Later On

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Archive for October 29th, 2020

Trump Quashed Probe Into Crimes by Bank in Turkey, Which Is Paying Trump

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

In 2016, Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked then-Vice-President Joe Biden to lean on federal prosecutors who were investigating a Turkish bank for financial crimes and to hand over a dissident cleric living in the United States. The requests seemed to be on Biden’s mind when he publicly addressed reporters and piously explained that, in the United States, the justice system doesn’t work like that. “I suspect it’s hard for people to understand that as powerful as my country is, as powerful as Barack Obama is as president, he has no authority under our Constitution to extradite anyone,” Biden explained to reporters. “Only a federal court can do that. Nobody else can do that. If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers.”

Well, the justice system works like that now.

The New York Times has a comprehensive report on Erdogan’s successful efforts to recruit top Trump administration officials into his corrupt scheme.

Scandals tend to be complicated, especially scandals involving banks. But this one is extremely simple. The basic elements:

1) The Justice Department was prosecuting financial crimes by a Turkish bank.

2) Turkey’s president asked President Trump to quash the investigation.

3) Trump has personally received more than $1 million in payments from business in Turkey while serving as president.

4) Two attorneys general loyal to Trump, Matthew Whitaker and William Barr, both pressured federal prosecutors to go easy on the Turkish bank.

The Times adds plenty of new detail to the last point, which is yet another blow to anybody who hoped Barr might preserve some shred of respect for the rule of law. “In mid-June 2019, when [Geoffrey] Berman met with Mr. Barr in Washington, the attorney general pushed Mr. Berman to agree to allow the Justice Department to drop charges against the defendants and terminate investigations of other suspected conspirators,” the Times reports. When Barr subsequently fired Berman, who resisted his pressure, Justice Department officials cited his stubbornness on the Turkey case “as a key reason for his removal.”

Biden’s casual assumption in 2016 that granting Erdogan’s wish would automatically result in impeachment is a time-capsule record of the standards of good government that prevailed before Trump blew them to smithereens. In a pre-Trump world, the Turkish bank scandal would destroy a normal presidency.

The misconduct found by the Times is actually much worse than the hypothetical behavior Biden said would lead to impeachment for two reasons. First, it undermines Trump’s own foreign policy. The crimes for which the bank, Halkbank, was being investigated relate to violating American sanctions on Iran. After the Obama administration relaxed sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear deal, the Trump administration ramped up those sanctions and used them as the lynchpin of its strategy in the region. (This helps explain why national security adviser John Bolton, an Iran Über-hawk, was motivated to blow the whistle on this corruption.)

Now, you don’t have to agree with the administration’s agenda of pressuring Iran. I certainly don’t. The point is that the fact that it undermined its own policy agenda highlights the extent of the corruption. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 6:17 pm

Brief yet unusual video

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

Gravity helps black holes shed information

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George Musser writes in Quanta:

In a series of breakthrough papers, theoretical physicists have come tantalizingly close to resolving the black hole information paradox that has entranced and bedeviled them for nearly 50 years. Information, they now say with confidence, does escape a black hole. If you jump into one, you will not be gone for good. Particle by particle, the information needed to reconstitute your body will reemerge. Most physicists have long assumed it would; that was the upshot of string theory, their leading candidate for a unified theory of nature. But the new calculations, though inspired by string theory, stand on their own, with nary a string in sight. Information gets out through the workings of gravity itself — just ordinary gravity with a single layer of quantum effects.

This is a peculiar role reversal for gravity. According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the gravity of a black hole is so intense that nothing can escape it. The more sophisticated understanding of black holes developed by Stephen Hawking and his colleagues in the 1970s did not question this principle. Hawking and others sought to describe matter in and around black holes using quantum theory, but they continued to describe gravity using Einstein’s classical theory — a hybrid approach that physicists call “semiclassical.” Although the approach predicted new effects at the perimeter of the hole, the interior remained strictly sealed off. Physicists figured that Hawking had nailed the semiclassical calculation. Any further progress would have to treat gravity, too, as quantum.

That is what the authors of the new studies dispute. They have found additional semiclassical effects — new gravitational configurations that Einstein’s theory permits, but that Hawking did not include. Muted at first, these effects come to dominate when the black hole gets to be extremely old. The hole transforms from a hermit kingdom to a vigorously open system. Not only does information spill out, anything new that falls in is regurgitated almost immediately. The revised semiclassical theory has yet to explain how exactly the information gets out, but such has been the pace of discovery in the past two years that theorists already have hints of the escape mechanism.

“That is the most exciting thing that has happened in this subject, I think, since Hawking,” said one of the co-authors, Donald Marolf of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It’s a landmark calculation,” said Eva Silverstein of Stanford University, a leading theoretical physicist who was not directly involved.

You might expect the authors to celebrate, but they say they also feel let down. Had the calculation involved deep features of quantum gravity rather than a light dusting, it might have been even harder to pull off, but once that was accomplished, it would have illuminated those depths. So they worry they may have solved this one problem without achieving the broader closure they sought. “The hope was, if we could answer this question — if we could see the information coming out — in order to do that we would have had to learn about the microscopic theory,” said Geoff Penington of the University of California, Berkeley, alluding to a fully quantum theory of gravity.

What it all means is being intensely debated in Zoom calls and webinars. The work is highly mathematical and has a Rube Goldberg quality to it, stringing together one calculational trick after another in a way that is hard to interpret. Wormholes, the holographic principle, emergent space-time, quantum entanglement, quantum computers: Nearly every concept in fundamental physics these days makes an appearance, making the subject both captivating and confounding.

And not everyone is convinced. Some still think that Hawking got it right and that string theory or other novel physics has to come into play if information is to escape. “I’m very resistant to people who come in and say, ‘I’ve got a solution in just quantum mechanics and gravity,’” said Nick Warner of the University of Southern California. “Because it’s taken us around in circles before.”

But almost everyone appears to agree on one thing. In some way or other, space-time itself seems to fall apart at a black hole, implying that space-time is not the root level of reality, but an emergent structure from something deeper. Although Einstein conceived of gravity as the geometry of space-time, his theory also entails the dissolution of space-time, which is ultimately why information can escape its gravitational prison.

The Curve Becomes the Key

In 1992, Don Page and his family spent their Christmas vacation house-sitting in Pasadena, enjoying the swimming pool and watching the Rose Parade. Page, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Canada, also used the break to think about how paradoxical black holes really are. His first studies of black holes, when he was a graduate student in the ’70s, were key to his adviser Stephen Hawking’s realization that black holes emit radiation — the result of random quantum processes at the edge of the hole. Put simply, a black hole rots from the outside in.

The particles it sheds appear to carry no information about the interior contents. If a 100-kilogram astronaut falls in, the hole grows in mass by 100 kilograms. Yet when the hole emits the equivalent of 100 kilograms in radiation, that radiation is completely unstructured. Nothing about the radiation reveals whether it came from an astronaut or a lump of lead.

That’s a problem because, at some point, the black hole emits its last ounce and ceases to be. All that’s left is a big amorphous cloud of particles zipping here and there at random. It would be impossible to recover whatever fell in. That makes black hole formation and evaporation an irreversible process, which appears to defy the laws of quantum mechanics.

Hawking and most other theorists at the time accepted that conclusion — if irreversibility flouted the laws of physics as they were then understood, so much the worse for those laws. But Page was perturbed, because irreversibility would violate the fundamental symmetry of time. In 1980 he broke with his former adviser and argued that black holes must release or at least preserve information. That caused a schism among physicists. “Most general relativists I talked to agreed with Hawking,” said Page. “But particle physicists tended to agree with me.”

On his Pasadena vacation, Page realized that both groups had missed an important point. The puzzle wasn’t just what happens at the end of the black hole’s life, but also . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with

Another way of seeing that gravity is not a force

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Earlier I posted a Derek Muller video showing that gravity is not a force (certainly not in the sense of the other forces). Here’s another bite at that apple (Newton’s apple, presumably).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Private equity works to purchase a US Senator, Susan Collins

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Susan Collins is a fairly despicable person — talks of independence, always toes the party line. (She did vote against Barrett’s confirmation, but Mitch McConnell allowed her to do that only because (a) her vote was not needed for the confirmation to pass, and (b) she is struggling for re-election after a series of distasteful votes (e.g., voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, who writes Supreme Court opinions filled with lies, errors, and efforts to mislead).

Reliability as a right-wing tool has its reward — in this case an influx of money. She’s the No. 1 recipient of private equity funds.

Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Theodoric Meyer, Politico, report:

In late November 2017, Senate Republicans were racing to secure the votes for their sweeping tax overhaul. With no Democrats supporting the bill and even some Republicans waveringSen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, found herself with enormous leverage.

The day before the vote, she offered an amendment to make the legislation, which lavished tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy, more equitable. It expanded a tax credit to make child care more affordable. To pay for it, she took aim at a tax break cherished by the private equity industry.

Then Collins backed down. The day after she introduced it, as the Senate voted on the bill, a Republican Senate aide told a Treasury Department official that Collins was “no longer offering her amendment,” according to emails obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Her retreat was a significant victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Collins put aside her opposition and voted for the bill, which passed 51-49.

Her turnabout has been one of the mysteries surrounding the $1.5 trillion tax bill, which slashed the corporate rate. The new emails and interviews shed light on how quickly Collins climbed down from her amendment proposal and how the industry maneuvered to preserve the break in the new law, which remains President Donald Trump’s most important legislative achievement.

Nearly three years later, Collins is facing a tough reelection battle and the private equity industry has become her most reliable source of donations. She has gotten more than half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the private equity industry this cycle, more than any other senator, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political donations.

What’s more, Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of the private equity giant Blackstone, has given $2 million to a super PAC backing her. (Schwarzman, a major Republican donor, has also given $20 million to a super PAC supporting Collins and other Republican Senate candidates.) The failure of Collins’ amendment likely saved Schwarzman alone tens of millions of dollars in taxes, according to tax experts.

Annie Clark, a Collins campaign spokeswoman, said Collins secured other significant changes to the bill. The amendment cutting carried interest stood no chance because it would’ve required 60 votes to pass if the Senate had voted on it, she said.

“Given the opposition to the amendment at the time — not only from Republicans, but from Democrats as well — it would certainly have failed,” Clark said in a statement.

A Schwarzman spokeswoman said in a statement, “Steve has long supported Senator Collins because of her independence, hard work and integrity. He does not closely follow all of her specific policy positions.”

The carried interest loophole, as its critics, including Collins, have called it, has long been the target of reform efforts.

The tax break is especially lucrative for the private equity industry, which invests in non-public businesses. A major way that executives at private equity firms like Blackstone make money is by taking a share of profits when the companies they invest in are sold.

The debate over carried interest centers on how this money should be taxed: as an investment return for private equity executives or a bonus that the firm’s clients pay for good performance. Today, it’s treated like an investment and taxed at a lower capital gains rate. If it were counted as a bonus, it would be taxed like part of the executives’ salaries, at the higher ordinary income tax rate. That discount — currently around 20 percentage points — in what Wall Street executives owe to the government quickly adds up to tens of billions of dollars.

When Trump became president and Republicans started pursuing an overhaul of the tax code, private equity had reason to be worried. The party had a long wish list of tax cuts but a limited number of ways to pay for them without increasing the deficit by more than Senate rules allowed, $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Eliminating carried interest, as Trump had proposed, was one of them.

And the tax break had faced years of opposition. The Obama administration made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to raise the carried interest tax rate, an effort that Schwarzman famously compared to the Nazis invading Poland. (He later apologized for the analogy.)

Trump himself repeatedly complained about carried interest during his presidential campaign. “These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” he said in 2015. “They are paper-pushers. They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, OK?”

To blunt the effort, the American Investment Council, the industry’s Washington trade group, proposed a concession it hoped would mollify lawmakers who might consider killing the loophole. AIC pitched House Republicans on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 10:40 am

A synesthete shows what music looks like to her

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Synesthesia is more common than we once realized — perhaps having a term for it enables people to recognize the phenomenon and realize, if they experience synesthesia, they are not alone and so are more willing to talk about it. It turns about that about 1 in 30 people have some form of synesthesia to some degree. There are a few Reddit synesthesia groups devoted to synesthesia — here’s one.

Synesthesia is a condition in which senses meld, so that you see music, or hear numbers, taste shapes, or smell words. Richard Cytowic, in fact, wrote an interesting and informative book on synesthesia titled The Man Who Tasted Shapes. Brain Pickings has a post that discusses synesthesia, and from that post:

Synesthesia is a neurological crossing of the senses, in which a stimulus in one sense (say, sight) evokes a sensorial response in another (say, smell), so that the synesthete registers a particular smell as inherently endowed with a particular color (or a number with a sound, or a tactile texture with a smell). Although synesthesia has long been thought to be an extremely rare condition, a growing body of neurological research and scholarship exploring centuries of written accounts from the world’s body of literature have revealed it to be far more common. Oliver Sacks has written about its science. The writings of Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Charles Baudelaire reveal them to be among its famous embodiments. But no one has described the interior experience of synesthesia and its transcendent sensorial discombobulation more electrically than Vladimir Nabokov (April 22, 1899–July 2, 1977) in his 1951 autobiography, Speak, Memory (public library).

“The confessions of a synesthete must sound tedious and pretentious to those who are protected from such leakings and drafts by more solid walls than mine are,” Nabokov writes, confessing that he has frequently experienced various mild aural and optical hallucinations since childhood. But as the crowning curio of his unusual sensory apparatus, he holds up his “fine case of colored hearing.” Constructing a kind of private Newtonian rainbow or Moses Harris color wheel of the alphabet, Nabokov writes:

Perhaps “hearing” is not quite accurate, since the color sensation seems to be produced by the very act of my orally forming a given letter while I imagine its outline. The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty rag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass. Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. Adjacent tints do not merge, and diphthongs do not have special colors of their own, unless represented by a single character in some other language (thus the fluffy-gray, three-stemmed Russian letter that stands for sh, a letter as old as the rushes of the Nile, influences its English representation)… In the green group, there are alder-leaf f, the unripe apple of p, and pistachio t. Dull green, combined somehow with violet, is the best I can do for w. The yellows comprise various e’s and i’s, creamy d, bright-golden y, and u, whose alphabetical value I can express only by “brassy with an olive sheen.” In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h. Finally, among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with “Rose Quartz” in Maerz and Paul’s Dictionary of Color. The word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow, is in my private language the hardly pronounceable: kzspygv.

Synesthetes who are musicians may experience sound as having color (Duke Ellington, Marian McPartland, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Pharrell Williams) or as having shapes (Greg Jarvis, who founded the Canadian Synethesia Association.

Michal Levy is a synesthete who experiences musc as colored shapes, and his graduation thesis for Bezalel Academy of Art & Design, Jerusalem, is this animation that depicts her experience of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”

She has another animation that shows her experience of J.S. Bach’s “Prelude in C Minor.” That, along with a description of Kandinski’s experience of music as lines and color, is contained in this post in Open Culture.

I read a science-fiction story when I was in high school in the 1950s in which the protagonist suffered an accident that affected his perceptions. I cannot now recall exactly the effect, but it ended up with a tricky surgery. The final line of the story was his saying, as he recovered consciousness after the operation, “What smells purple?” I wonder whether the writer was a synesthete.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Music, Video

Tagged with ,

Sarah Cooper as Donald Trump on voting, and Sarah Cooper serious

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 10:15 am

Top as pedestal, a waistless brush, and the benefits of memetic evolution

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This tub was not specifically designed for the top to be a pedestal (as was the top to Dr. Selby’s used yesterday or (as a reader commented) as are Proraso tubs), but Steve Riehle’s suggestion works well.

The lid-as-pedestal has an advantage beyond simply finding a place to put the lid that requires no real estate beyond what the tub uses. The near side of the sink tends to get wet during my shave — I keep a sponge on hand to wipe it dry after the shave — and with the pedestal the bottom of the tub stays dry. The rim of the lid that sits on the countertop may get wet, but that’s just a rim, not a surface.

I notice that I load the brush a bit more after doing a bit of bowl lathering, and I believe that has improved the quality of the lather. This brush, a Rod Neep one-off, has not waist at all, but the base — its feet? — is prominent and provides a good grip. It looks somewhat as if the based were designed with a brush rack in mind — the sort of rack that holds the brush upside down, putatively to aid in drying (though in fact experiments have clearly demonstrated that it is no help whatsoever: capillary action takes care of the drying quite well). I don’t have such racks — my brushes stand proudly upright — but the base does prove to be handy.

BTW, this brush has the Rod Neep option of a coin embedded in the base. I chose a coin from 1984, the year I moved to California.

Three passes with the RazoRock MJ90A and the shave was so remarkably good that I checked to see what blade I was using: a Gillettee Silver Blue (though keep in mind that blades are very much YMMV since the perceived performance varies both by individual and by razor.

Still, this razor, whose design is explicitly based on the Edwin Jagger design, is IMO a improvement on the EJ head, a tad more comfortable and more efficient. In response to the comment linked above, I observed that, over the long run, design seems to follow a reverse Grisham’s law, with good design driving out bad.

A splash of Floïd to carry forward the Italian theme suggested by the Tcheon Fung Sing soap and the razor (from ItalianBarber.com), and the day (overcast and rainy here) begins. Floïd is a good aftershave for such a day: the menthol is quite mild, and the fragrance is warm. And my face is exceptionall smooth.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 9:35 am

Posted in Shaving

Barry Hawkins ahead 64 to 0, and then misses a shot

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6 minutes that Hawkins will long remember.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 8:01 am

Posted in Games, Snooker, Video

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