URLs du Jour

2020-03-02

[Amazon Link]
Amazon Product du Jour explained below.

  • We have to hustle to keep up with all the disappearing Democrats. Jim Geraghty brings us yesterday's news: Pete Buttigieg Drops Out of Democratic Primary Race.

    Pete Buttigieg is leaving the presidential race. His decision comes as a surprise; this morning, his campaign was still urging supporters to get out the vote on Super Tuesday.

    A decent number of Buttigieg supporters are now up for grabs in the Super Tuesday states. Buttigieg is at 13.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average of Massachusetts, 13 percent in Colorado, 11.5 percent in Virginia, 9.5 percent California, 7.5 percent in Texas, 6.8 percent in North Carolina.

    (As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Hope they didn’t vote for Tom Steyer or Pete Buttigieg.)

    That last bit is interesting. Do early voters for defunct candidates feel especially stupid when their vote becomes even more meaningless than usual?


  • Katherine Mangu-Ward only writes once per month for her magazine, but it's always worth reading: The National Interest, C’est Moi. During impeachment, Alan Dershowitz was pilloried for his expansive notion of the limits of valid exercise of Presidential power. Yet…

    Yet the same Democrats who descended into dread at Dershowitz's thought experiment about the relationship between executive power and national interest seem disconcertingly lacking in self-awareness about how such a critique would apply to their own plans for the day their party once again holds the reins.

    [Today's dropout Amy Klobuchar] has promised to use executive action in her first 100 days to enact new policies on gun control, financial regulation, immigration, union protections, cybersecurity, and much more. She has made these promises, one assumes, out of mixed motivations: She believes such actions would be in the national interest, but she also thinks that promising to do these things will increase her chances of being elected and that doing them will increase her chances of being re-elected.

    Staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) have already begun drafting the dozens of executive orders that would be required to fulfill the promises he has been making for the debut of his presidency, from directing the Justice Department to legalize marijuana to declaring a climate change emergency to banning the export of crude oil to canceling all federal contracts that pay workers less than $15 per hour.

    And of course there's Bloomberg.


  • I got a huge favorable response on Facebook when I noted to my high school class group about the 50th anniversary of the release of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Mark Steyn does his usual exhaustive job on the song's history. Sample:

    When you're weary of songs that feel small, it's nice to have a song that feels big - seems to be about something more than just boy-meets-girl, goes on twice as long as your run-of-the-mill pop record, has a sense of its own importance but not to the point of self-parody ("Bohemian Rhapsody"). For a long time "Bridge Over Troubled Water" fulfilled that role. In 1973, when Capital Radio became the first ever (legal) commercial music-format radio station in the United Kingdom, Richard Attenborough launched the station by welcoming listeners and then playing, as the very first record, Simon & Garfunkel. Until well into the Eighties, whenever Capital and many other stations polled listeners on their all-time Top 100, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" would invariably be voted Number One. It had a broad appeal. Back in the Sixties, Simon & Garfunkel were the rockers your parents liked. Not just put up with, but really liked: Nestling among the Ray Conniff LPs and Fiddler on the Roof cast album, you could usually find a Bookends or Sounds of Silence, and well played, too. I once made Paul Simon visibly bristle when I said airily that a lot of suburban couples with two on the aisle for Hello, Dolly! listened to their eight-tracks of Bridge Over Troubled Water while driving to the theatre. But he conceded the essential truth of the observation. The Bridge album became one of the biggest sellers of the rock era, and its title track hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 exactly fifty years ago - February 28th 1970. It marked the high point of the Simon & Garfunkel collaboration - and also the end:

    More at the link, including this True Fact: Paul Simon had written a song titled "Cuba Si, Nixon No" for the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album, but we were spared that when Art Garfunkel refused to sing it. (You can find it via the Google; I listened to about 20 seconds and gave up.)


  • Tom Gagnon, "Guest Columnist" for the Rock Springs Wyoming Rocket-Miner, triggers our Google LFOD News Alert for his musings on Hitchhiking, yesterday and today.

    Driving by the sign “HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPING INMATES” took me aback. Making an illegal U-turn in front of the medium-security WS Key Correctional Center on a rural Oklahoma highway this February, I drove back to snap a couple of pictures of the sign.

    Reflecting upon many hitchhiking journeys of my own, through Europe, Canada, Alaska, across the U.S., and even across the length of Central America and parts of Mexico, too, was I being stigmatized as an “escaping inmate”?

    Maybe I am an escaping New Hampshirite, from the “Live Free or Die” state of my birth. Besides the state’s motto sounding like something from a suicide cult, the French motto on retreating is more appealing, “Live to fight another day.”

    Tom, you are … not missed, I'm pretty sure. But please note that LFOD was originally French ("Vivre Libre ou Mourir"). Just before they started guillotining people they didn't like.


  • I've seen people griping that the Union Leader may be "mellowing" from its once-ferocious conservatism/libertarianism. Maybe, but you can't tell from this recent editorial: Is 'Live Free or Die' being replaced?

    If New Hampshire nanny state partisans have their way, you will soon be fastening your seat belt not because you choose to, but because you are ordered to. It kind of makes driving around with “Live Free or Die” on your license plates a bit ironic, no?

    The editorial goes on to wonder whether the motto will be changed to "Buckle Up Or Else".

Venom

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Surprisingly good!

A megazillionaire is sponsoring space exploration for his own nefarious purposes. Mankind is destroying the planet, so he plans to set up shop Out There somewhere so he can live like a space emperor. Or something; I may not have been paying attention when the evil plot was explained.

But one of his probes returns with deadly aggressive metallic snot creatures, some of which immediately get out of control. They are "symbiotes", who like to glom onto humans, infiltrate their bodies, and take over, not always successfully. The bad guy sees them as someone he can do business with, and sets about experimenting with human subjects. Who are not providing informed consent. Results are discouraging and disgusting.

But the overall goal is for the bad guy to bring back lots of these creatures to Earth and take over.

Enter our hero, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Fired from his investigative journalist gig because he tried to investigate the wrong guy (our villain), he blunders into the lab/lair where the aliens are being held and… oops, he's taken over. Fortunately, he survives, and develops a complex relationship with his symbiote, aka Venom. And they mutually decide to do that thing heroes do: defeat the villain's plot.

It's even more ludicrous than the usual comic book movie, but maintains a surprising amount of humor. Venom and Eddie have a contentious relationship and bicker a lot. Remember The Odd Couple? Yeah, like that.


Last Modified 2020-03-02 8:50 AM EDT

The Contact Paradox

Challenging our Assumptions in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

[Amazon Link]

I picked this book up on impulse from the Portsmouth Public Library. A decent read, sometimes mind-blowing, marred somewhat by the author's politics.

The concept is pretty simple: we're here, we're (somewhat) intelligent, there's nothing to say we're particularly special in the universe, therefore it's easy to conclude there's almost certainly other intelligent life out there. OK, not on Mars or Venus (sorry, 1940s SF fans). But on other stars' planets. So let's use the tools at our disposal to look for it.

Fine. Some people go a lot further than that: the language they use betrays their fervent hope/belief that there must be ETIs Out There. Is that a proper scientific mindset? I don't think so.

The author, Keith Cooper, starts at an unexpected place with a chapter on "altruism." Which turns out to be kind of a shorthand. If we assume ETIs, can we also assume the ETI's motivations and attitudes toward (say) us would be benevolent, and willing to share? Intelligence aside, is whatever evolutionary path they followed likely to have resulted in a psychology that would be similar to ours?

And (for that matter) let's not put intelligence aside. Say that some alien evolutionary process produces living beings capable of complex responses to the environment. Would that result in an "intelligence" we'd even recognize, let alone communicate with?

Well, you get the idea: evaluating the likelihood of ETI involves looking hard at "how we got here". This takes Cooper down some unexpected paths, for example, plate tectonics. Which (many believe) caused upwellings of trace elements into the oceans, driving the proliferation of species.

How rare are planets with plate tectonics? We don't know.

And then there's the Moon: it's huge. Because it's huge, it stabilizes Earth's axial tilt, which gives us a relatively stable climate, giving species precious time to adapt and thrive. And yet, it was (probably) caused by a freak collision between Earth and some Mars-sized early planet.

How likely is that to happen elsewhere? We don't know that either.

Then there's the possibility that "intelligent" species have a finite lifetime. That would explain why they're not obviously knocking on our door: they're dead. Cooper goes into (you might find this depressing) detail about various ways our species could bite the dust, either by suicide (climate change, nukes, aieee!) or natural catastrophe (e.g., asteroids, nearby supernovae or gamma ray bursts).

These musings are only a small part of the book. Cooper delves into the details of the history and current status of searches for ETIs. Radio? (What frequencies, Kenneth?) Maybe the ETIs are using lasers? Masers? Infrared? Neutrinos? Maybe we should be looking for Dyson (RIP) Spheres?

And another issue: should we be proactively sending out signals to other systems, hoping for a response? This is surprisingly controversial. My old college classmate David Brin is mentioned here about being pretty freaked out about efforts in that area. Who exactly should bear responsibility for "talking" to ETIs? How should "we" decide the content of such messages? Do we hold a democratic vote? I say: just let Brin decide.


Last Modified 2020-03-02 8:41 AM EDT