Late-Night Mobius Nest of Vipers: Jeffrey Epstein, Keyser Söze

Since life is not as neatly plotted as a movie, we can be (reasonably) sure that Jeffrey Epstein actually existed, even if almost every detail of his adult life seems to be open to (mis)interpretation. Whether any of those details will be believable to future historians — assuming there are such — may depend on the survival of the term ‘Rashomon effect’

Read more

Seattle Meet Up Proof of Life: The Up Meeters!

Both CaseyL and OpieJeanne sent me after action reports and pictures from last night’s Seattle Meet Up.


What a great gathering!  HinTN is so delightful, we should get him to move here to the PNW so we can see him more frequently.  We also had two new people:  EthylEster and Jonathan (aka informationdriveway, though he comments, when he does, under his RL name).  And of course the Seattle BJ regulars:  me (CaseyL), OpieJean and Mr. OpieJean, ThalactosMaritimus (whose husband stayed home because the Writing Muse was with him), DanB, and BeautifulPlumage.
We ate and drank our way through the Saffron Grill, where the food is wonderful and so are the staff.
Of course there are pictures.  They’re glare-y because of light coming in through the window, so sorry; and one is blurry because our waitperson studied at the John G. Cole School of Photography.  And I took one of our GoH, HinTN, that is a hoot because he looks like “I Am Not Amused” – which is not at all true; he had a blast (we all did).
Thank you Adam, for alerting us to organize this shindig, and for posting this report on the festivities.
I should also mention that Yutsano, who could not attend in person, called in via cell.  We had him on speaker, and I held up the phone so everyone could say Hi, but we couldn’t really hear him, so I chatted with him for a bit and then held up the phone so we could all say goodbye.
(Harry HnTN, Guest of Honor, Looking Stern.  Self explanatory.)
(The Whole Gang:  From left: Jonathan, BeautifulPlumage, ThalarctosMaritimus, CaseyL, HinTN, OpieJean, Mr. OpieJean, Dan B, EthylEster.)
(Also Whole Gang Tho Blurrier: From left: HinTN, OpieJean, Mr. OpieJean, Dan B, EthylEster, Jonathan, Beautiful Plumage, ThalarctosMaritimus, CaseyL)
(Subset of Whole Gang: DanB, EthylEster, HinTN)
I got a couple of photos at the meetup last night. The Saffron Grill is a nice restaurant with an Indian, Mediterranean, and “American” menu. I only glanced at the American choices and went for the Tandoori prawns. Everything was delicious and the company was great.
(The first one is Casey L. standing and the guest of honor, HinTN.)
(The second photo is Beautiful Plumage on the left and Thalarctos Maritimus on the right, but she’s not really a polar bear.)
Open thread!

Thursday Respite Open Thread

And some make their own dreams come true…

Update On The Nyonoksa Explosion

First: We have no more information than when I wrote about the Nyonoksa* accident on Monday. If anything, we may have less because the Russian government has gone back and forth in its announcements, contradicting earlier announcements and sometimes coming back to what was said earlier. So everything they say must be questioned. Because the test that caused the explosion appears to be a military secret, it is unlikely that the Russian government will say anything informative unless something happens to make it necessary for them to speak. The funerals of the scientists killed took place quickly.

What could make it necessary for them to speak is the open source intelligence analysis community’s ability to see and decipher evidence relating to the explosion. The New York Times is even getting in on the act. We can expect to see reports of recovery vessels in the area of the explosion, trying to recover the remnants from the seabed.

Additionally, social media is offering up confusion and perhaps disinformation. There is far too much speculation by uninformed folk. No photos of the incident are available that I am aware of. The armory explosion at Achinsk, near Krasnoyarsk, almost on the other side of Russia, has been conflated with the Nyonoksa incident. I have seen major news outlets putting photos of explosions at Achinsk in proximity to Nyonoksa stories.

Another source of confusion is the Chernobyl video series a month or two back. A few people have been referring to the idea of a reactor on a cruise missile as a “Mini-Chernobyl.” There is no way that a reactor that small could be more than a drop in the sea relative to the Chernobyl accident. This is unnecessarily alarming. Please don’t do it. The confused information coming from the Russian government is similar to the withholding of information by the Soviet government during the Chernobyl accident, though.

A correction on my earlier post: I looked at a patent from the 1970s and thought it was for a small reactor that would supply heat for propulsion via a heat exchanger. I was wrong about the patent – it is for a flow-through reactor like the Tory and Rover reactors. My argument about weight tradeoffs for flow-through reactors and compact reactors with heat exchangers stands, however.

The KiloPower reactor has been mentioned by Russia and perhaps Donald Trump as a possible equivalent to whatever produced the Nyonoksa explosion. As it is being developed now, KiloPower is for electrical generation in planetary exploration. It’s been argued that perhaps reactors of this sort could be developed for propulsion. That would make them bigger, of course, and a heat exchanger would likely be necessary. There’s no indication that this sort of development is going on, but secret programs are secret.

The best evidence we have of what happened is summarized by Jeffrey Lewis, whose group at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies continues their investigation. A question that can be raised, however, is whether the test they cite at Novaya Zemlya was of the Burevestnik. There is no contradictory evidence, but the evidence remains thin.

The evidence is also somewhat consistent with an isotopic power source, which both Michael Kofman and Pavel Luzin argue for. Luzin also makes some of the arguments I do against a flowthrough reactor, although I would attribute the difficulty to engineering realities rather than the laws of physics. But isotopic power sources have not been able to generate the power necessary for propulsion, and if they are for something else in this test, it’s hard to see why the test would have been over water.

In the next few days, we may see analyses of airborne isotopes from European measuring stations. That may give us a little more information. One report of radioactive iodine has shown up from Norway. I am waiting for more reports of more isotopes. Radioactive iodine frequently shows up in atmospheric sampling. It is produced by civilian nuclear reactors and used in medicine. It is a short-lived fission product, so if this result is supported and connected to Nyonoska, it argues for a reactor rather than an isotopic power source.

Vladimir Putin introduced Burevestnik and other innovative weapon concepts a year ago. His purpose was to show the United States that Russia is not to be messed with. Now that John Bolton is in a position to realize his ambition of eliminating all arms control treaties, an arms race could begin. But why? The United States and Russia have enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other several times over, including ICBMs that miss their targets or blow up on their launches and the very few that will be taken out by missile defense. What more do they need?

Historian Alex Wellerstein looks at that foolishness. Lewis asked in his article whether the lives of five young scientists are worth that arms race.

Margaret Sullivan makes a case for “slow news” in the case of Jeffrey Epstein. That case applies to the Nyonoksa explosion as well. We have very little information. Let’s wait to draw conclusions until we’ve got more.

Some links


Jeffrey Lewis on Twitter (just came out before I posted)

Vox: What caused Russia’s radioactive explosion last week? Possibly a nuclear-powered missile. (quotes me)

Daily Beast: Spies, Lies, and Radioactivity: Russia’s Nuke Missile Mishap, Decoded

Popular Mechanics: Why the U.S. Abandoned Nuclear-Powered Missiles More Than 50 Years Ago

Of historical interest

1990 article by Gregg Herken on Project Pluto

Video of a NERVA rocket engine in action (h/t Dan Yurman)


* Nyonoksa is probably a better phonetic transliteration from Russian than Nenoksa. In another point of terminology, I find the NATO designation “Skyfall” unnecessarily theatrical and will stick with “Burevestnik.”

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

Election 2020 Open Thread: Golf Clap for Hickenlooper

Good for him realizing the inevitable. He decides to run for Senate, I’ll do a full standing ovation!

The big picture: When Hickenlooper and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met at the beginning of the month, a source familiar with the meeting said Schumer made his hopes very clear.

– “You could be the person who is the firewall between Mitch McConnell staying as majority leader in 2021 or the Democrats taking the Senate,” the source said Schumer told Hickenlooper. “Chuck Schumer needs John Hickenlooper real bad.”

– Earlier this week, Axios reported on a Democratic group that launched a “Draft Hickenlooper” campaign to encourage him to drop out of the presidential race to run for Senate.

Meaningless Poll Open Thread

Fresh poll of likely caucus-goers in Iowa has good news for Senator Warren’s campaign:

So, instead of Warren and Sanders duking it out for the lefty vote, it looks like Biden and Sanders are having the Battle of the Retreads.

Excerpt from an article in Iowa Starting Line:

Elizabeth Warren’s early investment in Iowa is paying off…

The horserace numbers reflect a shake-up that those of us on the ground in Iowa have been seeing for a while…

The other good news for Warren is that her support appears to be very broad in the party. She leads every age demographic (even surpassing Biden in the oldest age bracket, 31% to 28%) except for the youngest. Sanders has a 14-point lead here among the 18-34 range with 34%.

The article also notes that Senator Harris is going all-in on the Iowa caucus now, which seems to be the smart play. That’s a fairly recent development, according to ISL. We’ll see how the numbers shake out down the road.

All absolutely bereft of meaning at this stage, of course! Open thread!

Good news open thread

So what is your good news today?

Open Thread

Torn Between Two Lovers

I really don’t like the way this lede casts Bibi as a victim of love.

Caught between the opposing views of President Trump and Democratic leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now considering barring Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting Israel during a scheduled trip to start on Sunday, according to U.S. and Israeli officials familiar with the matter.

But it just takes a couple of graphs to get to Bibi’s true love:

With three weeks to go before a repeat election on Sept. 17, Netanyahu is fighting a bitter battle to stay in office and wants to appear strong to his fractured right-wing support base.

Wasn’t this guy indicted a few months ago?  Everything I can find online about his indictment shows that it sort-of fizzled out in the Spring.

This seems like yet another example of how members of “the Squad” seem to provoke overreactions from their enemies.  From the political perspective of the US, a Omar/Tlaib trip to Israel is no big deal – half of Congress visits that country during the August recess.  Keeping them out is a major slight that’s going to provoke a lot of criticism from “friends of Israel” in Congress.

Jesus Christ, Beto

Beto is “re-starting” his campaign today. Here’s what his rapid response director said to the Houston Chronicle, which made the very reasonable suggestion that Beto drop out of the Presidential race and take on Cornyn:

“Beto, you put Trump on defense on his signature issue. You got under his skin so badly even WH advisors think his El Paso trip was a debacle,” Hitt tweeted. “You’re leading the Democratic presidential field in TX….so run for Senate.”

This is nuts.  It’s easy to get under Trump’s skin, Trump’s trip to El Paso was going to be a debacle with or without Beto’s input, and it’s no achievemet for Beto to lead the Presidential field in his home state.  Nationwide, he’s neck-and-neck with also-rans Mayor Pete and Corey Booker, sometimes flitting around in Yang and Klobuchar territory, depending on the poll.  Yet, somehow, his campaign has convinced itself that the aftermath of the shooting in El Paso is going to be a pivot point for his Presidential campaign.

Granted, Beto was angry, channeled his anger well, and was damned impressive in his interviews and public appearances after the shooting.  Still, I don’t see a way for him to get into the first tier of candidates.  If the Democratic Presidential nominee for 2020 wins, he or she will get nothing done if Moscow Mitch still runs Congress.  Beto is our best chance to win in Texas, but he’s got that Presidential Fever and apparently there ain’t no cure.

The unsubsidized have fled

The ACA market is really two markets in a state: the subsidized market which has seen great deals due to Silver Loading and the non-subsidized market which saw several years of junk kicking rate increases.

The unsubsidized market has shrunk dramatically as premiums skyrocketed. States have tried to send some extra money towards the over 400% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) cohorts through either direct subsidies or through reinsurance which effectively blends in some money that is not derived from premiums with federal money that otherwise would have gone to individuals earning between 100% to 400% FPL. The last option states have is to built out alternative markets that are based on underwriting and exclusions to cover insurable risk instead of health management costs. This last choice is good for the healthy and makes the unhealthy but earning over 400% FPL worse off.

Sick and >400FPL is SOL. However combining a cap on premiums as a function of income and an underwritten market could work as I argued in March 2018:

Removing the cap on ACA subsidies so every family can access the ACA Silver plan for no more than 10 percent of its family income would provide immediate relief for Senator Cassidy’s constituents and others in similar situations. At the same time, the proliferation of underwritten plans will offer less expensive options for families without health challenges.

Patients and families will be able to choose the plans that will work for them. The ACA market will mostly cover the working poor who receive high subsidies and low deductibles, as well as the very sick who need to have comprehensive benefits and broad provider networks.

The underwritten market… will consist of healthier individuals whose premiums no longer subsidize the care of the chronically ill in the individual market.

Those costs do not disappear, as the size of the federal commitment to premium subsidies for the ACA plans will increase significantly. However, everyone will have access to health insurance with a premium ceiling and lower risk consumers will be better off.

Cliff policies are bad not because of the fall but because of the landing. The 400% FPL cliff has made many families go splat.

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

Read more

Thursday Morning Open Thread: Enjoying Summer to the Full

Looks like a photoshopped backdrop, doesn’t it? But from what I’ve seen of that area, it actually is that pretty, at least in the summer and fall. My favorite Senator has lived in New England long enough to know that she might as well do some campaigning outside of arenas and auditoriums while she can…

Four years ago, New Hampshire voters put Sanders on the national map and catapulted him into a heated primary contest against the establishment favorite, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now the senator has to repeat his strong performance in the first-in-the-nation primary, eight days after the Iowa caucuses, if he has any chance of making it to the convention next summer.

Unlike in 2016, however, Sanders is facing several well-funded opponents who are battling with him for front-runner status in the early nominating states ― some of whom are running for president for the first time. (Former Vice President Joe Biden is currently leading the polls.) The progressive firebrand who took the left by storm several years ago still has his loyal supporters, of course, but he no longer has the “it” factor of four years ago. He’s still railing against the political establishment and the “corporate media,” but his radical ideas on job security, health care and education don’t seem so radical anymore, at least among a significant chunk of the Democratic Party ― something he acknowledged this week on the campaign trail…

Speaking of taking advantage of the summer recess, props to Nancy Smash…

Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: The Repub Revanchists

No matter how grotesquely sexist / racist / classist the GOP as a whole devolves, Rep. ‘Pigmuck’ King will strive to be that little bit worse. From the Des Moines Register“U.S. Rep. Steve King: If not for rape and incest, ‘would there be any population left?'”

U.S. Rep. Steve King told the Westside Conservative Club on Wednesday that humanity might not exist if not for rape and incest.

“What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” he said at the event in Urbandale, Iowa…

The Kiron Republican was defending his position of not allowing exceptions for rape and incest in the anti-abortion legislation he tried to pass in Congress. Republican leadership had prevented the bills he sponsored on banning abortions from advancing through the House, despite GOP support for the measures, King said…

He actually said that, in front of the cameras — there’s video. Of course the whole forced-birth ‘But what if that aborted baby would’ve been the next Einstein?’ trope has been in use for at least the last forty years, but count on Rep. Pigmuck to bring his own personal touch. And he’s not sorry, either; he insists the outcry that’s greeted his flapmouth bigotry is nothing but a plot by his enemies…

In the hours after his remarks to the breakfast meeting, condemnation of his comments poured in from Democrats, including those running for president, as well as some Republicans…

“People think it was an organic media feeding frenzy, but no, it was orchestrated from the beginning,” he said Wednesday. “They had told me, ‘Heads up before Christmas: They’re going to try to drive you out of office and get you to resign.’ Within 24 hours, you had people saying, ‘Resign, resign, resign.’ Why? Because the New York Times misquoted me?”
Read more

Late Evening Cat Bleg: Orville and Wilbur Need a New Home!

Commenter Matthew Reid Krell reached out on behalf of a friend of his with an urgent cat bleg for a pair of brothers in Louisville, Kentucky:

Okay, animal rescue friends: the lovely woman who adopted our two cats six years ago—who adored them—passed away on Monday. She was 10 years older than I am. Her husband called me today to ask if I could either take them or rehome them.

They are beautiful cats. Their names are Orville (the black one) and Wilbur (the grey). They are brothers. 14 years old. Birthday is April 19, 2005. We rescued them when we lived in Wisconsin and only rehomed them when they became horribly stressed in an apartment we were living in thanks to the landlord’s dog. We moved them in with Shari and David, a lovely childless couple who doted on them and cared for them. They have been really well-cared-for and loved.

With Stephen being on one leg and with my (now decidedly confirmed by the doctor) allergies, we really aren’t in a position to give them the home they deserve.

Who do you know? Who can I contact? I will pay all vet expenses to have them checked and have shots updated. I will transport them. I would pay sponsorship to a foster family for all upkeep.

I love these cats. I wish I could bring them home. I can be reached at to start the process of getting Orville and Wilbur into a loving home for their twilight years.

Okay you lot of jackals, you know what to do. And here’s some more pictures of these handsome gentlemen as incentive!

As far as I know the baby is not up for adoption.

Open thread!

Museums Are Not Neutral: Milwaukee Art Museum Bus Art

ArtXpress Milwaukee county bus mural

Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.

Open thread.