Archive:

December 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



RIP, Thomas Schelling:  We have lost a great man.
The University of Maryland has confirmed the death of Thomas Schelling, perhaps the most important economist and social scientist of his generation.  Most social scientists hope that their ideas will be read, and perhaps, if they are lucky, change people’s minds a little.  Schelling’s ideas made the Cold War what it was and changed the world.

Schelling’s intellectual contribution will receive a lot of discussion over the coming days and weeks.  He was one of the most important thinkers about game theory, an approach to modeling strategic interactions that has remade entire fields of study in the social sciences.  Yet his work is anything but technically forbidding.  He was a beautifully clear and precise writer. His three major books, “The Strategy of Conflict,” “Arms and Influence,” and “Micromotives and Macrobehavior” can be read by anyone with even a minimal exposure to social science thinking.  Of these three, “The Strategy of Conflict” is a classic — a book that ought be read by everyone.  Its ideas are not only relevant to international politics but to everyday life, the study of criminal behavior, and multitudes of other topics.
Schelling worked to prevent nuclear war; his thinking on that subject influenced American policy makers and, I would guess, Soviet policy makers, eventually, too.

It's been years since I read The Strategy of Conflict, but I remember enough of it to vouch for its clarity.

(His Wikipedia biography has much more on his life, and contributions.)
- 10:31 AM, 30 December 2016   [link]


Worth Reading:  Elliott Abrams on the Israeli settlements.
The crisis in U.S.–Israeli relations that the Obama administration caused this month, in its waning days, has its roots in a huge and foolish error that President Obama made on coming to office in 2009.
If I were asked to write a title for the article, it would have been something like this:  "How Bush Succeeded, and Obama Failed, on Israeli Settlements".

(Abrams has written a book on the subject.

George Mitchell is often described as an Arab-American, which he is, by adoption.  It is fair to wonder whether he might have a dual-loyalty problem, when negotiating in the Middle East.)
- 9:26 AM, 30 December 2016   [link]


What Would A Supercat Do?  Among other things, this.

(The version I have, in the 2010 New Yorker collection, adds a cape, which is a nice touch.)
- 8:16 AM, 30 December 2016   [link]


You May Not Want To Share Yesterday's "Pepper & Salt" Cartoon with your vegan friends.
- 9:29 AM, 29 December 2016   [link]


Chuckle:  A snowflake protests against a common, but unfair, comparison.
- 7:19 PM, 28 December 2016   [link]


Two 2008 Predictions:  In July of 2008, I predicted that, if Barack Obama was elected president, he would govern "as close to his leftist ideas and values as he can get away with".

Two examples:  In 2008, Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage; in 2012, he said he was in favor of gay marriage (after Joe Biden tested the waters on that issue).  But the Obama administration was adamant that the Little Sisters of the Poor, and similar groups, be forced to buy contraceptives, including contraceptives they viewed as abortifacients.

The shift on gay marriage is what you would expect of a pragmatic politician, doing what he has to do to get elected, and changing when changing public opinion allows it.  In contrast, the stance on contraceptives is what you would expect from a rigid ideologue.  (It would have been easy to give the Little Sisters an exception.)  While president, Obama mixed the two, with enough pragmatic decisions so that he could be re-elected in 2012.  (If he had been more pragmatic, if he had pursued more consistently centrist policies, I think he would have won a bigger victory in 2012.)

In September of 2008, I predicted that, if Barack Obama was elected president, the Democrats would suffer severe losses.
There are enough older voters whose memories of 1994 have lapsed, and new voters who know nothing about the issues in that election, much less the elections of 1968 and 1980, so that Barack Obama could win this November.   If he does, the result will not be pretty, since he is even more out of touch with reality than Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
On 23 December of this year, the New York Times published an op-ed, "Was Obama Bad for Democrats?", by Democrats Stanley and Anna Greenberg, admitting that I was right in my second prediction, and half admitting that I was right in my first.  They admit that Democrats lost heavily because of Obama's policies, but think he could have minimized those losses if he had only explained his policies better.
- 4:03 PM, 28 December 2016   [link]


In The United States, 1 Ton = 2,000 Pounds:  (It has different values in other countries, and different meanings in some contexts.)

The word is also used, as Wikipedia says, informally:
Ton is also used informally, often as slang, to mean a large amount of something, material or not.   For example, "I have a ton of homework to do this weekend."
The weather folks in this area like to say that a "ton" of snow fell in the mountains.

Recently, I heard a news reader say that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson played a "ton" better in Seattle's most recent win.

All three informal examples pose problems for the literal minded.  An ordinary book pack is not large enough to hold 2,000 pounds (assuming the books are made of normal matter).  Any real snowstorm will bring far more than 2,000 pounds of snow to the mountains.  Any recent picture of Wilson will show you that he did not gain 2,000 pounds in a week.

It is easy to find better ways to say each of those examples.

Homework is better measured in hours, for example:  "I'll bet I have 50 hours of homework to do over this weekend."  (To which a parent might respond by asking whether that includes time for texting, updating Facebook, and so on.)

Snow is better measured in inches (or in centimeters in the metric world), though it would be fun to see an estimate of the total in tons, occasionally.  (Incidentally, estimating the number of tons in a recent snowfall would be a good exercise for a junior high school student.)

NFL quarterbacks are better measured by their quarterback ratings.   The news reader should have displayed Wilson's ratings for the last two games, or perhaps even the last three or four, depending on the point she wanted to make.

(If you are wondering whether "ton" works informally, use the simple test I did:   Substitute "2,000 pounds" (2,240 pounds in Britain) for "ton", and see if your sentence makes sense.

The history of "ton' surprised me.
It has a long history and has acquired a number of meanings and uses over the years.  It is used principally as a unit of mass.  Its original use as a measurement of volume has continued in the capacity of cargo ships and in terms such as the freight ton.  It can also be used as a measure of energy, for truck classification, or as a colloquial term.

It is derived from the tun, the term applied to a cask of the largest size.  This could contain a volume between 175 and 213 imperial gallons (210 and 256 US gal), which could weigh around 2,000 pounds (910 kg) and occupy some 60 cubic feet (1.7 m3) of space.[1]  The origin for the word ton comes from ancient Greek θύννος (thúnnos, tuna fish).
They don't explain how you get from tuna fish to a large cask, and I haven't been able to think of any plausible explanation for that jump in meaning.)
- 9:19 AM, 28 December 2016   [link]


Would A Dog Agree with this cartoon?

(Judging by their behavior, I think a dog would say both are.)
- 7:39 AM, 28 December 2016   [link]


Most Of Us Are Used To Suicidal Squirrels:  But this is an unusual cause for a power outage.
A fish caused a two-hour power outage in South Seattle on Wednesday.

Seattle City Light says a bird dropped a fish on power lines, causing an outage for 172 customers.  By 2:15 p.m., power had been restored.
City Light thinks the culprit was an eagle, and the victim a salmon.

(The fish probably came from the Duwamish Waterway — giving us another example of our success in cleaning up our environment, even dirty industrial rivers.).
- 3:16 PM, 27 December 2016   [link]


The Course Of True Love Doesn't Always Run Smooth:   Even in the computer age.
- 2:50 PM, 27 December 2016   [link]


Milk, LEDs, Fluorescents, And Taste:  A few days ago, I ran across a Wall Street Journal article, which you can find here, saying that blind taste tests showed that milk exposed to new LEDs tasted better than milk exposed to fluorescents.

(The problem arises in practice when milk in those translucent plastic containers is stored in supermarket coolers.  Apparently, even a few hours of exposure can change the taste of milk for the worse.)

Thinking I'd share this tidbit with you, I made a quick search, and found this June press release.
Got LED light?  Display cases and grocery stores increasingly do, and that’s bad news for milk drinkers.

Cornell researchers in the Department of Food Science found exposure to light-emitting diode (LED) sources for even a few hours degrades the perceived quality of milk more so than the microbial content that naturally accumulates over time.  Their study determined milk remained at high-quality for two weeks when shielded from LED exposure, and consumers overwhelmingly preferred the older, shielded milk over fresh milk stored in a typical container that had been exposed to LED light for as little as four hours.
And then I looked at this December press release.
New LED lights that are being installed in milk display cases across the country do more than just reduce energy bills — they also help milk taste better, Virginia Tech researchers have found.

The exposure to certain light changes the flavor profile of milk. Milk fresh from the dairy should taste sweet and rich but when people describe milk that was exposed to conventional fluorescent lights, they used words like “cardboard,” “stale,” and “painty.”

Researchers found that while the new LED lights reduce those negative profiles, there is still work to be done in packaging to ensure milk tastes like it did back when a milkman delivered freshly pasteurized milk to your grandmother’s doorstep.
So LED lights ruin the taste of milk, and LED lights protect the taste of milk, but could use help from better plastic bottles.

It is possible that the Virginia Tech researchers used "new" LEDs that emit a wavelength that is less damaging to the riboflavin, but so far I haven't thought of any other possible explanations for this apparent contradiction.

This doesn't affect me personally, since I buy milk in those opaque cardboard containers, but if I did buy milk in plastic jugs, I would get a few people together, and do a simple blind taste test, comparing milk from cardboard and plastic containers.  You don't need many people — five subjects might be enough — but you really do want to do the test blind.
- 4:01 PM, 26 December 2016   [link]


Fans Of A Certain Old Movie will like this cartoon.   (I liked it even though I didn't care much for the movie.)

Younger readers may need this hint.
- 10:24 AM, 26 December 2016   [link]


Merry Christmas!

To all those who are celebrating it today.
- 9:22 AM, 25 December 2016   [link]