• Racetrack Deaths at Santa Anita Were . . . Not Bad Last Year

    This has nothing to do with anything at the moment, but I happened to run across the data for horse racing deaths in California this morning. Here are the numbers for Santa Anita racetrack:

    Over the past few months I must have read at least a dozen stories about the enormous death toll at Santa Anita this season and the desperate search to figure out what was happening. Not once did I see this chart or anything like it. As near as I can tell, what was happening was: nothing. There were a total of 30 racing and training deaths, which was down from 37 the year before, which was down from 54 the year before that, which was down from 57 the year before that. Fatalities have also been declining relative to the number of starts, as the chart above shows.

    So why was there suddenly such a huge fuss this year? And why did virtually no reporting about it include context like this?

    More here, including this longer-term chart:

  • Iran Cracks Down on Oil Smuggling Out of Iran

    For all you know, this file photo could be an oil tanker transiting the Strait of Hormuz. It's not. It's actually sailing in Venezuelan waters. But how would you know if I hadn't told you?Juan Carlos Hernandez/ZUMA

    Here’s the latest from the Persian Gulf:

    Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has seized a foreign tanker and 12 crew members accused of smuggling Iranian fuel, according to reports carried by Iranian state media Thursday….Quoting a Revolutionary Guard statement, the media reports said the tanker was caught transporting smuggled Iranian fuel to unspecified foreign customers. It was detained Sunday, the report said, after departing Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which a significant percentage of the world’s traded oil is transported.

    Wait a second. I thought that Iran wanted to smuggle oil out of the country and it was the United States that wanted to stop it? Or is this not so much smuggling as it is just outright theft? And how is the UAE involved in this? Or are they? It’s getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard these days.

  • Trump Hits a New Low . . . Again

    Martin H. Simon/CNP via ZUMA

    Were tonight’s Trump-led chants of “send her back” at a rally in North Carolina a new low for our president? Sure, probably. But Trump hits a “new low” about once every month or so. As a public service and a walk down memory lane, here’s a very non-exhaustive list of things that have been called new lows for Trump over the past few years. Enjoy.


    July 20: Attacks John McCain for being a POW.

    November 13: Compares Ben Carson to child molester.

    November 21: Proposes Muslim registry.

    November 23: Retweets claim that 81 percent of white people are killed by blacks.

    November 26: Mocks a reporter’s disability.

    December 8: Calls for ban on Muslim entry.


    March 8: Defends his penis size in nationally televised debate.

    March 23: Attacks Ted Cruz’s wife.

    March 30: Says that women who get abortions should be punished.

    May 3: Suggests that Ted Cruz’s father killed JFK.

    June 3: Attacks federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

    July 27: Asks Russia to please find and release Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 emails.

    August 1: After Khizr Khan accuses Trump of never sacrificing anything for his country, Trump attacks Khan and says that he has too made a lot of sacrifices, such as “building great structures.”

    August 10: Suggests his supporters might want to shoot Hillary Clinton.

    October 8: “Grab ’em by the pussy” tape.

    October 12: More women accuse Trump of sexual assault.

    October 19: Invites President Obama’s estranged half-brother to final debate.


    February 22: Attacks transgender children.

    March 4: Accuses Obama of tapping his wires.

    June 29: Accuses Mika Brzezinski of “bleeding badly from a face-lift” during a New Year’s party.

    July 2: Retweets video of CNN being attacked.

    August 15: Suggests that there were “very fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville.

    September 30: Attacks mayor of San Juan after Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico.

    October 13: Ends Obamacare cost-sharing program.

    November 29: Retweets three anti-Muslim videos from the leader of an extremist British group.


    January 12: Shithole countries.

    June 8: Begins separating children from their parents at the border.

    July 5: Insists on meeting with Vladimir Putin with no one else present.

    September 13: Says the 3,000 dead from Hurricane Maria is “fake news” invented by Democrats.

    October 18: After murder of Jamal Khashoggi, reminds everyone that Saudi Arabia is a good customer.

    October 19: Calls Stormy Daniels “horseface.”

    October 19: Applauds Rep. Greg Gianforte’s body slam of a reporter.

    November 1: Runs racist ad just before midterm elections.

    November 7: Suspends CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

    November 12: As wildfires are raging, threatens to cut off federal aid to California unless they change their “forest management” practices.

    December 29: Says any deaths of children along the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats.


    February 9: Mocks native American genocide.

    March 8: Accuses Democrats of being the “anti-Jewish party.”

    March 20: Attacks John McCain yet again.

    May 24: Retweets doctored video of Nancy Pelosi.

    July 11: Attacks British prime minister Theresa May.

    July 14: Tells Democratic congresswomen to go back where they came from.

  • Do You Know Where Your Barycenter Is?

    As you undoubtedly already know, being the scholars and gentlepeople that you are, the moon does not precisely revolve around the earth. Its mass is so big relative to the earth that the two of them revolve jointly around each other. It looks something like this:

    The red cross at the center of the two-body system is called the barycenter. The solar system has a barycenter too, largely because of the influence of Jupiter, and the barycenter moves around relative to the sun in a complex pattern that looks like this:

    A new paper in Scientific Reports by V. V. Zharkova, S. J. Shepherd, S. I. Zharkov and E. Popova explains what this means for climate change:

    Since the Sun moves around the solar system barycenter…then the distances to its perihelion will be 1.47 × 108 km and to it aphelion 1.52 × 108 km. The solar inertial motion means for the Earth that the distance between the Sun and the Earth has to significantly change (up to 0.02 of a.u) at the extreme positions of SIM, and so does the average solar irradiance, which is inversely proportional to the squared distance between the Sun and Earth.

    ….If the Sun moves in its SIM closer to Earth’s aphelion (position 1) decreasing the Earth orbit eccentricity and to the autumn equinox as it is happening in the current millennium starting from Maunder Minimum, then the distance between Sun and Earth at the aphelion will become shorter approaching 1.49 × 108 km during the summer in the Northern and winter in the Southern hemispheres, and longer at the perihelion approaching 1.50 × 108, or during a winter in the Northern and summer in the Southern hemispheres. Hence, at this SIM position of the Sun, the Earth in aphelion should receive higher solar irradiance (and temperature) during the Northern hemisphere summers and Southern hemisphere winters….This is what happening in the terrestrial temperature in the current millennium starting since Maunder minimum and lasting until ≈2600.

    Thanks to the sun’s movement around the solar system’s barycenter, its distance to the earth changes on a cycle lasting about 2200 years, with smaller cycles of about 200 years embedded within the larger one. Thus, the earth has been warming since 1500 AD and will continue warming until 2600 AD, after which it will begin a cooling cycle lasting until 3700 AD. This is what’s causing global warming. However, the next 30 years will see a cooling trend thanks to one of the smaller cycles reaching a minimum in 2050.

    This all sounds great except for one thing: it’s completely full of shit.

    Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh, UK, criticised the paper for an “elementary” mistake about celestial mechanics. “It’s well known that the sun moves around the barycentre of the solar system due to the influence of the other solar system bodies, mainly Jupiter,” he says. “This does not mean, as the paper is claiming, that this then leads to changes in the distance between the sun and the Earth.”

    ….Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies says the paper contains egregious errors. “The sun-Earth distance does not vary with the motion of the sun-Earth system around the barycentre of the sun-Jupiter system, nor the sun-galactic centre system or any other purely mathematical reference point,” he says. He says the journal must retract the paper if it wants to retain any credibility.

    So how and why was this article written? And how did it get accepted in a journal from the publishers of Nature? Those are both mysteries. Scientific Reports says it has begun an “established process” to investigate the paper it has published. “This process is ongoing and we cannot comment further at this stage,” a spokesperson said.

    In the meantime, all the climate denialists have themselves a jen-u-ine scientific paper to show that greenhouse gases aren’t doing any harm after all. It turns out that global warming is all down to celestial mechanics. And if the paper is eventually retracted? Then it will become yet more evidence of the scientific establishment covering up inconvenient truths. Oh joy.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here are some illuminated jellyfish from the Moonlight Forest show at the LA County Arboretum last winter. Jellyfish! After yesterday’s gloomy black-and-white photo, I figured we could all use a big slug of color today.

    December 9, 2018 — LA County Arboretum, Arcadia, California
  • NAFTA 2.0 Is Completely Useless

    A while back I noted that the new USMCA treaty (i.e., NAFTA 2.0) would not increase American GDP. The government’s own analysis projects a GDP decrease of 0.12 percent, but then adds back 0.47 percentage points because they figure that newfound certainty in things like intellectual property rules will increase investment. This suggests that we might be better off just adopting the IP rules and skipping the rest.

    But wait! Jeffrey Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics—normally the kind of place that loves trade treaties—says that even this is bogus:

    Some supporters of the deal say it provides new rules that will benefit the U.S. But those “new” rules aren’t new. Rather they mirror provisions affecting labor, the environment and e-commerce from the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership that have been carried out by Mexico and Canada since that accord went into effect on Dec. 30, 2018. Trump withdrew from the TPP, but Canada and Mexico remained in it, and already apply these provisions in trade relations with the U.S.

    Is this true? It seems like it. The main IP provisions of the USMCA are here. A side-by-side comparison with TPP is here. As near as I can tell, Canada and Mexico already agreed to all of USMCA’s IP rules when they signed onto TPP, with one exception: patent protection for biologics is ten years in USMCA compared to eight years in TPP. That’s about it.

    Unless I’m missing something, Donald Trump has negotiated a treaty that favors Canada and Mexico when it comes to trade in goods, and does virtually nothing new to favor the US in IP law. It’s even more useless than I ever imagined.

    POSTSCRIPT: Needless to say, if there are any legit trade experts out there who think I am missing something, please speak up!