Category Archives: Social issues ( be civil ! )

A prospective experiment for you all to do at home

Here is a prospective journalistic experiment for you all to do in the privacy of your own home. Then it’s time for me to get back to the science.

The previous post ( showed how the New York Times is working very hard to brand Rubio as a member of the Republican establishment and as their preferred candidate. Well, he might be just that, but if there ever was a candidate of the Democratic establishment it is Hillary Clinton.

So here’s the experiment for you to do. Pick a media outlet you follow (NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, any TV channel of your choice etc. etc.). Then count the number of times the term establishment is used in stories about Rubio and about Hillary. Since I read the NYT daily, I’ll choose them. I get the WSJ but never plow through the whole thing — just the first section.

There’s no point in being a scientific type if you don’t make predictions. Mine is that the word establishment will be used at least twice as often (if not more) in stories about Rubio than in stories about Hillary (this includes op-eds).

So pick your outlet and start tomorrow. Send your results here by writing a comment on this post.

Helping Hillary along

A friend of my son once said that all you needed was the first one or two measures of anything Bach wrote to know how the rest of the piece would go. So it is with the New York Times. The lead about the primary campaign 3 Feb ’16 contains the terms “Army, Attack, Dispatches” and the sublead contains the term “Establishment”.

Do you think this article is about Hillary?

Of course not. This is branding at its finest. Of whom? Of a viable Republican candidate (Rubio), so you’ll know just what to think about him without even reading the article.

Another article on the front page has a nice picture of Hillary. They mention that she won Iowa by the narrowest of margins, but nothing about how surprising this was given that she has the entire mainstream press and Democratic party establishment (term not used) on her side.

It’s why the mainstream press must be read the way the Russians (and the CIA) read Pravda during the cold war.

Addendum 4 Feb ’16 — When Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus in 2008, the press went bananas and noted that this was the first time a Black candidate won the Iowa caucus.

Have you read anything about the first Latino to win the Iowa caucus (Cruz) or that another came in third (Rubio) and that a Black candidate came in fourth (Carson), the three receiving an aggregate 60% of the vote in lily white Iowa?  I thought not.   That’s because the narrative that Republicans are racist must be upheld at all costs.

Second addendum 4 Feb ’16 — I should have looked at the editorial page of the Times before writing the above.  There is still nothing in the mainstream ‘news’ feeds about the Latino victory even now.  The Op-ed page contains “The Latino Political First We’re Ignoring”.  The victories of Rubio and Cruz are noted. The op-ed notes that “it is not being celebrated”.  So who is “we” and who is not celebrating?  “No less an arbiter than Jorge Ramos the Univision anchor” and La Opinion, the nation’s largest Spanish language newspaper.  One must ask who elected the arbiter and the editorial board of the La Opinion?  No one.  More media types holding forth in their echo chamber  Another example of self selected spokesmen being blindsided by events.

On the same opinion page we are told “The Republican establishment is thrilled”  about Rubio by Gail Collins.  This continues the meme on the front page yesterday of Rubio being the establishment.

I have no problem with Collins or the op-ed about Cruz and Rubio’s victory.  They are opinions and on the opinion page where they belong.  The problem was yesterday’s front page opinion piece masquerading as news.




The irony is simply too delicious. Now that what Marx called the lumpenproletariat ( has arisen and given voice to its discontents the left hates them. I speak of the Trump supporters, now described by the left as racist, homophobic, jingoistic, biased, violent — you name it. Read Slate, the Nation. They attack Trump of course, but what really disturbs them are his supporters (the Trumpenproletariat or the Proletrumpians). The times they are a’changin’.

Back in the 70s there was a fun movie called “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came”

Now we have “Suppose They Gave A Proletarian Revolution and No One from the Left Came.

The left has morphed in other ways as well — see —

This just in — New York Times 30 Jan ’16 page 1 “Union Leaders Wary of Trump”  — The elites leading the unions (even the ‘more progressive’ ones such as SEIU)  are worried that “Mr Trump if not effectively encountered, may draw an unusually large numbers of union voters.”  If this isn’t the proletariat who is?

A variety of vignettes is given of various union members in unions all over the country supporting him, with estimates from 1/4 to 1/3.

This is another example of the disconnect between the political leadership (this time the unions) and the populace it claims to be speaking for.  Trump, Bernie, Cruz take your pick.  The discontent is out there.

Saepe falsus, sed numquam dubitans

Saepe falsus, sed numquam dubitans — “Sometimes wrong but never in doubt” should be on the Heraldic crest of Paul Krugman. He certainty came to mind at around noon today 20 Jan ’16 with oil breaking $27/barrel and the Dow down 550.

Here are two direct quotes from him as he held forth on the Opinion pages of the New York Times back in 2010.

“Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived.”

“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.”

Name a commodity price that’s been rising.

He is, after all, a Nobel laureate in economics, a tenured Princeton professor, blah, blah, blah. You should take everything he writes with much salt even though, despite all this, he’s as certain as ever. It seems with such a disastrous track record that the Times could find someone better.

Here is a link to the entire column — see for yourself.

A thank you to my niece Ruth Loop for providing the translation

Addendum 20 Jan ’16 — An unenviable economic prediction from the laureate in economics

    • “Ricardo’s Difficult Idea,” in G. Cook (ed.), Freedom and Trade: The Economics and Politics of International Trade, Volume 2 (1998)
  • By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet‘s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s

Thanks Joe

Why some of us gamble

If you are one of the hapless schlubs who bought a Powerball ticket or two and didn’t win (like me), modern neuroscience can tell you why (but not without a bit of pompous terminology). They call a small chance of winning large amounts — e.g. Powerball along with a large chance of losing a little a positively skewed gamble. Impressed? I’m not.

Nonetheless [ Neuron vol. 89 pp. 63 – 69 ’16 ] is a very interesting paper. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI – has shown that increased blood flow in one area of the brain (the nucleus accumbent sept) predicts risk seeking choices, while increased blood flow in another (the anterior insula) predicts aversion to risk. The unproven assumption behind fMRI is that increased blood flow is due to increased neural activity.

The neurochemistry of the two regions is quite different. The accumbens gets dopamine input while the insula gets norepinephrine projections.

BTW the insula is unique to man. Our cortex has grown so much (particularly in the frontal region) that it folds over on itself burying the insular cortex —

We are now actually able to measure axon bundles (white matter fiber tracts) in the living brain, using something called diffusion weighted MRI. By and large, fiber tracts tend to have the fibers parallel and running in the same direction. It is far easier for water to flow along parallel fibers than across them, and this is what the technique measures. For the mathematically inclined, what is actually measured is a tensor field, because at any given point in the brain it varies in direction, unlike a vector field which points just one way at a given point (the mathematically inclined know that this is a simplification because vectors are actually a type of tensor).

At any rate, the work used diffusion wieghted MRI to study the white matter tracts connecting the two areas. The larger the tract between insula and accumbens was the more risk averse an individual was. The implication being that a larger tract is a better connection between the two. So your nucleus is your impulsive child and the anterior insula is your mother telling you not to do anything crazy.

Fascinating, but like all this stuff it needs to be replicated, as it probably confirms the original idea for the study.

The checklistization of medicine

Today at the ophthalmologists the assistant who prepped me by putting in eyedrops and checking my visual acuity, had to put some information in her computer. One of the questions was how long I’d been taking eye drops. I told her to look at the chart, since the information was already there. She asked me to guess, so I did, and she duly entered the guess, which is (probably) now in the (electronic) chart and certainly less accurate than what is already there. Such is the checklistization of medicine today. Thank God I’m retired. The ophthalmologist said it’s part of the software that insurance companies require.

My brother, who is still practicing internal medicine, now gets 20 (paper) sheets of mostly useless information for every ER visit of one of his patients. This includes
l. a sheet saying the patient did not fall off the gurney
2. attestation that the patient was treated in a culturally appropriate manner
3. attestation that the patient was given the opportunity to ask questions.
I’m not making this up, and neither is he.

He says the residents are complaining that less time is available for the patient due to all this.

I guarantee you that this malarkey was not put in at the request of physicians and nurses actually attempting to take care of people.

If a Harvard professor said it, it can’t be wrong

Harvard professors are always right, so here’s a quote from one about immigrants.

” It may be doubted, as a gen­eral rule, whether the young Irish-American is a better or safer citizen than his parent from Cork. He can read, but he reads nothing but sensation stories and scandalous picture-papers, which fill him with preposterous notions and would enfeeble a stronger brain than his and debauch a sounder conscience. He is generally less industrious than his sire, and equally careless of the public good.”

This is Francis Parkman (Harvard 1844) Professor of Horticulture at Harvard writing in 1878.

Got that Donald !

Two Christmas Presents

Two Christmas presents for you.  Yes Christmas presents.  I refuse to be culturally castrated by the professionally aggrieved.

The first is a link to a great scientific website — It’s primarily about math and physics, with some biology thrown in. Imagine the News and Views section of Nature or the Perspectives section of Science on steroids.

Quanta is an editorially independent division of the Simons Foundation. And what is that you enquire? It is the answer to “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich”. Jim Simons is both much smarter and much richer than you and I. You can read more about him in a book I’m about to review on the blog — “The Physics of Wall Street”

Simons was a very accomplished mathematician winning prizes with a friend James Ax in the 60’s and 70’s — not quite the Fields Medal but up there. The Simons Chern 3 form is part of string theory. The two founded Renaissance Technologies in the late 80’s a stock fund using mathematical techniques to beat the market. And beat it they did, averaging 40% a year (after fees which were hefty). Even in the most recent market blowout in 2008 they were up 80% for the year. The firm employs about 200 people, mostly mathematicians and physicists. It was described by an MIT math prof as ‘the best mathematics and physics department in the world”.

At any rate after becoming a multibillionaire, Simons established his foundation, of which Quanta is a small part. It’s very good, with some heavies writing for it — such as Ingrid Daubechies full prof of math at Princeton who did a good deal of the early work on wavelets.

I haven’t read it all but the math is incredible, mostly about the latest and greatest new results and why it is important placing it in context. Physics isn’t forgotten, and the lead article concerns the philosophy of science and how it’s a’changin’ a la string theory, which is light years away from an experimental test of any of it.

Your second Christmas present is a Joke

The pope visited Colorado 22 years ago. A little known fact about him is that he loved to drive. Although Colorado is famed for the Rockies, the eastern half is high plains, so flat that you can see Pike’s peak from 100 miles away across the plains. At any rate the pope was being driven by his chauffeur from Colorado Springs to Denver on the Interstate, when the pope asked if he could drive. “Only if we go out on the plains where no one will see you” said the chauffeur.

So they switched when they got about 30 miles out in the middle of nowhere with the pope driving and the chauffeur in the back seat both behind tinted opaque windows. The pope started driving, really enjoying it, going faster and faster. He got up to 85 when a state trooper pulled them over.

Where’s the fire saith the trooper. He blanched when the driver’s window came down and he saw who was driving, and called headquarters. Arrest him came the answer. The trooper said I’m not sure, this guy is very big. I don’t care how big he is, arrest him. Are you sure. Yes.

I dunno boss, this guy is so big he’s got the pope driving for him.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all

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.

From Banned in Boston to Banned in Berkeley in 55 years

When I arrived in Cambridge for grad school 55 years ago, there were a lot of sore shoulders in people who’d been patting themselves on the back for the blows struck for freedom of expression. Boston was still banning books, and the year before Grove Press had won a suit permitting them to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Hilariously, the same self congratulatory and self-righteous lot is now banning speech in a campus near you. The impetus is always the same, thought control by someone more moral (and now smarter) than you, and always for the noblest and purest of reasons. What happened to irony? Where is George Orwell when you really need him? Well he’s right here

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Which brings me to some recent campus disturbances.

Smith, where only members of the media agreeing with the demonstrators were allowed in —

U. Mass — protesting for free tuition —

Princeton — wanting Woodrow Wilson out because of his opinions —

Which brings me to ‘charm school”.

After serving as an army doc for two years in ’68 – ’70, a time when we had 500,000 men in Vietnam, I left with little respect for its leadership. I was stateside at one of the Army’s premier hospitals, which was a plum assignment (because the army was very short of neurologists). This meant that 2 year docs who’d served their first year in Vietnam got their choice of assignment when returning stateside. So I saw plenty of them. NOT ONE thought we were winning over there, despite what the top brass said to the press and the president.

So who would have thought that 25 years later I’d be friendly with a retired Major General, George Baker. Never say never. He was a very intelligent man, an orthopedic surgeon, who’d been chief at Walter Reed and found retirement boring, so he practiced at my hospital. He told me about something he called charm school. It was where newly promoted Generals were sent for training. They were told to toe the straight and narrow sexually and in other matters, and that if a planeload of them went down, the army would have no trouble at all filling their shoes.

I’ve done some alumni interviews for some excellent candidates for Princeton, none of whom were accepted. It would be no problem at all to expel the protestors if physically disruptive or destructive, and replace them. They certainly should NOT be expelled for what they say or think, just how they act. The Princeton acceptance rate is under 10%.

Now that everyone is neatly characterized by racial status, it would be interesting to see the breakdown by race of the occupants of Nassau Hall, also their majors. I seriously doubt that the group most discriminated against in admissions (the Asians) took much part. I doubt that many science majors were involved.


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