Archive | May 2016

I’m OK; You’re Hiding an Email Server

I just watched a youtube of a Morning Joe segment with Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, et al, reacting to the Office of the Inspector General’s report, and doing a good job of looking surprised and dismayed that Hillary Clinton lied about the legality of her email server. Did they all just realize this? I doubt it, but they aren’t protecting her anymore. So, what has changed?

For one thing, only a few weeks after Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee, Clinton’s poll numbers against him are already low enough that talk of her coasting to victory has been suspended. When she enjoyed a commanding lead in the polls, it had been predicted that the media would eventually present Clinton vs Trump as a close race – because they get better ratings that way. And after the first few Trump vs Clinton polls showed a tighter race, establishment media like TPM and FiveThirtyEight, spent some time trying to make the case that Trump had simply consolidated earlier than Clinton, and that she would regain her lead after Sanders dropped out. But – already – several more polls have shown it to be fairly close, with some showing Trump in the lead.

For another thing, The Young Turks – and I am told many other outlets – have reported rumors that the DNC is preparing Joe Biden as a replacement before the convention. Even CNN sees that Hillary is in trouble: Role reversal: GOP unites behind Trump, Democrats in disarray:

For Democrats, those who were hoping the tensions between Sanders and Clinton would dissipate greatly underestimated how serious the tensions are between Sanders, his supporters and the Clinton campaign.

The energy that has been moving his candidacy is much more than a cult of personality or a quixotic hope for socialism in America. Sanders and many of his supporters have been motivated by a principled argument about the problems with the Democratic Party and American politics.

In their minds, Hillary Clinton — and her husband — are symbols and leaders of a damaging development that has taken place since the 1970s. They argue that since Ronald Reagan was President, the Democratic Party decided to embrace the basic arguments of the conservative movement.

Democrats, they say, started to champion free markets, deregulation, nonunionized workplaces and a militaristic approach to foreign policy. As Democratic candidates catered to wealthier suburban voters, they left behind working-class Americans, unions, African-Americans, the poor and other disadvantaged groups.

I am actually surprised to see such a cogent summary in CNN. Not because their writers can’t write, but because their editors don’t usually let the truth out the door.

Your Evil Lawn

The other day, my wife saw our three cats in a circle staring at something in the yard. She and my stepson found that a rabbit doe – the one that seems to enjoy outrunning our cats – had just laid a litter of bunnies in a hole. The doe apparently finds a fenced yard with three big cats safer than the rest of the neighborhood. So my stepson puts a big bowl over the hole during the day, and takes it off at night. But we’ve told him: No more pets.

I grew up watching real and television Dads mow and weed their pristine lawns. In a dose of reality, I was once hit in the chest by a twisted old nail thrown from my Dad’s real gasoline-powered lawnmower. We later moved to an old farm, and he treated almost all seven acres like a big lawn, buying a small tractor to mow it, but hardly growing anything. Later I mowed, trimmed and weeded my own tiny lawns partly out of habit, and partly because the neighbors look at you disparagingly if you don’t. My latest lawn is a comparative disgrace because the soil is bumpy, full of shale, and often in shade.

Influenced by HGTV, my wife once suggested hardscapes would be a lot less work. Since we didn’t live in a desert, I preferred the green growing lawn, but now I am reading that aristocratic lawns are bad news. Healthy Land Ethic, which I found through various ScienceBlogs posts, recommends we go back to native prairie species:

Why prairies matter and lawns don’t

Prairies – those critically endangered and complex ecosystems understood by few and misunderstood and destroyed by millions of people.

Lawns – those myopically obsessive (and evil) urban, suburban, and increasingly rural monoculture eyesores that displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day* in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term; no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage. And there’s the unbearable ubiquitousness of mowing associated with such a useless cultural practice, which creates a ridiculous amount of noise pollution, air and water pollution, and a bustling busyness that destroys many peaceful Saturday mornings. The American lawn is the epitome of unsustainability.

In my defense, I did use a push mower, and later an electric mower. And I never laid down all the lye and chemicals that my Dad once used. In the Tyee, though, a discussion of potlatch turns to a practical consideration:

Why Science Is Like One Big Potlatch

High-class Coast Salish families inherited rights to abundant salmon runs, and they consolidated wealth by marrying other elites. Heh goos — “head men” in the Tla’amin language — made decisions on when and how to fish, and their status was legitimized through the public ceremonies of the potlatch, when they gave away their wealth. The lower-class Coast Salish had little social mobility. Status, for the most part, was inherited and changes in the social hierarchy were rare. The lower class had a lot of incentive to cooperate with the wealthy. Soon after potlatches were outlawed in 1885, the chief of the Kwakwaka’wakw — ancestors of the tribes belonging to the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society — told anthropologist Franz Boas: “It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbours. It is a good law.”

Potlatches not only distributed wealth — a finite natural resource — they also distributed knowledge, which is not finite unless it gets lost. That’s always a danger, especially if it’s not written down. Washington is teary when she talks about knowledge disappearing. The Coast Salish way of living was hard won and will not easily be retrieved. “My Granny used to say something that I never quite understood until I got older,” Washington says. “She would look at expensive homes with manicured lawns and say, in our language, ‘Oh those poor people, they have no medicines or food in their yard. How are they going to feed themselves and take care of themselves if anything happens?'”



About a month ago, I read Middlesex, the Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, whose first novel was The Virgin Suicides. I had seen the film version of Suicides, directed by Sofia Coppola, but that isn’t why I bought Middlesex.

The voice of Middlesex is a person whose anatomy is not easily identified as male or female, what has come to be termed intersex. I have a child who, though not physiologically intersex, has been influenced by Simon Baron-Cohen’s Empathizing-Systemizing theory which holds that autism spectrum disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome, leads to an extreme male brain (EMB). As described in a 2011 post on Woman with Asperger’s, some female Aspies do feel in between:

While I am biologically female, I have never felt at home in the world of women. I have trouble understanding and socializing with most neurotypical women, and I am not interested in the same things that they are: I’d rather talk about the Enneagram or philosophy than about the latest gossip in the mill. My sense of fashion and style has come from years of observation, developing my own color palettes (I find that black, purple, blue, red, gold, and silver are each to match with each other), finding comfortable fabrics and shoes, and making a lot of mistakes, and it did not come natural to me; you are looking at the girl who was more interested in Greek mythology and African-American poetry than fixing her hair, which used to drive the aunt who raised me to distraction. And as I have mentioned before, I have empathy but lack the ability sometimes to decode the signals of what people are feeling and what they might need. Truthfully, I do almost feel half-female, half-male as Simone described above – for example, I have a primary male alter-ego who finds himself as the speaker in about a good third of my poems.

But EMB is a controversial theory, as described in a 2013 post on Musings of an Aspie:

There are a lot of holes in the EMB theory. It bases maleness and femaleness on a single pair of traits, which aren’t even mutually exclusive. It subscribes to outdated gender stereotypes of men as less nurturing and women as less logical/intellectual. It uses questionnaires designed by the researcher to prove the researcher’s point. It fails to even acknowledge the existence of nonbinary gender identity (which is especially significant in autistic populations, as mentioned later in this post). It completely ignores the possibility that females are simply underdiagnosed, which undermines the protective effect line of thinking. It uses characteristics of autism as a proxy for gender traits, thereby “proving” a link between gender and autism.

I have read my child’s prolific fan-fiction writings, and they strike me as coming from a female perspective, but it isn’t my journey. So I’m trying to read up on intersex and transgender issues.

Intersexuality is a very uncomfortable topic, as evidenced by all the people arguing over who uses which bathroom. I guess some people simply don’t know the difference between transvestites, who simply wear clothing of the opposite sex, and transgender people, who have changed their bodies to become the opposite sex. Others do know the difference, but enjoy being mean.

3 Quarks Daily featured an article in Nature, The spectrum of sex development: Eric Vilain and the intersex controversy. DSD is short for Disorders of Sex Development. It’s a good article:

Vilain has spent the better part of his career studying the ambiguities of sex. Now a paediatrician and geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he is one of the world’s foremost experts on the genetic determinants of DSDs. He has worked closely with intersex advocacy groups that campaign for recognition and better medical treatment — a movement that has recently gained momentum. And in 2011, he established a major longitudinal study to track the psychological and medical well-being of hundreds of children with DSDs.

Vilain says that he doesn’t seek out controversy, but his research seems to attract it. His studies on the genetics of sexual orientation — an area that few others will touch — have attracted criticism from scientists, gay-rights activists and conservative groups alike. He is also a medical adviser for the International Olympic Committee, which about five years ago set controversial rules by which intersex individuals are allowed to compete in women’s categories.

But what has brought Vilain the most grief of late has been his stance on sex-assignment surgery for infants with DSDs. Although he generally opposes it, he won’t categorically condemn it or the doctors who perform it. As a result, many intersex advocates who object to the practice now see him as a hindrance to their cause.

Some deaf people have embraced their lack of hearing as normal for them, and assert that cochlear implant surgery separates deaf children from the mainstream of deaf culture. Similarly, some intersex people oppose any sort of corrective surgery on infants or children as not normal for them, and as rife with disastrous realizations later in life. In some ways, Middlesex is a very long explanation of that point-of-view.

Is Clinton Hurting Sanders by Staying in the Race?

Since before the Nevada Convention debacle, many so-called progressive news outlets were hinting broadly that it was time for Bernie Sanders to get out of the race. Others pointed out that Sanders is still winning primaries, and that Clinton herself did not abandon her campaign against Obama until several days after the last primary.

Then things got ugly in Nevada. Convention chair Roberta Rules-of-Disorder began receiving death threats online from people claiming to be Sanders followers. All the establishment media  – which now includes most of the so-called new media –  conveniently forgot that Hillary Clinton had hired professional social media “consultants”, and that Trump’s supporters were on the internet, too, and rushed to condemn Sanders and his supporters.

In the aftermath of Nevada, the media are piling on Sanders and his supporters to forget about their movement, call it a day and get in line to vote for the neoliberal Hillary Clinton so she can defeat the dread pirate Trump. I’ve let my NY Times subscription go, and after reading Talking Points Memo’s hit piece, It Comes from the Very Top, I think it is time to stop reading them as well.

I’m still not sure about FiveThirtyEight. Nate Silver and his peeps ask, Is Sanders Hurting Clinton by Staying in the Race? At least Micah Cohen gets near the obvious problem:

micah: OK, part of the GOP’s problem is that the establishment no longer holds much sway with Republican voters. Just the opposite, actually: Hitting the elites is a plus. To me, here’s one of the main questions about the Sanders campaign: Is his success, such as it is, simply what you get with a liberal challenge in a two-party race? Or is there a sizable bloc of Democratic voters, young voters in particular, who are sick of standard Democratic politics — who feel the system is rigged, to get back to the point we were talking about earlier. If it’s the latter, then I think that potentially poses long-term problems for the Democratic Party. It increases the chances that the Democrats, at some point, get a nominee unacceptable to the party elites, like the GOP got this year.

I’ll answer you, Micah. To young voters, Hillary is establishment, and part of the problem. Are they too hung up on Sanders? Yes, Sanders himself admonished one adoring crowd that he wasn’t the truth – they were. But even more than the Boomers, and late boomers like me, Millennials grew up in a age of instant gratification, and unlike the boomers, they have run into a brick wall finding jobs and getting on with their lives. Sanders is the first mainstream politician that seems to be speaking to them. So right now he’s Barney, Harry Potter and Jon Snow all wrapped into one.

In high school, one of my history teachers often used the quote, “People Get the Government They Deserve,” (which has been variously attributed). It occurs to me that older people that are willing to settle for either Hillary Clinton or Donald J Trump probably deserve eight years of more of the same, or chaos.

Younger people think they deserve better. Do they deserve Sanders? Maybe, but I think it will require a lot more politicking, and a serious commitment to the movement that Sanders candidacy has been riding.

A Bit Sore

On Friday, Baltimore saw afternoon sun instead of the predicted thunderstorm. I biked my usual route up Eutaw Street towards Druid Hill Park. Traffic seemed light. At the end of Eutaw I would have taken the brick sidewalk along the Druid Park Lake Road, but it is being repaved, and is closed. From the sidewalk you can wait for the light, then cross onto Swann Drive, into the park, and on to Greenspring Road. Otherwise you have to mix it up with traffic for a hundred yards on the Lake Road, or cut up Cloverdale, a quiet, narrow brick road which takes you to Madison Avenue, which becomes Swann Drive when you enter the park. While recovering from Deep Venous Thrombosis, I’ve felt less like trying to keep ahead of impatient commuters, so I’ve been choosing Cloverdale.

On Madison one has to drive through one of two monumental brick archways facing the park. For quite a while the closer of of the arches was closed to traffic while they repaved the cobblestones, so I’ve gotten in the habit of looking through it to see if anyone is coming through the next arch. But on Friday, both arches were open again. So just as I biked up a car came charging out of the nearer opening. I said something deeply ironic, like “Aaaah!” and squeezed the brakes, but my front tire hit the guy’s door and I was knocked over.

The driver did stop, but I told him it wasn’t his fault I hadn’t anticipated that the road might be open again. I have a bruised right knee, a puffy left elbow, and a sore lower back. The bike seemed OK during a painful ride home. The back felt better when I was sitting against a bag of ice, and ice packs helped the knee and elbow, too.

I decided to spend Saturday morning in bed. While watching Madison Keys play Garbine Muguruza on the Pietrangeli court in Rome, courtesy of TennisTV, I also watched The Minotaur, originally Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete, a dubbed 1960 Italian flick that bears only the faintest resemblance to the Greek myth as transcribed by Edith Hamilton.

Madison and Garbine are lovely young women, even compared to the pinup girl extras in the Minotaur movie. And they both play crunch tennis. A lot of people consider Madison mixed-race because one of her parents is dark-skinned African American and the other is light-skinned German-Irish. But current science believes almost all of us are Sapiens, with smidgens of Neandertal and Denisovan. She says, “I’m just Madison.”

The plot of The Minotaur centered around an ambitious, evil woman using the threat of an even worse monster to control the people. So it was related to current events. Then a hero rode in and both the woman and the beast were slain. We can only hope.


Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall agrees with a reader who accuses Sandernistas of damaging Hillary Clinton:

Sanders may be leading a ‘movement’. He’s already succeeded at nudging Clinton to the left, though we shouldn’t lose sight of the degree she’d moved before Sanders got in. But his biggest supporters online have been far more driven by destroying Hillary Clinton either as weird convoluted psychological payback for things that happened decades ago or out of the old puristic, sectarian-left self-actualization performance art.

Destroying Hillary Clinton really doesn’t count as a movement.

I don’t hate Hillary Clinton, I simply don’t believe she intends any meaningful change to the decline of the working class or the concentration of wealth in the privileged class.

Sanders does.

Other Lenders Faltering, Too

In the wake of Lending Club’s executive purge, the New York Times adds specifics about the Club’s transgressions. According to, As Lending Club Stumbles, Its Entire Industry Faces Skepticism, CEO (and sailboat racer) Renaud Laplanche had an undisclosed stake in at least one concern seeking loans. Other executives were involved in changing of information on paperwork.

… on Monday, Lending Club announced that Mr. Laplanche had resigned after an internal investigation found improprieties in its lending process, including the altering of millions of dollars’ worth of loans. The company’s stock price, already reeling in recent months, fell 34 percent.

And it isn’t only Lending Club that is hurting.

The company’s woes are part of a broader reckoning in the online money-lending industry. Last week, Prosper, another online lender that focuses on consumers, laid off more than a quarter of its work force, and the chief executive said he was forgoing his salary for the year. …

Wall Street’s waning demand for loans exposed the Achilles’ heel of marketplace lending. Unlike traditional banks that use their deposits to fund loans, the marketplace companies discovered how fleeting their funding sources can be.

Since the start of the year, Lending Club has raised interest rates on its loans three times to sweeten their appeal to investors.

I regularly get mailers from Lending Club, Prosper, Embrace and various debt consolidation outfits – all of which feed the shredder.

In a potentially related vein, a few days ago, Donald Trump made heads explode by suggesting that he might want to renegotiate $19 trillion dollars of US debt. Just about all the traditional and new media outlets rushed to denounce such talk as evidence of Trump’s political inexperience, but on CNBC’s Futures Now show, Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff said,

“Trump just admitted on CNBC that America has too much debt to afford a rate hike, and that he wants our creditors to accept less than 100 cents on their Treasuries. In other words, Trump knows a U.S. government default is inevitable.” …

Schiff has long been opposed to the Fed‘s so-called easy money policies. He insists that rather than helping the economic backdrop, the excess liquidity has created fragile asset bubbles so fragile that may send the U.S. spiraling into a recession worse than what occurred during the financial crisis.

One of the dilemmas of being both a social progressive and a believer in energy depletion is that progressives, including Bernie Sanders, confidently assert that the US economy has enough wealth that it should be the rising tide to lift all boats.

Energy depletion gurus, though, predict increasingly hard times for everyone, which puts them in an odd agreement with many conservatives, though for an entirely different reason. I suspect that Donald Trump may be right about US debt, though I suspect some version of austerity will be part of his solution.

Lending Club falters

Almost three years ago, I wrote about taking on a debt consolidation loan with Lending Club. I’ve been keeping a sufficient balance so that they can withdraw payments on schedule, and I should be able to payoff on schedule, then retire. But Lending Club has been sending me an increasing stream of email and paper mail offers to take on even more non-collateral debt. I figured these were mostly computer-generated, but some of them bothered me because they used the Open Immediately! style of mailer, with no identification on the outside. That sort of marketing tends to associate Lending Club in my mind with dicey outfits like Embrace and American Debt Mediators.

Today I ran across a disquieting CNBC article, Lending Club shares tumble after CEO resigns:

Shares of Lending Club plummeted 25 percent at the open Monday morning after the company said co-founder Renaud Laplanche had resigned as chairman and CEO.

Laplanche’s departure comes as Lending Club acknowledged it conducted an internal review of its business practices. The investigation also led to the firing or resignation of three senior managers.

The company’s executive leadership said the review of loans discovered staff knowingly sold $22 million in loans in March and April 2016 that did not meet the buyer’s requirements. It came after an unnamed staffer made a change executives described as “minor” to internal loan paperwork. …

The company said it would bolster internal controls after the sale of what it called $22 million in “near-prime” loans, and also revealed it would suspend providing the market guidance.

I don’t suppose this will affect me or my microloan investors, but now I have to wonder if I am near-prime, or just past-my-prime.


Obnoxious and Disliked

In the musical 1776, as the founding fathers are searching for someone to write what will be called the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, first played by the acerbic William Daniels, invokes his unpopularity, and finds no disagreement:

Benjamin Franklin:
Mr. Adams, I say you should write it
To your legal mind and brilliance we defer

John Adams:
Is that so? Well, if I’m the one to do it
They’ll run their quill pens through it
I’m obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir

Benjamin Franklin:
Yes, I know

It is somewhat harder to imagine Paul Giamatti’s more earnest miniseries version of Adams admitting to be obnoxious and disliked, though he was chastised by Franklin for a blunt approach that made him many enemies. But the real Adams received enough votes to be elected Vice President, trailing our first President George Washington, and was elected as our second President after Washington set a precedent by not seeking a third term. Of course the electorate was mostly white men back then.

So now we have two obnoxious and disliked candidates for President. According to FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton’s 37% ‘strongly unfavorable’ rating surpasses George W Bush’s 32% during his second election. Were it not for the emergence of Donald J Trump’s celebrity roast style of intraparty campaigning, she would hold the record. As it is, Trump leads by far with 53%.

Even their net strong favorability, which is strong favorables minus strong unfavorables, is historically low, Clinton at -20% and Trump at -41%. A few people like them, but most people either don’t like them, or really can’t stand them.

The Clinton camp’s admonishments that everyone must band together to stop the demon Trump seems like the only strategy she will need right now. But if Trump manages to reduce his unfavorables, or hers get even worse, I do wonder how she will compete.