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unraveling

New Year's Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix) Permalink to this item

That headline from the John Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory timeline of events for today and tomorrow, the new song by Brian May, New Horizons contributing scientist and Queen guitarist, slated to drop at 12:02 am EST, just... about 5 hours from now as I write, and half an hour ahead of the most distant planetary flyby we humans have come up with. (If we can call Ultima Thule a planet? We'll see what we can call it.)

New Horizons is outbound at more than 14 km/s, which means it will cover another quarter million km before the stroke of midnight (EST). 4 billion miles away from Earth, and into the Kuiper Belt, it's slightly more than 6 light-hours distant. Whatever data it can acquire will be making their way back home (at a languid 500 bits/s) well after the strains of Auld Lang Syne have died out. Wired's coverage says it'll be another month before good images can be reassembled.

Tap into the NASA TV livestream to see what's what.

Image from NASA video

And they're off! Permalink to this item

Elizabeth Warren first out of the gate, running for President in 2020. The Democratic primary is sure to be crowded and colorful. I wonder who will turn out on the Republican side?

Dealing with a shady crime boss Permalink to this item

Lunch with POTWEETOH "mollifies" Lindsey Graham, that was easy. Every time Graham gets news coverage, it makes me think of his hissy fit in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, spluttering about evil Democrats. "Boy, you [Democrats] all want power. God, I hope you never get it."

Mashed up with that mollified Graham, the NYT piece goes on to the less sanguine outlook from yet another retired 4-star, Stanley McChrystal, who has not had lunch with the president* and who states the obvious about the "kind of commander in chief that Jim Mattis that, you know, the good Marine, felt he had to walk away" from:

“I don’t think he tells the truth,” Mr. McChrystal said. ...

“If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn’t do a business deal with because their — their background is so shady, if we’re willing to do that, then that’s in conflict with who I think we are,” he said. “And so I think it’s necessary at those times to take a stand.”

That was after John Kelly, "on his way out," gave us a dose of semantic niggling, "to be honest." His replacement, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, has upgraded his opinion from "absurd and almost childish" to whatever the boss says.

And there was—of course—a presidential* tweetback, naturally. NEVER ABANDONED!

28.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What if we can't get it started again? Permalink to this item

The feckless Tweeter-in-Chief still gets his free plane rides, security detail, Happy Meals, cable TV and cell service, so what him worry? He's given any advisor who would stand up to his idiocy the boot, and is now primarily concerned with self-defense. (See: A.G., Acting.)

The cuckolded GOP isn't showing any signs of knowing where its hind legs are. As Matthew Yglesias points out for Vox, the shutdown is intractable because Trump’s wall is ridiculous and Republicans know it, and there is nothing anybody wants to trade to give President Petulance what he wants. (Also, we keep asking, but the only answer is the current president of Mexico saying "we're not paying": The campaign promise was that Mexico would pay for the wall, so WTF?)

How about if we agree to a "matching gift" of whatever Mexico chips in?

Perhaps POTWEETOH imagines that the shutdown will put the brakes on the Special Counsel and his office, or the soon to be Democratic-controlled House's rain of investigative hearings? That'll be a disappointment to him.

The holiday menu seems to be more and more about just desserts of impeachment pie. "Inescapable," Elizabeth Drew says in her op-ed there.

"Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill."

There is no bottom to the man, and thus, as long as the GOP keeps its fortunes hitched to him, no bottom for the party. Drew rejects the "conventional view" that the Senate couldn't find 67 votes to convict. There will be holdouts—Idaho's pathetic Jim Risch a likely example—but with the future on the line, and an almost certainly damning list of particulars, will there be 34 Republicans to keep playing "The Merry Widow Waltz" when the stern is 400 ft. in the air?

Widespread panic Permalink to this item

JK. More like widespread annoyance, I imagine, although some people were genuinely disturbed. 911 service depending on an ISP and the web? Yikes! Yesterday morning when the internet didn't seem to be happening as usual at our house, I ran through the basics: power cycle the modem/router, and... no go. Waited a while, tried again. Still no. Took the trouble to call support, wait in queue a while (but only a few minutes), provide my account number, and name, to find out what could have been tucked in an introductory recording, there's kind of a widespread outage happening.

Modem/router status

"I'll have to be straight honest with you right now," is how he introduced the subject. After confirming that the number I was calling from was a good callback number, he said they could call me back when it was fixed?

That was such a bizarre idea, I just stumbled out an "ah, ok" and started planning the rest of my day w/o DSL. Thanks to Verizon and a smartphone, not that big a deal. First thing to see was just how widespread are we talking about? Oh. Wow.

The NYT has the 9:30 pm dateline Boise report from the AP, at which time our service had not been restored, but "engineers have identified a problem," and "expected to restore [service] within hours." Please say more.

"The company said Thursday night the problem involved a 'network element' that was affecting services but didn't provide details."

Oh, that's droll. The network failed because one of its "elements" was affecting services. Got it.

Anyway, I was up to feed the cat at 5:30 am, turned the router back on, and went back to bed, and this morning, yay, it works again. It seems to have been easier to fix than POTWEETOH's tantrum over not getting a wall for Christmas, or the aqua velvet Astoria Borealis alien invasion just a transformer explosion in NY last night.

Boxing Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Pre-tax time Permalink to this item

While catching up on the news and stuff instead of taking a first run through the taxes (with a few days of 2018 left to make changes, should they seem warranted), I came across the NYT editorial, A Gutted IRS Makes the Rich Richer with facts garnered from ProPublica's reporting earlier this year.

"Provided you’re not a close associate of President Donald Trump, there may never be a better time to be a tax cheat."

A couple weeks ago, ProPublica added this: Who’s More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000 — or $400,000? Having a web page headlined with that strange question makes it easy to guess the answer flies in the face of common sense:

"In 2017, [Earned Income Tax Credit] recipients were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers with income between $200,000 and $500,000. Only households with income above $1 million were examined at significantly higher rates."

As the NYT editorial board put it:

"It may not be a crime to be poor in the G.O.P.’s America, but you can expect to be treated like a criminal for accepting the government’s cash to make ends meet. ... To protect our nation, we have the most powerful army in the world. To protect our tax base, we have an army on the order of Liechtenstein’s."

Christmas Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Clean coal for Christmas Permalink to this item

A snapshot of Jim Mattis from a retired Army officer and veteran of both Iraq wars, John A. Nagl: No One Called Him Mad Dog. Nagl imagines that "the reputation Mr. Mattis earned for being the 'adult in the room' angered the president, and his admirers knew that his days were numbered."

Numbered by the man who has told us he is a "very stable genius," and "smarter than the generals." The number shrank from end-of-February to end-of-December after our stable genius deciphered the coded message in Mattis' resignation letter, camouflaged by "maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to allies," "being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic compeitors," but mostly that part about being "informed." "By over four decades of immersion in these issues." (Remind us of what the Donald spent his last 40 years doing?)

The guy whose acting made "You're Fired" famous couldn't bring himself to deliver the message personally; he had Mike Pompeo do it. Part of What Nagl said about the outgoing Secretary of Defense:

"General Mattis worked with David Petraeus, then a three-star general in the Army, in the writing of the Army and Marine Corps’ Counterinsurgency Field Manual, on which I played a junior role. General Mattis, known as the “Warrior Monk,” had a personal library of 7,000 volumes on war and strategy; he gave as good as he got from General Petraeus, who holds a doctorate from Princeton University. The two created a revolutionary manual that changed how the Army and the Marines thought about conflict—and how they fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

China, 2003

Not that everything went swimmingly in all that, but the alternative of someone with the intellectual depth of putting names on things, and people, and who likes his gut for a leading indicator is quite a bit less attractive.

Speaking of gut feel, how about one of the last original cabinet members standing, Steve Mnuchin, taking advantage of D.C.'s quiet time to go golfing south of the border, and announcing—over Twitter, naturally— that he "convened individual calls" on Sunday to the nation's biggest banks, just to check and see if their liquidity was OK? (That followed Saturday's pair of I-don't-know-how-to-thread Tweets, "quoting" the president* denying that he ever "suggested firing [Federal Reserve] Chairman Jay Powell." That was the wind-up of a coherent, fifty-four word sentence, split across the tweets. In its entirety, as "quoted":

"I think the increasing of interest rates and the shrinking of the Fed portfolio is an absolute terrible thing to do at this time, especially in light of my major trade negotiations which are ongoing, but I never suggested firing Chairman Jay Powell, nor do I believe I have the right to do so."

Can you imagine? POTWEETOH saying "nor do I believe I have the right to do so"? Of course you can't. Speaking of naming rights, the guy fabulating a clear statement from the president* was once dubbed the "Foreclosure King of California" for his performance as CEO of a "foreclosure machine," One West Bank.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, it's a shortened trading session on the day before Christmas, but time enough to whack another... 1% and counting off the S&P 500, adding to subtracting from what is already the S&P 500's worst December since the Great Depression.

Andre Bakhos, managing director at New Vines Capital LLC in New Jersey gave this gloomy assessment, in light of Mnuchin's plan to convene another call, this one with the "Plunge Protection Team," which, gee, might have been great half a year ago, or before the #TrumpShutdown?

"The main factor on investors' minds is the government shutdown and what the resolution can be. It's really fear of the unknown that has given investors grief. ...

"We're in a turbulent time and it will be interesting to see how we end the year. But right now, it certainly looks like Santa Claus isn't coming to town."

Sorry, boys and girls!

Update at market close:
S&P500 off a bloody 2.7% today, back to where it was in early summer of 2017, riding on the momentum of the Obama-era recovery, and the crazy notion that having the GOP controlling all government would take us to the moon. The index is down 12% for the year, off nearly 20% since the October peak.

Graph of SPX daily, last 3 mo.

23.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Belated gift-giving Permalink to this item

Don't look for it under the Christmas Tree, but come January 1, 2019, you, me, and that guy over there are all getting a gigantic (and much more than a week belated) gift package: hundreds of thousands of books, musical compositions, paintings, poems, photographs and films in our public domain.

It's the end of a 20-year hiatus, induced by Mickey Mouse, and his pal, the Congressman from California and Cher sidekick, Sonny. That's right, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act's sloppy wet kiss to the entertainment industry, turning 75 year protection into 95, for everything created 1923-1977.

Smithsonian.com's happy story ends with a very short list of "overlooked gems," including items from Zane Grey, Arthur Conan Doyle, Willa Cather, and "Anonymous." (No idea how that last one works, but The Real Story of a Bootlegger is on its way.)

Speaking of that dream team Permalink to this item

Late Night with Seth Meyers' Closer Look from Wednesday:

Screen shot from A Closer Look

22.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flipside Permalink to this item

In the inbox to kick off the new season, Mark J. Fitzgibbons, "Esquire," tags himself as Richard Viguerie's co-author for "The Law that Governs Government," and surprisingly, no fundraising pitch in it, under the FedUp PAC banner. He just wanted to share, hope I'd share too. Color me duped. The opinion piece is a half a week old, so kind of ancient history, but the wheels grind slowly enough that "How Trump Could Crush Hostile Incoming NY AG's Police State Investigation" still has legs?

Said Hostile Incoming is "Democrat political activist Letitia James," who, Fitzgibbons avers, "is out to destroy Donald Trump and anyone around him." He quotes NBC News, which I can too. Their take is that she is planning "wide-ranging investigations of Trump and family," which of course is what you need to do to unwind organized crime.

"Sweeping." "Anyone" in his circle. "Every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well." The Trump Foundation is high on her list, for its alleged "illegal political coordination with the Trump campaign, self-dealing and violating legal obligations." That probe is more than 2 years old, started two NY AGs ago, and an attempt to shut it down was quashed by a state judge last month. Fitzgibbons' screed issued on the same day this week ("Tuesday") as news the foundation is to dissolve, accused of a "shocking pattern of illegality." That thanks to Hostile Outgoing AG, Barbara Underwood. She made news with her lawsuit two seasons ago.

"The Attorney General initiated a special proceeding to dissolve the Trump Foundation under court supervision and obtain restitution of $2.8 million and additional penalties. The AG’s lawsuit also seeks a ban from future service as a director of a New York not-for-profit of 10 years for Mr. Trump and one year for each of the Foundation’s other board members, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump."

The political coordination is nicely illustrated by this lovely email from the campaign manager at the time:

image of email from NY AG presser

Says there "At least five $100,000 grants were made to groups in Iowa in the days immediately before the February 1, 2016 Iowa caucuses," above the lovely photo of the cartoon check presentation. And the links to the Affirmation; the Petition from the People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump, Donald J. Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric F. Trump, and The Donald J. Trump Foundation; and 40 other exhibits.

"For more than a decade, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has operated in persistent violation of state and federal law governing New York State charities," it begins, before describing how it was "little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits" from the Trump crime family.

So much winning. (When the petition was fresh, in June, POTWEETOH hit back to say I won't settle this case!...)

Now then, Mr. Fitzgibbons and FedUp PAC's crushing. How's that again? He's worried about abuse, but not criminal and civil; he's worried about prosecutorial abuse. He has observations from his continuing legal education paper and presentation, "Civil Investigative Demands: Fourth Amendment Enigmas and Strategies to Respond."

Here's how the advice (which Fitzgibbons warns should not be construed as legal) begins:

"First, Mr. Trump needs to treat Ms. James as a legal existential threat. He should assemble a 'dream team' of lawyers, ones who do not have regular business before the New York Attorney General so they are not tempted to compromise Trump's interests. Trump should put on this team what I call warrior lawyers. Warriors have the mentality that he or she might get hurt, but assuredly their opponent will get hurt. Trump's legal team needs to send a strong signal that there will be a tremendous downside for Ms. James."

Don't you just wonder who's left in the legal universe to comprise a "dream team"? Seems like Rudy Giuliani is the main guy left standing, and while he knows some things about crime in NY, he doesn't seem dreamy in a good way. Among other "legal [sic] tactics Trump may use" would be to have said "dream team"

"and all the lawyers for his business empire, family, and associates enter into what are called 'common interest agreements.' These agreements allow the lawyers to share information while being protected by the legal privilege of confidentiality."

You know, like having Paul Manafort make a plea deal so he he could start reporting back to the "dream team" about what's going on inside the apparently leak-proof Special Counsel's investigation.

"Trump is a smart businessman from the rough-and-tumble world of New York City, and probably already has tight controls on his internal documents," Fitzgibbons writes from his imaginary world. And the punch line:

"State attorneys general are infrequently challenged aggressively or seriously audited, so they tend to be sloppy about their internal affairs, and their offices violate many laws. Ms. James may not think this yet, but she and her office would have "skin in the game" if they take on Trump."

Just make sure that dream team is as dogged as the likes of Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold who chased after the very, very rich man's purported "charitable giving" for years. Here's his Wednesday report on the president* "us[ing] Twitter to lash out at the attorney general who sued. And her predecessor. And her successor."

Solstice Permanent URL to this day's entry

The reason for the season Permalink to this item

As ever, it's axial tilt. Vox provides "a short scientific guide" to the day, 8 things to know about the solstice, this one the longest day and start of summer down under, and the longest night and start of winter up top here. I like the parenthetical comment under the 6 month pinhole camera image about how "you can easily make a similar image at home." With instructions. Just remember to start 6 months before you want the finished image.

There's a cool video of the sun skipping along the horizon in Fairbanks, in case you're grumpy about the short day. It could be shorter! And a map of "days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise," which USNO data say are more than two dozen at 43°37'N.

Speaking of the US Naval Observatory I was mildly disturbed to find it not answering http requests yesterday, and today, I see that the issue seems to be that it redirects to https (as so many sites are doing these days, not including fortboise.org, yet), and their certificate seems to have expired. What the hell?

Living dangerously, and giving that domain the benefit of the doubt, I see it's less than an hour and a half to go before our worldwide solstice, at 15:23 MST. Today's other special moments (where I live) were/will be the 8:15 am sunrise, the 4:40 pm rise of the almost full moon, and the 5:11 pm sunset.

Next big picture event is the perihelion, just after New Year's Day.

Nadir Permalink to this item

As "the wheels are coming off" gets more and more obvious (or, as one wag put it, "there were wheels?"), Frank Rich figures "the vacation at the Mar-a-Lago bunker is not going to be pretty. Trump has nowhere to go but down." The Circus, with Alex Carp:

"The beginning of the end of the Trump presidency came and went a long time ago. I have never wavered from my oft-stated convictions that (a) Trump will not finish out his term, and (b), the end will be triggered by a presidential meltdown that forces the Vichy Republicans in Washington to mount an insurrection — if only to save their own asses, not the country. This week was a big step toward that endgame, and surely one of the most remarkable weeks in American history."

The threat level has escalated from Susan Collins-concern to Mitch McConnell-distress, and on the Friday before Christmas, we're fixing to have the greatest government shutdown ever, the one the president* claimed he would be "proud" to claim responsibity for, before he, of course he did, turned around and started pointing his stubby little fingers at the the Democrats, for not chipping in $5 billion for his idiotically great wall obsession. (The harpies at Fox News stiffened his campaign-promise spine at the last minute, apparently. As Ezra Klein put it, after accepting the Republican deal to fund the government, he blew it up "recklessly, with no planning for the aftermath, with no theory of how to negotiate out what he wants." That's the way he rolls!) Back to The Circus:

"McConnell and his humiliated departing peer Paul Ryan have tolerated Trump’s racism, misogyny, and nativism, his wreckage of American alliances, his kleptocracy, and his allegiance to Vladimir Putin. They have tolerated as well his con job on the coal miners, steelworkers, and automobile-industry workers of his base. But they’ll be damned if they will stand for a president who threatens the bottom line of the GOP donor class."

You want it darker? Don't touch that dial!

"[W]e have more than two weeks in store of watching an isolated madman rampaging through the gilded rooms of Mar-a-Lago, wreaking whatever damage he can on the country as the walls of justice continue to close in on him. Happy New Year!"

If that's a little too breezy for you, James Fallows' statement in The Atlantic upon the resignation of Secretary of Defense and last adult in the room James Mattis is clear-eyed, and sobering: Now It’s Up to Congress.

"Donald Trump is intellectually, emotionally, and ethically unsuited for positions of public responsibility. ... dangerous and unfit for office."

20.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Basic training Permalink to this item

When I was a boy, our "war" games were WW II-flavored. G.I. Joe was not yet a toy soldier. We had 2 or 3 inch-tall molded plastic troops, and that was fine. Our glorified hide-and-seek game secured our place(s) in the neighborhood with large-muscle outdoor play; we were the real-life action figures. Since no actual enemies lived on our block, teams were formed arbitrarily, and subject to rearrangement as needed to enhance the competition.

China, 2003

It might have just been what happens when you grow up, but as we made our way through grade school and high school, the proximate reality of the war in Vietnam took the fun out of playing Army. Young men (we would have called them, but obviously, mere boys) were subject to the draft, and you could find yourself somewhere you did not want to be, fighting for your life to defend the Domino Theory and the containment of Communism.

The possibility of deferrment was of keen interest. Even if my parents and sibling had not set an expectation of college, here was a Really Good Reason to make plans to go. While I was waiting to see if and how "my number" would come up, and when I was just starting high school, someone came up with the idea of enhancing fairness through a lottery. (This was before someone else thought about having a Powerball.) The SSS history blurb notes that the previous algorithm was "draft the oldest man first," which would seem mighty unfair if you happened to have a birthday in January.

Before I reached the ripeness of 18, the last draft call was made (December 7, 1972), and the authority to induct expired (June 30, 1973). I took the luxury of a "year off" school to play at being adult, work in a factory for a while, without worrying about finding "Greetings" in the mailbox. They kept picking numbers though, and in March of 1974, the penultimate drawing was held, and "Table 1975" published. I had an unlucky number (starting with one zero), but an imaginary one. The last drawing was held the month before the fall of Saigon.

Long story short, what it would be like to serve in the military (let alone go to war) was left to my imagination, and to reading others' accounts.

Lyle Jeremy Rubin's showed up via a shared link yesterday, and as I read it this morning, my first impression was that it sounded like what I imagined might have written, after going through the process, but somehow preserving a part of my awareness intact enough to see and describe "the big picture" in a limited way.

It's a mid-length read, and well worth the time it takes.

"The list of questions asked is almost infinite..."

"I had been trained my entire life not to connect what, in the course of a slow and painful unlearning — an unlearning of which this essay is very much a part — I am now so insistent must connect. The gated perimeters, violent diversions, and rent faces in the background are not just over there, in the theater of war. They have come home, or were part of our home to begin with, exported and imported a thousand times over, across the earth. They are borderless, even ubiquitous."

The Guardian, where I read a shorter version of this piece, linked "slow and painful unlearning" to another Long Read, adapted from a book by Suzy Hansen, then in process, Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World: Unlearning the myth of American innocence.

"For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. ..."

18.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Relied on someone unreliable? Permalink to this item

This is an artful deal: Roger Stone Jr. sued for $100 million and settled with an apology.

“I made the error of relying on the representations of Sam Nunberg in my report on this matter and for that I apologized,” Stone said.

That was easy! Also, I love the use of "report," as if the long-time "political operative" (aka "sleazeball") is a "reporter." As opposed to, idk, someone selling pet rocks (they're "stones," get it?) for his legal defense fund.

There was an ad for said legal defense fund in my inbox yesterday, via the Conservative HQ. It did not include rocks for sale, but did feature the presidents'* tweet quoting Stone's defiant statement that he'd never rat out the head of the crime family. "Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'" POTWEETOH twiddled.

My guess is that Roger Stone will be going to prison, sooner or later, and probably sooner. But we'll see.

Meanwhile, you know who's not going to prison, at least not right away, is Mike Flynn. His sentencing (beyond today's tongue-lashing from the judge) is being put off three months, so he can cooperate some more. That's very legal, and very cool.

Oh, and have you heard the one about the "charitable" Trump Foundation? The president* and his adult children agreed to dissolve the thing, to do away with a lawsuit alleging "persistently illegal conduct." So that's nice.

Less cool (but perfectly legal, we're assured) are the 83 ethics complaints against Brett Kavanaugh to be dismissed by the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit, because shucks, they're "lacking the statutory authority to do anything more." If you thought that no one is above the law, you were apparently wrong about that.

As the Wicked Witch of the West would say, "what a world." On Tuesday.

16.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boom (and bust?) Permalink to this item

Haven't followed the Chinese economy's numbers super-closely, but the shorter is obviously "booming." The most recent slightly dire news was that its annual growth was backing down to "only" 6-something percent, which, my god, that's still huge. (And their population went huge a long time ago. 1.4 billion-ish now, like 4 USs and then some.) In very round numbers, with the do it in your head "rule" of 70 calculation, 7% growth means doubling in 10 years, 70/7 = 10.

We visited China in 2003, which now seems like ancient history. It was obviously booming back in that day. Skyscrapers and high-rise apartments were sprouting up like weeds, nearly everywhere we went. Never mind that some of it was being done with bicycle freight, and short-handled sledges and bang bang men, it was being done. 15 years ago.

Author's photo, 2003

If you do the exponential math, e to the 15*ln(1.07) power, you get 2.76, which is to say that 15 years at 7% growth means the size of the economy is about triple what it was at the turn of the millennium. (Or, you could look up the history of China's GDP and see that even 7% is way down from what it's been since the (3.9%) 1990 lull. Says there, it was going 10% real growth rate in 2003, then 11, 12, 14, and easing down to 9, 8, 7 from that torrid pace after the world economy blew up 10 years ago. Pick your currency and do the ratio; in 15 years, that tabulation shows Chinese GDP up by 5x or more. Overstated by inflation, I think, but still.

I was prompted to look up the numbers by a provocative article in the NYT Style section, Are You Ready for the Financial Crisis of 2019? This:

"[China] has been on such a wild debt-fueled building spree that it somehow used more cement in just three years earlier this decade than the United States did in the entire 20th century."

"More cement" linked to the now 3½-year-old Wonkblog post with more stats and graphics, and a (make-it-stop) pair of alternating views across the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai in 1987, and in 2013. (Vaclav Smil highlighted the fact when it was fresh, for 2011-2013, and Bill Gates highlighted Smil as "my favorite author," summer of 2014.)

"If considered a single urban area – which makes sense, since the cities there all run together—the Pearl River Delta would be the world’s largest city by both area and population."

As in, north of 40 million population, and 2,700 square miles. (Slightly larger than the state of Delaware.)

By the end of the NYT piece, I got the tongue in cheeky "Style" of it. Here's the more sober week ago review of the week that included George H.W. Bush's state funeral, a supposed truce in the easy-to-win trade war, followed by the appearance of Tariff Man: Wall St. Ignored Signs of Trouble for Months. Now It Sees Risks Everywhere. Risks featuring "swings" that turn to "whipsaws" and "tumult," but, if you want to consider your glass half-full, that little sidebar (updated end of thise week) about how if you step back, the market is still riding high. Never mind our present "correction."

NYT datagraphic

13.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Embarrassing Permalink to this item

Motivations come in many shapes and flavors. The twin "embrassments" in the president's* Twitter feed today grabbed my attention. (He's always grabbing something.) In this episode, "they" are the antagonist. Reflecting his generic sense of paranoia, I imagine. "They" are out to get him, one way or another. Or should we make that one way and another. Every which way. (Every witch! way.)

"They gave General Flynn a great deal," the president* begins, giving us cause to reflect on "deal." The art of the deal. The deal-maker. Monte Hall, and Let's Make a Deal. (Is that a... goat behind door #2?!) Such a deal.

"...because they were embarrassed by the way he was treated..."

The indirection is confusing. Old man yelling at clouds does not seem to be converging to a point. "The way he was treated," in the passive voice, seems somewhat helpless. But ok.

"the FBI said he didn’t lie and they overrode the FBI."

We all know who They are. The Special Counsel and his army of investigators. On their WITCH HUNT! and all. (Josh Campbell fleshes out the picture: "The FBI said Flynn exhibited no *signs* of lying. But, they had him on tape, so they *knew* he was lying. People who lie without exhibiting signs of lying are really good liars.")

Before we get too far off into the weeds, it should be noted that both NBC News and the Wall Street Journal are now reporting that the "at least one other member of the campaign" who was in the room, summer of 2015, meeting with National Enquirer's publisher David Pecker, and Michael "the fixer" Cohen was none other than Individual 1. Yes, that's right, Donald J. Trump was there to discuss how much it would cost to keep his liaisons dangereuse out of the tabloids. For his campaign. For president*.

Speaking of Michael Cohen, and embarrassments, the earlier series of tweets, starting with stick a fork in Cohen: he's the "lawyer," so how could anything possibly be my fault? Then "I did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws, if they even apply, because this was not campaign finance," and finally, Cohen admitted guilt "in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence."

"As a lawyer, Michael has great liability to me!"

He doesn't quite understand how to use "liability" in a sentence, does he? One last thing: TFW the bad news leaks into the normally feel-good Fox & Friends. Michael Cohen's 3 year sentence, his declaration in open court and everything (or, as F&F#3 put it, "and he went on and on and on" and how Cohen "got off easy," "3 years is pretty good").

Judge Andrew Napolitano, who tells us he's "sentenced over a thousand people" over the years gave us his takeaway: Judge Pauli finding that "The President ordered and paid for Michael Cohen to commit a crime."

That's not what you could call "an honest mistake." As part of a "scheme to defraud the government" it's a "crime." We find ourselves with a president*, once again, who is a crook.

8.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Who said it best? Permalink to this item

45 years ago last month.

President Richard Nixon:
"And I want to say this to the television audience. I made my mistakes. But in all of my years of public life, I have never profited - never profited from public service. I've earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice.

"And I think too that I can say, that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination. Because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."

What’s old is new again: pic.twitter.com/KsOV1doofL

— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) December 8, 2018

Meanwhile, at the end of Friday afternoon on a truly epic news week (or as the New York Post put it, Donald and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day), this epitaph-length ironic pronouncement from #45:

Totally clears the President. Thank you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

The time machine on my desk tells me that reporter Steven Dennis "rewatched Mike Pence's full pre-inauguration Fox News interview where he denied Russia contacts with Trump associates, Flynn talking sanctions with Kislyak + defended Michael Cohen." It starts with FN guy Chris Wallace, Jan. 15, 2017, saying "on the brink of [Trump's] presidency, questions of Russia's involvement in the election won't go away."

Le plus ça change! I (re?)watched it too.

First thing I noticed is that after Wallace played a video bite with Rep. John Lewis questioning the legitimacy of the win, Pence shook his head steadily while saying "Donald Trump won this election fair and square." Kind of a perfect expression of the whole country's cognitive dissonance at what just happened. His shaking head contradicted his stated claim that "I have great respect for John Lewis..."

He found it "deeply disappointing" to have someone "of his stature" question the legitimacy, eh. Because "I truly do believe" [does the sugar make it more believable, people?] "this is a time, uh, when the American people should be celebrating the peaceful transition of power."

(Never mind that Trump had pre-questioned the legitimacy of the election in the 3rd and final debate with Hillary Clinton, "the most breathtaking moment," as Michael Shear described it.)

Pence expanded upon the president*-elect's counterpunch tweet to Lewis, with more illumination than a Bible verse, and this golden oldie: "you remember that great [sic] line, 'what the heck do you have to lose?'"

Yes, who could forget it? Delivered to an almost totally white audience, his eyes shaded by his white MAGA hat, WAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?

Candidate Trump, August 19, 2016, in Michigan

Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak came up in that Pence interview, one of those "questions" that "wouldn't go away," five days before the inauguration already. Pence dismissed the notion that there was any there there. Wallace:

"Second question: Can you flatly deny... that there were any contacts, at any point during the campaign between Mr. Trump's associates and Russian operatives, including cut-outs as we know, about the hacking of the Democrats during the election?"

Pence shook his head while Wallace is talking, starts his answer with puckered incredulity about the oppo research that "made its way around the internet," and about how "Michael Cohen himself had actually never been to Prague," Wallace doesn't let him off the hook with his fuzzy dodges.

"I'm asking you a direct question, was there any contact, in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin, or 'cut-outs' they had?"

Pence's answer is brilliant plausible deniability, shaking his head 'no' some more, "I joined this campaign in the summer" and "all the contact... was with the American people." Good for Wallace, he didn't let that fatuous blather stand for an answer either, and kept after him. Finally, Pence's quasi-direct denial:

"Of course not! Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?"

And then the counter-narrative anti-narrative:

"Chris, this is all a distraction. And it's all a part of a narrative to de-legitimize the election, and to question the legitimacy of this president. The American people see right through it. And truthfully...

More sugar! He went on about the "caliber and character of men and women that the president-elect has assembled, hundreds and hundreds of interviews and conversations he himself has had, I think should be deeply inspiring to millions of Americans..." (Michael Lewis' book The Fifth Risk takes us inside what happened after the Great Assembly, and it's horrifying, actually.)

3 questions in a lightning round Obamacare: "Repeal and Replace, Essentially Simultaneously" That's b.s., right?

Pence, leveraging his awesome experience in Congress, eventually boiled it down the "short answer" to can you really do that? as "Yes!"

Wallace presses him for "when?" while Pence filibusters on describing how bad the status quo is, as if he were still giving a stump speech. His considered estimate at the end of the blather was "in the first 100 days."

Does Mr. Trump still have confidence in FBI Director James Comey? "You'll have to ask him about that," Pence non-answered, shaking his head. Something about "safety and security first," always.

And symbolism, you bet. Mr. Pence was looking forward to taking his oath of office on "the Reagan Bible" [sic], and to have it "administered to me by Justice Clarence Thomas" [shaking his head] "someone who I admire for his philosophy, for his courage on the bench.

"We're approaching it with prayer," he said, apparently finally taking the opportunity to say something on his running mate's behalf.

Let us pray to God.

7.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The first degree Permalink to this item

Today's Friday letter from the president of my alma mater up north recalls the first graduates, 122 years ago, in 1896, and celebrates 578 graduates ("to receive a combined 587 degrees," go figure) on tap tomorrow. It reminds me of my relatively unheralded December graduations, the first of which was a round number 40 years ago this month. (They could've been heralded, a little, but the ceremonies seemed unnecessary, or inconvenient to me at the time. I did show up for the third degree; and I've loved attending every family member's graduation I could in these later years.)

I was living by myself in a 10x55' mobile home, burning tamarack to stay warm, the plumbing back in order after a long course of DIY study, but still in the "no water heater" era, IIRC. I'd put the cast iron water jacket from a cookstove into the sheet steel stove that Mark Solomon had welded up, mostly to my specifications, and was trying to figure out how to make that go. (Pro tip: for a thermally driven loop, the hot side has to have a uniform, upward gradient. Need a way to bleed air bubbles out, too? I never did get that to work, so maybe I shouldn't be handing out pro tips.)

My last semester had been busy, with my own classes, and teaching a General Botany lab section for R.J. Naskali. I don't remember any job interviews, or contemplating employment, but it must have been on my mind. With my Bachelor's of Science in General Studies, I could do... generally anything! I loved teaching botany, had expectations to continue, but it seems my students didn't love it as much as I did, and not too long after collecting my diploma, I learned I wouldn't be invited back. Now what?

Paradise Ridge, 2001

A couple of Sufi friends had plans to go back east to The Farm, some sort of collective in Pennsylvania or New York that they seemed to know all about and thought would be brilliant. I knew as much as is in that sentence, but they were two beautiful, loving people, and the idea of a cross-country trip with them, and communal living sounded... interesting, at the very least. If it had been the cheery flush of spring instead of the cold, dark of winter, I think I would have gone with them.

Through my own steady diet of bicycle parts and repair (for my sole means of transportation during college years), and while still mulling my future prospects, I found out that Johnny Parkins, the once and again proprietor of J.P.'s Bikeshop, was in the market for a mechanic. Someone who could run the shop for him. I knew how to fix my bike, started with some very quick (but useful) training from him, as a Mechanic in February, Manager in March, and, with a modest capital infusion from the Bank of Parents, became Johnny's Partner on June 1.

5.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Swan songs Permalink to this item

NYT proposes to my morning viewing that it's breaking news that George H.W. Bush is having a state funeral, but actually, no. He had a good, long life, some worthy accomplishments, some less-worthy things, and by comparison to some of what followed, he earned some genuine praise, which should suffice for a ceremony. I'm not going to take on the job of weighing his soul, or watching his funeral; someone can round up the highlights for me. It's worth highlighting the good things, I think. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been a boon for civil rights.

The international acid rain treaty, from back when bipartisan progress for the environment was possible. Former Candadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney highlighted that, and NAFTA, the ADA, and Bush's international stature.

Mulroney says that when Bush was president, every other world leader knew they were dealing with a "genuine leader," one who was “distinguished, resolute and brave.”

— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) December 5, 2018

Defending the downing of civilian Iran Air Flight 655 was a not-great moment. Given the current administration's imagined (or anticipated) impunity for criminal acts, the Iran-Contra affair ("a hydra-headed scandal"), and the pardons that GHWB handed out just before he left office are worth another look.

The timing doesn't seem like it will work quite the same for Trump, who can hardly claim he was "out of the loop" when he's been in the thick of the swamp since long before his inauguration day. Now that the special counsel has said that Trump's first national security advisor Michael Flynn was a key cooperator and should serve little prison time, David Rothkopf's Twitter thread takes a more critical view of the original bad acts. He points out that Flynn "undercut norms of decency" (does anybody remember norms of decency?!) "in calling for a political opponent like Hillary Clinton to be locked up," even as he himself was serving other countries ahead of ours, for personal financial gain.

Birds of a feather.

Flynn's misdeeds pale in comparison to what his boss has done, and continues to do, obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses for the ongoing investigation, in plain sight.

"He was at the center of one of the darkest moments in the history of the American presidency," Rothkopf notes, of Flynn, near the end of his thread. This darkest moment, still in process.

4.Dec.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Life is a social medium Permalink to this item

That quip came to mind as I swam in it this morning, late getting going on the monthly edition of the blog. Is it original? It felt original, but I would be a bit surprised to actually be the first person to string together that sequence of 5 words. (I held off searching for it, because the moment you write it down to look for a phrase, poof, it takes on a life of its own. I'll check... later.)

Life is hard to define, but it's no fun/not interesting without reproduction. (What is cell division to an asexually-reproducing organism? No big deal? Just stretching one's "legs"? What is time when you're immortal? Scroll down my steadily updated top shelf reading list to see what put that question in my head, J.T. Fraser's 1987 book Time: The Familiar Stranger; that and his earlier work, The Genesis and Evolution of Time: A Critique of Interpretation in Physics have an interesting attribute on Amazon's site: exactly one review each. And alas, too ancient to be in our local library.)

Sunset photo, my front window view

Over the weekend, I finished Michael Lewis' The Fifth Risk, ending with its revelation about what's inside the Department of Commerce (not what most people imagine), and how the career category of "Data Scientist" came to be. For a little while, we had a Chief Data Scientist position, occupied by D.J. Patil, who you could see in action as of May, 2016, at the Commonwealth Club forum. Worth the time to watch, and relive the moment that seems a million years ago.

Three snippets, from the Q&A session following the interview with the moderator, Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Washington Post:

Responding to a question about genomic privacy, "what is the government's approach to stopping having insurance companies from having perverse incentives to declining coverage?" Patil started by pointing out that "One of the seminal tenets of the Affordable Care Act is that you can't be... there's no pre-existing conditions. Once you get to the genomic level, all of us have a pre-exiting condition. That's called being human. So you have to get that out of the way."

Then, from another universe, Dwoskin asked "DJ, do you think that Twitter data will be used to inform the president to make public policy decisions any time soon?" (As in "there's a crisis hotspot, now we're going to send troops, or...?")

His answer started: "We're definitely not going to put those that commit to duty in the armed forces into any situation on a whim. It's a very, very thoughtful decision... one that we take massively seriously."

The last audience question was from an attendee wanting to know how the government could use all it knows about us to improve the irksome TSA process for getting on airplanes. Patil redirected his answer (after noting that he had to stand in line like everyone else) to insight about the immigration process:

"A lot of the people in this country have the right to be a citizen, but they don't know it. And the forms and processes that they go through, the only way to do it is to pay somebody a lot of money that they shouldn't have to." "It should be easy," he said, that "you're allowed to do what by law and by constitutional authority is right."

"When we come together and work on a problem, we get to unleash the full force of the United States of America on a problem, to solve it for the entire country."

Imagine a civil servant, proseltyzing for engaging with government, for the betterment of all. Those were the days.

The Dept. of Commerce web view of its Bureaus and offices shows no hint of a Chief Data Scientist these days, although there is an Office of the Chief Information Officer with an Acting CIO, Rod Turk. (No Chief Data Scientist listed in the 12-member Bureau CIO Directory.)

There are 3 woman and and 17 men in Commerce's featured Leadership, a rather monochrome line-up. But hey, there's only one Minority Business Development Agency National Director position.

There is still a page for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, under whitehouse.gov. Before the darkness, it had a complex menu with an About page, a pressroom, a blog, divisons, initiatives, R&D budgets, a resource library, the NSTC and the PCAST. There were enough initiatives to group them into 9 categories, including three related to STEM education workforce; combating climate change; promoting open data, open government and open science; spurring innovation; and harnessing America's expertise.

That page, like so much else in the federal government, went 404 on January 20, 2018. Three weeks later, there was a redirect in place: redirecting to a 404 "not found" page. Four and a half months later, 404 had matured into "under construction." "Thank you for your interest in this subject," [sic] it said. "STAY TUNED AS WE CONTINUE TO UPDATE WHITEHOUSE.GOV."

The current 404 - PAGE NOT FOUND page has a search interface, with a link to "past administration archives," so there's that, which is no small thing. One can find the archived websites of the three web-era presidents as part of the National Archives, with what used to be under the subdomain open.whitehouse.gov (at open.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov). There was a data catalog with 28 datasets, for example, including a map of community-based initiatives data, and a climate change adaptation task force, the record of which is a quirky collection of 27,806 rows of csv'd comments and what-not, apparently all collected in mid-2015. (Just shy of 89% of the rows, 24,676, specified affiliation with "Defenders of Wildlife", just to show you what might go wrong with collecting comments via the web.)

Top of the stack, a California Sierra Club Member wrote "Terrific that this is ongoing, a relief that this issue if finally being addressed." Second up, Art Horn, "Self employed Meteorologsit" [sic] gave full contact information and a lead-in quote for the Climatic Research Unit email controversy before his 18,000 byte treatise on "Carbon Dioxide: The new WMD (Weapon of Mass Deception)."

A retired CNC machinist from Kansas offerered a link to what turns out to be his own site, aerology.com (a sentimental favorite, given that my dad was an Aerologist for the Navy in WWII), touting "free long-range U.S. National, U.S. Local (searchable by zip code), North American, Canadian, and Australian weather forecasts" which doesn't seem to actually do anything. Dang it, so much for "how the weather really works."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007