October 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Humans are still evolving, and maybe faster now than ever (ROBBY BERMAN, 12 October, 2020, Big Think)

The study was authored by scientists from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide in South Australia. It's published in the Journal of Anatomy.

The median artery supplies blood to a fetus' forearm in the womb during early gestation. It typically atrophies and is replaced by the radial and ulna arteries before birth. Few adults have historically had all three arteries -- median, radial, and ulna -- but this has been changing.

The study's senior author Maciej Henneberg says, "This is micro evolution in modern humans and the median artery is a perfect example of how we're still evolving because people born more recently have a higher prevalence of this artery when compared to humans from previous generations."

If we were finches they'd say this was speciation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Vampire Ship: How the seizure of Europe's largest heroin shipment created bloody fallout throughout the world--and sparked still-raging political corruption scandals in Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East (Alexander Clapp, September 28, 2020, New Republic)

On April 28, 2014, a fishing trawler intercepted an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, a day after the tanker had left Dubai for Greece. Three men climbed aboard the tanker and spent the night packing hundreds of small sacks of heroin, weighing at least two metric tons in total, into its ballast boxes. After they finished, two of the men sailed back to the coast. One stayed behind. He carried a handgun and ordered the tanker's crew to keep sailing.

By late May, the tanker, which was called the Noor One, had passed through the Suez Canal. Early on the morning of June 6, it nosed into Elefsina, a grimy port just west of Athens. The next afternoon, four Kurdish men in a black Mercedes SUV pulled up in front of the ship, hauled the sacks of heroin out of the Noor One's ballasts, and began transporting them toward Athens.

The Kurds had spent years preparing for the heroin's arrival. They had negotiated to pay more than $20 million for the Plaza Resort on the Attic Riviera, planning to use the tourist destination as a money-laundering site for proceeds from its sale. They had leased a warehouse and an industrial chicken coop in the olive groves near Athens International Airport; here, the Noor One's heroin would be diluted with more than five tons of marble dust from a quarry on nearby Mount Pentelikon. To transport the shipment, they had purchased a forklift and several hundred canvas bags stamped "Pakistan White Sugar." In early May, an associate from Belgium had arrived in a cargo truck outfitted with secret compartments. The truck was supposed to move most of the heroin to a port in northwest Greece, then across the Adriatic by ferry to Italy. From there, it would be distributed to the street corners of Belgium and the Netherlands, kicking back hundreds of millions of euros to its owners.

All the pieces were in place, in other words, for a latter-day Mediterranean sequel to The French Connection. But as was the fate of that famed heroin transaction, the Noor One deal quickly unraveled. Four days after the oil tanker reached the port at Elefsina, a figure on the fringe of the operation, unnerved by the idea of trafficking heroin, entered a police station. He explained that somewhere outside Athens a huge haul of drugs was being prepared for export. The next day, Georgios Katsoulis, the head of the Piraeus branch of Greece's coast guard, was informed--on the basis of this insider's testimony--that "half a ton" was to be found in a small town east of the capital. On June 11, Katsoulis sent five of his men to observe the squat cinderblock warehouse where the heroin was supposed to be held. The next evening, at around 9 p.m., Katsoulis dispatched 30 armed agents to surround the building.

"We got some sense of what we were dealing with when the dogs went berserk," Katsoulis told me. "Normally they sniff the heroin and move right toward it. But in this case, there was so much heroin, the dogs didn't know where to go. They just started convulsing and barking violently."

Inside the warehouse were six Kurds and Greeks, 500 kilograms of uncut heroin, and a handgun. Katsoulis's team arrested the men without struggle and took them to Piraeus. At approximately the same time, another coast guard squad raided a mansion in the lush Athenian suburb of Filothei and found another half-ton of heroin stacked in its garage.

Over the next several days, the plotline shifted from The French Connection to The Wire: Greek intelligence services picked up one member of the operation after another and flipped them. To hide the identity of the original informant, the police also arrested him or her; at the same time, they allowed others with known ties to the operation to escape. "It was important to make it unclear who'd talked and who hadn't," an officer told me.

On June 22, acting on information from one of these sources, Katsoulis's officers stormed the chicken coop near Athens airport and discovered another ton of heroin. In Elefsina, thanks to a tip from a different source, they swarmed the Noor One and arrested its crew members. Another source eventually led them to Dubai. By August, 33 people were in custody. Greek authorities had disrupted the largest known movement of heroin in European history.

But that was just the beginning of the story. The seizure of the drugs shipped on the Noor One has triggered a long series of seismic aftershocks in Greece and around the world. The planners of the smuggling operation have turned on one another in a war of retribution that has left at least 17 people dead on three continents. Phone records are exposing scores of police whom the smugglers bought off, from Turkey to the United Arab Emirates. In Greece, an investigation into the Noor One captivated the national press--and then spurred a new wave of public interest in the case via a preliminary criminal trial and the rise of a new media magnate. The country's current prime minister and one of his predecessors have accused each other of having connections to the heroin. And an ongoing investigation into who funded the Noor One threatens to ensnare Greek oligarch Evangelos Marinakis, one of the most powerful figures in global shipping and soccer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Beijing Believes Trump Is Accelerating American Decline (RUSH DOSHI, OCTOBER 12, 2020, 1Foreign Policy)

We are now living through a third strategic shift. The process began four years ago when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Beijing was shocked that the world's most powerful democracies were withdrawing from the international order they had helped erect. As Chen Jimin at China's Central Party School observed, when it came to facilitating China's rejuvenation, "The Trump administration and Brexit delivered star performances."

Shortly thereafter, the Chinese Communist Party's familiar euphemisms for U.S. power all began to point toward a belief that the Trump era was not merely contributing to American relative decline but accelerating it.Shortly thereafter, the Chinese Communist Party's familiar euphemisms for U.S. power all began to point toward a belief that the Trump era was not merely contributing to American relative decline but accelerating it. "Multipolarity" was now frequently deemed irreversible at the very highest levels. The "international balance of forces" was said to be "increasingly balanced." But most importantly, and only one week before Trump's inauguration in early 2017, China debuted a new phrase to guide its strategy--one that inverted a Qing dynasty-era statement of humiliation into a Xi Jinping-era statement of ascent: The world was experiencing "great changes unseen in a century."
This sweeping phrase has pride of place in most of Xi's major speeches, in official white papers, and in thousands of articles by Chinese strategists and scholars. The confidence behind this statement has been common in the party's authoritative sources ever since 2016. One official commentary written for party cadres on an important foreign-policy speech by the Chinese leader noted, "Although Western regimes appear to be in power, their willingness and ability to intervene in world affairs is declining. The United States may no longer want to be a provider of global security and public goods, and instead pursue a unilateral and even nationalist foreign policy." And as Xi himself put it at a foreign-policy gathering in 2018 that has been convened only a handful of times in the country's history, "China is in the best development period since modern times, and the world is in a state of great changes unseen in a century, and these two [trends] are simultaneously interwoven and mutually interacting."

Prominent Chinese foreign-policy scholars have been even more pointed in this period. They have argued that the "greatest change" in the "great changes unseen in a century" is the shifting balance of power between China and the United States. Zhu Feng, for example, declared that as Western countries were consumed by populism "the East rises and the West falls." Yan Xuetong argued that "Trump has ruined the U.S.-led alliance system" and ushered in "the best period of strategic opportunity for China since the end of the Cold War." Wu Xinbo assessed that the United States was "spiritually exhausted, physically weak, and could no longer carry the world." Jin Canrong modified an official formulation to note "that world structure is changing from one superpower, many great powers, to two superpowers, many great powers."

This shifting perception of the United States preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. And just as past reassessments of American power triggered strategic adjustment, so did this one. During Trump's first year in office, Xi delivered a series of major speeches that suggested it was time to "leave behind" the era of "hiding capabilities and biding time" and to now move toward the "world's center stage."

This third Chinese grand strategy is focused on expansion. It seeks to spread China's influence beyond Asia and contest the foundations of U.S. global order. Since Trump's election, Xi has repeatedly encouraged Beijing to "lead in the reform of the global governance system" and to offer "Chinese solutions" to various international challenges--these are now the top-funded research priorities in the country's think tanks and universities. As part of this global turn, Beijing has also begun to pursue a global military with overseas facilities, to directly challenge U.S. financial power with sovereign digital currencies, to reshape global and not merely regional institutions, and to self-consciously compete in the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution--all with an eye toward filling a growing U.S. void.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


The Avett Brothers Are Figuring Out Their True Selves (TYLER HUCKABEE, OCTOBER 5, 2020, Relevant)

This is something else Avett thinks about a lot: his own shortcomings. As much as he believes in a unified nation, he also believes that he himself can feel very divided. He's aware of his failings but, in a roundabout way, is grateful for them. He believes they bring him closer to God. 

"C.S. Lewis said that the people that are presumably living under the Golden Rule and being all moralistic -- they're likely further from God than the ones that are doing crummy things," he says. He says the people who are aware of their own crumminess are "in a place where a Higher Power is actually starting to wrap its hands around you." 

Avett calls his own flaws "Failings in the Department of Golden Rule Navigation." In the grand scheme, it's not such a bad thing to fail. At least, it's better than pretending you're not failing at all. Those who refuse to own up to their own shortcomings have lost sight of something human. Those who are aware of how far they've fallen short are in a better place to hear God tell them, as Avett puts it: "'Poor, fragile, little thing I've got you. I'm part of you. You're going to be called.'" 

Avett enjoys citing the sources of his thoughts, as if humbly dispelling any notion that he came up with all this on his own. "This is all Richard Rohr and Thomas Merton," he says at one point. "And Jesus. And C.S. Lewis." 

He's talking about a "true self" and a "false self." The ego, which Avett calls a "shell" and can easily take control, is something we have to actively resist. And then there's the true self -- the one that probably makes mistakes, and has off nights and might not feel as lovable as we'd like. It's who we are.

"It seems like insecurity is bred," he says. "And it's harbored. [People] won't bring along their insecurities and help foster security and confidence and spiritual health or mental health, emotional health. And what happens is they become defensive in so many elements. And I always feel bad because I've been there," he says. "I've been there."

There's a brief break and then he continues. 

"I've gone on stage many times and still occasionally do, going 'I'm not worth this. I'm a fraud. I'm not good enough.' But those are not the real me," he says. "The real me goes up there and says 'I'm just another one of the children of God that is up here aspiring to live up to that role.' I believe that's everyone's right. I'm saying we're all God's children and we don't have to earn it. I thought I had to earn this right to do this. But, no, I already had it. I have to continuously get my mind in check and my heart in the light. And then, I can't be stopped."

The Carpenter is especially good.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Investors are warming to a 'blue wave' that could keep driving a stimulus-hungry market higher (Patti Domm, 10/12/20, CNBC)

"The market is pricing in a Democratic wave. It's not scared," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "The market is accepting this in lieu of a contested election...The market, I think is beginning to understand a blue wave doesn't necessarily mean an ultra progressive agenda."

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Poll: Biden up 8 points in Michigan, 10 points in Wisconsin (QUINT FORGEY, 10/12/2020 , politico)

A New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday reports that 48 percent of likely Michigan voters surveyed back Biden, while 40 percent favor Trump -- an 8-point edge for the former vice president. [...]

The latest poll also shows Biden enjoying a wider, 10-point advantage among likely voters in Wisconsin, with a majority -- 51 percent -- of those surveyed preferring him to the Republican incumbent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's task: Resetting campaign that GOP fears is slipping (JONATHAN LEMIRE, ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN, 10/12/20, AP)

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg animated conservatives but also electrified Democrats, driving a tsunami of cash toward Biden and down-ballot Democrats. Trump's heavily derided debate performance only exacerbated the problem, as even his own supporters found him rude as he so frequently interrupted Biden.

Reviewing data afterward, campaign aides worried as they started to see Trump's support begin to slip. They saw the president's coronavirus diagnosis as only compounding the problem, particularly with seniors. [...]

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Friday if that people are depressed and upset on Election Day, "I think we could lose the White House and both houses of Congress, that it could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions." In November 1974, the first congressional election after the Watergate scandal drove Republican President Richard Nixon from office, Democrats added significantly to their majorities in both houses. They took back the White House in 1976 and added still more seats in Congress.

Trump's campaign worries that it is losing support among suburban voters, women and older voters. The loss of older voters would be especially concerning in states like Florida and Arizona, where aides felt pre-debate Trump had pulled even with or slightly ahead Biden in part due to his improved standing with Latino voters.

Advisers privately concede that Trump, who has not moderated his tone on the virus after getting sick, has little chance of victory without Florida, which will be the site of his first post-diagnosis rally on Monday. And a loss in Arizona would require Trump to hold onto Pennsylvania.

Biden in recent weeks has pushed into states that once were considered safe for Trump, among them Iowa, Georgia and Texas, forcing the president to spend valuable time and resources to play defense. The Democrat on Monday will make a trip to Ohio for his general election campaign, another state Trump won convincingly in 2016.

"He's in trouble, there's no question. By every traditional measuring stick, this looks like a Biden landslide," said Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush. "It's hard to predict what will happen in Congress, but anytime there is a large-scale victory, it has the potential to create tides to sweep people out."

The fate of the Senate has increasingly weighed on Republicans, who see tough races in Maine, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina and even worries in deep-red Kansas and South Carolina. Some Trump backers are warning that GOP Senate candidates are now at an inflection point and some, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Martha McSally of Arizona, took small steps to distance themselves from the president in recent days.

Dan Eberhart, a prominent GOP donor and Trump supporter, said there is no doubt that Trump's handling of the pandemic is eroding support for down-ballot Republicans and could lead to a Democratic sweep of government.

"I hope the polls have it wrong," Eberhart said. "But Republicans ... need to develop a campaign strategy committed to protecting the Senate at all costs, even if it means sacrificing the Oval Office."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bank of England asks banks about readiness for negative rates (Reuters, OCT 12 2020)

The Bank of England asked banks on Monday how ready they are for zero or negative interest rates, following up its announcement last month that it was considering how to take rates below zero if necessary.

Other central banks have pushed rates into negative territory in an attempt to spur banks to lend more, and the BOE said in September it was looking into what such a policy might mean in Britain.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Case for Shrinking the Supreme Court (MICHAEL STOKES PAULSEN, October 19, 2016, National Review)

Senator John McCain made minor headlines this week by stating that a Republican Senate might well be justified in refusing to confirm any nomination that a president Hillary Clinton might make to the Supreme Court. The only problem with such a statement is that it does not go far enough: The Senate should decline to confirm any nominee, regardless of who is elected. More than that, it is time to shrink the size of the Supreme Court.

Congress should pass a law reducing the Court's membership to six Justices rather than nine -- a return to its original size -- and in so doing both take the question of Supreme Court appointments off the table for this election cycle and also thereby reduce the capability of the Court to engage in judicial activism harmful to the Constitution. And if the president vetoed such a bill, the Senate should accomplish the same thing by acting on its own, as an exercise of its "advice and consent" power.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Like Lincoln, Biden at Gettysburg Urges Reunification (Walter G. Moss, 10/10/20, HNN)

On October 6, Joe Biden gave a 22-minute speech near the famous battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He began it succinctly, "On July 4, 1863, America woke to the remains of perhaps the most consequential battle ever fought on American soil. It took place here on this ground in Gettysburg. Three days of violence, three days of carnage. 50,000 casualties wounded, captured, missing or dead. Over three days of fighting." In November 1863, President Lincoln came to the battlefield to deliver the Gettysburg Address, which historian James McPherson called "the most famous speech in American history . . . only 272 words in length and took two minutes to deliver," short enough to be reproduced on the walls of D. C.'s Lincoln Memorial.  [...]

In his Gettysburg speech, alluding to Lincoln's House Divided Speech of 1858, Biden stated that "once again, we are a house divided. But that, my friends, can no longer be." He warned of our shipwrecked state being "on the shoals of anger and hate and division." 

Again citing Lincoln's words, this time his Second Inaugural--"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds"--he pledged to "work with Democrats and Republicans," to "work as hard for those who don't support me as for those who do." For our times of bitter rancor, he offered the balm of trying to "revive a spirit of bipartisanship in this country, a spirit of being able to work with one another." (For lists of the large numbers of Republicans, already opposing Trump and supporting Biden, including many conservative columnists, see here and here.)

Although Biden did not mention Barack Obama, the leader and friend he worked so closely with for eight years, his remarks also reflected the spirit of the former president. A spirit demonstrated in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he was still an Illinois state senator, in which he called for overcoming Red-state-Blue-state divisions, for overcoming "those who are preparing to divide us." A spirit also demonstrated frequently as president, for example during his 2010 commencement address to University of Michigan graduates, when he told them, "We can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Joe Biden's polling better than any challenger since 1936 (Harry Enten, October 11, 2020, CNN)

The ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday was the latest poll to indicate Biden's strength. Biden led Trump by a 55% to 43% margin among likely voters. The poll was the third high quality national poll published this week that had Biden up by at least 10 points and above 50%. The other two being from CNN/SSRS and Fox News.

Indeed, the average of polls has Biden at around 52% or 53% and up by somewhere between 10 and 11 points. This is an unprecedented position for a challenger with a mere 23 days to go until Election Day.

In the 21 previous presidential elections since 1936, there have only been five challengers who led at this time. Of those five, only one (Bill Clinton in 1992) was ahead by more than 5 points. None of those five were earning more than 48% of the vote in the polls.

In other words, Biden is the first challenger to be above 50% at this late juncture in the campaign.

George McGovern would be over 50% too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump drained 'the swamp' to his own properties in Florida and Washington, The New York Times details (The Week, 10/12/20)

Once elected, though. "Trump did not merely fail to end Washington's insider culture of lobbying and favor-seeking," The New York Times reports. "He reinvented it, turning his own hotels and resorts into the Beltway's new back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests reign," building "a system of direct presidential influence-peddling unrivaled in modern American politics."

To map Trump's own swamp, centered at his hotel in Washington, D.C., and Doral and Mar-a-Lago clubs in Florida, the Times pored over the tax information it has obtained, reviewed hundreds of social media posts by patrons of his properties, and interviewed nearly 250 business executives, lobbyists, and club members.

The Times investigative team uncovered more than 200 companies, foreign governments, and special interest groups giving money to Trump's properties and reaping benefits from his administration, including 60 customers with business before the government spending $12 million at his family businesses in 2017 and 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump has turned Texas and Arizona purple, maybe even blue, Republicans worry (The Week, 10/12/20)

"Modern Texas as a swing state?" David Weigel asks at The Washington Post. "Democrats started to dream it after 2008," and "Republicans started to warn about it in 2013," but in 2014, "Republicans dominated every statewide race -- as they had for 20 years -- and made inroads with Hispanic voters. 'Blue Texas' became a punchline. Then came Donald Trump."

California and New Mexico have become fairly reliable Democratic states, and Republicans in neighboring Arizona and Texas are starting to get nervous about a solidly blue Southwest. Some blame President Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Future Is Female: COVID-19 Fuels a Surge in Women Entrepreneurs (Barbara Stewart, 10/12/20, Enterprising Investor)

A "pandemic pause" is giving the world the opportunity to reflect and recalibrate on such causes as diversity and the environment. We saw clear skies during lockdowns, and are asking how to make those permanent. #BLM is everywhere. And women are starting three quarters of new businesses, at least according to some early indicators I've identified.

Why does this matter? Because the start-ups of today are the giant companies of the future. There have been multiple obstacles to female-founded companies over time -- lack of funding and systemic sexism, among them -- and the pipeline problem has been a particular impediment.