Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ayn Rand did not invent the "up is down" ploy.  Orwell used it ironically, and Stalin probably standardized it, but Rand, slavish follower of Lenin that she was, pushed it pretty hard too.  Here is my current favorite:

He saw defensively belligerent men and tastelessly dressed women-he saw mean, rancorous, suspicious faces that bore the one mark incompatible with a standard bearer of the intellect: the mark of uncertainty ...

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Gospel According to John (Galt)

It's possible to create a fairly consistent world picture, if you are willing to disregard that nasty old reality stuff.  Listen, for a few seconds, to Galt's explanation:

Did it ever occur to you, Miss Taggart,” said Galt...”that there is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in their most personal desires-if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible and destruction from their view of the practical?  There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another- if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked , that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t.  The businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor,  the worker who wants a share of his employers wealth,  the artist who envies a rivals higher talent, they are all wishing facts out of existence..."

Now if Rand could actually portray real human beings, and had just a tiny talent for dialog, Dagny might have replied something like this:

Did it ever occur to you Mr. Galt, that your ancestors and mine were able to give birth to us because they survived a million (or billion) years of fierce competition for resources that only a few survived, and their most dangerous competitors were other people whose interest in survival conflicted directly with those of our ancestors?  Did it occur to you that the mind that you pretend to honor was developed by evolution not to build train sets or pyramids, but to facilitate cooperation among people, and that that ability to cooperate was not based on ability to accumulate shiny bits of metal, but to form alliances,  cajole, lie, and otherwise defeat others who were trying to do the same to them.

To which, Galt, clueless animatronic dolt that he is, would probably have replied with some Randian bullshit like:

I can't believe that you, Dagny, have swallowed their nonsense about intelligence being useless and needing to rely on emotions.

And Dagny might add:

And I can't believe that I just now wanted to have sex with you, before you turned out to be such a close-minded clueless dunce, under the spell of some brain damaged ignorant Russian peasant woman.

OK, it's not Jane Austin, but I would have found it an improvement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaker! Breaker!

...This is E. Coli, do you copy?

As you probably know, the ten trillion or so cells that constitute our bodies share our space with about ten times as many bacteria who are along for the ride.  It seems that they may be communicating by radio...

Chemical reactions can be induced at a distance due to the propagation of electromagnetic signals during intermediate chemical stages. Although is is well known at optical frequencies, e.g. photosynthetic reactions, electromagnetic signals hold true for muck [sic: much] lower frequencies. In E. coli bacteria such electromagnetic signals can be generated by electric transitions between energy levels describing electrons moving around DNA loops. The electromagnetic signals between different bacteria within a community is a "wireless" version of intercellular communication found in bacterial communities connected by "nanowires". The wireless broadcasts can in principle be of both the AM and FM variety due to the magnetic flux periodicity in electron energy spectra in bacterial DNA orbital motions.

What I'd like to know is to whom is it they are talking...?


American's are agreed that about half their fellow citizens are unfit to vote. 

Which half remains a point of contention.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PhD's and Careers

My guess is that most people don't pursue PhD's (at least in Physics) becuase they want a career - at least I didn't.  I wanted to learn the secrets of the Universe.

Well, I didn't learn any new secrets, or at least no major ones, but I did wind up with a career.

Life seems to be like that.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Would You Like Fries With That?

Mark Taylor thinks the PhD production line is broken, and needs to be reformed or junked.

The system of PhD education in the United States and many other countries is broken and unsustainable, and needs to be reconceived. In many fields, it creates only a cruel fantasy of future employment that promotes the self-interest of faculty members at the expense of students. The reality is that there are very few jobs for people who might have spent up to 12 years on their degrees.

Most doctoral-education programmes conform to a model defined in European universities during the Middle Ages, in which education is a process of cloning that trains students to do what their mentors do. The clones now vastly outnumber their mentors. The academic job market collapsed in the 1970s, yet universities have not adjusted their admissions policies, because they need graduate students to work in laboratories and as teaching assistants. But once those students finish their education, there are no academic jobs for them.

In Physics, it appears that getting an academic job now depends on spending a very long apprenticeship that typically takes one into middle age before getting a stable academic position. In a field where many of the greatest physicists have made their biggest discoveries before their twenty-fifth birthday, that hardly seems like a good way to promote discovery.

UPDATE: Bee has more by way of commentary on the same story.

I'm inclined to think that this is another case where economic incentives have become misalighned with markets. Bee cites Peter Thiel's remarks on Higher Ed as a Bubble.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Having reached Rivendell*, where formerly fierce industrialists now cavort happily as janitors and handmen - because now they don't have to pay taxes, I guess, I find myself excruciatingly bored.  I fear the feel of an oncoming interminable speech, maybe, from that ferret faced little shit Galt.

I may need to abandon this ship for a bit.

*Or whatever the hell it is.

Johann Hari is Not a Fan

Johann Hari's non-review of two recent books on Ayn Rand takes a look at some of the nasty and calamitous aspects of her life and thought.

Ayn Rand is one of America's great mysteries. She was an amphetamine-addicted author of sub-Dan Brown potboilers, who in her spare time wrote lavish torrents of praise for serial killers and the Bernie Madoff-style embezzlers of her day. She opposed democracy on the grounds that "the masses"—her readers—were "lice" and "parasites" who scarcely deserved to live. Yet she remains one of the most popular writers in the United States, still selling 800,000 books a year from beyond the grave. She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them. Since the great crash of 2008, her writing has had another Benzedrine rush, as Rush Limbaugh hails her as a prophetess. With her assertions that government is "evil" and selfishness is "the only virtue," she is the patron saint of the tea-partiers and the death panel doomsters. So how did this little Russian bomb of pure immorality in a black wig become an American icon?

I'm not going to 100% endorse Hari's assessment, but this homicidal minded atheist speed-freak does seem like a curious saint for the Republican Party.

Physics of Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged features various elements of magic, or "science" fiction physics, including one that is a focus of Dagny's search for much of the book: Galt's magic engine that runs on the electrostatic field of the Earth.  The Earth has an electric field, averaging something like 150 volts/meter in fair weather near the surface.  Galt apparently figures out how to harness this.  Science or fiction?

A bit of each.  It's actually not very difficult - just stick a conductor D meters up in the air, collect charge at  150 D V/m and discharge it through your motor into the ground.  The trouble is that the currents you get are extremely small, so you don't have much power.

You could get a lot more current if you could stick your conducting antenna all the way up into the ionosphere where ions are plentful and current flows pretty freely, but the global energy flow is still pretty small by power industry standards - perhaps 800 MegaWatts - about 80% of the output of one of the Fukushima reactors when they were operating.

Friday, April 22, 2011

That You, Higgsy?

This rumor is starting to look a bit solid.

Here's Lumo. - Lots of links, discussion.

And NEW - First, I think

Jester has lots of details.

Tommaso Dorigo's skeptical take

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: Sketch for a Review pg. 582

Harry Potter, told from the point of view of Bellatrix Lestrange.  In accord with that, all traces of wit, charm and humor have been omitted, making room for 1100 pages of tedious ranting. 

POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT:   I think Riddle is going to win.

Notice Me!

..............................alexa ray joel

Congratulations Stevereeno! Kudos to Steve Landsburg! After years relentlessly pummelling Paul Krugman, the Nobel Memorial andClark Medal winner finally deigns to notice him. Alas, he is not too kind.

Brad DeLong and Noah Smith have some fun with a bizarre post by Steve Landsburg — even more bizarrely endorsed by Alex Tabarrok — in which Landsburg asserts that you can’t tax a man if you can’t persuade him to reduce his consumption.

There are multiple things wrong with this claim, but the most fundamental, I think, is that it represents a remarkable misunderstanding of the reasons why we have taxes in the first place. They don’t primarily exist as a way to induce lower private consumption, although they may sometimes have that effect; they are there to ensure government solvency...

Krugman goes on to explain his argument in some detail, but the Steevester despite his super high IQ and Econ PhD bizarrely fails to get it.

[Picks up virtual two by four, delivers virtual whack]  Taxes are not (mainly) about consumption!  Consumption, expecially now, is not a zero sum game!

Not that I expect any of that to penetrate SL's efficient markets brain damage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Re Asperger's, Lee asks:

Are you really serious about this or are you being facetious?

Let's consider it part by part.  First two paragraphs - I'm just reporting here.  

Do I seriously believe that there is such a theory?  Of course. 

Do I believe it is seriously speculative? Yes. 

Do I think it's interesting?  Yes.

Next two paragraphs.  Let me be more explicit.  Suppose we take a standard diagnostic list like this one.   If we sort a large random group according to the degree at which they exhibit these characteristics, do I seriously believe that physicists would tend to cluster more on one side of the mean?  Yes.   The side with the extreme constituting the true Aspies?  Yes.

Finally, I really do believe that the heroic characters in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged are pretty far toward the Aspie/Autistic side of this line - far enough to be classifiable.

Does that answer the question?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Asperger's and Talent

Autism is often a seriously crippling disease, one that for much of human existence would have been fatal before reproduction.   Nonetheless, it's a relatively common affliction.  When such illnesses persist in the gene pool, it's tempting to guess that the responsible genes, or some of them, are beneficial in some combination - as in the case of sickle cell anemia and a few similar diseases.  Is it possible that Autism is a multi-gene version of the same sort of thing?

A few psychologists have made that argument, for example in Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World . Such arguments typically depend on identifying a number of past and present individuals who made dramatic impacts on history despite - or perhaps because of Asperger's syndrome. The credibility of the claim is in doubt of course, but I find it pretty interesting.  So do a lot of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders - Temple Grandin once referred to NASA as a "sheltered workshop for autistics."

If you spend much time hanging around, say, physics departments, you will see a number of individuals who though not quite clinical, clearly have something in common with those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.  Wifes and girlfriends have been known to call us Aspies.  You will also see a few who are clearly over that borderline.

My own guess is that the same types of focus and obsession that define the Aspie are needed for sucess in certain intellectual occupations.  That doesn't mean that all those geniuses were Aspies or Autistics, but I find it plausible that on the big spectrum, most of them are closer to Aspie than the average person.

PS - I'm firmly convinced that essentially all of Rand's hero characters are autistic or Aspie.  Very likely, she was as well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Convert

Rand is starting to make a lot more sense to me - should I worry about that?

Maybe John Galt was working for Goldman-Sachs in 2007 - together with Rand's boy Greenspan they engineered the great meltdown that almost worked to bring down civilization.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MoDo on Rand/Atlas

From the comments:  Arun finds a great Maureen Dowd column on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.

I would take exception to one of her paragraphs, though:

She wrote about Nietzschean superheroes who made things. She died before capitalism evolved into a vampire casino where you could bet against investments you sold to your clients, and make money off something you didn’t own or that existed only on paper.

No, Capitalism was always like that - think about the South Seas bubble of Isaac Newton's time. Most of Rand's villains were also capitalists - crony capitalists in bed with the government of the type that populated the Bush administration and did anyone mention Goldman-Sachs?

The stuff that Rand failed to see was always there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Words Words Words

It is reported that Atlas Shrugged contains 645,000 words. Approximately 1/3 of them consist of repetitions of the phrase "It wasn't my fault" or variations thereof.

That is all.

The Longest, Stupidest Sermon Ever

If I read one more idiot (JT, Ch. 9) reciting the idiotic versions of the philosophy Rand thinks she attacking I really shall really scream.


OK, so that was only a virtual scream. Sue me. Glenn Beck can construct a better strawman than this.

OK, maybe I should stop and do something more interesting. Like, maybe, translating the internal revenue code into ancient Sumerian.

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is usually classed as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Wikipedia says:

A pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.[23] Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis.

The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome.[3] Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.

The most famous Aspie in my universe, albeit an Aspie exaggerated for comic effect, is Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the fictional character who is the star of The Big Bang Theory. Aspies, as at least some of them call themselves, tend to be bright and are frequently highly accomplished. Like other groups, they have claimed a lot of dead celebrities as members, some more plausibly than others. Newton, Einstein and Dirac look like plausible choices, Lincoln and Franklin, maybe not so much. Ampere, Heaviside, Tesla, Turing and Bill Gates make some lists too.

I am not the first, it seems, to have picked up on Ayn Rand as a plausible candidate, but female Aspies are either rarer or tougher to diagnose.

There do seem to be a lot of physicists on these lists. More than one wife, girlfriend, or relative of a physicist, upon hearer the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers, has been known to say "that pretty much describes every physicist I know."

Which reminds me - one classic Aspie characteristic is a tendency to natter on about subjects nobody else is interested in . . .

The View From Chapter Eight

It's a long book, true, but so far it looks like it's going to pack enough action and drama to fill the pages of 35 page graphic novel - or at least a comic book.

IE9 Commenting Problems Bleg

After transitioning to the new blogger editor, I can now apparently post even from IE9.  Unfortunately, I still don't seem to be able to post comments from IE9.  Except for Lumo's comment, I can't seem to locate any information on this.  For rather complicated reasons I prefer to do my blogging from Internet Explorer. 

Does anyone know what the problem is?  Of a fix?

Failing that, what comment system would you recommend?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Human Nature: Primitive Collectivism

A number of idealistic schemes turn out to work poorly. Socialism seems to be a good example, at least in its more extreme forms. I think that it fails to account for human nature.

It’s impossible to draw a bright line between us and our pre-human ancestors, but one prominent milestone is food-sharing behavior. A couple of million years ago or so, our ancestors seem to have started cooperating in the business of gathering food and sharing it among the members of a family band. It can hardly be overemphasized how important this kind of “collectivism” was in the development of the species. Speech, fire, and tool making all either stem from this or were greatly facilitated by it.

If more modern forms of hunter-gatherer societies are a clue, the forms of sharing became dominated by traditional familial and customary rules. The most fundamental threat to this (and every other kind of collectivism) is the slacker – he, or she, who takes but does not contribute. In a small band it’s pretty easy to identify such culprits, and it’s at least plausible that those fundamental human attributes of guilt and shame developed as social mechanisms to compel compliance.

What about those who lacked those traits? Well, they could be expelled from the band, and in a hard world that was a likely death penalty (Who is John Galt? – he was that jerk we kicked out last year – cave bear got him last winter!), unless they had some other compelling traits that would take others with them. In any case, it seems that despite the evolutionary advantages of cheating, mechanisms for dealing with it were strong enough to keep this type of society functional for millions of years.

At some point, an alternative mechanism of cooperation developed: trading. Trade has the great advantage of permitting effective cooperation among those who have no compelling reason to trust each other.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter Five

The last couple chapters have been almost readable - a hint of plot and a character the author cares about. The "heroic" characters are complete caricatures of course, with the same super powers that allow them to easily triumph (albeit inexplicably) in every situation, and the same faces with "planes." The villains are too absurd to be even laughable.

Rand's theory of the world (that everything is done by a few key people) is absurd, and the methods and accomplishments of her characters are preposterous. She worships engineering and business but seems to have no clue about how either is done.

Oh well.

A Grand Unified Field Theory ...

... of Nietzschian/Randian "supermen".

What if it were really true that a disproportionate fraction of certain types of high human accomplishments were due to a relatively small fraction of brain-damaged individuals whose disconnection from normal human emotional life gave them an ability to focus beyond most of us?

I've already remarked that Rand's heroes look a lot like high functioning Asperger's syndrome types. Their interactions with others seem to consist largely of others complaining about their emotional obtuseness, paired with their resentment and feeling of being abused.

It's a familiar observation that Rand's unheroic characters are hardly even caricatures - they are more like billboards on which she can post caricatures of un-Randian speech. Her heroes, besides being repositories of nearly every virtue, are continually criticized for their emotional obtuseness.

It's been a mystery to me how this objectively very bad writer could be so immensely popular. Maybe part of the secret is that most of her devotees are precisely the Asperger's "patients" among us. Resentment of the ordinary person seems to be the dominant emotional theme of her work.

So why should these "supermen" resent and envy the supposedly less gifted? It really only makes sense if our supermen realize, even if only subconsciously, that they are missing something that most people have.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chapter Three

OK, I can't f****** believe it. I can't imagine how anyone with a positive IQ could find this dreck amusing.

This is like the dumbest propaganda film ever made. It's like nobody made even the most trivial effort to make any character plausible or even recognizably human.

Paul Ryan has got to be dumber than a rock.

Mikey Likes It

Or at least Paul Krugman does, mainly anyway.

Me too. The President's plan, I mean, and also his tone - it sounds almost like he has decided to lead.

Anything You Can Do I(bot) Can Do Better

What jobs can robots and computers do better than people? We have some new entries, playing Jeopardy and some kinds of legal document searches to join such old favorites as assembling automobiles, laying out integrated circuits, exploding IEDs, playing chess and proving theorems in Euclid. Here are some more that I think are very close or already there:

  • (a)Fly an airplane
  • (b)Drive a car
  • (c)Run a warehouse
  • (d)Transcribe speech
  • (e)Translate documents

Here are a few that I think are fairly certain to happen before 2020:

  • (1)Certain surgeries
  • (2)Many menial tasks that require complex motions – harvesting fruit and vegetables, janitorial work, loading and unloading of most types, many kinds of sales jobs – but not too much higher level planning.
  • (3)Diagnosing illness
  • (4)Many kinds of teaching
  • (5)Build a house?
  • (6)Mining

In many or most of these jobs, some human assistance or supervision might still be required. There doesn’t seem to be much danger that the machines will do a good job of programming themselves soon, so human programmers will probably still be needed.

It’s pretty easy to imagine, though, that a very large fraction of existing occupations will become obsolete soon.

Contrary views, with logic please.

At The Beginning: Your Fault JRE

Alysa Rosenbaum's bourgeois childhood was disrupted by the Russian Revolution. Doubtless this fact explains at least part of her lifelong antipathy for collectivism in any form. Her unrelenting ferocity, and her own quasi-Stalinist intolerance for any opinion but hers suggests something deeper to me, though.

Yes, reader, I have embarked upon Atlas Shrugged. I'm not in a position to do any kind of review - I'm only on Chapter 2, but I have formed certain impressions of the lay of the land. The number one impression I have is that all the heroic characters (as I imagine them) and probably the author are somebody I've seen before - the Asperger's syndrome semi-genius. Naturally that's a snap judgement, subject to revision after further reading, but the fundamental diagnostic criteria (DSM IV) appear to be there for Dagny and Hank.

I don't want to attempt to compete with the many talented reviewers who have mocked her prose, but I don't find it too annoying, yet anyway. More later.

PS to Luboš: If you haven't read her, you should try. You might like it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From The Edufadosphere

Education loves fads. Or at least education publishers love fads. And what better excuse could there be for a new fad than a study which shows some probably accidental correlation between some facet of education and life success. Kevin Drum is on the case. He links to this Washington Post story by Peter Whoriskey.

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

Kevin and a researcher who did the original study are both doubtful that the correlation implies causality. In fact Kevin says:

But I'm willing to bet a significant amount of my income that there's no causal relation at all between Algebra II and success in holding a top tier job. The only correlation is that smart kids tend to take Algebra II and smart kids also tend to go to college and end up in top tier jobs. Algebra II itself has nothing to do with it.

I’m not so sure. I believe in the theory that what you do can stretch your brain and that learning things like Algebra II can improve your thinking. Lincoln seems to have been of a similar opinion – he worked on Euclid’s Geometry until he could prove every theorem in books I-VI at sight, even though geometry has little to do with law or politics. Still, I think Kevin’s point is closer to the truth than the opposite, though I would probably say “smart and ambitious kids take Algebra II”.

He adds:

I'm a math nerd — or at least I used to be until I discovered I wasn't as smart as I thought I was — but this seems crazy even to me…

Me too, except that since it took me longer to learn that I wasn’t as smart as I thought (I didn’t attend an elite university), I’m still a math nerd.
If the Algebra II for you too trend becomes universal, I predict that (1) there will be more dropouts and (2) a new study will find that geometry, (or trigonometry, or calculus, or physics or something else hard) will have the highest correlation to life success.

More from the WaPo article:

To check the Algebra II findings against the “real world,” the Achieve researchers then asked college professors and employers to identify which skills are necessary to succeed.
Somewhat to their surprise, they found that whether students were going into work or college, they needed the skills taught in Algebra II. Other independent studies backed them up. One conducted by U.S. Department of Education researcher Clifford Adelman found that students who took Algebra II and at least one more math course attained “momentum” toward receiving a bachelor’s degree.
“There was a fair amount of judgment that went into this,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve and a former assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration. But “it turns out to get the skills needed, students had to reach Algebra II.”
The push for Algebra II had begun, and it was embraced by many states.
But not everyone is convinced that Algebra II is the answer.
Among the skeptics is Carnevale, one of the researchers who reported the link between Algebra II and good jobs. He warns against thinking of Algebra II as a cause of students getting good jobs merely because it is correlated with success.
“The causal relationship is very, very weak,” he said. “Most people don’t use Algebra II in college, let alone in real life. The state governments need to be careful with this.”

I report ... or rather Kevin and Peter report, and you ... well, you don’t really get to decide anything ... but you can form any damn opinion you like, and share it in the comments.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kuul or Druul?

Nifty I-Pad case has a built in keyboard.

Of course the combination looks like the world's clunkiest netbook.

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

I changed to IE9 and now can't seem to comment on my own site.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

HIQ Smarty-pants

Robert W. Johnson has compiled a list of what he alleges to be the 18 smartest people in the world, together with their alleged IQs. Now it turns out that those on list are chess players (4), authors(3), politicians (2), actors (2), physicists(2), mathematicians(2), a business man, an engineer, and a precocious 12-year old. Terence Tao tops the list with a purportedly “verified” IQ of 230.

Tao is indeed one super smart guy, but is an IQ of 230 really credible? There are two usual definitions for IQ. One, relevant only for young children, is the ratio of so-called mental age to chronological age, as demonstrated on some test. (Full disclosure, your author was once credited with an IQ of 200 based on the fact that at his then chronological age of 40, he already had the mental performance of an average 80 year old). The second method computes IQ based on the statistics of performance on a test – and this is the only score considered appropriate for adults. This standard awards an IQ score of 100 for the mean score and 15 points for every standard deviation above the mean.

On this scoring system Tao’s 230 is 8.67 standard deviations (SD) above the norm, Chris Hirata’s 225 is 8.33 SD and Paul Allen’s 160 a more modest 4 SD. If we look a bit more closely at the normal distribution, we find that while about 16 % of people have an IQ above 115 (1 SD), and a bit more than 2% are at or above 130 (2 SD), only 3 out of 100,000 can match or exceed Paul Allen’s 160 (4 SD). Of course to accurately assess such a score, many more than 100,000 people would need to take the test.

The air gets really rarified when we go to 5.3 SD = IQ 180 (Bobby Fisher, James Woods, John H. Sununu). Statistically, only six people in 100 million do that well.

So what about Terry Tao? SD = 26/3 converts to about 2 people per quintillion (2 x 10^-18), which would make Terry (and Chris, at 4 x 10^-17) smarter than anybody who is ever likely to live.

So on statistical grounds alone, don’t trust any IQ over 150 (5 out of every 10,000).

And definitely don’t trust anybody who claims an IQ of 200 (Z = 20/3, 1.3 x 10^-11).

Friday, April 08, 2011

Unhealthy Obsession

I'm thinking I might need to add Steve Landsburg to my list of brilliant (or at least semi-brilliant) nut jobs. His latest unhinged attack on Krugman (link) really does seem to be showing signs of unhealthy obsession.

Before you suggest adding myself to the list, let me point out that nobody has ever called me brilliant (or even semi-brilliant).

In other nut jobbery, I learned today that Paul Ryan makes all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged. Not that I expect to be a Ryan staffer, but does that mean I will now have to read that junky's excruciating long (and if other reading indicates, excruciatingly bad) novel - just in a know your enemy exercise?

UPDATE: Nobody asked, but let me be more explicit. Let me list the Krugman that offended SL and an excerpt from his objection:


And then there’s the much-ballyhooed proposal to abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers that can be used to buy private health insurance…. …The House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs. The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance.


Well, this is just plain illiterate. In fact, the only way that can happen is if the voucher system affects people’s health care choices. Which is, you know, the whole point. Krugman talks about “the cost of health insurance” as if it were an immutable number. But vouchers will affect health care choices (Do I really need to see the doctor every time I have a sniffle?

Let's stipulate that Krugman's final sentence is not literally true. I can imagine a number of scenarios where health care costs could fall despite an aging poulation. Jesus might choose to heal us all. A selective plague might wipe out all of us geezers quickly and cheaply. What I can't imagine is any scenario compatible with reasonable projections of health care costs and demographics that has that effect.

Ah but, says Steve - if you would just stop going to the doctor for every sniffle think of the money we could save. Not much, of course - that just a typical bit of Landsburg disingenuousness, or lying, as I usually prefer to call it. It is true that you can save money by denying care to the sick, especially the very sick, unless they happen to be rich. That's the effect of the Ryan plan, but contrary to Landsburg's claim it is not the whole point. The point of Ryan's plan, and it's other effect, is to filter several trillion taxpayer dollars through the hands of our friendly health insurance companies.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why Ryan Tackles Medicare

Why is Paul Ryan taking on Medicare, an overwhelmingly popular government program? Principled daring proclaim the conservative pundits.

Bullshit, of course.

Pay attention to the man, or rather insurance companies, behind the curtain says Wendell Potter. Ryan's plan would toss some trillions of dollars into health insurance company coffers over the next couple of decades, and for that kind of bucks they are prepared to take some risks - not to mention committing perhaps a billion or three to a massive disinformation campaign. Potter, a former insurance executive, was at the meetings when they plotted their strategy.

Ryan et al would never propose such a fundamental reshaping of those programs unless they were confident that corporate America stands ready to help them sell their ideas to the public. Like big business CEOs, Congressional Republicans wouldn't think of rolling out Ryan's budget plan without a carefully crafted political and communications strategy and the assurance that adequate funding would be available to carry it out.

Republicans know they can rely on health insurance companies -- which would attract trillions of taxpayer dollars if Ryan's dream comes true -- to help bankroll a massive campaign to sell the privatization of Medicare to the public.

Four years ago, in a secret insurance industry meeting in Philadelphia, I saw numbers that were similar to those in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The industry's pollster, Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, told insurance company executives, who had assembled to begin planning a campaign to shape the health care reform debate, that Americans were rapidly losing confidence in the private health insurance market.

For the first time ever, he said, more than 50 percent of Americans believed that the government should do more to solve the many problems that plagued the U.S. health care system. In fact, he said, a fast-growing percentage of Americans were embracing the idea of a government run "Medicare-for-All" type program to replace private insurers.

The executives came to realize at the meeting that the industry's very survival was dependent upon the successful execution of a comprehensive campaign to change public attitudes toward private insurers. They needed to convince Americans they "added value" to the health care system, and that what the public should fear would be more government control.

Knowing that a campaign publicly identified with the industry would have little credibility, the executives endorsed a strategy that would use their business and political allies -- and front groups -- as messengers.

Consider yourselves warned.

More Adventures in Castellano

The goal of studying language is to be able to understand and converse in it. My progress is muy lento. In order to try to train my ear a bit, I have started listening to CNN en Español on my XM radio. I don't understand much, but I do catch occasional words and phrases and sometimes can figure out roughly the subject of the stories.

After a bit, though, I became more interested in the commercials. There aren't many, and they seem to be overwhelmingly from two sources: the US Department of Energy and the US Forest Service. I wish I could have got the gist of the recent one from the Department of Energy's National Watermelon Research Laboratories.

There has got to be an inappropriate ethnic joke in that somewhere;)

Profs as Profit Centers

Is a professor worth his keep? Business has long had metrics and standards for assessing employees contribution to the bottom line, but Texas A&M seems to have pioneered the dollars and sense approach to academic evaluation. From Amanda M. Fairbanks HuffPost story:

For years, state legislators, parents, and even his own boss had been hectoring Frank Ashley, the vice chancellor of academic affairs for the Texas A&M University System, to tell them whether his highest paid professors were worth their often fat paychecks.

Ashley responded with a spreadsheet that listed each of his faculty members according to how much money they made or lost for the university.

The study calculated an individual professor's "revenue" based on the tuition he or she brought to the school -- a product of the number of students taught -- and the amount of research awards and grants he or she obtained, among other factors. The greater the number of classes and students taught, the greater the revenue. If a professor's annual salary was lower than the amount of revenue generated, it was black. Otherwise, it was red.

Of the 50 highest compensated faculty members, only five appeared to be in the black and earning their keep. The rest were crimson…

The trouble started when this “internal” study grew legs. This sort of thing challenges a lot of fundamental ideas about the nature of a university and what is valuable in and about it. It seems that Mammon is as uncomfortable a podium guest for Hermes as for Yahweh.

There is a very real point to all this though – those who pay the bills have a responsibility to see that their money is being well spent. As long as they have faith in the fundamental values of the institutions they can be fairly happy to let the administrators handle the details. When money is tight, the details get scrutiny.

Education and Religion

Andrew Sullivan asks (rhetorically):

Why does education erode faith?

After discussing the the popular (among the right) theory of left-wing indoctrination Conor Friedersdorf thinks he has a better idea:

To me, there are better explanations for the fact that "the more university education a person receives, the more likely he is to hold secular and left-wing views." One is that people who attend college leave home. That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don't go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they're surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. Another reason education correlates with secularism is that secularists are more likely to seek advanced degrees, partly because they're more focused than their religious counterparts on career.

I think Conor has a point, but how about the following. If you take classes in science and history, you learn that most of the stuff that religion teaches is nonsense. The Bible is an obvious and derivative myth. Moreover, promoters of all religions have devoted an inordinate portion of their efforts to murdering, torturing, and otherwise harrassing anyone who follows a different religion or otherwise fails to give lip service to their BS. I suspect that those things collectively might promote a little doubt even in those who never suspected the mythology before they got to college.

More Bumpery

From the Lumonator.

More links, Z' speculations and fears of an artifact.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Bump

Peter Woit at NEW has a quick story and links to more details. The microcapsule: Fermilab has a suspicious bump at 3.2 (or maybe 3.3) sigma. It doesn't seem to be Higgsy.

Let's hope it's real - particle physics could certainly use a breath of air.

Rivlin on Ryan

Via Brad DeLong

Paul Ryan has presented his plan as essentially like the Ryan-Rivlin plan. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Rivlin disagrees:

Alice Rivlin and I designed these Medicare and Medicaid reforms,” Paul Ryan said on “Morning Joe” yesterday. “Alice Rivlin was Clinton’s OMB director… she’s a proud Democrat at the Brookings institution. These entitlement reforms are based off of those models that she and I worked on together.” But Rivlin — who is all that Ryan says she is, in addition to a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve — is not supporting the reforms as written in Ryan’s budget. I spoke with her this morning to ask why. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: What struck me when I dug into the details of Ryan’s budget is that he changed the target Ryan-Rivlin had set for Medicare from GDP+1% to the rate of inflation. That seems pretty hard to achieve.

Alive Rivlin: That’s a reason for me saying very strongly that I don’t support the version of Medicare premium support in the Ryan plan. It’s both because the growth rate is much, much too low, and because it doesn’t preserve fee-for-service Medicare as the default option.

Rationing Health Care

Wolfgang -

"Why is the growth in health care spending in the US outstripping that in the rest of the developed world?" because in many countries (e.g. in the European country where I live) health care spending is capped (similar to what Ryan-Rivlin proposes by the way). This means e.g. in Germany or Austria that a personal care physician has a budget for each quarter which he/she cannot exceed (and they have to stop writing expensive prescriptions when they reach their budget limit. And no this is not a joke.)

If I may risk a paraphrase, Wolfgang is pointing out that the only sure way to contain medical costs is to ration what care insurance will pay for. I agree and so does Krugman. One approach to this is based on having experts evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and specify those eligible for coverage. Our Republican friends styled these as "death panels." Another approach is provide some subsidies and let insurance companies decide who gets care - that's the approach Ryan likes. (Contrary to what WB insinuates, Ryan is not Ryan-Rivlin).

Now my knowledge of Austrian health care (considered by some to be the best in Europe) is limited but doesn't gibe very well with the impression Wolfgang gave me - that if you got sick late in the quarter, you could forget about treatment. Compare, e.g., from the linked document:

Social health insurance covers the following benefits: • medical services in the primary sector, including physiotherapeutic, ergotherapeutic and logotherapeutic treatment, as well as psychotherapy • drugs, therapeutic products, medical aids • dental treatment, dentures • hospital care • medical home care • sickness benefits • maternity benefits • medical rehabilitation • health protection and disease prevention (spas) • early detection of disease and health promotion • travel expenses and transport costs. As a rule, benefits which qualify as social health insurance benefits can be obtained without limits and regardless of personal income. Benefits, which are not (or not yet) included in the obligatory health insurance coverage must be applied for and approved by the “head doctor” (employed by the health insurance fund). In order for any benefit to be included as an obligatory health insurance benefit, the professional associations must negotiate in detail access to and regional distribution of service providers, the reimbursement rates and the observance of quality standards. This process occasionally may take longer than what is deemed convenient for the parties and patients involved, but is a necessary prerequisite to ensure balanced supply (horizontal equity), uniform fees and observance of quality criteria.

My gripe with Ryan's plan is that it, like Medicare Advantage and every other Republican health care proposal I can remember, is that it is designed not to heal the sick and keep the well healthy, but to enrich drug and hospital corporations. If you look at the financial history of American health care since Reagan, you can see just how effective this system has been at extracting rents from patients and the government and enriching those corporations.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

IQ Test:

The Republicans have proposed a plan to essentially eliminate Medicare and Medicaid. The plan is to allow older people to keep Medicare but give younger people only inadequate vouchers to purchase private insurance. There is a Machiavellian point to this bit of chicanery. Krugman:

The 2022 Medicare Crisis
Matt Yglesias has a very good point: the supposed transition strategy under the Ryan plan, in which everyone currently over 55 gets Medicare as we know it, while everyone younger than that gets vouchers that won’t be enough to buy adequate insurance, sets up an unstable political dynamic. In fact, we can be sure that whatever happens, it won’t be what the plan says will happen.

If the Medicare Advantage precedent holds, what will happen in 2022 or a bit later is that Congress will react to the fury of younger seniors — who see that those born just a few years earlier have vastly better benefits than they do — by increasing the vouchers. And the end result, in that case, would be that the Ryan plan substantially increases Medicare costs; remember that the payment increases that were part of the 2003 Medicare bill, introduced to rescue failing Medicare Advantage programs, have resulted in large overpayments, adding hundreds of billions to the program’s costs.

Alternatively, if the benefit cuts stick, you’ll have a lot of furious people realizing that they are paying high taxes to support lavish medical care for older Baby Boomers, while being themselves condemned to pleading with insurance companies to provide coverage in return for an inadequate voucher. Plus, private insurance companies, making lots of money off the voucher business, will cast their eyes on those potential profit centers, aka seniors, still getting government insurance. So traditional Medicare will be in the firing line — and all those assurances about how nobody currently over 55 will be hurt will turn out to be empty.

The only questions are whether Americans are dumb enough to fall for it and whether Obama can rouse himself from his long slumber long enough to fight back. Early indications are not promising.

Low Taxes

The United States has lower tax rates than any other advanced country I could find - slightly less than 27% for 2010, vs. 40% for the UK, 44% for Czechia, and 55% for Sweden. Less developed countries like Mexico and India pay less, about 20%, partly because the rich have great power but mainly because they are much poorer. This fact does not keep Americans from bitching and moaning about taxes.

The super wealthy like the Koch brothers who fund Tea Parties and other tax protesters would like the US to be more like Mexico, at least in its tax rates.

So why are Americans so convinced that they are over taxed? One theory I like goes as follows. Europeans pay a lot of taxes, but they get a lot from the government: health care, education, and a generous welfare system. Americans mostly get wars and bailouts for billionaires.

UPDATE FOR LUMO & OTHER COMMENTER'S: Lumo: Your figures for the Czech Republic are some meaningless composite amount containing all kinds of social, healthcare, and value-added taxes and fees. The income tax is (a flat tax of) 15% of the base - which is less than the salary itself, so the income tax is really less than 15%. Something like extra 7% and 5% is for social and mandatory health insurance. Corporations commonly add value-added tax which is 20%. One may get 44% by inconsistently adding all kinds of these things - but I don't think that this was done for the other nations.

The methodology is simple and common to all nations. It has the advantage of averaging over all the details of who pays what and over all kinds of taxes or social insurances administered by governments. All government income from all taxes, social insurance programs, license fees, etc. is totaled and that number is divided by the national income. It's a good number, because all nations measure the first number and all advanced nations measure the second. It counts all government income at national, state and local levels(but not borrowing - a deferred tax).

Details of who pays what differ drastically among nations.

Note that although the US has very low taxes, it still spends a lot. That's because (a)It's still pretty rich and (b)Thanks to GW and Ronnie, an awful lot of the spending is borrowed money, a deferred tax not yet counted.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

It's A Rich Man's World

Kevin Drum notes the obvious in: Politics of the Rich, By the Rich, For the Rich

Dan Eggen and Perry Bacon Jr. report on the start of Obama's fundraising campaign for 2012:
Facing an energized Republican Party and deep-pocketed conservative groups, President Obama is kicking off his 2012 reelection campaign with a concerted push for help from wealthy donors and liberal groups unbound by spending limits...
I suppose that soon we'll be able to do away with even the charade that anyone with a net worth of less than a million bucks matters in the slightest. Given Obama's obvious deference to the rich over the past two years, this was probably sadly inevitable.

Of course Obama's deference didn't appease the most of the rich - they still want it all.

The odd's are probably poor of a real liberal being elected.