Monday, September 27, 2010

Income redistribution since 1979

From Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The first chart shows the gain or loss since 1979 depending on income group. The second chart shows actual and implied income (along again with gain or loss) for each income group.

Life, Unbounded: Jovian attraction

Caleb Scharf has a very poetic posting about Jupiter.
In my mind's eye I superimposed the great gas giant, king of worlds, two and half times as massive as all the other planets in our system put together. Its vast jet streams and storms, its incredible family of 63 moons, the potent magnetic field, the great plasma torus as Io burrows through a tight orbit.
He goes on to calculate that at its current position—closer to the earth than at any time since the 1960's—Jupiter's gravity reduces the weight of the Empire State Buiilding by 26 pounds.

Friday, September 24, 2010

This apparently is a well know short video of a dancer twirling on her foot. The question is whether she is going clockwise or counterclockwise—or whether you can see her going in either direction if you think about it. It's useful to blick or look away to make her switch direction.

Initially I see her going to her right. If I click the stop/play button to stop and start the video, she often changes direction. Since she always moves in the direction of her outstretched arm, the arm changes from being her right arm to her left arm!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senate Democrats postpone tax cut vote until after elections

From Washington Post.
Senate Democrats said Thursday that they had abandoned plans for a pre-election showdown with Republicans over taxes, postponing any vote on extending Bush administration tax cuts until after the November midterms.
It's stupid politically for them to do this. But they know what they are doing. It isn't as if they don't realize what the political issues are. The problem apparently is that some "conservative Democrats" don't want to be put in the position of voting to allow the tax cuts to expire on people making more than $250,000. And that's the real problem. The Democrats have done so badly at making their case in the public conversation that they can't make this simple argument. Even the most "conservative" Democrats should be able to make the case to let the cuts expire on the most wealthy. But the Democrats have so given up the floor to the Republicans that they can't even get that point across. The Republicans are simply in control of the public forum. It's outrageous both that the Democrats let that happen and that my fellow citizens are so easily taken in. It makes me very angry on both counts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pictures from our trip to England

Insect Dinners

From an article on eating insects in
Mr. Zimmern can rattle off a nauseating litany of bliss, from eating tarantulas in Cambodia to stir-fried bees in Taiwan. He loves the chapulines — little fried grasshoppers — of Oaxaca. (They’re a consistently popular item at the Manhattan restaurant Toloache, where they’re served in tacos.)

“They’re crunchy but they’re kind of soft in a beef jerky way,” said Mr. Zimmern, who once worked with Thomas Keller. “They’re heavily flavored with lime and salt, and they’re the perfect bar snack. You can’t stop eating them. Sautéed silkworm larvae in Thailand are pliant, they’re like little pillows. They remind me of gnocchi. And they have this earthy, loamy, mushroomy flavor. Eaten on their own, they’re good. Sautéed with ginger and scallions, they’re out of control.”

At the Brooklyn Kitchen, diners ranged from insect virgins to Zimmern-style thrill-seekers who could debate the relative merits of wolf spiders and Icelandic fermented shark. “There’s a lot of adventurous eaters out there,” said Harry Rosenblum, who owns the Brooklyn Kitchen, a food emporium, with his wife, Taylor Erkkinen.

And there are those who aspire to adventure, like Pamela Zwaskis, 30, a Victoria’s Secret employee who moved to New York. “We don’t have five-course insect dinners in Wilmington, Del.,” she said. “I want to tell my friends, ‘I ate that.’ ” By the end of the night Ms. Zwaskis was shoveling chapulines into her mouth. “They taste like the exoskeleton of a potato chip,” she said.

Perhaps the most pioneering gourmand of all was Moxie Rosenblum, the daughter of Ms. Erkkinen and Mr. Rosenblum, who swallowed a live wax moth worm the day before the dinner. She is 14 months old.

That moment might mark the start of a lifelong habit for Moxie. Although it’s hard to pinpoint where the Western bias against bug-eating comes from, the gross-out factor seems to be conditioned in childhood.

“I had nightmares as a kid,” the photojournalist Peter Menzel said by phone. “In my dream I would be eating a bowl of shredded wheat or something, and in the milk in the bottom would be these thrashing insects.” Years later he and his wife, Faith D’Aluisio, traveled around the world to chronicle the endless permutations of entomophagy in a 1998 book called “Man Eating Bugs.” The odyssey turned into an unusual mode of therapy for Mr. Menzel, complete with a classic Jungian breakthrough: at a restaurant in southern China he ate a custard studded with river worms. “This big handful was dumped into the casserole, and the worms just went crazy, they were thrashing in the milk and the custard was flying out of the thing,” he said. “And it was just like my dream. It came full circle.”

“It was actually delicious,” Mr. Menzel added. “It was like a quiche with little bits of very tender bacon in it.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who You Gonna Believe?

Krugman on the conservative world economic view.
Suppose you had spent the last five years actually believing what you read from the usual suspects — the WSJ opinion pages, National Review, right-wing economists, etc.. Here’s what would have happened:

In 2006 you would have believed that there was no housing bubble.

In 2007 you would have believed that the troubles of subprime couldn’t possibly spread to the financial system as a whole.

In 2008 you would have believed that we weren’t in a recession — and that the failure of Lehman was unlikely to have bad consequences for the real economy.

In 2009 you would have believed that high inflation was just around the corner.

At the beginning of 2010 you would have believed that sky-high interest rates were just around the corner.

Now, we all make mistakes and get things wrong — although it’s striking how often the trolls on this blog feel the need to accuse yours truly of saying things I didn’t. But after this string of errors, wouldn’t you at least begin to suspect that the people you find congenial have a fundamentally wrong-headed view of how the world works?

Pleasure in Pain of Chilies

Other mammals have not joined the party. “There is not a single animal that likes hot pepper,” Dr. Rozin said. Or as Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, puts it, “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Generate Jobs, Nurture Start-Ups (Big or Small)

For decades, the assumption has been that small business is the economy’s dynamic engine of job generation. Look at the numbers broadly, and that is the irrefutable conclusion: two-thirds of net new jobs are created by companies with fewer than 500 employees, which is the government’s definition of a small business.

But research published last month by three economists, working with more recent and detailed data sets than before, has found that once the age of the businesses is taken into account, there is no difference in the job-producing performance of small companies and big ones.

“Size plays virtually no role,” says John C. Haltiwanger, a co-author of the study and an economist at the University of Maryland. “It’s all age — start-ups are where the job-creation action really occurs.”
My guess is that there is less here than meets the eye. Jobs are created when money is invested. It doesn't matter whether the money is invested in large companies or small companies, young companies or old companies. It's pretty basic: newly invested money almost (but not always) means new jobs. So to encourage job creation encourage the investment of new capital.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Estonia's Songs of Defiance

The Singing Revolution was a film documenting Estonia's breaking away from Russian domination at the end of the cold war. It told the story of Estonia's tradition of singing and how that provided the foundation for a peaceful revolt. The people who made that film are making Songs of Defiance (trailer link below),
a celebration of Estonia’s spectacular song festival, called “Laulupidu”. Today Laulupidu continues to thrive, with nearly 30,000 singers on stage sharing both modern and traditional music with an audience of well over 100,000.

The festival amazes on so many fronts…Every five years this UNESCO cultural event gathers choirs from around the nation, and the world, to sing at the highest levels of beauty and professionalism. This festival is also a reflection of the Estonian spirit – and the special role the festival has played in keeping that spirit sustained during years of suppressive occupation.

The film follows an American children’s choir to Tallinn, Estonia, where they are hosted by an Estonian choir as they participate in the festival. Through this cultural exchange we are able to share the wonder, history, beauty – and most importantly - the singing that is Laulupidu.

"We the corporations" | Move to Amend

From an email message from "We the corporations" | Move to Amend
The US Constitution says “We the People,” not “We the Corporations.” Nowhere in the Constitution are corporations even mentioned let alone protected and anointed with human rights to do virtually what they want, where they want, whenever they want politically, economically, socially or environmentally.

Constitution Day, September 17, is a terrific opportunity to take this message to your school, your neighborhood, city or town, or your elected officials. Start now to do something: educate, advocate or organize on that date to say and proclaim that constitutional rights belong to human beings, not corporations.
Good point.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hungry flies ok with less sleep

From The Scientist
When flies are starved, they are able to stay awake for long periods of time without suffering the negative outcomes of sleep deprivation, including cognitive impairment, according to a study published online today (August 31) in PLoS Biology. …

By and large, sleep appears to be a necessary part of life, and sleep deprivation can lead to serious impairments in cognitive function and even death. But under certain conditions, the amount of sleep an animal needs appear to vary. Starvation, for example, is known to be arousing, with starved animals being more active and sleeping less, but until now, no one could say why.

Recently neuroscientist Paul Shaw of the Washington University School of Medicine noticed that in addition to staying awake more, starved flies were also less susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation. They didn't, for example, sleep more after they ate to make up for the sleep they lost while hungry.

Comparing starved flies to flies that were forced to be awake for similar amounts of time by a brief physical jolt every 10 seconds, Shaw and his colleagues found that starved flies didn't seem to get sleepy or suffer the same cognitive impairments as normal sleep-deprived flies.

Furthermore, they used flies that lacked a functional copy of the canonical clock gene cycle, making them extremely sensitive to sleep loss, even dying within just 10 hours of being deprived of sleep. When these flies were starved, however, they survived nearly three times as long.

Indeed, parallels in vertebrates point to another interesting case of sleep deprivation, Siegel said -- that of migrating birds and marine mammals. Some whale species "reduce sleep for long periods of time, for a month or more, well beyond the duration of sleep loss that's lethal [experimentally], and yet these animals are quite active and responsive," he said. "So what we have assumed in the past -- that there's a fixed need for sleep and the more you get the better -- may be the wrong way of looking at sleep."

As for what mechanism may underlie these unexpected effects of starvation, the team suspected that metabolism genes may play a role. Along with the fact that starvation keeps flies awake and alert, sleep deficits in another species -- humans -- can lead to an increased risk of the metabolic disorders obesity and diabetes, as well as coronary disease.

Sure enough, mutations in fat metabolism genes appeared to affect flies' ability to withstand the effects of sleep loss. Brummer (bmm) flies, which are fat and resistant to starvation, were particularly affected by sleep loss, sleeping more afterwards to make up for the loss and showing greater signs of cognitive impairment. Lipid storage droplet 2 (Lsd2) flies, on the other hand, are lean and were able to stay awake without showing signs of sleepiness or cognitive decline.

"Our hypothesis is that fats themselves play a role in regulating sleep," Shaw said. They are, after all, signaling molecules, he said, and it's possible "that lipids themselves are somehow signaling to the brain that you should be sleepy or are initiating cascades that either result in impairment or can protect you from impairment."

While these results are currently limited to flies, the authors are "providing a blueprint for how we can potentially counteract the effects of sleep deprivation in humans," agreed endocrinologist and fat cell biologist Perry Bickel of the University of Texas Health Science Center, who was not involved in the research. Indeed, mice knockouts of the mammalian homologs of both bmm and Lsd2 already exist, he said. "That will get us that much closer to understanding what's going on in humans."

M.S. Thimgan, et al., "The perilipin homologue, lipid storage droplet 2, regulates sleep homeostasis and prevents learning impairments following sleep loss," PLoS Biology, 8: e1000466, 2010.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Triumph of the Heart

By Joseph Goldstein in Tricycle
Sit in some comfortable position, and keeping an image or felt sense of yourself in mind, slowly repeat phrases of lovingkindness for yourself: May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be free of suffering. Say these or like phrases over and over again. We do this not as an affirmation, but as an expression of a caring intention. As you repeat the words, focus the mind on this intention of kindness; it slowly grows into a powerful force in our lives. …

We then move on to other categories of people. We send loving wishes to those very close to us; then to those who are neutral, about whom we have no strong feelings one way or another; and then to “enemies” or difficult people. Finally, we send lovingkindness to all beings everywhere, repeating, May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free of suffering.

It’s important to move through this progression at your own speed. Some categories may be easier than others. Whenever you feel that you’re able to generate genuine feelings of lovingcare for one, move on to the next.

What does inter alia mean?

Well, among other things, …