July 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"Tiny Bugs That Make Tiny Wires"  Another breakthrough for the genetic engineers.
Giving new meaning to the phrase “lightning bug,” scientists have come up with a way to get bacteria to produce infinitesimal wires capable of conducting useful amounts of electricity.

The work, by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, relies on a garden-variety bacteria to produce the wires from naturally occurring proteins.   Someday, such wires might be useful anywhere that really small electronics are wanted.  And unlike many electronic components today, these bacterial wires can be produced using nontoxic, sustainable materials.
How important could this be?  Read the rest of the article, and then ask your local electronics engineer — or local microbiologist.   They'll give you different sets of answers, but both sets will be interesting.

The bacteria they modified is in the Geobacter genus.

(The quotes are around the title because I borrowed it from the print edition.)
- 2:56 PM, 31 July 2016   [link]

A Speculator Thinks About Manipulating a small market.
- 8: AM, 31 July 2016   [link]

This Weekend's New Yorker Calendar Cartoon made me laugh.
- 10:09 AM, 30 July 2016   [link]

I Like Thursday's "Bonus" Cartoon; you can decide for yourselves about the political cartoons around it.
- 11:18 AM, 29 July 2016   [link]

Two Tabloid Takes On Trump's Russian Hacking "Joke"  The Daily News, which opposes Trump, ran this cover.

The Daily Mail, which mostly supports Trump, ran this story.
Donald Trump insisted on Thursday that he wasn't being serious when he said a day earlier that he hoped Russian hackers found the more than 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton deleted from her private server.

'Of course I'm being sarcastic,' Trump said in an interview with the 'Fox & Friends' morning show, emphasizing that he had no way of knowing that Russian hackers had scoured Clinton's emails before she began culling them.
So, was he joking yesterday?

Probably, in some sense, since almost nothing he says can be taken seriously.

But it is also true that there are some jokes you shouldn't tell in public, especially if you are the president, or a presidential candidate.  President Obama was wrong, for instance, to joke about using the IRS against his enemies.  And Trump was wrong to tell this "joke", whether or not he intended it as a joke.

Similarly, though they may be tempted, Democratic leaders should not reply by hoping that Russian hackers reveal Trump's income tax returns.
- 4:26 PM, 28 July 2016   [link]

Pence And Kaine, Separated, But Not At Birth:  The two vice presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, grew up in broadly similar families, Catholic and Democratic.  (Pence's family was all Irish Catholic, Kaine's mostly.)

As young men, both had strong religious beliefs.  For example, Kaine took a year off from Harvard Law to volunteer with the Jesuits in Honduras.

So why did they diverge, why did they end up in different parties?  Because Pence, in college, seeking a more personal religious experience, became an evangelical.   (His mother is still disappointed.)

And, for many reasons, it is now difficult for a white evangelical to belong to the Democratic Party, especially if the evangelical wants to run for office.

Pence's religious conversion produced, in time, a political conversion.

(As Kaine rose in the Democratic Party, he has been under pressure to minimize his Catholic beliefs, especially on abortion.  I haven't followed his career closely enough to tell you how much effect that pressure has had.)
- 2:47 PM, 28 July 2016   [link]

Mexicans Are Responding To Trump In The Best Possible Way:  They are making fun of him.
In the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, an eatery is churning out Donald Trump tacos.  They’re made with a lot of tongue, a dash of pig snout and just a little bit of cow brain.

Masks of Mr. Trump’s face, topped by tufts of artificial blond hair, are rolling off the lines at a factory in Cuernavaca — a recent batch numbered 10,000.
(Links omitted.)

There's more.

This is, I think, a good sign, a sign that, once Trump is gone from the scene, we can repair some of the damage he has done to our relations with our southern neighbor — which would be good for both nations.

That last sounds like a rather sappy platitude, doesn't it?  But platitudes are sometimes true.  Though Trump and some of his supporters ignore this, it is much to our advantage to have good relations with Mexico.
- 10:13 AM, 28 July 2016   [link]

Cousin Marriages And Terrorism:  In parts of the world, cousin marriages are considered ideal, in other parts they are frowned on, and in still other parts, most of the United States for instance, they are illegal.

I believe allowing them contributes to terrorism in at least two distinct ways.

First, they can hinder an immigrant group from being absorbed by the larger community.  In Britain, for instance, 55 percent of Pakistani marriages are between first cousins, and in many of those marriages, either the bride or the groom has been imported from Pakistan.

Second, cousin marriages produce a higher level of birth defects.  Again, Britain provides us with an example:
Given the high rate of such marriages, many children come from repeat generations of first-cousin marriages.  The report states that these children are 13 times more likely than the general population to produce children with genetic disorders, and one in ten children of first-cousin marriages in Birmingham either dies in infancy or develops a serious disability.  The BBC also states that Pakistani-Britons, who account for some 3% of all births in the UK, produce "just under a third" of all British children with genetic illnesses.
Although geneticists have focused mainly on physical defects, there is every reason to believe that there are more mental defects from this inbreeding, too.

Terrorists sometimes use people with low IQs as to carry bombs.

More important, I think, is the susceptibility of mentally disturbed, angry young men to terrorist recruitment.  If, because of your mental illness, you are unable to function well in society, killing, or even blowing yourself up for a cause, may look like a way out of your troubles.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the truck driver who massacred more than eighty people in Nice, is an example of both ways.

Although he was a Tunisian citizen, he was able to become a legal resident of France by an arranged marriage — to a cousin.

And he had severe mental problems, which may have been worsened by his exposure to France and French ways.

Perhaps other nations should follow the example set by most American states, and ban cousin marriages.

(For an exercise, you may want to look at the nations where cousin marriages are common, and see how many of them produce large numbers of terrorists.)
- 3:59 PM, 27 July 2016   [link]

When I Read Christopher Caldwell's book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, some years ago, I came to this grim conclusion:  Europe would soon be facing a low-level guerrilla war, with sporadic attacks by a few Muslims on other Muslims, and the rest of the population.

That conclusion did not require any great insight; I was simply expecting what had happened before, with ethnic groups, religious groups, and anarchists, to happen again.

I think almost anyone who read the book, carefully, and who knows a little history, would come to the same conclusion.  So let me recommend the book, again, to anyone who wants to understand what we face, and what our children will be facing.

Here's an example of the kind of insight you can get from the book.   Recently, the Canadian government, and Canadians generally, have received much praise for the warm welcome they have given Syrian refugees,.  When I read those articles, I immediately thought that's just what happened in Denmark, some years ago.  The Danes gave a warm welcome to Muslim refugees, so warm it puzzled the refugees — but the religious and cultural differences were too great for some of the refugees, and they have turned on those welcoming Danes.

(Here's a map showing recent attacks in that low-level guerrilla war.)
- 10:01 AM, 27 July 2016   [link]

Another CEO Pay Study:  Another puzzling result.
The best-paid CEOs tend to run some of the worst-performing companies and vice versa—even when pay and performance are measured over the course of many years, according to a new study.

The analysis, from corporate-governance research firm MSCI, examined the pay of some 800 CEOs at 429 large and midsize U.S. companies during the decade ending in 2014, and also looked at the total shareholder return of the companies during the same period.
If I had any explanation for that inverse relationship, I'd share it with you — but I don't.

Most of you know this, but I'll mention it, anyway:  Much of the compensation for CEOs now comes from stock and stock options in their companies, so those lagging CEOs are making less money for themselves, as well as the shareholders.
- 9:14 AM, 27 July 2016   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon is mildly funny.

(Why link to it, if it is only mildly funny?  Because I have begun to have some sympathy for the New Yorker cartoonists, who keep trying to create funny cartoons about this year's political events — and failing, mostly.

Incidentally, if you think you can do better, you might consider entering one of the magazine's caption contests.)
- 6:57 AM, 27 July 2016   [link]

Election Scorecard, 7/26:  This week, Donald Trump gained again in the poll model, where Hillary Clinton's lead is now 1.3 percent, down from 3.6 percent, eight days ago.  (Looking at the shapes of the two graphs, it would be more accurate to say the two converged, with small losses for her and small gains for him.)  Note that, in the model, 14.9 percent are undecided, or voting for minor parties.

Trump also gained among British bettors, increasing his odds of winning from 29 to 32 percent.

Reminder:  There are usually "bounces" for each candidate during the conventions, so these changes in the last two weeks probably don't mean much.  We should have better estimates toward the end of next week, unless there is some dramatic event, before then.
- 3:09 PM, 26 July 2016   [link]

So Much For The VP Candidates:  In his acceptance speech, Donald Trump said:
I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.   Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.  I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders – he never had a chance.
(Emphasis added.)

Modest fellow, isn't he?  (And you will notice that he thinks the rest of us are helpless.)

In her speech to the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama said:
Make no mistake about it, this November, when we get to the polls, that is what we are deciding.  Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right.  In this election, and every election, it is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.  I am you tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton.
(Emphasis added.)

Well, at least she is not saying that about herself.

Both statements are absurd, for many obvious reasons, but I will just draw your attention to one:  Trump implied that Mike Pence was not qualified to be president, because he couldn't fix those problems; Obama said that only Clinton was qualified, which must have hurt Tim Kaine's feelings.
- 10:38 AM, 26 July 2016   [link]

More Dressed-Up Robots:  In 2013, I charmed by the way little Lexie Kinder dressed up her robot and renamed it "Princess VGo".

Now, I am amused to learn that the Chinese are experimenting with restaurant robots — designing them to look a little like people, and dressing them up a little to add to the impression.
BEIJING—Wang Peixin has seen the future, and he’s sure it features robots serving up fried dumplings.

On a recent day, a white robot wearing a flowered kerchief rolled across Mr. Wang’s Together Restaurant, a plate of pork-and-water-chestnut dumplings upon its built-in tray.  As it traveled, it played an upbeat pop tune.  A trio of customers hummed along and whipped out their phones to film its journey.
You don't have to know much about robot design to realize that these robots could do their jobs just as well if they looked more like R2-D2, and less like C-3PO.  But the customers, like little Lexie, probably like the humanizing touch.

(Why the robots?  Probably for the same reason that Japan is investing in them heavily; soon China will have too many old people and too few young people to take care of them.

Incidentally, if you are an inventor, you might want to think about designing a robot that could do much of what geriatric nurses now do.)
- 7:32 AM, 26 July 2016   [link]

We Need A Wikileaks Wikileaks:  We need an organization that will publish leaked emails and other documents from Wikileaks.

Not all of them, since that would prevent some useful information from being leaked.  But some.  Right now, for instance, the identity of the leaker is more important than anything found, so far, in those DNC files.

(For the record:  I suspect our intelligence agencies could tell us, with nearly 100 percent certainty, who the leaker is.)
- 3:02 PM, 25 July 2016   [link]

The Putin-Trump Connection:  There is more to it than I had realized.

By now, everyone should know about Trump's pro-Putin statements and policies.  I ascribed the first to Trump's admiration for "strong" men, regardless of their friendliness to the United States, or their democratic credentials.   I didn't have an explanation for the second, other than, perhaps, Trump's desire for publicity.

But now, there are charges, very serious charges, that there are strong financial connections between the two, that Putin may have bought Trump.

Let me start with the two easy parts.  The Russians stole the Democratic National Committee's emails (at least 95 percent probability).  The Russians released them now in order to injure Hillary Clinton (at least 90 percent probability).

Now for the more difficult parts, where I will, for now, just provide you links to some of the important stories on those Putin-Trump connections.  If you want a brief summary, read William Kristol's "Putin's Party".   For some of the evidence, read Josh Marshall's "Trump & Putin. Yes, It's Really a Thing" and Franklin Foer's "Putin's Puppet".

According to Marshall, Trump may owe Putin, big time.
After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments.  As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence.   He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia.  At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.
As far as I know, Marshall is correct about the banks, with one minor exception:   Deutschebank has two divisions in the United States; one will lend to Trump, and the other won't.

If those allegations are false, Trump can prove them so, by releasing the financial records for his companies, along with his income tax returns.  (Don't wait up for that to happen.)

I'll be studying those articles, and looking for more, but I have no idea how long it will be before I do a follow-up post.

(If you are wondering why our intelligence agencies suspect the Russians of hacking and leaking, you can find partial explanations here and here.)
- 2:42 PM, 25 July 2016   [link]

Did Congressman Keith Ellison Just Slip Up, or is he really that misinformed?
Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) embarrassed Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) on ABC Sunday morning when the latter falsely claimed that former Democratic Alabama governor George Wallace was a Republican.

Wallace is perhaps best remembered as being one of the most strident supporters of segregation in the 20th century.  He sought the Democratic nomination for president multiple times, with racist stances as a key of his platform.  In 1968, he ran as the American Independent Party candidate and received 46 electoral votes, making him the most recent third-party candidate to capture votes in the Electoral College.
Wallace never joined the party of Lincoln, but was treated with considerable respect in 1972, when he came back to the Democratic Party.

It's hard to say whether that was a verbal slip of the kind we all make from time to time, or whether Ellison really is that misinformed.  I'm inclined to the latter explanation, but see no way to tell for certain without more evidence.

(Here's Ellison's Wikipedia biography, with more than the usual caveats, and here's some background from Scott Johnson.)
- 10:22 AM, 25 July 2016   [link]

Some Diets have psychological benefits.
- 9:29 AM, 25 July 2016   [link]