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 would 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


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.