August 2015, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Power Is Still Out from the Saturday storm in thousands of homes in this area.
More than 62,000 customers remain without power after Saturday's potent windstorm, and it could be two more days before electrical service is restored to all areas, officials said.(I fixed an obvious typo.)
KOMO is just including the metropolitan areas in Washington state. The storm hit southern British Columbia hard too, and stretched south to at least Portland.
- 4:13 AM, 31 August 2015 [link]
Stereo Systems, Monitors, Mice, And Keyboards: I am about to become an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) again, about to assemble a new personal computer.
And in making my choices for parts I find that I am following a plan analogous to the advice I was given, decades ago, on assembling a stereo system. Back in that Pre-Cambrian era, young men usually bought something to play music on after they had been working for some months at their first full-time job.
(If you are younger than I am, you may find that hard to believe, but it's true. We did have inexpensive AM radios, but usually no more than that.)
When I started thinking about assembling the components for a stereo system — cartridge, turntable, pre-amplifier, amplifier, tuner, speakers, and, possibly, a tape deck — I sought advice from knowledgeable friends. What they told me was that I should spend about half of my budget on the two ends of the system, the cartridge and turntable, and the speakers, that, however much I might be fascinated by whizzy electronic gadgets, I would get the best sound if I spent most on where the tiny bumps in the record grooves got translated into an electrical signal, and where the electrical signal was turned into sound waves.
It was good advice, and the speakers I chose way back then lasted me for decades.
For a personal computer system, the analogous parts are the keyboard and mouse, and the monitor. As it happens, I have an ancient IBM Model M keyboard, which works fine, though someone, me I suppose, should clean it some time. Similarly, right now I am using a Microsoft wheel mouse, which also works fine. (I've had good luck with IBM and Logitech mice, too.)
The monitor I am using now, a Viewsonic, also works well, though its resolution (1680 x 1050) is not up to the 1080p standard. And so I have ordered a new monitor, which will be the most expensive piece of my new system, costing more, probably, than the CPU and the motherboard, combined.
Which new monitor? This one. Which I chose because it will fit on my desk without rearranging everything, and because of the high quality of Viewsonic monitors, especially their top-of-the line monitors. I should add that the one I have now has really annoying minimalist controls, but you are likely to have to use them only once or twice, so that isn't a big objection.
And I'll probably go to a two-monitor set up, so the old monitor won't be wasted.
(It is still possible to buy those Model M keyboards, either used, or new from Unicomp. If color coordination were important to me, I'd get a black one to replace my old beige one. The prices on them will show you how much people like me have come to value them.)
- 3:36 PM, 31 August 2015 [link]
Paul Krugman Can Be A Great Joke Teller: As he reminded us in today's column.
There are a number of good jokes in the column; here are my two favorites:
I know, now I'm supposed to be evenhanded and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren't any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.Those familiar with the former Enron consultant's record may protest that Krugman doesn't intend those as jokes, probably doesn't even realize how many people will find them absurd.
That's true, but unintentional jokes can be just as funny as intentional jokes, and so we should give Krugman credit for jokes that would crack up some audiences, even though he may not realize why they are laughing.
To be fair, Krugman does seem to realize that some — in the age of Obama — will think the first one is funny, but he quickly dismisses the idea.
(Fun fact: Krugman was also a member of the Reagan administration, as well as an Enron consultant. I don't know whether that is where he picked up his irrational hatred of Republicans.
The first and best public editor at the Times, Daniel Okrent, identified Krugman's fundamental problem as a columnist: Krugman has "the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults". In a word, Krugman is often dishonest — which doesn't seem to bother many people on the left.)
- 6:41 AM, 31 August 2015 [link]
Today's New Yorker Cartoon made me laugh out loud.
(That happens less often than you might think, for someone who loves jokes as much as I do. I often smile at a joke, and then immediately begin studying it to see why it's funny, and whether I can use it.)
- 5:55 AM, 31 August 2015 [link]
College Tuition Can Go Down: We have, right here in Washington state, what I like to call an "existence proof".
With his parents out of work and an office job paying his bills, college junior Shane Bang remembers the anxiety he felt when his younger brother told his family he was headed to University of Washington in the fall.Why did the reporter mention just Republicans?
Because this was very much a Republican initiative, passed by the Republican-controlled state senate, and kept in the budget during the bargaining with the Democrats that followed. (Many Democrats did vote for it on final passage — but it wasn't their idea. You can find more on the politics and background, in this article.)
To be fair, it was easier for the Republicans to put this in the budget, and recompense the state schools with more aid because economists are predicting a sizable increase — about 11 percent in this biennium — in state revenues.
Nonetheless, it shows what can be done.
Two other Republicans have shown what can be done to control costs at state colleges and universities, Republican Bruce D. Benson took over Colorado University at a bad time for budgeting, 2008, and has has, he says in a column in last week's Wall Street Journal turned the university around.
Universities aren’t known for economic efficiency, and prerecession CU was no different—which meant there were plenty of cost savings to be found throughout the system. In fiscal 2010-11, we streamlined bureaucracy and let go of 148 administrative staff—a painful down-sizing for some, yes, but a right-sizing for the school that helped preserve many other jobs. After hearing about CU’s dire financial situation, about a quarter of the faculty volunteered to teach one additional course for modest compensation increases of about $4,000 each.Republican Mitch Daniels froze tuition, and cut overall costs for students, at Purdue.
The total cost of attending Purdue has fallen since Daniels assumed Purdue’s presidency, despite a trend at Big Ten institutions of rising costs. Total loan debt among the student body has also fallen 18% or $40 million. Tuition at Purdue, prior to Daniels’ arrival had increased every year since 1976. Two months after Daniels assumed his role as president, Purdue announced it would freeze tuition for two years, later extending the freeze for a third year. Because of the consecutive freezes, four-year graduates from the class of 2016 will become the first in at least 40 years to leave Purdue having never experienced a tuition increase.There's much more in the Benson column and the Daniels biography, on how the two Republicans were able to cut costs. Both seem to have a good sense of what can be done — and what can't, what is politically possible — and what isn't.
Neither picked fights they were sure to lose.
(Mathematicians probably would not care for the way I use the term, since they use it, or "constructive proof", to describe a proof in which you show that an object can be constructed — without necessarily constructing it. But I'm discussing public policy here, not formal mathematics.)
- 6:40 PM, 30 August 2015 [link]
"Textbooks Are A Bargain", Says Professor Greg Mankiw: If, that is, you are comparing them to Harvard tuition.
In other words, over the past 140 years, textbook prices have risen only 114-fold, whereas Harvard tuition has risen 377-fold.And the real price of Harvard tuition has risen about 16- or 17-fold.
(As you can see, I had good reasons for choosing college textbooks and tuition as examples for my first "small monopoly" post. Incidentally, if you look around carefully, you can find many small monopolies. One of the things I object to about ObamaCare is that it is designed to increase the number of small monopolies, especially in rural areas.
Does Professor Mankiw know he is reaping monopoly profits? I'm sure he does, though I don't recall him mentioning that in a post.)
- 1:28 PM, 30 August 2015 [link]
November Storm — In August: Yesterday, a powerful storm hit this area.
Powerful winds toppled trees and power lines across the Pacific Northwest on Saturday, causing two deaths in the Seattle area and knocking out electricity to nearly 500,000 customers.(Gig Harbor is on the other side of the Puget Sound from Seattle; Federal Way is south of Seattle.)
This kind of storm is common in Novembers here, but almost unknown at this time of the year. In fact, despite its reputation, the Seattle area gets very little rain during the two months after the Fourth of July.
If you want many more details Cliff Mass has them. He says: "This is perhaps the strongest August storm on record---certainly the most impressive in my memory.
Fortunately — credit where due — the local meteorologists gave us plenty of warning, with very accurate forecasts. They even warned us that more trees would come down than usual, because it has been so dry, and the trees still have leaves on them. The trees were less able to hold on to the dry ground, and more likely to accumulate a heavy burden of water.
The rain that crossed the Cascades helped the fire fighters there; the gusty winds made their job worse. Fortunately, the weather forecasters are predicting cooler weather, and sowers for the next week.
(The storm had almost no effect on me. I just stayed inside most of the day and avoided working with my computer, as I usually do when I fear the power may go out at any time.)
- 11:56 AM, 30 August 2015 [link]
Which Presidential Candidate Has Spent The Most On Polls? Hillary Clinton, by a very large margin. In fact, her total of $1,086,649 is 75 percent more than all the Republican candidates' spending on polls, combined.
Ted Cruz is tops among Republicans at $185,693, followed by Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump. (Trump, of course, started much later than the others.)
- 8:30 AM, 28 August 2015 [link]
Vester Flanagan's Descent Into Insanity? If you read this Washington Post article you may be left thinking, as I do, that the murderer of those two journalists in Roanoke became less and less sane, as he got older.
This description of his first journalism job, for instance, doesn't mention any of the warning signs that showed up later.
Flanagan’s first job was as an intern at KPIX in San Francisco for five months in 1993. “He was just a young, eager kid out of journalism school and like so many other interns and new employees who came through there in my 30 years at KPIX,” Barbara Rodgers, a 30-year veteran of the CBS-5 Eyewitness News station, posted on Facebook.Then, at each successive station, he appears to have shown more of those signs.
As I understand it, that kind of pattern, with the illness beginning in young adulthood, and gradually becoming worse, is common in some types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
(I probably should warn you that I had a real struggle to read that article this morning; the Post kept freezing my browser (an older version of Firefox) while trying to, as far as I can tell, load more ads.)
- 7:44 AM, 28 August 2015 [link]
As I'm Sure You've Noticed, I Haven't Said Much About Donald Trump: And that's because there isn't much serious to say. Trump has been campaigning for more than six weeks since I said that I don't know what he believes, and I really haven't learned anything about his beliefs — that I can trust — since then.
I am now not even sure that he believes in Donald Trump. In an article in today's New York Times, Michael Barbaro draws our attention to a Trump who sounds not at all self confident.
It was Donald J. Trump at his neediest, pleading with the television anchor in front of him to acknowledge a poll that, he said, showed that Hispanics really do love him. “You saw that, right?” he asked. “Did you see it? Wait. Did you see it?”(In many men (and a few women), bombast and bravado are also signs of a lack of self confidence.)
It would be easy enough for me to joke about Trump. For instance: Donald Trump and Jorge Ramos could do the country a favor by giving up their current jobs as candidate and journalist, respectively — and staging a mud wrestling contest, with the proceeds going to a charity, or charities, if the two can't agree on one.
But, though I love jokes, Trump has gained enough support so that his views deserve serious examination — and, if I ever figure out what his views are are, with some certainty, I'll give them that examination.
By the way, if you think the networks are giving Trump a disproportionate amount of coverage, you are right.
(No promises, but I may have a post soon on some of the reasons for that support.)
- 2:47 PM, 27 August 2015 [link]
There Were Two Surprising Things in the Daily Beast's Vester Flanagan article: That the Beast was so frank about the racial motive in the murders, and that he had so many second chances at TV stations.
The cold-blooded Roanoke killer kept getting fired, kept threatening co-workers, and kept claiming he was the real victim.Most of us don't need any reminders that a charge of racism, however false, can do terrible damage to an executive's career. And I suppose that legal risks would make it very difficult for executives at one TV station to explain to executives at another, frankly, why they had fired him.
(Roanoke has some beautiful scenery, but not much in the way of good jobs. That might explain why the station hired him, in spite of his records at other stations. It's not the kind of place that would attract many well-qualified urban professionals, regardless of color.)
- 12:47 PM, 27 August 2015 [link]
Newspapers Without Ads: For almost two weeks, I've been getting part of my daily newspaper fix on the Amazon Kindle. Some time, early each morning, Amazon sends me digital copies of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
One thing about these versions didn't surprise me: The Kindle simply doesn't have the resolution that broadsheets like the Times or the Journal have, so it has to provide the articles in a more serial fashion; instead of looking at two pages and seeing, for instance, ten or fifteen articles, you see at most four, or a simple list showing perhaps seven titles at time, in each section.
This didn't surprise me because I have known for decades that TV screens have much less resolution than newspaper pages and that you have to spend a lot of money to get comparable resolution with computer monitors. (That may be changing with the latest "4K" TV screens; I haven't done even a back-of-the-envelope calculation for comparison.)
But what did surprise me — though it shouldn't have — is that the Kindle versions contain no advertisements. You get the articles, columns, and editorials, and that's all you get, which is a plus for me, on the whole.
(Exceptions: Unlike, I suspect, most people I find the political ads interesting for the arguments they make, whether or not I agree with them. And I have a fondness for some types of ads that strike me as unintentionally funny, such as the ads before Mother's Day — almost all showing women who do not look at all maternal.)
In selling me a newspaper without advertisements, the newspapers are giving up most of their revenue; if I am reading that seventh chart correctly, newspapers, even now, get more than twice as much revenue from ads, as from newspaper sales.
Newspapers don't like to mention this to readers, but we are simultaneously customers — and products to be sold to advertisers.
On the whole, I think that it is healthier to separate those two, though I know that respectable newspapers try hard not to let advertisers affect their content. I wasn't expecting content-only newspapers, but I approve of them, now that i am getting them
(You can get the Kindle version of the Journal for about 76 cents a day, and the Kindle version of the Times for about 66 cents a day. Some things are missing. Photographs and graphs are only in black and white, there are no links (which surprised me a little), and, for some reason, the Journal does not include James Taranto's "Best of the Web".
If you shop carefully for specials, you can find cheaper introductory subscriptions to both newspapers, but those prices usually go up sharply, after a few months.)
- 2:32 PM, 26 August 2015 [link]
After Those Two Heavy Posts, I need a joke or two. Here's a list of 20, for "intellectuals".
I think I liked the fifth one the best.
(Only the fourth one gave me any trouble. It's been too long since I took a physics course. The seventh one should have said that he held up two fingers in a V".)
- 8:44 AM, 26 August 2015 [link]
Iran, And The Two Paths To Atomic Bombs: Years ago, I began wondering why nations, North Korea for instance, that were trying to develop nuclear weapons tried to build bombs with uranium, rather than plutonium. I knew, vaguely, that it required enormous physical effort to separate the U-235 from the rest of the uranium, but that plutonium could be produced in specialized research reactors, and then separated, chemically, which, though not easy, is less difficult than separating out the U-235.
Then I read — I don't recall where — that it is easier to make U-235 explode than to make plutonium explode.
A few days ago, I found a little more of an explanation in that Wikipedia article on plutonium.
First, you need the right isotope of plutonium; for example, P-239 will work, but P-240 won't. Second, you need a very specialized kind of trigger.
On April 5, 1944, Emilio Segrè at Los Alamos received the first sample of reactor-produced plutonium from Oak Ridge. Within ten days, he discovered that reactor-bred plutonium had a higher concentration of the isotope plutonium-240 than cyclotron-produced plutonium. Plutonium-240 has a high spontaneous fission rate, raising the overall background neutron level of the plutonium sample. The original gun-type plutonium weapon, code-named "Thin Man", had to be abandoned as a result—the increased number of spontaneous neutrons meant that nuclear pre-detonation (fizzle) was likely.(Links omitted.)
In short, P-239 may be easier to produce than U-235, but it is harder to make it go bang.
And to make it go bang, you need a very sophisticated arrangement of conventional explosives, which strikes me as ironic.
We can tell more about what the Manhattan Project physicists thought about the difficulty of making P-239 go bang from this sequence: Trinity test (P-239), Hiroshima bomb (U-235), and Nagasaki bomb (P-239). The physicists were so sure their uranium bomb would work that they didn't test it, first. But they weren't that sure about their plutonium bomb.
And that leads me to this speculation — and it is pure speculation — about the Iranian nuclear program. Suppose the Iranians are pursuing both kinds of bombs, uranium and plutonium. Isolating either U-235 or P-239 leaves traces that, the inspectors tell us, are difficult to hide completely.
But it occurs to me that the research on those "explosive lenses" might not be hard to hide, and that might be what the Iranians are trying so hard to hide at Parchin, and other military sites.
(There are tiny, tiny amounts of plutonium found in nature, but never enough to mine, profitably.)
- 8:19 AM, 26 August 2015 [link]
Satanists For Abortion? Well, that isn't really a surprise. But it has been more than mildly surprising to see them backing Planned Parenthood so openly, in dramatic demonstrations.
And even more surprising to see that some in Planned Parenthood appear to welcome support from the Satanists.
With the release of the Planned Parenthood videos, abortion sympathizers are upping their Satanic game. At a Chicago Planned Parenthood protest, speakers apparently located inside the clinic broadcast “horror music” at pro-life advocates in an effort to drown them out.Years ago, the fight over birth control was often a struggle between Catholics and Protestants, with main-line Protestants favoring it — and supporting Planned Parenthood — and Catholics opposing it, and the organization. It is not a coincidence that Griswold v. Connecticut was a fight over a Connecticut law, since that state was then one of the most Catholic in the nation.
Now, the religious sides have shifted somewhat, and Planned Parenthood has found more interesting allies.
- 7:17 AM, 26 August 2015 [link]
The House And Senate Numbers Look Bad On The Iran Deal: Recall that the Congress is likely to pass a resolution against the deal, that President Obama will veto that resolution, and that his veto can be upheld by as few as either 34 senators or 146 House members.
Today, this New York Times article gave us bad news on both the House and the Senate.
With Senator Harry Reid’s undiluted endorsement Sunday of the Iran nuclear accord, followed by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan on Monday, supporters of the deal are closing in on the number they need to ensure it goes into force.The odds have always been very much against defeating the "deal" in Congress — but I think we have to try, anyway.
(Here are The Hill's "whip lists" for the Senate and the House. Before you write your representatives, you may want to do a news search to see if they have taken, or changed, their positions on the "deal".)
- 10:53 AM, 25 August 2015 [link]
Some Numbers On Birthright Citizenship: In my earlier post, I said that "hundreds of thousands" would lose their citizenship if the Supreme Court changed case law on this question. That's true, but I should have said "millions".
The Wall Street Journal looked into the birthright citizenship recently, and found some rough numbers:
4.5 millionNote please that those two numbers include only young children born to illegal immigrants. The article does not include estimates for children born to legal immigrants, but there must be many of them, and millions more who are now over 18, born to illegals .
The Supreme Court is not going to deprive millions of people of their citizenship.
(How rough? Those numbers are probably right, within half a million.
Despite all the attention it gets, "birth tourism" does not seem to be a very large problem, comparatively; they pass on an estimate that there are about 8,000 such babies born in the United States, each year.)
- 10:01 AM, 25 August 2015 [link]
The Fires Are Still Raging In Eastern Washington; The Blame Game Has Already Begun: One of the fires, the "Okanogan complex", is now the largest fire in Washington state's history.
The additional state and federal responses, as far as I can tell from news reports, have been late, and lackadaisical. The fire fighters who face these fires every year have done their jobs bravely, in terrible conditions. Again, as far as I can tell from news reports, they didn't receive as much help from the state (Governor Jay Inslee, Democrat) as they needed, as soon as they should have.
As for Barack Obama, our Democratic president, as far as I can tell from news reports, he has done nothing about the Western wild fires, other than sign a proclamation or two, prepared for him by the bureaucrats. (Oddly, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly thought he cared more about ordinary people than his opponent, Mitt Romney, Those who didn't vote for Obama have to admit that this cold man is very good at faking sincerity.)
Since the fires are mostly on land owned by federal and state governments, it is natural to ask if our governments are managing those lands well, natural to ask whether those fires would not have been as bad if our governments had managed those lands better.
(Those familiar with the effects of Green legal actions will also wonder whether our "environmental" groups have contributed to the problems.)
Obviously, the answer to that question is yes. But the more interesting question is whether people outside the state and federal governments have been trying to warn us that these kinds of fires are more likely, given current policies.
For example, would allowing more logging in our National Forests in that area have reduced the fuel supply for these fires?  :And was anyone saying that before the fires?
Our Democratic land commissioner, Peter Goldmark, has already done an interview saying the fires weren't his fault, that he had asked for more money to reduce hazards and to fight fires, but hadn't received it. (The interviewer, C. R. Douglas, did not challenge Goldmark; in fact, now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever seen Douglas do an interview in which he challenged an elected Democrat who might be vulnerable to a Republican challenge. (Our local journalists will challenge elected Democrats, if those Democrats might lose to another Democrat or a Socialist.)
Yesterday, I heard what amounted to a reply from Goldmark's Republican predecessor, Doug Sutherland. His reply is less organized than one would like, but quite interesting, anyway.
At this point, I am more inclined to believe Sutherland than Goldmark. Unfortunately, this important question of whether our public lands are being managed well is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves from our local journalists, who aren't much interested in the rural areas of our state.
- 8:38 AM, 25 August 2015 [link]
Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon makes a good point.
Take a look at the list of names used by the National Hurricane Center, which you can see here. (Scroll down about two-fifths of the way.)
Are any of those names scary? Any of those names you would choose for a villain in a story, if you wanted to tip off readers that this was a bad guy?
Maybe Boris, but that's the only one I saw in that table.
- 7:16 AM, 25 August 2015 [link]