June 2016, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

John Kasich, Generic Republican?  During the primary season, I was often struck by how much better John Kasich did against Clinton and Sanders, than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump did.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I may have overestimated Kasich's strengths.   As I have mentioned a few times, it's not unusual for a "generic" candidate to do better than any actual candidate.  In 2011, for example, a Republican candidate was beating Barack Obama, in a Gallup poll, by five points.  Which was better than any actual candidate was doing, at the time,

Although John Kasich was well known to that small number of Americans who follow politics very closely, and well known in Ohio, he was not well known nationally.  So I think some of the respondents in those polls favored him, because they knew little about him, other than that he was a Republican — and was neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz.  For them Kasich was almost a generic Republican.

Having said that, I should add that I still think it likely that he would have been one of the stronger candidates that the Republicans could have run, just not quite as strong as those polls suggested.

(Judging purely on electoral appeal, it would have been hard to beat a Kasich-Rubio ticket.)
- 3:17 PM, 8 June 2016   [link]

For A Change Of Pace, How About A Little Cosmology?  First, a reminder of what we don't know about the Big Bang:
13.8 billion years ago, the Universe exploded into existence.  Or at least that's what most laypeople probably think of the Big Bang.  But as astronomically alluring as that image is, it's also a myth.  The simple fact is that physicists aren't certain exactly how the Universe began, or even if it did.

After all, the primordial Universe could have counterintuitively "popped" into being from nothing at all.  Or perhaps it existed eternally in another nascent form?  Maybe it oozed out of some higher dimension?  Heck, as science fiction author Douglas Adams imagined, it could easily have been sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure.

A All of these are perfectly cromulent possibilities (though some are certainly less likely than others), owing to a simple fact:  Physics' reach is currently limited to roughly one second after the "Big Bang."  Everything before then is left to learned speculation and hypothesis.
(Emphasis added.)

That invisible second was probably fairly busy, considering what followed.

If that isn't enough, you might want to try this New York Times article describing, as best they can, Stephen Hawkings' belief that black holes have "soft hair".  (There's a tabloid version of the story in the Daily Mail.)

I thought I vaguely understood parts of it.
- 10:45 AM, 8 June 2016   [link]

Wow!  The Polls Sure Messed Up In California:  That was my strongest reaction to last night's results.

Two respected polls, NBC/WSJ and Field, had predicted a close contest (49-47 and 45-43, respectively), and the actual result was 56.0 to 43.1 percent.

Even for a primary, that's a big miss, especially for polls taken just 8-10 days before the election.

But then I looked at the table, and found that earlier polls had gotten much closer to the result.  For instance, USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Time, polling between May 19 and May 31, had a 49-39 result.  Allocate the 13 percent undecided proportionately, and the margin is off by just a couple of points.

So what happened?

There are two main possibilities, as I see it.  There may have been a big net swing to Sanders, and then a big net swing against him.  That's what Natalie Jackson thinks happened.

Or, and in my opinion this is far more likely, the NBC and Field pollsters messed up, probably by using the wrong kind of screens for who would vote.  It may seem unlikely that two organizations would go wrong in the same way, or at least by the same amount, but polling organizations often share methodologies, and so can err, similarly.

(It may seem odd to be most interested in a polling result, on what was a historic night.  But Hillary Clinton's nomination had seemed nearly certain for some time, so it wasn't news to me.  I had, if you will, already put it in my rear view mirror.)
- 9:16 AM, 8 June 2016   [link]

Hoping For A Distress Sale?  That was my first reaction to today's New Yorker calendar cartoon.
- 8:09 AM, 8 June 2016   [link]

For Clinton Before Philadelphia:  In 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was campaigning for president, his staff kept a list of supporters, and when they had joined the Roosevelt team.  If they signed up before the convention in Chicago, they were on the FRBC list, which was the place to be, if you wanted a favor from Roosevelt, later.

The Clintons, no doubt, keep similar lists, and so, if you are a Democrat, and think you may want a favor from them some time, you will not want to be late in supporting Hillary Clinton.

And so we should not be surprised that the Associated Press was able to find more Clinton delegates, now that her nomination is almost certain.  Incidentally, I think the Clinton team knew about those delegates, but didn't want to go over the top with "super delegates".
- 8:53 AM, 7 June 2016   [link]

Today's Election Scorecard:  Hillary Clinton has 2,359 of the 2,383 delegates needed for a majority.  Short of an asteroid strike, or something equally dramatic, she will collect the needed delegates, tomorrow.

In fact, she is likely to collect them before the polls are even closed in California, since she is leading in New Jersey, where 126 delegates are at stake.  (Caveat:  None of the polls is as recent as one would like.)

Unless the race there is extremely close, we will know the result about two hours before the polls close in California.

So, who will win the general election, Clinton or Trump?

The poll average currently gives her a 4.8% lead (44.9-40.1).  The pattern is worth a look; Trump came close to her in recent weeks, not because he was gaining, but because she was losing.  If she gets the usual bump from securing the nomination, one would expect her lead in that poll average to grow.

The British bettors appear to agree with that thinking; as I write, she has a 47.2 percent lead over Trump (70.2-23.0), and her lead has grown in the last week.
- 11:27 AM, 6 June 2016   [link]

I'm Not Sure Why This New Yorker Cartoon Makes Me Laugh:   But it does.
- 9:53 AM, 6 June 2016   [link]

Heat Wave:  The temperature here is supposed to hit 90 degrees soon, so I'll be shutting down until tomorrow morning.
- 2:20 PM, 5 June 2016   [link]

Bugs In Trump Tower?  This detail is too weird not to pass on.
A constant stream of changes and scuffles are unsettling Donald J. Trump’s campaign team, including the abrupt dismissal this week of his national political director.

A sense of paranoia is growing among his campaign staff members, including some who have told associates they believe that their Trump Tower offices in New York may be bugged, according to three people briefed on the conversations.
(Emphasis added.)

I'm passing this on, not endorsing it, since I have no idea whether it is true, and, if so, who might be doing the bugging, and who the targets are.
- 2:05 PM, 5 June 2016   [link]

Kindle Krash:  This morning, as I was reading the New York Times (Kindle edition), the Kindle became sluggish, responding, if at all, to my touches, only after five or ten seconds.

"That's odd", I thought.  "It's almost as if the system needs rebooting."

And then it rebooted itself, and fixed whatever was causing the sluggishness.

I'm not sure whether the automatic recovery is a good thing, or whether it should have asked me first.  A true techie would want to be asked, I think.

(Anyone who programs for a living, or just for fun, will wonder whether I have any clues to the cause of the problem.  No.)
- 1:45 PM, 5 June 2016   [link]

Luxembourg Is Going Into Asteroid Mining:  That sounds like a joke. but it isn't.
One of Europe's smallest states, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, cast its eyes to the cosmos on Friday, announcing it would draw up a law to facilitate mining on asteroids.

Extracting precious metals, rare minerals and other valuable commodities on passing asteroids is a staple of science fiction, but Luxembourg says incentives are urgently needed to turn this dream into fact.

"Comprehensive legislation" will be drawn up with the help of space law experts, the economy ministry said in a statement.
. . .
The government announced a funding incentive of 200 million euros ($226 million) to encourage research and development in asteroid mining.

Two US companies have already established "legal entities" in Luxembourg, the ministry said.
Note that the legalities come first; thanks to a 1967 treaty, no one can just land on an asteroid, and claim it.


Suppose, for instance, that your company finds a platinum-rich asteroid, and sets up a robot mining operation there.  And then a Chinese company sets up a similar operation right next to yours.  Do you have any way to stop them, legally?   You'll have to ask a space lawyer that question — and I suspect that he'll tell you that he doesn't know.
- 12:57 PM, 5 June 2016   [link]

Worth Reading, If:  You want to know all about the politics of Brexit.  (As I write, the betting markets are giving Leave a 26 percent chance of winning.)

You want to know how the Venezuelan regime is persecuting the country's most important company, Empresas Polar.

You want to know about Donald Trump's golf empire.
- 3:24 PM, 5 June 2016   [link]

Did Greg Abbott Miss A Chance To Take Down Trump?   Maybe.
The state’s consumer protection division, working for then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, sought permission in May 2010 to pursue what it believed was a strong case to sue Donald Trump and Trump University for bilking Texas taxpayers out of more than $2.6 million.

But that lawsuit was never filed.

Instead, the investigation Abbott had opened into the now-defunct real estate training program and Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was dropped and Trump University agreed to cease operations in Texas.
Since I know nothing about Texas law, I won't speculate on whether Abbott made a wise decision — but it is an interesting what if.

And, though I must repeat that I know nothing about Texas law, it occurs to me that some of those who thought they were defrauded might, even now, file civil suits against Trump U.
- 2:43 PM, 4 June 2016   [link]

Planet 9 Was "Stolen"?  First, a review, for those who, like me, missed the original news about Planet 9.
In a 2014 letter to the journal Nature astronomers Chad Trujillo and Scott S. Sheppard inferred the possible existence of a massive trans-Neptunian planet from similarities in the orbits of the distant trans-Neptunian objects Sedna and 2012 VP113.[4]  On 20 January 2016, researchers Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown at Caltech explained how a massive outer planet would be the likeliest explanation for the similarities in orbits of six distant objects, and they proposed specific orbital parameters.[1]  The predicted planet would be a super-Earth, with an estimated mass of 10 Earths (approximately 5,000 times the mass of Pluto), a diameter two to four times that of Earth, and a highly elliptical orbit with an orbital period of approximately 15,000 years.[6]
So there is a good chance there is a big planet, way way out there in the solar system.

Now other astronomers are saying this hypothetical Planet 9 may be "stolen".
An extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is by definition a planet located outside our solar system.  Now it appears that this definition is no longer viable.  According to astronomers in Lund, there is a lot to indicate that Planet 9 was captured by the young Sun and has been a part of our solar system completely undetected ever since

. “It is almost ironic that while astronomers often find exoplanets hundreds of light-years away in other solar systems, there’s probably one hiding in our own backyard,” says Alexander Mustill, astronomer at Lund University.

Stars are born in clusters and often pass by one another.  It is during these encounters that a star can “steal” one or more planets in orbit around another star.  This is probably what happened when our own Sun captured Planet 9.
You don't have to have read much science fiction to see the possibilities for some interesting stories.

If you recall how Neptune and Pluto were discovered, you'll remember that sometimes this method of detecting planets works, and sometimes it doesn't.  (Pluto just happened to be where "Planet X" — which doesn't exist — was supposed to be.)

(As you would expect, the Daily Mail has more pictures.)
- 9:25 AM, 4 June 2016   [link]

Here's Steven Hayward's latest week in pictures.

My two favorites are the Ramirez cartoon, and the 1968 cartoon.

(In the last month or two, people I have known for years slightly, people who have never said a word to me about politics, have echoed the sentiments of that gorilla.

The 1968 cartoon appeals to me because I was living in Chicago at the time — and fled the city during the convention riots, because I knew what was coming.  I suppose you could call my feelings anti-nostalgia.)
- 7:33 AM, 4 June 2016   [link]

"Are Donald Trump And Hillary Clinton The Least-Liked Presidential Candidates In Recent History?", asks Kathleen Weldon.

Probably yes, she says, after reviewing polls going back to 1952.

So, if you aren't happy with one or both of the choices, you aren't alone.

- 9:01 AM, 3 June 2016   [link]

Yesterday's "Pepper And Salt" was pretty funny — and not at all political.

Yesterday's "Prickly City" was all political — and, I thought, pretty funny.
- 8:30 AM, 3 June 2016   [link]

The French Are Getting Tough On Terrorism:  Or, perhaps I should say, even tougher.
The French Parliament on Wednesday approved a law that gives the police and judicial authorities new powers to detain terrorism suspects, put people under house arrest and use deadly force to stop attacks.

The Senate, France’s upper house of Parliament, approved the bill by a show of hands.  The National Assembly, the lower house, had already approved it.

The measure is the latest in a series of legislative changes that the government of President François Hollande has pushed through to give the authorities greater policing powers after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last year, sometimes prompting debates over civil liberties.
If you look through the details, you'll see who won those debates over civil liberties.

The French have long given their police more powers than the police in United States or Britain.  The French security authorities have been so unhappy about the way the British tolerated violent Islamic extremists, that they dubbed the British capital, Londonistan.  (Melanie Phillips later used the word for the title of a book.)

Most American leftists admire many things about France — but French civil liberties isn't one of them.

(When Richard Nixon was forced to leave office, many in France were puzzled, because he had only been doing what their governments had done, for centuries.

If you are feeling ambitious, you may want to try to figure out how many of those French measures would violate our Constitution.)
- 3:52 PM, 2 June 2016   [link]

Have Republicans Fallen Into An Alinsky Trap?   One of the tactics that Saul Alinsky used over and over was being deliberately provocative — hoping to provoke an over reactions.

Here's a very simple example:  The activists would put pretty girls in the front, and have them call policemen "pigs", with, of course, a few added obscenities.

If the police strike out — and the press takes photographs — the activists are likely to win the public relations battle.

Barack Obama, who had Alinsky training, knows this very well, and I think that, from time to time, he has been trying to make Republicans over react, with deliberate provocations.  All the while, of course, posing as the cool, rational person in any dispute.

To make this tactic work, Obama has needed the help of news organizations — and he has certainly had that, over the years.

And so Republican voters started looking for a candidate as angry as they are, and found Ted Cruz — and even Donald Trump.

(Trump may be using the same tactic, by saying things he knows are likely to provoke violent demonstrations against his campaign.  If the organizers of those demonstrations were smarter, they would do everything they could to keep them peaceful, and put the cutest kids they could find, in front.)
- 11:32 AM, 2 June 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  This obituary.

Obituary?  Yes, because it tells us about a Mexican businessman and statesman, Luis Álvarez, who did so much for his country.  He worked for decades to bring about two-party competition, and finally saw success.

These details will give you an idea of how up hill his straggle was:
At the pinnacle of the PRI’s grip on power, Mr. Álvarez ran for governor of Chihuahua in 1956 and lost. He had not been an active party member before that, but was widely known for his community involvement and civil rights work.

Two years later, while running for president, Mr. Álvarez was arrested and briefly jailed — because, he said, he was told that being an opposition presidential candidate was illegal.

Mr. Álvarez denounced the ruling party’s tactics — which included personal threats during political rallies and raids on polling stations — and a political structure that he said made it impossible to hold fair elections.
There's much more, as you would expect, given the length of his struggle.

(These Wikipedia articles on PRI, and the party Álvarez helped build, PAN, have enough background information for almost anyone.  Some will be impressed by how long the PRI held power.)
- 10:04 AM, 2 June 2016   [link]

The New York Times Gets A Little Less Gray:  The newspaper has begun running small "What in the World" articles that are often funny, and almost always interesting.

My favorite in the current list is the Korean fear of fans story, not because it's funny, but because I can't figure out why they are afraid of fans.

(Temptation resisted:  Usually, I don't discuss writing decisions, but I thought this one might interest some of you.  Since the Times is sometimes called "The Gray Lady", I was tempted to use this post title:  "The Gray Lady Has Put A Splash Of Color In Her Hair".  I didn't because I don't know how beauticians would say that, and it is better to avoid metaphors, however tempting, if you can't get them just right.)
- 8:48 AM, 2 June 2016   [link]

Kim Jong-un Likes Donald Trump:  In fact, the North Korean dictator's regime has endorsed Trump.
North Korea has backed presumptive U.S. Republican nominee Donald Trump, with a propaganda website praising him as "a prescient presidential candidate" who can liberate Americans living under daily fear of nuclear attack by the North.

A column carried on Tuesday by DPRK Today, one of the reclusive and dynastic state's mouthpieces, described Trump as a "wise politician" and the right choice for U.S. voters in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.
Is it mutual?

Sometimes, sometimes not.  But there is no doubt that Trump admires Kim's vigorous executive style.  And Trump doesn't seem troubled by Kim's lack of respect for the rule of law, and other such odds and ends.
- 3:15 PM, 1 June 2016   [link]

Salamanders Are Versatile:  Collectively, that is.

As we all learned in grade school, fish breath with gills, and reptiles breath with lungs.   Amphibians, including salamanders, being in between, begin with gills, but develop lungs as they become adults.

That may be correct for most salamanders, but it isn't correct for all of them.
Respiration differs among the different species of salamanders, and can involve gills, lungs, skin, and the membranes of mouth and throat.  Larval salamanders breathe primarily by means of gills, which are usually external and feathery in appearance.  Water is drawn in through the mouth and flows out through the gill slits.  Some neotenic species such as the mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) retain their gills throughout their lives, but most species lose them at metamorphosis.
As adults, some species have lungs and gills, and some have neither, breathing through their skins and, sometimes, mouths.

Salamanders may have tricks to teach us; many scientists would like to know why they can regenerate limbs, and why we can't do the same thing.  And there is good reason to think that they may have defenses against bacteria we may be able to learn from.

(I was reminded of this versatility by this New York Times article.)
- 2:19 PM, 1 June 2016   [link]

Trump Tops Sanders:  The cartoons I linked to, just below, may be mediocre, but what two of the candidates are promising is often genuinely funny — though never intentionally so.

As you know, Bernie Sanders has been promising free this and free that.  (So far no free lunch, though, as far as I know.)

But Donald Trump beat Comrade Sanders, with this promise, during his victory speech in Bismarck, North Dakota:
Politicians have used you and stolen your votes.  They have given you nothing.  I will give you everything.  I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years.  I’m the only one.
Off hand, I can't see how Sanders can top that promise, other than promising to use a time machine to go back and give you all those things you missed in the last fifty years.  (There are physicists who think a time machine is theoretically possible, but I don't know of any practical designs for one.)

I fear not everyone in the crowd realized they were hearing a joke.

Brandon Morse, who wrote the original post, and neo-neocon, who linked to it, think the promise is appalling.

They are right, but it is also hilarious, the sort of thing a person might say if they were trying to mock the impossible promises some politicians make.

(Probably, Trump chose fifty because it's a round number, but, if we assume that he chose the number for a reason, he is saying the following Republican presidents have stolen votes and given the people nothing:  Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2.)
- 10:10 AM, 1 June 2016   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon Was Bi-Partisan; today's is bi-ideological.

Neither is very funny, but I link to them so you will understand why I'll be linking to mostly non-political cartoons, until this presidential campaign is over.

Even the pros are finding it hard to joke about this campaign.
- 9:05 AM, 1 June 2016   [link]