February 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Really?: a review of The Non-Existence of the Real World By Jan Westerhoff (David Voron, FEBRUARY 10, 2021, LA Review of Books)

WHAT DOES "REAL" MEAN? To be real is to objectively exist -- to not be hypothetical, imaginary, or illusory. How could anyone possibly make the outlandish and incredible assertion, as Oxford philosopher Jan Westerhoff does in his 2020 book, The Non-Existence of the Real World, that the real world does not actually exist?

UC Irvine cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman recently explored this issue in his discussion of his 2019 book, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Hoffman explains that, contrary to popular belief, perceiving the world accurately does not give organisms a survival advantage. It seems intuitively obvious that animals who see reality as it is would be better at finding food, avoiding predators, and seeking mates -- but what really matters is adaptive behavior tuned to fitness payoffs. Hoffman and his mathematician colleague, Chetan Prakash, have constructed a "Fitness-Beats-Truth Theorem" that they have tested and confirmed in multiple computer simulations. Their research has been peer-reviewed and published in academic journals. Hoffman and Prakash stress that the structures of fitness payoffs differ from the structures of objective reality. As Hoffman says, "What we normally take to be reality is, in fact, a simplified virtual reality, shaped by natural selection to guide adaptive action." According to his interface theory of perception, each perceptual system is a user interface analogous to the desktop screen of a laptop. The icons on the desktop hide reality but deliver functionality.

Hoffman claims that evolution hid the truth from us. Westerhoff goes one step further and makes the more radical assertion that the real world does not even exist. Westerhoff's important qualification, however, is that, by "real," he means independent of human "cognitive activities." Since everything we believe and experience can be considered a product of cognitive activity, mind-independent reality is unknowable, and Westerhoff's claim appears more plausible. He acknowledges that the brain creates a representation of external objects, but "nevertheless, this representation does not have any implications for existence beyond the representational framework." This represented world is "built around a conceptual scaffold of notions like causation, time, space, logical implication, physical, mental, abstract, concrete, and so forth." The point is that the representation and that which it represents are two different things. For example, the objects in a dream do not have an existence outside the dream. In a dream, the brain can generate our experience of an object (presumably via a storage retrieval process) without the presence of the object. We create the representation, but we do not have direct contact with the thing represented. Ordinary daytime experiences can be thought of as dreams constrained by sensory data. In both the dreaming and waking states, our brains create a virtual reality so automatically and so perfectly that we take it to be the real thing. We are totally unaware of this ongoing reality-construction process, which is invisible to us.

The universe is homocentric. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Romney's 'Family Security Act' Is Pro-Marriage: What the Numbers Tell Us (Lyman Stone, 2/10/21, IFS)

The child allowance would amount to $4,200 per year for kids under 6, and $3,000 per year for kids 6 and over. Families would get a monthly check beginning in the third trimester of pregnancy. This minor policy tweak would almost certainly reduce the abortion rate, as it did when Spain adopted a similar policy.

Currently, the Federal government provides a $2,000 Child Tax Credit (CTC) per child. The CTC is a complicated animal. People with less than $2,500 in income can't receive it at all, and the credit "phases in" at a rate of 15 cents on the dollar. Part of the credit is refundable, which can lead to a "negative income tax," but not the whole thing. The result of this approach is that 1) families receive the benefit associated with their kid retroactively, or after they might have used money on that child, 2) families get the benefit in a lump sum, and 3) many families never "receive" the CTC at all because it only reduces their taxes owed, never landing in their bank account. Furthermore, the way the phase-in works, many low-income people are excluded from the CTC. On the other hand, because the CTC phases in, it encourages people to work: a person in the CTC phase-in income range (generally less than $30,000 in income, depending on the number of children) might get $15 extra from the CTC for every $100 extra they earn, giving them extra incentive to get a job.

In sum, the CTC is a very complicated, indirect way of supporting families. Most families will never think very much about how it's calculated. But those who do may notice a pro-work element to the CTC that is only for people with kids.

The EITC is even more complicated. Right now, there are eight different EITC benefit calculations, depending on marital status and number of children. But the simple version is, the EITC gives extra money to people who are employed and working, but whose incomes are still low. It's a way the government encourages work and helps people make ends meet even if wages are very low. The EITC gives you a lot of money (up to over $6,000 per year) if you 1) have kids, 2) work about 30 hours a week at minimum wage, 3) stay unmarried. The current EITC is less generous for married people, and the generosity rises with each kid. Academic research suggests the EITC as it currently exists discourages childbearing on net.

The EITC does a lot to encourage work among the people for whom it is most generous. That is, among single moms, the EITC boosts employment. If you are poor, unmarried, and have custody of 2 or 3 kids, the EITC will do a lot for you. But if you get married, you'll lose a lot of your benefits. If you're childless, the EITC does very little. The EITC is a weird policy where we basically pay single moms to stay single, take a low-wage job, and then put them in a situation where they may need free help with caring for or raising their kids because the low wages do not really yield enough income to pay for day care while they are at work. To make things worse, the EITC is so complicated to file that a quarter of eligible people miss out on it, and a third of payments made are to people who weren't really eligible.

Romney's plan tackles this tangled mess of a program head on. It simplifies the 8 credit rates down to 4, it removes the favorable treatment of single parents, and it also provides more aid to childless people. This is all as it should be: punishing poor people for getting married creates a poverty trap. While we don't want to encourage people to marry just for taxes, Romney's plan doesn't create a huge marriage benefit, it just removes a currently large marriage penalty.

The larger benefit for childless people may sound odd, but it makes a lot of sense. Childless people have fewer responsibilities at home. If they are out of work and school, the odds are that their use of time isn't extremely socially valuable, so it's important to provide some work incentive there. But for parents, this calculation is more ambiguous: a parent who isn't employed may be doing the socially valuable work of raising their children. There's no reason why the government should want people with kids to be employed more than it wants childless people to be employed. 

Indeed, we should prefer that they parent and pay them to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Schultz, Conservatism, and Carbon Pricing (JOSEPH MAJKUT, FEBRUARY 10, 2021, Niskanen Center)

Behind his great success, Shultz was a pragmatist; he knew how government and politics work. He knew that if conservatives don't have a climate solution that matches the scale of the threat, they will lose to progressives on politics, and the U.S. will lose on policy. His preferred approach, a carbon tax, would use market mechanisms favored by conservatives of the Friedman era to achieve the low-carbon economy promised by the left-which is also highly popular with the American public. 

Schultz argued that such a tax should be matched with dividends given back to American households, keeping government budgets from growing and reducing the net tax burden felt by most American families.

Rather than a dividend, reduce taxes on profits, saving, work.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


How James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell Became a Negro League Superstar (Lonnie Wheeler, February 10, 2021, LitHub)

Bell was the same player he'd been in St. Louis, but he was more secure in his station and dusted now with Crawford glitter. In Pittsburgh, Gus Greenlee's team was followed on both the sports and society pages, and there was plenty to write about. The entertainment for Paige's wedding at the Crawford Grill was provided by his best man, Mr. Bojangles Bill Robinson. At Greenlee Field, a nattily dressed patron might find himself sitting next to Joe Louis. When the ball game ended, Lena Horne was liable to croon on the grass. After dinner at the club, Duke Ellington just might strike up the band.

Meanwhile, at .364 (the best of his reported batting averages) or whatever it might have actually been, Cool Papa would significantly outhit Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Judy Johnson, the other three Hall of Famers in the Crawfords' lineup (when Paige wasn't pitching) for 1934. When William Nunn of the Pittsburgh Courier discussed the apparent inevitability that black players would soon integrate the major leagues--a movement championed by Heywood Broun and Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News--he put the Pittsburgh center fielder on the short list of likely candidates.

Cool Papa's stardom was not design but residue, a natural by-product of his speed and grace.
"The phantom wall of race prejudice," wrote Nunn, "which for years has kept Negro players out of big-time diamond competition, is under a bombardment from which it cannot hope to stand...And now, look at the cream of the crop...men of the type of Willie Wells, whom westerners referred to as the 'Colored Hans Wagner'; Dick Lundy, one of the admittedly great shortstops; 'Cool Papa' James Bell, who can trail a ball farther than any man in baseball."

Those were words that resonated with Bell. Integration, rather than adoration, was the shape that his ambition assumed. The gentleman from Mississippi had played too successfully, against too many white opponents, to settle for less. He was interested, also, in the comparative windfall that his talents would rightly command if he wore a major-league uniform, increasing his salary by a multiple of five to ten--there was, after all, Clara Belle to support, the monthly contribution to send his mother, a certain vesture to maintain, and, most of all, the pursuit of justness--but such considerations as celebrity and station were lower priorities. Cool Papa's stardom was not design but residue, a natural by-product of his speed and grace.

"When Cool and I played together in Pittsburgh, he was the most popular player on the team both among his teammates and the fans," Judy Johnson recalled to James Bankes in The Pittsburgh Crawfords. "All you had to do was walk down the street with him and you knew why. He was a beautiful dresser. Absolutely immaculate. He had perfect manners and you never heard him say even a hell or a damn. He had time for everybody. Signed autographs, talked to people, gave advice on baseball, anything they wanted. All the time showin' his big beautiful smile."

The front office, however, had a different perspective on Cool Papa's popularity. He was a bargain at $220 a month, and any heightening of his stature--any renown or publicity that might escalate his price--was a threat to that economy. For Bell, the harsh reality hit home on a road trip early in 1934 when his torrid batting began to overtake Josh Gibson's and he was instructed not to send back any out-of-town newspaper clippings in which his exploits were featured.

The Crawfords had decided that their rainmakers were Gibson, who was local as well as Olympian--his showstopping home runs could actually be measured--and of course Paige, the lanky force of nature to whom the game was equal parts sport and theater. The club's traveling secretary, wishing only to spread the word about good baseball being played, was fined for stating his intention to dispense unspun information about who on the club was doing what. "The self-effacing Bell," wrote Bankes, "as sweet a human being as was ever elected into the Hall of Fame, found himself in the shadows, both in fame and finances, of the two glamorous stars."

Cool Papa was kindly disposed toward the pair at the top of the bill and would begrudge neither his glory. He was not so forgiving, though, concerning the Crawfords' calculated denial of his own contributions. Wise to suppression from Southern custom and mainstream baseball, he hadn't counted on more from his own team.

"When I went to the Crawfords," Bell said to John Holway in Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, "they had Charleston, Gibson, Paige. They weren't going to build anyone over them. They never did advertise you over those guys. The Crawfords advertised Satchel. They just kept dramatizing and dramatizing him, but we had guys who would win more games than him. Now, when we played in California, they would bill Satchel, and he would get 15 percent. When they billed me, they had those wagons all going around saying, 'Bell's going to be here tonight.' But I didn't ask for anything. I only got a cut like the rest of the ballplayers got. I'm not the guy wants to be praised too much. I never wanted to be a big shot."

Even so, there he was again at the festive East-West affair in late August, leading off for the East and coming to the plate in the eighth inning of a scoreless duel. He'd played a part in the scorelessness, having hit his relay man, Dick Lundy, with a throw from deep center field, whereupon Lundy pegged out a runner at home plate. But the run prevention accrued mostly to the dazzling pitchers.

The starters were Cool's old teammate, Ted Trent, for the West, and a 21-year-old rookie sensation named Slim Jones, a long left-hander who'd been turning heads all season for the Philadelphia Stars. For the East side, Jones was followed by Tin Can Kincannon and then Paige, who'd known better than to spurn the all-star invitation a second time. Big Florida's successors were Chet Brewer and now Willie Foster, who made the mistake of walking the fastest man in the sport to start the eighth.

Integration, rather than adoration, was the shape that his ambition assumed.
Bell, as expected, stole second base, and he was still there with two outs when Boojum Wilson broke his bat on a flare to short center, which Willie Wells retrieved from his shortstop position but not in time to keep Cool Papa from scoring the only run of the game. Satchel did the rest, with no sign of his hesitation pitch but liberal use of the double windup.

Paige and Bell would reunite later that year on a talented team put together by Tom Wilson for the California Winter League. Luminaries trailing Cool in the Elite Giants' lineup included Wells, Stearnes, Suttles, Wild Bill Wright, catcher Larry Brown, third baseman Felton "Drifty" Snow, and second baseman Sammy T. Hughes. Paige was joined on the pitching staff by able starters Pullman Porter and Cannonball Willis.

The CWL's inclusive posture was reflected by supportive Californians and the Los Angeles press, which took the maverick attitude that good baseball is good baseball. The winter season opened with a parade long enough that three bands could play simultaneously, and the Los Angeles Times described the Elite Giants as "a colored baseball club which is so good it ain't nothin' else but... "

The Giants were so good, in fact, that five of them--Paige, Bell, Wells, Stearnes, and Suttles, in chronological order--would end up in the Hall of Fame. At the time, of course, that was a preposterous notion. For one thing, Cooperstown's maiden class wouldn't be announced for more than a year. And it would be 37 before Paige became the Hall's first black member.

Immortality, however, visited two of those five well ahead of schedule. It happened after the mischievous Paige began telling folks about the mind-boggling speed of his outfielder friend. Satchel's words may have deviated from time to time, and decades of approximated accounts, oral and published, have assumed various forms, but the basics were always the same.

"Cool Papa Bell," he said, "is so fast that, when he goes to bed, he can turn out the light and be under the covers before it's dark."

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


A rebel physicist has an elegant solution to a quantum mystery ( BENJAMIN SKUSE, 3 February 2021, Wired)

In essence, Dragan had shown that in a world ruled by special relativity, counterintuitive quantum effects don't have to be accepted as fundamental. In other words, by including the wacky 'unphysical' parts of special relativity's equations, patently random and distinctly quantum-like phenomena emerge naturally.

A few months later, realising the enormity of what he had discovered, Dragan got these thoughts and calculations down on paper and submitted the work to a scientific journal. But the manuscript was rejected, twice. "I got completely disappointed by this," he says. "I just thought, 'I'm not gonna bother anymore, I'm going to leave it behind'."

Dragan moved on from his disappointment and was happily working in a branch of quantum computing called relativistic quantum information. Then, in 2010, he received an email from Artur Ekert that would bring him right back to his musings on relativity and quantum mechanics. Ekert was and is a leading figure in quantum information and pioneer of quantum cryptography, who has dual Polish-British nationality and holds dual professorships at the University of Oxford and National University of Singapore. The email invited Dragan to Singapore to discuss links between their respective research.

Immediately realising an intellectual affinity, over the course of several visits Ekert and Dragan developed a friendship, becoming as comfortable talking about quantum algorithms as they were teasing each other with mathematical puzzles.

When Dragan finally shared his ideas on how quantum randomness might emerge from special relativity, Ekert was keen to get involved. "I thought it was beautiful," he says. Up to then, Dragan had only explored his ideas in a toy world with one space dimension and time. Ekert encouraged and assisted Dragan to go further, and see if it still worked in the real world of four-dimensional spacetime.

"Like two jazz players meeting every now and then and having a gig together," Ekert says of the pair's meetings in Singapore. Over the summer of 2019, Dragan and Ekert wrote up a paper summarising their new theory.

With memories of rejection swirling around his mind, before submitting it to New Journal of Physics, Dragan gave Ekert one final opportunity to back out before publishing their results: "Are you not afraid to endanger your reputation?" asked Dragan. Ekert was blunt in his response: "Screw reputation."

Unlike Dragan's previous solo attempts, the paper passed through its first test with the journal's academic reviewers unscathed. And though it went viral upon publication in 2020 and has amassed over 30,000 downloads and counting - by far the most out of all the papers published last year in the journal - the duo had (and still have) a fight on their hands to be taken seriously by the court of scientific opinion.

One physicist who was immediately attracted to Dragan and Ekert's ideas is quantum information scientist Vlatko Vedral. After reading the article, Vedral -- whose unofficial PhD mentor was Ekert in the past -- invited Dragan to present a virtual talk to his group at the University of Oxford. "It generated a lot of excitement," he says. "What I like about the approach is that frequently we think about imposing quantum mechanics on everything else; how do we make relativity comply with quantum mechanics? But they are trying to twist this around."

Yet for every Vedral open to hearing out unorthodox ideas, there are many others who are suspicious of any approach that doesn't place quantum physics front and centre. Not only are crackpots with wild unphysical concepts rife in this area of physics, but deeply rooted in the community is the idea that the mind-bending elements in quantum physics simply cannot be explained any further. They just are.

Critics from this camp question both the assumptions and methods used by the Polish pair to come to their conclusions. For instance, when Dragan discussed these ideas with one of the founding fathers of string theory, Holger Nielsen, the Danish physicist's main criticism was that faster-than-light matter would be unstable and therefore unphysical. Another theoretical physicist, who asked to remain anonymous, thought that the pair had used mathematics that changes the vantage point from which you observe the physics in order to change the actual underlying physics itself, which it should never do.

Often though, these criticisms boil down to two points: that no one has ever detected anything racing beyond light speed, and that if anything did travel that fast, time travel is possible. Time travel leads to what is known as causal paradoxes. The most famous of these is the grandfather paradox -- the idea that if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather, your own birth will be impossible.

Dragan and Ekert argue that these critics miss the point. "We're not saying there are any objects that travel faster than light; there might be, but that doesn't enter our arguments," Ekert says. "What we are saying is that you can look on the world from a perspective that is beyond light speed."

From this faster-than-light vantage point, you can swap the order of cause and effect. This is a key result because the underlying physics must remain the same regardless of whether you're watching events unfold above or below the cosmic speed limit. And if this is true, the pair argue that the order of events no longer plays a fundamental role in the theory.

Einstein was not the observer.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Disturbing Details Emerge About Backgrounds Of Capitol Rioters --Including Ex-FBI Employee (David Neiwert, February 10 | 2021, National Memo)

The data already shows that the demographic profile of arrestees is mainly one of older, upper-middle-class whites: business owners, white-collar workers, doctors, and lawyers. More disturbingly, military veterans and law enforcement officers, many of them currently active and some with security clearances, are being arrested. One arrested Virginia man connected to the Oath Keepers reportedly had served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

That man -- 64-year-old Thomas E. Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia -- was arrested Jan. 19 and charged with conspiracy and multiple other counts related to the insurrection. As The Washington Post's Katie Shepherd reports, Caldwell's attorneys filed a rejoinder this week noting that Caldwell was a decorated Navy veteran with a top secret security clearance, and after leaving the armed forces in 2009 he had served as a section chief for the FBI.

Caldwell is only one of a number of the insurrectionists who have military and police connections; six Seattle police officers are currently under investigation for having been present in Washington, D.C. that day, as are a number of others from jurisdictions around the nation. In the meantime, the Pentagon has ordered a military-wide pause across all services as commanding officers try to assess the levels of far-right extremism within their own ranks, spurred by the high numbers of military veterans engaged in the Capitol takeover.

"The presence of law enforcement officers in the riot reinforces and substantiates the greatest fears many in the public had in the nature of law enforcement in the United States," Michael German, a former FBI special agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, told Shepherd.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


One big reason the market is still rallying: Companies are slashing costs (Bob Pisani, 2/10/21, CNBC)

Corporations try hard to control costs, and the Covid epidemic has forced companies to aggressively reduce those costs.

Costs fall into two broad buckets: fixed, such as insurance, rent and interest payments, and variable, like energy, materials, and labor.

Fixed costs don't change, but variable costs do. If you can control variable costs, or turn them into fixed costs, you can usually take in more on the bottom line.

Labor is the largest single cost a company has. Labor is variable. There's many pay grades, people come and go, the workforce fluctuates depending on demand.

If you can replace your workers using technology -- robots, or better software -- you can substitute a variable cost (labor) for a fixed cost (technology).

Voila. Higher profits, particularly once revenues pick up. That's operating leverage.

Of course, there are other way to reduce costs, including cutting real estate and travel costs, or reducing debt.

If you're looking for an example of how reducing expenses can help a company's bottom line, look at the energy companies, which have been aggressively reducing staff and cutting costs.

Kinder Morgan, for example, operates oil and natural gas pipelines and terminals. The company saw year-over-year revenues decline by 7.1%, but earnings per share increased by 3.8%. How did they do that? They cut operating expenses by 44.8%.

Kinder Morgan isn't alone. Many companies hit hard by Covid have restructured -- cutting jobs and other expenses -- and are now anticipating higher profits and higher margins in 2021.

These include casinos, railroads, oil services, restaurants, and retail. "These business have reorganized substantially in 2020 so investors will probably see surprises to the upside," Nick Mazing, head of research at Sentieo, told me.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Local schools persist with outdoor classrooms, even through the cold winter months (TIM GOODWIN, 2/08/21, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

Morgan Cooper, a fourth/fifth grade teacher at Jaffrey Grade School, thought a lot about how the return to school was going to go throughout last summer - and how it could be done safely.

As an outdoors person, she wanted to incorporate time during the day outside to give the kids a break and she found it was exactly what her students needed.

Katherine Nickel, who is in her first year teaching sixth grade at Pine Hill at High Mowing School in Wilton, said she loves the outdoors and was excited about the opportunity to be in nature every day. She said many children in this generation don't spend enough time outside, and offering them the chance to learn in the elements has afforded her to use the world around her to educate.

"If you're out here regularly, something starts to happen," Nickel said. She said the students have been relaxed and less stressed, something she's found to be the case spending time outside. "One of the best ways to get rid of fear is to take yourself into the outdoor."

Jenn Wilenta, a first year kindergarten teacher at Pine Hill, is also an outdoors person and said the being immersed in nature year-round has a beauty to it.

"It's really special and unique," Wilenta said. "It's a new space for me as well so it's an amazing adventure."

Marisa Gurses, the wellness/Spanish teacher at Mountain Shadows School in Dublin, said this year has been incredibly beneficial for the students.

"This year has been one of wonderful adventure," she said. "And it's all an experiment."

Cooper found a spot behind the United Church of Jaffrey, where there is a ravine, some water and plenty to explore. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to and is perfect.

"I happened upon it and I claimed it quickly," she said. "That was my goal from day one, to find a space."

Cooper secured some screen houses and a canopy for the fall and two tents that are used now during the colder months, which the church has offered to keep in their shed. The amount of time spent outside has varied since they returned to school last month, but within the next two weeks Cooper said the plan would be to spend an hour and a half in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.

They have grain bags to sit on, which double as sleds they use to go down the plowed snow banks from the church parking lot, and took some bigger logs in the area and made a circle for them to be together and off the ground.

"They have been very creative in building their classroom," she said.

Gurses said they have carport tents and wooden platforms setup on campus that keep students off the snowy ground and protected from the elements. There are four tents for the eight grades and no more than eight people in a tent at one time. As you could imagine, the scheduling is a daily task.

"We just need to go one day at a time," she said.

There are two fire pits and given the amount the kids are moving around "pretty much anywhere you go there's a place to warm up," she said.

For Wilenta and Nickel the school day begins the same way each morning. They arrive at their outdoor classrooms at Pine Hill and get the fire started so their students have a place to warm up throughout the day.

It's just what needs to be done to get the day going, as the students in kindergarten through eighth grade are outside for the entire day except for a few rare instances.

The decision was made for Pine Hill students to return to school full-time for the 2020-21 school year, with one caveat - classes would be outside, all day. Tents were built using trees harvested from the school's land, fire pits were created for each classroom and plans put in place on how to deal with all the elements.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Immigrants and Their Children Shift Toward Center-Right in Germany (Bojan Pancevski, Feb. 9, 2021, WSJ)

Germans with foreign roots are increasingly voting for the center-right, providing a new pool of voters for the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel as the country's social fabric becomes increasingly diverse and traditional political allegiances dissolve with integration.

This could have significant political implications for the country, which was home to the largest group of migrants in the world--13 million--in 2019, just behind the U.S., according to the United Nations. It also shows how decades of immigration into Europe has transformed the continent's demographics and is reshaping politics in unexpected ways.

The finding, in a new study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank linked to Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union shows a majority of people of migrant origin in the country favor conservative, free-market or even far-right parties.

"We are seeing a process of normalization," said Viola Neu, the author of the study. As migrants become economically and culturally more integrated, get naturalized and gain the right to vote, they tend to shift support from the center-left to the center-right, she said.

"People with immigrant backgrounds now vote like the majority does--not as a group tied to their origin, but according to their values and personal preferences," she added.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


REASONS FOR OPTIMISM - ENERGY (Madsen Pirie, 2/10/21, Adam Smith Instiute)

The quite rapid drop in the price of non-fossil-fuel energy sources such as photovoltaic solar and wind energy has made them viable competitors in an increasing number of instances. This has combined with governmental decisions to phase out pollution- and carbon-emitting fuels in favour of electric power derived from renewables as far as possible. Natural gas is the temporary bridge during the switchover. Although a fossil fuel, it is far less polluting than coal, and less so than oil. This enables the UK government to commit to targets for reduced emissions more ambitious than would otherwise have been possible. 

Energy will be cleaner and more abundant in future, and it will be cheaper. Newer and more efficient photovoltaic panels produce more energy for a given area than their predecessors did, and they are falling in price at a steep rate. The world has almost certainly already passed "peak oil," but not because we reached the limit of future supplies of it. The limit was reached in the form of declining demand. It was headed that way before the pandemic caused dramatic reductions in travel and the demand for fuel.  

There will be abundant energy in future, but very little of it will be derived from coal or oil. In several months now in the UK, the percentage of electric power produced from coal is zero. Three principal sources, solar, wind and nuclear will produce the vast bulk of UK energy needs. The outlook is indeed optimistic. It is that there will be enough clean, cheap energy to meet our needs. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Republicans' Five Bad Excuses for Not Convicting Trump (Ramesh Ponnuru, Feb. 9th, 2021, Bloomberg)

It's unconstitutional to convict a former president. Neither the text of the Constitution nor the founding-era debates over it speak specifically to a scenario in which a president commits serious misconduct just before leaving office. It doesn't seem to have been on anyone's mind in the 1780s. But several features of the text suggest that it allows for the conviction of a president after leaving office. It provides, for example, that the Senate has the power "to try all Impeachments."

Both the text and the debate indicate that impeachment had several purposes, some of which would be furthered by allowing it to apply to former federal officials. Alexander Hamilton called impeachment "a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men," for example. The Senate has repeatedly taken up impeachment cases of former officials, and even when it has declined to do so has sometimes noted that it had the power to do it.

Considerations like these have led most scholars to conclude that the Senate can convict former officials -- a consensus reached long before Trump became president. Brian Kalt, a scholar whom Trump's own legal defense has cited multiple times, has defended this view for decades.

It would set a bad precedent. If the Senate convicts Trump, runs the argument, it would be possible to impeach and convict former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, too. That's true, theoretically. But public opinion and the two-thirds threshold for conviction are sufficient checks against the frivolous use of impeachment. Congress unquestionably had the power to impeach Obama and Carter while they were in office, and didn't; the House has impeached presidents only four times in history.

Failing even to try Trump would set a worse precedent. It would mean that a president who has been given the boot by voters could scheme to stay in office anyway. If he fails, there won't be any time for Congress to do anything about it before he departs. If the view that ex-presidents cannot be subject to impeachment trials prevails, presidents will have a stronger incentive to try to retain power by illicit means.

Trump isn't guilty of inciting violence, and the First Amendment protects him. The fallacy here is the assumption that the Senate can convict Trump only for committing a statutory crime. Both Hamilton and James Madison spoke more broadly of impeachable offenses as violations of the public trust. Congress could rightly oust a president for inciting violence even if no court of law would ever send him to jail for it -- which is only fitting, since being deprived of office is a smaller imposition than being imprisoned. It's a mistake, in any case, to view Trump's Jan. 6 speech in isolation: It was part of a course of conduct designed to pressure state and federal officials to break the law to let him keep office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Our Illiberal Moment (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, National Review)

The New York Times is, of course, within its legal and institutional rights to issue craven apologies for the crime of having irritated its readers' sensibilities, just as the paper's staff is within its rights to pretend that a given column has meaningfully put them in "danger." But it matters when it happens. Behavior breeds behavior, and every time the employees of Politico revolt because Ben Shapiro edited Playbook for a day, or the crew at New York magazine decides that it "can't even" with Andrew Sullivan, or the team at The Atlantic insists that the appearance of Kevin Williamson's byline represents a mortal threat, or CNN's Oliver Darcy proposes that the competitors to the cable network for which he works should be shut down, our hard-won customs are damaged a little more. Read a piece about a contretemps at a major American press outlet and you will invariably learn of a split between the "old guard," which is committed to free speech and pluralism, and the "woke young," which is not. That old guard was a young guard once, though. And, one day, the woke young will be the woke old.

Our political antennae are trained to look for individuals with too much power, which, given the history of the 20th century, is no bad thing. And yet our current predicament is the product of a somewhat different phenomenon: the inward-facing mob. Why did the New York Times become an unbearable workplace for someone as moderate and open-minded as Bari Weiss? Because its staff, complaining and haranguing and egging each other on in Slack, put pressure on their bosses and all but took over the joint. Why did Twitter choose to delete President Trump's account, and Amazon Web Services choose to delete Parler? Because the lower-downs pushed and pushed and pushed until the companies did "the right thing." Why are due process and open debate recast as "apologism" on college campuses when the defendant or the speaker is disliked? Because administrators who should know better fear that their offices will be filled with protesters or that they themselves will be targeted. Much of the criticism of our new American illiberalism focuses in on the ideologies that inform it. Not enough of that criticism, however, is engaged in analyzing the motive. It is undoubtedly the case that a good number of Americans have swallowed whole the idea that classical liberalism is a smokescreen for all sorts of insidious isms. But an even bigger number, one suspects, are simply using the weapons they've been handed. One need not be an incisive student of history to understand that when a man is told that he can silence his critics by merely claiming to feel "unsafe," he will quickly claim to feel unsafe. 

As for those of us who have no interest in silencing anyone? Well, we face the age-old liberal problem of being obliged to advance our arguments in defense of someone -- or something -- that is unpopular. When, in 1978, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of Holocaust-denying neo-Nazis to march through a Chicago suburb with a sizeable Jewish population, its leadership was asked why it was spending its time and resources in the service of such a repugnant endeavor. 

As on so many issues, Robert Bork offers the better guidance on such issues.  As a simple matter of textual construction it is not possible to square the stated purpose of the Constitution-- in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America--with the bizarre notion that we can take no action against those who seek to violently overthrow the republic it establishes.  It's like claiming that the contract we made for you to sell me a car allows you to destroy it too.  It defies the internal logic of the text.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


She was a Jewish QAnon supporter. And she thinks it could happen to you. (Molly Boigon, February 10, 2021, The Forward)

One Saturday morning, Rein Lively discovered her mother dead in the bathroom, having overdosed on alcohol and pills. Told the news as he returned home from the deli, her father passed out in the driveway. Rein Lively said she remembered seeing bagels fall from her father's arms and roll into the gutter.

In the following months, Rein Lively's grades tanked. Her father and a new girlfriend sent her to a now-shuttered and chronically underregulated behavioral-modification school in Montana called Spring Creek Lodge Academy. There, Rein Lively said, she was subjected to a rigid system of discipline that kept participants in military-style lines when walking around the compound; allocated food like butter and sugar based on a system of points; and relied on an autodidact system for which students had to teach themselves using subject-matter textbooks.

Rein Lively also described "development seminars" meant to "brainwash" participants.

"They scream at you, break you down, talk about things that would humiliate you and incriminate you in front of a group of people," she said. [...]

Rein Lively said her entry points to QAnon were through interests in wellness and in spirituality -- both heightened by the pandemic. She said she was introduced to the movement through content on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and on blogs.

At first, the stuff she was seeing was optimistic and uplifting. She liked being told that the patriots within the government would save the public from danger. Later, she tapped into a darker stream of QAnon content about the coming of the second Holocaust.

"Looking back at it now and just how perfectly it fit into my interests, my curiosities, my fears -- I feel like I was almost typecast for the type of person who would become immersed in this," she said.

Rein Lively said she was never exposed to outright antisemitic content in QAnon forums. But she also said that, while part of the movement, she was convinced that Soros, a Hungarian philanthropist who escaped the German occupation, was secretly a Nazi.

"When you start looking at it, it's just so shocking and upsetting," she said of the claims she was reading. "They don't call it a rabbit hole for nothing."

Rein Lively said she was "isolated" within the movement and was not engaging much with other adherents, and did not knowingly encounter other Jews in online forums.

But she is not entirely alone. In one online forum for Q supporters, a user who identified as Jewish asked fellow members of the movement on Jan. 28 to lighten up on antisemitic comments.

"I have seen some broad language against all Jewish people which is grossly unfair," he said in the post.

One commenter responded:

"I am more than disgusted to share my DNA with many evil subhuman forms, and I also suggested not to use the wide paint brush against us all," he said of fellow Jews. "Trump has a few on his team, for a reason: we are well aware of communist hell and we are more than loyal."

Rein Lively said Jews may be more vulnerable to this type of messaging than most people think.

"I think people have this idea of these QAnon people being weirdo neo-Nazis in a basement somewhere," she said. "I know other people feel this way, especially other Jews that have kind of joined -- not even necessarily QAnon but even the Patriot movement -- and there's more and more right-wing Jews."

On Monday, after Rein Lively likened QAnon to a cult [in an interview with CNN's Alisyn Camerota](https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2021/02/08/qanon-cult-former-believer-melissa-lively-newday-vpx.cnn), some Twitter commenters were deeply skeptical.

They accused her of trying to do a "rebrand," and the various news outlets where she has been featured as being "hoodwinked." A VICE video about her was deemed "embarrassing."

Rein Lively is undeterred. She sent along, via text, a sampling of the hateful voicemails she said she receives on a daily basis.

"I've experienced that snap judgment already," she said. "There's nothing I can really say to that, except my story has been incredibly challenging and I know that by sharing it, it's helping other people."

After the Target meltdown, the police took Rein Lively to a facility for a psychiatric evaluation, and she stayed more than a week. Her husband had filed for divorce and kicked her out of the house after her tirades went viral, so she crashed at a friend's second home, and continued therapy. Eventually, she appealed to her husband, a real estate broker, for a second chance, moved back home and has begun to rebuild her life.

Always fun when the Trumpists pretend that getting 6% of the black vote means they can't be racist.