Archive:

January 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Today's New Yorker Cartoon is a touch macabre, but still funny — I think.
- 7:36 AM, 1 February 2016   [link]


Donald Trump Is Number 1!  According to Gallup's Frank Newport, Trump's 60 percent unfavorable rating is the highest of any presidential candidate since Gallup began asking that question in 1992.
I wanted to see how Trump's unfavorable played out in the context of previous elections, so I went back to look at the unfavorable ratings of the major-party candidates from 1992 through the current election.  The bottom line is that Trump now has a higher unfavorable rating than any candidate at any time during all of these previous election cycles, and that conclusion takes into account the fact that unfavorable ratings tend to rise in the heat of a general election campaign as the barbs, negative ads and heightened partisanship are taken to their highest levels.  Gallup routinely reports favorable ratings based on national adults, but some of the favorable ratings in the final months of an election year that I discuss below are based on registered voters.
Trump's net favorable rating is now -27, so there are people who like him, but they are outnumbered almost 2-1 by those who don't.  (By way of comparison, Hillary Clinton's net rating is -10.)

Newport does not mention this, but Trump achieved that rating in record time.

Trump won't mention this achievement, although it casts doubt on his chances in a general election.  To put it gently.

Will some of his supporters in the blogosphere or on talk radio mention this Gallup finding?  Probably not — but they should.  (I made a very quick search and didn't find it on Drudge.)
- 12:36 PM, 31 January 2016   [link]


Worth Buying:  This weekend's Wall Street Journal, if only for the long article on the van der Linden family of doctors, who discovered the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly.

Here's how Reed Johnson and Rogerio Jelmayer begin:
RECIFE, Brazil—When they first started seeing newborns with shrunken skulls last August, Dr. Vanessa van der Linden Mota and her mother, Dr. Ana van der Linden, didn’t realize they were looking at a looming public-health disaster.

But it didn’t take long for the two neuropediatricians to start connecting the dots.  The tiny heads were classic signs of microcephaly, an incurable condition associated with incomplete brain development typically caused by chromosome disorders or maternal alcohol abuse.  Unusually, though, some of the infants’ heads were draped with excess skin.  Others’ skulls bore calcified patches that squeezed their brains in a vise grip.   Some of their limbs were crumpled and bent at odd angles.  Also oddly, in 70% of the cases the two doctors were seeing, mothers reported itching or rashes during their pregnancies.
There's much more, including some worst case numbers that may horrify you.

(There are other pieces in the Journal that are worth reading.  For instance, RealClearPolitics suggested we read this interview with Robert Gates in which he says the United States does not now even have a global strategy.

And I haven't even finished skimming my copy.)
- 11:10 AM, 30 January 2016   [link]


How Should We Describe Parties Like The Danish People's Party  Or France's National Front (Front National)?

When journalists or academics describe them as "right wing" or "far right", they are trying to fit these parties onto a single left-to-right economic scale.  That may be a reasonable simplification for many other parties, but it doesn't really describe these parties, accurately.  It's like using weight to describe a person when you are actually interested in their intelligence; we say that Einstein was smart, not that he was heavy.

Thinking about it this morning, I came up with three possible adjectives: patriotic, nationalist, and nativist.  The second seems the least loaded of the three, and so I will try to use it from now on, unless I find a better word.

It is natural, after that, to ask which parties should not be described as nationalist:  I can think of two general classes, traditional socialist parties — especially those that still sing The Internatioale — and open-border libertarians.

(The question of how many and which scales to use to locate parties ideologically is relatively simple abstractly, and exceedingly difficult in practice.  I suppose I should do a few examples for you some time, to elaborate on that point.)
- 10:16 AM, 29 January 2016   [link]


Denmark's "Controversial" Immigration Asset Law:  Here's how the BBC tells the story:
The Danish parliament has backed a controversial proposal to confiscate asylum seekers' valuables to pay for their upkeep.

Police will be able to seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (1,340 euros; £1,000) from refugees to cover housing and food costs.
And here's a less biased version from the New York Times:
Under the law, which passed by a sizable majority after several hours of debate, refugees who enter Denmark with assets of more than 10,000 kroner, about $1,450, would have to contribute toward the costs of their lodging.  After a global outcry over the law, however, goods with sentimental value like wedding rings and family portraits are exempt from seizure.
. . .
The bill’s proponents said the government was merely asking refugees to abide by the same requirements that Danish citizens face, namely that they use their own resources before being eligible for welfare benefits.  They also pointed to precedents in Europe.  Asylum seekers in Switzerland, for example, must declare their assets upon arrival and hand over those exceeding 1,000 Swiss francs, about $981, Reuters has reported, citing the Swiss broadcaster SRF.
(Emphasis added.)

Germany and the Netherlands have similar polices, Germany's dating back to 1993.  And "means tests" for welfare are centuries old, and found almost everywhere.

Even so, Denmark received harsh criticism for treating migrants like Danish citizens, and for acting much like its neighbors.

(Less biased, but not unbiased.  Dan Bilefsky describes the Danish People's Party as "far right".  That's a common description in the international press, but misleading, since the party is near the center on economic issues.  In last year's election, it received the second largest (21.1%) share of the popular vote.)
- 9:42 AM, 29 January 2016   [link]


Where Did Donald Trump Get The Inspiration For His Hair Style?  Here are some possibilities.

I don't think any of them is exactly right, though the emu and the troll doll both made me chuckle.  Enough people are looking for his inspiration that someone will, most likely, find a better one.

One thing seems nearly certain:  Trump chose that weird hair style, in order to get attention, even attention from people who mock it.

(His Wikipedia biography actually has an entire section, that tries to explain his hair style.)
- 8:43 AM, 29 January 2016   [link]


Today's Michael Ramirez Cartoon is obvious — but sometimes the obvious needs saying.
- 2:12 PM, 28 January 2016   [link]


Here's Another Example of species dysphoria.
A woman who believes she was born a cat has opened up about her life as a feline, describing how she has a superior sense sense of hearing and sight which allows her to hunt mice in the dark.

Nano, 20, from Oslo, Norway, makes the revelation in an interview published on the NRK P3 Verdens Rikeste Land YouTube channel, and it's been viewed 122,000 times.

And she claims to possess many feline characteristics including a hatred of water and the ability to communicate simply by meowing.
Nano has found a compatible boyfriend, and the two of them sometimes communicate by "meowing" at each other.

I hope the two of them know that, should they go further with their relationship, they can not expect kittens.

It's hard to say whether species dysphoria or gender dysphoria is more deluded.  Both require rejection of basic biology, and obvious physical facts.  I suppose it would be even worse if the two were combined, if, for instance, Nano thought she was a tomcat.

(It occurs to me — and I'm sure I am not the first to think of this — that Rachel Dolezal may be suffering from "racial dysphoria".

By the way, I didn't invent "species dysphoria".)
- 1:42 PM, 28 January 2016   [link]


Why Didn't The Severe Effects Of The Zika Virus Show Up In Africa?  Medical authorities seem nearly certain that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly in babies and suspect that it can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults.

The doctors and scientists came to these conclusions from cases in Brazil and, earlier, French Polynesia.

But the disease has been known in Africa for decades, and probably was endemic for centuries before then.  So why didn't explorers, and later doctors, notice all those babies with small heads, in some villages?

Offhand, I can think of four possible answers to that question:
  1. Africans have an inherited resistance to its worst effects.
  2. The virus mutated after it left Africa.  (Wikipedia does say that there is an "Asian" strain.)
  3. The cases are rare enough, and the records bad enough, so they weren't noticed in Africa.
  4. Almost everyone in the areas where it is endemic gets a mild case early in life, and is immune from then on.
Of these, the last seems most likely to me, which implies two things:  It should be relatively easy to produce a vaccine against the virus — and it will be very dangerous to everyone outside Africa, until we do.

For now, the best way to cope is probably with really good mosquito control, especially control of the most dangerous mosquito, A. egypti.
- 3:06 PM, 27 January 2016   [link]


Three New Channels, Twelve New Sub-Channels:   On Monday, my new TV arrived (a 40-inch Samsung "smart" TV), and I set it up.  After I connected it to my antenna (which looks like a merger of "rabbit ears" and a stylized fish skeleton), I turned it on and watched it search for local channels.

The digital tuner found three more than the set top box I had been using was able to find, though two of the channels are marginal.  The three new channels have, together, twelve sub-channels, so I can now watch 36 channels over the air.  Or 35, if you don't count one duplicate.

It's not quite like having a minimum satellite or cable package, since standard channels like CNN, Fox, and ESPN are not included, but I did find some new ones that I may want to watch, from time to time.

And now I am wondering how many more I might be able to receive, if I had a big amplified antenna.

(The TV had, like all new TVs sold in the United States, an energy sticker that told me how much it would cost per year: $8, with assumptions that seemed reasonable to me.  Years ago, I noticed in Consumer Reports that TV sets varied widely in energy consumption, enough so that the better sets were often cheaper, if you included energy costs for as little as five years.

Some assembly was required.  I studied the directions and diagrams for some time without success, and then put them aside, looked at the three parts, saw that I had to attach a plate to a base, and then attach the plate to the TV.  It was easy to see what to do, once I looked at the parts.

The operating manual for the TV is in the TV; you begin reading it by turning the set on, and pushing a dedicated "e-manual" button on the remote control.

The TV was promised on Friday, but arrived on Monday.  Although Amazon kept telling me it would arrive on Friday, I should have guessed, early in the day, that it wouldn't, since it was stuck in Portland, according to UPS.

Here's the model for those who want more details.)
- 11:05 AM, 27 January 2016   [link]


"Trump At His Trumpiest"  Matt Labash has collected nine of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) groups of stories about Trump, the candidate now in third place (after Clinton and Sanders) in public support.

There's a group there for almost everyone.  Golfers will like the first, those who contribute to charities the second, libertarians the fifth, women the seventh, and so on.

The third and fourth are my favorites:
III. Trump Will Sue You

Or at least he will threaten to.  It's not entirely clear whether Trump is a bully, or just a baby.  But for a candidate who spends so much time knocking government, Trump sure does make its courthouses his home away from (one of his six or so) homes.  As Crain's New York Business has reported, Trump has been a plaintiff or defendant in lawsuits filed in New York state courts 65 times and in federal lawsuits 172 times — and that's just for starters.
. . .
IV. Donald Trump, Failure

For someone who constantly toots his own success horn ("I'm the most successful person to ever run for the presidency, by far"), Donald Trump sure does fail a lot.  Never mind his two failed marriages, the four corporate bankruptcies, and his failure to find a suitable hairstyle over the course of his adult life.  Time magazine and others have run entire lists of his failures.

There was Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage ("Who knows more about financing than me?"), Trump the board game, Trump casinos, and three stabs at Trump magazines (may they all rest in peace)
And many more, of which the "most egregious was Trump University".

You may be tempted to share that article with a Trump supporter, but I doubt that It would make many change their minds.  As Jonathan Swift said: "Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired . . . ".  You don't have to read many comments from Trump supporters to see that they did not come to support him because of the rational arguments he makes.

(When I sit down to write a post on Trump, I feel like a man who volunteered to help out with a local parade — and was given a shovel and a bucket, and told to follow an incontinent horse.

But this post was easier to do, thanks to Labash's sense of humor.  It was like having another man with the same dirty job, cracking jokes, as we tried to clean up after Trump.)
- 9:40 AM, 27 January 2016   [link]


If You Are From The Northwest (or just know about this shy denizen of our forests), you'll probably like today's "Pepper and Salt" cartoon.

(It occurs to me that life could imitate art, that it wouldn't take much work to create real examples of that cartoon.  I'm not advising anyone to do that, since, in many places, it might violate regulations, or even laws.  But it would be funny.)
- 8:24 AM, 27 January 2016   [link]


After Three Gloomy Posts On A Gloomy Day, I needed something lighter.

If you like science at all, you are almost certain to love Sidney Harris's cartoons.   (I have several of his collections, and am thinking of picking up another one sometime soon.)
- 3:22 PM, 26 January 2016   [link]


The Good News Is That The Doomsday Clock hasn't been set closer to midnight.
Last year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced it was three minutes to the midnight of doomsday.  Today, they announced it would stay the same, with threats from climate change, nuclear proliferation, bioterrorism, and technologies continuing.

"Unless we change the way we think, humanity is in grave danger," physicist Lawrence Krauss said in a press conference
The bad news is that the clock hasn't been set back away from doom — and that in spite of the Paris climate accord and the "deal" with Iran.  The Bulletin may be run by leftists, but they are informed enough to see that the Paris accord will have little effect, and that the "deal" with Iran is not as important as many think.

To understand that, consider the effect it will have on "breakout time".
American officials said the core of the agreement, secured in 18 consecutive days of talks here, lies in the restrictions on the amount of nuclear fuel that Iran can keep for the next 15 years.  The current stockpile of low enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, most likely by shipping much of it to Russia.

That limit, combined with a two-thirds reduction in the number of its centrifuges, would extend to a year the amount of time it would take Iran to make enough material for a single bomb should it abandon the accord and race for a weapon — what officials call “breakout time.” By comparison, analysts say Iran now has a breakout time of two to three months.

But American officials also acknowledged that after the first decade, the breakout time would begin to shrink.  It was unclear how rapidly, because Iran’s longer-term plans to expand its enrichment capability will be kept confidential.
So all those concessions, and the release of $100 billion in Iranian assets, or more, netted us nine to ten months?

Yes, and less than nine to ten months, as the years go by.

(Here's the history of the Doomsday Clock.

If Lawrence Krauss's name seems vaguely familiar, it's probably because of this book.)
- 1:99 0M, 26 January 2016   [link]


This Statistic Won't Surprise Long-Time Readers:  Muslims are more likely to be hardened criminals in Britain, too.
One in five inmates serving sentences in Britain's maximum security jails are Muslim, figures show.

There are currently 5,885 highly dangerous criminals behind bars in the eight Category A prisons in the UK, of which 1,229 follow the Islamic faith.

The figure equates to 20 per cent of high-security prisoners and, according to figures obtained by The Sun, is an increase of 23 per cent from five years ago.

The percentage rise has been far greater than the Muslim population increase in the UK, which is currently at five per cent.
I don't know of a single Western nation, with a substantial population of Muslims, where Muslims are not more likely to be criminals.

(In the United States, as far as I can tell, criminals often became Muslims in prison; in Europe, again as far as I can tell, Muslims are more likely to commit crimes and be sent to prison.   Of course, in both Europe and the United States, it can happen the other way around, as well,)
- 9:39 AM, 26 January 2016   [link]


British Diplomats "Knew From The Start That Putin Ordered Litvinenko's Murder"  How?

The killers left a trail of evidence — including at the British embassy in Moscow
There was little doubt either about the guilt of the chief suspects, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun.  Evidence of how they had bungled their grim task was quickly unearthed by the Metropolitan Police.  Strong traces of the rare polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko were found everywhere the duo had been around the time of the murder, including on the plane on which they had flown to London.

We found more such evidence of their guilt close to home. Soon after they were identified as the main suspects and for reasons we never fully understood, Lugovoi and Kovtun came in to the Embassy to proclaim their innocence.  When we realised the extent of the trail they were leaving across Europe, I was asked to organise a visit by a specialist radiation detection team.
Which found traces of polonium-210 everywhere the two men had been in the embassy.

In my opinion, that trail was left in the embassy, deliberately; Putin and company wanted the British — and through them Russian dissidents — to know what he had done, and might do again.
- 9:16 AM, 26 January 2016   [link]


How Accurate Were The Polls In The 2008 New Hampshire Democratic Primary?

Not at all.
Following Iowa the media narrative was all on Obama and the final polls for the New Hampshire primary are shown in the chart above.  The Real Clear Politics average close with Obama on 38.% and Clinton on just 30%.  The Clinton campaign looked doomed and all the money piled against her.

Those who backed Obama at very tight odds on prices lost a lot if money.   One of the site’s biggest gamblers told me it was his worst political betting ever.
For as it turned out Hillary got 39% to Obama’s 36.4% which was a bigger miss than what we saw in the UK on May 7th last year.
Close analysis of what happened found that women were significantly more likely to have chosen Clinton over Obama and, more importantly, were more likely to vote.
It has been getting more difficult to poll, even in general elections.  Refusal rates, the number of people who refuse to answer poll questions, keep going up, which makes it harder and harder to get good samples.

But it is always been harder to poll primaries; it's hard to predict who will vote, and who won't, and hard to guess what those who make up their minds in the last day or so will do.

And it has always been even harder to poll caucuses.

So I haven't paid much attention to the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and don't plan to, though I will take a look at the results on the days of the elections.

(Here's a good discussion of polls.)
- 3:08 PM, 25 January 2016   [link]


"Obama vs. Manatees"  The Wall Street Journal has some fun with a conflict between an endangered species and Obama's climate policies.
President Obama’s Clean Power Plan imposes new rules to force the closure of coal-fired power plants in the name of climate change.  Among those most likely to be shut down are the Big Bend Power Station and the Crystal River Plant in Florida.  Problem is, both plants have been designated as primary warm-water refuges for manatees—listed as endangered n the 1960s and now considered “threatened.”
I'm rooting for the manatees, which have been making a comeback in recent years.  (They have been legally protected since the 18th century.)

Manatees are megafauna, since they can weigh more than 1200 pounds.

manatee

But, judging by that picture and that description, few will think that manatees are "charismatic", so protecting them from Obama administration policies is unlikely to become a popular cause.
- 12:30 PM, 25 January 2016   [link]


Since The Carolina Team Is In The Super Bowl, it's time to remind everyone what you should do if someone on the team calls you:

“If called by a panther, don't anther”

(Ogden Nash was, among other things, a big fan of professional football.)
- 8:54 AM, 25 January 2016   [link]