Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Curse of the Working Class

Marx, Engels, or some other Commie is said to have opined that drink was the above mentioned curse. Whatever.

I'm more interested in the fact that Hillary's principal weakness seems to be in what is called the white working classes, in particular among white, working class men. Since most polls don't ask people about their "class" or even job, the proxy for "class" used is actually education. College educated (degree possessing) whites support Hillary by about the same margin as the country as a whole, but her support craters by 30 percentage points or more among those whites who lack a degree.

Why the vast gap? One facile explanation is that these are low information voters who get their news from television and facebook, which may be true but is hardly an explanation. I find the argument that they are those most left behind by the economy of the last thirty years more persuasive. Of course the last few decades have been largely ruled by the Republican idea that the economy would be better for everybody if we would just continue to cut taxes more for the rich, putting more money into the hands of these so-called "job creators."

We have been enormously successful at putting more money in the hands of the ultra-rich. Billionaires have sprouted like dandelions in Spring. This has been good for the market for personal jets, mega-yachts, and Trump style gold toilets, but not so great at creating jobs. It turns out that these things don't really create many jobs. Of course Trump, who might have to pay income taxes in the future, wants to continue and vastly expand these trickle down policies.

So why does Hillary suffer in comparison? There is vast irony in the fact that the Republicans have successfully portrayed her as the tool of Wall Street, and that that master of self-promotion Capitalism Trump has managed to convince the gullible that he is the one to shake up Wall Street.

There is a different irony in the fact that Trump's greatest feat of self-promotion seems to be crippling his brand. It turns out that he scares the hell out of the corporations and individuals who can afford to book his vastly overpriced hotels, golf-courses, Mexican manufactured ties and other products. Those "working class" voters who love him don't spend much time in $1000/night hotel suites or buy multi-hundred thousand dollar golf resort memberships. Daughter Ivanka is getting squeezed even worse - her core female millennial customers are passionately anti-Trump.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

When one* of my answers on a test was marked wrong, I asked the prof why, and his answer defined a term differently than I had remembered it. I gathered up some internet definitions (Merriam-Webster, Wikipedia, some class notes) and sent them to him. He dismissed them as opinions of non-experts. Dog worrying a bone type that I am, I spent a couple of hours in the library and found the book in which the guy who invented the terms defined them. Somebody was mistaken, and it wasn't your less than humble correspondent.

Moral dilemma: does my obligation as a scientist to spread "the truth" trump my humane responsibility to further harass the prof who has enough trouble with a couple of elderly PhD's in his class? I don't care about the grade.

*One of many - but I usually understood why the others were wrong.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Schiaparelli: Uh oh

The European Space Agency's Schiaparelli Mars Lander appears to have been lost in atmospheric entry. This is a significant setback for Mars exploration. The lander was intended as a demonstration of landing technology but also had significant scientific objectives.

This is yet another reminder of how perilous space exploration continues to be. The US has announced a goal of putting humans on Mars by 2030, but that seems optimistic to me.

E O Wilson doesn't think that humans will ever live on Mars or in space. This is the planet we were "designed" for, or at least evolved through billions of generations for.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Something there is that does love a wall

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall, 
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun; 
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast............................Robert Frost, Mending Wall 

For the scientifically inclined, that something is entropy. But walls are everywhere the signature of life, so there are also things that do love walls. Cell walls, skins, snail shells, termite mounds, farmers fences and the Great Wall of China are all fashioned to keep order inside and disorder out. An Anthropology professor once told me that every culture draws a wall around itself.

Culture walls are fashioned not from stone or chitin, but from elements of culture: language, religion, endogamy rules, shared myths and prejudices, taboos, tattoos, and tribal insignia.

Did I mention that this post is about Donald Trump? I think the heart of his appeal is the culture war currently underway in the US and elsewhere. The national culture, as it existed in myth and reality, was based on religion, family, sex roles, and jobs, on the farm or in the store or factory. It incorporated elements of sexism, racism, homophobia, and a naive sort of nationalism. The nation has always had a more cosmopolitan elite, hardly immune to the sort of ignorant prejudices of larger nation but at least slightly more aware of and tolerant of diversity. Enclaves of other cultures existed, especially in cities, but were largely isolated from the rest of the country.

Television and other national media changed that. Big box stores and globalization brought the world to every small town. Television brought blacks and gays and other challenges to the traditional order to every living room or kitchen. Meanwhile science told us that much of our religious and other myths were fabrications. Our elites told us to embrace multiculturalism.

This, I think, flatly ignores human nature. I think that we instinctively protect our culture and reject others. Donald Trump's coarseness and rejection of conventional values appeals to those who wish to fight back against cultural change, however wrongheadedly. His ridiculous wall with Mexico means more as metaphor than potential reality - it's seen as a wall against the wave of cultural change that is sweeping through the nation and the world.

The fact that it would be as useless against the one as the other doesn't matter to those who reject science and government statistics.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Trump has produced a note from a rather dubious character who claims to have been sitting next to Trump and Jessica Leeds 35 years ago, and not seeing Trump do anything wrong. I wonder if airlines or customs have records of who was on what plane that long ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


So far as I know, the word "eviscerate" means "remove the entrails of," a good idea if you want the carcass of a fish, elk or deer not to rot before you get it home. Modern readers might be forgiven for thinking that it actually means "criticize severely," as in "Michelle Obama Eviscerates Trump."

Even though I don't entirely disapprove of the sentiment, I'm pretty sure that's not really what she did. Besides, what would be the point - his carcass has already rotted from the head.

The Times They Are A-Changing

Bob Dylan wins Nobel for Literature.

A list of his lyrics.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Want to Win a Nobel Prize?

If so, you should probably attend the École Normale Supérieure, which produces Nobel prize winners at a rate of 135/100,000. Second best, Caltech manages about half that rate, 67/100,000, while number three Harvard only gets 32/100,000. The also-rans, Swarthmore, Cambridge, the École Polytechnique, and Columbia trail close behind, with Amherst and the University of Chicago rounding out the top ten.

Small, super-elite schools outdo most of their big name competitors.

Chester the Molester isn't Just All Talk

Two more women have come forward with stories of being molested by Trump. One was allegedly groped in her airline seat.

It's increasingly clear that Trump is the one who belongs in jail.

UPDATE: More women are coming forward. Will the floodgates open?

Denial is hard when you have already confessed on video tape.

Concealed Carry

Recent years have seen modest progress on second amendment rights. I feel a lot safer with my Glock 26 Gen 3 safely tucked under my arm. If I went to church, its cold comfortable weight would make me a lot less worried about the preacher spouting leftist heresies. And in class, I don't really have to put up with the prof's liberal bullshit.

There are still way too many limitations, though. What should I do if I have to deal with terrorists or a rampaging stewardess when I'm on a plane? How can I defend my house against federal agents and black helicopters without machine guns, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons?

Frankly, I feel naked without at least a few tactical nukes in the basement. What was the point of all those years spent studying nuclear physics if I can't own yellowcake and an ultracentrifuge farm?

Maybe Trump will save us.

Burnt Umber

Some languages have only black (or dark) and light (white) as color words. Those languages that add a third color word always seem to add red. Additional words are added in an almost perfectly regular order. The maximum, as in English, seems to be eleven, and they are almost exactly the same eleven.

Of course this doesn't mean speakers of those languages with fewer color words see fewer colors or are impoverished in their ability to describe colors. Instead, they probably resort to devices familiar to artists and whoever names the contents of the giant-sized Crayola boxes - compare the color to something in our experience, like the color of the leaves of the dgoberry tree, or its fruit when ripe, or burnt umber.

What the hell is umber anyway, and why would anybody burn it? I have no idea, but Wikipedia does, including the fact that it is darker than the other earth pigments sienna and ochre.

Alpha Male or Just Another Pervert?

When Trump owned the Miss Teen USA pageant, he felt his status allowed him to routinely walk into the dressing room of these fifteen through seventeen year old girls when they were changing. If he had been a High School teacher he probably would have landed on the sex offender list.

What would he consider himself entitled to do if President - aside from abrogating treaties and jailing political opponents, I mean?