31 January 2022

Trump's Russian Fans

Fortunately, Trump's biggest fans, in Russia, don't get to vote in our elections, although to hear some of them talk about him, you'd think they can. 

Oregonian: Omicron receding in Oregon

Trump induces more insurrection by promising remorseless convicted criminals pardons

Almost certainly nothing can be done about it criminally, but it is a serious question whether Trump's promising pardons to convicted and unremorseful insurrectionists from Jan. 6 is seditious. It pretty clearly is intended to induce others to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the US government. A stretch to say it's criminal, but it is most certainly unpatriotic and reprehensible. Which Democratic candidates and electioneers should be touting loudly and frequently. 

29 January 2022


I am sort of a font nut. I admire beautiful fonts, and tend to despise almost all sans-serif fonts except for their very limited uses, which does not include email, spreadsheets or any text beyond ten or twenty words that anyone should actually be expected to read. Recently I discovered a really nice, simple serif font with genuine italics and bold (not slant algorithm or widening derived). And it's free from Google Fonts. Alegreya is the name. 

Biden's pick.

May I state what I consider to be all but completely self-evident? There can be no discussion, no compromise, and no delay. Biden must pick one of the six or seven obviously best qualified women on his list tout de suite, and Schumer and the Dems must do exactly what McConnell did with Comey Barrett... rush the hearings and vote and get the new justice confirmed immediately, and in advance of Breyer actually stepping down. We cannot screw around with this, and we cannot allow there to be even a slightest whisper of possibility that the Republicans can do a goddamn thing about it. 

Maybe we should WANT Trump to run in 2024

My read, partly gut feeling and partly tea leaves, is that our big D Democratic chances of holding the White House in 2024 (setting aside the more urgent matter of keeping both houses in 2022, which will be harder), is that the malignant narcissist Orange One runs again. This is a little counterintuitive, but I'm hardly alone in this view. I sense, and read of signs, that while Trump has a solid, almost unshakeable base of maybe 30% of likely voters, distributed with respect to the electoral college pretty favorably to him, that's nowhere near enough to win. And, among a significant measure of Independents and even a pretty large number of Republicans, he has become almost a pariah. Someone they wish would just go away. Such people are not generally electable. Of course Democrats have to get their act together, and re-electing a somewhat lackluster president who will be by a good measure the oldest person ever sworn in (again) in 2025, will take some very powerful positive campaigning and not just a little luck in terms of political currents, the economy, and the state of the world come that time. 

26 January 2022

Sabine Hassenfelder on the Standard Cosmological Model

...and why we may be on the verge of a major paradigm shift.

This is very interesting. Sabine is very willing to entertain challenges to conventional wisdom in science, but she has very high standards of what is and what is not worth paying attention to. (If you're not intrigued by cosmological questions, it may not be as interesting to you as it is to me!) 

25 January 2022

Trump may well not run in 2024

I pretend no great psychological insight or training, but I agree with Josh Marshall's recent comment that, given his "mob boss" persona and personality, Trump will likely not run in 2024 at all if there is any significant opposition to him in his party. Which, given recent comments by the likes of Ann Coulter and some potential electoral challengers, it seems quite possible there will be. Marshall notes that in a crime organization, you're either boss or dead; there are not peaceful transitions of power. This is more like the kind of politics seen in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but the dynamic is similar. Moreover, I think it's pretty generally accepted that Trump is a pretty classic case of narcissistic delusional personality. He pretty clearly simply cannot reconcile himself with the unassailable fact that he lost the 2020 election, so he maintains, actually believes... and has managed to convince many of his followers despite the complete absence of actual evidence... that he was cheated and actually did win. Faced with any real electoral opposition in a party many of whose members have long realized that it's a dangerous game having an honest to god lunatic at the helm, he may rationalize an exit from contention rather than risk losing. His niece Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist by training, has said as much several times. 

All of this is a mixed bag in terms of the nation's prospects, it seems to me. Because Trumpism, with all its antagonism to principles of constitutional small-r republicanism, remains wildly popular among about 40% of the electorate, which we have seen is enough, if distributed the way it generally is, to win elections. So having a smarter, more stable, more genuinely likeable potential autocrat in place of Trump at the head of the Trumpist party might actually be more dangerous. I think there remains a lot of antagonism to Trump personally that could help defeat him in 2024 if he does run, but if someone like DeSantis or Hawley, or even Youngkin, replaces him, we could actually be worse off. 

23 January 2022

Electric Vehicle Technology racing ahead

There's buzz in the auto enthusiast world to the effect that sometime in this decade the "range anxiety" for electric cars is going to flip to "range envy" for non-EVs. And that it is Hyundai/Kia, not any of the American or Japanese or European manufacturers, who are on the cutting edge. Although I'm not entirely sure that includes Tesla, which is pretty secretive. Anyway, the rumors are that by around 2026 they will release electric cars with good road qualities (which they already have) and a 500 mile range on a full charge. Chinese manufacturers, of which there are at least ten seriously working on EVs, are not too far behind. Battery technology, and other systems technologies, are racing forward. 

It's sad to see America's technological supremacy being superseded, but it's a process that's already well underway, and we better get used to it. I have cautious optimism in this sense: it's been clear for some time that the real obstacles to Climate Change solutions are not technical but political. These developments are a sign that the technological developments that can lead to a carbon neutral future will happen anyway, regardless of politics. 

We somewhat reluctantly decided recently to buy a PHEV (plug in hybrid) as a second car to our EV (replacing a pure gasoline car), because the infrastructure for longer trips in EVs still just isn't there in this country. But the PHEV does drive far enough on pure electric to do most local trips. The estimated "combined average" is over 100 mpg. I am thinking with any luck we'll buy another EV to replace this car in 5 years or so, and never buy a gasoline engined car again. 

21 January 2022

Boosters and omicron

This piece reports on studies that are fully consistent with prior indications that vaccination is quite effective at preventing serious illness from the omicron variant. It appears that the wave of omicron is peaking in most parts of the US and that its impact will be at least somewhat less than feared. The emergence of omicron specific vaccines in the near future is even more encouraging in this regard. 

As before, what is so incredibly frustrating is that willfully, even arrogantly, ignorant people are intentionally undermining the recovery we so desperately need by refusing to get vaccinated. 

12 January 2022

Herschel Walker

I am by constitution and development about as un-sports minded as it's possible to be. Of American men in my age cohort, I'd guess somewhere like the 0.1 percentile with regard to awareness of or concern about any kind of professional or collegiate sports activity, including even the Olympics, which barely penetrates my notice. But even I had heard of Herschel Walker before he became (notwithstanding the complete lack of apparent qualification) the Trump backed candidate for Senate from Georgia. 

Now we learn that he's almost literally peddling snake oil on national television. 

I would like to suggest that this gentleman should be cited if not indicted for illegal false advertising. 

And I would like to, but actually don't, believe that most Georgians will be repelled by such obvious Trumpian grift. 

Threats to Democracy

Seems pretty axiomatic. If, as I believe to be true, one of the chief hallmarks of democratic governance is the peaceful transition of power-- the losers leave and the winners take over-- we have had our warning knell. Our system is potentially already fatally wounded. We shall see, and we will find out in the relatively near future. As Bill Moyers says, those of us who care about the continuance of whatever degree of democracy we have had better be prepared to fight. Not violently, but fiercely. Because the risk that all will be lost is very, very real. We have to keep this forefront in mind. 

07 January 2022

The threat of Trump and Trumpism

I've seen quite a few comments in the media to the effect that there's a very good chance Trump will not only run but win in 2024. I just want to say these are perhaps useful as clarion calls, but as meaningful predictions they are completely worthless. Much can, and will, happen in the more than 2½ years to the next presidential election. Intuition and gut feeling are as likely to be accurate as any read of Biden's popularity vs. Trump's at this stage. And here is my gut feeling: Trump has dismayed enough people, above and beyond his inability to even come close in the popular vote in 2020, that if he runs he will lose, and by such a margin that it will be just plain impossible to pull off a cheat-to-win gambit. In the end, people want stability, and more people than ever see Trump as a disruptor; a threat to stability rather than as a savior. Maybe I'm just overly optimistic, but this is how I see it. In the meantime, however, the very real threat of utter gridlock from losing one or both houses this year, and the continuing crippling polarization of our people, remain a crisis of serious proportions. Indeed, the American constitutional crisis over the next 2-3 years probably properly rates as one of the greatest risks to global stability in a good long while. 

06 January 2022

Doraibu mai ka

A friend just told me that the Japanese film Doraibu mai ka ("Drive My Car") is "the best film [he's] even seen." Hyperbole, no doubt, but I pass it on. Coming to the Hollywood Theater here in Portland on the 21st. 

05 January 2022

Facebook account deactivated.

Some weeks ago I stopped using Facebook, and made that known to people I correspond with. Today I deactivated my account, so you will not see my page or be able to send me messages. To get in touch, please use e mail or refer to gyromantic.com. Thanks. 

Restoration of US manufacturing capacity

Forgive what may be naiveté, but the strategy described in this article has long seemed so obvious to me that it surprises me that it doesn't get talked about far more, as one relatively rare thing that both political parties should be able to agree on. Public policy certainly can influence the course of economic development, and even as a pure security issue I would think that having a robust manufacturing sector would be seen as an essential goal going forward for our country. It seems beyond doubt that the US is far gone from the "sole superpower" hubris of the 1990s, and shifting foreign policy away from hegemony to cooperative harm reduction and conflict avoidance is also an obvious goal, but encouraging this kind of development seems to me to be absolutely essential.

02 January 2022


If you share my admiration and appreciation of the efforts that have given us the James Webb Space Telescope, you will be happy to note that NASA is reporting some very good news. The launch parameters and course corrections of the Arianespace launch and subsequent maneuvers went so well that a substantial amount of onboard fuel was saved. The mission, designed to last approximately five to six years, with a hope for extension if everything went well to maybe ten, is now estimated to have enough fuel for even a few years beyond that. This is at least possibly long enough that a mission to the LaGrange 2 point (where it will orbit) at some point in the future could refuel and refurbish the telescope. Similar to repair missions to the now nearly 30 year old Hubble. (Right now there is no operational space technology anywhere in the world that could fly even a robotic repair mission to L2, but it's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility by the 2030s). 

Of course there are still some very tricky things that have to go right before the mission can be considered a success and the telescope begin operating, but there is a general feeling of optimism. A welcome thing in these very troubled times. Particularly in view of the model of international cooperation which the JWST follows. 

01 January 2022

A little New Years musing on Consciousness

The great Epicurean Democritus (c.460-370 BCE), of whose writings next to nothing has come down to us, supposedly said: "Sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, and color is color. But in reality there are only atoms and the void."  

This may seem trivial, but in focusing on the qualia of mind, it points up the "hard problem"* of consciousness, one of the greatest of unsolved mysteries. [*David Chalmers]. Really very little progress on this particular area of inquiry was made from the time of Democritus until perhaps the 17th century, when light was split by a prism into its component colors, and some hint that odors and tastes were the byproduct of chemical reactions that could be replicated and categorized, came about. But the real essence of the problem remains. You can describe and measure the wavelength of light, describe the chemistry of sugar and even synthesize molecules that fool the tongue into believing something is sweet when it isn't even food. We have come to understand that heat is randomized kinetic energy of atoms and molecules, and discovered the laws of thermodynamics, which even hint at how it must have been possible (indeed must have actually happened), given a disequilibriated natural energy gradient, that living organisms spontaneously arose from nonliving chemistry and gave rise through the process of Darwinian evolution to an entire biosphere on this lonely planet. (And cold is nothing other than a lower state of that same randomized kinetic energy). But none of that explains the feeling of cold or hot, or the experience of color, or what sounds sound like (which Democritus might just as well have mentioned).  

These are essential features, or states, of the entirely internal reality of consciousness, about which we still know next to nothing. Daniel Dennett presumed to explain it all for us in his 1990 book Consciousness Explained, which I read. It didn't accomplish its goal, at least not to my satisfaction. Of course, you can make the statement that consciousness is the emergent system from a complex neurochemical matrix we call a nervous system, and that through its operation the illusion or apparent experience of awareness (circular a little?) emerges. But what does that really mean? How does that provide even the slightest insight into what it actually means to perceive red when light of about f=650 nm encounters your retina? It's certainly not the same thing as a computer registering that measurement on an algorithmic matrix. 

The issue, I think, comes down to the essential nature of scientific inquiry. Science objectifies. It simplifies assumptions, creates models, looks for patterns and mathematical relationships that can yield algorithms and technologies that allow external reality to be not only understood but manipulated. Its methodology has been spectacularly successful, particularly over the past 500 years. Even such seemingly intractable problems as the Climate Catastrophe are not really scientifically intractable: they have yielded, and continue to yield, to investigation and modeling quite nicely: the problems are more political than scientific. (Although political problems can kill us just as dead, so I don't mean to minimize them). 

Psychology, and traditional spiritual practices, have given us tools to "work with" our minds, and have yielded very useful tools and insights into what is important in consciousness, and how to examine it from the inside, to the benefit of our species, and, possibly, through beneficial insight, the benefit of all life. But are we really any closer to understanding what consciousness actually is, objectively? Where is it? What is it? What is it made of? What are the laws that govern its continuing existence and transformations? 

I ask, but I have no answers. I've read a fair amount of the popular literature on the subject, including the chapter on consciousness in Biran Greene's Until the End of Time just recently. And it still seems, from what I can gather, that this remains the "hard problem" that the finest minds of our species are not really even close to understanding. 

I laugh a little when I read about people like Ray Kurzweil and arrogant narcissists like Peter Thiel who think that we are on the verge of a singularity, whereby our wonderful computing machines will suddenly emerge not only faster and more computationally competent than our own brains, but also self aware, i.e., conscious. To my thinking this is absurd. Think about your interactions with computers. Oh, they are very clever at various functions that seem mindlike. But ask yourself, have you ever had even the slightest hint that there is a mind on the other side of that screen that is actually aware? The way a dog is obviously aware when it looks at you? I submit, no, because the architecture of "thinking machines" makes them anything but that. They do not think. They process data. And those are not at all the same thing. I am not being rigorous here, but I intuitively know that there is a crucial distinction here. 

We may have trouble if we build computers we can't control, but it will not be because they are self-aware. Whatever it is in the course of Darwinian evolution that caused consciousness to arise is not being replicated in the cybernetic sphere. I am not making a religious pronouncement here. I feel pretty sure that whatever consciousness is, it isn't magic. It exists in the physical world and complies with the laws of physics, like all matter and energy. But what I am pretty sure of is that for all our scientific and technological achievements, our species, as yet, knows very, very little about consciousness, and has essentially no ability to model or replicate it. Certainly our computers are not conscious, and don't really show any signs of even developing in that direction. Computation and control are useful tools, but they are not by any means the only, or even the primary, function, of minds. Which is probably why our brains are so very, very bad at computation. Even a $10 calculator is much better at it. 

If any of my farflung correspondents can point me in the direction of materials that would lead to a different conclusion, I would be grateful. Otherwise, my sole purpose in this little New Years' essay is to point out that we don't know a whole lot, we humans, and there are whole areas of crucial, really vital knowledge where we know next to nothing. And consciousness; what it is, how it arose, and what its ultimate destiny in the universe may be, is almost entirely in that area I like to think of as the Sea of Unknowing. I suspect that as time passes this will become more and more the focus of human intellectual effort, as other, more tractable, problems become better and better understood, leaving room to ponder the hardest problem. 

Happy New Year, everyone.