22 April 2010

Random Points of Thought

* The FDIC is selling $2 billion of Treasury bonds whose payments are intended to be primarily financed through toxic and non-toxic bank assets (performing and non-performing construction loans) that it acquired from failed banks. The face value of the underlyinng assets is $4.5 billion. Thus, the FDIC is basically taking a $2.5 billion loss on those assets, although if they overperform the benefit accrued to the benefit of the FDIC.

* Genetically, some of the closest relatives to the Berbers of North Africa are the Saami of Northern Scandinavia. The Berbers, together with the Yakut of Northeastern Siberia and the Fulbe of the Sahel in Africa, share closely related versions of mitchondrial DNA lineage U5b1b. This lineage is not the only close connection. Lineages of mtDNA lines H1, H3 and V are also closely related in the two groups.

In 2005, when the paper linked above was written, it was assumed that this link flowed from the retreat of modern humans to Iberia, Italy and other Southern European locations when glacial ice in Europe reached its furthest extent around 18,000 years ago followed by the expansion of those populations from those refugia afterwards. Ancient Basque DNA from the pre-historic era discovered since then now suggests that the V haplogroup of mtDNA actually is more likely to have had a source in North Africa and flowed to the North from there.

More generally, there is increasing genetic evidence that Europe was populated by Neaderthals who had very little genetic impact on the modern humans who arrived around 45,000 years ago and had replaced them by the last global maximum of the arctic ice pack around 18,000 years ago, who themselves retreated from much of Europe at that point. Modern humans who were hunters and gatherers from a genetically distinct population then repopulated Europe has the ice pack retreated, only to in turn be replaced by herders and farmers when plants and animals were domesticated and expanded beyond the Near East around 8,000 years ago.

The is very little trace left of the first round of hunter-gatherers in the genetics of modern populations, and the share of the population tracing maternal roots to the later round of hunter-gatherers has declined dramatically. Maternal lines that made up more than 80% of the population in the upper paleolithic after the last glacial maximum according to ancient DNA evidence, now account for about 11% of the European population, and the total genetic contribution of pre-farming/herder European hunter-gatherers to Europe's population is estimated to be about 20% or less.

* General Motors has paid off the balance of its loan from the federal government, although the federal government remains a major equity holder in the company, an amount that is North of $5 billion. Maybe socialism is underrated.

* Forget Marx and union-management conflicts. The new class warfare is between the "Lower Upper Class" (a.k.a. Upper Middle Class) and the rich according to Washington Post journalist Matt Miller.

In the same vein, while the children of the rich and famous are routinely admitted to selective colleges to which they could not have been admitted on their own merits, a preference more common than affirmative actions at many elite institutions, admissions policies based on a narrow conception of academic ability that deny the rich an edge do little for black and low income students. The beneficiaries of a policy of meritocracy over plutocracy in college admissions are largely the children of the upper middle class.

* You can't make these things up:

Why should an African-American vote Republican?

"You really don't have a reason to, to be honest - we haven't done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True," Republican National Chairman Michael Steele told 200 DePaul University students Tuesday night.

* When I was a lawyer in New York State, I once had a real estate deal involving property once owned by Millard Fillmore, complete with his affidavit affirming that he did not have a common law wife, and a chain of title that went back even further and was complicated by a spat of unrecorded deeds executed in Taiwan. So, I sympathize with this little e-mail story, whether it is true (which I doubt) or not:

A New Orleans lawyer sought an FHA loan for a client. He was told the loan would be granted if he could prove satisfactory title to a parcel of property being offered as collateral. The title to the property dated back to 1803, which took the lawyer three months to track down. After sending the information to the FHA, he received the following reply.

(Actual reply from FHA):

"Upon review of your letter adjoining your client's loan application, we note that the request is supported by an Abstract of Title. While we compliment the able manner in which you have prepared and presented the application, we must point out that you have only cleared title to the proposed collateral property back to 1803. Before final approval can be accorded, it will be necessary to clear the title back to its origin."

Annoyed, the lawyer responded as follows:

(Actual response):
"Your letter regarding title in Case No.189156 has been received. I note that you wish to have title extended further than the 206 years covered by the present application. I was unaware that any educated person in this country, particularly those working in the property area, would not know that Louisiana was purchased by the United States from France, in 1803 the year of origin identified in our application. For the edification of uninformed FHA bureaucrats, the title to the land prior to U.S. ownership was obtained from France, which had acquired it by Right of Conquest from Spain. The land came into the possession of Spain by Right of Discovery made in the year 1492 by a sea captain named Christopher Columbus, who had been granted the privilege of seeking a new route to India by the Spanish monarch, Queen Isabella. The good Queen Isabella, being a pious woman and almost as careful about titles as the FHA, took the precaution of securing the blessing of the Pope before she sold her jewels to finance Columbus' expedition... Now the Pope, as I'm sure you may know, is the emissary of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, it is commonly accepted, created this world. Therefore, I believe it is safe to presume that God also made that part of the world called Louisiana. God, therefore, would be the owner of origin and His origins date back to before the beginning of time, the world as we know it, and the FHA. I hope you find God's original claim to be satisfactory. Now, may we have our damn loan?"

The loan was immediately approved.

In practice, a chain of title a decade or two long is usually good enough to establish title by adverse possession, so this is just silliness, but it is still a cute story and property students are still taught about the more obscure property law doctrines cited. Adverse possession does not run against sovereigns and the typical cases that have to resort to very old titles involve Indian tribes or governmental entities.

* Loop quantum gravity as a fundamental theory of physics alternative to string theory continues to soldier on. This attempt to find a quantum version of general relativity claims to have developed quantum style equations that yield the Einstein equations in the large distance classical limit. The big difference between loop quantum gravity and either conventional quantum physics or general relativity, is that loop quantum physics involves a structure of time-space itself that is fundamentally discrete rather than continuous, rather than having quanta moving within an infinitely fine background.

Their t-shirt equation isn't quite E=mc^2, but still comes in high on the mathematical beauty contest scale:

⟨Wv|ψ⟩ = (fγψ)(1)

fγ is a map from SU(2) spin networks to SL(2,C) spin networks. The subscript shows the dependence of this map on the Immirzi parameter.

Also of interest in the world of fundamental physics are relatively promising efforts to find a practical way to computationally work with the quantum physics of the strong force that binds atomic nuclei together, using what are called lattice computations to compute exact solution of Yang-Mills equations. This is a break through because the computational difficulties involved in the equations that govern the strong force are much more formidable than those that govern the electro-magnetic force (known as QED).

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