Thursday, July 2, 2015


The thing I don't understand about the U.S. drop in workforce participation rate is how are these people living?  The men's drop is remarkable and started before 1990.  The women are dropping out too, but started later around the year 2000.  This drop for women is contrary to all other major countries!*  In the second figure, note the spectacular rise in workforce participation rate of women in Japan.  The drop of men in Japan's workforce participation rate started in the 1970s, but began to rise again around 1995 and has leveled off in recent years.


U.S. construction spending advanced 0.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.036 trillion in May, the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.*


Tuesday, June 30, 2015


There seem to be many (all or nearly all are Republicans) who are unhappy with the Supreme Court for their decisions on Obamacare and Gay Marriage.  Some have even called for the elimination of the Supreme Court!  You don't hear such cries when the Court makes a decision that they like, of course, such as on citizen's United.*  The thing is that congress could (in theory) act on these matters, cut, since they don't, they push to have these matters decided by the Court.  They have only themselves to blame if the court decides in a manner that displeases them.

Actually as some commentators have mentioned, these politicians yelling so loud now are secretly happy to have these issues taken off the table.  Is it no wonder that congress is viewed so unfavorably by the public?  In the meantime, recent polls suggest that Obama's ratings that he is doing a good job have risen to 50%* and even higher for his handling of the economy (52%).**  I wondered when the public would wise up that the economy is doing pretty well.

* I consider this one of the all-time bad decisions by the Supreme Court (that companies are people) and presume that some year it will be fixed.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Chapter 9: DEATH  I hadn't realized that the subject of death was so fraught with lack of understanding.  Certainly we know when something is dead, though through modern technology we can keep a person breathing and the body not decaying.  But the chapter is not about defining death, but why do we die at all?  By changing a gene, scientists have been able to extend markedly the lives of worms, fruit flies, and mice, for example.  As the median age of people gradually extends, the ultimate age pretty much stays the same.  There are an increasing number of centenarians, but very, very few live to 110, for example.

But I wonder for how long we want to extend a person's life in the first place.  Scientists do so much to keep us alive, but, when we get old, we are told we cost too much.  In my generation, the Depleted Generation of the Great Depression and WW-II have been rushed into retirement by our children, the Baby Boomers.  Because there are so few of us,* we should be easy to take care of, but we have been skipped, and the politicians have jumped over us to the Baby Boomers.

Chapter 12: The Placebo Effect and Chapter 13: HOMEOPATHY  I actually went to a well known homeopathic physician (an MD) for a couple of years.  He would give me a small vial of small round sugar pills into which one drop of some disease was placed and then the vial shaken violently.  when I quesdtioned his nurse about the drop being absorbed by the top sugar pills, she replied that the doctor says the "essence permeates."  They didn't seem to do me any harm, and I probably didn't consume them after the beginning.  If they had any value it was in a Placebo Effect (the subject of the previous chapter).

The most interesting story on the placebo effect was that some people were given a placebo buut told it was a medicine that would alleviate their problem  Perhaps that the patients improved is not a surprise, but then, without telling the patients, they changed the sugar pills into a drug that counteracted the effect of the supposed drug that was to alleviate their problem and the patient gradually got worse again!

I have no doubt that a proper mental attitude can cure many ills.  In fact isn't this the basis of Christian Science that "disease is an err of the mortal mind" that can be corrected by prayer?**

Prominently mentioned in this chapter is Rustum Roy,*** an India Indian, who would occasionally give talks at the Geophysical Laboratory that I would attend.  I don't remember talking to him directly, however.

CONCLUSION  This is a fascinating book and well worth reading in its entirety.  The book is written for the laymen though those with no science aptitude may find it difficult at times.

* This Depleted Generation of 15 years has never had a president, for example.  John Kerry was the last attempt.  True Bernie Sanders is a member, having been born in 1942, but is he a real possibility for president?  I doubt it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Fritz Zwiki, a Swiss though born in Bulgaria,* knew my wife, from Latvia, through the International Students Association, who was the periodical librarian and thought the world of him.  I had thought he discovered the Super Nova; however, I was to learn that it was the greater frequency of them that he discovered.*  When I arrived at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), I was told that the famous astronomer Fred Hoyle was giving a talk at the Physics Building so I went.  At the end Richard Fineman,** also of Caltech, made some sort of statement that I have forgotten that ended with, "Isn't that so, Fritz?"  To which Zwiki replied, "That is the sort of drivel I have come to expect of Hoyle of late."  Zwicki was hostile to anyone whom he thought was a competitor but was very nice to all the support personnel.  One day he came to my office with a fossil (I guess I was the only person around) and asked me what it was. After examining it, I had to tell him I didn't know (I did know 200 fossils).  He said, "Are you a Geologist?" I answered  that I was.  Then he said, "Do you think you are a good geologist/"  I said I thought so.  Of course then came, "Then why don't you know what this fossil is?"  So I had to tell him that there were thousands of fossil names and that I could identify 200 which I thought was a lot.  Actually Zwicki and I became sort of friendly as I guess he decided I was no competition for him, but I steered clear of the topic of astrophysics.

I was a post-doctoral fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Geophysical Laboratory and in my investigations I used a piece of equipment called a mass spectrometer at the near-by Department of Terrestrial Magnetism that I thought had the most romantic name of a laboratory that I ever heard of.  It gave visions of someone standing in a room with his hands on a huge lever which, at some appointed time, he would pull and reverse the magnetism of the world.  In actual fact no terrestrial magnetism was done there (I believe there never had been either), at least while I was around and for decades after.  Well I would run across Vera Rubin,*** perhaps best known for her work on Dark Matter and the Rotation Problem. Now and then I would talk to her and found her to be a very approachable, sweet, middle-aged lady.  Of the three pepole covered here, I probably knew Vera Rubin the best.  In addition to her science, she has three sons and a daughter, all of whom got Ph.D.s (two in geology, my major), and is also a remarkably efficient and good cook.  A wonder woman indeed.

Richard Fineman, the darling of the students, whom I heard give his famous talk in 1959 called "There is plenty of room at the bottom"**** about things like there are plenty of atoms on the head of a pin to put the Encyclopedia Britannica.  He worked on the Manhattan Project as a young scientist and shared a Nobel Prize on quantum electrodynamics.**  Like Zwicky, I would talk to him occasionally at the International Students Association (name approximate) but not about physics.  I wouldn't say I was one of Fineman's friends, though I did have some personal acquaintance with him.



This fine book: "13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries Of Our Time" by Michael Brooks contains 13 chapters, acknowledgements, Notes and Sources, and an Index.

Chapter 1: The Missing Universe referring to the only 4% of the universe we can account for.
Chapter 2: "The Pioneer Anomaly" refers to the two spacecraft that have now left the solar system and are
     mysteriously veering off course flouting the laws of physics.*
Chapter 3: "Varying Constants: that are Destabilizing our view of the
Chapter 4: "Cold Fusion" Nuclear Energy without the drama.
Chapter 5: "Life" Are you more than just a bag of chemicals.
Chapter 6: "Viking" NASA scientists found evidence for life on Mars, then they changed their minds.
Chapter 7: "The Wow! Signal" Has ET already been in touch?
Chapter 8: "A Giant Virus" It's a freak that could rewrite the story of
Chapter 9: "Death" Evolution's problem with self-destruction.
Chapter 10: "Sex" There are better ways to reproduce.
Chapter 11: "Free Will" Your decisions are not your own.
Chapter 12: "The Placebo Effect"  Who's being deceived.
Chapter 13: "Homeopathy" It's patently absurd, so why won't it go

The entire book was interesting, but I particularly liked Chapter's 1, 2, 9 and 13.

Something that made chapters 1 and 2 interesting to me is that I actually knew several of the people mentioned such as Vera Rubin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, and the curmudgeonly Fritz Zwiki of the California Institute of Technology (or Caltech where I was a graduate student) .  And then there was the handsome Nobel Prize winner Richard Fineman, also of Caltech.

Part II of this review concerns people mentioned in the book that I knew.**  Part III concerns The Placebo Effect and Homeopathy ***.

* Material enclosed in italics are direct quotes from the titles of the chapters.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


As I recently pointed out, Carl Rove developed a political strategy of attacking a candidate at their strength.*  In doing this, they destroyed the value of military decorations.  Now Republicans are out to destroy the value of the Clinton Foundation.  Christopher Ruddy, a conservative, has tried to stem this attack, but it continues.**  Recently Carly Fiorina's PAC has spread the lie that only 6% of the Clinton donations go to charity.*** Of course they really know better, but anything goes in politics, right? says "Fiorina is simply wrong."  "Watchdog CharityWatch, a project of the American Institute of Philanthropy, gave the Clinton Foundation an "A" rating."**  Undeterred, Fox news spread the same lie.**

So let the lies begin even though it will harm charitable work.