Showing posts from November, 2016

Web of Wealth

Nicolas Confessore, writing in the New York Times Magazine , gets a glimpse into the intricate web designed to hide the wealth of the super-rich, via a divorce where the husband is trying to hide all his money from his wife. Mostly, though, these webs hide money from tax collectors. A few weeks after she realized her husband was finally leaving her, Sarah Pursglove flew down to the Bahamas to figure out how much money he really had. Like many women married to very wealthy men, she didn’t know much about the family accounts. Her husband, a Finnish entrepreneur named Robert Oesterlund, had sworn to a Canadian court that his immediately calculable “net family property” totaled just a few million dollars. Pursglove was skeptical. She could come up with several family purchases worth more than that off the top of her head. There was the 165-foot yacht, Déjà Vu — that cost a few million dollars a year just to keep on the water. There was the $30 million penthouse at the Toronto Four 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.

Arctic Sea Ice at record lows for this time of year. This does not necessarily mean that record minima will occur next summer, since open water loses more heat than when ice-covered and because a lot of Arctic snow is in early winter, which again means less insulation against heat loss. Even so ... we still seem on target for an ice free Arctic in 2030 or so - maybe sooner. Antarctic sea ice also at record lows for the date.

Bitter and Querulous

That's me, for now. Just sayin'

Another Vote for the Centrality of the Culture Wars

Robert P. Jones, writing in the NYT, sees the election in terms of a White Christian backlash: The Rage of White, Christian America Between Barack Obama’s 2008 election and 2016, America has transformed from being a majority white Christian nation (54 percent) to a minority white Christian nation (43 percent). But on Election Day, paradoxically, this anxious minority swarmed to the polls to elect as president the candidate who promised to “make America great again” and warned that he was its “last chance” to turn back the tide of cultural and economic change. One clue to the power of this racial and religious identity can be seen in the striking similarity of a map of white Christian population density by state to the red and blue election night map. While the similarity of those maps in Kentucky and West Virginia might not be a surprise, the same similarity in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania goes a long way to explaining why Hillary Clinton’s Midwestern firewall did not ho


Just after Bush's Iraq invasion I remember seeing a ragtag group of protesters marching on a main local thoroughfare. "Way too late" I recall thinking at the time. To me, the current protests against Trump are equally dumb. They don't accomplish anything and they annoy people. We already know that the majority of Americans voted against Trump and that he won anyway. Now we just have to see what he does.

Oy Vey

Headline I saw: Schumer now the most important Democrat in D.C.

Voting Against Jon Stewart

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

What Ifs

The beauty of the counterfactual in history is that nothing can ever be proven. Nevertheless, they are often instructive. One that Democrats are going to ponder is whether Bernie Sanders could have won if he had been nominated. I tend to agree with Kevin Drum: It's obvious that Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness during the election was Emailgate. Republicans successfully took a fairly minor bit of misjudgment and turned it into the world's greatest crime—and kept it alive by shrewdly dribbling out new information regularly. Aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, a last-minute assist from James Comey, and a press corps that played along gleefully, this turned into a huge millstone around Clinton's neck that Donald Trump hammered on relentlessly. He also kept up a drumbeat of criticism on TPP, NAFTA, and other economic concerns of the working class. Plainly Bernie Sanders wouldn't have suffered from either one of these problems. So does that mean h


Trump ran and won as a populist. Will he try to govern that way? Who knows, but he will be a plutocrat presiding over a party almost wholly owned by plutocrats, so the temptation will be to throw his supporters a few racist bones while handing out big tax cuts to himself and friends. Trump may well not be a billionaire today, but I expect he will get a lot richer fast. Another big question is how much energy he will expend on punishing and humiliating his enemies. Another thing I worry about is when Putin will decide the time is right to gobble up the Baltics.

So, Fernando

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

The Big FU

Michael Moore called it. Paul Krugman despairs: We still don’t know who will win the electoral college, although as I write this it looks — incredibly, horribly — as if the odds now favor Donald J. Trump. What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in. We thought that our fellow citizens would not, in the end, vote for a candidate so manifestly unqualified for high office, so temperamentally unsound, so scary yet ludicrous. We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time. We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law. It turns out that we were wrong. There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditi

Smart Money

It turns out that the smart money was as dumb as the rest of us. As a Trump Presidency looms S&P futures are down 3.5% and the Dow is down 533 points. Bet it's 1000 tomorrow if he wins. Or maybe 2000. Looks bad for my retirement. Damn, can't even finish the post - Trump wins Ohio, Dow down 750.


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

Voter Suppression Today

Emily Badger, writing in the NYT, reports that minorities are facing very long lines and waits to vote in many parts of the US. This is unconscionable. In Charlotte, the lines for the first wave of early balloting in North Carolina forced some voters to wait more than two hours. In Las Vegas over the weekend, voters were still waiting outside a polling place in a Mexican grocery store two hours after it was set to close. In Cincinnati, one epic queue on Sunday traveled half a mile (and then across Twitter). There are two ways to interpret these scenes. “It does give some indication of the health of our democracy that you have all these people who are excited enough to vote that they’ll wait in a long line,” said Stephen Pettigrew, a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard’s department of government who studies polling lines. “But it’s also an indication, at least in some areas, that there is a problem.” One problem is that some groups are much more likely to face long lines than others. Anothe

Another Reason to Hate Belichick and the Pats

Of course non-New England based football fans don't need any more reasons, but just in case. Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump read aloud a note he said was from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during a late night rally in New Hampshire on Monday -- the day before the 2016 Presidential Election. "Congratulations on a tremendous campaign," the letter began, according to Trump. "You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully -- beautifully. You have proven to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing. I have always had tremendous respect for you, but the toughness and perseverance you have displayed over the past year is remarkable. Hopefully tomorrow's election results will give the opportunity to make America great again. Belichick, like the two Bush Presidents, attended that American Eton, Phillips Andover. On the other hand, so did Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lyman Spitzer,


This odd survey shows that a lot of white Americans think that blacks are "less evolved." Unsurprisingly, Trump fans are the most likely to believe that, which is a bit odd, since they don't believe in evolution. In any case, the idea is nonsense. For one thing, modern evolutionary theory rejects the idea of a hierarchy of evolution - we have all been evolving for the same time, and I mean all, including all humans, cats, mice, fish, and plants, and we all descend from a common ancestor living a couple of billion years ago. Of course that doesn't mean that we are all the same, and modern Europeans, for example, have probably changed more in some specific features than our cousins who stayed in Africa, like skin color, hair and hair color, and body proportions. These changes may have been due to our interbreeding with the older species, the Neandertal (or not), but in any case helped us adapt to a colder climate with less sunshine.


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

The Venezuelan Catastrophe

William Finnegan has a long article on the Venezuelan catastrophe in the New Yorker. The article is more of a look at what's happening to the people than an analysis of how this once rich country got into it's present state, but there is quite a bit of history too. It would be hard to exaggerate the scale of the Maduro regime's failures. Massive corruption and catastrophic incompetence exist here on a scale that's probably unequaled outside of Africa. And yet Venezuelan oil production is steadily falling. Since 1998, it has declined by thirty per cent—by nearly a million barrels a day. Corruption and lack of maintenance are the culprits most often cited. Crime gangs also exact a heavy tax. The state-owned oil and gas monopoly, Petróleos de Venezuela (P.D.V.S.A.), was Chávez’s piggy bank. Between 2001 and 2015, it poured perhaps a hundred billion dollars into his favored programs. Today, the piggy bank is nearly empty. Two-thirds of oil-export revenues go to payin

"I'm Going to Win"

The NYT has a good allegedly inside look at the Trump campaign's final days. Donald J. Trump is not sleeping much these days. Aboard his gold-plated jumbo jet, the Republican nominee does not like to rest or be alone with his thoughts, insisting that aides stay up and keep talking to him. He prefers the soothing, whispery voice of his son-in-law. He requires constant assurance that his candidacy is on track. “Look at that crowd!” he exclaimed a few days ago as he flew across Florida, turning to his young press secretary as a TV tuned to Fox News showed images of what he claimed were thousands of people waiting for him on the ground below. ... For the next week, his campaign staff deployed a series of creative tricks to protect its boss from his most self-destructive impulses. Taking away Twitter turned out to be an essential move by his press team, which deprived him of a previously unfiltered channel for his aggressions.

End Times

Maureen Dowd is a longtime Clinton hater, but she has written a pretty interesting column on Clinton and Trump - a lot kinder to Trump than I care for, but it's also a lot more nuanced look into his character. I don't really agree with her analysis of either candidate but I found it interesting throughout. When Donald Trump moved to Manhattan from Queens, drawn by the skyscrapers and models with sky-high legs, he felt he needed to invent a larger-than-life character for himself. Author and former ABC correspondent Lynn Sherr remembers that back in 1975, Trump had a starter apartment down the hall from her at 65th and Third, and she saw different women in cocktail dresses leaving almost every morning. “I think he felt it wasn’t a fancy enough place for them,” Sherr said. “That was the beginning of the gilt and marble.” Trump started hanging out at Yankee Stadium with a group of towering characters — George Steinbrenner, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch and Lee Iacocca. Sometimes F

The Anti-Semitic Connection

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

Super Suck

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

W's Blunders

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

Oil and Earthquakes

A new study has found that oil drilling in the Huntington Beach field may have triggered the 1933 Long Beach quake, the deadliest Southern California earthquake. “It was kind of more of a Wild West industry back a hundred years ago, and the technology wasn’t as sophisticated,” Hough said. “People would just pump oil, and in some cases the ground would subside — fairly dramatically.” That possibly changed stresses on underground rock that could have pushed earthquake faults to rupture.

Airy Nothings

And as imagination bodies forth  The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen  Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing  A local habitation and a name.  .................Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Scene 1 Watching dust, dirt, leaves and tumbleweeds roll past the other evening, I recalled that our local winds blow rather consistently from the Southwest. The average wind over the country is from the West. How long, I wondered, will it take for the whole West Coast to blow all the way to the East Coast? Quite a while, I guess. It's dry here, so dust and sand blow a lot. A whole big field of gypsum dunes (White Sands National Monument) covers many squares miles of Otero County, all evaporites blown off a tiny lake. Much of the country isn't much like that. Even here most of the blown matter is biological: leaves, pollen, tumbleweeds, and bugs. That biological matter is indeed a sort of "airy nothing," composed almost entirely of elemen

Do You Solemnly Swear?

I've been getting a lot of truly scurrilous campaign email lately, from both sides, including one which has a picture of a candidate and a slug, and asks what they have in common. The rear side of the giant postcard has a number of accusations against the candidate, but, so far as I could tell, the slug came off blameless - except for eating my garden, which wasn't mentioned. The debates, too, were a forest of accusations, most denied by the accused. I suggest replacing the debates with cross examinations under oath, with the questioners not network idiots, but prosecutors chosen by the opponents. Americans appear to love courtroom and faux courtroom drama, so these would be bound to be popular. I would also require all campaign ads to be truthful, under penalty of perjury.


I have an Amazon Echo, and also its little brother, an Echo Dot. As you may have heard, these are virtual assistants that sit on your counter and respond to verbal questions and directions. You probably have something similar on your smartphone, but the Echo, besides answering questions, setting alarms, and playing music, is also intended to control smart devices in your home - lights, thermostats, sprinklers, etc. I don't have any of these, at least not yet. Google is now producing a similar device, the Google Home. The brains of these devices consist of some smart software plus the vast data resources of the internet. They are new enough that the number and variety of smart "internet of things" devices they can control is still both limited and and expensive, but it seems likely that almost every electrical device in your home will be available in connected versions in the next 5 to 10 years. It also seems likely that their verbal intelligence will continue to in


Reality Check: Could High Court ruling on Article 50 scupper Brexit? Probably not.

Opinions Differ on the Shape of the Earth

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

Was This Really a Good Idea?

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


Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelyringing Imperthnthn thnthnthn. Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more. A husky fifenote blew. Blew. Blue bloom is on the. Goldpinnacled hair. A jumping rose on satiny breast of satin, rose of Castile. Trilling, trilling: Idolores. Peep! Who's in the... peepofgold? Tink cried to bronze in pity. And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call. Decoy. Soft word. But look: the bright stars fade. Notes chirruping answer. O rose! Castile. The morn is breaking. Jingle jingle jaunted jingling. Coin rang. Clock clacked. Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye! Jingle. Bloo. Boomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum. A sail! A veil awave upon the waves. Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now. Horn. Hawhorn. When first he saw. Alas! Full tup. Full throb. Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring. Martha! Come!

Eye of Sauron Report

The latest ABC/Washington Post tracking poll has very bad news for Hillary. In the past week, Trump has obliterated her once commanding lead and taken over a narrow lead himself. Details here. The first fully post-FBI shocker ABC/WaPo poll is out and it is a shocker: in a poll that saw Hillary lead by a dominating 13 points as recently as one week ago, moments ago ABC/WaPo/Langer Research announced that Trump has not only taken the lead from Hillary, but this is the first time he has done so since May. As a reminder, this is the same poll that as we reported over the weekend, effectively confirmed to "poll tampering" which saw Hillary's lead collapse from 12 points to just 2 several days ago. While vote preferences have held essentially steady, Hillary is now a slim point behind Donald Trump, a first since May, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll. Forty-six percent of likely voters support Trump in the latest results, with 45 percent for Clinton. T