« Seasons Come, Seasons Go | Main | The subterranean streams of se acabó »

September 09, 2023


Since you incautiously said "or something else", I came across something fascinating this morning

We still don’t know what the world’s first animal looked like, but scientists say it arose roughly 700 million years ago from a soup of single-celled organisms floating in the ocean. The multi-celled creature thrived, multiplied and evolved, at some point splitting into two distinct species.

One species kept evolving, eventually producing virtually all the animals on Earth — dinosaurs, humans, cats, mosquitoes. The other species, the “sister to all other animals,” took its own, narrower evolutionary path.

Now, after years of fierce debate, scientists have the clearest evidence to date which animal alive today is the sister’s true descendant: It’s the mysterious comb jelly, several species of which flourish in Monterey Bay.

The scientific consensus siding with the gelatinous deep-sea creature — over the other leading contender, the simple sponge — gelled over the summer after a team of Northern California researchers led by Darrin Schultz, a 30-year-old biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, provided the evidence in the scientific journal Nature in May. In the months since the report was published, the scientific community worldwide has embraced both the team’s findings and its novel approach, with many scientists now predicting that the team’s work will change the way evolution is studied.

“It is an extraordinary result,” said Max Telford, a zoologist at University College London who has spent years researching the subject and had always believed the sponge was the sister. “The new analyses are plain for anyone to see.”

Previously, scientists on both sides of the debate had largely relied on the traditional technique of comparing animals’ individual genes, but the NorCal team found a way to compare their entire chromosomes.

This is part of what's cool about science. You can have two plausible views on something. Then somebody comes up with an entirely different approach, gathers data with it. And both side say: "Well, that settles that." And then, this is the cool part, everybody starts asking, "What else can we do with this?"
Telford, the London-based zoologist, and other researchers believe that a new suite of software programs — which Schultz developed himself and shared with the world — will open new doors for scientists who’ve devoted their lives to studying evolution.

Anthony Redmond, an evolutionary geneticist at Trinity College Dublin whose own work had pointed to the sponge, said the tools will let scientists track species’ evolutionary trajectories in ways “we haven’t been able to do up to now.”

General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin considered much of the data and equipment on the LCS proprietary — a problem that the GAO has identified throughout the military. As a result, only their employees were allowed to do certain repairs

Looks to me like some (extremely!) sloppy work by the contracts guys in procurement. The military should never be in a position where the troops in combat cannot fix their gear!

Having been, elsewhere, dealing with issues arising from a different piece of bad contract writing**, I'm a bit sensitive on the subject.

** Some fool made a contract "renewable" rather than "renewable by mutual consent". Which means that one party can renew in perpetuity, and the other party is simply stuck.

It's unbelievable that the US military doesn't have the clout to have its own way when contracts are written. That suggests either stupidity or corruption somewhere in the process, no?

I have no idea, but on its face it's mind-boggling. Are we more like Russia than us peons know? (Probably.) Do all the services have this problem / pattern, or only the Navy?

The LCS program is a great demonstration of public choice theory.

"Public choice takes the same principles that economists use to analyze people's actions in the marketplace and applies them to people's actions in collective decision-making. Economists who study behavior in the private marketplace assume that people are motivated mainly by self-interest. Although most people base some of their actions on their concern for others, the dominant motive in people's actions in the marketplace—whether they are employers, employees, or consumers—is a concern for themselves. Public choice economists make the same assumption—that although people acting in the political marketplace have some concern for others, their main motive, whether they are voters, politicians, lobbyists, or bureaucrats, is self-interest."
Public Choice Theory

Do all the services have this problem / pattern, or only the Navy?

I seem to vaguely recall the Army having a similar problem in Iraq, to the extent that a sole-source supplier sued over troops doing jury-rigged temporary repairs in the field. I don't have any references, though.

In principle you can bet on the Navy and Air Force having more problems with this than the Army or the Marines. The former two are much more reliant upon large weapons systems.

There's a glitch in my bayonet. Am I authorized to reboot it? No, the boots - originally designed for walking - tend to glitch too.

"The former head of the leading boot-making company of the U.S. military was recently sentenced to federal prison for fraud after a scheme in which he imported Chinese-made boots labeled with “USA” to pass off as American-made.

Vincent Lee Ferguson, 66, of Knoxville, Tennessee, was sentenced to more than three years in prison for the contract fraud earlier this month.

The former president and chief executive officer will join his Wellco Enterprises, Inc. co-workers, former Senior Vice President of Sales Matthew Lee Ferguson, 41, and former Director of Marketing and Communications, Kerry Joseph Ferguson, 36, who were sentenced in June to six months in prison, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Under the Berry Amendment, U.S. military uniform items must be manufactured in the United States. The company has been the lead boot supplier for the Department of Defense for more than 70 years."
Boot maker jailed for selling the military Chinese-made boots with ‘Made in the USA’ labels (Aug 20, 2018)

Here is Perun's take on defense procurement (happens to be this week's podcast)
How Incentives & Interests Shape Armies - Competition, Consolidation & Procurement Policy

Adiós, pendejo:


And in more serious news, any recommendations for which relief agency gets a donation for Morocco?

My go-to in these situations is always Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

World Central Kitchen is there, I believe.

Médecins Sans Frontières get my vote. They get in before it's safe.

This seems to be our only open thread. So - eeek!

In current polling, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are tied nationally; no Republican nominee has emerged to challenge Trump. But, as we have been learning pretty much continuously since 2000, the will of the majority of the American people no longer matters all that much in who is running their country.

The abstruse and elaborate mechanisms of the US constitution relating to elections, which used to be matters for historical curiosity, have become more and more relevant every year. In 2024, there is very much a way for Donald Trump to lose the popular vote, lose the electoral college, lose all his legal cases and still end up president of the United States in an entirely legal manner. It’s called a contingent election.

A contingent election is the process put in place to deal with the eventuality in which no presidential candidate reaches the threshold of 270 votes in the electoral college. In the early days of the American republic, when the duopoly of the two-party system was neither desired nor expected, this process was essential.


And since this is still the only Open Thread, this from the Guardian's site on Rupert Murdoch stepping down in favour of his son Lachlan. I believe it is a complete and correct evaluation of his significance:

Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the media watchdog Media Matters for America, has released the following statement in response to Rupert Murdoch’s resignation and called Murdoch’s legacy “one of deceit”:

“Rupert Murdoch’s legacy is one of deceit, destruction, and death.

Wherever his media properties exist across the globe, they disregard basic journalistic practices and pump venomous misinformation into the public discourse.

In Fox News, Murdoch created a uniquely destructive force in American democracy and public life, one that ushered in an era of division where racist and post-truth politics thrive.

Rupert Murdoch’s media properties helped reshape the Republican Party into a Trumpist authoritarian death cult. Rupert Murdoch allowed Fox News to fuel the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, letting his stars intentionally and knowingly lie to undermine our democratic elections.

Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets, especially Fox News, spread dangerous medical misinformation that not only worsened the global pandemic but also resulted in countless needless deaths — including those of many of the network’s own viewers.

Given the unparalleled global scale of his media footprint, no one on the planet has done more to spread lies denying climate change and undermine efforts to address the crisis than Rupert Murdoch.

The world is worse off because of Rupert Murdoch. No one should sugarcoat the damage he caused.”

Carusone went on to warn Lachlan Murdoch’s succession will likely intensify misconduct and misinformation:

“Making matters worse, his parting act — handing the reins to Lachlan Murdoch — is akin to tossing a match onto the kindling he stacked.

Lachlan certainly is a less competent leader than his father, but his worldview is considerably more brutal. His leadership will likely just intensify the misconduct, misinformation, and malevolence that have come to define Murdoch media.”

And while I'm here, I realise (looking at my comment above) that I should have bolded these words:

In 2024, there is very much a way for Donald Trump to lose the popular vote, lose the electoral college, lose all his legal cases and still end up president of the United States in an entirely legal manner. It’s called a contingent election.

This may be well known to many of you, in fact it may have been mentioned here before, but if so I never knew it or had forgotten it. It is not only hair-raising, but another possibility which has been made more likely (I have no idea how likely) by the influence of Rupert Murdoch, however much he may regret it now.

“Making matters worse, his parting act — handing the reins to Lachlan Murdoch — is akin to tossing a match onto the kindling he stacked.

Lachlan certainly is a less competent leader than his father, but his worldview is considerably more brutal. His leadership will likely just intensify the misconduct, misinformation, and malevolence that have come to define Murdoch media.”

The other detail is that, while Rupert is apparently just a total cynic, Lachlan seems to be a true believer. Which eliminates the possibility of the kind of sellers remorse that is apparently happening currently with Trump.

Unsurprisingly, the Times (a Murdoch paper) takes a rather different tone:

Murdoch’s statement, announcing the company changes, paid tribute to both his own father and son.

“My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose,” he said. “Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”

It would be laughable, really, if only this man and his organisation had not had such a truly malignant effect on the societies in which he has operated.

I don't know if anyone here watched "Succession," but here's an article on some of the similarities between the fictional HBO series and the Murdochs:


Specifically on Lachlan:

• Ulterior motives: While Lachlan is not an immature court jester like Roman, the Times reported that James felt “his brother was mainly interested in the unique fringe benefits and trappings of power that came with the job.” Meanwhile, Lachlan “chafed at James’s fixation on corporate governance, which he felt was inconsistent with the company’s swashbuckling spirit.”

• “Little Lord Fuckleroy”: Rupert made Lachlan general manager of one of his Australian newspaper chains when he was just 22, but the Times reported his “rise was cut short after he clashed repeatedly with seasoned executives who viewed him as an entitled princeling.” Similarly, Roman sparred with other executives at Waystar Studios because his tastes are too refined for the likes of The World’s Biggest Turkey.


• Corporate vision: The awkwardness of the Murdoch sons having overlapping roles was exacerbated by their differing visions for their father’s company, as the Times explained:

James and Lachlan were very different people, with very different politics, and they were pushing the company toward very different futures: James toward a globalized, multiplatform news-and-entertainment brand that would seem sensible to any attendee of Davos or reader of The Economist; Lachlan toward something that was at once out of the past and increasingly of the moment — an unabashedly nationalist, far-right and hugely profitable political propaganda machine.

This mirrors Kendall’s more conventional “strategy of a thousand lifeboats,” which entails having a hand in multiple media businesses, and Roman’s openness to promoting fascist Republican presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken.

There's other interesting stuff on the rest of the family, especially Rupert, in the article, but it's easier to appreciate it if you watched at least a few episodes of "Succession."

I didn't watch Succession, but on C4 News tonight they played a few clips of the Succession patriarch giving news conferences, or speeches before committees, juxtaposed against almost identical clips of Murdoch, using almost identical words, in almost identical situations/venues. And apparently, it was a condition of Jerry Hall's divorce settlement that she was not allowed to give help or information to the writers or producers of Succession. Which made it all the more delightful when that Vanity Fair piece, which was clearly written with info from her (including the exact wording of Murdoch's final text to her), gave so much detail on Murdoch's health problems (including almost dying, having seizures etc). I did feel, when I read it, that this must surely do him tremendous damage where the company was concerned. None of which justified malicious pleasure, of course, lessens or makes up for the fact of the incredible damage done by this man in his career.


According to another source, Lachlan told Rupert that James was leaking stories to the writers of Succession, HBO’s acclaimed drama about a Murdoch-like media dynasty.


One of the terms of the settlement was that Hall couldn’t give story ideas to the writers on Succession.)

From today's NYT:

It’s nice to know that Fox News, which has so deranged America while making Rupert Murdoch ungodly sums of money, has in the end made Murdoch miserable, at least if the journalist Michael Wolff is to be believed. But the consolation is a small one.

Murdoch’s unhappiness and befuddlement is the throughline of Wolff’s amusingly vicious and very well-timed book, “The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty,” which is to hit shelves next week, days after Murdoch, 92, announced his retirement from the Fox Corporation and News Corporation boards. Wolff paints Fox’s owner as embarrassed by the channel’s vulgarity and horrified by its ultimate political creation, Donald Trump. Murdoch apparently very much wants to thwart the ex-president, just not at the price of losing a single point in the ratings.

In his tortured enabling of Trump, Murdoch seems the ultimate symbol of a feckless and craven conservative establishment, overmatched by the jingoist forces it encouraged and either capitulating to the ex-president or shuffling pitifully off the public stage. “Murdoch was as passionate in his Trump revulsion as any helpless liberal,” writes Wolff. The difference is that Murdoch’s helplessness was a choice.

Few people bear more responsibility for Trump than Murdoch. Fox News gave Trump a regular platform for his racist lies about Barack Obama’s birthplace. It immersed its audience in a febrile fantasy world in which all mainstream sources of information are suspect, a precondition for Trump’s rise. (Many people have described losing loved ones to Fox’s all-consuming alternative reality.) After Trump lost in 2020, Fox helped spread the defeated president’s falsehoods about a stolen election, which both contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection and cost Fox nearly $800 million in its settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. (It was as part of that settlement, Wolff writes, that Fox fired its biggest star, the demagogic troll Tucker Carlson.)

In Wolff’s telling, Murdoch is a sort of hapless Frankenstein, abominating the monster he set loose on the world but unsure how to fight him. This waffling, however, is a product of the same venality that has always undergirded Murdoch’s old-fashioned right-wing politics. In his farewell letter, Murdoch, the Oxford-educated son of a wealthy Australian media executive, poses as a populist, decrying a media that’s in “cahoots” with elites, “peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.” This is pure projection: Fox exists to peddle self-serving political narratives, deceiving its audience under the guise of respecting it. In “The Fall” — a book that isn’t for anyone who doesn’t want to encounter casual slurs — Murdoch says of the celebrity anchor Sean Hannity, “He’s retarded, like most Americans.” The last thing Murdoch wants to do is risk lower ratings by leveling with the audience he looks down on.

Yes, Trump was briefly banished from Fox’s airwaves, and Murdoch championed Trump’s putative rival, Ron DeSantis. But with DeSantis’s star falling, Fox has slavishly defended Trump each time he’s been indicted, while ignoring or minimizing news putting Trump in a bad light. As of May 4, the liberal group Media Matters found, Fox had devoted a mere 13 minutes of airtime to Trump’s civil trial on charges of sexually assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll. “It was clear how much antipathy Murdoch had personally built up toward Trump,” writes Wolff. “But at the same time there was no change in his expectations as the owner of the country’s ratings-leading news channel.”

Though “The Fall” is peppered with references to HBO’s “Succession,” Murdoch comes off as the anti-Logan Roy, desperate for the approval of his mostly liberal children, with the hateful Fox News standing between them. “He just wants his kids to love him,” Roger Ailes is quoted saying. “And they don’t.” In a chapter set in the winter of 2022, Wolff describes Murdoch fantasizing about giving up Fox, which his friends urge him to do. They emphasize “how much better his relationship with his children would be without the curse of Fox News.”

But breaking that curse would have meant turning Fox over to his son James, who feels the stain of Fox especially acutely and longs to remake it into a “force for good,” a phrase Wolff repeats with contempt. “James had become the avenging Murdoch — avenging what his family had wrought,” writes Wolff. “It was not enough to save himself and his family and the Murdoch brand from Fox. He had to save the nation.” Wolff sneers at James’s grandiosity, but if Rupert Murdoch truly wanted a redemptive final act, his younger son was probably the only one who could have given it to him.

Instead, Murdoch has done the predictable thing and handed Fox to his son Lachlan, chief executive of the Fox Corporation, widely seen as the only true conservative among the Murdoch heirs. Wolff challenges the common perception of Lachlan as a right-wing ideologue, painting him instead as essentially apolitical and mostly interested in spear fishing. Nevertheless, of the Murdoch children, Lachlan is the one most likely to let Fox continue in its current groove. The network may keep boosting Trump’s Republican primary opponents, but once the primaries are over, we can expect it to once again be the lucrative propaganda arm of Trump’s presidential campaign.

As long as Murdoch is alive, the future of Fox is unwritten. Once he dies, his four oldest children will determine who controls it, and James may yet prevail. But Murdoch’s legacy is decided. We are hurtling toward another government shutdown, egged on by Hannity. The electorate that Fox helped shape, and the politicians it indulges, have made this country ungovernable. An unbound Trump may well become president again, bringing liberal democracy in America to a grotesque end. If so, it will be in large part Murdoch’s fault. “The Murdochs feel bad, about Tucker, about Trump, about themselves,” writes Wolff. Just not bad enough.

In Wolff’s telling, Murdoch is a sort of hapless Frankenstein, abominating the monster he set loose on the world but unsure how to fight him.

Again a complete misunderstanding of Frankenstein (both the novel and the Karloff movies).

And that does not even include that the original monster was highly intelligent, eloquent, eager to learn (and very successful at it) and initially completely benevolent. Nothing of that applies to The Orange One (and Fox was malevolent by deliberate design for that matter).

I also can't remember that FOX first created his wives and then destroyed them before any awful offspring arose (looking at the Spawn of Jabbabonk that would have been a worthy act indeed) ;-)

This, from Ian Leslie today, is interesting on the origin of and prevalence of zero-sum thinking, who exhibits it (surprisingly across party affiliation) and how it helped the rise of e.g. Trump.


One challenge to refuting zero-sum thinking: it is wrong, but not totally wrong.

Take income distribution. It is possible, as we saw in the 1950s and 1960s, for everyone to become better off at once. But it is also possible, with a different set of public policies, for one group to become better off at the expense of the others. (And we have been seeing that more and more lately.)

Until, that is, those being made worse off rise up and smash the system. That may, at least temporarily, make them a bit worse off still. But at least it holds out the prospect of something better. The downside risk is that those who were winning under the win-lose regime will coopt the discontented to further improve their position, by eliminating first whatever constraints were left on them.

The early stages of which is what we have seen with the rise of MAGA. The question becomes, can we get back to the win-win parts of the mid-20th century economic model? Before the "smash everything" nihilists triumph.

More in today's Observer on the Murdoch "abdication", and an indication that nothing has changed. A salutary reminder (if one was needed) that the damage done by the rise of Trump is probably exceeded by the damage done enabling climate change denial lo these many years:

Six years ago the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott argued global warming may benefit populations, noting that more people died from cold weather than heatwaves.

The speech in London, to climate-sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation, is now under renewed scrutiny after it was announced on Friday that he had been nominated to join the board of the Fox Corporation, part of the Murdoch family’s global media empire.

Lachlan Murdoch announced the proposed new appointment in one of his first actions since he took over the running of the family business, following the decision by Rupert Murdoch to go into semi-retirement. The proposed board appointment faced criticism this weekend as an indication of the political complexion of the business under its new boss.


I'm kind of hoping that Lachlan manages to "pull an Elon" at Fox. If it ends up a crippled shadow of its former self, the world will be better for it.

The comments to this entry are closed.