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Impeachment, the flip-flopping

January 28, 2020

I see frequent posts on Facebook from Trumpistas proving that Trump must be innocent, because eventually he released the aid to Ukraine, or because of Zelensky’s diplomatic words, or other excuse as thin as a teenager’s explanation for breaking into a stranger’s house. What is more puzzling is the Republican reaction to Bolton. Mulvaney’s lawyer says this:

John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton’s purported August conversation with the President. Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the President or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burisma, the Bidens, or the 2016 election.

See, October was so long ago that Mulvaney forgot his explanation then of what Trump wanted:

Did [Trump] also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money.

And Trump rages. And also forgets what he publicly said just a short few weeks past:

They have the server, right, from the DNC, Democratic National Committee. The FBI went in and they told them, get out of here, we’re not giving it to you. They gave the server to CrowdStrike or whatever it’s called, which is a country — which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI’s never gotten that server. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company? … That’s what I asked, actually in my phone call.

There is no missing DNC server. The “they” who say that are right-wing pundits pushing a nonsense conspiracy theory. Asking Ukraine to pretend to investigate such nonsense is as corrupt an act as any in this tragedy.

Though I have some sympathy with Suzanne Garment that the firing of Marie Yovanovitch was bumbled and inexcusable, I’m not sure it stands as cause by itself, rather than being bark burning between the logs.

Damn academics

January 27, 2020

A Drexel engineering professor is facing charges after spending grant money on strippers and worse. The suspicious thing is the “$89,000 .. spent on iTunes purchases.” That amount is far too much for personal use. Those cards have become a favorite currency of scammers, spammers, and other crooks. I suspect the professor was buying something illegal. And this was an engineering professor! (Hmmm. Like my friend, the former Soviet professor.)

Navigation desideratum

January 22, 2020

This past week, a military exercise has periodically jammed GPS signals off the coast of Georgia. That should not be a significant problem. Pilots and mariners have been finding their way long before navigation satellite systems.

And, we live in a wondrous time, when there is not one, but a half dozen such systems that we can use. Some, like India’s, are regional. China’s BeiDou once was regional but now is global. Russia’s GLONASS is global. As will be the EU’s Galileo, when it is fully operational. Some of those systems broadcast on dual frequencies for improved accuracy. But not all devices receive dual frequency signals.

An advantage to having these multiple systems is that provides the navigator a measure of redundancy. Providing, of course, the navigator has the capability to receive signals from multiple systems. Today’s cellphones tend to do better in that regard than dedicated navigation devices, because they are marketed to customers around the world. My cellphone receives signals from GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo, and labels the satellites in its view accordingly. What it doesn’t show, and what I haven’t found settings to control, is how those are used to calculate a fix. Ideally, navigation software would synthesize a most accurate fix from a combination of all those systems, and models of how they vary. More, it would kick out any GNSS that was behaving too far outside its known window, alerting me to that. (The advantage of three or more systems is that there is enough redundancy to notice one errant system.) Of course, I would like to be able to choose the set it uses.

Finally, I want all that over a standardized API that works over Wifi, so that my phone can get location data from the chip in my chart plotter, and vice versa. That’s not too much to want, is it?

Impeachment, Act 1

January 21, 2020

With the impeachment trial starting, it’s worth reading some conservatives who have not joined the Trump bandwagon. Ramesh Ponnuru makes the argument that the Senate should convict and remove Trump:

Senator John Kennedy (R., La.) has said that the possibility that Trump was concerned about corruption means that he cannot be proved to have had a corrupt intent. The argument requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Gordon Sondland, the Trump-appointed ambassador to the European Union, has testified that Trump “didn’t want to hear about” Ukrainian efforts against corruption and that concerns over corruption had not led to the withholding of aid from any other country within his portfolio. The Department of Defense had certified that Ukraine was taking steps against corruption before the administration withheld aid to it.

Fighting corruption would not have required Trump to encourage Zelensky to work with Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who has said that he was working in Ukraine to advance his client’s personal interests; it would have counseled against Trump’s doing that. Nor would the effort have required the secrecy with which it was conducted, or have required dropping around the same time it was starting to attract publicity. Kurt Volker, Trump’s envoy to Ukraine, has testified that Giuliani said that official Ukrainian statements against corruption were insufficient unless they specifically mentioned the investigations touching on the Bidens and on the 2016 campaign.

There is essentially no evidence that either investigation is worth conducting. The theory that Joe Biden acted corruptly holds that he leaned on the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor who was looking into a company that had his son on the board. That prosecutor’s former deputy has said that there was no active investigation, and the Obama administration was on record urging the prosecutor to assist a British legal action against the company’s owner.

The theory about Ukrainian hacking has even less going for it. A “debunked conspiracy theory” is what Tom Bossert, a former homeland-security adviser to Trump and an opponent of impeachment, has called it. Most of Trump’s defenders have dealt with the absence of any support for this theory by changing the subject to other forms of Ukrainian “interference” with the 2016 election, prominently including an op-ed a Ukrainian official wrote. But Trump wasn’t talking about that, and U.S. officials have no legitimate interest in getting Ukraine to investigate it anyway.

Mark Galli argues similarly:

The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral. The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

These are not leftists. Not even liberals. They are the senior editors, respectively, for one of the nation’s foremost conservative magazines, and for an evangelical Christian magazine. They likely approve much of what he has done. Yet, they want him convicted and removed from office. Why?

Every serious criticism of Trump puts his signal characteristic front and center: he is a con artist who operates using a constant stream of lies, slanders, and conspiracy theories. That is as obvious as his next daily rant. Here is another evangelical magazine warning about that in 2016. After Trump was elected, they changed course. Trump didn’t change: his firehose of lies continues this week past. As with his lies about this impeachment, what amazes is not just their quantity, but how many are sheer bullshit nigh absurd.

While the conservatives who recognize Trump’s nature deserve some credit, almost none ask the next question. Why was an incessant liar with no political experience able so quickly to take charge of America’s right? Here is one answer: the right wing, for decades, has been fueled by conspiracy theories from its pundits. Obama is a cryptic Muslim. He never attended Columbia University. He gave Iran $150 billion. Seth Rich was the DNC hacker. The DNC was running child prostitutes. Global warming is a hoax. It is deep-state conspiracy rather than lack of evidence that keeps Hillary Clinton from being prosecuted. The New World Order is behind it all. And on and on and on and on and on.

At some point, the never-Trumper should face the fact that Trump was tailor made for the conservative movement, as it existed when he jumped into the political arena. He was able to make himself the leader of that movement because he is a pathological liar, because he so easily plies those conspiracy theories. Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, et al, worked for decades to prepare their audience for a horse just like Trump. The honest conservatives today can recoil from that. What were they doing when the stable was being built? How often did they stand up to those conspiracy theories and their purveyors? A few did. Likely, the same few who see through Trump.

Matthew Yglesias rightly highlights the danger of that deep dishonesty from someone with the power to take a nation to war. He wrote that before the recent charade about whether American embassies were being targeted. At this point, those with any integrity having been driven out, Trump’s lieutenants follow his lead, protecting and repeating his lies, or lying to cover his illegal intent. Pence, too. Some in the Pentagon are fleeing this corruption late.

Tellingly, the trait that is his most obvious and that his critics most highlight is the one his common defenders most ignore. That does not give me political optimism. I expect the Republicans to stick by their leader, more because of his corruption than in spite of it.

Mountain Dew bodywash?

January 17, 2020

And it is made with real Mountain Dew. If every they turn this into an actual consumer product, the older of my sisters will buy it by the case. Alas, for my brother-in-law.

Alaskan cod

January 16, 2020

Alaskan cod fishers are shut out for the season, due to cod numbers plummeting from warm water. The article doesn’t say, but everyone who has taken chemistry knows that cold water holds more oxygen than warm. That is a significant constraint on marine ecosystems.

Consciousness, not quite illusion

January 15, 2020

I am quite sympathetic to Massimo Piggliuchi’s view that consciousness seems a mystery largely because what is invisible to it are the interior workings of the brain that generate it:

It is certainly true, as the illusionists maintain, that we do not have access to our own neural mechanisms. But we don’t need to, just like a computer user doesn’t need to know machine-language – and, in fact, is far better off for that. This does not at all imply that we are somehow mistaken about our thoughts and feelings. No more than I as a computer user might be mistaken about which ‘folder’ contains the ‘file’ on which I have been ‘writing’ this essay.

That may be a feature, also, of any future artificial consciousness we create. Would that resolve the philosophical question any? If so, why?

Past related post.