Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Greece’s Relentless Exodus

BERLIN — One of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve witnessed from the Greek crisis took place in Swabia, a hilly, prosperous region of southern Germany.
Swabia is home to a thriving auto industry that has long lured laborers from Southern Europe, including many Greeks. Most of them came in the 1960s and early 1970s. By the time I visited in 2013, the economic depression back home was creating a new exodus. From 2010 to 2013, about 218,000 Greeks emigrated, according to an estimate from the Greek statistics agency. Nearly half of them went to Germany.
In a factory town dotted with half-timbered houses, I visited a warehouse owned by the son of Greek immigrants. There, I met a new employee who had recently arrived from northern Greece, a 38-year-old woman named Maria Saoulidou. She was hanging packages of children’s party supplies on a rack. Ms. Saoulidou told me the supermarket where she had worked in Greece had stopped paying her. For a while, she kept working there anyway in the hope that the paychecks would arrive, but the money never came. Work for her husband, a truck driver, had also dried up. When they ran out of savings, the couple decided to start a new life in Germany, where an uncle lived. They left their two young sons back home with the children’s grandparents.
In Swabia, the couple lived in a gloomy, dank basement rental that was sparsely furnished with a mattress and a couple of chairs. They were planning to bring the children once they had a more suitable home. “It’s very hard,” Ms. Saoulidou said, nearly in tears with a package of balloons in her gloved hand. I looked down at the floor and noticed that one of her shoes was badly torn. Once the boys arrived in Germany, she said, the family would never return to Greece for more than a visit. “We’re looking after the future of our children, and unfortunately, there is none for them in Greece.”
Ms. Saoulidou’s story resonates with me in part because I’m the American-born son of Greek immigrants and have inherited a grasp of what Greeks call xeniteia — a term for wandering abroad but that implies nostalgia for the motherland.
Greece has a long history of emigration, and there are large Greek diasporas in America, Germany, Britain and Australia. Almost everyone you meet in Greece has extended family members living abroad. In decades past, the pain of seeing them depart inspired many folk songs. “My exiled and dissatisfied bird,” go the lyrics to one of them. “Won’t you have mercy and turn around?”
My paternal grandfather left Greece for the United States in 1916. He worked for two decades laying railroad tracks and cooking in kitchens from Chicago to El Paso before his homesickness got the better of him and he returned to his village near the Corinthian Gulf. There, with the money he’d saved, he built a nice home and started a family that included my father. When my father was a teenager, he received some simple guidance about life in America from my grandfather: “In America, if you work for a week, you get paid for a week.” My dad left Greece on a ship bound for New York at age 17.
Over the course of my life, Greece secured its place in the European Union, benefiting greatly from subsidies for agriculture and infrastructure, and later, from the cheap borrowing euro membership enabled. Even as dire problems loomed, an increasingly wealthy Greece became a nation people migrated to rather than a place people left behind. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, waves of Albanians and ethnic Greeks from the former Soviet Union flocked to Greece.
Over the past several years, however, life for many people in Greece has become insufferable. Unemployment exceeds 25 percent, and Greek businesses routinely fail to pay their workers on time. Young families have been particularly hard hit; 40 percent of Greek children live below the poverty line. In these circumstances, many Greeks put off having kids.
Given these conditions, many Greeks have chosen to take advantage of the European Union’s free movement of labor. Germany is one of the main destinations. There is a simple reason: Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union; Germany has the lowest. Resentments against Germany — Greece’s most powerful creditor — quickly fade when it comes to the prospect of a regular paycheck.
Many of those leaving Greece are highly educated professionals and scientists seeking greater opportunity and better pay. An estimated 135,000 Greeks with post-secondary degrees have left since 2010 and are working abroad, according to Lois Labrianidis, an economic geographer and official in Greece’s Economy Ministry. “We think this is human capital that is crucial for the development of the country,” Mr. Labrianidis told me recently, calling the departures a “major blow.”
Still, emigration — for both the emigrants and Greece — is often better than the alternative: remaining unemployed at home. In theory, expatriate Greeks could send their earnings to family or return and apply the skills they’ve gained abroad. But recent emigrants aren’t sending much home in the way of remittances, and it’s unclear whether Greece will ever be able to offer the opportunities that could lure back its brightest minds. Why return to a place where it’s almost impossible to find a good job?
While much of the attention on recent Greek emigration has focused on the highly educated, I’ve been surprised by the number of working-class Greeks I’ve met who left due to financial desperation. On more than one occasion, I’ve met Greeks who, upon learning that I live in Germany, have asked me for help finding menial work there.
“Can you help get my son a job?” one woman asked me, while her granddaughters played with my child in a suburban Athens square. The woman told me her son had closed his construction business after demand for his work disappeared. He had recently left for Düsseldorf, where he was renting a cheap room and looking for a job. He’d left his wife and daughters behind until he could get settled. She told me she was afraid her granddaughters weren’t getting enough to eat. “Please, mister,” she said. “You’d be saving a whole family.”
The latest bout of political and economic tumult has further damaged Greece’s battered economy. And the recent agreement for a third bailout deal — with its emphasis on austerity — only repeats the mistakes of the past. Unless the Greek government and its creditors act with far more urgency to restore growth, one outcome is certain: Many more Greeks will be seeking their futures elsewhere.
James Angelos is the author of “The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins.”

The Real Threat Posed by Powerful Computers - The New York Times

The Real Threat Posed by Powerful Computers - The New York Times:

"In October, Elon Musk called artificial intelligence “our greatest existential threat,” and equated making machines that think with “summoning the demon.” In December, Stephen Hawking said “full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And this year, Bill Gates said he was “concerned about super intelligence,” which he appeared to think was just a few decades away."

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At least since Archimedes helped in the defense of Syracuse, scientists have been in a moral dilemma on weapons. Physicians didn't seem to have this problem, they had the Hippocratic Oath, but other scientists were useful for killing the 'enemy' human.

Nowadays, over a thousand scientists are calling our attention to a big problem. There is a manifesto in this link.

I admire Albert Einstein, and less so, Richard Feynman.

Both were smart, and deep thinkers, who saw the danger of letting the military get away with using knowledge, the soldiers, were not prepared to have.

Feynman helped, and then after the war, distanced himself from the Defense Department of the US. Einstein prodded Franklin Delano Roosevelt to build a weapon used in 1945, seventy years ago this coming August 6, on Hiroshima, but then distanced himself as well.

I believe both would've had more official accolades. In the case of Einstein, I even wonder if Black Hole Physics, was  collateral damage to the war on conscientious objectors.

Today another star of Black Hole Physics, Stephen Hawking,  published a petition to stop the development of weapons, which use Artificial Intelligence. My friend Guillermo Benito Morales-Luna, signed the open letter as well.

Given the number of scientists signing, I conclude that there are ominous clouds which we all see approaching.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Greece Made Preparations to Exit Euro - The New York Times

Greece Made Preparations to Exit Euro - The New York Times:

"FRANKFURT — Already struggling with internal conflict, Greece’s government is facing new criticism over secret preparations that would have allowed the country to leave the euro if necessary."

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Professor Krugman recently wrote about incompetence, in conservative economic circles. Which brought back to memory the experience at the Autonomous University of Puebla, in Mexico, where I used to work. He mentions how some Italian academics, feign incompetence, so they can be trusted within their 'academic' gangs.

One could wonder about these gangs. Aren't professors supposed to be like saints? They profess their believes, so young people get good ethical advice. If the professor invites them to sin, they will. Many young people do not know better. Older members of academic communities must guide them, through good, virtuous lives. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Catholics; as far as I know, provide guidance; that is how Humanity prospers.

These conservative 'hacks', as Professor Krugman calls them, can destroy the fabric of the civilized economic system.

How much better we would be, if there were more Yanis Varoufakis, and less .... 

You can write the name of your chosen corrupt intellectual.

Zombies Against Medicare - The New York Times

Zombies Against Medicare - The New York Times:

"Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well."

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tattoos, Incompetence, and the Heritage Foundation - The New York Times

Tattoos, Incompetence, and the Heritage Foundation - The New York Times:

 "Henry Farrell — who recently said some very interesting things about Very Serious People — writes me about my musings on hipster style, and refers me to a review of a book on codes of the underworld. The book notes that tattoos and such play a role as signals of criminal identity, which work precisely because they make it hard to participate in non-criminal society."

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Metabolic ‘engines’ of flight drive genome size reduction in birds | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

Metabolic ‘engines’ of flight drive genome size reduction in birds | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences:

 "The tendency for flying organisms to possess small genomes has been interpreted as evidence of natural selection acting on the physical size of the genome. Nonetheless, the flight–genome link and its mechanistic basis have yet to be well established by comparative studies within a volant clade. Is there a particular functional aspect of flight such as brisk metabolism, lift production or maneuverability that impinges on the physical genome? We measured genome sizes, wing dimensions and heart, flight muscle and body masses from a phylogenetically diverse set of bird species. In phylogenetically controlled analyses, we found that genome size was negatively correlated with relative flight muscle size and heart index (i.e. ratio of heart to body mass), but positively correlated with body mass and wing loading. The proportional masses of the flight muscles and heart were the most important parameters explaining variation in genome size in multivariate models. Hence, the metabolic intensity of powered flight appears to have driven genome size reduction in birds.


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Friday, July 24, 2015

Pluto’s Atmosphere Is Thinner Than Expected, but Still Looks Hazy - The New York Times

Pluto’s Atmosphere Is Thinner Than Expected, but Still Looks Hazy - The New York Times:

 "Pluto’s thin air may be falling to the ground."

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The M.I.T. Gang

Goodbye, Chicago boys. Hello, M.I.T. gang.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the term “Chicago boys” was originally used to refer to Latin American economists, trained at the University of Chicago, who took radical free-market ideology back to their home countries. The influence of these economists was part of a broader phenomenon: The 1970s and 1980s were an era of ascendancy for laissez-faire economic ideas and the Chicago school, which promoted those ideas.
But that was a long time ago. Now a different school is in the ascendant, and deservedly so.
It’s actually surprising how little media attention has been given to the dominance of M.I.T.-trained economists in policy positions and policy discourse. But it’s quite remarkable. Ben Bernanke has an M.I.T. Ph.D.; so do Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, and Olivier Blanchard, the enormously influential chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. Mr. Blanchard is retiring, but his replacement, Maurice Obstfeld, is another M.I.T. guy — and another student of Stanley Fischer, who taught at M.I.T. for many years and is now the Fed’s vice chairman.
These are just the most prominent examples. M.I.T.-trained economists, especially Ph.D.s from the 1970s, play an outsized role at policy institutions and in policy discussion across the Western world. And yes, I’m part of the same gang.
So what distinguishes M.I.T. economics, and why does it matter? To answer that question, you need to go back to the 1970s, when all the people I’ve just named went to graduate school.
At the time, the big issue was the combination of high unemployment with high inflation. The coming of stagflation was a big win for Milton Friedman, who had predicted exactly that outcome if the government tried to keep unemployment too low for too long; it was widely seen, rightly or (mostly) wrongly, as proof that markets get it right and the government should just stay out of the way.
Or to put it another way, many economists responded to stagflation by turning their backs on Keynesian economics and its call for government action to fight recessions.
At M.I.T., however, Keynes never went away. To be sure, stagflation showed that there were limits to what policy can do. But students continued to learn about the imperfections of markets and the role that monetary and fiscal policy can play in boosting a depressed economy.
And the M.I.T. students of the 1970s enlarged on those insights in their later work. Mr. Blanchard, for example, showed how small deviations from perfect rationality can have large economic consequences; Mr. Obstfeld showed that currency markets can sometimes experience self-fulfilling panic.
This open-minded, pragmatic approach was overwhelmingly vindicated after crisis struck in 2008. Chicago-school types warned incessantly that responding to the crisis by printing money and running deficits would lead to 70s-type stagflation, with soaring inflation and interest rates. But M.I.T. types predicted, correctly, that inflation and interest rates would stay low in a depressed economy, and that attempts to slash deficits too soon would deepen the slump.
The truth, although nobody will believe it, is that the economic analysis some of us learned at M.I.T. way back when has worked very, very well for the past seven years.
But has the intellectual success of M.I.T. economics led to comparable policy success? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
True, there have been some important monetary successes. The Fed, led by Mr. Bernanke, ignored right-wing pressure and threats — Rick Perry, as governor of Texas, went so far as to accuse him of treason — and pursued an aggressively expansionary policy that helped limit the damage from the financial crisis. In Europe, Mr. Draghi’s activism has been crucial to calming financial markets, probably saving the euro from collapse.
On other fronts, however, the M.I.T. gang’s good advice has been ignored. The I.M.F.’s research department, under Mr. Blanchard’s leadership, has done authoritative work on the effects of fiscal policy, demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that slashing spending in a depressed economy is a terrible mistake, and that attempts to reduce high levels of debt via austerity are self-defeating. But European politicians have slashed spending and demanded crippling austerity from debtors anyway.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Republicans have responded to the utter failure of free-market orthodoxy and the remarkably successful predictions of much-hated Keynesians by digging in even deeper, determined to learn nothing from experience.
In other words, being right isn’t necessarily enough to change the world. But it’s still better to be right than to be wrong, and M.I.T.-style economics, with its pragmatic openness to evidence, has been very right indeed.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.” 
The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
"On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."
Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.
While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment," said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. "It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.
The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.
Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star's habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.
“We've been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.
Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:
A related feature story about other potentially habitable planets is online at:http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/keplers-newest-planetary-find-joins-a-pantheon-of-planets-with-similarities-to-earth
Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Last Updated: July 23, 2015
Editor: Michele Johnson

Kepler Data Reveals What Might Be Best ‘Goldilocks’ Planet Yet - The New York Times

Kepler Data Reveals What Might Be Best ‘Goldilocks’ Planet Yet - The New York Times:

 "Inching ahead on their quest for what they call Earth 2.0, astronomers from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft announced onThursday that they had found what might be one of the closest analogues to our own world yet."

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