Category Archives: Social issues ( be civil ! )

Clark Gesner R. I. P.

Clark Gesner Princeton ’60 was an incredibly creative individual who wrote at least 2 shows for the Princeton Triangle Club, which includes Jimmie Stewart, Josh Logan, Jose Ferrer and Brooke Shields among its alumni.  When I was there, club traveled by railroad to NYC, Albany, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati etc. over Christmas vacation.  Quite an experience for a 19 year old who’d never been west of Allentown.

Despite his talent, Clark’s  musical chops weren’t that good and as a piano player in the pit band accompanying the show, I could play his stuff better than he could. We were housed in the homes of alumni for the most part, and Clark after shows would sit at the piano and play his stuff.  The girls would gather around and say “Clark, you’re going to write a broadway show some day”.  Cynical me thought they’d been watching too movies.

Well he did, writing “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, and never had to work past his late 20s.

Which raises several points.  The first is that amateur musicians usually agree who is better (not so much in terms of their chops, but in terms of their ‘musicality’ a term like jazz of which Louis Armstrong said –“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”  This unlike composers, visual artists etc. etc.  Even chemists.  Who was the greatest chemist of the 20th century — Woodward, Pauling?  You’d get an argument.

2 years at Triangle cured me of theater.  The stage performers  never really left the stage, acting most of the time in ways that said ‘look at me, look at me’.  It became tiresome after a while.

We had real pros helping us put the shows together — Director Milt Lyon, Choreographer Peter Hamilton.  They weren’t perfect and 60 years ago Milt was always saying that ‘the unions are killing the theater’.  Milt was always in the back during performances as we traveled, leading the cheers.  Another quote –‘audiences want to clap, you just have to help them’.

There were a lot of gays in Triangle, but they were the obvious ones, florid, histrionic, effeminate.   That was the image of the gay male in the late 50s, and today’s gays owe a huge debt to the normal appearing gays who came out in that era and later.  Clark was gay and kept it well hidden, and a lot more classmates have come out subsequently.

For some, there were excellent reasons to remain in the closet.  A psychiatrist classmate from med school knew of people being thrown out of psychiatry residencies because they were gay — look at the early DMSs when homosexuality was thought to be a psychiatric disease.

 

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The cold dead hand of the academy and classical music (US division)

For how the higher music criticism nearly strangled classical music in the US look no further than Roger Sessions — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Sessions.  He was the eminence grise of the Princeton music department when I was an undergraduate

Purely by luck, I decided that music was one of the few things I knew something about (having had 8 years of piano lessons through High School) so I had nothing to do with the department.  So while Roger was saying things like “I’m a specialist writing for other specialists” and “The English Department doesn’t teach typing, why should the Music Department teach performance” — this according to someone from the class of ’75, I was hitchhiking down route 1 to NYC listening to Basie at Birdland, and other jazz musicians creating a new art form (Village Vanguard etc. etc.).   I was actually able to hire Coleman Hawkins to play for a dance at our Eating Club (Princeton’s version of fraternities).

So think of some music coming out of an academic music department from that era that you want to listen to.  Bartok doesn’t count.  He was supported with grants when he got here  in 1940, but was already a very well established composer.

For more on these points, see the previous post –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2019/07/30/some-thoughts-on-music/

So jazz, rock, country and western musics will take care of themselves.  They exist independently of what is written about them.  There still is a problem for people like me.  I’m not creative enough to make my own music, but classical music being written down allows me to explore and experience the great musical minds of Bach, Mozart etc. etc.  I want more stuff written by today’s people that my friends and I can play.  The difference between listening to music and playing it, is the difference between you know what and sex.

Some thoughts on music

I’m leaving for what one of my friend’s grandsons calls “Band Camp for Adults”. Mercifully we usually all agree to allow the world to spin on its axis without our help, meaning we talk only about music leaving politics behind (thank God).

I’ve agreed to play the Brahms horn trio with an excellent violinist and an equally excellent french horn player.  It’s scary. Brahms must have had enormous hands, asking you to play an octave with your right hand while trilling with the fifth finger.  He must also have had a huge technique, asking you to jump about playing octaves with your left hand.  Adding to the anxiety, is that the other two have performed the piece despite the fact that we’re amateurs.  They want to perform it as well, something that gives me the yips (they’re both very good).

I asked one of last year’s coaches to note whether the hard headed scientific types (mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers) play any differently than the touchy feely types (who are scared of ‘chemicals’ etc. etc.) both invariantly present in about equal numbers among amateur chamber musicians.  I don’t think so, but we’ll see what she says.  Probably she forgot, chamber musicians having to be extremely precise  when they play, leading them to be sloppy about most other things.  We’ll see.

There are excellent faculty concerts most nights and hopefully they won’t have much ‘eat your spinach’ contemporary work on the program.  You all know what it is, contemporary music with no rhythm, melody or structure and usually hideous sound, that you are supposed to sit through because it’s good for you.  A few years ago, there was a concert with no intermission where they literally locked the doors and played an awful Elliot Carter string quartet.  It wasn’t announced on the program so we couldn’t bail.

Which brings me to another point.  People who say they like all music, really like none of it.  To really like music there must be music that you hate.  I hate Shastakovich (which is tough as a cellist I play with has cats named Shasti and Kovich), my cousin hates Ravel.

Which brings me to another point — how musical criticism has brought classical music low (see the bit about Adorno later).  Classic composers if they want to be played and heard have to bow to current elite critical opinion.  Fortunately this seems to be ending.  There are several people composing in the area whose music has melody, rhythm, structure, tonality and is good to listen to.

One is Zeke Hecker — http://zekehecker.com — whose wife is an excellent violist that I played one of the Faure piano quartets with.  He’s written lots of stuff in classical form (symphonies etc. etc. ) which is musicly interesting.

Another is Scott Slapin — http://scottslapin.com — and we recently went to a concert where he wrote some very interesting music for 4 violas.  He has a sense of humor and since he lives in South Hadley Massachusetts, he wrote a 12 minute piece for 4 violas called the South Hadley Mass.

Now to the dark side — an article in the New Yorker described how a critic, Theordor Adorno, singlehandedly nearly destroyed the magnificent German musical tradition — https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/24/ghost-sonata.

Here’s a quote from the article — “Implicit in his assault on mass culture is the belief that any work of art that attracts large numbers of people has no value.”  So the music he champions certainly doesn’t attract hordes.

Here’s more.  “In 1949, it worked: “The Philosophy of New Music” wowed the confused young minds who were seeking new certitudes, new laws, new gods. Adorno, together with his comrade-in-arms Boulez, probably succeeded in frightening more than a few composers of the neoclassical type into thinking that their music was not just bad but criminal. It is instructive to look at the names of works that were played at Darmstadt from 1946 on. In the first few years, you see titles such as Sonatine, Suite for Piano, Chamber Symphony, Scherzo, and Concerto in E Flat. After 1949, the year of the “Philosophy,” neoclassical titles dwindle and are replaced by phrases fit for a “Star Trek” episode: “Music in Two Dimensions,” “Schipot,” “Polyphonie X,” “Syntaxis,” “Anepigraphe.” There was a fad for abstractions in the plural: “Perspectives,” “Structures,” “Quantities,” “Configurations,” “Interpolations.” Audiences enjoyed “Spectogram,” “Seismogramme,” “Audiogramme,” and “Sphenogramme.”

How did such an idiot gain such power?  It’s worth reading the whole article in the link (although it’s pretty depressing)

Well there is a human urge to listen, play and create music and it’s coming back. To hell with the higher musical criticism.

The wages of inbreeding

Saguenay Lac St. Jean is a beautiful region of Quebec. It’s fairly isolated. Once you get to the top of the lake there is no way that you can drive farther north (no road).  We spent part of our 25th anniversary there.  The population bears a heavy load of genetic disease (through no fault of their own).

The reason is historical. Only 8,000 people emigrated from France to Quebec between 1608 and 1763. After the English victory that year  only 1,000 emigrated in the next 90 years.  In 1992, the population of the Saguenay  region was around 300,000 and Quebec itself 2,000,000.

This means that once the population began expanding with relatively little outside input, recessive genes began to meet each other, as in a large population there are so many more ways to make this happen than in a small one.

To keep the the nonBiologists reading this aboard, here is what recessive means. Our genome has 46 chromosomes.  We all have two sex chromosomes (either X and Y or X and X).  The other 44 chromosomes come in pairs.  This gives you two copies of each gene.  The classic recessive gene is that for sickle cell anemia.  If just one of the pair has the Sickle trait you are OK, if both have it, you have sickle cell anemia (which you definitely don’t want to have).  Actually if you live in Africa it is better if you have one gene with the trait as it makes you more resistant to Malaria.  This is why the trait became so common in Africans.  It’s natural selection in action (and in a human population to boot).  Just one good sickle gene (not carrying the trait) is enough to mask the effects of the bad gene, so the carrier is normal.   This is why sickle cell trait is called a recessive gene.

Here is one example.  The incidence of a muscle disease (myotonic dystrophy) worldwide is 2 – 14/100,000.  In the Saguenay region it is 189/100,000.

Even 20 years ago, the carrier frequency of many genetic disorders up there was quite high [ Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 95 pp. 15140 – 15144 ’98 ]

Spastic ataxia 1/21

Type I tyrosinemia 1/22

Sensorimotor polyneuropathy 1/23

Pseudovitamin D deficient rickets 1/26

Cytochrome C oxidase deficiency 1/26

Cystinosis 1/39

Histidase 1/32

Lipoprotein lipase 1/43

Pyruvic kinase 1/64

Then again, there are all sorts of genetic diseases found only in this region.

Similar conditions may apply to the ancestors of today’s native Americans — for details see the previous post — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2019/07/16/the-initial-native-americans-were-quite-inbred/.  Incredible as it may sound, the rape and pillage of the conquistadores may have actually been good from a genetic point of view.  Similar considerations may apply to any pair of populations meeting each other for the first time.  Hard stuff indeed, but you can’t repeal biology.

So, from a genetic point of view, it’s good if you reproduce with someone from a different group.  It’s why I’m glad to have a Chinese daughter in law, 2 grand-nephews whose father is Hindu, and a Russian woman about to marry our nephew.

 

 

The initial native Americans were quite inbred

From Science vol. 365 pp. 138, eaat 5447 pp.  1 —> 9 ’19  12 July ‘19

“Genetic studies of contemporary Indigenous people and ancient individuals from Asia and the Americas reveal an outline of the ancestry of the first humans to settle the Americas, providing age estimates for the timing of population contact, divergence, and migration. Studies of contemporary mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA lineages gave the first genetic insights into Indigenous American population history (6). These studies demonstrated that the ancestors of all contemporary Indigenous people had descended from only five maternal lineages (haplogroups A, B, C, D, and X) and two paternal lineages (haplogroups C and Q). These lineages also showed that the founding population came from Asia and experienced a severe genetic bottleneck, in which a small number of people with limited genetic diversity gave rise to all Indigenous people who occupied the continent before European arrival.”

Interesting that the authors of the papers discussed below didn’t know this (or weren’t telling) when I wrote them last December asking if there was limited genetic diversity in the ancestors of today’s native Americans (or Indians as they called themselves when we lived in Montana in the 70s and 80s).

 

Usually when I eMail the author(s) of a paper or a math book with a question or a comment I get a quick response.  My cynical wife says thing this is because mathematicians don’t have much to do.  Not so in this case. Hence the hopefully attention getting title of this post.

I refer to the following papers [ Cell vol. 175 pp. 1173 – 1174, 1185 – 1197 ’18 ]  Nature vol. 563 pp. 303 – 304 ’18,Science vol. 362 pp. 1128 eaav2621  1 –> 11 ’18 ] I’ve sent a bunch letters to the authors and have heard nothing back in a week.

So what is all this about?  It’s about population bottlenecks and founder effects in the ancestors of what are now called ‘native Americans’ — although while living in Montana from ’72 – ’87, if you called an Indian, a Native American, you would have received some strange looks.

I am not a population geneticist, so I wonder just how many people made it over the Bering land bridge during the last ice age, and just how genetically diverse they were.  Northern Siberia today is a rather forbidding place, and I doubt that hordes of genetically different people lived here.  I’m not sure how long the land bridge was open and how many people crossed it.

So modern native Americans may be quite genetically homogeneous.  How to tell?  This is where the papers come in.  They sequenced genomes from a variety of locations in the western hemisphere, all dying over a thousand years ago (before the Europeans came and interbred with them).  It seems that they have around 100 such genomes.

I wrote to ask how similar these genomes are.  No response.  Is it because the answer might be politically incorrect?

I don’t think the question is idiotic.  Possibly we don’t have enough genomes to make a sensible statement, but if they’re all really close (however defined) we could say something.

Anybody out there have any thoughts (or even better)  knowledge about these matters?

Happy 4th of July to the world’s second worst economist — Larry Summers

Any scientist who made such massively incorrect explanations and predictions would be laughed out of town. Not so, one of the ‘smartest guys in the room’ and former Harvard President Larry Summers.

Here’s Larry in December 2013 coming up with ‘secular stagnation’ to explain why the recovery from recession was one of the weakest and slowest on record and why this was the way things would be, and we’d better get used to it.

Here’s the link — http://larrysummers.com/2013/12/15/why-stagnation-might-prove-to-be-the-new-normal/

Here’s a direct quote from the beginning of the article

” Is it possible that the US and other major global economies might not return to full employment and strong growth without the help of unconventional policy support? I raised that notion – the old idea of “secular stagnation” – recently in a talk hosted by the International Monetary Fund.

My concern rests on a number of considerations. First, even though financial repair had largely taken place four years ago, recovery has only kept up with population growth and normal productivity growth in the US, and has been worse elsewhere in the industrial world.

Second, manifestly unsustainable bubbles and loosening of credit standards during the middle of the past decade, along with very easy money, were sufficient to drive only moderate economic growth.

Third, short-term interest rates are severely constrained by the zero lower bound: real rates may not be able to fall far enough to spur enough investment to lead to full employment.

Fourth, in such situations falling wages and prices or lower-than-expected are likely to worsen performance by encouraging consumers and investors to delay spending, and to redistribute income and wealth from high-spending debtors to low-spending creditors.”

There’s more but (mercifully) this is enough to give you the gist.

Then we have Larry from May 2017 — here’s the link

What history tells us about Trump’s budget fantasy

Here’s Larry talking about the Trump claim of 3% economic growth “The Trump economic team has not engaged in serious analysis or been in dialogue with those who are capable of it so they have had nothing to say in defense of their forecast except extravagant claims for their policies. Taking their supply-side perspective, do they really believe that through tax cuts and deregulation they are going to accomplish more than Ronald Reagan, who after all reduced the top tax rate from 70 to 28 percent? Between 1981 and 1988, GDP per adult grew by an average of 2.5 percent, distinctly slower than what they are forecasting. Even this figure reflects a substantial cyclical tail wind from the decline in unemployment from 7.6 percent to 5.5 percent (which from Okun’s law implies adding about half a percent to GDP growth) — something unavailable in the present context.”

Now follow the following link to the actual numbers — https://www.statista.com/statistics/188185/percent-chance-from-preceding-period-in-real-gdp-in-the-us/.

At the time Larry was writing in 2nd quarter of 2017, economic growth that quarter would hit 3% right under his nose.

Of the 8 quarters from then through the 1st quarter of 2019 (2nd quarter results not in yet), economic growth was 3% or greater in half, and always over 2.5 in the other half.

OK back to the science in subsequent posts.

For the world’s worst economist  — see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/happy-fourth-of-july-to-the

‘Happy Fourth of July to the world’s worst economist — Paul Krugman

Stocks closed at record highs Wednesday as traders bet on a potential rate cut from the Federal Reserve later this month after the release of weaker-than-expected economic data.The Dow gained 179 points, notching intraday and closing all-time highs. The Nasdaq advanced 0.75%.The S&P 500 also rose 0.75% as the real estate and consumer sectors powered the broad index to record levels. Tech boosted the index, rising 0.7% to a record high. The S&P 500 closed just 0.1% below 3,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Paul Krugman Nobel Laureate in Economics writing in the New York Times 9 November 2016, the day after Trump was elected

“It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?

Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.

Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.

Under any circumstances, putting an irresponsible, ignorant man who takes his advice from all the wrong people in charge of the nation with the world’s most important economy would be very bad news. What makes it especially bad right now, however, is the fundamentally fragile state much of the world is still in, eight years after the great financial crisis.

It’s true that we’ve been adding jobs at a pretty good pace and are quite close to full employment. But we’ve been doing O.K. only thanks to extremely low interest rates. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. But what if something bad happens and the economy needs a boost? The Fed and its counterparts abroad basically have very little room for further rate cuts, and therefore very little ability to respond to adverse events.

Now comes the mother of all adverse effects — and what it brings with it is a regime that will be ignorant of economic policy (Luysii — praise be to God) and hostile to any effort to make it work. Effective fiscal support for the Fed? Not a chance. In fact, you can bet that the Fed will lose its independence, and be bullied by cranks.

So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.”

If that wasn’t enough here’s Krugman in 2010 writing about ‘peak oil

“Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.

So what’s the meaning of this surge?

Is it speculation run amok? Is it the result of excessive money creation, a harbinger of runaway inflation just around the corner? No and no.

What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.

Some background: The last time the prices of oil and other commodities were this high, two and a half years ago, many commentators dismissed the price spike as an aberration driven by speculators. And they claimed vindication when commodity prices plunged in the second half of 2008.

But that price collapse coincided with a severe global recession, which led to a sharp fall in demand for raw materials. The big test would come when the world economy recovered. Would raw materials once again become expensive?

Well, it still feels like a recession in America. But thanks to growth in developing nations, world industrial production recently passed its previous peak — and, sure enough, commodity prices are surging again.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that speculation played no role in 2007-2008. Nor should we reject the notion that speculation is playing some role in current prices; for example, who is that mystery investor who has bought up much of the world’s copper supply? But the fact that world economic recovery has also brought a recovery in commodity prices strongly suggests that recent price fluctuations mainly reflect fundamental factors.

What about commodity prices as a harbinger of inflation? Many commentators on the right have been predicting for years that the Federal Reserve, by printing lots of money — it’s not actually doing that, but that’s the accusation — is setting us up for severe inflation. Stagflation is coming, declared Representative Paul Ryan in February 2009; Glenn Beck has been warning about imminent hyperinflation since 2008.

Yet inflation has remained low. What’s an inflation worrier to do?

One response has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories, of claims that the government is suppressing the truth about rising prices. But lately many on the right have seized on rising commodity prices as proof that they were right all along, as a sign of high overall inflation just around the corner.

You do have to wonder what these people were thinking two years ago, when raw material prices were plunging. If the commodity-price rise of the past six months heralds runaway inflation, why didn’t the 50 percent decline in the second half of 2008 herald runaway deflation?

Inconsistency aside, however, the big problem with those blaming the Fed for rising commodity prices is that they’re suffering from delusions of U.S. economic grandeur. For commodity prices are set globally, and what America does just isn’t that important a factor.

In particular, today, as in 2007-2008, the primary driving force behind rising commodity prices isn’t demand from the United States. It’s demand from China and other emerging economies. As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies.

And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.

Also, over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there’s every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common.

So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices? It is, as I said, a sign that we’re living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won’t bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.

But that’s for the future. Right now, rising commodity prices are basically the result of global recovery. They have no bearing, one way or another, on U.S. monetary policy. For this is a global story; at a fundamental level, it’s not about us.  ”

Nonetheless Krugman can currently be found on the editorial pages of the New York Times authoritatively pronouncing on matters political

For the world’s second worse economist please see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2019/07/04/happy-4th-of-july-to-the-worlds-second-worst-economist-larry-summers/

Memorial day war stories

Tomorrow is memorial day, so it’s time for some stories about how various wars have affected family and friends.

First a still living 92 year old vet I met at Harvard Graduate Alumni day a few years ago.  He piloted a landing craft at the Normandy invasion.  After the war he entered Harvard Law, didn’t like it and got a masters in History.  Last seen a month ago, and in great shape having retired from a career that you’d never guess.

OK guess !  What do you think he did?

He was a successful football coach in the NFL — Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills.

Second, third, fourth and fifth — family members.

Uncle #1 kept it quiet that he was on the Rutgers rifle team, was an officer in the MPs. He was stationed in India and China.  He had a weekly?/monthly? beer ration to distribute to his men and figured out a way to get them cold beer in India in the 1940’s.  Can you guess what he did?

Pilots in India would fly materiel over the hump (Himalayas) to China, in unheated airplanes.  For a cut they’d fly the beer over and back cooling it.  My wife told this story to a friend of hers at a workshop.  Her eyes got wider and wider, saying ‘the beer story’.  Her father had been one of the pilots.

Uncle #2 became an artillery officer, stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines, and later Japan.  In New Guinea one of the men thought he saw something move and fired his rifle (not a gun).  The bullet bounced off a rock coming back, and he and his men fought an hours long battle against the rocks.  He didn’t there was a Japanese soldier within miles.

He was absolutely convinced that the atomic bomb saved his life, as next up was the invasion of Japan. It would have been bloody, even 6 years ago in Kyoto and Osaka I saw little old men wearing caps of the Japanese defense forces.

Uncle #3 was a doc pushed through med school in 3 years (as they all were back then).  He was at the battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa.  Despite what you may read about it, he said that the generals were quite frightened of Rommel, as reconnaissance was minimal and they had no idea where he was.

As is typical of men who have been in war they didn’t talk about it much.  Uncle #2 also went to Rutgers, and I saw him there in the 90s at a reunion with his roommate a very small man.  Later uncle #2 told me that the little guy had been in the Battle of the Bulge.  I found this amazing and later told uncle #3 about it, who said that he was also in the Battle of the Bulge — this 50 years or so later and the first time I’d heard of it.

The fourth family member was possibly the bravest of all.  He was a German Jew who managed to escape Europe landing in England where he was given a new identity.  He became a commando and was dropped behind enemy lines in France before the Normandy invasion.  Of course he spoke perfect German, but you can only imagine what might have happened had he been caught and they found out what he was.  He became a family member after the war as he married my father’s cousin. A very mild mannered individual.

All four led productive lives after the service, with no PTSD disability etc. etc. I think one used the GI bill.  Just as the war changed the orientation of Herman Wouk, so did it change uncle #3 who lies buried in a military cemetery.

Which brings me up to the Vietnam war.  A high school classmate who became a dentist was over there in the early years.  The country has a hot dry season and a hot wet season.  They had open air showers to remain comfortable, but it was disconcerting to him to have villagers standing around looking at how hairy we was.  Lots of hair is not a survival value in such a place and the Vietnamese are a relatively hairless lot.

I was an Air Force Captain in the Medical Corps stationed at one of the best army hospitals (Fitzsimons in Denver) because they were short of neurologists.  Now Vietnam is like Chile, a long strip of a country along a coast.  As a result, no wounded soldier was more than 20 minutes away by chopper from a fully equipped surgical field hospital, so the people surviving were far more gravely injured than those in world war II.

I thought we took very good care of our patients, far better than at the University of Colorado Medical Center where I finished up my residency after discharge.  They were fat and happy with the nearest academic medical center 500 miles away (St. Lake City, Omaha etc. etc.) resulting in no competition.

The only brave thing I did  while in the service was writing a letter to the General resigning from the officer’s club, because some little Nazi there refused to let a psych resident from Colorado who was helping us out into the club because he had a beard.  I can still see the little bastard’s smirk as he said he was ‘just following orders’.  I was sure I’d be shipped out to Plok Tic or something like it the next day, but the general (who was in the medical Corps) wrote to the resident apologizing and the rule was changed.

Now I don’t want to fight the Vietnam war again, but there is one further thing you should know.  The tour of duty in Vietnam was 1 year, but the term of service for docs was two.  (Back then I asked one of my uncles what the term of service was in WWII — what do you think it was?   Answer — until the war was over). The people coming back after one year pretty much had their pick of the best places, and many wound up at Fitzsimons.  I talked (and worked with) a lot of them.  These were not career military with an axe to grind.  Not one of them thought we were winning.  This was ’68 – ’70 when I was in.

If you are over 50 it’s healthier to be overweight than not

Seriously folks, the lowest mortality rates over 50 occur in people currently defined as overweight. This is not theory, but data based on millions of people (see later).

So how does medicine define who is overweight?  By the Body Mass Index (BMI) being over 25 and under 30.  Obesity is defined as a BMI over 30.

Saying that someone over 50 with a BMI between 25 and 30 is overweight is true by medical definition, but that doesn’t make being overweight unhealthy (which is of course the implication of the term).

Well medically, you can define words any way you want, but Abraham Lincoln had it right

” How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?

Four.

Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

 

If you’re itching to find out what your BMI is, the following site works for meters and kilograms or pounds, feet and inches — https://bmicalculator.mes.fm/?gclid=CM66rIG2tc0CFYQ2gQodOdINEg.

Here is where you can read the paper summarizing data on nearly 3 million people– https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1555137?__rtqa=f4c5e818aba04f769cfc65207b2199b9

It’s better to read the following article in Nature.  It actually includes  the mortality curves at different ages which you can inspect at your leisure —

http://www.nature.com/news/the-big-fat-truth-1.13039

The only thing I don’t like about the BMI vs. mortality diagram, is that it is rather compressed, with data from BMI’s ranging from 15 to 45.  So the overweight range (25 – 30) doesn’t take up much space.  But look carefully at the overweight range — the curve is pretty flat here regardless of age showing that it really doesn’t matter how overweight you are (as long as you’re not obese, or superskinny).

Naturally this did not sit well people who’d staked their research careers on telling people to lose weight. One study by a Harvard guy removed 900,000 people from the JAMA study.    Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist at University of Colorado in Denver made the great comment that  “It’s hard to argue with data. We’re scientists. We pay attention to data, we don’t try to un-explain them.”

Now here is an explanation which I’ve not seen elsewhere so it might be original.

The BMI is far from perfect, but to calculate it all you need are two simple measurements that anyone can make — height and weight. It doesn’t rely on what people remember (how much they usually eat, what they weighed in the past.   However the calculation of BMI is not a simple ratio of weight divided by height but weight divided by height squared.

People lose height as they age, so the BMI is quite sensitive to it (remember the denominator has height squared). As a high school basketball player my height was 6′ 1”+, (at age 75) it was 6’0″ (God knows what it is now). So even with constant weight my BMI goes up.

It is now time to do the calculation to see what a fairly common shrinkage from 73.5 inches to 72 would to to the BMI (at a constant weight). Surprisingly it is not trivial — (72/73.5) * (72/73.5) = .9596. So the divisor is 4% less meaning the BMI is 4% more, which is almost exactly what the low point on the curve does with each passing decade after 50 ! ! !

I mistrust models

This is not a new post, but I think it’s worth republishing some old ones given the serious proposals out there to radically alter our society and economy based on what models have predicted about our climate.

Here are three, the second with a few apocalyptic predictions from the past, the third about why the US was smart to withdraw from the Paris accord

I mistrust models.

I have no special mistrust of climate models, I mistrust all models of complex systems.  Here are six reasons why.

Reason #1:  My cousin runs an advisory service for institutional investors (hedge funds, retirement funds, stock market funds etc. etc.)  Here is the beginning of his latest post 16 June ’17

There were 3 great reads yesterday.

First was Neil Irwin’s article in the NY Times “Janet Yellen, the Fed and the Case of the Missing Inflation.”  He points out that Yellen is a labor market scholar who anticipated the sharp decline in the unemployment rate. However the models on which the Fed has relied anticipate higher levels of inflation. Yet every inflation measure that the Fed uses has fallen well short of the Fed’s 2% stability rate. If they continue raising short-term rates in the face of low inflation, then “real” rates could restrain future economic growth.

Second was Greg Ip’s article “Lousy Raise? It Might Not Get Better.” Greg makes the point that tight labor markets are a global phenomenon in many industrialized countries, yet wage inflation remains muted. Writes Greg “If a labor market this tight can’t generate better pay, quite possibly it never will in Germany & Japan.”

Third was an article by Glenn Hubbard (Dean of Columbia Business School & former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush). His Wall Street Journal op-ed was titled “How to Keep the Fed from Following its Models off a Cliff.”  Hubbard suggests that Fed officials should interact more with market participants and business people. And Fed governors should be selected because of their varied life experiences, and they should encourage a healthy skepticism of prevailing economic models.

Serious money was spent developing these models.  Do you think that climate is in some way simpler than the US economy, so that they are more likely to be accurate?  I do not.

Addendum 5 March 2019: In numbers just in today, US GDP grew by  3.1 percent between fourth quarter 2017 and fourth quarter 2018. The Federal Reserve’s December 2017 median projection of  growth for 2018 was 2.5%.  They were off by nearly 25%.  My wife’s college roommate is a very bright woman who worked for the Fed as a mathematical economist for years.  The problem is not her intelligence nor those of her colleagues, but the models they are using. 

Reason #2: Americans are getting fatter yet living longer, contradicting the model that being mildly overweight is bad for you.  It is far too long to go into so here’s the link — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/something-is-wrong-with-the-model-take-2/.

The first part is particularly fascinating, in that data showed that overweight (not obese) people tended to live longer.  The article describes how people who had spent their research careers telling the public that being overweight was bad, tried to discount the data. The best quote in the article is the following ““We’re scientists. We pay attention to data, we don’t try to un-explain them.”,

Reason #3: The economic predictions of the Congressional Budget Office on just about anything –inflation, gross national product, economic growth, the deficit — are consistently wrong — http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/?Article_ID=21516.

Addendum 28 June “White house economists overestimated annual economic growth by about 80 percent on average for a six year stretch during Barack Obama’s presidency, according to Freedom Works economic consultant Stephen Moore.

Economists predicted growth between 3.2 to 4.6 percent for the years 2010 through 2015. Actual economic growth never hit above 2.6 percent.”

Reason #4:  Animal models of stroke:  There were at least 60, in which some therapy or other was of benefit.  None of them worked in people. It got so bad I stopped reading the literature about it.  We still have no useful treatment for garden variety strokes

Reason #5:  The Club of Rome,  — dire prediction based on a computer model which got a lot of play in the 70s.  For details see — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/a-bit-of-history/.  The post also has a lot about “The Population Bomb” and its failed predictions and also a review of a book about “The Bet” between Paul Ehrlich and Simon

Reason #6: Live by the model, die by the model. A fascinating book “Shattered” about the Hillary Clinton campaign, explains why the campaign did no polling in the final 3 weeks of the campaign. The man running the ‘data analytics’ (translation: model) Robby Mook, thought the analytics were better and more accurate (p. 367).

A bit of history

I’ve been reading Nature since I’ve been able to afford a subscription, e.g. since about 1972. To put their undoubted coming hysteria about Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement into perspective, consider the fact that they bought the arguments of the Club of Rome, hook line and sinker. The Wikipedia article is quite sanitized, but here’s a direct quote from the jacket flap of the club’s book “The Limits to Growth” which came out in 1972.

“Will this be the world that your grandchildren with thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts. What is even more alarming, the collapse will not come gradually, but with awsome suddenness, with no way of stopping it”

Well, it’s 45 years later and their grandchildren have seen no such thing. Nature’s online available archives go back to 1975, but I’ve been unable to find a link to one of their articles. If anyone out there has found one, post a comment.

When we were down in New Haven, I picked up a book by a Yale Prof, Paul Sabin called “The Bet” concerning the intellectual conflict between Paul Ehrlich — he of the population bomb and Julian Simon. Ehrlich said we’d run out of just about everything shortly (presumably because of too many people), so economist Simon bet him that we wouldn’t. The intellectual war began in earnest in the 80’s and dragged on for a decade or so.

I recommend the book. In it you will find John Holdren, Obama’s ‘science’ advisor, also a devout malthusian, although with a degree in physics.

Perhaps Nature has it right this time, and that the models of warming which failed to predict the climate stasis of 17 years duration (the term pause gives away the game implying that temperature will continue to increase) are a reliable guide to the future.

Even if Nature is right, the Paris Agreement was terrible, no verification, no penalties for missing targets etc. etc. A massive expansion of governmental control and clamps on economic expansion, for minimal benefit.

So relax. Protest if you wish, it’s a cheap display of virtue which costs you nothing, even though you’re quite willing to fight global warming down to the last coal miner.

A climate treaty based on a failed model, a victory for the political class

Scientific theories stand or fall based on the accuracy of their predictions. Exactly 100 years ago Einstein’s theory of  gravity was welcomed because it corrected an inacurate prediction of Newton’s theory.

It’s worth staying the course to follow what I’m about to describe. The orbits of all our planets are nearly circular — but not exactly so. A circle has a single center; an ellipse has two ‘centers’ (focal points). Planetary orbits have the sun at one focal point of the ellipse (this was known even before Newton). This means that every orbit has a point at which the planet is farthest from the sun (called the aphelion) and a point at which it is closest (the perihelion).

The perihelion doesn’t stay in the same place with each succesive orbit. Rather it moves — this is called the precession of the perihelion. Newton’s formulation of gravity predicted a certain rate at which the perihelion of the planet Mercury moved between sucessive planetary orbits — which was not corroborated by actual measurement.

Physicists a century ago were seriously exercised by this inaccuracy. So how large was it? Quite small. Recall that a circle contains 360 degrees. A degree is far too large for astronomical work. So each degree contains 60 minutes and each minute contains 60 seconds. So a second is 1/3600 of a degree. The discrepancy was a mere 43 seconds per CENTURY.

Contrast this with the inaccuracy of the models of global warming, NONE of which predicted the current stability of global atmospheric temperature as measured by satellite for the past 18+ years. It’s not that CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas the accumulation of which (other things being equal) should reflect radiation back to earth and warm the planet. No one disputes that. It is the magnitude of the CO2 effect and the importance of other factors determining global temperature which is crucial. Clearly global temperature should have continued to rise in the past 19 years as CO2 rose. This is what the models on which the Paris agreement is predicated predicted But there has been  no rise.

It’s also fairly sleazy that all the ‘adjustments’ being made to temperatures as measured on the surface of the earth mostly adjust past temperatures downward to preserve the rise. Note that satellite temperatures are the most accurate we have and there is no way to adjust them. Unfortunately they just don’t go back that far.

It is far more accurate to say that global warming has stopped for the past 18+ years. Saying that it has paused implies that it will continue.  Some 50 post-hoc explanations of ‘the pause’ have been published.

Bottom line: the concern over global warming is based on models which have failed in their predictions of the present. There is little reason to regard them as more accurate for their predictions of the future.