Don’t let facts get in the way…

Yes, under President Obama, the number of public workers went DOWN and the number of federal workers…in sheer numbers…increased slightly (140-160 K) since 2008 (remember: a fair way to measure workforce growth is to take into account the population growth and the US population grew about by about 15 million during that period…I am estimating about 2.5 million per year from here)

Republicans still insist that government is “growing out of control” under President Obama.

There is a type of cave insect in which the female has a penis like object which she inserts into the male to GATHER UP sperm from the male. The science itself is fascinating. But…wait for it….some “feminist” is “offended” that the scientists used the term “penis”.

Sometimes, I think that some people see the ability to extract offense as a type of virtue.

April 19, 2014 Posted by | biology, economy, science | , | Leave a comment

Whining, politics and science

Gee, when people dismiss crackpot ideas (e. g. engage in global warming denialism) it gives Charles Krauthammer the sadz. No, Mr. Krauthammer: ideas have no inherent right to respect, including…well, some academic ideas like this one (forbidding “triggers”).

Speaking of dumbness: a few of the “in the future predictions” made by the film “Idiocracy” have come true. But…I should point out that some of these predictions were already commonplace prior to the movie. Remember how humans in “civilized” countries used to amuse themselves: public executions, burning animals alive, making people fight to the death, etc.

Yes, keeping control of the Senate will be an uphill fight for the Democrats, even if some of the “head to head” polls look ok now. There is the problem of the “drag” on the ticket due to the unpopularity of the President in the states in question, many of which are “red” to begin with.

But there is time, and the recent news for Obamacare has been good.

And maybe, just maybe, there is some attention being paid to inequality. Ok, that book by Piketty is rather highbrow.

It is interesting, but being slightly underweight and undereating seems to help with longevity. Is there an evolutionary reason why this is so? There is a new conjecture about this, but the conjecture has detractors:

Why did creatures evolve such a mechanism in the first place? Researchers have declared the most popular theory doesn’t make evolutionary sense, and they’ve proposed a new explanation in its place.

The most prominent theory involves what happens physiologically during times of food scarcity. When the living is good, natural selection favors organisms that invest energy in reproduction. In times of hardship, however, animals have fewer offspring, diverting precious nutrients to cell repair and recycling so they can survive until the famine ends, when reproduction begins anew. Cell repair and recycling appear to be substantial antiaging and anticancer processes, which may explain why underfed lab animals live longer and rarely develop old-age pathologies like cancer and heart disease.

Margo Adler agrees with the basic cellular pathways, but she’s not so sure about the evolutionary logic. Adler, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says this popular idea relies on a big assumption: that natural selection favors this energy switch from reproduction to survival because animals will have more young in the long run—so long as they actually survive and reproduce. “This idea is repeated over and over again in the literature as if it’s true, but it just doesn’t make that much sense for evolutionary reasons,” she says.

The problem, Adler says, is that wild animals don’t have the long, secure lives of their laboratory cousins. Instead, they’re not only endangered by famine but by predators and pathogens, random accidents and rogue weather as well. They also face physiological threats from a restricted diet, including a suppressed immune system, difficulty with healing and greater cold sensitivity. For these reasons, delaying reproduction until food supplies are more plentiful is a huge risk for wild animals. Death could be waiting just around the corner.

Better to reproduce now, Adler says. The new hypothesis she proposes holds that during a famine animals escalate cellular repair and recycling, but they do so for the purpose of having as many progeny as possible during a famine, not afterward. They “make the best of a bad situation” to maximize their fitness in the present. “It’s an efficiency mode that the animal goes into,” she says. Adler and colleague Russell Bonduriansky published their reasoning in the March BioEssays.[...]

This Scientific American article discusses “modular forms” and notes that a current mathematician appears to have solved a riddle proposed by a famous mathematician from yesteryear. As articles about mathematics go, this one is pretty readable.

April 18, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, economy, education, evolution, health care, mathematics, politics/social, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Issues big and small….

This is so pathetic it is laughable. Guess what: if you are an hourly employee, you sign up for hours and get paid BY THE HOUR. This isn’t true of salaried employees and isn’t true of the owner/ownership. Watch Fox News muddle the issue.

Now on the left: yeah, I like Katha Pollitt. But I really don’t care about this issue, at least in this way.

To me: prostitution should be legal and regulated (freedom of activity issues). But all of this MALE PRIVILEGE stuff makes my eyes roll. Yes, guys get sexually aroused easier and sometimes we just want a release; “pleasing” has nothing to do with it. The urge is merely biology.

Now many of us handle this differently. I don’t do this, but if two adults want to set up a contract, then why not?

Yeah, it sucks as it is right now, but right now, it is illegal in most places.

April 7, 2014 Posted by | economy, Fox News Lies Again, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Paul Krugman: same as he ever was (grumpy and ….correct)

I love it:

P. K. on the thin-skinned ultra rich
P. K. on the milquetoast so-called left.



April 3, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, social/political, Spineless Democrats | | Leave a comment

Blogging: light

I haven’t written much except to record my workouts…at least here. I did write this post yesterday (on my math blog).

I have followed some stories though.

Health care: Republicans are outraged that Obamacare is meeting enrollment targets. Uh, Republicans: this is your idea. Why not be happy that it appears to be working and that YOU suggested this idea a long time ago?

And yes, I love it when Paul Krugman gets grumpy.

We have some science too. There was a strong earthquake off of the coast of Chile which generated a tsunami. But due to early warning, many were able to evacuate; think of all of the lives that were saved. But…of course….when you hear a story like this, many people start talking about their deity performing magic tricks to save people, though they don’t use the term “magic”. Groan…

April 2, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, health care, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Science, new 538, Putin and Oil….

Science here is an interesting development in life science: 1500 year old moss (that had been frozen) has returned to life upon being thawed!

Researchers have demonstrated that, after over 1,500 years frozen in Antarctic ice, moss can come back to life and continue to grow. For the first time, this vital part of the ecosystem in both polar regions has been shown to have the ability to survive century to millennial scale ice ages. This provides exciting new insight into the survival of life on Earth.

Rachel Maddow: has an interesting segment on how the large oil companies can be used to pressure Putin on Crimea.

Nate Silver’s back, up and running. Reviews are mixed:

Here is a piece on economic data. What it says is fine, but it won’t interest me. I wished this piece on hockey goalies had been longer and more analytic. The same is true for this piece on corporations hoarding cash, which also could use more context. Maybe it is I rather than they who is misjudging the market, but to me these are “tweener” pieces, too superficial for smart and informed readers, yet on topics which are too abstruse for the more casual readers. I want something more like the very good Bill Simmons analytic pieces on Grantland, with jokes too, and densely packed narrative, yet applied to a much broader range of topics. Barring that, I am happy to read one very good sentence or two on a topic.
Here is a piece on whether guessing makes sense on the new SAT. It is fine but presents material already covered in places such as NYT.

I love seeing pieces on how statistics are used in real life, and his political poll analysis was spot on. But forecasting results from polls is one thing; trying to use raw data in place of understanding a nuanced discipline is quite another.

And right there you have an important lesson about what it means to take data into account. It very much does not mean changing your views all the time — if you have a model of how the world works, and the model is working, stability in what you say reflects respect for the data, not inflexibility. If I have spent the past 5+ years insisting, over and over again, that in a liquidity trap budget deficits don’t crowd out private spending and expanding the Fed’s balance sheet doesn’t cause inflation, that’s because they don’t. And if I return to those points many times, it’s because too much of the world still doesn’t get it.

Now, about FiveThirtyEight: I hope that Nate Silver understands what it actually means to be a fox. The fox, according to Archilocus, knows many things. But he does know these things — he doesn’t approach each topic as a blank slate, or imagine that there are general-purpose data-analysis tools that absolve him from any need to understand the particular subject he’s tackling. Even the most basic question — where are the data I need? — often takes a fair bit of expertise; I know my way around macro data and some (but not all) trade data, but I turn to real experts for guidance on health data, labor market data, and more.

What would be really bad is if this turns into a Freakonomics-type exercise, all contrarianism without any appreciation for the importance of actual expertise. And Michael Mann reminds me that Nate’s book already had some disturbing tendencies in that direction.

March 19, 2014 Posted by | biology, blogs, economics, economy, science, world events | | Leave a comment

Science: skepticism of new findings and explaining it to the public …plus one more Ryan comment

Are we seeing gravitational ripples from the big bang? It is possible.

But announcements of new discoveries or announcements that a long standing model has been modified or even overturned SHOULD be treated with skepticism. That it takes a long time for a new idea to take root in science is NOT a bug but rather a DESIRED feature. Sadly, many, including many in the mainstream media, do not know this. Get a load of this headline from NPR:

Not-So-Objective Scientists Cling To Accepted Wisdom

Overturning scientific dogma is tricky. Reporter Joe Palca tells NPR’s Rachel Martin that one astronomer learned that lesson when he calculated that the universe was younger than colleagues believed.

Note: the paper in question was reviewed for publication and then….published. That is hardly “censorship of new ideas”. Of course, some scientists behave badly but on the whole, existing theory will be modified as new evidence comes in. But proposed new evidence SHOULD be treated with skepticism. That is so difficult for many non-scientists to understand and evidently impossible for NPR to understand.

Speaking of taking science to the public: this 12 minute video from 60 symbols is interesting. A physicist gave a popular lecture and made the comment to the effect “no two electrons in the universe can have the same energy level; hence when one electron changes energy level, all of the rest of the electrons in the universe are affected, hence everything is connected.” Now strictly speaking, the Pauli Exclusion Principle says that no two electrons can have exactly the same quantum state, so if an individual electron changes state, that “affects” the rest of the electrons. This really isn’t controversial.

But of course, some physicists corrected him, and other people went crazy with the woo-woo (common interconnected consciousness, etc.)

60 symbols comments on that. They talk about physics, about how woo-woos misuse physics and about talking to the general public about technical science ideas.

Bonus: some politics
Paul Ryan’s comment: no he isn’t racist but his ideas are dated. Still, I don’t think that Mr. Ryan was using the “too lazy to work” canard but rather “the lack of role models…e. g. seeing your parents go to work” situation.

March 17, 2014 Posted by | cosmology, economy, nature, physics, politics/social, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

On knowing what you are talking about….

First: this is how some discussions about religion appear to me. Comments to the effect of “I don’t see how it could be otherwise” are not convincing.


When people talk about raising the retirement age, remember that there is a big spread in “years lived after 65″ between wealthier white collar workers and poorer blue collar ones.

See here:

I was pleased to see this article by Annie Lowrey documenting the growing disparity in life expectancy between the haves and the have-nots. It’s kind of frustrating, however, that this is apparently coming as news not just to many readers but to many policymakers and pundits. Many of us have been trying for years to get this point across — to point out that when people call for raising the Social Security and Medicare ages, they’re basically saying that janitors must keep working because corporate lawyers are living longer. Yet it never seems to sink in.

Maybe this article will change that. But my guess is that in a week or two we will once again hear a supposed wise man saying that we need to raise the retirement age to 67 because of higher life expectancy, unaware that (a) life expectancy hasn’t risen much for half of workers (b) we’ve already raised the retirement age to 67.

Ms. Lowrey’s article is here.

Here is one of my pet peeves: all too often, a non-specialist will attempt to claim that the mainstream view/theory in a different profession is wrong because it doesn’t make sense to them. Here Larry Moran takes on a chemistry professor’s (at Rice University, no less) claim that evolutionary theory is flawed. Professor Moran concludes:

I suppose I’m going to be labeled as one of those evil “Darwinists” who won’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with me about evolution.1

I’m actually not. I just don’t like stupid people who think they are experts in evolution when they have never bothered to learn about it. Here’s my advice to graduate students in organic chemistry: if you want to know about evolution then take a course or read a textbook. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t understand a subject. Just don’t assume your own ignorance means that all the experts in the subject are wrong too.

It isn’t just “experts at a different field” though. Right now, we are hearing more and more from people who think that vaccines are bad and contain lots of harmful chemicals. One scientist had enough and made an epic drunken rant:


No, this is not a partisan issue; there are plenty of liberal anti-vaccination types out there, and they are a disgrace.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | creationism, economy, evolution, ranting, religion, science, social/political, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Unfair attacks on Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan

Don’t get me wrong: these are not my favorite politicians and I think that their policy ideas are bad. But while I believe in attacking bad ideas and sloppy thinking, I do not believe in putting words into people’s mouths. Here are two cases of that:

Bobby Jindal
Read the headline:

Gee, did Gov. Jindal really say that? Uh, no.

“We still place far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’ That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot. There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.”

First of all, nowhere does Gov. Jindal talk about racism nor does he excuse it. He is merely discussing an important issue for many of us darker skinned folks (and others): what is the dividing line between embracing the “larger culture” (whatever that means) and keeping our ethnic traditions?

Of course, if you surf to the article, you’ll hear the authors opinion on why Gov. Jindal really meant something other than what he actually said.

Yes, I know: outlets like Fox News do this to us all of the time. But I really want to believe that we are smarter than that….and in this desire, I am…delusional.

Now for Paul Ryan

Rep. Ryan is accused of:


But did he really say that? Slate has a decent article about this:

Ryan’s problem, it seems, is that he’s talking about inner cities while being 1) a Republican who is 2) about to unleash poverty legislation heavy on work requirements. If you’re a Democrat, you can talk about the inner city in the same way Ryan does.
He acknowledged that it was a stereotype; Ryan just assumed it was a sterotype. In the world of hate-clicking, there’s no allowance for Ryan framing this in familiar terms to a skeptical conservative audience. He said there’s endemic poverty in the inner cities, and it’s not up to him to say it.

Get a load of this quote (same source):

“There are communities where for too many young people it feels like their future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town,” said President Obama in his speech to announce new “promise zones” in poor (some rural) areas. “Too many communities where no matter how hard you work, your destiny feels like it’s already been determined for you before you took that first step. I’m not just talking about pockets of poverty in our inner cities. That’s the stereotype.”

So, in my opinion, Rep. Ryan was pointing out that there are situations in which children grow up NOT seeing their parents (or at least one parent) getting up, getting ready to go to work. That CAN be damaging.

Now before you thinking that I am embracing Rep. Ryan’s economic ideas: forget it. Paul Krugman describes his ideas accurately.

Cutting safety net aid right now it just nuts; in fact, some aid (like SNAP) actually reduces the chances that kids end up on public aid as adults. The moral pathology associated with poverty is often an effect of poverty, not the cause.

There are several economic issues: not only are decent paying blue collar jobs getting scarcer, many are difficult to reach for inner city people and many of the new, entry level jobs don’t have a pathway toward better jobs in the future:

For years, many Americans followed a simple career path: Land an entry-level job. Accept a modest wage. Gain skills. Leave eventually for a better-paying job.

The workers benefited, and so did lower-wage retailers such as Wal-Mart: When its staffers left for better-paying jobs, they could spend more at its stores. And the U.S. economy gained, too, because more consumer spending fueled growth.

Not so much anymore. Since the Great Recession began in late 2007, that path has narrowed because many of the next-tier jobs no longer exist. That means more lower-wage workers have to stay put. The resulting bottleneck is helping widen a gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

“Some people took those jobs because they were the only ones available and haven’t been able to figure out how to move out of that,” Bill Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press.

If Wal-Mart employees “can go to another company and another job and make more money and develop, they’ll be better,” Simon explained. “It’ll be better for the economy. It’ll be better for us as a business, to be quite honest, because they’ll continue to advance in their economic life.”

Yet for now, the lower-wage jobs once seen as stepping stones are increasingly being held for longer periods by older, better-educated, more experienced workers.

The trend extends well beyond Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, and is reverberating across the U.S. economy. It’s partly why average inflation-adjusted income has declined 9 percent for the bottom 40 percent of households since 2007, even as incomes for the top 5 percent now slightly exceed where they were when the recession began late that year, according to the Census Bureau.

Research shows that occupations that once helped elevate people from the minimum wage into the middle class have disappeared during the past three recessions dating to 1991.

Paul Ryan’s concern about kids being raised in an environment in which the adults aren’t regularly working is a valid one; the problem lies in his proposed solutions to this very real malady.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | economy, politics, politics/social, poverty, racism, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Public money: studies and where it goes

Workout notes The neighborhood streets are still hard packed snow (some pavement peeking out here and there) so I went indoors again.
Treadmill 1: 8 miles in 1:27:30. I started off at 5.3 mph (11:19 mpm) and increased the speed by .1 mph every .25 miles This got me to mile 3 in 31:10 and I kept it up (the same pattern) until the end of mile 4 (6.8 mph, or 8:49 mph) Then I went 6.8/6.9 for mile 5, .25 at 6.0, 6.3 for .25, then 6.7-6.8 until mile 6 (58:00). Then 2 miles of walking; slow at first and then I picked it up.

Treadmill 2: hills: increased the incline every 2 minutes until I did 2 at elevation 7, then started downward. I started at 4.1 mph (14:38) and increased the speed on the way down; 28:03 was the total.
10 miles: better than zip.

Money matters Paul Ryan produced one of his “researched and footnoted” reports. Trouble is: the research he cited didn’t exactly say what he said it did:

An exhaustive critique of the federal social safety net released by Rep. Paul Ryan on Monday is meant to be the intellectual foundation for an overhaul of the federal anti-poverty programs. But interviews with economists – a number of whom are cited in Ryan’s paper – suggest that he may be building his house on sand.

Ryan’s 204-page report, The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, is documented with hundreds of citations of academic work. The paper breaks down federal anti-poverty programs into eight separate categories – cash aid, education and job training, energy, food aid, health care, housing, social services, and veterans affairs – and reviews the evidence for and against their effectiveness, relying in large part on academic research.

Related: Paul Ryan’s New Idea Is Really Smart – But Will It Fly?

“Today, the poverty rate is stuck at 15 percent—the highest in a generation,” Ryan noted in the report. “And the trends are not encouraging. Federal programs are not only failing to address the problem. They are also in some significant respects making it worse. Changes are clearly necessary, and the first step is to evaluate what the federal government is doing right now.”

However, several economists and social scientists contacted on Monday had reactions ranging from bemusement to anger at Ryan’s report, claiming that he either misunderstood or misrepresented their research.

Ryan’s paper, for example, cited a study published in December by the Columbia Population Research Center measuring the decline in poverty in the U.S. after the implementation of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

One of the study’s authors, Jane Waldfogel, a professor at Columbia University and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, said she was surprised when she read the paper, because it seemed to arbitrarily chop off data from two of the most successful years of the war on poverty.

Waldfogel and her colleagues looked at an alternative measure of the poverty rate known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which factors in government benefits like food stamps and programs like the earned-income tax credit. That alternative measure is thought to present a more accurate and realistic gauge of the poverty and the real-world effects of government programs aimed at combatting it.

The Columbia researchers found that, using their model of the SPM, the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 15 percent in 2012. Ryan only cites data from 1969 onward, ignoring a full 36 percent of the decline.

Rep. Ryan strikes me as the frat boy who puts together a fancy power point presentation complete with references and pie charts….and makes no sense at all. But he convinces his family that he is a GENIUS.

On another note This article caught my eye:


A Michigan teacher is in trouble after filming an 11-year-old autistic boy who got his head stuck in a chair.

My first reaction: do I want our public school teachers wasting our taxpayer money on THIS at the expense of teaching those who are capable of learning? Seriously, it is easy to see some of the reasons that public education is having so much trouble. Here is more on the funding issue:

Local funding formulas also vary widely and district budgets rely heavily on local revenues. Technically, there are no unfunded federal “mandates.” Each federal education law is conditioned on a state’s decision to accept federal funds. The federal law applies only when a state voluntarily chooses to accept federal funds. Any state that does not want to abide by a federal program’s requirements can choose not to accept the federal funds associated with that program. Many states and districts accept the requirements and then find that state and federal funding is insufficient to cover local expenses. In these cases, local districts must transfer money from their general funds to pay expenses. This practice is often termed “encroachment” and can cause tension between general education and special education programs.

I can easily see people feeling under funded school districts or pulling their kids out of public schools if this is the environment that is offered to their “not special needs” kids.

Another side comment: I read some of the comments: “gee, how can so many of those commenting support the teacher here?”

I can easily see people supporting the teacher who is shaming this student. I know that I responded well to being “shamed” (appropriately); this happened to me in school, in sports and in the military…and in graduate school. So it is normal to think that shaming might work if it has worked in your life. But, shaming worked for me in the cases in which was not performing up to MY capabilities.

Perhaps not getting stuck in this position is not up to this kid’s capabilities? If so…what is he doing being mainstreamed? I don’t know because I know nothing about “special needs” education and when it is appropriate to mainstream, if this is a rare occurrence or not (and many other things).

Interesting issue; it puzzles me and I have yet to make up my mind. I simply don’t know enough.

March 4, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, running, social/political, walking | , | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 645 other followers