Archive:

February 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Double Failure In Afghanistan:  You've heard, I'm sure, about the recent advances of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But you may not have known that, until recently, we had a working relationship with the Russians there, and for good reasons, because our interests mostly coincide,   Both nations want to keep the Taliban out of power; both nations want to limit the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan,

That cooperation began after 9/11, and had endured, as one expects when there are advantages to both nations in cooperation.  Now it has collapsed.
“We won’t join the useless events, and we’ve already told the Americans,” President Vladimir V. Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir N. Kabulov, told Russian state news media this month.  Russia, he said, would sit out any talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul, backed by the United States, Pakistan and China.

“Honestly speaking, we’re already tired of joining anything Washington starts,” Mr. Kabulov said.  The Kremlin, he added, “has no desire to participate in what the Americans organize ‘on the fly’ just for their own pre-election interests and where they give us the role of extras on the set.”
That doesn't sound as if the Russians have much faith in the Obama administration's diplomacy.
- 6:23 PM, 29 February 2016   [link]


Thinking, Fast And Slow, About Debugging And Politics:   Some weeks ago, I ran into a hardware problem — what it was isn't important for this post.

I thought fast and decided the problem was with one component, and ordered a replacement.  I was wrong; the problem was with another component, something I could have established originally if I had taken the time to "think slow" and test my hypothesis.  Instead, I went ahead and even ignored new information that should have made me reconsider my hypothesis.

As a result, I lost a little money, and a fair amount of time.

The temptation to "think fast" about politics is much stronger for almost all voters; their individual vote is unlikely to determine the outcome and accurate, unbiased information can be difficult to find, or even recognize.  It is, almost always, cost-free to vote for the wrong guy (or gal).

But good citizens have an obligation to do what I didn't do in that original debugging session: test their hypotheses against the facts, to the extent possible.

For instance, we can apply that old investing maxim to politics:  If it sound too good to be true, it probably is.

(Here's the first post in this series.)
- 1:11 PM, 29 February 2016   [link]


"What If Trump Doesn’t Have Billions?"  Jim Geraghty asks an interesting question, and provides some evidence that the answer might be yes.

Perhaps the most important part of the post is the description of what happened when Trump sued a New York Times reporter, Timothy L. O'Brien, who had claimed, in a book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, that Trump was worth less than a billion, way less.
Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances, people who had worked closely with him for years, told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million.  By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.
Trump sued O'Brien for libel, and lost, while refusing to reveal documents, including his unredacted tax returns, that might have supported his case.

We can, I think, draw four conclusions from this.  First, Trump is almost certainly lying when he says he is worth $10 billion.  Second, it is unlikely that Trump will release his tax returns, though he has promised to.  Third, and this conclusion is tentative, there is a good chance that Trump, has made almost no money, or even lost money, since his big inheritance, $200 million, as I recall.

Fourth — and here's the sad one:  If he does break his promise to release his tax returns, few of his followers will care.
- 10:25 AM, 29 February 2016
Correction:  An alert reader pointed out to me that I was repeating a mistake Marco Rubio had made, assuming Trump inherited all of his father's estate.   Instead, Trump almost certainly had to divide it with four siblings, so he would have inherited not $200 million, but somewhere around $40 million.  As far as I know, the will is not public, so no one outside the Trump family, and the executor, knows exactly how much he inherited.

Most who have followed Trump's business career believe that his father helped him, directly and indirectly, in ways that may have been worth tens of millions.  There is what strikes me as a fair-minded summary of his business career in this Washington Post article, if you want to read more on the subject.
- 1:37 PM, 1 March 2016   [link]


All The Recent Bad News put me in the mood to laugh at this cartoon.
- 9:39 AM, 29 February 2016   [link]


"Milk The Hot Hand."  Followed, just a minute later, by:  "The hot hand is contagious."

I was happily watching the exciting end of a basketball game this weekend when the TV color guy came up with those two distracting sentences.

Oh, I knew what he meant, and if you are at all familiar with basketball you know, too.   He was suggesting running more plays for the player who had just made a couple of shots, and saying that when one player on a team makes a couple of shots, he may inspire his team mates to do the same.

But for a moment I was trying to visualize how you could "milk" a hand, and then wondering whether the CDC knew about those contagious hot hands.

At the time, the sentences were annoying; in retrospect they are pretty funny.

(Basketball announcers often talk about "milking the clock", which doesn't make any sense, either.)
- 8:54 AM, 29 February 2016   [link]


But Not A High Enough Price To Make Him Give Up Even A Single Golf Game:  That was my bitter reaction to the second paragraph in this New York Times article.
If the temporary cease-fire in Syria begins to take hold on Saturday, despite the low expectations of the American and Russian officials who negotiated the agreement, it will be a landmark event.  For the first time, diplomacy will have succeeded in abating the killing and misery that have already led to more than 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees pouring out of the shattered country.

But like everything else in the bloody five-year civil war, even the accord to limit the shooting has come at a high price, not least for President Obama.
(Emphasis added.)

From what I can tell, President Obama's strategy in Syria is to do the minimum necessary to keep criticism here in the United States at a moderate level.  I see no evidence that he much cares about the estimated 250,000 deaths in that war, the millions of refugees, or even the loss of American credibility.

(Obama did play golf last weekend, and I wouldn't be surprised if he plays this weekend.

Here's a more general criticism of Obama's foreign policy, from Charles Krauthammer.)
- 3:56 PM, 27 February 2016   [link]


With The Oscars Only A Day Away, this New Yorker cartoon seems appropriate.
- 2:53 PM, 27 February 2016   [link]


Employee Computers And Encryption:  I am still trying to sort out the technical details of the Apple/FBI court fight, but while learning about those details, I discovered an essential fact:  The Apple iPhone the San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook was using was not his.  (He and his wife did own at least two other cell phones, which they destroyed.)

The phone belonged to his employer, San Bernadino County.

Which started me thinking about the whole problem of encryption on computers that belong to an employer.

Let me be journalistic for a change, and start with a story, a made-up story, but a story nonetheless.

Suppose Donald Jones is an employee of some large organization.  For the moment it doesn't matter what kind of organization.  Suppose Jones negotiates a contract with another organization, and takes a large bribe to make the contract favor the other organization.  Suppose further that Jones then encrypts the records of that bribe on a company computer — and it doesn't matter much whether it is a large computer, a desktop computer, or one of the little computers we call "small phones".

Shortly thereafter Jones leaves the organization.  A year or so later, the organization learns that the contract is flawed.

Investigators look at Jones's records and find an encrypted file on the smart phone the organization provided him.  Jones claims that he encrypted it out of fear of an attack by hackers, and that he has,, alas, forgotten the key.

Unless investigators can find other evidence, the prosecutors are unlikely to even put Jones on trial, and the organization may suffer serious losses.

Which leads me to this conclusion:  Organizations must be able to control any encryption on the computers they provide to their employees, including those little ones, smart phones, .

And, if the organization is a government department, then they may need that protection against individual encryption to comply with open records laws.

I suspect that organizations with competent IT departments figured all this out long ago — for computers, including desktop computers, but I am not sure whether even the better ones realize they need similar controls on smart phones.

And I have no idea whether the most popular operating systems for smart phones, those from Apple and Google, even support that kind of administrative control.

(I've received some informative emails on how Apple's encryption works, and hope to get back to that subject soon — after I have a better understanding of it myself.)_
- 3:28 PM, 26 February 2016   [link]


News On Vitamin D You May Be Able To Use:  Can you make Vitamin D with the sunlight that comes through a glass window?

No.

The useful ultraviolet-B rays ("290 to 320 nanometers") are blocked by ordinary glass.

But you can get a sunburn through those same windows.

It occurs to me that it might be possible to make windows that let the useful ultraviolet through, if not from glass, from some other material.

FWIW, yesterday I spent about an hour walking in the noon time sun — and felt great this morning (for my age).

(Wikipedia gives a slightly different range for ultraviolet-B.)
- 9:25 AM, 26 February 2016   [link]


If You Have Been Following American Politics, you were probably expecting this article, "Donald Trump to Foreign Workers for Florida Club: You’re Hired".
Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., describes itself as “one of the most highly regarded private clubs in the world,” and it is not just the very-well-to-do who want to get in.

Since 2010, nearly 300 United States residents have applied or been referred for jobs as waiters, waitresses, cooks and housekeepers there.  But according to federal records, only 17 have been hired.

In all but a handful of cases, Mar-a-Lago sought to fill the jobs with hundreds of foreign guest workers from Romania and other countries.
Or one or more like it.

There are enough details in the article to persuade any open-minded person that Trump could have hired Americans for those jobs — if he had wanted to.
- 8:58 AM, 26 February 2016   [link]


An Almost Universal Joke?  Field tests have made me think that the joke in this January post would make most people in the world smile, and many of them laugh.

I think you could tell it to anyone from an illiterate African farmer or to a German professor, and they would get it.

Here's my current version:
There's a young woman in Norway who thinks she's a cat.  She claims to be able to see in the dark and to be good at catching mice.

Luckily for her, she's found a boyfriend who thinks he's a cat, too.  The two of them often spend time meowing at each other and claim to be able to understand that cat language.

All I'm saying is that, if the two of them get more serious and get married, I hope they won't be expecting kittens.
(I sometimes use both hands to imitate cats meowing at each other, and, of course, I pause slightly before saying the last phrase in the punch line, and slow down a little as I say it.)

Feel free to pass that on.  And if you find someone who doesn't think it's funny, let me know.  I think you'll have at least 80 percent success with the joke.

(Many of the Sidney Harris cartoons are non-universal jokes, because they rely on knowledge that most people don't have.  For example, in one he shows us two men in classical dress, looking like ancient Greeks or Romans.  One is holding a lantern, and the other is asking him, "Why don't you just consult a database?"

If that isn't obvious to you, you can find the explanation here.)
- 8:20 AM, 26 February 2016   [link]


Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump May Both Be In Serious Legal Trouble:  You know, I assume, that there is an ongoing FBI investigation into Clinton's private email server.

But you may not know about Trump's little problem.
Donald Trump is slated to appear as a witness in the case charging him and the former Trump University with fraud.

The plaintiffs and defense attorneys in the case both have listed Trump on their witness lists recently submitted to the court.

While a trial date has yet to be set, it could take place in late spring or early summer.   The final pretrial conference in the case is scheduled for May 6.
The lawsuit was filed "nearly six years ago", long before Trump began his latest presidential campaign.

Neither group of supporters, Clinton's or Trump's, will like this — but there is a good chance that both will be in serious legal trouble during this year's campaign.

The timing matters, in both cases, as you can well imagine.  (The leaders of the two parties would probably prefer the legal troubles to come as soon as possible, and certainly before the party conventions.)

(There's more on the lawsuit against Trump in this Gawker article.)
- 2:24 PM, 25 February 2016   [link]


Worth Buying:  Today's Wall Street Journal for this article, "How Islamic State's Secret Banking Network Prospers".
Money-exchange offices in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Jordan funnel millions of dollars daily in and out of militant-held territory
As you would expect, there is a premium for moving money in a war zone.  You can get some idea of how successful the network is, when you learn what that premium is, 5 to 7 percent:
A currency office owner from Anbar province said in late summer of 2014 his offices were handling $500,000 a week in money transfers in and out of Islamic State.   Fees for such services were 10%, he said.  Before the Islamic State takeover, fees were between 3% and 5%.
(Emphasis added.)

If you read the whole article, you may conclude, as I did, that ending these transfers will be about as hard as eradicating kudzu.

(As a bonus, you'll get Daniel Henninger's fine column on Ted Cruz's strategy, and what happened to it.  It is the best analysis of the Cruz campaign I've seen.

I have been wondering whether Cruz planned, after winning the nomination, to make the usual move to the center.  I'm not sure what the answer to that is, though I an nearly certain that Cruz was thinking that far ahead, when he began his campaign.  For what it is worth, Cruz is already to the left of many Republican leaders on some foreign policy questions.)
- 1:44 PM, 25 February 2016   [link]


Gail Collins Cracked Me Up:  Every morning I look for a joke or a cartoon I can share with you.  (And I plan to continue doing that as long as there is any danger that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump will become president of the United States.)

This morning, I found jokes without looking for them, in the latest New York Times column by Gail Collins.  (No link, since I don't want to encourage her.)

Collins began by saying that she sometimes hoped that Donald Trump "could think outside the conservative box" and then, after much meandering, concluded that Trump is a "mail-order conservative".

When I read the column, before breakfast, I cracked up.  There is no conservative "box"; conservatives have been debating issues and tactics for years, and debating them quite openly since George W. Bush left office.  (Apparently Collins missed, among other things, that recent unpleasantness with Speaker Boehner.)

Trump is many things, depending on the day, the audience, his mood, and so forth, but he is not now, and never has been, a conservative, much less a mail-order conservative.  To the extent that he has fixed views, he is probably a Bill Clinton Democrat.

Collins is free to write fantasy, but it ought to be labeled as fantasy, not presented as if it were a serious column.

(Unlike the White Queen in "Through the Looking Glass", I'm not able to believe impossible things before breakfast.  Or after breakfast, for that matter.)

Those jokes in the column would be even funnier , were it not for the fact that Gail Collins was the Editorial Page Editor at the New York Times from 2001 to 2007.
- 7:38 AM, 25 February 2016   [link]