28 June 2024

Sharing A Country

The Temptation Of Secession 

There are days when I wonder if secession, which was a moral imperative to stop in order to end slavery during the U.S. Civil War, wouldn't make sense now when slavery is no longer an issue.

The Republican Party and Democratic Party are more deeply divided from each other than any post-Civil War division in the U.S., although gridlock in the federal government has masked these divides a little. The Americans in Red States live in different cultures and realities from Americans in Blue States. Republican are why we "can't have nice things" in the United States politically.

Unity Prevents Military Conflict

National unity brings quiet, unappreciated benefits as well. The mainland of the North American continent is divided between just three countries whose vast inequalities in power have arguably contributed to lasting peace.

Since the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars, and the U.S. Civil War have been the only significant military conflicts fought on the territory claimed by the United States on the mainland.

The U.S. has been involved in armed conflicts around the world very frequently in its history, from Tripoli and the Barbary pirates, to many conflicts in Central America and Latin America under the Monroe Doctrine (continuing through Grenada, Panama, and peace keeping in Haiti), to more recent military engagements in Europe in World Wars I and II, to the Pacific in World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and in the Middle East and its vicinity as far as Somalia and Afghanistan. Indeed, national unity is one of the reason that the U.S. has had the military resources available for expeditionary military action all over the world.

Critically, after the U.S. Civil War in 1865 more than 159 years ago (and Reconstruction that followed) and the final stages of the Indian Wars in the late 1800s, there has been almost no fighting which has taken place in the continental U.S.

There have been only two episodes since the U.S. Constitution wad adopted in 1789 of foreign invasions that reached U.S. soil: the War of 1812 and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941, which was 82 and a half years ago. And, the invaders in each of those cases: Britain in the War of 1812, and Japan in World War II, are now close U.S. allies.

If what is now the United States in the mainland of North America had been balkanized, at a minimum, each of the balkanized states would have had to have devoted considerable military resources to defend themselves from each other. In all likelihood, they would have fought some major conventional wars against each other in the mainland of North America.

For example, in World War II, of the Lincoln had not forced the Confederacy to rejoin the Union in the U.S. Civil War, the Confederacy might have sided with the Axis powers, while the Union might have sided with the Allies, leading to far more military conflict on the North American mainland and near the Atlantic Coast of North America.

Unity Secures Human Rights

National unity has also thwarted or resulted in remedies for the worst human rights abuses of the American South and other backwards places in the U.S.

The North has forced the South to protect the civil rights of African Americans, has forced the Southwest to protect the civil rights of Hispanics, and has forced Red States to protect the rights of women, children, and of Native Americans and immigrants, more than states in these regions would have otherwise.

How Does Migration Tip The Political Balance?

These questions aren't just "top down" matters to mandate from on hight. The way that the political divisions in the U.S. play out are profoundly influenced by choices made and lobbying from businesses, especially big ones, by civil society organizations, and by the internal migration and political activism decisions of individual people and families.

On one hand, if blue state people migrate to a red state, they can change the politics of that red state, shifting it to be first purple and then blue. 

Multi-state and multi-national businesses can also lobby against policies that make it untenable for them to continue to operate in a red state.

On the other hand, migration can further the political divisions between states. If conservatives migrate from blue states to red states, and liberals migrate from red states to blue states, this can solidify red state-blue state political divisions. 

Many businesses can, if they don't like red state or blue state policies respectively, move elsewhere. For example, many tech companies are moving away from Austin or choosing not to expand to Texas, because of bad red state politics and laws.

Migration from blue states to red states has tipped Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado to the left. Migration of liberals to big cities in other states, especially from the rust belt and farm communities, has tipped Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa to the right. 

Migration of retirees to Florida and Arizona has been a mild right leaning political influence since retirees are more conservative than the general public, but balanced by the fact that retirees still aren't assimilated members of Southern culture or the culture of the rural Old West.

There has been a lot of net migration from northern states to the South and Southwest, especially out of the Midwest and Great Plains, and to a letter extent out of the Northeast, although even then, the migrants to the South and Southwest are largely sticking to big cities that are culturally bluer than other place in those mostly red states. This trend may be running its course, however, as "natural" disasters and global warming and increasingly bad conservative policies in these states make them unattractive.

It isn't clear which trends will predominate in the longer run.

Florida seems to have crossed a tipping point from being almost a northern state in the South, to being crazy conservative. Virginia and North Carolina are being pulled by D.C. related suburbanites in Virginia, and tech oriented development in both states, from being firmly red states to purple states. The shift left in Georgia has been driven by professionals and managers moving to Atlanta which is a regional economic hub.

Ohio is vastly more conservative and economically depressed than it was when I grew up there, and there have been shifts to the right all across the rust belt.

Beyond Geography

The U.S. Civil War failed to end once and for all the underlying political and cultural divisions that remain dominant in U.S. politics today, even though it did effectively end slavery itself and largely took succession off the table as a political tactic.

The trouble is that as the meme quoting General Grant above predicts, is that the current first order political, moral, and cultural division in the United States only sometimes breaks neatly along state lines.

Red states still have "enlightened" enclaves, like Austin in Texas. Blue states like New York and Colorado still have large swaths of conservative, mostly rural areas. 

Secession isn't an easy solution to a divide that runs along urban-rural lines as much as it does along state lines, even if it was an available political tactic. And, honestly, while the U.S. Constitution doesn't specifically provide for the possibility, I don't seriously doubt that Congress and states seeking to secede could by mutual agreement authorize a "divorce" that would let some states secede.

One of the reasons that there is an urban-rural political divide is that highly skilled and educated workers receive much higher economic premiums for their abilities in big cities than they do in small towns and rural areas, making the higher cost of living in urbanized areas worth the price. 

In contrast, less skilled workers without college degrees receive much smaller economic premiums in big cities over small town and rural areas. But they still have to contend with the same higher cost of living that the highly skilled and educated workers in big cities do.

Of course, the mere fact of living in a place with higher population density and greater diversity also seems to influence people's political views causally. 

Every U.S. state of consequence needs big cities to function, however, and this leaves many even very red states with comparatively liberal urban centers.

Generational Shifts And The Long Run Culture War

Juxtaposed against the regional shifts are the generational shifts. Across the U.S., younger voters are much more liberal on most social issues, and are less religious, than older voters. 

The left has been pretty much consistently winning in the culture wars since the Civil Rights movement. Absent political tactics that can thwart the political will of the people in a conservative direction, the U.S. will eventually, almost by default, drift to the left over time.

Joe Biden, a long time drug warrior, is taking the lead in decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level.  Many red states have legalized either medical marijuana or both medical and recreational marijuana.

Mass incarceration is easing in red states as well as blue states.

The original segregationists (Biden himself started his career on opposition to public school desegregation plans in Delaware), no longer advocate for de jure segregation or bans on interracial marriage, although they now oppose affirmative action and DEI programs that exist to counteract and remedy racism. In the 1960s, in contrast, even Martin Luther King, Jr. was reluctant to press for interracial marriage.

About 85% of Democrats and 75% of independents, and large shares of young people even if they identify as Evangelical Christians, support same sex marriage, even though less than half of Republicans do (down from a narrow majority a few years ago), although conservatives are vigorously trying to make transgender people into scapegoats and are fighting a rear guard action to keep gays in the closet. Not all that many years earlier, even liberal Democrats were afraid to push for more than half-measures like domestic partnerships and civil unions.

The percentage of Republicans who have no religion is higher than the percentage of Democrats who did not that many years ago (white Protestant Christians are now increasingly scarce in the Democratic party coalition). The overall ranks of the non-religious have surged.

Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision was a huge setback for reproductive rights and have left us with a country deeply divided on abortion, which pregnant women are moving with their feet to overcome. But grass roots voters in state initiatives are pushing back on that, for example, protecting abortion rights in Kansas, and legislators in Arizona backtracked from the reinstitution of a very strict archaic abortion law that Roe v. Wade had invalidated.

Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court starting with its Heller decision has taken steps backward on policies to end gun violence with gun control.

Of course, generational political divides can't be addressed with secession.

Sharing A Country

Federalism is one way to find compromises in countries with geographically based political division. But federalism doesn't provide a very good solution to balancing the needs and desires of big cities v. rural areas and small towns, or those of older and younger generations.

How do people who are so starkly divided in their view of the facts of reality, their norms, their culture, and the policies that they prefer balance their competing needs in a way that is tolerable for all involved?

Our federal institutions encourage politically segregating migration as a solution, but we don't have great power sharing alternatives. 

In theory, one could devolve law making further by vesting more power in more local governments, as the Swiss do, and less in state governments. But this isn't a great solution in the case of many laws because the underlying reality involves huge intrastate and interstate ties with everyone having to share a single national or statewide context for the most part. 

Also, while Swiss do well enough with three dozen cantons with authority similar to that of U.S. states in a country the size of a typical U.S. state, that overcomes small scale divides with compromises, carving the U.S. into several hundred states with state-class authority doesn't seem like a viable solution.

The difficulties involved with the necessity that people share a country and the states that they are in across political divides when we have few institutions to support that is part of the reason why the current political situation is so volatile. 

26 June 2024

The Trouble With The Ten Commandments

The State of Louisiana has mandated the posting of the Ten Commandments in its schools, which is deeply problematic as a constitutional matter and in substance. It is Dominionism which is something that the U.S. Bill of Rights specifically sought to prohibit.

Court cases have allowed the posting of "In God We Trust", and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, under the rubric that it is "ceremonial deism". 

The Trouble With The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are more problematic (indeed, even the numbering of the Ten Commandments is a matter of sectarian division that any posting of them with numbers takes sides in as an establishment of religion).

This is why the U.S. Supreme Court held 44 years ago that a Kentucky law almost identical to the law just passed by Louisiana was unconstitutional in Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. 39 (1980) despite the fact that it differed from the Louisiana law by mandating the the posting be funded without public money. The holding there is summarized at the link as follows:
In a 5-to-4 per curiam decision, the Court ruled that the Kentucky law violated the first part of the test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman, and thus violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The Court found that the requirement that the Ten Commandments be posted "had no secular legislative purpose" and was "plainly religious in nature." The Court noted that the Commandments did not confine themselves to arguably secular matters (such as murder, stealing, etc.), but rather concerned matters such as the worship of God and the observance of the Sabbath Day.
What are the Ten Commandments? 

According to Exodus 20:2-17 (not the only place that they appear in the Hebrew Bible):
1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
The 1st Commandment is the establishment of a particular religion in its purest form and un-American.
2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The first sentence 2nd Commandment, with its ban on making images of real things, while it survives in Islam to some extent, isn't actually honored in its literal form by ether Jews or Christians. The remainder, again, is the pure establishment of religious and un-American. Promising divine punishment for the great-great grandchildren of pagans (including most South Asians and some leading GOP politicians in Louisiana) isn't a great thing for Louisiana to enshrine in its schools.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
The 3rd Commandment is confusing to kids and adults. Is it a ban on false oaths, on false prophets, on saying YHWH outside of religious ceremonies, or on swearing? Do we want to put school teachers in the position of having to explain this fine point of theology to their students?
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The 4th Commandment divides Jews, Christians (and denominations within them), and Muslims, each of whom have different holy days, again in an un-American establishment of religion.
5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
The 5th Commandment isn't just about being nice to your parents. It also adopts Zionism, another un-American establishment of religion, which the children of Louisiana have no reason to be told is a divine mandate.
6. You shall not murder.
The 6th Commandment is often translated "thou shall not kill" which is a poor fit to Louisiana with its death penalty. Otherwise, the 6th and 8th Commandments just go to show that even a broken clock is right twice a day. And, of course, the Ten Commandments were literally broken in the Bible.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
The 7th Amendment isn't the law in Louisiana. Adultery is no longer a crime in 33 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the several U.S. territories. States which have decriminalized adultery in recent years include West Virginia (2010), Colorado (2013), New Hampshire (2014), Massachusetts (2018), and Utah (2019). Adultery is rarely enforced criminally in the 17 states that still do have adultery laws on the books. In 13 of the states where adultery is still a crime (Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia), it is a petty offense (the maximum punishment in Maryland is a $10 fine), or is a misdemeanor. It continues to be a felony in four states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and is punishable most severely among those states in Michigan who someone convicted of adultery faces up to four years in prison. It is a crime that is actively enforced for active duty members of the U.S. military under the U.S. Code of Military Justice. It is, of course, also an act which the presumptive GOP nominee, and more than one other form President have admitted to, and which is one that few school children have any reason to care about.
8. You shall not steal.

See the 6th Commandment. 

9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Does the 9th Commandment imply that it is O.K. to give false testimony against someone who is not your neighbor? If so, that is a problem and encourage clannish disregard for the law.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The 10th Commandment translated above as "male or female servant" would have been more accurately translated "male or female slave" which is outright un-American. We fought a war over that. It also implicitly categories wives as property.

More generally

A more subtle point about the Ten Commandments is that Jesus in the Gospels said that the Old Testament Hebrew laws don't apply to Christians who aren't Jews. By presenting the Ten Commandment as authoritative, the State of Louisiana is defying the Christian Gospels to which most residents of the State of Louisiana nominally adhere.

And, let's also say that the Hebrews of the Hebrew Bible, as portrayed in their own sacred account of themselves (probably compiles while in Babylonian exile or under Roman rule as an official statement of what their religion said for use by the non-Jewish governments that ruled them), are by 21st century moral and ethical standards, horrible, awful people.

Jewish law isn't just the Ten Commandments. It is also a deeply morally flawed list of other laws, call for absurdities like the death penalty for wearing wool-cotton blend fabrics or being left handed. And, the Jewish people repeatedly engage in genocide that they themselves account (see, e.g., the Book of Numbers).

There is very, very little about the Hebrew people as described in the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament) or their laws from that source that is good or honorable or provides a good moral model.

Fortunately, modern rabbinic Judaism has somehow managed to salvage decent messages from this horrible source material with doctrine and wordplay in the Talmud and other commentaries. Judaism at lived in the 21st century is quite decent and indeed better than most Christian denominations. But the Jews of the Hebrew Bible were closer to the worst strained of fundamentalist Muslims today than they are to modern rabbinic Jews.

25 June 2024

Uncontested Primaries

Colorado's non-Presidential primary elections are today. Many are uncontested

There were 242 potential primary races related to 121 elected offices. There are 205 uncontested primary races and 34 contested primary races (14% of the number of possible contested primaries).

In part, there are few primary contests because in Colorado, the caucus process narrows access to the primary ballot. One can petition onto the primary ballot, but only if one either doesn't utilize the caucus process or uses it and doesn't fair too poorly there.

In 4 of the contested primaries, no one is running in the other party so the general election winner will be decided today. There are 26 races with only one candidate running from both parties that have already been decided. Of course, there are far more races that have both Democratic and Republican candidates, but which one party or other other is almost sure to win in November, including both contested Democratic Party U.S. House primaries.

One race (the 14th District Attorney's race) has no one running in either major party.

There is also one U.S. House vacancy race, in CO-4, which is effectively a general election and has one candidate from each major party and two independents running. Greg Lopez, the Republican candidate, is almost sure to win that race for the remaining five months of the current term, but will not be running for re-election in the fall as he is not running in the GOP primary for that seat.

There are more details below the fold.

24 June 2024

The Ambivalence To Extremism Pipeline In Politically Polarized Contexts

Very counterintuitively, extreme political actions seem to be associated with people who start out ambivalent about issues in the context of high levels of polarization.
Political extremism varies across people and contexts, but which beliefs will a person support through extreme actions? 
We propose that ambivalent attitudes, despite reducing normative political actions like voting, increase support for extreme political actions. 
We demonstrate this hypothesized reversal using dozens of measures across six studies (N = 13,055). The effect was robust to relevant covariates and numerous methodological variations and was magnified when people’s attitudinal or ideological positions were more polarized. 
It appears to occur because being conflicted about political issues can feel psychologically uncomfortable, making extreme actions more appealing. Notably, this emerged when people thought ambivalence was justified, whereas leading them to consider ambivalence unjustified suppressed the effect, suggesting that ambivalent people are coping with but not necessarily trying to reduce their ambivalence. These results highlight the interplay of affective and cognitive influences in extreme behavior, showing that beliefs people feel justifiably conflicted about can promote extremism.
Joseph J. Siev and Richard E. Petty, "Ambivalent attitudes promote support for extreme political actions" 10(24) Science Advances (June 12, 2024) (open access). Hat tip to Guy in the comments.

19 June 2024


Juneteenth, celebrated today on June 19, is now a federal, state, and local holiday.

It memorializes the several days in 1865 when many slaves in the Confederacy were made aware from Union forces that they had been freed by Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Until then, that proclamation had been largely an empty promise.

This was a monumental and profoundly life changing event for almost every slave who received the news. But it is a complex memory, because it was also only one huge and critical step in the very long process that still isn't complete. It was an absolutely necessary step, but it wasn't a sufficient one to chance society enough to do justice to those who heard it by itself.

Reparations, in the popular imagination, forty acres and a mule, never materialized. Reconstruction was short lived, and was followed by about ninety years of lynchings, discrimination, and Jim Crow. Many freed slaves continued to do work similar to what they had done while they were slaves, but while migrating from one plantation to another as they saw fit, rather than being bound to a master. Their economic well being improved, but more incrementally than dramatically. Their path to education and business ownership and gaining the skills to be competitive in the economy was winding with one step back for every two steps forward.

A parity of legal rights on paper finally started to be achieved in the 1950s and 1960s, but it took decades longer for even those legal rights to be anywhere close to being fully realized. And, even then, having legal rights, and being able to use them in a way the secured the descendants of the freed slaves who heard the news in the Juneteenth days of 1865 something approaching parity in social and economic well being has taken longer than that. In 2024, we still aren't all of the way to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s promised land.

So, Juneteenth is an important day, but was not a moment of a singular victory whose benefits were reaped right away. It was a beginning and we haven't made it to the end yet.

Detecting Aircraft

The U.S., at least, is pretty good at developing anti-radar technology to help the stealth aspect of its aircraft. But this has limits, because there are other ways one can detect aircraft:

1. Visual spotting on the ground with a good communications network that can tell people where an aircraft is heading.

2. Visually identifying the aircraft with satellites or very high altitude aircraft. 

3. Locating the aircraft based upon the noise it makes. This could be automated, a bit like systems the identify the location of firearm discharges automatically by triangulating the source of the sound from multiple listening devices. One could have a whole national network of noise localizing devices tuned to detect aircraft.

4. Locating the aircraft based upon heat or other aspects of its jet emissions such as chemical signatures or contrails that it might leave.

5. Covertly monitoring takeoff locations and guessing at where the aircraft might be heading, taking into account its range and any fuel drop tanks it is carrying.

6. Getting spies or electronic bugs or using signals intelligence to learn from commanders or lower level personnel where the aircraft are headed and when.

7. Covertly planting tracking chips on aircraft, or personnel or cargo or bombs and missiles on the aircraft which are hard for the force using the aircraft to locate.

Frustrated With Biden

There are plenty of areas where President Biden is doing a perfectly adequate job as President and he's presiding over a strong economy, record low crime, and a period of relative peace as well as prosperity although there is always some national defense action brewing somewhere. But in some ways that are critical to him being re-elected, he can be very frustrating.

Some of the things that Biden does most poorly are using the bully pulpit, tooting his own horn, and letting the American people get to know him personally, which wasn't so important when he was a long time Senator from Delaware or a Vice President. 

When the State of the Union address comes around each year, about half of the really significant accomplishments are things I've never heard of and I follow current events very closely. 

He isn't a regularly presence in ordinary people's daily lives to the extent of most past Presidents. 

When he can't actually change something, he could hold a press conference and publicly air the frustrations he shares with the public over those issues. If he did, he'd end up on the front page of every website and newspaper in the country and get mentioned in every morning and evening news show without spending a dime of campaign money. But he wastes this opportunity again and again. 

If people were to see him regularly and one time in twenty times he made a little misstep, people would forgive him more than when they only hear about those missteps.

It isn't his natural style as a politician, and its hard to change how you play that political game after decades of success with another approach in different roles. But if he is going to win in November, he needs to recognize this problem and deal with it.

Military Quick Hits

* The assumption that a large scale amphibious assault in a hostile entry, like the D-Day invasion, remains an important capability of the U.S. military, is unfounded. There hasn't been a significant amphibious assault anywhere in the world since the Korean War in the 1950s. What country would the U.S. invade that way? China? North Korea? Russia? Iran? It is hard to come up with plausible scenarios to motivate the need for this capability.

* Republicans in Congress are pro-disinformation. The U.S. Defense Department shamefully spread anti-vax disinformation about Chinese vaccines during the COVID epidemic.

* The U.S. Air Force isn't sure if it will move forward on building a "Next Generation Air Dominance" warplane, basically a successor to the F-22 and F-35. There is speculation that this may be driven by dissatisfaction with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the only domestic defense contractors capable of building such a plan. Cost and viable alternatives are also factors:

Paying for this next-gen fighter, which is expected to cost about $300 million a pop, will be tough as the service expects to spend increasing amounts of money in the coming years on F-35s, the new B-21 Raider, and the next-gen Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile. And in addition to budget constraints, new technology developments and drones have the service rethinking the future of air dominance.

NGAD may be the only place the Air Force can take a reduction, said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, given all the other programs the Air Force needs to pay for, and the desire to grow its new collaborative combat aircraft program.

The service also may be rethinking its overall concept of operations to rely on B-21, CCAs, and stand-off weapons [i.e. long range missiles] rather than a traditional aircraft, Clark said. But given emerging technologies, it’s still unclear what air dominance is exactly going to look like in the future.

The collaborative combat aircraft program, sometimes called the "loyal wingman" program, is a drone aircraft that supports a manned jet fighter. 

* In the short run it looks like naval warfare between China and the Philippines is more likely than war between China and Taiwan.

Guns v. Knives

When law enforcement shoots someone armed with a firearm, there is rarely any question that using deadly force was reasonable. But when law enforcement shoots and kills a woman armed with a hunting knife, admittedly after TASERs failed, I doubt their competence.
Officers shot and killed a woman who was holding a large, hunting-style knife at an intersection in downtown Denver on Sunday, police said.

Officers used a Taser on the woman twice but she began advancing toward them as they tried to back up from her, Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said a news conference near the scene. Three officers fired at her, he said.

The shooting will be investigated and the results will be sent to prosecutors to decide if the shooting was lawful, he said.

“My belief is that the officers perceived a significant threat and responded to that threat,” Thomas said.

The shooting happened near Triangle Park at the intersection of Lawrence Street and Broadway. Thomas said a Denver Park Ranger was among the first to call and report the woman was in the intersection around 11:45 a.m. Sunday.
From the Colorado Sun.

18 June 2024

ChatGPT Is Bullshit

Unlike blockchains, artificial intelligence software has great potential. But it isn't quite ready for prime time yet. 

Recently, there has been considerable interest in large language models: machine learning systems which produce humanlike text and dialogue. Applications of these systems have been plagued by persistent inaccuracies in their output; these are often called “AI hallucinations”. We argue that these falsehoods, and the overall activity of large language models, is better understood as bullshit in the sense explored by Frankfurt (On Bullshit, Princeton, 2005): the models are in an important way indifferent to the truth of their outputs.

We distinguish two ways in which the models can be said to be bullshitters, and argue that they clearly meet at least one of these definitions. We further argue that describing AI misrepresentations as bullshit is both a more useful and more accurate way of predicting and discussing the behaviour of these systems.
Michael Townsen Hicks, James Humphries, & Joe Slater, "ChatGPT Is Bullshit", 26 Ethics & Information Technology Art. 38 (2024).

Extremes Meet

The MAGA right (I started calling it the "far right" but when it makes up maybe 30-40% of the voting public, how "far" is that?) is almost always absurdly wrong.

But part of the reason that what should be an easy Presidential race in 2024 is because the left can fall into some troubling traps:

* A congenital inability to acknowledge good news in the economy. If the stock market is doing well, who cares about the well being of rich stockholders? If wages are up, who cares because prices are high (even if wages are rising faster than inflation). If unemployment is low, there must be other measures of it that aren't as good. The economy is extremely healthy right now, and while indeed, there are inequalities in the American economy and we have lots of billionaires, this is still a good thing for everyone, even the "bottom 30%."

* The patently false assertion that there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Yes, at the national level, there is gridlock, and until that ends only bipartisan policies can be adopted. But there is a huge difference between the parties and is shows up in state policy, in regulations, in foreign policy, in appointments including judicial appointments, and in the budgets and legislative efforts that do get proposed. This nihilism plays into the hands of people who oppose everything that they believe in and are trying to make the world worse.

* The failure to recognize that Israel is not just a puppet whom the U.S. President controls. The U.S. has some influence over Israel as a long time and important ally that provides it with a variety of kinds of aid that have helped it prevent its utter annihilation at the hands of hostile regional neighbors. But it has its own internal politics that are firmly in control of its policies.

* Allowing the best to be the enemy of the good. The standard against change should be measured is whether it makes the status quo better, not whether it is perfect in a utopian sense. In a democracy with divided control, perfect is rarely an option.

* An unwillingness to recognize that the lesser of two evils is the best that any democracy can offer. I didn't support Biden in the primaries in 2020 and argued strenuously that he wasn't the best choice. He won that election by less than a percentage point in the marginal state, and we can't know how other candidates would have done. I strongly favored having Biden not run again and leave the democrats with an open race to choose someone new. That didn't happen either. But that doesn't mean that Biden isn't profoundly better than Trump. Biden isn't a felon. Biden doesn't lie every time he opens his mouth. Biden understands how the government and the world work. Biden isn't openly hateful. Biden isn't trying to speed up climate change. Biden isn't coddling the rich to nearly the same extent.

* The false belief that essentially all sources of reliable information are corrupt and can't be trusted.

Politics is the art of the possible. Too many on the left don't recognize that and don't recognize that they don't have the political support necessary to make their vision happen overnight.

There are also select policy issues where left wing sentiment is well-intentioned but misguided:

* Opposition to nuclear power. It is cleaner and safer the opponents realize and the waste disposal issues are political rather than technical in nature.

* Opposition to marriage by minors, even when those minors are already in a relationship with someone and have children with them. In countries where there is no divorce or where minors are pushed into relationships that are imposed upon them this is a real problem. But the U.S. has no-fault divorce, and marriage empowers wives, rather than weakening them, by giving them more rights.

* Opposition to corporations when the real concern is with some other economic reality that really has nothing to do with the corporate form.

* Support for local businesses and independent businesses, when often those businesses are sometimes less efficient, and meet people's needs less well.

* Support for local family farms, when our very way of life is made possible by long distance trade in food stuffs and agricultural products, and when small family farms are an order of magnitude or two less productive per acre than larger farms. These farms are also often highly polluting and less safe.

* Support for AMTRAK even though it is mostly a dinosaur that is getting in the way of progress and needs absurdly high subsidies on most of its routes because the quality of the service it provides is so poor.

* The false belief that standardized tests are more racially biased and social class biased than other forms of evaluating students seeking to go to college.

* Afro-centrists who believe that, historically, Egyptians and the Moors were mostly sub-Saharan African in appearance.

17 June 2024

Amtrak Ridership By Route

By comparison Greyhound served about 25 million passengers in 2023 and commercial airlines served about 369 million passengers.

13 June 2024

Where Is The U.S. Political Divide Closest?

The chart

The chart above shows the results of the 2020 Presidential election, with the Biden electoral vote, popular vote and percentage of the vote, followed by the Trump electoral vote, popular vote, and percentage of the vote, followed by the popular vote and percentage of the vote for three third-party candidates, followed by Biden's margin of victory in popular votes and percentage of the vote. Electoral vote units in red voted for Trump and electoral vote units in blue voted for Biden.

The chart is sorted by Biden's margin of victory as a percentage of the vote and includes every state where the margin is less than ± 20%.

The chart omits the following eleven red states and one red Congressional district which Trump won with a margin of 20% or more, in order from least to mosts safe: Utah, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Nebraska's 3rd Congressional District.

The chart omits the following eight blue states, one Congressional District, and the District of Columbia which Biden won with a margin of 20% or more, in order from least to mosts safe: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine's 1st Congressional District, New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.


The chart is useful both as a gauge of which states are likely to be close in a 2024 rematch with the same top of the ticket candidates, and as a gauge of just how Republican or Democratic leaning various states are.

On the red side of the chart, the closest states were (from closest to least close): North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Iowa.

On the blue side of the chart, the closest states were (from closest to least close): Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

In terms of the closeness of the vote without regard to the direction of the outcome, the closest states were (from closest to least close): Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Iowa.

Some other observations:

* Biden's campaign in 2024 needs to focus on holding states that he won in 2020. Biden won all four of the closest states, and six of the seven closest states. The battle ground states in 2024 will be Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, and Michigan, where the winner in 2020 had less than a 3 percentage point margin of victory. It is quite unlikely that any other states will flip in 2024 from the 2020 result in this rematch election. Biden could win in 2024 with Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan.

* Biden won 306 electoral votes in 2020 and needed 270 electoral votes to win. He could have still won without the 27 electoral votes of Georgia and Arizona. The marginal state was Wisconsin which Biden won by 0.63 percentage points. 

* The electoral college votes of the respective states will be a little different in 2024 due to the 2020 census results. Among states that Trump won in 2020, Texas gained two electoral votes, Florida, North Carolina, and Montana gained one, and Ohio and West Virginia each lost one, for a net gain of three electoral votes. Among states that Biden won in 2020, Colorado and Oregon each gained one electoral vote, while California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York each lost one, for a net loss of three electoral votes. These shifts wouldn't have changed the outcome in 2020, even if Biden had not won Georgia or Arizona.

* If Biden picks up any states that Trump won in 2024, his best shots are North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. North Carolina is a viable target. Florida would be hard but isn't outside the realm of possibility. But Texas would be a huge reach.

* Ohio and Iowa are lost causes for Biden. Trump has more than an 8 percentage point margin of victory in these states that not so long ago were "purple" swing states.

* Florida and Texas are much more evenly divided than you would expect from the stridently conservative policies of their state governments compared to states that are much more safely red states like Ohio and Iowa. Florida is, however, a lot less close in 2020, however, than it was, for example, in the race between Bush and Gore twenty years earlier, while Texas seems to be trending blue even though it has a way to go.

* Over the past four years, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, and Texas, have gained a significant number of new residents from blue states. But Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan may have seen net outflows of liberals to other states.

* In every state, four more years of young and disproportionately minority and non-Christian voters have been added to the electorate (albeit with low voter turnout), and four years of older, disproportionately white, and disproportionately Christian voters have died.

* The abortion issue is likely to improve Democratic turnout more than it will impact Republican turnout in almost every state.

* Almost every red state has made it harder to vote in 2024 than it was in 2020. This could be a particular issue in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. 

* Going into the 2020 election Biden was polling with abut 51% of the vote in head to head polling, with a 7-8 percentage point lead over Trump, and in the actual election he won about 51% of the vote with a 4.5% lead over Trump, with a very large share of undecided voters breaking for Trump in the end. Current polling, after Trump's criminal convictions, has Biden and Trump at about ± 1 percentage point from each other (or worse), with Biden gaining about 3-4 percentage points in head to head polling from Trump's criminal convictions. Currently, Biden is polling significantly less well than he was on the eve of the 2020 election.

* The electoral college is still biased against Biden. Biden needs to win by about 4 percentage points in the national popular vote to win in the electoral college. So Biden needs to improve his polling by about three percentage points (and by six or seven percentage points if undecided voters break as they did in 2020). In a 269-269 electoral vote tie, Biden would probably lose to Trump in a contingent election on a state by state basis in Congress (which would also deny the District of Columbia any say in the outcome).

* A complicating factor is that independent candidate Kennedy in the Presidential race is polling at about 9% in national polls. It is likely that many respondents favoring candidates in polls would actually vote for either Trump or Biden in an actual general election, but it isn't clear how those voters would break. The current national polling average per FiveThirtyEight is Trump 41%, Biden 40% and Kennedy 9% (with the balance supporting other candidates or undecided). Biden currently trails Trump in the state by state polling averages in all seven of the battleground states.

Other considerations:

* The economy is exceptionally strong and this may penetrate into voter consciousness by the time that the general election is held, even though it has had a surprising weak impact so far.

* Trump's New York State criminal convictions may have more of an electoral impact once he is sentences for his felony convictions in July. 

* Trump's other three pending criminal cases are unlikely to proceed to trial before the election. The U.S. Supreme Court has effectively delayed Trump's D.C. January 6 related trial until after the election even though the charges in that case are very likely to be reinstated. A Georgia appellate court has effectively put the Georgia election fraud cases on hold until after the election. The Trump appointed federal judge in the Miami confidential documents criminal case against Trump is stalling, although there is still some chance that it could go to trial before the election. 

* It is unclear what impact, if any, Hunter Biden's recent criminal convictions will have on the election.

* It is unclear what impact, if any, the Presidential debates will have on the election.

12 June 2024

Which Countries Are Most Technologically Advanced?

Which countries are most advanced technologically, or at least, more advanced than the U.S., in various areas?

Civilian technologies

Civil engineering

* Rapid construction of public works and high rise buildings: China
* Earthquake resistant construction: Japan
* Dikes and canals: Netherlands

Electronics, digital technology, and consumer products

* Software and Artificial Intelligence: U.S.
* Technologically advanced voting systems: Estonia 
* 5G cell phone networks: Finland
* Wi-Fi and broadband access: Lithuania and Finland
* Satellites (GPS, communications, Earth monitoring, and "telescopes"): U.S.
* Cashless consumer transactions: Sweden, Finland, China, South Korea, and the Netherlands
* Computer chip manufacturing and advance electronics design: Taiwan and Japan
* Cell phone design: U.S., Sweden, Japan
Toilets: Japan

Medical and biotechnology

* Trauma centers and stroke centers: U.S.
* Using drones to deliver medical care: Sweden (e.g. to deliver AEDs or drugs to medical emergency scenes)
* Public health, epidemiology, and health oriented population genetics research: All Scandinavian countries (including Iceland)
* Pharmaceutical development: U.S., Denmark (e.g. inventing Ozempic), Finland, Germany
* Ancient DNA analysis: Germany
* Animal Cloning: South Korea
* Cannabis horticulture and processing: U.S.


* Fracking: U.S.
* Geothermal energy: Iceland
* Tidal energy generation: South Korea, France, and the U.K.
* Co-generation (efficiently using waste heat from power plants): Germany
* Nuclear power and nuclear fuel reprocessing: France


Commercial aircraft manufacturing: Europe (Airbus) and U.S.
* Civilian supersonic aircraft: U.S.
* Electric car batteries: Japan and the U.S.
* Electric car adoption: In order by market share: Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, and China.
* High Speed Trains: Japan, France, and China
* Ferries: U.K. and Australia
* Airport Security Technology: U.K.
* Ice breaker ships and civilian nuclear ships: Russia

Pure Science

* Particle Accelerators: Switzerland. The U.S. and China are in second place.
Moon exploration: China
* Mars and other solar system exploration: U.S.
* Space telescopes: U.S.
* Graduate science and engineering education: U.S.

Military technologies


* Diesel-electric submarines and air independent propulsion: Sweden
* Military nuclear submarines: U.S.
* Anti-submarine warfare: U.S.
* Aircraft carriers: U.S.
Amphibious assault ships: U.S. and China
* Missile boats: China, with Iran also leading the U.S. in this area
* Torpedos: Russia, China, and U.S.
* Littoral patrol warcraft: Sweden and U.S.

Air Forces

* Military carrier based aircraft: U.S.
* Maritime patrol aircraft: U.S.
* Warplanes (including stealth): U.S.
* Military helicopters: U.S. followed closely by Russia
* Military transport planes: Europe (Airbus) followed closely by the U.S.
* Guided aircraft launched bombs: U.S.
Military aerial drone production: U.S., followed by Turkey and Iran

Missiles and strategic weapons and counter-missile systems

* Tactical nuclear weapons: Russia
* Active defense systems to missiles and rockets: Israel and U.S.
* Localized active defenses (e.g. against artillery and anti-tank missiles): Israel
* Anti-aircraft missiles: Russia, U.S., Israel
Artillery missiles and long range artillery rounds: U.S.
Anti-tank missiles: U.S. and Germany
Hypersonic missiles: China

Ground military systems and small arms

* Tanks: Israel and Germany, followed by U.S. and Russia.
* Recoilless rifles: Sweden
* Mortars: Finland
* Small arms (e.g. machine guns): U.S. and Israel
Mine resistant armored vehicles: South Africa and U.S.
* Sniper and gunshot location: U.S.
* See though wall and around corners tech: Israel

Other Military Technology

Military field medicine: U.S.
Electronic intelligence and cryptography: U.S.  

10 June 2024

U.S. Navy Cruisers v. Destroyers v. Frigates

Historically, cruisers were specialized to conduct anti-aircraft roles and destroyers were specialized to conduct anti-submarine roles, but both the Ticonderoga-class cruisers and the Arleigh Burke class destroyers are now multi-purpose surface combatants that conduct both anti-aircraft and anti-submarine roles, in addition to being used against surface warships, missiles, and targets on land. The distinction between the two classes of surface combatants has basically ended.

This historical role of frigates has varied over time and now refers to a smaller surface combatant that is still suitable for anti-warship and blue sea navy roles, in contrast to a cutter, which is generally used in U.S. service by the coast guard in roles other than engaging conventional naval forces.

The U.S. Navy is phasing out remaining 13 Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers (a class which entered service in 1983) by September 30, 2027. Fourteen cruisers of this class have already been decommissioned. 

This is pretty much uncontroversial, because the 9,600 ton Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers are basically an older versions of the U.S. Navy's 8,300 to 9,700 ton Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers (a class which entered service in 1991), which it has 73 of, with more ordered. The Ticonderoga-class cruisers provide no significant capabilities not found in currently serving U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyers. 

All of the Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are still in service have the Vertical Launch Missile system (122 cells in cruisers v. 96 in destroyers) as their primary weapon, 5" naval guns (2 in cruisers, 1 in destroyers), two torpedo tubes, two 25mm machine guns, the Aegis suite of sensors and weapons control systems, two defensive Phalanx Close In Weapons Systems (just one in later versions of the destroyer), and can carry two helicopters, all of which they share with the Arleigh Burke class destroyers. The Ticonderoga-class have addition 0.50 caliber machine guns and 8 Harpoon missiles. The destroyer has a laser dazzler and in some recent ones an offensive laser. They have similar speeds, although the cruiser has an almost 50% longer range at low cruising speeds. The cruiser has a crew of 330 and the destroyer has a crew of 323. The destroyer carries two small boats, mostly for boarding missions.

Only  three 15,656 ton Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers entered service (starting in 2016) and only two are in active service (twenty-nine planned ships in the class were canceled). The class was built around a major railgun weapon, or in lieu of that a 155mm advanced gun system, neither of which was ever built due to technical obstacles. It has a a crew of 175, a similar speed to other naval surface combatants, a helicopter and three helicopter drones, and two 30 mm cannons, which is less offensive and active defensive power than an Arleigh Burke despite its greater size. As a result, its role is undetermined. Mostly it is being kept around as a potential test bed for substitutes for its main gun of an undetermined type.

The other major U.S. Naval Combatants are frigates. The U.S. Navy has two kinds of them, the Littoral Combat Ship (in two designs, the 3,500 ton Freedom-class monohull design first commissioned in 2008 with 8 in service and 3 under construction, and the 3,422 ton Independence-class trimaran design first commissioned in 2010 with 15 in service and 2 under construction) which is being phased out early with seven already retired and no more planned beyond those already under construction, for the most part because the Navy does not feel that it has met its needs and because there have been some serious design defects. The U.S. Navy has also ordered the 7,291 ton Constellation-class guided missile frigate which is on order and is based upon a French design and projected to enter U.S. Navy service in 2029.

All older classes of cruisers and destroyers and frigates have been retired from active service in the U.S. Navy. The U.S. had already completely phased out the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates from its surface combatant fleet in 2015.

Several new classes of cruisers and destroyers have been proposed, but none have entered production. For example, the CG(X) program to replace the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers was abandoned in 2010 on the grounds that it was duplicative of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers:
The CG(X) program was announced on 1 November 2001. An initial requirement for 18 CG(X) was raised to 19 under the plan for a 313-ship Navy in 2005.

A reassessment in 2007 suggested splitting the CG(X) into two classes, fourteen Zumwalt-sized "escort cruisers" and five 23,000 ton ballistic missile defense ships. There was political pressure for some or all of these ships to be nuclear powered.

The fiscal year (FY)2009 budget called for procurement of the first CG(X) in 2011, and the second in 2013. On 1 February 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his proposed budget for FY2011. This budget called for, among other things, canceling the entire CG(X) program.

The program was cancelled in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The CG(X)'s mission will instead be performed by DDG-51 Flight III destroyers, after the U.S. Navy concluded that the ships could rely on off-board and space-based sensors and so did not need a radar bigger than the DDG could carry.

The ongoing DDG(X) program is looking for a post-Zumwalt replacement for the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer. It optimistically targets a 2032 date to have the first member of this class built. Concepts for the DDG(X) imagine a hull and size and level of automation similar to the Zumwalt, and similar offensive and defensive weapons suites and a powerful laser weapon to use as an active defense system. But no specific design has been developed. The ability to reload the Vertical Launch system at sea is another capability that is currently being discussed as urgent for new ships and as a retrofit for older ships with these missiles.

Littoral combat ships can be specialized with modules, some of which are just beginning to enter service, for light surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, naval mine countermeasures, light amphibious warfare unit support, and anti-smuggling roles. But none of these missions has been very successful or received a warm reception from the Navy. Instead, the U.S. Navy has largely abandoned the idea of having specialized surface warships (apart from aircraft carriers, amphibious transports for Marine units, and hospital ships). The U.S. Navy has also largely abandoned the mission of having ships well equipped to provide fire support for Marines or other troops in coastal operations (a role that the Zumwalt class has been supposed to fill).

The U.S. Navy is not even actively developing a modern counterpart to the battleship, a large, heavy surface warship with as many naval guns that are as heavy as possible as it could manage, and heavy hull armor. Battleships haven't been used in warfare since 1991, when they provided naval support fire for troops in the Gulf War, and left U.S. Navy service in 2010. There are no battleships in service anywhere in the world, although Russia's one solitary Kirov class battle cruiser comes close (Russia also has two somewhat smaller cruisers  and one Kirov class ship in the dockyard being refurbished).

Indeed, only a small number of world navies have any ships above the frigate class.

For example, only a few ships are viewed as cruisers today except by the U.S., which is decommissioning them, and the Russian Navy, which has three in active service. The Italian Navy has an aircraft carrier that it calls a cruiser and while "the Type 055 of the Chinese Navy is classified as a cruiser by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Chinese consider it a guided-missile destroyer."