31 July 2010 posts

Workout notes afternoon hike at Wildlife Prairie Park with Olivia. She had to slow down for me…AGAIN. It took 1:03 to get from the trail start to the reptile house. So this was my usual “slow hike” pace.

We saw a lizard, a very slow (probably sick) field mouse and a black rat snake:

This isn’t our photo.

Economics: This is one reason I don’t believe in the “free market will fix it every time” gospel:

[…]As Professor Sum studied the data coming in from the recession, he realized that the carnage that occurred in the workplace was out of proportion to the economic hit that corporations were taking. While no one questions the severity of the downturn — the worst of the entire post-World War II period — the economic data show that workers to a great extent were shamefully exploited.

The recession officially started in December 2007. From the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009, real aggregate output in the U.S., as measured by the gross domestic product, fell by about 2.5 percent. But employers cut their payrolls by 6 percent.

In many cases, bosses told panicked workers who were still on the job that they had to take pay cuts or cuts in hours, or both. And raises were out of the question. The staggering job losses and stagnant wages are central reasons why any real recovery has been so difficult.

“They threw out far more workers and hours than they lost output,” said Professor Sum. “Here’s what happened: At the end of the fourth quarter in 2008, you see corporate profits begin to really take off, and they grow by the time you get to the first quarter of 2010 by $572 billion. And over that same time period, wage and salary payments go down by $122 billion.”

That kind of disconnect, said Mr. Sum, had never been seen before in all the decades since World War II.

In short, the corporations are making out like bandits. Now they’re sitting on mountains of cash and they still are not interested in hiring to any significant degree, or strengthening workers’ paychecks. […]

Not that the “free market conservatives” that make so much noise really know that much:

Hoo boy. I missed this; but Yglesias points out that in Ezra Klein’s interview with Paul Ryan, Ryan says that the way to increase lending is to raise interest rates:

We need to do things to free up credit. We need regulatory forbearance there. Right now, the policymakers and regulators are doing opposite things. So you’re right that there’s a lot of capital parked out there, and we need to coax it out into the markets. I think literally that if we raised the federal funds rate by a point, it would help push money into the economy, as right now, the safest play is to stay with the federal money and federal paper.

I don’t even know where to start with this. What does Ryan think the fed funds rate is? (It’s the rate at which banks lend each other money overnight, usually to help meet reserve requirements.) He obviously doesn’t know the the Fed funds rate basically equals the return on federal paper, so that raising that rate would make banks more, not less, likely to stay with that federal paper. I’m sure someone will try to come up with a reason why Ryan is being smart here, but the truth is that he’s stone-cold ignorant.

Obama’s plans and the Bush Tax Cuts
The Wall Street Journal has a handy graph comparing the Bush tax cut rates with the Obama plan.

Political ads: Huffington Post has collected a few of them here (general election, general political, primary election) from both Republicans and Democrats.

Science and Cosmology here is an “open manifold for the space-time continuum” conjecture. That is, no big bang, no big crunch.

universe model

July 31, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, astronomy, Barack Obama, dark energy, economy, hiking, knee rehabilitation, matter, physics, Political Ad, politics, politics/social, Republican, republicans, republicans politics, science, walking | Leave a comment

2 July 2010 (pm)

Workout notes My 8 plus mile course (8.4 miles) in 2:04; I did this last week in just under 2 hours. But this time I kept my arms down; that slows me down by about 90 seconds per mile. My shoulder ached some last night when I rolled on it and stayed there. Still it is improving as I have less pain “day to day” and I am off of the NSAIDS.


Yes, private sector jobs are up though overall jobs are down (due to census jobs ending). The unpleasant truth is here:

And yes, the administration is publishing a “smoothed” graph by putting together the time periods:

But there is not getting around it; the last two job reports have been disappointing.

Paul Krugman thinks that we are being held back by an invisible hand, so to speak:

Which brings me to the subject of today’s column. For the last few months, I and others have watched, with amazement and horror, the emergence of a consensus in policy circles in favor of immediate fiscal austerity. That is, somehow it has become conventional wisdom that now is the time to slash spending, despite the fact that the world’s major economies remain deeply depressed.

This conventional wisdom isn’t based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite’s imagination — specifically, on belief in what I’ve come to think of as the invisible bond vigilante and the confidence fairy.

Bond vigilantes are investors who pull the plug on governments they perceive as unable or unwilling to pay their debts. Now there’s no question that countries can suffer crises of confidence (see Greece, debt of). But what the advocates of austerity claim is that (a) the bond vigilantes are about to attack America, and (b) spending anything more on stimulus will set them off.

What reason do we have to believe that any of this is true? Yes, America has long-run budget problems, but what we do on stimulus over the next couple of years has almost no bearing on our ability to deal with these long-run problems. As Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, recently put it, “There is no intrinsic contradiction between providing additional fiscal stimulus today, while the unemployment rate is high and many factories and offices are underused, and imposing fiscal restraint several years from now, when output and employment will probably be close to their potential.”

But hey, that is what a conservative is, isn’t it: it is someone who adheres to a philosophy without any basis in reality for doing so.

Robert Reich points out:

The economy is still in the gravitational pull of the Great Recession and all the booster rockets for getting us beyond it are failing. The odds of a double dip are increasing.

In June the nation added fewer jobs than necessary merely to keep up with population growth (private hiring rose by 83,000 after adding only 33,000 jobs in May). The typical workweek declined. Average earnings dropped. Home sales are down. Retail sales are down. Factory orders in May suffered their biggest tumble since March of last year.

So what are we doing about it? Less than nothing. The states are running an anti-stimulus program (raising taxes, cutting services, laying off teachers, firefighters, police and other employees) that’s now bigger than the federal stimulus program. That federal stimulus is 75 percent gone anyway. And the House and Senate refuse to pass another one. (The Senate left Washington for the July 4th weekend without even extending unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans now running out.)

The second booster rocket – the Fed’s rock-bottom short-term interest rates – are having almost no effect. That’s because jobs and wages are so lousy that consumers don’t have enough money to buy much of anything, making small businesses bad credit risks and causing big ones to sit on the huge pile of cash they’ve accumulated. […]

The people who are suffering the most from the failure of public officials and the greed of large bankers are the least able to endure it. Unemployment among people with four-year college degrees is barely over 5 percent; among high-school dropouts it’s over 25 percent. Those who have been jobless the longest or who have left the labor force altogether are men over fifty who are least likely to get back in. Families most in need are losing the services – state-supported Medicaid, child dental care, after-school programs for the kids, public transit – they most depend on.

The irony is that had there been no bank bailout in 2008 and 2009, no large stimulus, and no extraordinary efforts by the Fed to pump trillions of dollars into the economy, we’d have had another Great Depression. And because it would have sucked almost everyone down with it, the nation would have demanded from politicians larger and more fundamental reforms that might well have lifted everyone, and set America and the world on a more sustainable path toward growth and shared prosperity: A stimulus that financed the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure and alternative energies, single-payer health care, a cap on the size of big banks and resurrection of Glass-Steagall, earnings insurance, an Earned Income Tax Credit that extended into the middle class, and a truly progressive tax coupled with a price on carbon to pay for all of this over the long term.

In short, the patient is no longer in critical condition, but really isn’t doing the “physical therapy” that is needed to fully recover, so to speak.

This article (sent to me by a friend) is sure to generate some controversy:

Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau.

Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect. […]

Two other studies of Tibetans’ adaptation to high altitude have also identified this gene as a target of selection. A team led by Tatum S. Simonson of the University of Utah and RiLi Ge of Qinghai University in China scanned the genomes of 31 Tibetans and reported in Science in May that HIF2a and other genes involved in red blood cell production bore the stamp of natural selection.

Independently, a group led by Cynthia M. Beall, an anthropologist at Case Western Reserve University, and Yong-Tang Zheng of the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China has detected a genetic change in the same gene in Tibetans and found that it correlated with having less hemoglobin in the blood. Their report was published in the June 22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Human adaptation to high altitude is a field of obvious interest, but another reason for the appearance of three studies on the same subject in matter of a few weeks may be that the technology to assess which parts of the genome are under selection has only recently become available.

Timeframe disputed
The three new reports agree in finding the Tibetans’ version of the gene has been favored by natural selection. But the Beijing Genome Institute’s calculation that the Tibetan and Han populations split apart only 3,000 years ago is less likely to be accepted. Archaeologists say they believe that the Tibetan plateau has been inhabited for at least 7,000 years and maybe for as long as 21,000 years.

“The separation of Tibetans and Hans at 3,000 years ago is simply not tenable by anything we know from the historical, archaeological or linguistic record,” said Mark Aldenderfer, a Tibetan expert at the University of California, Merced.

Science and philosophical considerations
Cosmic variance has an interesting article about the balance between dark matter and dark energy: are we currently living in an exceptional period? It depends on whether you measure time by red shifts or by “the clock”.

Science education:
Creationists speak about the vandalizing of atheist billboards: they decry it, but somehow imply that atheists brought this on themselves. Really. Why does a church have more right to advertise than an atheist group?

On a related note: view some creationism in the classroom as well as some incompetent science teaching:

Fun Interesting photo spread here, of a rounded woman in a very tiny swimsuit.

Yes, you can see some “rear shots” here. 🙂

July 3, 2010 Posted by | astronomy, Barack Obama, big butts, bikinis, cosmology, creationism, dark energy, Democrats, economy, evolution, green news, nature, physics, politics, politics/social, quackery, religion, science, social/political, space, Spineless Democrats, statistics, superstition, training, walking | Leave a comment

Scifri Videos: Rumble In The Jungle

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion from the makers of the NPR public radio program Science Friday with host Ira Flatow.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Scifri Videos: Rumble In The Jungle", posted with vodpod

Jerry Coyne has more here: he thinks that this will be some sort of mating call (a ‘froggy flirt”) and goes on to talk about scientific papers and how to “sell” your work to the journal.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | alternative energy, biology, blogs, brain, cosmology, dark energy, disease, environment, evolution, frogs, green news, health, matter, nanotechnology, nature, neuroscience, physics, public policy and discussion from NPR public radio program Science Friday with host Ira Flatow. Science Videos, science, Science Friday teachers, Science Friday teens., technology | Leave a comment