Archive:

May 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  This New York Times article, "How a Tsunami in Japan Endangered Children in Cambodia".
The tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, now threatens the developing brains of children in Cambodia — but not for reasons that were ever expected.

Cambodia has long struggled with iodine deficiency.  The element is crucial to early brain growth:  When pregnant women and their infants have low levels, the children can permanently lose 10 to 15 I.Q. points. Iodine deficiency is considered the world’s leading preventable cause of mental impairment.

But there is a cheap, easy remedy: iodized salt.  As salt is cleaned and packaged, potassium iodate may be sprayed on it, normally at a cost of only a dollar or two per ton.

That means, nutrition experts say, that the I.Q. of entire nations can be raised 10 points for just a nickel per child per year.
Donald McNeil doesn't estimate a cost/benefit ratio, but I think we can safely assume that the benefits outweigh the costs.

(Wikipedia has background, including this interesting fact:  "Scientists James Feyrer, Dimitra Politi, and David N. Weil have found in the U.S. that the proliferation of iodized salt increased IQ by 15 points in some areas."

Iodine deficiency is still a serious problem in Pakistan, for reasons that should not surprise you.)
- 2:10 PM, 16 May 2017   [link]


Still Another Version Of The Elephant Joke:   In 2002 and again in 2015, I came up with new punch lines for an elephant joke I borrowed from Isaac Asimov.  Last night I thought of still another punch line:
It is reported that several men of various nationalities were engaged in writing books on the elephant.

A German put out a three-volume tome replete with footnotes, entitled A Short Introduction to the Study of the Elephant.

A Frenchman put out a slim and graceful book entitled The Elephant and His Love Life.

An Englishman put out a heavily illustrated travel guide, entitled Hunting the Elephant in Deepest Africa.

An American put out an advertising brochure, How to Raise Elephants in Your Backyard for Fun and Profit.

And a North Korean wrote a secret memo, A Plan for Using Elephants to Deliver Nuclear Weapons.
Perhaps that one is too topical.
- 8:32 AM, 16 May 2017   [link]


Here's One Way To Tell Whether Aliens are "advanced".
- 7:59 AM, 16 May 2017   [link]


"It Was Worse Than A Crime, It Was A Blunder"  That's my tentative reaction to Donald Trump's firing of James Comey — because of the timing, the cowardly way it was done, and the foolish things Trump has said about it.

Legal experts, including some I respect, have said that Comey's behavior in the Clinton investigation merited firing.  As you almost certainly recall, Comey gave a long press conference in which he said that he was not recommending an indictment of Clinton, followed by all the reasons she should have been indicted.

Regardless of your opinion on the issue, that's not a combination that makes sense.  Since I am not a legal beagle, that bothers me less than it does many of those who are.  As I said last July, Comey was put in an impossible situation, so I don't fault him for not finding some magical course of action.

Then there is the obvious point that — if Comey's actions last July deserved dismissal — then Barack Obama should have fired him.

The mess was created by Hillary Clinton's actions and Barack Obama's inaction, so they should have cleaned it up.

But they didn't, instead leaving the mess to Trump, and he has managed to make almost everyone besides die hard Trumpistas doubt his motives, including conservative Ramesh Ponnuru.
When President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, it seemed to me that there were three main possibilities for why.
  • A The stated rationale was the real one. Trump thought, for example, that Comey’s July press conference about the Clinton-email investigation was improper.

  • B Trump was angry that Comey had not shut down the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the election because he regards the investigation as part of a Democratic plot to raise baseless questions about his legitimacy as president.

  • C Trump thought that the FBI’s investigation posed an unacceptably high risk of turning up evidence of serious misconduct on his part.
A is "obviously false", B is improper, and C might be illegal.

What makes it even worse is that there is no way, judging by Trump's actions, to tell B from C.

(Here's my best guess as to the origin of that famous quote.)
- 6:49 PM, 15 May 2017   [link]


Rebecca West On Housing Projects:   Shortly after World War I, Vienna began building what the British would call "council estates" and Americans would call housing projects.
Gemeindebauten have become an important part of the architecture and culture of Vienna since the 1920s.  Up to 1918, the housing conditions of Vienna's growing working class were appalling by modern standards.  When the Social Democratic Party of Austria gained control of the municipal administration during Austria's First Republic (1918-1934) (so called "Red Vienna"), it began the project of improving living conditions for workers.  A large number of Gemeindebauten, usually large residential estates, were built during that time.  Including those buildings that were finished after the events of February 1934, 64,000 apartments where completed, which created housing space for about 220,000 people.  Apartments were assigned on the basis of a point system favoring families and less affluent citizens.
(Links omitted.)

West was critical of these projects for reasons specific to Vienna — and for one reason that will sound familiar to most Americans, though perhaps fewer than, say, twenty years ago.
It is, moreover, extremely doubtful that families should be encouraged to live in apartments if there is enough ground in the neighborhood to permit them roomier accommodation with gardens; and these apartments were extremely small. (early in the "Epilogue")
If our architects and city planners had been paying attention to that common sense observation, we could have avoided many problems after World War II — and even now we could make our cities more "family friendly" if we recognized that density has costs, as well as benefits.
- 2:23 PM, 15 May 2017   [link]


1071 And Always That*  I have been re-reading Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon on my Amazon Kindle and encountered an odd glitch.

When you are reading a book on the Kindle, you have a set of choices to indicate your reading progress.  If it is available — and it isn't always — I prefer page numbers from the printed book that was digitized.  That way if I happen to quote from the book, I can tell readers where I found the quotation if they have the printed version, or the Kindle version.

(That's not a perfect solution, since there may be any number of printed versions, with different page numberings, but it is the best one I have been able to think of.)

About 90 percent through Black Lamb, I ran into page 1071, which appeared to be the end of the text.  I flipped forward a few screens to check and found I was still on page 1071.  A few more experiments — which wouldn't have been necessary had I been thinking about the problem — and I realized that I would be on page 1071 for the rest of the book.

(Most likely, whoever digitized the book got sloppy near the end and stopped updating the page numbers.  Programmers will understand that, if the number had been, for instance, 1023, I would suspect a software bug, instead.

*I couldn't resist that reference to my favorite history of Britain.)
- 1:24 PM, 15 May 2017   [link]


This New Yorker Cartoon Is much too optimistic, but you may find it mildly amusing, for that very reason.
- 7:22 AM, 15 May 2017   [link]


Dilbert, Climate Skeptic:  Today's comic strip was a bit of a surprise.

The unhappy reactions to that strip should be interesting.

(You can find some happy reactions at the usual place.)
- 6:47 PM, 14 May 2017   [link]


A Park Designed For Mothers:  There is a park here in Kirkland that is beautifully designed for mothers of. small children.  It is so successful in its small way that I have often wondered why I haven't seen more like it, here or elsewhere. Tot Lot Park is a small park, .52 acres, with a "gated perimeter fence" and playground equipment.

Anyone familiar with small children will understand the need for the fence.  Although the street it is on does not have much traffic, the park is just a block away from a busy commercial street.

When I ride by the park on my bicycle, I almost always see two or three mothers jointly watching five or six little kids.  (If you don't understand the advantages of that kind of arrangement, consult any mother, though she may be surprised to find that you need help figuring out something so simple, to her.)

In recent years, the city has added a nice extra to the park, small garden plots, which gives kids — and their mothers — a chance to play in the dirt.

(If I recall correctly, Manhattan has a few similar, private (and very expensive) parks.)
- 5:17 PM, 14 May 2017   [link]


Happy Mother's Day!    I first started using mother ducks on this holiday in 2003.  The next year I snapped this picture, and it is still one of my favorites in the series, for the story it tells.



This year, like last year and the year before, for whatever reason, I have seen mother ducks on Lake Washington only when I am not carrying a camera.  Maybe they have decided they deserve modeling fees for posing, for instance a few scraps of bread.
- 7:25 AM, 14 May 2017   [link]


JFK And GHWB, Contemporaries:  We tend to think of the two as belonging to different generations, since the elder Bush was elected president 28 years after Kennedy.

But they were closer together in age than that suggests.   Kennedy was born May 29, 1917; Bush was born June 12, 1924.

Both were born into wealthy, poltiically important, New England families, and both graduated from prep schools.

Even more important, both served in the Navy during World War II, in the Pacific.  Kennedy's naval career is probably famliar to you, but I would say Bush's is more impressive, from the beginning:
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bush decided to join the US. Navy,[4] so after graduating from Phillips Academy in 1942, he became a naval aviator at the age of 18.[3] After completing the 10-month course, he was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi on June 9, 1943, just three days before his 19th birthday, which made him the youngest naval aviator to that date.[4]
To the end.  He flew 58 missions, many of them quite dangerous.

After the war, their paths diverged.  Kennedy went into poltiics almost immediately, winning a House seat in 1946; Bush graduated from Yale, went into the oil business, and won his House seat in 1966.
- 1:47 PM, 14 May 2017   [link]


This Week's Collection Of Political Cartoons from RealClearPolitics.

My favorite:  Gary Varvel's "Political Reactions".

(The last cartoon, Andy Marlette's "boobs", is crude and unfair — and made me laugh.)
- 10:21 AM, 13 May 2017   [link]


The Instapundit Didn't Link to this post, because he thought it was funny.

But I do, though I am 99 percent sure the humor is unintentional.

I should, however, warn you about one danger in the post:  If you admire clear writing, you may be tempted to try to disentangle those metaphors.  It would be an interesting challenge, but I would estimate that few of us could do it in less than an hour.
- 8:24 AM, 12 May 2017   [link]


This Week's Collection Of Political Cartoons from Politico.

My favorite:  Again, it's by Matt Davies, this time on EB-5 visas.

I probably should warn you that many other cartoons in the collection are awful.   (However, if you happen to be a Republican operative, you should study some of them to understand the arguments that are being made against TrumpCare.)
- 7:56 AM, 12 May 2017   [link]


In January, I Was Startled To See That the International Monetary Fund was predicting 2,000 percent inflation for Venezuela.

They still are, but not until next year.
The IMF's prediction for inflation in Venezuela is pretty bad, but better than previous expectations:  It's expected to skyrocket 720% this year -- somehow only half of the previous forecast.  But if Venezuela stays on its current path, the IMF predicts inflation will rise over 2000% in 2018.
I assume everyone knows those numbers aren't exact.

As of now, the regime still has enough money to pay the soldiers and the police, so the Chavistas are staying in power.

(I would love to know what their Cuban "advisors" are telling them to do.)
- 9:28 AM, 11 May 2017   [link]


Can Donald Trump Really Be That Clueless?  Was he really surprised by people objecting to his firing the man investigating his campaign?

Marc Fisher says yes, tentatively.
Trump appears to have expected that his sudden and dramatic sacking of FBI Director James B. Comey on Tuesday might be greeted the way audiences relished his ritual firings of job applicants on his hit TV show, “The Apprentice” — as a sign of power serving truth, and in this case as a politically incorrect roundhouse punch that Republicans and Democrats alike would welcome.

If the president didn’t see that his precipitous firing of the man in charge of investigating the Trump campaign’s connections with the Russian regime might instead alienate some of his allies and outrage much of the public, that’s no anomaly.   Rather, it’s an illustration of several of the president’s core character traits — a belief that the past doesn’t matter, a penchant to act swiftly and unilaterally, and a conviction that even the most unpopular actions can help build his brand.
That would explain why the White House staff wasn't prepared for the firing, and the inevitable reaction.

So, although Fisher's argument is hard to believe, I can't simply dismiss it.

(Last July, I said that I thought that Director Comey had been put in an impossible situation, which the Obama administration could have, and should have, prevented.  They never should have tolerated Hillary Clinton's private sever.)
- 7:04 AM, 11 May 2017   [link]


If You Like Alien Cartoons (and aren't a Trumpista), you'll like yesterday's New Yorker cartoon.
- 6:16 AM, 11 May 2017   [link]


Congratulations To The Czech Team:  They won the 2017 exercise.
In a live-fire cyber-defence exercise comprising 3,000 virtual systems and 2,500 attacks, the winner of this year's Locked Shields exercise is the Czech Republic.

The first Locked Shields was held in 2010.  It was won by the NATO Blue Team in 2015 and Slovakia in 2016.

This year, the Czech Republic beat Estonia and the NCIRC team from Nato into second and third place respectively.  In a press statement, the organisers, the Estonia-based Nato Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) reported that the Czech Republic defensive team also won a special prize for the scenario inject.

Meanwhile, the NCIRC team scored the highest in the legal game of the exercise, Germany's team won the forensic challenges and the team from the United Kingdom achieved the highest scores in handling the strategic communication challenges.
This competition is an excellent way to train.  I'd like to see more events like this here in the United States, perhaps competitions between the service academies, or between, for instance, MIT and Cal Tech.

Two countries that are not members of NATO, Sweden and Finland, participate in the Locked Shield competitions.

This 2007 attack nay explain why Estonia hosts these competitions.
Cyberattacks on Estonia were a series of cyber attacks that began 27 April 2007 and swamped websites of Estonian organizations, including Estonian parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters, amid the country's disagreement with Russia about the relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, an elaborate Soviet-era grave marker, as well as war graves in Tallinn.[1][2]  Most of the attacks that had any influence on the general public were distributed denial of service type attacks ranging from single individuals using various methods like ping floods to expensive rentals of botnets usually used for spam distribution.  Spamming of bigger news portals commentaries and defacements including that of the Estonian Reform Party website also occurred.[3]

Some observers reckoned that the onslaught on Estonia was of a sophistication not seen before.  The case is studied intensively by many countries and military planners as, at the time it occurred, it may have been the second-largest instance of state-sponsored cyberwarfare, following Titan Rain.[4]
(Some links omitted.)
- 7:13 PM, 10 May 2017   [link]


What Do British Bettors Think?  They think Chancellor Merkel has a very good chance of being re-elected, 73.8 percent, as I write.

No, about the Comey firing.  So far, I haven't seen any bets specifically on that, but they did increase Trump's chances of leaving office this year from 11.2 to, as I write, 16.1 percent.

There aren't a lot of bets, so I wouldn't make too much of that change, but it is interesting.

(For the record:  I would put Trump's chances of leaving office this year much lower, and look for data from actuaries, not pollsters, in making my estimate.

On the other hand, I would already bet, at even odds, that he will not be re-elected in 2120.)
- 3:16 PM, 10 May 2017   [link]


This Politico Story On Comey's Firing Is Entertaining:  Accurate?  Probably, but you will notice that all the interesting bits come from anonymous sources.
President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week.   When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn't call James Comey.   He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters.

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia.  He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him.  He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

Trump's firing of the high-profile FBI director on the 110th day since taking office marked another sudden turn for an administration that has fired its acting attorney general, national security adviser and now its FBI director, who Trump had praised until recent weeks and even blew a kiss to during a January appearance.
It is cowardly not to fire subordinates, personally.  And it is peculiar to use a private guard to convey an official message.
- 6:26 AM, 10 May 2017   [link]


"Paper Or Parchment?"  The British House of Lords switched to paper to save money some years ago; the House of Commons is still thinking it over.
The U.K. House of Commons has long used vellum, made of calfskin, to record its acts—but some penny-pinching parliamentarians believe it’s finally tree time; ‘a great shame’
In good conditions — cool, dark, and dry — archival paper can last hundreds of years; in good conditions, parchment can last thousands of years.

(I toyed briefly with the idea that they should continue using parchment because the added cost would encourage shorter laws, but decided the effect, if any, would be too small to be measured.)
- 6:02 AM, 10 May 2017   [link]


Ed Murray Is Out:  The Seattle mayor has withdrawn from his re-election race.
SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he is dropping his re-election bid following allegations by four men that he sexually abused them when they were teenagers decades ago.

Murray vehemently denied the claims and has said they are politically motivated by an anti-gay conspiracy.

He made his announcement Tuesday after insisting for weeks he would not drop out.
As soon as this lawsuit was filed, and I learned that there were two earlier accusers who were willing to speak on the record, I thought his withdrawal likely; when a fourth accuser spoke up, I thought it nearly inevitable.

There was no way, I thought, that he could campaign, or be an effective mayor, while fighting these charges.

(Could a poll have helped him make this decision?  Possibly.  There has been enough time for one.)

If he is innocent — and I still think that possible, though unlikely — this is terribly unfair to him.

If he is guilty, then his accusers are getting a little justice, but far too late.

Murray was exceptionally lucky in the timing of his announcement, given today's big news.

(Seattle's mayoral elections are officially non-partisan, and begin with a "top-two" primary.  Given the number of candidates that are already running, that primary should be a doozy.  It is even possible that a Republican could sneak in, though I don't believe any have declared.)
- 8:02 PM, 9 May 2017   [link]


Can't Take Your Eyes Off Them For Even A Few Minutes:  (All right, if you want to be literal, a few hours.)

I go out for some grocery shopping and a long walk in the sun and come back to find out that Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey.

I suppose I will have to write about it soon, but probably not for a few days, until I can sort out what caused Trump to take this action, now.

However, I can say this:  If Trump was trying to make us more suspicious about connections between his campaign and Russia, he has succeeded.
- 4:00 PM, 9 May 2017   [link]


Moon Jae-in Has Won:  According to an exit poll.
South Korean voters have overwhelmingly chosen the liberal candidate Moon Jae-in as their next president, an exit poll suggests.

It put Mr Moon on 41.4%, with his nearest challenger, conservative Hong Joon-Pyo, on 23.3%.

Mr Moon favours greater dialogue with North Korea, in a change to current South Korean policy.
That's about what the final polls were saying, so I see no reason to doubt the result.

(Here's a rough summary of the poll results during the campaign:   'Liberal" Moon Jae-in's support stayed stable during the campaign, with a little more than 40 percent of the vote; "centrist" Ahn Cheol-soo began almost tied with Moon, but lost support, ending up (probably) third; "conservative" Hong Jun-pyo gained support during the campaign but had begun so far behind at about 10 percent that he finished (probably) a distant second; "conservative" Yoo Seung-min began and ended with about 4 percent of the vote; and leftist Sim Sang-jung began with about 3 percent of the vote and ended with about 8 percent.

Soon, we should be able to see how correct the final polls were.)
- 7:46 AM, 9 May 2017   [link]


This Prescription may be hard to fill.
- 6:05 AM, 9 May 2017   [link]