Grand Claims Turn Out To Be False

In August, 2014, Techcrunch reported that:

Helion Energy, a Redmond, Washingon-based startup that says it has a plan to build a fusion reactor that breaks even on energy input and output, a challenge whose solution has been considered decades away for, well, decades. Helion CEO David Kirtley says that his company can do it in three years.

It has now been three years.  You may be shocked to hear that Helion has not achieved break-even fusion.  I’m willing to bet that they won’t achieve break-even fusion in the next three years, either (or ever).



So Donald Trump fired the man who probably tipped Trump into electoral victory.

I have no idea whether Trump is, as the current Democratic narrative has it, concerned that Comey would find damning evidence against him in the Russia investigation.  But regardless of that, I think it’s possibly instructive to see this as a fundamental conflict between Trump and not Comey in particular, but the deep state in general — or perhaps a less fraught phrase would just be the institutional bureaucracy of the US federal government.

It’s clear that Trump wants to be a transformative President, and it’s equally clear that he’s not very popular with the US deep state.  I think it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of these institutions — they seemed very effective at very rapidly turning Obama from a number of anti-military campaign promises — and part of my relative sanguinity about Trump’s Presidency has stemmed from a belief that Washington tends to tame the President, not vice versa.  (Usually, in my opinion, for ill, but in the case of Trump probably for good).

But the US is not Turkey, and a President who is bold about breaking tradition and who perhaps has little to lose on the public approval front can in fact fire a lot of figures in the deep state.  It’ll be interesting — and discomforting — to see the war if this is in fact the first shot fired.

(Not to sound too alarmist.  Probably an 80% chance that this is nothing more than either Trump not liking Comey or some ham-fisted attempt to cover up ethical problems.)


Me, a few weeks ago:

Maybe a move to the right on health care will alienate as many moderates as it appeases right wingers, but that’s far from proven. There is no reason to assume that right wingers and moderates are equal-but-opposite, or that they react to whipping in the same way. This seems like a case where 538’s statistics-oriented analysis lacks nuance and depth.

Congress, a few minutes ago, passed the moved-to-the-right health care bill with all the Freedom Caucus plus enough of the moderates whipped into shape to pass it.

The bill may not pass the Senate and so forth, but this was a case where, I think, the wishes and hopes of the media got turned into “facts” through superficial statistical analyses, by the people whose exact claim-to-fame is that they won’t do any of that.



I know it’s not in the nominal topic-space of this blog, but:

The Thor Ragnarok teaser:

Looks decent on its own merits, but it is literally impossible for me to see a trailer that heavily features the Immigrant Song and not compare it to:

Which is rough, because the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo teaser trailer is the best trailer that has ever been filmed, and likely the best one that ever will be filmed.

Simple Health-Care Analyses

538 has a piece saying basically that Republican health care reform is doomed because if the bill moves to the right to placate the Freedom Caucus, it will alienate moderate Republicans.


But this seems like a simplistic analysis.  During the last round of health care reform, the whip efforts seemed to center on the Freedom Caucus, and they basically told Trump to jump in a lake.  Note that the Freedom Caucus had enough votes in and of itself to doom the bill (and also the bill was not expected to pass the Senate).  We have to understand that when a bill is doomed, whip counts become less accurate.  The moderate Republicans who opposed the bill were not heavily whipped, and we don’t know how susceptible they are to being whipped.

It may be that if the Freedom Caucus comes into line, and the moderates go from being joiners to the opposition of an already-doomed-bill to being the people who can be squarely blamed for the bill’s failure, they will come on board their party’s bill.  In fact, we can assume that some of them certainly will.

It’s also reasonable to believe that people on the right wing of the Republican party are less susceptible to whipping than are those on the left wing.  Right wing Republican congresspeople are likely from districts that are very safely Republican, and a primary challenge from the left seems more difficult to mount than a primary challenge from the right.  As such, it’s not clear that they have much to lose by resisting the Republican party line.

In contrast, moderate Republicans are probably considerably more at risk both in the primary and general elections, and thus are more dependent on Republican party support to continue their careers.  And they may just be less ideological than those on the other extreme of their party.

Maybe a move to the right on health care will alienate as many moderates as it appeases right wingers, but that’s far from proven.  There is no reason to assume that right wingers and moderates are equal-but-opposite, or that they react to whipping in the same way.  This seems like a case where 538’s statistics-oriented analysis lacks nuance and depth.

Things My Daughter Has Recently Said

Being a partial explanation for why I have not posted much recently.

Sandor:  What color is the hat?

Baby:  Purple.

Sandor:  Well, actually, it’s green.

Baby: …No, purple!


As my wife and I are engaged in a normal conversation in the car.

Baby:  No talking!


As we are eating at a sushi restaurant.

Baby:  More dirt!

Sandor:  What?

Baby, gesturing:  More dirt!

Sandor:  You mean tobiko?

Baby:  Dirt!

The Vote was Not Rigged

If you’re reading this post, you probably know a decent amount about computers, math, and (less certainly) statistics, voting machines, and how the electoral college system works.

Suppose that you were on the team of J. Corrupt Fakeypants, a presidential candidate in 2020, and Mr. Fakeypants has asked you to lead the effort to rig the vote in his favor.

Fakeypants has a number of priorities:

1. He does not want to go to jail. So he wants you to do this in a way that does not point a giant neon sign at him.

2. He wants to be President. So he wants you to do a good job of rigging the election.

How do you do it? I think it’s pretty hard.

First of all, Fakeypants needs to be doing pretty well. Nobody is going to believe that the polls missed a 20% swing in the election, and if the results seem that way, there will be lots of people investigating. Fakeypants will probably go to jail.

Second of all, if Fakeypants actually wins, your efforts run the risk of sending him to jail in a scenario in which, you know, he actually wins.

Third of all, every vote you tamper with increases the risk that your vote tampering is discovered, so you want to tamper with as few votes as possible, but…

Fourth of all, if the margin is ultra-close, you will trigger recounts that increase the possibility that your tampering is discovered.

We will stipulate that installing malware on any given voting machine is fairly easy (though each time you do it, you run a very small risk of being caught). And each type of voting machine does require a custom-created piece of malware (and each hacker you bring into your project increases the risks of leaks to your project).

Bringing a well-resourced state actor into play may help you overcome the scale problems of your project, but well-resourced state actors are also the targets of cyber-intrusion from the US security apparatus, and you have a hard time gauging how likely it is that if you ask your buddy V. Putin to help out, the NSA will know immediately.

The voting machines are for the most part isolated from the internet on the actual voting day and during the counting process. You also have no polling that you trust to be better than the overall aggregate public polling as filtered through good aggregators.

What is the method you use to maximize your chance of winning the election and minimize your chance of being caught, with the constraints above? I think that it’s a very difficult project, probably unfeasibly difficult.