Friday, August 7, 2020

I am contractually obligated to mention that it snows every year in the city of Los Angeles

NWS: Heat wave to bring possible record-breaking, triple-digit temps to SoCal through weekend

Posted: Jul 29, 2020

The National Weather Service warned of hot, dry conditions and elevated fire danger as a heat wave is expected to send temperatures soaring throughout Southern California beginning Thursday.

Highs into the triple digits are forecast in valley and foothill areas through Saturday, while the Antelope Valley could reach 106 degrees.

Coastal and mountain areas will be slightly cooler, ranging from 85 to 95 degrees across the region, forecasters said.

San Bernardino and Riverside are expected to hit 105 and 104 degrees respectively on Thursday, and 106 degrees Friday, while sizzling temperatures of around 120 degrees are anticipated in Palm Springs on both days. 

The good news is the heat wave has broken (according to the morning forecast, we didn't break eighty in North Hollywood yesterday), but it was still too damned hot.for a while there. One days like that (or more accurately, the nights between them), I find there's something relaxing about watching Les Stroud shivering through a Northern Canadian winter.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

"Everything looks worse in black and white"

And this looks really bad.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"And he mortgaged the house..."

When you get to the part about the technology being proven, remember that the testing is entirely focused on the aspects of the technology that we know will work. The main part that has experts skeptical is the ability to make a hyperloop financially viable, and the only way to prove that is to give these companies billions of dollars and see what happens.
U.S. Department of Transportation releases framework for hyperloop development
Jul 26, 2020

Proposed hyperloop transportation systems, which developers say can move pods with passengers or freight through low-pressure tubes at more than 500 miles an hour, have received a key endorsement: validation by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao released a 22-page document Thursday called Pathways to the Future of Transportation that’s designed to encourage innovation and place new transportation concepts under a specific regulatory agency. The document was developed by the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council that Ms. Chao appointed about 18 months ago.

For hyperloop advocates, the important step was placing hyperloop proposals under the Federal Railroad Administration and making hyperloop projects eligible for federal grants to help fund projects.

“This is a turning point for the industry,” said Ryan Kelly, vice president of Virgin Hyperloop One, one of two developers proposing systems to link Pittsburgh with Chicago.

“It gives confidence to stakeholders that this is a priority. This is not a pipe dream.”

Virgin is working with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission on a system that would connect Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus in about 56 minutes at a cost of about $93. The agency has completed environmental and feasibility studies for the system, which likely would be built in sections from west to east and take about 30 years to complete.

“Just the Federal Railroad Administration alignment for hyperloop is a big announcement,” said Thea Ewing, director of transportation for the Mid-Ohio group. “That alone is a pretty significant message from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Once you get to this point and you don’t have an answer for who regulates you, you don’t know what to do. [The proposal] becomes a non-starter for whoever you’re talking to.”

Mr. Kelly said the other important component to Thursday’s announcement is making hyperloop projects eligible for federal funding. The Pittsburgh-to-Chicago proposal always has been pitched as a public-private partnership, but at a cost of more than $20 billion it would be difficult for local agencies to pay for the public share by themselves.

The report said that once the technology is proven, hyperloop projects could be eligible under four different funding categories that have a combined $2 billion available in the current fiscal year.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hyperloop watch -- We are now reaching that part of the movie where the wife goes to the bank and realizes that her husband has given their life savings to the con man.

I know I've been harping on this for years now and I'd imagine regular readers are growing a bit tired of the ranting, but the standard tech narrative, the one that is still more or less the default for even sober news organizations like the BBC and NPR, is deeply flawed and genuinely dangerous.

The hype and bullshit and magical heuristics that dominate our discussion of technology and innovation aren't just annoying; they have a real cost. They distort markets, spread misinformation, lead to bad public policy, and starve worthwhile initiatives of both funding and attention.

No figure brings out the worst of these tendencies in journalists more than does Elon Musk. Musk, it should be noted, does have some major accomplishments under his belt as an administrator, promoter, and finance guy. With SpaceX and, to a lesser degree, Tesla, he deserves considerable credit for significant innovations, but even with his most serious projects, there is always a bit of the Flimflam Man present.

The Hyperloop has always been Elon Musk at his most substance-free. A 70s era B- senior engineering project dressed up with 3-D graphics and a cool name. Despite being thoroughly demolished by virtually every independent expert in the field, the "proposal" has generated endless and endlessly credulous press coverage. Hundreds of millions of dollars in financing have been lined up by Hyperloop companies with dubious business plans. And now you can add millions in tax dollars to that.

From an excellent Slate article by Henry Grabar.

For American lawmakers, funding public transit often feels like small ball. Politicians prefer to dream bigger. Earlier this month, transportation agencies in the Cleveland region and in Illinois announced they would co-sponsor a $1.2 million study of a “hyperloop” connecting Cleveland to Chicago, cutting a 350-mile journey to just half an hour. It’s the fourth public study of the nonexistent transportation mode to be undertaken in the past three months.

“Ohio is defined by its history of innovation and adventure,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who once canceled a $400 million Obama-era grant for high-speed rail in the state. “A hyperloop in Ohio would build upon that heritage.” In January, a bipartisan group of Rust Belt representatives wrote to President Trump to ask for $20 million in federal funding for a Hyperloop Transportation Initiative, a Department of Transportation division that would regulate and fund a travel mode with no proof of concept.

It’s hard to keep up: Last week, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission announced feasibility and environmental-impact studies for a different hyperloop route, connecting Pittsburgh and Chicago through Columbus, Ohio, to be run by a different company, Virgin Hyperloop One. The company—which fired a pod through a tube at 240 mph in December—is also studying routes in Missouri and Colorado.* Meanwhile, Elon Musk—who has obtained (contested) tunneling permission from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan—pulled a permit from the District of Columbia for a future hyperloop station.

But let’s first look at the hyperloop [from our old friends, the incredibly flaky, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies -- MP] that Grace Gallucci, the head of the Cleveland regional planning association the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), told local radio could be running to Chicago in three to five years, and to the study of which the NOACA contributed $600,000.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tuesday Tweets

We've seen a number of costly failures in the coverage of the pandemic, but the failure to convey the difference in risk between indoor and outdoor interactions has been one of the worst.
And while we're on the subject...

Our weekly reminder that the economy did better in places that didn't prioritize the economy over containing the virus.

This is as bad as it looks.

Good Krugman thread

Our neighbor to the east.

“If you don’t have an underlying health condition, it’s safe out there,” Gov. Doug Ducey told Arizonans in late May, hoping to stimulate the economy. Those words were also a death sentence for Dad, a healthy and exuberant 65-year-young man ...”

Fallows lays it out.

There is no way to reconcile Tesla's valuation with a competitive EV market, particularly in Europe, but somehow news like this never seems to hurt the stock.

Brutal Tesla thread

Wages of Strauss, again

There is something tiring about this kind of layered stupidity.

The dominance of the NYT is not good for journalism or democracy. (and yes, I'm an LA Times subscriber)

When a party internalizes the lies it's been  telling.

I've long harbored the suspicion that Marc Andreessen isn't actually that bright.


The bizarre logic of owning the libs.

I started to make a joke about this about this but decided it would gilding the lily.


Monday, August 3, 2020

There's something almost quaint about discussing Netflix's business model in 2020

Netflix’s price earnings ratio may be high (>80), but at least it has a price to earnings ratio.

It can accused of being at opaque company known for deceptive messaging and suspect statistics, but we’re reasonably certain it has never committed fraud.

We can have mixed feelings about Reed Hastings but he has never suggested that the SEC should suck on any part of his body.

And finally, it’s not Quibi.

But while the business tactics of a Netflix may not be as over the top as those of Tesla, they are, in many ways, more instructive. We are still living in a hype economy and no company has been more dedicated, disciplined or adept at working that system than Netflix. While companies like Disney may spend more total, relative to revenue (we won’t even get into profits), Netflix leads the pack.

Take this New Yorker article by Alex Barasch

The Stunning Second Life of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

In and of itself, competent and reasonably well researched (with very notable misleading point), but in the larger context, it demonstrates how effectively companies manipulate even the most respectable publications.

Here’s the familiar process:

1. NF had a popular and (more importantly) talked-about hit with its reboot of She-Ra. Though the show is a “Netflix Original,” the company doesn’t have any real stake in the franchise.

2. NF follows up with a live-action reboot of another old cult-favorite cartoon, Avatar (no connection to the Cameron movie). Once again, this is apparently a licensing deal with little to no substantial IP acquired by NF.

3. NF pours tens of millions of dollars into promoting the original show in addition to laying a heavy thumb on the recommendation engine and possibly tweaking their self-reported viewership numbers.

4. A range of influence is applied to journalists (none of which is by any stretch new or limited to Netflix), from the actually having the PR agents write the stories or trading puff pieces for exclusives to simply providing a veneer of newsworthiness (it's a big hit, everybody's talking about it) for an easy, click friendly story such as the Barasch piece.

5. But what’s remarkable is the extent that Netflix can count on even the legitimate journalists writing stories in the last category to follow the company’s narrative without question or deviation. Interesting example, Netflix features prominently in this article and readers could easily come away with the impression that this was exclusive to the platform, possibly even a property owned by the company. It's not.  It is a Viacom/CBS show also available on CBS All Access.

All of this raises the question of why Netflix has spent hundreds of millions, possibly billions promoting shows like Avatar, She-Ra, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Jessica Jones, and others which it does not own. That’s actually my favorite part of the discussion, but unfortunately it is also a topic for another day.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"You know that theory, that the White House makes the man..."

I'm not drawing any analogies here, but the comparisons are interesting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Paul Krugman has no shame -- Wednesday Tweets

You'll want to unmute this one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Implosions don't normally work this way

One of the major failures of imagination we are seeing from almost everyone, including really smart commentators like Jonathan Chait, is the assumption that the basic political structure of the country, particularly that of the Republican Party and the conservative movement will remain more or less the same after the collapse.

A republican loss is far from a foregone conclusion (we live in an age black swans), but a major electoral setback does seem highly probable at this point, possibly a historic one. While this is becoming the consensus view, most analyst seem to be thinking of this as another V-shaped recovery. Trump will go away. Things will go back to normal. And the republican party of 2028 or even 2024 will look a great deal like the republican party of 2012. That may be possible, but I very much doubt things will play out that way.

The success of the conservative movement over the last few decades has been astounding. They have managed to build upon a generally unpopular platform and shrinking demographics and have nonetheless held a remarkably large chunk of political power. There is a tendency of political commentators to want to play armchair sociologist and construct elaborate theories about why various aspects of the movement emerged when the answer is that it was engineered to do so.

There is virtually nothing spontaneous here, nothing that demands explanation. No part of the base that has not been cultivated. There is nothing but Astroturf as far as you can see and if you try to explain it with the language and tools of grassroots, you’ll make a fool of yourself. These attempts to treat social engineering experiments as organic sociological phenomenon leads to analyst and pundits spending a lot of their time mystified at what should be obvious.

Why do main stream news organizations like the New York Times routinely let Republicans like Paul Ryan get by with obvious lies? Maybe it has something to do with decades of working the rafts, message discipline, and playing carrot and stick games with access. Why do members of the Republican base believe they are a persecuted minority living in a socialist nightmare, under attack by other religions and dangerous extremists? Perhaps it has something to do with one of the most massive propaganda campaigns ever attempted outside of a state run media.

Media, of course, is just one part of the system. There is voter suppression and other techniques for making sure that some people count more than others. There is the push to get as much money as possible and maximize its leverage. There is an emphasis on strategically valuable offices and elections, particularly those in years not divisible by four. There is an emphasis on party discipline. All of these components are interconnected and each supports all of the rest. That means that when one is successful, it makes it easier to succeed with the rest. Unfortunately for the movement, however, this same interconnectedness leaves the system vulnerable to cascading failure.

In 2020, almost every component of the system is under stress and most are starting to buckle. If things do start to collapse, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that nothing is certain.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Tales from the V-shaped recovery

Presented without comment.

Summer Concepcion writing for Talking Points Memo:
Kudlow expressed optimism that jobless claims will fall, saying that he thinks “the odds favor a big increase in job creation and a big reduction in unemployment.”

Kudlow went on to claim, without going into specifics, that most economists and Wall Street suggest that the country is in “a self-sustaining recovery” despite how states that have emerged as coronavirus hot spots “are going to moderate that recovery.”

Kudlow then continued painting a rosy picture by saying that it’s “very positive” because he still thinks “the V-shaped recovery is in place,” which will lead to a 20% growth rate in the third and fourth quarters.

Later in the interview, Kudlow doubled down on his rosy sentiment by saying that the economy is improving by “leaps and bounds” due to “more states that are reopening and doing very well.”

Zack Stanton writing for Politico
When the economist Betsey Stevenson looks at the pandemic-era economic crisis, she sees a long-simmering child care crisis that has suddenly surged to the foreground of people’s lives—and whose true scope we’ve barely begun to reckon with. Its potential to inflict lasting damage to the economy is enormous, and it’s getting short shrift in the recovery plans coming out of Washington.

“The work of recovering from it will not end just because we have a vaccine,” says Stevenson, a labor economist at the University of Michigan and former member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We are making choices right now about where we will be as an economy in 20 years, in 30 years, based on what we do with these kids.”

Among those most likely to be affected are working mothers, who shoulder an outsize share of child care responsibilities, and have suddenly had far more work dropped in their laps. Women already need to make difficult choices between work advancement and their family roles, which can bring down their incomes over time; Stevenson expects the crisis to make that conflict sharply worse: “The impact of the child care crisis on women’s outcomes is going to be felt over the next decade.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that both parents work in two-thirds of families in which married parents have children — as do the majority of America’s 13.6 million single parents. For all of them, there are major long-term financial repercussions of dropping out of the labor market, even temporarily.

“When you talk about upward mobility,” she says, “this puts families on just a completely different trajectory that’s not about losing two or three years of income; it’s about being on a lower earnings trajectory for the rest of your life.”

And for anyone hoping a vaccine will allow a quick, healthy reopening sometime next year, she says: Don’t count on it. “We are letting the whole child care system erode in such a way that it’s not going to be there for us when we are fully ready to go back. You’re seeing child care centers that can’t stay in business. They can’t figure out how to reopen. They can’t keep their employees on staff. They’re letting people go,” Stevenson says.

“Once we are ready to have all the jobs come back and we’re really ready to recover, even though we’ll have opened the schools, opened the child care centers, the workers aren’t going to be there, the slots aren’t going to be there.”

Friday, July 24, 2020

Misc -- Tolstoy, Fairy Godfather statistics, reactionary ghosts, Lenny on Dmitri

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Leo Tolstoy 1897

Some wartime panels from Crockett Johnson's classic Barnaby. The strip ran in the influential liberal paper PM and like the political cartoons of Dr. Seuss, often took aim at the right wingers of the era. One of the ghosts' watch runs backward. I believe another may be making fun of Hearst.

For a while now I've been filling in the gaps in my musical literacy.  When looking for an introduction to musical history and theory, there's really only one place to start.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

“If you see that kind of disconnect, it doesn’t go on indefinitely.”

A bubble in the middle of an economic collapse in the middle of a pandemic

Tesla's insane stock price makes sense in a market gone mad by Russ Mitchell

That makes Tesla, which reported second-quarter earnings Wednesday, the world’s highest valued car company — if far from the largest. Of the 90 million cars sold around the world in 2019 Tesla sold 367,000. Take the two top-selling carmakers in the world, Toyota and Volkswagen, toss in Ford; the stock market still values Tesla higher than all three combined.

Hovering near record highs amid a global pandemic and economic catastrophe, the market, like Tesla, highlights the degree to which equity prices have come untethered from current economic reality and future earnings expectations.

In both cases, prices are supported by the infusion of trillions of dollars of new money into the economy and by the steady growth of passive investing, in which money automatically flows in from 401(k) contributions and is put to work buying stocks, pushing prices higher. The potential inclusion of Tesla in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index adds upward pressure.

Then there’s the success of Chief Executive Elon Musk in crafting a beautiful-future narrative to explain why Tesla should be even more expensive than it is. Musk’s enormous compensation package is almost entirely tied to share price; on Tuesday, he qualified for an additional $2.1 billion worth of options after Tesla’s average market capitalization over a six-month period exceeded $150 billion.

Narrative aside, there’s little in the company’s recent performance to justify such outsize enthusiasm.

Although Tesla’s sales have grown steadily, there has been no sudden acceleration, and the company has repeatedly lowered prices. Tesla owes its string of small quarterly profits to government credits and aggressive booking of prepaid orders for a “Full Self Driving” technology that does not yet exist. Pay and bonuses — for workers, not for Musk — are being cut.

In the classical analysis, stock prices indicate expectations of a company’s future profits. The cash can be used to reward shareholders through dividend payments or stock buybacks, or reinvested in the company to fuel future growth.

The profit outlook for 2020 looks bleak across the economy. The Wall Street Journal reports 180 companies in the S&P 500 have pulled their earnings guidance, which has led to “the widest dispersion in earnings estimates among analysts since at least 2007.”

Yet the S&P 500, after an alarming plunge in March, is headed again toward record highs. As Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, put it recently: “If you see that kind of disconnect, it doesn’t go on indefinitely.”

One thing Tesla does have going for it is a constellation of commentators willing to sing its praises to infinity and beyond, though their convictions can appear shallow. Cathie Wood, chief executive of Ark Invest, regularly appears on CNBC to tell viewers Tesla stock will be worth $6,000 in five years. On July 1, Wood tweeted Tesla owners at some point in the future will each earn $10,000 in free cash flow every year by including their cars in a Tesla robotaxi network. But meantime, Ark regularly sells big chunks of Tesla shares. It sold nearly 140,000 Tesla shares the first two weeks of July alone even as Wood touted the company. Ark did not respond to a request for an interview.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wednesday Tweets

Even more than racism, misogyny is the gateway drug of the alt-right.

I'm two posts behind on Netflix.

Tesla with just a touch of sarcasm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A couple of plot turns in the Tesla saga

First, the one that everyone saw coming...

This despite a stunning number of questions about the company. (Here's a good primer to get you started.)

Second, the one that caught everyone by surprise.

Among Tesla skeptics, the fuel-cell semi company Nikola was strictly a punchline, a fake of a fake. The laughter rose to a crescendo when the CEO agreed to have a long form conversation with arguably the leading skeptic, podcaster Tesla Charts.

That laughter dropped off suddenly.

Without taking anything away from Milton, much of the credit for the reception goes to Elon Musk and the extent to which he has lowered the bar. Engaging with tough critics on a forthright and knowledgeable way shouldn't be remarkable behavior for a CEO, but this is 2020.

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Wages of Strauss -- “I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax.”

Monday, March 16, 2020

The wages of Strauss are death (as in this is literally about to kill people)

We've been arguing for about a decade now that the Straussian strategy and tactics has the dominant factor in American politics since the late 90s, both in the undermining of reliable and trusted information sources and the spread of disinformation.

This essential piece from our best press critic points out how costly this disinformation has become.

Rupert Murdoch could save lives by forcing Fox News to tell the truth about coronavirus — right now
By Margaret Sullivan

When Trump says “jump,” the network leaps into action. And what the president hears on Fox News often dictates his own pronouncements and policies — which, in turn, are glowingly represented in Fox News’s coverage and commentary.

That’s never been anything short of dangerous, since the effect has been to create a de facto state-run media monster more devoted to maintaining power than shedding light on the truth. But now the mind-meld of Fox News and Trump is potentially lethal as Trump plays down the seriousness of the coronavirus and, hearing nothing but applause from his favorite information source for doing so, sees little reason to change.

There’s one person who could transform all that in an instant: Fox founder Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media mogul who, at 89, still exerts his influence on the leading cable network — and thus on the president himself.

The network’s influence on Trump is clear from the presidential tweets that follow fast on the heels of a Fox News broadcast. He was always a fan of Fox News, but after entering the White House, he made it even more of an obsessive daily habit, Bloomberg News reported in 2017, to the extent of blotting out dissenting voices from other sources.

Trump made specific reference to his reliance on Fox News during his misleading press event Friday, when he offered unwarranted reassurance rather than urging extreme caution and decisive action: “As of the time I left the plane . . . we had 240 cases — that’s at least what was on a very fine network known as Fox News.”

The message: Go about your business, America, and it will all disappear soon.

Days later, 30 deaths and more than 1,000 cases have been reported in the United States, with those numbers expected to grow exponentially. (By contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is telling hard truths: As much as 70 percent of that country could end up being infected.)

Matt Gertz, a Media Matters senior fellow and the foremost chronicler of the insidious Trump-Fox News feedback loop, connected the dots: “Roughly an hour before his comments, a Fox News medical correspondent argued on-air that coronavirus was no more dangerous than the flu; a few hours later, the same correspondent argued that coronavirus fears were being deliberately overblown in hopes of damaging Trump politically.”

He added: “The network's personalities have frequently claimed that the Trump administration has been doing a great job responding to coronavirus, that the fears of the disease are overblown, and that the real problem is Democrats and the media politicizing the epidemic to prevent Trump's reelection.”

On Fox Business Channel, host Trish Regan drew widespread condemnation for her over-the-top rant in Trump's defense: “The chorus of hate being leveled at the president is nearing a crescendo as Democrats blame him and only him for a virus that originated halfway around the world. This is yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

(By contrast, her Fox News colleague Tucker Carlson has taken the threat seriously, though using it as an excuse to stoke anti-China sentiment along the way.)


Even if all that changed today, great harm has already been done. As The Washington Post and others have documented, the administration has repeatedly squandered chances to prepare for and manage the global epidemic.

But every moment still counts. Lives can be saved by prudent practices and aggressive government action — and lost by their absence.

But it takes leadership from the top. And so, let’s acknowledge the obvious: There is no more important player in influencing Trump than Fox News. And no more powerful figure at Fox than its patriarch.

Murdoch might consider, too, that with the median age of Fox’s viewers around 65, they are among the most vulnerable to the virus’s threats.
From Andrew Gelman