Archive:

March 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



That Partial Trump Tax Return:  Philip Bump's speculations about where it came from — a bank or a law firm — seem plausible to me.

Either could explain why it is a partial return for just one year, 2005.
On balance, in other words, there is a higher likelihood that someone who obtained Trump's tax return in some way passed it to Johnston than Trump did himself.
But that still leaves us wondering what there is in the rest of that tax return, and in all the other tax returns he doesn't want us to see.  Most likely they would reveal that he isn't as rich as he claims, or that he hasn't been paying what most citizens would consider his fair share of taxes, or both.

(As I've said before, I wouldn't be satisfied with just his tax returns; I'd like to see annual reports from his companies, for at least ten years, too.)
- 7:18 PM, 16 March 2017   [link]


This Steve Sack Cartoon is silly — but charming.
- 9:23 AM, 16 March 2017   [link]


Rebecca West's "Horrid Hypothesis"  In the decades before World War I, troubles in the Balkans often attracted a certain kind of English tourist.
English persons, therefore, of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer.  The same sort of person, devoted to good works and austerities, who is traditionally supposed to keep a cat and a parrot, often set up on their hearth the image of the Albanian or the Bulgarian or the Serbian or the Macedonian Greek people, which had all the force and blandness of pious fantasy. (p. 20)
I quote that, not just because it's an interesting piece of writing, or because it tells us something about the history of the Balkans, but because we still have persons with "perfectionist" faiths, persons who are unable to recognize the truth in that horrible hypothesis.

If you need an example, look for almost any story by a "mainstream" journalist on environmentalist groups or American Indian tribes.

(If you are wondering about those conflicts between Balkan peoples, start by taking a quick look at the First and Second Balkan Wars.)
- 6:52 AM, 15 March 2017   [link]


In Today's Dutch Election, The Bettors May Have Anticipated The Exit Polls:  The question that interested most outside observers was how well Geert Wilder's anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV) would do against the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

Until the last few days, both polls and bettors were saying very well.  And then there was a dramatic change.  (You can, for the moment, get even more recent numbers on the betting, here.(

If the exit polls are right, the bettors who dumped Wilders made a smart decision.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's party has won the most seats in parliamentary elections, first exit polls say.

His centre-right VVD Party won 31 out of 150 seats, polls suggest.

His party came far ahead of the next three parties, including Geert Wilders' anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV), the Christian Democrats and the D66 Party, which each got 19 seats.
Since the Dutch use a fairly pure proportional representation system, Rutte's party probably came in first — with about 20 percent of the vote.

(According to the scorecard: 'Preliminary results based on a "quick count" will be available on 15 March, but the official result will not be announced until 16:00 CET on 21 March.[5]')
- 2:36 PM, 15 March 2017   [link]


Need Help Filling Out Those Brackets?   The FiveThirtyEight team thinks they can give it to you.

Maybe.
Every year, FiveThirtyEight dusts off its March Madness predictions and forecasts the win probabilities of each team in the tournament.  And every year, we’re reminded that the joy and chaos of March Madness can’t possibly be summed up in win probabilities alone.  Each of the men’s tournament’s 68 teams has charted its own course to the field: Some have endured devastating injuries, some have made surprising runs in their conference tournaments, and some have weathered tripping scandals.  But now they all get a clean state.  Win six — or maybe seven — games, and they do what no team is likely to do: win the NCAA Tournament.
(Links omitted.)

For the record;  If there is money in your bracket contest, it may be illegal.  In Washington state, for instance, it's a misdemeanor.

(I assume they meant clean slate.)
- 10:01 AM, 15 March 2017   [link]


Even If You Aren't A Fan Of Synchronized Swimming, you'll like this cartoon.
- 9:36 AM, 15 March 2017   [link]


Here's A Toast To Belgium Astronomers and their Trappist beers.
Just how a team of five Belgian scientists discovered one of the most remarkable planetary systems -- and named it after their favorite beer -- is a story of ingenuity, persistence and luck.

TRAPPIST-1 is the name of a system of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a dwarf star "just" 40 light-years away. Three of the planets sit in the habitable zone of their star, making it possible they could support liquid water on the surface and sustain life.
Liquid water, and therefore liquid beer.

If you want to try one of those Trappist beers, you can find some suggestions in this Wikipedia article.
- 3:39 PM, 14 March 2017   [link]


Reverse Coattails In 2016 (3):  Iowa is one of the swing states that gave Donald Trump his electoral vote majority.

In fact, he won an absolute majority there (51.15-41.74 percent, 800,983-653,669 votes).

But he did not do nearly as well as Iowa's senior senator, Charles Grassley (60.09-35.66 percent, 926,007-549,460 votes).

I think it fair to conclude, tentatively, that Trump would have won without Grassley on the ballot — and fair to conclude, tentatively, that Trump would have won by less, might not even have gotten his absolute majority without Grassley.

This is a good time to remind you of how a "coattail effect" usually works.
The "coattail effect" is not usually caused by a popular candidate convincing swing voters to cast their ballots for their party, although this is not unheard of.  Rather, the effect often stems from popular candidates driving voter turnout among their own party base, people who are likely to vote for downballot party candidates anyway.
What I am suggesting happened in Iowa in 2016 is that there was an "up-ballot" effect, that Grassley drew voters to the polls who then voted for Trump, and that the "up-ballot" effect was larger than the "down-ballot" effect.

In short, Grassley did more for Trump than Trump did for Grassley.

(George W. Bush lost Iowa very narrowly in 2000, and won it narrowly in 2004.  John McCain and Mitt Romney both lost the state.

You can find the earlier posts in this series here and here.)
- 2:58 PM, 14 March 2017   [link]


Happy Pi Day!  Which you can celebrate by. for instance, eating pie.
- 9:50 AM, 14 March 2017   [link]


Kim Jong-nam's Assassination:  This article, by Lennox Samuels, is the most detailed account I've seen.

Here's how he begins:
BANGKOK—One by one, on different flights at different times, four men from North Korea flew into Malaysia over the course of a fortnight in February, coming together finally in a condo apartment on Kuchai Lama Street in a bustling middle-class suburb on the edge of the country’s sprawling capital, Kuala Lumpur.  According to multiple reports, after the murder and at the height of the scandal, they huddled frequently with Ri Jong Chol, a 47-year-old North Korean who holds a science degree and who moved to Malaysia in August 2016.
(Links omitted.)

The article answered several questions I had, for instance:  Where were his bodyguards?
- 5:41 PM, 13 March 2017   [link]


Thinking About Politicians' Lies — Systematically:  People often say that all politicians lie.  (Recently, I saw exactly that claim from two writers who should know better, Ann Althouse and Jonah Goldberg.)

Although true, or close to true, it's about as useful as saying that all basketball players try to fake out their opponents.

Making that kind of universal claim discourages us from making comparisons, even rough, but still useful, comparisons.  If we are choosing between Smith and Jones for a basketball team, it doesn't help us to know that both players try to fake out their opponents; we need to know which one is better at that art.

Similarly, if we are choosing between Smith and Jones for public office, we need to know which one is more likely to tell us the truth.  (A few people will prefer the one who is less likely, but they still need to know whether that is Smith or Jones.)

Although deciding whether Smith or Jones is better at fakes is not trivial, it is far easier than deciding which one is more likely to tell us the truth (assuming that both are professionals.)

And so I am going to simplify the problem, temporarily.  Instead of saying that Smith lies more than Jones, I'll just say that what Smith says is more likely to be false than what Jones says.  This allows us to avoid two nasty problems, knowledge and intent.  Unless Smith is talking about something internal, we can judge whether something is false or not, without knowing what Smith knows.   Similarly, we don't need to know whether Smith intends to lie, when he says something that is false.  (That can happen, for instance, when a politician reads a speech someone else has written.)

With that simplification, we can make those rough comparisons using our old friend, orders of magnitude.
Orders of magnitude are used to make approximate comparisons.  If numbers differ by one order of magnitude, x is about ten times different in quantity than y.  If values differ by two orders of magnitude, they differ by a factor of about 100.  Two numbers of the same order of magnitude have roughly the same scale: the larger value is less than ten times the smaller value.
To see how this can work, let's compare our three most recent presidents.  In my opinion, Barack Obama is at least one order of magnitude more likely to say something false than George W. Bush.  In my opinion, Donald Trump is at least two orders of magnitude more likely to say something false than George W. Bush.

I repeat, in my opinion.
- 4:24 PM, 13 March 2017   [link]


Betting Odds For Dutch, French, and American elections.

The Dutch vote this Wednesday, the first round of the French presidential election is on April 23rd, and our election will be in November 2020.

Here are the scorecards for the Dutch and French elections.  This BBC article may give you some sense of the issues and candidates in the Dutch election.

(This morning, I saw a BBC analyst try to explain the Dutch election with tulips.  The effort was not a great success, but the tulips were pretty.)
- 10:39 AM, 13 March 2017   [link]


Your Experience May Be Different, but I don't recall any cases of this disease when I was a kid.
- 7:29 AM, 13 March 2017   [link]


This Has Never Happened To Me (in spite of the name), but if it did, I would be intrigued.
- 7:51 PM, 12 March 2017   [link]


Worth Reading:  Tom Bevan's "Ilexit", a sarcastic suggestion that the nation would be better off if Illinois were to exit.
Illinois is a different story.  I’ve spent most of my adult life here; for more than 25 years I’ve called Chicagoland home.  I started a business and raised my family here.  But the more I’ve watched the city of Chicago and the state flail about in the last few years, unable to protect its citizens and unwilling to put its fiscal house in order, the more convinced I’ve become that maybe it’s time for Illinois to leave the Union – as a favor to the rest of America.

I’m joking about “ILexit,” but less than you might think.
Two items to add to the dismal picture he paints:

First, the public pensions that are so big a part of the fiscal problems of Illinois and Chicago are not just protected politically; they are also protected by the state's constitution.

Second, as far as I know — and I have looked for evidence on this question — the state's most prominent politician, Barack Obama, did nothing to prevent, or even slow down, the state's slide into bankruptcy.  (And nothing, again as far as I know, to reduce crime in Chicago.)
- 7:42 PM, 12 March 2017   [link]


What Is This Thing Called THAAD?  We are moving the system to South Korea, in response to North Korean tests.  Assuming this Wikipedia article is reasonably correct, here's what it is, and, probably, what it can do..
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), formerly Theater High Altitude Area Defense, is a United States Army anti-ballistic missile system which is designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill approach.[2]  THAAD was developed to counter Iraq's Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War in 1991.[3]  The missile carries no warhead, but relies on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy the incoming missile.  A kinetic energy hit minimizes the risk of exploding conventional warhead ballistic missiles, and nuclear tipped ballistic missiles will not detonate upon a kinetic energy hit.[N 1]
(Links omitted.)

Our friends in China have been protesting this deployment from the start.
In February 2016, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed concerns that deployment of THAAD in South Korea, despite being directed at North Korea, could jeopardize China's "legitimate national security interests."[49]  The major controversy among Chinese officials is that they believe the purpose of the THAAD system, "which detects and intercepts incoming missiles at high altitudes, is actually to track missiles launched from China" not from North Korea.[50]
Suspicious folks, aren't they?

South Korea already has two other American anti-missile systems, Patriot and Aegis.

I don't know whether China objected to those, too.

South Korea's decision to deploy THAAD may be reversed, depending on who wins the upcoming presidential election.
- 3:40 PM, 10 March 2017   [link]


President Park's Fall Started With A Quarrel Over A Puppy!?  That's what the BBC says.

And so, some are calling that part of the scandal "Puppygate".  That's almost as bad as "Penelopegate".

(You'll have to go through a fair amount of gossip before you get to the puppy.)
- 10:43 AM, 10 March 2017   [link]


This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  Jack Ohman's conspiracy theorist, Michael Ramirez's child being punished, and Steve Kelley's Hillary Clinton.  (The first two are, respectively, sixth and seventh in the Politico collection; the third is last in the RealClearPolitics collection.)
- 10:23 AM, 10 March 2017   [link]


Time For Another Definition from Ambrose Bierce:
FASHION, n.  A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey.
(This would be mostly amusing were it not for the fact that there are fashions in politics and culture, as well as in clothes — and those fashions are, if anything, more common among the better educated and the more knowledgeable.  People pick up ideas from those around them, without ever giving them any real thought.

For instance, it is common for leftists to believe that George W. Bush — with his Harvard MBA — is not very intelligent.  Leftists who want to get along with fellow leftists will wear similar clothes — and hold that opinion, in spite of the evidence.

And I could follow that with examples for every ideology I know of.)
- 4:03 PM, 9 March 2017   [link]