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Archive for December 9th, 2012

A deep understanding of mathematics

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Interesting article by Jacob Aron in New Scientist:

Proofs are the currency of mathematics, but Srinivasa Ramanujan, one of the all-time great mathematicians, often managed to skip them. Now a proof has been found for a connection that he seemed to mysteriously intuit between two types of mathematical function.

The proof deepens the intrigue surrounding the workings of Ramanujan’s enigmatic mind. It may also help physicists learn more about black holes – even though these objects were virtually unknown during the Indian mathematician’s lifetime.

Born in 1887 in Erode, Tamil Nadu, Ramanujan was self-taught and worked in almost complete isolation from the mathematical community of his time. Described as a raw genius, he independently rediscovered many existing results, as well as making his own unique contributions, believing his inspiration came from the Hindu goddess Namagiri. But he is also known for his unusual style, often leaping from insight to insight without formally proving the logical steps in between. “His ideas as to what constituted a mathematical proof were of the most shadowy description,” said G. H.Hardy (pictured, far right), Ramanujan’s mentor and one of his few collaborators.

Despite these eccentricities, Ramanujan’s work has often proved prescient. This year is the 125th anniversary of his birth, prompting Ken Ono of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has previously unearthed hidden depths in Ramanujan’s work, to look once more at his notebooks and letters. “I wanted to go back and prove something special,” says Ono. He settled on a discussion in the last known letter penned by Ramanujan, to Hardy, concerning a type of function now known as a modular form.

Functions are equations that can be drawn as graphs on an axis, like a sine wave, and produce an output when computed for any chosen input or value. In the letter, Ramanujan wrote down a handful of what were then totally novel functions. They looked unlike any known modular forms, but he stated that their outputs would be very similar to those of modular forms when computed for the roots of 1, such as the square root -1. Characteristically, Ramanujan offered neither proof nor explanation for this conclusion.

It was only 10 years ago that mathematicians formally defined this other set of functions, now called mock modular forms. But still no one fathomed what Ramanujan meant by saying the two types of function produced similar outputs for roots of 1.

Now Ono and colleagues have exactly computed one of Ramanujan’s mock modular forms for values very close to -1. They discovered that the outputs rapidly balloon to vast, 100-digit negative numbers, while the corresponding modular form balloons in the positive direction.

Ono’s team found that if you add the corresponding outputs together, the total approaches 4, a relatively small number. In other words, the difference in the value of the two functions, ignoring their signs, is tiny when computed for -1, just as Ramanujan said.

The result confirms Ramanujan’s incredible intuition, says Ono. While Ramanujan was able to calculate the value of modular forms, there is no way he could have done the same for mock modular forms, as Ono now has. “I calculated these using a theorem I proved in 2006,” says Ono, who presented his insight at the Ramanujan 125 conference in Gainesville, Florida, this week. “It is inconceivable he had this intuition, but he must have.”

Figuring out the value of a modular form as it balloons is comparable to spending a coin in a particular shop and then predicting which town that coin will end up in after a year.

Guessing the difference between regular and mock modular forms is even more incredible, says Ono, like spending two coins in the same shop and then predicting they will be very close a year later.

Though Ono and colleagues have now constructed a formula to calculate the exact difference between the two types of modular form for roots of 1, Ramanujan could not possibly have known the formula, which arises from a bedrock of modern mathematics built after his death. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2012 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Science

Reasons why addiction is stigmatized, despite the facts we know

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Good article by Richard Juman in The Fix:

The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterizes addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a ‘chronic, relapsing brain disease” that changes the structure and functionality of the brain. So why do so many people still think of addiction as a moral failing? Why do they still refer to victims of substance misuse disorders as meth freaks, alcoholics, junkies, crackheads and garden-variety drunks?

The answer is simple as it is depressing: because that’s the way it’s always been. Addicts are scorned by communities and celebrities with addictions are exploited or hounded by paparazzi. And while the government purports to view addiction as a disease, it often works in opposition to that position through the “War on Drugs,” which counts most drug users as criminals. Even those of us in the treatment community still—consciously or unconsciously—employ stigmatizing programming and language—such as when we focus on “dirty” urine.

So despite widespread agreement that addiction is best understood as a complicated behavioral-biological scenario that requires treatment, the system is hard-wired to prolong stigmatization, and stigma contributes to addiction’s lethality.

Of course, there is a long history of mental illness being misunderstood and stigmatized, from the “schizophrenigenic mother” to the warehousing of “crazies” in state hospitals or prisons, which was beautifully captured by the director Lucy Winer in her recent highly-acclaimed documentary, Kings Park. Addiction and mental health problems are still spoken of in hushed tones, and patients and their families are still blamed.

The idea that those with addictive disorders are weak, deserving of their fate and less worthy of care is so inextricably tied to our zeitgeist that it’s impossible to separate addiction from shame and guilt. Addiction comes with a second punch in the gut: the burden of being treated like a second-class citizen and expected to act accordingly. Stigma impacts us all, both consciously and unconsciously, and is perhaps the single largest contributor to the mortality rate. Consider these eight points:

1. . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2012 at 2:21 pm

Israel and human rights

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An interesting article in Yes! magazine by Stephen Zunes:

The great wish of the early Zionist leader Theodor Herzl was that Israel would be treated like “any other state.” Were that the case, there might be more rational and productive discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is particularly critical in light of Israel launching yet another devastating attack against civilian-populated areas of nearby Arab lands.

There are certainly those who do unfairly single out Israel, the world’s only predominantly Jewish state, for criticism. There is a tendency by some to minimize Israel’s legitimate security concerns and place inordinate attention on the Israeli government’s transgressions, relative to other governments that abuse human rights. There are also those who, in light of the five-year siege of the Gaza Strip and the enormous suffering of the Palestinian people, try to rationalize terrorism and other crimes by Hamas, the reactionary Islamist group currently in control there.

What we are witnessing from the Obama administration, however—as Hamas rains rockets into Israel and Israel rains bombs, missiles, and mortars into the crowded and besieged Gaza Strip—is the similarly unfair phenomenon of exempting Israel from criticism. While most of the international community has criticized both Hamas and Israel for their attacks on areas populated by civilians, the Obama administration has restricted its condemnation to the Palestinian side.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice—widely considered to be the president’s first choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State—correctly noted that there is “no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel.” However, she had absolutely no criticism of Israel’s far more devastating attacks against the people of the Gaza Strip, simply saying that “Israel, like any nation, has the right to defend itself against such vicious attacks.”

The real issue, however, is not Israel’s right to self-defense but its attacks on crowded residential neighborhoods, which as of Tuesday had killed more than 70 civilians (as compared with three Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets). The Obama administration’s position is ironic given that, while both sides share the blame for the tragedy, it appears that it is Israel which has been primarily responsible for breaking the recent fragile ceasefires, through acts such as its assassination of a leading Hamas official and attacks that killed a number of boys playing soccer. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2012 at 10:03 am

The coming world rule by corporations

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A highly secretive trade agreement aims to penalize countries that protect workers, consumers, and the environment. Lori Wallach reports in Yes!:

While the election season seized everyone’s attention, government officials and 600 official corporate “advisors” were working behind closed doors to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Negotiations have been cloaked in unprecedented secrecy and its proponents have mislabeled the TPP as a “free trade” agreement. In reality, the TPP is about much more than trade. It threatens a stealthy, slow-motion corporate coup d’etat, formalizing and locking in corporate rule over most aspects of our lives.

Thirteen years ago, at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Seattle Ministerial, a similar threat in the form of a massive expansion of the powers and scope of the WTO was stopped.

At the Battle in Seattle, the immovable object called grassroots democracy was victorious over the allegedly unstoppable force of corporate-led globalization. The “Doha Round,” which followed two years later and continued the attempt to expand the WTO’s reign, was also derailed thanks to tenacious campaigning by organizations and activists worldwide.

Recalling these historic moments, when people power stopped the dangerous expansion of corporate power, is especially sweet today, when we must again act to safeguard these inspiring victories. All of us who will live with the results must become active to stop the TPP, the latest iteration of corporate coup via “trade” agreement.

What would the TPP do?
Eleven countries are now involved—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States—and there is an open invitation for more to join. Think of the TPP as a NAFTA on steroids, which could encompass half of the world.

This is the largest, most potentially damaging agreement since the 1995 establishment of the WTO. And you may never have heard about it before. That’s because the negotiations, which have been underway for three years, are being conducted in extreme secrecy. The public, Congress, and the press are locked out, but the 600 official corporate advisors have access to the negotiating texts.

The TPP is the latest strategy by the same gang who got us into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and pushed for the expansion of the WTO: American job-offshorers like GE and Caterpillar; banksters like Citi; pharmaceutical price-gouging giants like Pfizer; oil, gas, and mining multinationals like Chevron and Exxon; and agribusiness monopolists like Cargill and Monsanto.

They’ve misbranded the TPP as a model 21st-Century “trade” deal to try to sell it with the usual false promises of it expanding exports. But only two of the TPP’s 29 chapters are about “trade.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2012 at 9:46 am

Corporate overreach

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A disturbing article in the NY Times by Daniel Akst:

In order for one of my boys to play indoor lacrosse this winter, I was asked to sign a release indemnifying the sports dome and a long list of its business associates, volunteers, advertisers and (presumably) their family pets against any possible claim filed on behalf of my son.

One-sided legal releases are part of modern life, but these ubiquitous documents often contain little-noticed indemnification clauses — legal provisos requiring consumers to protect a business or some other party from damage claims and legal fees, sometimes even those arising from their own negligence.

Basically, they make every one of us an insurer. Indemnification clauses have been a pernicious feature of freelance writing contracts for years. As a result, threadbare scribes ludicrously agree to protect giant publishing conglomerates not only against judgments, but against the ruinous cost of defending even the most far-fetched legal claims.

Clauses like this often are tucked into the fine print nobody reads when clicking around the Internet or otherwise doing daily business.

Try a little Googling on this score. If you used a money-back guarantee available for a while on Iams cat food in Germany, you agreed to indemnify Procter & Gamble (fiscal 2012 sales: $83.7 billion). The official terms of use for Skype, the popular phone and messaging service, also include an indemnification clause. So does the eBay user agreement. “If anyone brings a claim against us related to your actions, content or information on Facebook,” says that site’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, “you will indemnify and hold us harmless from and against all damages, losses, and expenses of any kind (including reasonable legal fees and costs) related to such claim.”

Demands for indemnification don’t just come from businesses. One parent (who asked not to be named) had to sign a form indemnifying the Girl Scouts of Northern California so that her daughter could take part in a ropes course high off the ground. The mother might not want to bother seeking help from the California Department of Consumer Affairs, since its Web site requires users to indemnify the agency (and the usual list of hangers-on) “against all claims and expenses, including attorneys’ fees.”

Of course, the parent didn’t have to sign, but she also didn’t want her daughter left out.

I’ve faced the same choice — give up my rights or keep my kids home. In order for my son to attend a summer program at the Simon’s Rock campus of Bard College, for example, I agreed to release the institution, its trustees and (as far as I can tell) all their Facebook friends from any liability and to “fully and forever agree to indemnify” them in case of any claims arising from my son’s stay.

So I’m a regular Lloyd’s of London. Yet regulation of my role as an all-purpose insurer is scandalously lax. I haven’t heard a peep from my state’s insurance regulator, for instance; evidently this official is blithely uninterested in just how much capital I’ve set aside — hang on while I go through the sofa cushions for change — to cover the vast potential liabilities lurking on our family’s balance sheet.

IT’S bad enough that everywhere I go, someone wants me to promise not to sue. I was once asked to sign a release as a houseguest in a private home! And to some extent, I’m sympathetic; it’s stressful and expensive to live in such a litigious society. But it’s ridiculous to demand that every Tom, Dick and Mary assume a liability that can only properly rest with those who bear responsibility. And it’s a perversion of the tort system, which is supposed to put the onus on the parties most able to make sure things are done right. Leaving aside the adequacy of my loss reserves, are these indemnifications legally enforceable? It depends how far they go and which state you’re in.

Continue reading.

A Federal law could put a stop this insanity.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2012 at 9:39 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

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