular in Hindu nationalist circles, but much less so among professional archaeologists - most of whom, of course, are western.

Razib Khan, writing in the July 27, 2017 India Today, has an excellent article on the state of play of the controversy.

A few highlights: 1)Ancient DNA results from the IVC site at Rakhigarhi are expected to be published this month. (2)Indirect evidence suggests that India, like Europe, had two waves of invaders, first farmers from Iran and the Middle East, and second, pastoralists from Central Asia, with the latter likely responsible for bringing IE languages and some elements later incorporated into Vedic culture. (3)As in Europe, the Aryan DNA was probably largely male.

It's possible that the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi will testify in the dispute, but far from obvious that it would be conclusive.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Modern Classical Physics

What's very slightly smaller than a breadbox, weighs about as much as one of those armored Chevy Suburbans favored by the Secret Service, and packed with most known information about relativity, optics, statistical mechanics, fluid and plasma dynamics, and elasticity?

If you took the hint and guessed Modern Classical Physics: Optics, Fluids, Plasmas, Elasticity, Relativity, and Statistical Physics by Kip S. Thorne and Roger D. Blandford, you would be right.

Yes, my hard copy finally arrived.

Fans of Thorne's previous collaboration in the monster truck textbook category (Gravitation, with Misner and Wheeler) may be heartened to note that MCP shares the same large page format, has nearly 300 more pages, and weighs a lot more, thanks in part to its hardcover format.

The text is based on the course that the authors' taught at Caltech.

As to exactly why this was published as a single volume, rather than three, four or even five normal sized textbooks, I can only speculate, but my favorite is that it is the author's thumb in the eye to the stereotype of the puny and pusillanimous physics major. Pack this and MTW around campus for a while and you will soon have calves and guns like Dwayne Johnson.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

All Options Are On the Table

Translations:

1) I don't have a clue

2) I got nothin'

Lest We Forget

India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are currently experiencing even more catastrophic flooding. Over 1000 dead.

Story and pictures.

The world has more than enough catastrophes to go around.

Harvey Relief Bills

Rebuilding Houston will cost tens, or quite possibly, hundreds of billions of dollars. Twenty Texas US Representatives and both Senators voted against the bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. One of them at least, Ted Cruz, is busy lying about his vote now. They should be ashamed, and so should their constituents who approved of their behavior, but now is not the time for bitterness or revenge.

Northeasterners and liberals should turn the other cheek, and they and all Americans should promptly approve an aggressive package to ameliorate the devastation in Houston and elsewhere by Hurricane Harvey. It's the right thing to do for America and for Texas. If we are lucky, the good example will inspire others. A nation is far stronger when we all see ourselves as being in the same boat.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dunkirk, Texas Style

Dozens, or perhaps hundreds (or more) of small boats are out there going to stalled vehicles and flooding homes on rescue missions: https://t.co/YGP3fEVW8t

Evacuating Houston

And other threatened places.

One of the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries, Bangladesh, was able to drastically reduce flooding casualties by erecting simple elevated concrete platforms for elevation above floodwaters.

The mayor of Houston and others are getting grief for not ordering evacuations ahead of the predicted flooding. Actual flooding has probably been worse than the predictions, but it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to evacuate a city of six million. A nation as rich as the US can afford a much more elaborate version of the Bangladesh solution. Sturdy, elevated structures should be constructed in all flood prone regions.

A portion of the funds could come from eliminating federally subsidized flood insurance, and building codes should strongly discourage building in flood prone regions.

The shelter buildings should be multiple use: schools, government buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and community centers should receive substantial subsidies to be built to hurricane and tornado proof standards and equipped with emergency supplies and prepared for rapid conversion to emergency shelters with beds, generators and so on. Where such buildings don't exist, subsidies for their construction as community centers should be provided.

This would be a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project, and would take decades to complete, but well worth it, in my opinion.

We don't know yet if Hurricane Harvey is a mass casualty event, but it's already certain to be one of the most costly disasters in American History.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Harvey

Corpus Christi Texas is squarely in the crosshairs of hurricane Harvey. I just saw the mayor on television and he sounds like a total moron. I fear that casualties could be very high.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rakhigarhi DNA Again

It's now been about a year since we were supposed to have gotten DNA results from the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) site of Rakhighari. The IVC is the oldest civilization in India, and, so far as I know, the first real civilization outside of the Middle East and Iran. It build remarkable cities 5000 years ago, produced wonderful art, and established long distance trade routes. It's also exceptionally mysterious, as its writing system has never been deciphered. In fact, we aren't even sure it is a writing system, since all we have is very brief sequences of symbols. The civilization collapsed around 1500 BC and there followed a period with little in the way of cities, which in turn was followed by a civilization clearly ancestral to the civilization of today - the Vedic culture.

The relationship between the peoples who composed the Vedas and the IVC is famously controversial. Western anthropologists proposed that the Vedic peoples were an invading group who brought the Indo European languages and Vedic culture around the time of the IVC collapse. This view is unpopular with the Hindu political parties who now rule India, who champion the idea that Vedic culture (and perhaps the IE languages) are purely autochthonous, and that Vedic culture derived directly from the IVC.

Indian DNA today seems to be a mixture of two principal groups - so-called Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and Ancestral South Indian (ASI). ANI shows close links with Central Asians and modern Europeans. ASI is little found outside of India. This is the background for the IVC DNA being politically contentious.

If it turns out that IVC DNA looks like modern Indian DNA (admixture of ANI and ASI), or even mostly ANI, it strengthens the case for the IVC peoples being the origin of Vedic culture.

We still don't know the answer, and some are beginning to suspect that the political fix is in - that the results don't fit the government narrative and are being suppressed. Probably not coincidentally, rumors are proliferating that the DNA looks like ASI. This would suggest that the builders of the IVC were Dravidian speaking peoples who were in India before the Indo Europeans and conversely, that the Indo Europeans were invaders who likely brought elements of Vedic culture with them.

Incidentally, the upper rungs of the Indian caste system have traditionally been occupied more by IE speakers.

So here we are today, one year later, with nothing but rumors, but rumors that fit the archaeological narrative more popular in the West. The facts have yet to speak - publically, anyway.

Parahalcón

Rain is not a big threat on the Las Cruces campus of New Mexico State University, but I often see young women walking around with an umbrella overhead, even on bright sunny days. Of course these might be parasols, designed to protect them from the Sun - not a bad idea in Sun drenched New Mexico.

A more plausible reason is the ubiquitous signs around the campus warning of attacks by hawks. It seems that the campus is a popular nesting ground and that hawks are likely to attack when anyone gets too close to the nest. Pretty sure the babies have left the nest by late August, but there are still a lot of umbrellas.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Read This!

America's Mistake in Afghanistan. And the linked Wikipedia article.

Fun Sports I Used to Love Unconditionally

When I went to parochial school, our favorite recess and lunchtime sport was one we called tackle - a version of pump, pump pull away where we lined up on two safe sides before attempting to run across to the other safe zone without getting tackled. Since anyone tackled joined the crew of tacklers in the middle, the odds rapidly rose against getting across safely, even for a large, slightly fast guy like me.

Our favorite away from school was neighborhood football, sometimes touch but usually tackle. Winter was sometimes hockey but usually pump pump pull away on skates.

High school football, on the other hand, wasn't much fun. Mostly it was getting yelled at by coaches and being given boring jobs like offensive and defensive tackle. I took it up again in the Army and in grad school - usually touch.

It turns out that football, hockey, and rugby are really bad for your brains. That's probably especially true for kids whose muscles and brains haven't yet matured.

I didn't play soccer until I was an adult - a middle aged adult, actually - but I found it more fun than any of the others. Unfortunately, it's probably even worse for brains than those other sports. There are lots of opportunities for concussions - head to ball, head to goal post (for goalies), head to head, elbow to head (probably my one soccer concussion), and foot to head.

I wonder if a very light helmet for soccer might reduce such injuries. It might even increase scoring, since it would probably produce headers with more velocity and perhaps more precision.

Schadenfreude: Linton Edition

Humans seem to be wired to get joy out of seeing an arrogant and privileged snob get hers (or his).

This week's winner of the Marie Antoinette Prize is Louise Linton, rich girl, actress, and current wife (#45?) of Treasury Secretary Minutechin. Her chosen method for committing social seppuku was apparently Instagram. (I have no idea what that is, by the way). She evidently posted a picture of herself getting off a government plane and thoughtfully tagged all the expensive clothing and accessories she was wearing/carrying.

This led to a snarky comment from a citizen:

“Glad we could pay for your little getaway,” the user, identified as Jenni Miller, wrote in the comments section.

Linton then went full Marie A on her opponent:

“Cute! Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. . .

The thirty-six year old is now probably more famous than she really hoped. A bit late, she made her instagram private and apologized. But she is sure to be popular on late night TV.