Sep 30, 2008

Obama's three challenges [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

James Carroll asserts that "Obama's three challenges" consist of extraneous forces: Americans' perceptions of Race, Gender, and Class, the familiar liberal trifecta. Carroll's formulation is all too convenient, since it ignores "challenges" that pertain more specifically to Obama: negative attitudes concerning his level of experience, judgement, and tendency towards expansiveness. Obama would presumably remain blameless if he were to lose the election, given Americans' rejection of him as black, unmasculine, and nouveau-riche. Carroll's evasive rhetoric serves to avoid the sort of "reckoning" he says is necessary, but apparently only on the matter of race.

Carroll also asserts, nonsensically, that Obama's "genetic tie to slavery goes through his white mother." What exactly does this mean, anyway? Was one of Ann Dunham's ancestors a slave or a slaveowner? That is, after all, what "genetic" means. Or does simply being white represent the same sort of indelible stain as the "one-drop" racial standard Carroll identifies? Is it possible Obama's "tie to slavery" might also go through his African father? Kenya has a long legacy of slavery, one that continues to be a problem today. Since Carroll appears to rule out a "genetic tie" to slavery on that side of the family, is it because the Kenyan slave trade was dominated by Arabs rather than by Europeans, and that it often consisted of Africans enslaving other Africans?

Sep 27, 2008

Deval Patrick: A Man in Need of Blame [LINK]

As long as there is a generous surplus of outrage over implications of our current financial crisis, it may be worth spreading the blame around to deserving recipients. My governor, Deval Patrick, certainly qualifies. While in the Clinton Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, he pioneered the sort of aggressive anti-redlining measures that pressured mortgage lenders to make questionable loans to low-income borrowers. Such widespread loosening of lending standards was a major factor in the mortgage crisis, which in turn is the main reason why today we have an even wider financial crisis threatening to bring the American economy to a screeching halt.

This short post demonstrates the importance of the mortgage market's politicization to Patrick's career. Indeed, after becoming governor of Massachusetts he instituted a public mortgage-lender rating system at the state level, modeled after the Clinton-era Community Reinvestment Act whose enforcment he pioneered. As recently as May of this year, he modified the system to rate lenders' ability to assist borrowers who could no longer afford their mortgage payments. Previously, it concentrated solely on lending standards, judging, as the Boston Globe put it, "whether companies are serving lower-income communities by making loans available at fair prices."

Savor the irony. Without such a political process, these loans presumably would never have been made. The government considered this a problem in need of fixing, and went about pressuring lenders to make those loans. When it became apparent the borrowers couldn't pay them, the government again pressured lenders to relax the terms of the loans.

Was this well-intentioned policy loosening credit standards a good thing for all those people now facing foreclosure?

Sep 25, 2008

Holy Potatoes! [LINK]

An item from the Fall 2008 catalog of Edmund's Scientifics, a mail-order firm specializing in science-oriented toys and hobby items, such as telescopes, hydrogen fuel cells, remote control flying saucers, and desk ornaments demonstrating physical principles. I don't know what to say about this one other than that there are limits with what you can express in marketing copy.

NEW! Calabi-Yau Manifold Crystal

A Cross-Section of the Calabi-Yau Quintic

Hidden deep inside the dimensions of string theory are the microscopic Calabi-Yau spaces. According to string theory, space-time is not four-dimensional as you might expect, but actually 10-dimensional. The extra six dimensions are believed to be "compactified" or rolled up into such a small space that they are unobservable at human scales of sight. Their size and six dimensions make Calabi-Yau spaces difficult to draw. But, this model shows a three-dimensional cross-section of this likely space to reveal its structure and shape. This 3" cube and the surface within is a wildly self-intersecting ride through space. Cement your place in string theory history by adding this highly intriguing crystal to your collection. It includes clear rubber feet for scratch-free display. And, if you want to learn more about the mathematics of this wondrous cube, read on... This particular space is one of the most appealing candidates, because there's a series of Calabi-Yau spaces embedded in CPN (N-dimensional complex projective space) described by homogeneous polynomials of degree (N+1). These spaces have real dimension 2(N-1), so the hypothesis that there are six hidden dimensions in string theory means that there is a unique choice within this series of Calabi-Yau spaces, namely N=4, and the polynomial must be this quintic (degree N+1=5): z15 + z25 + z35 + z45 + z55 = 0. The 2-D surface is computed by dividing by z5 and setting z3/z5 and z4/z5 to be constant. This defines a 2-manifold slice of the 6-manifold; we then normalize the resulting inhomogeneous equations to simplify them, yielding the complex equation that is actually solved for the surface, z15 + z25 = 1. The resulting surface is embedded in 4D and projected to ordinary 3D space for display.


Welcome, Sanity readers.

Sep 18, 2008

Two Stories on Two Vice Presidential Candidates [LINK]

A letter I just sent to WBUR, my local NPR station:

I was greatly irritiated after hearing two separate reports on Morning Edition purporting to evaluate both vice presidential candidates.

The report on Biden was uncritical, much of it filled with extended clips from his stump speeches, heaping ridicule on McCain, especially his recent misstep in characterising the economy as "sound." The main conclusion: Biden's Catholicism and strong union support means Obama may do well in Ohio, vital to the election.

In the subsequent report on Palin, however, the candidate herself was completely absent, despite her vigorous campaigning. Instead, we were treated to interviews of several stay-at-home mothers to judge her potential appeal among women. Of those interviewed, one woman said Palin's selection was making her lean Republican. The rest said that Palin "scares me," or that they "question her judgement" in running for high office because "she has responsibilities" to her children. Another group of university women said they "worry" about her qualifications. Even among those Clinton supporters who complained about signs of sexism directed at Palin, "none were so sympathetic" as to consider voting Republican.

Is the problem with such differing coverage obvious only to me?