Skip to content

Exporting corruption

September 20, 2019

The sad thing about the Ukraine scandal is that America’s corrupt government now is actively exporting that corruption abroad. From four months back, this article chases some of the right-wing bogosity there. Biden does a right thing, pledging a wall between government and family business if he is elected.

Ob disclaimer: I have a bet against Biden becoming the Democratic nominee in prediction markets.



September 19, 2019

The Scholar’s Stage has a post arguing(!) that most reasoning is post hoc justification, not actually the true reason for the claim argued. True reasons, of course, are not the reasons someone offers, but the conditions that actually determine belief and that point to what would lead to a change in belief. The post ends by suggesting any argument should begin with finding those:

The first step in any serious argument, any argument with real consequences, should be this. Each side should lay out their case—and then explain, in equal detail, what would make them determine that their case is wrong.

Read the comments, which point out some of the limits of true reasons.

Fivethirtyeight discusses some research suggesting that Americans are becoming more secular in part because of right-wing politics. In essence, young Americans see modern Republican behavior, associate that with the Christian religion, and repulsed, run away from religion:

Within the past few years, Margolis and several other prominent political scientists have concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity. People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted. Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people.

While I understand the repulsion, I would prefer that people run away from religion because it teaches a bunch of nonsense, regardless of any sect’s political affinity.

Why do these cancer drugs work?

September 18, 2019

Biology is messy. Cancer researchers have used RNA interference in vitro to identify genes that seem necessary to the growth of cancer cells. They then have found drugs that counter the proteins generated by those genes. And, at large expense, carried them through clinical trials. And some of those drugs seem to work. It turns out, though, that knocking out those genes in vitro using CRISPR fails to disable cancer cell growth.

Which means.. well, what? Maybe the drugs are working by some other mechanism. Maybe that RNA and the drugs countered more than one gene. Maybe there is something strange in the CRISPR editing. It’s certainly something interesting. Fortunately, doctors don’t have to know the exact mechanism of a drug to make good use of it.

Everett and quantum mechanics

September 17, 2019

Sean Carroll nicely describes the development of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and what its attraction is:

Everett’s insight was as simple as it was brilliant: accept the Schrödinger equation. Both of those parts of the final superposition are actually there. But they can’t interact with each other; what happens in one branch has no effect on what happens in the other. They should be thought of as separate, equally real worlds.

As with every advance in the foundations of QM, this one comes with a rather large but. It’s not, in my view, the one that initially bothered Bryce DeWitt. I think Everett’s answer to the subjective experience of branching is perfect:

Bryce DeWitt, an American physicist who had edited the journal where Everett’s thesis appeared, wrote a letter to him complaining that the real world obviously didn’t ‘branch’, since we never experience such things. Everett replied with a reference to Copernicus’s similarly daring idea that the Earth moves around the Sun, rather than vice-versa: ‘I can’t resist asking: do you feel the motion of the Earth?’ DeWitt had to admit that was a pretty good response.

What we do experience is quantum probabilities. Those are described by the Bohr rule, a practicum stuck onto the deterministic, unitary math of quantum mechanics like a post-it note on a white board of technical drawings that says, “real values good.” There are two problems with the Born rule. First, it is stated in terms of observation, a notion that is not rigorously defined. Second, despite some recent efforts, there is considerable difficulty deriving it from more fundamental theory. If anyone can derive it from MWI — or other interpretation — rigorously defining what counts as an observer, that would provide much more support for such interpretation.

David Deutsch, photo above, is an ardent supporter of MWI. He looked much younger, many years back at the University of Texas, when discussing such things in Wheeler’s class on measurement theory.

Texas poker clubs

September 16, 2019

The “regulatory entrepreneurs” who have opened commercial poker clubs here in Texas still are traveling a rocky road. Though Houston has cracked down, at least one club is fighting back in the courts.

That first article describes the allowance that makes room for private games, like our neighborhood poker night: 1) it is in a private place, 2) all players take equal risk, and 3) there is no rake for the house. That makes it legal. What makes it fun is that the whiskey and chit-chat both flow freely. The players who chew tobacco generally manage not to dirty the table. The only time I recall a gun being brandished is when its owner was showing off a new purchase. Some of the players may have fresh caught fish, but it stays in the icebox. In all, a friendly, south Texas social gathering, the group a bit classier than that shown in José Malhoa’s painting. Los bebadores, or something like that.

Saudi Arabia

September 12, 2019

I’m old enough to remember when Reagan supported the mujahideen Afghanistan as freedom fighters, and that many American conservatives then thought their fundamentalist religion gave them something in common. So it doesn’t surprise me to read about Saudi Arabia hosting a delegation of American evangelists.

If you’re going to remember anything about 9/11, remember this: the House of Saud funds the Taliban and is behind the worldwide spread of Wahhibism, the fundamentalist form of Islam that spurred bin Laden, Omar Rahman, and many of the other Islamic terrorists who have struck the US and Europe in the last half century. Most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi. The Kingdom is a tyranny with a horrid record on human rights. When school children generations from now read the history of our times, one thing that should cause them to scratch their heads is how, despite that, the US has seen the House of Saud as its bright and shiny friend, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. That may be changing soon. The House of Saud knows they have a friend in the current president, and will do what they can to keep him in power.

A bit on seeing

September 11, 2019

I suspect most computer science curricula include some reference to visual processing. Decades back, when I was in school, the puzzle of the optic nerve was an issue, since it seems too narrow a communications channel between the retina and the optical cortex. So it is fun to read of recent advances modeling that. What I wonder, of course, is whether that mathematical model explains any of the visual illusions that characterize our vision.

Some researchers at Stanford looking at how early childhood experience shapes the brain find that Pokémon engages eccentricity bias in children (cite). So be glad if you are old enough that the piece of visual cortex dedicated to that is instead trained on squirrels and geckos, as it should be.