March 2016, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Bad News From Tyler Cowen: (And others.)
The slowdown in productivity growth is real —; and Silicon Valley won't save us.
In mature economies, higher productivity typically is required for sustained increases in living standards, but the productivity numbers in the United States have been mediocre. Labor productivity has been growing at an average of only 1.3 percent annually since the start of 2005, compared with 2.8 percent annually in the preceding 10 years. Without somehow improving productivity growth, living standards will continue to lag, this widely held narrative concludes.To put this in the simplest terms, before the productivity slowdown, American workers could — on the average — get pay increases of almost 3 percent a year; now they can expect a little over 1 percent.
Workers in nations that are behind us in productivity can do better for a while, but will eventually run into the same constraints.
(Oddly, Cowen does not mention how this fits into Robert J, Gordon's argument, made in his book, and earller in papers, that the productivity growth slowdown is a result of a slowdown in significant innovations, since 1940.
The idea that Facebook might contribute substantially to productivity seems a little odd to me, but I may be missing something.) .
- 4:08 PM, 8 March 2016 [link]
"Total Solar Eclipse Will End the Day Before It Begins" That's because, while total, it will cross the international date line.
- 12:51 PM, 8 March 2016 [link]
If You've Ever Worked In A Cubicle, you'll like this Pepper and Salt cartoon.
- 10:42 AM, 8 March 2016 [link]
Why Couldn't Flint And Detroit Make A Deal? Let me start by warning you that this post is partly speculative. (I have been looking, casually, for the background I need, but haven't found it, and don't want to spend most of a day digging for information for a single post, of no great national importance.)
Flint, Michigan got its water from Detroit for decades, since 1960 I believe. Then when both cities went broke, that relationship ended, and in 2014 Flint began getting its water from the Flint River, Since Flint didn't treat the water properly, the water began to corrode the lead pipes leading to many homes. The lead can cause health problems, especially for children.
All that is almost certainly familiar to you.
But here is the part that puzzles me: Why did Flint decide to switch from Detroit water?
I have a speculative answer to that question.
The bankruptcies of the two cities made both even hungrier for money than before — and probably made it possible to break some long-term contracts.
So Detroit started charging its neighbors more for the water it was supplying them. And some of them, including Flint, began looking for a different source, in order to save a little money.
If you are looking at this from a strictly technological point of view, this makes no sense. There are large economies of scale in water delivery. Taken as whole,, it would be cheaper to have one large water plant in Detroit that supplied most of the region.
But cities don't always follow that kind of logic when making decisions.
If any long-term contracts could be voided, the people running Detroit would realize that they had a temporary monopoly, and could charge monopoly prices.
The cities getting water from Detroit would have several choices: They could pay the monopoly prices, they could try to bargain with Detroit for a better deal, or they could look for a new source.
All of the cities, including Detroit, would come out ahead if they could get a price for the Detroit water that was lower than what it would cost them to develop their own source (or sources).
(Game theory predicts that, in such situations, there is a range of possible outcomes, and that the result will often depend on the bargaining abilities of the two sides.)
For whatever reason, that didn't happen; Detroit didn't offer its neighbors water at a price they were willing to accept. (Or there may have been no bargaining at all; Detroit may simply have set a price, and refused to talk.)
Flint then had three choices: Pay Detroit's price, pay Detroit's price until they could develop their own source, or switch to the Flint River, while they were developing their own source. The city chose the latter, even though the city was warned against it, at the time.
Which is one of the reasons I suspect that Detroit had not sat down to bargain with Flint. That would, almost certainly, annoy Flint officials, greatly.
If my speculation is right, then Flint's water problem was caused by a failure of the two cities to work out a mutually beneficial deal, one that would have been better for both Flint and Detroit.
(There's some interesting background in this Wall Street Journal article.)
- 3:02 PM, 7 March 2016 [link]
What's The Big Issue For New York Democrats? Inequality? The civil war in Syria? Electing Hillary Clinton?
No, no, and no. It's getting tickets to the musical, "Hamilton".
In political circles in New York, Washington and elsewhere, seeing “Hamilton,” the Broadway hit musical about one of the nation’s earliest politicians, has become an essential barometer of professional coolness.No one familiar with New York Senator Schumer will be surprised to learn that he is part of the scramble for tickets.
This frantic search for tickets is funny and — revealing.
(For the record: The reporter, Erica Orden, doesn't say all the people she mentions are Democrats, but all that I could identify are.
Here's the Wikipedia entry on the musical.)
- 9:19 AM, 7 March 2016 [link]
One Drawing + Two Captions = Two Cartoons: The 2010 New Yorker cartoon collection played a little trick on readers. They put this cartoon on page 29.
And then used the identical drawing for a cartoon on page 49, with this caption: "Invest?  "No offense, but I've read about you guys."
Which was fun after I caught on, but left me thinking that I should be able to come up with even more captions. (So far, I haven't thought of any I'd like to share. If you think of one you'd like to share, let me know.)
- 9:02 AM, 7 March 2016 [link]
Your Humble Correspondent Gets Some Culture: This weekend, working my way through a back issue of the Weekly Standard, I learned about a songwriter, Harold Arlen, who had written many familiar songs, for example:
But . . . the songs! To catalogue them is to be reminded of what made the golden age of American popular song golden, and to be struck by how many of them were performed and recorded to indelible effect by the very best pop and jazz singers of the 20th century. Think, just for openers, of Fred Astaire's "My Shining Hour," Ray Charles's "Come Rain or Come Shine," Nat Cole's "It's Only a Paper Moon," Bing Crosby's "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive," Judy Garland's "The Man That Got Away," Lena Horne's "Stormy Weather," Peggy Lee's "Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe," Frank Sinatra's "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," and Mel Tormé's "When the Sun Comes Out." Of such records is an era made.If I had ever known his name, I had forgotten it, but almost all those songs have stayed with me over the years.
(Terry Teachot's review of a new biography of Arlen, Yhe Man That Got Away, has much more on Arlen, his work, and his times..)
- 5:51 PM, 6 March 2016 [link]
So, What Do The British Bettors Think About Our Elections This Morning? That Hillary Clinton is now almost certain to be the Democratic nominee (92.2%), and is likely to win the general election (63.1%).
That Donald Trump is the favorite to win the Republican nomination (60.8%), but is down from his peak of 83% (You may recall that I thought the Super Tuesday results gave me "reasons for hope" that Trump could be stopped. Not optimism yet, but hope.)
Cruz has moved up in the Republican race (17.5%), Kasich has moved up (7.7%), and Rubio has lost ground (5.5%).
(Reminder: Since I am using a site that updates every 5 minutes, you should not expect the numbers to be exactly the same when you look at the site. In fact, they changed while I was writing this post
Here's an earlier article on the betting odds.)
- 8:42 AM, 6 March 2016 [link]
For A Sunday, this gentle domestic cartoon seems about right.
- 7:47 AM, 6 March 2016 [link]
This New Yorker Cartoon is slightly risque.
(I like it for the ingenious caption.)
- 7:20 AM, 5 March 2016 [link]
Math Guys (And Gals), Here's One For You: According to a recent paper, you can, to some extent, predict terrorist attacks with something called a "Hawkes process".
However, new research shows that terror attacks may not be as unpredictable as people think. A paper by Stephen Tench and Hannah Fry, mathematicians at the University College London, and Paul Gill, a security and crime expert, shows that terrorist attacks often follow a general pattern that can be modeled and predicted using math.According to the article, Hawkes processes are already in use to predict crime patterns.
One consequence — assuming I understand the article correctly — is that preventing an initial terrorist attack (or burglary) would prevent, or at least delay, later attacks (or burglaries).
(So far, Wikipedia doesn't have an article on Hawkes processes, not even a stub. The Post article links to a video that may tell you more.).
- 1:56 PM, 4 March 2016 [link]
A Small Sign Of Hope On North Korea? Possibly. As I've mentioned before, there is little hope of controlling North Korea unless China is willing to cooperate with us — and so far they haven't shown any sign of wanting to do that. (I suppose it is possible that the North Korean regime would have been behaving even worse without some restraint from China, but that seems unlikely.)
But the timing of this gift suggests — only suggests, let me repeat — that the Chinese may finally have had enough of Kim Jong-un and company.
A pair of giant pandas, a state gift to South Korea from Chinese President Xi Jinping, arrived in Seoul on Thursday to a red-carpet welcome.The pandas had been promised for some time, so it is the timing that may be significant.
- 12:33 PM, 4 March 2016 [link]
Worth Buying: The current Weekly Standard, if only for this longish (4470 words) Christopher Caldwell article, "The Migrants of Calais".
Caldwell begins by describing the "jungle" at Calais. Here are two samples:
The Jungle is an extraordinary place, rather like a newly founded town. It is sharply, if informally, demarcated into ethnic neighborhoods. Itinerant young men outside of their homelands for the very first time, carrying their life savings in their trouser pockets, are just as scared of foreigners as you are. They are just as scared of disease, too. There are developing-world diseases in the camp, including scabies (la gale). You see young people walking around in disposable surgical masks. Afghans dominate the buildings at the camp's muddy entrance. There is a path leading off to the right where a church has been built out of plywood for the benefit of the camp's very few Christians — who all seem to be Eritreans and Ethiopians. There is indeed a group of settlers fleeing the war in Syria, but they are a minority, and I met no one who had spoken to any Christians among them. If you leave the Afghan neighborhood by turning left instead of right, you pass through a big concentration of Pakistanis, who have turned a section of the camp bulldozed in January into a cricket pitch. The Syrian neighborhood comes next, with a few Egyptians alongside. Black Africans are at the end of the road.After that description, Caldwell makes a general argument about the effects of globalization. I've read the article a couple of times, and am still thinking about that argument. Whether you agree with Caldwell or not, I think you'll find it provocative..
- 9:25 AM, 4 March 2016 [link]
"Mitt Romney’s Takedown Of Donald Trump" Here's the transcript.
(You can watch it, if you prefer.)
- 8:48 AM, 4 March 2016 [link]
Maybe I Have Been Spending Too Much Time Thinking About Politics, because both yesterday's and today's New Yorker cartoons seem to be about Donald Trump.
(Trump supporters may not agree.)
- 8:16 AM, 4 March 2016 [link]
A Classic Example Of Tribalism: Almost three weeks ago, a police officer was convicted of killing an unarmed man. About two weeks ago, there were large demonstrations against the conviction, claiming the officer had been made a "scapegoat".
You can guess who was demonstrating in support of the officer if I give you his last name, Liang. And you would be right.
Tribalism is so pervasive — even in nations that officially reject it — that we have learned to expect it, learned that people will rally in support of a member of their own tribe, without, usually, paying much attention to the facts of the case.
In politics, it's one of the most common ways of "thinking fast".
And I suppose I should remind you that thinking fast often leads to correct decisions, and is a necessity in most emergencies.
(For the record: I have no opinion on this case, since I didn't follow it closely. But I can tell you that going into a housing project stairwell, as Officer Liang did, is one of the riskiest things a police officer may have to do.
The demonstrations weren't just in New York.)
- 3:23 PM, 3 March 2016 [link]
News On Sleep You May Be Able To Use: A recent study found that temperature is more important than light.
To get a good night’s sleep, many people should set their thermostat a few degrees lower, experts say.The usual caveat applies; you'd really like to see one or more replications of the study, but lowering the temperrature may be worth trying if you have been having trouble sleeping.
(The reporter, Sumathi Reddy, doesn't discuss how the different factors might interact, but getting temperature, light, exercise, and all the rest right almost certain won't hurt.)
- 12:47 PM, 3 March 2016 [link]
Why Did Mitt Romney Lose In 2012? It's time to clean up after another Donald Trump mess though, to be fair, this is one he didn't create, but is now spreading around.
Activists in both parties often believe that their party would have won the last election, if the nominee had just fought harder (or some times fought as dirty as the other party did).
In the Republican Party, that belief is especially common among talk show hosts, who do so much to shape those activist opinions.
You won't find many political scientists or election analysts who agree. Instead, if you asked them why Romney lost, they would probably give you a list something like this:
You can make a similar list for George W. Bush's victory in 2004:
(You could make similar lists for the presidential elections of 1924, 1936 ,1956, 1964, 1972, and 1984. And many other presidential elections.)
Note that none of the factors in that first list were in Mitt Romney's control. Could he have run a better campaign? Sure, but not by fighting harder, or dirtier. Instead, Romney's campaign should have done more to explain what an incredibly decent and charitable man he is.
Would that have given Romney the win? Probably not, especially after Sandy. Instead, it would have reduced Obama's margin of victory of almost four points to something closer to Bush's 2.5 point edge in 2004.
But you won't persuade many activists of that, even if you show them that general pattern. People believe what they want to believe, especially if they are passionate about it.
Does Trump believe the claim he is now making, that Romney could have won if he had fought harder? As is so often true, it is hard to know how much of his own spiel Trump believes. He might believe this, or he might not. In general, it is safer to assume that he doesn't believe what he says.
That's enough cleaning up after an incontinent horse, for now. (I probably should add that one of the reasons I don't like to write about Trump is that, for me, he is a solved problem. There's no intellectual challenge in pointing out, for the umpteenth time, that he is completely unqualified to be president.)
(In 2012, I very much wanted Romney to win and tentatively predicted that he would. I missed in large part because I was believing the Rasmussen estimates for Democrats and Republicans. They had, I thought, been reasonably accurate before, but they weren't in 2012.)
- 9:18 AM, 3 March 2016 [link]
Like Almost Every Good Joke Teller, Bob Dole borrows from the best. I've always liked this Churchill story.
No one in the twentieth century marshalled the English language better than Winston Churchill. Presented with an official document of stupefying verbosity, he protested, "This paper, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read." (p. 11)(In the past I sometimes had to write "executive summaries" — and found them harder to write than any other kind of official writing. It is usually difficult to be both brief, and mostly truthful.
And I suppose that almost all of you know that bureaucrats sometimes make documents long and obscure, deliberately.)
- 7:09 AM, 3 March 2016 [link]
Worth Reading: If you favor freedom of speech — even at our universities and colleges — you'll want to read this Wall Street Journal op-ed, "How the Sex-Harassment Cops Became Speech Police".
If you care about free speech on campus, watch closely the First Amendment case of Teresa Buchanan.Professor Buchanan was fired for "inappropriate comments", things she said in class: some crude language you could hear in almost any public school, and a few mildly sexual jokes.
That's not what most of think of as sexual harassment. In fact, given the crudity of our popular culture and the crudity that can be found in almost every public school, it's crudity that new teachers should be prepared to hear.
Professor Buchanan is suing LSU, with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Let us hope she wins, and wins big.
The Obama administration, specifically the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, has been pushing the policies that got Buchanan, and others at our colleges and universities, in trouble.
That gives us another reason to hope that Obama will be replaced by someone who values freedom of speech, someone like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Ben Carson.
(President Obama, to give him credit, has said good things in favor of freedom of speech — even at our universities and colleges. Does he not know what his administration has been doing, does he not care enough to make the bureaucrats behave, or is he fibbing to us? I don't know, but the latter seems most likely.)
- 2:23 PM, 2 March 2016 [link]
Coulda Been Worse: In fact, when I look at the results in yesterday's primaries and caucuses, I see reasons for hope.
Let's take the easy side first: Republicans want Comrade Bernie to continue to fight Hillary Clinton all the way to the convention. He won enough states yesterday — Vermont, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Colorado — to keep him in the race for at least a month longer, and perhaps two or three months.
He may even continue to campaign, after Hillary has won enough delegates to ensure her nomination. He's on an ideological mission, and might continue because of his hopes for the next election, or even the next generation. And I can't think of anything the party would want to promise him that would make him change his mind.
On the Republican side, almost anyone who has looked at his political record will want to see the Bill Clinton Democrat in the race, Donald Trump, defeated.
And he was defeated yesterday; he won about 36 percent of the popular vote, and a minority of the delegates at stake.
We won't know the exact numbers until Wednesday, but it looks as though Trump will, by some estimates, finish with somewhere in the neighborhood of 245 delegates. A week ago, that would have been a worst-case scenario for his Super Tuesday. It gets worse: Cruz won resounding victories in Texas and Oklahoma. He trails Trump in the delegate haul for the night by only about 60 delegates. And when you put together the not-Trump share, Rubio and Cruz (and Kasich) will top out around 320 delegates to Trump's 245 (or so). He's still falling way short of half the delegates.Right now, assuming the Wikipedia numbers are roughly correct, Trump has 327 delegates, Cruz 233, Rubio 116, Kasich 27, and Carson, about 8.
If that pattern, or something similar, continues, then Trump would have to win in some of the winner-take-all states, such as Florida, to have a majority of the delegates coming into the convention.
And if he doesn't? Unless it is extremely close, I think it unlikely he will be able to make a deal that will give him a majority.
So there is reason for hope on both sides.
But I won't go any further than that, until I look at the winner-take-all states, and the latest polls in them.
- 1:16 PM, 2 March 2016 [link]
You Campaign In Prose, You Govern In Statistics* Mostly.
That little post yesterday on the best typeface for highway signs reminds me of that fundamental fact about large-scale politics.
When politicians are seeking votes, they explain what they hope to do in office in words. If they use numbers are all, it will almost always be to illustrate the arguments they are making. And they often tell us symbolic stories. If they are talking about health care, they will talk about one or two people who were helped by some program — or would be helped if the candidate is elected.
It is rare for a candidate to do something as basic as a cost-benefit comparison in a campaign speech.
(You can sometimes find that kind of information in position papers, but few voters look at them, and the few that do are often just looking for a few key points.)
Suppose, to go back to the highway sign example, a candidate decided to propose the use of that Clearview typeface. How should he present it to the voters? You don't have to be an expert in campaigns to come up with something like this: The candidate should have his aides look for an accident that was caused by a hard-to-read sign (preferably an accident with a sympathetic victim), describe that accident, and then claim that a better sign could have prevented it.
If the candidate is honest, and many are, mostly, then they should have an aide write a paper with the data that supports the proposal for better signs.
Suppose the candidate is elected. How should he put his plan into effect? Statistically. He should get an analyst to determine where the most accidents were that might be attributed to hard-to-read signs, and replace or re-paint those signs, first.
In campaigning, the story was central; in governing the numbers are. You campaign in prose, you govern in statistics.
To win, a politician needs to be good at the first, to govern well, at the second.
(*As some of you may have guessed, I was putting a twist on an old Mario Cuomo line. His version is prettier than mine, but mine is more accurate.)
- 10:18 AM, 2 March 2016 [link]
The General And The Private: After the Civil War, two men running for Congress were speaking at a public meeting.
The first man got up and told of what he done in the war as a general, and ended with a little sneer: "While I was serving as a general, my opponent was only a private."
His opponent got up and said: "It's true; he was a general, and I was only a private. So all of you who were generals should vote for him, and all of you who were privates should vote for me."
- 6:12 AM, 2 March 2016 [link]
"Violence Erupts" That's the phrase that newspapers like to use in headlines, when they don't want to blame the people who committed the violence. This morning, for example, the New York Times used it in this headline (in the Kindle edition): "Violence Erupts in Greece as Migrants Try to Cross Into Macedonia".
In fact, violence didn't "erupt". As you can see in this BBC video, young migrant men attacked the fence between Macedonia and Greece, and the Macedonians responded, though not immediately, with tear gas.
So an honest headline might have been something like this: "Young Migrant Men Attack Barrier Protecting Macedonia; Macedonia repels Them With Tear Gas".
Incidentally, the barrier is up because, as I said would happen, the European nations are beginning to compete to limit the flow of migrants. If, for instance, Hungary puts up barriers to migrants transiting Hungary, then nations south and east of Hungary, including Macedonia, are almost forced to follow suit. .
- 3:04 PM, 1 March 2016 [link]
News About Highway Signs You May Be Able To Use: Henry Petroski says that the Federal Highway Administration has just decided to make our highway signs harder to read.
Starting this week, a familiar face will begin to disappear from America’s roadside signs. It's not particularly noticeable — certainly not as memorable as the goateed Colonel Sanders or smiling Big Boy or pigtailed Wendy pushing their fried chicken, hamburgers and French fries. Rather, it is a typeface named Clearview, which has graced many of our highway signs and directed us to our destinations since 2004, when it was granted interim approval by the Federal Highway Administration.Petroski doesn't know why they are dropping the typeface, but, as an older driver, takes this decision personally..  (As do I, for the same reason.)
You can see samples of the typeface in the Wikipedia article.)
- 2:11 PM, 1 March 2016 [link]
Some Speculations On The Tining Of A Hillary Clinton Indictment: What happens if the FBI calls for an indictment of Hillary Clinton in the email scandal, and the Justice Department agrees?
As I've said, what would happen depends on the timing.
Here's a speculative post (link fixed) that tries to cover the possibilities, in order.
Before considering seven time periods that would generate different outcomes, let’s first remember than Hillary may well choose to fight on anyway. Her ability to do so will vary depending on what evidence becomes public, as well as when (again), but everyone is innocent until proven otherwise and she can say that it is not for an FBI opinion to stop her, or anyone else, running for office. Whether the public agrees is another matter.Note, please: I am not endorsing David Herdson's post. In fact, I think there are three serious errors in it. The FBI would not indict Hillary Clinton; instead the FBI would present a case to Justice Department prosecutors who would then decide whether to indict her. (And most of them must be hoping the FBI doesn't put them in that situation.) Second, Herdson does not allow for write-in candidates in primaries held after an indictment. Third, he does not discuss what the "super delgates" might do, in the event of an indictment.
Despite those disagreements, I thought his time line, and his speculations, were interesting enough to share.
- 9:05 AM, 1 March 2016 [link]
Bob Dole Is A Very Funny Fellow: Though you wouldn't have known that during the 1996 presidential campaign, when he was depicted as a dour man, who wanted to starve widows and orphans.
After his defeat in 1996, he showed us his light side by putting together a pretty good collection of political jokes and stories.
It shows something about the man, I think, that he put this story near the beginning of the collection. In 1961, Dole had just been elected to Congress and was getting started as a speaker at party fund raising dinners.
When he arrived in one town, the party dinner chairman took him to a local radio station, where the announcer gave Dole this introduction:
"The guest at this evening's dinner," he began, "will be Congressman Bob Doyle (sic). He will speak at the American Legion Hall. Tickets have been slashed from three dollars to one dollar. A color television set will be given away. You must be present to win, and we're not going to draw until Congressman Doyle gets through talking. Doyle was born in Kansas, raised in Kansas, and educated at the University of Kansas. Prior to World War II, he was a premedical student. He fought in Italy, where he suffered a serious head injury, Then he went into politics." (pp. 7-8)Which, as Dole says, was "more or less accurate".
(Most likely, the announcer was reading a script the chairman had provided.)
I've always liked that story — and what it shows about Bob Dole.
Politicians are often surrounded by flatterers, and the higher the politicians rise, the more that is true. To keep in touch with reality, politicians should have the ability to tell self-deprecating jokes and stories, like Dole's.
(This Wikipedia biography has a more accurate description of his injuries.
The first collection was enough of a success so that he followed it with a second.)
- 8:08 AM, 1 March 2016 [link]