• Lunchtime Photo

    This spider’s name is Joe. Eventually his prey will be caught in his web and have no hope of escape no matter how much he squeals and squirms. We are all hoping that day comes soon.

    June 9, 2020 — Irvine, California
  • Here’s Why Donald Trump Will Never Give Up

    Chris Kleponis/CNP via ZUMA

    In the LA Times today, Nick Goldberg asks the question on everybody’s mind:

    What exactly are we witnessing here? Is this an attempted coup — a real effort by President Trump to cling to power despite the outcome of the election? Or is it a pathetic, doomed-to-fail tantrum by a petulant sore loser who will soon cave under pressure?

    It’s neither. The real answer requires us to take seriously what so many of us have been saying all along: Donald Trump is mentally unbalanced. To put it a little more conventionally, he’s such an extreme narcissist that he can’t believe he lost. He literally can’t believe he lost. So his brain makes up stories for him, and the only plausible story in the face of hard numbers is that his enemies cheated. So that’s what he believes. And he’ll believe it forever. There’s no more chance of changing his mind on this than there is of changing the mind of someone in an asylum who believes he’s Jesus Christ.

    As usual, though, this leads us back to the real question: Why is nearly the entire Republican Party humoring him on this? Since they aren’t collectively insane, the only answer is that they’re willing to sacrifice the public’s belief in democracy for short-term partisan gain. That isn’t nuts. It’s just despicable.

  • Inflation Remains Subdued in October

    The pandemic has played hob with all our normal economic indicators, but it’s still worth paying attention to them periodically. The October inflation numbers were released today and showed no change from September. Headline inflation was 1.2 percent compared to the previous year. Core inflation, which omits food and energy, was up slightly more, but still subdued at 1.6 percent compared to the previous year:

    The biggest increase was for used cars and trucks, which increased 11.5 percent compared to a year ago. New cars increased only 1.5 percent, in line with overall inflation.

  • Our American Gerontocracy

    On Inauguration Day next year, here’s what the leadership of our country will look like:

    • President Joe Biden, age 78
    • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, age 80
    • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, age 55
    • Senate [TK] Leader Mitch McConnell, age 78
    • Senate [TK] Leader Chuck Schumer, age 70

    I don’t want to go all Logan’s Run on you, but it sure does seem as if we could use a little more youthful zest here.

  • Down With Geometry!

    Sure, I guess. But who cares?

    Everything seems to be pretty calm in the political world these days, so let’s switch gears momentarily and talk instead about math education. According to the Wall Street Journal, Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) is now the one-billionth person to propose that we change the high school math curriculum to include more “useful” subjects:

    Dr. Levitt’s proposal is simple: Condense three years of high-school math—typically Algebra I in ninth grade, Geometry in 10th grade and Algebra II in junior year—to two years. Then, devote the freed up time to more relevant learning, such as data science or financial literacy.

    I have a better idea: just get rid of plane geometry completely. It is entirely useless both on its own and as a steppingstone to further studies in math, which are almost all based on algebra and analytic geometry.

    But Kevin! Geometry is where we lean about axioms and proofs. Those are critical to understanding how math works.

    No, they aren’t. But if you really want everyone to learn about the foundations of math, then make it a one-month unit in Algebra II or something. You can use plane geometry as an example, or you can use arithmetic, which is probably a better bet. Or you can just skip it, since foundations is a fairly advanced subject that’s of no real use for anything at the high school or undergrad level.¹ As for proofs, those are already covered in a semi-intuitive way in Algebra I, and that’s plenty. Students will get plenty of proof workouts later on.

    This would have the added benefit of making Algebra I and Algebra II into consecutive courses, instead of giving students a full year to forget Algebra I before they take up their study of more advanced subjects. A condensed unit on trigonometry, which is semi-useful, could be folded into Algebra II, taking the place of worthless topics like synthetic division. This can be followed by either calculus or data science, depending on your druthers.

    Anyway, down with geometry! Who’s with me?

    ¹I say this as someone with a considerable fondness for the foundations of math. Why else would I have a cat named Hilbert?

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: November 10 Update

    Before we get to our regular set of COVID-19 charts, here’s a look at worldwide deaths:

    I don’t know how accurate the worldwide data is, but it’s an understatement if anything. We are already well above the April peak and still skyrocketing upward.

    In the US, we recorded over 1,400 deaths on Tuesday, one of our highest totals ever—and given our case counts and hospitalization rates there’s every reason to think this is going to keep going up for quite a while. There’s probably not a lot we can do about this now—it’s already baked in—but we could certainly reduce our future death rate by simply wearing masks everywhere at all times. Unfortunately, our current president will have none of it. He’s too busy with the important business of trying to convince his followers that the election was stolen from them.

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through November 10. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.