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April 09, 2023


So that would make only 3 degrees of separation from Justice Thomas, right?

I think I'm pleased to have more distance than that. So far as I know. By the time you get that far, things can get weird -- at this point, I've got co-workers (1 degree of separation) all over the world. Which means that even 2 degrees can get me to people in places I've never even heard of.

My minor claim to second and third degreeism is that I knew Robert E. Kintner's daughter.

Yes, 3 degrees from Thomas. Although if I could keep people like Harlan Crow at 3 degrees, I'd be happier. But working musicians play the gigs they are offered, they can't really afford to be choosy...

Yeah, I've got Poul Anderson and his family (his daughter Astrid is married to Greg Baer), so I've got most of the Science Fiction community at 2nd degree.

And I've got both an immigrant from Thailand as a friend (let's hear it for the American melting pot!) and a lady in Bangkok as a co-worker, so heaven only knows how many people in Thailand I'm connected to. Despite never having been within a thousand kilometers of the place.

The world just keeps getting smaller. And those who refuse to accept it, or just refuse to see it, are spiitting into a hurricane.

I goofed again. Robert Kintner had a daughter by the same name as the person I knew. But it's Richard S. Salant's daughter that I knew.

I'm in the greater LA metro area, which opens up a host of connections. I'm an academic with a wife who is a science fiction author and I attend the conventions and the publisher and agency dinners with her, so I'm first degree with a bunch of the people wj is second degree with. I'm friends with people who work in comics, video games, and the ttrpg media. My tattoo artist has many celebrity clients and used to be Glen Danzig's tour driver. Others of my friends are journalists in the heavy metal scene. Oh, and I dated someone whose mother was a 20+ year NY soap opera writer, and who had gone to high school at the NY School for the Performing Arts, and that gets a whole host of people a degree out from there.

Scary amount of connections for a poor kid from rural Wisconsin.

A poor kid from small-town Ohio ...

One of my good friends from the MIT years knew Billy Koch, who was known for sailing in the America's Cup rather than for what his brothers are known for ... IIRC.

I haven't kept track of 2-degree connections from MIT, but I was in grad school at Yale from 1972 to 1975, and my then-boyfriend, later my husband and the father of my kids, was in the law school. I won't start naming the people who were at YLS then (the good, the bad, and ...?), but I will say with a smile that Sigourney Weaver lived on my floor in the graduate dorm. We even said hi now and then.

I think that it's a bit of exaggeration to call Jimmy Carter the worst Georgian ever, we have Lester Maddox, Newt Gingrich, Allen West, Herman Cain, etc.

Of course, Jimmy Carter is a war criminal, he and Brzezinski literally bought a civil war in Afghanistan just to screw with the Russians, and his policies led to the Savings and Loan crisis, etc., so I am not a fan of his.

And, of course, all of the notable folks each of us has encountered over the years decades are 2 degrees from all the rest of us.

How close does one have to get to have an offcial connection? When Obama (then still a candidate) came to Berlin and held a public speech at the Victory Column in Tiergarten I came within a stone throw of him. Not an easy feat since about 200000 other people came too.

How close does one have to get to have an offcial connection?

I'd say either an actual conversation. Or multiple interactions, at least to the point of saying Hi and routinely getting a response beyond just Hi, how are you today? Rubbing elbows a couple of times, maybe in the line at the Starbucks, not really there as a connection.

I'm with wj on this. I'd consider it a flex to say that I am at one degree to the guys from Depeche Mode because I hung out backstage over drinks with them once. I'm still a stranger to them.

Okay, how serious are we here?

It still makes me smile to think I lived down the hall from Sigourney Weaver, though I wasn't even there very much since I was mostly living in the law school dorm with what's his name.

Hartmut's story reminds me of when JFK was running for president, and one day my mom played hookey with a friend -- they didn't tell us -- and went to see him speak at a campaign stop a few miles down the road from my home town. We still have a picture of him that she took by holding her camera above the heads of the crowd in front of her and hoping for the best. Those of us kids who were old enough (I was 10) were really mad at her for not taking us.

I'm likewise with nous. I've hung out with the guys on the Ray Charles Project, including after gig dinners and occasionally attending the same Day After Thanksgiving party. But the only one I'd say I actually have a connection with is Dave Matthews, who's an old family friend (his mother and mine were close).

Flying off in a totally different direction, we have this example of far right ideology meets reality.

Who would have expected this:

The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday voted to prohibit state money from funding private school vouchers or education savings accounts. [Emphasis added]
And a signature Gov Abbott initiative goes down in flames. With the votes of 24 (mostly rural) Republican legislators.

I worked at a nuke plant with Bill Haley's daughter and granddaughter. Maybe that doesn't count. I don't think either of them actually knew him.

I also knew a woman at the plant who fooled around with Bruce Willis in high school. Word is he worked at the same plant as a security guard before he was famous.

I believed her story at the time because she didn't strike me as the kind of person to make something like that up, not to mention all the circumstances that would otherwise have made that reasonably probable. Years later I found out that the middle name of one of his daughters was that woman's first name. It was a very unusual name, so not likely a coincidence.

Oh, and Albert Einstein was my great grandfather.
Just kidding!

Texas rural representatives voted against school choice, but their constituents don't seem to feel the same way.

"By County: While some paint education choice as an enemy of rural Texas, voters in those areas do not buy it: the average support for education choice in over 200 counties that have less than 100,000 Texans is still 88%. (see below) These rural voters likely approve their local schools and are also conservatives who see that competition is good for schools and believe that parents should have the most say in their child’s education."
Texas Republican Ballot Proposition Shows Overwhelming Support for School Choice

Overall support for school choice, sure. In the abstract. But when it comes to their own public schools? Perhaps a different deal.

Compare, for example, the folks who have serious prejudices against blacks in general, citing various negative characteristics they perceive. While perhaps having a personal friend who is black, and who they do not at all view as having those negative characteristics.

CharlesWT - that article shows how the eligible *Republican* constituents feel about the school choice, not constituents as a whole.

Here's the original Bell¿ngcat story about the NATO leak starting out on Discord. All the major outlet stories about this development quote from this story:


Looks like someone with access to Top Secret material has a soft spot for Orthodox Christianity and for Russian militaria.

Discord indeed.

Looks like someone with access to Top Secret material has a soft spot for Orthodox Christianity and for Russian militaria.

This is certainly possible. A fondness for autocracy is not exclusive to the civilian side in the US. And even among the civilians with access, there are a fair number of Trumpist holdovers.

Or, there could be a lot of fakes here. Although if so, somebody (probably a group of somebodies) went to a lot of effort, including making stuff mesh with previously released information. Which basically leaves two possibilities:

1) A Russian government effott, aimed at disrupting the alliance supporting Ukraine. Which would account for some of the awkward-if-true bits about our intel on some of our allies. Plus the negatives about Ukraine's prospects would perhaps cut future assistance -- why throw good money after bad?

2) A US government disinformation effort aimed at Russia. That would account for supposed Top Secret labels, and documents which turn out to be mostly previously released stuff. Also, the numbers on relative casualties might include info not otherwise available to Russian military planners themselves. (That would make the badly done alternative version, bad editing and all, an attempt at CYA by said Russian planners. The reality not being a good path to Putin's heart.)

I'm not really sure which alternative I'd go for. The first one suffers from a lack of obvious motive, for an American Putin fan, for releasing just a few embarrassing bits about our allies. No doubt there is a lot more where those came from. But I suppose the particular leaker might have incomplete access. Not sure how he gets those and not others, but maybe. And if so, the pattern of what was accessible should narrow the suspect pool severely.

The second suffers from a similar weakness: if the Russian goal is to shake up the pro-Ukraine alliance, there's so much more room for supposed negative American views of allies. Plus, why wouldn't they have started out with fudged casualty numbers?

The third would seem to require coordination with the allies featured in the leaks. At least to the point of a heads up, and assurances that we know better. Which multiplies the chances for a leak on that front, undoing most of the desired impact.

So, not sure where I am on the whole thing. Maybe a slight lean towards to being a bodyguard of lies, especially with regard to where the Ukrainian spring offensive might go. But only a slight one.

I actually would not be surprised if the leak turned out to be a war nerd with clearance and a Call Of Duty habit who was trying to win a Discord argument and impress his homies with his deep access, flashing his trove like it was a celebrity nude phone hack.

This is the problem with the sheer amount of data we now have. The number of people with access is far larger and more widely distributed now, and the vetting process seems fairly badly compromised.

Once the trove was out there it could well be that 1 and 2 were just either side trying to get what they could from the leak.

Let's see... I took classes from former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm, so probably am two degrees from a whole lot of Dem-side noteworthies. When I worked for the state legislature I did a few odd research jobs for former Senator Cory Gardner who was chair of the Republican Senatorial Committee (ie, national fund raising and disbursement of moneys to Senators running for reelection) so am probably two degrees from a similar number of Republican noteworthies. Ran a weekend ski trip that included Nobel winner Arno Penzias. Al Aho -- of dragon compiler books fame -- once told me my paper was the best one at the small conference we were both attending. At least met most of the early UNIX luminaries. Got drunk with Tony Rothman who lived on the same graduate dorm floor I did after a publisher bought The World Is Round. Between the lot of them, I'm probably connected to a bunch of science (and some literature) people.

For a contrast to the events in the Tennessee legislature, we have this,
Arizona legislators expel GOP member over baseless election claims

Just for reference, that includes a majority of the Republicans (plus all of the Democrats) in the Republican-majority Arizona House. Crazy as a lot of Arizone Republicans have shown themselves to be, apparently there is a limit on how much they can stomach. Even though they've set themselves up to see ever more of the same.

According to ChatGPT

Degrees of Kevin Bacon

• CharlesWT		3
• hairshirthedonist	3
• JanieM		3
• liberal japonicus	4
• Michael Cain		2
• nous			2
• wj			2
I thought a Sigourney Weaver connection would guarantee a 2. All pretty meaningless in any case.

Wonder how it decided lj would be a only 4, when everybody else is no more than a 3. ("Still a few bugs in the system.")

All it had to work on was what all of you posted here. If we all could go over our lives with a fine tooth comb, we would likely find a lot more connections. I just remember that I knew John Doolittle in the military.

Wonder how it decided lj would be a only 4, when everybody else is no more than a 3. ("Still a few bugs in the system.")

Obviously is not counting all of us posting at the same blog as a connection, otherwise wj's two makes everyone a three at most.

I actually would not be surprised if the leak turned out to be a war nerd with clearance and a Call Of Duty habit who was trying to win a Discord argument and impress his homies with his deep access, flashing his trove like it was a celebrity nude phone hack.

Looks like I may be right about this, at least on the surface.


Occam's razor is winning.

Anne Laurie at BJ, commenting on reactions to Biden's visit to Northern Ireland:

Pundit brain:‘Three whole days over there, and he *still* didn’t resolve a 400-year history of blood & grievance. Why do we even let Biden into the White House?’

This is as concise a summary of why I mostly roll my eyes at the writings of pundits these days as anyone could compose. Also hilarious: I'm going to be laughing on and off all day over it.

400 year history of blood & grievance?

More like 1000 years.

I will say without delving into wikipedia for anything exact that there's a distinction to be made between the 1000 years of bloody history between the English and the Irish, and the bloody history (give or take) that crystallized around religion starting about 400 years ago. The latter was fomented and urged on, if I understand correctly, by the elites, to keep the peons fighting each other instead of rebelling against their betters. It was much like what happened in Virginia in roughly the same era, crystallized around race instead of religion.

That's a hasty potted history from someone who hasn't studied it carefully but has done a lot of scattered reading (me). I just think Anne Laurie isn't wrong in the framework of what she's talking about. If you want to throw in all the bloody history there is in those islands (and everywhere else), you would have to go much further back than 1000 years.

A minor example, but slightly worrying in the context of the 2024 election, the issue of Biden's age continues to be a nagging worry:

Biden was thanking Rob Kearney, a distant cousin who played in an Irish rugby team that beat New Zealand, for the tie he was wearing. “This was given to me by one of these guys, right here. He was a hell of a rugby player. He beat the hell out of the Black and Tans.”

Ireland’s rugby team won a famous victory against the All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago in 2016.

Irish rebels fought a bloody conflict against the Black and Tans – an auxiliary military force nicknamed for the colours of their uniforms – during the 1919-21 Irish war of independence.

Biden’s Irish government hosts winced but it was too late. The mistake swiftly trended on Twitter and zinged around international media coverage of the visit.

“Gaffe spoils Biden’s charm offensive,” said a Times headline. The New York Post declared it a “cringeworthy gaffe”.

In Ireland, most commentary seemed to view it as funny and harmless. The Irish Times called it a “delicious gaffe”, while the Irish Mirror said Biden had left people “in stitches”. Twitter users called it a highlight of the trip. “A fantastic Freudian slip. Good lad Joe,” said one.


The Guardian's report is not entirely accurate - the 'Black and Tans' usually means Englishmen, mostly war veterans, recruited to the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1920-1. So named for their uniform of dark police coats and khaki army trousers.

Their idea of policing was about what you'd expect from soldiers. It's not surprising that 'beating the hell out of the Black and Tans' is a popular notion in the Republic.

A minor example, but slightly worrying in the context of the 2024 election, the issue of Biden's age continues to be a nagging worry

Biden has been making gaffes like this for decades. It appears to be unrelated to age. Except for those who a) don't know his history, or b) are trying to find evidence to support a preexisting view (that someone else should run instead).

I've got no problem with someone preferring someone other than Biden. Beyond the detail that their choice so often looks to be someone that Trump might well beat. But some honesty about why they really want someone else would be nice.

Biden has been making gaffes like this for decades.

Biden is like the large language models in that he has a tendency to hallucinate facts.

I know about (surely everyone knows about?) Biden's history of gaffes. If he's the only one who can beat Trump then he should definitely be the nominee, and I agree it's currently unclear if there's anyone else who could. But I really can't help worrying about his age, and this was a reminder...

The Feds have been waiting for the states along the Colorado River to work out how to divvy up the decreasing flow of water. But it appears that their patience is not unlimited. So they have proposed a couple of (draconian, but at least adequate) alternatives, perhaps in the hope of concentrating minds.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials are considering whether to order Arizona, California and Nevada to take less water out of the drying Colorado River, effectively flexing their muscles over a problem they had hoped the states would solve themselves.

In the coming weeks, federal officials must decide whether to impose cuts on the three lower Colorado River Basin states by either following the longstanding system of water-rights seniority or by spreading them across three states evenly. The former would put Arizona squarely in the crosshairs — threatening cities like Phoenix and Tucson — while the latter would force far more significant cuts on California, which draws the most Colorado River water by far.

Colorado and the three other upper-basin states — New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — appear to have avoided cuts of their own, at least in the short term.

Not sure why the article doesn't mention the impact on Las Vegas (which is for most purposes). At least as important to Nevada is Phoenix and Tucson are to Arizona.

Biden is like the large language models in that he has a tendency to hallucinate facts.

You mean like, if my memory serves (I haven't looked up the details), Ronald Reagan saying he'd helped liberate a concentration camp, when that had been a part he'd played in a movie?

The Republican Party desperately needs** more politicians like this. You know, guys who will actually step up and fix real problems.

** but is unlikely to get anytime soon.

Easy to find, actually:

During Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's November 1983 visit to the U.S., Reagan told Shamir that during his service in the U.S. Army film corps, he and fellow members of his unit personally shot footage of the Nazis' concentration camps as they were liberated. Reagan would tell this story again to others, including Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. But Reagan was never present at the camps' liberation. Instead, he spent the war in Culver City, California, where he processed footage from the liberation of the camps.


Easy to find actually:


During Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's November 1983 visit to the U.S., Reagan told Shamir that during his service in the U.S. Army film corps, he and fellow members of his unit personally shot footage of the Nazis' concentration camps as they were liberated. Reagan would tell this story again to others, including Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. But Reagan was never present at the camps' liberation. Instead, he spent the war in Culver City, California, where he processed footage from the liberation of the camps.

Sorry, thought it had gone into spam!

Since I seem to be dominating comments, in for a penny in for a pound! This made me think of many arguments we have had here in the past with e.g. McKinney:


That Colorado River story is a huge shot across the bow of all three states.

I'm teaching a research class about Climate Migration this term and I passed on this news to my students (via Cal Matters) to get them thinking more deeply about the related effects of climate policy on diverse populations.

And you can rest assured that my wife and I are both watching this news pretty closely as we try to decide our longer term future plans - how long we stay in So Cal, whether we continue to rent within walking distance of our teaching or buy farther out and commute, whether we retire early and move to another region that is more affordable, using a partial pension to supplement our income, etc.

I wonder if Biden was thinking of this

Alternatively, a 'Black and Tan' in a pint, half pale ale, half stout. The stout has to be poured slowly over the ale to avoid spoiling the look with too much mixing.

Robinson's op ed looks at T. Rump as a sort of messianic figure and follows a sort of "cult of personality" pathology that we all recognize from popular media.

But what I've been watching at one step remove among my relatives has little to do with a cult of personality and more to do with an unshakeable conviction that the Democrats have fallen to the antichrist and are lost in error due to CRT, tran activism, and literal human sacrifice in the guise of abortion. They are antipathetic towards T. Rump as a person, but absolutely convinced that nothing he could do would be as bad as the evil wrought by Democrats.

I think that scares me more than all the T. Rump ultras.

And it leaves me thinking about the Third Reich, and how much of that might have been not a product of Hitler's charisma, but of the heartfelt convictions of staunch religious conservatives that Hitler could be tolerated so long as the disgusting degeneracy of the left could be utterly crushed and decency restored to the nation.

My family scares me.

Everyone is enthralled by the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave. The left sees monsters shambling ever nearer. The right sees itself surrounded by monsters at every turn.

The left sees monsters shambling ever nearer.

This is "both sides are the same" BS.

The left sees the repeal of Roe, the proliferation of guns and mass murder, the denial of science and of any kind of communal responsibility for public health, the ruthless gerrymandering, the criminal ex-president beloved by millions, the no-longer-hidden racism and misogyny ... I'm sure I'm forgetting something major, but that's enough to be going on with.

These are not shadows on a wall. People -- including children -- are dying because of this stuff, every single day.

What Janie said. I almost replied to say much the same, but thought it wasn't worth arguing with something so ridiculous. But perhaps it's always worth it....

On an entirely different tack, Mary Quant has died, who freed women from having to look like younger versions of their mothers, and made their clothes suitable for an active and probably working life (flat boots, mini skirts, no corsetry, tights instead of stockings etc etc). As she said, clothes in which you could run for the bus. Two of my favourite dresses in my teens were by Mary Quant. RIP.

The right sees the advocacy for abortion rights right up to the point of birth, the restriction of 2nA rights by laws and regulations that would have very little or no impact on mass murders; scientism and groupthink masquerading as science to justify the curtailment of civil rights; race pimps and grifters using racism to bully and shame people regardless of whether they're racist or not; the ignoring of the trans movement's attacks on women; a president who has spent a long political career as a rusty weathervane and now appears to be a doddling figurehead with subordinates running the show.

One of these lists is not like the other.

"Race pimps" -- seriously. You were half right the first time. One side sees concrete facts, the other sees phantasms.

But GftNC is right about the worth of arguing after a certain point.

Everyone is enthralled by the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave. The left sees monsters shambling ever nearer. The right sees itself surrounded by monsters at every turn.

Meh. Whatever. Plato pretty much got everything wrong.

I pause only to observe that libertarians, similar to zealous Maoists, do not see any shadows at all, blinded as they are by the illusion of the sheer brilliance of their (unmoored from anything resembling reality) "philosopy".

There's been an arrest in the NATO leak.


This one just seems so much more tawdry and pathetic than the previous leaks.

Here I was thinking that finding the leaker (if it actually was a leak) would be relatively straightforward. On the grounds that the number of people with access to that collection of Top Secret stuff would be small. Ha!

I could maybe see Air National Guard officers above, say, O-6 having an arguable need to know for some of it. But an Airman Last Class??? Something is seriously screwed up with how widely information gets distributed. Not to mention with the vetting process.**

** Yes, I've known for a long time that there isn't really any security from the guys who, for example, make backups of your systems. But you can at least use things like dual custody. And not putting in the position kids like this.

"This one just seems so much more tawdry and pathetic than the previous leaks."

Read somewhere that past leaks have typically been motivated by ideology or greed.

The current leaks seem to be for the lulz.

Calling them "tawdry and pathetic" is to give them undue dignity.

What Snarki said. Beyond pathetic.

Unfortunately, damaging nonetheless. I only hope it doesn't result in human assets ending up dead. (And if it does, I hope there is a way to add homocide charges to the charge sheet.)

I stood right next to Steven Spielberg at the BAFTAs - but his bodyguard made sure there it didn't go beyond that (not that I would have tried).

I think Biden's age is a real problem, there's a danger he ventures into Reagan second term territory.

I haven't been following this: will he defintely be the nominee or is there a chance he might be replaced?

My tolerance for Biden's gaffes increased quite a bit when the stories of his work to overcome stuttering came out.


I do get that he's old and it is worrisome, but I'm not sure I use speech gaffes as a synecdoche.

In recent decades, agriculture and communities in the western part of the US have done a lot to reduce water usage while still growing.

"Consider Las Vegas. Since the drought began two decades ago, the city has cut per capita water use by half. Total water use has fallen by 26 billion gallons since 2002, even as its population has grown by 800,000 residents. Or take Phoenix, another fast-growing metropolitan area. Since 1980, the city’s population has more than doubled, yet its total water use has declined by one-third."
Saving Water Even as We Grow: Amid record drought, communities in the American West are finding ways to do more with less water.

My tolerance for Biden's gaffes increased quite a bit when the stories of his work to overcome stuttering came out.

Gaffes do not equal fabulism and neither are the result of having a stutter, which I've dealt with all of my life. My stutter is particularly pronounced when under pressure, as in trial. Yet, I didn't make stuff up. Instead, what I did--and many like me--is to just find a different way of saying what you want to say. Typically, it's a sound that hangs up somewhere in the larynx area and it feels like your throat won't work. Weird, but part of life.

I've been rather moved by the story of Biden's stuttering for a very long time, and his truly kind approach to kids who stutter.

But his age issue, as far as I'm concerned, has two important, main aspects:

1. Might he actually go Alzheimerish whilst in office, as Reagan did? (For anybody who can't remember a story I've told more than once before, I was present when then President Reagan gave a speech in London and didn't know what country he was in.) If so, as long as he was surrounded by competent enough people, I imagine the damage would be limited, and almost certainly less bad than Trump managed to cause during his one term.

2. Would increasingly obvious and embarrassing examples of gaffes, or cognitive deficit be an electoral disadvantage such that they might hand the presidency to Trump? To me, this is the really worrying aspect.

As for fabulism, it seems that very many American (and other) politicians are guilty of it. Reagan's of course was very egregious, but I would have thought there are enough other examples from both sides of the political spectrum to stop partisan stone-throwing.

We may be left with a choice between Biden fabulism and Trump fabulism. I know which one I prefer.

ps And of course, as is so obvious that I forgot to mention it, in a contest Biden v Trump, the latter is so extreme a fabulist that there would be absolutely no contest as to the prizewinner in the fabulism event!

Or, what hsh said.

Trump tells boldfaced in your face lies. Biden's more of just-so stories that illustrate or bolster a point he's making.

Gaffes do not equal fabulism

Quite true. But when he says "black and tan", and then immediately corrects it to "all blacks", that's a gaffe, not fabulism. At least, not on any definition of fabulism that I'm familiar with.

Further to which, from today's Grauniad under the headline "Biden is too old and not especially popular, but he is the Trump-slayer. That’s why he is right to run in 2024":

Consider the latest polls which depict essentially a dead heat between Biden – whom many (and certainly not just liberals) evaluate as a highly effective president – and Donald Trump, whose April activities include his indictment on 34 felony charges involving hush-money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Interpreting polls, of course, is tricky, which we should have learned in 2016 when relatively few Americans believed that Trump, the reality-show star and con artist, could actually be elected president of the United States.

But it’s still startling to see how little awareness many Americans have of how hazardous the next election will be. Media coverage of election-as-horserace makes the problem worse.

“Not the odds, but the stakes” is the excellent recent advice to journalists about how to focus their politics coverage from Jay Rosen, the prominent media critic and New York University professor. That counsel, though, is widely ignored, as sensation and speculation eclipse substance nearly every time.

That’s a shame, because the stakes could hardly be higher. Trump, after all, both during and after his term in office, has chipped away at the foundations of American democracy, including doing his best to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and has steadfastly, if baselessly, denied its legitimacy.

Another Trump term – complete with appointments of Trump loyalists instead of competent experts in the courts and throughout government – would be nothing short of disastrous. It would be, quite possibly, the end of the US as we know it.


A long thread already, but I need to mention that I am 4 handshakes from Hitler. By 2 distinct paths.

One is through my aunt, who was a good friend of Jessica Mitford, two of whose sisters (but I'm counting this for just one) were really good friends of Hitler, not to mention that one was married to the leader of the British Fascist Party.

The other is through the sister of a notable economist - OK, J K Galbraith - who extensively interviewed Albert Speer after the War.

(For a time, I thought there was a third; but I recently checked the data on Armand Hammer (yes, real, see Wikipedia) and concluded that he probably never dealt with any of the high priests of the USSR who dealt with Hitler)

I note that all these connections go through someone who would be considered a leftist by right-wing Amurrican standards.

I won't mention my 2-handshakes connection with pretty much anyone in the world of pop music, because that would be too much of an invasion of privacy; also because I personally have almost no knowledge of pop music, nor much taste for it.

Trump tells boldfaced in your face lies. Biden's more of just-so stories that illustrate or bolster a point he's making.

Trump tells every kind of lie. Those in the know said that whenever he told an anecdote (trying to bolster a point he was making) about people who thanked and praised him for his unprecedented marvellouseness and achievements, it was an infallible sign of the lie that their humble thanks always started "Sir..."

If Putin has been reading these leaked documents (and I'd bet he has been), something like this could have him sacking military commanders right and left:
Russia’s commando units gutted by Ukraine war, U.S. leak shows

Trashing his Spetsnaz units across the board is going to cripple them for a decade or more. And the commanders who put them on the front lines (not their proper function) didn't even get successes in return.

Trump tells boldfaced in your face lies.

Not just easily refuted lies -- after all, his fans don't care about that. But lies which seem to be merely reflexive. That is, where there's no point. It's like he just can't help himself.

wj - that news should have been public knowledge for Putin whether or not the documents were leaked. The BBC has been reporting this sort of thing for a while with help from their Russian bureau.


And we know from public sources that the various commanders have been feuding over the lack of coordination and support and the heavy losses that they are taking.

Russia's military preparedness and strength has been severely damaged by this war. It goes without saying that Ukraine has suffered catastrophic losses as well, but the consequences fall more heavily on the occupier in terms of military effectveness.

Oh, I forgot to mention the Einstein autograph that I have locked up in my fireproof safe. The autograph is on a check made out to my father. (He didn't want to deposit the check, as the signature mattered more than the ~$2.50 of the check, but Einstein's secretary wrote, asking him to deposit it, and promising to return the check to him when it cleared. This failure to deposit checks apparently happened all the time, and it messed up the bookkeeping!)

Porlock Junior: I like your eclectic mix of connections!

Pretty sure that Biden has kissed the Blarney Stone.

Maybe a reporter should ask him.

When Biden kissed the Blarney stone it was still just a pebble.

My dad was a Fulbright scholar, my parents and then 2-year old oldest brother were in Manchester for an academic year, 1956-57. During their stay they did travel some, including a trip to Ireland. My brother's stuffed toy dog Mack kissed the Blarney Stone, or so the family legend goes. I grew up with Mack (mostly devoid of any fluff by that point) as my companion and he has a perch on one of the beds in my guest bedroom.

Mack got around, while they were in London they got back to where they were staying and my brother became inconsolable when it was discovered Mack was missing. My dad had to go out that night retracing where they had been, and when he went to Westminster Abbey a man there was able to present Mack to my dad, saying that they had said prayers during Vespers for the little dog to be reunited with his rightful owner.

That is an exceptionally charming story.

My brother's stuffed toy dog Mack kissed the Blarney Stone, or so the family legend goes.

So that would put you at 2 degrees of separation from everyone who has ever kissed the Blarney Stone, right?

@wj -- your 7:38 made me laugh out loud. Thanks for the entertainment.

(@JanieM -- Definitely need an emoji for a hat tip!)

Thanks Gftnc.

Since pretty much everybody here is old enough to remember (and the rest of you can look up details), we have this weekend's homework assignment:

Compare and contrast:
- Justice Abe Fortas
- Justice Clarence Thomas

Let's see...both went to Yale, and both are/were accused of financial improprieties with regard to rich friends...

Or Nixon

The Fortas business predated my sentience about such things. My one summer camp experience was 1973 when I was 8, just short of 9. It was only two weeks, but I did get a letter from mom that said they were watching Watergate (meaning the hearings) so I would be glad I was missing it. I was annoyed because summer was when I could watch my favorite daytime game shows, which were being pre-empted for the hearings.

Priest, I don't know where you're based, but if not the UK and if you've never been to the Abbey, you will get a glimpse of where they said prayers for Mack's reunion with your brother if you happen to see clips on the news of the King's coronation on May 6th!

From today's Guardian:

The modern Republican party is hurtling towards fascism

Robert Reich

We are witnessing the logical culmination of win-at-any-cost politics – and Donald Trump has encouraged it

Sat 15 Apr 2023 11.00 BST

America no longer has two parties devoted to a democratic system of self-government.

We have a Democratic party, which – notwithstanding a few glaring counter-examples, such as what the Democratic National Committee did to Bernie Sanders in 2016 – is still largely committed to democracy.

And we have a Republican party, which is careening at high velocity toward authoritarianism. OK, fascism.

What occurred in Nashville last week is a frightening reminder of the fragility of American democracy when Republicans obtain supermajorities and no longer need to work with Democratic lawmakers.

The two Tennessee Democrats who Republicans expelled from the Tennessee house have been restored to their seats until special elections are held, but the damage to democracy cannot be easily undone.

The two were not accused of criminal wrongdoing or even immoral conduct. Their putative offense was to protest against Tennessee’s failure to enact stronger gun controls after a shooting at a Christian school in Nashville left three nine-year-old students and three adults dead.

They were technically in violation of house rules, but the state legislature has never imposed so severe a penalty for rules violations. In fact, over the past few years, several Tennessee legislators have kept their posts even after being charged with serious sexual misconduct. And the two who were expelled last week are Black people, while a third legislator who demonstrated in the same manner but was not expelled is white.

We are witnessing the logical culmination of win-at-any-cost Trump Republican politics – scorched-earth tactics used by Republicans to entrench their power, with no justification other than that they can.

Democracy is about means. Under it, citizens don’t have to agree on ends (abortion, healthcare, guns or whatever else we disagree about) as long as we agree on democratic means for handling our disagreements.

But for Trump Republicans, the ends justify whatever means they choose – including expelling lawmakers, rigging elections through gerrymandering, refusing to raise the debt ceiling and denying the outcome of a legitimate presidential election.

Wisconsin may soon offer an even more chilling example. While liberals celebrated the election last Tuesday of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin supreme court because she will tip the court against the state’s extreme gerrymandering (the most extreme in the nation) and its fierce laws against abortion (among the most stringent in America), something else occurred in Wisconsin on election day that may well negate Protasiewicz’s victory.

Voters in Wisconsin’s eighth senatorial district decided (by a small margin) to send Republican Dan Knodl to the state senate. This gives the Wisconsin Republican party a supermajority – and with it, the power to remove key state officials, including judges, through impeachment.

Several weeks ago, Knodl said he would “certainly consider” impeaching Protasiewicz. Although he was then talking about her role as a county judge, his interest in impeaching her presumably has increased now that she’s able to tip the state’s highest court.

As in Tennessee, this could be done without any necessity for a public justification. Under Republican authoritarianism, power is its own justification.

Recall that in 2018, after Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor and attorney general, the Republican legislature and the lame duck Republican governor responded by significantly cutting back the power of both offices.

Meanwhile, a newly installed Republican supermajority in Florida has given Ron DeSantis unbridled control – with total authority over the board governing Disney, the theme park giant he has fought over his anti-LGBTQ “don’t say gay” law; permission to fly migrants from anywhere in the US to destinations of his own choosing, for political purposes, and then send the bill to Florida’s taxpayers; and unprecedented prosecutorial power in the form of his newly created, hand-picked office of election “integrity”, pursuing supposed cases of voter fraud.

Without two parties committed to democratic means to resolve differences in ends, the party committed to democracy is at a tactical disadvantage. If it is to survive, eventually it, too, will sacrifice democratic means to its own ends.

In these circumstances, partisanship turns to enmity and political divisions morph into hatred. In warfare there are no principles, only wins and losses. America experienced this 160 years ago, when the civil war tore us apart.

Donald Trump is not singularly responsible for this dangerous trend, but he has legitimized and encouraged the ends-justify-the-means viciousness now pushing the GOP toward becoming the American fascist party.

Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a Guardian US columnist. His newsletter is at robertreich.substack.com

Gftnc, the summer of 1974 my mom took me and my then 14-year old older brother for a month long trip to Europe. Our last major stop was in London for about a week. I don’t recall that we went to Westminster Abbey, though we may have passed it when out and about. I had not heard the family story at that point.

Earlier in the trip we spent a day walking around Monte Carlo, the International Herald Tribune in the newspaper boxes had the huge headline about Nixon’s resignation. Later in the day we took the train to Eze, my parents had met a well to do ex-pat American couple during previous travels. The Pitts had a villa there, we watched the news that night, with Nixon’s resignation speech being translated into French.

Continuing the math/software theme, a fascinating story at Bloomberg about beating roullete.

that article about beating roulette is silly...it's all about wear and bias in the part of the roulette setup that is fixed, not in the spinning wheel itself.

You can drop the ball from the same spot every single time, but if the wheel is spinning, you still get all the possible numbers.

And not nearly enough to overcome the "house edge" with "0" (and usually "00" too). Losing by 0.1% is better than losing by 0.5%, but it's still losing.

Continuing the math/software theme, a fascinating story at Bloomberg about beating roullete.

Interesting story. As a long time poker addict, I am always fascinated by articles/books on card counting (blackjack), betting strategies against a house limit (lol-none that work), poker (actually purchased Doyle Brunson's opus back in the day), and various forms of gambling grift (always good for a laugh). But my question is this: If they can beat a wheel based on "tendencies" why do these geniuses always wait until the ball is in play before placing their bets?

And not nearly enough to overcome the "house edge" with "0" (and usually "00" too).

As I read it, the player strategy had nothing to do with this aspect of the game.

The way to win on gambling: own a casino.

Beyond that, your only winning strategy is to refuse to buy a lottery ticket. That way, your taxes are lower, thanks to people who do buy them. (A state lottery is basically a tax on ignorance of statistics.)

The point of buying a lottery ticket is not to increase one's expected future wealth, which everyone knows it does not. It's to relish knowing that one might soon be very rich. The precise probability attached to 'might' makes little difference to one's enjoyment of the remote prospect.

@Pro Bono -- exactly. Thank you! It's much cheaper entertainment than going to a movie or out to dinner.

My mom used to enjoy thinking about how she'd give piles of money to her offspring and any friends who were in particular need.

And just to put it in perspective, she bought lottery tickets only rarely, and in moderation. If it was a slight extra "tax," well, it didn't break her finances, which were modest.

This is from an article on AI in the FT by Ian Hogarth. There are scary notices about not sharing articles except using the Share button, which try as I might I could not find. I'm hoping this short extract will not attract ire; it's a long article, but one which I suspect many here would find interesting. Unlike many FT articles, it did not seem to be behind a paywall, but perhaps that was because it was posted by a subscriber. Anyway, here it is, under the headline "We must slow down the race to God-like AI
I’ve invested in more than 50 artificial intelligence start-ups. What I’ve seen worries me"

On a cold evening in February I attended a dinner party at the home of an artificial intelligence researcher in London, along with a small group of experts in the field. He lives in a penthouse apartment at the top of a modern tower block, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city’s skyscrapers and a railway terminus from the 19th century. Despite the prime location, the host lives simply, and the flat is somewhat austere.

During dinner, the group discussed significant new breakthroughs, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and DeepMind’s Gato, and the rate at which billions of dollars have recently poured into AI. I asked one of the guests who has made important contributions to the industry the question that often comes up at this type of gathering: how far away are we from “artificial general intelligence”? AGI can be defined in many ways but usually refers to a computer system capable of generating new scientific knowledge and performing any task that humans can.

Most experts view the arrival of AGI as a historical and technological turning point, akin to the splitting of the atom or the invention of the printing press. The important question has always been how far away in the future this development might be. The AI researcher did not have to consider it for long. “It’s possible from now onwards,” he replied.

This is not a universal view. Estimates range from a decade to half a century or more. What is certain is that creating AGI is the explicit aim of the leading AI companies, and they are moving towards it far more swiftly than anyone expected. As everyone at the dinner understood, this development would bring significant risks for the future of the human race. “If you think we could be close to something potentially so dangerous,” I said to the researcher, “shouldn’t you warn people about what’s happening?” He was clearly grappling with the responsibility he faced but, like many in the field, seemed pulled along by the rapidity of progress.

When I got home, I thought about my four-year-old who would wake up in a few hours. As I considered the world he might grow up in, I gradually shifted from shock to anger. It felt deeply wrong that consequential decisions potentially affecting every life on Earth could be made by a small group of private companies without democratic oversight. Did the people racing to build the first real AGI have a plan to slow down and let the rest of the world have a say in what they were doing? And when I say they, I really mean we, because I am part of this community.

My interest in machine learning started in 2002, when I built my first robot somewhere inside the rabbit warren that is Cambridge university’s engineering department. This was a standard activity for engineering undergrads, but I was captivated by the idea that you could teach a machine to navigate an environment and learn from mistakes. I chose to specialise in computer vision, creating programs that can analyse and understand images, and in 2005 I built a system that could learn to accurately label breast-cancer biopsy images. In doing so, I glimpsed a future in which AI made the world better, even saving lives. After university, I co-founded a music-technology start-up that was acquired in 2017.

Since 2014, I have backed more than 50 AI start-ups in Europe and the US and, in 2021, launched a new venture capital fund, Plural. I am an angel investor in some companies that are pioneers in the field, including Anthropic, one of the world’s highest-funded generative AI start-ups, and Helsing, a leading European AI defence company. Five years ago, I began researching and writing an annual “State of AI” report with another investor, Nathan Benaich, which is now widely read. At the dinner in February, significant concerns that my work has raised in the past few years solidified into something unexpected: deep fear.

A three-letter acronym doesn’t capture the enormity of what AGI would represent, so I will refer to it as what is: God-like AI. A superintelligent computer that learns and develops autonomously, that understands its environment without the need for supervision and that can transform the world around it. To be clear, we are not here yet. But the nature of the technology means it is exceptionally difficult to predict exactly when we will get there. God-like AI could be a force beyond our control or understanding, and one that could usher in the obsolescence or destruction of the human race.

Recently the contest between a few companies to create God-like AI has rapidly accelerated. They do not yet know how to pursue their aim safely and have no oversight. They are running towards a finish line without an understanding of what lies on the other side.


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