Archive:

October 2016, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Election Scorecard, 10/24:  In the last week, there has been little change; Hillary Clinton has maintained her lead over Donald Trump.

In the poll model, her margin went from 7.5 percent to 7.3 percent.    In the betting market, her probability of winning was 82.3 percent and, as I write, is still 82.3 percent.

Some Trumpistas believe the polls are systematically wrong, that some Trump voters are "shy" about revealing their intentions to vote for the Donald.  That's possible, of course, but, if anything, the opposite pattern was found in the primaries.

Last week, I said that anyone betting on Trump should get at least 10-1 odds; I am upping that to 15-1.  I am also upping my prediction of Clinton's margin to 6.5 percent, from 6.0 percent.

I should add that the British bookies disagree with me on those odds..
- 9:18 AM, 24 October 2016   [link]


Venus's Surface is Not A Great Place To Put A Colony:   But high up in the planet's atmosphere, conditions are more "hospitable".
So how could we ever possibly hope to live there?  The key is to avoid the surface.  “The problem with Venus is that the surface is too far below the one-Earth-atmosphere [of air pressure] level,” says Geoffrey Landis, the Nasa scientist and science fiction writer who was among the first to propose the idea.   “The atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like environment in the Solar System (other than the Earth).”  Some 50 kilometres (30 miles) above the surface, Venus is surprisingly hospitable.

First of all, the air pressure is right, coming in at one Earth atmosphere.   And there’s still enough atmosphere above to provide reasonable levels of radiation shielding, comparable to the shielding we receive from the atmosphere here on Earth.  The temperatures are pretty close to comfortable too – around 60C, which is hot, but we have technology that can handle that reasonably well.   And going just a few kilometres higher lowers the temperature to a very reasonable 30C without sacrificing much pressure or radiation shielding.  And since Venus’s gravity is nearly as strong as Earth’s, colonists living there for years on end probably won't develop the brittle bones and weak muscles associated with low-gravity environments.
What kind of colonies would you put there?  Balloon cities, of course.
- 8:20 AM, 24 October 2016   [link]


This Argument Is Unlikely To Succeed with most small children.

(I can't help thinking the cartoonist is making a small criticism of our colleges, too.)
- 7:36 AM, 24 October 2016   [link]


Perhaps The Chinese Don't Like Chicken Drumsticks As Much As I Do:  Or maybe they are, like many Americans and Europeans, nervous about genetically modified organisms.
HONG KONG — For many in China, the term “genetically modified food” evokes nightmares: poisoned seeds, contaminated fields, apocryphal images of eight-legged chickens.

China and the global agricultural industry are betting billions of dollars that they can change those perceptions.  They are starting with farmers like Li Kaishun.
The eight-legged chicken rumor has caused enough problems for KFC, so that they are suing Chinese firms that they say have spread the rumor.

Judging only by that New York Times article, I would say that the Chinese are less afraid of GMO foods than Europeans, but more afraid than Americans.

(In principle, I see no objection to eight-legged chickens — and those who like buffalo wings may be pleased to hear that they also have six wings.)
- 4:28 PM, 23 October 2016   [link]


The Religious Significance Of The Cubs' Long Exile Had Escaped Me Completely:  But it hadn't escaped members of many faiths.

For example:
Within hours of the Chicago Cubs getting eliminated from the 2015 postseason, a devoted fan named Deric Brazill went online to share a revelation.  The next season would mark 108 years since the Cubs had won the World Series.

In Buddhism, he wrote, 108 is a significant number.  To mark the New Year, Buddhist temple bells ring 108 times.  Strings of Buddhist prayer beads contain 108 beads.  If the Cubs win the World Series in 2016, Mr. Brazill says, “the Dalai Lama should probably comment.”
Members of other faiths have found other reasons to support the team.

I'll be rooting for them, mildly, though not for religious reasons.

(Wondering about the odds?  Neil Paine at FiveThirtyEight gives the Cubs a 63 percent chance of winning the World Series.)  
- 9:42 AM, 23 October 2016   [link]


One Of The Strongest Arguments Against Donald Trump Is The Behavior Of Some Of His Supporters:  (Let me repeat, some, perhaps even just a few.)

In this long article, David French describes just how bad it has gotten for him, and his family.
Trump’s alt-right trolls have subjected me and my family to an unending torrent of abuse that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
I probably should warn you, that, although there is nothing in the article unsafe for work, it is not a pleasant read.
- 4:16 PM, 22 October 2016   [link]


Donald Trump Is Beginning To Realize that, on 8 November, he will, probably, be a loser.
FLETCHER, N.C. — As he took the stage here in this mountain town Friday afternoon, Donald Trump was as subdued as the modest crowd that turned out to see him.  He complained about the usual things — the dishonest media, his “corrupt” rival Hillary Clinton — but his voice was hoarse and his heart didn’t seem in it.

He also promised to do all that he could to win, but he explained why he might lose.
If he loses, I don't expect him to take it well.
- 3:56 PM, 22 October 2016   [link]


The Latest XKCD is pretty funny.

(And correct on the genetics.)
- 3:43 PM, 22 October 2016   [link]


Two Articles You May Be Able to Use:  Both from the New York Times' "What in the World".

First, an article on an Italian "hamlet".
In and around Acciaroli, Italy, a particularly pungent variety of locally grown rosemary — said to smell 10 times as strong as the norm — is a daily part of the diet.  Residents raise and consume their own rabbits.  Anchovies hauled in by the town’s fishermen feature prominently on dinner plates.

Abundant sunshine and clean air keep people outdoors, swimming at beaches or climbing the steep hills that ripple along the Cilento Coast, south of Naples.

Do these environmental factors and food choices — a hyperlocal twist on the Mediterranean diet, which also includes olive oil and fresh vegetables — explain why so many people here, both men and women, live past 90?
The headline is, naturally:  "Rosemary and Time".  (And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that whoever wrote it thought about trying to include parsley and sage.)

If you are traveling to another nation, you may find this article, "A Traveler’s Guide to Customs: When to Shake Hands, Hug or Kiss", useful.
You’ve just landed in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro or Christchurch, New Zealand, and you’re greeted at the airport by a clutch of adoring locals.

What is the polite way to greet them?  Do you bow, or proffer your hand, or prepare to envelop the assembled strangers in an American-style embrace?

More important:  To kiss or not to kiss?
The article doesn't mention this, but those customs vary in the United States, as well.  For instance, there are many parts of the nation where guys don't hug each other, unless they are close relatives.
- 9:49 AM, 21 October 2016   [link]


Chris Wallace Asked A Bad Question About The Supreme Court; Clinton And Trump Gave Bad Answers:  Here's the question:
First of all, where do you want to see the court take the country?
If you didn't wince when you heard that, or read that, you should review the basics of the American Constitution.

Our courts, including the Supreme Court, are not supposed to take us anywhere; policy decisions are supposed to be made by the elected branches of the government, the Congress and the President, for ordinary legislation.  (For Constitutional amendments, the procedures are different, but, again, elected officials decide.)

The answers to this bad question were also bad, though in different ways.  Clinton, who has taught law, went full political; Trump was more muddled, but was also political.

For a detailed discussion of how each candidate failed, let me recommend this longish post by Ann Althouse.

Here's her summary:
As I said at the outset, I wasn't happy with either of them, but Trump's problem is more about lack of interest and depth of knowledge and a scattered, emotive mind.  Hillary's problem is more about the crafty glossing over of things she probably understands.
Although it is not important to her main arguments, I was charmed by her observation that, under pressure, Trump begins to talk like a beauty pageant contestant.

(To be fair, Wallace followed that question by asking what standard the Court should use when interpreting the Constitution, but the damage had already been done, as you can tell from the candidates' answers.)
- 6:20 PM, 20 October 2016   [link]


Yard Signs For Candidates?  Yesterday morning, I took a long walk, probably more than three miles, through Kirkland and saw just two yard signs for candidates, one for Trump/Pence and one for Cyrus Habib, a state senator running to be our next lieutenant governor.

I can recall seeing only two other candidate signs in previous walks through other parts of the city, one for Bill Bryant, the Republican running for governor, and one for Suzan DelBene, the congresswoman representing this district.

That's it.

And I can't recall seeing any bumper stickers this year, for candidates or measures.

(I have seen a number of signs opposing a very expensive plan to expand light rail in this area, ST Prop. 1.)

I suppose social media, Facebook and the rest, have partly replaced yard signs, and I suspect very few here are enthusiastic about any of the candidates.

(The Habib candidacy is puzzling.  In Washington state, the lieutenant governor has almost no powers, but Habib has been promising to do all kinds of things for us if we elect him to that post.  As far as I know, our current governor, Jay Inslee, is likely to be re-elected, and is in good health.

Perhaps Habib is running to get his name out to the whole state, and is thinking ahead to 2020 or 2024, and a statewide office with more power.  Or maybe he just wants an easy job.)
- 11:20 AM, 20 October 2016   [link]


The Audience Liked Trump's Joke:  That was the main thing I learned from reading the transcript of last night's debate.
TRUMP: Nobody has more respect for women than I do.  Nobody.

(LAUGHTER)

Nobody has more respect...

WALLACE: Please, everybody.
Although it is not clear to me that he realized he was telling a joke.

(It took me about 50 minutes to skim through the transcript, and by the end I was wishing they had a rule against interruptions, and Ray Lewis, or someone similar, to enforce it.)
- 7:31 AM, 20 October 2016   [link]


The Current XKCD Series is worth a look.

(As I write, there are just two of them, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more.)
- 7:11 AM, 20 October 2016   [link]


Paddy Power Thinks We Can Call The "Debate" Off:   In fact, we can skip the next nineteen days of the presidential campaign.
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has paid out its customers who backed Hillary Clinton to win next month's presidential election.

With less than three weeks to go until polling day, the firm declared that Donald Trump's White House bid had imploded and had very little chance of moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.

The bookmaker claimed customers had been lumping on the former First Lady in the past week as Donald Trump's campaign became embroiled in a succession of scandals over his conduct.
Presumably, Paddy Power is not taking any more bets on Clinton, which is a sensible thing to do if they believe she is almost certain to win.

(Oddly enough, among British bettors, Trump has gained 1.9 points in the last week.  I have no explanation for that gain.)  
- 4:23 PM, 19 October 2016   [link]


Want An Alternative To Tonight's "Debate"?  I can recommend, tentatively, a Frontline program, "The Choice", which you can watch on their website.

Tentatively, because I have only seen parts of it — though the parts I have seen impressed me.  But I can add that Dorothy Rabinowitz endorsed it, and she's quite reliable.
- 1:49 PM, 19 October 2016   [link]


If The Outcome Is Good, It's Part Of Obama's "Legacy"; If The Outcome Is Bad, It's US Policy:  (And probably George W. Bush's fault.)

Yesterday I was reminded of how many of our "mainstream" journalists are using that simple rule, assigning credit to President Obama if things are going well, and ignoring him if they aren't.

Reminded by two articles in yesterday's New York Times.  The newspaper put a big picture of the battle for Mosul on the front page, with this caption:  "A battle for Mosul and a test of President Obama's Iraq policy began Monday as Kurds advanced on the city."  Inside, as the first article in the "International" section was an article on how Philippine President Duterte is making a "pivot" away from the United States.  There was no mention of President Obama in that article.  (No links, but you should be able to find the articles easily, if you wish.)

So Obama gets credit for a likely success, but no blame for a failure.

This pattern isn't new, of course; we've seen it ever since Obama came on the political scene.  (And we've seen similar, though weaker, patterns with other prominent Democrats.)

But I think we are seeing it more often these days because Obama is spending his last months in office, not doing a better job, but trying to sell his "legacy" to journalists.

It's almost as if Obama, and those journalists, have some doubts about the quality of his "legacy", so both are working harder at selling it.
- 9:50 AM, 19 October 2016
Correction:  There is a mention of Obama in the Duterte article.  Usually, I do a simple search, before I assert that something is no in an article, but I skipped that precaution this time.
- 1:26 PM, 19 October 2016   [link]


Worth Reading:  If you are at all interested in how we made this transition.
Sites like Ain Ghazal provide a glimpse of one of the most important transitions in human history:  the moment that people domesticated plants and animals, settled down, and began to produce the kind of society in which most of us live today.
One big surprise from the geneticists:
The new results all point to the same overall conclusion:  The first farmers in each region were the descendants of the earlier hunter-gatherers.  What’s more, each population had its own distinct ancestry, going back tens of thousands of years.

They were as different from one another genetically as the Europeans and Chinese.  And these groups remained distinct through the agricultural revolution as they changed from hunter-gatherers to full-blown farmers.
So they were sharing ideas, but not genes?  That's a finding that definitely needs replication.

Later, as they expanded out of the Middle East, they shared both "from Ireland to India".
- 8:03 AM, 19 October 2016   [link]


Congratulations To The Akatsuki Team:  The Japanese spacecraft is now sending back useful data from Venus, data that may help us understand our own atmosphere.

The team had to overcome an almost fatal problem — and then wait, years.
That Akatsuki, which means “dawn” in Japanese, is there at all is the result of ingenuity and perseverance.

It launched in May 2010 and arrived at Venus seven months later.  But when its main engine failed to fire properly, it sailed right past the planet.
But they managed to get it back and in orbit, eventually.

(Occasionally, I miss the jungle planet depicted in so many stories I read as a child, but the real Venus, though not a vacation spot, is fascinating because it is so like Earth is some ways, and so different in others.)
- 99:99 AM, 19 October 2016   [link]


HFCs, Air Conditioning, India, And Numbers:   When we decided to save the ozone layer, we replaced CFCs, chlorofluorocarbons with HFCs, hydrofluorocarbons in our refrigerators and air conditioners.

Unfortunately, the HFCs have a little problem of their own: they are really good at warming an atmosphere.  (So good that some scientists have suggested using them to to warm up Mars.)

So the nations of the world just agreed to replace them with other refrigerants, which will neither destroy the ozone layer nor cook us.

The new ones are likely to be more expensive, which the New York Times told us in a front-page article will be tough on poor folks in India.
But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi.   Millions of Indians might mark the transition from poverty with the purchase of their first air-conditioner, but as those purchases ease suffering in one of the planet’s hottest countries, they are contributing profoundly to the heating of the planet.
Well, that sounds tough, I thought, when I read that paragraph, and so I went looking through the rest of the article, looking for two numbers, the current prices for basic air conditioners in India, and the amount that will increase, with the new refrigerants.

And didn't find either one.

It was easy enough to find prices for basic air conditioners in the United States: about $150.

Then yesterday, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal that gave me enough information so I could make a rough estimate on how much the new refrigerants would cost poor folks in India.
Kevin Fay, executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, an industry group that represents chemical companies and appliance makers, said retooling a chemical plant for a new coolant could cost more than $200 million. But consumer prices for appliances might eventually rise only as much as about 2%, as has been the case in previous coolant phaseouts, he said.

The phaseout could be a boon for makers of less-polluting HFC alternatives that are already on the market.
The increase might be greater for low-end air conditioners, since the refrigerants are likely to be a higher part of their total cost.

Suppose a poor family in India can buy air conditioners for about what Americans pay, and that the increase for the new models is not 2 percent, but 10 percent.  Then their cost for a unit will be $165, instead of the current $150.

That doesn't help their budget, but it doesn't sound like enough to prevent many purchases, over the next ten years.  (If the new ones are more energy efficient, the families might come out ahead in the long run.)

See how useful adding a couple of numbers can be, if you want to understand that problem?

(One way to understand articles like those two is to see them as messages, not from the reporters, but from third parties.

I would interpret the Journal article as a message from the manufacturers:  We're ready to make the new appliances; just tell us the rules, so we can get started.

And the message in the Times article?  Here's my guess:  There are numbers on the total cost to India in the article, so some Indian bureaucrats are saying the changes will be hard on our poor people, so the richer nations should send us some money.

But that may be too cynical.)
- 4:26 PM, 18 October 2016   [link]


This Defense is unusual.
ALBANY — A lobbyist with ties to Gov. Cuomo has a novel argument why he shouldn’t be forced to repay a company $85,000 — it was meant to be a bribe, not a loan.
If it was in fact a bribe, I think the money should go to New York state, not back to the company.
- 9:21 AM, 18 October 2016   [link]


Yesterday Morning's New Yorker Cartoon isn't bad.

(Some may like the movie reference in this morning's cartoon.)
- 9:07 AM, 18 October 2016   [link]


The Saturday Storm Was Ordinary, Not Historic:  At most tens of thousands lost power, not hundreds of thousands, or even millions.

The weather forecasters spent much of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday scaring us about the approaching storm; they have spent much of yesterday and today apologizing for getting it wrong.
The National Weather Service explains that worrisome storm model Thursday was one of several possible paths for the storm, remnants of a typhoon.  Even then, they explained in their warnings to the public that there was only a 33% chance the storm would follow the path toward the Seattle area.

"This was a very tough scenario," meteorologist Dana Felton said.  "This would have been a huge mess."
Let's just say that the forecasters could have done a better job of conveying that probability to us.

Atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass agrees with that thought.

(On the other hand, many people are not comfortable with thinking in probabilities, just as David Byler says.  That's something I forget from time to time, though I shouldn't.)
- 3:47 PM, 17 October 2016   [link]


Election Scorecard, 10/17:  In the last week, Hillary Clinton again gained on Donald Trump.

In the poll model, her margin went from 6.3 to 7.5 percent.   In the betting market, her probability of winning went from 81.0 to 82.3 percent.

(If all that sounds familiar, it's because it is.)

Voters in some states have already begun voting, and we are close enough to the election so that we can start asking ourselves whether Trump has any chance at all.  And he does, for two reasons.
But the number of undecided voters remains fairly high (although it’s declined slightly). In national polls, about 85 percent of the vote is committed to Clinton or Trump, as compared with around 95 percent that was committed to President Obama and Mitt Romney at this point in the campaign four years ago. Those unpredictable undecided and third-party voters are why our models show both a better chance of a Trump victory than most of our competitors and a better chance of Clinton winning states like Texas.
. . .
But polls aren’t always as accurate as they were in the past few presidential elections, and given the large number of undecided voters, they could be off in either direction. A 6- or 7-point polling error is just on the outer fringe of what’s possible based on the historical record in U.S. elections.
(Links omitted.)

However, there is also this to consider:  "And in the primaries, Trump consistently struggled with late-deciding voters., perhaps because he was such a polarizing candidate."

So, putting all that together, I would say that anyone taking a flyer on Trump should get at least 10-1 odds, to make the bet worthwhile.  For now, I am sticking with my tentative prediction that Clinton's margin over Trump will be 6.0 percent.
- 10:19 AM, 17 October 2016   [link]


You Might Not Want to post this cartoon at work, especially if you feel unappreciated.
- 9:32 AM, 17 October 2016   [link]