Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he had really liked girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Friday, January 16, 2015

On dieting

In response to an online argument about dieting. Like most of us, I've tried several kinds of weight-reduction diet. I also know enough about thermodynamics and intermediate metabolism to be able to think about diets intelligently. This is what my experience and education tell me.

(1) Dieting by calorie restriction alone works, but it's tough. You're hungry a lot of the time, and you need to maintain a fairly high level of exercise to keep your metabolic rate up.

(2) The Atkins diet, in practice, works better. The high levels of protein and fat keep you satiated. And, having tracked calories while on Atkins, in my experience it tends to be a calorie reduction diet as well. You just don't want to eat that much meat. It's not so hard to maintain an exercise regime, although I find retaining muscle mass isn't easy; weight training gets a lot tougher. And it's very effective. 5 - 10 pounds in the first week is typical, and it's not all water. You can get enough zero carb roughage with an intelligently constructed salad every couple of days.

I believe Atkins weight loss is due to two effects, both significant, but whose exact contributions I haven't tried to measure. One is the raw calorie reduction. The second is ketosis, which is how Atkins himself thought it worked. Basically, after a couple of days of extreme low carbohydrate intake, your body runs out of its glucose stores, and it has to make glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis. It can do that by using a small portion of a fat molecule, or from some amino acids, but both processes are inefficient, and the result is a lot of the rest of the fat gets converted to acetoacetic acid and eventually acetone, a ketone. Your body can use the 'ketone bodies' but you're producing a lot of them, so some of them get excreted, and with that you lose the calories you would have gotten from metabolizing them properly. So there's some extra weight reduction, but you don't excrete enough to account for all the weight reduction.

In practice, I find that a bit of attention to the calories, combined with Atkins, is still easy to maintain, and more effective than raw, eat-all-the-fat-and-protein-you-want Atkins.

(3) I think a low, but not zero carbohydrate diet is a good long term maintenance diet, particularly when you get older. Eating lots of carbs these days just gives me glucose swings, and my doctor assures me I'm not pre diabetic. And the carbs should come mostly in vegetables. South Beach, maybe, not Atkins.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The other medieval religion

Pope Francis, who increasingly looks like the biggest mistake the Catholic Church has made since, ooh, about 1600, yesterday said, in effect, 'you talka da trash about my mama, I breaka yo face'. The actual words were:
[I]f Dr. (Alberto) Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch
...and pooh to all the 'meek shall inherit' and 'turn the other cheek stuff'; he's a Catholic, and the Bible is merely a set of suggestions. This was all in the context of allowing that while those naughty boys in Paris shouldn't killed all those journalists, Charlie Hebdo pretty much had it coming.
The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense.”
It goes without saying is a freedom to say only what doesn't offend is no freedom at all...not that the Catholic Church has ever had much time for freedom anyway. Let me don my classical liberal cap, and instruct the Holy Father. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it:
[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate
Louis Brandeis (whom the Argentinian prelate probably would regard as one of the gang who killed Christ) put it far more eloquently:
To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
In other words, the solution to speech you hate is not the violence Pope Francis recommends, it's contrary speech. This is what marks us (some of us) as civilzed 21st century human beings, not medieval savages.

Fortunately, for me, Catholicism was a disability I outgrew with puberty. But if I were Catholic, I'd be feverishly scanning Canon Law for the phrase "recall election". Because every time this guy opens his mouth, it seems, something stupid pops out.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The less you know...

A recent crime gives a lovely glimpse into news suppression policies at three local media outlets. First, our beloved Lincoln Journal Star.
Two men robbed a Belmont neighborhood convenience store at gunpoint Monday morning, police said. The pair went into a Kwik Shop at 14th and Adams streets just before 3 a.m. -- one had a handgun -- took the 24-year-old clerk to the back of the store and bound his wrists, Lincoln Police Officer Katie Flood said. Then they stole cash and cigarettes before running north, Flood said.
Armed robberies, unlike burglaries or murders, usually come with a suspect description. But the Lincoln Journal Star won't publish suspect descriptions, because, I suspect, they fear if you read 5 or 10 or 20 descriptions of Lincoln area armed robbery suspects, you might draw inferences about the typical profile of an armed robber in Lincoln.

Moving on to Channel 10/11 news...

The clerk told police that just before 3 a.m., two males wearing ski masks entered the store with a gun and demanded money. The suspects stole cash and cigarettes, then ran off. One is described as around 17 years old. The second suspect is described as being in his early 30's.
Now we know their sex, and their reported ages. Evidently this is information Channel 10/11 thinks you should be permitted to have, But is that a full description? Apparently not. Here's Channel 8 news.
Police say the men are described as two black males wearing ski masks. One is described as being in his thirties, about 5'10" and 160 pounds. The other is reported to be younger, about 5'6" and 220 pounds. Officials say the suspects were last seen running northbound.
Two of our main news outlets feel you're not fit to be given a complete report of local crimes, because racism, or something. Personally, I wouldn't pay anyone to provide me only with the news they think I should be allowed to hear. Accordingly, I don't subscribe to the Journal Star, and I won't buy stuff advertized on the 10/11 news.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In defense of experts.

Newsweek just posted a lengthy piece by Kurt Eichenwald, which is mostly a birdwatcher's guide to biblical criticism. Biblical criticism is a field that starts with the premise that the Bible is not supernatural or divinely inspired, and aims to find out what one can deduce about history, and the early development of Christianity, from the texts themsleves. And there are thousands of early manuscripts of the Bible and apocryphal works. It's truly a vast field.

First of all, I should say I’m a dilletante in the far-too-many things that interest me, and even more (less) of a dilletante in Biblical criticism, about which I’m mostly ‘meh’. Brought up a Catholic, my interest in the Bible was never going to be that great. I do like history, and so I take an interest in how the Bible relates to the history of the near east 0 - 400 CE. But 'interested layperson' about sums it up for me.

Mr Eichenwald is another kind of dilletante, a journalist. He seems to be a reasonably good one. To this interested layperson, he seems to have done a laudable job in summing up biblical scholarship. Of course, he’s made bonehead errors, that even I, less an expert than he, can see. For example, reputable Judaic scholarship does not claim that anything in the Old Testament was written around 1000 BC. As best I understand it, the earliest books (which are not the Pentateuch) were not written until after the Babylonian captivity. Still, the basic ideas are sound. Matthew Mark, Luke and John were not the apostles of the same name. The earliest existing gospel, Mark was not written anything like contemporaneously. It was probably written some time around the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Matthew and Luke probably drew on Mark and another, lost gospel (Q) as a source. And John is off in left field. Luke was probably also the author of Acts, and probably knew Paul, although his writings post-dated the Pauline epistles. And so on. There were also lots of competing gospels, many lost, and none of this got to be canon until much later. And while scholars will (as scholars do) fight to death over the details, none of the above is particularly controversial.

The problem is, contemporary Christian churches want you to think the Bible is divinely inspired, and so gloss over the small matter that decades intervened between Jesus's life (if there ever was a Jesus), and the very earliest versions of the gospels, of which the manuscripts are lost. If you're going to tell believing Christians this, it's a mistake to take shots at evangelical Christians while also writing a popularized account of Biblical criticism. It’s hard enough for Christians to get their head around the idea that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the apostles of the same name, without throwing in contemporary politics.

The point is, Biblical criticism is an enormous subject, encompassing the work of thousands of scholars over hundreds of years, and it’s hard for a journalist to get it even approximately right. There are thousands of manuscripts, and entire subfields devoted to textual criticism, detailed study of the Koine Greek, etc. There are actually some biblical scholars who write well, and eruditely, who would have not left mistakes out there to be picked on, and who might have forgone the temptation to take cheap shots at Rick Perry. Why didn’t Newsweek commission one of them to write this?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A few last thoughts on the University of Virginia gang rape story

Sadness: the Washington Post today found so many and serious discrepancies in Jackie's story there is no other rational explanation than that she is a seriously mentally disturbed individual who concocted the entire episode. She's done a lot of harm, but reading the story, you have to conclude she's just sick, and has a bad choice of friends who reinforced her psychosis with the mantra 'I believe'. No, you shouldn't just believe, in this any more than in transsubstantiation.

Tragedy: downright evil reporting by a leftist activist magazine made this episode of individual psychosis into a national freak show.

Farce: The University of Virginia panicked into closing down all its fraternities and sororities and throwing itself into convulsions over a fabrication.

Crime: Cinderblocks were thrown through the windows of Psi Kappa Phi, and their premises vandalized, resulting in all the residents evacuating, all over a fantasy.

Cure: Go read the Crucible, take it to heart, and think three times before setting off on the next witch burning. And listen; being a liberal is volunteering as an extra in Groundhog Day. If you won't learn from history, you're condemned to repeat it.

I liked it better when we were a sane society, but I don't precisely remember when that was. Ask Gerald Amirault.

A guide to raccoons.

P. lotor cutis
It's a little known fact that the raccoon, Procyon lotor , has two subspecies. The first subspecies, Procyon lotor cutis, is a lovable bandit-masked little minibear, which adorably washes its food before it eats it. The natural habitat of P. lotor cutis is children's books and TV shows, and the minds of incompletely grown up adults, usually city dwellers, who are often members of PETA.

P. lotor pestis
The other subspecies, Procyon lotor pestis, is a foul-tempered, malodorous aggressive trash-hunting rabies-infected bag of fleas. It is widely distributed across the United States. In fact, do you hear that noise outside that sounds like something is trying to get into your garbage bin...?

It's a little known fact the Hermann Goering tried to introduce Procyon lotor cutis into Germany, but mistakenly got the wrong subspecies. This is one Nazi atrocity the Germans are not inclined to overlook.

Anyhoo, to cut this short, the unfortunate Mr. Jack Gangwish, a third string Husker DE, picked up what he thought was a specimen of P. lotor cutis, only to find he had the wrong subspecies, which then bit him. Mr Gangwish, knowing there would be rabies shots in his future if he didn't collar the hell-beast for testing, clubbed it to death with a crescent wrench. Now PETA are out to get him, claiming it was in fact P. lotor cutis. PETA still think the other subspecies is a vicious myth.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nick Kristof's biased racial commentary.

Today's New York Times commentary of race relations by Nick Kristoff, When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5, beautifully illustrates why Kristof cannot be regarded as a fair reporter, let alone an accurate one. He says:
Two economists, Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, found that white N.B.A. referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players. “These biases are sufficiently large that they affect the outcome of an appreciable number of games,” Price and Wolfers wrote.
...except that's not what Price and Wolfers found. The paper is here. Look particularly at Table 3. What it shows is the racial composition of refereeing crews had almost no effect on the foul rate of black players. On the other hand, having a higher proportion of black referees tended to increase the number of fouls called on white players. White players had more fouls called on them overall.

Whether the racism was positive (white refs calling fewer fouls on white players) or negative (black refs calling more fouls on white players) is impossible to disentangle from the data, since a foul call is inevitably subjective, and it's clear white and black players tend to segregate somewhat by position and role.

But either way, the treatment of black players did not depend significantly on the race of the officiating crew. Or to quote the authors themselves:

This analysis reveals that the bias we document primarily affects white players.2 This is a departure from more standard accounts of discrimination which involve whites actively discriminating against blacks, although our setting is unusual in that black players are the majority group. In turn, this may reflect either white players being favored by white referees or disfavored by black referees, although our identification strategy (which relies on random assignment of refereeing crews) does not allow us to sort out which group of referees is responsible for this bias.
This directly contradicts Kristof.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ten things I learned from Ferguson

(1) When your old man gets out of the joint, paroled on federal firearms charges related to the manufacture, sale, and distribution of narcotics, and the parole officer says he can't live with your son, give Junior the heave-ho. He's 290 lbs; he can fend for himself.

(2) In the 'hood, a good shove is better than a $20 bill. It probably helps to be a 'gentle giant', though.


(3) Red is the appropriate color to wear to a funeral, if you have a close family affiliation with the Bloods.
(4) Never get between a grieving mother and her exclusive right to distribute merchandise exploiting her son's death. Don't care if it's Grandma doing it; assemble a posse, and beat the crap out of the old witch.
(5) Kewl gang symbols: apparently this means 'what's up, bro?'. Modeled, of course, by the beautiful and charming Mr. Brown himself.

(6) How to appeal for calm after a tragedy: 'raw emotion'.

(7) If you want to plow through a mob, a Ford F-150, bullbars and big wheels are de rigeur. Don't be like these people.

(8) If you are around when someone else tries (7), have a high quality digital recorder on hand, so you can sell the footage to the producers of 'The Walking Dead'

(9) Any questions why high-capacity magazines are A Good Thing? See (7) and (8).

(10) If you're working for the Newspaper of Record, it's OK to publish the address of a police officer receiving death threats, if you think he deserves to be killed.

Some remarks on jurisprudence, from a Professor of Chemistry.

The only person with a right to a trial is the defendant. If you see something you think is wrong, that doesn't entitle you to have the government prosecute. Federal private prosecutions are forbidden since 1981, and most states won't allow them either.

Back when many if not most prosecutions were private, the primary function of a grand jury was to squelch them if they were frivolous or unfounded. Now they don't happen, the grand jury is a mostly useless vestige. In Federal cases, they are constitutionally required, so prosecutors abuse them. However, while the practice of placing only evidence hostile to the defendant before a grand jury is permitted, it is not a mandate; in fact, the US Marshals' manual tells prosecutors to present the grand jury with exonerating evidence. A prosecutor who uses a grand jury to quash a prosecution the mob is demanding is acting far closer to the original intent than one who uses it as a rubber stamp.

Just because somebody practices criminal law, doesn't mean he knows this. I work with dozens of analytical chemists who don't know the history or first principles of the techniques they use.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Solidarity Rally, or bus queue?

UNL Ethnic Studies (your tax dollars at work!) and the local ACLU held a Ferguson solidarity rally, which they carefully located away from any StarTran bus stops so they wouldn't be mistaken for a queue. Of course, you'd never actually see hipsters on a StarTran bus.

I'm a little surprised the turnout was so low, actually. N-street Liquors and Ben's Liquors are no more than 3 blocks away from the site. The looting possibilities are spectacular.

And I do like the 'No justice, No Mercedes-Benz' guy. Preach it brother! Solidarity and overpriced German cars!