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.


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


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."


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


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


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.


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


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:

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


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.


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.


Trump's speech on Afghanistan policy was calm, measured and dignified, and he read it right off the teleprompter. It was also essentially content free.

A recurring theme for most of the war has been that if we could just teach those Afghan soldiers how to fight, the Taliban could be routed. What nonsense. I am pretty sure that the problem is not technical proficiency, whatever limitations they may have in that regard, but commitment to the cause. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - why are those soldiers so hard to motivate to fight for the occupying power?

Trump failed to explain any details of what he would do to discourage Pakistan from supporting the Taliban. He didn't even mention the weapons and other help that Russia supplies to them. There is no clue as to what he hopes to do about the pervasive corruption that undermines all the military efforts. The "no nation building" battle cry might inspire his fellow idiots, but the fact is that it is a strategy that's been tried again and again and always failed.

We succeeded in Germany and Japan precisely because we were fully committed to nation building. We failed in Iraq because we didn't even try how to figure out how to put back together the nation Bush had shattered. Ditto Libya and so on.

Trump did experiment a bit with his patented troublemaking ideas, by trying to suck India into the Afghan quagmire. That should work well.


I was thinking about that initial cabinet meeting where all the cabinet members (except General Mattis) abased themselves at Trump's feet while singing his praises. I remembered a case where President Kennedy assembled a bunch of Nobel Prize winners for some kind of White House dinner and remarked that it was possibly the greatest intellectual assemblage ever at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Perhaps something similar could be said of Trump's cabinet meeting - the greatest assemblage of human stupidity ever in the place, except possibly when Trump dines alone.

Staring at the Sun

So did Trump endanger his eyes by glancing at the Sun during the eclipse? I think that it's unlikely that he was any blinder as a result than he was before, and that his retina's weren't likely to have been damaged. Staring at the Sun is not a good idea in general, but pupillary reflexes normally act to minimize the damage by maximum contraction.

The real hazard occurs during totality, when it becomes very dark in the visible and the pupils open wide. At that point, despite the near absence of visible light, there is still a lot of UV from the corona, and it's entirely possible to stare at the eclipsed circle and get a retina damaging dose.

Since Trump was not on the path of totality, the very bright visible portion of the Sun should have kept his pupils minimally sized and his brief glance was quite likely harmless. I wasn't on the path of totality either, but I put on my eclipse glasses to take a look.

I also made a very crude pinhole camera by punching a hole in a piece of paper with a pen. My favorite view, though, is looking at the shadows of bushes and trees, where accidental small gaps in the foliage make a horde of small pinholes that become transformed into tiny images of a crescent Sun.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Left, Right and Indian

It has been observed that many Americans of Indian descent are leftist with respect to American politics but rightist where Indian politics are concerned. Some find this counterintuitive or even paradoxical, but I don't think so. Americans of Indian descent tend to be highly educated and relatively prosperous but may well feel doubly endangered in the US, firstly by racial and ethnic prejudice, and also by the encroachment of American values on them and their children. Hence they are attracted to values of anti-discrimination and diversity in the American left.

In India, though, they are members of a wealthy and English speaking elite. As such, they fear the impact of the challenges to India's traditionally highly stratified society from below. India is one of the world's most unequal societies, and one of the reasons for the inequality is the traditional culture of caste, which is deeply embedded in culture and religion. They see those that challenge it as the gravest enemies, and reserve their bitterest enmity for those Indians that do.

This seems to apply mainly to first generation Indian Americans. Not sure how or if it translates to later generations.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hillbilly Girls

Oak Ridge, the giant industrial city created out of farmland in Tennessee, had one central job: separation of U235 from its less fissionable isotopic counterpart, U238. The first method that worked, electromagnetic separation by giant calutrons, a cousin of the cyclotron and ancestor of the mass spectrometer, by acceleration of ions through a magnetic field, creating separation based on the different radii of circulation of the two ions. That was the job of the Y-12 plant.

In those pre-computer days, operating the calutrons meant human control of a bunch of parameters that needed to be carefully controlled: source heating, voltage, ionization..." by operators reading dials and tweaking knobs.

In Berkeley, only PhDs had been allowed to operate the panels controlling the electromagnetic separation units. When Tennessee Eastman suggested turning over the operation of Lawrence’s calutrons to a bunch of young women fresh off the farm with nothing more than a public school education, the Nobel Prize winner was skeptical. But it was decided Lawrence’s team would work out the kinks for the calutron units and then pass control to the female operators.

Then the District Engineer [General Leslie Groves] gave [Cyclotron and Calutron Inventor E. O.] Lawrence some surprising news: the “hillbilly” girls were generating more enriched Tubealloy[Uranium] per run than the PhDs had. And Product was all that mattered.

A gauntlet had been thrown down.

The two men agreed to a production race. Whichever group generated the most enriched Tubealloy over a specified amount of time would win—though “winning” only meant bragging rights for the Engineer or Lawrence.

By the end of the designated contest period, Lawrence and his PhDs had lost handily.

They just couldn’t stop fiddling with things, Lawrence thought, trying to make things run smoother, faster, harder. Still, he was surprised.

The District Engineer understood perfectly. Those girls, “hillbilly” or no, had been trained like soldiers. Do what you’re told. Don’t ask why.

He and the General knew that was how you got results.

Kiernan, Denise. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II (pp. 109-110). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

PhDs are easily distracted.


Professor Drumph, our new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, seems to think that we can fight terrorism by nuking Venezuela and by deploying a special squad of anti-terr with magic bullets dipped in pig's blood, but what can actually be done in the real world? Our present strategy of treating terrorism as a police problem is not doing very well in Europe.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tales of the Alt-left in Charlotteville

Dahlia Lithwick collected first person stories from a lot of the people who were on the ground in Charlottesville. They don't exactly fit the Trump-Nazi narrative. Here are a couple:

Brandy Daniels Postdoctoral fellow at the Luce Project on Religion and Its Publics at UVA

It was basically impossible to miss the antifa for the group of us who were on the steps of Emancipation Park in an effort to block the Nazis and alt-righters from entering. Soon after we got to the steps and linked arms, a group of white supremacists—I’m guessing somewhere between 20-45 of them—came up with their shields and batons and bats and shoved through us. We tried not to break the line, but they got through some of us—it was terrifying, to say the least—shoving forcefully with their shields and knocking a few folks over. We strengthened our resolve and committed to not break the line again. Some of the anarchists and anti-fascist folks came up to us and asked why we let them through and asked what they could do to help. Rev. Osagyefo Sekou talked with them for a bit, explaining what we were doing and our stance and asking them to not provoke the Nazis. They agreed quickly and stood right in front of us, offering their help and protection.

Less than 10 minutes later, a much larger group of the Nazi alt-righters come barreling up. My memory is again murky on the details. (I was frankly focused on not bolting from the scene and/or not soiling myself—I know hyperbole is common in recounting stories like these, but I was legitimately very worried for my well-being and safety, so I was trying to remember the training I had acquired as well as, for resolve, to remember why I was standing there.) But it had to have been at least 100 of them this go around. I recall feeling like I was going to pass out and was thankful that I was locked arms with folks so that I wouldn’t fall to the ground before getting beaten. I knew that the five anarchists and antifa in front of us and the 20 or so of us were no match for the 100-plus of them, but at this point I wasn’t letting go.

“Cornel West said that he felt that the antifa saved his life. I didn’t roll my eyes at that statement or see it as an exaggeration.”

At that point, more of the anarchists and antifa milling nearby saw the huge mob of the Nazis approach and stepped in. They were about 200-300 feet away from us and stepped between us (the clergy and faith leaders) and the Nazis. This enraged the Nazis, who indeed quickly responded violently. At this point, Sekou made a call that it was unsafe—it had gotten very violent very fast—and told us to disperse quickly.

While one obviously can’t objectively say what a kind of alternate reality or “sliding doors”–type situation would have been, one can hypothesize or theorize. Based on what was happening all around, the looks on their faces, the sheer number of them, and the weapons they were wielding, my hypothesis or theory is that had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so. On Democracy Now, Cornel West, who was also in the line with us, said that he felt that the antifa saved his life. I didn’t roll my eyes at that statement or see it as an exaggeration—I saw it as a very reasonable hypothesis based on the facts we had. Rev. Seth Wispelwey Directing minister of Restoration Village Arts and consulting organizer for Congregate C'ville

I am a pastor in Charlottesville, and antifa saved my life twice on Saturday. Indeed, they saved many lives from psychological and physical violence—I believe the body count could have been much worse, as hard as that is to believe. Thankfully, we had robust community defense standing up to white supremacist violence this past weekend. Incredibly brave students held space at the University of Virginia and stared down a torch-lit mob that vastly outnumbered them on Friday night. On Saturday, battalions of anti-fascist protesters came together on my city’s streets to thwart the tide of men carrying weapons, shields, and Trump flags and sporting MAGA hats and Hitler salutes and waving Nazi flags and the pro-slavery “stars and bars.”

“They have their tools, and they are not ones I will personally use, but our purposes were the same: block this violent tide.” Rev. Seth Wispelwey

Out of my faith calling, I feel led to pursue disciplined, nonviolent direct action and witness. I helped lead a group of clergy who were trained and committed to the same work: to hold space on the frontline of the park where the rally was to be held. And then some of us tried to take the steps to one of the entrances. God is not OK with white supremacy, and God is on the side of all those it tries to dehumanize. We feel a responsibility to visibly, bodily show our solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.

A phalanx of neo-Nazis shoved right through our human wall with 3-foot-wide wooden shields, screaming and spitting homophobic slurs and obscenities at us. It was then that antifa stepped in to thwart them. They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal.

The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb. White supremacy is violence. I didn’t see any racial justice protesters with weapons; as for antifa, anything they brought I would only categorize as community defense tools and nothing more. Pretty much everyone I talk to agrees—including most clergy. My strong stance is that the weapon is and was white supremacy, and the white supremacists intentionally brought weapons to instigate violence.

Seems to me that what the antifa was doing was the job the police didn't do.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Which Side

Washington Post Headline: "Trump puts a fine point on it: He sides with the alt-right in Charlottesville."

I had argued that. It's nice that at least some agree with me.

From the story:

It was inevitable that President Trump’s brief news conference on Tuesday concerning national infrastructure would, instead, be redirected to a discussion of the violent protest in Charlottesville this past weekend and his delayed criticism of the racist and pro-Nazi groups that were central to it.

It did not seem inevitable, though, that Trump’s responses to questions about those protests would cement as correct the general interpretation of his first comments on the matter: He’s sympathetic to the goals of the men who marched Saturday night carrying Confederate and Nazi flags — and even to the “peaceful” torchlight protest on Friday in which marchers chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans.

After those protests spiraled into violence on Saturday and after a counterdemonstrator was killed by a car allegedly driven by a white supremacist from Ohio, Trump offered a wan response to what had happened.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,” he said. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”

The latter part of that statement is an attempt to distance himself from any blame for the recent increase in visible white nationalist activity. The former? An apparent attempt to equate those vocally defending Nazism and the goals of the Confederacy in Charlottesville with those who showed up in opposition. His critique was not just about the violence that day, but about “hatred” and “bigotry,” which, he suggested, was not just the province of the Nazis and racists.

Just for Kicks

Leftist demonstrators tore down a statue of a Confederate soldier in Durham, North Carolina today. Aside from the malicion vandalism, this provides perfect fuel for the alt-right and Trump's "plague on both your houses" narrative. I'm guessing that the statue was made of some sort of soft metal, since the legs were somewhat crumpled in the fall.

Afterwards, several members of the crowd came up to kick the fallen statue of a handsome and anonymous young soldier. I trust that their feet were suitably rewarded.

Perhaps the nation could invest in adequately durable monuments for all the angry people to kick the heck out of - barefeet only please.

One View of Modern India

The present century has seen the rise of democratically elected authoritarian leaders in many nations: Trump in the US, Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey, Orban in Hungary, and others. In many case inter-ethnic tensions are a factor. From a Slate interview with Ramachandra Guha:

I would like to slice up the story of modern India into four sectors. There’s politics, which is multiparty competition, elections, charismatic, strong authoritarian leaders, etc. Then there is economics, which you’ve talked about, which is a move from a command economy toward market liberalization. Then there’s society, which is the turning of social relations. I think that’s very important and should not be ignored, because India is a deeply hierarchical society. The French anthropologist Louis Dumont famously called us Hindus “Homo Hierarchicus” because the caste system is, without question, the most sophisticated and diabolical form of social exclusion ever invented by humans. Then of course you have gender inequality, because both Hinduism and Islam give women a totally subordinate role.

But on this third category I think India is moving, despite authoritarian populism at the top, despite the economic inequalities generated by market liberalism, toward a more egalitarian society. Women and Dalits are less exploited now than at any point in human history. Women and Dalits are asserting themselves more than at any point in human history, which is why we are now also witnessing an upper-caste, patriarchal backlash against them. I think this is something that’s going on beyond politics and economics.

Finally, there’s religion and culture. This is where the report card over the last 10 years has slipped dramatically, because the main difference between the Congress Party and the BJP is that the Congress believed that Muslims and Christians are equal citizens of the land whereas the BJP follows very much the Pakistan model of nation-building, which is that the state is identified with the majority community. In Pakistan, it’s Muslims. In India, it’s Hindus. I think the insecurity of Muslims, which has grown over the last eight or 10 years, and particularly the last three or four years, puts a question mark even on economic growth, because if you have insecurity and a breakdown of law and order and the police take the side of the goons rather than of victims, then no one is going to invest in India. I think this is in some ways the most worrying feature of Narendra Modi: that India is being redefined as a Hindu state, which is absolutely new in its 70-year history.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump and the Neo-Nazis

Josh Marshall:

The problem with the continued begging, ‘why won’t he denounce, why won’t he denounce’ is that at some point, maybe later today, President Trump will go before a podium and read off through gritted teeth a pro-forma denunciation of Nazis and it will seem to a lot of people like it means something when it doesn’t. He’s already made crystal clear where he stands here. The question is how we individually and as a country are going to deal with that fact, not how many more mulligans we’re going to give him. His neo-nazi supporters are truly over the moon that he’s steadfastly refusing to criticize them, even in the face of withering criticism and derision. They get the message. They’re ecstatic. Everyone who doesn’t see this, see that it is intentional, is getting played for chumps.

I'm far less sure that Trump will ever concede, but Josh has a point.

UPDATE: Should never have doubted you Josh.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

True Confession

It's time for me to admit a major personal failing. Despite being born and raised in Montana, and the son, grandson, sibling and various other degrees of kinship of foresters, wilderness guides, and other mountain men, I can't do a really decent job of sharpening a knife. I have accumulated oil stones, water stones, diamond stones and an electric sharpener, as well as a rouge infused leather strop but the best I seem to be able to achieve is the 'cuts sheet of paper' degree of sharpness. My knives are utter failures getting shaving sharp and they are not that hot at thinly slicing a bell pepper either.


Eugenics 101

As the geneticist James Crow put it, the greatest mutational health hazard in the population is fertile old men.

Lane, Nick. The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life (p. 231). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Because in men, unlike women, gametes continue to be produced throughout life, while mutations continue to accumulate.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Giant Screw-Up by Virginia Police

Many are injured and at least one person is dead as police in Charlottesville sat on their hands while violence escalated. Police should have moved aggressively to separate the sides and especially after violence broke out.

Meanwhile, the disgusting human who occupies the White House barely managed to interrupt patting himself on the back long enough to condemn violence by "both sides" - a message the Nazi's and KKK rightly interpreted as tacit approval.

You are either against the Neo-Nazis and KKK or you are with them. Trump has chosen his side.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Maybe They Should Google It?

One of the oddities about the Damore memo was that the substance was preceded by "TL;DR." That acronym, as used by everybody not working for Google, stands for "Too Long; Didn't Read," which makes it a pretty stupid thing to precede the text you are trying to communicate. I assumed that Damore just wasn't "woke" enough to understand that. Then I read the memo by Google CEO cancelling the all hands meeting he had scheduled to discuss the matter. He too did the same damn thing.

WTF? Doesn't anybody there know how to use Google? Or is that some sort of ironic in-house joke?

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Two blowhards are busy threatening each other with nuclear weapons. How likely is it that something goes terribly wrong? My guess: pretty likely if Kim Jong Un actually fires a bunch of missiles near Guam. Damn likely if one of those missiles actually hits Guam or lands in Japan.

Kim really can't afford to look weak and Trump may badly need a distraction from the Russia investigation, which may be closing in on either Trump or some of those close to him.

With apologies to Kipling - If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs, you probably just don't appreciate the gravity of the situation.

They Claim the Cows Like It

Robotic dairies have reached the colonies. Cows prefer it, they say, since they can come in whenever they are ready and the robots have a better udder side manner.

The end is nigh!

Nerds vs. Geeks

Nerd is frequently used as a derogatory term, but has rather aggressively been reclaimed by self proclaimed nerds, among them Mayim Bialik, who plays the supremely nerdish Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, who just happens to have a real-life PhD in neurobiology, and who proudly proclaimed herself a nerd in high school (when she had already been a TV star). Dr. Seuss seems to have been the first to use the word in print, but it had no obvious referent except as one of the exotic creatures Gerald McGrew intended to collect for his zoo.

It thereafter seems to have acquired its sense among teenagers as a socially awkward person, especially one of an intellectual bent. Nerd reclamation turned the insult into a compliment as a synonym for intelligent or intellectual, although the connotation of social awkwardness has never disappeared. Today, if you have a degree or occupation in a STEM field you are more or less a nerd by default.

Geek, another insult that has been partially reclaimed, originally referred to the kind of carnival performers who bit the heads off of live chickens. It's frequently applied to those in the computer field, usually in a somewhat disparaging way: "My computer won't turn on. I will have to call the IT geek."

Bialik, in a discussion with Stephen Colbert on his show, had her own taxonomy. She, by virtue of her neurobiology PhD and interests, was a nerd. Colbert suggested that he too was a nerd, based on his encyclopaedic knowledge of all thing Lord of the Rings. No, corrected Bialik, you aren't a nerd, you are a geek. Membership in Kingdom Nerd, it seems, is reserved for those who study scientific subjects. Of course I haven't seen her on Colbert since.

In that system, the male scientists of The Big Bang Theory are both nerds and geeks. Besides being science nerds (at Caltech, the Rome, Mecca, and Jerusalem of nerd-dom), they are comic book geeks, Star Trek geeks, video game geeks, etc. That's probably unusual in real life as both geeks and nerd tend to specialize*, but science just isn't quite funny enough.

*Full disclosure, I know, or at least used to know, a heck of a lot about both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Damore or Daless

Kevin Drum has suggested that James Damore deliberately plotted to get himself fired. I thought that idea was dubious, but Kevin now points out that Damore has given a couple of interviews to alt-right publications, which tends to support his idea. It was clear that Damore is somewhere on the right from the beginning, but could the whole imbroglio be some sort of deep plot to split the "new" academic left of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces from the more traditional left of free speech, scientific results, and intellectual honesty?

That ship sailed a while ago, but frankly, I thought that these new lefty ideas (I will call them alt-left) were pretty much confined to university diversity studies departments, but the Google affair reveals that they are somewhat more pervasive. Frankly, I think the idea that university students, or Google employees, need to be protected from ideas that might challenge their preconceptions is as comical as it is ridiculous.

The real evil, though, is conflation of well supported ideas that might offend with discrimination and harassment. That's a recipe for unending culture wars.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


WB and Lee* point out this nice commentary by Scott Alexander on male and female differences. The subject is an article by Adam Grant claiming that Differences Between Men And Women Are Vastly Exaggerated.


Across 128 domains of the mind and behavior, “78% of gender differences are small or close to zero.” A recent addition to that list is leadership, where men feel more confident but women are rated as more competent.


Suppose I wanted to convince you that men and women had physically identical bodies. I run studies on things like number of arms, number of kidneys, size of the pancreas, caliber of the aorta, whether the brain is in the head or the chest, et cetera. 90% of these come back identical – in fact, the only ones that don’t are a few outliers like “breast size” or “number of penises”. I conclude that men and women are mostly physically similar. I can even make a statistic like “men and women are physically the same in 78% of traits”.

Then I go back to the person who says women have larger breasts and men are more likely to have penises, and I say “Ha, actually studies prove men and women are mostly physically identical! I sure showed you, you sexist!”

I worry that Hyde’s analysis plays the same trick. She does a wonderful job finding that men and women have minimal differences in eg “likelihood of smiling when not being observed”, “interpersonal leadership style”, et cetera. But if you ask the man on the street “Are men and women different?”, he’s likely to say something like “Yeah, men are more aggressive and women are more sensitive”. And in fact, Hyde found that men were indeed definitely more aggressive, and women indeed definitely more sensitive. But throw in a hundred other effects nobody cares about like “likelihood of smiling when not observed”, and you can report that “78% of gender differences are small or zero”.

Hyde found moderate or large gender differences in (and here I’m paraphrasing very scientific-sounding constructs into more understandable terms) aggressiveness, horniness, language abilities, mechanical abilities, visuospatial skills, mechanical ability, tendermindness, assertiveness, comfort with body, various physical abilities, and computer skills.

Perhaps some peeople might think that finding moderate-to-large-differences in mechanical abilities, computer skills, etc supports the idea that gender differences might play a role in gender balance in the tech industry. But because Hyde’s meta-analysis drowns all of this out with stuff about smiling-when-not-observed, Grant is able to make it sound like Hyde proves his point.

It’s actually worse than this, because Grant misreports the study findings in various ways [EDIT: Or possibly not, see here]. For example, he states that the sex differences in physical aggression and physical strength are “large”. The study very specifically says the opposite of this. Its three different numbers for physical aggression (from three different studies) are 0.4, 0.59, and 0.6, and it sets a cutoff for “large” effects at 0.66 or more.

On the other hand, Grant fails to report an effect that actually is large: mechanical reasoning ability (in the paper as Feingold 1998 DAT mechanical reasoning). There is a large gender difference on this, d = 0.76.

And although Hyde doesn’t look into it in her meta-analysis, other meta-analyses like this one find a large effect size (d = 1.18) for thing-oriented vs. people-oriented interest, the very claim that the argument that Grant is trying to argue against centers around.

Lumped statistics can be very deceptive. Our cells look and operate very similarly to those of flatworms and fungi.

It's a long post, and I only quoted a bit. I recommend both it and Grant's response.

*Might be a good name for an alt-country band.

The Damore Affair

James Damore was a Google engineer who wrote an internal memo criticizing his employer's "ideological echo chamber," mainly on the subject of diversity, and got fired for it. This has become a celebrated cause for both the far left and the far right. A number of people I often agree with have written stuff on the matter that I consider nuts (Eli, Arun, and Kevin Drum). Here is a link to the controversial memo. I really wonder if those who are so hysterical about it have actually read it.

Of course Damore showed spectacularly bad political judgement in choosing a moment when Google was already under fire for its gender imbalances to publish his memo, unless his real goal was to get fired and become a cause, but his views are not unusual and his claims are mostly well documented in the literature.

Google's cited reason for firing Damore was that he was guilty of “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

Well he did claim, truthfully, I believe, that, on average, there are systematic differences in attitudes and inclinations between men and women, and furthered argued that these might account for some of the difference in representation in the Google workforce. Also, he made some suggestions for adjustments to the workplace culture that he thought would make it more attractive to women.

Perhaps most offending was his criticism of Google affirmative action programs:

I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]

A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates

Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate

Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias) Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]

Pretty sure Google did manage to confirm one of his claims:

Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

Message to all Googlers: STFU.

The best discussion I've seen is from Sabine at Backreaction:

Damore’s strikes me as a pamphlet produced by a well-meaning, but also utterly clueless, young white man. He didn’t deserve to get fired for this. He deserved maybe a slap on the too-quickly typing fingers. But in his world, asking for discussion is apparently enough to get fired.

I don’t normally write about the underrepresentation of women in science. Reason is I don’t feel fit to represent the underrepresented. I just can’t seem to appropriately suffer in my male-dominated environment. To the extent that one can trust online personality tests, I’m an awkwardly untypical female. It’s probably unsurprising I ended up in theoretical physics.

There is also a more sinister reason I keep my mouth shut. It’s that I’m afraid of losing what little support I have among the women in science when I fall into their back.

I’ve lived in the USA for three years and for three more years in Canada. On several occasions during these years, I’ve been told that my views about women in science are “hardcore,” “controversial,” or “provocative.” Why? Because I stated the obvious: Women are different from men. On that account, I’m totally with Damore. A male-female ratio close to one is not what we should expect in all professions – and not what we should aim at either.

But the longer I keep my mouth shut, the more I think my silence is a mistake. Because it means leaving the discussion – and with it, power – to those who shout the loudest. Like CNBC. Which wants you to be “shocked” by Damore’s memo in a rather transparent attempt to produce outrage and draw clicks. Are you outraged yet?

Increasingly, media-storms like this make me worry about the impression scientists give to the coming generation. Give to kids like Damore. I’m afraid they think we’re all idiots because the saner of us don’t speak up. And when the kids think they’re oh-so-smart, they’ll produce pamphlets to reinvent the wheel.

Fact is, though, much of the data in Damore’s memo is well backed-up by research. Women indeed are, on the average, more neurotic than men. It’s not an insult, it’s a common term in psychology. Women are also, on the average, more interested in people than in things. They do, on the average, value work-life balance more, react differently to stress, compete by other rules. And so on.

Here is one spectacularly dishonest statement sentence on the affair from Google CEO Sundar Pichai:

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it.

By "strongly support the right" he means "will fire your ass."

Of course Google is hardly the only corporation to impose a fascist code of silence on its employees, but it is somewhat unusual in being on the left rather than the right. Usually universities occupy that space.