Archive:

January 2016, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"Welcome To New York"  Cartoonist Joe Dator may have heard that Frank Sinatra song too many times, because he has a rather crude reply.

A reply that strikes me as typical of a certain kind of New Yorker.
- 8:40 AM, 16 January 2016   [link]


Amazon's Clipping Software May Not Be Completely Finished:  Or maybe I just need to figure out how to use it.

First, an explanation:  When you subscribe to a Kindle newspaper or magazine, Amazon sends you each Kindle edition as it is published.  Early this morning, for example, today's New York Times appeared on my Kindle.

Amazon, recognizing that most people don't want to accumulate newspapers or magazines indefinitely, looks at how many you have on the Kindle and, if there are more than eight, deletes the oldest.  (You can retrieve them for a while; for example, right now I can download Wall Street Journals back to 31 December.)

Amazon, also recognizing that most of us want to save some articles, allows users to "clip" them, which saves them in a big file named — no surprise — "Clippings".  But it doesn't build a table of contents as it saves the articles, doesn't even save them by publication.

This morning I decided to start building my own table of contents by skimming through the file and writing down the "locations" of articles that I planned to use in posts.  (The locations are not related, in any obvious way, to their order in the file.)

And then, after I had spent a couple of hours doing that, I tried using their "go to" command to reach those articles — and got taken to random (as far as I could tell) places in that Clippings file.

There is another way to get to articles, a simple search function.  That works, but I was unable to get it to show me more than two results, even when it had more.  (The command works fine in books, magazines, and newspapers.)

And that's why there was only post this morning.

(Amazon may have fixed this problem already.  From time to time, I get notifications of updates to their software, but those updates require a WiFi connection, and I am using 3G.  The next time I am at our local library, I'll see if I can get the updates, then.)
- 2:23 PM, 15 January 2016   [link]


How Expensive Is Gasoline In The United States?  Almost everyone here has the answer: about two dollars a gallon.

How does that compare to past prices, allowing for inflation?

Holman Jenkins, in "Don't Blame Oil for Global Chaos", has that answer:
Since 1918 and the full flowering of the automobile age, the average U.S. domestic price of gasoline has rarely fallen below $2 or risen above $4 as measured in 2015 dollars.  At today’s price of $1.99, gasoline is approaching its all-time low in inflation-adjusted terms.

In 1965, gasoline sold for 30 cents.  In 1965 dollars, today’s price is 26 cents.  So, yes, the current oil price depression is not ordinary.
Not extraordinary — a dollar a gallon would be extraordinary — but definitely not ordinary.

(One of the funnier things in President Obama's last State of the Union speech was his claiming credit, indirectly, for that two dollar price, since his administration has worked to raise gasoline prices — as they should, if they believe what they say about global warming.)
- 9:23 AM, 15 January 2016   [link]


Computer Folks Will Like this story.
The Register has learned, thanks to a post to a semi-private mailing list, of a server that has just been decommissioned after running without replacement parts since 1997.

The post, made by a chap named Ross, says he “Just switched off our longest running server.”

Ross says the box was “Built and brought into service in early 1997” and has “been running 24/7 for 18 years and 10 months.”

“In its day, it was a reasonable machine - 200MHz Pentium, 32MB RAM, 4GB SCSI-2 drive,” Ross writes.  “And up until recently, it was doing its job fine.”  Of late, however the “hard drive finally started throwing errors, it was time to retire it before it gave up the ghost!”  The drive's a Seagate, for those of looking to avoid drives that can't deliver more than 19 years of error-free operations.
They kept it around so long because the software running on it was not easily portable — and because the server just kept working.

The hard drive is what I would worry most about in a machine that old; as the saying goes, there are two kinds of hard drives, those that have crashed, and those that will crash.

In the past — and I suspect this is still true — SCSI drives were generally more reliable than ATA or SATA drives.  Even so, I wouldn't expect one to last nearly that long.
- 2:09 PM, 14 January 2016   [link]


President Obama Drew The Fewest Number Of Viewers for his last State of the Union speech.
President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address drew 31.3 million viewers across 12 networks, marking a new record low in viewership, according to Nielsen.
. . .
Last year, 31.7 million viewers watched the State of the Union address, on average, across 13 networks, including the Spanish-language networks, and smaller cable channels like Al Jazeera America and Fox Business.  That was the lowest viewership of president Obama’s tenure.  President George W. Bush’s final State of the Union address in 2008 averaged 37.5 million viewers, while the final State of the Union of Bill Clinton's tenure averaged 31.5 million.
I wasn't one of those viewers; as I've told you, I seldom watch political speeches.

But I did skim through the transcript.

The speech strikes me not as a campaign speech, but as a mish-mash of a number of campaign speeches, without any organizing principle.  It reminds me of that famous Winston Churchill quote: "This pudding has no theme."

Because of that, if I do get back to the speech, it will probably be in one or more posts commenting on parts of the speech.
- 1:13 PM, 14 January 2016   [link]


The Inevitability Of The Attacks On Women In Cologne:  (Or somewhere else in Germany.)

Almost three years ago, I argued that humans are, innately, tribal.
Packs are the most natural way for wolves to organize themselves; similarly, tribes are the most natural way for we humans to organize ourselves.

Not the best, but the most natural, so that we tend to become tribal if we don't consciously work against the tendency.

We tend to organize into relatively small groups, a few hundred people or so, often but not always related, and have different rules for those within the group, and those outside the group.   Sometimes the languages we use reflect this in a very direct way, so that only those within the group are considered people.
And one of those common differences in rules for other groups is that their women, especially their young women, are considered fair game.  A quarrel over a slave girl, taken in war, was the reason Achilles sulked in his tent, something that the young men of many Indian tribes here in the United States, before and during the 1800s, would have no trouble understanding.

When a large number of young men enter another tribe's area, you should expect attacks on the young women living there.  That explains the behavior of the goumiers in Italy in World II — and the behavior of some of the American troops in France, in the same war.

That said, the number of such attacks will vary; if the young men are in a disciplined army, under officers who punish such attacks, there will be far fewer of them.  And there will be fewer attacks if the young men come from a culture, such as our own, that does not see even an enemy's women as fair game.

The young men that Germany so carelessly let into their country do not belong to a disciplined army, and mostly come from Muslim cultures that see attacks on non-Muslim women as, if anything, praiseworthy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany are now learning those hard lessons about tribes, lessons they could have learned from an honest anthropologist — and there are a few — or from an honest historian, especially one who was familiar with the Muslim conquests.

(This Wikipedia article on the Yanamono is not pleasant reading, but it serves as an excellent example for my argument.)
- 8:04 PM, 13 January 2016   [link]


Who's The Current Favorite To Win The Republican Nomination Among British Bettors?  It's Marco Rubio, with Trump second, Cruz third, Bush fourth, and Christie fifth.

(To be precise, mostly British bettors.  I imagine a few from the rest of the EU are putting bets down, and probably some tourists from elsewhere.

Some will find this data from from 2012 of interest:
20 days 2012 Iowa caucuses RCP polling
average was
Gingrich 28.6
Romn[e]y 17
Paul 16.4
Perry 10
Bachman 9.2
Santorum 5.8 EVENTUAL WINNER
That may help you understand why I am paying less attention to polls now, than many other observers.   It's not that I think the betting markets are good indicators, now, but they are, I think, less bad than the polls.)
- 5:55 PM, 13 January 2016   [link]


Occasionally — Let Me Repeat, Occasionally — A Lottery Ticket Can Be A Fair Bet:  The ticket can have an expected value equal to, or greater than, its price.   That happens when a prize accumulates faster than new lottery tickets are sold.

Is that true for the current Powerball lottery?

Almost, says Sean Davis.  (I just glanced over the article, enough to see whether he was using a reasonable approach to calculating the expected value, but I didn't check the details.)

(Note that his result applies only to people who live in states without income taxes.  The prize would have to be higher for people in states with income taxes, to make a ticket a fair bet for them.)
- 10:23 AM, 13 January 2016   [link]


Two Cartoons On Making Money:  One showing an impractical businessman and another showing a too practical mobster.
- 9:52 AM, 13 January 2016   [link]


ISIS Cash Goes up in smoke.
A U.S. airstrike has destroyed an ISIS building which contained huge amounts of cash it used to pay its fighters, defense officials have said. They said 'millions' of the terror group's money was blown up on Sunday, without disclosing the exact amount or what currency it was.

After the successful strike in the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq, the U.S. is now said to be planning to bomb more 'financial targets' to cut off its ability to function as a state.
Good idea, although I don't think we should have said we were going to do more.  (The best strategy would have been to hit as many such targets as possible — at the same time.  But that may not have been possible,)
- 4:18 PM, 12 January 2016   [link]


Nutrition News You May Be Able To Use:  In a few years.

No, not the news about the new federal guidelines.

This news, which will tell you how much attention you should pay to them:
Research increasingly suggests that each of us is unique in the way we absorb and metabolize nutrients.  This dawning realization has scientists, and entrepreneurs, scrambling to provide more effective nutritional advice based on such distinguishing factors as genetic makeup, gut bacteria, body type and chemical exposures.

“The same dietary advice cannot be good for everyone, because we are all different,” said Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.  “This is why we have failed so miserably at controlling the obesity epidemic.”

Dr. Elinav and his colleagues are hoping to build a new kind of diet-counseling business from findings they published recently in the journal Cell.  Their study found a startling variation in the glucose responses of 800 subjects fed the same foods.  Some participants had sharp increases in blood sugar when they ate ice cream and chocolate, while others showed only a flat or moderate response.
We've known for many years that some groups are more at risk for diseases like diabetes.

Now we are learning that relatively homogeneous groups, like the subjects in that study, may vary greatly in their nutritional needs.

We'll have to wait a few years, before the individualized counseling we may need is available.

(What to do while waiting for that individualized advice?  I can't give anyone advice, but I can tell you what I do: eat a wide variety of foods, including more fruits, vegetables, and nuts than most Americans eat — and indulge some cravings, because I believe our bodies sometimes signal when we need particular nutrients.  That's not very helpful, I know, but I am not sure most "experts" can do much better.)
- 3:29 PM, 12 January 2016   [link]


How Good Are China's GDP Numbers"   Not very, as Ana Swanson explains:
The country’s official growth figures paint a rosy picture that any country would aspire to: In the third quarter, China said its economy expanded 6.9 percent from the previous year, far above U.S. growth of 2 percent.

But how much should we believe those figures?

“Not a lot,” says Mark Williams, the chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, a research consultancy based in London.

“They are absolute make-believe,” says Leland Miller, the president of China Beige Book International, which compiles private surveys on the Chinese economy.
The experts Swanson contacted appear to think the the Chinese numbers are not distorted by a team of central party operatives, but by thousands of officials in the provinces trying to meet government targets — which implies that the Chinese government doesn't have very good secret numbers on GDP, either.

Here's some statistical evidence for that conclusion:
In most years, if you add together the estimates that each of China’s 31 provinces give for their economic activity that year, you’ll get a figure that is much larger than Beijing’s independent calculation of what each sector produced that year.  So much larger, in fact, that it looks like China is missing an entire province – suggesting that local leaders are being more than a little optimistic about their growth.
So, in most years, the whole is literally less than the sum of its parts.

(I'm no expert in such matters, but I would be inclined to look first at numbers from Chinese ports for real data, since much of the raw port data is collected by firms based in other countries, and much of it can be checked at both ends.  For instance, if the Chinese say they exported X billion dollars worth of goods to, for example, the United States, we should be able to find that number in our imports data.)
- 4:10 PM, 11 January 2016   [link]


How Did The Mexican Marines Do It?  How did they manage to kill 5 and capture 6, while only one marine was even wounded?
Five of the notorious Sinaloa cartel were slain by marines and six were arrested, but El Chapo made another of his infamous escapes, slipping out through a sewer system with his right-hand man El Cholo Ivan.

Hours later they were both detained at a nearby motel in the town of Los Mochis and El Chapo has been returned to the same maximum security prison he fled from six months ago.
Ordinarily, you would expect the men inside a fortified building to have a big advantage over the men outside, and there appear to have been enough inside to guard all the entrances.

One possibility is that the marines surprised them when they were all sleeping — although I would have expected a man as wily as El Chapo to have organized regular watches.  Or, the marines might have used a standard tactic, tossing in a grenade, right after they broke down a door.

However they did it, it was a nice piece of work.
- 10:22 AM, 11 January 2016   [link]


Maybe Trump Is Jealous of Kim's hair cut.   (Which you can see in that article, if you have somehow missed it.)
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for consolidating power by murdering his ­rival relatives.

“This guy, he’s like a maniac, OK?  And you’ve got to give him credit,” Trump said at a rally in Iowa Saturday.

“He goes in, he takes over, he’s the boss.  It’s incredible,” he continued.  “He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one.  This guy doesn’t play games, and we can’t play games with him.”
All right, I'll be serious.  For a moment.

Those Trump comments make me wonder, again, just how much he believes in a limited government, a government where the top guy thinks of himself not as a boss, but as a public servant.
- 9:57 AM, 11 January 2016   [link]


Penn Helped Send "El Chapo" Back To The Pen?  That's what Mexican authorities are telling us.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The recapture of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman took a surprise, Hollywood twist when a Mexican official said security forces at one point located the world's most-wanted trafficker thanks to a secret interview with U.S. actor Sean Penn.

Penn's interview with Guzman, who has twice escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, appeared late Saturday on the website of Rolling Stone magazine. It was purportedly held at an undisclosed hideout in northern Mexico in October, about two months before Guzman's recapture Friday in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, after six months on the run.
If this story is correct, Penn did the world a big favor, though, almost certainly, unintentionally.

There are two details in this story that I find especially satisfying:  Guzman was caught because of his desire to have a movie made about him, and he escaped temporarily through sewers.

(As you would expect, the Daily Mail gives this story the full tabloid treatment.

If you read his Wikipedia biography, you may conclude that Penn still owes the rest of us some favors.)
- 3:51 PM, 10 January 2016   [link]


Those Who Follow The Stock Market Will Like this cartoon.

Especially after a week that some may have found a little too exciting..
- 9:51 AM, 9 January 2016   [link]


Two Days Ago, I Said That Emily Thornberry Was an odd choice for Britain's Shadow Defence Secretary.

Apparently, she agrees with me.
Jeremy Corbyn's new shadow defence secretary has admitted even she does not know why she was handed the plum appointment.

Emily Thornberry - best known for being sacked by Ed Miliband for a 'snobby' tweet - made the confession in her first TV interview since being appointed this week.

She said: 'I don't know why Jeremy gave me this job but I know that I'm really honoured to be doing it and hugely looking forward to meeting up with people and listening to what people have to say.'
Actually, she almost certainly does know why; she was chosen, I am nearly certain, because, like Corbyn, she favors unilateral nuclear disarmament, specifically dropping Britain's Trident program.  (Her predecessor, Maria Eagle, favors keeping the program.)

The choice of Thornnberry is, from an American point of view, grimly humorous, humorous because of her lack of qualifications, grimly because we would much prefer to have both major parties in Britain committed to a common defense.
- 8:10 AM, 9 January 2016   [link]