Monday, October 31, 2016

Cable News Hacks

CNN fired Donna Brazile for leaking town hall questions to Hillary and lying about it. About time. Of course CNN hires hacks of both parties, supposedly to give their panels partisan balance. Stupid idea. What the panels really could use is some intelligent analysis. If you want hacks on the air, treat them as witnesses to be interrogated, not as commentators with independent worthwhile opinions.

Ben Mathis-Lilley says it's time to purge the hacks. Hell yes.

Promoting the interests of politicians is just what political operatives do. But the practice of paying operatives who personally benefit from the success of certain candidates/narratives to make ostensibly earnest, objective declarations about American politics is an absurd one. (And one that flows from the oft-derided "gotta hear both sides" teeveeland paradigm in which there is is no objective reality, only two parties making competing claims between commercial breaks.) Paul Begala, Karl Rove, Ana Navarro, James Carville, Alex Castellanos, Frank Luntz and their ilk dip in and out of roles as journalistic "contributors" to cable news networks to take paid work for candidates, parties, and causes. In many cases, the journalism and the business overlap. (In July, Slate overheard Fox News' Rove at the Republican National Convention pitching another convention-goer on a "tremendous opportunity" apparently involving a massive government contract.) The pundit panels that networks convene after debates and big speeches are, in essence, pitch meetings in which strategists sell themselves to prospective clients.

The most obvious ongoing exemplar of this idiocy, of course, is former Trump goon Corey Lewandowski, who was fired as campaign manager in June and then immediately hired by CNN. Trump kept paying Lewandowski until August, and Lewandowski was seen on Trump's camapign plane (among Trump's aides, not among other journalists) in October. If Trump wins and Lewandowski's view of the race becomes conventional wisdom, Lewandowski benefits personally; CNN is basically paying Lewandowski for the privilege of televising a daily infomercial called "Help Corey Lewandowski Get a Plum Job in the White House While Lining Up Consulting Gigs for 2018."

CNN wholly deserves the flak it deserves for employing this modern Goebbels. But if CNN didn't pay him, another network would. The only thing that can stop the cycle is general public shame, a revolt of the cable-viewing proletariat in which we join together to call on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox to fire allthe Lewandowskis and Braziles, so that we may build, anew, a society in which more deserving and insightful experts become TV politics personalities. I'd suggest that more networks start booking Slate bloggers, for example—but then again, I'm biased.

The practice of employing these people is just a more insidious version of the old and rightly despised Crossfire, which John Stewart was able to shame CNN into dropping.

National Promote Diabetes Day

Halloween, and somehow we have lots of candy left over. Business isn't what it used to be, when hundreds of hungry children stormed our neighborhood. This year we decided to get mostly candy that only kids like - their constitutions are stronger and can stand up to all that sugar.

I'm sure that many are in the same situation. Maybe we could ship it all to some undeveloped country where people aren't addicted yet. To make it addiction neutral, we could ship it with a whole lot of broccoli.

More Trump and Russia

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and backed Russian positions in Ukraine, the Middle East, and the Baltics, but is there evidence of long term ties between him and Russian intelligence? Josh Marshall reports allegations of a long time US intelligence operative:

According to David Corn, who is an experienced national security and intelligence reporter, a retired spy from a western country who now works for an American security contractor has provided the FBI with evidence suggesting that "the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump." Corn further reports that this retired spy found "troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, 'there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.'"

The retired spy, who remains anonymous, says he's provided his evidence to the FBI and they have requested additional information from him about his sources, findings, etc. Corn knows how to do this kind of reporting. He has spoken to a US intelligence official who says this retired spy has provided credible and valuable intelligence to the US government in the past. He is considered reliable. Corn's reporting gives me a high level of confidence this retired spy is not a crank. That doesn't mean he's right or even that he's not pursuing some unknown agenda.

Of course there is a world of difference between an allegation and proof - almost as vast as the difference between emails that exist and those with actual evidence of communication of confidential matters.

Private Servers: Trump Plus Alfa

Is there anything odd or suspicious about a secret communication channel between a long time Trump internet server and the the Russian Alfa Bank?

Franklin Foer in Slate:

The researchers had initially stumbled in their diagnosis because of the odd configuration of Trump’s server. “I’ve never seen a server set up like that,” says Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. and won a FBI Director Award for Excellence for his work tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. “It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” The server was first registered to Trump’s business in 2009 and was set up to run consumer marketing campaigns. It had a history of sending mass emails on behalf of Trump-branded properties and products. Researchers were ultimately convinced that the server indeed belonged to Trump. (Click here to see the server’s registration record.) But now this capacious server handled a strangely small load of traffic, such a small load that it would be hard for a company to justify the expense and trouble it would take to maintain it. “I get more mail in a day than the server handled,” Davis says.

“I’ve never seen a server set up like that.” Christopher Davis of the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. That wasn’t the only oddity. When the researchers pinged the server, they received error messages. They concluded that the server was set to accept only incoming communication from a very small handful of IP addresses. A small portion of the logs showed communication with a server belonging to Michigan-based Spectrum Health. (The company said in a statement: “Spectrum Health does not have a relationship with Alfa Bank or any of the Trump organizations. We have concluded a rigorous investigation with both our internal IT security specialists and expert cyber security firms. Our experts have conducted a detailed analysis of the alleged internet traffic and did not find any evidence that it included any actual communications (no emails, chat, text, etc.) between Spectrum Health and Alfa Bank or any of the Trump organizations. While we did find a small number of incoming spam marketing emails, they originated from a digital marketing company, Cendyn, advertising Trump Hotels.”)

Spectrum accounted for a relatively trivial portion of the traffic. Eighty-seven percent of the DNS lookups involved the two Alfa Bank servers. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not an open mail server,” Camp told me. “These organizations are communicating in a way designed to block other people out.”

Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.” Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. Over the summer, the scientists observed the communications trail from a distance.

* * *There is more at the link.

The Great Unread

Ruth Graham of Slate asks the question: is it gauche to display books that you aren't going to read?

Well I do have a lot of books on my shelves (and in boxes in my garage, and in my office, on the bedside table, in the bathroom, and in closets here and there). It's also true that many of them have many unread pages. I have a couple of copies of blue Jackson and a couple of green Jackson, and I've only worked about three dozen of the problems. Of course one of those copies is actually my son's, who doesn't actually like books. (That's also true of one of my copies of MTW and a few other physics books).

I think that I can honestly say that I've never bought a book for myself that I didn't intend to read, and in fact still usually intend to read. Given my age and declining intellect, most of them, I fear, will not get read.

Graham leads with an exchange from our modern cultural arbiters, a couple of Kardashians:

Kris: “I’m obsessed with books right now. I’m reading a book about Le Courvoisier [sic], which is an architect. It’s so weird and boring, but I’m obsessed.”

Khloe: “No you’re not. And you’re not reading that book.”

Kris: “Well, I look at them.”

Khloe: “Right, you look at it. It’s not a real book.”

Kris: “It has words.”

Khloe: “Oh, ‘This building was erected in nineteen-whatever’?”

Kris: “Yes, it’s called history.”

Khloe: “That’s a coffee table book.”

Well, there you go.

Graham renders an even handed verdict:

“Do people really keep books to display them?” one colleague asked. “A private library is a promise to yourself, not a premise about your personhood.” But I say that’s purist nonsense. Books have always played both roles. They are not just stories and information, they are badges of identity and, yes, ornamentation. A book on a shelf faces inward and outward at the same time.

Anyway, I have to get back to looking at one of my Condensed Matter books. It's kind of weird and boring but I like looking at the pictures - if I can find some.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

PPIG

538 has upgraded Trump's chances to about one in four. This is based on his surge in several key battleground states: Ohio, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Iowa.

Meanwhile, the PPIG, or Pig Paranoia Index Generator has reached Defcon Crimson*. It, in turn, is based on several polls, current media hysterias, and, especially the ACI, a proprietary index based on the comments on my blog.

Others: Green, Yellow, Orange, and, reserved for situations where the Earth has already been vaporized, Ultraviolet.

What Trump Fans Are Smoking

Or otherwise ingesting. Arun has some data. Looks to me like the correlation with Trump fans might be substantial.

More

Because I know you are all big Kevin Drum and Donald Trump fans.

First, a bit of comic relief: Trump crashing a charity event to which he did not contribute and pretending to be a big donor.

Then the news (Washington Post, via Kevin):

The FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server knew early this month that messages recovered in a separate probe might be germane to their case, but they waited weeks before briefing the FBI director, according to people familiar with the case....Given that the Clinton email team knew for weeks that it may have cause to resume its work, it is unclear why investigators did not tell Comey sooner.

A little stink bomb, timed for maximum impact on the election.

Book Preview: Ike's Bluff by Evan Thomas

This caught my eye, from the early pages.

After Germany fell, he[Eisenhower] walked through the Nazi concentration camp called Ohrdruf--Nord, a subcamp of Buchenwald, with his friend, the tough talking General George Patton. Patton threw up. Ike ordered the mayor of Gotha to turn out the townspeople to remove the dead bodies. The mayor and his wife went home that night and hung themselves.

Ike took this as a sign that the Germans might not be beyond redemption.

And, from Ike's first inaugural:

Science seems ready to confer on us, as its final gift, the power to erase human life on this planet.

Ponder that one, Trump fans.

KD vs. WB

In the comment thread, WB writes:

... in his latest piece he basically writes that he and we know nothing and will not get to know the truth, just as I told you above.

This after pretending in his previous two pieces that he actually knows something.

I don't agree with his second sentence, and I quote from all three pieces:

Kevin Drum Number One:

In other words, nobody has even looked at these emails yet. The FBI has to get a court order first. So: are these emails that have already been turned over? Maybe. Are they routine emails about schedules and so forth? Maybe. Nobody, including the FBI, has the slightest idea.

Kevin Drum Number Two:

We have a bunch of emails from Huma Abedin to other people. The FBI has not read them yet and has no idea what they're about.

Kevin also quotes an LA Times story which attributes to an unidentified official:

Investigators came across the emails while investigating whether Weiner violated federal law when exchanging sexually explicit texts with a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina, one official said....The emails were not to or from Clinton, and contained information that appeared to be more of what agents had already uncovered, the official said, but in an abundance of caution, they felt they needed to further scrutinize them.

KD Number Three:

Have you heard? There are some emails. They are pertinent to something or other. But nobody has actually read them, so, actually, maybe they aren't.

They are from Hillary Clinton to Huma Abedin. No, wait, they aren't. Or maybe they are. No they're not.

They are duplicates of emails we've already seen. No they aren't. But maybe some of them are. Or most of them.

So do these really show that Kevin is a "pompous fool" as at least a couple of my readers seem to believe? I don't think so. Yes, he is partisan and sarcastic, but it looks to me like he is both careful and consistent in identifying both what is known and speculated (see KD's last two sentences.

Now in the pompous fools department, how about that guy proclaiming on TV and rallies everywhere that "this is bigger than Watergate?"

Inside Perspective on New Emails

Josh Marshall has an email from a former Department of Justice official with experience in high profile corruption cases.

1. Agents investigating Weiner saw evidence of State Department related emails on Weiner's laptop. This is a totally separate team of agents from the team that investigated the State Department emails. They thus have no idea whether these have already been reviewed or not. And they can't lawfully look at them without a search warrant or (this is key) consent of the owner of the emails. In theory, they could also send a grand jury subpoena for them to Huma and/or Weiner. Regardless, they would not be responsive to the Weiner sexting search warrant, so they can't seize and review them. They appropriately raise it up the chain.

2. The issue goes up the chain. Comey and his team decide they better get a look at these or they will be accused one day of a failure to follow a lead (they frankly should have had these long before). But they don't know what's on the emails, so they have no way of assessing whether they're relevant or not. They need a warrant, or consent, or a subpoena.

3. This is where I might be ready to give a slightly charitable explanation to Comey. He thinks if they seek a search warrant, it will leak. And that's probably a reasonable possibility given many GOP-friendly agents and lots of leakers apparently at HQ. In Comey's mind, headlines would be everywhere stating "FBI Seeks Search Warrant for New Clinton Emails" and the cable news folks would be in full hyperventilation mode. The FBI, his beloved institution, would then be subject to unrelenting attack for interfering in the election. So he decides he better preempt this by sending out a vague and, in his view, innocuous letter to the Hill. He thought he was in a no-win situation. One of his own making (he should have never commented on this case publicly at all), but still, a no-win. Chaffetz then distorts it and the uncritical mainstream news outlets desperate for a real horse race go berserk with hysteria and uninformed speculation.

But here's the thing: They never needed to get a warrant. All they would have had to do is ask Huma's and/or Weiner's lawyers whether they would consent to the search (or accept service of a subpoena for the emails). And they surely would have given it, knowing full well that the alternative would be the FBI getting another search warrant and that leaking to the press. It is not unusual to ask for consent to search from subjects, especially when you have possession of the data. And if they say yes, it's the most defensible way to search as the subject will effectively be waiving any 4th Amendment challenge to the search. If they had done this simple step, they would have the emails by now and would have been able to de-dupe them against the emails they already had and have any new ones reviewed in short order. By doing so, they would also have been taking steps to minimize potential leaks...

My take away: Nobody knows (yet) whether there is anything here or not. Comey released the extremely incomplete and prejudicial information against government policy, likely because he figured leaks from partisan agents would make him look bad.

So far, this is substantively a total nothing-bomb, but politically the press and Republicans are in heaven.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

How Important is Class in this Election?

I was pretty surprised by the huge gap between white college grads and their counterparts without degrees. The latest Washington Post poll not only shows a race that is suddenly extremely close (and this is before Comey's latest email stunt) but yawning gaps among white voters. There is a 31% difference between the preferences of the graduates (Clinton) and those with high school or less (Trump). Those with some college are only minutely different from the high school only voters. those with post-grad degrees are quite a bit stronger for Clinton.

If this poll is correct, Clinton's support has collapsed dramatically in recent days. I can't guess how much influence the new emails (so far we have only contradictory stories about their contents and even the correspondents) but even as terra incognita it's prompting more Republican hysterical celebration.

I wonder if I should buy gold as preparation for the Trumpocalypse.

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum

José D. Fernández was a talented pitcher for Miami. His death in a boating accident brought many laudatory stories about his talent, spirit, and personality.

It seems that he was just another drunk when he died though, crashing his boat and killing 2 friends while intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine. (It's not clear that he was piloting his boat, but he was the only one who was legally drunk. One of his friends also had cocaine in his body.)

Oh, well. Nobody's perfect.

Gotta Love Those Trumpies

Jew-S-A

Classy

Socialism in America

A nice essay in the NYT:

On Nov. 8 I will be going to the polls and voting, without hesitation or disinclination, for Hillary Clinton. But what a treacherous and unforgivable act this will be for my father, who will no doubt be supporting the only presidential candidate he believes has any chance of saving the United States from almost certain ruin: Alyson Kennedy.

You have probably never heard of Alyson Kennedy until now, and neither have you heard of her running mate, Osborne Hart, unless you happen to be a member of the Socialist Workers Party, as my father has been for the past 50 years, or you happen to have passed in recent months a folding table on a city street and been handed campaign literature explaining that “the only way forward is to organize independent working-class struggles that point toward overturning the dictatorship of capital.” This is the exact sentiment, word for word, that my family subscribed to when I was growing up, a sentiment that can be traced all the way back to Marx, and that held great power over me as a child, and that holds some power over me still, but that seems to hold no power over almost anyone else, including the working class.

...

How many votes has any Socialist Workers Party candidate received? Sometimes a few thousand, sometimes tens of thousands, once 90,000, but that was 1976. No matter. The objective is not to amass votes but to participate in politics using whatever means the capitalist system has allowed so as to eventually be able to overthrow the capitalist system. To vote for a Socialist Workers Party candidate is not necessarily a “protest vote,” or at least not the kind we have come to associate with third-party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, but rather it is a protest vote insofar as one’s entire existence is a state of protest — which was certainly true for my family.

The F U Election

Michael Moore:

Yes, on November 8, you Joe Blow, Steve Blow, Bob Blow, Billy Blow, all the Blows get to go and blow up the whole goddamn system because it's your right. Trump's election is going to be the biggest fuck ever recorded in human history and it will feel good.

I think he's got that right. The same analysis probably applies to the verdict in the Bundy Brother's case and the Brexit vote. If they get their wish, I don't think they are going to enjoy the morning after -- I mean the next four years.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Drums in the Deep

Various liberal pundits have been declaring the election over for a few weeks, but Nate Silver and 538 see Trump's chances creeping up over the last ten days or so (current estimate, 21%) with most of this due to his improving poll numbers, mostly at the expense of Gary Johnson.

Endogamy

The average person, like other creatures, is packing around something like 3 or 4 fatal recessive alleles. They survive because those alleles are not fatal in the heterozygous state, that is, when it is paired with "healthy" allele. Inbreeding, or endogamy, decreases heterozygosity, and consequently tends to produce more fatal and otherwise impaired variants. Nonetheless, most human societies practice some degree of endogamy, the most extreme cases prescribing brother sister marriages in certain royal families (Egypt, Inca, others). Slightly less extreme endogamy was practiced in the royal families of Europe in the past several centuries. These extreme forms of endogamy produce a lot of highly damaged individuals.

So why does endogamy endure? In the extreme cases, the motive is to confine power to a narrow family group, and a broader version of that motive can be seen in other cases too, for example in the anti-miscegenation laws (banning inter-racial marriage) that existed in the US in my lifetime. Probably the most important motive, however, is cultural preservation. The Ashkenazi Jews, for example, managed to preserve a distinct culture while embedded in quite different external cultures for thousands of years, partly by maintaining fairly strict endogamy. Similar considerations likely applied to the thousands of small cultures that existed in the world until quite recently.

The negative genetic consequences of endogamy do make themselves felt, however, especially in small groups where homozygosity is rapidly concentrated. The Ashkenazi, for example, suffer from fairly high rates of some genetic diseases. The most devastating effects (aside from in the aforementioned royals) are in certain tribal groups which have become too small to support an adequate breeding population. In some cases, these are being driven to extinction by congenital disease.

India has perhaps the most elaborate system of endogamy, with perhaps tens of thousands of endogamous groups, and the robustness of the system is testified by its survival over perhaps 2000 years. Like most other endogamous systems, the Indian system has a subsystem intended to limit excessive inbreeding, division of the endogamous groups into gotras with mandatory outbreeding. Such bell and whistles, combined with large population size, prevents many of the negative genetic consequences of endogamy.

The modern global world has severely damaged all endogamous systems. This damage is intrinsic to the machinery of mass cultural destruction and homogenization that characterizes today's world, and has energized reactionaries everywhere.

UPDATE: An Archaeologist informs me that endogamy is really about property, especially land, and how you keep it in the family/clan.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

This Should be Fun

From the NYT:

Armed antigovernment protesters led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, charged in the takeover of a federally owned Oregon wildlife sanctuary in January, were acquitted Thursday of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

The surprise verdict in Federal District Court was a blow to the government, which had argued that the group used force and threats of violence to occupy the reserve, impeding the federal workers there. But the jury appeared swayed by the occupiers’ contention that they were protesting government overreach and posed no threat.

Thanks a lot, members of the jury. Now we will see armed gun nuts occupying every kind of federal facility.

Maybe Trump will win. The lunatics have clearly taken over the asylum.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Voted

I voted today, and the turnout was heavy despite it being a couple of weeks before the general voting. There was a line, though it moved pretty quickly. Apparently about 12,000 people have already voted in the County - a bit more than 1/4 of the final tally in 2012.

To my paranoid eye, the crowd today looked a bit Trumpish - old and white. The elderly lady in the voting stall near me apparently couldn't read the ballot, so a helper was reading the candidates to her. She was indignant that she couldn't vote a straight Republican ticket, but had to go through and have each one's party affiliation read to her. Of course I was voting at a time of day when most people with jobs are at work.

Now I would like to go somewhere with no TV or internet and hide out for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Curse of the Working Class

Marx, Engels, or some other Commie is said to have opined that drink was the above mentioned curse. Whatever.

I'm more interested in the fact that Hillary's principal weakness seems to be in what is called the white working classes, in particular among white, working class men. Since most polls don't ask people about their "class" or even job, the proxy for "class" used is actually education. College educated (degree possessing) whites support Hillary by about the same margin as the country as a whole, but her support craters by 30 percentage points or more among those whites who lack a degree.

Why the vast gap? One facile explanation is that these are low information voters who get their news from television and facebook, which may be true but is hardly an explanation. I find the argument that they are those most left behind by the economy of the last thirty years more persuasive. Of course the last few decades have been largely ruled by the Republican idea that the economy would be better for everybody if we would just continue to cut taxes more for the rich, putting more money into the hands of these so-called "job creators."

We have been enormously successful at putting more money in the hands of the ultra-rich. Billionaires have sprouted like dandelions in Spring. This has been good for the market for personal jets, mega-yachts, and Trump style gold toilets, but not so great at creating jobs. It turns out that these things don't really create many jobs. Of course Trump, who might have to pay income taxes in the future, wants to continue and vastly expand these trickle down policies.

So why does Hillary suffer in comparison? There is vast irony in the fact that the Republicans have successfully portrayed her as the tool of Wall Street, and that that master of self-promotion Capitalism Trump has managed to convince the gullible that he is the one to shake up Wall Street.

There is a different irony in the fact that Trump's greatest feat of self-promotion seems to be crippling his brand. It turns out that he scares the hell out of the corporations and individuals who can afford to book his vastly overpriced hotels, golf-courses, Mexican manufactured ties and other products. Those "working class" voters who love him don't spend much time in $1000/night hotel suites or buy multi-hundred thousand dollar golf resort memberships. Daughter Ivanka is getting squeezed even worse - her core female millennial customers are passionately anti-Trump.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

When one* of my answers on a test was marked wrong, I asked the prof why, and his answer defined a term differently than I had remembered it. I gathered up some internet definitions (Merriam-Webster, Wikipedia, some class notes) and sent them to him. He dismissed them as opinions of non-experts. Dog worrying a bone type that I am, I spent a couple of hours in the library and found the book in which the guy who invented the terms defined them. Somebody was mistaken, and it wasn't your less than humble correspondent.

Moral dilemma: does my obligation as a scientist to spread "the truth" trump my humane responsibility to further harass the prof who has enough trouble with a couple of elderly PhD's in his class? I don't care about the grade.

*One of many - but I usually understood why the others were wrong.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Schiaparelli: Uh oh

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli Mars Lander appears to have been lost in atmospheric entry. This is a significant setback for Mars exploration. The lander was intended as a demonstration of landing technology but also had significant scientific objectives.

This is yet another reminder of how perilous space exploration continues to be. The US has announced a goal of putting humans on Mars by 2030, but that seems optimistic to me.

E O Wilson doesn't think that humans will ever live on Mars or in space. This is the planet we were "designed" for, or at least evolved through billions of generations for.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Something there is that does love a wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast............................Robert Frost, Mending Wall 

For the scientifically inclined, that something is entropy. But walls are everywhere the signature of life, so there are also things that do love walls. Cell walls, skins, snail shells, termite mounds, farmers fences and the Great Wall of China are all fashioned to keep order inside and disorder out. An Anthropology professor once told me that every culture draws a wall around itself.

Culture walls are fashioned not from stone or chitin, but from elements of culture: language, religion, endogamy rules, shared myths and prejudices, taboos, tattoos, and tribal insignia.

Did I mention that this post is about Donald Trump? I think the heart of his appeal is the culture war currently underway in the US and elsewhere. The national culture, as it existed in myth and reality, was based on religion, family, sex roles, and jobs, on the farm or in the store or factory. It incorporated elements of sexism, racism, homophobia, and a naive sort of nationalism. The nation has always had a more cosmopolitan elite, hardly immune to the sort of ignorant prejudices of larger nation but at least slightly more aware of and tolerant of diversity. Enclaves of other cultures existed, especially in cities, but were largely isolated from the rest of the country.

Television and other national media changed that. Big box stores and globalization brought the world to every small town. Television brought blacks and gays and other challenges to the traditional order to every living room or kitchen. Meanwhile science told us that much of our religious and other myths were fabrications. Our elites told us to embrace multiculturalism.

This, I think, flatly ignores human nature. I think that we instinctively protect our culture and reject others. Donald Trump's coarseness and rejection of conventional values appeals to those who wish to fight back against cultural change, however wrongheadedly. His ridiculous wall with Mexico means more as metaphor than potential reality - it's seen as a wall against the wave of cultural change that is sweeping through the nation and the world.

The fact that it would be as useless against the one as the other doesn't matter to those who reject science and government statistics.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Toast

Trump has produced a note from a rather dubious character who claims to have been sitting next to Trump and Jessica Leeds 35 years ago, and not seeing Trump do anything wrong. I wonder if airlines or customs have records of who was on what plane that long ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Evisceration

So far as I know, the word "eviscerate" means "remove the entrails of," a good idea if you want the carcass of a fish, elk or deer not to rot before you get it home. Modern readers might be forgiven for thinking that it actually means "criticize severely," as in "Michelle Obama Eviscerates Trump."

Even though I don't entirely disapprove of the sentiment, I'm pretty sure that's not really what she did. Besides, what would be the point - his carcass has already rotted from the head.

The Times They Are A-Changing

Bob Dylan wins Nobel for Literature.

A list of his lyrics.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Want to Win a Nobel Prize?

If so, you should probably attend the École Normale Supérieure, which produces Nobel prize winners at a rate of 135/100,000. Second best, Caltech manages about half that rate, 67/100,000, while number three Harvard only gets 32/100,000. The also-rans, Swarthmore, Cambridge, the École Polytechnique, and Columbia trail close behind, with Amherst and the University of Chicago rounding out the top ten.

Small, super-elite schools outdo most of their big name competitors.

Chester the Molester isn't Just All Talk

Two more women have come forward with stories of being molested by Trump. One was allegedly groped in her airline seat.

It's increasingly clear that Trump is the one who belongs in jail.

UPDATE: More women are coming forward. Will the floodgates open?

Denial is hard when you have already confessed on video tape.

Concealed Carry

Recent years have seen modest progress on second amendment rights. I feel a lot safer with my Glock 26 Gen 3 safely tucked under my arm. If I went to church, its cold comfortable weight would make me a lot less worried about the preacher spouting leftist heresies. And in class, I don't really have to put up with the prof's liberal bullshit.

There are still way too many limitations, though. What should I do if I have to deal with terrorists or a rampaging stewardess when I'm on a plane? How can I defend my house against federal agents and black helicopters without machine guns, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons?

Frankly, I feel naked without at least a few tactical nukes in the basement. What was the point of all those years spent studying nuclear physics if I can't own yellowcake and an ultracentrifuge farm?

Maybe Trump will save us.

Burnt Umber

Some languages have only black (or dark) and light (white) as color words. Those languages that add a third color word always seem to add red. Additional words are added in an almost perfectly regular order. The maximum, as in English, seems to be eleven, and they are almost exactly the same eleven.

Of course this doesn't mean speakers of those languages with fewer color words see fewer colors or are impoverished in their ability to describe colors. Instead, they probably resort to devices familiar to artists and whoever names the contents of the giant-sized Crayola boxes - compare the color to something in our experience, like the color of the leaves of the dgoberry tree, or its fruit when ripe, or burnt umber.

What the hell is umber anyway, and why would anybody burn it? I have no idea, but Wikipedia does, including the fact that it is darker than the other earth pigments sienna and ochre.

Alpha Male or Just Another Pervert?

When Trump owned the Miss Teen USA pageant, he felt his status allowed him to routinely walk into the dressing room of these fifteen through seventeen year old girls when they were changing. If he had been a High School teacher he probably would have landed on the sex offender list.

What would he consider himself entitled to do if President - aside from abrogating treaties and jailing political opponents, I mean?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Strapped on the Roof

After Gropergate (a term I prefer to the more popular and vulgar one), several previously Trump supporting GOP politicos bailed on him. This provoked howls of outrage from brownshirts Trump supporters, so the revolt quickly collapsed.

How bad off this leaves the party remains to be seen, but it's hardly good news. The defectors face the rage of the Trumpies, while those who cling to him risk going down with his ship - if it indeed goes down.

Spin 1/2

Sabine Hossenfelder sets out to demystify spin 1/2. That's an admirable objective, and Bee is a good explainer, but I'm not convinced that she succeeds. If we avoid digging into the group theory, probably the simplest way to describe a spin 1/2 system is to say that we need to rotate it through 720 degrees to get it back to the original state.

We can think of macroscopic systems that act sort of like this, and Bee has one. For me, a simpler one is a system of two interlocked gears, one twice the size of the other. Rotating the smaller gear once only turns the big one half-way, while rotating it twice brings everything back to the starting point. The trouble with all such implementations is that it's hard to imagine a supposedly simple elementary particle harboring such complexity in its coupling to spacetime.

Once again, we are forced to realize that, as Feynman put it, "quantum mechanics is not only stranger than you imagine, but stranger than you can imagine." Fortunately, the mathematics is not so limited. If someone wants to understand why there are no, say, 1/3 spin particles, I don't know of any answer except to say "study the math."

But read Bee's article - she has lots of useful stuff to say even if you still wind up somewhat mystified.

The Sniff Master

Trumps's incessant sniffing in the first debate prompted Democrat and Physician Howard Dean to speculate that he used cocaine. Of course this hands off diagnosis got a lot condemnation from friend and foe, but Dean noted that Trump's grandiosity and delusional rhetoric also fit the pattern.

He does seem a bit to healthy to be a 70 coke addict, but that does suggest a question. These days, you probably can't get a job bagging groceries without taking a drug test. Why not political candidates at all levels? Submission of tax returns should also be mandatory.

Some alternative explanations for the sniffing include allergies and pregnancy.

Sanctions

Sanctions, e.g., virtual blockades, are a favorite weapon of those who abhor war, but it's important to note that though they may be bloodless, they still cause casualties. The sanctions imposed on Iraq by the UN (including the US and Russia) after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait were very tough and collapsed the Iraqi economy, though they did include exceptions for food and medicine. Cynthia has mentioned the estimate that they might have been partly responsible for the excess deaths of up to 500,000 Iraqi children. Ironically, they did succeed in eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the other ostensible purpose (besides Kuwait), but George W. Bush insisted on invading anyway. Of course it's arguable who was really most responsible for those deaths, the sanctions or Saddam, but there seems little doubt but that they were devastating.

The trouble with sanctions is that their impact falls heavily on those least responsible for the misbehavior targeted. Cuba is another case in point. The many privations of the Cuban people under Castro are do not only to Castro's bad economics and other crimes, but also to the sanctions imposed by the US. You can be sure that they didn't cause Fidel or Raul to miss many meals, but the average Cuban fared far worse. How many excess deaths among children can be attributed to those sanctions, I wonder?

This paper claims that the answer is not so many, mainly because, unlike Saddam, Castro moved aggressively to protect the most vulnerable.

Those sanctions were imposed because of the local political clout of the Cuban refugees, many of whom enjoyed a luxurious life style under Batista and his predecessors. Obama was able to end many of those sanctions because younger Cubans have seen their futility and the damage they do to ordinary Cubans.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Too Late

Republicans are thinking of bailing on Trump. I say that it's way too late. They are strapped to Trump like a dog strapped to the roof of Mitt Romney's car. All they can do now is puke all over it.

It's Not About What He Said

The gropmeister's problem is not his crude language - it's what he admitted and bragged about doing. It's not idle bragging either. Women have testified under oath to being groped by him against their will.

Excerpt:

JILL HARTH’S first concern with Donald Trump’s hands wasn’t that they were small. It’s that they were everywhere.

Harth and her longtime boyfriend were in meetings with Trump to forge a business partnership. “He was relentless,” Harth recalled in an interview, describing how on Dec. 12, 1992, he took the couple to dinner and a club — and then situated himself beside Harth and ran his hands up her skirt, to her crotch. “I didn’t know how to handle it. I would go away from him and say I have to go to the restroom. It was the escape route.”

...

On Jan. 24, 1993, Harth and Houraney went to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for a contract-signing celebration, bringing along some “calendar girls” at Trump’s request. He offered Harth a tour of the estate and then pulled her into the empty bedroom of his daughter Ivanka.

“I was admiring the decoration, and next thing I know he’s pushing me against a wall and has his hands all over me,” Harth told me. “He was trying to kiss me. I was freaking out.” Harth says she was desperately protesting, and finally managed to run out of the room and find the group again. She and Houraney left rather than stay the night, as they had intended.

Some of the calendar girls stayed, and the sexual harassment lawsuit says Trump showed up uninvited in the predawn hours in the bedroom of one of the young women; she kicked him out but was shaken. When contacted, the woman declined to speak about the experience, and I’m not naming her here.

Trump was then with Marla Maples, who was pregnant that spring with his daughter Tiffany, but this didn’t constrain him. He took an intense interest in the calendar girls, pursuing some and rejecting others, Harth says, adding that he had an aversion to black contestants and made derogatory comments about them.

That year, Harth continued to meet Trump for business — and, she says, he continued to try to jump her. “He’d say, ‘Let’s go in my room, I want to lie down,’ and he’d pull me along. I’d say, ‘I don’t want to lie down,’ and it would turn into a wrestling match. … I remember yelling, ‘I didn’t come here for this.’ He’d say, ‘Just calm down.’”

Of course Trump denies this, but if you are going to testify under oath that you didn't do something, it's probably not a good idea to brag about it later.

UPDATE: John Marshall has an editorial with the same theme as mine - it's not about the vulgar language. He writes a more detailed account, including the similar allegations by ex-wife Ivana Trump. Also, Josh is writes better than I do.

Gropergate: Will Trump's Past Finally Catch Up With Him?

There may be a critical mass issue for the powerful sexual predator. Rumors and scattered accusations left Roger Ailes and Bill Cosby untouched for decades. Finally, however, a few brave and persistent women let loose the flood that washed away the protections of their power. Trump has already been accused by two women, under oath, of sexual assault. These accusations bounced off his armor of bluster and money. The damning thing about the new video is that Trump admits and brags about sexually assaulting women. If that brings wronged and angry women out of the woodwork, he is probably finished.

Think of it as the moral equivalent of his finally "shooting someone on Fifth Avenue."

Meanwhile, Drudge and the other Nazgul have flocked back to Mordor, armed with more emails stolen by Putin, for a final assault on Hillary.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Sunday Debate

The October 9th debate got off to a frenetic start when Hillary Clinton, apparently reacting to some extremely lewd remarks in a recording of Donald Trump bragging about his groppadocio, grabbed his balls, ripped them off, and stuffed the bloody mess down his throat. Mr. Trump did not immediately reply.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Syria

In the VP debate, both candidates talked tough on Syria but refused to give any substantive answers - more of the usual bullshit. Meanwhile, Assad and Putin continue to target schools, hospitals and civilian neighborhoods in their terror campaign. Even the dovish Nicholas Kristof is fed up with Obama's passivity. Russian has no intention of letting Assad fall, and Obama's declaration that he has to leave has become an ironic joke.

One approach promoted by some is a cease fire for everybody but ISIS and Hamas. This would leave everybody in place, including Assad. No such plan can succeed without teeth. If Assad cavalierly violates it, then his air force, and if necessary, his person should be targeted. This could probably be done with cruise missiles.

Would the other Syrian rebels agree? Maybe, if their sponsors bought in.

This would be a glass half full-situation for all. Assad would survive and Putin would have his man in the Middle East. The rebels would have what they have. ISIS would remain in the cross-hairs.

It would be rash to be optimistic about this or any other approach.

Ass Backwards

Most of the familiar animals (bears, people, fish, insects, worms, squid, snails, starfish) are members of the bilateria, bilaterally symmetric animals with front and back, top and bottom. Most of them are either deuterostomes (e.g., us, fish, starfish) or protostomes (arthropods, worms, clams, squid).

They all develop from an egg which divides and forms a hollow ball of cells which dents in during gastrulation and ultimately penetrates to the other side, forming the gut. In deuterostomes, the original dent becomes the anus. In protostomes, it either becomes the mouth (or according to some) both mouth and anus.

One of us seems to have got it backwards. How did that happen?

Give it up Kip

A bit more than two years ago - OK, a bit less than two years and one month ago - I ordered Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford's Modern Classical Physics, based on their Caltech course. The price was right (a lot cheaper than today) and in those days I still imagined that I would learn some physics someday. It was due to be released in a couple of months.

Since that time, not one, not two, not five (OK I lost count) notices from Amazon of the "We are sorry, but the release of your book has been delayed" type. Anyway, I was modestly excited when I got a delivery date of Oct 13. I wasn't to dismayed by the later sorry but notice moving it back to late October.

Naturally, the latest one projects July 2017.

I mean, come on, Kip - this is classical physics - it shouldn't need to be updated every month or so.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Gift of Men

Death is the gift of men in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and a little appreciated one it usually is. Several articles and news stories in the October 8 issue of Nature argue that we have reached the limit - and that nobody is likely to get much older than 120. The editorial linked above argues that major life extension is probably not feasible and that we shouldn't even try.

Could it be possible, in some science-fictional future, to break free from the bonds of human life expectancy and increase lifespan indefinitely? An unquenchable desire for eternal life has preoccupied humanity from the earliest times, as attested by the earliest passages of the Bible, the Gilgamesh epic and many other stories from our past. Perhaps the chilliest evocation of mortality comes in Bede’s seventh-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in which a chieftain remarks that the ‘few moments of comfort’ offered by human life are as the brief flight of a sparrow through a warm and lighted mead hall, in through one door, and out through the other, back into a dark, storm-tossed and demon-haunted night of which we know nothing. No wonder we’d all like a little more light. Technological solutions might one day transcend the limitations of the human body, but transcend them they must — mere extension is already yielding diminishing returns.

The risks of transcendence are twofold. First, it might be that to extend our lives beyond our normal span, we must somehow become other than human. After all, what would a 50-year-old hamster be like? The unintended consequences of immortality are graphically and grimly illustrated in Aldous Huxley’s 1939 novel After Many A Summer, in which people fed on a life-extending diet of carp intestines live for centuries — at the cost of turning into witless apes. Second, there is a risk that life wouldn’t really be that much longer — it would only feel like it.

Appeal to one old SF story seems weird to me, but there are some more obvious problems, also explored in SF forever. If some can live almost forever, clearly most cannot, unless reproduction is shut down completely.

Pre-Columbian Atlantic Voyages

Yeah, I know about the Vikings. But there are some earlier and (to me) more remarkable voyages. Consider the case of the New World Monkeys.

Monkeys first evolved about 50 million years ago, in Africa. Somehow, about 30 million years ago, some of them (or maybe just one of them) managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean to South America. Recall that Gondwana, which included Africa, South America, Antarctica, India, and some other stuff split up about 180 million years ago (mya), with Africa and South America parting company about 130 million mya. The Atlantic was narrower than now 30 mya, but still at least 1000 miles wide. While it's possible that some mid-ocean islands existed, pretty extensive sailing, or rather rafting, was still required.

Alan de Queiroz has written a book about it, and has a shorter account of it here in The Huffington Post.

Many other creatures seem to have made similar voyages.

This story and others like demonstrate why evolution can't really be a predictive science - too much depends on extremely rare and probably one of a kind events.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

VP Debate

Both sides are declaring victory, of course. Everybody agrees that Pence did well by not panicking like his running mate did. Kaine was marginally more annoying, with his early and frequent interruptions, but possibly also effective in scoring lots of points that Pence could only deny by lying. The politicos seem to think that it was a draw, and I can't challenge that very strongly.

The moderator had some good questions, but failed, especially early, to maintain any focus as the Candidates routinely ignored the questions and squabbled like children.

Pence was particularly weak in trying to answer the questions about how they would deal with North Korea - strengthen our military, he said. I guess spending more on it than the next ten countries in the World isn't good enough. Both were vague about how they would establish the "safety corridors" or no fly zones for Aleppo. Nobody bothered to ask Pence about what would happen to the hundreds of thousands of addition refugees this would produce.

Both were good at avoiding the obvious fact that there are only two real alternatives - let Putin and Assad murder Aleppo or risk a very dangerous confrontation.

UPDATE: Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, a guy who wouldn't recognize a substantive point if it ran over him in an Abrams tank, gives the debate to Pence, purely on style points. He's probably right if people only pay attention to how people say stuff rather than what is actually said. The NYT and the liberal blogosphere like the punches Kaine landed, but I admit that I found him annoying as heck.

Dear Amazon (part II)

Despite the fact that I once looked at the specs, I will not be buying a Canon 1D X in this age of the Earth. You can stop putting an ad for it on every single f$$$$$$ web page I open. (1)I have yet to get beyond Auto mode on my T6i. (2)The 1D is way out of my price range, not to mention my expertise range.

I don't mind ads for interesting books.

The ads for Mercedes E-class are also getting a bit tedious. As long as you are above my price point anyway, could you transition to commercials for private jets and mega-yachts? Or even ordinary mini-yachts?

Topological Phases

The 2016 Nobel in Physics goes to (NYT):

David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday for discoveries in condensed-matter physics that have transformed the understanding of matter that assumes strange shapes. All three were born in Britain but work in the United States.

It might be the Nobel Committee's way of finessing the problem of exactly whom should receive the Nobel for discovery of gravitational waves. It's a tested Nobel tactic - wait until the extras die.

UPDATE: Lumo has some background.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Speed Freaks

Rachel Cooke has an interesting story on the drug fueled WW II German War machine. Hitler was addicted to both meth-amphetamine and opiates (oxycodon) which he took by injection. Meth and cocaine kept the blitzkrieg moving.

In 1940, as plans were made to invade France through the Ardennes mountains, a “stimulant decree” was sent out to army doctors, recommending that soldiers take one tablet per day, two at night in short sequence, and another one or two tablets after two or three hours if necessary. The Wehrmacht ordered 35m tablets for the army and Luftwaffe, and the Temmler factory increased production. The likes of Böll, it’s fair to say, wouldn’t need to ask their parents for Pervitin [meth-amphetamine] again.

Was Blitzkrieg, then, largely the result of the Wehrmacht’s reliance on crystal meth? How far is Ohler willing to go with this? He smiles. “Well, Mommsen always told me not to be mono-causal. But the invasion of France was made possible by the drugs. No drugs, no invasion. When Hitler heard about the plan to invade through Ardennes, he loved it [the allies were massed in northern Belgium]. But the high command said: it’s not possible, at night we have to rest, and they [the allies] will retreat and we will be stuck in the mountains. But then the stimulant decree was released, and that enabled them to stay awake for three days and three nights. Rommel [who then led one of the panzer divisions] and all those tank commanders were high – and without the tanks, they certainly wouldn’t have won.”

The allies used speed too, I think. When Bush invaded Iraq, American soldiers were kept awake by Provigil, a less nasty wakefullness promoter. Astronauts use it and I understand that it's also popular with college students. I was prescribed it once for sleep apnea related daytime sleepiness, and it really works - well enough that I soon quit it for fear of getting addicted.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Pimp Family Values

Grandpa Fred Trump supposedly built the family fortune partly on running whore houses. It seems that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Donald J apparently negotiated a deal to collect a million for having second wife Marla Maples pose nude for Playboy - though she refused to go for it.

What a guy! What a President!

Dear Donald J

The US faces a variety of economic and strategic challenges in the world today, but you have chosen to spend the last week attacking a former Miss Universe for allegedly gaining weight. What are you running for, President or Meanest Girl in Seventh Grade?