Saturday, April 19, 2014

Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) - NYTimes.com

Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx) - NYTimes.com:



"PARIS — Thomas Piketty turned 18 in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, so he was spared the tortured, decades-long French intellectual debate about the virtues and vices of communism. Even more telling, he remembers, was a trip he took with a close friend to Romania in early 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet empire."



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Father Goriot, by Honore de Balzac

Father Goriot, by Honore de Balzac:



"Title: Father Goriot

Author: Honore de Balzac

Translator: Ellen Marriage

Release Date: February 22, 2010 [EBook #1237]
Last Updated: April 3, 2013

Language: English"



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A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth - NYTimes.com

A Relentless Widening of Disparity in Wealth - NYTimes.com:



"What if inequality were to continue growing years or decades into the future? Say the richest 1 percent of the population amassed a quarter of the nation’s income, up from about a fifth today. What about half?"



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Why We’re in a New Gilded Age by Paul Krugman | The New York Review of Books

Why We’re in a New Gilded Age by Paul Krugman | The New York Review of Books:



 "Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France."



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Economist Receives Rock Star Treatment

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French economists who boldly question the dominance of capital over labor — and call for a progressive global tax on wealth — visit the American halls of power about as often as French rock stars headline Madison Square Garden.
But those halls of power are where Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old professor at the Paris School of Economics, has been singing his song of late.
Since touching down in Washington this week to promote his new book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” Mr. Piketty has met with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, given a talk to President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and lectured at the International Monetary Fund, before flying to New York for an appearance at the United Nations, a sold-out public discussion with the Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and meetings with media outlets ranging from The Harvard Business Review to New York Magazine to The Nation.
The response from  fellow economists, so far mainly from the liberal side of the spectrum, has verged on the rapturous. Mr. Krugman,  a columnist for The New York Times, predicted in The New York Review of Books that Mr. Piketty’s book would “change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.”
Photo
Thomas Piketty at one of his New York talks this week.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
But through all the accolades, Mr. Piketty seems to be maintaining a most un-rock-star-like modesty, brushing away comparisons to Tocqueville and Marx with an embarrassed grimace and a Gallic puff of the lips.
“It makes very little sense: How can you compare?” he said on Thursday between gulps of yogurt during a break in his packed schedule — before going on to list the 19th-century data sets that Marx neglected to draw on in “Das Kapital,” his 1867 magnum opus.
“If Marx had looked at them, it would have made him think a bit more,” he said. “When I started collecting data, I had no idea where it would go.”
Mr. Piketty’s dedication to data has long made him a star among economists, who credit his work on income inequality (with Emmanuel Saez and others) for diving deep into seemingly dull tax archives to bring an unprecedented historical perspective to the subject.
But “Capital in the 21st Century,” which analyzes more than two centuries of data on the even murkier topic of accumulated wealth, has elicited a response of an entirely different order. Months before its originally scheduled April publication, it was generating intense discussion on blogs, prompting Harvard University Press to push the release forward to mid-February.
Since then, it has hit the New York Times best-seller list, and sold some 46,000 copies (hardback and e-book) — a stratospheric number for a nearly 700-page scholarly tome dotted with charts and graphs (as well as references to Balzac, Jane Austen and “Titanic”).
And not all those readers are economists. Six years after the financial crisis, “people are looking for a bible of sorts,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor of the history of capitalism at the New School, who appeared on a panel with Mr. Piketty at New York University on Thursday. “He’s speaking to a real feeling out there that things haven’t been fixed, that we need to take stock, that we need big ideas, big proposals, big global solutions.”
Photo
Mr. Piketty's book on sale after he spoke Wednesday at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
Those big ideas, and the hunger for them, were on ample display at N.Y.U., where the standing-room crowd was treated to Mr. Piketty’s apology for having written such a long book, followed by a breakneck PowerPoint presentation of its main arguments, illustrated with striking charts.
At the book’s center is Mr. Piketty’s contention — contrary to the influential theory developed by Simon Kuznets in the 1950s and ’60s — that mature capitalist economies do not inevitably evolve toward greater economic equality. Instead, Mr. Piketty contends, the data reveals a deeper historical tendency for the rate of return on capital to outstrip the overall rate of economic growth, leading to greater and greater concentrations of wealth at the very top.
Despite this inevitable-seeming drift toward “patrimonial capitalism” that his charts seemed to show, Mr. Piketty rejected any economic determinism. “It all depends on what the political system decides,” he said.
Such statements, along with Mr. Piketty’s proposal for a progressive wealth tax and income tax rates up to 80 percent, have aroused strong interest among those eager to recapture the momentum of the Occupy movement. The Nation ran a nearly 10,000-word cover article placing his book within a rising tide of neo-Marxist thought, while National Review Online dismissed it as confirmation of the left’s “dearest ‘Das Kapital’ fantasies.” 
But Mr. Piketty, who writes in the book that the collapse of Communism in 1989 left him “vaccinated for life” against the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism,” is no Marxian revolutionary. “I believe in private property,” he said in the interview. “But capitalism and markets should be the slave of democracy and not the opposite.”
Even if he doesn’t expect his policy proposals to find favor in Washington anytime soon, Mr. Piketty called his meetings there gratifying. Mr. Lew, he said, seemed to have read parts of the book carefully. A member of the Council on Economic Advisers corrected a small error concerning Balzac’s novel “Le Père Goriot,” which includes a discussion of getting ahead through advantageous marriage rather than hard work. “I was impressed,” Mr. Piketty said.
His book, however, ends not with an appeal to policy makers, but with a call for all citizens to “take a serious interest in money, its measurement, the facts surrounding it and its history.”
“It’s too easy for ordinary people to just say, ‘I don’t know anything about economics,’ ” he said, before rushing to his next appearance. “But economics is not just for economists.”

Thomas Piketty Tours U.S. for His New Book - NYTimes.com

Thomas Piketty Tours U.S. for His New Book - NYTimes.com:



 "French economists who boldly question the dominance of capital over labor — and call for a progressive global tax on wealth — visit the American halls of power about as often as French rock stars headline Madison Square Garden."



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When Gabriel García Márquez Went Back to Aracataca - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com

When Gabriel García Márquez Went Back to Aracataca - NYTimes.com - NYTimes.com:



 "The novelist and maestro Gabriel García Márquez died Thursday , mourned by the world at the ample enough age of 87. But for a time during his youth in Colombia — when he was inhaling three packs a day — he was sure that he would die young, dissolute “and in the street,” as he put it in his 2003 memoir “Living to Tell The Tale.” At that point, his mother, Luisa Santiaga Márquez, appeared unexpectedly in the city of Barranquilla, determined to rescue her law-school dropout son from a wasteful life as a mere writer. She convinced him to travel with her to the desolate, hellishly hot Caribbean town of Aracataca, where he was born in 1927."



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Friday, April 18, 2014

A Tiny Deal Maker Among Giants, Standing on His Own - NYTimes.com

A Tiny Deal Maker Among Giants, Standing on His Own - NYTimes.com:



 "I’m not making any declarations,” Mr. Taubman said. “Right now, I’m enjoying being in the mix, helping clients and advising them. Longer term, I’m open to a more permanent structure.”"



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Strong Earthquake Shakes Mexican Capital - NYTimes.com

Strong Earthquake Shakes Mexican Capital - NYTimes.com:



"ACAPULCO, Mexico — A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets, where broken windows and debris fell, but there were no early reports of major damage or casualties."



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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gabriel García Márquez - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:



 "Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (American Spanish: [ɡaˈβɾjel ɣarˈsi.a ˈmarkes]  audio (help·info); 6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014) was a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America. Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. He pursued a self-directed education that resulted in his leaving law school for a career in journalism. From early on, he showed no inhibitions in his criticism of Colombian and foreign politics. In 1958, he married Mercedes Barcha; they had two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.[1]"



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Salvation Gets Cheap - NYTimes.com

Salvation Gets Cheap - NYTimes.com:



 "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes."



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Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87 - NYTimes.com

Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87 - NYTimes.com:



 "Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87."



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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Court Deportations Drop 43 Percent in Past Five Years - NYTimes.com

Court Deportations Drop 43 Percent in Past Five Years - NYTimes.com:



 "New deportation cases brought by the Obama administration in the nation’s immigration courts have been declining steadily since 2009, and judges have increasingly ruled against deportations, leading to a 43 percent drop in the number of deportations through the courts in the last five years, according to Justice Department statistics released on Wednesday."



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Cracking the Particle Code of the Universe

John W. Moffat recently wrote a book with this title. Professor Moffat has been an active participant in the quest for the structure of matter. He independently discovered the charm quark, which is a very important piece of the Code he discusses in his book. Given the announcement from CERN about the discovery of the Higgs particle, this is a very timely book. Here I write some of my own ideas inspired by this book.

I met Professor Robert Brout in Mexico in the early 70s. He explained to us, the importance of understanding phase transitions concurrently with the study of Particle Physics Theory. He would've gotten the Nobel Prize in Physics last year for his discovery of spontaneous symmetry breaking in particle physics. Unfortunately he died prior to that announcement.

My contribution here is non-standard, as the authors mentioned here encourage me to be.

A friend, from my student years at UCSB, Kris Krogh, also inspires me. He made me aware of the pioneering, and non-standard , work of Louis de Brogle, on the so-called Pilot Wave Theory.  Which is pursued by Professor Antony Valentini at Clemson University.

What follows is my interpretation of the recent BICEP2 result, on polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background.

I imagine inflation as a bottle neck, increasing in size very fast. Waves and matter reach thermal equilibrium, which I imagine as a purely statistical behavior. At that scale matter becomes locked, just like Lord Kelvin predicted in the middle of the nineteenth century. In this view, quantum behavior is explained as a dead state of matter. The particle with a mass of 35.25 GeV, surmised by Dan Hooper, et al., could be the first WIMP observed. With this scale, one could try to get fundamental constants, like Planck's, and the speed of light; determined with principles of information, stability, and structure formation.

That'll crack the code!

Bad Astronomy April 2014 Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipse: The Blood Moon of April 2014.

Lunar eclipse: The Blood Moon of April 2014.:



 "You can see the bright star Spica (the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo) just to the Moon’s lower right, and the much fainter star h Virginis just above and to the left of the Moon. "



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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kansas Shooting Suspect Is Charged With Murder - NYTimes.com

Kansas Shooting Suspect Is Charged With Murder - NYTimes.com:



 "OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A state prosecutor on Tuesday charged a 73-year-old white supremacist in the killing of three people outside two Jewish community facilities on Sunday."



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Monday, April 14, 2014

Man Kills 3 at Jewish Centers in Kansas City Suburb - NYTimes.com

Man Kills 3 at Jewish Centers in Kansas City Suburb - NYTimes.com:



"A man opened fire outside a Jewish Community Center and a nearby retirement community in a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday afternoon, killing three people before he was taken into custody."



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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The College Faculty Crisis

The public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of this country’s students were burdened by rising costs and dwindling state revenues long before the recession. They reacted by raising tuition, slashing course offerings and, sometimes, by cutting enrollment.
They also cut labor costs by replacing full-time professors who retired with part-time instructors, who typically have no health or pension benefits and are often abysmally paid, earning in the vicinity of $3,000 per course.
The part-timers are often considered “invisible faculty,” because they rarely participate in academic life and typically bolt from campus the moment class ends. That researchers still know little about them — or how well they do their jobs — is especially startling given that a little more than half of all college faculty members are now part-timers, and they far outnumber full-time faculty members on most community college campuses.
The portrait of these instructors that emerges from a new study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research center at the University of Texas at Austin, is alarming. The report, based on survey responses from more than 71,000 teachers, found that part-timers face many challenges. Because they are treated almost like transient workers, they are given little reason to make an investment in the institution.
They often learn which courses they are teaching just weeks or even days before the start of the semester, so there is almost no time to prepare. They often lack office space or administrative or technical support and are rarely given any guidance on how to do their jobs effectively. According to the report, they are implicitly told: “Just show up every Thursday at 5 o’clock and deliver a lecture to your class. Give a midterm and a final exam, and then turn in a grade, and the college will pay you a notably small amount of money.”
The colleges expect little of these teachers. Not surprisingly, they often act accordingly. They spend significantly less time than full-time teachers preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback. And they are far less likely to participate in instructional activities — like tutoring, academic goal setting or developing community-based projects — that can benefit students.
This situation is terrible, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds whom community colleges typically attract. On those campuses, nearly two-thirds of the students arrive needing remedial instruction in math, English or both, and often lack the basic competencies they need to move beyond remediation to a degree.
The community colleges have to do a better job of screening the part-time instructors they hire, and developing their skills, which means providing mentors and career paths that give them the opportunity to engage with campus life.
All of this will require more money for higher salaries and professional development. College degrees worth having don’t come cheap. Public officials who determine community college budgets should know full well that colleges, like other institutions, only get what they pay for.

Three Expensive Miliseconds

Paul Krugman
Four years ago Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, abruptlycanceled America’s biggest and arguably most important infrastructure project, a desperately needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Count me among those who blame his presidential ambitions, and believe that he was trying to curry favor with the government- and public-transit-hating Republican base.
Even as one tunnel was being canceled, however, another was nearing completion, as Spread Networks finished boring its way through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Spread’s tunnel was not, however, intended to carry passengers, or even freight; it was for a fiber-optic cable that would shave three milliseconds — three-thousandths of a second — off communication time between the futures markets of Chicago and the stock markets of New York. And the fact that this tunnel was built while the rail tunnel wasn’t tells you a lot about what’s wrong with America today.
Who cares about three milliseconds? The answer is, high-frequency traders, who make money by buying or selling stock a tiny fraction of a second faster than other players. Not surprisingly, Michael Lewis starts his best-selling new book “Flash Boys,” a polemic against high-frequency trading, with the story of the Spread Networks tunnel. But the real moral of the tunnel tale is independent of Mr. Lewis’s polemic.
Think about it. You may or may not buy Mr. Lewis’s depiction of the high-frequency types as villains and those trying to thwart them as heroes. (If you ask me, there are no good guys in this story.) But either way, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to save three milliseconds looks like a huge waste. And that’s part of a much broader picture, in which society is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.
How much waste are we talking about? A paper by Thomas Philipponof New York University puts it at several hundred billion dollars a year.
Mr. Philippon starts with the familiar observation that finance has grown much faster than the economy as a whole. Specifically, the share of G.D.P. accruing to bankers, traders, and so on has nearly doubled since 1980, when we started dismantling the system of financial regulation created as a response to the Great Depression.
What are we getting in return for all that money? Not much, as far as anyone can tell. Mr. Philippon shows that the financial industry has grown much faster than either the flow of savings it channels or the assets it manages. Defenders of modern finance like to argue that it does the economy a great service by allocating capital to its most productive uses — but that’s a hard argument to sustain after a decade in which Wall Street’s crowning achievement involved directing hundreds of billions of dollars into subprime mortgages.
Wall Street’s friends also used to claim that the proliferation of complex financial instruments was reducing risk and increasing the system’s stability, so that financial crises were a thing of the past. No, really.
But if our supersized financial sector isn’t making us either safer or more productive, what is it doing? One answer is that it’s playing small investors for suckers, causing them to waste huge sums in a vain effort to beat the market. Don’t take my word for it — that’s what the president of the American Finance Association declared in 2008. Another answer is that a lot of money is going to speculative activities that are privately profitable but socially unproductive.

You may object that this can’t be right, that the invisible hand of the market ensures that private returns and social returns coincide. Economists have, however, known for a long time that when it comes to speculation, that proposition just isn’t true. Back in 1815 Baron Rothschild made a killing because he knew the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo a few hours before everyone else; it’s hard to see how that knowledge made Britain as a whole richer. It’s even harder to see how the three-millisecond advantage conveyed by the Spread Networks tunnel makes modern America richer; yet that advantage was clearly worth it to the speculators.
In short, we’re giving huge sums to the financial industry while receiving little or nothing — maybe less than nothing — in return. Mr. Philippon puts the waste at 2 percent of G.D.P. Yet even that figure, I’d argue, understates the true cost of our bloated financial industry. For there is a clear correlation between the rise of modern finance and America’s return to Gilded Age levels of inequality.
So never mind the debate about exactly how much damage high-frequency trading does. It’s the whole financial industry, not just that piece, that’s undermining our economy and our society.

Your Inner Fish: Book and PBS documentary on Tiktaalik and Neil Shubin.

Your Inner Fish: Book and PBS documentary on Tiktaalik and Neil Shubin.:



 "We all know the Darwin fish, the car-bumper send-up of the Christian ichthys symbol, or Jesus fish. Unlike the Christian symbol, the Darwin fish has, you know, legs."



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Love Kills

Giorgio Moroder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Giorgio Moroder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:



 "Giovanni Giorgio Moroder (Italian pronunciation: [dʒoˈvanni ˈdʒordʒo ˈmɔːroder], born Hansjörg Moroder, Urtijëi, 26 April 1940)[1][2] is an influential Italian record producer, songwriter, performer and DJ."



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