Sunday, April 29, 2012

Books on diverse topics

More and more people I know are publishing books. Most recently, besides David Frum's Patriots (of which I'm awaiting my paperback), there is Lawyers, Guns and Photos: Photographs and Tales of My Adventures with Warren Zevon, by my friend George Gruel. This Wednesday, I believe, George will be appearing on Gabe Wisdom's radio show to talk about the book. Also: I just met Patrick Ciser, ex-policeman and karate teacher, whose Budo and the Badge: Exploits of a Jersey Cop has just come out.

I have my own ideas for books, though whether the 21st century public is ready for them we'll have to see. Meanwhile, I am busy reading, for an expected review, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society by Jim Manzi, whom I don't know personally.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Christie's future

My May column for Research magazine is now online: "Christie's Path," looking at the political trajectory of Gov. Chris Christie. Excerpt: 

For Romney and his team, considering a choice of Christie means weighing some formidable upsides and downsides. Christie’s style could be seen as a liability, amid concerns about teamwork and tact. Then again, Christie’s tone has been vital in generating enthusiasm for him among conservatives, overshadowing some substantive disagreements with the right, including on gun control and climate change. Forcefulness can be a valuable asset in a vice presidential candidate — or a vice president.
At the same time, Christie has shown an ability to appeal beyond the conservative Republican base. He has been broadly popular, with approval ratings in the high 50s, in New Jersey, a state that has been firmly Democratic in recent presidential elections. Christie on the ticket would raise the possibility that New Jersey, with its 14 electoral votes, just might swing Republican this year. Then again, that is far from a sure thing.
Whole thing here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Erie Canal research

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to tour the Erie Canal route in the Albany area with Tom Carroll, science historian and executive director of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, an education and preservation organization. This gave me an up-close look at sites where DeWitt Clinton would've inspected the route or sailed through it once the canal was built, and what they look like now.

This nondescript parking lot in Albany was recently discovered to be the site of Lock 1 of the original Erie Canal.
That stone in the foreground is a remnant.
Somewhat further north, some much more visible infrastructure.
A portion that ran along the Schuyler estate; the nearby house was destroyed by vandals in the 1960s.
There was not much NIMBY sentiment back in the 19th century; people wanted the canal to be close to their houses.
A building where the mules that towed the boats were housed.
A lock of the enlarged canal, built a couple of decades after the original.
Remnant of a weighlock, in which boats were weighed.
The Cohoes Falls, an important source of power generation.
An example of reuse of the canal route for recreation.
Clute's Dry Dock, once a bustling place of boat building and repair.
This tour was pursuant to my writings on history relevant to DeWitt Clinton including family history, as my wife and our son DeWitt are descendants. (See links in "DeWitt Clinton Family" box to the side of this blog.) It also was an eye-opener as to the value and potential of the canal infrastructure as a New York State asset and attraction. Along the way, we ran into several people with a strong sense of that, including Brian U. Stratton and John Callaghan, respectively director and deputy director of the New York State Canal Corporation. Friendly people from the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway were on hand as well at the A.C. Stevens nature and historic preserve shown below.

A relocated bridge designed by famous 19th-century engineer Squire Whipple.
A view of the canal from the bridge.

UPDATE 1/25/13: I've posted a PDF of my articles relevant to DeWitt Clinton and family.

UPDATE: What I'm working on.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Calculating odds and ends

-- Looking for Continuing Ed credits relevant to your Chartered Financial Analyst designation? Read my article "Fiduciary Matters."

-- Speaking of CFAs, the CFA Institute is asking "Does Quantitative Investing Have a Future?" The piece includes a link to an interesting abstract "The Quant Delusion: Financial Engineering in the Post-Lehman Dodd-Frank Landscape,"the article of which opens with:
"In 1993, the U.S. Congress cancelled the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) Project."
I wonder: is someone now working on a book that starts with the SSC cancellation and ends with the financial crisis? Or has it already been done?

-- Since a portion of the regular readership of this blog is known to be employed in the actuarial field, here's one more link, from the (crisis-plagued) month of Nov. 2008: "Actuaries Versus Quants."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pro-science Republicans [updated]

Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2009: "funding for science under Republican administrations has been historically higher than under Democrats."

I'd not previously come across this clip, and it does give some food for thought. What he said, of course, would not continue to be true if, say, Ron Paul or Rand Paul became president, although that's something that isn't going to happen (I'm pretty sure). Anyway to me his point underscores an important failing of the "Republicans are anti-science" meme, which is that it's a snapshot, and a partial snapshot at that.

UPDATE 4/18: Via Instapundit, I see that Tyson recently wrote a post on Wired on "We Can Survive Killer Asteroids -- But It Won't Be Easy." His conclusion:
If humans one day become extinct from a catastrophic collision, we would be the laughing stock of aliens in the galaxy, for having a large brain and a space program, yet we met the same fate as that pea-brained, space program-less dinosaurs that came before us.
Note how the comments section quickly sinks into partisan acrimony, despite the lack of a clearcut partisan angle to the asteroid issue. Sign of the times (especially in an election year).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Philadelphia talk [rescheduled]

Very early notice: I'm slated to speak at the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking on Sept. 15 Nov. 17 on the (provisionally titled) topic "Politics vs. Science." This will be a chance to discuss the political climate for science programs and how attitudes toward science vary across the political spectrum. Some of my relatively recent writings on relevant topics include:

"David's Book Club: The Republican Brain": Review of Chris Mooney's book at David Frum's Daily Beast blog.
"Reply to Mooney." More on the above.
"How the GOP Should Explain Climate Change."
"Ron Paul's Spaced Out Plan."
"NASA's New Rocket Won't Reach New Frontiers."
"Can Conservatives and Scientists Get Along?"
"Don't Surrender Our Telescope Advantage."
"NASA's Budget Grounds Space Probes."
"Paul Plays Politics with Physics."
"Why Scientists Hate Republicans."

Rescue impact

Newark Mayor Cory Booker's heroic rescue of a woman from a burning house the other night will raise what was already an impressive national profile for a local New Jersey official. However, according to some political analysts quoted in The Record, the event's impact on his political career is likely to be limited. They cite, for instance:
the case of Tom Barrett. The Milwaukee Mayor was heralded as a hero when he was bludgeoned with a tire iron while intervening in a 2009 domestic dispute, but he still narrowly lost a bid for governor the following year. Mitt Romney’s Jet Ski rescue of a six men and a dog from a sinking boat in 2003 has barely been mentioned in his presidential campaign.
Huh? was my response to that last sentence. Further research digs up this

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reviving Evita

At a long-awaited outing with friends, we saw the new Broadway version of Evita.


Overall, though it was staged and performed with skill, I still have to agree with this piece, which suggests it doesn't measure up to the original. I saw the original in 1981, I believe, and by that time Patti Lupone was no longer in it. This time around, as it was a matinee, we saw the alternate, Christina DeCicco, not Elena Roger. DeCicco's acting was excellent, though her voice at times was a bit shrill; on the other hand, is not the character supposed to be shrill?

I'm not sure, also, whether Mandy Patinkin was still in it as Che/narrator when I saw the original, and in any case my memories are surely filtered by having listened to a tape of the original many times in the intervening decades. While Ricky Martin's voice is beautiful, his rendition is less forceful than the original, as when Che demands "What's new Argentina? Your nation, which once had the second largest gold reserves is now bankrupt" etc. I recall in the original Che is close to raging as he says this, and then gets knocked on the head and carted off by secret-police goons. Much calmer stuff this time around.

More broadly, I thought the choreography in the original was more dramatic, as when the upper class and military march across the stage in "Peron's Latest Flame" (see below), rather than standing around. Still, having said all that, I recommend seeing the current Evita. All in all, it's still very good.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Frum's 'Patriots'

I haven't read Patriots, David Frum's new novel, but am looking forward to doing so.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reply to Mooney

Chris Mooney responds, and includes some complimentary words ("mostly...very fair"; "the first seriously engaged critique") before saying that "there is one thing that [Silber] gets factually wrong, in my opinion," that being my description of the science in the book as "rather provisional." Excerpt from Mooney: 
There is a large body of consistent psychological research on the differences between left and right, across countries. What’s much newer is extending this research into other domains–cognitive neuroscience, physiology, genetics. But even here, the new results are consistent with the preexisting psychology studies.

In other words, a large body of evidence was accumulated in psychology, and is now being re-confirmed in new fields by new scientists. It’s hard to see how this situation could exist unless there was something real that all the different researchers were detecting, albeit in different ways and with different methodologies. So I agree, this is not physics or climate science. But I disagree with the idea that the science involved is “rather provisional.” Rather, I would submit that the more you dig into and read this research, the more you’ll see how extensive it is.
Mooney cites support from neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, whose tweets about my critique include this remark:
Seriously it's such a mindless refrain to say that the science is not conclusive.
 Iacoboni's input is a good example of how substantive debates can degenerate into empty sneering, especially on Twitter. As for Mooney's far more thoughtful rebuttal, it seems to me a matter of opinion, not straightforward fact, as to whether the science described in his book is "rather provisional." (And if not, why does Mooney add "in my opinion" to his "factually wrong"?)

It is clear -- and Mooney acknowledges -- that  he is on considerably firmer scientific ground in adducing evidence from psychology, such as personality tests, than he is in tying his argument to neuroscience and genetics. As far as I can tell, the entirety of his Chapter 6 (titled "Are Conservatives from the Amygdala?") is based on science that is "rather provisional" or perhaps even more provisional than suggested by the modifier "rather." Considering that the book is titled The Republican Brain, I think I made a fair point in noting the limited development of the neuroscience involved.

As for the psychology data and particularly its extension "across countries," I think the differences various observers have noted between American conservatism and its international counterparts with regard to acceptance of well-established scientific theories in physics, biology etc., provide an obstacle to Mooney's thesis of the importance of non-cultural factors in conservative dogmatism and reality-denial. At the very least, it seems there's fertile ground for future research in trying to make sense of the cross-cultural data.

I wonder: Would a poll of psychologists and neuroscientists show they overwhelmingly agree with a list of assertions about the relevant science extracted from Mooney's book? Would they agree that I am factually wrong in describing the science as "rather provisional"? I would be interested in seeing that data.