Saturday, December 31, 2016

Local Warming

It's uncharacteristically warm and wet here in Southern New Mexico for the New Year's dawning. Surface temperatures are in the 50's (F) and the mountains just East of us (2700 meters) are still devoid of snow despite a rainy week.

Meanwhile, Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice are both at record lows for the date, and sea surface temperatures are above normal in both North and South.

Meanwhile, former MIT prof, and possibly senile* nutjob Richard Lindzen thinks what we need is a ninety percent cut in Climate Science. Because what you won't admit wont hurt you, right?

* - That may be unfair. Lindzen seems to have been pretty nutty for a long time.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Climate Change in History and Prehistory

Catastrophic climate change is hardly something new for the human race. The list of climate catastrophes that did in civilizations, cultures, and, very nearly, the whole human race is long but also rather poorly known and understood. Modern humans appeared in a particularly catastrophic geological time, the Pleistocene, in which giant ice sheets repeatedly covered big chunks of land and drove us from much of Europe (or exterminated those unlucky enough to be caught). The genetic evidence makes it clear that our population went through repeated bottlenecks when our numbers were reduced to a few thousands.

The advent of agriculture and food storage, in the form of crops and herds, allowed our numbers to multiply rapidly, and may have made us less vulnerable to certain vagaries of weather but even more vulnerable to longer term climate shifts. Many a cultural or civilizational collapse can be traced to a widespread drought, including the collapse of the First Kingdom in Egypt and the massive collapse of most of Bronze Age civilization around 1177 BC.

Before agriculture, humans can be considered to be essentially innocent bystanders to the processes of climate change, but agriculture gave us the ability to modify climate on the local and regional scale, which we frequently did by means of deforestation, overgrazing, and other destructive practices. Affecting climate on the global scale probably* had to wait until the industrial revolution and widespread use of fossil fuels started increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Since then atmospheric CO2 has increased by 45%, and temperature has been increasing. CO2 continues to increase and the rate of increase also seems to be increasing, despite mostly unserious efforts to control it. Temperature would continue to increase for a long time even if fossil fuel burning ceased tomorrow, which it clearly will not. The supposed treaty goal of holding temperature increase to 1.5 C is quite likely completely unrealistic, so it is clear that we will have to adapt to substantial climate change. So how bad are the effects likely to be?

I will focus on the obvious, since many uncertainties exist. Temperature by itself may not be the biggest threat. A recent study found more than twenty times as many deaths due to cold as to heat. Indirect effects are more frightening. The last time temperatures were a couple of C above the preindustrial average was shortly after the last ice age, and those were pretty good times for humans - the dawn of agriculture and all that. On the negative side, sea levels were several meters higher, which would be catastrophic for low islands, coastal cities, and places like Bangladesh and Florida. Even more worrisome is the treat that some of the world's agricultural breadbaskets, including much of the US, might become permanently drought stricken.

I strongly support action to limit CO2 emissions, but even in the most optimistic scenarios, much of these effects will happen, so we had better start preparing for them.

*Though some have argued that methane produced by rice farming and other agriculture started affecting climate as much as 8000 years ago.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP Vera Rubin

A key player in the discovery of dark matter, pioneer woman in astronomy.

From the NYT:

Vera Rubin, who transformed modern physics and astronomy with her observations showing that galaxies and stars are immersed in the gravitational grip of vast clouds of dark matter, died on Sunday in Princeton, N.J. She was 88.

Her death was announced by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she had been a longtime staff astronomer.

Dr. Rubin, cheerful and plain-spoken, had a lifelong love of the stars, championed women in science and was blunt about the limits of humankind’s vaunted knowledge of nature.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Goodnight

And similar greeting to all who celebrate slightly different observances of the Winter solstice.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Smokin'

It's toasty down in Santa's workshop. Although subzero C, temperatures are about 20 C (36 F) warmer than normal, and scheduled to get warmer, or so claims this Tech Times story by Kalyan Kumar:

Temperatures in the Arctic are predicted to rise nearly 50 degrees above normal from Thursday under the spell of a pre-Christmas heat wave. It means the frozen tundra is racing close to a melting point. The surging warmth in the past two months has already left scientists jittery, as escalating temperatures are feared to hit ice formation or coverage next summer and bring it down to record low levels. More warming trends are hitting the region as a result of climate change effects.

Walt Meier, a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, said the current warmth is an offshoot of fluctuations in the jet stream that is passing frigid air to North America and parts of the Arctic.

- See more at: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/189862/20161223/arctic-forecast-to-warm-by-as-much-as-50-degrees-this-week.htm#sthash.G9XJ5v1p.dpuf

Yurts

Things I did and didn't want to know about them.

One was the Inner Asian nomad's universal type of dwelling, a tent which in English is called yurt (from Russian yurta, a borrowing from Turkic, where, however; this term means home territory; specific variants ants of oy, usually accompanied by color epithets such as aq = white or boz = grey, are the Turkic terms; significantly, in Turkish - the Turkic of Turkey - where the bulk of the population has long led a settled life, the word, in the form of ev, has acquired the connotation of house; the Mongol word for our "yurt" is ger). The yurt radically differs from other nomads' tents - Arab, Berber, those of Iran, the tepee of the American Indian - both in shape and construction material; the shape is that of a round structure covered by a hemispherical or conical roof, with a smoke hole at the top, which can be closed with a flap; the material consists of a wooden trellis frame covered with a layer of felt, ideal insulation against both winter cold and summer heat. The yurt could he larger or smaller, but a standard size of some 6 meters in diameter was predominant.

Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia (Kindle Locations 693-699). Kindle Edition.

The author is ostensibly explaining the role of the Yurt in nomadic mobility. A few details I might have liked include its weight and how it is transported. It's etymology, maybe. It's name in Turkic languages, not so much. Unfortunately the author feels compelled to go on about such details even when they have no relation to the primary narrative.

Wikipedia is far more informative and coherent. It also has pictures, and a more precise version of the derivation of the word.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Well, maybe, sometimes, but most of the evidence suggests that it isn't really in our natures. What does seem to be in our natures is that we tend to organize into competing cliques, tribes, or gangs and struggle for supremacy.

The recent spate of world terrorism in the name of Islam has many questioning some of the central tenets of liberal democracy, especially the notion of tolerating and encouraging cultural diversity. In particular, tolerance can only work if it is truly mutual.

The new suspect in the latest Berlin massacre seems to have long been on the list of persons suspected of being involved with ISIS, and in fact was scheduled to be deported, and only wasn't because the security services couldn't figure out the paperwork or something. The CNN story on the subject suggested that the problem was very difficult since there were tens of thousands of suspects in Europe.

ISIS is clearly at war with the West, and in time of war civil liberties are nearly always curtailed. It might be time to summarily deport any aliens who can credibly be suspected of terrorism involvement. Angela Merkel's unilateral decision to let a million or so Muslim refugees into Europe was motivated by common decency, but it's likely to cost her her job. So far those refugees don't seem to have been a problem, but others, like the suspect, have.

The problem is not simply with those who enter Europe with evil intent. Being thrust into a foreign culture with sharply different laws and mores can be highly traumatic, and those not prepared to adapt can easily go off the rails. Legal immigrants from regions with sharply different customs should be required to prove they can adapt and deal with the local culture.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Not Quite Spring Yet

Brad Delong celebrates the undefeated Sun at the Winter Solstice with: Gaudete! Dies Natalis Solis Invicti!

The Sun may have turned the solsticial corner, but I wouldn't plant the tomatoes yet.

Fire Down Below

Why are we seeing such a dramatic melt in the Antarctic Ice this year? Most of the unusually warm air temperatures have been both inland and still well below freezing. The answer may well be in the unusually warm temperature below the surface.

Ice in the Weddell Sea (top left), usually one of the more durable chunks of Antarctic Sea Ice, is going fast.

Ouch.

Yet another sign of the apocalypse: Rex Tillerson's favorite book is Atlas Shrugged.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Loss Leader

Yep. It looks like the US is going to be run as a loss leader for Trump international. From Kevin Drum:

Judd Legum of ThinkProgress reports that "members of the Trump Organization" pressured the government of Kuwait to switch their annual National Day celebration from the Four Seasons to the Trump International:

In the early fall, the Kuwaiti Embassy signed a contract with the Four Seasons. But after the election, members of the Trump Organization contacted the Ambassador of Kuwait, Salem Al-Sabah, and encouraged him to move his event to Trump’s D.C. hotel, the source said.

Kuwait has now signed a contract with the Trump International Hotel, the source said, adding that a representative with the embassy described the decision as political. Invitations to the event are typically sent out in January.

Chillin'

Most of the US is pretty cold today. It even got a little frosty here in southern NM last night. This chill is evidently due to the Polar Vortex moving south. Which may explain why it remains toasty* in the high Arctic. Or vice versa.

Arctic and especially Antarctic sea ice remain at record lows for the date, and not by small margins.

*OK, it's -15 to -20 C, but that's up to 20 C above normal for the date.

Climate Reanalyzer. Danish Met Inst.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Election Theories

As I've said before, theories of why Hillary lost will continue to proliferate, and, of course, all are equally unprovable. That said, my current favorite is this article by John Judis on TPM. Some excerpts:

The Electoral College will meet on Monday to declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2016 election. Sometimes, in order to get beyond an awful loss, you have to give up on the rationalizations by which you deny the extent of your defeat.

I have two dueling rationalizations that are prevalent among Democrats: on the one hand, the conviction, based upon Hillary Clinton’s popular vote majority, that she and not Trump was the real winner of the election and that if Democrats can only move the numbers around, they will easily rebound from their defeat in the electoral college; on the other hand, the conviction that Clinton really did lose, but that Bernie Sanders could have won, and that if Democrats follow his example, they’ll regain the White House and Congress.

The Hillary Clinton camp continues to dwell on the fact that she won the popular vote by 2.8 million, even though she lost the electoral college. But Clinton spent twice as much on the election as Trump did, and spent money to drive up the vote in Chicago, New Orleans, and California. According to Politico, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were actually worried that while Clinton would win the electoral college, Trump would win the popular vote.

Trump, as his pollster Tony Fabrizio later explained, focused entirely on swing states, and didn’t try to “run up the score” in states like Texas, Georgia and Arizona that Trump expected to win. From October 21 to election day, Trump’s ad spending was entirely focused on swing states, while Clinton was still spending in Texas and California. If the two candidates had spent an equal amount, and if Trump had spent in states like Texas that he assumed he would win and in states like California where his margin was well below Mitt Romney in 2012, I believe the popular vote would have been much closer.

FBI Director James Comey definitely hurt Clinton’s chances when he re-raised the issue of her emails on October 28, but he may not have cost her the election. If you look at the Los Angeles Times tracking poll, which proved to be the most accurate predictor of the results, Clinton had pulled even with Trump soon after the release of the NBC videotape showing Trump bragging about his sexual exploits, but Trump had begun to pull ahead again on October 26, two days before Comey stepped in.

The more significant vote may have been that for House candidates. Nationally, Republicans won 51.4 percent of that vote. By comparison with Trump, the House Republicans did five points better among college-educated whites and one point better among non-college educated whites, and three points better in the suburbs. What these results suggest is that a Republican presidential candidate like, say, John Kasich would have done better among college-educated whites (one of the constituencies that appeared turned off by Trump) and in the suburbs, and held his own among working class whites. If so, such a candidate might have defeated Clinton more decisively than Trump did.

Some Democrats argue that Bernie Sanders would have done better against Trump than Clinton did. I doubt whether that’s true. Clinton’s campaign was abysmal, but Sanders’ proposals for Medicare for all and free tuition at public colleges, which played well in the Democratic primaries (and I supported him and these proposals enthusiastically), would have hit a tax-and-spend brick wall in the general election. Most voters who are not on the liberal/left wing of the Democratic Party will not support anything that calls for higher taxes, even if the proponents argue that in the long run these proposals will save them money. In Colorado this November, voters had to decide whether to back a single-payer system for the state, dubbed ColoradoCare, that was a state version of Sanders’ Medicare for all and that he came to Colorado to campaign for. Worried about the tax bill, leading Democrats as well as Republicans opposed the initiative, and it lost by 79 to 21 percent in a liberal state that went for Hillary Clinton. Trump would have hung Sanders out to dry on proposals calling for higher taxes. Vice President Joe Biden might have beaten Trump by winning Pennsylvania and Ohio, but I doubt Sanders would have stood a chance.

I like the rest of his article too.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Big Brother is Watching

Ivy League PC edition.

The Princeton men's swim team is the latest misogynist conspiracy to be exposed and terminated.

The suspension was the third of an Ivy League team since the start of November. Last month, Columbia and Harvard each suspended the season of a team after allegations of lewd behavior surfaced.

Harvard canceled the rest of the season for its men’s soccer team after officials uncovered what they described as a widespread practice of players rating the school’s female players in sexually explicit terms. The Columbia wrestling team’s season was suspended while officials said they were investigating text messages sent by players that included the frequent use of racist, misogynistic and homophobic terms.

No doubt the Ivies will soon be made safe for wimen.

IQ 160

Among the many stupid vices I use to numb the Trump pain is sometimes clicking through those idiotic click bait sites like "Celebrities you didn't know were geniuses." Anyway, it turns out that a truly surprising number of them turn out to have an IQ of 160, that is, four standard deviations above the mean (1 in 16,000). Of course you might not be surprised that Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking are credited with that lofty number, but Reggie Jackson, Sly Stallone, and a host of lesser actors are more surprising. I'm pretty sure that 160 is the mode of the distribution. Some guy I never heard of (James Woods) gets credited with a 1/25,000,000 IQ 180.

This entry might give you a clue that the compiler of the list is not quite in that stratosphere:

George Washington was the 1 st President of the United States. Washington was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Washington ushered in the Bill of Rights and Residence Act, authorizing the president to select the seat of permanent federal governance. Washington established a two-term precedent, a law forbidding Presidents from serving more than two terms in office. He had an IQ of 132.5.

It also turns out that IQs are known for practically all Presidents who died before the IQ test was invented.

Expertise

It's obvious to almost everybody that there areas of life in which expert performance far surpasses that of the beginner or even the enthusiastic amateur. Hunting, farming, sports, science, professions like medicine and law, games like chess, go and bridge are all examples. Very simple games, like tic-tac-toe, are another story - one or two tricks makes you an expert.

Michael Lewis was on Colbert's show the other week, touting his new book: "The Undoing Project," about the collaboration of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky which led to Kahneman's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Colbert set him up by asking him about why the stock market has gone up since Trump was elected. Lewis said that analysts can construct very persuasive narratives explaining this but could have constructed equally persuasive narratives if the opposite had happened. In fact, predicting the stock market is one of those areas where supposed experts really can't outperform chance, and the work of Kahneman and Tversky conclusively showed that.

Our ability to construct persuasive narratives is a pretty fundamental human trait, and even though it can be misleading, as with the stock market (and I would add religion), it wouldn't have been perfected if it didn't have survival value. In particular, I think, it's at the core of both individual and group planning. There is little doubt that human dominance in the terrestrial ecosystem is due to our ability to cooperatively plan and act.

One crucial point is that the world contains both real and phony expertise. The way to tell the difference is to look at the logical details and the data.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

More Tea Leaves: No Daylight

Donald Trump taps hardline Orthodox attorney as Israel ambassador, infuriating Jewish liberals

CHRIS SOMMERFELDT NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Updated: Thursday, December 15, 2016, 11:27 PM Donald Trump has nominated David Friedman — a Jewish Orthodox bankruptcy lawyer with imperialist views — to serve as his ambassador to Israel, drawing ire from liberals in the small Middle Eastern country and praise from its growing nationalist block.

Friedman served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign and is believed to be a strong force behind the President-elect's hardline pro-Israel stance. The 71-year-old New York lawyer has also assisted Trump during the real estate mogul's many bankruptcies.

"The bond between Israel and the United States runs deep, and I will ensure there is no daylight between us when I'm President," Trump said in a statement announcing his pick. "As the United States' ambassador to Israel, David Friedman will maintain the special relationship between our two countries."

And the Hits Keep Coming

Report: Larry Kudlow, Ex-CNBC Host, to Chair Trump’s Economic Council

Bank on It

Arun has a post on India's demonetization money maneuvers. He takes a shot at the opinions of ill-informed persons (You talkin' about me?), so let me try to put in a bit more information, for my benefit and maybe that of WB. The larger picture into which the withdrawal of large denomination bills fits is called Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, which, if your Hindi is not up to snuff, supposedly means Prime Minister's People Money Scheme.

The larger purpose is to create bank accounts for every household in India. Arun:

One of the reasons for this program is to end market subsidies for essential items that instead feed the black market, and instead to deposit money directly into the bank accounts of the people who need those subsidies.

This strikes me as a very sensible, market oriented idea, as does the subsidiary requirement to give every citizen a national identity card.

Demonetization of large bills is partly about the black market and tax evasion, but it also creates powerful incentives to get people into the banking economy.

No doubt libertarian purists will object to the identity cards, but my guess is that every one of them already has several: passport, driver's license, health insurance cards, credit cards, gym membership, Costco card .... The only people who lack them are the poor and undocumented.

Despite some implementation problems, Arun claims the program remains popular with the voters, as shown by recent election results.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Name Please!

The English language largely survived the Norman conquest, even though it was driven out of the public square for many generations. This was probably because it was already a literary language, with many readers and writers, unlike contemporary French, which essentially lacked a literature at the time. It's plausible that French literature originated in England under the influence of the suppressed English.

The famous Chanson de Roland, an epic poem of Charlemagne’s battles against the Saracens, was first written down in England in the early twelfth century. The first historical work in French was Geoffroy Gaimar’s history of the English, the Estoire des Engleis (c. 1136– 37), an accessible work in fashionable French verse based on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. English authors— or authors in England, often of mixed Anglo-Norman families— attained a European influence greater than ever before, and rarely equalled since.

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History (Kindle Locations 1417-1422). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

English personal names did not fare so well, though. They were largely lost:

There is perhaps nothing that distances us more instinctively from the pre-Conquest English than names: Ealdgyth, Aelfgifu, Colswein, Eadric, Waltheof (even if a few were revived during the Romantic period— Karl Marx called one of his sons Edgar). Our names since the 1100s have been overwhelmingly Norman, a personal form of cultural conquest through snobbery: William (which became the most common), John, Richard, Robert, Margaret, Mary, Emma. In a significant conciliatory gesture, the sons of Henry III were christened Edward and Edmund, signalling a link with the pre-Conquest monarchy; and the former became King Edward I in 1272.

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History (Kindle Locations 1403-1408). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Note, btw, that "Edward" was one of those hardy name survivors of the earlier age.

The Russian Election Hack

This NYT story by ERIC LIPTON, DAVID E. SANGER and SCOTT SHANE has the most comprehensive account that I've yet seen of how Putin intervened in the US election. As usual with hacks, incompetence of the hacked was a major factor.

A brief excerpt:

WASHINGTON — When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.

His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.

The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.

Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.

And the FBI guy never got off his butt to show up in person half a mile away at DNC headquarters. We've seen this movie before, way to many times.

There is much, much more in the story, including the details of the phishing attack that led to the penetration.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cashless

From the NYT story by Geeta Anand and Hari Kumar:

Somethings can be done in a Parliamentary democracy that would be utterly impossible in the US.

NEW DELHI — For a year, Ashish Kumar Mandal scratched out a living selling dumplings on the streets of New Delhi for a bit less than 50 cents a plate, until the government banned most of the country’s currency bills last month, crushing his all-cash business. In desperation, the 32-year-old took a step he had never even contemplated before: He offered his customers the option of paying electronically.

Mr. Mandal is among millions of Indians — snack vendors and rickshaw drivers, cobblers and coconut-water sellers — who are moving swiftly toward a cashless economy, fulfilling what Prime Minister Narendra Modi now says was one of his objectives in banning 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, worth about $7.40 and $14.80.

India is experiencing an acute shortage of bills to replace the large-denomination notes that were banned as of Nov. 9, and which made up 86 percent of the country’s currency. There have been numerous reports of people waiting in line for hours at banks or A.T.M.s, only to find that the machines are out of cash.

As the public struggles with too few bills in circulation, business has fallen in many sectors to a small fraction of what it was before the ban. Economists warn that India’s growth of 7.3 percent in the most recent quarter, among the fastest of any large economy, could take a hit if the cash shortage continues.

Cashlessness has a lot of advantages for a society: it strongly inhibits tax cheating and criminal activity of all kinds. Naturally, it is strongly opposed by criminals and tax cheats, but also by anybody else who values the relative privacy of a cash transaction. Europe has moved several major steps toward the cashless society, but the US lags.

The Unschooled?

Liam Stack in the NYT:

The researchers said the educational differences among the faiths were rooted in immigration policies that favor the educated, as well as in political, economic and historical factors.

There were 267 million Christians in the United States when the data was collected, but only 36 percent of them had a postsecondary education, including college or a vocational school, the researchers said. That made them the least-educated religious group in the country.

Jews in the United States were more than twice as likely as Christians to have a postsecondary degree, and Hindus were almost three times as likely, Pew said. Buddhists, Muslims and those who said they were religiously unaffiliated were also more likely to have a college degree than those who identified themselves as Christians.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Athletic Dreams

Now that I'm rarely awakened by an alarm clock, I tend to remember more of my dreams. I notice a few peculiarities. In my dreams I can run and jump well. If I'm under the basket with the ball, I can jump up and dunk in slow motion. I can skate well, even on waxed floors if I'm wearing socks. I rarely step down stairs, I just grab a railing and spin from landing to landing. I'm also a hell of a skier, much better than I ever was in real life.

So far so good. But I'm hopeless in games that involve throwing, catching, or hitting a ball. If I try to rebound, something I was once slightly good at, I jump wrong, or the ball caroms off my hands or body. Attempts to catch any ball, or to kick a soccer ball, or hit a tennis ball fail miserably. I even whiff on underhanded volleyball serves. I'm always out of position, swing wildly and misjudge every trajectory. Other tennis players usually can't even hit the ball toward me.

I wonder what this says about which brain functions are active during dreaming sleep. I wonder if something like trajectory tracking shuts down. I've noticed that light switches usually don't work in dreams and counting my fingers usually doesn't work either.

“I’m, Like, a Smart Person”

Trump's reason for not needing a daily intelligence briefing.

Besides, Putin will probably tell him everything he needs to know.

Trump's DEA Nominee

SNL

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Looks Like Putin is Running the Show

New Secretary of State to be Exxonmobil guy with close Russia ties and a record of opposing sanctions.

Looks like Putin knew what he was doing to back Trump.

The reality show that will decide who will be the country’s top diplomat in Donald Trump’s administration continues and a new frontrunner seems to have emerged. Rex Tillerson, the powerful president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is now seen as the top contender for the job and could very well become the latest wealthy businessman to join the president-elect’s administration. Tillerson met with Trump on Tuesday and the two may talk again this weekend. Although it's still unclear when exactly Trump will announce his pick it seems the president-elect wants to make an announcement next week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Tillerson’s name has emerged at the top of the pile as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani formally withdrew from the very public competition. Trump himself confirmed Giuliani’s withdrawal from consideration, writing on Twitter that the former mayor is “one of the finest people I know.” Naming the head of Exxon as the country’s top diplomat will undoubtedly be met with much controversy at least in part because of the executive's long ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin that date back almost two decades. During his time as head of the largest oil company in the United States, Tillerson has worked to strengthen relations with Russia, turning the country into “Exxon’s single biggest exploration theater,” reports Bloomberg. In 2011, he negotiated an energy partnership with Russia that could eventually be worth as much as $500 billion, according to Putin. Further confirmation of Tillerson's close relationship with Putin came in 2012, when Moscow awarded him the country’s Order of Friendship decoration.

It isn’t just with Russia though. Having Tillerson as head of the State Department could open up all sorts of conflicts of interest considering Exxon operates in more than 50 countries.

The only words that occur to me are expletives and curses.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Coming Purge?

Bloomberg:

Advisers to President-elect Donald Trump are developing plans to reshape Energy Department programs, help keep aging nuclear plants online and identify staff who played a role in promoting President Barack Obama’s climate agenda.

The transition team has asked the agency to list employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings, along with those who helped develop the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules. The advisers are also seeking information on agency loan programs, research activities and the basis for its statistics, according to a five-page internal document circulated by the Energy Department on Wednesday. The document lays out 65 questions from the Trump transition team, sources within the agency said.

...

“It’s certainly alarming that they would be targeting specific employees in this way,” said Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Scientists are looking at this with some suspicion, because many of the people who have been chomping at the bit to dismantle federal climate change science programs are now deeply embedded in the transition.” That includes transition team advisers working to shape the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, he said.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

RIP John Glenn

John Glenn, fighter pilot, astronaut, U S Senator, and Presidential Candidate is dead at 95. I first saw him when he was a winner on the game show "Name that Tune." His wingman in Korea, he said, was the best fighter pilot ever. That wingman, Ted Williams, also was a pretty good hitter in baseball - the best ever. Nice story here:

NEW CONCORD — Seventy-five years ago, John Glenn headed to Brown Chapel on the Muskingum College campus.

It was a special occasion: Annie Castor, Glenn’s high-school sweetheart — whom he would marry two years later — was performing her senior organ recital.

But before the concert, Glenn heard the news on the radio. It was no longer just a day made special by Castor’s senior recital, but one that would live in infamy. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and a few days later, Glenn volunteered for flight training. He would go on to fly 149 combat missions as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.

Earlier today, the oak pews in the chapel where Glenn listened to Castor’s recital were filled for a university service to commemorate that day — the beginning of the couple’s 75 years of service — as well as the more than 30 Muskingum students who served in World War II but never made it home.

“Seventy-five years ago yesterday, in this space, God spoke and John and Annie listened,” said the Rev. William Mullins. “For in this spot, the eternal, nagging question of who shall we be and what shall we do was so beautifully answered, so steadfastly pursued, so unwaveringly sought — this son and daughter of New Concord set out that day to love, to inspire and to serve.”

The commemoration Thursday was held just before word got out that Glenn, who had been hospitalized this week, had died at age 95.

“It’s a particularly poignant moment today as we honor Sen. and Mrs. Glenn, at a particularly personally challenging time for them,” said Muskingum University President Susan Hasseler. “We are holding them close right now in our thoughts and prayers.”

As a Marine Corps pilot, Glenn broke the transcontinental-flight speed record before becoming in 1962 the first American to orbit the Earth and, 36 years later at age 77 in 1998, the oldest man in space as a member of the seven-astronaut crew of the shuttle Discovery.

Glenn’s journeys into space sandwiched his time as a public servant. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and served four terms, and he ran an unsuccessful campaign for president in 1984.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Conquest

They built towers widely throughout this nation, and oppressed the wretched people, and afterwards it continually grew very much worse. When God wills, may the end be good. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1066

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History (Kindle Locations 1223-1225). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Boeing, Boeing, Boink!

The Prez elect took time from his busy schedule of late night television criticism to take on Boeing and the planned successor Air Force One aircraft. In a largely fact free twitter rant he declared it "too expensive" and said he would cancel it. One theory has it that he would prefer to have the taxpayers pay to fly him around in his own 767, complete with gold plated toilets. Josh Marshall comes up with an alternate or perhaps additional motivation, based on personal pique.

This morning Donald Trump lashed out at Boeing claiming its budget for the successor to the current Air Force One is wildly overpriced.

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump

Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order! 6:52 AM - 6 Dec 2016 28,826 28,826 Retweets 86,803 86,803 likes

What prompted this? Boeing responded by saying that it is currently under contract for only $170 million, though Boeing's statement suggests the current contract only covers an initial investigatory stage of the construction of the airplane. "We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States," Boeing said in a statement.

According to Politico, the current Pentagon budget for not one but two planes is $1.65 billion.

It certainly seems that the number is off. But why did this have Trump's attention this morning? This seems like a relatively obscure issue given the range of things Trump is now working on. TPM Reader TC notes that The Chicago Tribune published this article about 20 minutes before Trump tweeted. That is, at least according to the 7:30 AM central time timestamp; Trump tweeted at 8:52 AM eastern.

The Tribune articles by Robert Reed starts like this ...

The brain trust at Boeing, among the city's largest companies and a global aerospace and defense powerhouse, must cringe every time President-elect Donald Trump riffs on foreign policy, especially when it comes to dealing with China. Boeing has a high percentage of its manufacturing in the US. But it is highly dependent on exports, especially to China.

The article recounts a speech Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave before the Illinois Manufacturers' Association on Friday in which he was mildly critical of Trump's plans both for the Export-Import Bank and more protectionist trade policies. The Tribune story wasn't the first time the speech was reported on. The Puget Sound Business Journal wrote up the speech on Friday. But a Google search (which is obviously an imperfect measure) suggests that the Tribune story was the only published mention of the speech in the last 24 hours prior to Trump's tweet. It seems at least plausible that the Tribune story was the first or one of the first reports of the speech Trump or his team saw...

Samsung vs. Apple

Supremes give Samsung a unanimous decision. Probably good for innovation, since it limits the scope of patent infringement cases.

Do the Math

A study from the Cleveland Fed finds that income is correlated with progress in high school math. Other studies have shown that the amount of math completed in high school is highly correlated with future educational success.

The causality of the linkage is not known, but it's pretty obvious that a whole raft of higher paying occupations require a significant amount of math. The Fed study apparently looked only at Algebra II, which is pretty low on the math hierarchy, though the other one looked at math up through calculus. Data on higher math doesn't seem to exist, so I guess I will never know whether my evident failure to master algebraic geometry hurt my income.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Hot Times/The Unmelting

Much of the Arctic Ocean continues to bask in unseasonably toasty weather, 15-20 C above normal. Of course it's still freezing, but it's not too surprising the the Arctic ice is way behind in refreezing - about 1 million km^2 below the previous record low for this date. Of course there's lots of Winter to go, but it's at least plausible that late refreeze will leave us on thin ice next Spring and Summer.

The main culprit this year is said to be excessive water vapor in the Arctic atmosphere. Meanwhile, Arctic Siberia is damn cold.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

If you are string theory, or a string theorist, the answer is still The Breakthrough Institute. It dished out another $9 3 megabucks* to string theorists Andrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa, and Joe Polchinski this year. The guys who actually discovered something, gravitational waves, split another $3 million a total of 1015 ways. They join seven other string theory winners (if I counted right) for a total of ten winners for a theory that has yet to have a single confirmatory discovery.

With sparticles and other possible String Theory predictions looking more and more likely to be out of reach of the LHC and other current experiments, doubters in the physics community have been more aggressive at challenging the party line. The theory Witten (a previous BI winner) called a fragment of 21st Century physics that fell into the 20th Century might have to put off its coming out for another Century or more.

On the other hand, credible alternatives are in equally short supply.

UPDATE: Peter Woit has a rundown and some commentary.

See correction in comment below.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Slightly Dyspeptic Movie Reviews

Because I'm still bitter, OK?

Fantastic Beasts - I'm like a huge Harry Potter fan, OK, but I'm very sorry to report that Rowling's latest is not very good. It's not very bad, but it's not up to standard. The problems: Harry Potter had arresting heroes and villains, played, in most cases, by brilliant character actors. FB lacks both of the above. Heroes and villains both look blah. There is a lot of emphasis on special effects, all of it trite and boring compared to HP. The title beasts are also mostly boring. This was Jo's first screenwriting effort, so maybe I shouldn't despair yet, but I fear her font of magic maybe drying up.

Dr. Strange - A fairly interesting beginning, with a potentially interesting character, which quickly degenerates into the dullest type of Buddhism as magic crap. Special effects boring. With great power comes great tedium.

Feeling the Bern

Arun quotes from a Newsweek story on the Republican opposition research book on Bernie Sanders. It's not good. Really not good. From Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek story:

On Friday, I almost assaulted a fan of my work. I was in the Philadelphia International Airport, and a man who recognized me from one of my appearances on a television news show approached. He thanked me for the investigative reporting I had done about Donald Trump before the election, expressed his outrage that the Republican nominee had won and then told me quite gruffly, “Get back to work.” Something about his arrogance struck me, so I asked, “Who did you vote for?”

He replied, “Well, Stein, but—” I interrupted him and said, “You’re lucky it’s illegal for me to punch you in the face.” Then, after telling him to have sex with himself—but with a much cruder term—I turned and walked away.

...

I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs.

Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

Put that in your pipes, Bernheads.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Treading on Chinese Toes

That's our Donnie.

Josh Marshall looks at the implications:

This Trump call to the President of Taiwan is as dangerous as it sounds. What makes it even crazier is that we don't really know if this is a considered and deliberate provocation, an accident because Trump doesn't even know the diplomatic protocol on this or just something some China hawk aide talked him into while he was eating a Taco salad.

I suspect there's an element of each in play.

There's already been chatter about John Bolton, a hardcore China hawk, visiting with Trump today. Was that connected with this? Apparently Reince Priebus is also very close to Taipei, something the mainland press had already commented on with some consternation. Frankly, I had no idea that Priebus had anything but generic foreign policy views about anything.

But here's the other thing in the mix. Before this happened there was already news in the Taiwanese press that Trump and his children are in talks to build a series of luxury resorts and hotels in Taiwan. (The link is to an English language discussion in Shanghaiist since the originals are in Chinese.) The One China Policy is a complex and not entirely logical way that all sides tacitly agree to keep kicking the status of Taiwan can down the road and into the future forever.

It would be quite an accomplishment if Trump starts a war before he even takes office.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Yes, I Admit It

I am quite aware that there are people a lot smarter than I. This was true even before I got old and my memory started getting funky. But Lee once asked me something like: "Do you think you are smarter than Trump voters?"

I admit that I do. And not just by a little.

I submit this video in evidence, courtesy of Kevin Drum, YouTube, and CNN.



By the way, I don't just think I'm smarter than the dumb as a brick featured speaker.  I also think that I'm smarter than Nobel Prize winners, if any, who happened to vote for Trump.  I may not be as smart as some of the billionaires who voted for Trump, because they may think that he will allow them to steal some more of the country - after all, Trump is pretty dumb too.