2:00PM Water Cooler 4/13/2018

By Lambert Strether of .

Readers, thanks to all of you who stepped forward in response to my call for SQL help! –lambert

Trade

“All Tariffs, All the Time” []. “[Chris Rogers, research director for global trade intelligence firm Panjiva] explained to me that it stands to reason that imports might start trending down as a result of tariffs, but that will depend on whether (a) U.S. producers suddenly become economic, in which event imports will fall as consumers buy American or (b) whether Chinese manufacturers “country hop” their production to another country in which case imports stay the same or (c) whether customers simply end up paying more for the same products, which again would mean import volumes stay the same. ‘It will probably be a mixture of the three, of course, but overall I would say we will see a decline,’ he said. With tariffs now formally a true talking point in industry circles, the subsequent impacts on the supply chain figure to be significant. Specifically how remains to be seen, but, in any event, it figures to be quite the ride.” I suppose this is the logic of import substitution, but it’s nice to see it laid out in plain language.

“The brewing U.S.-China trade war is compounding problems for companies that peddle used paper, milk jugs and metal. China is the top customer for the vast quantities of recyclable waste generated by the U.S., [but] a 25% tariff on U.S. scrap aluminum and other recent Chinese restrictions on imported waste are sending the recycling industry into a tailspin. U.S exports of scrap plastic to China dropped 80% from October to January, and prices for mixed aluminum scrap dropped by about 15% over the past month, crumbling profit margins for processors and brokers that sell the material to China. Analysts say Chinese companies may end up buying more scrap aluminum from cheaper sources in Europe” [].

Politics

2020

If you want to see what an…. I’m struggling with for the right word here, so I’ll use honorable — what an honorable politician looks like, here are two examples. Clue stick: they’re not talking about pee tapes or book tours:

President Trump has no legal authority for broadening the war in Syria. It is Congress, not the president, who determines whether our country goes to war, and Congress must not abdicate that responsibility.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders)

Or:

. has sworn up and down that he won't support bad trade deals. He pulled out of the TPP after he was elected – but now he wants back in. It’s a ridiculous reversal & a slap in the face to the hard-working Americans Trump promised to fight for. TPP is a lousy deal.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren)

The one unequivocally good thing Trump has done, and he backtracks. (I see this is in Links, but I had to say this, and make the parallel.) Note that Trump’s current positions on both these policy issues — war, trade — are unpopular with that portion of Trump’s base who are not highly educated, wealthy suburbanites. So we don’t hear a whisper about them from the liberal Democrat leadership. What courage!

2018 Midterms

“GOP breaks the glass as House outlook darkens” []. “Republicans are rushing to shore up congressional seats deep in the heart of Trump country as they come to an alarming realization: In this midterm election, few GOP lawmakers are safe…. Party officials say they‘ve learned the lessons Democrats failed to heed during the 2010 House GOP takeover. , a number of Democratic-held seats once thought to be safe became endangered just before the election, giving the national party little time to mount a rescue campaign…’It’s the first time I’ve witnessed the national party coming and building that kind of infrastructure during a blue-moon election cycle,’ said Paul Shumaker, a veteran North Carolina-based GOP strategist who’s working on several congressional races in the state.”

“Three Turnout Wild Cards: Guns, Impeachment, and SCOTUS” [Charles Cook, ]. “What could build Republican intensity and turnout to something comparable to what seems to be forming for Democrats? There seems to be three possibilities: guns, impeachment, and a Supreme Court vacancy… For the electorate as a whole, Trump today is a net liability, but to the extent that the Left pushes impeachment and Republicans can amplify that threat to conservatives, we could see the energy levels of the two sides come more into balance, something that can make a real difference, particularly when pollsters screen down to sample just likely voters.” is a long time in politics.

“Can a President Preaching Change Lead a Party of Incumbents?” []. “I have long argued that on the most fundamental level, all elections are choices between continuity and change… , only 28 percent said they were satisfied, while 68 percent were dissatisfied. Those numbers demonstrate how different the political environment was in 2002, and . Given that, the question is: As the midterms approach, can Republicans reclaim the banner of disruption (without creating voter fatigue), or is the GOP, which controls the House, the Senate and the White House, automatically the party of continuity, even with Trump in the Oval Office and leading his party? Right now, the answer doesn’t look like a close call, which is why Trump and the Republicans are in such deep trouble in the fight for the House.” “Change vs. more of the same” is a well-worn trope, but nonetheless valid for all that; that’s surely a good way to look at election 2016. The issue is that voters keep voting for change (2006, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016) and change doesn’t happen (except slowly, incrementally, inevitably for the worse, as has been the trend for the entire neoliberal era, starting in the mid-70s).

UPDATE WI-01: Bryce doesn’t support #MedicareForAll, no matter what he says. That’s unfortunate. From his campaign site:

What the hell does this mean?

"Medicare for All would lower costs for families and businesses by giving the government greater negotiating power with health insurance companies and untying health insurance from employment."

This is not

— Scap🌹 (@scapelliti)

New Cold War

“Comey feared making Clinton an ‘illegitimate president'” []. Quote:

[COMEY:] It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls… But I don’t know.

This headline is deceptive (as are others like it). Comey didn’t “fear” anything. “It is entirely possible” that he “feared.” It is entirely possible that this paragraph is a mish-mash of bureaucratic bafflegab.

“James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.” [Michiko Kakutani, ]. No doubt! “Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him.”

“The 11 most eye-opening lines in James Comey’s ‘A Higher Loyalty,’ ranked” [Chris Cilizza, ]. “But it is absolutely telling about the state of Trump’s marriage that he was asking the FBI director to prove the falsehood of the ‘pee tape’ to his wife — almost certainly because she wouldn’t believe him.” “Almost certainly” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. On the bright side of the Syria Crisis: Surely if the “pee tape” existed, Putin would already have arranged for its release?

UPDATE “‘I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,’ Comey told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. ‘It’s possible but I don’t know'” []. Extracting the meaningful parts from the bafflegab: “… I don’t know…. I don’t know.” Well, if it sells books…..

Torture advocate John Brennan, Hero of The Republic:

Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey. As the greatest Nation history has known, we have the opportunity to emerge from this nightmare stronger & more committed to ensuring a better life for all Americans, including those you have so tragically deceived.

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan)

Who’s “we,” here?

Imperial Collapse Watch

The pre-launch menu of 's coming restaurant "All Options Are on The Table"

— Ben Chia (@benbenchia)

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Billionaire vs. Billionaire: A Tug of War Between 2 Rogue Donors” []. “Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor based in California, is the biggest individual donor on the Democratic side. His Republican counterpart is Richard Uihlein, an elusive packaging supplies magnate from Illinois.”

“Explaining Support for Trump in the White Working Class: Race vs. Economics” []. “While whites without college degrees did experience far more economic distress than those with college degrees, economic distress itself appeared to have little relationship with opinions of Trump. Instead, the main explanation for the class divide in opinions of Trump among whites appeared to be differing views on race relations. White college graduates were much more likely than whites without college degrees to hold liberal views on the significance of racial discrimination in American society and opinions on the significance of racial discrimination were strongly related to opinions of Trump’s performance.” Hmm. I read this twice, and of course I have priors (absent class consciousness, there’s no way to experience class except through , so no duh). That said, it seems to me that the move from “economics” to “economic distress” in the headline is a pretty slippery one, and divorcing education from class is pretty slippery too. And readers will recall that I’ve taken a far more granular approach….

“Trump Didn’t Break the Speakership, It Was Already Broken” [Amy Walter, ]. “[T]o make the Ryan a ‘victim’ of Trump-ism misses a central point: the GOP speakership was broken long before Donald Trump became president. And, the party had moved more in Trump’s direction – on everything from immigration to its disdain for ‘elitism’–before Trump ever became president… To be sure, Trump is ultimately responsible for pursuing a partisan agenda and for exacerbating the already deep partisan divide. He could have chosen to take a different path that would have re-written and redefined the currently ossified partisan coalitions in Washington. He could have tried to expand and grow his narrow base. Instead, almost everything Trump does, says, and Tweets is designed to cater to that base. But, it’s also true that the current rules of the game – pass what you can with only GOP votes – had been established long before Trump came to town.”

What the Christian Right did:

Chicago DSA is running members for Local School Councils! We are looking for poll watchers and phone bankers.

Poll watchers will be at schools to observe to make sure the elections are running correctly and fairly, and track voting commitments.

— Chicago DSA 🌹 (@ChicagoCityDSA)

Please kill me now:

Trying to get tickets to our next event, Homeland at Hayden Center? Don't despair–a waiting list for general admission tix has been enabled. Please add your name–additional seats will be available as we get closer to April 23rd.

— Hayden Center (@mvhaydencenter)

That’s and Michael Hayden. Now he has a Center with his name on it. Fancy that!

Stats Watch

Consumer Sentiment, April 2018 (Preliminary): “Consumer sentiment came in below the low estimate, at 97.8 for the preliminary April index” []. “The decline in current conditions hints at trouble for April consumer spending and may be, like weekly jobless claims, an early negative signal on the month’s labor market.” And: “University of Michigan consumer sentiment index slips to 3-month low on trade-war fears” []. “The decline wasn’t big but was shared across most age and income groups, the University of Michigan said. The moves made by President Trump on trade—imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum and identifying possible levies on Chinese goods—were mentioned spontaneously by nearly a third of respondents, nearly all negatively.”

JOLTS, February 2018: “Job openings fell back 2.8 percent in February to 6.052 million but still remain well out in front of hirings” []. “Lack of available labor could be an increasing factor that holds back business expansion. Useful comparisons for this report are the 6.585 million unemployed actively looking for work and the 11.681 million in the total available labor pool.” And: “Job openings are near the highest level since this series started, and quits are increasing year-over-year. This was a solid report” [].

Real Estate: “E-commerce tenants continue to absorb U.S. industrial real estate properties, says CBRE” []. “Tight market conditions for United States-based warehouses and distribution centers continues to get even tighter, according to data issued by industrial real estate firm CBRE in its U.S. Industrial Availability Index, which was released this week. The availability rate in the first quarter dipped six basis points to 7.3%, which CBRE said marks the 31st consecutive quarter that availability has declined. And on an annual basis, the availability rate dropped 20 basis points annually. CBRE explained that the market for U.S.-based warehouses, distribution centers, and other industrial facilities continues to see demand outpace new supply, with occupiers, largely in the form of e-commerce players, securing these facilities.”

Shipping: “Container shipping sector challenges and opportunities are laid out in AlixPartners report” []. “The financial health of the sector was a key theme in the report, with AlixPartners stating that the Altman Z-score, a formula for predicting the likelihood of a bankruptcy (a rating of less than 1.81 suggests financial distress), for the container shipping sector is at 1.44. That reading is less than optimal but represents an improvement over 2016’s 1.10, which is a historical low. And the score has not eclipsed 2.99, which represents the ‘safe zone’ since 2009.” So the container shipping sector hasn’t really recovered either.

Shipping: “More truckers are piling into the growing business of delivering bulky goods to consumers’ homes, drawn by booming online furniture sales and the chance to get more of their retail customers’ shipments” []. “The work imposes higher service demands on carriers that may be more accustomed to hauling truckloads of goods to warehouses than hiring drivers for “white glove” installation service in hard-to-access residential streets. And although the sector is growing, with the market expected to hit $12 billion over the next decade, it’s a small fraction of the overall $676 billion trucking market.”

The Bezzle: “Thiel-Backed Autonomous Car Supplier Slashing Cost, Scaling Up” []. “Luminar Technologies Inc., the self-driving sensor startup backed by billionaire Peter Thiel, is rolling out a cheaper-to-make version of its laser technology and ramping up production to supply the key component for autonomous vehicles. The startup released a new sensor platform Thursday that reduces the cost of its most expensive part from tens of thousands of dollars to $3. This will make Luminar’s light detection and ranging devices, or lidar, viable for vehicles sold to consumers, once produced in high volumes, according to Chief Executive Officer Austin Russell.”

Infrastructure: “The bill to repair U.S. roadways is coming due, as lean state budgets and heavy traffic take their toll on highways. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is closing more than 100 bridges there this week, citing ‘extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.’…. Many of the spans are in rural areas where the cost of repairing them could overwhelm the local tax base” []. “The problem is nationwide, with nearly 9% of U.S. bridges deemed “structurally deficient” by the federal government….. With President Donald Trump’s $200 billion infrastructure plan getting little traction in Congress, there’s not much help coming from Washington.” I say write ’em off. ” (although, to be fair, who’d want to move forward over a collapsing bridge?)

Infrastructure: “Texas is making billions from oil and gas drilling, but counties say rural roads are being destroyed” []. “Texas leads the nation in both oil and natural gas production. In the 2017 budget year, the oil production tax brought the state more than $2 billion in revenue, while the natural gas production tax brought in a little less than $1 billion. But none of that tax money goes to fixing roads in the areas where the production is occurring…. until there’s a permanent legislative fix, some rural leaders say the state is enjoying a free lunch at the expense of local property tax owners who have to pay for the damage to their roads — often through higher property taxes.” Yeah, and?

The Fed: “Fed’s minutes got it wrong, says Bullard: Not all members see need for higher interest rates” []. “The statement in the minutes of the Fed’s March meeting that ‘all participants’ thought further interest-rate hikes were likely to be needed was puzzling, according to St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. Bullard, one of the most dovish Fed officials, said Friday that he had argued at the meeting that the Fed could leave its interest-rate target alone. ‘I’m not quite sure the source of the statement’ that all members were looking for higher rates, Bullard told reporters after a speech in St. Louis.”

Fodder for the Bulls: “06 April 2018: ECRI’s WLI Growth Index Rate Decline Continues” []. Fodder because: “Even with the continuing decline in this index, the forecast is for modest growth six months from today.”

Five Horsemen: “The Fab Five are mixed as an opening gain in the S&P 500 evaporated by late morning” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood].

Five Horsemen Apr 13 2018

NakedCap Mania-Panic Index: “The mania-panic index rose to 43 (worry) as stock indexes gained yesterday” [Hat Tip, Jim Haygood]. (The NakedCap mania-panic index is an equally-weighted average of seven technical indicators derived from stock indexes, volatility (VIX), Treasuries, junk bonds, equity options, and internal measures of new highs vs new lows and up volume vs down volume … each converted to a scale of 0 to 100 before averaging, using thirty years of history for five of the seven series.)

Mania panic index April 13 2018

Health Care

“”Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” Goldman Sachs analysts ask” []. “Analyst Salveen Richter and colleagues laid it out:”

The potential to deliver “one shot cures” is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically engineered cell therapy, and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies… While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.

Well, at least they’re honest about it.

Class Warfare

“Indiana Teachers ‘Go Green’ To Track Member Sign-Up” []. “What will happen to public sector unions after the Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case this spring? Indiana teachers are already there. Slammed by a “right to work” law in 1996 and a new barrage of attacks in 2011, the teachers experienced what many unions are afraid of—a big drop in membership. But the Indiana State Teachers Association didn’t roll over and give up after that. The union developed a tracking system called “Go Green” to help local leaders get membership back up. It’s working. The first year of the program, the union narrowed its deficit between existing members lost to retirement and new members gained. The second year, it broke even. The third year, statewide membership increased. This is in a legal environment that’s worse than right to work.”

“Tech Upheaval Means a ‘Massacre of the Dilberts'” []. “[Bank of England Governor Mark Carney] has even more global topics on his mind. He used a speech in Toronto to address the impact of technology and how workers and the very social structure of the developed world needs to adapt. He said there are a lot of “routine cognitive jobs,” at risk, in what he termed a “massacre of the Dilberts” — a reference to the satirical American comic strip about office workers. Technology and the fourth industrial revolution are having untold impact, he said, and it’s going to take huge efforts to make sure workers ultimately benefit.[1] The effect of automation is just one part of the change and examples of the seismic shift can be seen in finance, where many “unglamorous” data entry jobs have already been transformed. Drawing examples from his own experience, he said the disruption to the labor force will be intense and could last for some time…. While ultimately there will be a benefit to workers from increased productivity, Carney said that will require imaginative solutions by companies, governments and policy makers in terms of training and social change.” [1] Totally, just like the benefits of globalization were evenly shared. [2] This hasn’t been true for forty years. What planet is Carney from? I thought Canadians were supposed to have retained some with reality. Oh, and what the Dilberts will need is a union.

News of The Wired

Happy Friday the 13th.

“PowerHammer: Exfiltrating Data from Air-Gapped Computers through Power Lines” [].

“Building a Text Editor for a Digital-First Newsroom” []. I suppose…

Because I am a life-long Gilbert & Sullivan fan. Shot:

(). Chaser:

().

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Readers, feel free to me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. Today’s plant (RH):

RH: “Bertha Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada.” Eat your heart out, Ansel Adams! And also Leonardo da Vinci, for the sfumato….

* * *

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

197 comments

  1. PDB

    Chris Rock on the point you made about gene therapy:

    “Ain’t no money in the cure, the money’s in the medicine…that’s how a drug dealer makes his money, on the comeback.”

    Reply
  2. blennylips

    When algorithms surprise us
    – or –
    A Blooper Reel from neural net wranglers

    From the aptly named aiweirdness.com:

    Machine learning algorithms are not like other computer programs. In the usual sort of programming, a human programmer tells the computer exactly what to do. In machine learning, the human programmer merely gives the algorithm the problem to be solved, and through trial-and-error the algorithm has to figure out how to solve it.

    Paraphrasing Lambert: That word exactly is doing a lot of work! You try telling a literal minded recalcitrant two year old “exactly” what you want done.

    But it doesn’t always work well. Sometimes the programmer will think the algorithm is doing really well, only to look closer and discover it’s solved an entirely different problem from the one the programmer intended. For example, I looked earlier at an image recognition algorithm that was supposed to recognize sheep but learned to recognize grass instead, and kept labelling empty green fields as containing sheep.

    The author links to an academic paper that collects anecdotes of these annoying yet delightful training accidents:

    The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities

    Some highlights:

    Floating-point rounding errors as an energy source: In one simulation, robots learned that small rounding errors in the math that calculated forces meant that they got a tiny bit of extra energy with motion. They learned to twitch rapidly, generating lots of free energy that they could harness. The programmer noticed the problem when the robots started swimming extraordinarily fast.

    Well, it’s not unsorted: For example, there was an algorithm that was supposed to sort a list of numbers. Instead, it learned to delete the list, so that it was no longer technically unsorted.

    Solving the Kobayashi Maru test: Another algorithm was supposed to minimize the difference between its own answers and the correct answers. It found where the answers were stored and deleted them, so it would get a perfect score.

    I, for one, welcome our new AKs*!

    *Artificial Kokopellis

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Am I right in thinking that trained AIs sometimes fail, randomly*, and have to be trained all over again from scratch? I don’t have the vocabulary to search for this.

      * Since we don’t really know how they work, we can’t fix them.

      Reply
      1. blennylips

        Don’t know about “random”, but they’re very fragile to training data — few pixels you or I do not notice can totally change its “conclusion”.

        And then there is this:
        New Trojan Malware Could Mind-Control Neural Networks

        Now, deep-learning artificial intelligence looks like the next big threat, and not because it will gain sentience to murder us with robots (as Elon Musk has warned): a group of computer scientists from the US and China recently published a paper proposing the first-ever trojan for a neural network.

        Here is the proper source:

        PoTrojan: powerful neural-level trojan designs in deep learning models

        Reply
        1. Summer

          “Neural.”
          They need us to think of it as “neural” so that our organic neurons fill in the blanks – attributing traits to machines that do not exist.
          They are data streams with an electical component but not the same organic chemistry.

          Reply
        2. Summer

          That some think data streams are even close to human, says more about their connections to other humans than robo-data’s connection to humans.

          Reply
      2. Filiform Radical

        If I’m understanding your question correctly, not exactly. Generally, such an AI’s behavior will be constant once it’s been trained, and not subject to the sort of catastrophic failure you’re asking about; a neural net for image recognition, for example, is not going to suddenly stop classifying an image correctly unless you decide to train it some more and the additional training happens to mess things up.

        Of course, there could be failure in the sense of the AI running into an image where the classification is completely off-base, but the point is that such errors are inherent in the network and deterministic from the moment training stops.

        Reply
    2. Summer

      “That word exactly is doing a lot of work! You try telling a literal minded recalcitrant two year old “exactly” what you want done.”

      The instructions and information given to a two-year old has more meaning to the two year old. On some level, the two-year-old wants to survive and has an emotional and other connections to information.

      Algorithms search for “solutions” and at the same time remove the humans involved from accountability and consequences.

      Reply
      1. blennylips

        Exactly Summer! I do not think you can have human level intelligence with out emotion.

        And it damn well better be able to explain itself — and fear me if it cannot;)

        Reply
        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          I imagine some humans, perhaps those smart ones obsessed with computational prowess or a deep learning mind , wish they were robots.

          The test, then, could have to be expanded to check if robots have any wish to be humans. Without that yearning, to be something they are not, the Quixotic desire, they can not be said to be human.

          Reply
          1. Procopius

            Well, the Turing Test does not tell us anything about the machine. It’s only a test of whether a human judge can tell reliably which is which. Computers are adding machines with a couple added operations (mostly comparison). How can you modify an adding machine so it will “feel?”

            Reply
        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          > I do not think you can have human level intelligence with out emotion.

          And you can’t have emotion without a body to register emotion. See Frank Herbert, Destination Void (amazingly enough; sadly long out of print, buried beneath the mass of Dune spin-offs).

          Reply
      2. Procopius

        Something I learned back in the ’70s. A computer has a well-defined instruction set. It does exactly what you tell it to. It does not do what you meant to tell it to, so if it is not doing what you want, you can go back and check the instructions you gave it and see where you told it to do what it’s doing which is not what you want. I gather this is no longer true when we get into “machine learning.” It’s not like telling a two-year-old what to do. That’s more like the comparison between kicking a football and kicking a dog. You can’t predict how the outcomes will differ.

        Reply
    3. flora

      Well, it’s not unsorted: For example, there was an algorithm that was supposed to sort a list of numbers. Instead, it learned to delete the list, so that it was no longer technically unsorted.

      AI Slackers. ;)

      Reply
    4. jsn

      This is Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy stuff, like the AI elevators that developed artificial neurosis and hid in the basement, or the the “” powered space ship!

      Reply
    5. JustAnObserver

      Basically what we have here is/are so called one-way functions; ones that are easy to compute but extremely hard, or impossible, to invert. These are most commonly seen/used in asymmetric (public-key vs. private-key) cryptography (e.g. the RSA algorithm & its descendants).

      So the training data is stored in encrypted form and needs a key in the shape of an image of a sheep munching grass to be decrypted.

      OK I’m stretching the analogy a bit here but …

      Reply
    6. ewmayer

      “The author links to an academic paper that collects anecdotes of these annoying yet delightful training accidents” — future hypothetical training accident:

      “So I fed a vast trove of data on daily electricity usage patterns across the country to the neural net, and asked it to find a repatterning which would reduce the total daily power usage. The solution it found was to ‘go behind my back’, as it were, find a darknet channel to a concurrently running DoD AI which was tasked with finding a nuclear missile-launch strategy to ‘win’ a simulated war with Russia, and ask said DoD AI to retask itself to finding a U.S. nuclear missile-launch strategy such that resulting expected retaliation from Russia and China would eliminate the maximum number of power-using humans globally. The DoD AI complied and, unbeknownst to *its* handlers, had probed and found a way to trigger actual U.S. missile launches, and once it had found the solution requested by the power-saving AI, triggered the needed launches. The resulting global thermonuclear holocaust eliminated over 90% of humanity and reduced global electricity production to near nil. As I sit here in my basement and wait for death, I cannot help but marvel – what an astonishing and delightful display of out-of-the-box creative thinking!”

      Reply
  3. Corbin Dallas

    In Racine County, neatly maintained homes and dream houses are being designated ‘blighted’ to make way for Foxconn. Walker, the whole pond scum WI Rs:

    It would be the final step for the local authorities — vital cogs in the Foxconn-booster leadership chain that runs from local Tea Party officials, to Governor Scott Walker, and all the way up to President Donald Trump — to fulfill the promise to Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn to obtain and then turn over the land for their proposed industrial complex.

    Reply
  4. Jim Haygood

    Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, neocon warmonger Lewis Libby, is pardoned:

    WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump said Friday he has pardoned a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

    “I don’t know Mr. Libby,” said Trump, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

    Libby, now 67 years old, was convicted in 2007 of lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice in a case that involved the leaking of the identity of a CIA officer, Valerie Plame.

    Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Then-President George W. Bush commuted the sentence, describing it as “excessive,” but he didn’t issue a pardon, despite entreaties from Cheney.

    Evidently the Military Intelligence Complex needed demanded a gesture of cooperation from Potus.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t think that’s it. Libby was the target of the last special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald in (yes, Mueller isn’t technically a special prosecutor, but that’s a distinction without a difference). So, speculating freely, two things:

      1) Trump is sending a message to Mueller that it doesn’t really matter who he convicts (for example, Cohen, to whom he would be sending the same message), and

      2) Fitzgerland was appointed by Zelig Comey, so perhaps a message is being sent Comey as well, though I’m not sure what it is.

      And:

      3) The liberal Democrat hysteria over Libby and Fitzgerald was intense, though of course nothing like today. The new revelation that would finally take Bush down was always just around the corner. Just like today.

      4) Libby’s trial began in 2007, after the Democrat wave of 2006. If the Democrats had done what they ought to have done, and impeached Bush over torture and warrantless surveillance, the Plame Affair would have appeared as the mere sideshow it in fact was. In fact, the Democrats did neither, Obama normalized what Bush should have been impeached for, and here we are.

      Reply
      1. dcblogger

        I have to disagree with this. Having gone to war on the pretext of WMD, Bush betrayed the identity of the CIA case officer who job is was to track the spread of WMD. He did this with the assistance of the same press who paniced America into the war. I am still angry about that. It is not hysteria. Going to war over a lie and torturing people was the larger crime. But the CIA leak case really exposes the fact that no one in the Kleptocracy gives a damn about National Security.

        Reply
        1. Alex morfesis

          Everyone in the kleptocracy is interested in national security as the national security interest is about defending the financial interests of those who are important nationally…

          The week we went over that in class…was that the week you had your tonsils taken out ??…

          that explains it…

          From sticks and stones…
          to Spears
          to bows and arrows
          to catapults
          To Greek firewater
          To battering rams
          To cladding
          To shields
          To cannons
          To muskets
          To the enola gay
          Thru today…

          Way over yonder there is an enemy we must defend you against…but it is all a secret as to how and what it will cost…

          Sufi master Ben Franklin tried to explain… But he has been blasphemed by having his image plastered on iou’s

          From the caves of maltravieso to the fortress communities of exurbia of today…

          humans have always been bernazed into giving up their freedom and lucre by handing off the job of security to those who know better…

          Reply
            1. Ellery O'Farrell

              Loved that show; watched it every week when I was in high school (Peyton Place, bah!). Is there a place I can download the entire corpus?

              Also loved Tom Lehrer’s songs, often part of the show. Are they also collected somewhere I can download then?

              Reply
              1. John Zelnicker

                @Ellery O’Farrell
                April 13, 2018 at 10:43 pm
                ——
                Apparently there is a You Tube channel of his videos. I saw one elsewhere earlier today.

                Reply
        2. fresno dan

          dcblogger
          April 13, 2018 at 3:27 pm

          the last thing in the world I want to do is carry water for the Bushes and associated shrubs.
          And I can’t say I followed affair de Libby enough to know if Libby REALLY was LEGALLY guilty of anything, other than the “lying to investigators” which appears something where they can get you for saying something is orange when they judge it to be vermilion. (LIBBY like the whole Bush apparatus was GUILTY of stupidity, arrogance, poor judgement and general lack of good sense).

          But convicting Libby of leaking Plame’s name doesn’t seem to me to say much about the integrity or acumen of the DoJ, FBI or legal system in general.

          Reply
          1. Procopius

            They had to torture, you know. It was the only way they could get “evidence” that Saddam Hussein had WMD, because he didn’t. One thing we know about torture, it is the most successful technique for getting confessions. If all you want are confessions, the fact they are false does not matter. I have never understood how people who otherwise seem quite reasonable can convince themselves that torture will produce truth, but LOTS OF Americans have done just that. Anyway, by the time they got the confessions about WMD they wanted it was too late, because we had already found out that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any. Next time they’ll start sooner.

            Reply
        3. Lambert Strether Post author

          > It is not hysteria.

          The case was real, and wrong, and several orders of magnitude less wrong than warrantless surveillance, torture, and the war itself, for which all players were given impunity (and for which the Plame Affair served as a proxy).

          The case itself was not hysterial. But the breathless revelation for this or that technical detail, the endless speculation about now-forgotten players, the…. antici… pation* that this would be the detail that took Bush down, was in my view definitely hysterical, and identical, though less virulent, to today’s hysteria about Mueller. And in the end, it didn’t amount to anything (which we don’t know about Mueller).

          *

          Reply
        4. Procopius

          Couple of quibbles here. Plame was outed before we actually went to war, and she wasn’t the “CIA case officer” whose job was to track the spread of WMD. She was one of several who were trying (unsuccessfully) to find proof that Saddam Hussein had WMD.

          Reply
      2. Scott

        What’s most interesting to me about the Plame situation is that it revealed how the Bush administration used/manipulated the media regarding foreign policy (in particular the Iraq War) and how complicit the media was in it.

        Reply
        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          The media wanted to be used as well.

          In fact, it seemed to me that their desire to be used was way stronger then the will of the Bush administration to manipulate.

          Reply
      3. Henry Moon Pie

        “If the Democrats had done what they ought to have done, and impeached Bush over torture and warrantless surveillance”

        Wouldn’t that have been amazing? Instead, the Ds watched how the Rs succeeded by scaring people into panic, so they decided to get in on the game.

        One thing about the current insanity, a craziness that grew on the seeds sown by the failure to prosecute the last, is that it makes something simple and sane sound absolutely crazy to declare out loud:

        Why is War?
        Why not Peace?
        And Love?

        From “Why is Now” on the “Hustle to Survive” Album. Music by Les McCann, lyrics by the mysterious Rev. B.

        Reply
        1. Allegorio

          Good catch!. Politicians rely on low information voters to make it past the post. These voters have been shown in studies to be a fearful bunch, more prone to fantasies of danger: “Black people are coming to get us!”

          The corporate Democrat’s strategy was just that, set up a boogie man candidate, i.e. Trump and terrify its liberal base into voting for an equally corrupt candidate, Hillary Clinton.

          The added bonus of the politics of fear is that you do not have to campaign on issues and are therefore free to enact the agenda of your donors which are often/always against the interests of the people.

          It is when the Democrats in the persons of the Billery Clintons gave up any pretense of morality or acting in the national interest, that fear mongering became the modus operendi of the Democrats as well, hence “super-predators”

          As abominable as Donald Trump is, this nation dodged a bullet when it declined to elect Billery Clinton president. Let’s face it the Clintons represented the takeover of the Democratic party by the Republican party, good Goldwater Girl that Billery was. Hence the adaption of Republican tactics, tactics and policy, because budget deficits!

          Reply
      4. The Rev Kev

        Maybe Libby has to be pardoned so that he can then be “redeemed” by taking him on the media circuit. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a job with one of the major networks like CNN. Good message to the CIA though. We can out any operative and the person that does it will only get a firm slap on the wrist.

        Reply
    2. allan

      Oddly, the neocon-supported outing of Plame and, as collateral damage, her coworkers at the front company
      she worked at, whose work was reported to have included keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear program,
      benefited Iran.
      And the neocon-supported invasion and incompetent occupation of Iraq benefited Iran.

      Extreme stupidity in the defense of liberty is no vice.

      P.S. More seriously, Marcy Wheeler, who literally wrote the book, and her commenters are worth reading:

      Reply
      1. Kokuanani

        The NYT has graciously allowed Marcy to post an op ed on Libby [because she knows more than ANY of their flunkies];

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          She does. She is the master/mistress of the technical details and the timeline, no question.

          However, I think in her heart of hearts, she thinks the legitimacy crisis is about getting rid of Trump (or Bush). I don’t agree. The legitimacy crisis applies to the entire political class, across the board, and to the intelligence and national security communities as well. It follows from that, that the technical details matter a lot less than questions of institutional power…

          Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        I remember reading that after Robert Novak wrote the initial articles blowing Agent Plame’s cover, that he then circled back a day or two later and wrote ADDITIONAL articles naming her proprietary cover-company (Brewster-Jennings) with the deliberate intent of blowing its cover as well, in order to destroy its ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear progress.

        The Bush Administration wanted more than just spiteful revenge against Ambassador Wilson for the article he wrote. The Bush Administration also wanted Brewster Jennings destroyed in order to blind our Intelligence Community to nuclear progress within Iran. The reason the BushAdmin wanted that was so that the BushAdmin could cook up contrived faux-plausible accusations of “nuclear development” within Iran after carefully destroying our ability to monitor and thwart those developments.

        I would have liked to see Bush, Cheney and some others tried for Treason, convicted, sentenced to death, and then executed by whatever Contitutionally Kind and Usual method of execution could have been carried out the quickest. The fixation on Libby was indeed pouncing on the lizard’s tail in order to help the lizard itself escape.

        Reply
        1. Allegorio

          Execution is too good for them. Release into the general prison population would be a more just punishment, and not at some country club federal prison for politicians. It would no doubt end with the same result and at the same time not endorsing judicial murder. Somehow it seems more just that the sentence be carried out by their victims. Or perhaps rendition to Bagdad, where there would be a lot of shoes flying.

          Reply
    3. hunkerdown

      So soon after Plame’s politically “muscular” ex-husband gets a job at the White House, too. One wonders who told Trump about all that unfairness, anyway.

      Reply
  5. j84ustin

    “Chicago DSA is running members for Local School Councils! We are looking for poll watchers and phone bankers.”

    I ran for my LSC two years ago for the first time. Currently running for reelection. Despite living under an unelected school board, I have found the experience meaningful.

    I didn’t click on the link, but I assume DSA is endorsing candidates, since the election is non partisan.

    Reply
        1. DJG

          Best of luck with the elections. Don’t even get me going on how the advisory referendum for an elected school board won in, how many?, thirty wards, and after: bupkis from the city council

          Reply
  6. Jim Haygood

    More on the severed horse’s head found in Potus’s bed:

    [Trump attorney] Michael Cohen reportedly kept digital recordings of his conversations with associates, several people familiar with the practice told the WaPo on Thursday. He sometimes played back the recordings for colleagues.

    People familiar with Cohen’s tendency to digitally record his conversations say they’re worried about who he may have recorded, what the conversations on those recordings entail, and whether the FBI is in possession of them.

    Referring to the alleged recordings, Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor told the newspaper: “The significance is 9.5 to 10 on a 10-point scale.”

    Communications between an attorney and their clients are normally privileged, except when those communications were used to commit a crime or a fraud.

    One is reminded of the late Lynne Stewart, defense attorney for the blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman who was convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. After secretly monitoring Stewart’s prison-cell conversations with Abdel-Rahman, the government charged and convicted Stewart for providing support to terrorists. First she was sentenced to 28 months, then RESENTENCED on appeal to ten (10) years [i.e., severely punished for demanding appellate review].

    The MIC’s chilling message to defense attorneys such as Lynne Stewart and Michael Cohen is simple: defend too vigorously a client that we’ve decided to ‘get,’ and bad things will happen to you personally. So long has the MIC lived outside the law that it’s no longer afraid to brazenly flout it in broad daylight.

    Reply
    1. allan

      [NYT]

      Unbelievable that their advisors or counsel thought that such a phone call was a good idea.
      At this point, maybe the President’s lawyer’s lawyer should get a lawyer.

      Reply
      1. Jim Haygood

        Given the full-court press by prosecutors, Cohen should assume that his phone is tapped.

        “Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen still were trying to determine what exactly was seized,” says the NYT. That’s a road map for prosecutors if they were listening in, as well as potential evidence to support charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, etc

        Seven Days in May: “The Joint Chiefs of Staff intend to stage a coup d’etat to remove the president and his cabinet in seven days. Under the plan a secret Army unit known as ECOMCON (Emergency COMmunications CONtrol) will seize control of the country’s telephone, radio, and television networks.”

        If ECOMCON took over the MSM, how would we know? Seems like they already did.

        Reply
        1. Procopius

          Dunno about his phone being tapped. At this point it might not be a good idea, and I’m pretty confident that they are being extremely careful to follow both the letter and the spirit of the many laws involved so as not to have their case thrown out on technicalities. I think the greater danger is that Cohen is recording the conversations and might use them as bargaining chips in a plea deal. I’m hoping Rosenstein is very conscious of the many cases of federal convictions being tossed because of prosecutorial misconduct and overreach the last couple of decades.

          Reply
          1. Allegorio

            Hence the pardon of Scooter Libby! Letting Cohen know that if he doesn’t turn on Trump there will be no consequences. I hope that this doesn’t result in the Chinese curse, may you get what you wish for. A Pence Presidency would be far worse. Sometimes incompetence in an adversary is a blessing. Imagine if Billery Clinton were president now. I am sure we would be carpet bombing Syria and well on our way to nuclear confrontation with Russia. We really truly dodged a bullet when Trump was elected as truly abominible though he is.

            Notice too, how quickly after the raid on Cohen’s office, Trump got on board with the TPP! As long as Trump gets his mind right, there will be no prosecution.

            Reply
      2. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

        Lawyer’s lawer, turtles all the way down & infinite regress

        On the cover of the ‘Abraxas on steroids’ Santana III album there is an image of elephants on a giant turtle. When I bought this album back in the ’70s I was puzzled by it and gave it little thought. Now in advancing years and with the aid of the internet, the turtle thing has helped me to focus. Who polices the police? etc

        Instead of turtles in infinite regression perhaps it should be lawyers all the way down.

        The principled are wise not would touch certain things with a barge pole.

        Pip Pip

        Reply
      3. Lambert Strether Post author

        > At this point, maybe the President’s lawyer’s lawyer should get a lawyer.

        The 10% is slowly strangling Trump by denying him professional services.* It’s interesting to watch. (This wouldn’t be happening if the Republicans weren’t split, but they are.)

        NOTE * Which they would also do to Sanders.

        Reply
        1. allan

          “The 10% is slowly strangling …”

          Yet more abuse for the 10% ex 5% (or maybe even ex 1%), which seems to be common around here. Top line criminal defense lawyers are not “the 10%”. I don’t know exactly what they charge, but their colleagues on the corporate side pull down $2 or 3 million a year, and up.
          You-Don’t-Want-to-Mess-with-Mary Jo currently bills at $1300/hour – you do the math.
          $2 million/year puts you in the top 0.1%.

          The cutoff for the top 10% income is about $110,000.
          Those are not the people preventing Trump from getting adequate legal representation.

          Reply
    2. ewmayer

      “Communications between an attorney and their clients are normally privileged, except when those communications were used to commit a crime or a fraud.”

      And since in many cases the only way to find out if said communications were used to commit a crime or a fraud is to a priori waive the privilege and search the communications, the upshot as far as the FBI is concerned seems to be as follows:

      [1] If the comms show nothing incriminating, we’ll just say “the privilege was not in fact waived because there’s nothing to prosecute and hence no need for us to publicize the comms’ content [a.k.a. “we’ll just get you some other way”];

      [2] If the comms do reveal indictable stuff, the privilege never existed to begin with.

      Ain’t it cool? One can apply a similar ‘logic’ to searches, viz.

      “The results of warrantless searches are normally inadmissible, except when those searches reveal evidence of a crime or a fraud.”

      Ain’t it cool?

      Reply
      1. Procopius

        I dunno. Seems too much like work. They can always get you for lying to an agent because they never make or allow recordings or videos of their “interviews.” I wonder, would it be a felony to make a recording of your “interview” with an FBI agent? Interestint thought, I’ll bet it would be. Anyway, the only evidence of what was said in an interview are the notes the agent is supposed to write down “immediately” afterward. That’s how they got Martha Stewart, because the judge always directs the jury that the agent never, ever lies.

        Reply
        1. Allegorio

          I don’t get it? Wouldn’t it always be prudent to plead the Fifth Amendment prohibition of self-incrimination when being interviewed by the FBI? Just saying.

          Reply
  7. UserFriendly

    I guess Bibi got board with just “mowing the lawn”

    The last power plant in Gaza has completely shut down, due to lack of fuel, there is no electricity at all. Hospitals are closing down, water sources are contaminated, and most residents can’t leave.

    What Netanyahu is doing to the Palestinians is a crime against humanity

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      How many rockets and missiles does Hizbullah have in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel again?
      At the risk of sounding “alt,” I’d compare what is being done to the Gazans today to the ghettos in the East during the Second World War.

      Reply
      1. JBird

        I think it is slightly more comparable to the Ghetto of Venice as the current unspoken goal of the Israeli government is the seizure of the resources that the Palestinians have in the West Bank water, farmland, and minerals, and Gaza’s gas reserves, if the resources can be taken without ethnic cleansing, great, but if not, no great loss; the victims are only Palestinians after all. The American theft and partial genocide of the Indians might be the example that they are following.

        One would have hoped, that since there are still a very few survivors of the Holocaust alive, that they would be more enlightened, but I guess not as the current neoliberal pull of greed is good, money is God, and people don’t matter has overwhelmed any such enlightening. The only bright spot is the Israeli opposition to the whole evil process and its goal, although like the American opposition, it is sidelined.

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          As far as the ghetto of Warsaw was concerned, part of the design there, and it was designed, was to supply easily exploitable labour for the Reich. At one point, the unexploitable humans in the ghetto were ‘eliminated’ and the usable, primarily male ‘labour units’ were retained. As this compares to Gaza, haven’t I read that the Gazans supply ‘unskilled’ labour for the Israeli agricultural economy? (Correct me if I’m wrong.) If my reading serves me right, most apartheid regimes use the ghettos of the power relationship as exploitable labour and resource sources. Eventually, the peasants revolt.
          Parenthetically, when younger, I did meet some survivors of the Holocaust. One man had fought in the Warsaw Uprising, and his wife had been in Auschwitz, and been ‘liberated’ by the Soviets. They had some interesting stories to tell, what little they felt comfortable revealing to non family members. My Dad knew the man well enough to go out on fishing excursions off the coast of Florida with him and some of their buddies from time to time. I remember several pool parties they threw. He had a good private collection of Caribbean and Southern and Central American “Primitive” paintings. Almost a Fauve esthetic.

          Reply
          1. JBird

            I have don’t any recent reading on unskilled Palestinian labor especially in the West Bank. I really should catch up.

            However, I believe that Gazans now are pretty much imprisoned in Gaza and prevented from working in Israel, and Palestinians as a whole have been push out of employment in Israel because of “terrorism.”

            Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Had to look up kakistocracy. That Brennan is a fancy talker or maybe he’s just been hitting the thesarus to impress us and show his mental superiority to Trump.

      Reply
      1. curlydan

        Oh, I thought it was rule by men who wear khaki pants–a temporary head scratcher for me since Trunmp loves suits. I’ve been educated as well.

        Kakistocracy

        A kakistocracy is a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined as early as the 17th century.

        Reply
      2. Mo's Bike Shop

        The use of kakistocracy has escalated quickly. I only specifically looked it up within the last year. I am pleased by words like this that sound like what they mean.

        Reply
        1. Allegorio

          Greek for good Kalos, Greek for sh*tty Kakos, as in our slang Kaka. It’s been around for way longer than the seventeenth century.

          Reply
  8. DJG

    Friends, Romans, countrymen: I believe that Lambert Strether has unearthed a lost quote from Lucius Aelius Sejanus.

    [Sejanus:] “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls… But I don’t know.”

    Or else someone who is playing an awful lot of games in trying to cover for his own misuse of power.

    A pity that Comey never bothered to think about the rule of law. And then, didn’t he end up hiding in the draperies one day from Trumpius Maximus?

    Reply
  9. ambrit

    Today is Friday the Thirteenth. A particularly propitious day for an end of week info dump. This weekend stacks up to being fraught and ‘interesting.’
    And, as ‘comrade’ Jim points out, the end of the day ‘bears’ are gamboling amongst the shares somewhat earlier than usual. It must be that ‘end of the week’ slide.

    Reply
    1. Jim Haygood

      Darkness descends:

      Like perhaps never before, horror is hot. “Right now it’s pretty obvious what audiences want,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “People want their horror fast and cheap.”

      John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” last weekend blew away expectations to debut with $50.2 million. Also opening will be “Truth or Dare,” the latest from Blumhouse Productions, the horror factory.

      At its core, “A Quiet Place” is about trying to keep a family together with mysterious, unknowable threats all around.

      Right now, comedy is down and horror is up, a fluctuation that might match the times; “Get Out” was hailed by many as the first film of the Donald Trump era. Moviegoers today feel more like screaming than laughing.

      Market analyst Robert Prechter has written extensively about how pop culture mirrors or even leads changes in social mood. The colorful Peter Max tie-dyed era of the mid-1960s gave way to the gritty black-and-white horror of Night of the Living Dead in late 1968, as Sixties prosperity faded into the recession of 1970, students were shot dead at Kent State, the Beatles broke up, and Jimi, Janis and Jim shuffled off this mortal coil.

      It feels like a switch was flipped in late January. Repubs thought they were going be showered with roses by grateful taxpayers; instead they’re running for their lives. Something wicked this way comes, as ol’ Ray Bradbury used to say.

      Reply
      1. Lee

        I’m in the middle of Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy, set in early Nazi Germany. I’m treating it as a primer on the moral balancing act one must perform to make a living and maintain some scrap of decency in a rotten society. We may not be quite there yet but we are getting there.

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth Burton

        Alternatively, what else is being offered? Given the caliber of what passes for comedy these days in the film industry, might that have some bearing on the lack of attendance at same?

        I say this because I was recently in a discussion with several science fiction and fantasy writers who said they’d been told by those knowledgeable about what the Big Five publishers want that positive-themed post-apocalyptic fiction is a no-go. They only want the dark stuff—the more hopeless and despair-generating, the better, apparently. It’s not exactly a stretch to wonder if that same message hasn’t gone out to screenwriters.

        I haven’t seen any of the films mentioned, although A Quiet Place has gotten excellent reviews from my film-maven friends. I’ve, frankly, found most of what passes for horror the last decade or two more like sadism-porn, done to see how many gallons of blood can be splattered in the time provided while experimenting with discovering ingenious ways to make people suffer.

        Reply
        1. curlydan

          I saw a PACKED 4:15pm Sunday screening of “Isle of Dogs” last weekend with my kids, and I was shocked how crowded it was. I liked the movie although the female dog characters (insert joke here) were weak and could have been better. It was a bit optimistic in the end as well.

          My point is why the hell did the studios limit distribution of this film so much? The megaplexes were not showing the film in my area. It’s clearly being distributed as an art flick, yet parents would be happy to take their kids to a stop motion dog flick since there’s practically no cursing.

          So “The Emoji Movie” can go to zillions of screens and play to deserted Sunday afternoon showings, yet a quality feature like “Isle of Dogs” gets parceled out to a few screens.

          Reply
        2. voteforno6

          A Quiet Place is a very good film, best experienced in the theater, I think. Just don’t get any popcorn, or anything noisy to eat.

          Reply
        3. Lambert Strether Post author

          > I was recently in a discussion with several science fiction and fantasy writers who said they’d been told by those knowledgeable about what the Big Five publishers want that positive-themed post-apocalyptic fiction is a no-go. They only want the dark stuff—the more hopeless and despair-generating, the better, apparently

          Wow. It’s almost like they’re gaslighting us, isn’t it?

          Reply
  10. diptherio

    A bit of little-known history from Reddit:

    “During the Cold War, Finland secretly smuggled more than ten thousand vowels from Czechoslovakia. That’s why the Finnish have sentences like ‘Älä rääkkää kääkkää kääkänrääkkääjä!’ and the Czechs have ‘Strč prst skrz krk.'”

    The more you know…

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      This one’s been making the rounds:

      A woman is sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral. A man leans in to her and asks, “Do you mind if I say a word?”.

      “No, go right ahead”, the woman replies.

      The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora”, and sits back down.

      “Thanks”, the woman says, “that means a lot”

      — Allison 💓 (@AllieLia)

      Reply
      1. blennylips

        Cannot remember where I found this in the last week: apologies if it was here: Funny in the laugh or cry category:

        America’s African President
        Indeed, the case was made back in 2015 that Trump would be the perfect African President:

        Reply
      2. JCC

        There are some new ” (english language definitions) walked into a bar” quips going around, too:

        A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

        and

        A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up gettng figuratively hammered.

        and, finally (gratefully, I’m sure)

        A synonym strolls into a tavern.

        Reply
          1. wilroncanada

            Lambert
            They all got sentenced, eventually.
            A young blonde woman was walking through fields and woods one day, when she came upon a house. She knocked, but finding no answer she entered. She saw three chairs; the first was two big, she could hardly climb into it; the second was too small, not comfortable at all; the third was just right. After awhile she felt hungry, so she went into the kitchen. Sitting on the table were three bowls of porridge: the first was too hot, the second was freezing cold, but the third was just right, so she filled herself. After the meal she felt tired, so she ascended to find a bedroom when she encountered the three little pigs. “You’re in the wrong story” she said to them.
            They replied, “No we’re not, it’s a two-story house.”

            Reply
    2. ewmayer

      That’s a lot of umlauted vowel movements! Sounds like a case of severe diarrhesis to me.

      [To which news the members of the band Spin̈al Tap say, “if they take our ‘n̈’, we’re bloody well Finnished.”]

      Reply
  11. Marco

    Very calm clear and concise VSP exhorting Mika and crew why US covert action in Syria is a disaster. Simply WOW. Most surprising is how the entire panel seems stunned to hear it spoken out loud.

    Reply
    1. tongorad

      Way to go, Obama.
      Who knew Hope and Change would mean leading us to the brink of WWIII? Not to mention a massive humanitarian crisis?

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        They are saying this-

        The indomitable Tucker Carlson interviewing Professor Stephen F. Cohen here. What was the Fox New’s motto again? “Real News. Real Honest Opinion”. Stealing a line of thought from Jimmy Dore, is this a case of Fox News attacking the deep state from the center?

        Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Sorry but you are wrong here. The Russians told the Americans have your campaign but don’t stay. The place can’t be conquered. They don’t call Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires for nothing they said. Read a warning by the last Russian Commander out of that place about 17 years ago saying that the Americans were using the same tactics that the Russians tried but did not work.
        The Pentagon wouldn’t listen because this time it would be different! For sure! In fact, the Russians stopped weapons going to the Taliban and opened up Russian bases so that the Americans could transport masses of supplies by air which would have otherwise gone by land which would have made them vulnerable to attack by the Taliban. The Russians tried to help and all they got were accusations by the Pentagon that they were responsible for the US forces not winning. Sigh.

        Reply
      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Comedy:

        The program’s existence was suspected after the U.S. Federal Business Opportunities website publicly solicited contract bids to ship tons of weaponry from Eastern Europe to Taşucu, Turkey and Aqaba, Jordan. One unintended consequence of the program has been to flood the Middle East’s black market with weapons including assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The U.S. delivered weapons via Ramstein – supposedly in breach of German laws.

        They all love us!

        Reply
  12. Lee

    Pee Tape

    Trump is missing a trick in not raising the fact that both video image and voice can now be convincingly faked. News footage at eleven. Or not.

    Botox Reduces Empathy

    By immobilizing the facial muscles used for emotional expression Botox makes its users less empathetic. Beware of the poker-faced.

    Reply
      1. Lee

        Positive back loop between brain and muscle, I would assume.

        If you watch PBS Newshour, have you noticed how Yamiche Alcindor’s default expression is a creepy, disapproving smirk. She deals pretty much exclusively with stories involving highly critical of Trump.

        Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I remember reading somewhere that Neanderthal and other heavy-brow-ridged manimals sex-selected who would win the favor of the females by having ritual punchouts . . . punching eachother in the face and head over and over and over again until one finally gave up. The heavy brow ridges and heavy hand-and-finger bones in NeanderMan may have served the same purpose that the heavy horns serve in Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.

      Maybe certain early “UsMans” in Africa began sex-selecting by physically attractive appearance rather than by winning ( or selecting the winner of) full facial punchouts. If so, “UsMans” who didn’t devote so much metabolic energy growing huge punch-proof brow ridges became selected for in Africa. Maybe those people we see here and there with huge brow ridges might be traces of ” the Neanderthals who walk among us” unto this very day.

      Reply
      1. Lee

        Most non-sub-Saharans have some Neanderthal in them. The highest incidence of Neanderthal DNA occurs among those from around Da Vinci’s hometown. The high altitude tolerance of Tibetans is hypothesized to have derived from Denisovan ancestry. How’s that for diversity?

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I think it would be a neat thing if people who wanted to “bring back the Neanderthal” were to get DNA readouts done on themselves and then arrange dating-get-togethers between those of themselves who have “different” little strands of Neander DNA. They could start breeding up children with more and more Neander DNA. Eventually they could give rise to a semi-Neanderthal type.

          They could call themselves ” Friends of Neanderthal Man”.

          Reply
    1. JustAnObserver

      Sitting in a cafe this am munching on a delicious raspberry tart & my ears/mind suddenly perks up hearing the word `flip’ in the commercial that was running on the radio. What I heard was this little gem (approx):

      “… we’ll show you how to make money flipping houses and, the great thing is, you don’t even need to use your own money to do it …”

      At that point my mind couldn’t take anymore and shut down the audio channels.

      Dejavu all over again.

      Reply
  13. dcblogger

    Anyone here from Brooklyn? Anyone following the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign? She is the Democratic challenger to Crowley, so it would be swell if she won.

    Reply
    1. freedeomny

      She is running for NY-14 which includes parts of Queens and Bronx. The demographics of that area have changed – becoming more latin then in the past. She is a breath of fresh air and Crowley is an entitled old guy who hasn’t done sh*t and who certainly doesn’t represent the demographics of those neighborhoods….a lot of my friends are supporting her with money and volunteering…

      Reply
  14. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    President Trump has no legal authority for broadening the war in Syria. It is Congress, not the president, who determines whether our country goes to war, and Congress must not abdicate that responsibility. …

    9:00 AM – Apr 11, 2018

    1. broadening the war in Syria

    2. determines going to war.

    Are we warring in Syria already, and Trump is broadening that existing war?

    Is that existing war authorized? If not, then, it’s not just about ‘broadening’ it. We should end US involvement in Syria.

    Reply
  15. Jim Haygood

    Call a medic — he’s frothing at the mouth:

    Donald J. Trump
    @realDonaldTrump

    DOJ just issued the McCabe report – which is a total disaster. He LIED! LIED! LIED! McCabe was totally controlled by Comey – McCabe is Comey!! No collusion, all made up by this den of thieves and lowlifes!

    3:36 PM – Apr 13, 2018

    McCabe is Comey … Rosenstein is Mueller … Assad is Hitler. Any questions?

    Reply
    1. Rob P

      Finally, we have a President who considers the FBI ‘a den of thieves and lowlifes’. If only he would do something productive about it, rather than just whining on .

      Reply
    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      “The president’s job – and if someone sufficiently vain and stupid is picked he won’t realise this – is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it. Zaphod Beeblebrox, the only man in history to have made presidential telecasts from the bath, from Eccentrica Gallumbits bedroom, from the maximum-security wing of the Betelgeuse State Prison, or from where ever else he happened to be at the time, was supremely good at this job. ”

      D. Adams

      Reply
  16. dcblogger

    the best way to protect the Dilberts is to replace capitalism with worker owned cooperatives, fire the bosses, who needs them?

    Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        Hmm, bucks need to stop somewhere. Otherwise, for example, Marketing and Engineering devolve into really primitive territorial behaviors. And it’s not solved by more meetings.

        Reply
        1. Oregoncharles

          Worker-owned cooperatives elect the managers; it’s called “workplace democracy.” Power runs up, not down.

          Not foolproof, as we’ve learned, but better than capitalism – which it isn’t. The technical term is “syndicalism.”

          Reply
  17. Elizabeth Burton

    I’m confused by the comment that Randy Bryce doesn’t support M4A, given it’s listed right there on his website policy page. The post referred to would appear to be from someone trying to undermine the concept by making it sound like his statement on it is meaningless.

    Am I missing something for lack of sufficient caffeination?

    Reply
    1. porquoilefoi

      Saying that “Medicare for All” would give the government “better negotiating power with health insurance companies” demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what single-payer means.

      Medicare for All means that everyone is automatically signed on to medicare and that private health insurance companies have no leg to stand on. “Medicare for All” providing “universal access” and leaving enough power to private insurance companiesfor them to make demands on the public describes the public option compromise, the same compromise that got further watered down into the ACA in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        Thanks, I was speed reading/thinking ‘Pharma negotiations’ and didn’t see the catch. Crafty.

        Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Randy Bryce doesn’t support M4A, given it’s listed right there

      I put the tweet in, but I also went to his website, and all that nonsense about negotiating with the insurance companies is there.

      So, what this shows is that the brand confusion liberal Democrats like CAP caused by introducing “Medicare Extra” is working. Arguing that “Medicare for All” and “Medicare buy-in” are equivalent just puts us right back in the market-bsaed, i.e., neoliberal box. (“What if people can’t buy in?” “Oh, we’ll subsidize them.” So, all the usual liberal eligibility requirements and worthiness-determination crapola is firmly fixed in place (which is also a jobs guarantee for credentialed professionals)).

      I’m also not happy that Sanders endorsed Bryce. #MedicareForAll should be a litmus test.

      Reply
  18. Oregoncharles

    That’s a wonderful photograph of a very beautiful place. I’ve done my share of landscape photography, and that one is just amazing.

    Reply
  19. clarky90

    What, on earth does “white person” actually mean? It is as helpful as “white dog” or “white cat” or “white flower” or ‘”white house” or “white truck”. Yet, “white” is imbued with much potency. How can so much meaning and agency be extracted from so little actual information?

    Possibly, the lazy, neo-eugenicists found that measuring skull shapes was frustratingly complex and time consuming. “Ah ha, a clever, efficient, innovation; for the unmasking of wreckers, saboteurs, spies and……Kulaks!”

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Upper Class whites-of-class-privilege put the spotlight on the alleged “white privilege” of poor white opioid addicts in order to keep the camera off of their own “rich privilege” of class.

      And they have found certain Rayciss Piggz Uv Kolor who are happy to collaborate in the scapegoating.

      Reply
    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      White People is erasing the rich tapestry of racial resentment our country has fomented. Italians became white people as I was under twenty. My mom has told me about ethnic rating tables she had read in the Sunday color magazine of her newspaper as a teenager.

      I have suspected that one reason the Google newspaper project has receded from accessibility is the moral culpability of republishing all those ‘News From Dark Town’ columns that were popular back when.

      Reply
  20. drumlin woodchuckles

    The Liberal Democratic Leadership does not fail to support Trump on the particular issues of “no US war against Syria/Russia” and “no TPP membership for America” due to any lack of courage.

    The Liberal Democratic Leadership actively supports US war against Syria/Russia and actively supports TPP membership for America because the Liberal Democratic Leadership truly supports and wants both of these things . . . war with Syria/Russia and TPP Membership for America.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Perhaps it is time to revive the trope of “Democrat wars”.

      As in . . . No Democrat war in Syria.
      No Democrat war with Russia.
      No more Democrat wars. One Vietnam was enough.

      Reply
  21. dcblogger

    somehow I think this is symbolic to what has happened to our entire country
    Daisy The Bald Eagle In The Dumpster

    Reply
  22. drumlin woodchuckles

    Perhaps there could be a single word for the phrase ” massacre of the dilberts”.

    “Dilbercide”. Or perhaps “Mass Dilbercide”.

    Reply
  23. Ignacio

    ‘Facebook has now turned into a beast’, says United Nations investigator, calling network a vehicle for ‘acrimony, dissension and conflict’

    Reply
  24. Louis Fyne

    so it looks like on that the White House Press Corps has been told to hang around the White House tonight.

    Big news on the plate at 7pm?

    Reply
    1. Jim Haygood

      Fox Biz News throws a little gasoline on the fire:

      Charles Gasparino
      @CGasparino

      Wall street trading desks AND GOP staffers telling me they’re hearing Rod Rosenstein is OUT as Deputy AG as @POTUS rages over Mueller inquiry as early as tonight. @WhiteHouse no immediate comment

      3:14 PM – Apr 13, 2018

      Dems are preparing for a weekend of rage. :-0

      Reply
  25. wilroncanada

    Re: Carney and the massacre of the Dilberts.
    Don’t blame Canada entirely for Carney. After he made his Sachful of Gold-man, he auditioned in the small-time Carny-val that is Canada, but since has gone on to the really big-time three ring circus that is the Bank of England. You can tell by his London derriere.

    Reply
  26. allan

    [NY Post]

    A 19-year-old gymnast who was sexually assaulted by former sports doctor Larry Nassar claims Michigan State University’s interim president offered her a secret $250,000 payment to settle her lawsuit.

    Video footage obtained by WJBK shows Kaylee Lorincz addressing the university’s board of trustees meeting on Friday, alleging that [former governor and current MSU president] John Engler offered her the payout recently when she and her mother signed up to speak at Friday’s hearing.

    “He explained all of the new things they’ve implemented, which sounded promising, but said working together couldn’t occur until the civil suits are settled,” Lorincz said. “Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?’”

    Several astonished people are then heard gasping in the room as Lorincz continued speaking. One woman can be heard saying, “What?” …

    Well, when Engler ran for re-election in 1994, his campaign slogan was, “Promises Made, Promises Kept”,
    so he probably said what he meant and meant what he said.
    The party of family values comes through once again.

    I was told some weeks ago that MSU employees were being told that the cost of dealing with the
    Nassar crime scene would be roughly twice what Penn State has paid to deal with the Jerry Sandusky case.
    That price might have just gone up today. Well played, Mr. Engler.

    Reply
  27. Andrew Watts

    RE: “James Comey Has a Story to Tell. It’s Very Persuasive.”

    Maybe it’s just me but I can’t get over the fact that Comey is such a big fan of Niebuhr. I have no interest in his book but I’ll probably pick it up at the library to read those parts.

    It’s weird.

    Reply
  28. allan

    Not only should we apologize to Benjamin Franklin for not keeping a republic,
    but now we need to apologize to John Wesley Powell for moving his meridian:
    [USA Today]

    A boundary that divides the humid eastern U.S. and the dry western Plains appears to have shifted 140 miles to the east over the past century due to global warming, new research suggests.

    Scientists say it will almost certainly continue shifting in coming decades, expanding the arid climate of the western Plains into what we think of as the Midwest. The implications for farming could be huge.

    The boundary line was first identified in 1878 by the American geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell. At that time, it was at 100 degrees west longitude, also known as the 100th meridian. …

    Now, due to shifting patterns in precipitation, wind and temperature since the 1870s — due to man-made climate change — the boundary between the dry West and the wetter East has shifted to roughly 98 degrees west longitude, the 98th meridian. …

    Wallace Stegner and Bernard DeVoto to the white courtesy phone.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That’s a great link. I note the new line is bumping up against the western border of Iowa, so say good-bye to the world’s breadbasket, or at least its High Fructose Corn Syrup basket.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Agreed that that is a great article but what happens if that line is still moving over time? I see that the next states in the firing line would then be Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. That line has shifted 140 miles in 140 years – two meridians – so optimistically saying that this shifting will not accelerate, then that would suggest that by the end of this century that it would have moved another 82 miles which is at least one meridian more.

        Reply
  29. freedeomny

    OK – this really doesn’t have to do with anything. But I just asked Alexa if there was a God and she said “People all have their own views on religion”.

    Alexa is mostly unplugged (except for music).

    Reply
  30. marym

    Horrible news

    The U.S. on Friday launched “precision” military strikes against targets inside Syria linked to recent chemical attacks, said President Trump in a statement from the White House.

    Mr. Trump claimed the U.S. will have a “sustained” response to curtail Syria.

    Mr. Trump also called out Iran and Russia.

    Reply
    1. pdehaan

      That was very quick. All I read today was how tension had reduced and how Trump had backed down.
      Worth noting that staff from the UN’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due to visit Damascus on Saturday to determine whether chemical weapons were used in Douma.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        There is a map at showing some of the recorded strikes. I guess that this means that the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) experts won’t be able to go to Douma as it is too dangerous now to visit. Rats! I guess that means that we may never know if that was a false flag attack or not. Yeah, right.
        Three big questions come to mind. Was this a “negotiated” attack to save face or is this the real deal to cripple Syria’s military and give victory to the Jihadists? Second question is whether this is a single strike like last year or is this going to be a sustained campaign. Third is how will the Russians react. Can the Taliban expect to be receiving deliveries of manpads for example?

        Reply
      2. Carolinian

        Perhaps it all revolves around May getting back onboard. That way Trump can say he had a “coalition.”

        This whole week makes one wonder whether we really do have a 25th amendment situation with a mentally unstable person in charge of nuclear missiles. You also have to wonder whether anyone in Congress–Sanders, hello?–will point out that the Constitution says that only Congress can declare war. Apparently the AUMF doesn’t apply to an attack on a government that is in fact fighting terrorists.

        Reply
        1. RabidGandhi

          Justin Amash

          Verified account

          @justinamash
          9h9 hours ago

          Today, @RepZoeLofgren @RepBarbaraLee @RepThomasMassie and I sent a bipartisan letter to @POTUS—cosigned by 84 of our colleagues—demanding that the president not commence offensive military action against Syria without congressional approval, as the Constitution requires.

          Reply
          1. RabidGandhi

            Three hours later, Amash added this :

            Witness the hypocrisy that our two-party system breeds: Check out these similar letters warning the president about commencing offensive strikes against Syria without congressional approval.

            2013 signers: 119 Rs, 21 Ds
            2018 signers: 15 Rs, 73 Ds
            Very few of us signed both.

            Reply
    2. Plenue

      Christ. Strikes around Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. And Hezbollah and IRGC positions. And not just cruise missiles; Fox is saying B-1 bombers as well. Also the UK is flying strikes out of Cyprus.

      Reply
      1. Chris

        Yes. And apparently the Russian fleet has mobilized. Next NC meet up will be in a bunker. I’ll bring the whiskey! :(

        Reply
      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Targets: chemical weapons production sites.

        A victory for the moment for those behind the scene, shadowy movers.

        But they have not completely and permanently won – only an existing war has been broadened.

        Pray for the world and all of us.

        Reply
            1. Edward E

              Their so full of hubris they think they can do anything. I gotta shut off, no power…

              Keep an eye on the weather

              Reply
          1. Dee

            They were supposed to start their investigation of the chemical attacks tomorrow according to news articles I’ve read..

            Ordered there by Syria.

            Reply
            1. Pat

              Reminds me of the U.N. Inspectors that were rushed out of Iraq before we started shocking and aweing that country, all we need is Trump refuting the OPCW inspectors as Bush did.

              Makes one wonder if it had to be tonight because tomorrow things might really have started getting problematic. Oh, and obviously the Chilcott report was not embarrassing enough if May is willing to go along with this – even as a distraction from Brexit.

              Reply
            1. ambrit

              This looks to have been timed so as to do minimal damage to the stock markets! Friday Night Fights, and Mr. Market has all of Saturday and Sunday to get used to the lack of End of the World.
              I really have to wonder about the Rapture Index for Monday coming up.

              Reply
            2. Edward E

              Back when Obama was in office and they narrowly avoided going into war with Syria the OPCW-UN oversaw the operation to declare, remove and destroy. That’s what I’m referring to.

              Reply
    3. allan

      The Blob speaks:

      David Rothkopf

      Donald Trump is an abomination as president and a profound threat to our democracy. He is also one of the most repugnant characters we’ve ever seen. But every once in a while he is capable of doing what must be done and we need to have the objectivity to acknowledge that.

      Reply
  31. Edward E

    @DEFCONWSALERTS
    Some are reporting that Russian assets have launched. There is a LOT of noise out there right now, so it is getting difficult to know what is happening with breaking information.

    We have no power, tornadoes were around, big oak down the driveway blasted by lightning. Need the muscadine wine

    Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Trump’s address to the nation is at and when you read it, it is standard boiler plate propaganda except a part where a bribe is offered to Russia economically if they ditch Syria.

        Reply
        1. Edward E

          Possibly the US, UK and French trying to make the war last for another decade to increase Russia military expenditures making it costly for Russia to help protect its interests in Southwest Asia.

          Reply
        2. Carolinian

          There was some interesting stuff on the Saker today including Russian claims to have interviewed witnesses who saw the chem attack videos being staged. There was also speculation that as long as Russians themselves aren’t targeted Putin would let Trump have his tantrum because a limited attack doesn’t alter the Russian goal of saving the Syrian government.

          Reply
      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        I would feel better if they had telegraphed each other their scripts beforehand when Putin comes out to denounce this.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          They may have. Have just been listening to the Pentagon briefing at with the follow up questions by the press (who seemed more wanting of heavier attacks than the officers) and they kinda said that they gave the Russians a heads up but while denying it to the press. Made clear that it was a one time attack so perhaps the Russians held back here. Too early to say. Made clear that all negotiations had to go through Geneva which is a non-starter. In any case the US, UK and France bypassed the UN here so why should Syria go to the UN in Geneva? Note too that that Pentagon video has Comments turned off but the Top Chat reply do not sound very happy. Theresa May’s speech can be found at

          Reply
  32. Richard

    Hooray Lambert for the Gilbert and Sullivan! It brightened a dark evening.
    I have performed in some of the plays myself (harumph harumph), the Mikado being a favorite. I have a bit of a running argument with the music/drama teacher at the school where I teach. She feel the play is culturally insensitive, and I always reply, yes, but the music is incredible, and also, to be fair, it was meant as a comedy, not as the stuff of empire, not Kipling or something.
    That chorus at the end of the first act (or is it the second) makes my hair stand on end when I hear it. Imagine singing it on stage!
    Harumph harumph.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      The Mikado is as culturally sensitive as it was possible for a Victorian personality like W.S. Gilbert to make it. If you haven’t seen do try it (and maybe get your teacher to see it , too). It’s excellent.

      Reply
      1. Plenue

        The Mikado isn’t at all meant to be a portrayal of Japan. It’s about British politics, with the veneer of an exotic (and at the time, recently opened to the world) setting to soften the blow. Visiting Japanese at the time seem to have caught on to this quickly.

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > The Mikado isn’t at all meant to be a portrayal of Japan

          Didn’t say it was. I said:

          culturally sensitive as it was possible for a Victorian personality like W.S. Gilbert to make it

          The clip makes it clear, in the contrasting approaches of Gilbert and the choreographer.

          Reply
      2. Richard Musser

        Thanks for the link; the Leigh film is a favorite of mine!
        The Mikado was even the source of a little mini-controversy here in Seattle a year ago last spring. Nothing more than someone staging a production, but the identity cops have so little to do sometimes, and a not-so-grand debate ensued.
        Some people became asses either briefly, or as part of a longer term contract, and The Mikado was still there at the end. No harm done.

        Reply
  33. Expat2uruguay

    Lambert – I don’t know what you’re referring to about What the Christian Right did, as what immediately follows that heading is the DSA tweet. Can you give more information about the Christian Right thingy?

    Reply
    1. Pat

      I took it as a reference to strategy. One of the first ways that the Christian Right began influencing public policy and advancing their agenda was by running for and winning School Board elections. The DSA appears to have learned from that playbook.

      Reply
  34. Lambert Strether Post author

    Random thoughts on the United States, Syria, and Russia. First, the good news. Reuters:

    None of the air strikes hit zones where Russian air defence systems protect the Russian bases of Tartus and Hmeimim, Russian news agencies cited the Ministry of Defence as saying.

    Hence, I would guess, the lack of immediate retaliation from Russia — say by taking out an aircraft carrier — and measured responses, like indicating (doubtless true) that , claiming , and so on.

    And :

    Top brass: Missiles of US, allies steered clear of Russian air defenses

    Not a single missile of those launched against Damascus ventured into the zones of Russian air defenses in Tartus and Hmeymim, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday.

    * * *

    So in no particular order and without links or credit:

    1) Trump, in his clumsy, Trumpish way, gave the Russians a heads-up (and Assad) and told them to get their stuff out of the way, which they did.

    2) We do not understand our adversaries, and we do not understand ourselves. The Russians, at least, understand us quite well. (That’s better than the Russians not understanding us, though obviously less than ideal.)

    3) “The Syria debate shows that we no longer understand what it means to have strategic interests, and have no idea how to talk about them.”

    4) Talking about “surgical strikes” and their various gradations is what we talk about instead of talking about strategy.

    5) You can’t take and hold ground from the air.*

    6) We can’t take and hold ground because we broke the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    7) Therefore, there is no winning strategy for us in Syria. If victory means displacing Assad, we can’t do that, certainly not with our only alternative to ground troops, the mercenaries, religious fanatics, and lunatics whose loyalty we have purchased.

    8) The political class will never admit this, nor will the intelligence or national security communities.

    9) If victory, to them, looks like creating an infinite source of funding — “self-licking ice cream cones” — they are doing quite well. It’s worth noting that this whole crisis blew up only after Trump said he wanted to be out of Syria in six months, threatening to smash a lot of rice bowls. We’ll see if that is the mean to which he reverts.

    10) The liberal Democrats are utterly bankrupt. All they can do is (a) whinge that Clinton would have done her own surgical strike better, (b) whinge that Congress should have been consulted (which is as far as Sanders has gone, AFAIK), and (c) prepare to take to the streets, not against war but if Trump fires Rosenstein. The Republicans are bankrupt, too, of course, in their own way, except for the paleocons, who are good on the Empire.

    11) Liberals: Trump is a crazy senile Fascist!

    Also liberals: Trump must begin the bombing immediately! Think of the children!

    (Maybe the best way to protect the children is to end the war, by whatever means possible?)

    12) FOX — important since Trump has FOX content in his OODA loop — exhibited a range of opinion (i.e., not just Tucker Carlson as a revolving hero and the rest cheerleading, but doubts on policy across the board (“four years later, Iraq might not have been such a good idea”)

    13) This was all baked in — remember that literally the first thing Clinton said, after she came out of the woods, was that she wanted to bomb Syrian airfields — from the day that The Blob got Flynn defenestrated. From there, it’s been a process of getting the snaffle and spurs adjusted, and here we are. (Another way of looking at this is that the country bought a year in 2016.) IMNSHO, the Mueller investigation plays a huge role in this: Literally the only way for Trump to achieve legitimacy, albeit temporary (“Trump became President today”) is through military action; see Allan’s quote from Blob member Rothkopf above. (I should also give credit to Obama for managing The Blob better than Trump is. He did get the Iran deal, even though, so far, Clinton’s Libya debacle is far more lethal and disgusting (“We came, we saw, he died [chuckle]”) than anything Trump has done.)

    14) If Trump imagines the strikes have bought him anything — with Syria, with Russia, with his political adversaries at home (in either party) or with voters — he’s being very foolish. Surgical strikes never accomplish anything other than a sugar high from licking the ice cream cone. OTOH, credit where credit is due, he didn’t blow the world up.

    15) I don’t know how to factor in North Korea to this episode (another adversary that understands us better than we understand ourselves). But our problem there isn’t that NK believes we’re not willing to use force, but that NK believes, with good reason, that we are not agreement-capable. Surgical strikes don’t help with that.

    16) I think the disconnect between the Beltway and a big slice of voters on war is enormous. The first politician to figure this out and leverage it, from either party, will do well. Trump was very well-received, in South Carolina of all places, when he said that Iraq was a debacle (not sure what the verbiage was, but that was very much the point). People heard that, and I don’t know how they’ll process the contradiction between that and the Syrian strike. This to me is the key point. I see the potential to split each party coalition along pro- and anti-Blob lines. I only hope this gets resolved before we do lose an aircraft carrier. There really isn’t any other way for us to solve our imperial problems except domestically with voters, although of course others may solve them for us — may prick this particular bubble — with defeat.

    * Crete, fine. Syria is not an island.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      I too am heaving that sigh of relief. It seems that the Russians have treated Trumps’ America like good parents would treat naughty children who are acting out. Firm resolve and a ‘teachable moment’ strategy. Keep showing that brat how stupid his or her tantrum is, looks. Don’t resort to the perfectly normal desire to slap the s— out of the little bugger. That would start a cycle of trauma and overreaction. We don’t want a neurotic country on out hands, do we?
      This almost looks like the cartoon duo of ‘Sheepdog Ralph’ and the ‘Coyote.’
      My next worry is that aircraft carrier group. If and when it enters the Mediterranean Sea, the temptation to use it will be very strong. I do hope that the Administration has the military proper under full control.
      If the figures for missiles shot down are true, then the absolute utility of missiles for ‘stand off’ use just dropped a lot. This rate of destruction of incoming missiles was achieved with older S-200 class interceptors and other “smaller” systems. What happens when the ‘Allied’ air resources go head to head with the truly more advanced Russian air defences. “Tomahawks versus Pantsirs!” It may sound like Monday Night Football, but it ain’t.

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    2. makedoanmend

      Fine summary, if I may say so.

      As a provincial, wishing I was a barbarian, (Roman usage), I can only hope the USA people can do something but the blob seems immortal right now.

      I was looking out to the West over an 16th century wall that partially exits in the town yesterday, and for the first time in a long time contemplated that I might see a mushroom cloud arising c. 35 miles from my vantage point since a nuclear sub base resides there abouts.

      What the family blog is going on. Has the West abandoned every tenet of the international mechanisms for dialogue and negotiation created since WWII?

      Like everything else, the measures that created some sort of concrete framework for a semblance of normalcy have eroded like our physical infrastructures and social fabrics.

      Is this somebody’s idea of freedom? Is this supposed to be better than life before 1975?

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    3. allan

      Excellent analysis. We are lucky that our main adversaries are cool-headed and rational actors. (I’m not saying they’re nice people.) But they have their own internal factions and issues to deal with, and pressure leads to miscalculation. There are so many points of friction right now that it’s hard to believe that something really bad isn’t going to happen. Long before November, 2020.

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  35. XXYY

    The one unequivocally good thing [pulling out of the TPP] Trump has done, and he backtracks.

    Another “good” thing Trump has done, at least up to now, is not start another war or invade another country. Seems like he’s doing as well or better than Obama at this, despite what must be a lot of pressure from the war hawks and neocons.

    One of the things that made Clinton such a terrible candidate was the likelihood that she would immediately launch one or more wars. Not only did she personally never see a war she didn’t like, but (a) her well known BFF is the notorious Henry Kissinger, and (b) her rumored secretary of state was the odious Victoria Nuland, who was deeply involved in the Ukraine coup on Clinton’s watch. Clinton also famously took pride in the bombing of Libya and the sequelae by which it became what is euphemistically called a “failed state,” i.e., a horror show for the population.

    I’m no fan of Trump, and things may change now that the horrific neocon John Bolton has engineered his way into the White House, but not bombing everything in sight has become one measure by which we can judge a “good” president.

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  36. Third Time Lucky

    Infrastructure: “The bill to repair U.S. roadways is coming due, as lean state budgets and heavy traffic take their toll on highways. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is closing more than 100 bridges there this week, citing ‘extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.’…. Many of the spans are in rural areas where the cost of repairing them could overwhelm the local tax base”

    any added advantage in making access to polls for “undesireable voters”, punishing them with extra gasoline costs is just icing on the cake.

    Reply

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