Tuesday, December 06, 2016


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

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

Boeing, Boeing, Boink!

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

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

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samsung vs. Apple

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

Do the Math

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

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

Monday, December 05, 2016

Hot Times/The Unmelting

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

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

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

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

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

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

UPDATE: Peter Woit has a rundown and some commentary.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Slightly Dyspeptic Movie Reviews

Because I'm still bitter, OK?

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

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

Feeling the Bern

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Put that in your pipes, Bernheads.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Treading on Chinese Toes

That's our Donnie.

Josh Marshall looks at the implications:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Yes, I Admit It

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Web of Wealth

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

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

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

Losing the Faith, Baby

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

His concluding remarks:

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


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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Death From the Skies: 2016 Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another One of Trump's Little Jokes

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


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
E)none of the above
I have included helpful links for those interested in parsing this. One minute per question is allowed, just in case it might take you a while to sort through the possibilities.

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

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

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

Here is another question:

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

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

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

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