February 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Who Won The Super Bowl?  Judging by ratings, Lady Gaga.
Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl in history to have gone to overtime play, but that didn’t translate to a record. Sunday’s Big Game on Fox drew an average audience of 111.3 million people on its broadcast network, with an average streaming audience of 1.7 million and another 650,000 on Fox Deportes; its household rating was a 45.3.
. . .
For the fourth year in a row, the halftime show was a bigger eyeball vortex than the game itself: 117.5 million people watched Lady Gaga’s performance. That’s the second-biggest audience for a halftime show, behind Katy Perry’s in 2015.
Obviously I misjudged popular tastes, in a classic case of psychological projection; I thought that since I didn't care for these shows, neither did most other people.

Knowing about such traps doesn't always mean you will avoid them.  But I should have spotted that one.
- 6:42 PM, 8 February 2017   [link]

Ramirez's 9th Circuit Cartoon:  While the 3-judge panel from the 9th Circuit is considering the temporary restraining order on Trump's temporary travel ban, it's a good time to remind everyone that the 9th Circuit has a reputation for goofy decisions, a reputation captured in a Michael Ramirez cartoon, years ago.

(I'd really like to scan the cartoon and show it to you, but there is no way to do that without violating his copyright.  You can find it in this collection.)

In the cartoon, Ramirez shows a boy's birthday party, with a man in judicial robes, and a 9th Circuit label.  The mother is explaining to the birthday boy that Bozo the Clown was unavailable, so she brought in this substitute.

If you wonder whether the 9th Circuit deserves that reputation, you can find a partial answer here.
- 3:22 PM, 8 February 2017   [link]

Wrong Again, President Trump:  This time on the murder rate.
President Donald Trump repeated a debunked claim about the US murder rate on Tuesday, incorrectly telling a group of sheriffs that the country's murder rate was at its highest point in 47 years.

"The murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years, right?"   Trump said at a White House meeting with members of the National Sheriffs Association, according to the Chicago Tribune.  "Did you know that? Forty-seven years.  I used to use that — I'd say that in a speech and everybody was surprised.  Because the press doesn't tell it like it is.   It wasn't to their advantage to say that."
It is likely that Trump actually believes that, in spite of easily available statistics.   I say that because almost everyone in that audience would know the basic facts.

From that we can tentatively conclude that Trump does not read those New York newspapers carefully, and that he hasn't paid attention to the decline in crime, especially in New York City.

Since he has said this before, we can also tentatively conclude that either his aides don't tell him when is wrong, or he doesn't listen to them.

This is not a good sign.   Will Rogers was right when he said: "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so."

(This summary, from Wikipedia, of changes in US murder rates is, I believe, broadly accurate.
In the United States, murder rates have been higher and have fluctuated. They fell below 2 per 100,000 by 1900, rose during the first half of the century, dropped in the years following World War II, and bottomed out at 4.0 in 1957 before rising again.[103]  The rate stayed in 9 to 10 range most of the period from 1972 to 1994, before falling to 5 in present times.[102]  The increase since 1957 would have been even greater if not for the significant improvements in medical techniques and emergency response times, which mean that more and more attempted homicide victims survive. According to one estimate, if the lethality levels of criminal assaults of 1964 still applied in 1993, the country would have seen the murder rate of around 26 per 100,000, almost triple the actually observed rate of 9.5 per 100,000.[104]
And more than a little puzzling.)
- 7:57 AM, 8 February 2017   [link]

If This One-Liner Puzzles You, think Olympics.
- 6:39 AM, 8 February 2017   [link]

Incompetence And Counter Incompetence:  President Trump's temporary ban on visitors from seven nations was so badly done that a Harvard professor is speculating that Trump wants to lose in the courts (so he can blame any future terrorist attacks on judges).

Judge Robart's temporary restraining order is so incompetent that he got a basic fact wrong.

So maybe he is trying to lose, too.

(I described the executive order as mostly "political theater" — and I haven't seen any reason to change my mind on that conclusion.)
- 7:17 PM, 7 February 2017   [link]

Did Bad Play Calling Cost The Falcons The Super Bowl?   That's what Ty Schalter thinks.

His argument seems plausible, at least to this non-expert.
- 3:48 PM, 7 February 2017   [link]

This Story May Shock Some Readers, so I will present it step by step, so you can back out at any point.

Many Republicans work in the investment business, or as we say, mostly metaphorically these days, on Wall Street.

(Everyone OK so far?)

Some of those Republicans even work for a hedge fund run by leftist George Soros.

(You can stop now if this argument is getting too dangerous for you.)

A few of those Republicans were public-spirited enough to contribute to these fine Republican leaders: Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush.

(If you faint easily, you may want to sit down now.)

Which resulted in a misleading Breitbart story, and this Drudge headline: "Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush Took Campaign Cash from Soros".

Which has the defect of not being exactly true.

(I spent several minutes fighting with Drudge's site without being able to read the whole thing, so I don't know whether he has put up a correction — but he should.)
- 2:41 PM, 7 February 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Norm Matloff's piece, "Trump Is Right: Silicon Valley Is Using H-1B Visas To Pay Low Wages To Immigrants".
On the heels on its controversial immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries, the Trump administration has drafted a new executive order that could actually mean higher wages for both foreign workers and Americans working in Silicon Valley.  The Silicon Valley companies, of course, will not be happy if it goes into effect.

The order aims to overhaul and limit work visas, notably the H-1B visa program.  Tech companies rely on these to bring in foreign talent.  Their lobbyists claim there is a “talent shortage” among Americans and thus that the industry needs more of such work visas.  This is patently false.  The truth is that they want an expansion of the H-1B work visa program because they want to hire cheap, immobile labor — i.e., foreign workers.
Often the immobility is even more important to a firm than the cheapness, since it can take months for an employee to understand a problem well enough to be productive.

As far as I know, Matloff is basically correct, though I can not vouch for his specific claims.

He has links, so the ambitious can follow up on some of his claims.  You might want to start, though the usual caveats apply, with the Wikipedia article, or with Matloff's web site on the issue.

(Fun fact:  Theologians are among the groups that can be hired under the H-1B program.  As far as I know, Silicon Valley has not hired many theologians.)
- 10:49 AM, 7 February 2017   [link]

Saying Too Much can be hazardous.
- 9:17 AM, 7 February 2017   [link]

Short Ribs With Chinese Flavors:  Having no great skill as a cook, I look for recipes that give good results — but don't require any cooking skill.

One of my favorites is Mark Bittman's Short Ribs with Chinese Flavors, which is now cooking in my kitchen.

You assemble the ingredients, throw them in a slow cooker, and cook them on high for at least five hours.

Total preparation time is less than ten minutes for me, and would be less than five minutes for a more competent cook.  They are just as good after being frozen, so don't be afraid to make extra.

There are just two small difficulties, both having to do with the Sichuan peppercorns.  When I first made the recipe, I had trouble finding them, even in this area.  I ended up ordering them from Amazon, and now have a lifetime supply.

I have also had trouble spotting them after the mixture is cooked, so I usually tie them up in little piece of cheesecloth.  A real cook would probably have a better solution, but that works for me.

(In recent years, the New York Times has given Bittman space to discuss political topics.  Since he is a man, I guess I can say that he should have stayed in the kitchen.)
- 4:11 PM, 6 February 2017   [link]

78, 80, And 83:  Sometimes it is best to be blunt.   Those are the current ages, respectively, of Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As you can see, all are past normal retirement age.  Or to be even more blunt, all are old enough so that new life insurance policies would be very expensive.

There is a good chance — consult your local actuary for an exact number — that there will be another vacancy on the court within the next three or four years.

Assuming Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, which I think is nearly certain, a replacement for any of the three could give conservatives a solid majority on the court.

The oldest conservative on the court is Clarence Thomas, who is now 68.

(The Wikipedia article on the court includes the ages of all eight current justices.

If Episcopalian Gorsuch is confirmed, he will be the lone Protestant.)
- 3:24 PM, 6 February 2017   [link]

Two Stray Thoughts On The Super Bowl:  Over the years, I have come to the tentative conclusion that most Super Bowls are not great football games, that, on the average, they are not as worth watching as the playoff games.

There have been some good Super Bowls, and even a few great ones, but you shouldn't expect a Super Bowl to be a very good game, despite all the talent.

And so my first reaction to yesterday's game was to think that this year the NFL had given us two bad games, the first won by the Falcons, the second by the Patriots.

But then it occurred to me that perhaps I was making a common mistake, fitting the data to my conclusion, rather than testing the conclusion against the data.

So there you are:  It was either two bad games, or two bad games that added up to a very good game.

I don't usually watch the half time shows, but I watched yesterday's to see if I could understand why the NFL keeps picking acts that are unlikely to appeal to the average football fan, a middle-aged guy.

And I decided, tentatively, that the NFL is trying to appeal to the group of spenders least likely to be interested in watching professional football: teenage girls.

The show itself reminded me of Churchill's famous quip:  "This pudding has no theme."  If Lady Gaga's show had a plot, or even a theme, it escaped me.
- 6:53 AM, 6 February 2017   [link]

And Now For Something completely different.

For those who don't play chess:  The bride and the groom are both chess knights, which have "L" shaped moves.

For those who do play chess:  Yes, I know, knights are males, but the cartoon is so weird I wanted to share it, even though it doesn't make much sense.
- 6:12 AM, 6 February 2017   [link]

There's Still Time To Bet On The Super Bowl:  And some of the bets are intriguing.

If those aren't enough, you can find more here.
- 2:37 PM, 5 February 2017   [link]

The British Don't Like Their Political Leaders Much, Either:  Except for Prime Minister Theresa May (+6), all of the British leaders YouGov asked about had negative approval ratings, more disapproval than approval.

If you follow British politics at all, you won't be surprised to learn that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was at the very bottom (-40).

YouGov also asked about three foreign leaders:  Angela Merkel (-7), Donald Trump (-51), and Vladimir Putin (-63).

At least a few Trumpistas will be disappointed that Trump came in second to Putin.

(If you are like me, you will need a scorecard for some of the British leaders in the poll:   David Davis, Tim Farron, Philip Hammond, Paul Nuttall, and Keir Starmer.)
- 4:55 PM, 4 February 2017   [link]

President Legal Troubles (2):  Remember that private golf course Donald Trump bought in Florida, the one where he seized the departing members' deposits?

I am not a lawyer, but I couldn't see how he could get away with that — and now a judge just said he can't.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida golf course owned by President Donald Trump must immediately repay $5.7 million to 65 former members who had been denied membership refunds after he bought the club in 2012, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter violated contracts the members had signed with the previous owner, Ritz-Carlton.  The average payment will be about $87,000 if the ruling is upheld.

Attorney Brad Edwards, who represented the members, said Wednesday that when the trial ended last August, "I never felt more confident what the right decision would be."

"So (the ruling) wasn't a surprise, but it was worth the wait," he said.

The Trump Organization vowed to appeal, saying in a statement that "We respectfully disagree with the Court's decision."
(I don't know why it took so long for the judge to make his decision.)

Political enemies of Trump will want him to appeal, and they will be delighted if he issues one or more tweets on the decision.

We should expect more Trump organization cases in the months and years to come, as I warned would happen last July.

(The Huffington Post has more details on the decision.)
- 2:19 PM, 4 February 2017   [link]

Even Wedding Toasts can have too much information.
- 1:37 PM, 4 February 2017   [link]

Most Football Fans will find this post's headline irresistible:  "The Patriots Are Even Sneakier Than You Think".

(I thought the analysis was interesting, too.)
- 3:34 PM, 3 February 2017   [link]

The First Cartoon in this Politico collection will amuse (almost) everyone — except hardcore Trumpistas, and it might amuse even a few of them.
- 3:13 PM, 3 February 2017   [link]

Neil Gorsuch Has Support from the right.
President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court will be Neil Gorsuch, a well-respected conservative whose legal philosophy is remarkably similar to that of Antonin Scalia, the justice he will replace if the Senate confirms him. He is, like Scalia, a textualist and an originalist: someone who interprets legal provisions as their words were originally understood.
And from the left.
There is a very difficult question about whether there should be a vote on President Trump’s nominee at all, given the Republican Senate’s history-breaking record of obstruction on Judge Merrick B. Garland — perhaps the most qualified nominee ever for the high court.  But if the Senate is to confirm anyone, Judge Gorsuch, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, should be at the top of the list.

I believe this, even though we come from different sides of the political spectrum.  I was an acting solicitor general for President Barack Obama; Judge Gorsuch has strong conservative bona fides and was appointed to the 10th Circuit by President George W. Bush.  But I have seen him up close and in action, both in court and on the Federal Appellate Rules Committee (where both of us serve); he brings a sense of fairness and decency to the job, and a temperament that suits the nation’s highest court.
From what I have read about Gorsuch, he seems like a fine choice.
- 4:29 PM, 2 February 2017   [link]

Peanuts, Price Controls, And Migrants From The Gambia:  The tiny (and very skinny) nation has been in the news in recent weeks because its president since 1994, Yahya Jammeh, was forced to accept his election defeat.

Last Friday's Wall Street Journal explained why he no longer had the support of Gambian voters.  Per capita GDP had fallen from about $600 in 2008 to about $400 in 2016.  Young men reacted by fleeing the country and asking for asylum in the European Union.  About 1200 applied in 2008, but more than 13,000 in 2016.  (Most were turned down.)

Price controls discouraged farmers from growing peanuts, Gambia's most important export crop.  Farmers were forced to sell their peanuts to the Gambian Groundnut Corp for about $350 a ton — rather than to neighboring Senegal, where they could have gotten almost $600 a ton.

You won't be surprised to learn that Jammeh left with much of his loot.

It's probably a cheap price to pay to get rid of him.
- 8:35 AM, 2 February 2017   [link]

Another Potential Hazard of cellphones.
- 7:27 AM, 2 February 2017   [link]

Some Customers have special needs.
- 7:11 AM, 1 February 2017   [link]