Exponential Decay Curve Revisited – Trump Tweet Effectiveness Over Time

It’s a puzzlement. How is it that the same set of facts can be perceived in diametrically opposite ways? How is it that some folks can see the Mueller investigation laid out credible allegations of behavior by the President and his administration that not only skirted the law, but often trampled it in the dirt? At the same time, other folks believe that since no indictments are proceeding directly from the investigation, it represents a total and complete exoneration of all of the behavior seen from this administration?

Meanwhile, the behavior of the tweeter in chief has not significantly changed from the behavior seen during the campaign and in the transition period leading up to his inauguration. One of the first posts in my blog was on the exponential decay curve, and how it applied to the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets. I am reprinting it in this post, as this one post keeps getting people reading it long after I posted it in March 2017. I am bringing it up again because we are seeing evidence that the decay curve for the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets is performing as predicted. I just thought that the rate of decay would be much greater than it has been. But recent publications have shown that indeed, the effectiveness of Trump’s tweets has decreased in a manner very similar to the exponential decay curve in my post. See this post on Axios from May 26 of this year:


Here is the chart that the post references. It shows the percentage of those who retweet or like a particular tweet as a percentage of his followers. Note how closely the graph follows the exponential decay curve shown in the original post.

Trump tweet effectiveness

Assuming that retweets and likes are reflective of the effectiveness of his posts is a verifiable measure of the impact that any individual tweet has. Sometimes it is good to see that a prediction you make is coming true, even though we have all had to suffer a great deal in the intervening period. The one correction I would make is that it seems like the half life of a Trump tweet is about 14 months, not the 2 months I originally predicted. I was too optimistic at the start of this administration.


The following post was put up on March 28, 2017. You can link directly to it here:

Exponential Decay Curve in Politics

Today’s topic concerns exponential decay curves. This is what happens when “something” declines over time. A classic exponential decay curve is shown here:



Exponential decay curves are often found in nature. The classic one that is taught in classrooms concerns radioactive decay. For a given radioactive isotope of an element, the half-life of the isotope determines the shape of its decay curve. A half-life is defined as the amount of time for 1/2 of the radioactive decay for an isotope to have occurred. This can vary among isotopes from fractions of a second, up to 4 billion years in the case of Uranium 238. Half-lives are very important when calculating the potential radiation exposure to a radioactive isotope. Isotopes like Cobalt 60 are powerful radiation sources that are used industrially to examine welds and metals for defects. They provide plentiful gamma rays since the half life of this isotope is only 5.3 years. That is why there is concern about the use of this isotope in a dirty bomb, since the radiation from an explosive dispersal of Cobalt 60 would cause significant exposure to high powered gamma radiation.

Exponential decay curves may be found in other natural and also artificial systems. A new example of an artificial system that appears to be following an exponential decay curve is the Presidential tweet. The response to a Presidential tweet appears to be following a typical decay curve function. It is too early to get an accurate measurement of the half-life of tweet effectiveness, but a preliminary estimate is that the half-life of the response to a Presidential tweet is about two months.

Since this system of Presidential tweets is an artificial system (one not normally found in nature), it is uncertain as to what the response of the originator of the Presidential tweets will be to an ongoing decrease in tweet effectiveness. Most observers believe that the originator will greatly increase both the frequency and objects of tweets so as to continue to receive a total response to the tweets that approximates the effect of the first tweets.

However, it is nearly certain that since the effectiveness of any individual tweet will continue to decline, eventually the response to all Presidential tweeting may approach zero. There is a school of thought though, that maintains the belief that we may begin to see an inverse function develop for the tweet response. That is, instead of receiving a positive response to tweets, each subsequent tweet may result in a negative response. It is possible that the magnitude of the negative response may increase with additional tweets, so that Newton’s third law may be given a test in the political arena. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Observers of politics will be watching this process with rapt attention.


Human Induced Extinctions


This is the sixth in a series of seven posts regarding the threats I see facing humanity. This threat is human-induced extinctions. Scientists have determined that we live in a new geologic era, described as the Anthropocene, where human activity is the predominant factor in describing how the Earth is behaving. It is reflected in the erosion that comes from agricultural practices, creating new river deltas much faster than in previous times. It is reflected in the effect of industrial and civilian gas emissions, which affect the composition of the atmosphere. It is reflected in the crowding out of wildlife due to the incursion of human activities into locations where wildlife has existed for millions of years.

Perhaps there is no place where the effects of humanity has been so pronounced as in the ocean depths. There we have found the ultimate repository of the plastic we use so gratuitously, single use plastic that finds its way into the ocean waters. Stories abound about the wildlife found to be starving to death, because inert plastic has filled the stomach and gut of an animal. It literally feels full, since the stomach is full, but will not take in new nutrients since there is no urge to fill the stomach. That is one form of human incursion into the oceans. Another is the cruel and indiscriminate fishing practices that go on throughout the oceans. Huge dragnets haul all creatures up and then the catch is sorted once it reaches the surface and is dying. Much is either discarded or kept as junk fish, good only to be ground up as food for other fishes, or for pet food. Some is from species we identify with as being intelligent, like dolphins. I remember the TV show Flipper, which anthropomorphized a dolphin beyond recognition. But it is undoubtedly true that dolphins are intelligent, and capable of compassion, since the stories of dolphins assisting humans to survive are common.

The worst fishing practices are those that drag the bottom of the ocean. Those vessels disturb all of the creatures colonizing the ocean floor. Very few of these species are considered as human food, yet those that are (like flounder) are highly prized. The ocean floor will not recover for hundreds of years, yet the fleets of fishing ships keep trawling continually.

Oceans are one thing, but no human has their natural habitat under the sea. The problems of species extinction exist for each class of plant and animal. Though it is extremely difficult to quantify (how do you prove a negative?), the rate of species extinction is estimated at between 10 to 100 times greater than the rate of extinction normally present on Earth without an external cause. And anecdotal evidence is that insect populations are being affected extensively. Journals such as Science in 2017 published a story titled Where Have All The Insects Gone? The article noted that scholarly research on insect populations is scarce, but that in certain long-term studies of populations, the number of insects found in fields has been reduced by over 80%. The study referred to the “windshield effect,” noting that many people have seen fewer insect / windshield collisions over the years. The damage to bee populations has been severe, with the colony collapse disorder causing massive losses to bee populations. A cause for the reduction has not been definitively named, but the class of insecticides known as Neonicotinoids is, as the police would say, “a chemical of interest”. These chemicals were originally marketed as reducing the need to spray more toxic organophosphates and organochlorine insecticides. They often are used to coat the seeds, and when the plant sprouts, the insecticide is absorbed into the plant where it provides defense. But since it permeates the entire plant, it is expressed in the pollen as well. That is how it appears to affect pollinator populations. Since honeybees are used in commerce, the losses in honeybees was noted first. But concern exists for all other pollinator species.

Much has been written about the intrusion of humanity’s effects on tropical forests. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than when a road is cut through virgin forests. Once a road is available, it is soon followed by those who exploit the opening. Forestry now tackles the old-growth trees, reducing stable ecosystems into a maze of forest edges. Species that once had free range across a canopy now find themselves having to traverse new agricultural lands to get to the next patch of undisturbed forest. And when populations of people begin to live in these newly opened lands, a market in bush meat is created. The Amazon is ground zero to display the effects of roads and subsequent land disturbance. Take a quick trip on Google Earth to the Amazon, and note that wherever you see a road, you will also see the encroachment of cleared land and settlements.

We as humans do not always understand the impact of our actions. We do not know what will happen when insect A is eliminated from a portion of its normal range. What other species used insect A as a food source? What insects or plants did insect A help keep in control? Will we see a reduction in birds due to the lack of insect A? Humans, being emotional animals, are much more capable of generating sympathy for the large, photogenic animals that are endangered. But the smallest insect may have as much impact or more on the ecosystem as a large furry mammal.

We as a civilization do not yet seem concerned by the loss of species we are seeing. Even in countries where an effort has been made to reduce the loss of species, a change in the government can reverse decades of efforts almost overnight. In the US, there is no mistaking the intent of the Trump administration to roll back the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. There is a strong belief that laws and regulations limiting the ability of a property owner to develop property as they see fit, represent an unconstitutional taking of the owner’s property right. Since insects or birds or other animals cannot hire a lawyer to defend their right to life, it falls to environmental groups to challenge regulatory repeal. Still, the attitude of the administration towards science-based evidence remains clear. Science and scientists are viewed with disdain, and they are clearly leftist in their politics since they so often stand against the rights of those with property.

What can science do to deal with these problems? It would seem that an effort to develop new pesticides that do not have such systemic effects is required. These efforts are proceeding within the large agrichemical companies, but it takes years and sometimes decades before a novel chemical class is commercialized and finds its place in the marketplace. It appears that legislative action across the world may be needed to ban certain classes of chemicals shown to cause excessive harm. The role of scientists would seem to also include quantifying the loss of species, and doing research to show what happens when one thread of the web of life is pulled out.

Maybe the best use of scientists would be to increase their role in educating the public as to the risks we are running by conducting our current experiment of causing the extinction of so many species. In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, humanity was given stewardship over the creatures of the Earth. If nothing else, we have been proven to be bad stewards.



Blooms In The Midst Of Despair


I’ve been at a loss for words lately. Even though spring burst onto the scene, and new life is everywhere, when it comes to humanity, the news all seems bad. The amateurs leading the US government seem intent on single-handedly overturning 75 years of alliances, all in the name of having our allies pay their fair share. Agreements aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear arms construction are arbitrarily abrogated, and we seem to be poking at the hornet’s nest that is Iran with a stick in order to engender conflict. Meanwhile, on a peninsula far, far away, the object of a love affair with the US President is acting like a spurned lover, and casting missiles into the ocean between the peninsula and Japan. The Russians ponder how best to bend the pliable public opinion in the US to their benefit in the next election, while this President disdains any notion that his election was in any way due to the overt and covert actions from Russia in the past.

It is clear that the Republicans in the Congress are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, having been co-opted by the entity who took the Republican party hostage in 2016. Thus they are willing participants in the ongoing struggle to avoid any legitimate oversight of the actions of this administration. Meanwhile, having become emboldened by the departure of more mature members of the administration, and by a superficial reading of the report brought forth by Robert Mueller, this administration becomes intransigent and refuses any and all requests for Congressional testimony or submission of documents. They laugh at any requests for cooperation in the multitudes of investigations brought on by this President. Aided by the Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, they continually chant their mantras of no collusion, no conspiracy, even though if they actually read the Mueller report they would learn that is not his conclusion. When Mueller cited his conclusion that the Department of Justice’s own precedent would not allow him to call for indictment, they took that as a declaration of exoneration and have continued to scream that into the ether. And the gullible fools who follow this pitiful President, lap up the curdled milk offered them by the smirking members of this administration.

Meanwhile, the opposition to Trump in the Democratic sphere is teeming with those who are crawling over themselves in order to reach the brass ring on their carousel. In order to gain even momentary ascension in the media spotlight, they exhibit their brazen narcissism as new candidates continue to emerge into the race. They make statements of economic incomprehensibility in order to appeal to even a small fraction of the electorate. And why so many? Of course, it is because they are the chosen, and only they can solve our problems. Kind of similar to the statements of the current occupant of the office, who was convinced that he alone could solve things. They run the risk of causing the electoral discussion to veer so far left that the enormous advantage the Democrats hold in opposing this unpopular President will be abandoned as they scare the middle into clinging to what has now become familiar.

If you look for succor elsewhere in the world, you will find none. The war in Yemen, a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, continues unabated, and has ushered in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into permanent residency at the tip of the Arabian peninsula. Aided and abetted by the US, where in the first act of guts in decades by the Congress, they passed a measure to cease support for Saudi Arabia, only to have it vetoed by the President in his continual attempt to punish Iran. Turkey is continuing its slide into dictatorship as Erdogan forces a do-over of the Istanbul mayoral election. France is hamstrung by yellow vest protestors who turn every weekend in Paris into an obstacle course. And Britain is evenly split between those who wish to force exit from Europe, and those who wish to maintain ties, and as a result, the politics there have caused complete government breakdown.

Meanwhile, reports come out showing that humanity is thrusting an eighth of the species of life into peril of extinction. Glaciers continue their steady retreat, threatening the water supplies of hundreds of millions of people. Shrinkage of Arctic ice opens up a new realm for human exploitation, and all our fetid Secretary of State can say is “New ways to make money!” An administration that actively rebuts scientific evidence is insistent upon eating our supply of seed corn as it slashes funds for research for our future. And the budget deficits keep growing as far as the eyes can see as adherents to the failed, flawed economic theories of the supply-siders once more prove their complete divorcement from reality.

You’d think that with all of this surfeit of bad news, I’d be ready to throw in the towel. Strange thing, though, I can still feel hopefulness. I can be hopeful that this nation will awaken from its strange hypnotic trance induced by our con man in chief. I can be hopeful that corporate executives will be found guilty of fomenting addiction through their marketing strategies, and that the tsunami of human casualties from opioids and heroin will recede in our region. I can be hopeful that the seeds of spring turn into the salads and vegetables of summer. I can be hopeful that the trees we planted last year will grow strong enough for us to remove the deer shields around them. And I can hope that those of us who believe in common sense, rationality, and the rule of law will prevail in this country.

Soon, please!

If You Can’t Beat the Swamp, Join the Swamp


The spring sun warmed me as I sat on a park bench along the tidal basin. Too early for the cherry blossoms, when these environs would become overrun with thousands of rubberneckers admiring the gift of the Japanese in a simpler age. I wondered if my friend Slimey would make an appearance, but so far he had not showed himself, and I was about to leave myself.

Before I could get up, though, a tall gentleman in an expensive suit stood before me and stopped. It was obvious that the suit had to be extensively altered to allow the huge tail purchase to stick out through the back of the pants. “Slimey” I said, as I leapt to my feet to greet my friend.

“Well met,” he said as he lurched over to sit on the end of the bench. “How do you like my new attire?” he asked.

Frankly, I was amazed. Having grown used to exchanging pleasantries with an 8-foot tall naked reptile did not make me immune from the surprise now at seeing him clothed, in a Saville Row suit. I managed to say, “You look ….. amazing. But why? And how?”

Slimey did not answer right away, but instead reached into his briefcase, where he extracted a fish filet wrapped in plastic. He shredded the plastic with a dainty swipe of his claw, then took in the tilapia whole. Licking his lips, he said “Those are so much better than the ones I used to find out there.” He extended his claw towards the basin which was still and reflected the Jefferson Memorial across the water. Smiley continued. “I finally decided that this was my one chance to better myself. With this administration, if I couldn’t fit in now, I never would. So I took a chance and submitted a resume, and, well, you can see the rest.”

“But who? Who hired you? Where are you working?” I was still taken aback by the image of my friend who had invaded my above-water world.

“What was it they said in that old movie? Follow the money? Well, I did. I’m working for a lobbying firm.”

I just had to let out a laugh. I felt comfortable enough around Smiley that I didn’t fear his razor-sharp claws. Sure enough, he joined in rather than taking offense. “I just have to ask” I said. “What did you put in your resume to make them hire you?”

Slimey seemed to actually smile as he went into his briefcase again. He pulled out a single piece of paper that he handed over to me. I began to read:

“Single cold-blooded reptile accustomed to mucking about in the mud and mire of the Tidal Basin. Experienced in mud-slinging and dragging my opponents through the mud. Native born. Willing to get dirty as needed to get the job done.” That was it. No educational references, no work experience. It was as close to a perfect resume as I had ever seen for the K Street crowd.

I said, “I can see why they would hire you based upon your credentials.

“True that,” Slimey said as he picked at some morsel caught in his teeth with a sharpened claw. “But now that I’m on the inside, I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, I thought I was one cold-blooded monster. I found out they’ve got me beat six ways to Sunday. I have never seen such willingness to toss over a friend if someone else offers to pay more.” Slimey stretched his arms in his grey suit. It was as if a field of flannel had taken flight as it moved past my field of view.

“What sort of jobs does your firm do?” I asked.

Slimey tossed back his head for a minute, then lowered it and answered. “Right now, I’m involved in trying to deregulate the entire meat industry. We believe it is only right for the meat producers to be the sole judge and jury as to whether their product is wholesome and fit for consumption.”

Wow! Not only had he adopted the attire of K Street, he had internalized the arguments so that he now could recite the company line verbatim. I had to respond. “Don’t you think there is any role for government oversight over such operations? I mean, isn’t history replete with examples of meat packers who skirted the rules and caused all sorts of illnesses? And aren’t the meat packers the biggest sources of worker injuries?”

Slimey was ready for me. “This is where I am so perfectly placed to serve my clients. You see, I can take the worst of their slop that comes out of their plants. It can have salmonella, it can have listeria, it does not matter. I can eat that stuff raw and clearly demonstrate that there is no adverse impact to consume their product. Actually, it tastes a lot better once it is sitting out in the hot sun for a few hours.”

He paused for a moment. “It is true that there are a lot of worker injuries in the field. And you might have noticed that these plants seem to attract a lot of alien workers. Well, my clients are working on ways to reduce both of these problems.”

Slimey reached into his briefcase for a heavily-laminated sheet. Before he showed it to me, he swore me to secrecy. “You must not reveal what I’m about to show you. You could take this information and make a bet on the stock market and make a fortune. It’s that good.”

“All right, I swear that I will not reveal this to anyone. I don’t have enough money to even make a bet on Wall Street anyway.” I used my finger to cross my heart.

Slimey turned the sheet over, and I saw the meat packing plant of the near future. At the front was a robot that killed the animal entering the facility by slicing off its head with a laser. The decapitated corpse tumbled onto the line, where another robot hoisted it up and hung it on a hook, dripping blood onto the floor. From that point on, pictures revealed a totally automated process, where what came in was a living being, and what left was packaged meat products, along with various offal offerings for non-human consumption. Plus a lot of skin ready to turn into leather. I was truly impressed.

Slimey was watching my reaction closely. Finally he asked, “What do you think? You get rid of the people, you get rid of the problems.”

I realized where this discussion was heading, and even though I felt uncomfortable asking, I had to. “What’s to prevent this type of facility to be used against people?”

Slimey paused for a moment, apparently intent on a piece of tilapia caught back in one of his molars. Then he turned his ponderous girth towards me, and smiled that reptilian grin that showed no true emotion. “You can’t fight progress,” he said.

I sat there, dumbfounded. My friend was now part of the deep state whose true purpose was to lead to the depopulation of the entire world. But, being the pragmatist I am, I said to Slimey, “If I were to make a wager on the future I’ve seen, how would I make that bet?”

Slimey slowly blinked one eye, slipped me a business card, and left.


The Dichotomy

protest     helmet

There is a huge dichotomy in the US population. It has afflicted this nation for over 70 years, once it emerged onto the cultural stage. The birth pangs of the split were heard in the sounds of bebop jazz in the smoky clubs of the big cities after WWII. It was the antithesis to the charted arrangements of Big Band Jazz so beloved by true Americans. Bebop jazz begat Beat poetry and the Beatniks who emerged out of the some of the same underground urban cafes and bars in the 1950’s. Both movements represented an expression of discontent against a stultifying culture crushing all non-conformity after the end of the great war.

Against the tiny fragment of the counterculture was the mass of American culture. Since the shared experience of WWII, a mythological vision of a sacred crusade was created, and was shared by the visual media. Movies reinforced this image, with the heroic sacrifices undertaken by American soldiers eventually overwhelming the powers of evil across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The new medium of television though, was the true glue of American culture, delivering the images evoking an era of American greatness. No societal problems emerged in the pristine suburban images of the white American family as they navigated through existential crises, such as how to recover from a burnt roast when the husband was about to bring home the boss for dinner. Teenage angst was a prime theme.

At the end of the 1950’s, network television deigned to acknowledge the existence of the counterculture. The first beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebs, appeared with his bongos and love of bebop jazz. That he was portrayed as an object of ridicule was deliberate, since the majority of the audience couldn’t identify with someone who didn’t love Lawrence Welk as the epitome of popular music.

Simmering underneath the smooth surface of American culture, several trends ensured that America would never again be as homogenous. The huge bulge of demographics referred to as the baby boom took center stage. It brought overt licentiousness, made possible by the miracle of birth control. Finally youthful sexual energy could be exercised without the consequences of unintended pregnancy, and the shame that brought upon a respectable family. Meanwhile, an entire segment of society had reached their breaking point, and exerted their communal will in an attempt to escape from the cage of Jim Crow and its codes, both written and unwritten. And finally, there was the long trudge through the jungles of Viet Nam, where thousands died fighting against a shadowy enemy that never had the guts to take on our boys in a fair fight. The toll taken by this prolonged slaughter unleashed the children of the ’50’s to become the radicals of the ’60’s.

By the late 1960’s, the split was spreading across society. On one side, there were those who were convinced that any dissent and protest against the social order was unpatriotic. They supported the government whole-heartedly, and jeered the long-haired hippies whenever they came into contact with them. The election of 1968 showed the split, where the Republican victor identified with the hard hat segment of the electorate. The Democrats were destined to wear the mantle of disorder sown in the streets of Chicago during their convention. The sides were now established, and the barriers between the sides became more rigid over the years.

Since the split emerged in the1960’s, technology has aided and abetted its existence. The computer revolution enabled communication platforms to sprout prolifically. In particular, one segment of the political spectrum glommed onto the older technology of radio. With the decline in music listening on AM radio stations due to FM and new personal music devices, AM radio stations became the platforms for talk shows. A critical mass of listeners and participants found common ground, as they decried the immorality of society and the evil nature of government as it enforced its unpopular dictates. Soon the descendants of the hard hats of the 1960’s found they were able to influence the Republican party, and formed a merger between the two groups. Since the traditional affiliation of Republicans with the capitalist class could not command a majority at the legislative level, the Republican party welcomed these cultural warriors into their ranks. They could not foresee the day when the cultural conservatives would seize control.

Traditional alliances among the parties splintered and shattered over the decades. With the identification of Democrats with civil rights, the southern electorate split away from that party. Instead of yellow dog Democrats, the solid Republican south emerged, forming the base from which electoral raids would be launched over the following decades. More and more, the Democratic party was identified as the party of the inner city, and it was content to let that association develop as long as they could maintain legislative control.

But thanks to the superior organizing capability of the Republicans, the solid ground of the Democratic majority in Congress and in state legislatures was turning swampy. The Republicans realized in the long game, it was organization at the state and local levels that would eventually result in transforming this nation into one where territory held mattered more than even votes did. When Republican legislatures emerged, they used the power of redistricting to ensure their ability to shape Congressional districts into fiefdoms of generational power. The long game paid off after the 2010 census, when the new district lines ensured that the emergent Tea Party could hold onto their seats and effect real change.

When an amoral pretender to the throne actually achieved electoral success in 2016, and was duly elected as President, the jacquerie was complete. Through his understanding of the resentments built up since the 1960’s against the government, and those elitists running the economy and institutions, he was able to manipulate resentment into a winning strategy. That he had no intention of fulfilling many of his promises was not important to those who voted for him. They wished mainly to stick their thumb into the eye of the establishment.

Now we are heading swiftly into the next Presidential election cycle. On the Republican side, the takeover of the party by the adherents of Trump appears complete. He has been successful in demanding strict loyalty to this point. But, the elections of 2018, and the ill-fated shutdown, have seemed to slightly weaken the bonds binding legislators to Trump. Cracks are showing in the edifice. Whether facts presented in upcoming committee hearings, or in the long-anticipated Mueller report will pry more Republican legislators from the boa’s embrace is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are wandering in the electoral wilderness, with new prophets springing up on almost every street corner, each one believing they alone have the recipe and the baking skills to succeed. Succeed in standing first among their party, then succeed in the office they believed was stolen from them in 2016. Fond dreams are enunciated, and with each new declaration, the Republicans are using their focus group-derived counterpunches. Impeachment and socialism are decreed to be the only concerns that Democrats have. It is more important to discredit the messengers than it is to debate on the merits. Still, given the fragmented and transitory attention span of the American electorate, this strategy may well prove successful.

That a President whose approval has hovered between 35% and 45% for his entire term so far could even conceivably win reelection is difficult to believe. Even with his abundant failures of policy to date, and his lack of leadership at enacting legislation, and his moral deficiencies, if the Democrats allow themselves to be identified by the memes created by the Republicans, the Democrats may once more pull defeat from the jaws of victory.


A Tsunami of Justice


So we had the first wave of the tsunami overwhelming the Trump administration this past week. The waters are now receding, flowing back out over the wreckage of denials and those who sacrificed their reputations to try to tear down the reputation of Cohen. Soon will come the next set of waves, breaking over the damaged golf turf near the sea, then plowing further inland over previously undisturbed tales of innocence. Whether due to hubris, or due to ignorance of the effects of physical phenomena, it is now apparent that the Trump administration will be overwashed with ongoing disclosures of deceit, debt manipulations, and decay of institutional norms.

What did we learn last week? Not much in the way of new facts. We learned we had a person at the heart of the Trump organization who acknowledged much of what had become common knowledge about the Trump family, but this information was not explosive. What we did learn is what strategy the Republicans will use to discredit the testimony of those opposed to Trump. And that was revelatory. Apparently schoolyard taunts are considered to be the best form of criticism against a Trump opponent. Liar, liar, pants on fire. I’m rubber, you’re glue. A fitting riposte for a morally and intellectually bankrupt party that sold its soul for the 40 pieces of silver received in the tax reduction act of 2017. Given that the Republicans were well aware of the scope of testimony coming from Cohen, they chose to attack the messenger rather than attack the message.

Unfortunately, the Trump cult has not understood that their time has passed, and they are now the hunted. What we saw this weekend with literal flag-hugging on the stage of the largest conglomeration of Trump sycophants was that there is no form of debasement that will not be met with cheers of acclamation in a mass forum. The Donald returned from his debacle in Hanoi, where the lack of preparation prior to a summit conference manifested itself in the Donald’s disengagement from discussion with a horrendous individual from North Korea. At least he did not agree to concessions that would haunt the western alliance for years to come. Of course, it is possible his attention to the events in Hanoi were distracted due to his watching the testimony of his former chief confidant in the House Oversight Committee hearing. But neutral observers would bet that the lack of an agreement coming out of this ersatz summit was the best possible outcome, given the lack of preparation from an administration convinced that all obstacles can be overcome by DJT’s force of personality.

So now we wait for the new waves forming offshore. The waves of investigations of the finances of a thoroughly corrupt business enterprise, uncovering the nastiness of accepting torrents of tainted Russian money in exchange for the commodity Trump had to give – real estate, and a new start for suspect monies. Tiny portions of towers enabling money to flow from the former Soviet empire to the new Trumpian empire, helping to tie the US real estate entity to those of Russia who wished to plunder the wealth of their collapsing empire. Even with a decaying empire, there is much wealth to be mined from the wreckage. And the Trumps positioned themselves to benefit from the flow of monies from the East to the West.

Those of us who watched the hearing of last week saw the mask being ripped off of the facade of the Trump towers. An organization which ran for decades unencumbered by morality or the niceties of the law, now sees its methods and tactics scrutinized by the law. We can, and should, bemoan the fact that the Trump organization escaped legal peril for so long. It was only because the practices of this family became so engrained, that it believed it could export its methods to the Federal government. Unfortunately for the Trumps, and for the nation, is that the basic modus operandi of this family lay outside of what is legal. It may be acceptable to strong arm suppliers into accepting a pittance for work performed in good faith, when the matter concerns only work done for a casino. But this practice skirts legality, and the fact that someone estimated he threatened individuals or organizations up to 500 times in 10 years reveals a business living on threats and intimidation.

And they wonder why these tactics are reviled when they were brought into the White House? The basic premise that DJT has continually stated that he did not collude with Russia is probably correct. All he had to do was say “Wouldn’t that be great” when he was informed of the impending dump of e-mails from Wikileaks. Those who understood the code of the family knew he was giving his consent for the action, without ever once having to place his own fingerprints upon a piece of evidence proving his assent. It was those who understood the code that performed the actions.

We now are in the part of the story where there are two approaches to the demands of the family. Either those under investigation maintain their code of silence when confronted, and suffer the legal consequences of their silence, or they become rats and sing out. The question is whether anyone who still is convinced of the sanctity of the Trump crusade will ever accept the perfidy of the man and his associates. In order to Make America Great Again, we must first regain the ability to be revulsed by moral turpitude. Given the decline in moral standards reflected in the first family, and an electorate which narrowly selected this man, I’m afraid that this nation has lost its ability to be revulsed by evil. I hope I am wrong.




This post is the fifth in a series of seven posts describing existential threats to our way of life and our civilization. It describes the increasing tendency towards tribalism seen across the globe. As our commerce and culture have become intertwined more tightly with other nations, a backlash has developed. That backlash has taken the form of nationalistic, xenophobic, populist political movements burgeoning within many nations. It evokes memories of the 1930’s, and the mass Nuremburg rallies that provided the German peoples with a sense of solidarity that really did generate the belief that it could be Germany Űber Alles, Germany Over All. The tendency within those countries that have surrendered their government to these populists is to denounce dissent, generate fear within the populace, and decry any attempt to hold them accountable, especially attempts coming from a free press.

So the expression of this populist anger is to return each country to a golden age, when the virginal nation was unsullied by the globalist villains who only wish to plunder the wealth of our nation. And a virginal nation needs to return to the state of racial purity that it held in its golden age. This may be the defining struggle of our age, where the old ideals of racial purity confront the reality of the world today. Borders cannot be seen from space (except for the South Korea / North Korea border in a picture taken at night). The world has been brought closer together by the technologies of the modern age. Whether it is transportation systems allowing mass movement of people and goods, or whether it is the internet which erases most borders for global communication, or whether it is multi-national corporations that search for the optimum global supply chain solutions, our prosperity and continued survival is now dependent upon not just those who live in this nation, but also those in other nations. The nationalist movement wishes to reverse this trend and allow each nation to float along independent of all other nations.

It remains to be seen whether the strategy of the populists can be successful. On the economic front, success has come when there are multi-national organizations that set the rules and provide a framework for transactions. But it is the desire of the populists to revert to a time when it was “us against the world”, leading to a plethora of bilateral agreements. Nations view each other using the lens of win/lose when it comes to trade relations. But once you get accustomed to looking at things through a lens of win/lose for economics, it colors your perception in all other forms of relations. Soon diplomatic relations are reduced to transactional relationships, in which one party is expecting to “win” against the other. We saw where this led in the 1930’s. One party in Europe insisted upon winning against its neighbors time and time again, eventually causing Germany to become emboldened to take direct military action against its neighbors. We have the same framework today, only the weaponry is orders of magnitude more powerful. Consider what would happen if India and Pakistan allowed their decades-long struggle over Kashmir to escalate to the point of using nuclear weaponry. Will China, lying downwind of the fallout pattern, be able to resist taking sides in this one-upmanship battle? And that’s only one of dozens of potential conflicts that can either result directly in nuclear exchanges, or cause another party to be drawn in to use them.

The structure of the post-war world has prevented further use of nuclear weaponry for over 70 years. That structure is fraying at the edges, and needs to be revised to reflect the issues of the modern world. But the desire of the populists is to tear up all arrangements and rely solely upon the internal resources of each country. Were all international organizations and alliances to be struck down, the vacuum that results will not be filled with peace and harmony. Instead, particles of strontium 90 and cesium 137 from nuclear bomb detonations will likely fill the void in the atmosphere as the children leading countries lose their tempers and cause the loss of the lives of millions of people.

This is not one of the problems that is solvable using science and technology. It is very unlikely that we will be saved by an alien civilization that uses its advanced technology to deactivate any nuclear explosion. That is what it would take to tackle this risk from a scientific perspective. Instead, this is a case where if the other problems can be addressed using science and mathematics, the economic conditions will improve to the point that the populists are rejected by the citizens of their nation. Otherwise the nuclear genie will show up and let us know that it has not gone back into its bottle, even though it has stayed silent for a long while.


Termite In Chief


Why does Donald Trump stir such polarized feelings in this nation? I cannot speak for those who are still favorable towards the man, but I will share my own feelings and thoughts as to why I view him as an extremely poor president and an even worse human being. I am deliberately not commenting on issues of policy, though I do violently disagree with his political perspective and policies.

One of the key traits I value in a leader is intellectual curiosity. With it, you are always aware of how much you don’t know, and you seek out those who have greater knowledge. That may be in a book, or through links with people who have expertise. Without it, you are prone to believe that you know everything, that you have all of the answers, that what you feel in your gut is exactly correct because you are feeling it. It breeds hubris. In Donald Trump, I see someone who is proud of his lack of intellectual curiosity. He is convinced that he alone can solve things. And he sees zero need for consulting others, either through reading, or through taking advice from experts. This is perhaps his greatest fault, since it has led to many of his most problematic decisions and policy paths. It is the fault that can trigger an existential crisis, since he is so prone to taking abrupt action based upon an impulse.

In order to serve as a leader of people, you must be capable of empathy. You must have the ability to envision the feelings of someone else, in order to evaluate a need for a policy or to envision the effects of your policies on others. Time and again, Donald Trump has shown his incapability to feel empathy for others. What’s more, he has insulated himself by surrounding himself with others who also do not connect with their subjects. No clearer example of this was apparent than during the recent partial government shutdown, when Trump’s henchmen spokesmen could not realize why the loss of a paycheck could cause such immediate financial concern among Federal government employees.

Through the decades, we have seen a tremendous change in how marital fidelity is viewed. There was a time when Ronald Reagan was seen as being damaged goods since he had been “DIVORCED”.      Obviously, that attitude did not exist during the 2016 election. But to learn that the successful candidate had multiple affairs, or one-night stands, even during the time when his third wife had just given birth, and the man boasted to a media acquaintance about the privileges and sexual liberties that celebrity status gave men like him, this revealed Donald Trump to be a person of low moral character. To me, that was yet another strike against him. It is true that we have had other Presidents who had problems with marital fidelity. The difference was, in this case, we were learning about the issue before he had even been elected.

Honesty is another trait that is valued in leaders. Yes, I am certainly aware that our leaders over the years have had significant difficulties in telling the truth, and in hiding damaging information through dissembling. But never have I seen anyone who would cause damage to suppliers by denying that services were provided, forcing them to seek redress in court hundreds and thousands of times. I have never seen anyone who flatly denies he said words that were broadcast the day before. I have never seen anyone try to say that what he meant to say was the opposite of what he said, and it was our fault for listening to the lying media when it broadcast his words. I have never seen anyone cling to his own interpretation of facts, even going so far as to create a class of alternative facts, when our own eyes and ears reveal the lies. It is now beyond credulity to see each new falsehood being bandied about as if we, the public, are incapable of distinguishing truth from lie. Yet still he persists, time and again. And it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.

When you combine these traits, and others I find equally disgusting, into a single individual and then promote this individual to the single job with the most responsibility and power in the world, you have a combustible mixture. You have the ingredients for causing significant damage to structures and organizations that are responsible for maintaining order. Remember, it is the states of the US that has been free from foreign military conflict for so long. Only the military conflict on the territories of Alaska and Hawaii touched our territorial integrity. But with the advent of the Trump administration, all previous multi-lateral agreements are viewed as a surrender to the international world order, and thus are to be abandoned as not being in our favor. Well, it no longer takes the marching of foreign boots to constitute war between states. With the likelihood that the next war between nations will be a cyber war, what Donald Trump is doing by renouncing existing agreements is inviting other nations to attack our infrastructure from within, through its computer code.

To think that he is taking these steps to satisfy his own vanity and sense of worth is beyond belief. It is even worse to think that many in his base of supporters can see no wrong being done by this overgrown termite, who has been busy his entire term at undermining the support beams of the nation.


Lafayette, We Were There


The road back was familiar. Over the hills of northeastern Kentucky, skirting the Cincy metropolitan area to the south, passing the temptation of another visit to the monstrosity called the Creation Museum, and then on through the level fields of Indiana. Onward to Lafayette, a city I had known for my entire life. Now I was to go back there for likely the last time, for the memorial service for my Aunt, and to pay my respects to her.

At times like this, you remember snatches of the past. The barely remembered scene where there was a house in a little hamlet alongside the railroad tracks where the road bent in a curve. The baseball games with the cousins in the front of my Grandmother’s house. The house out on US 52, where I learned the mysteries of CB radio back in the late 1960’s with my cousin, before the coming of the trucker CB onslaught. The small condo community on the edge of Lafayette, where my uncle died. The vacation condominium in Destin, where over the decades we saw the town convert from the Luckiest Fishing Village, into a miniature version of Myrtle Beach, with attractions and traffic that emulated that other destination resort. And finally, the house my aunt shared with her last husband, the 60’s modernistic version of an architect’s vision of the future, with three wings set at 120° angles away from the central core. Floor to ceiling glass walls filled the central wing, with heavy doors sliding open and leading you out onto stone patios. The thing that really dated the house though, was the fully capable fallout shelter you entered from the closet next to the front door. You climbed down a metal ladder into a room that, when I saw it in the early 2000’s, was not outfitted with survival supplies, but with games and battery-operated lights for use on those occasions when it doubled as a tornado shelter.

My immediate family knew her as Joyce. It was not until her last marriage to Allen that I learned her first name was Peggy, and that is how she was known to her friends. As my wife said at her memorial service, Joyce was a good name for her, since joy is the largest part of that name. She exuded joy, and welcoming. We often used their house as a way stop either going to my parents in Lincoln, or coming back to West Virginia. Our boys loved to put nickels into the genuine antique slot machine in the office. And Allen and Peggy were always happy to see us, and show off their latest projects. For Allen, it was his unending work on the wooded hillside that he was continually working on. He was able to improve upon the wilderness that came with the property, building paths, taking down scrub trees and planting more suitable foliage, clearing the debris down in the small creek. That work occupied his leisure hours that weren’t otherwise consumed by golf or Purdue sports. For both Allen and Peggy were huge Purdue supporters, and for decades had seats behind Gene Keady and the Purdue basketball team in Mackey Arena. I would look for them whenever Purdue had a home game on TV.

Peggy was known far and wide for her cooking. Whenever we made it to their house, we always had more to eat than we needed. And it was good. Universally good. We had many wonderful memories from meals we ate in that house. But she was not just a purveyor of food for humans. She had a wide range of animals that recognized a soft touch when they came across one. Many stray cats would come for the food and water she left for them. Also sharing in the bounty were the raccoons that came at night. Of course, she did have her cats that lived inside of the house as well.

My last trip to the house was for a Nebraska – Purdue football game back in 2013. I was definitely an outsider, with my red apparel, but even then I was still made to feel welcome. Even after the game, which ended up 44-7 in favor of Nebraska. I didn’t realize at the time that it would be my last visit to the house that was always so hospitable. Soon Alzheimer’s paid a visit to Peggy, and she spent her last years in an assisted living facility. Allen soldiered on, but his heart gave out this past November. Then, on Christmas eve, Peggy joined him again.

It gives you pause to realize that you are visiting a town for the last time. The memorial services for Peggy and Allen brought the remains of my father’s family together once again. Once more, we reminisced at Arni’s Pizza, with its small square pieces. But now that my Aunt and Uncle are gone, there is no more reason to go back. I have one surviving aunt on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, my cousin John is now the patriarch, he being all of a year older than me. Nothing gives you a bigger appreciation of your own mortality than to realize that almost all of your relatives you knew growing up and through your adulthood, are now gone. Life does go faster than we can imagine when we were children playing outside, unaware of the adult concerns and problems that we too would one day share.



Chemicals I Have Known (and Made) – Methyl Methacrylate

methyl methacrylate

This post describes the last of the large volume chemicals I made when I worked at the Memphis plant in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. It is methyl methacrylate, which is used in many of the plastics that are known as acrylics. You may know them through their trade names like Plexiglas®, or Lucite®. You encounter them on every airplane flight you take, since they are used in the windows that let you see the clouds and the ground.

The process to make methyl methacrylate is complex, and large in scale. Our plant made several hundred million pounds per year. Some of the product was used on the plant in an acrylic sheet plant, that made both clear and colored, often marbled colored sheet. There are five steps to make methyl methacrylate. First, acetone (good old nail polish remover) is reacted with hydrogen cyanide (discussed in my first post on chemicals) to make something called acetone cyanohydrin, or ACN. As with anything involving cyanide, the material is toxic and great care was taken to prevent release of the chemical. The next step takes the ACN and mixes it with extra-strong sulfuric acid called oleum. Oleum is basically 100% sulfuric acid (one of the strongest and worst acids to deal with), with extra sulfur trioxide gas dissolved in the acid. When it hits anything containing water, it instantly reacts with it and sucks the water out of what it hits. This oleum is tweaked by adding tiny amounts of water to make the mix right at 100% acid when it hits the ACN.

The reaction process is very energetic, and produces an intermediate chemical called methacrylamide (I know, too many unpronounceable names). This intermediate chemical in a sulfuric acid solution was then reacted with methanol, and the resulting chemical was separated out and purified. The sulfuric acid solution contained a bit of organics, including some polymer. It was allowed to settle in a large tank so that the polymer could float up to the top and be removed in what we called skim tubs. The sulfuric acid tails were then fed into a sulfuric acid manufacturing process, where extra sulfur was added to make up for process losses, and new extra-strong sulfuric acid was stored and fed back into the reactors.

As you may have realized, these chemicals were all very nasty, and either toxic or corrosive or very hot, and I used to walk around miles of piping and vessels carrying these fluids under pressure. Only the product methyl methacrylate, was relatively non-toxic and non-corrosive, but it was at the end of a long process to make it.

In the few years I worked on this process, there were two main tasks I had. First, I was working with our staff of PhD chemists to improve the yield of the process. One very intriguing possibility was replacing the water that we used to mix with the sulfuric acid with methanol. Lab data showed a significant yield increase by introducing methanol in the first step. Since the reaction of sulfuric acid with methanol releases water, it solves the problem of controlling the acid strength when it is mixed with the ACN. The main difference between methanol and water was that it took a lot more methanol than water to provide an equivalent amount of water content. For every gallon of water, it took almost 1.9 gallons of methanol to substitute. But everything looked good in the lab, so we began work on a full-scale plant test. We went through an extensive process hazards review process to try to see if there were new hazards introduced, but could not come up with a reason to halt the test.

So I was the engineer in charge for the plant test when we got ready to swap out our water feed with a new methanol feed. The way we injected water into the sulfuric acid was through a mixer, where the acid was twisted through fixed barriers in the pipe to ensure complete mixing. We closed the valve for the water, opened it for the methanol, and watched to see what would happen. Almost instantly we became aware that despite all of our planning, something was going very, very wrong. The water injection line now holding methanol started to jerk around severely, and one thing you never want in a chemical plant is to have piping moving back and forth. I gave the order to turn the methanol off, and turn the water back on, and the piping stopped shaking. We probably were on methanol for no longer than 10 minutes before I halted the test.

What we had overlooked was that when we substituted water for methanol, we were adding a larger volume of a liquid that boiled at a much lower temperature. Methanol boils at about 149ºF vs. 212°F for water. It also takes a lot less energy to boil methanol. And when we started swapping out the water for methanol, some of the sulfuric acid would go partway up into the methanol pipe and induce boiling where we had never had boiling before. That was what caused the piping to jerk about. Fortunately I stopped the test before anything broke, but that was one of the scariest experiences I ever had in that plant. We never did go back to that test, since it would have taken a significant redesign to come up with a mixing system that could handle the differences between the two fluids.

The second project I had during this time was one I had inherited. I mentioned the skim tubs where polymer floated above the spent sulfuric acid as it cooled. That polymer had been skimmed off, packaged into metal drums and sent out as hazardous waste. Now there was an old incinerator down at the bottom of the plant, that someone had the bright idea to re-commission as a hazardous waste incinerator, depending upon its ability to meet hazardous waste disposal regulations.

One of the advantages of working for a world-wide company was that we had a wealth of technical expertise. There was a whole cadre of folks at the Engineering Services Division, or ESD, who had PhD credentials. They concocted the idea of putting the polymer into 30 gallon cardboard drums with plastic liners, and then burning them in the incinerator. But since this was an operation that needed to operate automatically without human intervention, they had created a Rube Goldberg contraption to make it work. They designed a conveyor system where drums would be placed on rollers. When the time came for a new drum to be inserted into the incinerator, alarm bells would go off, warning lights would flash, the knife valve they had installed on the top of the incinerator would open up, and the next drum in line would advance up the conveyor’s slope till it teetered at the end, and then would plummet headfirst through the top of the incinerator. Imagine an automated system to throw virgins into the maw of a volcano, and that’s what this thing looked like.

Well, I oversaw the construction work to install the conveyor and all of the equipment. We got ready to test the system, but there was one really little itsy-bitsy problem we encountered. See, during the time between when the scope was prepared for this incineration process and the design was installed, there had been another change made to the chemistry of the process, in order to improve yield. This chemistry change converted the polymer from being hard chunks that didn’t hold much acid, into a soupy mix that held a lot of the spent sulfuric acid. We had problems with drums leaking since the plastic liner was not intended to hold hot sulfuric acid, but worse than that, when the drums were consumed in the incinerator, a plume of sulfur dioxide came out of the stack and came down all over the place on the plant.

During the process of trying to get this incinerator to work, I had been transferred from Memphis to our Belle plant in West Virginia. The last thing I did at Memphis was to try to conduct a trial to see if this setup would meet the environmental requirements. We were successful in incinerating a liquid stream from our Lucite® sheet plant, but the attempts to incinerate the polymer drums was an abject failure.

Both of these efforts showed me how small and subtle things could cause a huge unforeseen problem. It was the effect of unintended consequences that got us in both cases. Once I went to Belle, I was working in a sister plant of the Memphis methyl methacrylate plant, only it was a plant that used water instead of methanol in order to create an organic acid. But the statistics I was exposed to in Memphis, proved crucial to me in the next phase of my career where I used statistical techniques to extend my working career well beyond many of my peers who weren’t as adept at math as I was.