Showing posts from 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.

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 th

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.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Goodnight

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

Global Sea Ice

A recent chart


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:


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 i

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 c

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.


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

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.


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.

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 C

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, authori


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'

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 relationshi

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 cr

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 Locatio

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 Tamen


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

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.

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 whi

“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


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 c

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 Dem

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 th


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&

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.

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.

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: Pe

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 ha

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

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.

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 Season

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?

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

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,

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.


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 copie

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.

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 lar

After Fidel

The NYT takes a look at what is known about Raul Castro's inner circle:

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

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 independen

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

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


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, di

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 Buen

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

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 pe

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

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.

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.

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 floa

From the New York Times Magazine

A front line account of Kurdish part of the battle for Mosul.

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

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.

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.