Archive:

February 2017, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"Astounding!"  That's how Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, a woman not prone to exaggeration, described the results of two British by-elections.

Some background:  In Britain, as in the United States, the governing party almost always loses vote share in by-elections (or, as we call them, special elections), sometimes loses seats, even, occasionally "safe" seats.

By-elections were held yesterday in the very safe Labour constituency Stoke-on-Trent Central and the safe Labour constituency Copeland.

Naturally, the BBC has the results.

But to appreciate how astounding this was, you may want to look at this analysis, instead.
It is in the nature of political junkies, like sharks, to be constantly moving forwards, and like goldfish, to be constantly forgetting what has just happened.  We should try to do better.  In the wake of two extraordinary by-elections we should reflect on their implications.  Because, as it happens this time, their implications are manifold.

The Conservatives did incredibly well

This is one of those rare occasions where the media have actually underplayed something.  The Conservatives’ victory in Copeland is off-the-scale impressive.

Others have written about how Copeland was the first government by-election gain since 1982 and how it represents a new landmark not achieved since 1960, 1929 or 1878 according to taste.  The swing to the Conservatives is bigger than that to any governing party in a by-election since at least 1950.  The last time the Conservatives achieved a gain in vote share at a by-election was 1982 in Beaconsfield (by 0.1% against a Labour candidate called Tony Blair).   In Copeland, the Conservatives put 8.5% on their vote share.

But the Conservatives also did extremely well in Stoke Central.  They started in third but far from being squeezed they put on vote share there also.   Remember, this was one of only seven occasions since 1970 where a government party has put on vote share in a by-election.  To do so from third is quite remarkable.

Bear in mind that sitting governments normally do much better at general elections than in by-elections and the Conservatives are potentially heading for a landslide that would far eclipse 1983 and perhaps 1997.
If you have been reading this site for the past year or so, you'll know that I think the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, deserves much of the credit for those Conservative successes.  Corbyn, and the Labour activists who put him in power.

(Naturally, the Daily Mail has all the pictures of the elections and the aftermath anyone might want, including one very odd one showing Corbyn on a bicycle.)
- 4:29 PM, 24 February 2017   [link]


The "Nerve Agent" VX Is Deadly Stuff:  In very small quantities.
. . . an extremely toxic organophosphate, is a tasteless and odorless liquid with an amber-like color that severely disrupts the body's nervous system and is used as a nerve agent in chemical warfare.  Ten milligrams (0.00035 oz) is sufficient for it to be fatal through skin contact, and the median lethal dose for inhalation is estimated to be 30–50 mg·min/m3.
It's in the news, of course, because the Malaysian government says it was used to murder Kim Jong-un's half brother, Kim Jong-nam.

Assuming that Kim Jong-un ordered the hit, I have been wondering why he chose that method, instead of, for instance, an ordinary knife.

And I have tentatively concluded that he did it for two reasons, to remind everyone that he has chemical weapons, and for the sheer terror effect.

(Similarly, I think those who murdered Alexander Litvinenko — almost certainly Vladimir's Putin's agents — chose polonium for its terror effect.)
- 12:45 PM, 24 February 2017   [link]


Not Quite Modern Love, but definitely a modern relationship.
- 7:16 AM, 24 February 2017   [link]


Britain's UKIP Has A Reputation For Being Odd:   Which makes the last name of their current leader doubly unfortunate.
- 2:49 PM, 23 February 2017   [link]


Is That Unscrupulous Republican Operative About To Score Another Success by electing Keith Ellison chairman of the Democratic Party?

I don't know, though he seems to be a slight favorite.

But I am certain that there are Republican tacticians who would be delighted by that result.

Democrats have been paying less attention than they should have to what happened to the British Labour Party after they went left with Jeremy Corbyn.

(You can see earlier posts on that operative, starting here.)
- 2:06 PM, 23 February 2017   [link]


Why ObamaCare May Have Made No Net Difference in American Life Expectancy:  Last week, I said that ObamaCare may have had no effect on life expectancy in 2015.

That's a specific example of a general conclusion I came to years ago:  Above a certain level — when a nation can supply its citizens with clean water, vaccines, insecticides, and antibiotics — additional spending on health care has little effect on health, or longevity.

I came to that conclusion partly by looking at when life expectancy began to rise in the Western world — before modern medicine — and partly by looking at comparative data, such as these lists of life expectancy, by country.  As you can see, very different nations often have quite similar life expectancies.

Moreover, the similarities are even greater if you take a closer look.  The Japanese are famous for their longevity — but so are Japanese-Americans, who have a very different health system.  German-Americans in North Dakota probably live about as long as Germans in Germany.

And so on.

So, it is entirely possible that, for all the costs, for all the political fighting, ObamaCare has had little or no net effect on the health and longevity of Americans.  (Again, let me remind you that it is possible to find individuals that were helped — and hurt — by the changes.)

(I won't guarantee the accuracy of this site, though they appear to be using CDC data, but it does let you explore US data, easily.)
- 10:50 AM, 23 February 2017   [link]


Nasty, But Funny:  Yesterday's New Yorker cartoon.

(As I have mentioned before, the New Yorker — which is famously good at humor — has found it difficult to find cartoons about Trump that are funny, as well as nasty.  Take a look at some of the previous days, if you wonder why I say that.)
- 8:32 AM, 23 February 2017   [link]


Biased, But Interesting:  This New York Times article on the Tohono O'odhamin tribe in southern Arizona, and their objections to building a wall on the southern boundary of their reservation — which is also part of the border between the US and Mexico.

A wall would separate most of the tribe from the part that lives in Mexico, and would make it harder for both parts of the tribe to visit sites important to them.

(Why do I say it's biased?

Because I am reasonably certain that at least some members of the tribe don't care for strangers, some of them criminals, traipsing across their land.  But none of those people appeared in the article.  And because the Times didn't ask whether any members of the tribe were involved in smuggling.

For the record:  Large parts of the border already have walls, and other parts are scheduled to get them.  But I don't think a continuous wall is a good idea, for a number of reasons, including, in many places, the terrain.

Here's the Wikipedia article on the tribe.)
- 8:06 PM, 22 February 2017   [link]


How ObamaCare Could Have Hurt Americans' Health:  Last week, I said that ObamaCare might be responsible for the decline in life expectancy in 2015.

Perhaps I should have explained then how that could happen, but I am glad I didn't because two days ago I ran across this argument from a fine demographer, Nicholas Eberstadt.
But how did so many millions of un-working men, whose incomes are limited, manage en masse to afford a constant supply of pain medication?  Oxycontin is not cheap.  As Dreamland carefully explains, one main mechanism today has been the welfare state: more specifically, Medicaid, Uncle Sam’s means-tested health-benefits program.  Here is how it works (we are with Quinones in Portsmouth, Ohio):
[The Medicaid card] pays for medicine—whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs.  Among those who receive Medicaid cards are people on state welfare or on a federal disability program known as SSI. . . .   If you could get a prescription from a willing doctor—and Portsmouth had plenty of them—Medicaid health-insurance cards paid for that prescription every month.  For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers.   A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.
In 21st-century America, “dependence on government” has thus come to take on an entirely new meaning.
(By way of Jim Geraghty.)

A large part of ObamaCare was the expansion of Medicaid, an expansion that may have fueled the opioid epidemic, unintentionally of course.

And that may have hurt life expectancy more than other parts of ObamaCare helped.

(Here's the Quinones book.)
- 3:23 PM, 22 February 2017   [link]


Seven Exoplanets Around A Nearby Star:  Three of them might be able to support life.
After a deluge of teasing press releases and premature speculation, we can finally share some Very Important NASA News:  Today, the agency announced that a team of scientists has confirmed seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a star located just 39 light-years away from our Sun.  The six inner planets are rocky, roughly the same mass as Earth, and are thought to have comparable surface temperatures to our own planet.  Three of the planets may even be able to support liquid water and perhaps, life.
NASA provided this comparison to our own inner solar system:

TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets and inner solar system

More later, when I know more.

(Most likely this Wikipedia article on TRAPPIST-1 will have more updates, soon.)
- 10:33 AM, 22 February 2017   [link]


Here's One Claim Of Discrimination that won't get attention for long.
Candice Wiggins was a college star at Stanford, the third pick of the 2008 WNBA draft and a 2011 champion.  And at the mountaintop of her basketball career, her sexuality marred the moment.

There is a “very, very harmful” culture running throughout the WNBA, she says, which saw her get bullied during her eight-year career because she is heterosexual.
Is there some truth in what she says?

Probably, from what I know, though it is hard to be sure about these matters, since our "mainstream" jourmalists flee from such stories like vampires who see crosses.
- 9:38 AM, 22 February 2017   [link]


Syrians Are Big Fans Of Risk?  Not actual risk, of which they have more than enough, but the board game.

That makes an odd kind of sense, since the game of Risk, though usually described as a war game, is better understood as an alliance game, since the combat is secondary to making — and breaking — alliances.

(Years and years ago, when I was playing Risk fairly regularly, I found that having married couples in the game distorted the play.  Usually what happened was that wives would not attack their husbands, giving the husbands a big advantage in the games.)
- 8:27 AM, 22 February 2017   [link]


How Has Donald Trump Been Spending His Time As President?  Philip Bump has the numbers.

Two struck me as especially interesting:  Bump estimates that Trump has spent 6 hours getting intelligence briefings — and 25 hours playing golf.

I am not mentioning those to be critical.  If he doesn't believe what the intelligence agencies say, there is no reason for him to waste the time of the briefing officers.   As was true of President Obama, when Trump is on the golf course, he is unlikely to be doing any great harm to the nation.
- 8:17 PM, 21 February 2017   [link]


In Britain, Labour Has Deserted Labour:  Temporarily, perhaps, but with a margin that should frighten any Labour leader.
The latest Ipsos MORI poll is out and has more polling numbers to fuel the Corbyn must go narrative.

Perhaps the most striking figures are in the socio economic split featured above with Corbyn’s party trailing by 16% amongst the C2DEs – the working classes.  Essentially under the current leadership LAB has lost its core vote.
(Roughly, you can think of ABC1 as including the upper class and the middle class, and C2DE as including the working class and the lower class.)

I am old enough to remember a time when academics studied, with considerable curiosity, that strange animal, the working class Conservative.  As I recall, the Conservatives used to win about 30 percent of the working class vote, with almost all the rest going to Labour.

I suspect the activists who chose Jeremy Corbyn to be Labour Leader consider that poll, and similar polls, "fake news".
- 2:15 PM, 21 February 2017   [link]


Today, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Delivered His State Of The City Speech:  From Seattle's Idris Mosque.
Mayor Ed Murray will address Seattle residents from the Idris Mosque in North Seattle during his annual State of the City speech at 9:30 a.m. today.

The address will be broadcast at the Northgate Community Center, Seattle City Hall council chambers, on the Seattle Channel and in a live-streaming broadcast on Murray’s Facebook page.
I think it fair to conclude that the Seattle Times really wanted people here to listen to that speech.

(For the record: Mayor Murray is a married gay Catholic.  I don't know whether he is aware of standard Muslim doctrine on homosexuality.

Idris "has been identified with the Biblical Enoch".)
- 10:07 AM, 21 February 2017   [link]


Megan McArdle Would Like this Ramirez cartoon.
- 8:53 AM, 21 February 2017   [link]


One China/Trump Story — Three Interpretations:  (At least.)

The story.
The Chinese government has granted President Trump and his business something they had been seeking for more than a decade: trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry.
Without much effort, I can think of three interpretations for this story.  First, it is possible, perhaps not likely, but possible, that the slow Chinese bureaucracy finally got around to doing what Chinese laws and regulations require.

Second, it is possible that the Chinese government, impressed by Trump's strength, decided not to mess with him any more.

Third, it is possible that the Chinese government, knowing that he believes in offering bribes, decided that he might like to receive one, too.

No doubt, there are other possible interpretations that I haven't thought of, yet.
- 3:44 PM, 20 February 2017   [link]


Worth Watching Or Reading:  This 60 Minutes story on North Korea.
In Thursday’s press conference, President Trump would not say how the United States will respond to the actions of North Korea’s dictator over the last week.   Kim Jong-un tested a new type of missile.  Then, his estranged brother was poisoned in a Malaysian airport.  South Korea’s spy agency believes Kim ordered the hit.  Kim has nuclear weapons and has promised to test an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Such a weapon could eventually carry a nuclear warhead and threaten American cities.  That possibility, and the missiles he has aimed at South Korea are so dangerous, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis went to Seoul on his first foreign trip.

We went just days later and saw how tense the situation has become.  We got two important perspectives.  We spoke to the commander of the 28,000 American troops there -- as well as the highest-ranking North Korean to defect in decades.   He told us the missiles and murders are part of Kim’s raging obsession with the survival of his regime.
(The story is about 20 minutes long.)

I have been wondering whether President Park's little problems might tempt the North Korean regime to do something rash.  So far they haven't — as far as I know.

(If you are wondering why the North Korean regime used female agents to kill Kim Jong-nam, you can find an explanation here.  The men running the regime are evil, but they aren't stupid.)
- 2:32 PM, 20 February 2017   [link]


Biathlon Breakthrough:  First, Lowell Bailey.
Biathlete Lowell Bailey won the men’s 20-kilometer race at the IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, on Thursday, the first for the United States in the sport.

Biathlon was the only Winter Olympics sport in which the USA had not won an Olympic or world title, a drought that dated back to 1958 for world titles and 1960 for the Olympics.
And then Susan Dunklee.
Susan Dunklee capped the U.S.’ best-ever biathlon world championships by becoming the first American woman to take an individual medal, a silver, at an Olympics or worlds on Sunday.
Congratulations to Bailey and Dunklee.

(For those who haven't been cross-country skiers, or target shooters, let me note that the biathlon is a weird sport, because it combines two opposites.  First, you have to ski hard, exercising all the big muscles in your body — and then you have to stop and calm all those muscles down, so you can make your shots.  And then repeat the sequence one or more times.)
- 1:44 PM, 20 February 2017   [link]


Ambrose Bierce's Definition for the day.
PRESIDENT, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom— and of whom only—it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.
Probably not true for George Washington, but true for every president since him.

(As I have mentioned before, the federal holiday today is actually Washington's Birthday.   The states vary on what they call today, and even whether it is a state holiday.)
- 9:34 AM, 20 February 2017   [link]


Idiots, Lunatics, News Readers, And Presidential Candidates:  Rebecca West did not have a high opinion of women — or men.

In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, she described what she saw as characteristic defects of each sex.

West was in a hospital recovering from an operation, when she heard bad news on the radio:
[S]o I rang for the nurse and when she came, I cried to her, 'Switch on the telephone!  I must speak to my husband at once.  A most terrible thing has happened.  The King of Yugoslavia has been assassinated.'  'Oh dear!' she replied.  'Did you know him?'  'No,' I said.  ''Then why', she asked, 'do you think it's so terrible?'

Her question made me remember that the word 'idiot' comes from a Greek root meaning private person.  Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain.  It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object, but not the details indicative of their nature.
If you are a woman, you tend to be an idiot (in the old Greek sense of the word); if you are a man, you tend to be a lunatic.  (Unlike West, I think the latter is a more serious defect.)

Judging by the news readers in this area, West was right about both.  The women show less interest in the news than the men; the women would often rather talk about their cats, the other news readers, and so forth, than about actual news stories.  It's a little harder to see the lunacy in what the men say, since they are usually just reading what has been written for them, but you can see it from time to time, in the serious way they treat the most absurd stories.

After I had noticed those characteristic defects, locally, I began thinking about the two presidential candidates, and decided that West was right about them, too.   Hillary Clinton was sure we would care deeply about what Trump had said to a beauty queen years ago, and Donald Trump apparently believes all kinds of weird ideas.

So West would say we were choosing between an idiot and a lunatic.

(As I have mentioned before, West led a most interesting life.)
- 3:05 PM, 19 February 2017   [link]


Neither Politico Nor RealClearPolitics Had Any Great Cartoons This Week:  But I liked the Russian bear in the 7th Politico cartoon, even though I disagree with the cartoonist's point, and the last RCP cartoon makes a free speech point that needs to be made more often.
- 1:31 PM, 19 February 2017   [link]


Trust can be misplaced.

(When I saw that cartoon, I immediately thought of this variation — and I suspect some of you did, too.)
- 7:42 AM, 19 February 2017   [link]


Why Did Donald Trump Make That Electoral College Claim — Again?  Once again, Trump claimed that his electoral college win was special.
“You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan,” [NBC’s Peter] Alexander said, sitting feet from the president.  He then began to list recent electoral victories bigger than Trump’s, which include both of Barack Obama’s victories, both of Bill Clinton’s victories and George H.W. Bush’s 1988 victory, all since Reagan.
Trump has said this before, and was saying it to an audience where almost everyone present would know that he was wrong — and would have good reasons to call him on it.

That leads me to conclude that Trump believed what he was saying,  (For similar reasons, I thought he believed what he said about the murder rate to the sheriffs.)

Such incidents lead to me to several tentative — and very unpleasant — conclusions:
  • None of his relatives, friends, or aides tell him when he has made a factual error.
  • To a much larger extent than normal, Trump believes what he wants to believe.
  • Trump is not very good with numbers.
The last surprised me — after all, Trump has been a businessman all his adult life.  But then I remembered the six bankruptcies, and the many failed products and businesses.  And I recalled that he rarely used numbers during the presidential campaign, preferring instead vague adjectives like "huge".

He can be a great talker, but there is little reason to think that he is good at statistics.

(For broadly similar reasons, I don't think Hillary Clinton is good at statistics, either.)
- 1:47 PM, 17 February 2017   [link]


Meow & Chandon And Dog Perignon:  Drinks sold to people who want their pets to drink with them.
Why drink alone when you can drink with your pet?

The question comes from two competing start-ups in the unlikely product category of faux wine for cats (and, to a lesser extent, dogs) that comes in miniature bottles with cutesy names.  No alcohol is involved (think liquid catnip).  But already the company that brought its products to market first, Apollo Peak — which calls itself “the original cat winery” — is accusing its newer competitor, Pet Winery, of being a copycat.
So far, judging by the small test the reporter did, the "wines" are a bigger success with owners than cats.

But the drink names are cute, which is something.
- 9:47 AM, 17 February 2017   [link]