URLs du Jour

2019-12-11

  • At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has a question: Hey, Sen. Shaheen--Whatever Happened to 'Medicare For All?'. Our state's senior Senator was happy to co-sponsor Bernie Sanders' "Medicare For All" bill in 2017. But this year, Jeanne was MIA on M4A.

    It turns out that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is the network of professional Democrat campaign operatives that seek to keep Democrats in the US Senate, urged Shaheen to abandon her support for Medicare For All because it was too risky a position for her to win re-election.

    These multi-million dollar campaign professionals now guiding Jeanne Shaheen know that the socialist policies that have taken over the Democratic Party in the last couple of years are putting their campaign prospects in jeopardy.

    Why, it's almost as if Jeanne adapts her principles to whatever is most likely to get her re-elected.


  • Jacob Sullum opines at Reason: Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality. What, as if there's something wrong with that?

    During Monday's impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year's election. "I don't think the record supports that," Castor said.

    That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president's defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

    Not that it matters. As the reaction to the recent DOJ IG report shows, the other side…


  • … is in a reality-distortion field of their own. As David Harsanyi details at National Review: Inspector General FBI Report: Many Serious Mistakes.

    How many “missteps” does it take for an FBI investigation to be considered improper by the Inspector General?

    According to IG Michael Horowitz, the magic number lies somewhere north of 17. That’s the number of “serious performance failures” uncovered by his investigation into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants obtained by the FBI in connection with former Trump campaign aide Carter Page — who, in the end, was never charged with any crime.

    The IG report also confirmed that agents inflated, and then heavily relied on, the Democrat-funded political-opposition work of former British spy Christopher Steele to help propel “Crossfire Hurricane,” an investigation into whether the Republican presidential campaign had criminally conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

    The number of people I trust to play it straight on these issues is dropping precipitously.

How Charts Lie

Getting Smarter about Visual Information

[Amazon Link]

I picked this off the new-book table at the Portsmouth Public Library on impulse. It's short. The author, Alberto Cairo, is "Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication of the University of Miami." His blog is here.

I was slightly disappointed at (1) the basic level and (2) preachiness. There wasn't much in here that I didn't learn long ago, although the presentation is good, examples are fresh.

If you're looking for a good introduction for a bright high-schooler, this might do the trick.

Lost in Math

How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

[Amazon Link]

I picked this book up from the Portsmouth Public Library, spurred by an interesting Econtalk podcast with the author, Sabine Hossenfelder, earlier this year. She is a theoretical physicist, currently at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies. She's German, but her English is very good; as near as I can tell, her writing is mainly in English.

The book is an interesting combination of philosophy and science, spurred mainly by the recent (and continuing) failure of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to detect new particles predicted by theories of "supersymmetry".

Famously, the LHC detected the Higgs Boson a few years back, and that was great, but the Higgs had long been predicted by the so-called "Standard Model". Supersymmetry, though, is (was?) an exciting new theory that was considered to be "beautiful". So beautiful, in fact, that some theoreticians felt it "had to be true".

Could it be that (see the subtitle) that physicists were led "astray" by mathematical beauty? Specifically, led into dropping billions of eurodollars onto a research facility that has come up with (again, so far) disappointing results? (That money could maybe have been directed at more fruitful research. It would have bought a lot of whiteboards and dry-erase markers.)

Sabine (I call her Sabine) explores notions of "beauty" in science. With a philosopher's care, she breaks it down into various components: simplicity, naturalness, elegance. These are not strictly defined, but they're described well. "Naturalness" is probably the weirdest concept: the notion that dimensionless ratios between theoretical parameters "should" be around 1. (Don't believe me? There's a Wikipedia page.)

Sabine travels the world and interviews/argues with a lot of other physicists. Her takes are personal, idiosyncratic, and often funny.

The book is aimed at a popular audience, hence shies away from delving into the actual physics. A lot of theories are described on the surface, but a lot of readers (including me, and I was a physics major long ago) will be left wondering: what's that mean? Unavoidable, I think.

I've mentioned this before, but my concern is that some aspects of the universe might be entirely too complex or subtle for human intelligence to comprehend. I have a very smart dog, but I don't expect him to be able to understand calculus. Or even something relatively simple, like the base-10 numbering system. Not only doesn't he understand it, he doesn't even understand that there's something to understand. How sure can we be that we're not in the same state?

I don't think Sabine mentions this issue in the book.

If you want to explore All Things Sabine, a good place to start is sabinehossenfelder.com, which has links to her blog, videos (including, I am not making this up, music videos), articles in various outlets, etc.