2012: Here we come!

Busy day today; I’ll be doing social events with my wife and daughter.

Workout notes
Last workout for 2012 was as follows: weights plus a 5.1 mile walk (1:10)
Weights: (not in this order) rotator cuff
adduction (3 sets of 10)
abduction (3 sets of 10)
lunges (3 sets of 10 forward and back)
sit ups: 6 sets of 20 at the highest incline (Riverplex)
Bench: 10 x 135, 4 sets of 2 x 170, 5 x 155
pull ups: 4 sets of 5 (two sets knuckles facing me, two sets shoulder friendly grip)
incline bench: 10 x 125, 7 x 125
military bench: standing, 10 x 80, 6 x 80, dumbbell: 10 x 40.
pull downs: 10 x 140, two sets of 6 x 160
curls: 3 sets of 10
rows: 3 sets; 10 x 45 on each side, two sets of 7 with 45 + 25 = 70 on each side (Riverplex machine)

Note: I got some nods and smiles from the other 2 50-something guys who were lifting; both were stronger than I; one was a LOT stronger than I; he was doing reps with 275 on the bench. Yeah, I could do that….back in 1992-1993…and I was a lot heavier then too.

My Goals for 2012:

1. Write another mathematics paper (beyond the one I have at the referees and one that I am getting ready to submit)

2. Start writing an expository mathematical work (teacher’s guide to differential equations or a “quantum mechanics for the mathematically literate pop-book)

3. Be working on reading a book at all times (books require more concentration than magazine/internet articles)

4. Run a sub 24 minute 5K on an “honest” course or track (point to point downhill courses don’t count)

5. Finish a marathon/50K (walking or running). Walking: sub 5:20. Running: sub 4:20.

6. Bench press 225

7. Swim 1000 in under 17 minutes (or 16:30 if that is too easy).


Science: here is one list of best science discoveries of 2011.

Economics Krugman slams those who rely on pure math arguments when discussing the economy.

Yes, I rather like mathematics, but there is a difference between mathematics for its own sake and the utility of mathematical models to describe a “real world” situation.

December 31, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, economics, economy, mathematics, Navel Staring, Personal Issues, science, walking, weight training, workouts | Leave a comment

Keynes, Obama, Republicans and theological nonsense

This is why I say the above:

Republicans I’ve heard Republicans complain about being tired of being called “stupid”. Well, I’ll let The Economist explain why you are often called stupid:

the party has been dragged further and further to the right. Gone are the days when a smiling Reagan could be forgiven for raising taxes and ignoring abortion once in office. As the Republican base has become ever more detached from the mainstream, its list of unconditional demands has become ever more stringent.

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

These fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr Romney). Several promisingly pragmatic governors, including Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, never even sought the nomination. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a moderate in the race (who supports gay marriage and action to combat climate change), is polling in low single figures.

Remember when the Republicans were the “party of ideas”? No longer. The intellectual Republicans made a “bargain with the devil” (the extreme, rabid populists) so to speak. The ironic thing is that President Obama’s best accomplishments are largely Republican ideas…at least formerly Republican ideas.

These are the Republicans we have now:

Note: I actually have sympathy for the Ron Paul statement: if you legalize things like heroin or cocaine, I sure as heck am not going to use it. I’ve come to believe in a sort of legalization of the non-medical drugs, though I think that there has to be some regulation of medical drugs (to keep people from practicing medicine without a license).

Of course, Keynesian economics makes sense to me: (via Paul Krugman)

Unfortunately, in late 2010 and early 2011, politicians and policy makers in much of the Western world believed that they knew better, that we should focus on deficits, not jobs, even though our economies had barely begun to recover from the slump that followed the financial crisis. And by acting on that anti-Keynesian belief, they ended up proving Keynes right all over again.

In declaring Keynesian economics vindicated I am, of course, at odds with conventional wisdom. In Washington, in particular, the failure of the Obama stimulus package to produce an employment boom is generally seen as having proved that government spending can’t create jobs. But those of us who did the math realized, right from the beginning, that the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (more than a third of which, by the way, took the relatively ineffective form of tax cuts) was much too small given the depth of the slump. And we also predicted the resulting political backlash.

So the real test of Keynesian economics hasn’t come from the half-hearted efforts of the U.S. federal government to boost the economy, which were largely offset by cuts at the state and local levels. It has, instead, come from European nations like Greece and Ireland that had to impose savage fiscal austerity as a condition for receiving emergency loans — and have suffered Depression-level economic slumps, with real G.D.P. in both countries down by double digits.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, according to the ideology that dominates much of our political discourse. In March 2011, the Republican staff of Congress’s Joint Economic Committee released a report titled “Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy.” It ridiculed concerns that cutting spending in a slump would worsen that slump, arguing that spending cuts would improve consumer and business confidence, and that this might well lead to faster, not slower, growth. […]

When it comes to economics, it appears as if the equivalent of creationists are running the show.

Science and religion
This is an amusing post by Why Evolution is True; this was about a debate on the compatibility of science with religion. The main issue: the religious types (at least those who suppose a deity that created humans by an intentional process) can’t seem to accept that there is strong evidence that evolution is an undirected process.

Here is an excerpt from the WEIT post:

Finally, I’ll mention one more specious argument of Plantinga: his ridiculous claim that science is damaged by asserting that evolution is a naturalistic, unguided process:

This association of evolution with naturalism is the obvious root of the widespread antipathy, in the United States, to the theory of evolution. Insofar as Dennett and others proclaim conflict between evolutionary theory and theistic belief, they exacerbate this distrust of evolution—a distrust that spills over to science itself, with a consequent cost in public support of science. The health and welfare of science is therefore damaged by promoting these myths to the effect that current evolutionary theory is in conflict with theistic religion. Of course that’s not much of a reason for those who believe those myths to stop promoting them. What it does mean, though, is that there is very good reason for exposing them for the myths they actually are: the damage they do to science.

If anything damages science here, it’s the claim that evolution required the assistance of God. Remember that Plantinga accepts Behe’s arguments for Intelligent Design. Claiming that science is damaged if we don’t accept that God tinkered with the evolutionary process is like saying that science is damaged if we don’t accept that apples couldn’t fall from trees without God’s help.

Plantinga’s admission that “current evolutionary theory is in conflict with theistic religion” should scare accommodationist organizations like the National Center for Science Education, because it clearly shows the incompatibility of evolution with even liberal faiths.

So much for sophisticated philosophy. Plantinga is one of the big guns of the science-and-faith arguments; and his lucubrations here must surely represent “the best arguments for God” that we, as atheists, are required to take on. We are supposed to take Plantinga’s claims very seriously. And yet this is the kind of stuff he believes. How many “sophisticated theologians” do we have to read before we abandon the whole enterprise as a bad, mind-numbing business?

And why is “unguided evolution” a myth in this person’s opinion? Uh…it doesn’t see plausible to him? That seems to be about it. The fact is that these people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that we humans were NOT an intended consequence of some process.

Some of the evidence that evolution is undirected:

Michigan State e-coli experiment

Lizards in white sand deserts evolving white skins…by different mutations of the same gene

Evolutionary niche filling.
Example: horses and zebras evolved separately; they are not closely related. Yet they have similar features because they behave in similar ways in similar environments.

Jury rigged features; for example: our Vagus nerve. This weird design came from our being descended from fish.

December 31, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, economics, evolution, politics, religion, republicans, science | Leave a comment

Notre Dame vs. Florida State

Bottom line: After Notre Dame had taken a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, Florida State used a long punt return to kick a field goal to cut the lead to 14-3. Then a drive, and interception and another drive put them up 18-14; then another end zone interception turned away the final Notre Dame threat. So, the Seminoles won 18-14.

Yes, the game was close though Florida State owned the 4’th quarter. Total yards: 290-280, Florida State.

Turn-overs: 3 for Notre Dame (two end zone interceptions and one to set up the second FSU touchdown). Florida State had one: this was a fumble that ND returned for a touchdown.

One key difference: Notre Dame’s pathetic red zone offense; this was a problem for them against USC, Michigan and South Florida. Even the one offensive touchdown looked like an interception when the quarterback released the ball. The ND receiver wrestled the ball away from the FSU defender and bobbled it several times prior to securing the ball.

The game was a sort of “tit for tat” affair. On its first trip to the red zone, Notre Dame threw an interception in the end zone. But then with first and 10 at the 20, Florida State fumbled and Notre Dame ran it in for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Later, on a collision on a pass play, FSU lost their key cornerback. But on the same play, ND lost their play maker receiver (Michael Floyd). Hence it was a wash.

Note: the Florida State receivers made some outstanding catches; the following two photos show one spectacular grab near the sideline.
It sure looks like it will be an incomplete pass, but the receiver secured the ball with his right arm while on his back, just prior to his shoulder sliding out of bounds.

So Florida State owns a 5-2 edge in this series. One of the games was a boring blow out for FSU (37-0) and one was an almost blow out (34-24 ND, with FSU rallying from 34-10 down but coming up well short). The rest of them: largest margin was 7 points. I wish that ND had won more of these, but they were exciting games.

Note: on a happier note, I got to see the conclusion of California vs. Texas. UT won 21-10, putting the game away in the second half. The defense played well.

I didn’t see the first part as I was watching our basketball team get slaughtered 90-51 by Wichita State. But my family (daughter and wife) enjoyed the game, as they enjoyed the women’s game the next day.

(photos from Yahoo)

December 31, 2011 Posted by | college football, football | Leave a comment

Almost…and some science…

Workout notes Damp, but no rain. I ran my usual 5.1 mile out and back “Cornstalk across the bridge course”: 25:10 at the turn around, 41:05 at 1.03 to go, 50:10 at the finish. I was just off each of my goals though the return is a net uphill. Still, I ran hard toward the end.


Orangutans using ipads?

Orangutans at a Milwaukee zoo could soon be video-calling their primate friends via tablet computers.

The hairy tech fans have been playing with iPads since they were first introduced to them in May.

Conservationist Richard Zimmerman said the next step would be to provide wi-fi access – meaning the apes could watch orangutans in other zoos.

He hopes the experiment will raise awareness and funds to support the wild animals facing extinction.

Mr Zimmerman, from the US-based charity Orangutan Outreach, said he had wanted to give the device to the animals ever since it was launched back in January 2010.

“The original idea came literally when Steve Jobs gave his opening presentation introducing the iPad,” he said.

“Independently, one of our supporters in Milwaukee was at the zoo showing the orangutan his iPad, and they were fascinated by it. We started to put things together.”[…]

The animals have, Mr Zimmerman said, been captivated by watching television on the devices, particularly when it featured other orangutans, and even more so when they saw faces they recognized.

One thing that is interesting: it takes almost no intellect to learn how to use the new technology. I recently saw a group from a home for somewhat high functioning mentally retarded adults; many of them were using smartphones.

Chimpanzees: they consider their audience when they communicate!

Chimpanzees appear to consider who they are “talking to” before they call out.

Researchers found that wild chimps that spotted a poisonous snake were more likely to make their “alert call” in the presence of a chimp that had not seen the threat.

This indicates that the animals “understand the mindset” of others.

The insight into the primates’ remarkable intelligence will be published in the journal Current Biology.

The University of St Andrews scientists, who carried out the work, study primate communication to uncover some of the origins of human language.

To find out how the animals “talked to each other” about potential threats, they placed plastic snakes – models of rhino and gaboon vipers – into the paths of wild chimpanzees and monitored the primates’ reactions.[…]

Can something come from nothing?
Well, sort of; there is the “pair production” (though this must occur near a photon or an atomic nucleus). But what about the universe? Also, what happens when, trillions of years from now, the rest of the expanding universe is beyond the relativity horizon? My reading list just got longer. 🙂

Science videos: entertain yourself here.

December 30, 2011 Posted by | astronomy, biology, cosmology, physics, running, science, time trial/ race | Leave a comment

Should a political candidate’s religion matter?

This Daily Kos post by former Representative Alan Grayson started the thought process:

Yesterday was a federal holiday honoring a religious celebration; if there is a War on Christmas, Christmas is winning. So this is as good a time as any to discuss Mitt Romney’s religion, and the separation of church and state.

One of the unwritten rules of American politics is that you should never express disappointment with the voters. They can express their disappointment with you, each time you’re on the ballot. But it’s strictly a one-way street.

Nevertheless, I was disappointed to read last Thursday that a Mason-Dixon poll found that 26% of all American voters would be “uncomfortable” with a Mormon as President. Last month, a Public Religion Research Institute poll put that figure at more than 40%. In June, a Quinnipiac poll put the figure at 36%. And a Gallup Poll in June found that 22% of all voters would not support any Presidential candidate who is an active Mormon.

The Constitution could not possibly be clearer on this point. The penultimate sentence of the Constitution states: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Note that this was in the original Constitution; the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights came later. […]

The post goes on to say that:

Perhaps this is one of those times when people need to be reminded of what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Bigotry is wrong, whether it’s directed against African-Americans, gays, Jews or Mormons.

Mitt Romney got this right, in a speech during his 2008 campaign. He said: “I am an American running for President. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”

Amen to that, Brother.

Sorry. But I disagree….sort of. I’ve thought about this at some length and I have to admit that I am puzzled.
When someone says that being, say, anti-mormon is “bigotry”, is that really true?

To me, it all boils down to what it means to “be” in a religion.. Note: for the purposes of this discussion, I am ruling out the mostly small, “hate groups disguised as religion” organizations such as the KKK, the Creativity movements, etc.

So, what does it mean to “be a Mormon”, “be a Jew”, “be a Catholic”, etc.?

To me, the important thing is “what does the candidate actually believe” and “how does a candidate think” and or “see the world”?
Now, I’d love to be in a position to say: “if someone believes crazy things like “this person was born of a virgin and was raised from the dead” or “this person received gold plates and translated them with seer stones” or “this person was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire” or “this person thinks that a deity orders the wholesale slaughter of human beings” and “stopped the sun in the sky”, then they are too superstitious to be an effective leader.

Unfortunately, someone who doubts ALL of these things and does so openly will probably never win office at too large of a scale (say, state wide level or wider). We are a horribly superstitious country.

So, for me, it boils down to “what does the candidate actually believe”?

If they really believe that a person’s dark skin is a result as a curse from their god then yes, in all cases that I can think of, this should be disqualifying.

If a person really believes that it is acceptable to offer your daughters to be raped, that is disqualifying.

If a person really believes that the coloring of an animal is determined by what its parents are looking at when they mate, they are too stupid to hold office.

If a person thinks that the death penalty is an appropriate penalty for lying about how much money you have to give to the church, that person is disqualified, in my eyes.

If a person thinks that the death penalty is appropriate for apostasy, that person has no business living in the United States, much less running for office.

Then again It is common for people who label themselves as “Christian”, “Jews”, “Mormons” or “Muslims” to not embrace all of the “facts” in their holy texts. Lots of time, people can belong to a religious group or denomination but not embrace all of the canonical beliefs, theology or myths. Also, many interpret many of these things symbolically or they rationalize them away by saying “that is what our religious ancestors thought then but we’ve progressed from that”, etc. Therefore, it is possible to attach too much meaning to a label.

My larger point: a person’s actual beliefs, knowledge and values should be taken into account, even if that person’s beliefs are labeled as “religious beliefs”. This “no religious test” clause in the Constitution means that the government can’t forbid someone from running for religious reasons. But voters can use whatever reason they want. And no, I won’t allow someone to hide superstition, ignorance and evil values under “hey, those are my religious beliefs”.

Of course, one’s religious beliefs are only part of the story.
Example: if an Ayn Rand type social Darwin type atheist was running against a evangelical Christian who believed that their religion requires them to maintain publicly funded safety nets for the poor and disadvantaged, well, I’d vote for the Christian almost every time (except for possibly rare exceptional cases).

December 29, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Mitt Romney, politics, politics/social, religion | Leave a comment

Canada not a foreign country, Bugs not seen, and Irish troops in World War II and debt burdens..

Rick Perry: just read:

In an Iowa campaign event, Rick Perry told yesterday’s crowd,

“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source,” Mr. Perry said in Clarinda, earning a loud round of enthusiastic applause…”

Canada: our 51’st state? 🙂 (he probably meant: “potentially HOSTILE foreign source”)

Is he a lush or just stupid? It isn’t easy to tell, is it? 🙂

When we talk about “national debt”, just exactly what do we mean? Yes, some countries have our debt (4 trillion, mostly in t-bills) but most is owned by Americans (example: me!).
So what of it?

The government is now deeply in debt — but the nation has not directly gotten any poorer: the public, in its role as taxpayers, now owes 500 percent of GDP, but the public, in its role as investors, now owns new assets equal to 500 percent of GDP. It’s a wash.

So where’s the problem? Well, to pay interest on that debt, the government will have to raise a lot more revenue. Again, this is a wash — the extra revenue is matched by the extra income people receive as bondholders. But tax rates will have to go way up; and because lump-sum taxes don’t exist in the real world, this means that marginal tax rates will have to go way up.

And you don’t have to be a right-winger to acknowledge that yes, very high marginal tax rates act as a disincentive to productive activity. So real GDP may well fall significantly.

This is what I mean when I say that the burden of debt is about incentives, not about having to deliver resources to other people.

Bottom line: “the government must tighten its belt just like families do” is mostly nonsense. However, if one wants to use the “family” analogy, one might argue that even if a family is broke, it makes sense to take out a loan at a low rate to fix a leaky roof, lest a main asset get ruined.

History I was mostly ignorant of Ireland’s role in World War II. It turns out that while they were on their way out of the British Commonwealth at that time, there was still a loose affiliation. Nevertheless, they remained neutral and there was some sentiment to side with the British, and even some to side with the Nazis.

Nevertheless, some Irishmen fought with the British, which was legal. But some who were in the Irish military actually deserted to fight with the British, and there were some repercussions, both official and unofficial…which last even to this day. I was completely unaware of this issue. There is a movement to try to get these guys pardoned.

I enjoyed the relevant wikipedia article.


Click on the small picture to see the larger photo at the blog Why Evolution is True.
I say that this is a consequence of evolution (natural selection in particular) but a creationist might say that “Jesus loves the bugs”. 🙂

December 29, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, biology, economics, economy, evolution, rick perry, science, social/political, world events | Leave a comment

A most wonderful walk

It was sunny, 40’s (a few degrees above freezing), light breeze…and the area around my house was deserted.

I walked a hilly park course in 1:11:31 (35:45 each way) and loved every minute of it. 🙂

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Personal Issues, training, walking | Leave a comment

Come on…Really????

Hmmm, so ridicule of a practice somehow is worse than politicians saying that people of a certain religion shouldn’t be allowed to serve, or that their houses of worship aren’t welcome in a community?

Christians have been so privileged for so long, some equate dissent and ridicule with persecution.

Note: I actually LIKE Tim Tebow as an athlete, though, IMHO, he isn’t the best rookie quarterback this year (Cam Newton is, IMHO).

December 29, 2011 Posted by | football, NFL, politics/social, religion, superstition | Leave a comment

Someone told me that this reminded them of someone….

I loved it.

December 29, 2011 Posted by | humor, social/political | Leave a comment

Senate races, powerless atheism and the economy

Senate Races
Good news: the Democrats might win more of them that we lose. Bad news: there are far more Democratic seats up than Republican ones. Of course, there is a margin of error. But this could result in a Republican landslide….or a narrow Democratic holding of the Senate….regardless of how President Obama does!
If this seems strange, remember that Democrats are defending seats in Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Nebraska; these are all states that McCain won. But we do have shots for pick-ups in Massachusetts and Nevada.

Paul Krugman laments intellectual shallowness:

The real-time conversation about economics that blogging makes possible has been deeply revealing, as we see that famous economists have a remarkably hard time thinking straight about what should be simple issues, like the relevance or lack thereof of Ricardian equivalence to the effects of government spending.

It has also been striking how, when caught doing something foolish — say. forgetting that there was rationing during World War II — many of these people try to pull rank. It doesn’t work: in cyberspace, everyone can see that the emperor is naked.

What I like about Krugman is that he gives the reasons behind what he says: for instance, he shows very clearly why austerity will NOT lead us out of this economic slump. The problem: DEMAND.

Religion and society: Susan Jacoby won’t be writing her “Spirited Atheist” column anymore. But her last column makes an important point:

Looking back on my five years as a contributor to “On Faith,” I see a great paradox in the progress of American secularism: The numbers and visibility of atheists and secularists in the United States have increased but their political and social influence has not.

The large audience for the writings of atheists, most notably Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, has led many American pundits, preachers and politicians to exaggerate the influence of secular thought in the culture as a whole. I only wish they were right. For the warriors of the Christian right, in particular, this exaggeration serves the purpose of presenting themselves as victims in a nation where they in fact wield a power that they do not enjoy anywhere else in the developed world.

For a true measure of the limited influence exerted by atheism on popular culture, one need only turn to the closing bestseller lists for 2011. Leading the “nonfiction” New York Times paperback bestseller list (having been on the list for 56 weeks) is “Heaven Is for Real,” written by the minister-father of a 4-year-old boy who supposedly went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy and saw Jesus (“he had the brightest blue eyes”) and his baby sister, who was actually never born into this world because his mother suffered a miscarriage. This book is also No. 4 on the bestseller list of picture books for small children.

The whole article is good; one of its main points is that the religious right has framed the terms of the debate; here is one way that they have done this:

A parade of right-wing evangelical Protestants and representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops testified at the hearings against all attempts by the Obama administration to attach government regulations to taxpayer money. In this view, the administration is waging “war on Christianity” by, for example, mandating that providers with U.S. government contracts offer a “full range of reproductive services” to sex-trafficking victims in the United States and around the world. The church wants to help pregnant girls forced into prostitution by forcing them to have their abusers’ babies.

Bishop William C. Lori, head of the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty formed by the bishops’ conference, attacked provisions of the new domestic health care law that impose any government mandates on religious health providers.

Note, again, the use of the term “religious liberty” to mean liberty for religious institutions to impose their values with taxpayer money. In practical terms, what Bishop Lori means is that when a rape victim walks into a government-funded Catholic emergency clinic, the clinic can not only refuse to offer the morning-after pill to protect her against pregnancy but can even fail to tell her about the existence of such a pill or to refer her to a nonsectarian institution that does provide such services.

The belief that religious institutions have the right to feed at the government trough while rejecting any government rules is the glue of the lobbying alliance between the Catholic bishops and right-wing evangelical Protestant leaders — an odd coupling that has never before existed in American history.

The only person at the hearing to point out that this redefinition of religious liberty is actually a demand for “special government blessings for those in favored faiths, and conversely, the treatment of members of other faiths as second-class citizens” was Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

She goes on to say that the phrase “religious liberty” is likely to be the pitch from evangelicals wanting to keep a preferred position rather than from a group like the ACLU.

December 28, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, atheism, Barack Obama, economics, politics, religion, social/political | Leave a comment