Friday, May 24, 2013

You can't even have half of everything

A few items I've run across.  On Twitter, to be honest, which it turns out is an excellent way for the obsessive news-gatherer to find cool stuff that's happening, and which I wasn't even on until six months ago because I was an old guy who thought nothing good would happen when the expressive power of human language was artificially limited to 140 characters yadda yadda yadda...

Letter to the Nation from a Young Radical
Barack Obama’s inclination to sit the health insurance companies down at the table rather than confront them head-on is a useful example of this def iciency at work. You didn’t have to be a Marxist to realize this was a doomed strategy; plenty within the liberal ranks knew it at the time. Liberalism has evolved and incorporated views of politics that were traditionally associated with the socialist movement. But this development happened only under the influence of the left, and now the dominant currents in the liberal movement, especially in the Democratic Party, are forgetting lessons learned from radicals in the past. 
Is the Democratic party a "left wing" party?  If by "left-wing" you mean, say, someone that terrifies Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity then yes: The Democratic party qualifies.  If by "left-wing" you mean someone who's got some idea of what Marx were on about and agrees with some or all of that, which comes down to four things:
  1. You can divide people into those who by-and-large do the work and those who by-and-large pay for the work to be done so they can sell the results. 
  2. Political democracy is not the only kind of democracy.  Even if you can vote every four years, you don' live in much of a democracy if you spend 8-10 hours a day in a fascist dictatorship at work.
  3. You can try to treat symptoms, or root causes.  The various "Liberal" parties treat symptoms, whether they identify themselves as GOP/Conservative or Democratic/Liberal. 
  4. If the people who pay for work and sell the results keep getting richer and everyone else becomes more powerless over time, that's because the system is designed to do that.  Its a feature, not a bug. 
Then no, the Democratic party is not a "left-wing" party.

Perisistence Hunting Marathoners
The pronghorn is the second-fastest animal on earth, while the men are merely elite marathon runners who are trying to verify a theory about human evolution. Some scientists believe that our ancestors evolved into endurance athletes in order to hunt quad­rupeds by running them to exhaustion. If the theory holds up, the antelope I'm watching will eventually tire and the men will catch it. Then they'll have to decide whether to kill it for food or let it go.
Asking some modern marathon runners, even trail runners, to chase after a pronghorn to demonstrate that persistence hunting works is just dumb.

Pronghorns are fast.  It was a mistake to go after a pronghorn, when there's so many old, tired, fat mule deer sitting around in every river bottom on the continent.  Chase a deer out onto the plain and after a few hours you've got yourself more than a hundred pounds of protein; a dead pronghorn gets you less than fifty pounds redolent of sage and alkali.  So interesting piece on persistence hunting, but the bewilderment at the Kenyan guy who'd clearly done this before is a little irritating - like he's going to lie? - and maybe demonstrate a little less hubris in your choice of prey.  Persistence hunting is not racing, its putting food on the proverbial table, so go after the, um, low hanging fruit.

One-Shot vs. Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma

Wait wait, don't quit just yet.  It may seem obvious, but Althea Parker-Johnson has come up with a framework to describe why people who think they've got nothing to lose take risks they wouldn't otherwise take.

Roll Over Einstein

There's a couple of interesting historical cycles at play in modern particle physics on display in this piece in the Guardian.  First there's the fact that every once in a while theoretical physics overreaches experimental physics.  Yes, despite the enormous quantities of data created by modern experiments in particle physics, petabytes worth of data that was one-third of the motivation behind the invention of "Big Data" approaches to data management, very little new stuff is actually being discovered that requires new theoretical work, and very few of the theories in competition right now are confirmed or disconfirmed by the gigantic mountains of data available.  In fact this is a clear case of what we might call Rooney's Axiom.

This gives rise to another cycle, which is the legitimacy of outsider opinions in physics.  The most famous outsider is of course that young Swiss patent clerk from Ulm.  But there are others.  What we're seeing with Weinstein and Garret Lissi is a curious phenomenon we're seeing play out elsewhere, too: people with the training, time and inclination to compete with the professionals are actually competing, but they're finding they have not only the hurdle of the profession's success criteria to overcome but the more subtle sociological hurdle also known as "not invented here" or "doesn't speak the language" or "clearly doesn't know what he's talking about because if he did he'd be one of us instead of someone I've never heard of."  The latter hurdles are the more critical ones; Weinstein's theory, after all, is - if its well put together, mind you - no worse off than either the Standard Model or Supersymmetry, because neither of them has the clinching experimental evidence either.  Its a sucker's bet to say "its probably something we haven't thought of" because that's always true, because that's tautologically and literally always true.  But you can hear the physicists sniffing "why he's practically a blogger!"

Harper Lee Sues for Copyright for To Kill A Mockingbird

Samuel Pinkus sounds like he's more than a few bricks shy of a load.  Does he think anyone is going to take his side?  Does he think we couldn't tomorrow take up a collection of quarters from everyone in North America who read that book in school to fund Ms. Lee's suit and still have enough left over to hire a hitman?  He's got a children's novel evil character name besides.  He'd have been better off getting a percentage of the ebook rights.  What a doofus.

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