Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Here are some comparisons on the national homicide rate over time, the U.S. compared to the Brits.

According to Wiki, the first restrictive legislation in Great Britain was the pistol act of 1903, but it had little effect:
"The Act was more or less ineffective, as anyone wishing to buy a pistol commercially merely had to purchase a licence on demand over the counter from a Post Office before doing so. In addition, it did not regulate private sales of such firearms."
The first  significant restriction was the Firearms Act of 1920. There were additional acts in 1937, 1968, 1988, 1997 and 2006.

Here is the data on Homicide rates per 100,000:
YearU.S. England&Wales   Ratio

*No data for the U.K. 1940-1945
**The figure is for the U.K. rather than England and Wales

What seems clear is not that one side here is right or wrong; it is hard to believe that restriction makes no difference (and the argument in the U.S. is over government, not murder anyway). What should be evident is how hard these questions are and how we refuse to accept complexity, preferring to substitute arrogant outrage in the discussion.

Monday, October 16, 2017


William Graham Sumner’s term “the forgotten man” has been revived. Like "American Exceptionalism," it is a phrase that is adopted liberally by people who misuse it, often in a way directly opposite of its original meaning.
 It is the title of Amity Shlaes' reassessment of the Great Depression. And it has appeared in Trump's speeches as well.

Sumner introduced the term “forgotten man” in 1883 as a reminder of the overlooked decent and hard-working people whom the government taxes, pushes, and prods in order to acquire the resources and create the privileges that it then bestows on those who do not earn these things. 
Shlaes writes that in 1936 Franklin Roosevelt systematically established the modern political constituency, from unions to artists, to senior citizens. Her website summarizes that Roosevelt's solution was to spend for these groups, so extensively that federal spending that year outpaced state and local spending, for the first time ever in peacetime. The consequence was the Roosevelt landslide of 1936 --but also the modern entitlement trap. Roosevelt often spoke of the Forgotten Man, the man "at the bottom of the economic pyramid." Yet, Miss Shlaes shows, his New Deal recreated Sumner's forgotten man, the man who subsidizes the funding of other constituencies -- and who haunts politics in all developed nations today.

But central to Trump’s worldview is his belief in the economic and ethical merits of economic protectionism.  Yet no policy received more withering criticism from Sumner than protectionism.  In “The Forgotten Man,” Sumner complained that “The biggest job of all is a protective tariff. This device consists in delivering every man over to be plundered by his neighbor and in teaching him to believe that it is a good thing for him and his country because he may take his turn at plundering the rest.”

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday/ Materialism

Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones: 

But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.
This was written by the poet Richard Wilbur, a reference to Samuel Johnson's famous refutation of an argument against materialism: ‘I refute it thus,’ he said, and kicked a large rock.
Wilbur is right; not so fast, Sam.

Materialism is alive and well in the coffee-houses of the bloody-minded college political theorists and continues as the path du jour among the theorists of consciousness. But there is real trouble brewing for materialism in the minds of those who probably will decide this argument: The physicists.

This is excerpted from an article in Aeon by Adam Frank, professor of astronomy at the University of Rochester. It is dense but the last paragraph itself is worth the read.

...century of agnosticism about the true nature of matter hasn’t found its way deeply enough into other fields, where materialism still appears to be the most sensible way of dealing with the world and, most of all, with the mind. Some neuroscientists think that they’re being precise and grounded by holding tightly to materialist credentials. Molecular biologists, geneticists, and many other types of researchers – as well as the nonscientist public – have been similarly drawn to materialism’s seeming finality. But this conviction is out of step with what we physicists know about the material world – or rather, what we don’t know.

The equation F = ma gave you two things that matter most to the Newtonian picture of the world: a particle’s location and its velocity. This is what physicists call a particle’s state. Newton’s laws gave you the particle’s state for any time and to any precision you need. If the state of every particle is described by such a simple equation, and if large systems are just big combinations of particles, then the whole world should behave in a fully predictable way. Many materialists still carry the baggage of that old classical picture.

But to account for all the new phenomena physicists were finding (ones Newton knew nothing about), the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had to formulate a very different kind of equation. When calculations are done with the Schrödinger equation, what’s left is not the Newtonian state of exact position and velocity. Instead, you get what is called the wave function (physicists refer to it as psi after the Greek symbol Ψ used to denote it). Unlike the Newtonian state, which can be clearly imagined in a commonsense way, the wave function is an epistemological and ontological mess. The wave function does not give you a specific measurement of location and velocity for a particle; it gives you only probabilities at the root level of reality. Psi appears to tell you that, at any moment, the particle has many positions and many velocities. In effect, the bits of matter from Newtonian physics are smeared out into sets of potentials or possibilities.

The wave function treats all properties of the particle (electric charge, energy, spin, etc) the same way. They all become probabilities holding many possible values at the same time. Taken at face value, it’s as if the particle doesn’t have definite properties at all.

According to the standard way of treating the quantum calculus, the act of making a measurement on the particle kills off all pieces of the wave function, except the one your instruments register. The wave function is said to collapse as all the smeared-out, potential positions or velocities vanish in the act of measurement.

...there are multiple interpretations of quantum theory, each of which corresponds to a very different way of regarding matter and everything made of it – which, of course, means everything. The earliest interpretation to gain force, the Copenhagen interpretation, is associated with Danish physicist Niels Bohr and other founders of quantum theory. In their view, it was meaningless to speak of the properties of atoms in-and-of-themselves. Quantum mechanics was a theory that spoke only to our knowledge of the world. The measurement problem associated with the Schrödinger equation highlighted this barrier between epistemology and ontology by making explicit the role of the observer (that is: us) in gaining knowledge.  

Some pinned their hopes on the discovery of hidden variables – a set of deterministic rules lurking beneath the probabilities of quantum mechanics. Others took a more extreme view. In the many-worlds interpretation espoused by the American physicist Hugh Everett, the authority of the wave function and its governing Schrödinger equation was taken as absolute. Measurements didn’t suspend the equation or collapse the wave function, they merely made the Universe split off into many (perhaps infinite) parallel versions of itself. Thus, for every experimentalist who measures an electron over here, a parallel universe is created in which her parallel copy finds the electron over there.

Here is an even more important point: as yet there is no way to experimentally distinguish between these widely varying interpretations. Which one you choose is mainly a matter of philosophical temperament. As the American theorist Christopher Fuchs puts it, on one side there are the psi-ontologists who want the wave function to describe the objective world ‘out there’. On the other side, there are the psi-epistemologists who see the wave function as a description of our knowledge and its limits.....The real problem is that, in each case, proponents are free to single out one interpretation over others because … well … they like it. Everyone, on all sides, is in the same boat. There can be no appeal to the authority of ‘what quantum mechanics says’, because quantum mechanics doesn’t say much of anything with regard to its own interpretation.

First, the differences between the psi-ontological and psi-epistemological positions are so fundamental that, without knowing which one is correct, it’s impossible to know what quantum mechanics is intrinsically referring to. A second and related point is that, in the absence of experimental evidence, we are left with an irreducible democracy of possibilities.

The high ground of materialism deflates when followed to its quantum mechanical roots, because it then demands the acceptance of metaphysical possibilities that seem no more ‘reasonable’ than other alternatives.

[...Then this:...]

Some consciousness researchers see the hard problem as real but inherently unsolvable; others posit a range of options for its account. Those solutions include possibilities that overly project mind into matter. Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the Universe not contained in the laws of particles. There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Another benefit of private property, not so clearly economic, is that it diffuses power.  When one entity, such as the government, owns all property, individuals have little protection from the will of the government.--Boaz

"The Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton invented the concept of ‘white people’ on 29 October 1613, the date that his play The Triumphs of Truth was first performed. The phrase was first uttered by the character of an African king who looks out upon an English audience and declares: ‘I see amazement set upon the faces/Of these white people, wond’rings and strange gazes.’ As far as I, and others, have been able to tell, Middleton’s play is the earliest printed example of a European author referring to fellow Europeans as ‘white people’."
This is from an article by Ed Simon which also contains this little nugget: "English commoner John Rolfe of Jamestown in Virginia took as his bride an Algonquin princess named Matoaka, whom we call Pocahontas. The literary critic Christopher Hodgkins reports that King James I was ‘at first perturbed when he learned of the marriage’. But this was not out of fear of miscegenation: James’s reluctance, Hodgkins explained, was because ‘Rolfe, a commoner, had without his sovereign’s permission wed the daughter of a foreign prince.’ King James was not worried about the pollution of Rolfe’s line; he was worried about the pollution of Matoaka’s."

Total unfunded liabilities in state and local pensions have roughly quintupled in the last decade.
On this day in 1973, Billie Jean King, 29, beat Bobby Riggs, 55, in a tennis match publicity stunt. One needs to know only that the stunt is now the subject of a movie. At this trajectory it will soon be a national holiday and, eventually, a holy day of obligation.
National significance abhors a vacuum.

Who is...Major John Andre?

Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.

Some things I came across about Gandhi:
During his stay in South Africa, Gandhi routinely expressed “disdain for Africans,” says S. Anand, founder of Navayana, the publisher of the book titled “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.”
According to the book, Gandhi described black Africans  as “savage,” “raw” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness,” and he campaigned relentlessly to prove to the British rulers that the Indian community in South Africa was superior to native black Africans. The book combs through Gandhi’s own writings during the period and government archives and paints a portrait that is at variance with how the world regards him today.
In response to the White League’s agitation against Indian immigration and the proposed importation of Chinese labour, Gandhi wrote in 1903: “We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race.”
"Gandhi before India", By Ramachandra Guha, notes the relative lack of attention paid Gandhi’s racial blind spot: the fact that this campaigner for “non-white” British subjects’ rights had nothing to say about the absolute lack of rights of native Africans in colonial southern Africa. This leader who would set an important political example for a number of African and African-origin leaders, including Martin Luther King, Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela, did not himself, while in Africa, regard Africans as deserving of the same political rights as other oppressed people.
So, should Gandhi's writings and influence be purged?

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were close to taking military action in the early stages of their ongoing dispute with Qatar, until Donald Trump called leaders of both countries and warned them to back off. Or so it is rumored.

De Tocqueville, who transited the Ohio River in the 1830s, observed that on the free bank, farms and towns appeared prosperous and well kept, while the opposite was true on the Kentucky side of the River.  He attributed this to the fact that in a free society labor was valued and respected, while the opposite was true in a society in which an entire class of people was confined to labor and deprived of the right of ownership of themselves or anything else.--J Burt

In 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold met with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. In the frenzy to tear down statues, Arnold has been suggested as the prototypical traitor who has no statues while the Confederates have, through bigoted and supremacist thinking, do.
In a world that is moving away from binary choices, this is at least curious.

Golden oldie:
"I'm not sure I'm ready to have fun yet."--child on sideline of tennis camp According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of blacks ...

Many people are really upset over Trump's UN speech. I am a bit uncertain why. They are unhappy about his "Rocket Man" line as unpresidential. But Trump is indeed presidential, as much so as Kennedy or Johnson or Bush who were no less mistaken or dangerous than Trump (see Cuban Crisis, Vietnam War and Iraq), only smoother and occasionally more sincere in their errors. How should we view the North Korean leader? Does he deserve the charade of respect we give guys like Putin and Assad? Look at what has happened to Venezuela, one of the richest countries in the world. All of these so-called leaders are a threat to us and a growing number of them are nuclear-ly armed. What the Trump presidency has done is reduced the role of leaders to the low level they deserve; we should think of them all as Trumps and Assads, not as Churchills and Lincolns. Churchill and Lincoln are the outliers here.

And, on the adventure front, a former head teacher who went missing while trying to kayak the length of the Amazon River on her own has been confirmed dead. A teenager and two men have been arrested in connection with her murder and four other suspects are being sought. Emma Kelty, 43, from Taunton, Somerset, disappeared last week along a lawless stretch of river known for drug smuggling and pirate attacks, after ignoring advice not to attempt the journey without an armed escort. Her body has not been found.

According to Newsweek (9/20, Firger), “a report published...by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the world may soon run out of effective antibiotics.” Newsweek, “According to the researchers, most new drug compounds scientists are busy developing are based on antibiotics that already exist on the market.” This is problematic, as “many of these drugs are less effective because the bacteria is slowly becoming resistant to them.”

Less than 24 hours after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake pummeled Mexico City, another tremor has occurred off the east coast of Japan.
The 6.1-magnitude quake struck roughly 175 miles east of the shuttered Fukushima nuclear plant at roughly 2:30 a.m. local time, according to the US Geological Survey. Its hypocenter — the underwater locus of the quake — happened at a depth of about 6 miles.

Depending on how they are measured or defined, there are 1.5 million entities that qualify as tax-exempt organizations in the United States.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than ten percent of the U.S. workforce is employed by nonprofit organizations of one sort or another. Twenty five percent of the adult population volunteers for those organizations. Then there's the money: in 2016, charitable giving in the United States continued to grow, inching closer to $400 billion.
Of the 1.5 million nonprofit entities in the United State, only about seven percent are private foundations. Those seven percent, however, accounted for about fifteen percent (or nearly $60 billion) of charitable giving in 2016, and, if one believes that the philanthropic distribution of funds is an exercise of power, this means private foundations are the most powerful institutions in terms of charitable giving. (Note that individual giving still dwarfs all other kinds of giving combined.)

Kim's calling Trump a "dotard" was very reassuring. It implied some research and effort at precision. And it was educational; apparently it stimulated a lot of searches for definitions on the internet.

Imagine a world where Kim, Trump, Maduro, Putin and Castro are world leaders with significant influence on their own countries and the world. Indeed the very survival of the species. And imagine a world where billions of people live in nations which have, as a basic political or economic or religious philosophy, the homicidal hatred of their neighbors.

Puerto Rico had, before the storm, $123 Billion--BILLION--in debt they can not finance. What will happen now that the storm has come and gone?

In the frenzy to tear down statues, Benedict Arnold has been suggested as the prototypical traitor who has no statues while the Confederates, though bigoted and supremacist, do.
In a world that is moving away from binary choices, this is at least curious. The gender world has gone analog, why is there so little leeway elsewhere?

AAAaaaaaannnnnndddddd.....a graph:

Friday, October 13, 2017



Some recent numbers are out about the Nobel Prize and here are some interesting specifics.

There have now been a total of 896 individuals (847 men and 49 women) from 68 different countries who have received a Nobel prize from 1901 to 2017.

Just two areas of the world, the US and Canada (396 awards) and  Western Europe (487 awards), together represent the vast majority of the 1,105 country affiliations associated with Nobel laureates--nearly 80% of the total number of laureates since 1901. When the 15 Nobel laureates from Australia and New Zealand are included, the share of Nobel prizes awarded to laureates in Western countries increases to more than 81%.

By country:

The United States is by far the world’s leading country for receiving Nobel prizes with an astonishing 371 total awards over the last 117 years (an average of more than 3 per year, even though there were some years without Nobel prizes, mostly during WWI and WWII), and almost three times more than the second-highest ranked country — the United Kingdom, with 125 awards
Countries in the Middle East have received 22 Nobel prizes, with more than half (12) of the awards going to Israel. Of the 22 Nobel laureates from the Middle East, more than half (12) received the literature (4) and Peace prize (8). For the remaining 10 Nobel prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics, 8 of those laureates were Israeli and one was from Egypt (chemistry) and one is Turkish (chemistry).
Africa is the region of the world with the fewest Nobel prizes – only 17 in total, and only 6 outside of South Africa, even though Africa has a population of about 1 billion. Adjusted for population, both the US/Canada and Western Europe have been awarded more than 100 Nobel prizes per 100 million people, compared to only 1.41 Nobel prizes awarded per 100 million Africans. As mentioned above, Africa (1.41) is just slightly behind Asia (1.45) for laureates per 100 million population.
Jews and people of Jewish descent represent less than 0.20% of the world’s population, but they represent almost 22% of all Nobel laureates (195 out of 896).
Men have been awarded 847 Nobel prizes compared to only 48 female laureates. By percentage, men have received 94.5% of all Nobel awards to individuals compared to 5.5% for women, which is a male-female Nobel prize ratio of 17.3-to-1. By field, women have received Nobel prizes as follows (total sums to 49 because Marie Curie received Nobel prizes in both physics and chemistry):
30 of the 48 female laureates received a Nobel prize for either literature or peace, and those two categories together represent 62.5% of the total female Nobel laureates.
By top research affiliations:
And by age:

Thursday, October 12, 2017


The Jones Act

One of the Impediments to assisting Puerto Rico is the famous Jones Act, originally known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

The Jones Act requires that shipments between two US seaports travel only on US-flagged vessels, built in US shipyards, with American owners and crews.
The original reason was to ensure the US kept a viable commercial shipping industry in case of war. World War I had just ended, so this need was evident at the time. Moreover, the act helped Seattle-based shipping lines pick up Alaskan freight business. (The Jones of the Jones Act was a legislator from Seattle.)

Today, the Jones Act gives a few US companies a legally enforced monopoly on cargo between the mainland US and Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

A 2012 New York Fed study found it costs twice as much to ship a freight container from the US East Coast to Puerto Rico than to nearby Haiti. And, as always, monopoly shows up in higher prices---for Puerto Ricans and other ports. More, it requires the unnecessary and redundant off-loading of ships bound for Puerto Rico in some intermediate designated rentier port so they can be reloaded by the designated rentier workmen on to the appropriate, designated rentier ship.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Lionel Shriver has a new book titled The Mandibles,  another dystopic book.

Speaking to Reason, Shriver said: "I think that the bullet we dodged in 2008 is still whizzing around the planet and is going to hit us in the head."

Two quotes from the book:

"The state starts moving money around. A little fairness here, little more fairness there. ... Eventually social democracies all arrive at the same tipping point: where half the country depends on the other half. ... Government becomes a pricey, clumsy, inefficient mechanism for transferring wealth from people who do something to people who don't, and from the young to the old — which is the wrong direction. All that effort, and you've only managed a new unfairness."

"Oh, you could get a face-lift nearby, put your dog in therapy, or spend $500 at Ottawa on a bafflingly trendy dinner of Canadian cuisine (the city's elite was running out of new ethnicities whose food could become fashionable). But you couldn't buy a screwdriver, pick up a gallon of paint, take in your dry cleaning, get new tips on your high heels, copy a key, or buy a slice of pizza. Wealthy residents might own bicycles worth $5K, but no shop within miles would repair the brakes. ... High rents had priced out the very service sector whose presence at ready hand once helped to justify urban living."

The only good news from Shriver's squint into the future is that when Americans are put through a wringer, they emerge tougher, with less talk about "ADHD, gluten intolerance and emotional support animals."