Wed Sep 17 13:58:22 EDT 2014

History (War and Peace)

Why I never took a history course in college.

  • Does It Help to Know History?

    Adam Gopnik, August 28, 2014 The New Yorker daily comment


    But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out.

    ...
    What history actually shows is that nothing works out as planned, and that everything has unintentional consequences. History doesn't show that we should never go to war -- sometimes there's no better alternative. But it does show that the results are entirely uncontrollable, and that we are far more likely to be made by history than to make it. History is past, and singular, and the same year never comes round twice.

In the summer after I graduated high school I read War and Peace. It was just after I had taken a calculus course and the analogies made by Tolstoy between history and calculus made a lasting impression on me. Adam Gopnik's blog posting reminded me of this and here are two links that give more details about Tolstoy's comments related to calculus in War and Peace.

  • MathFiction: War and Peace
    (quoted from War and Peace)

    The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable arbitrary human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. But to arrive at these laws, resulting from the sum of all those human wills, man's mind postulates arbitrary and disconnected units. The first method of history is to take an arbitrarily selected series of continuous events and examine it apart from others, though there is and can be no beginning to any event, for one event always flows uninterruptedly from another.

    The second method is to consider the actions of some one man- a king or a commander- as equivalent to the sum of many individual wills; whereas the sum of individual wills is never expressed by the activity of a single historic personage.

    Historical science in its endeavor to draw nearer to truth continually takes smaller and smaller units for examination. But however small the units it takes, we feel that to take any unit disconnected from others, or to assume a beginning of any phenomenon, or to say that the will of many men is expressed by the actions of any one historic personage, is in itself false.

    It needs no critical exertion to reduce utterly to dust any deductions drawn from history. It is merely necessary to select some larger or smaller unit as the subject of observation- as criticism has every right to do, seeing that whatever unit history observes must always be arbitrarily selected. Only by taking infinitesimally small units for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of men) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.

  • Tolstoy's Calculus

    "Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements."

    "By adopting smaller and smaller elements we only approach a solution of the problem, but never reach it," Tolstoy declared. "Only when we have admitted the conception of the infinitely small, and the resulting geometrical progression with a common ratio of one tenth, and have found the sum of this progression to infinity, do we reach the solution of the problem." Building on this analogy, Tolstoy turned to the calculus as a model of how to apprehend history. "A modern branch of mathematics having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion which used to appear insoluble," he wrote.


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Fri Aug 29 14:18:45 EDT 2014

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • The Discovery of Global Warming

    Hyperlinked History of Climate Change Science

    "To a patient scientist, the unfolding greenhouse mystery is far more exciting than the plot of the best mystery novel. But it is slow reading, with new clues sometimes not appearing for several years. Impatience increases when one realizes that it is not the fate of some fictional character, but of our planet and species, which hangs in the balance as the great carbon mystery unfolds at a seemingly glacial pace."
    -- D. Schindler

  • The Evolution of Diet

    Could eating like our ancestors make us healthier?
    Some experts say modern humans should eat from a Stone Age menu.
    What's on it may surprise you.

    The notion that we stopped evolving in the Paleolithic period simply isn't true. Our teeth, jaws, and faces have gotten smaller, and our DNA has changed since the invention of agriculture. "Are humans still evolving? Yes!" says geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania.
    . . .
    More accurately, you are what your ancestors ate. There is tremendous variation in what foods humans can thrive on, depending on genetic inheritance. Traditional diets today include the vegetarian regimen of India's Jains, the meat-intensive fare of Inuit, and the fish-heavy diet of Malaysia's Bajau people. The Nochmani of the Nicobar Islands off the coast of India get by on protein from insects. "What makes us human is our ability to find a meal in virtually any environment," says the Tsimane study co-leader Leonard.
    . . .
    In other words, there is no one ideal human diet. Aiello and Leonard say the real hallmark of being human isn't our taste for meat but our ability to adapt to many habitats - and to be able to combine many different foods to create many healthy diets. Unfortunately the modern Western diet does not appear to be one of them.

  • The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

    Don't tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort - not on intelligence or ability - is key to success in school and in life

  • Study questions need for most people to cut salt

    A large international study questions the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt, suggesting that the amount most folks consume is OK for heart health -- and too little may be as bad as too much. The findings came under immediate attack by other scientists.

  • The Case against Patents

    Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 27 No. 1 (Winter 2013)

    The case against patents can be summarized briefly: there is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded -- which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. Both theory and evidence suggest that while patents can have a partial equilibrium effect of improving incentives to invent, the general equilibrium effect on innovation can be negative.

  • Extracting audio from visual information

    Algorithm recovers speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag filmed through soundproof glass.

    Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.

    Who would have thunk it?
  • Why Psychologists' Food Fight Matters

    "Important findings" haven't been replicated, and science may have to change its ways.

    The recent special issue of Social Psychology was an unprecedented collective effort by social psychologists to do just that - by altering researchers' and journal editors' incentives in order to check the robustness of some of the most talked-about findings in their own field. Any researcher who wanted to conduct a replication was invited to preregister: Before collecting any data from subjects, they would submit a proposal detailing precisely how they would repeat the original study and how they would analyze the data. Proposals would be reviewed by other researchers, including the authors of the original studies, and once approved, the study's results would be published no matter what. Preregistration of the study and analysis procedures should deter p-hacking, guaranteed publication should counteract the file drawer effect, and a requirement of large sample sizes should make it easier to detect small but statistically meaningful effects.

    The results were sobering. At least 10 of the 27 "important findings" in social psychology were not replicated at all. In the social priming area, only one of seven replications succeeded.

    . . .
    Caution about single studies should go both ways, though. Too often, a single original study is treated - by the media and even by many in the scientific community - as if it definitively establishes an effect. Publications like Harvard Business Review and idea conferences like TED, both major sources of "thought leadership" for managers and policymakers all over the world, emit a steady stream of these "stats and curiosities." Presumably, the HBR editors and TED organizers believe this information to be true and actionable. But most novel results should be initially regarded with some skepticism, because they too may have resulted from unreported or unnoticed methodological quirks or errors. Everyone involved should focus their attention on developing a shared evidence base that consists of robust empirical regularities - findings that replicate not just once but routinely - rather than of clever one-off curiosities.

  • Calm Hearts, Bad Behavior

    David Kohn in The New Yorker tech elements blog.

    There are several theories, but Raine tends to favor the fearlessness hypothesis, which says that some of those with L.R.H.R. remain undaunted by the threats that would keep most of us in check. When you get scared, your heart rate goes up, because your body activates to deal with the imminent hazard. By definition, people with less fear tend not to get activated in situations that others find threatening.
    . . .
    Raine's skeptics argue that L.R.H.R. and other biological factors play a relatively minor role in determining who becomes a criminal. "The evidence is pretty consistent that biological traits don't have a large effect," Robert Sampson, a social scientist at Harvard University who has studied the topic for more than two decades, told me. "Social and environmental characteristics have much more weight."

  • When It's Bad to Have Good Choices

    Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker science blog.

    Unsurprisingly, when people were asked to decide between something like an iPod and a bag of pretzels, they didn't feel particularly anxious: the choice was clear and life was good. When both choices were low in value, the emotions were similarly clear - cut. No one was particularly happy, but neither were they anxious. But when multiple highly positive options were available - a digital camera and a camcorder, say - anxiety skyrocketed, just as Lipowski had predicted. The choices between those objects that they valued most highly were both the most positive and the most anxiety - filled. The more choices they had - the study was repeated with up to six items per choice - the more anxious they felt. "When you have more good choices, you don't feel better," Shenhav says. "You just feel more anxious."


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Wed Aug 20 14:11:39 EDT 2014

American Oligarchy

Oligarchy: a government in which a small group exercises control, especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.

  • Is America an Oligarchy?

    After examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, found that the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.

  • US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

    The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it's pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation's "news" media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious "electoral" "democratic" countries. We weren't formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy."

  • How to Become an Oligarch
    by Simon Johnson

    If the new graduate in your life has the connections to join a very large brand-name private-equity fund, the path to immense wealth, political influence, or even power becomes much clearer. Without such initial connections, however, it is very unlikely that he or she will become an oligarch. But you knew that already.

  • End the Export-Import Bank and Other Forms of 'Crapitalism'

    It's crapitalism when politicians give your tax money and other special privileges to businesses that are run by their cronies.

    Voters assume government handouts go to people who need help. But they usually don't. Most government handouts go to the middle class and the rich.

    Government has no business handing out loan guarantees to companies. Corporations can pay their own way. The Agriculture Department's Market Access Program gives millions of dollars to affluent groups like the Pet Food Institute, the Wine Institute, Sunkist, and Welch Foods. In return, politicians get campaign contributions. It's disgusting crapitalism.


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Tue Jul 29 21:59:29 EDT 2014

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • AIs Have Mastered Chess. Will Go Be Next?

    Randomness could trump expertise in this ancient game of strategy.

  • Inside Marc Maron's Garage

    About one of my favorite podcasts WTF with Marc Maron.

  • To change attitudes, don't argue -- agree, extremely

    Contradicting people's beliefs often doesn't change them, but agreeing with them just might.

    Researchers found that showing people extreme versions of ideas that confirmed -- not contradicted -- their opinions on a deeply divisive issue actually caused them to reconsider their stance and become more receptive to other points of view. The scientists attribute this to the fact that the new information caused people to see their views as irrational or absurd, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "For example, the fact that they are the most moral society in the world is one of the most basic beliefs of Israeli society," Halperin said. So when the researchers showed participants a video that claimed Israel should continue the conflict so that its citizens could continue to feel moral, people reacted angrily.

    I wonder how many minds have been changed by The Colbert Report.

  • Sometimes, Early Birds Are Too Early

    Procrastination Can Be A Positive Thing - Matt Richtel, NYT

    They could pick up a bucket near the start of the alley and carry it to the end, or they could pick up a different bucket that was closer to the end of the alley, walk a few steps and put it down.

    In particular, Dr. Rosenbaum said, people are seeking ways to limit the burden to their "working memory," a critical but highly limited mental resource that people use to perform immediate tasks. By picking up the bucket earlier, the subjects were eliminating the need to remember to do it later. In essence, they were freeing their brains to focus on other potential tasks.

  • The Trouble With Brain Science

    Gary Marcus

    An example is the discovery of DNA, which allowed us to understand how genetic information could be represented and replicated in a physical structure. In one stroke, this bridge transformed biology from a mystery - in which the physical basis of life was almost entirely unknown - into a tractable if challenging set of problems, such as sequencing genes, working out the proteins that they encode and discerning the circumstances that govern their distribution in the body.

    Neuroscience awaits a similar breakthrough. We know that there must be some lawful relation between assemblies of neurons and the elements of thought, but we are currently at a loss to describe those laws. We don't know, for example, whether our memories for individual words inhere in individual neurons or in sets of neurons, or in what way sets of neurons might underwrite our memories for words, if in fact they do.

  • How Much Do Our Genes Influence Our Political Beliefs?

    Why do so many poor, working-class and lower-middle-class whites - many of them dependent for survival on government programs - vote for Republicans?

    Identical twins are more likely than fraternal twins to share traditional values with their twin siblings, suggesting a biological link on cultural outlook.

    The significance of the different correlations for identical and fraternal twins, Ludeke added, is that "when we see identical twins who are this similar, while fraternal twins are much less similar, we have a good indication that genes account for some of the difference between people for the trait in question."

  • Ghostery: Transparency + Control = Privacy

    Browser add-on to see which companies are tracking you.
    Read about one user's experience using it at Pando.com

  • The Curse of Smart People

    Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.

    Here's the problem. Logic is a pretty powerful tool, but it only works if you give it good input. As the famous computer science maxim says, "garbage in, garbage out." If you know all the constraints and weights - with perfect precision - then you can use logic to find the perfect answer. But when you don't, which is always, there's a pretty good chance your logic will lead you very, very far astray.

  • The Price of Wine

    Blind tastings and academic studies robustly show that neither amateur consumers nor expert judges can consistently differentiate between fine wines and cheap wines, nor identify the flavors within them.

  • Why aren't there more retractions in business and economics journals?

    A new paper has catalogued retractions over the past few decades in business and economics journals -- and hasn't found very many.

  • How often do economists commit misconduct?

    This study reports the results of a survey of professional, mostly academic economists about their research norms and scientific misbehavior. Behavior such as data fabrication or plagiarism are (almost) unanimously rejected and admitted by less than 4% of participants. Research practices that are often considered "questionable," e.g., strategic behavior while analyzing results or in the publication process, are rejected by at least 60%. Despite their low justifiability, these behaviors are widespread. Ninety-four percent report having engaged in at least one unaccepted research practice. Surveyed economists perceive strong pressure to publish. The level of justifiability assigned to different misdemeanors does not increase with the perception of pressure. However, perceived pressure is found to be positively related to the admission of being involved in several unaccepted research practices. Although the results cannot prove causality, they are consistent with the notion that the "publish or perish" culture motivates researchers to violate research norms.

  • Things I Learned About Life While Daytrading Millions of Dollars
    James Altucher
    1. You can't predict the future.
    2. Hope is not a strategy.
    3. Uncertainty is your best friend.
    4. Taking risks versus reducing risk.
    5. Diversification.
    6. Say "no."
    7. Health.
    8. Laughter.
    9. "This is crazy" means you're crazy.
    10. It doesn't matter if a trade (or a day, or a life) is good or bad.
    11. It's never about the money.

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Fri Jul 11 17:38:28 EDT 2014

Medical Links

Some recent links from the world of medicine.

  • Antioxidant vitamins don't stress us like plants do - and don't have their beneficial effect.

    Warding off the diseases of aging is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. But evidence has mounted to suggest that antioxidant vitamin supplements, long assumed to improve health, are ineffectual. Fruits and vegetables are indeed healthful but not necessarily because they shield you from oxidative stress. In fact, they may improve health for quite the opposite reason: They stress you.

    That stress comes courtesy of trace amounts of naturally occurring pesticides and anti-grazing compounds. You already know these substances as the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts. They are the antibacterials, antifungals, and grazing deterrents of the plant world. In the right amount, these slightly noxious substances, which help plants survive, may leave you stronger.

    Parallel studies, meanwhile, have undercut decades-old assumptions about the dangers of free radicals. Rather than killing us, these volatile molecules, in the right amount, may improve our health. Our quest to neutralize them with antioxidant supplements may be doing more harm than good.

    [Added 07/19/2014]
  • Why Doctors Order Too Many Tests

    Too many tests can be hazardous to your health for several reasons

  • Wikipedia Medical Articles Found To Have High Error Rate

    Most Wikipedia articles representing the 10 most costly medical conditions in the United States contain many errors when checked against standard peer-reviewed sources. Caution should be used when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care.

  • Can homeopathy 'work' even when there's no evidence?

    The really interesting question is how can we possibly have something that people think works when for all intents and purposes, from a scientific perspective, it doesn't?

  • The other downside of antibiotics: Killing the useful bacteria

    Author Martin Blaser looks at how antibiotics are reshaping our inner ecosystem.

  • The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

    Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade.


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Sat Jun 28 22:57:48 EDT 2014

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • The Pitchforks Are Coming... For Us Plutocrats

    Memo: From Nick Hanauer
    To:       My Fellow Zillionaires

    If we don't do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn't eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It's not if, it's when.

  • The Disruption Machine

    What the gospel of innovation gets wrong.
    Jill Lepore, in The New Yorker June 23, 2014

    And the response, Clayton Christensen Responds to New Yorker Takedown of 'Disruptive Innovation'

  • SpiderOak

    Store. Sync. Share. Privately (and Securely)

  • Death Switch

    Secure access by others to your online data after you die.

  • What's So Bad About a SuperPAC?

    Lawrence Lessig, lawyer and reformer plan to fight money with money.

    Or more precisely, to change the way we fund elections, both directly and through SuperPACs, we needed a SuperPAC. We need, in other words, a powerful political engine to build the support that this movement will require. And we need one quickly.

    For more information on how to help fight the influence of money in politics see, MAYDAY PAC
  • Pulling back the curtain on Dr. Oz

    Rant by Erin May at Harvard policy lab

    Given his education and influence, there's no excuse for the unsubstantiated claims and sensational language that is so pervasive on his show. I'm not sure whether it's willful blindness or calculated deception that causes him to disregard rigorous scientific standards. But the result is that many of his recommendations are akin to the cure-all elixirs peddled by door-to-door salesmen in the patent medicine era of the late 1800s.

  • Spurious Correlations

    Tyler Vigen illustrates how correlation does not imply causation.

    The next time someone tells you about a coincidence they cannot explain, point them to this web site.

  • Is Atheism Irrational?

    Kelly J. Clark in Big Questions Online.

    Is atheism's connection with autism the silver bullet that proves once and for all that atheists are irrational? Given the complexities of both the human mind and human culture, it is impossible to tell.

  • The secret to desire in a long-term relationship

    Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, TED talk.

    In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But as Esther Perel argues, good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise. So how do you sustain desire? With wit and eloquence, Perel lets us in on the mystery of erotic intelligence.

  • The Enron-Style Accounting That Deprives Americans Of Economic Growth

    John Tamny in Forbes

    Of course, the fact that GDP registered growth is the first clue that it's a more-than-worthless number. Diane Coyle, author of a new book 'GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History', wouldn't agree that the number is worthless, but she does acknowledge that it does not measure human wellbeing or welfare. No it doesn't, and while Coyle doesn't hide her bias in favor of the hubristic conceit that says economists can credibly measure country economic activity, her book is still an important read for, if nothing else, revealing to readers just how unwittingly fraudulent the practice of economics is.

  • 'How Not To Be Wrong' In Math Class? Add A Dose Of Skepticism

    Jordan Ellenberg, author of 'How Not To Be Wrong - The Power of Mathematical Thinking' interviewed on NPR's ALl Things Considered.

    Ellenberg tells NPR's Robert Siegel how he believes math courses should be taught and what sets math apart from other school subjects.

  • A Cell Phone App To Detect Cancer

    DermoScreen, developed by University of Houston professor Dr. George Zouridakis and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, works simply enough. Users snap a picture of a potentially problematic mole or lesion, then the app automatically analyzes the picture using algorithms based on the same criteria used by professional dermatologists to identify cancerous growths--namely the so-called ABCD rule, 7-point checklist, and Menzies' method.

    But here's the crazy thing: Early testing of the technology has shown it to be accurate about 85% of the time, which is similar to the accuracy rate for trained dermatologists--and more accurate than non-specialist primary care physicians.

  • The End Is A.I.: The Singularity Is Sci-Fi's Faith-Based Initiative

    I'm not arguing that machine sentience is an impossibility. Breakthroughs can't be discounted before they have a chance to materialize out of thin air. But belief in the Singularity should be recognized for what it is -- a secular, SF-based belief system. I'm not trying to be coy, in comparing it to prophecy, as well as science fiction. Lacking evidence of the coming explosion in machine intelligence, and willfully ignoring the AGI deadlines that have come and gone, the Singularity relies instead on hand-waving. That's SF-speak for an unspecified technological leap. There's another name for that sort of shortcut, though. It's called faith.

  • The Five Biggest Threats to Human Existence
    1. Nuclear war
    2. Bioengineered pandemic
    3. Superintelligence
    4. Nanotechnology
    5. Unknown unknowns

    Note that climate change is not in the top five.


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Mon Jun 9 12:50:41 EDT 2014

Inequality (and Piketty)

Some pointers to discussion on the hot topic of income inequality and social mobility.

  • Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the 21st Century is being discussed everywhere
    (and these are just some early ones): For the most part there is a rather predictable pattern in the reviews from the left and the right.
    In the above link from Nate Silver, he sums it up:

    The closest thing to a solution is to remain appropriately skeptical, perhaps especially when the research finding is agreeable to you.

  • We need a new conversation about inequality

    Democrats are scared of class. But issues like inequality are why liberals exist, and talk can't be left to elites.

    When President Obama declared in December that gross inequality is the "defining challenge of our time," he was right, and resoundingly so. As is his habit, however, he quickly backed away from the idea at the urging of pollsters and various Democratic grandees.

  • Don't Give Money To Fancy Colleges

    A student at one of America's most-selective universities is fourteen times more likely to be from a high-income family than from a low-income family.

    Meanwhile, the demographics of highly selective institutions reveal that highly selective institutions remain what they always have been -- mechanisms for the perpetuation of inequality and hierarchy.

  • Income Growth and Income Inequality: The Facts May Surprise You

    Gary Burtless at The Brookings Institution offers a slightly contrarian point of view.

    CBO's newest estimates confirm the long-term trend toward greater inequality, driven mainly by turbo-charged gains in market income at the very top of the distribution. The market incomes of the top 1% are extraordinarily cyclical, however. They soar in economic expansions and plunge in recessions. Income changes since 2007 fit this pattern. What many observers miss, however, is the success of the nation's tax and transfer systems in protecting low- and middle-income Americans against the full effects of a depressed economy. As a result of these programs, the spendable incomes of poor and middle class families have been better insulated against recession-driven losses than the incomes of Americans in the top 1%. As the CBO statistics demonstrate, incomes in the middle and at the bottom of the distribution have fared better since 2000 than incomes at the very top.

  • Income Inequality in America - Fact and Fiction

    The extent of inequality differs with the measure used.

    This pre-tax, pre-transfer measure of inequality is, however, misleading because it fails to properly measure well-being. Upper-income individuals cannot spend the money that is taken away in taxes, so it gives them no benefit (other than, perhaps, higher social status). On the other hand, lower-income individuals clearly benefit from more spending power with, among others, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, housing vouchers, and unemployment insurance. As such, it would be inaccurate not to include the latter in measures of their well-being.

    [Added 07/14/2014]

  • Ten Ways to Get Serious About Rising Inequality

    1. Establish a guaranteed minimum income for all American households.
    2. Abolish the payroll tax.
    3. Replace the payroll tax with a consumption tax.
    4. Raise the top rate of income tax.
    5. Tax wealth properly.
    6. Give ordinary Americans "homestead" grants.
    7. Nationalize the public-education system.
    8. Copy the Germans and greatly expand technical education.
    9. Abolish private schools and legacy admissions to private universities.
    10. Introduce a financial-transactions tax.

  • Social Mobility Hasn't Fallen: What It Means and Doesn't Mean

    Our estimates are still too imprecise to rule out modest trends in either direction. For the most part, though, our results for the cohorts born between 1952 and 1975 suggest that intergenerational income mobility in the United States has not changed dramatically over the past two decades.

    and

    We find that all of these rank-based measures of intergenerational mobility have not changed significantly over time. For example, the probability that a child reaches the top fifth of the income distribution given parents in the bottom fifth of the income distribution is 8.4 per cent for children born in 1971, compared with nine per cent for those born in 1986.


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Fri May 30 15:29:33 EDT 2014

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently:

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson Slammed For Dismissing Philosophy As 'Useless'

    On a recent episode of the Nerdist podcast, Neil deGrasse Tyson dismissed philosophy as a useless enterprise, advising students to avoid it. It's not the first time he's made such remarks, prompting biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci to write a must-read response.

  • Uber and Airbnb Are Waging a Libertarian War on Regulators

    First, companies like Airbnb have honed in on parts of the economy where powerful regulators have traditionally deterred new entrants. Second, and largely as a result, the upstarts must not only innovate with their technology and business strategy, but also when dealing with the government officials who control their fate.

  • Munk Debates

    A Canadian charitable initiative established in 2008

    Two panelists argue for a debate style motion and two against. The format is short opening statements followed by a civil and substantive moderated panel discussion, followed by short closing statements.

  • Is Israel an Apartheid State? (Jeffrey Goldberg)

  • Dollars for Docs

    How Industry Dollars Reach Your Doctors

    In recent years, drug companies have started releasing details of the payments they make to doctors and other health professionals for promotional talks, research and consulting. As of 2012, 15 companies published the information, most because of legal settlements. Use this tool to search for payments.

  • 9 Simple Statements That Will Make You Think Differently About the World

    1. how deceiving common sense can be
    2. the importance of personality
    3. wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else
    4. the faster things change, the less reliable forecasts are
    5. [the] worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst case at the time
    6. having control of your time is the only reasonable financial goal
    7. skills grow just like compound interest, with one generation leveraging the talents of the last
    8. the brain is designed with blind spots, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any

    9. two Australian surgeons found that half of the facts in that field also become false every forty-five years

  • Over the Hill? Cognitive Speeds Peak at Age 24

    The study is limited by the fact that it only focused on video game players.

  • Brain Injury Turns Man Into Math Genius

    The injury, while devastating, seems to have unlocked part of his brain that makes everything in his world appear to have a mathematical structure.

  • Peculiar Traits of Rich People
    • They are (mostly pleasant) sociopaths
    • They care about time periods most can't comprehend
    • They don't give a damn what you think of them

  • Medicare Payments to Providers in 2012

    Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows the dollar amounts that doctors and other medical providers received in Medicare reimbursements in 2012, along with other data including their specialties.

  • The '77 Cents on the Dollar' Myth About Women's Pay

    Once education, marital status and occupations are considered, the 'gender wage gap' all but disappears.


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Tue May 27 15:00:00 EDT 2014

Obama and Wall Street

Some recent links on how Obama dealt (or did not deal) with Wall Street.

  • The Buck Stops With Obama on Tepid Financial Reform

    Favored Obama appointees seem to share certain qualities: They work within the system, they don't like to ruffle feathers or pick fights, and they keep their profiles low. They are technocrats.

  • Why Won't Washington Take on Wall Street's Biggest Crimes?

    The Justice Department has successfully convicted dozens of bankers for insider trading. But the big banks did something much worse and got away with it.

    But what many of us want to know is: why, immediately after the most severe financial crisis in more than seventy years, which resulted in the loss of almost nine million jobs, did the Justice Department choose to train its heavy artillery on insider traders? Sure, insider trading is bad. It's very rich people cheating to make themselves extravagantly rich. It should be illegal, and people should go to jail for it. But it's far from the biggest thing wrong with our financial markets and institutions.

  • Geithner is trying to rewrite history in new book

    In other words, the deal Geithner is now lauding required that interest rates remain unnaturally low for six years and counting. And those low rates cost American savers many, many times the amount of money the government made on its bank deals.


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Tue May 20 23:28:47 EDT 2014

Human Brain Limits

There is one thing that seems obvious to me but most scientists disagree. Namely that the human brain cannot understand everything about the world we live in. Not just because we haven't figured it out yet, but because our brains are a product of evolution. Since most agree that other mammals, even those with large brains, cannot understand the world as humans do, isn't it presumptuous to think some species won't come after us that makes us look similarly dumb?

So I was happy to see on Edge.org, in a response to it's question of the year for 2014: What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement? by Martin Rees one of the world's leading astronomers and cosmologists:

We'll Never Hit Barriers To Scientific Understanding     (NOT)

It begins,

There's a widely-held presumption that our insight will deepen indefinitely -- that all scientific problems will eventually yield to attack. But I think we may need to abandon this optimism. The human intellect may hit the buffers -- even though in most fields of science, there's surely a long way to go before this happens.

And ends with,

We humans haven't changed much since our remote ancestors roamed the African savannah. Our brains evolved to cope with the human-scale environment. So it is surely remarkable that we can make sense of phenomena that confound everyday intuition: in particular, the minuscule atoms we're made of, and the vast cosmos that surrounds us.

Nonetheless -- and here I'm sticking my neck out -- maybe some aspects of reality are intrinsically beyond us, in that their comprehension would require some post-human intellect -- just as Euclidean geometry is beyond non-human primates.
. . .

It would be unduly anthropocentric to believe that all of science -- and a proper concept of all aspects of reality -- is within human mental powers to grasp. Whether the really long-range future lies with organic post-humans or with intelligent machines is a matter for debate -- but either way, there will be insights into reality left for them to discover.

That is just the way I see it.

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