August 2016, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"O Wad Some Pow'r The Giftie Gie Us . . . "  We all know how the poem goes from there.

And I think you will understand why those lines from Robert Burns popped into my head when I read that the Guardian was calling for more civility in political discussions.

American journalists, almost all of whom are on the left these days, can be just as clueless, just as blind to their own offenses against civility.

(Some years ago, a Guardian cartoonist routinely drew George W. Bush as a chimpanzee.  If there were any protests about that lack of civility, I missed them.)
- 6:30 PM, 8 August 2016   [link]

Well, That Was A Silly Mistake:  The one I made just before lunch time, and corrected about 90 minutes later.

But maybe I can learn something from it, by trying to figure out where I went wrong.  (I often do that when I make mistakes.)

Here's why I think I erred.

First, I wasn't concentrating on the immediate; instead I was thinking ahead to the different results from the two types of polls, like a driver trying to figure out a difficult turnoff several miles ahead, and paying too little attention to the traffic right in front of him.

Second, I wasn't expecting the number to be that high, and so I fell into the common trap of seeing what I expected, rather than what was there.
- 3:04 PM, 8 August 2016   [link]

Election Scorecard, 8/8:  In the last week, Hillary Clinton gained on Donald Trump.

In the polls model, her lead went from 4.6 percent to 7.1 8.1 percent.   As you can see from the chart, she gained a little, and he lost a little.

This week, the British bettors agree; they have reduced his probability of winning from 28 percent (rounded) to 21.5 percent.   (As I write, the weekly change number, -8.1 percent, shows an even bigger drop.)

Harry Enten's model, which combines polls with "fundamentals", has similar odds.

Was there any good news for Trump this week?  No, but the poll news may be may not be as bad as it looks.
The trend is clear.  Hillary does much better when those sampled are talking to a real person.  When that’s not how the poll was conducted we see a different picture.

Given the massive negative media coverage that Trump is getting at the moment I wonder whether his supporters are a little bit less likely to volunteer their view to a live person rather than the anonymity of a computer based system.

There's nothing impossible, or even implausible, about that argument; if correct, it would mean that Clinton is still leading, but by a smaller margin than the poll averages suggest.  For now, I am inclined not to believe it, on general grounds, but will be looking for more evidence on the question.

(You often find arguments about the state of the race based on the analysis of a single poll.  Although these aren't necessarily wrong, I think it makes more sense to use more data, rather than less.)
- 11:01 AM, 8 August 2016   [link]

What's Beyond "Convoluted"?  Whatever the adjective is, it describes this section of the Netherlands/Belgium border.
The bewildering layout dates from the 12th century, when wars and land spats kept morphing the dividing line between the holdings of rival noble families.  When Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, those untidy lines hardened into a national frontier, but they left a number of enclaves: isolated bits of one nation’s territory surrounded by the land of the other.  Today, Baarle lies within the Netherlands, but it has 22 Belgian enclaves that, in turn, have seven Dutch enclaves within them.
The Wikipedia article has background, including this detail:  "(In 1995 the border was finalized to include a formerly neutral grassland.)"  The original division dates to 1198.

Similar, though not as extreme, borders were common in the Middle Ages, but most were eliminated as the modern nations were formed.
- 9:18 AM, 8 August 2016   [link]

Ordinarily, I Wouldn't Link To This Cartoon:  Not on a Monday, anyway, since some of you may see that situation as too much like your own.

But it reminded me of this experiment, which has fascinated me, ever since I read about it.
- 8:23 AM, 8 August 2016   [link]

ame = "jrm16214">
Donald Trump, Brexit, And Democratic Legitimacy:   When Donald Trump won the nomination of the Republican Party, the leaders of the party accepted that result.  They were, to say the least, unhappy about the result, but they had agreed to abide by the results of the primaries and caucuses, and they did.

When Brexit passed in Great Britain, David Cameron and the other elected officials who had opposed Britain leaving the European Union accepted the result.

We don't think about it much in the United States or Britain, but it is essential in democracies that leaders accept the results of elections.

When that didn't happen here in the United States, after the 1860 presidential election, we got the Civil War, which should be enough of an example for anyone.

Now, Donald Trump is saying that the November election may not be fair, may be "rigged".
Donald Trump is casting doubt on the prospect of fair elections come November, criticism that could prompt his supporters to reject a Hillary Clinton victory in the fall as fraudulent.

Trump has predicted at almost every rally this past week that the election could be "rigged" against him.  He’s labeled the numerous polls showing him trailing Clinton as "phony" and warned that voter fraud could steal the election from him.
Even for Trump, this is irresponsible.

If the election is close it will be decided in a few "swing" states, among them North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida.  All three have Republican governors and legislatures.

(Trump may have been inspired by some foolish judicial decisions that threw out common sense voting rules.)
- 5:09 PM, 7 August 2016   [link]

Need To Move Millions In Cash To A Foreign Country?   (I'll confess that I have never had that particular problem.)

If you do, or are just curious, the Wall Street Journal explains who does that, and how it's done.   (I'm guessing they left out some details for security reasons.)
Just three lenders now handle the bulk of the global “bank notes” business:  Bank of America Corp. , Bank of Ireland in Europe and United Overseas Bank Ltd. in Asia, people familiar with the matter said.

Those banks have to negotiate tough rules around money laundering and terror financing in a low-margin logistics business that is more like cargo than finance.   Banks that take it on need a global network of vaults and partners among armored-car operators and airlines, because most cash flies commercial.
You may be surprised — I was — at just how little money the three banks earn from this business.

Most likely they are doing it as a favor to governments, not to make shareholders happy.

(The Federal Reserve believes that most US cash, "half to two-thirds of the $1.4 trillion in paper currency", circulates outside the US.)
- 11:11 AM, 7 August 2016   [link]

Artists Will Like the latest "Pepper & Salt".
- 9:52 AM, 7 August 2016   [link]

- 10:36 AM, 6 August 2016   [link]

The US Has Taught Iran That Hostage Taking Pays:   Eli Lake adds details to the argument I made Wednesday.
Despite the completion of the Iran nuclear deal a year ago, the payment of cash, the release of Iranian nationals and the State Department campaign to encourage foreign in Iran, Iran's regime is keeping to form.  Since releasing the four U. S. citizens in January, the regime has arrested two more Iranian-Americans, and detained other westerners.  The Wall Street Journal reports that friends and family of two captives say Iran wants more cash or a prisoner exchange.
Probably both.

One detail in this this latest exchange for hostages strikes me as significant:   The Iranian regime wanted it to be obvious that this was a hostage/cash exchange.  There are many ways they could have colluded with the Obama administration to disguise the deal, but they chose not to use them.

What do I conclude from that choice?  That humiliating the United States is an important regime goal, a goal they pursue even while Barack Obama is in the White House.

(There is less than 1 chance in 100 that any future American president will be willing to give the Iranian regime as much as Obama has.  But they still humiliate him, again and again.

I had forgotten that Jimmy Carter traded for hostages, too.)
- 10:14 AM, 5 August 2016   [link]

Yesterday's Olympics Cartoon is pretty good.

(Though some may prefer today's or even Wednesday's cartoons.)
- 9:23 AM, 5 August 2016   [link]

Politico's Headline is discreet:   "Gaps in Melania Trump's immigration story raise questions".

But we all know what they are implying.

It will be interesting to see whether Democratic activists start implying that she is "illegal", or whether they will stick to "undocumented".

(For the record:  I don't know enough about her past, or immigration laws, to have an opinion on whether she violated our laws.)
- 2:07 PM, 4 August 2016   [link]

91 Percent Of Americans Are Innocent:  We didn't vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the primaries.

Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

(This link might work, if you want to see the arithmetic.)
- 1:45 PM, 4 August 2016   [link]

Why Four Hostages?  Why do the Iranians keep collecting exactly that many Americans for bargaining with us?

You can understand why they want more than one or two; too few hostages could become martyrs, known by their names.  And you can understand why they wouldn't want too many.  But it isn't obvious how they arrived at exactly four.

Probably they are sticking to four, because that number worked in the past, but there may be some deep theological reason.

(I would be surprised if they don't pick up two more in the remaining months of Obama's term.

And I have been wondering whether we shouldn't be picking up a few Iranian hostages, assuming we could do it secretly.)
- 8:07 AM, 4 August 2016   [link]

Doctors Tend to be single minded.

Which is just as well, I suppose.
- 7:36 AM, 4 August 2016   [link]

President Obama Made The Same Mistake With The Iranians That President Reagan Did:  With much less excuse.

During the Reagan administration, Iranian allies in Lebanon seized four American hostages.  As part of the complex negotiations during the Iran/Contra mess, the Reagan administration sent arms to Iran, in return for the hostages.

This year, the Obama administration traded cash for hostages.
The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward.
Why am I so certain this was a mistake?

Because of what happened after the Reagan deal:  Within weeks, the Iranian allies in Lebanon had seized four more American hostages.

And because of what's happened since that shipment of cash:  The Iranians have already arrested two more Iranian-Americans.  No one should be surprised if they arrest at least two more Americans before Obama leaves office.
- 3:57 PM, 3 August 2016   [link]

Two Crucial Estimates On Zika:  One dismaying, and one hopeful.

First, the dismaying estimate.
New research has attempted to estimate the basic reproduction number, or R0 value, for Zika virus in several locations.  Research looking at the Yap Island epidemic estimated an R0 of 4.3–5.8.  R0 value estimates for the Columbia epidemic ranged from 3.0–6.6.  Values for both locations were seen to be similar to those found for Dengue and Chikungunya virus.
That tells us that the Zika epidemic can explode, in fact is likely to, if we don't act promptly and intelligently.

Second, the hopeful estimate.
But the Aedes aegypti has a short flight range of about 150 meters in its lifetime, meaning that if not many mosquitoes are infected, outbreaks can be quite limited.  Health officials are focusing most intensively on one small area with a 150-meter radius around two workplaces where the first two people to develop Zika symptoms were found, Dr. Frieden said.
(Emphasis added.)

So, this species of mosquito is exceptionally difficult to control, but it spreads slowly, so we should be able to stop outbreaks from exploding, if we act promptly and intelligently.

(We don't usually ask how good with numbers our candidates are; we judge them more by their speeches and, now, by their tweets.  But their ability to think with numbers is often more important in forming policies.  For example, I think any candidate for a high office should be able to see the importance of those two estimates, almost instantly.

Could either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump do that?  I honestly don't know.)
- 11:09 AM, 3 August 2016   [link]

In West Africa, Women Often Use Prints To Make Statements:  Fashion statements, family statements, religious statements, education statements, and even, occasionally, political statements.
During election campaigns, the faces of leading politicians show up on the fabric.  In Yaoundé, Cameroon, President Paul Biya’s face is printed on women’s dresses.   Candidates hand out the fabric freely, the way American candidates might give away campaign buttons and T-shirts, according to Nina Sylvanus, an anthropology professor at Northeastern University who has studied the fabric and its connotations.

But in West Africa, wearing the fabric doesn’t necessarily signify support.  Some women strategically tailor their political prints so a candidate’s face is across their derrière.
(Links omitted.)

I hope that last doesn't catch on here, since it seems too likely to lead to conflicts.
- 10:09 AM, 3 August 2016   [link]

Another Round In The War Between The Sexes:   Fought over . . . . cargo shorts.
Relationships around the country are being tested by cargo shorts, loosely cut shorts with large pockets sewn onto the sides.  Men who love them say they’re comfortable and practical for summer.  Detractors​ say they’ve been out of style for years, deriding them as bulky, uncool and just flat-out ugly.
What surprised me is that so many women object to them, not just in formal, or semi-formal settings, but in general, and feel that the choice reflects badly on them.  I suppose that's something I should have figured out, by now.
- 9:35 AM, 3 August 2016   [link]

Five "Enduring" Questions (And A Few Answers) About Zika:  That's what you'll find in this survey article.

Maggie Koerth-Baker begins with this question:
Why did Zika suddenly explode in the Western Hemisphere?

Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947 and remained limited to regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia until 2007.  But then it started to travel, and as the virus stamped its passport from Asia to islands in the Pacific to South America, it seemed to become more virulent — infecting more people and spreading more quickly.  Nobody knows exactly why that happened, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, though scientists have pointed to mutations on a specific gene that plays a role in the virus’s ability to make copies of itself inside its hosts.  The Zika that is now spreading in Brazil is genetically different from the Zika of mid-20th century Uganda.
Reading this article is something like looking at a detective's notes near the beginning of a complex investigation.  We still have much to learn about the culprits, and their means.

(Here's a brief explanation of why the mosquitoes that spread the disease are so difficult to control.)
- 8:22 PM, 2 August 2016   [link]

Donald Trump's Online Store Lacks Basic Security?!?   Here's the story.

That would be harder to believe, if it weren't part of the Trump operation.

Note that the site has partly fixed the problems, probably in response to the story, so other fixes may have been applied by the time you read this post.
- 3:24 PM, 2 August 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund's op-ed, "Voter ID and the Real Threat to Democracy".
The Supreme Court concluded in 2008 that voter ID is constitutional and doesn’t impose an unreasonable burden on voters.  But the recent decisions of three federal courts throwing out voter-ID laws in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin as discriminatory have put opponents of common-sense election reforms in raptures.  These erroneous rulings twist the Voting Rights Act from a law intended to stop racial discrimination into one that transfers the power to determine routine election procedures—which the Constitution delegates to the states—to the judiciary.

All three rulings share common characteristics, starkly outlined by Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith H. Jones in her dissent in the Texas case, Veasey v. Abbott.  Judge Jones wrote that the majority opinion “misconstrues the law, misapplies the facts, and raises serious constitutional questions.”  That indictment applies to the North Carolina (NAACP v. McCrory) and Wisconsin (One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen) cases, too.
Key point:  The Department of Justice was unable to find a single individual who was "disenfranchised" by these laws.  Not one.

But you won't learn that from "mainstream" journalists.
- 2:44 PM, 2 August 2016   [link]

Like Zika?  That was my first reaction to the lead sentence in yesterday's Seattle Times editorial:  "Seattle's $15 minimum wage experiment has gone viral."

You can guess what they mean, but if you know anything about viruses, you'll wish they had found another, more accurate, way to say it.

We all know how viruses spread.  (Okay, we all should know.)  In general, a virus reproduces by taking over and destroying a cell, as it uses the cell to make copies of itself.

So, according to the Seattle Times, the minimum wage experiment took over and destroyed some small parts of Seattle — small businesses, perhaps — and now is spreading to other cities, where it will do similar kinds of damage.

As you can guess, that's not what the rest of the editorial says.

It is possible, I suppose, to use "gone viral" accurately, but I can't recall seeing an example.  If you decide to use the phrase, remember this:  Viruses are, almost always, bad for their hosts.
- 8:28 AM, 2 August 2016   [link]

"Trigger Warning."  Sometimes, it's not a metaphor.
- 7:42 AM, 2 August 2016   [link]

Weird Idea — And A Warning:  Suppose an alien parasite came to earth and made hosts of humans.  How would it behave?

If it were like parasites here on earth it would use us to get the food or energy it needed.

It would also use us to reproduce, to make copies of itself.

It would change our behavior in many ways.  If it were like many earth parasites, for example, Toxoplasma gondii, it would make some hosts take risks they wouldn't, otherwise.

You do realize that I have just described cellphones, don't you?

(And the warning?  If you find this thought amusing, you may get a weird smile on your face when you see one of those people who appear to be possessed by their cellphones.  Suppress that smile quickly, because it will not be easy to explain, should the person notice you smiling at them.)
- 3:15 PM, 1 August 2016   [link]

Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Think American Voters Are Fools:  They must, or they wouldn't keep telling the same lies, even after those lies have been publicly refuted.

Clinton is sticking to her claim that she has been truthful about her email server.
As we have seen repeatedly in Clinton’s explanations of the email controversy, she relies on excessively technical and legalistic answers to explain her actions.  While Comey did say there was no evidence she lied to the FBI, that is not the same as saying she told the truth to the American public — which was the point of Wallace’s question.  Comey has repeatedly not taken a stand on her public statements.
Trump is sticking to his claim that he can't release his tax returns because they are being audited.
Trump once declared that there’s “nothing to learn” from the returns, which was Four-Pinocchio false.   He is now citing a pending Internal Revenue Service audit, even though the first president to release his taxes, Richard Nixon, did so in the middle of an audit.   Moreover, Trump has not released his tax returns from before 2009, which are no longer under audit, according to his attorney.
(Lee's article is the best summary I've seen of what we know, and don't know, about Trump's tax returns.)

As you can see, the two have different styles; Clinton puts some effort into trying to fool us, while Trump just straight out lies.

I can't decide which style I dislike more.

Reminder:  As I have said before, most American politicians lie less often than most people think.  Almost all do try to deceive us from time to time, but they are more likely to do that by saying things that are technically true, but will be misunderstood, than by actual lying.

(Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether a politician has first lied to himself, before lying to the public.  During the primary campaign, for example, I thought Bernie Sanders believed much of what he was saying.)
- 10:33 AM, 1 August 2016   [link]

Election Scorecard, 8/1:  In this last week, the two indices I have been using diverged, somewhat.

In the poll model, Hillary Clinton gained back most of what she lost since 11 July; then she had a lead of 5.8 percent, and now it is at 4.6 percent.

In contrast, the British bettors then gave Trump a 22 percent chance of winning the general election, and now give him a 28 percent.

Both numbers are likely to change, as new polls are released.
- 8:53 AM, 1 August 2016   [link]

If You Like Outrageous Puns, you'll like today's New Yorker calendar cartoon.
- 7:59 AM, 1 August 2016   [link]