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North Korea (??)

May 25, 2018

Frank Jannuzi gives a Twitter blow by blow of how things went south with North Korea. Trump’s unforced errors wasted an opportunity, one that was more fortuitous than he recognized. It turns out that diplomacy and diplomats matter.

Matthew Yglesias points out that there never was reason to expect much:

The factors that led to the collapse of the summit were there from the beginning. The only thing that ever seemed remotely promising about it was Trump’s say-so, but Trump’s say-so is meaningless. Not only is he a person who makes factual misstatements and lies, but he’s a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises.

But I think he is a little harsh and even parochial in his criticism, especially of the press. The world never knows just what is going on behind the closed doors of diplomacy while it is under way. There is a large element of luck. That the other head of state involved is a murderous dictator already sets the expectations low. It’s hard to know how to adjust those when your own head of state is a conman and habitual liar. Despite all that, everyone wants and hopes for a good outcome.

There is no surprise at the current outcome. But also no reason to blame the rest of the world for the hope that Kim and Trump could do something good for once, despite their own natures.


Russian interference vs. American crimes

May 24, 2018

Under questioning by Congress, Pompeo assented to the findings of our intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the US 2016 election in order to elect Trump. Which surprises absolutely no one paying attention.

Where Trump’s campaign may have committed crimes related to that remains a question for Mueller to answer. I’ve long doubted there was tight coordination between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign, for the simple reason that Russian intelligence would be leery of that. For a variety of reasons. Jared Kushner was just handed back his top security clearance, suggesting Mueller has no immediate plans to charge him.

I anticipate dissappointment for both the Democrats hanging their hopes on the results of Mueller’s investgation and the Trumpistas hanging their hopes on counter-investigations. Of course, the latter will believe whatever conspiracy theories their movement spins, regardless of what any investigation shows.

Data and deceit

May 23, 2018

There is quite a bit of law protecting the privacy of patients, while nonetheless allowing the extraction of epidemiological data about, say, the number of cancer cases or birth defects or deaths in a particular geographic region. If you run the EPA and want to make sure the latter cannot be used in analyzing the effects of pollution, you write a rule that insists on complete transparency, right down to the level of individual medical records. Voilà! There now is little epidemiological data about the risks of pollution, because epidemiological data does not reveal individual patient data. By law. Read the article. People will die because of what Pruitt is doing. And he will boast to the right wing how much money he saves business, ignoring the real cost associated with that, a cost that unwilling innocents pay. His own advisory board blasts him for this. It will make no difference. All that matters to him are the business interests he favors.

Climate data is pretty transparent, but not necessarily easy to analyze. As Rich Loft, CTO at the National Center for Atmospheric Reserach in Colorado puts it:

Maybe you have a petabyte—10 to the 15th bytes—of information standing behind your conclusion. Reproducing that ain’t gonna be cheap.

Well, petabytes have gotten cheaper. But the data keeps growing.

Fivethirtyeight explains more how Republicans are trying to suppress science by pretend arguments for better science.

The gun cult

May 22, 2018

Like many men my age from the south, I was raised around guns, joined shooting clubs in my early teens, and went hunting with my father and his mates. There has been a remarkable change in the casual culture at ranges, gun shops, and other venues where guns are common between those days and today. That change can be described as the metastasis of a cult, the gun cult.

There are several characteristics to that cult. First, the cult unites around a constant flow of conspiracy theories. These typically concern imaginary government plans to seize guns or power, imaginary machinations of international groups and secret organizations, and imaginary nefarious acts by those viewed as the cult’s enemies.

Second, the gun cult holds to the fantasy that their private arms are somehow a bulwark to American freedom, either in how it was acquired or to the current defense of it. There now are gun groups, such as the 3 Percenters, who weave that into their identity.

Third, those conspiracies lead them to anticipate an imminent catastrophe in which they will be the remnant that defends the other good people. Or at least, the remnant that survives.

Fourth, they claim the constant right to decide when to make an armed stance against laws, government action, or even private behavior that they don’t like. The perceived need to do that in the near future leads them into an interest in acquiring or making weapons that are ever more suited to armed conflict, from guns capable of bringing down aircraft to IEDs and grenades.

Fifth, they see owning a gun not simply as a part of sport shooting or hunting or home defense, but as a political statement. They view owning a gun as something that makes them more American. It would be interesting to know the number of guns bought in the last decade simply because the buyer’s politics demanded it.

It is hardly surprising that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas mass murderer, was caught up in the gun cult. Nor that this cult attracts those who are young and violent, like Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the Santa Fe school shooter. Even if you believe, like Josh Marshall, that violent acting out is a natural consequence of male, teen anguish, there is something in the modern American air that makes that acting out more lethal here.

That cult was present in nascent form when I was young, associated with the more extreme Birchers or simply crazed individuals. But it was absent where adults led youth in practice or competition, and was viewed as aberrant by most gun owners as well as larger society. Gun organizations seeking to be taken seriously avoided it. When I was a child, the NRA actually advocated for gun control.

It is long past time to call out the gun cult. If you believe that Jade Helm was a secret plan to impose martial law or that the DNC ran a child sex ring from the basement of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, you are not a responsible gun owner. You’re a deluded kook who is too influenced by Alex Jones and others who peddle nonsense. And if you recognized that as nuttery but fail to call it out in the gun groups with which you associate, you’re still not a responsible gun owner. You’re someone who is happy to see people mix weapons with delusional ideation. Someone who swallowed the Pizzagate fantasy shot his way into the Comet pizzeria. His act was not entirely illogical if — if — one gives any credence to the notion that venue really was selling children for sex, with the authorities refusing to act because of the political power of those behind that. The craziness is entirely located in that premise. Every gun owner who fails to stand up to such conspiracy theories every time they are broached, online or face to face, should hang his head in shame. Those kind of conspiracy theories are a constant part of the banter and web sites and other forums where guns are central.

If you belong to a gun organization whose board members prescribe shooting Democrats like rabid coyotes, you are not a responsible gun owner. I’m not going to scry what crazy things Ted Nugent says are meant in jest and what are intended however seriously he intends anything. It’s enough to point out that any responsible gun organization doesn’t have anyone like Nugent on its board.

You’re also not a responsible gun owner if you think your gun ownership gives you a political vantage in any form or fashion. Except as being one example of such, your private guns have nothing to do with America’s political freedoms.

And if your response to a school shooting is to run to demonstrate there carrying a gun and a flag, you are exhibiting cult behavior.

I disagree with those who think there is a simple legal solution to gun violence. The legal is only a part of what differentiates the US from the other developed nations in that regard, and often is as much effect as cause.

A responsible gun owner wants the cultural change that will make the US less violent. And wants our public spaces to be safe for all. Including children, those who are blind or infirm, and those who have no desire to go about armed. Arming everyone else is not the answer. There are no examples where that works.

While I am skeptical that there is any legal magic wand, legal changes typically go hand in hand with cultural change. A responsible gun owner won’t reject proposed legal changes, merely because they are partly inconvenient and make only marginal practical difference. Our gun ownership in aggregate imposes a real cost on the rest of society, and we should be willing to belly up to some responsibility for that.

The responsible gun owner will participate in that cultural change by fighting the gun cult. Whether the gun cult is cause or effect or neither, it is a sickness associated with too many of the recent crimes whose victims were targeted randomly or delusionally. No one decent wants to be associated with that. And its lies present a barrier to any serious discussion of violence.

Two bites

May 21, 2018

In response to Friday’s shooting, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Oliver North promptly push the fascist solution to student safety: make our schools more like prisons. Then, to add to stupidity to his first authoritarian reflex, Patrick went on TV to blame abortion and video games. As if those aren’t common in nations with far less violent crime than ours.

Since joining Trump’s legal team, Giuliani has done little except try out a variety of stories. Working for a president who has no attachment to the truth seems to have freed him. There is zero reason to believe anything he says about what Mueller conveys to him, neither the September 1st deadline nor anything else. Mueller is perfectly capable of making public what he wants to make public. And is wisely doing little of that until the business of legal prosecution requires him to do so. Maybe he is closer to some definitive actions than we yet know. There is no reason to believe Giuliani on that. I’m don’t give much more credit to other predictions I read, either. If Mueller is investigating anyone up for re-election in 2018, that has not been in the news.

“These are no longer humans. These are animals.”

May 17, 2018

John Kelly is catching deserved flak, for both the substance of his comments on immigrants, and also for the fact that his own great-grandparents included those who were illiterate and who didn’t learn English for many years. Jennifer Mendelsohn is doing yeoman’s work looking up the ancestry of the immigrant bashers from Fox News and other parts of the right.

The politics of fascism is in large part alignment on which groups to target. The movement Trump rode to power long has had its sights trained on immigrants, feminists, gays, liberals, the highly educated, and the urban poor. Imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients makes no practical sense whatsoever. But using that as self-righteous cover to impose them on urban minorities while exempting rural whites is exactly what we should expect from the modern right.

It is hard to know with Trump how much of his anti-immigrant rhetoric is geared simply to currying his base. That base enjoys it when a political science professor finds an almost identical quote by Goebbels. First, he is a professor. Second, they know they are nothing like the Nazis because their propagandists have told them the liberals are the real Nazis. Third, they’re happy when their leader irks the liberals. So from their viewpoint, that response is a three-fer in their favor.

Long time passing

May 16, 2018

ECGSudarshanBack in 1975, when I was a junior at the University of Texas, I went to work for my second high-tech startup, in the then young field of computer-assisted tomography. A couple of other young nerds and I were the worker bees, running X-ray experiments and programming reconstruction algorithms on a PDP-11. We had space at the Balcones Research Center. It gave me my first real taste of creating something new in a lab. The founders of that startup were two physicists at the University of Texas, Ira Lon Morgan and E. C. George Sudarshan.

Ira Lon Morgan died in 2005. Sudarshan died two days ago. Read that link — he was a remarkable fellow. The photo left shows him from closer to the time I remember him. The two hold some tomography patents back from those days. Those reconstruction algorithms became a natual topic for my senior thesis the year following. I suspect there are only a few of us who still remember that little venture. Or maybe just me.