I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghosts

Observed on Corcoran St. NW, between 13th and 14th, Logan Circle, D.C.:

Afraid of no ghosts

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Our Scientific Infrastructure Is Decaying

Let’s ignore for a moment that we just shut down a fusion power research center that recently set a scientific record. Because that’s just too depressing to think about. Instead, let’s move on to how we’re getting our butts kicked in weather forecasting.

Somehow that didn’t cheer me up…

Anyway, this is a problem (boldface mine):

Nobody I’ve spoken to doubts the superiority of ensembles [a computationally intensive forecasting method]. Yet they haven’t been widely adopted in the United States at the resolution required to forecast localized, or “mesoscale,” events — specifically, thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes — because high-resolution ensembles require more computing power than the National Weather Service can currently provide. Higher-resolution ensembles translate to greater accuracy in the same way that HDTVs are clearer than analog sets. I met with a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder who showed me a prototype mesoscale ensemble for the United States. But at the moment, he can’t exploit its full potential because the supercomputing cluster at the Weather Service simply couldn’t handle the load.

Mass also contends that the Weather Service should be spending far more to exploit Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Reporting, or Tamdar, developed in the late 1990s. Regional airlines, like SkyWest, have Tamdar sensors on their aircraft, capturing data for Panasonic Weather Solutions’ new global model, which often outperforms Weather Service predictions. In 2008, the Weather Service began buying this proprietary data, but budget constraints in 2013 put an end to that. The Federal Aviation Administration funded NOAA to study the value of Tamdar observations. The results were staggering: Without it, forecast accuracy plummeted up to 50 percent. Last year, the Weather Service found a budgetary workaround that let it purchase a small amount of limited, low-resolution Tamdar data, but it’s nowhere near enough to make a difference in the accuracy of its models….

In October 2012, the European Center’s supercomputing cluster — the most powerful forecasting system in the world — correctly plotted Hurricane Sandy’s path into the Mid-Atlantic United States eight days in advance, while the National Hurricane Center predicted the storm would veer harmlessly offshore. Al Roker told me, “In a sad way, it took something like Sandy for people to say, Wait a minute, this is crazy.”

Because hurricanes form over oceans, where there are very few weather stations, predicting their routes and strength requires satellite data. What frustrates Roker and other meteorologists is that many satellites carry outdated technology and are nearing the ends of their life spans. “There is stuff circling the earth that’s been up there for 20 to 30 years,” Roker says. Replacements were scheduled to be sent into orbit last year, but their launches were postponed in part because the inspector general at the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, found engineering and manufacturing defects in their components.

There is this belief, in large part due to ridiculous movies and TV shows, that we have this massive scientific infrastructure. The reality is that much of it is held together on shoestring budgets and is quite fragile. Of course, this wasn’t mentioned at all during the presidential debates (but we did get lots of questions about budget deficits! WHEEEEE!!!).

Again: saying you love science, but refusing to fund it adequately, isn’t loving science, that’s just ogling its breasts (or perhaps grabbing it by the pussy, to use a phrase…).

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Links 10/23/16

Links for you. Science:

Rock-Smashing Monkeys Unintentionally Make Sharp Stone Tools
5 Ways a Post-Antibiotic Era Could Change Medicine
Jennifer Lopez Sets Futuristic Bio-Terror Drama at NBC (not sure this is helping…)
Tasmanian devil milk fights superbugs
Greenland Is Melting


Economic Anxiety and the Limits of Data Journalism (excellent)
Young Minds in the Era of American Depravity (excellent)
End of An Alley: Blagden Alley was once a haven for D.C.’s underground arts scene. Now its last remaining artist is being priced out (important natural history of gentrification)
The Drug Trafficker Donald Trump Risked His Casino Empire to Protect
Trump’s rhetoric is not really 1860 it is 1890 language
How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts
How Russia Pulled Off the Biggest Election Hack in U.S. History
No, Late-Term Abortions Don’t ‘Rip’ Babies Out Of Wombs — And They Exist For A Reason
Trump And GOP’s Ignorance About Abortion Will Kill Women
Donald Trump confuses birth with abortion and no, there are no ninth month abortions
Does America Really Need Overseas Bases?
Some see a nightmare with a Trump loss, but they may be looking at the wrong boogeyman
‘Nothing to See Here’ Is Pundit Takeaway on DNC Leaks
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers – Veblen in the 21st Century
Here’s What Economists Don’t Understand About Race
Larry Sanders on brother Bernie and why Tony Blair was ‘destructive’
Conservatism Never Fails: How the Republican Party will try to explain away Donald Trump’s disastrous campaign
Chris Wallace, Supply, Demand, and the Government Budget Deficit

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Evan Bayh And The Congressional Retirement Plan™

Many moons ago, I described what I call the Congressional Retirement Plan™, which at the time, was a novel concept (boldface added):

I think he’s right in that it’s not about the campaign contributions. If their reluctance to support a public option were based solely on the electoral calculus of campaign donations versus popular support–that is, votes–the votes win hands down. Any Democratic senator in a swing state who needs independent and Republican votes can’t afford to piss off the ~50% of Republicans and ~70% of independents who support a public option. To the extent that an Evan Bayh is supported by independents and Republicans, does he really think that these crossover voters are the ones who oppose a public option? (Actually, Bayh just might think so, since he’s dumber than a fucking sack of hammers). So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors (of course, we are talking about ‘new Democrats’ who are the most inept politicians in recorded history, so who knows?).

So, Mad Biologist, how is this about money? It’s simple: it’s about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.

I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.

But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.

Did I mention Evan Bayh? Why, yes, I did (boldface mine):

Evan Bayh says that his Indianapolis condominium has long been his home, and that he has spent “lots and lots” of time there since deciding to run for his old Senate seat. But a copy of his schedule shows Bayh did not stay overnight there once during his last year in office in 2010.

The schedule provided to The Associated Press shows the Democrat spent taxpayer money, campaign funds or let other people pay for him to stay in Indianapolis hotels on the relatively rare occasions he returned from Washington, D.C…

The revelations raise new questions about Bayh’s ties to Indiana and his use of official funds as he campaigns to help Democrats retake the Senate…

Earlier this month, the AP reported that Bayh spent substantial time during his last year in the Senate searching for a private sector job, while voting for or seeking changes to legislation that benefited the corporate and financial world.

Since unexpectedly entering the race in July, Bayh, whose primary residence is in Washington, has struggled to explain whether Indiana is home. During an interview with WLFI-TV in August he tried to put the issue to rest, but gave the wrong address for his condo, which is listed on his drivers’ license and voter registration.

If the Democrats retake the Senate, count on Bayh reverting to form and attempting to undercut everything progressives want. Again, the greatest threats will come from inside the wire.

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Links 10/22/16

Links for you. Science:

Small Island, Big Experiment
Plastic Is the Ocean’s New Junk Food
‘Brexit’ May Hurt Britain Where It Thrives: Science and Research
Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia
Arizona’s Adorable Monster


The Popular Populist: Bernie Sanders is the most-liked politician in the United States. What does that mean for the future of left politics here?
Women Who Hate Trump, but Aren’t With Her: The misogyny of the 2016 campaign has stifled critiques of Clinton from progressive feminists and people of color
The strange case of the disappearing NAEP
Time is short for USDA to flex its antitrust muscle with meat industry
What Paid Sick Days Mean for Domestic Violence Survivors
How to stop voter suppression before it begins
A People’s History of Donald Trump’s Business Busts and Countless Victims
Why Twitter Is Actually a Media Company
I’m not aware of a serious Left argument devoted to the idea that social democratic policy would easily win over Trump’s core supporters
Trump’s Election Rigging Claims: Democrats, It’s a Trap! (yes, it is)
How the Web Became Unreadable
To Feed Energy Demand, There Will Be Sprawl (deserts are not absences, they are ecosystems)
3 Reasons To Be Worried About the Blackstone Group—and Their Friend, Hillary Clinton
Would Progressive Economics Win Over Trump’s White Working Class Voters?
DC’s libraries have far fewer books and way more e-books and audio and visual resources than they used to (boo! Hiss!)
Hillary Clinton And Wall Street: Financial Industry May Control Retirement Savings In A Clinton Administration
Hey, Leonardo DiCaprio: true climate champions don’t fight against urban density

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Selling The Sizzle When The Steak Needs Work

While Kathleen Geier is writing about feminist issues, I think this is a good warning for the left as a whole (boldface mine):

If you searched for a single headline that distilled what has been so depressing about feminist commentary on the 2016 election, you could do worse than pick this one, from The Guardian’s Lindy West, a writer I usually admire: “Hating Trump isn’t enough—we need to talk about why Clinton rules.” On the one hand, there’s the fixation on Trump’s awfulness, which is hardly a secret. On the other, there is the relentless cheerleading for Clinton, which sounds suspiciously like the desperate overselling of an underwhelming product. The piece accompanying the headline shares the defects common to the feminist pro-Clinton op-ed genre. In one short article, there are two long paragraphs about the sexism Clinton has suffered, but no attempt to probe into the policies she is proposing, or to grapple honestly with her actual feminist record….

But though you’d never guess it from West’s piece and others like it, there’s a viable alternative both to outright opposition to Hillary and the happy talk of her feminist fans—one that is at once more intellectually honest and more politically constructive. Political theorist Nancy Fraser has dubbed it “critical support”: a vote for Clinton, combined with “vociferous criticism of her policies and explicit campaigning for Sanders-type alternatives.” Critical support, says Fraser, is “a strategy that looks beyond November to the ongoing struggle to build a new American left.”

…But now, as the campaign dwindles down to its final days, it is long past time for feminists to start thinking not only about the election, but also about what should happen afterward. If Hillary triumphs in November, how can feminists realize the potential of an historic opportunity to achieve social justice for women? More specifically, how can we pressure Clinton to make good on her feminist campaign promises, while at the same time fight for a bolder, more expansive vision for American feminism?

…But absent organized pressure, Hillary Clinton is unlikely to avail herself of this opportunity. Aside from its anti-Trumpism, Clinton’s general-election campaign lacked a strong theme, which will make it difficult for her to claim a mandate for any particular set of policies or political vision. As New Republic columnist David Dayen has noted, “Democrats are at their most inspiring when they run on actual policies.”

…Unfortunately, many of Clinton’s feminist supporters have made it easy for Democrats to take them for granted. In the 1960s and 1970s, feminist activists and intellectuals maintained a critical distance from the Democratic Party…

But in recent decades, the distance between mainstream feminism and the Democratic Party has almost totally evaporated. We saw the culmination of this process in the 2016 primaries, when every major women’s group and practically every mainstream feminist pundit supported Clinton over Bernie Sanders, many of them sounding more like campaign surrogates than independent journalists and activists. Feminist pundits have argued that Clinton, by virtue of her power as a positive role model, will uplift all women. But this trickle-down feminist perspective confuses the narrow personal interests of Hillary Clinton with the broader interests of women as a class. The result is that feminists have spent far more energy celebrating Clinton’s shattering of the “ultimate glass ceiling” and shielding her from criticisms (including fair ones, like those about her ties to Wall Street) than to sweating the details on her record and policies

Feminists can’t afford to be complacent, because there’s one thing we know for sure about Hillary Clinton: In the face of political failure, her deepest instincts are to move to the right. Hillary biographers such as Carl Bernstein report that after Bill Clinton’s failure to be re-elected governor in 1980 and the GOP takeover of the House in the 1994 midterms, she was a major advocate of politics of retreat and triangulation. And today, her triangulating tendencies are alive and kicking. Clinton has actively courted the endorsements of prominent Republicans who have made it clear that they expect to get something in return for their support. The recently leaked Wall Street speeches, which show Clinton praising the Social Security–cutting Bowles Simpson plan and openly admitting that elected officials “need both a public and a private [political] position,” raise serious questions about the depth of Clinton’s commitment to her progressive campaign promises.

It’s an excellent piece–worth the whole read.

November 9th is when the real battle begins. Just as was the case with healthcare policy, the real problem won’t be Republicans, it will be Democrats. Don’t give them any love until they earn it.

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Links 10/21/16

Links for you. Science:

Why Elon Musk’s Mars Vision Needs ‘Some Real Imagination’
From @teamwaxman in STAT: pharma waste and antibiotic resistance
A natural barrier to lateral gene transfer from prokaryotes to eukaryotes revealed from genomes: the 70 % rule
The scientists who support Donald Trump
Fusion Reactor Breaks Record on the Day It’s Shut Down by Budget Cuts


WikiLeaks Emails Show Clinton Aides Cowering In Fear Of Seeming To Care About The Poor
Brutalism, a revival: From cool to crude and back again
How maths can get you locked up
Phenomenal Photos from the Antares Launch
Trump’s talk of a rigged election? Republicans built that.
Fuck You Startup World
A Bunch Of Influential Progressives Just Gave Hillary Clinton Their Stamp Of Approval
Black Women With Criminal Records Face Higher Rates Of Housing Discrimination In D.C.
How Trump’s Casino Bankruptcies Screwed His Workers out of Millions in Retirement Savings
Trump Calls To ‘Drain The Swamp’ Of D.C., Furthering Ahistorical Lies
A Plea To The Fraternal Order Of Police: Take Back Your Trump Endorsement
The truth about trade
Are Wet Wipes Wrecking the World’s Sewers?

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