Who is the fistful of euros guest blogger ?

Sorry to go public and all, but does anyone know if I am the fistful of euros guest blogger ? The deal was I guest blogged for 2 weeks, that is until March 1, and I got a reminder that I was expiring (I mean just as a guest blogger).

My name is still up over there.

Anyway, anyone interested in my discussion of fermions with people who studied quantum mechanics for over 1 year should go to rjwaldmann.blogspot.com
as the thread is a bit long.

Comments *are* enabled at blogspot.


I’m still thinking about Vienna. I didn’t especially like the anti aircraft towers, but I think the toilets were excellent.

I am quite serious. You see this is a problem for transatlantic comprehension. In the USA toilets have a large pool of water. This can cause an unfortunate problem called splashing.

In Italy the toilets have a tiny pool of water and uhm material lands on a porcelain surface which is in theory (but not in practice) washed clean when the toilet is flushed. Normally one has to clean the toilet after every 2nd type use. Innocent failure to do so by people used to different toilets can cause tension.

Now in Vienna they have figured out how to make toilets. There is a serioius pool of water down which the toilet is flushed then further back towards the wall a shelf which is very slightly concave so that one or two milimeters of water pool there after each flush. This is too little to splash but plenty to prevent sticking.

I haven’t seen such toilets anywhere else.

I think that squemishness about discussing this very practical issue is preventing the diffusion of this brilliant technology around Europe.

In fact, I would even be in favor of EU toilet standards if I weren’t sure that they would be dictated by larger countries with inferior plumbing.


Heraclitis said that you can not step in the same river twice.
Wolfgang Pauli said that you can not be an identical fermion twice
that is that there can’t be two identical fermions.
Some Heraclitian said that you can’t step in the same river once.
This is clearly silly.

Similarly, I think that an honest application of the basic assumptions of quantum mechanics (as listed by Von Neuman) would imply that there can’t be one fermion.

A Fermion is a particle with spin + or minus hbar/2. For example, electrons are fermions. The word spin suggests that it refers to well spin as in the Earth spins around its axis and elementary particles spin around. Spin has the logical implication that charged particles with spin have magnetic fields. The magnetic properties of atoms are logically implied by the spin of their electrons, the orbital angular momentum of electrons and confusing stuff going on in the nucleus making extremely weak magnetic fields.

The spin of photons makes perfect sense if it is interpreted as an intrinsic angular momentum. I mean you know spinning. The strongest reason to interpret spin as angular momentum is that, if it is so interpreted, total momentum is conserved as particles are created and destroyed.

The Pauli exclusion principal (no two identical fermions) could have been accepted as a mere fact. However, physicists aim to explain results in terms of more fundamental principles. In this case, they note that if there are two identical fermions a and b and one switches a and b, then the wave form describing the system of particles is multiplied by -1 (I think the proof is hard in any case I never made head nor tail of it). Now clearly switching two identical particles changes nothing. That means the wave is equal to minus itself, which means it is zero. That means the probability of their being two identical fermions is zero.

OK back to spin and angular momentum. I argued at length that spin is, as the name suggests, a kind of angular momentum, because quantum mechanics has a clear interpretation of momentum and therefore angular momentum. The momentum operator is the gradient with respect to space of the wave form. Thus angular momentum is the derivative with respect to the angle.

Now what sort of wave form does a particle with angular momentum hbar/2 have ? well the derivative of the wave form with respect to the angle measured from a point is angular momentum around that point divided by h. That means that if one rotates the waveform of a fermion 360 degrees it is mulitplied by e to the power i times Pi which is equal to -1.

As far as I can tell, the only natural quantum mechanical interpretation of spin implies that the wave form of a fermion is multiplied by -1 if it is rotated 360 degrees. Clearly nothing changes if it is rotated 360 degrees. That seems to me to mean that the wave form of a fermion must be equal to zero, that is, the probability that there is a fermion is zero.

So why is the same argument a proof of the true Pauli exclusion principle and not a proof of the false claim that electrons don’t exist ?
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These are my impressions of a recent trip to Budapest.

My father’s parents grew up in Budapest. The Waldmann family has returned on 5 or so occasions. Caroly, Erzebeth and Thomas (dad) went back in 1937 to tell the folks it was time to bug out of central Europe (they didn’t listen). Dad went back in 1989. I was there in 1997 after hopping on a train from Vienna. My sister was there on her honeymoon but didn’t take photos. I was there a month ago.

The main sight I went to see is Hojos 3, my grandmother’s family’s apartment. Dad took a camera to document the effects of war, 70 days of siege and 44 years of communism. Grandma didn’t notice any changes.

I was there in 1997 and found a used car dealership on the ground floor. Also the sweet shop across the street had turned into a bar. I had alarming thoughts about the relative power of the market and bombs in making everything solid melt into air.

Also I had never felt so foreign. Here I was in the city 2 of 4 grandparents came from and I couldn’t read anything. I mean I look at a sign that says something street and I don’t know which word is the name and which word means street. Also, for the first time in my life, I had to look carefully at the little stylised picture of a man and of a woman to figure out which was the mens’ room.

Budapest in 1997 had embraced the market and was smothering it with hot kisses. The city is at least as beautiful as Vienna (OK I’m prejudiced) and not totally out of Prague’s league, but the Budapest approach to attracting tourists was Las Vegas East (sorry central). I personally stopped at the “Las Vegas” casino but I still had money when I left so it is OK. I also have to congratulate the guy who impersonated a police officer (with no ID) accused me of changing money on the street (for no reason) inspected my foreign currency holdings and gave back most of them to me. Embarassing and expensive, but that’s the way to treat idiot tourists who are being paid strangely large sums to teach about economics while clearly lacking the most basic concept (don’t hand over your money to every guy in a suit who asks to see it).

By 2004 things seem to be going pretty well. Budapest seemed markedly richer. In fact it seemed like a normal functioning European city. OK the Las Vegas casino is still right across the Danube from Buda (next time I am not going back to it). Also there is sign advertizing a strip joint legally attached to one of the poles of a fence around a municipal playground. Still the place looked clean efficient etc. Also instead of the Eastern tin can cars people were driving normal Western cars (that means cars made in the far East).

Also the language had changed. I mean people still spoke Magyar but about half of commercial signs and bill boards were in English.

Finally there was positive proof of integration into the global capitalist consumer society — billboard advertisements for “motercycle diaries” the film about the young Che Guevara.

Vienna Skyline

A thought on my month in Vienna (in 1987).

A very nice clean safe city full of nice people. However there are two extremely ugly buildings in Vienna. I tried to find a photo googling Vienna skyline but they seem to have been carefully kept off the web. They are huge rectangular towers with no windows. They made me think of miniluv in Oceania circa 1984.

Finally a nice Viennese person explained to me that they were anti aircraft towers from WWII and that, since the weakest material in them was concrete and the rest was steel no one had any idea how to knock them down without smashing all the nice little Viennese buildings near them.

This is a minor problem in city planning. I had an Idea. The towers have plain flat surfaces which are boring. How about painting them white and projecting something on them ? Now this would be very public and unavoidable (as the plain concrete is at the moment). That means that films or something would be innappropriate.

I would advocate taking extremely high quality photos of great works of art and projecting them. Also photos of beautiful Austrian nature would be nice.

The idea is that too much municipal eye time would be monopolised by a mural,l so a changing non controversial photo display would be about right.

The Value of Learning a Second Language

What is the value of learning a second language aside from the obvious practical benefits : the fact that you can talk to people who don’t speak your first language, can read things which have not been translated, can politely talk to people who don’t find it easy to speak your first language and can read things in the original.

When I was in high school adults tried to convince me to try to learn a second language by claiming that it broadens the mind. They failed. Since then I have, more or less, learned Italian. What have I gained ?

My impression is that my mind reminds just about as narrow as it was before.

I asked Elisabetta Addis (the woman to whom I am married) what she gained from learning English. She said it was very useful, because by learning a second living language she learned that there is more than one way to structure concepts, that is that the structure of Italian is not the structure of truth, but is rather just one of many equally valid structures developed for historical reasons. I confessed that I have had the impression that Aristotle was not always totally clear on the distinction between his immense contributions to understanding Greek and to understanding thought and logic and would have confidently claimed that true though was only possible in Greek. I was as usual speaking from ignorance.

Trying to understand my different impression, she suggested that math is, for this purpose, like a second language (she learned English and math beyond a fairly elementary level simultaneously and imagine how fun that was).

I said that I suspect that part of the reason is that no one could possible mistake the structure of English for the structure of truth. Partly, of course, English spelling is totally arbitrary and makes no sense. Also English is not logical because it is part German and part French. For example to find if a claim is true one verifies it. Or steer meat is beef and sheep meat is mutton. That is, since English is a weird hybrid, English is its own second language.

If so, this is important, since the only people who have a choice about learning a second language or not are native English speakers.

My unassisted thoughts on the topic below the fold.
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fact and value, truth and knowledge

I would like to comment on an excerpt of a comment by Mike

“We might distinguish questions of fact (e.g. “which way will John vote at the next election?”) from questions of value (e.g. “is Blair’s outlook better than Brown’s?) by noting that the answers to factual questions may be true or false, but that the answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a point of view or value. Answers to factual questions do not presuppose a point of view or value – they presuppose the categories of true and false and must be framed in those terms (either we are correct in predicting that John will vote for X or, if he votes for Y we will have been shown to be incorrect).”

I think it will be important to define the word “knwledge” right now. I use “knowldge” to mean “justified true belief”. If we happen to guess right, we do not know. I will place great stress on the word “justified” in that definition.

OK back to the quote “answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a point of view or value” is implied by”answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a value”. In this post I will assume for the sake of argument that the stronger claim is true so answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a value. How does this make them different from claims of fact ?
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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Paul Samuelson is very smart but not always polite. When praising John Kenneth Galbraith he wrote something like “it would be wonderful to write his obituary” which only meant that it was enjoyable to write a encominium on Galbraith and any other more literal interpretation would be incorrect, funny and amusing to Prof Galbraith. Among Prof. Samuelson’s words of praise were, more or less, the following “he understood that economics is to important to leave up to the economists” Which is my effort to recall a translation of Clemenceau.

So the question is: “If you could write an encominium on a famous person in the mass circulation comments to a post in “A Fistful of Euros” who would you praise?”

The question is not “Does Robert Waldmann count how many comments each post gets and treat the number as a measure of his success ?” However, if anyone would like to post the comments “yes”,”that’s obviious”, “what a twit” or “that’s really the most pathetic form of self gratification I have ever heard of,” I will count them all the same.

So who would I like to praise ? Too keep the list under control I praise only people who died after I was born

My Mom should be famous
My Dad is almost famous
George Orwell
Vaclaw Havel
Nelson Mandela
Martin Luther King Jr
Jorge Luis Borges
Alan Turing ?
Larry Summers needs some praise right now and I won’t lie or anything but he was very patient with me.
Brad DeLong
Andrei Shleifer
Michael Kinsley
Graham Walker has tenure at MIT so he is sortof famous
Reinhart Selton is the most humble noble laureate that I have every met and he actually takes teaching undergraduates seriously.
Omigod I forgot to mention what an absolutely wonderful guy Salvatore Luria is.
I’m an economist so I have to talk about Kenneth Arrow even though I wish I could be a bit original.
Bernard Kouchner really deserves a better fate
John McCain should not be electe president of the USA even if he is an admirable person.
Happy is the nation that needs no heroes. Less happy is the nation full of people like me who didn’t appreciate Jimmy Carter
Why the hell was Andrew Young such a bad “permanent” representative at the UN ?
Paul Kafka is the nicest winner of the LA Times best first novel prize that I know
Many admirable and famous people who I know who are not going to get totally pissed at me for not mentioning them.

Click if you have nothing better to do than to read the actual praise.
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EU or USSR ?

I just read that a 4 year long investigation of Silvio Berlusconi was completed and that the investigating magistrates conclude that he missappropriated and did not pay taxes on “276,9 milioni di dollari, 9,4 miliardi di lire, 13,5 milioni di franchi svizzeri, 2 milioni di franchi francesi, 548.000 fiorini olandesi, a cui si aggiungono altre somme ancora da “quantificare”. ” According to the investigating magistrates the tax evasion continued for a while following a system “”elaborato negli anni ’80, e da allora costantemente seguito, fino al ’95”. (which means that Silvio was cheating on taxes while he was prime minister).

All in all it sounds like a rather important story wouldn’t you say ? However there was no (zero) mention of this on TG1 (main public nightly newscast) nor does any mention appear on televideo (text news on TV also public sector). Evidently the official accusation (based on banking records) that the prime minister is a megacrook isn’t news.

Which brings me to my question. Is this approach to news more typical of the European Union or of the Soviet Union ?

What is Cultural Relativism ?

First I should say, as always, that I use blogs to write about things I know nothing about. So let me try to understand what cultural relativism might be.

Basically it begijns with the idea that should not judge other cultures. I think the origen might be with Herder who I try to translate “There must be no comparison. Each nation contains within itself it own happiness” or something like that. Substitute culture for nation and try to understand what he might have meant.

1. According to cultural relativists disrupting a culture is the worst crime.

That is CR might be an absolute ethical doctrine in which the objective moral truth is that no choice within a culture is as bad as an outsider attempting to fight a culture.

This is coherant but it is not relativist and I doubt that anyone believes it.

2. Each of us belongs to a culture somehow and our duty is to act according to it’s mores.

This has the fault of 1 which is that it might be the sum total of objective moral truth but that is not relativism and why would anyone think such a thing. Finally my culture tells me to be open minded and think for myself exploring what I might gain from other traditions. That means I can’t be at type 2 CR without logical contradiction. Finally how are people assigned to cultures.

3. We should choose a culture to obey and obey it.

All the faults of 2 but the last plus how to choose.

4. We can’t prove that one cultures moral principals are better than anothers. Therefore they are all equally valid. This applies equally to all views of right and wrong not just those of a “culture”. It also applies to purely hypothetical moral beliefs that no one has ever held. It is, I think, a confusion of knowledge and truth. From the obvious fact that we can not prove something right or wrong, it is concluded that there is no fact of the matter no moral truth. This obviously doesn’t follow. There is an excluded middle “everything that is true can be proven”. This is definitely false as has been proven (Godel’s theorem). Who ever thought such a silly thing.

Sad to say this is the well known distinction between ontological objectivity and epistimelogica objectiviity.

5. In fact the cause of our beliefs about right and wrong is our upbringing in a culture not God speaking to us or our deducing the catagorical imperative using neutral logic or anything like that.

I certainly agree with this. However, my belief in certain moral principals survives the conviction that I believe them not because they are true and their truth was made manifest to me somehow but because my mother and father thought they were true and they well etc back a million years. So ?

It seems to me that cultural relativism is either a moral imperative like any other except that no one would accept it as the be all of right and wrong or it is a confusion of the concepts “proven” and “true”