Archive:

February 2016, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Here's A Different alien contact cartoon.
- 2:33 PM, 16 February 2016   [link]


10-1 Microbes To Men?  Not even close.

For years, scientists have been saying that we have "ten times as many microbial cells as human cells", ten bacteria for each human cell.

According to a recent estimate we have — on the average — 37.2 trillion human cells, which would imply that we have about 372 trillion microbial cells.

Then some spoilsport Israeli scientists decided to count our microbial cells, and found that the actual ratio is about 1-1.   So each of has about 40 trillion bacteria.  On the average.

(For the record:  I recall repeating that 10-1 ratio in a post, but haven't found it in my searches, so far.)
- 2:00 PM, 16 February 2016   [link]


"Nearly $1 Trillion"  For several years now I have been wondering just how large the outflow of money from China was.

Thanks to this New York Times article, I now have a rough estimate.
Over the last year, companies and individuals have moved nearly $1 trillion from China.
I should resist this. but I can't:  A trillion last year, a trillion this year, pretty soon you're talking real money.

There's much more in the article, including stories about the legal and illegal ways people are moving money out of China, but no explanation of why so many wealthy Chinese — who are almost certainly better informed about China than most of us — don't see their own nation as a good place to keep their money or, often, themselves.

(How accurate is that number?  I have no idea.  The reporter, Keith Bradsher, doesn't give a source, and I haven't seen any other estimates.  If we were to say somewhere between .5 trillion and 1.5 trillion, we would have a good chance of being correct, I suspect.

If you are wondering why Bradsher doesn't use "yuan" for the currency, here's the explanation.)
- 8:20 PM, 15 February 2016   [link]


Trump Tops Groucho:  In July, in a post on Donald Trump, I quoted an old Groucho Marx joke:  "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Now Trump has topped Groucho:
We seem to be at a point in the election season where, to quote George Orwell, “restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."  So to restate the obvious:  Choosing Donald Trump as the Republican party's nominee would be a mistake.  He lacks the character to be a trustworthy president and the convictions to be a conservative one.  He's a confidence man who said, a day after winning the New Hampshire primary, "I will be changing very rapidly.  I'm capable of changing to anything I want to change to."
Groucho was offering to change to principles others preferred; Trump is saying he'll change to principles he prefers.

Groucho was joking, but I am nearly certain that Trump isn't.  Intentionally.

(This reminds me of Bill Clinton repeating an old joke, but not realizing it, at the time.)
- 10:01 AM, 15 February 2016   [link]


RIP, Justice Scalia:  We have lost a great man.

George Will describes two successes of Scalia's career, the second less well known, outside legal circles, than the first..
Antonin Scalia, who combined a zest for intellectual combat with a vast talent for friendship, was a Roman candle of sparkling jurisprudential theories leavened by acerbic witticisms.  The serrated edges of his most passionate dissents sometimes strained the court's comity and occasionally limited his ability to proclaim what the late Justice William Brennan called the most important word in the court's lexicon: "Five."  Scalia was, however, one of the most formidable thinkers among the 112 justices who have served on the court, and he often dissented in the hope of shaping a future replete with majorities steeped in principles he honed while in the minority.

Those principles include textualism and originalism: A justice's job is to construe the text of the Constitution or of statutes by discerning and accepting the original meaning the words had to those who ratified or wrote them.
. . .
He was crucial to the creation of an alternative intellectual infrastructure for conservative law students.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, has leavened the often monochrome liberalism of law schools, and Scalia has been the jurisprudential lodestar for tens of thousands of students in society chapters coast to coast.
(In between, Will discusses one of the great issues that conservatives need to discuss.   Will isn't wrong, but that discussion really should be in another column.)

Scalia was famous for his sharp quotes; here are ten famous Scalia quotes

This one is probably my favourite, of the ten:
January 2012, Citizens United v. FEC (opening the door to increased outside spending in elections)

: "I don't care who is doing the speech — the more the merrier. People are not stupid.   If they don't like it, they'll shut it off."
Many of those quotes are of the emperor-has-no-clothes variety; Scalia says something almost everyone knows is true, but has gone unsaid out of respect for some authority.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia article on the Federalist Society, with more than the usual caveats.)
- 9:17 PM, 15 February 2016   [link]


Certainty, Macaulay, And Melbourne:  British Prime Minister Lord Melbourne once said of historian and politician Thomas Macaulay:  "I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything."

We've all known people like Melbourne and like Macaulay.  I try to be more like Melbourne when writing about politics, where certainty is rarely appropriate.  I even entertained the idea, briefly, of putting probability estimates on all my posts, but rejected it because of the complexity, and because at times I can't put even a rough estimate on assertions.

I do that, although it often makes the writing here less crisp than it might be, because I want to be honest with you.  And I do try to provide hints as to how certain I am about what I am saying.

(You might find it entertaining to classify some modern politicians as Macaulays or Melbournes.

I had planned to post this before the post about Donald Trump's beliefs, for reasons I assume are obvious.)
- 3:37 PM, 13 February 2016   [link]


Chuckle:  I found this cartoon. in the 2015 New Yorker collection.  (Which isn't as good as the 2014 collection, but does have many good cartoons.)
- 2:47 PM, 13 February 2016   [link]


News On Vitamin D you may be able to use.
Professional and college sports teams think they have found a cutting-edge advantage hidden in one of the most basic nutrients: vitamin D.

With millions of dollars at stake, elite teams are tracking player health more precisely than ever to make sure their athletes keep playing.  As part of this push, teams in all U.S. major leagues, some college athletic departments and the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams have started monitoring players’ vitamin D levels and intake.   A few are even recommending more time in the sun, which helps the body produce the nutrient.
Teams that have tested for Vitamin D deficiencies have found them, including teams in places you wouldn't expect.
Even the University of Southern California, where sunshine abounds, checks its varsity athletes’ vitamin D levels annually.  Despite all that sun, more than one-third of 223 USC athletes tested for a study published in 2015 had insufficient vitamin D levels.
(I wonder how many of that one-third play indoor sports, such as basketball.  Or wear uniforms that almost completely cover them, as football players now often do.)

So USC has added Frosted Flakes — which are fortified with Vitamin D — to their training tables.

Frosted Flakes may not be your favorite way to get more vitamin D, but you might think about other ways to get it, especially if you work inside, have a dark skin, live in a gloomy climate much of the year, and so on.

(Speculation:  Since Vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, you may absorb more of it from fortified milk, if you drink whole milk.)
- 10:27 AM, 12 February 2016   [link]


After That Heavy Subject, I Needed A Light Cartoon:  This one will do.
- 9:43 AM, 12 February 2016   [link]


A Billion Years Ago, Two Medium-Sized Black Holes Merged, releasing a fantastic amount of energy.
One of them was 36 times as massive as the sun, the other 29.  As they approached the end, at half the speed of light, they were circling each other 250 times a second.

And then the ringing stopped as the two holes coalesced into a single black hole, a trapdoor in space with the equivalent mass of 62 suns.  All in a fifth of a second, Earth time.
. . .
Lost in the transformation was three solar masses’ worth of energy, vaporized into gravitational waves in an unseen and barely felt apocalypse.  As visible light, that energy would be equivalent to the brightness of a billion trillion suns.

And yet it moved the LIGO mirrors only four one-thousandths of the diameter of a proton.
Since the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detectors are sensitive down to one ten-thousandths of a proton, the waves were detected easily on 14 September, in both Louisiana and Washington state.

There's much more in Dennis Overbye's article, including some interesting gossip about the conflicts that may have delayed this discovery.  Some, however, will wonder why that tiny "chirp" matters.

It matters for two reasons.  We have another confirmation of Einstein's general relativity theory, and we have an entirely new way of studying the universe.  Now we can "hear" the universe, as well as seeing it.

(For the ambitious, here's the scientific paper, where the discovery was announced, formally.

And if you need to review black holes, here's the Wikipedia article.)
- 9:05 AM, 12 February 2016   [link]


What Does Donald Trump Believe?  (Other than in the Donald, the whole Donald, and nothing but the Donald.)

Last July, I said I had "no idea" what he believes, and cited some of his many flip-flops.
Perhaps no presidential candidate has the self-confidence he does, even in the face of some glaring flip-flops on his political positions.  Where lesser candidates would dodge questions about why they've changed their mind or give a focus-group-tested line about how they evolved, Trump doesn't admit to ever having a different opinion.

He loved Hillary Clinton; now he thinks she's the worst.  He was very much in favor of abortion rights before he opposed them.  And he might be running as a Republican today, but he was once a registered Democrat who called for legalizing drugs, a massive one-time 14.25 percent tax on the wealthy and staying out of wars that didn't present a "direct threat" to the U.S.  In many ways, he's been to the left of Clinton and even Bernie Sanders on some issues.
Saying I had no idea was putting it too strongly.

It would have been better if I had said that I had no certainty about what he believes, because even then I had tentative ideas.  And by now, I have a tentative argument about what he believes that I'd like to try out on you.  (And I would love to have your reactions to it, especially if you think I'm wrong.)

I begin by assuming that we can't take Trump's word for anything; he says things for effect, without regard to their truth — according to Trump himself.

Let's take just one of those issues, abortion.  In the past, he claimed to be pro abortion, or, if you prefer, pro "choice".  Now he says he's anti abortion, or, if you prefer, pro "life".

Here are the main possibilities:
  1. He was pro abortion then and is pro abortion now, but is lying about his present beliefs.
  2. He was pro life then and is pro life now, but was lying then.
  3. He had no real beliefs then or now, but was, both times, telling an audience what they wanted to hear.
  4. He was pro abortion, but had a conversion in the last decade or so.
Trump supporters mostly seem to prefer the fourth possibility, but I find it hard to believe, for two reasons:  First, Trump himself, to the best of my knowledge, does not say he changed his mind on this subject (or any other).  Second, it is hard to believe that a a man in his sixties — Trump will be seventy in June — changed his mind on such a sensitive subject.

(People who have political conversions are almost all more than willing to tell you when and why they changed their views.)

There are clues to his beliefs in his life.  According to a number of accounts, for much of his adult life he would have wanted abortion to be available, as a "back-up".

So, if we judge by what he has done in most of his adult life, we can conclude, tentatively, that the first possibility is the most likely, with, perhaps, a little of the third mixed in.

We can make similar tentative conclusions on other issues; we can, for instance, conclude that he is in love with crony capitalism — as long as he is the crony capitalist.

In some areas — and here I get even more tentative —' it is likely that Trump does not really have views, though he says he does.  In foreign policy, for instance, I think his admiration for "strong men" like Putin is genuine, but I doubt that he has even thought much about what our strategies should be.

If I had to describe his political beliefs in a single phrase, I'd say he is a "Clinton Democrat", specifically a Bill Clinton Democrat.
- 3:21 PM, 11 February 2016   [link]


"Why Can't Kasich Win?", asks Jay Cost, at the Weekly Standard.
Kasich has been counted out for most of this cycle; his bid is a longshot one at best; and there is no doubt he has a steep hill to climb.  Money is a huge problem for him.   So also is the immediate calendar.  The primary battle now swings to South Carolina, and Nevada, and then Super Tuesday hits the South.  This will be tough for Kasich to survive.  But it may be doable. Also, Massachusetts and Minnesota have primaries on Super Tuesday, while Alaska, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wyoming have caucuses.  Kasich—who combines pragmatism with a Midwesterner's sunny disposition—could win some of these, and hang on to fight until the next phase.
It's understandable that Cost asks this question because John Kasich is close to what you would come up with, if you were designing an ideal Republican candidate.  He's an experienced campaigner, comes from a working class background, is the governor of a swing state, has an ethnic last name, is conservative, but not hard line, and so on.  He is missing military service, but that's less important than it once was.

(Democratic candidates don't seem to suffer when they come from a rich family, but the same is not true for Republican candidates.)

British bettors agree with Cost that Kasich is a long shot; yesterday they were giving him just a three percent chance of winning the nomination.   For what it is worth, I think that he would have good chances against any of the other candidates, Bush, Rubio, Cruz, and Trump, in a one-on-one race.

(Some readers will be more interested in Cost's claim that Donald Trump has hit his national ceiling of about 30 percent.  That argument is consistent with the last month of polling, and for now that's as far as I will go.)
- 8:53 AM, 11 February 2016
Correction:  For some reason, I attributed the article to Fred Barnes, rather than Jay Cost.  I've corrected the error.
- 10:47, 11 Febraury 2016   [link]


It Took Me A Moment To Understand Today's New Yorker cartoon — until I remembered their mating habits.

(Here's another New Yorker cartoon, with a similar idea.)
- 8:07 AM, 11 February 2016   [link]


Sports Fans As Artificial Tribes:  We humans are so tribal that we join artificial tribes, almost automatically.

It is easy to see this with professional sports.  Suppose the National Football League expands to London, as I believe they are planning to do.  Almost instantly, there would be a tribe of fans in London, wearing the team colors, loyally, and cheering on the London Dragons (or whatever team name they pick).

There are no economic advantages for the fans from this behavior, but belonging to a tribe, even an artificial tribe, makes almost all of us feel good.  And makes a few of us willing to fight members of other tribes.  (The last time I was in London I recall seeing a sign in a bar window that said, more or less, that people wearing team gear would not be admitted, because, I concluded, that they might get into fights with others who were wearing different team gear.)

Sports is not the only place where you find artificial tribes, of course, but it is one of the most obvious.  You might find it an interesting intellectual exercise to try to see tribes in some less obvious places.

(There is a political point to this — but I'll save it for a future post.)
- 3:13 PM, 10 February 2016   [link]


If You Want To Understand The Economic Effects Of Illegal Immigration, a good place to start is with this longish (2184 words) article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

The state of Arizona has been doing its best to enforce our immigration laws.  With some success:
Between 2007 and 2012, Arizona’s population of undocumented workers dropped by 40%—by far the biggest percentage decline of any state—according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank whose numbers are cited by pro and anti-immigration groups.
That drop had clear economic effects:
Economists of opposing political views agree the state’s economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states, following a broad crackdown.   But they also say the reduced competition for low-skilled jobs was a boon for some native-born construction and agricultural workers who got jobs or raises, and that the departures also saved the state money on education and health care.  Whether those gains are worth the economic pain is the crux of the debate.
So Arizona saw slower growth because there were fewer workers, but some workers with lower skills gained, and the state saved some money on services.

(I suspect housing costs for people with low incomes also went down, though the article doesn't discuss that.)

As you would expect, some employers who relied on those illegal workers are looking for ways to replace them with machines.  For example, a commercial farmer is trying to develop a machine to remove stems from peppers.  If he succeeds, he'll need a few more machine operators making $20 an hour, and many fewer field hands making $13 an hour,

The reporter, Bob Davis, presents arguments from both sides, fairly I thought.   I wouldn't mention that, except that it is unusual in discussions of this subject,

(It's my impression from the article that the greater use of E-Verify is the main reason for that 40 percent drop.

Davis doesn't discuss the effects on communities in Arizona.  I'm not blaming him for that, since a good discussion would be much harder to do, and would require another article at least as long.)
- 1:45 AM, 10 February 2016   [link]


America Needs Three Balloons:  (And, if i were richer and younger, I would supply and help man them.)

Remember the balloon being used in Brazil to criticize the ruling party?
A new figure looms over Brazil’s already volatile politics, stirring controversy wherever it goes:   A 50-foot-tall balloon depicting Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a striped jailhouse uniform, complete with ankle ball-and-chain.

The balloon, recognizable as Brazil’s best-known politician because of its big belly and gray beard, first appeared at a mass demonstration in mid-August.   Overnight, it became a national mascot for protesters seeking to oust leftist President Dilma Rousseff, a da Silva protégé.
We need three balloons because the three leading candidates for president, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, are each unfit to be president, though for very different reasons.  In fact, all are unfit to hold any high office in a democracy.

We need a simple way to explain that to voters, and I think that three appropriate balloons, appearing outside each candidate's rallies, might work.

What should the three balloons look like?  For Clinton I think we should go ahead and copy the Brazilian example.  Throughout her career she has operated on the assumption that the laws that apply to others don't apply to her.  Even now, the FBI is investigating whether she broke laws in her reckless use of that private server for official emails.  So Clinton gets a striped prison uniform.

For Sanders, it is also easy; he should appear as a backpacking traveler, and on his backpack there would be stickers for all the Communist countries he has visited, a hammer and sickle for the old Soviet Union, a star on a red field for Cuba, and so on.

For Donald Trump, it's harder, because there are so many possibilities.  Given his potty mouth, a balloon showing him with soap in his mouth would work.  Given his support for eminent domain used for private purposes, one showing him picking on a little old lady would also work.  But the best I think would be one showing a quality he boasts about: his endless lying.  In his book, "The Art of the Deal", he boasts about making "hyperbolic" claims when he is trying to sell some sucker or suckers on a deal.  He made the same admission (boast?) under oath when he was making a deposition for a trial.  Incidentally, he seems to think that almost everyone else lies as much as he does, but just aren't as good at it as he is.

So, for Trump, the balloon should show him with his pants on fire, to remind everyone of that grade school rhyme: "Liar, liar, . . .".

I should add one detail, just in case any of you decide to put this plan, or something like it, into practice:  Be sure to include guards in your plan.  Supporters of the three candidates are not going to like seeing those balloons.
- 9:36 AM, 10 February 2016   [link]


How Did Bill Clinton Do In The 1992 New Hampshire Primary?   He came in second to Paul Tsongas of the neighboring state of Massachusetts.

After the New Hampshire votes came in, Clinton proclaimed himself the "Comeback Kid", because he had survived the first round of scandal stories.  (With the help of his wife, and CBS.)

Clinton didn't win a state until 3 March, when he captured Georgia.

I had forgotten one of the reasons Clinton beat Jerry Brown:
On March 17, Tsongas left the race when he decisively lost both the Illinois and Michigan primaries to Clinton, with Brown as a distant third.  Exactly one week later, Brown eked out a narrow win in the bitterly fought Connecticut primary.  As the press focused on the primaries in New York and Wisconsin, which were both to be held on the same day, Brown, who had taken the lead in polls in both states, made a serious gaffe: he announced to an audience of various leaders of New York City's Jewish community that, if nominated, he would consider the Reverend Jesse Jackson as a vice presidential candidate.  Jackson was still a controversial figure in that community and Brown's polling numbers suffered.  On April 7, he lost narrowly to Bill Clinton in Wisconsin (37-34), and dramatically in New York (41-26).   In addition, his "willingness to break with liberal orthodoxy on taxes led to denunciations from the party regulars, but by the end of the race he had been embraced by much of the Left."[3]
I have no idea why Brown did that.  He could have, instead, said that Douglas Wilder certainly would deserve consideration, along with other Democratic governors.

(Looking over that table of results, I can't help wondering what would have happened if there had been two or more Southern candidates in the race, if, for instance, Al Gore had jumped in.

There may have been fewer Democratic candidates because President Bush looked so strong after the first Gulf War.  I have often wondered whether Clinton was thinking that 1992 would be at least a good practice run for 1996, or whether he sensed Bush's weakness before most of us did.)
- 3:11 PM, 9 February 2016   [link]


British Bettors Favor Kasich — for second place.

As far as I can tell, almost everyone thinks Hillary Clinton will get "Berned" in New Hampshire.   If she doesn't, it will be one of the bigger poll misses, ever.

You can find the latest polls here, and polls, plus lots of commentary, here.

Here's why I'm not making a prediction on the Republican race:
Ryan Struyk: "A large chunk of the New Hampshire electorate says they're still willing to change their allegiances -- just a day before the primary.  More than four in 10 likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire say they still could change their minds...   A CNN/WMUR/UNH poll shows that less than half of likely Republican voters say they have 'definitely decided' who they're going to vote for.
However, I will predict, with considerable confidence, that some pollsters will be unhappy tomorrow.

And I will predict, tentatively, that Trump will miss his polling average by a few points.  His supporters tend to be less likely to vote, and, as far as I can tell, he hasn't spent the money for an effective get-out-the-vote organization — which can make a difference in a primary.
- 1:24 PM, 9 February 2016
The British bettors did better than I did; Kasich did come in second, but Trump did not under perform.
- 4:26 AM   [link]


Comrade Sanders' "Stalinist Kibbutz"  In 1963, Bernie Sanders went to work as a volunteer on a kibbutz sponsored by the Hashomer Hatzair movement,
But in 1963 when Sanders worked on Hashomer’s kibbutz, its members considered themselves Marxist-Zionists, and they held a pro-Soviet orientation which included supporting Soviet foreign policy.  Their ideological orientation on Zionism and socialism came not from the social democrats of the Socialist International, who were strongly anti-Communist and anti-fascist during the years of World War II (like Germany’s Willy Brandt), but from a rather unknown figure, a Zionist named Ber Borochov.
Borochov combined Marxism and Zionism, which is an impressive intellectual trick, but not one that would make critical thinkers admire the soundness.of his ideas.

Sanders has been unwilling to talk about his time on that kibbutz where, according to this New York Times re-write of the Haaretz articles, he lost his Jewish faith, and strengthened his leftism.

Ron Radosh, a genuine expert on these subjects, thinks that Sanders has changed his views since 1963.  I'm not so sure about that, but I agree with Radosh that Sanders ought to tell us about his past beliefs and, if he has changed them, when and why.

(The story has an odd journalistic history.  In 1990, Israeli journalist Yossi Melman interviewed Sanders and learned the name of the kibbutz.  The interview was published in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.   Recently, Melman remembered that old interview and got it re-published in Haaretz — where it is, alas, behind their pay wall.  Other newspapers, including the Times of Israel, re-wrote the story, sometimes adding details.)
- 9:22 AM, 9 February 2016   [link]


Is Trump's Campaign Self-Funded?  Not entirely.  In fact, there's a good chance he may make a profit on it.
Donald J. Trump once boasted that he could someday be the only person to turn a profit running for president.  He may be closer than anyone realizes.  Mr. Trump’s campaign spent just $12.4 million in 2015, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, millions less than any of his leading rivals for the Republican nomination.  More than half of Mr. Trump’s total spending was covered by checks from his supporters, who have thronged to his stump speeches and bought millions of dollars’ worth of “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts.
There's more, but that's enough to show you that Trump has not yet made a big sacrifice for his country.

If he does make a profit, Trump wouldn't be the first.  For example, Alan Keyes profited from his presidential runs, and there's good reason to think that Ron Paul and his family came out ahead financially from his runs.
- 7:31 AM, 9 February 2016   [link]