A Guided Tour

[Amazon Link]

I can't remember why I put this 2009 book on my get-at-library list. Nevertheless, I did, and I did. And it's pretty good! It's roughly at the smart-STEM-undergrad level. The author, Melanie Mitchell, is a CS professor at Portland State, and an "External Professor" at the Santa Fe Institute, which is "dedicated to the study of complex adaptive systems."

To call the book wide-ranging would be an understatement. Because (to be flippant) pretty much any scientific field can get complex, if you want to go that way. Specifically, real-world systems have "emergent" properties, neither predictable nor (even) explainable by analysis of their simpler constituent parts.

So here's a partial sampling of what shows up: logistic maps; gene expression; insect colonies; statistical thermodynamics; cellular automata; networks; evolution; genetic algorithms; self-reproducing computer programs; analogy-generation (Mitchell's own research contribution). All clearly (and sometimes humorously) described, and she's not above showing you some math.

I had a "Wow" moment when Mitchell described the discovery of the Feigenbaum Constant; its value (4.6692016…) shows up in some pretty conceptually-simple math underpinning chaotic systems and deserves a spot along (say) π or e. Or maybe Euler's constant.

Mitchell also gives space to the critics of complex systems research. Are there really underlying principles governing the general behavior of complexity? Sort of a unified field theory? Mitchell admits that they aren't there yet. Amusingly, she points to a Scientific American article debunking complexity, in which she was quoted, she says unfairly. Given Scientific American's record on other issues, I'm inclined to take her side.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • The Daily Wire profiles Dan Bolduc, who's thrown his camo cap into the ring: Retired U.S. General Announces U.S. Senate Run As A Republican In This State. With "this state" being New Hampshire. General Dan would like to run against Jeanne Shaheen. From his quoted announcement:

    During my time of service, I have been in three-quarters of the countries in the world, which included 10 tours of duty in Afghanistan. But regardless of which continent I was on, I never forgot my roots in the Granite State, because no matter where I was, when foreign or tribal leaders would ask where I was from, I would tell them that I’m from New Hampshire. Now, these folks couldn’t point out New Hampshire on a map – but they always responded: “Live Free or Die.” …

    I am impressed with the state motto knowledge of "foreign or tribal leaders". If they meet a general from Maryland, do they respond "Fatti maschi, parole femmine"?

    General Bolduc's positions "on the issures" is here. They aren't bad. But frankly, he had my vote with the implicit "I am not Jeanne Shaheen."

  • The WSJ provides a reminder that Your Federal Government is incompetent: Federal Job-Training Programs ‘Largely Ineffective,’ Trump’s Advisers Find.

    “Government job-training programs appear to be largely ineffective and fail to produce sufficient benefits for workers to justify the costs,” said Tomas Philipson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

    Most federal job-training programs produced insufficient data to be clearly evaluated, and the ones that were studied weren’t producing the desired results, White House advisers said in a paper released Monday, an overview of previously completed evaluations of training programs.

    There were more than 40 federal worker-training programs spread across nine different agencies serving more than 10 million Americans in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the White House.

    From the report: "Aggregate spending on these programs totaled $18.9 billion in 2019 alone." For some reason, that didn't make it into the WSJ article, odd for a newspaper that likes to put dollar signs on things.

  • Jacob Sullum makes an obvious observation at Reason: Democrats Reveal Their Hostility to the Second Amendment.

    The New York Times recently asked 21 Democratic presidential contenders a question about firearms, and none of them advocated gun control. Instead they called for "common-sense gun safety," a euphemism that reflects a general caginess about how far they would go in restricting the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

    "In an ideal world," the Times asked, "would anyone own handguns?" Many of the answers reinforce the impression that the Democratic Party is increasingly hostile to the Second Amendment.

    Although Jacob concentrates on the (dreadful and stupid) answers, I find the question's prelude more interesting. "In an ideal world…"

    It's as if the question was written by someone who'd listened to John Lennon's "Imagine" one too many times. Or maybe 937 too many times.

    "In an ideal world, would we need government?" Ask that question, New York Times.

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson takes on a recent NYT op-ed by one Eli Broad. Wealth Taxes and Income Inequality, and Buffoonery.

    Broad writes: “I’ve come to realize that no amount of philanthropic commitment will compensate for the deep inequities preventing most Americans — the factory workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and electricians, teachers, nurses and small-business owners — from the basic prosperity we call the American dream.” There’s a word missing from that sentence, also some thought: Do you know what factory workers, teachers, electricians, and farmers all have in common? Above-average incomes. Perhaps those suffering from the cruelty of inequality are those . . . entrepreneurs and business owners he cites, but I doubt it. If you go back and look at the big bite the Great Recession took out of median household incomes, the chart pretty strongly suggests the problem wasn’t being a farmer (median income $68,000 a year) but being unemployed.

    The title on Broad's op-ed is "I’m in the 1 Percent. Please, Raise My Taxes." And he's solidly in the 1%: Forbes ranks him as #78 on its list of wealthiest Americans. His net worth is pegged (as I type) at $6.7 Billion.

    Which would, if Your Federal Government just took it all, run its "largely ineffective" job training programs for about 18 weeks (see above).

  • At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff asks and answers: Socialism in five countries? Not really.. In response to the likes of Bernie and AOC pointing to Nordic countries as exemplars of "democratic socialism", a report from Michael Cembelast at J. P. Morgan is cited:

    Some point to Nordic countries as democratic socialism in action, but some Nordics object to this, such as Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen: "Some in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy". Our models back him up: while Nordic countries have higher taxes and greater redistribution of wealth, Nordics are just as business-friendly as the US if not more so. Examples include greater business freedoms, freer trade, more oligopolies and less of an impact on competition from state control over the economy. And […] while Nordics raise more taxes than the US, the gap usually results from regressive VAT/consumption taxes and Social Security taxes rather than from progressive income taxes.

    If I'd have to guess, the Nordic governments are pretty good at taking your money, giving it back to you (after taking their cut), and making you believe they've done you a favor.

Last Modified 2019-06-27 7:00 AM EDT