Saturday, December 29, 2012

Can't get enough of Thomas Friedman?

Commentary on a Greenwald statement

One should strive to see the world and prioritize injustices free of pure self-interest - caring about grave abuses that are unlikely to affect us personally is a hallmark of a civilized person - but we are all constructed to regard imminent dangers to ourselves and our loved ones with greater urgency than those that appear more remote. Ignoble though it is, that's just part of being human - though our capacity to liberate ourselves from pure self-interest means that it does not excuse this indifference.
From here, by Glenn Greenwald.

I rather disagree.  I think this is wrong at several points.

Under Greenwald's prescription,  I can "prioritize" some grave injustice in a faraway land above a lesser injustice around me, that I might *actually* be able to do something about, and still retain the hallmarks of a civilized person. By focussing on the high priority items, and thereby doing nothing.

Under Greenwald's prescription, I can support an imperial mission to civilize others, the blood and treasure involved can be justified by a suitably high priority. In fact, most of the current injustices that bother Greenwald so much are in conflicts that have their historical roots in the colonial powers' mission to civilize the world.

There is also the question of what does it mean to care?  Surely, merely proclaiming that "I care about it" is meaningless.  Care has to manifest itself in appropriate actions.  Trying to keep track and prioritize every injustice out there will leave nothing for actual actions.  Far better to make some headway in one small problem, than to be helplessly aware of all the injustices six billion humans inflict on each other.

This next objection is more philosophical, I do not think that there is any set of beliefs that makes one into a moral person.  I think this delusion has come from religions where it is required to believe in some savior or doctrine in order to be a moral person.  I have examined the teaching of dharma in my tradition.  In the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are said to be teaching dharma, the protagonists and antagonists both "believe in" the same things.  The difference is in conduct.  Conduct alone makes one virtuous or otherwise.  Therefore "caring" about something which does not lead to better conduct is fruitless.

Doing everything that you can, balancing it with all your other responsibilities in life, to end injustice around you, and far away when possible, is the hallmark of a civilized person. If the injustice is grave enough, it may call for shedding or abeyance of other responsibilities.  Thus, for instance, one might become a freedom fighter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An account of the Delhi protests of December 23

The pleasant side of Churchill

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Lost Generation

It’s strange to think that the housing crisis that caused the financial meltdown most negatively affects the one age demographic that didn’t own a home.
The young adults who graduated during the past several years of economic mess are the so-called lost generation, unable to start a career, a family.  Looking for stable, full-time employment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

US - declining standards in mathematics

The proof of falling standards comes from looking at the best schools:
The transition from high school to college presents problems for all students, but for some students it is particularly challenging. At Caltech, many newly admitted students lack the background in mathematics that is necessary to succeed in Ma 1a. Unfortunately, few of them are even aware that their background in mathematics is deficient. This is not their fault. The mathematics curriculum in high schools is less rigorous than it was even a few decades ago. In conversations with Caltech students who have struggled with freshman mathematics, most report that they were star math students in high school, which of course is a major reason why they were offered admission to Caltech in the first place. Many of them, however, have never seen mathematics as it is taught at Caltech.

Those who struggle in Ma 1a usually continue to struggle in the rest of the core mathematics classes. They earn relatively low GPA’s during their first two years or so at Caltech, and when they graduate their GPA’s are significantly lower than those of other students. And not all who struggle with freshman mathematics succeed; such students are also less likely than their counterparts to graduate from Caltech. The students often report that, in the end, they have also not learned very much math, as too much of the material was beyond their ability to comprehend at the time it was presented. Currently Caltech attempts to assist such students in a number of ways but this assistance may be too little, too late.

In order to understand the specific reasons why many of our freshman struggle in Ma 1a, the undergraduate Academics and Research Committee conducted an online survey that asked a series of specific questions about the difficulties they encountered in Ma1a. From the survey results, the most common area of weakness that students identified was that of formal reasoning, writing proofs, and common proof techniques. The results thus corroborate what most people connected with Ma 1a have known anecdotally—that many Caltech freshmen, though computationally skilled, struggle with basic proof concepts. Moreover, a corollary obstacle to students thriving in Ma1a is that, because it is a “calculus” course, students feel like they should be mastering the topic with ease. They are thus reluctant to go to classmates, TA’s, or professors when they encounter difficulties. 
CIP pointed out the the Caltech core curriculum is revised down from five terms each of math. and physics, to three terms each. There appear to be a variety of reasons.

Anyway, for all the IQmetricians' (idiotic) claims that we are getting smarter, what with the Flynn Effect, and such, our high school achievement level is dropping. The higher IQ (supposedly) best students of today come out of high school knowing less math than their counterparts from a generation ago.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Making the NRA sound reasonable

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Empire and Gun Rights

Over on his blog, CIP regretted the excesses of empire, but essentially endorsed their "civilizing" mission.  Only half-tongue-in-cheek, I pointed to the collective insanity that is the United States and its worship of guns, as requiring the civilizing yoke of an empire.  Little did I know how far the insanity has progressed, it appears to be easier for a convicted, mentally disturbed felon to get his gun ownerships reinstated, than to get his voting rights reinstated.  The Republic after all needs more gun-toting, non-voting citizens! so the lunatics that run the asylum believe! Where is the jackboot of an empire when it could do some good  CIP for one, thinks (seems to, at least) that the human cost might be worth it, what was good for India should be good for the USA, no?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Understanding Newtown, CT

Nancy Lanza, the mother of Adam Lanza, the accused dead perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, was not just the usual gun enthusiast, we are told.
She wasn’t just into guns. She was apparently stocked up for when the economy collapses and when everyone’s on their own with their guns.
That area of Connecticut is apparently an enclave of such people, we are told.

The gun enthusiasts in Newtown, CT., were out of control, we are told.  TPM provides the summary of a New York Times article, along with some commentary:
But the gist is that over recent years the town of Newtown, CT. tried to place some limits on the rise of what might be called extreme gun-owning and shooting in the community. It wasn’t a fight between gun-owners and non-gun-owners but traditional gun owner and hunters versus people shooting close to other people’s homes, shooting at unlicensed firing ranges, firing military style weapons, even firing into explosives.
In short, the opposition of the extreme gun owners and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the country’s second largest gun-rights organization, which happens to be located in Newtown) prevented anything from happening.
Newtown was not (yet) a typical US town.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guns, the N.R.A., and the politicians that enable them

The American Academy of Pediatrics  has some statistics they would like Americans to be aware of:

1.  Every two hours, someone's child is killed with a gun, either in a homicide, a suicide or as a result of an unintentional injury.

2. An unmeasured but large number of children are seriously injured - often irreversibly disabled - by guns but survive.   One in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the United States is due to gunshot wounds.

( Please read their rules for gun safety.)

The pediatricians' research has found that talking to parents about guns and gun safety is a good practice; the parents may wise up and improve the safety of the guns they have at home.  E.g., a recent paper is referenced here.  Pediatricians regularly talk to the parents of their patients about  safety issues surrounding automobiles and swimming pools.
Which is why pediatricians have to be so nosy. They ask all sorts of personal questions, delving into family diets and discipline and urging caution around swimming pools and street crossings. They remind parents to make their kids wear helmets when biking and stay in booster seats even when big kids complain they’re too babyish. They also ask whether parents keep guns at home and whether they’re stored safely — with the ammunition and the firearm kept separately in locked cabinets, the key tucked away from children.
But the N.R.A. took offense, and in Florida, the state of some of the craziest Republicans that the N.R.A. has in their pocket, they had a law passed in 2011, that penalizes physicians from inquiring about gun ownership.  A doctor could lose his license and face a fine of upto $10,000.   The Florida Medical Association originally opposed the legislation, and then caved, and supported the bill.

Fortunately, the Florida chapters of three physicians' organizations (the American Academy of Family Physicians , the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians, with support from the American Medical Association),   and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence challenged the law in court, and won a stay from a federal judge.
“Despite the State’s insistence that the right to ‘keep arms’ is the primary constitutional right at issue in this litigation, a plain reading of the statute reveals that this law in no way affects such rights,” wrote U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. “A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect nor interfere with the patient’s right to continue to own, possess, or use firearms.”
Just how insane the N.R.A. and the politicians it has in its pocket should be evident by now.   The N.R.A. does have members who seem sane, (e.g., here ) but because they do not reign in their organization, they are culpable for its insanity, and the insanity of gun violence in the U.S.A.

PS:  In India, people weep over the violence in the 1990s and later in the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency.  But on a per capita basis,  Thomas A. Marks (Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Vol 12, No. 3 (Autumn 2004), pp. 122-143) makes the observation:

Indeed, the internal war in J&K, when scaled, does not begin to approach the levels of criminal violence present in those US metropolitan areas best known for their murder rates. The ‘death count’ in Jammu & Kashmir for 2003 stood at 836 civilians, 1,447 militants, and 380 security personnel.  If this violence is aggregated (2,663), which is unorthodox but certainly presents the worst possible statistical picture, it scales out at 24.5:100,000 population.  This would place Jammu & Kashmir between Memphis (24.7:100,000) and Chicago (22.2:100,000), in the 2002 murder rankings when examining American cities with populations greater than 500,000, well off the pace established by the likes of Washington, DC (45.8:100,000) or Detroit (42.0:100,000).
Think about it, it really opened my eyes:  the level of violence that led to fears of the break-up of India is tolerated as a normal phenomenon in the US of A.  A national emergency it is not!

Kieran Healy @Duke University made this graph of deaths due to assault in the USA and other OECD countries (read about it here), which shows that while the US is much improved, it still is incredibly violent compared to its peer group of countries.  (It may well be that the violence leads people to cling on to their guns out of fear, thus enabling perpetuation of the cycle of more violence and more fear).

There is no easy solution, but we cannot shrug away this problem.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The US economy in the 21st century

Federal Receipts
Percentage of GDP
Federal Outlays
Percentage of GDP
Median Household
(inflation-adjusted dollars)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Barrier to the adoption of solar power

David Crane and RFK Jr. write in the NYT:

... state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs. Today, navigating the regulatory red tape constitutes 25 percent to 30 percent of the total cost of solar installation in the United States, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and, as such, represents a higher percentage of the overall cost than the solar equipment itself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Elizabeth Warren is on the Senate Banking Committee!

LED lighting

An global warming & energy-conscious colleague gifted me and others a Philips EnduraLED light bulb each, and my initial impression is very positive.

You can read more about it here.
(Please note: ordering from that page is restricted to New Jersey.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The strange case of Joyce Carol Vincent

Many people were stopped in their tracks by the story. Was it possible in London, in a building of flats, for a person, an attractive woman, to fade into oblivion, so that no one thought to ask, "Where’s Joyce?" For nearly three years? So many people live alone in a big city, and some are old, less vivid, and without next of kin. They may be missing before they’re gone. But Joyce Vincent did not seem to fit that description. A tremor of anxiety, a fear of societal malfunction, went through London. It seemed like a warning, a measure of the times.

Explore the Andromeda Galaxy

In your spare time, explore the Andromeda Galaxy, and identify star clusters, for the sake of science.

Monday, December 10, 2012

On dieting

This from the NYTimes:

Two years ago, an overweight nutrition professor at Kansas State University went on a diet that was low in calories but consisted mostly of Twinkies and other junk food. In two months, he lost 27 pounds, lowered his bad cholesterol and raised his good cholesterol. His point was that for weight loss, calories mattered more than the actual content of the diet. Twinkie lovers rejoiced, but the nutrition world put its collective head in its hands.

The Silence of the Liberals

(via a Tarek Fatah tweet: )

Deeyah Thathaal, chased by fundamentalists from Oslo to London to Atlanta.  Liberals are silent apparently because of who the fundamentalists are.

The men who persecuted Deeyah in Norway and Britain were every bit as prejudiced and violent as neo-Nazis, but as it happens, they rallied under the banner of radical Islam rather than the swastika. A tiny difference, you might think. A mere trifle. But that tiny difference made all the difference in the world. No one came to Deeyah's defence. Not liberal-left or compassionate conservative politicians. Not the BBC or liberal press. Not Amnesty International or the "concerned" artists who take up so many leftish causes. No one cared. To defend an Asian woman from unprovoked attacks by Asian men was to their warped minds a racist or Islamophobic act. Unprotected and unnoticed, Deeyah slunk off to live in an anonymous suburb of Atlanta, and begin the long task of pulling herself together.  

Saturday, December 08, 2012


....excerpt from Vivek Dehejia and Rupa Subramanya’s book “Indianomix,”....
Devdutt refutes this narrow vision. He defines a myth as ‘subjective truth’. Any belief which someone subjectively holds potentially classifies as a myth. Equally, he critiques the standard Western assumption that scientific knowledge is rational and all other traditional knowledge, including mythological, is non-rational. As he sees the world, all beliefs are fundamentally irrational at their root. It’s just that the Western scientific view of the world has become so dominant, or ‘hegemonic’ in the jargon used by cultural theorists, that everyone assumes by default that this is the only correct way to view the world and all other ways must be inferior and irrational. Devdutt turns this idea on its head and argues that the apparently secular capitalism of the West in fact is a thinly veiled descendent of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian mythological traditions that have dominated Western civilization.

While this is a controversial hypothesis, the close relationship between economic and political ideologies on the one hand and religion on the other shouldn’t be. After all, it was Max Weber, the founder of modern sociology, who famously theorized that capitalism could arise in northern Europe because of the spirit of thrift and discipline embodied in the Protestant work ethic. Devdutt in a sense is taking Weber head on by suggesting, to the contrary, that capitalism really is only a disguised version of Protestant Christianity and not a logical outgrowth of it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Solar cell breakthrough?

This story on dailykos explains the working of solar cells and a breakthrough in their design in a very readable way.

Another lie from the Catholic Church

Down at the southern tip of India, the Catholic Church is in the process of manufacturing a totally imaginary martyr, making him a saint, and setting his saint day on the same day as the Tamil festival of Pongal.  Students of religion can now study live the process by which the European pagan festivals were absorbed into Christmas and Easter.  

The fictitiousness of 'Martyr Devasahayam Pillai' is outlined here.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Koenraad Elst on AAR

Impressions from the American Academy of Religion conference.

...Indologists in the panel ignored the book’s challenge to their guild, viz. that unlike specialists in any other field, they actively desired and worked for the demise of their subject, Hinduism. 

Some Notes on the Federal Budget

The debates about the Federal Budget get to be pretty confusing.  The absolute magnitudes of money mentioned have little context.  For instance, this year’s budget deficit is $1.089 trillion. It is good to know that this amounts to 7% of  the $15.6 trillion US GDP.  Obama’s revenue proposal will raise $1.6 trillion over 10 years, I have to remind myself that a $15.6 trillion/year economy would have generated $156 trillion over that period (not accounting for growth in the economy) and so Obama’s proposal amounts to about 1% of the economy.

Fortunately, the US government issues documents that lay out the financial situation in some detail.   I will use primarily the following three to try to gain a quantitative understanding of the issues.

[1] Monthly Budget Review (Nov 2012) issued by the Congressional Budget Office (look under “Topics” at


[3] The 2012 Medicare Report (2012 ANNUAL REPORT OF

What I want to understand are:
1.     What are the federal revenues, now and projected into the future?
2.     What are the required federal expenditures, now and projected into the future?  Social Security and Medicare, the two paid benefit programs are the chief required federal expenditures.

I think if we understand these, the choices we have will be clarified.

Blue Brain

(via dailykos) The Blue Brain project.
The Blue Brain project represents an essential first step toward achieving a complete virtual human brain. The researchers have demonstrated the validity of their method by developing a realistic model of a rat cortical column, consisting of about 10,000 neurons. Eventually, of course, the goal is to simulate systems of millions and hundreds of millions of neurons.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The amazing Riemann zeta-function

In a more intuitive language, the Riemann zeta-function is capable of fitting any arbitrary smooth function over a finite disk with arbitrary accuracy, and it does so with comparative ease, since it repeats the performance like a good actor infinitely many times on a designated set of stages. - from here.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Macroeconomics - IS/LM model

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman advises us to think in terms of models.  One of the simple and important models for Keynesian economists is the IS-LM model.  CIP began a discussion of it.  Fortunately, it is simple enough to understand, there is an excellent exposition here.  The four youtube videos take just under a half-hour to watch, but after that you are equipped to think about the economy in terms of this simple model.

Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Benghazi incident

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MacOS X Time Machine question

Is there a way to restore files from the MacOS X Time Machine backups to an entirely new disk (different from the original disk, and not an identical replacement of the original disk)?

In my case, the MacOS X 10.7.5 update broke NEC Spectraview, and I'm unable to calibrate my monitor.  I don't want to do what some have done, which is use Time Machine to downgrade the current installation to 10.7.4.  I simply don't know what it might overwrite.

I have a Mac Pro in which I had a spare disk slot in which I put one of the disks I had lying around; I want to restore 10.7.4 from Time Machine to that disk. 

Right now I don't see any way to make Time Machine do that (and if it is not possible, Time Machine should not be considered to be a back-up solution!)

The other solutions I've tried:

1. Try download from the App Store where my MacOS X Lion order was still visible - that gives only 10.7.5; not 10.7.

2. Write to Apple Store support.   That was worse than useless.

Reality bites!

Revenge of the Reality-based Community, by Bruce Bartlett
I hit upon the idea of ignoring the academic journals and looking instead at what economists like John Maynard Keynes, Irving Fisher, and others said in newspaper interviews and articles for popular publications. Recently computerized databases made such investigation far easier than it previously had been.

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion.
Read the whole thing.

A poignant note from Bartlett as he adjusted his beliefs to conform to reality:
At this point, I lost every last friend I had on the right. Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming. People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me.

I think they believe they are just disciplining me, hoping I will admit error and ask for forgiveness. They clearly don’t know me very well. My attitude is that anyone who puts politics above friendship is not someone I care to have in my life.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Anyone who likes history, or the operations of politics in a democracy, or has even a little regard for Abraham Lincoln, will greatly enjoy this movie.

PS: this NYT pieceSteven Spielberg, Historian by Philip Zelikow,

Having worked before at the intersection of Hollywood and history, helping a tiny bit with a respectable movie about the Cuban missile crisis called “Thirteen Days,” I approached the new movie “Lincoln” with measured expectations. I had seen how a film could immerse viewers in onscreen time travel without messing up the history too much. But that was the most I hoped for.

“Lincoln,” however, accomplishes a far more challenging objective: its speculations actually advance the way historians will consider this subject.

The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, makes two especially interesting historical arguments.

....The first is to explain why the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was overwhelmingly important to Lincoln in January 1865.  .... {The second explains the course of the secret negotiations to end the war.}


The plot falls apart and almost brings down the Bond franchise along with itself.  Remarkably stupid!  

The third comment on this page (spoilers aplenty) takes apart the whole ludicrous story line.

PS: I'm afraid they will take down the comment, so I reproduce it below the fold.  Spoiler alert!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life of Pi

Won't be to everyone's taste, quite a few will be bored. A worthwhile watch for me,

PS: the all religions are the same is an attitude Hindus are beginning to shed as they awaken. Like a Richard Parker, the others are quite inimical to Hindus in reality.  A future Yann Martel hopefully will not find this theme available again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Neat idea!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


An advertisement in the New York Times magazine, proclaims:

I wasn't the first to notice it, Chance News, which reviews news with statistics or probability concepts, notes
(There are only about 7 billion people in the world, so if there are only two “top ranked drivers” then the odds are only 1 in 3.5 billion or so.)
PS: The 1 in 88 odds of autism is in the news, e.g., here (LA Times). Please note that it is one of those "if you look you will find it" cases. Utah and New Jersey which screen extensively for autism,  have rates of 1 in 47 and 1 in 49 respectively.   Alabama, which does little, has a rate of 1 in 208.

Who killed Savita Halappanavar?

Two very educative daily kos diaries:
Part I
Part II

It would seem that Irish medical rules allow for the medical procedures to terminate Savita H's miscarriage; it would seem to be a case of medical malpractice, aided by Catholic fundamentalism.

If there are more parts to the diaries, I will post here.

Part III

PS: Epilogue.

Fox News characterized in one brilliant image

Monday, November 19, 2012

Proof that US schools' science education is lousy!

Florida Senator Marco Rubio (bio) shows his anti-science bias:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.
This creature aspires to be President of the United States!!!!!!  Only in America!

PS: The science that underlies the estimate of the age of the Earth has very much to do with how our economy performs. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Republican evolution

Read a great article, excerpting from Republican platforms from the 1980s onwards, showing how the Republican party has changed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pro-life tragedy

The doctrinaire approach to anti-abortion leads to tragedies like this one.

And more are happening all the time.
PS: Some Irish march.

Rangoli 2012

Posting in rush.

Continuing a Diwali tradition, with my niece as art director:

Rangoli 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

An observation

For whatever reason, the frames and mats out there do not match up with the natural photo ink-jet printing sizes.  Not an unsolvable problem, it just means you can't go and impulse buy a frame for something you just printed.

Twitter and politics

There appears to be a new political trend - a politician say something in a public forum, and then takes it back later - often almost immediately - on twitter.

This was very much in evidence during the Romney presidential campaign, where Romney would make a centrist statement in a speech or interview, and his campaign would then contradict it on twitter.

House Speaker Boehner just did the same thing.ABC News reports:

Boehner to Diane Sawyer on Repealing Obamacare – “Well, I think the election changes that.  It’s pretty clear that the president was reelected, Obamacare– is the law of the land.  I think there are parts– of– the healthcare law that– are gonna be very difficult to implement.  And very expensive.  And as– the time when we’re tryin’ to find a way to create a path– toward a balanced budget—everything has to be on the table.”
Sawyer: But you won’t be spending the time next year trying to repeal Obamacare?
Boehner: There certainly may be parts of it that we believe– need to be changed.  We may do that.  No decisions at this point.

His follow-up Tweet – @SpeakerBoehner ObamaCare is law of the land, but it is raising costs & threatening jobs. Our goal has been, and will remain,#fullrepeal.

Let's see how far this goes.



The first stirrings from majorlyprofound after dropping off the face of the earth.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The toppled tree

Shallow-rooted tree! It seems trees are lazy too, and don't grow deep roots if they help it. The height of the uprooted mess was about six feet. The uncovered electric cable snakes its way at the bottom of the pic.

The gods must be crazy

Tropical storm Sandy followed closely by winter storm Athena ('s designation).


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Statistics of note

Dailykos:  Barack Obama...
...has become the first Democratic president since FDR to be elected to two terms with a majority of the vote in both of his victories.
Republicans have won the popular vote for president once in the last six presidential elections.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Sign of the times

On I-95 near Baltimore: (iPhone photo)

(Text of sign:

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Some thoughts post-Sandy

After the storm passed through my area, the AT&T mobile network did not work for a day or more (dunno about the others); nor did all those Internet Protocol based phones offered by Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, etc.; and all because of the lack of electric power.  What worked for me was the POTS (plain old telephone service) powered by central office DC power.  And a paper telephone directory.  This decades-old so-called obsolete technology was engineered for very high reliability, and NONE of the new-fangled stuff can match it yet.  You'd have thought that the problem of providing reliable power to cell towers should not be so much more difficult than providing power to a million phone subscribers on POTS lines; but ha! apparently you'd have thought wrong.

If it doesn't work in an emergency, then it working the other 99% of the time seems kind of not-so-relevant, once you've experienced an emergency.

In any case, we need to make our electrical grid much more reliable.  If we have to choose to strengthen it in parts because it is too expensive to make it universally reliable, I'd suggest the following order of priority for hardening the power supply - (based on the hardships I saw for people who hadn't lost their homes).

1. The basic communications network, power needed for water supply
2. Emergency services - firefighters, police, ambulance service, hospitals, etc.
3. Traffic lights
4. Essential goods - Gas stations and grocery stores

 I am very fortunate to live within walking distance of a Wegmans, which has a generator, and which kept open every day after the storm, serving hot food & drink,  fresh produce and perishables, and ice. So even without power at home, I was better off than some who had power but no such grocer anywhere nearby. (The traffic lights not working and gas stations not able to pump gas made it much more difficult for those who had to drive to get to such a store.)

I think a good part of the difficulties faced by the people in my inland town were -  technologically speaking - quite avoidable, and as an allegedly advanced society, we should make it so.

Hurricane Sandy - graphically speaking

I survived Sandy!

Quite lucky, actually. Given the direction of the wind, the tree toppled in the best possible direction where it did the least possible damage.

Power and gasoline remain a problem for those lucky New Jerseyians whose families and homes escaped unscathed (or mildly bruised).  I can't imagine what people who have lost more are going through.

PS: iphone pic:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy makes landfall

Sandy - 3

Wind patterns ( ) (tx. to S.)

A static snapshot is below, but the animation on the original page is great.

Sandy - 2

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sandy - contd.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Updates for Hurricane Sandy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hurricane Sandy headed towards New Jersey

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney Style

If Romney was that cool, who knows, maybe I'd vote for him!
The original Korean hit:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

On the origin of Indians - 6

The Saraswati river and its desiccation are described in the ancient Indian works. In the RgVeda Samhita, the oldest, it is a mighty river.  By the time of the Mahabharata, it has dried up.

The conventional theory is that the RgVeda Samhita was supposedly compiled by the newly arrived horse-and-chariot, Indo-European language bearing invaders/immigrants who imposed themselves and their language (Sanskrit) tracelessly on the indigenous population.  The RgVeda Samhita as per the Harvard Sanskritist and invasionist Michael Witzel has at most 4% of its 10,000 word vocabulary of non-Indo-European origin.  The comparable figure for ancient Greek is more than 30% - and the Indo-Aryans entered (and supposedly came to dominate) a much larger geographical area with a much larger population than ancient Greece. 

The evidence however is that the Saraswati dried up well before this migration/invasion took place!

Michel Danino has a newspaper article about the latest state of research.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Collapsing - the Unemployment Rate!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Binders Full of Women

One of the phrases of the second presidential debate (memorable to others; I didn't particularly notice it at time) was Romney's "binders full of women".

Romney talked about searching for qualified women to work for his Massachusetts administration - how his aides assembled "binders full of women" for him.  (It was, as usual, a Romney fib.  Prior to the 2002 election, a bipartisan women's group, MassGAP,  put together a listing of resumes of women who qualified for various state-level posts, and presented it to the incoming administration.)

People caught the "binders full of women" very quickly, within minutes setting up a Facebook page and internet domain.  There are some great illustrations here.  But what prompted this post was that the meme has spread to Amazon product reviews.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

PIE - Mirage of structure - 3

Worth a look, this from Andrew Garrett: "Convergence in the formation of Indo-European subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology", in Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, ed. by Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2006), pp. 139-151

 The technicalities all go soaring way over my head.   We have Mycenaean Greek, in the Linear B texts, from around 1400 BC, and then that culture collapses around 1200 BC and the next Greek works come from around 800 BC.  To quote James Clackson,  (Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction, 2007):

"Garrett draws up a set of features which could be assumed for Proto-Greek on the basis of the later Greek works....for Greek, there is the advantage that the features assumed for Proto-Greek can actually be compared with a language of the second millenium BC, Mycenaean Greek.  We know that Mycenaean cannot be equated with Proto-Greek, since it has undergone some changes shared only with some later Greek dialects, and so it must be later.   Yet all of the distinct morphological features and many of the distinct phonological features, which are assumed to be distinctive for Proto-Greek can be shown not to have take place at the time of Mycenaean.  Wherever later Greek dialects have made innovations in morphology from PIE, Mycenaean Greek appears not to have participated in that innovation.  In other words, the distinctive aspects of the later Greek dialects (which they all share) arose across a number of varieties which already were distinguished one from another.  It is not possible, using the shared morphological innovation criterion, to construct a unified invariant entity such as "Proto-Greek" which is distinguishable from PIE......if we had more evidence for other IE languages other than Anatolian contemporary with Mycenaean, we might not be able to separate out what was 'Greek' about Mycenaean from its neighbours.   The Greek sub-group was only truly formed in the period after the Mycenaean when convergence between the different dialects of Greek took place, in part related to social changes coupled with a strong sense of Greek ethnic identity."

To quote Garrett:

 coalescence of


We cannot check whether Garrett is right about IE branches in general, because in Greek we have the unique situation of having sufficient texts from two eras.  That is why "it may be unknowable".

This idea that the language around 2000 BC around Greece was indistinguishable from PIE suggests a late date for PIE and weighs against the Paleolithic Continuity Theory. (Garrett's argument with respect to Renfrew's PIE-spread-with-agriculture theory is: "the model requires the unscientific assumption that linguistic change in the period for which we have no direct evidence was radically different from change we can study directly".)   On the other hand, don't forget Clackson's own metaphor, that conveys the idea that the PIE includes in itself reconstructions that belong to very different time periods, so what does it mean to be "indistinguishable from PIE"?

One more interesting thing is that Alinei has, to my reading, a very similar idea of how languages arose.
Mario Alinei, The Problem of Dating in Linguistic, "Quaderni di semantica" 25, 2004, pp. 211-232.

As I have already pointed out, written languages imply, by the very fact that they are expressions of dominant groups, the existence of dialects of subordinate groups, which, though not attested, are nevertheless as real as the invisible face of the moon. Precisely because a written norm represents one of the geovariants or sociovariants promoted to the dominant norm, it reveals, ex silentio, other norms, which remain necessarily excluded from written evidence, with the possible exception of some traces surviving in the chosen koiné (common language).
From the structural point of view, then, the appearance of a written language is also direct testimony of the emergence into 'history' of the elite group which has seized power, and indirect testimony of the loss of power by other groups, in regard to whom the new 'literates' assert themselves as the owners of the surplus product, as ideological leaders and as rulers. Each written language represents, accordingly, a cluster of dialects, still without voice, but in fact rightly present within the framework of the new social relations consecrated by the written language.
We must, therefore, bear in mind that these dialects do exist, although we do not see them, and we must take them into account in our theoretical interpretation. Since, for example, some IE languages appear in the Mediterranean basin in their written form in the 2nd millennium, two conclusions can be inferred from that fact alone:
(a) in the areas where there is definite evidence of written languages we may be sure that the sociolinguistic stratification already reached Gordon Childe's 'urban' level;
(b) in other areas, where the Metal ages cultures appear, we may assume that social stratification was already at a considerably advanced stage.
There is, besides, another factor which should be taken into account. As I have already noted, written norm is usually not equivalent to a 'pure' geovariant, but it is a koiné, implying an admixture of elements from other geovariants (borrowings, morphological variants, and the like).

Mycenean Greek, for example, is regarded, as we have already seen, as a koiné. Even in the modern world we can notice this intermingling in the process of the formation of a new written language - in the case of Basque and Catalan, for example.
The formation of a written koiné implies, in short, three different innovative aspects:
(1) a koiné, precisely because it is a mixture of one dialect with elements of other dialects, represents a novum which did not exist previously; in other words, a written norm, being a 'mixture', is as a rule more recent and less genuine than the norms of the subordinated groups which have remained completely or partly in the dark;
(2) the elements of other dialects accepted by the koiné become levelled with the dominant system and lose some of their traits;
(3) other geovariants do not cease to exist at the moment a koiné is established, but they become, or revert to, 'dialects', with the only difference that from that time on they undergo the levelling influence of the new dominant language.
In the light of these considerations, the earliest written attestations of European languages, either classical or mediaeval, cannot not seen as monolithic expressions of undifferentiated ethnic groups, from which all that comes 'after' must be mechanically derived. Inverting the traditional hierarchy, the first written norms must now be seen as the most fortunate representatives of a dialectal continuum which despite the successive levelling has survived to the present day, and which is the only source of our knowledge of the hidden face of the moon.
Just as in the Middle Ages the earliest attestations of the dialects destined to become national norms are combined with attestations of numerous other dialects, which prove that the modern dialectal continuum actually existed already at that time, and probably also in the preceding centuries (for which geolinguistic evidence is much scarcer), so Scandinavian runes, Irish oghams, Gothic, Norren, old Slavic, and so on, must be interpreted as the mixed and most fortunate geovariants of a dialectal continuum equally rich and articulated as the modern one. They must not be seen as its matrices, nor, obviously, as unique offshoots of reconstructed proto-Germanic, proto-Celtic and proto-Slavic.
In fact, whatever appears after the emergence of the written language did not come after, but was pre-existent to the written language. According to this new view, the current dialects are not derivatives of the ancient written languages, as traditionally thought, but developments, in the course of subsequent millennia, of those earlier geovariants which were parallel with and pre-existent to the written languages. And the new dialectology, according to this view, becomes an integrating part of the renewed historical linguistics, as the study, as it were, of the hidden face of the moon, that is of the speeches of those social groups which became subordinated to the new elites in the Metal ages, but which were obviously pre-existent to the Metal age itself.
In the case of a written language there is, then, only one birth to register in addition to the birth of the written language as such, and that is the birth of the dominant group. The ethnic group, or its part subjugated by the dominant elite, is millennia older than these events. 
Clackson's constellations, Alinei's hidden face of the moon - I love these metaphors, and the way they illuminate the meaning of the PIE reconstruction. 

PS: There is a simple answer to Garrett's argument : "the model requires the unscientific assumption that linguistic change in the period for which we have no direct evidence was radically different from change we can study directly".  Namely, linguistic change before writing follows different rules from linguistic changes after writing.