What happened to politics as usual?  Remember when the bosses decided in back room deals who the candidates would be?  The reform was supposed to be primaries.  But then along came Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer who wanted to be President.  No one paid attention to him so he set up a big field staff in Iowa, a state the other candidates ignored.  The media moved in and made him a major candidate. Ever since then Iowa has shaped the race and provided a path forward for the most unlikely of candidates.  What is amazing is that there are people who actually pay attention to commercials or believe what candidates say in a primary race (notice the record number of lies being tossed around this year).  A year ago, people would have laughed at the possibility of President Trump, President Cruz, or President Sanders.  They are not laughing any more, and some pundits like conservative David Brooks still maintain that they are all doomed.

Remember when people voted according to their own economic interests?  Now you have blue collar union workers raving about billionaire Republicans who want to destroy unions.  Times have changed. Many now identify with cultural ideology or ethnic affiliations (and prejudices).  The media profit from conflict, and demagogues find it easy to motivate extremists by enraging and manipulating the masses.  Some say it reminds them of Germany in the 1930s.  Eduardo Porter writes about how America’s best days may be over and how politics are becoming galvanized over racial hostility here  and here. There is abundant evidence that racial attitudes now play a significant role in politics.

Science in the News.  This has been a big month for science.  How about the new planet they just discovered in our solar system?  Planet 9 is bigger than the Earth, 4.6 billion miles away, and orbits the sun once every 10-20,000 years. A long wait until summertime.  Here is another big discovery:  scientists are figuring out synaptic pruning, a major cause of schizophrenia.   On a darker note, anthropologists are questioning past assumptions about whether violence an integral part of the human race.  They recently discovered fossil remains in Kenya showing torture and mass brutality going back 10,000 years.  Most scholars previously thought that warfare began with the ownership of resources and complex social systems but these findings suggest otherwise. Some say these results indicate that humans are inherently violent. Others say that this simplistic analysis ignores the formation of cultural values created to minimize violence.

What’s going on in Russia?  Never a dull moment.  The Russian economy is in shambles and the rubble has hit an all-time low.  Meanwhile, a British court found that Russian President Putin was probably directly involved in radioactive polonium 210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.  Litvinenko defected to the UK and claimed he had evidence of high level corruption in Russia plus a film proving that Putin is a pedophile.  Putin made his alleged killer a member of Parliament.  Meantime, the NYT ran a big story about how Putin created a huge government investment fund and then directed payments to companies that benefited officials in the Kremlin.   Now for the really juicy news:  Inmates in Russian prisons are no longer allowed to swear.

Al Jezerra America cable TV network closes after lack of support from viewers and advertisers.  If you are one who is less than enamored of our media empires,  Al Jezerra was refreshing.  It covered news that the corporate media would not touch.  Its coverage was at least as objective if not more so.  So much for media diversity.

Bad news about things nuclear.  On Jan. 6, North Korea announced that it had had exploded an H-bomb (1000 times more powerful than the atom bomb).  The US response was not to worry because it probably was not an H-bomb, and besides they can’t miniaturize their weapons enough to put them on a missile. (The Koreans also claim that they have a 3 stage missile that can hit California.)  But they don’t need a big weapon because the uranium and plutonium is already right here: almost 2,000 tons of it sitting above ground a few hundred feet from I-5 in San Onofre.  Meanwhile, a lead front page story in the NYT describes how the US wants to build a new class of “small” maneuverable nuclear bombs to provide more options for those who see small nuclear war as an option when they don’t want to start a large nuclear war. (The US is one of the few countries that refuses to sign a “no first use” pledge.)  The assumption is that enemies would accept a small nuclear attack and not retaliate with large weapons, the only kind most countries have (for the moment).  This new option makes the use of nuclear weapons more attractive to commanders (and people like Donald Trump) who think we can bomb out way through issues abroad.  Now you can all feel safer.  Would the US (and other countries) target population zones?  You bet.  The National Archives just released a detailed target list for US bombers carrying nuclear weapons during the cold war.  The 800 page document gives the code names for each target and makes it clear that the purpose was total annihilation of entire cities (179 nuclear bombs were to be dropped on Moscow alone). The idea was that mass killing of civilians would lower enemy morale and lead to a shorter war.  This is the same theory used by the US in World War II when the purpose was to carpet bomb (or atom bomb) populated areas and kill as many civilians as possible:

Turning to nuclear power plants, a new study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative reports that nuclear material stored in 20 countries is an easy target for cyberattacks.  Most nuclear power plants have a modest security force intended to defend against physical forces such as a small number of armed intruders.  They have no defense against high explosives, missiles, drones, truck bombs and according to the report many are not defended against cyber attacks like the Stuxnet worm that the US and Israel used against Iran.    And now the energy department is talking about building many smaller nuclear power plants that could be placed closer to population centers where electric demand is high.

Greed, Inc.  When we hear about economic inequality, references are often made to celebrities like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Sheldon Adelson.  But Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom recently published a paper analyzing the gains of hundreds of thousands of corporate executives who represent 0.25% of the work force.  In this rarified circle, their pay has skyrocketed 140% compared to a 5% drop for the rest of the employees in their company.    JP Morgan Chase decided to that their CEO Jamie Dimon was not being paid enough so they raised his compensation to $27 million, a 35% raise over 2015. Anyone else get a 35% raise?  DuPont continues its decades-long effort to hide the dangers of obscure chemicals and bamboozle regulators into permitting toxic pollution of perfluorooctanoic acid which it dumps into rivers.  Meanwhile, DuPont is firing 1,700 workers in anticipation of its merger with Dow Chemical.

In California, the utilities (esp. PG&E)  are lobbying furiously with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to discourage people from installing solar energy.  The CPUC, supposedly representing the interests of the public, has begun siding with the industry against the public and against the goal of providing more clean energy for California.  The CPUC is also being sued because it refuses to disclose 65 emails to the governor’s office with regard to the settlement over who pays for the costs of the San Onofre failure (the settlement ended up letting Edison off the hook while soaking rate-payers for 70% of the costs).  Meanwhile, prosecutors have charged PG&E with 28 felony counts of pipeline safety code violations and obstruction of justice with regard to the San Bruno pipeline explosion which killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes. And what about the “mini-Chernobyl” methane gas leak at Porter Ranch?  And what will the governor of Michigan do about everyone who has permanent brain damage from lead in Flint, Michigan drinking water?  And now we have the yogurt wars: Chobani says that Dannon and Yoplait are putting unhealthy sucralose and potassium sorbate in their diet yogurts and misleading customers into thinking that they are actually health food.

Recipe. By popular demand, there have been numerous requests for the recipe of White Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding which was generously contributed to our pot-luck holiday party in December. So here goes:

1 loaf of Texas toast (or Italian Pantone or Irish soda bread in which case you omit the sugar)
1 cup of fresh whole cranberries, rinsed, no chopping
1- 12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips
3 eggs
1 cup of whole milk plus 1 cup of heavy cream
½ cup sugar
Cube the bread, combine with cranberries, chocolate chips and sugar

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