Do Not Be Distracted By What The Shitgibbon Says. Pay Attention To What His People Do

One of the signal failures of the media throughout the Trump dumpster fire of a campaign was to focus on his words — parsing, shifts in terminology, trying to distinguish between lies and hyperbole, or simply providing theater criticism on his performances, connections to audience and so on.  All the while, the critical information: what the combination of his ample history, the (few) clear positions he staked, and the people he hired revealed about what Trump would actually do as President.

That basic error is still with us, nicely diagnosed in this post by Robinson Meyer over at The Atlantic:

It works like this: Donald Trump, the president-elect himself, says something that sounds like he might be moderating on the issue. Then, his staff takes a radical action in the other direction.

Last week, Trump told the staff of The New York Times that he was keeping an open mind about the existence of climate change.

This was, as Meyer notes, treated as a major shift, given Trump’s earlier claim that global warming was a Chinese hoax.  As a result, many slow learners touted this story (Meyer self-indicts here.) But, of course, Trump’s almost certainly intentionally vague statement —

“I think there is some connectivity” between human activity and the warming climate, Trump said. “There is some, something. It depends on how much.”…

both grants him almost unlimited freedom of maneuver and was almost immediately belied by what his transition team is actually doing:

A day after Trump talked to the Times, The Guardian reported that the Trump administration plans could cut all of NASA’s Earth science research….

…which, as many have already noted, is vital for ongoing climate monitoring and ongoing attempts to study the implications of human – driven global warming with the resolution needed to inform action.


Then there’s this:

Politico reports that the Heritage Foundation senior research fellow, Steven Groves, has been added to Trump’s State Department transition team. Just last week, Groves called for the United States to leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the overarching treaty that governs how the world organizes itself to address global warming. Groves also said the U.S. should move to “dismantle” domestic climate regulations.

Thus, a picture of a Trump administration policy on climate change: destroy the research infrastructure needed to study climate, and wreck both national and international prospects for action to address what a true existential crisis.

The moral, to use Meyer’s phrase, is that Trump is a master of the two-step, baffling the unwary (aka, seemingly, the entire New York Times staff) while proceeding behind that verbal smokescreen towards the worst possible choices.  We need a much more vigilant press, and a brave one.

Image: Hieronymous Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (left panel detail), 1495-1515.  Not an exact match to the post, but I’m kinda just looking for apocalyptic images these days, and this certainly works for that.

WASF, Part ∞

If we can’t see it, it won’t happen, climate change edition:

Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.

Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space.

After all, we can’t have any of that nasty left wing bias that reality imposes:

There is overwhelming and long-established evidence that burning fossil fuels and deforestation causes the release of heat-trapping gases, therefore causing the warming experienced in recent decades.

[Trump campaign advisor Bob] Walker, however, claimed that doubt over the role of human activity in climate change “is a view shared by half the climatologists in the world. We need good science to tell us what the reality is and science could do that if politicians didn’t interfere with it.”

Walker is, as one expects from Trumpistas, simply lying. Half of the world’s climatologists do not doubt the fact of human-driven climate change, unless you include those who got their advanced degrees at the University of Exxon’s Koch School of Science.  Ostriches and sand ain’t in it.


This is a hugely consequential move.  There are two technologies that are essential to modern climate science: large scale numerical modelling made possible by the insane advances in computing power and associated computer science over the last several decades…and remote sensing, the ability to monitor earth systems on a planetary scale.  That’s what NASA — and for the forseeable future, no one else, brings with its earth science programs.  Kill that and we not only lose data going forward, we degrade a capability in an intellectual infrastructure that will take a long time indeed to restore:

Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said as Nasa provides the scientific community with new instruments and techniques, the elimination of Earth sciences would be “a major setback if not devastating”.

“It could put us back into the ‘dark ages’ of almost the pre-satellite era,” he said. “It would be extremely short sighted.

“We live on planet Earth and there is much to discover, and it is essential to track and monitor many things from space. Information on planet Earth and its atmosphere and oceans is essential for our way of life. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.”

This is a call your representative kind of issue.  It’s going to be difficult, certainly, if Trump really does go down this path, but NASA is enough of a pork barrel, and some GOP senators, at least, are not wholly clueless on this issue, so it might be possible to avoid the worst outcome.  It’s necessary to try.  If and as I hear of organized campaigns on this, I’ll bring the news (and feel free to email me with any info you might gather.)


PS: that laser like media focus during the campaign on issues like climate change sure was impressive, wasn’t it?

C. C. Pierce, Carl Eytel and George Wharton James in a horse-drawn wagon on the Butterfield Stage Road in the Colorado Desert, c.1903. (Eytel was a painter associated with the “smoketree school” of artists working on desert subjects; James was a journalist and photographer.)

Open Thread: More Calls for An Audit of the Election

Gabriel Sherman, at NYMag, “Experts Urge Clinton Campaign to Challenge Election Results in 3 Swing States”:

Hillary Clinton is being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump, New York has learned. The group, which includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, believes they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. The group is so far not speaking on the record about their findings and is focused on lobbying the Clinton team in private.

Last Thursday, the activists held a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to make their case, according to a source briefed on the call. The academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee…

More detail at the link. Supposedly, “a senior Clinton adviser” says that “the White House, focused on a smooth transfer of power, does not want Clinton to challenge the election result”. The sitting President certainly considers it his job to prevent, as far as possible, the incoming Trump administration from blowing up the world. But surely (she said piously) President-Elect Trump deserves to start his administration without the shadows that a cloud of accusations would entail?

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: All Hope Is Not Lost

I know, I know, cheap punchline, and yet: People who stand to lose everything under a Trump administration are still doing their jobs, acting like there will be a 2030 and that there will be scientists (possibly even American!) around to use the data they are painstakingly assembling today. I choose to find that admirable, right now.

Apart from working for the best and planning for the worst, what’s on the agenda for the day?


Also, I hope other states will follow Maura Healy’s lead:

Massachusetts’ attorney general is launching a new hotline to report harassment and intimidation of minority groups.

Residents are encouraged to call 1-800-994-3228 or fill out a civil rights complaint form online if they witness or experience bias-motivated threats, harassment or violence against racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women, immigrants and lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.

Staff and lawyers in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office are monitoring the hotline.

The office said it will be track reports and refer cases to local law enforcement officials or the office’s Criminal Bureau. Hate crimes are generally prosecuted by local district attorney’s offices.

Healey, an openly gay Democrat, said she’s launching the hotline after reports that people across the country have been targeted and harassed since the election of Donald Trump as president…

Yes, this is a deep-blue “progressive” state, but if you click over to the link [warning: noisy autoplay], we have our share of racist dirtbags.


I’ve got some brewing thoughts about what comes next, in line with and in some cases following what the other front-pagers, made of stronger stuff and able to drag words out rage and despair more quickly than I, have already written.

But Balloon-Juicers do not live by politics alone, however much we may have to over the next months and years. So here’s advance warning of a little bit of wonder, ours for the having:

But this month’s Supermoon is special. The eccentricity above is calculated based upon the Earth-Moon system, but other celestial bodies also influence the Moon’s orbit through gravity. The Sun plays the largest role, but so too does Jupiter and even some of the smaller planets. When factoring in these other influences, the eccentricity of the Moon’s orbit can actually vary by as little as 0.026 and as much as 0.077.

A more eccentric lunar orbit brings the perigee [its closest approach] nearer the Earth, and when this perigee occurs during a full Moon, we get an extra-Supermoon. That is what will happen on Nov. 14, when the Moon will come to within just 356,509km of Earth, which is the Moon’s closest approach since Jan. 26, 1948. The Solar System won’t line up this well again for a lunar approach until Nov. 25, 2034.


That sucker is going to be big, really big. A “normal” Supermoon is 14 % larger and 30% brighter than a full moon at apogee, the point on an elliptical orbit farthest away from the focal body.  It’s actually hard to perceive the effect as a casual observer, but it is naked-eye detectable.  The absolute peak of the phenomenon comes at 8:25 a.m. ET this coming Monday, but if you’re up early and/or catch the rising moon Monday evening, you’ll get a fine approximation.  As they say:  check local listings.

One of the consolations/delights I take from nature is the sense of connection to something larger than myself. That’s the same feeling I get from the acts we take to make the world better, from the kindness we show to one person at a time to the actions we’re stumbling to figure out right now, here on this blog and at every turn.

I’m going to stare at that moon Monday (sky permitting) and think of the world I want the next time this particular geometry rolls around, eighteeen years from now.  My son will be thirty four then.  If I’m fortunate enough to be here with him, I’ll be seventy six.  It will be a better world then, if we make it so.

And if it makes me a lunatic to think so, I’ll take that label gladly. Beats the alternative.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, A view of Vesuvius from Posillipo, Naplesbetween 1788 and 1790.

Virtual Groping


Does this surprise anyone?

When developer Aaron Stanton first heard that a woman had been groped while playing his virtual reality game, his heart sank.

The woman, Jordan Belamire, was shooting zombies alongside strangers in QuiVr when another player virtually rubbed her chest and shoved his “hand” toward her virtual crotch.

“Our first response was, ‘Let’s make sure this never happens again,'” Stanton told CNNMoney.
Stanton reached out to me after I wrote about Belamire’s experience on Monday.

I received many angry emails in response to my story. I was told I was a feminist who knew nothing about QuiVr; that it was impossible to assault someone in that particular game, or more generally, in the virtual world. I was more than curious to hear what Stanton had to say.

Stanton, whose day job is in software development, told me those attacks were “absolutely incorrect.” What happened to Belamire (a pseudonym) was possible in QuiVr and in other virtual reality games too. It’s up to developers to create controls to make players feel safe inside the world that they’ve brought to life, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Stanton and QuiVr creator Jonathan Schenker published an op-ed in Upload VR.

In it, they suggest that developers band together to create a universal “power gesture” to combat harassment in virtual reality, essentially a “safe word” in the form of a motion that would give the player special powers to protect themselves. “We need to offer tools that give players better controls, not simply better ways to hide.”

Kudos to the developers for taking this seriously, and may I suggest that the “special powers” include the ability to pluck the virtual groper’s virtual twig and two berries off and display them as a trophy?

I’m not a gamer; I’ve played a few zombie apocalypse games to placate the teens. I’ve wowed my old grandma by convincing her to experience virtual reality via Google Cardboard. I probably won’t live long enough to see consumer VR resemble the Holodeck on Star Trek TNG.

But if it does, one of the highest and best uses of it would be to give us all an opportunity to walk around in each other’s shoes — to serve as the “ultimate empathy device,” as Sheryl Sandberg said in the linked article. That might be more valuable than building robots that make Mrs. Glenn Reynolds redundant.

An Interesting Breakthrough on the Science Front


This is very cool:

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect.

The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles.

The tech involves a new combination of copper and carbon arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface. The nanotechnology allows the reactions to be very precise, with very few contaminants.

I’ll let Tom and Tim talk more about this because they are more hard science inclined than I am, but this could change everything. Again, they can discuss the details, but I will use this as an opportunity to make a political point.

The sheer volume of scientific and technological breakthroughs that occur with a couple of men and women in lab coats standing around and saying “Holy shit- did that just happen?” would boggle your mind. Things we take for granted- X-rays, the microwave, synthetic dyes, and on and on. A complete list would fill this blog. I’m assuming you have all read your Kuhn and are up to speed on paradigm shifts, but this is why we fund basic and applied research at the federal level. It’s honestly some of the best money we spend, if not the best, and it is a mere fraction of our budget. It should probably be triple what it is now.

This happened at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their budget- $1.64 billion.