Thursday, December 24, 2015

How markets work

How markets work. Shkreli was a piker. $900 million a year for doing nothing, now that's scamming.

And here's RtO's Xmas gift to you: you get a Ph.D. in market economics if you can correctly answer this question:

It is suggested that Uber, the ride sharing business, will be valued by the market at $20,000,000,000 when it goes public. For a doctorate in market economics, tell the examiners how much the drivers -- who provide the labor and the investment capital -- will get.

If you said $0.00 you are now a doctor of market economics.

For a cum laude sash, answer this additional question: How much will Uber contribute  to buliding and maintaining the public roads that Uber drivers use?

If you said $0.00, you graduate cum laude.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Yuck of the week

It seems like a long time since I've seen a really funny bumper sticker, but there was one in Kahului yesterday:


Not funny was the one today:

Are you just going to lay there bleeding or are you going to cowboy up

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Martin Shkreli Fan Club

I read somewhere (Bloomberg?) that Martin Shkreli has 35,000 Twitter followers. Even after subtracting the 34,000 business reporters who signed up to follow him as part of reporting on his business dealings, that leaves 1,000 Martin Shkreli fanboys.

Hard to believe, although the Dzhokar Tsarnaev fangirls shoud have alerted me to the possibility.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dem hissy fit

Since I am not a Democrat, I would not ordinarily have anything to say about the campaign software dispute in the party over the weekend. However, the Sanders people on my FB feed have been howling like banshees. They do tend to be conspiracy theorists.

Perhaps they should have kept their counsel. Nut graf:

Still, the Sanders camp’s reactions have been laughable. It was their team that unethically breached Clinton’s data. It was their comms people who spoke falsely about what happened. The Sanders campaign wasn’t honeypotted into doing it—their people did it of their own accord. NGPVAN isn’t set up to benefit Clinton at Sanders’ expense—and if the violation by the campaigns had been reversed, Sanders supporters would have been claiming a conspiracy from sunrise to sundown. What’s very clear is that the Clinton camp did nothing wrong in any of this. Sanders campaign operatives did, and then Wasserman-Schultz compounded it by overreacting. And in the end, the right thing ended up happening: the lead staffer in question was fired, and the campaign got its data access back.
Lest anybody think, however, that I am letting up on the rightwingers, there was also this. Nuclear exchange, anyone? Follow the link embedded in the Washington Monthly story.

And there was also this. Nut graf:

Mr. Adelson chose to buy the paper through a Delaware corporation called News & Media Capital Group L.L.C., with just a Connecticut newspaperman, Michael E. Schroeder, named on the documents. The uncertainty left many observers both inside and outside the newsroom scrambling to discover who the owner was.
In another twist, The Review-Journal reported that The New Britain Herald, a Connecticut paper controlled by Mr. Schroeder, had run an article less than three weeks ago that had singled out Judge Gonzalez for criticism. Its author was Edward Clarkin, who had previously submitted reviews of local restaurants. Reached by phone on Friday, Mr. Schroeder declined to comment on the matter, but said that journalists in Las Vegas were merely stirring up trouble.
That one requires a little background. Gonzalez is Nevada judge who has a case involving Adelson before her.

When it comes to crazy, the Democrats just aren't in the game with the rightwingers.

Debunking fatigue

I don't consider RtO a debunking site although I suppose that at times it serves that function. But RtO is intended more as a positive conduit for stuff everybody knows even if they do not always realize they know it; rather than a negative corrector of bad information like

I like Snopes. But I'm not them.

To give an example, everyone knows -- if they stop a moment to think about it -- that a few Guatemalan landscapers suckered into signing mortgages did not crash a $14 trillion economy in 2008, despite what the rightwingers say. All RtO is doing is asking you to take that moment and reflect.

For the past year or so, Caitlyn Dewey at The Washington Post has taken the other road, trying to run down and expose the bad information on the Internet. She has run out of gas, no surprise.

I was not a regular reader of "What Was Fake," but her farewell column is worth the time it takes to read it. Nut graf:

Frankly, this column wasn’t designed to address the current environment. This format doesn’t make sense. I’ve spoken to several researchers and academics about this lately, because it’s started to feel a little pointless. Walter Quattrociocchi, the head of the Laboratory of Computational Social Science at IMT Lucca in Italy, has spent several years studying how conspiracy theories and misinformation spread online, and he confirmed some of my fears: Essentially, he explained, institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.
 That has certainly been my experience with 9/11 truthers.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Review 358: The Man Who Changed Everything

THE MAN WHO CHANGED EVERYTHING: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, by Basil Mahon. 226 pages, illustrated. Wiley, $29.95

I probably would not have read this book had I not been informed three times in the space of two weeks (twice in science books, once in an astronomy lecture) that James Clerk Maxwell is “hardly known in the wider world.”

True, many surveys have revealed that two-thirds of Americans know no more about the natural world than a peasant of the 11th century, but surely among the other third the man who unified the electric and magnetic forces, who along with Boltzmann explained the behavior of gases is at least known for that? It turns out that Clerk Maxwell is worth remembering for much more than that.

I did not know myself that Maxwell (working alongside his wife Katherine) elucidated the secrets of color vision, prepared the tables used by color printers and made the first color photograph. An experimentalist as well as a theorist, he did so with the simplest equipment, made mostly of wood and paper.

“He was the first to use field equations to represent physical processes . . . to use statistical methods to describe processes involving many particles.” He was on the team that regularized the units of measurement in electromagnetism, he devised equations that are fundamental in control theory and information theory, he explained why the rings of Saturn are stable, he set Planck on the path that led to quantum mechanics and Einstein to special relativity.

“It is sometimes said, with no more than slight overstatement, that if you trace every line of modern physical research to its starting point you come back to Maxwell.”  

So why isn’t he as widely known as Darwin or Einstein or even his friend Kelvin?

Basil Mahon speculates that he never had a controversial champion like Huxley to spread his fame. In fact, while some of his theories were only reluctantly accepted, most ended up as non-controversial; and none attracted the fury of the morons in pulpits.

Nor was there any scandal to attach to his name. We like our biographies to show warts and all, but Maxwell seems to have had no warts. He was universally esteemed, even loved, for his charm, tact, public spirit, generosity and humor. He was a constant practical joker, but never of the kind that humiliated or demeaned the target.

He treated the workers on his Scottish farm well and struggled to see that their children had opportunities. In the city he devoted evenings to lecturing at workingmen’s institutes.

He was even a better than average writer of humorous poems.

His life was, nevertheless, marked by big unhappinesses. His mother died when he was eight; his first and possibly great love was for a cousin, whom he could not marry; and he died at age 48.

Mahon’s brief biography is aimed at readers without mathematics but is not dumbed down as a result. He is an engineer and a virtue of his biography is that he often points out how working engineers still use Maxwell’s findings to make their designs work.

Maxwell is well worth getting to know better.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Another kill-crazy cop

The video tells the story.

The only difference from most you've seen is that the shootee was not a black guy.

Officer Feaster gets a Chutzpah Award for telling his dispatcher, after he shoots the guy, that he "refused to get out."

As the video shows, he was getting out, and Feaster didn't tell him to get out.

However, the NRA will not be pleased, because the district attorney ruled that Feaster did not intend to shoot. So here we have an official case of a gun killing people without the agency of a person.

Remember this next time some slavering idiot says, guns don't kill people; people kill people.

Not in Paradise

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Grateful Christians

Decades ago, when I lived among the Southern Christians, there were sporadic attempts to organize the bigots into economic pressure groups, generally called the "Christian Yellow Pages."

The inspiration may or may not have been the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany, but it  failed for the same reason that the antisemitic political parties in Vienna around 1900 failed: When everybody thinks alike, there is no percentage in emphasizing that you are just like everybody else.

So the Christian Yellow Pages never amounted to anything.  Not because Christians were appalled at the idea of diverting business from solid local citizens who might go to a different church (or none), but because pretty much everybody was eligible. Christian Yellow Pages is still around and proclaims itself as the premier bigot business organization, but even in a state full of hateful Christian bigots (or just because it is a state filled with hateful Christian bigots) like North Carolina, there are no entrants.

In Florida, there are few, but very few, in rightwing cesspools like Royal Palm Gardens. If you don't want an infidel repairing your convertible top, Royal Palm Gardens, Florida, is the place to go.

You might suppose that the failure of a bigot pressure movement would please someone like me who is a fan of tolerance; but I was insulted by Christians often enough not to jump to conclusions. Indeed, in North Carolina (where I first encountered the Christian Yellow Pages) there is a new bigot crusade under way, now called the Faith Equality Index and more closely tracking the Nazi model.

It does not seem to be having much impact, so for some weeks I have ignored it. However, something showed up in my Facebook feed today that made me rethink my reticence.

Professor Robert George, a leading Christian bigot, went into the hospital overnight facing what was said to be a very serious medical crisis. His fans urged prayers to god, and George was soon said to be out of danger.

His friends rejoiced and by the thousands thanked god. Not one thanked the doctors, nurses and medical technicians who -- I expect -- had something to do with it.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What does white fade to, and other idle thoughts

Idle Thought No. 1

While Christmas shopping for towels, I found one that was guaranteed “not to fade.” It was white.

Idle Thought No. 2

There is an app that helps teach scat singing. This is not something I need, but while listening to an example, it occurred me to ask, did scatting evolve out of glossolalia, the speaking in tongues practiced by some religions?

Forty years ago, I read William Samarin’s “Glossolalia,” which proved that tongue-speakers are not communicating — their babble sounds like a language but it does not have the characteristics that make language work. No ideas are transmitted from one person to another, although perhaps emotional states might be.

(An aside: Samarin went to a lot of work to prove a point that can be made more easily. Despite what Chomsky says, there is no “deep” structure in language. It’s a convention. You can no more have a language with one speaker than you can clap with one hand.)

A few minutes spent with Wikipedia’s article on scat-singing places its origins simply in musical, not religious, traditions; but it does point to the article on glossalalia.

Curiously, both articles place the origins of their topic at the same moment: The often unreliable Jelly-Roll Morton said scatting began in New Orleans in 1900; and modern glossolalia is said to have started among Kansas Pentecostalists in 1901.

Hmmm. I suspect there were earlier antecedents, and that the religious practice was prior.

American religious traditions show up in strange disguises. I once saw a clip of the teevee hostess Tyra Banks becoming excited and writhing on the floor, kicking and screaming. It was exactly like a religious ecstatic becoming possessed in the spirit.

Idle Thought No. 3

After each shooting atrocity, the gun nuts tell us it is too soon, emotions are too tender to have a discussion about arming America. For example, the San Bernardino massacre was Wednesday, and political pundit and Ronald Reagan fantasy girlfriend Peggy Noonan wrote this on Thursday:

“Here’s an odd thing. If you really are for some new gun-control measure, if you are serious about it, you just might wait a while, until the blood has cooled, for instance, and then try to win people over to see it your way. You might offer information, argument, points of persuasion.”

OK, Noonan. It has been only hours (about 100 as I write) since the shootings. The blood still seethes. But it has been over 100 days since the Charleston church massacre. Can we talk about guns in the context of that one?

When I asked Mr. Google what Peggy Noonan has said about that, there was just one hit. She did not wait long, though. Apparently  her blood cools quickly, except for the torch she continues to carry for hunky Ronnie. Just four days after that slaughter, Noonan wrote in her Murdoch-owned rag, the Wall Street Journal:

"A Northerner bows, deeply, to the South. ... Did you hear the statements made at the bond hearing (for Roof)? ... Nine beautiful people slaughtered ... and their relatives were invited to make a statement (Friday) in court. Did you hear what they said? ... They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God. There was no rage, no accusation — just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke. ... It was people looking into the eyes of evil, into the eyes of the sick and ignorant shooter who'd blasted a hole in their families, and explaining to him with the utmost forbearance that there is a better way. What a country that makes such people. Do you ever despair about America? If they are America, we are going to be just fine.”

Nothing since. No information, arguments, points of persuasion in favor of arming America’s ammosexuals to the teeth.

Just sweet, deep oblivion.

And, no, Robert Adams, Isaac Amanios, Bennetta Betbadal, Harry Bowman, Sierra Clayborn,  Juan Espinoza, Aurora Godoy, Shannon Johnson, Larry Daniel Kaufman, Damian Meins, Tin Nguyen, Nicholas Thalasinos, Yvette Velasco and Michael Wetzel are not just fine.

They’re dead.

The blood’s on your hands, Noonan.