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      Came across this tweet about the Philadelphia water spillage the other day: Yo Philly—don’t drink the water today. Boiling won’t help. More than 8,000 gallons of a latex-finishing solution spilled into Otter Creek in Bristol on Friday night. The spill includes butyl acrylate, which was one of the chemicals released in the East Palestine train derailment http […]
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Obama = Worse than Bush

Barack Obama in August, 2007:

Barack Obama today? Read it and weep, Conflucians. From Raw Story (h/t commenter iloveny)

President Barack Obama invoked “state secrets” to prevent a court from reviewing the legality of the National Security Agency’s warantless wiretapping program, moving late Friday to have a lawsuit that challenged the program dismissed.

The move — which holds that information surrounding the massive eavesdropping program should be kept from the public because of its sensitivity — follows an earlier decision in March to block handover of documents relating to the Bush Administration’s decision to spy on a charity. The arguments also mirror the Bush Administration’s efforts to dismiss an earlier suit against AT&T.

The Friday brief involves a lawsuit filed by the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the NSA for the wiretapping program. The agency monitored the telephone calls and emails of thousands of people within the United States without a court’s approval in an effort to thwart terrorist attacks.

The Defendents in the suit the Obama Justice Department is trying to short circuit?

Vice President Dick Cheney, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington and former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

According to Glenn Greenwald,

the Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the “state secrets” privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new “sovereign immunity” claim of breathtaking scope — never before advanced even by the Bush administration — that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is “willful disclosure” of the illegally intercepted communications.

In other words, beyond even the outrageously broad “state secrets” privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they “willfully disclose” to the public what they have learned.

Have you got that all you Obots who claimed Obama would restore Constitutional protections? Greenwald again:

Everything for which Bush critics excoriated the Bush DOJ — using an absurdly broad rendition of “state secrets” to block entire lawsuits from proceeding even where they allege radical lawbreaking by the President and inventing new claims of absolute legal immunity — are now things the Obama DOJ has left no doubt it intends to embrace itself.

At this point, I can’t say I’m surprised. Obama has already signaled he will follow Bush policies on continuing “extraordinary rendition” and keeping the torture programs secret. He’s handing over the entire treasury to the banks and wants to “fix” social security and medicare just like Bush planned to do. Exactly what was that “change” we were supposed to believe in? It’s a real crying shame that we couldn’t elect a Democrat in 2008. Exactly how would McCain/Palin have been worse?

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The Brits are Bored with Barack

Brown and Obama meet the press

Brown and Obama meet the press

First thing this morning, commenter Fif, posted a link to a hilarious blog entry by Iain Martin at the Telegraph UK,
“Barack Obama really does go on a bit.”

Isn’t it time for him to go home yet? It is good, in theory, that the new President of the United States is taking so much time to tour Europe. He arrived in London last Tuesday, has been to Strasbourg, Prague yesterday and now he’s off to Turkey. It shows, I suppose, that he cares about the outside world and that is ‘A Good Thing’. But his long stay means that we are hearing rather a lot from him, way too much in fact.

His speeches have long under-delivered, usually leaving a faintly empty sensation in this listener even though I welcomed, moderately, his victory last year as offering the possibility of a fresh start and a boost to confidence.

Yet, we are told that he is a great orator and in one way he certainly is. He does have a preternatural calm in the spotlight and a mastery of the cadences we associate with the notable speakers in US history – such as JFK and MLK. But beyond that, am I alone in finding him increasingly to be something of a bore?

It looks like the Brits–at least the Conservative ones–are beginning to discover the real Barack Obama. His hopey changey act gets old very quickly unless you’re an adolescent with no basis for comparison except George W. Bush speeches or you have suffered acute brain damage from overdosing on Kool-aid.

Martin writes of Obama’s speech in Prague:

Today, we were treated to another set-piece Obama speech, and my didn’t he go on a bit? The crowd in Prague was huge, and initially wildly enthusiastic, but what he served up was not any more impressive than his damp squib in Berlin last year. Is there a computer which churns this stuff out for him?

Martin has also noticed Obama’s embarrassing, over-the-top narcissism.

“When I was born,” (Everything usually leads back to him, you’ll notice)… “the world was divided, and our nations were faced with very different circumstances. Few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become an American President.” (Him again)…

“Few people would have predicted that an American President would one day be permitted to speak to an audience like this in Prague. And few would have imagined that the Czech Republic would become a free nation, a member of NATO, and a leader of a united Europe. Those ideas would have been dismissed as dreams”.

{Sigh} Can we really stand four years of this guy? It’s the same way in all his speeches. He always comes back to himself and the wonder of it all: his specialness, his amazing achievements, his judgement, his ability to bring people together, etc., etc. By the way, don’t miss the comments on the Martin post.

In the Daily Mail, another British blogger, Quentin Letts rips Gordon Brown up, down, and sideways for his fawning treatment of the U.S. President at their joint press conference last week. Of Obama, Letts writes:

Allegedly the most charismatic politician in the world, Mr Obama was a disappointment. It sounded as though he had a blocked nose and so his lack of energy may have been a symptom of a cold. Jet lag, too. He probably wished he could have stayed in bed….

He spoke slowly, in a meandering manner. Some might say that he was thoughtful and professorial. Others might call his manner circuitous, even yarny. Am I saying that he was a bore? Oh dear. I find that I possibly am.


Letts on Obama’s responses to questions from the press:

Those replies were, as I say, on the chewy side and came out at the speed of an action replay on Match of the Day.

So slow, in fact, that at one point a man from the Guardian dropped his tape recorder on the floor. Mr Obama’s best moment was when he was charming about the Queen.

Our old donkey Gordon, by comparison to this American visitor, was for once Mr Eloquent, Mr Quick-Off-The-Mark.

Mr Obama had managed to make Mr Brown look good. Another amazing achievement.

Oh my, those British bloggers really know how to cut to the quick. But Obama really wowed every one during the campaign. He’s the second coming of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy! At least that’s what we heard again and again from the Obot media and bloggers. Just check out this doozy of a stump speech.

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What’s wrong with this picture?


No, I’m not talking about the fact that they didn’t put the tallest guys in the back row.  From Egalia at Tennessee Guerilla Women:

World leaders are men. Women are wives. The imbalance of power is unmistakable. There was plenty of racial and ethnic diversity at the G20 Summit of World Leaders. Gender? Not so much. While the men, plus 2 strangely out of place women, did the world’s important work, the First Wives had tea and dined at gender segregated events. The women attended charity functions, spoke to children, changed clothes frequently, and were entertained by the author of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling was invited to the gender segregated club because she is a woman, of course.

But didn’t Michelle Obama look lovely?

Actually,  it really doesn’t matter if Michelle is butt-ugly or beautiful and personally I think she’s neither (it sure helps when she smiles though.)  However, since she seems to be confined to a ceremonial/ornamental role in her husband’s administration there’s really not much else about her we can talk about.

Sad, isn’t it?

Monday: Billionaire Biologists

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.

The NYTimes has an article about the world of D. E. Shaw quants and an Larry Summers.  Louise Story, who wrote the piece, doesn’t go into details about what it is that Shaw’s group does exactly and, to be honest, this is really a job for someone like David Kestenbaum, the Harvard trained physicist turned financial guru at Planet Money (Hint, hint).  But I do know a smidgeon about what Shaw’s group does in the pharma field and at least one of my former colleagues was approached by someone in finance like Shaw more than a decade ago.  She was a physical chemist working on a program that did sensitivity analysis.  The math would make your eyes glaze over because it’s all eigen this and Green’s functions that and stuff I’ve forgotten long ago.  Basically, her program would be able to track an amino acid in a protein and determine how sensitive it is to its environment.

Now, in the pharma industry, this stuff belongs to a type of computation called molecular dynamics.  We start with a 3D representation of a protein in a solvent, usually water.  The model is really just a set of coordinates for each atom in the protein.  There are parameters for each atom that account for bond length between atoms and springiness and intermittant bonds between atoms called hydrogen bonds.   A simulation can be run in several ways.  One of the most common is something called simulated annealing.  That is, heat is added to the system, the protein absorbs this heat and starts to move.  The system is allowed to equilibrate and a trajectory is calculated for a series of time steps.  After the simulation is run, you can concatenate all of the time steps together and run them like a movie.  What you get is something like this (actual simulation starts at about 30 seconds in):

In the animation, the purple and red springs are called α-helices and the yellow ribbons make up a β-sheet.  These are relatively stable secondary structures of the protein that come together to form the tertiary structure of the protein.  They wiggle and shimmy but don’t move much.  The most interesting part of the dynamics run was at the right of the screen where there is a “loop” that has the greatest movement.  It is the action of the loop that is of primary interest to the researcher.  What does it do?  What amino acids around it does it impact and can we tell from its movement what its function is in the protein?

Now, these are all cool and groovy models but there are some things about them that make them tricky.  First, the system is only as good as the parameters you give it.  Some simulations run in cellular membranes that add an additional level of complexity.  If you don’t account for absolutely everything, the result can be waaaaay off.  Second, the simulations suck up a lot of memory and I/O and, up til now, it’s been hard to find systems that will let you do more than a very short span of time.  Luckily for D. E. Shaw, Moore’s law has allowed the area to grow a lot lately.  Also, in the bio end of his business, he has contracted with one of the chip makers for ASICs, or custom made processors, that he is using to build a massive cluster with more than 1000 nodes.  Molecular dynamics has been around for a long time but until Shaw’s latest programs came out, it was a pain in the ass to set up and run more than a few time steps.  His latest molecular dynamics code is called DESMOND and it is commercially available. My site is just beginning to use it, albeit without the fancy cluster.

So, what does all of this have to do with financial markets?  Well, I *guess* you could think of the financial world as a giant protein and if you can figure out what the parameters are and how much heat (money?) you are putting into the system, you could calculate which parts of it are most sensitive to change and then place some bets on that portion of the system.  For instance, you might be able to predict what effect the stimulus package is going to make on the economy and which industries will be most sensitive to that stimulus.  Or, maybe you could calculate the TED spread or LIBOR or a zillion other indicators.   As I said, this is really a job for David Kestenbaum so let’s hope he has a Planet Money segment on it soon.

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Confluence Insomniac’s Edition

Ok, I’ve tried everything (well, *almost* everything) I can think of to get to sleep and nothing is working.  I see that myiq2xu failed to post my two recommendations for Worst Music Video.  And although I don’t think anything will top Vlad of Moldavia, I thought I’d post my nomination for Worst International Music Video.  Let’s just say that the disco era was not kind to Bollywood:

So, what’s keeping *you* awake?