Bruce Momjian


Government Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

This long article explores divisive research into the effect of genetics on personal outcomes. While it is statistically possible for anyone to accomplish anything, people clearly have different probabilities of success for many tasks. Research performed by Kathryn Paige Harden shows that genetics affects the likelihood of success in physical and intellectual tasks, and the likelihood of undesirable behavior. The research has generated significant controversy:

The book generated such outsized hostility, according to Harris, because it traffics in unpleasant truths. "People don't want to hear that intelligence is a real thing, and that some people have more of it than others," he said. "They don't want to hear that differences in I.Q. matter because they're highly predictive of differential success in life — and not just for things like educational attainment and wealth but for things like out-of-wedlock birth and mortality. People don't want to hear that a person's intelligence is in large measure due to his or her genes and there seems to be very little we can do environmentally to increase a person's intelligence, even in childhood. It's not that the environment doesn't matter, but genes appear to be fifty to eighty per cent of the story. People don't want to hear this. And they certainly don't want to hear that average I.Q. differs across races and ethnic groups."

Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve made similar conclusions and has generated controversy for the past few decades.

There are legitimate concerns that the information will be misused:

"It's truly noble for Paige to make the case for why we might think of biological differences as similar to socially constructed differences, but you're bumping into a great deal of historical, economic, political, and philosophical momentum — and it's dangerous, no matter how noble her intentions are, because once the ideas are out there they're going to get digested the way they're going to get digested," he said. "The playing board has been set for some time."

However, she sees value in facing the facts:

She writes, "I think we must dismantle the false distinction between 'inequalities that society is responsible for addressing' and 'inequalities that are caused by differences in biology.'" She cites research showing that most people are much more willing to support redistributive policies if differences in opportunity are seen as arbitrarily unfair — and deeply pervasive.

This is perhaps the most clear warning about misusing her studies, and keeping a human focus on her research:

In one chapter of her book, Harden mentions that her son struggles with a speech impairment. "Looking at how my children differ in their ability to articulate words, I can easily see the capricious hand of nature," she writes. "When it comes to inheriting whatever combination of genetic variants allows one to pronounce a word like 'squirrel' by the age of three, my daughter was lucky. My son was not." She emphasizes that parents are already well aware of how we might talk about genetics without making normative judgments. "I certainly am not implying that one of my children is 'superior' or 'inferior' to the other one," she writes. "Verbal ability is valued, but having strong verbal ability doesn't make one of my children more valuable to me. The genetic differences between them are meaningful for their lives, but those differences do not create a hierarchy of intrinsic worth."

I have always felt you can't improve things unless you embrace reality, even if the reality is undesirable. Clearly, both environmental and genetic factors affect people's ability to be successful at certain tasks. Let's hope this research can be embraced, and used wisely.

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Safety When will COVID-19 end? A new CDC prediction has surfaced

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

This article has the most accurate predication I have heard about how the Covid pandemic will end:

"The theory is that, if a less virulent strain becomes dominant, more people will become infected but fewer will be critically sick," per The Sydney Morning Herald. "The virus, while still a problem, also becomes part of the solution; every person who recovers from a mild case is left with greater immunity against future infections than any of the current vaccines provide."

This article explains why hospitalizations might be high:

That's because, while Omicron is rapidly spreading, there also will be a relatively high percentage of people infected with the variant who will remain asymptomatic. In addition, there will be a lower percentage of newly infected people who will require hospitalization.

Nonetheless, experts say the ultra-contagious nature of Omicron means that an extraordinarily high number of people could get infected simultaneously. Even if a lower percentage needs hospital care, if there are enough people who are infected simultaneously, that could result in strained hospital systems and, in some areas, overwhelm them.

Update: Article says everyone will be infected. 2022-01-13

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Thoughts Fear is deadlier than viruses

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

This article explains the problems of irrational fear.

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Russia Russia's Assassination History

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Reports of Russian assassination attempts appear every few years, and each time the media tries to make sense of them, as do I. However, Russian government-sanctioned assassination goes back at least a century.

The first high-profile Russian assassination of the 20th century was Rasputin. During Stalinist times, assassination was commonplace, but it continued beyond Stalin and into the post-Soviet period. In recent years, assassinations have become bolder, by attempting to kill more high-profile people and by attempting it in foreign countries. The use of exotic toxins is also a hallmark of Russia assassinations. This 2019 article details the recruitment of an assassin that later kills a Ukrainian who was involved in the Russo-Georgian War. Recent research has exposed how these Russian assassinations happen, but make little advancement in how to prevent them.

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Electronics Cleaning Computers

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Computers are mostly electronic, with only a few moving parts, so you would think that cleaning them is unnecessary. However, electronic parts generate heat, and excessive heat can cause device failure and poor performance. To keep electronic parts cool, most computers use fans to increase airflow over their electronic components. However, the more air you pull in, the more dust also comes in, and some of that dust settles on electronic components. Unfortunately, accumulated dust acts as an insulator and decreases the effectiveness of air cooling.

For these reasons, periodic cleaning of computers to remove dust is wise. How frequently to clean depends on how quickly dust accumulates inside the computer, but for me, every six months is optimal. Cleaning too often takes more time, and increases the risk of breakage during cleaning, but doing it too infrequently risks breakage and poor performance due to the higher electronic component heat inside the computer.

This video does a great job of explaining how to clean a desktop computer, though it uses an excessive number of compressed air cans. (Frozen cans work fine after they warm up.) One tip I learned from this video is that to avoid breakage you should prevent fans from spinning when cleaning them. Some videos suggest much more extensive cleaning procedures, but I feel they are too risky. For laptops, the only way to clean them is to blow air into their air intake vents, unless you want to disassemble the laptop and risk breakage.

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Government Are Governments Always Beneficial?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Democratic governments were formed to serve their citizens. However, all institutions involve fallible human beings, so they are imperfect, and therefore governments are imperfect. So, when governments act in a way that is a disservice to their citizens, how do we interpret that? Is it just another effect of imperfect institutions, or is it something larger?

James M. Buchanan had an answer, and an interesting one. His public choice theory was both predictive and transformative, aligning government actions with the economic/selfish forces that we experience everyday:

The same principles used to interpret people's decisions in a market setting are applied to voting, lobbying, campaigning, and even candidates. Buchanan maintains that a person's first instinct is to make their decisions based upon their own self-interest, which varied from previous models where government officials acted in constituents' best interest.

Certainly the people who operate in government roles are similar to people operating in commercial and private roles, so why should we assume people in government roles behave in a unique fashion? This article covers some of the political context around his ideas.

Historically, there was certainly suspicion of government, as outlined in the limited government powers of the U.S. Constitution. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was an embracing of government beneficence that lasted for decades. During the Reagan Era, suspicion of government was strong, and this also lasted for decades. Covid has placed us in a new situation where government action is both desired and questioned. It will be interesting to see how policies adjust now that Covid fears are receding.

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Arts Fifteen Clunky Phrases to Eliminate

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

With the unprecedented amount of media available today, getting someone to pay attention to what you say or write is challenging. To be successful, you should communicate as efficiently as possible, and that means avoiding meaningless phrases. This web page lists 15 clunky phrases that should probably be eliminated from your written and spoken communication, unless they have a specific purpose. These phrases probably originated from a desire to impress or lengthen communication, but have little practical value and decrease the effectiveness of your communication. In contrast, this fictional commencement address salutes the "enormous power and stultifying dignity" of boredom, and probably should be the opposite of your intended goal.

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Economics Michele Steeb: America's Homeless Crisis

Thursday, May 27, 2021

This thought-provoking article (free registration required) is the best analysis I have seen on the many causes of increased homelessness. It seems the government policy for the past two decades has been to providing housing:

The policy prioritized getting homeless people under a roof with no preconditions, such as pursuing sobriety, attending regular job training classes, or getting a minimum income threshold.

I guess the logic was: provide housing for the homeless, they then have homes so they are no longer homeless, problem solved. However, it didn't work out that way:

Steeb said that the policy ultimately failed because the vast majority, roughly 60 to 70 percent of homeless people, are suffering with mental illness and addiction, and need more than just a home in order to fix their problem.

She said: "If you look at them, we're saying that all they need under this policy is a house and that house is going to fix everything.

"And I would argue, again, thinking about this, this population in the middle, think about a hospital, think about sending them to a hospital, then think about taking away, the doctors, then think about taking away the nurses. … "So we're putting them in a hospital with beds, but we're taking away the doctors and nurses, and we're taking away the medicine. And all we have left is a roof and four walls and a bed. And that's not going to fix these people. That's not going to fix the vast majority of people that are struggling with homelessness."

The empty hospital building was a power metaphor for me. Also, there is no process to move people out of government-provided housing:

She continued, "So you have now a system where, just like the old days, people were entering the system. In the old days, they were also exiting, they were getting temporary help kind of a hand up, and then they were moving on and they were able to reassimilate.

"Today, you have no one leaving the system. … So we've increased the number of permanent housing beds, we've completely done away with transitional housing beds, we've done away with a lot of shelters, again, the more temporary beds, and we've made everything permanent housing. So you have people lining up out on the streets because the system has no one leaving."

The bottom line is that there is no single cause or solution to the homeless problem, no matter how much we would like there to be one.

The article also mentions anosognosia, which the article explains as "a lack of ability to perceive the realities of their own condition." People tend to project their logic and thought processes on others, but people think differently, sometimes dramatically differently, so to assume that everyone will make the same life choices and avoid clearly destructive behaviors is unrealistic.

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Community A Year After George Floyd's Murder, It's 'Open Season' in Minneapolis

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

This wsj article has a thorough analysis of the negative consequences of reduced urban policing in the last year. While Black Lives Matter might sound good, the effect is hardly positive:

The victims of that additional crime increase will, as always, be disproportionately black. At least three-quarters of Minneapolis's homicide and shooting victims are black, though the city is less than a fifth black.

There might be other benefits to decreased policing, but reducing black deaths doesn't seem to be one of them.

Update: seems this policy is already being reconsidered 2021-08-17

Update: video of the costs of lawlessness 2023-05-30

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Safety The Wuhan Lab Leak Question: A Disused Chinese Mine Takes Center Stage

Monday, May 24, 2021

This detailed wsj article explores the possible Chinese cave and/or lab origins of Covid. It was like something out of a movie, but it isn't. It made me sick to consider how a mistake could have caused this virus.

Update: This article suggests a labratory leak.

Update: While these articles (1, 2) strongly suggest a wet market origin for Covid, this article explains that all origin theories rely on coincidence. 2021-11-30

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Safety Immunization

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Today marks the first time that Covid vaccinations are available to all Pennsylvania adults. You might already be eligible for the vaccine in your area, or soon will be. I know there are people who are worried about vaccines and their risks, so how do you evaluate vaccine risks?

Well, because of my extensive travel, I have received many vaccinations in the past:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Ipv (polio)
  • Mmr (measles, mumps, and rubella)
  • Td (tetanus)
  • Tdap (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus)
  • Typhoid Live
  • Yellow Fever
  • Zoster Vaccine Recombinant Adjuvanted (shingles)

Some of the countries I visit have diseases that are rare in the United States, so I have had to consider the value of vaccinations. I remember the first few, where I wondered if the vaccine was wise or necessary, but after a while, when the doctor recommended a vaccine because of known risks, I accepted it without reservations — better to accept the risks of a vaccine now than be sick in a foreign hospital later.

There are risks: sore arms, possible side effects, and psychologically, adding something to your blood stream that will effectively be with you forever — that is never a good feeling. However, those are only the known/visible impacts of vaccinations. The unknown/invisible aspects are that substances are entering your body all the time, and having any of these diseases active in your body can have a huge negative impact on your life.

Let me give an example — I had shingles vaccine, which is administered twice. After each vaccine, I was knocked out the next day and had to take a sick day from work, which I have not done in years. Those were clear negatives, but I am now very unlikely to get shingles. Some relatives have had shingles, and it is painful and potentially debilitating. I took the known negatives of the shingles vaccine to avoid possible larger negatives later.

That's the way it is with the Covid vaccine — you might have no negatives from the vaccine, or you could have serious ones, but the long-term negatives are more likely to be severe, so the vaccine makes sense. I have had to work through these hard vaccine decisions in the past, and have come to accept it. Hopefully this blog entry will help you work through these hard decisions as well.

Update: Analysis of the existing Covid vaccines 2021-04-18

Update: The vaccine might be valid for life. 2021-05-25

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