Archive:

June 2016, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Pollster Was Right; The Betting Expert Was Wrong:   Which is interesting, because they were looking at the same raw data, recent polls on Brexit.

I don't have an explanation for the success of the polling model, since I haven't seen a description of its internals — but I think this success should remind us all that polls are right more often than not.

Credit where due:  The betting expert caught on to what was happening in the returns, very quickly.

(My own prediction?  The result was close, but the "Remain" side appears to have mostly accepted the result.  So, half credit, perhaps.)
- 11: AM, 24 June 2016   [link]


Bumper Cars Without Bumping:  Seems kind of pointless, doesn't it?  Unless you are a Saudi woman, and aren't allowed to drive anywhere else.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia—Joudi al-Omeri drove in circles. And when cars came in her direction, she swerved. These were electric bumper cars, but in Saudi Arabia, the ride doesn’t always live up to its name.

“I come here to drive,” said Ms. al-Omeri, a 27-year-old homemaker still giddy from the roughly five-minute, mostly crash-free ride in her red-and-green two-seater.  “It’s much better than bumping against others,” she adds.
Americans will be reassured to learn that Saudi "men relish bashing into each other".
- 10:15 AM, 24 June 2016   [link]


Do Food Banks Contribute To Obesity And Diabetes?   That' 's what some researchers believe.
Many who depend on food pantries are not underfed, but are, like Ms. Lathon, obese and diabetic, experts have found.  In 2014, one-third of the 15.5 million households served by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, reported that a household member had diabetes.

Inconsistent access to food worsens the disease, and so can the offerings at the pantries many low-income people must rely on.
So the researchers are experimenting with different mixes of foods, and are offering blood pressure tests, and counseling.

It's important to explore these different approaches, since "[m]ore than $1 out of every $10 spent on health care nationwide goes directly to treating diabetes and its consequence".

Any federal food programs that might have similar effects?  Perhaps this little one.

(Even fifty years ago, most people would have found it hard to believe that obesity would be a serious problem among the poor.)
- 2:31 PM, 23 June 2016   [link]


As Most Of You Have Probably Guessed, I would vote for Brexit, were I a British citizen.

Here, briefly, is how I see the main issues.  Some proponents of the European Union claim that it has helped bring peace to Europe.  Perhaps in minor ways, but the organization has made less than 1 percent of the difference that NATO has made over the years.

Economists, who mostly like big free, or at least "fee-ish", markets, think that Britain will be hurt economically by Brexit.  Here's an example of their thinking from Paul Krugman.

In my opinion, most economists pay too little attention to the stifling effects of regulation, perhaps because those effects are often so hard to measure.

My own guess is that Brexit would cost Britain in the short run, but could give Britain gains in the medium and long run.

However, even if I thought that Brexit would make Britain a bit poorer in the long run, I would still favor it, for this simple reason:  The organization has lost democratic legitimacy.   They hold elections, but the elections have little effect on policy, which is why participation continues to decline.  (And those who do vote are often protesting against what their national government has been doing, not voting on European issues.)

All that might still lead some to vote against Brexit, if they thought there was a realistic chance of reform.  The Telegraph doesn't think thee is.
True, some senior EU politicians have signalled that perhaps the institution does need to address the growing disenchantment of people across the continent; but they have done nothing about it – not even faced with the existential threat of a Brexit.   In other words, the option of staying in a reformed EU is not available today.   We are being invited to remain in something that is impervious to demands for change.  Perhaps a British vote to leave will shock the European elites out of their complacency.  But a vote to stay will merely encourage their centralising ambitions.
And I agree with them.
- 11:02 AM, 23 June 2016   [link]


Will The British Put All Their Eggs In One Brexit?  (Sorry, couldn't resist that title.)

Experts disagree.

Mike Smithson, of the political betting site, looks at the final polls and says:
If LEAVE does manage to win it'll be a far far bigger polling disaster than at GE2015
By which he means that the pollsters will miss by even more than they did in last year;s general election, where the pollsters failed to predict the Conservative majority.

Natalie Jackson at Huffpollster runs their model, using all the polls, and comes to this conclusion:
The HuffPost Pollster model estimates that if the election was held today about 46 percent of Britons would vote to leave the EU, and 45 percent would vote to remain.  The probability that leave is in the lead is about 78 percent, but it wouldn’t be surprising for the June 23 vote to go either way.  But those numbers have wavered — just last week, the polls appeared to swing even farther toward ‘leave.’  Polls since Member of Parliament Jo Cox’s murder, which could have been connected to her outspoken support for staying in the EU, have inched back toward ‘remain.’  But the trajectory of the race is different depending on what polls you look at.
So a betting expert is sure what the polls say, but a polling expert isn't.  The betting expert is certain that they say "Remain" will win; the polling expert thinks they say "Leave" will win.

One thing seems nearly certain:  The vote will be close enough so that the losing side will find it hard to accept the result.

(Some sympathy for the pollsters:  It's a more difficult polling problem than the usual election polling, because it is harder to predict who will vote.  The young are more in favor of staying in the European Union, but are less likely to vote.   The more educated also favor staying in the EU, and are more likely to vote.   And so on.

There are ways to weight these different factors, but it is hard to know which ones to use, without data from similar referendums.

Here's the usual Wikipedia article on .Brexit.)
- 8:23 AM, 23 June 2016   [link]


Yesterday's New Yorker Calendar Cartoon: can be political, if you want it to be.
- 6:50 AM, 23 June 2016   [link]


Yesterday's New Yorker Calendar Cartoon was pleasantly non-political.
- 7:15 AM, 22 June 2016   [link]


Donald Trump's Campaign Is Almost Broke?!  I wasn't expecting that.
Donald Trump's campaign raised $3.1 million in May and ended last month with $1.3 million in the bank, a remarkably poor showing that will only heighten Republican concerns about his ability to run a serious general election campaign against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump's paltry fundraising last month is totally inexplicable given that he effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination on May 3 when he crushed Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) in the Indiana primary.  Cruz ended his campaign that night.  Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out the next day.
According to other news stories, he didn't raise any money, because he didn't ask for any, and he depleted his campaign accounts in part because he was paying off his companies and his family.

You can see more basic numbers on his campaign, here.   Oddly, he doesn't seem to have signed up many volunteers, either
- 6:53 PM, 21 June 2016   [link]


There Is A Persistent Rumor That One Of Hugo Chávez's Daughters, Maria Gabriela Chávez, has done very well, especially for a socialist.
The daughter of Hugo Chavez, the former president who once declared 'being rich is bad,' may be the wealthiest woman in Venezuela, according to evidence reportedly in the hands of Venezuelan media outlets.

Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president's second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion, Diario las Americas reports.
That she has done very well is certain, but I have no idea whether that exact number is even close to the truth.

Whatever the number, there is no doubt that she could afford to buy thousands of tons of food for Venezuelans, if she wanted to.
- 2:25 PM, 21 June 2016   [link]


The Food Riots In Venezuela Are Nearly Continuous:  In spite of the deaths — at least five so far — and the regime's efforts to control them.
With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard.  Soldiers stand watch over bakeries.  The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops.  A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

Hundreds of people here in the city of Cumaná, home to one of the region’s independence heroes, marched on a supermarket in recent days, screaming for food.  They forced open a large metal gate and poured inside.  They snatched water, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, anything they could find, leaving behind only broken freezers and overturned shelves.
There have been more than fifty such riots in the last two weeks.

Before Hugo Chávez and company took over, Venezuela was a food exporter, I believe a net food exporter.

Amazingly, the regime has rejected offers of food and medicine from outside the country.

And they are channeling what food is available to their supporters.

The regime still controls the police and the military, and will find it difficult to give up power because:
The driving force in this mega crisis is that under the concept of world justice and transparency a few dozens of the higher up in the regime know they will never be able to find peace and solace once out of office.  Their fate for them is jail, tomorrow, in a decade, it does not matter.  If they do not die first they will end up in jail.  They know that.
(I suppose some of them might be able to find a comfortable exile in one of those nations without extradition treaties.)

You may want to read the entire article in the Times.  Here's some video from the BBC.
- 1:34 PM, 21 June 2016   [link]


"A Win-Win Strategy For Trump And The GOP"  Fred Hiatt has an excellent idea.
Last hope for the Republicans:   Declare Donald Trump the winner at the convention in Cleveland next month, and then persuade him to go home.

This admittedly would be a delicate maneuver.   Nothing like it has happened before.   It could work, though, if, as many have believed all along, Trump does not really want to be president.

He wants to be elected, sure, but does he want to serve?   He wants to be respected as the champion, but does he want the prize?   If this were a beauty pageant, Trump would want the crown and the adoration but not the mandatory year of appearances at charity events and visits to the troops.
Unfortunately, I think Hiatt is not quite right; I believe Trump wants to be president — but not to do the hard work the position requires.  In that, he is similar to Barack Obama.   (The two of them often remind me of Marx's famous tragedy/farce line.)
- 9:15 AM, 21 June 2016   [link]


Yesterday's New Yorker Calendar Cartoon will appeal to librarians.

- 8:25 AM, 21 June 2016   [link]


After The Orlando Massacre, Will We Go Closer To The Edge, Again?  Probably.

You may recall that Michael Hayden chose his book title to describe how the NSA and CIA operated after 9/11, close to the "edge" of legality.

As Hayden explains in the book, there is a natural cycle to our decisions about how close we want to be to that edge.  If there is a successful terrorist attack, we want to be closer to the edge.  If time goes by without such an attack — perhaps because our intelligence agencies have been more aggressive — we begin to worry about privacy and start thinking about pulling back from the edge.

Thee's an example of the process in this close vote.
The House on Thursday blocked an amendment that opponents said would have taken away critical intelligence tools just four days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

The 198-222 vote is a blow for privacy advocates who have spent years building support for the amendment, which would have barred the government from forcing companies to weaken their encryption for law enforcement.  The provision passed the House twice in 2014 and 2015 by wide margins, before being stripped each time during conferences with the Senate.

But Sunday’s deadly assault in Orlando, in which suspected Islamic State supporter Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub, caused a drastic erosion in support for the language.  Opponents cited the attack as the main reason Congress couldn’t approve the amendment.
Although this argument about how close to the edge we should operate is inevitable, and in some larger sense even desirable, it can be confusing for our spies, who can be attacked for being too far from the edge one year, and then too close to it a few years later, without the spies having changed what they have been doing.

If you have even a little healthy cynicism, you won't be surprised to learn that Hayden thinks some members of Congress try to have it both ways, not objecting when when tougher measures are proposed, but raising questions in case they want to object to those measures, later.  And some, of course, will claim they had been deceived,
- 2:20 PM, 20 June 2016   [link]


Election Scorecard, 6/20:  My two favorite sources — at this point in the campaign — have a surprise, and a non-surprise.

First, the non-surprise:  As I predicted, Hillary Clinton's lead increased from 4.8 percent, when last I wrote, to the current 7.6 percent.

I expect her lead to increase further, when and if Comrade Sanders finally formally endorses her.

Now for the surprise:  As I write, the British bettors are giving Donald Trump an 86.2 percent chance of winning the Republican nomination, down 7.7 percent in the last week.

(Reminder:  Since the site updates every five minutes, you will, most likely, see different numbers.)

What's going on with the bettors?  Some must think there is a real chance of a revolt at the convention.  It isn't impossible, since a majority of the delegates have both practical and idealistic reasons to oppose Trump.  They want to win, and they think he is unfit to be president.

Right now, i think the chance of a revolt at the convention is much less than 13.8 percent, but that could change if Trump screws up again, big time — and the polls look awful for Republicans.
- 8:48 AM, 20 June 2016   [link]


Robots Need Asimov's Third Law:  They, sometimes, need to be able to defend themselves, if only from curious children.
PALO ALTO, Calif.—At a shopping mall here one recent Friday, six-year-old Ruby Dowling made friends with a friendly egg-shaped robot. Her sister Layla, five, even patted the robot on its glossy white tummy. “This robot is nice,” said Ruby, as a group of children encircled it.

It wasn’t surprising that the bot, named K5, inspired this response—it had been designed to look approachable.  When it was surrounded and needed to return to work as the mall’s security guard, though, the K5 did something its small admirers never expected.  It let out a screech that scattered them in all directions.
It will be interesting to watch as designers try to figure out that Third Law problem, without making robots that break the First and Second Laws.

Speaking of cute, don't miss the last line of the article.
- 7:49 AM, 20 June 2016   [link]


Now The UN Is Saying That ISIS Is Committing Genocide Against The Yazidis:  It's just a commission report, so far, but it's a start.
Islamic State fighters are committing genocide against Yazidis in Syria and Iraq by seeking to destroy the group through murder, sexual slavery, gang rape, torture and humiliation, UN investigators have said.

The UN report, based on interviews with dozens of survivors, said on Thursday that the Islamist militants, who include foreign fighters, had been systematically capturing Yazidis in Iraq and Syria since August 2014, seeking to “erase their identity”.

The UN report said Isis had tried to erase the Yazidis’ identity by forcing men to choose between conversion to Islam and death, raping girls as young as nine, selling women at slave markets, and drafting boys to fight.
At one time, an accusation of genocide would have been a big story here in the United States, but I doubt this report got much coverage here, or elsewhere.

Unfortunately for the Yazidis, they aren't whales.
- 2:59 PM, 19 June 2016   [link]


Human Fathers Are More Like Most Birds Than Most Mammals: Not in the body design, of course, but in the way they care for their young.
Tally up the good dads and the bad dads in the animal world, and mammals come up surprisingly short.  Males provide direct care of their young in less than 5% of mammal species.  Some mammals, like grizzly bears, are notoriously bad dads, known to kill their own cubs—perhaps as a draconian strategy for regulating population size.
. . .
Then there are birds.  For our avian friends, attentive care of the young by both males and females is the norm.
Happy Father's Day to all of you fathers, especially those of you who have been behaving like birds.

(Jennifer Ackerman's .book title, The Genius of Birds. suggest that there are other things she likes about birds.)
- 10:15 PM, 19 June 2016   [link]


The Current Pepper And Salt Page has four business cartoons at the top.

I liked them all.
- 9:31 AM, 19 June 2016   [link]


Democratic Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur Thinks There Might Be Something in this conspiracy theory.
Some conservative Republicans disgusted by Donald Trump’s offensive, scorched-earth campaign have long suspected their party’s nominee to be secretly in league with his erstwhile friends Bill and Hillary Clinton.  They wonder whether Bill Clinton and Trump worked out an agreement — perhaps during the course of that “casual” phone call between the two last May — designed to hand Hillary Clinton the White House while tarnishing the GOP’s brand for a generation.
And so do I, though perhaps not to the point where it becomes a conspiracy theory.

Let me show you how far I am willing to go, with this list:
  1. Trump called Clinton about a run for the presidency
  2. Clinton encouraged Trump to run.
  3. Clinton thought a Trump run might hurt the Republicans and help Hillary.
  4. Although it wasn't important to him, Trump also believed that he might help Hillary.
  5. Trump and Clinton believed that he would win the Republican nomination.
Points 1-4 seem nearly certain to me, but 5 seems quite improbable.
- 4:34 PM, 18 June 2016   [link]


Fathers Will Like this daily New Yorker cartoon. (Link fixed.)
- 2:57 PM, 18 June 2016   [link]