Reality: rams, Keynesians, winters, US history, epigenetics and bigotry

I am enjoying a chilly, “when in the heck is spring going to arrive” day by watching women’s basketball on television (NCAA Sweet 16) and blogging. Eating Indian food with Barbara saved me from watching the horrible 105-54 pasting that Connecticut laid on Texas.

The way that Connecticut plays reminds me a bit of the way the better NBA teams played in the 1970’s: lots of ball movement, efficiency and little wasted motion. They look as if they are loafing even while playing fast; they are just cool, calm, collected and ruthlessly efficient.

But the race for spots in the Final Four is interesting.

This farmer talks about rams and how violent they are:

Do not try to run away from an attacking ram. He can outrun you. If you watch two bucks about to deliver orgasms to each other, they will face off and take a few steps backwards. Then they charge, colliding head on with enough collective force to make an anvil bleed. Then they quiver with pleasure and do it again.

So when you see your buck start to back away from you, walk towards him. I mean go right at him. Almost always this is confusing to a buck and he will keep backing away for awhile and might lose interest in killing you. This can give you time to get closer to a fence or a tractor. If you can get to an immovable object like a tree, all you have to do is keep it between you and the ram. Then he can’t do his classic charge and soon tires of the game.

Otherwise, like out in the middle of a field, he will eventually quit backing up at your advance and attack. Stand your ground. This takes a great deal of nerve the first time. But at the last second before he butts you, he will lift himself on his hind legs to give his forward motion extra pile-driver strength. Up on his hind legs, he can only lunge straight ahead. He can’t turn. So when he lunges, all you have to do is step sideways, quickly of course, and his momentum carries him past you. This maneuver is quite effective and it is almost comical to see how puzzled the ram will be when all he collides with is thin air. If you are young and strong, this is the moment when you grab him, twist his head around backwards, set him on his ass like you were going to shear him, and pummel the living hell out of him. Some shepherds say this will only make him meaner but in my experience, he will act like a gentleman for about a month. Or will absorb enough fear of the Lord so that when you see him backing up the next time, a warning yell will make him stop short and decide it is more fun to go eat hay.

If you are not young and strong, you should only be out with the flock in the pasture if you are riding a tractor or other vehicle. I have often wondered what would happen if a ram decided to dispute his territory with a four wheeler. I’m afraid that the four-wheeler would come off second best.

He isn’t kidding:


Epigenetics (that changes can be passed along without there being changes in the genome) is important, but it isn’t “revolutionizing biology”:

This sounds both liberating and terrifying at the same time: Our destinies are not fixed by our genes, and yet much of what we do and experience could have a profound effect on the biological make-up of ourselves and our children. But the hype has outrun the science. As one group wrote last year, “scientific hyperbole rarely generates the level of professional and personal prescriptions for health behavior that we are now seeing in epigenetics.” Many of the boldest claims being made about the relationship between epigenetics, health, and our environment are based only on evidence from animal studies, and thus are, at best, premature. In fact, much of the recent research in epigenetics hasn’t turned up anything fundamentally new.

Scientists have long been aware that our genes aren’t chiseled in stone—they are in a constant dialogue with our environment. The epigenetic marking up of our DNA, discovered decades ago, is a key part of how that dialogue takes place. And while these marks are an important feature of our biology, the biggest flaw in many of the claims being made about epigenetics is that they confuse cause with effect.

Epigenetic marks are a consequence of changes in the activity of our genes in response to our health, our environment, and our social experiences, but they are not the underlying cause of those changes. There is no reason to believe that drugs, treatments, or health advice that target these DNA markings will be unusually effective compared to therapies that aren’t specifically epigenetic.

While epigenetics is rife with hype, there is at least one advantage to all of the attention this field is getting: People are recognizing just how profoundly our physical and social environment can affect our biology.

Now I believe that science is important to our society and evidently, so did early Americans:

But what’s nice about it is what Will imparted in his email:

The interesting part is the motto on the coin: “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry”. Now we all know that the “In God We Trust” motto is a relatively recent innovation, but I was surprised to find (although I shouldn’t have been) that the founders rated science as one of the boons of liberty. And nary a mention of the creator. Just another little nail in the coffin of “America founded as a Christian nation.” I’ve attached the image.

Sure enough, on the face it clearly says “Liberty Parent of Science & Industry”. If Republicans had their way, it would have said, “Liberty, Offspring of God.”


According to CNN

The coin, known as the “Birch Cent,” was made in 1792, months after the one-cent denomination was first authorized by Congress, according to the auction house Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
It was made in a trial run for the penny, and depicts Lady Liberty. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington discussed the design in letters dated August 1792, before it was presented to Congress as an option for the new coin.

Bigotry I feel good about this: some very wealthy, powerful CEOs are taking stands against Indiana’s “freedom to discriminate against gays” law. Though the law is a setback, we are winning the social war.

Social and economy

This is interesting: some people are saying that Paul Krugman isn’t a “real Keynesian” because

Brad DeLong points me to Lars Syll declaring that I am not a “real Keynesian”, because I use equilibrium models and don’t emphasize the instability of expectations.

One way to answer this is to point out that Keynes said a lot of things, not all consistent with each other. (The same is true for all of us.) Right at the beginning of the General Theory, Keynes explains the “principle of effective demand” with a little model of temporary equilibrium that takes expectations as given. If that kind of modeling is anti-Keynesian, the man himself must be excommunicated. […]

If you can show me any useful advice given by those sniping at me and other for our failure to be proper Keynesians, I’ll be happy to take it under consideration. If you can’t, then we’re just doing literary criticism here, and I’m not interested.

I’ll bet that the person making this claim is religious, which explains why that person might cling to an economic dogma even among a ton of contrary evidence.

And speaking of contrary evidence: this is Krugman’s part II of “air conditioning lead to the growth of the south, not Republican economic policies”; here he shows a correlation of population growth with January temperatures:

As I pointed out the other day, this long-term movement toward the sun, in turn, probably has a lot to do with the gradual adjustment to air conditioning.

And as I also pointed out, the search for mild winters can lead to a lot of spurious correlations. With the exception of California — which has mild winters but also, now, has very high housing prices — America’s warm states are very conservative. And that’s not an accident: warm states were also slave states and members of the Confederacy, and a glance at any election map will tell you that in US politics the Civil War is far from over.

The point, then, is that these hot red states also tend to be low-minimum-wage, low-taxes-on-the-wealthy jurisdictions. And that opens the door to sloppy and/or mendacious claims that low wages and taxes are driving their growth.

This really shouldn’t even be controversial — I think it’s kind of obvious.

He also posts more data about air conditioning: from 1900 to 1970 the south’s share of the population dropped. It started to gain in 1980, right when widespread home air conditioning grew.

Now, of course, both of these points could be correlation and not causation.

But of interest to me was this remark:

If you’re wondering why I’m doing posting so much on a Saturday, I’m housebound with a cold, so why not?

What? This happens to Nobel Laureates too? :-)

March 28, 2015 Posted by | economics, economy, nature, politics, politics/social, religion, science, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

I’m liberal for a reason, but conservatives are not all crazy…

Yes, genetically, I am a liberal. I couldn’t make myself be conservative if I tried. One of the reasons is that I am simply not tribal enough; the very idea that my country, people, etc. are the “best ever” and chosen by some deity/force of history to lead the rest of the world sounds ridiculous to me.

But, I fall afoul of other liberals in many areas too.

Here is one way: though I reject the idea that we should dictate to the rest of the world, I also reject the idea that we are especially evil either. As Steven Pinker points out in Better Angels , our moral track record isn’t that bad, when you compare us to other Leviathans.

I also think it is bad form when foreign students come to our universities and put us down (and yes, that happens, a LOT). If you don’t like “ugly American” behavior when we visit your countries, why do you act that way in ours?

I also reject some liberal attitudes toward poverty. Before you jump on me, I am FOR programs that, say, feed poor kids. There is some data that SNAP type programs reduce the probability that those who grow up poor will need public aid benefits in the future. And spending money on foot programs can help poor kids learn in school; it is tough to concentrate on ANYTHING when you are genuinely hungry.

So, I support such programs.

What I reject: I reject the claim that kids being hungry is anyone else’s fault but the parents!


So while I approve of the program, I rebel at labeling it as the failure of anyone but the parents. Is saying “don’t have kids you can’t afford” so controversial? I suppose that it is in some circles.

And just get a load of this headline: “what if everything you knew about poverty was wrong?” Uh, it isn’t:

Edin sees in these obstacles to full-time fatherhood a partial explanation for what’s known as “multiple-partner fertility.” Among low-income, unwed parents, having children with more than one partner is now the norm. One long-running study found that in nearly 60 percent of the unwed couples who had a baby, at least one parent already had a child with another partner.

Uh, that is EXACTLY what many of us think.

Seriously, at times, it feels as if holding human beings to a higher standard than we hold rabbits is considered immoral in some liberal circles.

February 21, 2015 Posted by | economy, education, poverty, social/political | | Leave a comment

Jobs, Science reporting, Larry David…and No Good Scotsman and religion

This will be a general post of stuff that interests me.

Science reporting: yes, some of it is dreadful. You need to be able to consult with experts to appropriately treat new claims:

But, as always with striking new results, it’s caveat emptor. Remember how the papers jumped all over the findings of arsenic bacteria (i.e., bacteria using arsenic in their DNA), a finding that was later refuted? Most of the papers that heralded this bacterium as a “new form of life” didn’t devote much (or any) space to the refutation. For showing that a fancy new result is actually a flash in the pan is merely “dog bites man” stuff.

A good example of uncritical reporting is a piece by Sarah Kaplan in Wednesday’s Washington Post: “The mysterious 2-billion-year-old creature that would make Darwin smile.” It is, of course the bacterium that I wrote about the same day: a sulfur-metabolizing microbe whose morphology (and metabolic sulfur products) seem to have been unchanged for over two billion years. Kaplan’s reference to “Darwin’s smile” refers to the authors’ claim that their results supports Darwinism’s “null hypothesis”: we don’t expect evolution in an unchanging environment.

There are two problems with both the original paper by J. W. Schopf et al. and Kaplan’s summary of it. See my critique for much more information:

1. “Darwin’s null hypothesis,” as the authors and Kaplan present it, is flatly wrong: we sometimes do expect evolution in an unchanging environment; and if we found it, it certainly wouldn’t be a severe problem for evolutionary theory (see below).

2. The authors show only relative stasis (lack of change) in the appearance of the sea-floor bacteria and in the compounds they excrete. They have no way of showing whether other traits or genes have remained static over two billion years. For example, any genes affecting the efficiency of sulfur uptake, or of the rate of reproduction of the bacteria, might have changed but simply couldn’t be detected in the material examined.

Surf to Dr. Coyne’s website to read the rest.

Larry David is acting in a play that he wrote. Stage acting is a bit new to him; not as much room to ad-lib.

US politics We have another good jobs report…maybe wages will start to rise soon as well.


Paul Krugman has some fun with Mike Huckabee’s “real America” stuff. Yes, we are more urban and suburban than rural, but don’t tell Gov. Huckabee. And yes, more do yoga than hunt. :-)

And speaking of what is “real”: This video gets to the heart of what drives me crazy about religious liberals. Evidently in their minds, all religion is, well, good, compassionate and ethical, hence any practice of religion which isn’t…well…it isn’t the “genuine” version of their religion.

Seriously, I wonder if these well intentioned clowns have ever seriously read the Bible or Koran. If religion has a humane side, it is because it was changed by rational, enlightenment values.

Yes, there are ethical Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. But I’ve seen nothing that would suggest that their religion is the cause of their being ethical; it appears that their religion might affect the style of their good ethics or perhaps help them justify the ethics.

I don’t see how an experiment would be done, but I’d bet that if someone turned out to be an ethical Muslim…if they were raised in a Christian household they’d grow up to be an ethical Christian…or if they grew up in a secular country they’d be an ethical secular person. I see no evidence that ties religion to good ethics and good values.

Now if one does a bad thing and gives a religious justification for the action, people are quick to say that their actions weren’t motivated by a “proper” understanding of that religion, though I don’t see what constitutes a “proper” understanding of a particular religion. This strikes me as the “No Good Scotsman” fallacy.

February 8, 2015 Posted by | economy, religion, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Secularism, rage of the zealots and missing the point.

Yes, I know; Bill Maher holds some woo-woo beliefs (vaccinations). But his point: if you are secular, be open so others know that you aren’t alone is well taken, as is the point of living by some book that was written in a very ignorant age.

Oh sure, some might be offended by this.
People get offended when their deeply held beliefs are challenged; ok, I am no exception. But I can change my mind.

Not everyone can though, as Paul Krugman explains:

A bit more on the curious back and forth between myself and Robert Samuelson. It started when I made the commonplace point that normally the Fed, not the White House, is responsible for managing booms and busts, and that the great disinflation of the 1980s was basically a story of a Fed-imposed recession, and had little if anything to do with Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts.

Samuelson declared this “maddeningly wrong”, and proceeded to say that my analysis of the economics of the 1980s was … basically right — but that Reagan deserved credit for letting Volcker be Volcker. I pointed out that this wasn’t really critiquing my point. […]

Yet Samuelson is angry about something; indeed declared himself “maddened” by a column whose economic analysis he doesn’t actually dispute. What’s going on here?

The answer, I think, is Reaganolatry. Specific policies aside, Reagan must be seen as the hero who saved America. And therefore he must be given credit for a disinflation carried out by a Fed chairman who was appointed by, and began his anti-inflation crusade under, Jimmy Carter. Anything perceived as detracting from the Reagan legend is infuriating, even if you can’t find anything wrong with the substance.

Yes, one faces fury when one doesn’t pay proper deference to a legend or when one examines something perceived as fact:

Damn you, how DARE you question our VICTIM STATUS!!!!

Now in science, there are disputes. One of the tug of wars is in the theory of evolution. Basically, the tug of war is between the adaptationists (those who believe that evolutionary change is primarily an adaptation that improves reproductive fitness) verses those who see a bit more randomness at play. That is, some results of evolution can be, well, accidental and serve no “enhancement of reproductive success” purpose.

To see a demonstration of how this debate plays out, read Larry Moran’s post about “How did a zebra get its stripes.” It is very possible that the stripes occurred by..well…accident. I know; some just grit their teeth when it is shown that sometimes things happen for no good/useful reason. That is, Pangloss was wrong. :-)

Back to social I think that Vox goes astray here. They put forth a story that says that their free speech/cartoon posts received no threats from Muslims but that their “Islamophobia” posts got threats from non-Muslims.

That misses the point, I think. Yes, there are isolated key board commando crackpots out there; no argument here. The difference is that there are no influential Christian clerics who are issuing the analogy of fatwas against people who write books, and there are no reasonably wealthy Christian countries that have governments who give lashes to those who insult religion.

I said “reasonably wealthy” because there are some third world backwaters where things like witch burnings still happen and where the Christians have a hand in it.

January 15, 2015 Posted by | civil liberties, economy, evolution, politics/social, religion, science, social/political | , , , , | Leave a comment

Zombies, economic arguments and number theory…

Zombies: do they make a good Christmas Display? Some think not. “Code violation”, they say. (size and location of display…)


Mathematics: evidently this is an exciting time for number theory. There are two big problems in number theory that are under attack and progress is being made:

In May 2013, the mathematician Yitang Zhang launched what has proven to be a banner year and a half for the study of prime numbers, those numbers that aren’t divisible by any smaller number except 1. Zhang, of the University of New Hampshire, showed for the first time that even though primes get increasingly rare as you go further out along the number line, you will never stop finding pairs of primes that are a bounded distance apart — within 70 million, he proved. Dozens of mathematicians then put their heads together to improve on Zhang’s 70 million bound, bringing it down to 246 — within striking range of the celebrated twin primes conjecture, which posits that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by only 2.

What made this especially interesting is that Zhang was (formerly) lightly regarded; he held a ordinary “teaching oriented” position prior to this.

If you don’t know the terms: a “prime” is a whole number greater than 1 that is divisible only by itself and 1 (e. g., 3, 5, 7 are primes, 9 is not as 3 divides 9). Note: 7 and 11 are 4 units apart. The twin primes conjecture is that, given any positive number M, there are a primes p, p+2 bigger than M, no matter how big M is. THAT has not been proved; what has been proved is that there are primes p, q, where q is less than p + 246 and p is bigger than M.

Now there is a conjecture that goes the other way: if p is a prime and q is the next prime bigger than p, how big can q – p possibly be? It is known that primes become more sparse as the whole numbers get larger; does the gap get arbitrarily large?

Too many are bound by ideology; if the economic numbers don’t say what they want them to say:

OK, that was a seriously impressive GDP report — 5 percent growth rate, and it’s all final demand rather than an inventory bounce. But what does it mean?

It does not necessarily mean that now is the time to tighten; that depends mainly on how far we still are from target employment and inflation, not on how fast we’re growing. Remember, the US economy grew 10 percent in 1934, which didn’t mean that the Depression was anywhere near over. With inflation still low and not accelerating, this report at most suggests that the Fed might get there a bit sooner than previously expected. It’s interesting to note that the bond market seems quite unimpressed, with only a slight uptick in long-term rates.

What the report should do, however, is further discredit the “Ma, he’s looking at me funny!” theory of the Obama economy. Remember, we were supposed to be having the worst recovery ever because Obama was a Kenyan socialist who scared businessmen. […]

Of course, you can count on hearing, any minute now, from people claiming that the numbers are cooked — we really have plunging output and double-digit inflation, plus they’re stealing our precious bodily fluids.

And when you can’t compete with the economist in question (here: Paul Krugman), you yell “Commie”.

December 24, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, mathematics, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Lost in all the hubbub: great jobs numbers for November 2014


This was the best numbers since 1999, though wages remain down.

Not that President Obama will get credit for any of it…
It is interesting how his approval numbers appear to track the average, though the are slightly below the average.

Screen shot 2014-12-07 at 8.46.53 PM

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, economy | | Leave a comment

Obama’s accomplishments

Fact Check does its thing (non-partisan)

Paul Krugman, an early critic of Obama, gives an excellent defense of his record, thereby refuting much LIBERAL criticism. Seriously people: did you think that a “different” Obama could have gotten a more liberal agenda past Republican obstructionism? And yes, the deficit is DOWN, not that anyone knows or cares.

Yes, I know: any deficit adds to the national debt, whether it is down or up.

October 10, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, economy, politics, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Bustos hits back; religion and state and economics….

IL-17 race: Bobby Schilling is running dishonest ads; Cheri Bustos hits back.

Presidents and the economy What do the metrics themselves say about the modern Presidents? You might be surprised at what the numbers say.

Religion and State
No, Reza Asian didn’t “take down” Bill Maher.

Our church and state issues are not as serious, but we do have them nevertheless.

October 5, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, Cheri Bustos, economy, Political Ad, politics, religion, social/political | , | 1 Comment

Climate change, creationism, jobs, and race

Talk about a sticky situation. A white lesbian couple paid a sperm bank for sperm from a white male…and ended up with sperm from a black male. Now they have a half-black daughter…and they are suing.

Oh sure, one can say that they entered a business transaction and didn’t get what they paid for. But what effect will this have on the kid? Ah, they’ll probably blame it on the racism of others. ;-)

Jobs report

248K new jobs last month; the good is that this is better than losing jobs. The bad: the new jobs aren’t paying well.

The Aral Sea was once the 4’th largest lake in the world. By 2000 it had shrunk a great deal, and now it is almost gone.



Reasons: many; one of them is irrigation. One consequence is that nearby areas no longer have the lake to moderate the extremes; so it is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.

Creationism: Why Evolution is True has an interesting take on a non-Sequitur cartoon.

October 4, 2014 Posted by | creationism, economy, politics, politics/social, racism, science, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Reporting, poverty, charity, minimum wage and all that….

Here is one reason that discussion on sensitive issues is so difficult: often the headlines are very misleading.

Consider this:

Fox host: Living wage supporters think workers were born with ‘deficiencies’

Now, that isn’t quite what he said:

Hosts of Fox News and Fox Business on Monday lashed out at workers who compared their struggle for higher pay to the civil rights movement, arguing that anyone who chose to work a minimum wage job was saying that they were born with “deficiencies” that kept them from getting higher pay.

Over the weekend, fast food workers in Illinois voted to use civil disobedience to fight for $15-an-hour pay, and for the right to unionize.

“To compare it to the Civil Rights Movement seems insulting,” Fox News host Steve Doocy opined on Monday.

It really is insulting,” Fox Business host Charles Payne agreed. “It’s beyond the pale. Here’s one of those things that insults almost everybody. Obviously, it would insult anyone who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and also the workers.”

“Because essentially, I guess, what you are saying to these workers is, you were born this way, in a position where you can never better yourself, you can never get an education, you can never work on the side, you can never have the knowledge, you can never go out there and pool your money together and start a business,” Payne continued. “You are stuck in this because somehow you were born with deficiencies that you’ll only have a certain skill set, the minimum skill set.”

Strictly speaking, he is arguing against equating the civil rights struggles with the minimum wage debate. He is really attacking a particular argument instead of attacking *all* arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage.

Note: I too have attacked arguments made by the “no minimum wage” people which is not the same as attacking the idea that there shouldn’t be one.

Of course, proponents of a higher minimum wage have a variety of reasons; mine is that a higher minimum wage could stimulate demand and perhaps better position someone to be able to move up by, say, furthering their education on the side (instead of getting a second job) and the like. I sued the world “could” as I haven’t seen data supporting that this actually happens. I HAVE heard that municipalities and states that have raised their minimum wage have NOT seen significant job losses.

This is an interesting study about charitable giving:

But there are complicated factors at work in helping us determine who should get our money. In a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers pick apart what makes us tighten our purse strings. And what it finds may have implications not only for people’s charitable giving but also how they feel about how Washington spends their tax dollars.

What they studied

Several studies have found that people with a high moral identity — that is, who think of themselves as moral — tend to also give more money. Saerom Lee, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas-San Antonio; Karen Winterich, associate professor of marketing at Penn State; and William Ross, professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut set out to see whether moral identity always increases charitable giving, and if not, what might get in the way.


Surf to the article to see how the test was done. They found:

The scientists found that people take aid recipients’ responsibility into account when they give money. People with high moral identities were more likely to give if they perceived people were not responsible for their own problems but less likely if the potential recipients appeared to be victims of their own decisions. Having a high moral identity increased likelihood of giving because it meant higher senses of empathy toward people who were perceived to not be responsible for their problems. Meanwhile, a stronger sense of justice got in the way when it came to recipients perceived to be responsible for their problems.

However, people tended to increase their donations when they were prompted to recall their own past moral failings, because they also had boosted senses of empathy.

I suppose that I lack compassion for the outrageously irresponsible. Sure we’ve all made mistakes; no one has lived an optimal life. But this is a bit silly:

But detractors said the Wisconsin Rep. missed the point entirely because he assumed people were to blame for their conditions.

“[I]t presupposes that the poor somehow want to be poor; that they don’t have the skills to plan and achieve and grow their way out of poverty,” wrote New York’s Annie Lowrey.

Of course, no one WANTS to be poor, but there are many who are adverse to set aside the “have fun now and don’t worry about the future” compulsion in order to have a better tomorrow. Example: I know of a brother and sister who inherited about 250K each from an estate. I KNEW, ahead of time, that the brother wouldn’t have any of it left in 2 years time whereas the sister would invest it and do well. It turns out that it took the brother 6 months to lose all of the money.

So, there is a difference between “wanting to be poor” and “making bad decision after bad decision”, being lazy (and many are), being stupid, and lacking the capacity to develop skills that would enable one to sustain themselves (extreme example: the mentally and intellectually handicapped).

To deny that there are a LOT of people in this category is to be delusional.

Of course, opportunities are unequal and the government (IMHO) has a role to play in getting the disadvantaged a shot to move up.
But there are people who will blow it no matter what society does.

July 28, 2014 Posted by | economy, politics/social, poverty, social/political | , | Leave a comment


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