Sunday, December 31, 2017

Grunwald on Trump

Michael Grunwald in Politico: a must-read for any concerned parties.

The most consequential aspect of President Trump—like the most consequential aspect of Candidate Trump—has been his relentless shattering of norms: norms of honesty, decency, diversity, strategy, diplomacy and democracy, norms of what presidents are supposed to say and do when the world is and isn’t watching. As I keep arguing in these periodic Trump reviews, it’s a mistake to describe his all-caps rage-tweeting or his endorsement of an accused child molester or his threats to wipe out “Little Rocket Man” as unpresidential, because he’s the president. He’s by definition presidential. The norms he’s shattered are by definition no longer norms. His erratic behavior isn’t normal, but it’s inevitably becoming normalized, a predictably unpredictable feature of our political landscape. It’s how we live now, checking our phones in the morning to get a read on the president’s mood. The American economy is still strong, and he hasn’t started any new wars, so pundits have focused a lot of their hand-wringing on the effect his norm-shattering will have on future leaders, who will be able to cite the Trump precedent if they want to hide their tax returns or use their office to promote their businesses or fire FBI directors who investigate them. But Trump still has three years left in his term. And the norms he’s shattered can’t constrain his behavior now that he’s shattered them.
Trump’s job security depends on support from GOP legislators. Their job security depends on Trump’s base showing up to support them in 2018, and on Trump improving his approval ratings enough to avert a Democratic wave that would bounce them out even if his base does show up to support them in 2018. So after campaigning as an anti-establishment populist, Trump has mostly governed as a partisan corporatist, earning loyalty points from congressional Republicans by stocking his administration with movement conservatives and embracing their unpopular agenda, ditching his promises to protect Medicaid and close tax loopholes for hedge funds while consistently siding with business owners and investors over workers and consumers. Congressional Republicans, even those who once called him unfit to serve, have mostly ignored his antics and even his sporadic attacks on them, kissing his ring in public even as they roll their eyes in private. They’d prefer their tax cuts without the white nationalist retweets, but it’s a package deal.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

How the Aryan nonsense infects Persia

The past few days have seen protests in Iran.

@Ghasseminejad tweeted:  "Protestors in Iran: "We are Aryans! We don't worship the Arab [God]"
This is not the first time people have used this anti-Islam slogan. The Islamist regime has given birth to strong anti-Islam sentiments in Iran."
Where does this come from? Does it come from a historical consciousness of many centuries?

Simple answer: No!

Help: some aDNA stuff

Need help interpreting this (note this is a 2014 paper, and already could be out-of-date, so fast are the developments in the field of aDNA)
Human paleogenetics of Europe
The known knowns and the known unknowns
Guido Brandt, Anna Szecs-enyi-Nagy, Christina Roth, Kurt Werner Alt, Wolfgang Haak
While the presence of haplogroup I in Neolithic contexts could be interpreted as a signal of hunter-gatherer introgression in farming communities, and therefore represents a Paleolithic legacy, the precise way in which modern-day European Y-chromosome diversity was formed remains elusive. To date, the only other Y-haplogroups observed in early farming sites are haplogroup F in Germany and Hungary (Haak et al., 2010; Szecsenyi-Nagy et al., 2014), and E1b in one individual in Spain ( Lacan et al., 2011b).  The presence of haplogroup F is very surprising, as it is very rare in modern-day European populations and therefore not well studied.  It has been reported at a low frequency in Southeast Europe and the Near East (Underhill and Kivisild, 2007), whereas subgroups of F have been primarily found in India (Kivisild et al., 2003).
 PS: per Wiki, if one sorts the first table by the F haplogroup, the highest frequency of the F haplogroup in the populations of the Indian subcontinent are the Koya (26.8%), the Sinhalese (20.7%), unspecified South Indian tribals (18.1%), Himachal Brahmins (15.8%) and so on.  The Koya speak a Dravidian language, the Sinhalese speak an Indo-European language, the South Indian tribals speak Dravidian languages, the Himachal Brahmins speak an Indo-European language.  

Monday, December 25, 2017

USA: Is a Bachelor's degree the new IQ test?

People like to point to IQ as a predictor of success (often based on studies done in the US military)  often failing to note that the IQ test serves as the filter at the very entry into the career.

Now, it seems that the Bachelor's Degree is serving a similar role, per my reading of this article in The Atlantic.

The employers who can’t seem to fill the United States’s roughly 6 million vacant jobs are at a loss for what to do. Qualified candidates are seemingly nowhere to be found.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Rakhigarhi news

Tony Joseph in the Hindu writes: (highlights added)
(PS: for a take on the non-news content of Tony Joseph's article, see this.)
The site was excavated and the skeletons were recovered in the beginning of 2014 by a team of archaeologists led by Vasant Shinde, Vice Chancellor of Deccan College, Pune. For the 61-year-old Shinde, this project is the culmination of a long and distinguished career in archaeology that has seen him lead excavations at important Harappan and other sites across the country. But Rakhigarhi is a project with a difference.

In the three-and-a-half years since its excavation, Professor Shinde has brought together scientists from Indian and international institutions like the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad (CCMB), Harvard Medical School, Seoul National University, and the University of Cambridge to work on different parts of the project, including extracting and analysing DNA from these ancient people, reconstructing their faces, and studying the remains of their habitation to understand their daily habits and ways of life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What David Frum wrote

"Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change ... so does what it means to be a conservative." @DavidFrum on what's at stake in @CharlesWCooke's critique of @JRubinBlogger:

Sunday, December 17, 2017

IBM's predictions from December 2012

IBM's predictions for today from five years ago:

ARMONK, N.Y.     - 17 Dec 2012: Today IBM (NYSE: IBM) unveiled the seventh annual  "IBM 5 in 5" (#ibm5in5) – a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years.
  • Touch: You will be able to touch through your phone
  • Sight: A pixel will be worth a thousands words
  • Hearing: Computers will hear what matters
  • Taste: Digital taste buds will help you to eat smarter
  • Smell: Computers will have a sense of smell

Saturday, December 16, 2017

On Petersen's nomination

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate explains it:
Trump’s Nominees Think Life Tenure on the Federal Bench Should Be Handed Out Like a Participation Trophy

Petersen drew widespread criticism for his legal ignorance, and rightly so—most second-year law students could easily identify the terms Kennedy tossed out. The best defense of Petersen is that he once held this knowledge but let it atrophy due to his current job duties: He has served on the Federal Election Commission since 2008, joining with his fellow conservative commissioners to consistently block enforcement of federal election law, particularly campaign finance restrictions. In this capacity, Petersen has not often had occasion to revisit the rules of evidence or civil procedure.

But as National Review’s David French points out, Petersen’s rustiness hardly absolves him; it merely reveals his arrogance. If Petersen had spent a single day preparing for Wednesday’s hearing, he probably could’ve knocked a majority of Kennedy’s questions out of the park. A quick review of law school study guides or bar prep material likely would’ve refreshed his memory. Petersen may not be experienced—he has spent only three years working on litigation—but he has good credentials. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law (a terrific school) and secured a job at the prestigious firm Wiley Rein. The problem isn’t just that he didn’t know what Kennedy was talking about. It’s that he didn’t care enough to read up on the law beforehand.

Petersen, it seems, operated under the presumption that a Republican-controlled committee would throw him softballs and rubber stamp his nomination. Kennedy helped sink the nomination of judicial nominee Brett Talley in large part because he showed a similar imperiousness, failing to disclose controversial writings and a conflict of interest to the committee and assuming he could get away with it. He did not, thanks to Kennedy. And as Wednesday’s hearing showed, the senator is now screening Trump’s nominees to ensure they take the process seriously, reportedly to the chagrin of other Republicans.

Lifetime tenure in the federal judiciary should not be handed out like a participation trophy. Thanks to Kennedy—one of just a few Republican senators who cares that the Trump administration is funneling unqualified and unprepared individuals onto the bench for life—it won’t be.

The Newest Banana Republic

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases —  “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

The type of person Trump is trying to turn into federal judges:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A British argument for Indian Unity

This is from the Times of London, November 16, 1855:

...A dominion of this sort, in which so many squares of the chessboard were British possessions, so many under British protection and so many others nominally independent, never yet preserved long its checkered character, and the influences tending to political unity are certainly not fewer or less powerful in India than elsewhere.   A community of religions, of commerce, and of arms, pervades and continually assimilates all India.  The sacred shrines of either faith are visited by pilgrims from all parts; the population follows trade wherever it goes, and our armies are recruited indifferently from all the three classes of States we have enumerated.   When this is the case it is quite impossible that any disorder should continue to be local.  There are no "party walls" between the States, and a conflagration, once lit, is sure to spread from one to another.   Hence there must be a unity either of order or of disorder.

{Subsequently, the case for the annexation of Oude is made.}

Police, crime statistics from India

In 2014 in India, 560,000  out of 2,260,000 sanctioned police positions were vacant. At about 138 policemen per 100,000 population, India was the fifth lowest policed country out of 71 for which the UN Office on Drugs and Crime had compiled statistics.  (from the Economic Times).  (For comparison purposes, per Wiki,  the US has 284 policemen per 100,000 population,  and Canada has 185.)

The Indian Supreme Court took note of this in April 2017 (but using 2013 data and responding to a 2013 petition), and issued further orders in July 2017.

Per the Indian National Crimes Record Bureau report of 2016, India had

Year : Number of cases
2014 : 33,981
2015 : 32,127
2016 : 30,450

Also see missing persons statistics below.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Rakhigarhi DNA commentary

It is true that the Government of India can keep a scientific finding from being published.  But keep the finding secret?   The more upsetting it is to the ruling party, the less likely it is to be kept secret. It is difficult to keep secrets in India.  The only possible way is if a very tiny number of people knew about it in the first place - in which case it can't be a Government of India policy, it is someone acting entirely on their own.

As to the alleged fear of nasty Hindu nationalists - there is a constant low level background of nasty crimes going on in India, as with any other nation.  Marxists, Maoists,  Hindu extremists, Muslim extremists, Christian extremists, cow smugglers, self-proclaimed cow protectors, gangs of criminals commit heinous crimes, often with impunity.  So there is a problem that people do not fear the law enough; the law and order apparatus is ineffective.  A huge number of police posts are unfilled, and even with them filled, India would be one of the least policed nations on earth.  Likewise, the judiciary was always very slow, and it has not expanded to keep up with the population, nor fixed its procedures to give timely justice.   This clearly needs an urgent national effort to fix.

But if the media just picks one set of these crimes and publicizes just them, then a very mistaken impression is created.  It can't happen, you say?  Just think of Hillary Clinton's emails, and the finding that
In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.
 and (emphasis added)
Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

To reiterate, these 65,000 sentences were written not by Russian hackers, but overwhelmingly by professional journalists employed at mainstream news organizations, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. To the extent that voters mistrusted Hillary Clinton, or considered her conduct as secretary of state to have been negligent or even potentially criminal, or were generally unaware of what her policies contained or how they may have differed from Donald Trump’s, these numbers suggest their views were influenced more by mainstream news sources than by fake news.
This distortion is by the mainstream media, including the "newspaper of record" in its own country, where it is the most accountable to the extent that the public can hold the media accountable, about a pivotal election on which so much of its country's future depends - judiciary, trade deals, climate, immigration, racism, safety net, wall between church and state, etc. etc. 

You think these media organizations get foreign countries correct?  You think the media in India is somehow better than the media in the USA?

So what commentators on India are doing who rely on **just** the NY Times or the Times of India or so on, are doing, are perpetuating the same kind of information bias.  The problem is that to know something is hard.  In my opinion, if it matters enough to you to stand by your opinion,  then do the research, get the full context and complete information.  If it doesn't matter that much, then recognize what you have is only a personal opinion and don't fool yourself that it is true or objective; it is just as likely to be as stinky as that other thing everyone has, like opinions.


If you thought you've seen all of the possible theories about Aryans in India, you're wrong.  After Aryan Invasion Theory, and Aryan Migration Theory, now there is AOT:  Aryan Outsourcing Theory! 
In the latter days of the Indus civilization, the townspeople may have hired Indo-Aryan charioteers to fight their wars. After the eventual demise of the Indus civilization pulled these Indo-Aryan warriors with their families and their livestock through to the Indus-Ganga plains, where they are of different kingdoms founded. They brought Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1a with them, today one of the biggest haplogroups in India. The customs of these Indo-Arian migrants would form the basis for the Vedic religion.

From here, with google translate:

Friday, December 08, 2017

Oude, 1855

Long ago, at one of the peak times of controversy over the Ramjanmabhoomi/Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, I discovered one of the joys of the full-fledged American university libraries, and found there news-reports from a previous flare-up.

This battle was over the Hanumangarhi site. The news reports are from the Times of London, and are in the order of publication (remember, news and correspondence traveled much slower in those days.)

One should note that the British were eyeing the province Awadh or Oude as they spelled it,  which included Ayodhya and its sister town Faizabad for annexation, and they did annex it in 1856. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Two different trajectories - India, Korea

Gross Domestic Savings and Gross Capital Formation as a fraction of GDP.
India, Korea 1960-2017.
World Bank Data.
India's growth has been largely financed by domestic savings.
Korea early on had a lot more foreign investment.



Sunday, December 03, 2017

The fallacy in comparing men to chimpanzees

Bonobos and chimpanzees are equally related to humans evolutionarily speaking, yet everyone links human societies to chimpanzees only.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The History of Fingerprinting

Anand Ranganath and Sheetal Ranganathan have a great essay, "The Forgotten Indian Wizards And The Birth Of Modern Forensics", the heroes of which are Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose.  These two made most of the innovations in making fingerprints into a means for identifying criminal suspects.

Book memo - more Reacher

Without Fail & Persuader.  Fictional world full of nasty people, but the good guy always wins.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Al-Biruni on the strange manners and customs of the Hindus

Al-Biruni (973-1048) or Alberuni was a contemporary of Mahmud of Ghazni and accompanied him in his invasions of India.  Al-Biruni is known for his Indological works, and this is an excerpt (Edward Sachau translation), where he writes about strange manners and customs of the Hindus that "differ from those of our country and our time to such a degree so as to appear to us simply monstrous."

I'm picking a few from his compilation (numbering and ordering is mine)
-- Warning -- not safe for work

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A few things Mahatma Gandhi almost certainly never said

 It is very hard to prove that somebody did not say or write something; absolute certainty is not possible.  But one can be very confident when the citations don't work out, reasonable alternatives to the citations don't work out, when it can be shown the person did say something rather different in the same time frame when the alleged statement was made, or best when the "quote" can be traced to its original source.

None of these following were said by Mahatma Gandhi, with high confidence.

This first one was current around 1990, during the height of the dispute over the Ramajanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya where Babur or someone had built a mosque.

"The mosques built over the destroyed temples are a sign of slavery and the Muslims should hand over the same to Hindu Society."  Mohandas K. Gandhi,  'Navajivan' July 17, 1937. 

I had done an extensive search for this back then (1990-92) and pretty much showed that Mahatma Gandhi didn't say or write that.  The details are buried somewhere in my boxes of notes.

""Hitler is not a bad man"  - Mahatma Gandhi never said or wrote that either, see here for details of why I think so.

"Mahatma Gandhi said: “The press is called the Fourth Estate. It is definitely a power, but, to misuse that power is criminal." - this was actually used by PM Narendra Modi in a tweet.

It is supposedly from a prayer speech, April 12, 1947.  But it is really from a newspaper report of that prayer speech. The transcript of the speech says no such thing.  The original quote is: "In the English language the Press is called the Fourth Estate. The Press can help or harm the country in so many ways. If the newspapers do not maintain a healthy attitude, what purpose would be served by India becoming free?"  Gandhi had said earlier in that speech " is a trick of their trade to create panic among the people and thus increase their sales.  It is a very wicked thing to indulge in order to fill this wretched tummy. ...If for earning their livelihood these people fill he pages of their newspapers and thereby harm the interests of India, then, they must give up journalism and find some other occupation." 

However much of Gandhiana takes this quote to be accurate.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Book memo: more retreat into fiction

My escapism continues with Lee Child's Jack Reacher series: Tripwire, Running Blind and Echo Burning; L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Saga of Recluce fantasy series: The Magic of Recluse, The Towers of Sunset, The Magic Engineer, The Order War, The Death of Chaos.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Rangoli 2017

Rangoli 2017 - I was absent, but my niece, who is the artist behind this and all previous rangolis, continued the tradition.

Previous years.

Current state of mind

Friday, November 03, 2017

Ashtalakshmis singing Ashtalakshmi Stothram

Ashtalakshmi Stothram.
A translation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma - Sooryagayathri

A composition of Purandara Dasa.
Lyrics and a translation here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Brahmam Okate - Sooryagayathri & Rahul Vellal

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Harivarasanam - Sooryagayathri & Kuldeep M Pai

A Kerala favorite:

Friday, October 27, 2017

More indications that g is a myth

One indication that Spearman's g (upon which IQ is based) is an artifact of positive correlations among various intelligence test measures than a real thing is that there are subpopulations among which these measures do not correlate in the same way as among the general public.

An example is here: (note, my interpretation of their findings):

Psychol Sci. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Jan 8.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC4287210

The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence

To quote:
For example, no autistic child scored in the “high intelligence” range on the WISC-III, whereas a third of the autistic children scored at or above the 90th percentile on the Raven’s Matrices. Only a minority of the autistic children scored in the “average intelligence” range or higher on the WISC-III, whereas the majority scored at or above the 50th percentile on the Raven’s Matrices. Whereas a third of the autistic children would be called “low functioning” (i.e., in the range of mental retardation) according to the WISC-III, only 5% would be so judged according to the Raven’s Matrices.
In striking contrast to the autistic children, the nonautistic control children did not show a significant difference between their Raven’s Matrices scores and their WISC-III Full Scale, Verbal Scale, or Performance Scale scores .
So, if there was a real thing X corresponding to Spearman's g that represented the intelligence of a human brain, then the general positive correlation in the general population between WISC and Raven's Matrices is not measuring this thing X.  But it is these kinds of positive correlations among the various tests' results that is supposed to be measuring this real thing that is approximated by Spearman's g.

Sri Ramachandra Kripalu - Sooryagayathri

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hanuman Chalisa - Sooryagayathri

Monday, October 16, 2017

g - a Statistical Myth

A nice essay from 2007.

One of the best parts: "How to make 2766 independent abilities look like one g factor".

Sunday, October 15, 2017

WaPo: The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA

If the WaPo is correct, then Congress, Senate, President, all were doing what?

For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.

The new law {passed April 2016} makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.

Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Top officials at the White House and the Justice Department have declined to discuss how the bill came to pass.

Michael Botticelli, who led the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at the time, said neither Justice nor the DEA objected to the bill, removing a major obstacle to the president’s approval.

“We deferred to DEA, as is common practice,” he said.

The bill also was reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“Neither the DEA nor the Justice Department informed OMB about the policy change in the bill,” a former senior OMB official with knowledge of the issue said recently.

With a few words, the new law changed four decades of DEA practice. Previously, the DEA could freeze drug shipments that posed an “imminent danger” to the community, giving the agency broad authority. Now, the DEA must demonstrate that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a much higher bar.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Soccer and Genetics

I'm keenly waiting to hear the genetics explanation for why the US doesn't do well in world soccer tournaments for men.  Till then, there is stuff like this.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Book memo: Die Trying

My retreat from current affairs continues.

Lee Child, Die Trying, a Jack Reacher novel, 1998.

A woman is kidnapped off a street in Chicago, and Jack Reacher is kidnapped along with her.  Reacher has to rescue himself and her from the kidnappers, or "Die Trying".

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book memo: Killing Floor

Fiction: "Killing Floor" by Lee Child, first published 1997.

This is the first Jack Reacher novel.  I read it as an escape from the daily infuriation of current affairs.  This edition in 2012 has an introduction by Lee Child, who turns out, is an Englishman.    He invented the character of Jack Reacher as a ex-military cop in America, a physical giant, typically the most intimidating person in the neighborhood, an uncomplicated man emotionally speaking, a drifter but functioning misfit in civilian society, whose adventures come about because of noblesse oblige.

In this adventure, Reacher arrives at Margrave, Georgia, where he is arrested for murder, and soon is up to his neck in the strange goings-on in the town.

This is a fast-moving, but sometimes overly gruesome adventure.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On basketball and race

The claim, from K.L. Reeves' personal opinion, is that it is culture that is holding back prospective white American basketball players.

Whether you admit it or not, deep down inside you, the intelligent reader, kind of believes it, too; that black men are, whether by nature or nurture, better at the game of basketball. And that’s OK. Lots of people feel this way. It’s a part of a belief system that began to develop decades ago, around the time that many of our ideas on race began to shift. During that time of radical change, new systems of racial thought — newer, somewhat more palatable ones — began replacing their older, more objectionable precursors. Through it all, institutional racism remained wholly intact, albeit cloaked in a kind of deceptive civility.
Indeed, since the turn of the new century, white foreign-born players have consistently outperformed their American counterparts. At least in the NBA. And it’s not particularly close, either. Note, for instance, the rosters of the past 16 All-Star Games. Then look at the makeup of white starters and role player. Notice a trend? A majority of them — glaringly so, given population disparity, the game’s historic roots, etc.— are foreign-born.
The careers of Dirk and Nash stand as clear examples white superstars excelling in the NBA. But it’s also true that being born and raised in America carries with it certain, very different notions of what it means to be white. It’s practically considered gospel that race has no place in sports. And yet racial dynamics very much persist. As much as I’ve tried to stay away from it as a writer, I simply couldn’t explain past this one: White American basketball players have a harder time than their black peers reaching their full potential, I think, because of the stigma that comes with being white kid playing a black game.
Young whites in America grow up with the belief, however implicit, that basketball isn’t their game. In the words of Martin Luther King, clouds of inferiority begin to form in their little mental sky, where limitation is placed on that rare and particular dream. We are all, in our own ways, complicit in this, having bought into this powerfully dangerous myth, and the results have been nothing short of astonishing.
If you tell a child he can’t be something; that something isn’t for them: If you do this long enough, that belief system will become his own.
Today, such systems don’t develop as overtly as they once did: say the way blacks were once trained to believe they were incapable of reading — that reading wasn’t for them. Though there may be instances where white basketball players will self identify as somehow inferior, thereby reinforcing the stigmas and stereotypes, the bulk of the belief stems from the unspoken, from inference and allusion. And it can start as soon as they pick up a ball, the glass ceiling glaring back at them. The child is told, through unwitting social cues, often by those closest to him, that he might look up to Michael Jordan, but he’ll never be Michael Jordan.
Again, such psychological short-selling is seldom overt, and almost never malicious.
After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to be great at something they love? And yet, given our lack of proper historical reflection on matters of race and steadfast dependence on categorization, it’s hard not to fall into these habits. No matter where you fall on the social-political spectrum, strong racial beliefs are deeply entrenched. The decline of the white American NBA star is, in this sense, a litmus test. You’re white and want to be great at football? Okay. Baseball? Go right ahead. Hockey? Obviously!
… Are you sure about that?
....When {Larry} Bird was coming of age, the stigma of being a white basketball player simply wasn’t as great as it is today.
If K.L. Reeves is right, then those who are now seeking a genetic explanation for the racial disparity in the NBA are part of the problem.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Culture and genes

Americans of the stupid variety keep trying to justify the way things are by genetics. But the fact is that culture (learned behavior) is far stronger.

Doesn't matter what those who don't make assumptions (e.g., "the NFL is a meritocracy")  but look at it carefully find.
The NFL’s racial divide
Teams don’t consciously build rosters based on race, it just ends up that way

 It’s not that they’re excluding anybody. They’re looking to be successful, according to the pattern that has worked. This is why it gets to be so difficult to shatter tradition. You can’t just come in and show somebody that a black center is as good as a white center in order to displace that tradition. You’ve got to come in and show that he is better.”
The so-called free market (or unbridled avarice, depending on your viewpoint) doesn't turn the culture of an enterprise or of a society into a meritocracy any more than the free market abolishes slavery or human trafficking.

PS: I should add that "best person for the position" often does not have objective measures.

In Memoriam: Summer 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book memo: A Long Way Home

Having seen the movie, Lion, which was well-made, I picked up at the library the book, "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley.   As the title blurb says: "As a five-year-old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, from Australia, I found my way back.  This is what happened in between"; and the book adds significantly to what is shown in the two hour movie.  Definitely worth reading.  It provides all kinds of interesting things to think about.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Date of Zero and Its Larger Consequences

The Bakhshali manuscript is now the oldest extant manuscript on Indian mathematics --  it has recently been carbon-dated by the University of Oxford to date to 200-400 AD.  That date is much older than previously thought, at least by five centuries, if not more.  This now supposedly pushes back the earliest recorded date for the use of zero in a place-value system.

Perhaps however, there is a larger point that is being missed.   E.g., as per Wiki, the Bakhshali manuscript "is written in an earlier form of Śāradā script, which was mainly in use from the 8th to the 12th century, in the northwestern part of India, such as Kashmir and neighbouring regions."

To me it seems that now the inferred dates of everything written in the Śāradā script may need to be reexamined. (e.g., Wiki again:  "The Śāradā or Sarada or Sharada script is an abugida writing system of the Brahmic family of scripts, developed around the 8th century.")   Even with the caveat that Wiki isn't the most reliable source of information, it seems to me that some non-trivial amount of history may need to be re-written.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Rakhigarhi: New player enters the field

I'm still dubious about finding any ancient DNA in the hot and humid conditions of India, but Professor Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune,  and his collaboration with South Korea (presumably Seoul National University College of Medicine) have tried (and rumors have it that their findings are held up due to politics), and now the Times of India reports that another player has entered the field.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

US loss of military competence

Two stories on the radio:

1. Navy Officials Examine Training Procedures After Ship Accidents

After four ship accidents this year , the US Navy thinks years of short-cuts in training might be a contributing cause.

2. Taliban Attacks U.S. Afghan Base In Response To Leaflets

In Afghanistan, propaganda leaflets dropped by the US Army had a cartoon in which the Shahada was superposed on a dog; the dog was meant to represent the Taliban, being chased by a lion that is the US military.  After so many years in Afghanistan, they don't seem to have a clue as to what is instantly offensive to Muslims.

On Rakhigarhi Rumors

Sunday, September 03, 2017

How to handle the Internet

Friday, September 01, 2017

Raining on Humanity's Parade

The Atlantic

For each degree Celsius of warming the atmosphere is able to hold 6 percent more water. For a planet that’s expected to warm by 4 degrees by the end of the century, that means a transition to a profoundly different climate.

“Rainfall extremes have increased in intensity I think at every latitude in the northern hemisphere,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Paul O’Gorman.

In 2012, a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory oceanographer Paul Durack found that the global water cycle was actually speeding up at twice the rate predicted by climate models, likely intensifying by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the century.
See, we knew that climate models were pretty useless, missing factors of two and all!

In the meantime, someone on dailykos points out: Houston, Mumbai, Ontario, Macau, Niger, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Ireland, Sierra Leone...All Flooded

Returning to the Atlantic:

The African Humid Period brought rains to the Sahara, perhaps the result of more sunlight in the northern hemisphere as the Earth carried on its celestial wobble. Today, by warming the northern hemisphere faster than the southern hemisphere, humans may well again bring more water to this, the world’s largest desert, greening its wastes once more. If so, and perhaps quite unexpectedly, the hurricanes that hit our shores a hemisphere away could become more frequent and intense. A verdant Sahara, by reducing the amount of dust wafting out over the ocean, will allow the sun to beat down on the Atlantic more intensely, forging more powerful cyclones. The idea that shifting rains might turn deserts in Africa to green, spurring more intense hurricanes that will eventually hit North America, illuminates the Rube Goldberg connections of the climate system, and proves there may be more than a few surprises in store as the world changes. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

America's mistake in Afghanistan

The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and had pretty much routed the villains of the piece.  But instead of exterminating them, the US let them get away.  Remember the Kunduz airlift?  Ostensibly to let "most valuable non-NATO ally" Pakistan save face and rescue its army personnel who were fighting on the side of the Taliban, it allowed (Wiki) "the evacuation of thousands of top commanders and members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, their Pakistani advisers including Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agents and army personnel, and other Jihadi volunteers and sympathizers, from the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, in November 2001".

Well, he who runs away today, lives to fight another day.   They lived on, and they have kept on fighting and the US is still in Afghanistan sixteen years later, with no end in sight.

Add to the Kunduz airlift the starting of another disastrous war in Iraq instead of finishing the war in Afghanistan first, and that is about all you need to know why the globe's sole superpower is bogged down in fight it can't win.

Well, there's more you should know, such as that NATO paid Taliban-owned trucking companies to ship supplies across Pakistan to Afghanistan; i.e., they were paying the people they were fighting.  Not a way to quickly end a fight.   Why couldn't NATO use some other route?  Well, that is a long story involving Iran. 

In my opinion, there should have been no evacuation.  The Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistani army and intelligence supporters of those should have been captured or wiped out in Kunduz.   The US should have ended the war six months later.  This is not to say that Afghanistan would have remained stable in the longer term.   The effect on Pakistan on the elimination of a significant part of its jihad-loving military also might have been temporary if positive.   But it would not be America's war any more.


Monday, August 21, 2017

On the Guha interviewer

In the previously mentioned interview, with Indian historian Ramachandra Guha,  the interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, refers to: "Narendra Modi, a right-wing Hindu demagogue".

Let's settle this systematically.

1. Narendra Modi is certainly a Hindu.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ramachandra Guha on Pakistan has an interview with historian Ramachandra Guha, on the occasion of India's seventieth independence day.

Among the many piles of rubbish spread out by Guha there, sprinkled perhaps with one or two gems of insight, one particular garbage heap to note is where Guha says:
Second is that partition made Pakistan, unlike India, a frontline state in the Cold War. History and geography have dealt Pakistan a bad deal because it became a frontline state in the Cold War. It had to choose sides against the Soviets, which from the 1950s led to the rise of the military in Pakistan, which undermined the democratic possibilities.
The first, and sometimes it seems like the last, native-born American who saw Pakistan for what it was and is, was Margaret Bourke-White.   (There are plenty of first-generation immigrants who understand Pakistan in all its grotesque horror.)  To her everlasting credit, she saw what Pakistan was and would be, right at its birth.  Seventy years of history and a lifetime as a historian haven't given Ramachandra Guha half as much insight. This passage from her is worth repeating (via here).  Pakistan didn't have to be a frontline state in the Cold War. It was a deliberate choice, right from the point of its founding. 

The Messiah and The Promised Land
Margaret Bourke-White was a correspondent and photographer for LIFE magazine during the WW II years. In September 1947, White went to Pakistan. She met Jinnah and wrote about what she found and heard in her book Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India,Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949. The following are the excerpts:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

PM Modi's Independence Day Address


My dear fellow citizens,
Greetings from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the auspicious occasion of Independence Day.
The nation is celebrating the Independence Day with the festival of Janamashtmi today . I can see a number of Bal Kanaiyas here. We are fortunate to have in our cultural and historical heritage from a Sudarshan Chakradhari Mohan to Charkhadhari Mohan.
From the ramparts of Red Fort, on behalf of our 125 crore countrymen, I bow and pay respects to all those men and women who have sacrificed their lives, who have undergone immense sufferings and made sacrifices for the independence, glory and pride of the country.

Minhaz Merchant's advice to Indian authors

Minhaz Merchant has this advice for Indian authors who want to make it big in the West - three very simple rules:

If you want to get your book published abroad, there are three unwritten rules.
Rule one, slam India.
Rule two, slam India.
Rule three, slam India.
These rules apply to movies as well. Satyajit Ray showcased Indian poverty to Western audiences with his film Pather Panchali in 1955. He was lionised globally.
More contemporaneously, Slumdog Millionaire by British director Danny Boyle was a rage abroad. The one stomach-churning scene in the movie starring Frieda Pinto, Anil Kapoor and Dev Patel where a child falls into an excreta-filled sewer was played and replayed on foreign television networks with feigned horror. (The excreta was, in fact, a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate sauce.)

Books receive the same treatment. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity which retells her experiences living in a Mumbai slum for three years, sparing no gory detail, was published to international acclaim in 2012.

Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness received an equally rapturous welcome abroad as it wended its laborious way through India’s graveyard of troubles: Kashmir, Maoism, poverty, communalism, violence. Roy’s sense of bitter hopelessness about India enthrals foreign publishers.
Now a book by Sujatha Gidla, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India, is the latest toast of the West. A Dalit Christian, Gidla tells the story of her uncle Satyamurthy, a Maoist leader who fought the Indian state from the jungles of central India.

In a gushing review, The Economist (July 29, 2017) described Gidla as heralding the “arrival of a formidable new writer.” The magazine added: “Ants among Elephants is an interesting, affecting and ultimately enlightening memoir. It is quite possibly the most striking work of non-fiction set in India since Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.”

The names trip of the tongue nicely: Ray, Roy, Boo, Gidla.

Should all of this matter? Emphatically not. India has many flaws – violence, poverty, rape, corruption, casteism. It is right for journalists and authors, Indian and foreign, to write about them......Sunlight is a disinfectant. Shine it mercilessly on our imperfections. Only then will change take place. The problem though is balance.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Militant Mother Goddess

Friday, August 11, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd - 3

The nerds have been coming out with "science".  Damore is stating "scientific truths" and is being mini-Galileo-ed, it would seem.

Note that Damore's firing is because how he pissed on people at work, not because of some taboo on "scientific truths".

The fun is that even Damore and his supporters' science and reasoning seems dubious, per an article on Quora. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some significant quotes.

Do sex differences make women less suited to be software engineers?
I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
At what point did we jump from talking about personalities to abilities? It’s a massive leap to conclude that a slight difference in average personality must undermine women’s professional abilities in software engineering.

Sex differences in cognitive abilities have been well-studied, so it’s intriguing that Damore chooses to ignore this vast literature to focus on personality. The reason, however, quickly becomes clear when we look at the evidence: namely, there’s zero evidence that suggests women should make worse programmers. On average, women score slightly worse on certain spatial reasoning problems and better on verbal tests. Their overall problem-solving abilities are equal. Women used to score worse on math, but inclusive environments negate that difference. Even the (relatively robust) difference in spatial reasoning can vanish when women are asked to picture themselves as male. The only published study of coding competency by sex found that women were more likely than men to have their GitHub contributions accepted — but if they were project outsiders, this was true only if their gender was hidden.

As Yonatan Zunger explained, empathy and collaboration are also central to competency, especially at senior levels. Published results confirm this: in a study that attempted to identify the factors that influence software engineers’ success, the most important attribute was being “team oriented”. Neuroticism might hold women back from promotions, but there’s no evidence it makes them worse at their jobs.

Thus, to say there’s “significant overlap” in male/female abilities is a massive understatement. There’s no evidence that any known sex differences make women worse at software engineering.

How about preferences? It’s worth remembering that many of the first programmers were women, and that they made enormous contributions to developing the field of computer science. Female participation only declined when programming became a lucrative, gender-stereotyped career.

But suppose women were innately less likely to want to be software engineers. That would, in itself, tend to create a gender-biased environment in which women are unlikely to choose to become software engineers (no matter how innately suited they are individually). In other words, women’s lower average interest would act as an additional filter on both talent and motivation for the pool of available female software engineers. The result, all else being equal, would be that the average female software engineer, who powered through in defiance of gender norms, would be more innately motivated and/or talented than the average male engineer who faced no such barriers.
All in all, we have no reason to think female software engineers should perform worse at software engineering based on female trait distributions. And there’s a huge amount of evidence that promoting diversity improves the performance of teams and companies.
It bears repeating:  "The result, all else being equal, would be that the average female software engineer, who powered through in defiance of gender norms, would be more innately motivated and/or talented than the average male engineer who faced no such barriers."


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd - 2

In an attempt to give a clue to those who still don't understand the Google firing of Damore:

It would be perfectly OK for Damore to say that all employees should get the opportunity to be mentored.  It would have been perfectly OK for Damore to demand it.  It would have been perfectly OK for him to have organized a public demonstration at the public entrance to the Google headquarters.

It is not OK for Damore to say that the employees in Google who currently get mentors are biologically disadvantaged and that is why the mentorship program is in place, and why it is misguided, and so on.  Your colleagues who have been through the hiring process and who have worked in the corporation and have had satisfactory performance are your equals.

And if you can't/don't get this, then I can't explain it any further.

PS: similarly the "truth" of whether women are the same or different than men in the general population is irrelevant.  The issue is whether the women working at Google are qualified to do their jobs.  I'm quite certain the answer is yes - Google isn't operating a charity.   Then if Google finds that women aren't getting their progressions and promotions and so on that their performance record says that they have earned, they are going to find that they need a diversity program. And they do.  This happens, not because Google as a corporation has some intrinsic fault, but because Google employees are hired from a culture which often finds offensive women being something more than just decorative (e.g., think of the scorn heaped on "pant-suit". Or that the country elected Trump).   A corporation can't rectify that in the culture as a whole, they do what they can within their boundaries.

PPS: Also see this: 

PPPS: and this:

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

On the Perils of Remaining a Nerd

A Google engineer, let's call him X, wrote a now infamous memo on the diversity programs in Google, and was fired for it.  Yonathan Zunger wrote a good analysis of this memo, and what he recommended happened - X was fired.  So most of my commentary ought to be superfluous.

Let's note that Google is a business, not a university, think-tank, research institute or public forum.   It is incumbent on every employee not to embarrass their employer, and that too, on the employer's dime, if the employer is not doing anything illegitimate.   X violated this rule in spades, and no matter what the content of his memo, that alone justifies his being fired.

When I first read X's memo, the thing that was important that I latched on to is something Zunger latched on to as well (I read Zunger much later) and that is maybe why I like Zunger's analysis.
One very important true statement which this manifesto makes is that male gender roles remain highly inflexible.
A second thing to note is that as a business, Google would want to keep a good work environment for all its employees.   A senior engineer mouthing off that an entire section of the Google workforce - the women employees - are where they are because of Google's affirmative actions, does not contribute to that work environment.   That too is a good cause for being fired.

A third thing to note is that if you think that X was saying something original, or speaking truth to power or some such, about the nature of men and women, is that no, he wasn't.  It isn't original; it isn't the truth If you think that the scientific literature supports what X says, do remember, most of the research that is relevant is on WEIRD people (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic, acronym via Jonathan Haidt),  i.e., a peculiar and biased sample of the human race.  Taking these to be the way things are is unscientific.

Another issue causing debate, this not from X, but from Zunger is this:
Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. 
If you doubt it, think GNU & Linux,  and all the open source that's out there; the collaborations that produce standards, the engineering and scientific collaborations that produce things like the CERN collider, and so on.  Or cities, and power grids and such.  Google is into producing things of this scale.
If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups.
Also note that Zunger does explicitly state that one's technical competence comes first, and is a given for his analysis.  

What about an abrasive personality like Steve Jobs?  Well, first, he had an uncanny ability to get into the mind of the customer and figure out what would appeal to them; and second, if you read about Apple culture, abrasive though Jobs was, he built effective collaborations.  Third, Jobs didn't build a lot that was "planet-scale" or "carrier-class".  The brilliant loner engineer certainly can have something to offer - but probably in a different sort of business than Google.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

About Dunkirk

Sunny Singh writes in the Guardian:

What a surprise that Nigel Farage has endorsed the new fantasy-disguised-as-historical war film, Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s movie is an inadvertently timely, thinly veiled Brexiteer fantasy in which plucky Britons heroically retreat from the dangerous shores of Europe. Most importantly, it pushes the narrative that it was Britain as it exists today – and not the one with a global empire – that stood alone against the “European peril”.
To do so, it erases the Royal Indian Army Services Corp companies, which were not only on the beach, but tasked with transporting supplies over terrain that was inaccessible for the British Expeditionary Force’s motorised transport companies. It also ignores the fact that by 1938, lascars – mostly from South Asia and East Africa – counted for one of four crewmen on British merchant vessels, and thus participated in large numbers in the evacuation.
Perhaps Nolan chose to follow the example of the original allies in the second world war who staged a white-only liberation of Paris even though 65% of the Free French Army troops were from West Africa. 

All storytellers – and novelists, poets, journalists, and filmmakers are, ultimately, just that – know the power we hold. Stories can dehumanise, demonise and erase. Such stories are essential to pave the way for physical and material violence against those we learn to hate. But stories are also the only means of humanising those deemed inhuman; to create pity, compassion, sympathy, even love for those who are strange and strangers. Stories decide the difference between life and death. And that is why Dunkirk – and indeed any story – is never just a story.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book memo: Billy Bunter & The Schoolboy Broadcasters

"The Schoolboy Broadcasters" is "This week's ripping school story of Harry Wharton & Co. at Greyfriars".  This week is February 12th, 1927, and this is the facsimile edition of The Magnet  published by Howard Baker Press, London.

The students at Greyfriars get a chance to broadcast their stuff over a new experimental radio station, and get into a bigger adventure than one would have imagined. 

The Magnet's Motto: "Clean, Wholesome Literature!".  That it is.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Republic dodges a bullet - barely

While most commentators are focused on the fate of the people and their healthcare, which is proper, I'd like to draw attention to the travesty that Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell almost succeeded in pulling off.

The House gave its assent to a bill that could not otherwise get a majority of the votes in the House on the assurance that the bill would be changed anyway in the Senate; and the Senate was cajoled to do the same on the assurance that the bill would be changed anyway in conference.   That is, this was a way to get through a blank check legislation that could not get votes in the House and in the Senate, and that would take shape in conference.

This attempt failed with 46 Democrats, 2 Independents and 3 Republicans voting against it in the Senate.  While 50 of them had been holding firm from the outset,  one of them, the "political maverick" John McCain, finally put his vote where his speeches have been.

For this travesty of democracy, in my opinion, Ryan, McConnell and all their willing collaborators should be tarred and feathered and driven out of town.

PS: Yes, what is so democratic about tarring and feathering?  Do understand this - in my opinion, Ryan and McConnell are oath-breakers - they have broken their oath to uphold the Constitution, not technically, but in spirit.  Yes, they have broken no laws, they've operated within rules of procedure, etc.  I guess we could try to make airtight rules - but the operation of any system involving humans requires a certain minimum of character and integrity.  It should not require endless rule-making to constrain people to do the right thing.   In my opinion, these folks have forfeited any claim to any consideration, they should be "cast into the outer darkness".

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Josh Marshall: The Darkness and the Rot

One of Marshall's best pieces so far.

The key insight:  "Eventually I sensed that Trump wasn’t inducing people’s self-destruction so much as he was acting like a divining rod, revealing rot that existed already but was not apparent."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Steve Dickinson: How to sell your high-value equipment in China

Via BRF, I came across these three posts on how to do business in China.  It seems like a credible set of posts to me, and is pretty amazing and dismaying.   I'm not excerpting anything here, read the three parts.  I wonder how all of this squares with WTO, free trade and all the other standard rhetorical garbage that is trotted out. If you have answers, comments are welcome.

Part I:
Part II:
Part III:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heinrich Zimmer on linear and cyclic time

This following is a chapter form "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization" by Heinrich Zimmer.    This rendering by Zimmer of a story from the Brahmavaitarta Purana may be read before reading this chapter.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Eric Prydz - Generate (2015)

First heard on an aircraft entertainment system.  Way to get it out of the head is to post it here :)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

History: a profound cultural difference

"The idea of history as a space where the salvation of individuals as members of a “nation,” a “race,” or a “faith” manifests is alien to Indian thought."
A clearer statement than the above cannot be found.  Of course, modern Indian thought seems to be  rapidly alienating itself from the roots of Indian culture.  Maybe modern Indian scholarship can rescue it.

The quote is from here.


As is the one below, with emphasis added:
The fact that everything transpires in history and can therefore be arranged temporally is a relatively banal insight. As a taxonomic principle it is no more compelling than those Foucault discovered on reading Borges in The Order of Things. So the distinguishing feature of the contemporary view is neither the insight into the historical nature of all existence (a discovery variously attributed to Vico, Herder, Humboldt, Hegel, and Ranke) nor the relating of events and discoveries to historical time. Rather, what is distinctive about historicism is the significance attached to history—a significance that, as Löwith rightly notes, originates with the Jewish and Christian experience of awaiting the Messiah. The Greek concept of time is cyclical: historical narratives exist but history itself insofar as it is chance and accidental cannot be the subject of an episteme (science). The proper object of knowledge is the eternal laws and customs that uphold the cosmos and ensure its orderly functioning. As Löwith notes, “In this intellectual climate, dominated by the rationality of the natural cosmos, there was no room for the universal significance of a unique, incomparable historical event.” Contrast this with the Jewish and Christian experience, for which “history was primarily a history of salvation and, as such, the proper concern of prophets, preachers, and philosophers.” There is now a tremendous interest in studying history. As the sphere where man’s salvation plays itself out, history acquires a new significance. To the extent that they regard themselves as Geschichtswissenschaften (historical sciences), the contemporary humanities also stand in this tradition. They have replaced philosophical understanding and ethical self-cultivation with reading the historical tea-leaves.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Can the Earth have a runaway greenhouse effect?

Stephen Hawking is in the news, having said that the Earth could experience an accelerating greenhouse effect that renders it uninhabitable, like Venus (e.g., here).

Back in 2013, the Scientific American had this story:  
Fact or Fiction?: We Can Push the Planet into a Runaway Greenhouse Apocalypse
A new study suggests human activity could, in theory, bring about the end of most life on Earth
The new study was this paper in Nature Geoscience:
Low simulated radiation limit for runaway greenhouse climates, Colin Goldblatt, Tyler D. Robinson, Kevin J. Zahnle & David Crisp

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Intelligence & genetics

A news-item on GenomeWeb:

Rather than having genetic variants that make them smart, brainy people may lack mutations that make them less clever, New Scientist reports.

In a paper posted to BioRxiv, researchers from the University of Edinburgh report that they genotyped some 20,000 people from the Generation Scotland family cohort to tease out the effects of gene variants on intelligence, extraversion, and neuroticism. As the cohort includes family members, the researchers could delve into variants not typically found in genome-wide association studies of unrelated people.

In particular, New Scientist says that CNVs, structural variants, and rare variants seem to affect intelligence. As rare variants are more likely to be harmful, New Scientist says it appears that a person's intelligence might be in part due to their mutational load.
Note 1: CNV = copy number variations
Note 2: It would seem high intelligence is the norm, and variation away from the norm reduces intelligence.  Rather amusing, and this would be a blow to the IQ-metricians, I think.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Grey Catbird

New to my yard, as far as I can remember. I believe it is a grey catbird.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Acceleration in the rate of sea level rise

Some people are looking at sea level data and trying to fit a quadratic time curve to find the alleged acceleration in the rate of rise of sea level.   This doesn't work, and so they are very skeptical that the rate of rise of sea level has accelerated over the last century.

IMO, really they should be looking for piecewise linear fits, and a change in slope of the line segments. The point is that acceleration is simply a change in a rate; and nobody has claimed a constant acceleration in the rate of sea level rise. The rate of sea level rise has changed.

E.g., using data and the graphing utility at, here are three graphs.

Here is sea level data at Delfiziji, Netherlands from January1865 to December 2015.  The fitted line has a slope of 1.72 +/- 0.14 mm/year.

1/1865 - 12/2015 - 1.72 +/- 0.14 mm/yr
The web page also gives this:
  y = B + M·x
  y = 6797.353 + 1.716·x mm
  y = B' + M·x + A·x²
  y = 6784.346 + 1.716·x + 0.00685·x² mm
  Date range = 1865/1 to 2015/12
  x = (date - 1940.46(i.e., 1940/6)
  slope = M = 1.716 ±0.141 mm/yr
  acceleration = 2·A = 2×0.00685 = 0.01369 ±0.00722 mm/yr²
The posited constant acceleration is there, but extremely tiny and buried in the noise.

We now break the time series into two periods of about 75 years each, from January 1865 to December 1940; and January 1941 to December 2015.
The first period has the sea level rising at 1.31 +/- 0.37 mm/year.
The second period has the sea level rising at 2.25 +/- 0.43 mm/year.

Note that the confidence intervals don't overlap (i.e., 1.31 + 0.37 = 1.68; 2.25 - 0.43 = 1.82).
The rate of sea level rise has increased, ergo, accelerated.
1/1865-12/1940 - 1.31 +/- 0.37 mm/yr

1/1941 - 12/2015 - 2.25 +/- 0.43 mm/yr

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Government of India's credit rating

Moody's rates the Government of India at Baa3.  This is the lowest investment grade rating. Per Ashwath Damodaran at NYU this translates into a country risk premium of 3.13% (I suppose this means that the Government of India would pay interest on loans at 3.13% above the risk-free interest rate.)  The credit rating a notch above Baa3 is Baa2, and countries with that rating have a risk premium of 2.71%.

India's debt to GDP ratio in 2016 was 69.5%.  If India's credit rating improved from Baa3 to Baa2, and if all this debt could be refinanced at the lower interest rate,  the Government of India would save 0.3% of GDP in interest payments, that is about USD $6 billion a year.  Nothing to sneeze at.

Despite India's decent economic performance, Moody's chose not to upgrade India's credit rating (this from December 2016). 

The decision to maintain a positive outlook on the Baa3 rating rather than assigning a stable outlook to the rating at either Baa3 or Baa2 reflects two drivers:

- Economic and institutional reforms introduced since the positive outlook was assigned, and potentially forthcoming, continue to offer a reasonable expectation that India's growth will outperform that of its peers over the medium term and that further improvements in its macro-economic and institutional profile will be achieved.

- However, the reform effort to date has not yet achieved the conditions that would support an upgrade to Baa2, in particular in accelerating private investment to support high, stable growth, without which the government's debt burden -- a key constraint on the rating -- is likely to remain high for a sustained period.
Among the factors constraining the credit rating:
Meanwhile, on the revenue side, India's large low-income population limits the government's tax revenue base. At 20.9% of GDP in 2015, general government revenues were markedly lower than the 27.1% median for Baa-rated sovereigns. Although the implementation of GST and other measures aimed at enhancing income declarations and tax collection will help widen and boost revenues, the effects will only materialize over time and their magnitude is uncertain so far. 
I imagine the "other measures aimed at enhancing income declarations" include demonetization. 

A better credit rating would serve to attract more investment to India.  Widening the tax net in India and improving government finances is a high-stakes game.