Archive:

February 2018, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Sugar Shapes, And The Difference It Makes:  (My apologies to chemists who know all this, but sometimes the rest of us need a reminder.)

I was trying to remember the difference between glucose and dextrose, so I looked up glucose in Wikipedia.  And discovered (or rediscovered) that dextrose is one of the two forms of glucose, specifically the useful form.
Glucose is a simple sugar with the molecular formula C6H12O6, which means that it is a molecule that is made of six carbon atoms, twelve hydrogen atoms, and six oxygen atoms.  Glucose circulates in the blood of animals as blood sugar.  It is made during photosynthesis from water and carbon dioxide, using energy from sunlight.  It is the most important source of energy for cellular respiration.  Glucose is stored as a polymer, in plants as starch and in animals as glycogen.

With six carbon atoms, it is classed as a hexose, a subcategory of the monosaccharides.  D-Glucose is one of the sixteen aldohexose stereoisomers.   The D-isomer, D-glucose, also known as dextrose, occurs widely in nature, but the L-isomer, L-glucose, does not.
(Links omitted.)

As you read this post, you are burning D-glucose (dextrose).  You could not replace that with L-glucose, even though the second is a mirror image of the first.

In chemistry, especially organic chemistry, shapes matter.

(L-glucose tastes sweet, so it could be used as a no-calorie sweetener.   It isn't because it costs too much to synthesize.

There is a bacteria, a plant pathogen named Burkholderia caryophylli, that can use L-glucose for energy.  I don't know why that ability would be useful to the bacteria, but am not surprised by it, since bacteria can eat almost everything.)
- 4:39 PM, 8 February 2018   [link]


Three Essential Points About The Nunes Memo:  For which you can find evidence in this longish (and, for my tastes, a bit melodramatic) post.
  1. Devin Nunes did not ask the FBI to give their side of the story.
  2. Nunes did not read the documents his memo is based on, instead, relying on a summary prepared by committee member Trey Gowdy.
  3. Contrary to what Nunes has claimed, the FISA application did tell the court that the Steele dossier was the result of opposition research.
That last may surprise you, because you have probably heard differently, if you pay any attention to Trump-supporting news sources — but it is true.

Moreover, courts routinely issue warrants, even when they know that informants are biased.
- 3:09 PM, 8 February 2018   [link]


Too Funny Not To Share:  Yesterday, I found this in the Seattle Times:
"Chris Petersen has really expanded the footprint of the caliber of player that Washington is going to recruit," said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor for 247Sports.com.
(No link, so as to protect the guilty, but you should be able to find it easily enough, if you want the full context.)

Try to visualize that sentence!

How would I say the same thing?  Something like this:  Chris Petersen has begun to recruit top prospects, including a few with five-star ratings.

(Caliber is often used as a synonym for quality.  I would avoid that, because in guns caliber measures size, not quality.)
- 8:46 AM, 8 February 2018   [link]


Most Bookstores Aren't This Frank:  But almost all do carry those books.
- 8:19 AM, 8 February 2018   [link]


Two Columns On The Nunes Memo Worth Reading:  Bret Stephens declares it a "nothingburger".
And then there’s Carter Page, the man at the center of the Nunes memo.  By turns stupid (his Ph.D. thesis was twice rejected), self-important (he has compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.), and money-hungry (a suspected Russian agent who tried to recruit him in 2013 was recorded saying he “got hooked on Gazprom”), Page happens also to be highly sympathetic to the Putin regime.  The Russian phrase for such characters is polezni durak — useful idiot.  No wonder he was invited to give a commencement speech at a Russian university in the summer of 2016.  That’s how assets are cultivated in the world of intelligence.

Given the profile and his relative proximity to team Trump, it would have been professionally negligent of the F.B.I. not to keep tabs on him.   Yet the bureau only obtained a surveillance warrant after Page had left the campaign and shortly before the election, and it insisted throughout the campaign that Trump was not a target of investigation.  How that represents an affront to American democracy is anyone’s guess.
Jonathan Turley found more substance in the memo, and raised this point at the end of his column.
However, my greatest concern is what is not in the dossier: classified information “jeopardizing national security.”  Leaders like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared that the committee had moved beyond “dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security” and “disregarded the warnings of the Justice Department and the FBI.”

Now we can read the memo.   There is a sharp and alarming disconnect between the descriptions of Pelosi and the House Intelligence Committee’s Ranking Minority Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the actual document.  It clearly does not contain information that would reveal sources or methods.
I suppose it is possible that an earlier version of the memo did contain such sensitive information — and it is also possible that Pelosi didn't take the time to find out what was actually in the memo.

(Patterico reminds us that we still don't know whether our intelligence agencies have been able to confirm — or refute — any of the charges in the "Steele dossier".

To which I would add these thoughts:  We also don't know what Steele's motives were when he put it together.  He may have been motivated by an irrational hatred for our peerless leader, by earning his pay, or by legitimate worries about Trump's ties to an enemy of the United States and Britain.

Nor do we know the motives of his sources, or what their access to such secrets was and is.

All that is, as usual, unsatisfying, but it is better to recognize what we don't know than pretend that we do know these things.)
- 3:59 PM, 7 February 2018   [link]


Angela Merkel Has An Agreement With The Social Democratic Leadership:  Now, if the party members ratify it, Germany will finally have a permanent government.
On 7 February, officials from both the CDU/CSU and Social Democrats (SPD) announced a deal had been reached between the parties to form government.  Though the details are yet to be revealed, it is believed the SPD will control the influential finance and foreign affairs portfolios, with SPD leader Martin Schulz expected to stand down from the leadership and become foreign minister.  The deal will need to be approved by a majority of the SPD's 460,000 party members, who are expected to conduct a postal vote on the agreement in the coming weeks.[38][39]
Although the SPD came out very well in these negotiations, it is not certain that the party members — old and new — will ratify it.

(This BBC article has many more details, though you should note that many of them are, as I write, tentative.

Earlier posts on the election here, here, here, here, and here.)
- 11:09 AM, 7 February 2018   [link]


Is Part Of The Answer Big "Smart" Boosters?  Decades ago, I recall reading the conclusion that big dumb boosters were often the best solutions:
Big Dumb Booster (BDB) is a general class of launch vehicle based on the premise that it is cheaper to operate large rockets of simple design than it is to operate smaller, more complex ones regardless of the lower payload efficiency.[1]
Then, the conclusion seemed sensible to me, although I never took the time to do a detailed study of the analysis.

Now, with the test launch of Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy, I am beginning to think that the best solution will often be big "smart" boosters.   As I am sure you know, those two boosters are, in principle, reusable.  If they are in practice, it would cut costs for putting materials in orbit — perhaps even by an order of magnitude.

Not everyone is a space nut, so I'll add this familiar point:  Once you are in orbit around the earth, you are, in energy costs, at least halfway to much of the solar system.  If that isn't obvious to you, think how much less fuel it takes to get from earth orbit to the moon than it takes to get into orbit.

(I understand the need for publicity, but I wish Musk hadn't thrown away a perfectly usable car in that test launch.)
- 8:26 AM, 7 February 2018   [link]


As Regular Readers Will Have Guessed, I'm A Sucker for space alien cartoons, like the latest from Pepper . . . and Salt .

(I suspect this movie is one of the reasons the cartoons now almost always depict the aliens as harmless, and even friendly.)
- 7:45 AM, 7 February 2018   [link]


Justin Trudeau Wasn't Trying To Be Funny:  But he succeeded.

(I especially like the fact that he interrupted a woman to make that particular "correction".)
- 7:55 AM, 6 February 2018   [link]


The Diagnosis Is Obvious:  The cure is not.
- 7:39 AM, 6 February 2018   [link]


Worth Reading:  Molly McKew's article, "How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral".
The analysis below, conducted by our team from the social media intelligence group New Media Frontier, shows that the #releasethememo campaign was fueled by, and likely originated from, computational propaganda.  It is critical that we understand how this was done and what it means for the future of American democracy.

In the space of a few hours on January 18, #releasethememo exploded on Twitter, evolving over the next few days from being a marker for discussion on Nunes’ memo through multiple iterations of an expanding conspiracy theory about missing FBI text messages and imaginary secret societies plotting internal coups against the president.  #releasethememo provided an organizational framework for this comprehensive conspiracy theory, which, in its underpinnings, is meant to minimize and muddle concerns about Russian interference in American politics
And yes, McKew's team found that Russians were part of this effort.

Note, please:  Though I believe that McKew is correct, I have neither the resources, nor, these days, the skills to replicate the study.

But I can say that the findings are consistent with what American and Allied intelligence organizations have been finding, for years.

And I can say that, for instance, Sean Hannity, is unlikely to tell listeners about these findings.

(Unlike Donald Trump, Molly McKew is not a fan of Vladimir Putin.)
- 3:11 PM, 5 February 2018   [link]


This Could Be A Scene from a neighborhood in Seattle.
- 2:24 PM, 5 February 2018   [link]


"They Framed A Guilty Man."  That vivid sentence* has stuck with me for many years, because it helps me avoid a common error.

And it may — I repeat, may — apply to the Devin Nunes memo that is getting so much attention.

It is certainly possible, although I think it unlikely, that a few FBI agents were trying to frame Donald Trump — but, if so, that should not make us conclude that he, and his associates, are innocent.  In fact, we already know that some of those associates, by their own admissions, are guilty of various crimes.

And, as Bret Stephens just reminded us, there are good reasons to be suspicious about the Trump campaign.
Late last year, Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and a NeverTrump conservative, proposed a little thought experiment for Republicans skeptical of Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s Russia ties.

“Let’s play Alternate Universe,” he wrote on Twitter.  “It’s 2017, and President Hillary Clinton is facing charges that Chelsea met with Russians who offered oppo on Trump.  Chelsea didn’t call the FBI; and Clinton nat sec adviser Jake Sullivan lied to the FBI about talking to the Russians.”
(Older readers will recall that Bill Clinton, and his supporters, often attacked Ken Starr, during the investigation that led to Clinton's impeachment.)

As some of you have already realized, this post may be another in my both-sides-can-be-wrong series.  But I wouldn't go any further than "may" until we know more.

Which, sadly, may not be for months, or even years, from now.

(*Here are the details, as best as I can remember them:  A black activist in North Carolina was prosecuted for attacking a white segregationist.  The police were accused, perhaps justly, of framing the activist.  But that didn't mean, as another activist said, that the man was innocent.)
- 10:39 AM, 2 February 2018   [link]


This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Pat Bagley's then and now, Kal's chainsaw, and Michael Ramirez's immigration plans.

- 8:59 AM, 2 February 2018   [link]


The Latest "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me laugh out loud.
- 7:56 AM, 2 February 2018   [link]


Nigeria Does Not Get A Lot Of Snow:  So the nation doesn't have many bobsled runs — but it does have a women's bobsled team, or as the British say, "bobsleigh".
Nigeria's women's bobsleigh team will make history in Pyeongchang this month as they become the first Nigerians - and the first African sled - to compete at a Winter Olympics.

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga qualify to represent Nigeria through their parents.
(That odd "qualify through their parents" phrase just means that they aren't necessarily Nigerian citizens.  All were born in the United States, of Nigerian parents.)

They are, it is clear, having great fun, and I can almost guarantee that you will be cheered up if you watch that video.

Here's wishing them good luck — as long as they don't beat an American team.

(They were inspired, naturally, by this movie.)
- 5:54 PM, 1 February 2018   [link]


If You Have Been Paying Attention, You Knew Trump Was Going To Make This Claim:  And that it would be false.
President Donald Trump incorrectly claimed Thursday that the State of the Union address he delivered earlier this week was the most watched in history, even though his own 2017 address to Congress got higher television ratings.
. . .
Trump’s State of the Union did improve upon the most recent numbers of his predecessor, Barack Obama, whose final State of the Union address in 2016 was watched by 31.3 million people.  But Obama’s early speeches before Congress significantly outdrew Trump’s:  His first address to a joint session of Congress, in 2009, drew 52.3 million viewers, and his first State of the Union address, in 2010, attracted 48 million.

Former President George W. Bush also delivered State of the Union addresses that attracted more viewers than Trump’s.  Bush’s 2003 speech, which took place weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, drew 62 million viewers, while his 2002 speech, months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, attracted 51.7 million.

Former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 joint address to Congress, meanwhile, drew 66.9 million viewers.
Here's a scary thought:  Trump may believe his claim, just as he probably still believes that his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama's 2009 crowd.

(If I were making these comparisons, I would include percentages of our total population, which has been growing about 1 percent a year between 1993 and the present.)
- 4:17 PM, 1 February 2018   [link]


Those Who Are "Un-Patriotic" may find this post discouraging.
The Patriots and Eagles met in Super Bowl XXXIX, but they haven’t faced off now since 2015.  And to beat the Patriots in the playoffs, you just may need to have some prior experience with them in the same season.   Belichick may be known for making adjustments, but it would appear that opponents make their own adjustments to him when they face the Pats again.  While teams tend to have a hard time figuring New England out on the first try, if they were able to learn something valuable from the first matchup, it has often served them well in the second game.

Since 2001, the year that Tom Brady took over as starting quarterback, the Patriots are 15-0 in the playoffs against a new opponent and 12-9 in a rematch from the regular season.  Every playoff exit in the Belichick era was a rematch, including season sweeps at the hands of the 2005 Broncos, 2006 Colts, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens and 2015 Broncos.  The 2010 Jets also beat the Patriots in the playoffs, despite losing 45-3 in Foxborough just six weeks prior.
(Links omitted.)

Scott Kacsmar has comparative data, for those who want to go further.
- 3:24 PM, 1 February 2018   [link]


Labour Activist Jennifer James Stands Up For Basic Science:  In Britain, to encourage the election of more women Members of Parliament, the Labour Party sometimes uses all-women shortlists.

James does not disagree with this form of "positive discrimination", but she believes those on the lists should actually be women.
Jennifer James has raised more than £20,000 to fund a legal challenge against a decision by the party to allow ‘all self-defining women’ regardless of their legal gender to stand on all woman shortlists.

In a Twitter post, Ms James announced she was under investigation.  She wrote: ‘I’ve been suspended from the Labour Party for saying women don’t have d****.’
I would put it differently and say that women don't have Y chromosomes.   My way may be more scientific, but hers is certainly more vigorous.

(In mammals, sex is determined at conception, a scientific fact that has been known for more than a century.  It is absurd to say, as some activists and journalists do, that sex is "assigned" at birth, regardless of what an individual may believe later in life.

It is true that the XY sex determination system, like every other genetic system, does not always work perfectly, and so there are a few ambiguous cases, but we should see these as birth defects, not create an entirely new civil rights category for those who want to be in on the latest political fashion.

A few of those birth defects are interesting enough to deserve a post of their own — and may actually get one some time.)
- 2:11 PM, 1 February 2018   [link]


The BBC's Fact Check Of Trump's State Of The Union Speech includes some of the graphs that have led me to conclude that, so far, Trump has not had a large effect on our economy.

And I'll repeat what I said yesterday:  I am not blaming Trump for that, but I do wish he would stop claiming that his policies are already a great success.
- 8:33 AM, 1 February 2018   [link]


All But The Most Hardened Trumpistas will like this cartoon.
- 8:12 AM, 1 February 2018   [link]