Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Web of Wealth

Nicolas Confessore, writing in the New York Times Magazine, gets a glimpse into the intricate web designed to hide the wealth of the super-rich, via a divorce where the husband is trying to hide all his money from his wife. Mostly, though, these webs hide money from tax collectors.

A few weeks after she realized her husband was finally leaving her, Sarah Pursglove flew down to the Bahamas to figure out how much money he really had. Like many women married to very wealthy men, she didn’t know much about the family accounts. Her husband, a Finnish entrepreneur named Robert Oesterlund, had sworn to a Canadian court that his immediately calculable “net family property” totaled just a few million dollars. Pursglove was skeptical. She could come up with several family purchases worth more than that off the top of her head. There was the 165-foot yacht, Déjà Vu — that cost a few million dollars a year just to keep on the water. There was the $30 million penthouse at the Toronto Four Seasons, which was still being renovated. It wasn’t their only home. The Déjà Vu wasn’t even their only yacht.

It's a zillion dollar racket, much of it centered in island nations whose main line of work is protecting ill-gotten gains.

Losing the Faith, Baby

Kevin Drum points to a new survey showing that younger people in democracies around the world have been losing faith in democracy. He has charts of age vs. belief in democracy.

His concluding remarks:

Only about 30 percent of American millennials think it's essential to live in a democracy? Holy crap.

...

I guess it was nice while it lasted. I wonder who will take over the US after President-for-Life Donald Trump finally expires?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Death From the Skies: 2016 Edition

Steve Hsu links to this report on the lessons of war in the Ukraine. The main take aways seem to be that Ukraine has been a testing ground for new technology, weapons, and tactics, and the Russians have taken several major steps forward. New command and control systems linking unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) [drones] to devastating fire control and delivery have fundamentally reshaped the battlefield. Some excerpts:

Shortly before dawn on the morning of July 11, 2014, elements of Ukraine’s 24th Mechanized Brigade met a catastrophic end near the Ukrainian border town of Zelenopillya. After a mass rocket artillery barrage lasting just three minutes, the combat power of two battalions of the 24th Mechanized Brigade was gone. What remained was a devastated landscape, burning vehicles and equipment, 30 dead and 90 wounded. According to multiple accounts, the Ukrainians were on the receiving end of a new and dangerous Russian weapon: the 122-mm Tornado Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). Capable of covering a wide fire area with a deadly combination of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), scatter mines and thermobaric warheads, the attack had not only destroyed the combat power of the Ukrainian forces, it offered a glimpse into the changing nature of Land Warfare in Europe. The battlefield was becoming deadlier...

(Lesson 1) Send in the Drones: During the Russo-Georgian War (2008), Russian forces woefully underutilized Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for ISR missions—creating a deficiency of real-time reconnaissance and targeting in the battlespace. Now in Ukraine, Russia has changed course. It has fully embraced the use of drones and— significantly—fielded high-tech ECM suites to deny the use of UAVs to opposing forces. As such, the use of ISR from drones and sensor nets has been a game-changer for Russia’s mass strike fire missions (see below), providing real-time surveillance and targeting for artillery and MLRS units. Indeed, the lag between the appearance of a Russian drone and a subsequent artillery attack can now be as short as 15 minutes.2

(Lesson 2) Indirect fire is the Queen of Battle (again): New MLRS systems like the Tornado, as well as other older variants like the 122-mm Grad, mobile howitzers and mortars, are making mass fire barrages relatively cheap and lethal for Russia. This is especially true for thermobaric and DPICM payloads. In Ukraine, artillery has become so deadly it has accounted for 70-85 percent of all causalities (on both sides). The extensive use of indirect fire in Ukraine—coupled with the static nature of the fighting—has brought about a return to trench warfare, artillery duels, and the use of indirect fire to disperse and destroy concentrated land forces—methods more familiar to European Land Warfare in the early 20th century.3

(Lesson 3) Heavy tanks are back in business: One legacy of the Yom Kippur War was the wide-spread adoption of reactive armor to defend against ATGMs. Tandem-charge ATGM warheads (features of the Spike, Javelin, and TOW-II missiles) were designed to counter this defense. In Ukraine (and most recently Syria), Russia has taken the next step in this cycle by equipping some of its most advanced main battle tanks with an active protection system against missiles. The results have been compelling. During the battle for Donetsk, for example, Ukrainian anti-tank crews dubbed it the “magic shield,” which inexplicably protected Russian T-90s on the battlefield.4 The net impact of this system has been to decrease the relative combat power of anti-tank infantry and increase the shock and survivability of Russian heavy armor. Russian 9A52-4 MLRS. Credit - Vitaly V. Kuzmin. 3 LAND WARFARE

(Lesson 4) RIP last-gen IFV: Perhaps the biggest causality on the battlefield is the Soviet-era IFV. These vehicles are becoming death traps for mechanized infantry. In Ukraine, BMPs and BTRs provide obsolete protection against thermobaric warheads and other dangers from mines, artillery and ATGMs. The vulnerability is so great that Ukrainian mechanized infantry now ride into combat on-top of their vehicles, rather than inside them; and tend to dismount far from the battle line. Unfortunately, this practice also exposes slow moving, dismounted infantry to indirect fire and mass strike artillery—thus closing the loop on Russia’s new warfighting techniques (namely the convergence of drones, ISR and lethal indirect fire). NATO armies take note: last-gen IFVs and BMPs are prolific in Western inventories.5 This could lead to unacceptably high casualty rates for NATO’s mechanized infantry in the event of a future Land Warfare scenario.

Bottom line: Russia is back, and decades of underinvestment have left Western Europe woefully unprepared.

Losing It

Just exactly how Hillary Clinton managed to lose to Donald Trump is going to be endlessly analyzed for the next four years, if not much longer. There are lots of culprits to blame, some of them, like FBI guy Comey, deserving a lot of blame, but in the end the Candidate has got to be the person most responsible. Losing the key rust belt states, when she was heavily favored in most of them, was crucial. James Hohmann, writing in the Washington Post, takes a close look:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio—Back in May, the longtime chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party sent a private memo to leaders in Hillary Clinton’s campaign warning that she was in grave danger of losing not just Ohio but also Pennsylvania and Michigan unless she quickly re-tooled her message on trade. His advice went unheeded.

“I don’t have to make the case that blue collar voters are, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic about HRC’s positions on trade and the economy,” David Betras wrote in his 1,300 word missive, citing her struggles in recent primaries.

Donald Trump’s protectionist message was already resonating very strongly in this epicenter of the Rust Belt. Gov. John Kasich may have won Ohio’s Republican primary as a favorite son, but Trump whipped him in more than a dozen counties along the Ohio River. More than a quarter of the people who voted in the March Republican primary in Mahoning County were previously registered as Democrats. In fact, Betras had to kick 18 members off his own Democratic central committee for crossing over to back Trump.

I don't think that protectionism is going to bring back those jobs, but it was an appealing narrative, and Clinton failed to come up with a persuasive alternative. Of course socially conservative voters were also persuaded that Clinton cared far more about her coalition of outsiders than them.

The local chairman feels very strongly now that Clinton could have won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan if she had just kept her eye on economic issues and not gotten distracted by the culture wars.

“Look, I’m as progressive as anybody, okay? But people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job,” he complained. “‘Stronger together’ doesn’t get anyone a job.”

Getting jobs is going to be the problem of the next half-Century, I think. As robots take on more and more of the world's jobs, a huge further influx of the unemployed is all but inevitable. Of course the robot revolution will continue to increase production, but the way the world is structured today, the vast majority of the additional wealth will accrue to a tiny minority of capitalists. Trump's answers, focussing on transferring ever more wealth to the super rich, will not help employment.

He does have one semi-sensible idea: borrowing to finance infrastructure. One reason that this is sensible is that infrastructure construction tends to produce jobs. Of course, highways to nowhere are a terrible waste, even if they do buy some expensive jobs, but there is a lot of critical infrastructure that we really need, like preparing for the consequences of climate change. Probably no investment is more important than our human capital, but it's hard to see much hope in Trump.

Another One of Trump's Little Jokes

Some may recall that Trump's campaign rhetoric portrayed Hillary as being too close to Goldman-Sachs and the rest of Wall Street.  His choice for Treasury Secretary is a hedge fund manager and former Goldman-Sachs partner.

Dummy

If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist... Attributed to Enrico Fermi.
I've mentioned that I'm taking a course in evolution. I've learned some things, including that I'm not cut out to be a Botanist. The prof favors a focus on minutiae on his exams, like the following:

Paracentric inversions
followed by unequal crossing over may result in which of the following?
A)nondisjunction and aneuploidy
B)replication slippage
C)homoploidy
D)reticulation
E)none of the above
I have included helpful links for those interested in parsing this. One minute per question is allowed, just in case it might take you a while to sort through the possibilities.

The correct answer, btw, is E)none of the above.

Yeah, I missed this one, among many others. My bad. See title above.

He also has some peculiar ideas about logic. Or maybe I mean that he is always right, even when he is wrong. Consider two alleles, or variant copies of the same gene, present with with frequencies p and q, respectively, with p + q = 1. Obviously, it follows that (p+q)^2 = p^2 + 2pq + q^2 = 1.

Here is another question:

Under what circumstances is a population in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium?
A)when p^2+2pq+q^2 != 1
B)when p^2+2pq+q^2 = 1
C)when p^2+2pq+q^2 = observed allele frequencies
D)when p^2+2pq+q^2 = observed genotype frequencies
E)when p^2+2pq+q^2 != observed genotype frequencies.

Here I have used != to mean not equal since I'm not smart enough to figure out how to make ≠ sign. Oops! learned something

I say A) is trivially false, B)trivially true, and C), D), and E) are nonsensical.

What the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium actually means for the frequencies of diploid genotypes with alleles A and a is that freq(AA) = p^2, freq(Aa) = 2 pq, and freq (aa) = q^2. This one I got "right", meaning that I correctly deduced prof's particular delusion D).







Monday, November 28, 2016

More Bottlenecks

From Dienekes Anthropology:

Obviously, not all these are associated with agriculture, but they are global. Note that present day effective population sizes are very small compared to the number of males actually living. See, Wikipedia effective population size.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Death by Agriculture

Modern humans have experienced a number of severe bottlenecks and occasionally long lasting population bottlenecks in our prehistory, with numbers reduced to the low thousands or even less. The most recent of these occurred four to eight thousand years ago and is peculiar in that it seems to have affected only males. The result is that we are descended from many fewer males than females.

A plausible reason for this restriction was the invention of agriculture and property. A farm has limited divisibility, and consequently is usually inherited by only one child - a son. Other sons have to go off to war or some other occupation unlikely to leave progeny. Note that this property goes hand in hand with polygamy. Modern polygamous societies also result in excess males. In the case of the polygamous Mormon offshoots, most of the young males are typically driven off while the old guys "marry" all the girls. Something similar happens in some Muslim groups, giving rise to large numbers of young men with little hope of marriage, and every incentive for warlike activity.

64% of European Men are Descended from just Three Bronze Age Warlords between 3,500 to 7,300 years ago

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump's Election is Making One American a lot Richer

More from Josh Marshall:

We've got another. A long-stalled Trump building project in Georgia (the country) is back on track and ready to go just days after Donald Trump's election. That's major new nugget in a WaPo round up of how Trump's election less than three weeks ago is already turbocharging Trump building projects around the globe.

Remember that Argentine building project which Trump reportedly asked about? Good news! It's back on track and good to go, according to an announcement from Trump's Argentine business partner, Felipe Yaryuri. That announcement came three days after Trump spoke to President Mauricio Macri. And yes, you remember right. It was Yaryuri who Macri had to go to to help arrange the call in which Macri congratulated Trump on his election.

Those two revelations aside, these are the two paragraphs that stand out to me ...

All of it highlights the muddy new world that Trump’s election may usher in — a world in which his stature as the U.S. president, the status of his private ventures across the globe and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined.

In that world, Trump could personally profit if his election gives a boost to his brand and results in its expansion overseas. His political rise could also enrich his overseas business partners — and, perhaps more significantly, enhance their statuses in their home countries and alter long-standing diplomatic traditions by establishing them as new conduits for public business.

The tone and assumptions contained in these two paragraphs are the key. What is being described here is a personalization of diplomacy and self-enrichment that generations of laws and norms are meant to prevent. But it's the "muddy new world" Trump appears to be ushering in. My point here isn't to criticize the reporters. This may simply be an accurate representation of the reality. But it brings into sharp relief how rapidly the normalization is happening.

We've literally never had a case anything like this in all of American history. The era of transparency and blind trusts has made this impossible for the last forty or so years. Before that you had very wealthy men like the Roosevelts and others. But they were old money, not engaged in active deal-making and business ventures. Of course for much of American history - really almost up until the lifetimes of most of us reading - a developer being actively involved in building and licensing projects in Georgia, Argentina, India, Scotland and numerous other countries wasn't remotely feasible.

We're not even three weeks in. It's apparently already Trump's call if that's how he wants to proceed.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Siberian Candidate

The Washington Post on Russia's intervention in the US election on behalf of Trump:

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of Web sites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

The Germans are preparing for an even more massive onslaught in their campaign.

I fault Obama for once again failing to act decisively.

Trashing Clinton's Reputation

Peter Woit assembles some information on the role of the New York Times and the rest of the main stream media in trashing Hillary Clinton's reputation here.

Arun Gupta, from whom I got the link above, assembles some information on the motivation of the media, including this quote from the head of CBS:

CBS CEO Les Moonves (February 29, 2016):

Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, celebrated Donald Trump’s candidacy for the second time on Monday, calling it “good for us economically.”

Moonves, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference at the Park Hotel in San Francisco, described the “circus” of a presidential campaign and the flow of political advertising dollars, and stated that it “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.”

“So what can I say? The money’s rolling in, this is fun,” Moonves continued, observing that the debates had attracted record audiences.

The CBS media executive also riffed briefly about the type of campaign advertising spending produced by such a negative presidential campaign. “They’re not even talking about issues. They’re throwing bombs at each other and I think the advertising reflects that.” Moonves added, “I’ve never seen anything like this and this is going to be a very good year for us. … It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Most Corrupt

The info just keeps pouring in, and the US press looks ever more incompetent to report it. From Josh Marshall:

Huffpo found another. During his November 9th congratulatory call with Turkish President Erdogan, Donald Trump talked up his Turkish business partner who now seems primed to be a key intermediary between the two heads of state. This new revelation follows the pattern I mentioned a couple days ago: we're only finding out about this because it bubbled up in the pres of the country in question. That's how we learned about Trump's transition meeting with his Indian business partners, his alleged discussion of building permits with the President of Argentina, the UK wind farms and Nigel Farage.

On the one hand, this is pretty embarrassing for the US political press. But I'm not sure how much we should hold the reporters covering the transition at fault. I don't say this to excuse anyone. It's pretty embarrassing both for the press and for us as Americans that we have to learn about the incoming President's incorrigible grifting from foreign papers. But we are in somewhat uncharted territory in terms of the complete opaqueness of this campaign, transition and soon-to-be-presidency. Much of what we know and uncover about recent presidents is due to the starting point of fairly extensive disclosure driven by a mixture of norms and laws. If you just disclose nothing, things get much harder to find out. That's also the case if you deal exclusively with loyalists, often loyalists reinforced by punitive non-disclosure agreements.

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, a huge amount of what was uncovered over the course of the last two years was due to the fact that the Clintons had disclosed huge amounts about their Foundation, their personal taxes and much else. The State Department had disclosed thousands of her emails deemed to touch on public matters. Some of that was under court order. But the State Department could have chosen to fight those orders much more aggressively.

This wasn't some favor the Clintons did us. This is how it should be. But absent that level of disclosure, most of which wasn't legally mandated, most of their finances and the activities of their Foundation would be a black box.

I mentioned a few days ago a big reasons we found out about the India meetings was do to the fact that there is a substantial English-language Indian press. So it's highly accessible to the US press, most of whom speak only English. No one had noticed the Argentine press report until TPM's Catherine Thompson - who knows Argentina and speaks Spanish - did. The Trump campaign denied on the record that Trump had asked UKIP party leader Nigel Farage and one of the big financial backers of Brexit to help out blocking wind farms off the coast of one of his Scottish golf courses. But then, in an on-the-record, free-wheeling discussion at the Times, Trump conceded that he probably had. In this case, Trump himself was the wildcard.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Arrival

I saw the new SF movie Arrival with my family. We had mixed reactions. My physics major son hated it, I found it boring and pretentious, but not terrible, and my wife and economist son liked it. (I spent a good part of the movie trying to figure out who the major character was and where I had seen her before - Amy Adams, btw.) Chad Orzel seems to have liked it and provides some of the physics background from the original story, which permits it to make significantly more sense.

Chad's review, with spoilers, is here.

First paragraph:

The new movie Arrival is drawing sufficient praise as a smart and stylish science fiction film that Kate and I actually went to the trouble of getting a sitter so we could see it in the theater Friday night. It is, indeed, a very good movie, and probably the best adaptation one could hope for of the Ted Chiang story “Story of Your Life” (which is one of the best science fiction stories in any medium over the last mumble years). I was, however, disappointed that they left out nearly all of the physics that’s in the original.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Most Corrupt Presidency?

For those who got the vapors at the thought of The Clinton Foundation receiving contributions while she was Sec State.

Josh Marshall and Catherine Thompson:

For a number of years, Trump and his Argentine partners have been trying to build a major office building in Buenos Aires. The project has been held up by a series of complications tied to financing, importation of building materials and various permitting requirements.

According to a report out of Argentina, when Argentine President Mauricio Macri called President-Elect Trump to congratulate him on his election, Trump asked Macri to deal with the permitting issues that are currently holding up the project.

This comes from one of Argentina's most prominent journalists, Jorge Lanata, in a recent TV appearance. Lanata is quoted here in La Nacion, one of Argentina's most prestigious dailies. Said Lanata: “Macri called him. This still hasn’t emerged but Trump asked for them to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t just a geopolitical chat."

(For Spanish speakers, here's the original Spanish we've translated: "Macri llo llamó. Todavía no se contó pero Trump le pidió que autorizaran un edificio que él está construyendo en Buenos Aires, no fue solo una charla geo política.")

Separately, Trump's business partner on the project, Felipe Yaryura, was there on election night at the Trump celebration in New York City.

Why aren't we hearing about this in the American press?

Well, remember, no one knew anything about the visit from Trump's Indian business partners until it appeared in the Indian press either. It seems like this is likely happening on many fronts. It's just being hidden from the American press. We only hear about it when it bubbles to the surface in the countries where Trump is pushing his business deals.

MORE:

After he was elected president, Donald Trump asked British politicians to oppose the construction of wind farms near one of his Scottish golf courses, the New York Times reports. Trump reportedly met with a group of pro-Brexit British officials, including Trump supporter and politician Nigel Farage. During this meeting, Trump allegedly encouraged politicians to campaign against wind farms, which he believes will ruin the view at one of his two golf courses in Scotland. “He did not say he hated wind farms as a concept; he just did not like them spoiling the views,” Andy Wigmore, a media consultant who attended the meeting told the Times, adding that Trump "did suggest that we should campaign on it” and that he “spurred us in and we will be going for it.”

Trump spokesperson initially denied that Trump had used the meeting to push for his golf course interests, but stopped responding to questions after the Times presented details of the conversation, as provided by a witness. Shortly after the story was published Monday night, Trump took to Twitter, but did not deny the story.

Throw in the meeting with the Indian Business men, and a clear pattern of corrupt behavior emerges. If it had been Hillary, an impeachment proceeding would be well underway.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thrust and Parry

A non physicist recently asked me how I felt about the EM thruster now that NASA has apparently published something in peer reviewed literature. I said that my previous opinion that it was 99.9999% certain that it was total BS now had to be adjusted to 99.9998% certain.

I would have stood my ground on the 0.0001%, but then I was pretty sure Trump would lose too.

I noticed that Rooski TV was plumping for it, so I guess they are still sure that it's BS too.

I kind of like the design though. It looks like it could be converted to retro-techno bongo drum without much trouble.

Pot: It's Complicated

It will probably not come as any surprise to anyone who has been in high school during the last forty years, or listened to Gary Johnson talk, that heavy pot use can make you stupid. It's effects on the brain are mediated mainly through the dopamine neurotransmitter pathways, where it imitates and blocks natural endocannabinoids, but how it's long term effects work remains poorly understood. At least that's what I took away from this research article in the latest issue of Nature.

The dopamine system is very widespread in the brain, so there are lots of places for effects to manifest themselves. Searches for long term changes seem to show more effect when exposure is early, especially during gestational development, but are complicated by apparent differences between mice and rats, and among different lines of mice, and of course, among people.

Is pot addictive? In some people, yes, among others, apparently not. Can it contribute to psychosis? Same answer. there doesn't seem to have been much success in teasing apart these effects or understanding what factors are involved.

Of course widespread legalization is likely to produce more research subjects.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How Frightened Should We Be?

A smart guy asked me the following question: If you were a German in the 1930s and Hitler had just been elected, what should you do? We know what actually happened. Even though only a minority had voted for Hitler, most went along with the program, even as it led inexorably into ever greater crimes and disasters. What could they have done, anyway, in the face of mobs mobilized by his hate rhetoric. They apparently told themselves that he couldn't really be serious about his most frightening proposals.

I'm not saying Trump is Hitler, of course, and this isn't Germany 1933, but I do think that there is a lot to be frightened of, including Trump's appointment of a manifestly racist Attorney General and a raft of neocon militants. I also find it damn scary that his chief White House strategist recently identified himself with Cheney, Voldemort, and Satan. Earlier, he likened himself to Lenin.

Paul Krugman is obviously in the "very scared"camp.

A lot of people in politics and the media are scrambling to normalize what just happened to us, saying that it will all be OK and we can work with Trump. No, it won’t, and no, we can’t. The next occupant of the White House will be a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality; he is already surrounding himself with racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists; his administration will be the most corrupt in America history.

How did this happen? There were multiple causes, but you just can’t ignore the reality that key institutions and their leaders utterly failed. Every news organization that decided, for the sake of ratings, to ignore policy and barely cover Trump scandals while obsessing over Clinton emails, every reporter who, for whatever reason — often sheer pettiness — played up Wikileaks nonsense and talked about how various Clinton stuff “raised questions” and “cast shadows” is complicit in this disaster. And then there’s the FBI: it’s quite reasonable to argue that James Comey, whether it was careerism, cowardice, or something worse, tipped the scales and may have doomed the world.

No, I’m not giving up hope. Maybe, just maybe, the sheer awfulness of what’s happening will sink in. Maybe the backlash will be big enough to constrain Trump from destroying democracy in the next few months, and/or sweep his gang from power in the next few years. But if that’s going to happen, enough people will have to be true patriots, which means taking a stand.

And anyone who doesn’t — who plays along and plays it safe — is betraying America, and mankind.

I'm inclined to agree, but Trump does seem to have us grabbed by the privates.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Problems for Santa

Not only is the North Pole about 36 F warmer than normal right now, but enormous numbers of reindeer have been killed by bad weather. Superman's Fortress of Solitude is also at risk.

The Antarctic is also on the toasty side, but both are still well below 0 C. Miami is still probably good for a decade or four.

In Trump's Crosshairs

Megyn Kelly challenged Trump and got his twitter treatment:

Donald Trump’s feud with Megyn Kelly was way darker than any of us knew. Kelly received so many death threats and so much harassment from Trump supporters after confronting him at the first Republican debate with a challenging question about his many, many misogynistic statements that she needed a special security detail for a year.

The Trump campaign stoked the flames of the Kelly hate, the Fox News host told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview on Wednesday, to the point that one of the top executives at Fox News had to explain to one of Trump’s top employees why if she “gets killed” it might be bad for their campaign.

“Michael Cohen, who is Trump's top lawyer and executive vice president with the Trump Organization had retweeted ‘let’s gut her,’ about me,” Kelly said. “At a time when the threat level was very high, which he knew. And Bill Shine, an executive vice president of Fox, called him up to say, 'You got to stop this. We understand you are angry but she's got three kids and is walking around New York.' ”

“And he didn't much care,” Kelly continued. “And what Bill Shine said to Michael Cohen was, ‘Let me put it to you in terms you can understand: If Megyn Kelly gets killed it is not going help your candidate.’ ”

At the risk provoking sarcastic sneers from all the equivalencers, this smells like more than a whiff of fascism to me.

Evolution on the Speed Dial

Some insects and birds are already responding to global warming by changing their ranges and the timing of migration and diapause. These changes are genetic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ancestral Matters II

There are genetic penalties for small population sizes: deleterious mutations are more likely to persist by genetic drift. Consequently, Eurasians have more deleterious mutations than Africans. Small endogamous populations like Ashkenazi Jews and many tribal groups are even worse off in this respect. The most severe effects are seen in populations that have undergone severe population bottlenecks, especially if they are recent, as in the cheetahs.

Of course with a current world population in the billions, and endogamy in drastic retreat, such bottlenecks are now usually restricted to very isolated groups.

Ancestral Matters

Genetics indicates that the ancestral African population that gave rise to modern Eurasians had an effective population size of about 14,500 individuals. Those who left Africa 50 kya were about 1860 in number. Numbers had not increased by the time Europeans and Asians split 23 kya, and consisted of about 1032 for Europe and 550 for Asia. It seems to have take a while to get the hang of the new continent.

From Evolution, by Douglas Futuyma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

More Dark Whispers

Evidence continues to pile up that fetid creeping things continue to emerge from the rocks Trump's election overturned:

A West Virginia mayor was criticized and her businesswoman friend fired after calling First Lady Michelle Obama an “ape in heels.”

“It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House,” wrote Pamela Ramsey Taylor, the axed director of the government-funded Clay Development Corporation.

“I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels."

...

One person not outraged, however, was Beverly Whaling, the mayor of Clay.

“Just made my day Pam,” she commented under the original post.

Taylor got fired, but she and the mayor are good examples of the racist trash empowered by Trump's victory. She had the temerity to claim:

Those who know me know that I'm not of any way racist!

On another note, I hope that the idiots who plumped for Trump because they thought Hillary was too militant have noticed that Trump is floating hard core neocons for his national security team.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trump Linked Harassment, Intimidation, and Violence

The Southern Poverty Law Center is keeping track.

Here are a few:

Some of the reports that came directly to the SPLC include:

My 12 year old daughter is African American. A boy approached her and said, "now that Trump is president, I'm going to shoot you and all the blacks I can find". We reported it to the school who followed up with my daughter and the boy appropriately.

Another, this time in a college setting:

The day after the presidential election, my friend, a black female freshman in a [Boston area college], heard a white female student say: "this is their punishment for 8 years of black people." When she turned around to see who said it, the white student laughed at her.

In Louisiana, a woman was harassed by white men in a passing car which was a frequently reported "venue" of harassment since election day:

I was standing at a red light waiting to cross the street. A black truck with three white men pulled up to the red light. One of them yelled, "Fuck your black life!" The other two began to laugh. One began to chant "Trump!" as they drove away.

Anti-immigrant incidents often came with reference to the Trump campaign. In Washington state, a teacher reported:

"Build a wall" was chanted in our cafeteria Wed at lunch."If you aren't born here, pack your bags" was shouted in my own classroom. "Get out spic" was said in our halls.

Another:

A student in an English IV course told his teacher, who is Mexican-American, that he needs to take his family and get out of our country. The student mentioned he wasn't welcome any longer. He supported this argument by citing comments from our President-elect.

I doubt that these are isolated cases. I saw one myself on my own campus, where a burly Trump supporter harassed a much smaller student, and was near enough to another one that police questioned me - unfortunately I was unable to say anything identifying about the perpetrator.

Trump's campaign manager was Steve Bannon, a godfather of the Alt-right, and apparently, a leading candidate for Trump's Chief of Staff.

The Democratic Party

There are now 18 states with governors who are Democrats. Democrats control at least one state legislature in only 17. At the Federal level Republicans are in firm control of all three branches of the government. Dems are close to becoming totally irrelevant in political power.

The leading candidate for Democratic National Committee Chairman seems to be Congressman Keith Ellison. Ellison is a strong progressive who also happens to be Black and a Muslim. That should allay the fears of all those who thought the Party wasn't sufficiently diverse.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

If You Know SUSY

Then you are a member of a tiny elite group of theoretical physicists who have mastered a theory that requires a good command of quantum field theory and general relativity just to dip your toes in it, and a lot more arcana, including very advanced mathematics, to get a deep understanding. Unfortunately for them, experimental evidence has yet to make an appearance in the data from the World's most powerful particle collider, or anywhere else.

The Economist has some popular stuff on the matter of settling of bets between physicists on whether such data would appear, especially one between David Gross and Kenneth Lane. Lane claims that the agreed upon data is in and Gross is welshing. Gross thinks the data still needs more analysis. A very expensive dinner is at stake.

Whispers of the American Soul

Those inaudible whispers of the American soul are getting louder. Josh Marshall has some examples of Trump inspired brown shirts terrorizing women and minorities. Here is one:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer ...

Villanova University's Department of Public Safety is investigating a reported incident in which a black female student was assaulted by white males as they ran toward her yelling, "Trump, Trump, Trump!"

According to a university source with knowledge of the event, it occurred Thursday night as the female student, who has not been identified, was walking through a SEPTA tunnel on campus.

There, she encountered multiple white males who allegedly ran toward her, shouting the name of the new president-elect. One male forcefully knocked her to the ground, causing her to hit her head, the source said.

I knew the US wasn't immune to fascism, but I didn't think it would be so easy.

Jung on Hitler

Christopher Dickey in The Daily Beast.

PARIS — By the middle of 1942, a handful of senior officers in the German army and intelligence apparatus worried that their Führer, Adolf Hitler, had gone completely insane.

That may sound, today, like an understatement. But as happens when any populist demagogue takes power, many people embraced him at first, many others were willing to makes excuses for him, and still others convinced themselves that they could live with him at least. Indeed, over the previous decade the vast majority of Germans were persuaded that Hitler understood them, and they understood him—such was the chemistry between the man and his constituents—even if much of the rest of the world found him appalling.

“He is the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul,” world-renowned Swiss pyschotherapist Carl Jung told an American reporter in 1938.

Lots of good stuff on WWII intelligence in the article.

Arctic Sea Ice

...is at record lows for this time of year. This does not necessarily mean that record minima will occur next summer, since open water loses more heat than when ice-covered and because a lot of Arctic snow is in early winter, which again means less insulation against heat loss.

Even so ... we still seem on target for an ice free Arctic in 2030 or so - maybe sooner.

Antarctic sea ice also at record lows for the date.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Another Vote for the Centrality of the Culture Wars

Robert P. Jones, writing in the NYT, sees the election in terms of a White Christian backlash:

The Rage of White, Christian America

Between Barack Obama’s 2008 election and 2016, America has transformed from being a majority white Christian nation (54 percent) to a minority white Christian nation (43 percent).

But on Election Day, paradoxically, this anxious minority swarmed to the polls to elect as president the candidate who promised to “make America great again” and warned that he was its “last chance” to turn back the tide of cultural and economic change.

One clue to the power of this racial and religious identity can be seen in the striking similarity of a map of white Christian population density by state to the red and blue election night map. While the similarity of those maps in Kentucky and West Virginia might not be a surprise, the same similarity in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania goes a long way to explaining why Hillary Clinton’s Midwestern firewall did not hold on election night...

Dumb

Just after Bush's Iraq invasion I remember seeing a ragtag group of protesters marching on a main local thoroughfare. "Way too late" I recall thinking at the time.

To me, the current protests against Trump are equally dumb. They don't accomplish anything and they annoy people. We already know that the majority of Americans voted against Trump and that he won anyway. Now we just have to see what he does.

Oy Vey

Headline I saw:

Schumer now the most important Democrat in D.C.

Voting Against Jon Stewart

Like many others, I've been pondering the question of why nearly 1/2 of Americans voted for (and elected) a vulgar, dishonest, and dangerously unstable person for President. Obviously there is an economic component, a nostalgia for the good old union factory jobs that meant good benefits and a middle class lifestyle. The race divide was actually less severe than in the Obama elections - more Blacks and Hispanics voted for Trump than Romney. I think that there was a big cultural component. These voters saw their culture under siege and voted against all those threats to it: Mexicans, Gays, Blacks, Muslims and, perhaps especially, the media figures propagating all the multi-cultural and related notions. I call it the anti-Jon Stewart vote. It could just as well be called the anti-Miley Cyrus vote.

Stewart and his Alumni relentlessly mocked Trump, Fox News, and the other totems of the right and these cultural conservatives wanted revenge. Miley and others like her live their lives in contempt of the traditional cultural mores. These celebrities may have pumped up the attendees at Clinton's rallies, but they might have cost her a lot more votes than they brought in. Mockery may destroy the target for those in on the joke, but it just enrages those who imagine they are the target.

The relentlessly all consuming modern global culture doesn't just offend less educated Americans. It's provoking similar angry reactions in the Middle East, India, Europe and elsewhere. Also, the precise content of that global culture is furiously contested even by those most deeply enmeshed in it.

What Ifs

The beauty of the counterfactual in history is that nothing can ever be proven. Nevertheless, they are often instructive.

One that Democrats are going to ponder is whether Bernie Sanders could have won if he had been nominated. I tend to agree with Kevin Drum:

It's obvious that Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness during the election was Emailgate. Republicans successfully took a fairly minor bit of misjudgment and turned it into the world's greatest crime—and kept it alive by shrewdly dribbling out new information regularly. Aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, a last-minute assist from James Comey, and a press corps that played along gleefully, this turned into a huge millstone around Clinton's neck that Donald Trump hammered on relentlessly. He also kept up a drumbeat of criticism on TPP, NAFTA, and other economic concerns of the working class.

Plainly Bernie Sanders wouldn't have suffered from either one of these problems. So does that mean he could have beaten Trump?

Sure, maybe. But it probably just means Trump would have attacked him in a different way. Most likely, he would have hammered away at Sanders being a wild-eyed communist. Then Sanders would have lost, and we'd be sitting around wishing we'd nominated Clinton. After all, Trump certainly couldn't have attacked her as a crazed radical. As for that email thing, it was old news. It wouldn't have hurt her much.

In the end, this is unanswerable. For myself, I doubt that Sanders could have beaten Trump. Once he left the cozy confines of the Democratic primaries, he would have been pilloried.

Whatever. Most of my commenters got the President they pined for, so now we'll just have to see how that plays out.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Next?

Trump ran and won as a populist. Will he try to govern that way? Who knows, but he will be a plutocrat presiding over a party almost wholly owned by plutocrats, so the temptation will be to throw his supporters a few racist bones while handing out big tax cuts to himself and friends. Trump may well not be a billionaire today, but I expect he will get a lot richer fast.

Another big question is how much energy he will expend on punishing and humiliating his enemies.

Another thing I worry about is when Putin will decide the time is right to gobble up the Baltics.

So, Fernando

I just got an pop-up ad advising me to retire in Spain. How much does it cost to live there? Is good medical care available?

The Big FU

Michael Moore called it. Paul Krugman despairs:

We still don’t know who will win the electoral college, although as I write this it looks — incredibly, horribly — as if the odds now favor Donald J. Trump. What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in. We thought that our fellow citizens would not, in the end, vote for a candidate so manifestly unqualified for high office, so temperamentally unsound, so scary yet ludicrous.

We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.

We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.

It turns out that we were wrong. There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.

I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.

Smart Money

It turns out that the smart money was as dumb as the rest of us. As a Trump Presidency looms S&P futures are down 3.5% and the Dow is down 533 points. Bet it's 1000 tomorrow if he wins. Or maybe 2000. Looks bad for my retirement.

Damn, can't even finish the post - Trump wins Ohio, Dow down 750.

Polling

As of right now, it's not clear who is going to win, but with Trump holding significant leads in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, and the race close in Pennsylvania and Michigan, it is clear that the polls really were not very accurate.

Good luck, country and world, you're going to need it.

Voter Suppression Today

Emily Badger, writing in the NYT, reports that minorities are facing very long lines and waits to vote in many parts of the US. This is unconscionable.

In Charlotte, the lines for the first wave of early balloting in North Carolina forced some voters to wait more than two hours. In Las Vegas over the weekend, voters were still waiting outside a polling place in a Mexican grocery store two hours after it was set to close. In Cincinnati, one epic queue on Sunday traveled half a mile (and then across Twitter).

There are two ways to interpret these scenes.

“It does give some indication of the health of our democracy that you have all these people who are excited enough to vote that they’ll wait in a long line,” said Stephen Pettigrew, a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard’s department of government who studies polling lines. “But it’s also an indication, at least in some areas, that there is a problem.”

One problem is that some groups are much more likely to face long lines than others. Another, according to Mr. Pettigrew’s recent research, is that the people who do wait are less likely to vote in the future as a result.

Early voters, urban voters and minority voters are all more likely to wait and wait and wait. In predominantly minority communities, the lines are about twice as long as in predominantly white ones, Mr. Pettigrew has found. And minority voters are six times as likely as whites to wait longer than an hour to vote. Those disparities persist even within the same town or county, suggesting they don’t reflect simply the greater difficulty of putting on elections in populous cities.

Another Reason to Hate Belichick and the Pats

Of course non-New England based football fans don't need any more reasons, but just in case.

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump read aloud a note he said was from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during a late night rally in New Hampshire on Monday -- the day before the 2016 Presidential Election.

"Congratulations on a tremendous campaign," the letter began, according to Trump. "You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully -- beautifully. You have proven to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow's election results will give the opportunity to make America great again.

Belichick, like the two Bush Presidents, attended that American Eton, Phillips Andover.

On the other hand, so did Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lyman Spitzer, Jack Lemmon and Humphrey Bogart, who was expelled.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Evolved

This odd survey shows that a lot of white Americans think that blacks are "less evolved." Unsurprisingly, Trump fans are the most likely to believe that, which is a bit odd, since they don't believe in evolution. In any case, the idea is nonsense. For one thing, modern evolutionary theory rejects the idea of a hierarchy of evolution - we have all been evolving for the same time, and I mean all, including all humans, cats, mice, fish, and plants, and we all descend from a common ancestor living a couple of billion years ago.

Of course that doesn't mean that we are all the same, and modern Europeans, for example, have probably changed more in some specific features than our cousins who stayed in Africa, like skin color, hair and hair color, and body proportions. These changes may have been due to our interbreeding with the older species, the Neandertal (or not), but in any case helped us adapt to a colder climate with less sunshine.

If

If Trump wins, our nuclear weapons will be controlled by a man so undisciplined and volatile that his own campaign had to wrest control of his twitter account from him to prevent repeated self destructive rampages. Whoever wins, our politics will have been polluted by a stream of lies and hatred unprecedented at least since the civil war. If Clinton wins, the oligarchs very likely will order another four years of gridlock and massive resistance by Republicans.

The Venezuelan Catastrophe

William Finnegan has a long article on the Venezuelan catastrophe in the New Yorker. The article is more of a look at what's happening to the people than an analysis of how this once rich country got into it's present state, but there is quite a bit of history too.

It would be hard to exaggerate the scale of the Maduro regime's failures. Massive corruption and catastrophic incompetence exist here on a scale that's probably unequaled outside of Africa.

And yet Venezuelan oil production is steadily falling. Since 1998, it has declined by thirty per cent—by nearly a million barrels a day. Corruption and lack of maintenance are the culprits most often cited. Crime gangs also exact a heavy tax. The state-owned oil and gas monopoly, Petróleos de Venezuela (P.D.V.S.A.), was Chávez’s piggy bank. Between 2001 and 2015, it poured perhaps a hundred billion dollars into his favored programs. Today, the piggy bank is nearly empty. Two-thirds of oil-export revenues go to paying the Chinese and other creditors. Until recently, the monopoly was able to use Citgo, its American refining unit, to obtain loans in international credit markets, but the government has destroyed its credit rating, and it is no longer able to borrow on international markets. With the recent collapse of the oil price, it is scrambling just to service its debts.

The oil won’t simply stop flowing. In the city of Maracaibo, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of money around. Fancy new high-rises line the lakefront on the north side of town. Massive banks with blue glass walls loom downtown. José Feliciano is coming to play in the convention center. I asked my driver, a local woman, about the lakefront high-rises. “Money laundering,” she said cheerfully. The apartments were investments, she said, owned by mafiosos, militares, narco­traffickers from Colombia, corrupt officials. The buildings were dark at night. Almost nobody actually lived there.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

"I'm Going to Win"

The NYT has a good allegedly inside look at the Trump campaign's final days.

Donald J. Trump is not sleeping much these days.

Aboard his gold-plated jumbo jet, the Republican nominee does not like to rest or be alone with his thoughts, insisting that aides stay up and keep talking to him. He prefers the soothing, whispery voice of his son-in-law.

He requires constant assurance that his candidacy is on track. “Look at that crowd!” he exclaimed a few days ago as he flew across Florida, turning to his young press secretary as a TV tuned to Fox News showed images of what he claimed were thousands of people waiting for him on the ground below.

...

For the next week, his campaign staff deployed a series of creative tricks to protect its boss from his most self-destructive impulses.

Taking away Twitter turned out to be an essential move by his press team, which deprived him of a previously unfiltered channel for his aggressions.

End Times

Maureen Dowd is a longtime Clinton hater, but she has written a pretty interesting column on Clinton and Trump - a lot kinder to Trump than I care for, but it's also a lot more nuanced look into his character. I don't really agree with her analysis of either candidate but I found it interesting throughout.

When Donald Trump moved to Manhattan from Queens, drawn by the skyscrapers and models with sky-high legs, he felt he needed to invent a larger-than-life character for himself.

Author and former ABC correspondent Lynn Sherr remembers that back in 1975, Trump had a starter apartment down the hall from her at 65th and Third, and she saw different women in cocktail dresses leaving almost every morning.

“I think he felt it wasn’t a fancy enough place for them,” Sherr said. “That was the beginning of the gilt and marble.”

Trump started hanging out at Yankee Stadium with a group of towering characters — George Steinbrenner, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch and Lee Iacocca. Sometimes Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant would stop by. Donald modeled himself on these men, living large and talking big.

From Cohn, he learned about winning, without regard to right and wrong. And from Steinbrenner, he learned about indiscriminately grabbing the limelight. As Trump once said to his Yankee pals, “good publicity, bad publicity, as long as it’s publicity.”

They would sit in Steinbrenner’s suite at a big conference table watching Reggie Jackson slug home runs on TV. They got together all over town, especially at Elaine’s and Le Club, a hub in Midtown for wealthy guys, models and actresses.

“Donald was not a big night life person, except for Le Club,” said one former Steinbrenner staffer. “He was always very likable in those days. He had a big personality, but he was the youngest of the group. He was never arrogant or full of himself. He always was respectful and pleasant to everybody.”

But he created another character for the Republican primaries, playing to the feral instincts of angry voters, encouraging violence at his rallies, hatred toward journalists and disrespect for democracy itself.

“He’s so used to playing a role in different areas of his life,” said Donny Deutsch, the ad man and TV personality who appeared on “The Apprentice” a few times and was once friendly with Trump. “He saw the crowd’s adulation and it drove him. He started to get the biggest cheers for saying the most offensive things.

“He detached himself from himself. I don’t think he believes in the Muslim ban or half the things he’s saying. It was more, ‘If this gets applause, I do it,’ in a Pavlovian dog kind of way. He just got into this character. He was so taken with the whiff of his own musk. And the irony of all this is, he didn’t have to. He could have run as an outsider with a populist message without all the evil and mean components.”

More at the link.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Anti-Semitic Connection

I have mostly avoided Trump and the election for the last week or so, mostly because I can't stand the stress and abuse, but I think this point is worth making. Trump's identification with and appeal to the racists and neo-Nazis of the Alt-Right isn't exactly new, since he picked Alt-Right godfather Steve Bannon as his campaign manager months ago, but it does seem to be getting more overt. Sam Bee had a bunch of images of neo-Nazi slogans (in German) at Trump rallies, and Josh Marshall points out that a Trump closing ad links Clinton to a number of financially influential Jewish Bogeymen of the neo-Nazi right - Janet Yellen, Lloyd Blankfein, and George Soros, in an commercial which cites familiar echoes of the great conspiracy of Jewish bankers.

From a technical and thematic perspective it's a well made ad. It's also packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary. I'm not even sure whether it makes sense to call them dog whistles. The four readily identifiable American bad guys in the ad are Hillary Clinton, George Soros (Jewish financier), Janet Yellen (Jewish Fed Chair) and Lloyd Blankfein (Jewish Goldman Sachs CEO).

The Trump narration immediately preceding Soros and Yellin proceeds as follows: "The establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election. For those who control the levers of power in Washington [start Soros] and for the global [start Yellen] special interests [stop Yellen]. They partner with these people [start Clinton] who don't have your good in mind."

For Blankfein: "It's a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the [start Blankein] pockets of a handful of large corporations [stop Blankfein] and political entities."

These are standard anti-Semitic themes and storylines, using established anti-Semitic vocabulary lined up with high profile Jews as the only Americans other than Clinton who are apparently relevant to the story. As you can see by my transcription, the Jews come up to punctuate specific key phrases. Soros: "those who control the levers of power in Washington"; Yellen "global special interests"; Blankfein "put money into the pockets of handful of large corporations."

This is an anti-Semitic ad every bit as much as the infamous Jesse Helms 'white hands' ad or the Willie Horton ad were anti-African-American racist ads. Which is to say, really anti-Semitic. You could even argue that it's more so, given certain linguistic similarities with anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s. But it's not a contest. This is an ad intended to appeal to anti-Semites and spread anti-Semitic ideas. That's the only standard that really matters.

This is intentional and by design. It is no accident.

Trump has electrified anti-Semites and racist groups across the country. His own campaign has repeatedly found itself speaking to anti-Semites, tweeting their anti-Semitic memes, retweeting anti-Semites. His campaign manager, Steven Bannon, is an anti-Semite. The Breitbart News site he ran and will continue running after the campaign has become increasingly open in the last year with anti-Semitic attacks and politics.

Super Suck

Golden State added a perennial scoring champion to their arsenal with Kevin Durant. So far they look decidedly mortal and worse than last year. Part of this can be put down to the fact that it takes any team time to gel, but some of it seems like just bad strategy. Scoring was always the GS strength, while rebounding was always a bit iffy. So they added another super scorer and gave away some moderately capable rebounding. Kevin Durant is a good rebounder, but at 6-11 and maybe 220 (he is listed at 6-9 and 240) he's not really built to bang with the big boys.

Super on paper isn't always super on the floor.

Friday, November 04, 2016

W's Blunders

I'm remembering that W's first two big blunders - allowing 9/11 and starting the second Iraq War - made him more popular rather than less.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Oil and Earthquakes

A new study has found that oil drilling in the Huntington Beach field may have triggered the 1933 Long Beach quake, the deadliest Southern California earthquake.

“It was kind of more of a Wild West industry back a hundred years ago, and the technology wasn’t as sophisticated,” Hough said. “People would just pump oil, and in some cases the ground would subside — fairly dramatically.” That possibly changed stresses on underground rock that could have pushed earthquake faults to rupture.

Airy Nothings

And as imagination bodies forth 
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen 
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing 
A local habitation and a name. 

.................Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Scene 1


Watching dust, dirt, leaves and tumbleweeds roll past the other evening, I recalled that our local winds blow rather consistently from the Southwest. The average wind over the country is from the West. How long, I wondered, will it take for the whole West Coast to blow all the way to the East Coast?

Quite a while, I guess. It's dry here, so dust and sand blow a lot. A whole big field of gypsum dunes (White Sands National Monument) covers many squares miles of Otero County, all evaporites blown off a tiny lake. Much of the country isn't much like that. Even here most of the blown matter is biological: leaves, pollen, tumbleweeds, and bugs.

That biological matter is indeed a sort of "airy nothing," composed almost entirely of elements from the air: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and water. The winds that carry our sand east will carry the organic matter just far enough to dissolve back into the air that blows it around the world and back to the West Coast.

Do You Solemnly Swear?

I've been getting a lot of truly scurrilous campaign email lately, from both sides, including one which has a picture of a candidate and a slug, and asks what they have in common. The rear side of the giant postcard has a number of accusations against the candidate, but, so far as I could tell, the slug came off blameless - except for eating my garden, which wasn't mentioned.

The debates, too, were a forest of accusations, most denied by the accused. I suggest replacing the debates with cross examinations under oath, with the questioners not network idiots, but prosecutors chosen by the opponents. Americans appear to love courtroom and faux courtroom drama, so these would be bound to be popular. I would also require all campaign ads to be truthful, under penalty of perjury.

Homebots

I have an Amazon Echo, and also its little brother, an Echo Dot. As you may have heard, these are virtual assistants that sit on your counter and respond to verbal questions and directions. You probably have something similar on your smartphone, but the Echo, besides answering questions, setting alarms, and playing music, is also intended to control smart devices in your home - lights, thermostats, sprinklers, etc. I don't have any of these, at least not yet. Google is now producing a similar device, the Google Home.

The brains of these devices consist of some smart software plus the vast data resources of the internet. They are new enough that the number and variety of smart "internet of things" devices they can control is still both limited and and expensive, but it seems likely that almost every electrical device in your home will be available in connected versions in the next 5 to 10 years. It also seems likely that their verbal intelligence will continue to increase, probably rather gradually.

Brian X. Chen, writing in the NYT, compares Echo and Google Home. Excerpts:

TO get an idea of how annoying it can be to say “O.K., Google” multiple times a day, try replacing the word Google with another brand.

O.K., Pepsi. O.K., Chipotle. O.K., Skittles. You get the picture. It’s difficult to utter “O.K., Google,” the phrase used to control Google’s new Home smart speaker, without sounding like a marketing tool.

That is too bad because Google’s Home is otherwise a preternaturally smarter speaker than its closest rival, Amazon’s Echo.

As the new boy, Home is still a lot less connected, so that's a current limitation.

If Apple wants to produce the version that really works, it had better get cracking.

Bre-what?

Reality Check: Could High Court ruling on Article 50 scupper Brexit?

Probably not.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Opinions Differ on the Shape of the Earth

And they probably also differ on how good a President Obama has been. I'm confident, though, that he is clearly the coolest President of all time: the evidence.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Was This Really a Good Idea?

Inbreeding depression is a well-known problem in the small, captive populations of endangered species that are propagated in zoos in the hope of reestablishing wild popu- lations. Special breeding designs are required to minimize inbreeding in these popula- tions (Frankham et al. 2002). Inbreeding may also increase the risk of extinction of small populations in nature. Thomas Madsen and colleagues (1995, 1999) studied an isolated Swedish population of a small poisonous snake, the adder Vipera berus, that consisted of fewer than 40 individuals. The snakes were found to be highly homozygous (we will see shortly how this can be determined), the females had small litter sizes (compared with outbred adders in other populations), and many of the offspring were deformed or stillborn. The authors introduced 20 adult male adders from other populations, left them there for four mating seasons, and then removed them. Soon thereafter, the population increased dramatically (Figure 9.15), owing to the improved survival of the outbred offspring.

Evolution, by Douglas J. Futuyma

Apposite

Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing Imperthnthn thnthnthn.

Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more.

A husky fifenote blew. Blew. Blue bloom is on the.

Goldpinnacled hair. A jumping rose on satiny breast of satin, rose of Castile. Trilling, trilling: Idolores. Peep! Who's in the... peepofgold?

Tink cried to bronze in pity. And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call. Decoy. Soft word. But look: the bright stars fade. Notes chirruping answer. O rose! Castile. The morn is breaking.

Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.

Coin rang. Clock clacked. Avowal. Sonnez.

I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!

Jingle. Bloo. Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War!

The tympanum. A sail!

A veil awave upon the waves.

Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now. Horn. Hawhorn. When first he saw. Alas! Full tup. Full throb. Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come!

Clapclap. Clipclap. Clappyclap.

Joyce, James. Ulysses (Illustated and Anotated) (Kindle Locations 5271-5291). . Kindle Edition.

Eye of Sauron Report

The latest ABC/Washington Post tracking poll has very bad news for Hillary. In the past week, Trump has obliterated her once commanding lead and taken over a narrow lead himself. Details here.

The first fully post-FBI shocker ABC/WaPo poll is out and it is a shocker: in a poll that saw Hillary lead by a dominating 13 points as recently as one week ago, moments ago ABC/WaPo/Langer Research announced that Trump has not only taken the lead from Hillary, but this is the first time he has done so since May.

As a reminder, this is the same poll that as we reported over the weekend, effectively confirmed to "poll tampering" which saw Hillary's lead collapse from 12 points to just 2 several days ago.

While vote preferences have held essentially steady, Hillary is now a slim point behind Donald Trump, a first since May, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll. Forty-six percent of likely voters support Trump in the latest results, with 45 percent for Clinton. Taking it to the decimal for illustrative purposes, a mere .7 of a percentage point divides them. Third-party candidate Gary Johnson has 3 percent, a new low; Jill Stein, 2 percent. The reason: according to ABC, "strong enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton has ebbed since the renewal of the FBI’s email investigation."