Archive:

August 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Could "Neither" Win A Plurality In Our Presidential Election?   The Wall Street Journal thinks it might.
The year 2016 probably won’t go down as one of America’s great democratic moments, but maybe voters are wiser than their leaders.  A growing body of polling evidence suggests that in a race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the candidacy of “neither” would win, perhaps in a rout.

A Monmouth University national survey published Monday asked whether voters had a favorable opinion of the Democrat, the Republican, both or neither.  Some 33% had positive views about Mrs. Clinton only and 24% about Mr. Trump only.  An unprecedented plurality of 35% responded neither, which means neither meets the 15% threshold to make it into the presidential debates.  Can neither get a podium on stage?
There are electoral systems where neither can win; unfortunately, ours isn't one of them.

If it were, we could have a "do over" election, starting early in November.  Wouldn' t that be nice?
- 7:51 PM, 31 August 2016   [link]


Trump Agency Models Violated Immigration Rules!?   That's what this Mother Jones article says.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has placed immigration at the core of his presidential campaign.  He has claimed that undocumented immigrants are "taking our jobs" and "taking our money," pledged to deport them en masse, and vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border.  At one point he demanded a ban on Muslims entering the country.  Speaking to supporters in Iowa on Saturday, Trump said he would crack down on visitors to the United States who overstay their visas and declared that when any American citizen "loses their job to an illegal immigrant, the rights of that American citizen have been violated."  And he is scheduled to give a major address on immigration in Arizona on Wednesday night.

But the mogul's New York modeling agency, Trump Model Management, has profited from using foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not permit them to work here, according to three former Trump models, all noncitizens, who shared their stories with Mother Jones.  Financial and immigration records included in a recent lawsuit filed by a fourth former Trump model show that she, too, worked for Trump's agency in the United States without a proper visa.
All right, it is Mother Jones, and only one of the models is identified, but there is enough evidence there to make it very likely that the story is true.

And it is, I think, much better evidence than the many contradictory statements on immigration he has made over the years.

But that still doesn't tell us what he would do, now.

Here's my best guess:  Trump would hire non-citizens to work illegally if it were to his financial advantage, and he thought he could get away with it.  If elected, he would expel a few, loudly, for political advantage.  But he wouldn't follow those expulsions with any comprehensive program of expulsions.

That's not very definite, I know, but that guess is the best I can do.
- 4:05 PM, 31 August 2016   [link]


It's A Good Question, If I Do Say So Myself:  And I do wish some White House reporter would ask it:  "What Did President Obama Know About Clinton's Email Server, And When Did He Know It?"

I can not believe that the same question, or one much like it, has not occurred to some of our White House reporters, but they haven't asked it, because, I assume, they don't want to hear the answer.
- 8:59 AM, 31 August 2016   [link]


Secretary Of State John Kerry Made A Funny Slip in a recent press conference.
“No country is immune from terrorism," Kerry said at a press availability in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  "It’s easy to terrorize.  Government and law enforcement have to be correct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  But if you decide one day you’re going to be a terrorist and you’re willing to kill yourself, you can go out and kill some people.  You can make some noise.  Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much.  People wouldn’t know what’s going on.”
If you read the entire article, you can guess what he was trying to say, but that is still a mistake our chief diplomat shouldn't have made.

By way of Jim Geraghty.
- 8:33 AM, 31 August 2016   [link]


Muslims, An Ancient Treaty, China — And Noodles:  This article has them all.

(Libertarians will find the treaty objectionable.)
- 8:00 AM, 31 August 2016   [link]


Tidally-Locked Worlds Have Their Advantages:  Most astronomers believe that Proxima b is tidally locked, with one hot side always facing Proxima Centauri, and one cold side always facing away from the star.

Most science writers have concluded that is a bad thing.

But such worlds may have possibilities.  Here's a somewhat fanciful description of such a world, from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.
[Radole] was a ribbon world—of which the Galaxy boasts sufficient, but among which the inhabited variety is a rarity.  It was a world, in other words, where the two halves have the monotonous extremes of hot and cold, while the region of possible life is the birdling ribbon of the twilight zone.

Such a world always sounds uninviting to those who have not tried it but there exist spots, strategically placed—and Radole City was located in such a one.

It spread along the foothills of the hacked-out mountains that backed it along the rim of the cold hemisphere and held off the frightful ice.  The warm, dry air of the sun-half spilled over, and from the mountains was piped the water— and between the two, Radole City became a continuous garden, swimming in the eternal morning of an eternal June.
Doesn't sound that bad, does it?

Though I could quarrel with a detail or two in that description, it illustrates one of the great advantages of a tidally-locked world; cold and heat are always readily available.   You just have to mix them in the right proportions to get the temperatures you want.  And any physicist could think of a half dozen ways to use the combination to generate energy.
- 3:28 PM, 30 August 2016   [link]


"IS Buried Thousands In 72 Mass Graves"  The Associated Press is documenting the horrors, as they are uncovered, figuratively, and literally.
Surrounded by smoke and flames, the sound of gunshots echoing around him, the young man crouched in the creek for hours, listening to the men in his family die.

On the other side of the mountain, another survivor peered through binoculars as the handcuffed men of neighboring villages were shot and then buried by a waiting bulldozer.  For six days he watched as the extremists filled one grave after another with his friends and relatives.

Between them, the two scenes of horror on Sinjar mountain contain six burial sites and the bodies of more than 100 people, just a small fraction of the mass graves Islamic State extremists have scattered across Iraq and Syria.

In exclusive interviews, photos and research, The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group's territory shrinks.  In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when IS extremists took over their region. For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, Islamic State propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth.
The rest of the article is, if anything, even harder to read — but you should read it anyway if you want to understand the kind of people we are fighting, and the kind of actions that have inspired so many of their recruits.

(The Daily Mail has more pictures; the Guardian has a useful map.)
- 2:06 PM, 30 August 2016   [link]


Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon shows the difficulty cartoonists are having with the story of the day.

(The difficulty is understandable; most of the good cartoons on the subject couldn't be printed in a family publication.)
- 8:08 AM, 30 August 2016   [link]


Scheduling Special Events can be tricky.
- 7:43 AM, 30 August 2016   [link]


So Who Does Kristof Think Is Today's Neville Chamberlain?  In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof declared that:  "Today, to our shame, Anne Frank is a Syrian girl."

Which immediately brought up this question:  For Kristof, who is the weak Western leader who enabled the crimes against that Syrian girl?

As it happens, Kristof answered that question, though not explicitly, just before his concluding sentence.
History rhymes.  As I’ve periodically argued, President Obama’s reluctance to do more to try to end the slaughter in Syria casts a shadow on his legacy, . . .
But then Kristof skittered away from his answer like a frightened mouse, not even giving Obama's failure a complete sentence.

As it happens, I don't agree with the analogy, for a number of reasons.  But if Kristof is going to use it, he should follow through and make the comparison explicit.   He should say that, for him, President Obama is our Neville Chamberlain.
- 3:51 PM, 29 August 2016   [link]


Election Scorecard, 8/29:  There has been little change in the last few weeks; both the polls and the betting markets settled down after conventions, with Hillary Clinton holding a solid lead, 7.0 percent, in the poll model and in the betting market (74.9 percent).

It is a good time to review a basic fact of American politics:  If the issues and candidates are equal, the party with the most voters will win.  Or, to put it more specifically, if the issues and canddiates are equal, the Democrats will win national elections, since there are more Democrats than Republcians.   (If anything, the Democratic edge may be increasing this year.)

Clinton's lead is about what you would expect, if all you knew was party identification.

All that said, I agree with Harry Enten Nate Silver that there has probably been a small movement toward Trump in the last week or two.

Will Trump continue to gain?  That depends mostly, as Harold Macmillan once said, on "Events, my dear boy, events."
- 10:43 AM, 29 August 2016   [link]


That Letter From Donald Trump's Doctor?  It's even funnier than I thought, at first.

Trump, at 70. is healthier than marathoner George W. Bush?

I suspect Dr, Bornstein is giving us a hint when he says Trump's "health is excellent, especially his mental health".  If the doctor winked when he said that, we'd know for sure.

(My own guess?  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have health problems that could affect their work as president, which is why neither has released their full medical records.  We have some guesses about what hers might be, but his, other than the narcissism, are completely hidden, just like his federal tax returns.)
- 8:04 AM, 29 August 2016   [link]


Computer Scientists will like this cartoon, even if they have seen it already.

Others may want to consult this Wikipedia article.
- 7:35 AM, 29 August 2016   [link]


Rebecca West, A Different Kind Of Feminist:  I finished working my way through Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and will have more to say about it in a few weeks, but I did want to pass on a little bit from Christopher Hitchens' introduction to the Kindle version.

Hitchens excuses the book's length, more than 1,100 pages, by saying that it is actually four books in one, and gives this description of the second:
The second volume gives an account of the mentality and philosophy of a superbly intelligent woman, whose feminism was above all concerned with the respect for, and the preservation of, true masculinity.
Sounds paradoxical, doesn't it?  But it is an accurate description of West's feminism, though West might object to that qualifying "true".

If you are wondering what kind of woman might have those views, you can find some clues in her Wikipedia biography.

(Working may be too harsh a word, though I did find parts of the book tedious.   Perhaps that's because she and I have such different intellectual styles; I often found myself stopping to "translate" what she was saying into something more like the way I would say it.  That's a good mental exercise, I suppose, but it does slow down my reading.)
- 8:32 PM, 28 August 2016   [link]


It's A British Cartoon, From More Than A Century Ago:  But I think you'll like it.

You can see more from that era here.

(The copyright has expired, but I thought the details in the drawing are interesting enough so that you should see it at full size, not reduced for my page.)
- 5:25 PM, 28 August 2016   [link]


More On Caster Semenya:  After I wrote my brief post on him, I ran across this confused editorial by Jeré Longman, in the New York Times.  (Technically, it's an article, but anyone who reads it with an open mind will recognize that it is an opinion piece and should have been labeled that way.)
When Semenya, then 18, dominated the 800 at the 2009 world track and field championships, winning by more than two seconds, a fellow competitor called her a man.
. . .
No one serious is calling her a man.
. . .
Dr. Eric Vilain, a medical geneticist from U.C.L.A., told my colleague Juliet Macur last year that “if we push this argument, anyone declaring a female gender can compete as a woman.”

He added, “We’re moving toward one big competition, and the very predictable result of that competition is that there will be no women winners.”
Competitors have called Semenya a man, but "no one serious" has.  Competitors at those levels are almost always quite serious about such matters.

As I said, the editorial is confused.

There is, however, one fascinating detail in it that I had missed, in my searches:   Semenya is married — to a woman.  So my speculation that he might be able to father a child, with some medical help, gets a little support.

(I probably should say why I think that 2009 report in the Australian Telegraph is correct.  If it were not, if Semenya did not have internal testes, but no ovaries, it would be easy for his representatives to get the newspaper to print a retraction, simply by showing them the medical evidence, confidentially.)
- 4:45 PM, 27 August 2016   [link]


This Cartoon Is Dangerous:  So I am just going to describe it, not link to it.

"Pandora's Music Box" shows a woman, screaming after opening a box, and letting those annoying songs out, those songs that you don't particularly like but stick in you head, even after you try hard to banish them.

Songs like . . . well, if I were to name any of them, I might inflict them on you, and I don't want to do that, so I won't name any, for the same reason I am not linking to the cartoon.

(Still curious after that warning?  All right, then this search string should get you there: "Pandora's Music Box + New Yorker cartoon".  But don't blame me, if you are afflicted by an "earworm", after seeing the cartoon.)
- 2:56 PM, 27 August 2016   [link]


The Joke's On Ann Coulter:  She trusted Donald Trump.

Which required her to ignore his long record of dishonesty, his many positions on immigration, and what he had done over the years.

Why did Coulter make that mistake?

Most likely she believed what she wanted to believe, a mistake we all make from time to time.

But it is rare to see that mistake exposed so dramatically, and with such perfect timing.
- 9:01 AM, 26 August 2016   [link]


It Could Get Monotonous, I suppose.
- 7:43 AM, 26 August 2016   [link]


Demolition Permit Delays:   Every once in a while, there comes a story, or set of stories, out of Seattle that seem inexplicable, to me at least.

For instance, it can take inordinate amounts of time for a builder to get a demolition permit to tear down an old building.  Once a building is vacant, squatters often move in, and cause problems for the neighborhood, and sometimes for the police and fire departments. For example:
We have had this exact issue here at The Seattle Times with our old headquarters building, now owned by Canadian developers.  There have been squatters in the building for years now.  But sometimes when we’ve called police they’ve told us they aren’t responding to calls about squatters there.
Though Westneat doesn't mention it, the fire department has had to come to the building many times to put out small fires.

The developer wants to tear down the building, and put up apartments, for which there is a strong demand in Seattle, right now.  But they can't start until they get that demolition permit.

At this point, if you are at all like me, you are wondering why the delay in this permit, and others.  Wouldn't it be to everyone's advantage to act promptly on these requests?

But our local reporters are not interested in that question; they don't ask the department head(s) why there are these delays, and they don't ask the mayor, Ed Murray, why his people can't get their acts together.

So, though I would like to explain these delays, I can't.

(There are cities where you would immediately suspect that these delays were attempts to solicit a bribe or two, but I don't think that's what is causing Seattle's delays.

Murray is a married gay Catholic, a combination that delights most of our local journalists.  I can't help wondering whether that explains why they have been so easy on him.  Incidentally, his "partner" has a job with the city.)
- 3:44 PM, 25 August 2016   [link]


Is Proxima Centauri's Planet "Earthlike"?  Only if you are using a very broad definition of earthlike.
The newly discovered planet "candidate" (a word that gives the astronomers some wiggle room in case it turns out to be a misapprehension), Proxima b, appears to be roughly the size of Earth, and in an orbit around the star that would let the planet possibly have liquid water at the surface.  Which means this planet is potentially habitable.  It could have life on it right this minute!
As Joel Achenbach goes on to point out, Mars and Venus also are small rocky planets in our sun's "habitable zone".  Mars may have bacterial life, but would need some work before people could live there, comfortably, outside of domes.

And Venus, from our point of view, is a real fixer-up.

So, odds are, Proxima Centauri b is not move-in ready.

Moreover, since it is so close to its star, there is a good chance it is tidally locked, and always presents the same face to Proxima Centauri.  If so, water might boil away on the light side, and freeze on the dark side, leaving, at most, a narrow habitable band around the planet.

(As usual, Wikipedia has more details.)
- 9:52 AM, 25 August 2016   [link]


Yesterday's "Pepper & Salt" has an unorthodox evolutionary theory.
- 8:35 AM, 25 August 2016   [link]