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).

Monday, November 28, 2016

More Bottlenecks

From Dienekes Anthropology:

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Death by Agriculture

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump's Election is Making One American a lot Richer

More from Josh Marshall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Siberian Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fault Obama for once again failing to act decisively.

Trashing Clinton's Reputation

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

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

CBS CEO Les Moonves (February 29, 2016):

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

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

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

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