September 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Darwin's finches continue to inform and confuse: Extinct populations had higher genetic diversity than many survivors. (Stephen Fleischfresser, 9/01/19, Cosmos)

Heather Farrington, Lucinda Lawson and Kenneth Petren of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati in the US have used the finches to test the robustness of predictive extinction models and the assumptions that underpin them.

One of the common ways to test whether a population or species is likely to go extinct is to measure its genetic diversity: such testing is quick, easy and cheap. Each gene comes in a number of different forms, called alleles.

Genetic diversity refers to the number of different alleles in a population or species; greater diversity is thought to mean that the population or species will have the capacity to adapt should environmental conditions change.

With more diversity comes a higher likelihood that alleles exist in the population that will provide certain individuals with an advantage in changed conditions. These individuals will then outbreed the rest of the population and over time these alleles will become typical of the population or species. This is basically how evolution works.

"Typically, we would expect populations with high genetic diversity to have a greater potential for long-term survival," says Lawson. "Meanwhile, the low-diversity populations would be more likely to go extinct because that's a common pattern as populations decline to few individuals."

She and her colleagues set out to explore this indicator using Darwin's finches, which provide a rare opportunity to test whether genetic diversity really is a predictor of extinction.

By looking at the genetic diversity of 212 tissue samples taken from both museum specimens and living birds, they could compare these to the reality that has played out in the islands' finches, where "many populations went extinct, but far more persisted" over the last 100 years or so. The trio's hypothesis was "that genetic variation was lower in populations that ultimately went extinct, relative to those that are still extant".

What they found was the opposite.

Only one of the extinct finch populations, a species called the vegetarian finch, had lower genetic diversity compared to modern survivors. To make matters more confusing, most of the now extinct populations had indications of higher genetic diversity compared to surviving populations that migrated to other islands. one still thinks they're species.

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


The Unstoppable Surge in Negative (John Ainger, August 30, 2019, Bloomberg)

Thirty percent of all investment-grade securities now bear sub-zero yields, meaning that investors who acquire the debt and hold it to maturity are guaranteed to make a loss. Yet buyers are still piling in, seeking to benefit from further increases in bond prices and favorable cross-currency hedging rates--or at least to avoid greater losses elsewhere.

Those yields are more likely too high than too low.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


The US Recovery Turns Ten (JEFFREY FRANKEL, 7/14/19, Project Syndicate)

Assuming the current US expansion continues in July, it will break the record of ten years set in 1991-2001. But if the dates of American business cycles were determined by the rule that most other countries apply, the US recession of March to November 2001 would be erased. (It did not include two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, but rather two negative quarters separated by a positive one.) Under that interpretation, the US record, it seems, would instead be the 17-year expansion from the first quarter of 1991 to the fourth quarter of 2007. And the current recovery would still have a long way to go to top that.

The credit crunch was essentially the only interruption in US economic growth since the early 80s recession.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Trump is raising your taxes today (Rick Newman, September 1, 2019, Yahoo Finance)

With far less fanfare than the tax cuts President Donald Trump signed into law in 2017, a series of tax hikes goes into effect today on thousands of everyday items imported from China.

A new tariff of 15% will be added to the cost of more than 40% of all consumer products imported from China on Sept. 1. That amounts to about $109 billion worth of annual imports, according to research firm Panjiva. On Dec.15, the 15% tariff will be assessed on another $155 billion worth of consumer goods from China. At that point, there will be new Trump tariffs on virtually everything imported from China.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Twitter won't autoban neo-Nazis because the filters may ban GOP politicians (Nina Corcoran, April 26, 2019, Consequence of Sound)

During an all-hands staff meeting on March 22nd, an employee asked why the company refrains from using its AI to kick white nationalists off the site. After all, Twitter had previously ushered a sweep of bans on accounts pushing Islamic State propaganda. The answer was unsurprising for anyone who's ever perused Twitter: Content filters created to identify hate speech could potentially result in Republican politicians being banned, an executive explained.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


FROM EL PASO TO SARAJEVO: How White Nationalists Have Been Inspired by the Genocide of Muslims in Bosnia (Murtaza Hussain, September 1 2019, the Intercept)

Nearly two decades after the war ended, Bosnia is still struggling to emerge from the vortex of hatred that destroyed the country during the 1990s. Yet what may be even more alarming is that outside of Bosnia, the memory of the genocide committed against its Muslims has become a source of inspiration for the global far right. The shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand this March wrote the names of Serbian nationalist leaders on the rifle he used to carry out the massacres. During his livestream of the attacks, he played a jaunty song performed by Bosnian Serb soldiers during the war, nicknamed "Remove Kebab," that has become popular among the online "alt-right." The Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people during a 2011 shooting rampage, reportedly also showed a "strange obsession" with the genocide in Bosnia, heaping praise on wartime Serb leaders in a manifesto he wrote before his attacks. A domestic terrorist in Pennsylvania who killed a state trooper in 2014 was similarly infatuated with the wartime Bosnian Serb military, posing images of himself on social media in a uniform from the notorious Drina Wolves unit. On websites like 4chan that are helping to breed a new culture of racial hatred and glorification of violence, it's not hard to find the Bosnian genocide favorably discussed. These new online connections are also helping to foster real-world links between the Western far right and its Balkan counterparts. [...]

In order to understand the ideology of the emerging far right -- obsessed with demographics and starry-eyed over the Bosnian genocide -- it's important to look at what actually happened in Bosnia. The grim success of the genocide in cleansing much of Bosnia should give a hint as to why it has become an inspiration. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the Bosnian war. The majority of them were Muslims. The cleansing of places like Višegrad, Foča, Srebrenica, Prijedor, and Zvornik was not a war between two equal and opposing forces. It was a campaign of murder and cruelty against a defenseless people, waged in the name of demographics and ethnic purity. It mixed equal parts racism and misogyny. The level of sexual violence against Bosnian Muslim women was so targeted and systematic -- educated women were singled out for the worst treatment -- that it led to rape being recognized for the first time as a weapon of war under international law.

In the years before the war broke out, ultranationalist politicians obsessively raised public fears about the demographic balance of Yugoslavia. As historian Michael Sells wrote in his history of the war, "Birthrates became so heated an issue that Serb nationalists charged Muslims with a premeditated plot to use their higher birthrates to overwhelm and ultimately destroy the Christian Serbs." That same fever dream of birth rates and racism is now taking hold in the minds of many people outside Serbia and Bosnia, including in the United States. The young man who murdered 22 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, left a manifesto online despairing over the demographic growth of Hispanics in his state. His goal for the massacre was to kill as many of them as possible. It doesn't take much to connect the rhetoric about a Hispanic "invasion" to violence as a response to the supposed threat.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


In Praise of Mölkky, the Greatest Lawn Game You've Never Heard Of (DANNY AGNEW, SEPTEMBER 1, 2019, Inside hook)

[I] stopped to watch a ragtag crew of French millennials drinking wine straight from the bottle and chucking a wooden cylinder at a cluster of small numbered pins.

The delightfully-inebriated enfants terrible took pity on a lonely old American and roped me into the game, which I soon learned was called Mölkky, a quirky combo of bocce and bowling hailing from Finland (also the birthplace of saunas and Angry Birds; the Finns have casual time-wasting down to a science).

Granted the wine probably had something to do with it, but my inaugural Mölkky session wound up being the best afternoon of my whole trip. Without too a deep dive into the game's rules, the basic gist is that one tosses the wooden cylinder (the titular "mölkky") at the numbered pins (1-12, dubbed "skittles") in an attempt to score exactly 50 points. Knock down a single pin, you get the number of points on it. Knock down multiple pins, you get one point for each pin. 

Pins are set back up wherever they land, thus spreading out over the course of a game and adding an interesting wrinkle of strategy absent from typical tossin' contests like cornhole or ladder ball.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Muslim Americans seeking political office undeterred by Trump's racist attacks (Sheren Khalel,  24 July 2019, Middle East Eye)

Muslim activists from across the country attended, many of whom planned campaigns or had already tried to run for office.

While many of the attendees were eyeing local positions, including city council and school board seats, Ameen Ahmad, a 16-year-old student from Maryland, is dreaming big. He wants to be president one day.  

Ahmad is well aware of the political climate in the US, and said the hate and race-baiting he has seen only serve to galvanise his political aspirations. 

"When I watched the video and saw President Trump standing there for 16 seconds as people chanted 'Send her back, Send her back', I felt upset and hurt, but I didn't feel scared," Ahmad said.

He was referring to a Trump rally in North Carolina last week, where the president's supporters targeted Omar with racist slogans.

"It actually makes me want to run even more because I want to show people that Muslims are part of their community and normal citizens just like them," Ahmad added.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Bernie Sanders talks tough in well-received address to US Muslims (Azad Essa,  1 September 2019, Middle East Eye)

He was particularly scathing about Saudi Arabia and Iran, describing the war in Yemen as "one of their theatres of conflict". 

"As you know, the United States has been backing the brutal government of Saudi Arabia, whose intervention in that civil war has led to this humanitarian crisis where millions are at risk of starvation in what could be the worst famine in modern history," Sanders said.

The senator has repeatedly raised concerns about the US involvement in the war in Yemen, where Washington materially backs a Saudi-led coalition that is fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

In April 2019, Trump vetoed a Sanders-sponsored resolution that looked to end US support for the Saudi-led war effort.

"I particularly liked that he raised the issue of Yemen. It is something that cuts me deeply," Isa said.

Sanders also said that, as US president, he would hold China to account for its persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. He also described India's unilateral decision in August to revoke the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir and impose a communication blockade and military siege on the valley as "unacceptable".

He then chastised "political elites in both the Republican and Democratic parties" for pursuing "endless wars and interventions".

Sanders said that, unlike Trump, who has "an affection for authoritarian regimes around the world," he "would make democracy and human rights a priority for the United States of America".
Rhoeda Adewmi, 18, from Houston, indicated doubt over Sanders' ability to deliver on his promises. "I hope he is true to his word," she told MEE.

But honesty is precisely what Huda Khalid, from Houston, is banking on from the Vermont senator.

Khalid told MEE that, though she may not agree with everything Sanders says, she feels he is "consistent and honest".

The 31-year-old was alluding to Sanders' comments during a Q&A session with the audience, in which he reiterated that he was not a supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel into ending its occupation and abuses of Palestinians. 

"He didn't say what I wanted him to say about BDS. But at least he is not against criminalisation of the boycott campaign. Most of all, he was honest in front of a crowd of Muslims who obviously support Palestine. I appreciate that," Khalid said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Listening to "East Coker" (Dwight Longenecker, August 31st, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

In "East Coker" Eliot's biography, his prayer life, and poetic technique interact in an especially powerful way. The background for the poem's composition is crucial for a wider perception of "East Coker" and the whole of the Quartets. Eliot had salvaged scraps of poetry from his work on Murder in the Cathedral and incorporated them into "Burnt Norton." He would do the same as he began work on "East Coker."

In 1939, with Britain about to plunge into war, Eliot was wondering if he would write poetry again. He had visited the village of East Coker in 1937, and using fragments of phraseology and ideas from "Burnt Norton" he began another poem in the same style and pattern. Only after the success of "East Coker" did he conceive the whole plan of four poems. "East Coker" therefore builds on the success of "Burnt Norton" and consolidates the genius and style of the first poem.

Eliot's poetic technique is the first of the three aspects to consider therefore. In the first two essays I explained Eliot's debt to the French symbolist poets and their use of images that are disturbing, bewildering, and emotionally evocative. Eliot uses this technique again in "East Coker." What on earth does "comets weep and Leonids fly" mean? What is "a grimpen where there is no secure foothold"? "Grimpen" is not in the dictionary. Yes, you may track down a hint from a Sherlock Holmes story, but it doesn't matter. You may not know the definition, but with the following line, "menaced by monsters," you feel the emotion.

That was the idea. The emotion lies beneath the meaning. It is chthonic--sub-linguistic. The emotions rumble in the depths--where the wild things are. They are the underground--the tumultuous deep.

Eliot once commented, "Good writers borrow. Great writers steal." Another favorite technique is allusion and quotation. The voices of great minds echo throughout Eliot's poetry. It is not only the great poets, but also historical figures, Eliot's ancestors, political writers, saints, and spiritual authorities as well as scraps of overheard conversation, snatches of popular songs, evocative catchphrases, slang, and slogans.

A quotation opens the door to a whole separate scene. It evokes the conversation and the cultural setting. An allusion connects the readers with the whole life, thought, and writings of a particular thinker. It enriches the experience of the poem by giving it depth and rooting it in the context of a greater culture, and lodging it within a broader sweep of history, theology, and philosophy. "East Coker" is rich in these allusions. The poem opens with one. "In my beginning is my end" is an inversion of the motto of Mary, Queen of Scots, "In my end is my beginning."

Eliot goes on through the poem to quote from the writings of a distant ancestor Sir Thomas Elyot, alludes to Dante, the book of Ecclesiastes, St John of the Cross, echoes Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Browne, and William Blake.

The poem is grounded in Eliot's biography not only in the fact that he visited the Somerset village of East Coker, but why he visited.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM

BUT MAYBE NOT FOUR HOUR GAMES (self-reference alert):

For Love of Watching the Game: Reflections on sports spectatorship (Jonathan Clarke, August 30, 2019, City Journal)

All sports fans have mini-crises of the soul. We periodically lament the endless hours devoted to spectatorship, time that might have been spent mastering a foreign language or the oboe. But, in general, my conviction has only grown that my time as a fan has been well spent; indeed, an hour spent watching baseball is among the surest investments of time that I can make, second perhaps to spending time with my children. On my death bed, I might regret the years I had spent in my twenties writing two unpublishable novels; I know I'll regret the dolorous hours I have spent commuting. But I doubt I'd ever regret much of the baseball, the football, or the basketball. So long as I can be propped up in front of the television, the shape of the Yankees roster come April will remain a matter of interest to me. 

There is a paradox at the heart of watching sports, which is that sports are serious even as the outcome of the games--even the highest-stakes ones--clearly is not. Though I would like my storied alma mater to win its football games, I can't pretend that it's important that they do. The strivings of individual athletes are often fascinating as parables of self-mastery, but those strivings are not my own. The meanings we search for between the lines are sometimes elusive. What brings us back is that sense of hope and renewal that a new season, like the birth of a baby, can provide.

Spent some time watching an EPL game in a pub recently and struck up a conversation with a former MN Twins employee, who started with the team in '87, so he had all kinds of great stories from the two World Series.  But, eventually, we got to the point where we were commiserating about games being too long for us now and the beauty of a soccer game being done and dusted after two hours. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


U.S. - China Trade War: Are There Any Winners in War? (Jon Maier, Michelle Cluver, Aug 15, 2019, Global X)

Unlike China, the U.S. is at the start of a new election cycle. This gives the U.S. a far more short-term perspective to negotiate from. Additionally, a strong stance against China talks well to most of President Trump's base. Therefore, over the next year we expect to see a ramp up in rhetoric. However, we believe that the U.S. is going to need to change negotiating strategies or risk running out of option on how to drive the dialog of the trade negotiation.

While it is true that China imports a lot more into the U.S. than the U.S. does into China, trade negotiations go well beyond the value of goods that can have tariffs imposed on them. Throughout this negotiation, President Trump has threatened to add further tariffs when negotiations are not making enough progress. Should these tariffs come into effect in September, all goods from China will face tariffs. This makes negotiation by threat a more challenging tactic for the U.S. to utilize going forward.

It is also good to remember that tariffs are just a nicer word for a tax on the end purchaser. The U.S. is a consumer driven economy and therefore anything that impacts the end consumer is highly important for overall growth. Up until now, most of the goods targeted for tariffs have been less consumer focused. This means potentially a longer lead times before these tariffs reflect in the inflation numbers. Conversely, this final $300 billion targeted for tariffs are likely to have a more direct impact on consumer prices.

While the Federal Reserve (Fed) has been waiting more than a decade for inflation to return, they want demand driven inflation rather than cost push inflation. Higher prices driven by cost factors such as tariffs, increases the risks of stagflation. This also has the potential to make it more challenging for the Fed to be more accommodative should the economy show further signs of deceleration.

Beyond tariffs, what credible negotiating tactics does the U.S. have left within its arsenal? While the U.S. entered this trade dispute appearing to be the stronger party, what have they gained in almost 18 months?

"Trade wars are good and easy to win" is likely to go down in history as one of the largest miscalculations of the current administration. While it is easy to declare a trade war, finding a solution that leaves both sides believing that they got a good deal is far more challenging.

Of course, if Donald simply ended his wars on trade/immigration and entered the TPP he could then take credit for the economic acceleration that would occur.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM