Archive:

May 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



News Michael Bloomberg Can Use  Too little salt can be dangerous, too.
People with high blood pressure are often told to eat a low-sodium diet.  But a diet that’s too low in sodium may actually increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, a review of studies has found.
People with high blood pressure will want to read the whole article, and perhaps the Lancet review the article is based on.
- 7:53 PM, 31 May 2016   [link]


What Do Top CEOs Think Of Donald Trump?  Judging by their political contributions so far, not much.
Republican candidates have drawn overwhelming support from the highest-paid chief executives in the country this election cycle, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics conducted for The New York Times.

That may not be so surprising, given the Republicans’ reputation as the party of business.  But none of the [200] people on this year’s highest-paid list contributed to the campaign of Donald J. Trump, a fellow businessman and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
It's true that Trump has claimed to be funding his own campaign, but you would think that one or two out of that number would have sent him a check, anyway — if they thought he'd make a great chief executive.

Why do chief executives, who must know way more about his business dealings than most of us, have this low opinion of Trump?  You can find a general answer in Andy Kessler's op-ed, and you can find an instructive example in this article, "Donald Trump Soured on a Deal, and Hong Kong Partners Became Litigants", from today's New York Times.

Briefly, a group of Hong Kong businessmen saved Trump from another bankruptcy by buying 70 percent of a property he owned in New York.  After the real estate market in New York turned around, he and his partners made a very nice profit. .
But when his Hong Kong partners sold the property without his support, Mr. Trump waged a bitter, long-shot legal battle against them.  And far from winning his share of the Bank of America building, according to court documents, he had to settle for it after losing in court.  In the end, Mr. Trump’s alliance and eventual rivalry with some of Hong Kong’s richest men proved to be a tale of Mr. Trump at the extremes.  It showcased his unflagging confidence in his ability to turn a bad financial situation around.  But it also underscored his willingness to destroy a fruitful relationship with aggressive litigation.
I don't know about you, but if a group saved me from a bankruptcy, and helped me makes millions of dollars, I'd be grateful, and would be looking for more chances to make money with them.

By now, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that Trump scores this double defeat, in court and in the break-up of a profitable relationship, as a victory.

(Is Trump actually funding his own campaign?  In part, but much of the money he has put into the campaign is a loan, and much of that money has gone right back into his businesses, for example, to pay for the rental of his airplane.  Of course, for the general election campaign, he's already trying to tap the usual big money Republican donors.)
- 2:14 PM, 31 May 2016   [link]


Current Scorecards For The Presidential Race:  First, from the British bettors, who, as I write, are giving Hillary Clinton a 64.7 percent chance of becoming president, Donald Trump a 27.2 percent chance, and Bernie Sanders a 3.9 percent chance.

Trump has lost slightly in recent days, and Sanders has gained.

For what it is worth — and the bettors have sometimes been right and I wrong in this election — I think the odds on Sanders should be less than 1 percent, because, again as I write, Hillary Clinton has 2,290 of the 2,384 delegates she needs for the nomination.  Given the proportional way the Democratic Party allocates delegates, there is at least a 99.9 percent chance she will get the additional delegates she needs, and soon.

For completeness, here's the Republican scorecard.   For what it is worth, I suspect that, if the Republicans allocated delegates in the same way the Democrats do, Trump would not have a majority. by now.)
- 10:24 AM, 31 May 2016   [link]


1%?!  That will sound like a joke to anyone who has been looking at poll questions where there are just two options, approve/disapprove in this case.  I can't recall ever seeing that low a result before.

Unfortunately, the result is not just extreme; it's important.
Just 1% of Russians approved of U.S. leadership in 2015 -- the worst rating in the world last year and the lowest approval Gallup has measured for the U.S. in the past decade.  Remarkably, this is even worse than their previous record-low 4% approval in 2014.
Ordinarily, when there are just two choices in a poll question, you expect both of them to hit at least 5 percent, if only because some misunderstand the question.

Vladimir Putin has won the propaganda war against Barack Obama — inside Russia — as completely as it is possible to win.

The "reset" with Russia turns out to be a reset to practically zero.

(Republican presidents have been far more successful in negotiating with Communist leaders (or their successors like Putin) than Democratic presidents.  Eisenhower was able to negotiate a truce in Korea that Truman couldn't.  Nixon was far more successful in negotiating with the Soviet Union and China than Kennedy and Johnson had been.   And so on.

I think part of the reason for the relative Republican success is that Republican presidents are more likely to appeal to common interests, rather than common values.  They are less likely to preach at the men on the other side of the table, more likely to argue that a particular agreement would make both sides better off.)
- 8:20 AM, 31 May 2016   [link]


Need A Joke On A Specific Subject?  There's a book for that.  (Here's the edition I have, and here's a later edition.)

The Penguin Dictionary of Joke is not a collection of great jokes; it's a reference book.  So, for instance, if you need a joke on accidents, you can find thirteen in that entry to choose from.  This one is about average:
First impressions are often lasting — especially if they're made by a car bumper.
Not a great joke, but it would work in some situations.

And I have to admit that I get a kick out of the very idea of a reference book on jokes.

(Yesterday's New Yorker cartoon didn't strike me as at all funny, but it does tell us, not that many of us needed telling, just how ugly the general election campaign will be.)
- 7:10 AM, 31 May 2016   [link]


Two For Memorial Day:  Thoughtful:  Uwe Reinhardt's op-ed, "The American Dead in Foreign Fields"
My wife, born in China and reared in Taiwan, and I, born in Germany and a longtime U.S. citizen, first visited the World War II cemeteries when our American-born children were young.  We would tell them: Here rest some of the warriors who sacrificed their lives so that your parents and people in many parts of the world would be free from tyranny and could pursue their dreams in freedom.  We made it clear to our children that this was not just a grown-up talk—that it was real and part of their proud heritage.
Touching:  Dana Canedy's article. "We Lost Our Soldier, but We’re Still a Family".
I am still not sure what hits me the hardest, Father’s Day, his birthday or the anniversary of his death.  At least Memorial Day brings pride with the pain.

My son and I lost our soldier, First Sgt. Charles Monroe King, in October 2006, just 30 days before he was due to come home from a yearlong tour of duty in the United States Army in Iraq.  The improvised explosive device that detonated under his armored military vehicle shattered his body and our lives.  Jordan was just 6 months old and met his father only once, during a two-week leave from the war.
There isn't anything I can add to those two, except my own thanks to those who served.
- 2:38 PM, 30 May 2016   [link]


That Perplexing Rat/Cellphone/Cancer Study:   Andrew Pollack's article in yesterday's New York Times left me completely confused as to what conclusions one could draw from the study.

Here's what made the headlines:
About 2 to 3 percent of the male rats exposed to the radiation developed malignant gliomas, a brain cancer, compared with none in a control group that was not exposed to radiation.
(The radiation was the kind you are exposed to from cellphones, but at higher levels.)

So, even though the difference was not statistically significant, maybe there is reason to worry?

Maybe, maybe not.  The female rats in the study had almost no tumors, just like the controls..

So maybe men should give up cellphones, but not women?  Not necessarily, since the normal rate of these tumors is about 2 percent.

So maybe cellphone radiation protects female rats from tumors, but not males?  Possibly, but that doesn't' explain the control group.

If you aren't confused yet, let me add one more fact:  "Another anomaly was that the rats exposed to the radiation lived longer on the whole than animals in the control group."

And there are other puzzles I haven't mentioned.

Clearly, further research is needed — and I am not being at all ironic, when I say that,.
- 9911:07 AM, 29 May 2016   [link]


Pepper And Salt is mildly political, today.
- 10:13 AM, 29 May 2016   [link]


What Kinds Of Liars Are Clinton And Trump?   Neo-neocon argues, correctly I think, that Hillary Clinton is a strategic liar, and that Donald Trump is a pathological liar.  Clinton lies when she thinks it will give her an advantage; Trump lies all the time because he enjoys lying.

The frequency of his lies during this campaign is simply astonishing.
With the GOP front-runner scooping up delegates in a march toward the Republican nomination, POLITICO subjected a week’s worth of his words to our magazine’s fact-checking process.  We chronicled 4.6 hours of stump speeches and press conferences, from a rally in Concord, N.C., on Monday to a rally on Friday in St. Louis.

The result: more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or simply false – the kind of stuff that would have been stripped from one of our stories, or made the whole thing worthy of the spike.  It equates to roughly one misstatement every five minutes on average.

From warning of the death of Christianity in America to claiming that he is taking no money from donors, the Manhattan billionaire and reality-show celebrity said something far from truthful many times over to the thousands of people packed into his raucous rallies.  His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources.
As is his willingness to repeat lies that he has been called on.

My favorite Trump lie may be this one:  He says he is truthful, "Maybe truthful to a fault".

(According to his "mind-meld" advisor, Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama is a strategic liar.  Bill Clinton can be a strategic liar, too, but I have long thought that, occasionally, he told lies for the fun of it.

The post title reminded me of this Far Side cartoon.)
- 3:32 PM, 28 May 2016   [link]


Another "Trans Species" Human:  This one decided to be a goat — temporarily.
When the rat race became too much for Thomas Thwaites he quit London and became a goat... in Switzerland.

T he 35-year-old spent a year creating prosthetic 'goat legs' that would allow him to roam the Alps comfortably on all fours and an artificial stomach that would enable him to blend in and 'eat grass'.

Thwaites said: 'I suffered quite a lot as a goat, because of the slope I was constantly falling over, and of course I had to eat grass.
(I have my doubts about whether he really survived on just grass, even with an "artificial stomach".)

You'll be pleased to know that he found true love up there on the mountain.

Do animals ever get confused and think they are human?  Sure.

For example:
Sexual attraction to humans can develop in non-human mammals or birds as a result of sexual imprinting when reared from young by humans.  One example is London Zoo female giant panda Chi Chi.  When taken to Moscow Zoo for mating with the male giant panda An An, she refused his attempts to mate with her, but made a full sexual self-presentation to a Russian zookeeper.[7][8]
And you can find another example, with falcons, just below, though it may make some feel a little squeamish.

Should Chi Chi be helped to live as a human?  I think you know the answer to that question — and why I am asking it.
- 1:57 PM, 28 May 2016   [link]


Bolivia's Telenovela?  For years, I have been saying that "Presidents of the French 5th Republic" would make a great soap opera.

Knowing even less about telenovelas than soap operas, I am nonetheless convinced that Bolivia has a great ongoing plot for one, as I learned from this New York Times editorial, "The Worst Boyfriend in Bolivia".
If Bolivia’s widening political scandal were to be turned into a soap opera, a fitting title would be “Heartless Ex-Boyfriend.”  The protagonists: a Machiavellian statesman and a former paramour.  The plot:  She threatens to expose him as a monster, but he is determined to stay in power indefinitely, even if he has to jail, silence and discredit her and his critics.
There's much more, including a small child, who either is, or is not, alive, depending on who you talk to.

Some company should step in and start producing a telenovela based on this remarkable series of events.  If they time it right, they can be just a few months, or even weeks, behind the actual events.

(A telenovela, rather than a soap opera, because this story has a beginning, and will, almost certainly, have an end, within the next few years.)
- 4:16 PM, 27 May 2016   [link]


President Obama's Hiroshima Photo-Op Versus The Numbers:  It isn't necessary to link to that photo-op; if you pay any attention to the news at all, you have already heard about it, probably even seen parts of it on TV.

Bur it is quite unlikely, unless you are a careful reader of the New York Times, that you have seen these numbers:
A new census of the American nuclear arsenal shows that the Obama administration last year dismantled its smallest number of warheads since taking office. The new figures, released by the Pentagon, also highlight a trend — that the current administration has reduced the nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War presidency.
(Emphasis added.)

Specifically, less than Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

You may be surprised by how much less, when you look at the numbers in this 2014 article, also by William Broad.

As I have said before, the risk of nuclear war has increased while Barack Obama has been president.  Not all of that increase is his fault —it is hard to think of practical ways to restrain North Korea and Iran — but I do think he, and his secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, might have done better in negotiations with Russia.
- 10:52 AM, 27 May 2016   [link]


What Happens When You Ask Socialist Bernie Sanders About Socialism In Venezuela?  He evades the question.

The exchange is pretty funny, especially when you realize that he should have had a few talking points on the subject, ready to go.

(I am inclined to think, now, that the Bernie Sanders had little or nothing to do with the criticism of the Venezuelan regime that went out under his name.   It doesn't sound like Sanders, so it was probably written by a campaign aide.

Worth reading:  Nick Cohen's brutal critique of leftist political tourists, "Radical tourists have been deluded pimps for Venezuela":
Radical tourism is no different from sex tourism.  In both the political and the coital, the inhabitants of the rich world go to the poor to find the thrills no one will give them at home.
Amazingly, it was published in the Guardian.)
- 9:07 AM, 27 May 2016   [link]


An Old Cold War Joke May Explain The Exodus Of So Many Wealthy Chinese From China:  After he had consolidated his power in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev invited his aged mother to visit him, so she could see how well he was doing.

He showed her his office and his fancy cars, and took her to see his luxurious dacha, and much else.

His mother didn't seem as impressed as he had hoped she would be.  Instead, if anything, she seemed worried,  Finally, he asked her:  "Aren't you impressed with my success?"

"It's all very nice", she replied.  "But what if the Bolsheviks should come back?"


Many wealthy Chinese must worry that the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution will come back.  China has not recovered from those traumatic years, and many of those who can are preparing safe retreats, abroad.

For example, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, has bought an estate in the Adirondacks.

If President Xi Jinping continues to tighten his control over China, expect many more to follow Ma's example.

(Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem is both an excellent science fiction story, and a good introduction to the Cultural Revolution, as seen from below.)
- 8:02 AM, 27 May 2016   [link]


Charles Murray Reminds Smart Conservatives Of Their Weakness:  And passes on a funny line from P. J. O'Rourke, while explaining why "Hillary is worse" is not a sufficient argument for him, or other conservatives like him.

Murray believes Donald Trump lacks the character needed in a president.
In my view, Donald Trump is unfit to be president in ways that apply to no other candidate of the two major political parties throughout American history.
Although Murray is directing this to smart conservatives, it applies to smart people, generally.
I know that I am unlikely to persuade any of my fellow Establishmentarians to change their minds.  But I cannot end without urging you to resist that sin to which people with high IQs (which most of you have) are unusually prone:  Using your intellectual powers to convince yourself of something despite the evidence plainly before you.
(Murray urges them to watch what Trump says; as you know, I urge people to look at what he has done, over the years.)

Finally, the line from O'Rourke:
P. J. O’Rourke recently announced that he is voting for Clinton.  “She’s wrong about absolutely everything,” O’Rourke said.  “But she’s wrong within normal parameters!”
.Note please, that Murray is directing his argument, not to voters generally, but to those who try, in various ways, to form opinions.  They should, he believes, tell the truth about Trump.
- 3:56 PM, 26 May 2016   [link]


Bureaucrats Tried To Save Hillary Clinton From Her Private Email-Server Blunder:  That's the main thing I learned today from the New York Times lead article, the Wall Street Journal lead editorial, and this Washington Post editorial.

Last August, I argued that setting up that private email server was a bad idea, even from the most selfish Clinton point of view.  There wasn't anything special about my analysis, just a little bit of knowledge about computer security, and bureaucracies.  So I am not surprised that people in the State Department saw the same things I did, and that some were professional and patriotic enough to try to save her from her blunder.

For example:
On March 11, 2011, an assistant secretary sent a memorandum on cybersecurity threats directly to Ms. Clinton, noting a “dramatic increase” in attempts to compromise personal email accounts of senior department officials, possibly for spying or blackmail.  That didn’t stop Ms. Clinton either.
Others suggested setting up two cellphones, one for official business and one for personal use, or setting up a dedicated computer in her office which she could use for personal emails.  She, and her closest aides, ignored all that sensible advice, ignored all those attempts to help.

So why did she and her aides reject all these attempts to help?  Because, according to the Times, of an obsessive desire for personal privacy.  And an unwillingness, I would add, to recognize that what she was doing actually jeopardized her privacy, in the long run.
- 12:41 PM, 26 May 2016   [link]


Tsunamis On Mars?!  Scientists think they have discovered evidence for two mega-tsunamis, billions of years ago.
The geologic shape of what were once shorelines through Mars' northern plains convinces scientists that two large meteorites - hitting the planet millions of years apart - triggered a pair of mega-tsunamis.  These gigantic waves forever scarred the Martian landscape and yielded evidence of cold, salty oceans conducive to sustaining life.
The general argument seems entirely plausible, now that I think about it.  Mars had early oceans, at a time when big meteor strikes were more common all through the solar system.

There are, I would guess, thousands of field geologists who would love to go to Mars to take a closer look at the evidence.  There may even be a few who would go, without a return ticket.

(Nature has more pictures; the National Geographic is more skeptical.)
- 8:13 AM, 26 May 2016   [link]


Three To Start The Morning:  Yesterday's New Yorker cartoon is political, without being specific.  I can't decide whether the man in the center is supposed to be Clinton, Trump, neither, or both.

Today's New Yorker calendar cartoon will appeal to almost anyone who has attended a graduation ceremony.

And the latest Pepper and Salt cartoon explains one of the little mysteries of the news business.
- 8:27 AM, 26 May 2016   [link]


The NSA's Balancing Act:  Time for a few more thoughts on Michael Hayden's book.

If the National Security Agency is not aggressive enough in searching for threats, it will miss some, and expose the United States to`an attack,  After that, the agency will be urged to be more aggressive.  If it is then successful in preventing attacks, soon some, including some who urged it to be more aggressive, will accuse it of violating the privacy of Americans.

So the agency is always looking for guidance from the president, and the Justice Department, and asking how close to the edge of legality it should operate.  And, usually, checking with leaders in Congress to make sure they agree.

To understand how this affects their operations, take a simple case:   Terrorist 1 makes a phone call to Terrorist 2, and NSA intercepts it.  What NSA does with that phone call depends on whether either terrorist is an American citizen, and whether either of them is in the United States when the phone call takes place.  It even depends on whether the call passes through the United States, on its way between two foreign countries.

What the NSA can do is governed mainly by the 4th Amendment, and by the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In practice, that means that the NSA asks the president whether a particular program would be legal, and a bunch of government lawyers give their opinions on that question.

In a later post, I'll come back to how that created a problem for the Bush administration, but for now, I want to pose this practical problem for you to think about:  After 9/11, Al Qaeda operatives sometimes called people in the United States.  As an intelligence matter, what would you want the NSA to do if they intercepted one of those calls?  Are you sure what you want them to do is legal?
- 8:13 PM, 25 May 2016   [link]


Leaders, Activists, And Voters:   This year, Washington state provided an unusually neat example of the differences between those three groups.

As far as I can tell from news reports, leaders in the Democratic party mostly favored Hillary Clinton, and leaders in the Republican party mostly favored John Kasich, if they favored anyone.

Washington state has both caucuses and presidential primaries, though the two parties use them differently.  In caucuses, activists dominate.  And both parties choose their delegates to their state conventions in caucuses.

So it won't surprise you that, when the Democrats held their convention, in March, Bernie Sanders won a big victory.  And when the Republicans held their convention, in May, Ted Cruz won a big victory, even though he was no longer an active candidate.

Yesterday, the state held its presidential primaries, and you can see, from these partial results, that the voters paid no attention to the activists.  Hillary Clinton is beating Bernie Sanders, 54-46, and Ted Cruz is barely ahead of John Kasich, each with 10 percent of the vote.

(The primary results will affect the parties differently.  They will have no effect on the Democrats since that party chooses its delegates in the caucuses, and ignores the results of the primary.  The Ted Cruz delegates chosen in the Republican caucuses will be forced to vote for Donald Trump on the first ballot, and there is unlikely to be more than one.)

These differences between activists and voters are, by now, standard in the United States, and found in most other democratic countries.

(If we chose presidential candidates entirely through caucuses, we might be facing a Cruz-Sanders race this November.)
- 2:54 PM, 25 May 2016   [link]


The "Ferguson Effect" Is Real:  So says Heather MacDonald, and she has a pile of new evidence to support her claim.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has again drawn the wrath of the White House for calling attention to the rising violence in urban areas.   Homicides increased 9% in the largest 63 cities in the first quarter of 2016; nonfatal shootings were up 21%, according to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey.   Those increases come on top of last year’s 17% rise in homicides in the 56 biggest U.S. cities, with 10 heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60%.
MacDonald defines the Ferguson effect as urban violence resulting from "a falloff in proactive policing".  I would define it somewhat more broadly, and interactively, something like this:  Black neighborhoods have become more hostile to police, and the police have reacted by pulling back from aggressive policing.  As a result, crime has increased in many cities, and soared in a few.

The evidence is now strong enough so that she has won over some critics, notably criminologist Richard Rosenfeld.

Here's how I would summarize what has happened:  Activists have created a false picture of police looking for chances to persecute, or even kill, young black men; the Obama administration legitimized that belief; and our media amplified it,  As a result, crime is up and hundreds have died who might have lived, were it not for that movement, that legitimization, and that amplification.

Naturally those responsible are denying what anyone can see in those numbers.

(Some in our major news organizations may be trying to repair some of the damage they have caused.  Recently, I have been seeing more "nice cop" stories.)
- 10:27 AM, 25 May 2016   [link]


Here's Ramirez's Latest Cartoon, on facebook.

(If you need a bigger dose of Ramirez, you can get it at his site.)
- 7:29 AM, 25 May 2016   [link]


If You Have A Taste For The Absurd, you'll probably like today's New Yorker calendar cartoon.

(I suspect more men than women will like it.)
- 6:47 AM, 25 May 2016   [link]