June 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

It Is Now Likely That The Exit Poll Was Right:  The Conservatives have won the largest share of the vote, and improved their share by, as I write, 5.6 percent, but they have also lost 12 seats, net, which is enough to deny them a majority.

It is possible that they may be able to make some arrangement with a Northern Ireland party, the Democratic Unionists, to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of 10 Downing Street, which would be a very good thing.

(Likely, but not certain because Sinn Féin has gained three seats.)
- 9:32 PM, 8 June 2017   [link]

The BBC Has Revised Its Exit Poll Forecast:  This is from their home page, as I write:   "LATEST Forecast seats: CON 322, LAB 261, SNP 32, LD 13, OTH 22".

I'm not sure whether they are adjusting it with actual votes — and there should be enough now to do that — or what.

Meanwhile, again as I write, the Conservatives have increased their vote share since 2015 by 7.2 percent, which is not as good as it looks because Labour has increased its vote share by 9.6 percent.  As I write, the Conservatives have a zero net loss of seats, while Labour has gained six.

FWIW, more Labour districts have reported than Conservative.
- 6:51 PM, 8 June 2017   [link]

The BBC Has Provided An Election Guide for us foreigners.

It's biased, but not hopelessly so.
- 4:12 PM, 8 June 2017   [link]

SNP Losses In Scotland?  The same exit poll that is predicting overall losses for the Conservatives is predicting even larger losses for the Scottish National Party, though they would remain the largest party in Scotland.

Just to confuse matters further, the exit poll is predicting gains for the Conservatives in Scotland, including possibly winning a couple of seats they haven't won in more than fifty years.

(I'm not claiming that I understand this mix of results, but I can say that the SNP would be a likely partner for a Labour coalition government, probably from the outside, to maximize their bargaining power.)
- 3:45 PM, 8 June 2017   [link]

According To An Exit Poll, Britain will have a "hung" parliament, a parliament in which no party has a majority, though the Conservatives will still have the largest number of MPs.

Can you trust the exit polls in Britain?  According to the Guardian:   "The short answer is, yes and no."

I'll just note that predicting the results of 650 separate elections with one national poll is not easy, especially when so many parties are in the contests.

(In the past in the United States, exit polls were often biased toward the Democrats, partly, as I recall, because of who did the interviews, often female graduate students.)
- 2:37 PM, 8 June 2017   [link]

Actual Majorities In The British House Of Commons:  There is a minor mistake in the Silver/Enten post on the British election.

They say an absolute majority in the House of Commons is 326, which seems reasonable since there are a total of 650 members.

However, one of the members is the nonpartisan Speaker, who votes only to break ties.  (Even then, the Speaker follows the Denison rule, which makes the decision for him or her.)

So that means that an absolute majority is 325.

In practice, an absolute majority is even smaller, since Sinn Féin elects a few members from Northern Ireland who do not attend or vote (though they do collect their pay).

Currently, there are four of them, which would make an absolute majority 323.

(While I am correcting mistakes, I should correct one of my own.  When I mentioned the Silver/Enten scenarios, I should have added that they were assuming the poll average was roughly accurate — and that they weren't sure you should make that assumption.

FWIW, they see a true upset, an outright Labour win, as possible.)
- 11:11 AM, 8 June 2017   [link]

The 2017 British Election:  They are voting today, and we are likely to know the main results by some time this evening.

First, the basics, from the Wikipedia election article (which is likely to change rapidly).
The United Kingdom general election of 2017 is taking place on 8 June 2017.  Each of the 650 parliamentary constituencies will elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.

In line with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, an election had not been due until 7 May 2020, but a call by Prime Minister Theresa May for a snap election received the necessary two-thirds majority in a 522-to-13 vote in the House of Commons on 19 April 2017.

The Conservative Party, which has governed since 2015 (and as a senior coalition partner from 2010), is defending a majority of 12 against the Labour Party, the official opposition.  The third largest party, the Scottish National Party, won 56 of the 59 Scottish constituencies in 2015.  The Liberal Democrats and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party are the fourth and fifth largest parties, with 9 and 8 seats respectively.
(Links omitted.)

Before the election was called, the polls were predicting a Conservative landslide.   But that changed.

UK general election polls, 2017

Apparently, Theresa May is better at being Prime Minister, than at campaigning for the job.

The polls conflict wildly.
With just one firm still to publish, Ipsos-MORI for the Standard, the above Wikipedia list looks like the almost final polling table of 2017.

The variation between the firms is simply amazing and unprecedented in any previous general election.  One thing is for certain some reputations will be made tonight and some will be trashed.
(Ipsos-MORI came in close to the middle, giving the Conservatives an eight percent lead.)

The betting markets are predicting small Conservative gains.

Nate Silver and Harry Enten see three "roughly" likely scenarios, a Conservative landslide, a narrow Conservative win, and a Conservative loss of their majority.

(My feeling — and it is no more than that — is that the result will be between the first and second scenarios, gains for the Conservatives, but no landslide.  The Conservatives now have 330 seats; I feel that they will end up with about 345, but couldn't give you a rational argument for that number.)
- 8:40 AM, 8 June 2017   [link]

Why I Won't Be Listening To The Comey Testimony:   Because I think we already know what he is going to say, that Donald Trump behaved inappropriately, which should not surprise anyone, but not illegally.

The intelligence questions about Russian attempts to interfere with our election do interest me, but I don't expect much to be said in the open hearings, by Comey or any other witness.

(If Comey thought that Trump had behaved illegally, Comey would have been obligated to report that to the Justice Department, which we know he didn't do.)
- 6:52 AM, 8 June 2017   [link]

In Honor Of The British Election, some Jeremy Corbyn cartoons.

The "Do Panic" cartoon is not what I would call subtle — but I think it's appropriate.
- 6:29 AM, 8 June 2017   [link]

How I Was Mostly Wrong About Trump, Last December:  As Donald Trump was putting together his team from mostly the usual Republican sources, I speculated that he might be like the actor in Robert Heinlein's Double Star, that Trump would continue "impersonating a conservative populist".  He would, I thought, often read the lines Republicans had written for him, because his role required that he do so.  I added qualifications to my tentative prediction — but not nearly enough.

Trump has sometimes read his lines, for example in the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, but more often has not.   For example:
When President Donald Trump addressed NATO leaders during his debut overseas trip little more than a week ago, he surprised and disappointed European allies who hoped—and expected—he would use his speech to explicitly reaffirm America’s commitment to mutual defense of the alliance’s members, a one-for-all, all-for-one provision that looks increasingly urgent as Eastern European members worry about the threat from a resurgent Russia on their borders.

That part of the Trump visit is known.

What’s not is that the president also disappointed—and surprised—his own top national security officials by failing to include the language reaffirming the so-called Article 5 provision in his speech.  National security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all supported Trump doing so and had worked in the weeks leading up to the trip to make sure it was included in the speech, according to five sources familiar with the episode.   They thought it was, and a White House aide even told The New York Times the day before the line was definitely included.
But then Trump left it out.

My prediction was mostly wrong for two reasons:  First, I underestimated Trump's belief in his own ideas.  I thought that a man with no experience in making public policy would have some grasp of his limitations.  Second, I didn't pay enough attention to the warring factions in the Trump White House, did not think about how different the people are who are writing his scripts.

That said, I still expect him, from time to time, to read the scripts good Republicans have written for him.  I just don't expect it to happen as often as I would like.
- 10:06 AM, 7 June 2017   [link]

This Fish Looks Ordinary:  But it has done something extraordinary.
A female and male get together.  One thing leads to another, and they have sex.  His sperm fuses with her egg, half of his DNA combining with half of her DNA to form an embryo.

As humans, this is how we tend to think of reproduction.

But there are many other bizarre ways reproduction can take place.  For instance, scientists have discovered a fish carrying genes only from its father in the nucleus of its cells.  Found in a type of fish called Squalius alburnoides, which normally inhabits rivers in Portugal or Spain, this is the first documented instance in vertebrates of a father producing a near clone of itself through sexual reproduction — a rare phenomenon called androgenesis — the researchers reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday.
The lead author of the paper, Miguel Morgado-Santos, says:  "We weren’t expecting to find that."  So they deserve considerable credit for recognizing it, when they did find it.

Caveat:  So far, they have one example.

(It isn't hard to think of ways parthenogenesis might evolve in animals, but androgenesis?)
- 7:15 AM, 7 June 2017   [link]

Randall Munroe Isn't the only one with this weakness.
- 6:20 AM, 7 June 2017   [link]

Three Weeks Ago, the main parking lot at Paradise on Mt. Rainier looked like this:

Mt. Rainer, east, 5/16/2017

Now, it looks like this.

We've had a small change in our weather.
- 4:02 PM, 6 June 2017   [link]

Londoners Fought Back:  When the three terrorists left their van and began using their knives to attack people, some Londoners fought back, for example, Roy Larner.
A football fan was left with shocking injuries after he was stabbed eight times by the London Bridge terrorists as he fought them off with his bare hands to allow fellow drinkers to escape.

Brave Roy Larner launched himself at the trio on Saturday night who he said had run in to the Black & Blue restaurant and bar in Borough Market shouting, 'This is for Allah' and 'Islam, Islam, Islam'.

As staff and customers panicked, the 47-year-old shouted, 'F**k you, I'm Millwall,' before trying to punch the attackers, who have been named as Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba.
(Millwall "is an area in London", and the name of a football team.)

Others fought back, too, and together probably saved many lives.

(My favorite story is of the patrons who fought back by throwing alcoholic drinks at the terrorists.)
- 6:47 AM, 6 June 2017   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon has a brilliant, though not entirely practical, suggestion for who should interview Vladimir Putin, next.

(Traditionalists would probably like the cartoon even more if Kim Warp had drawn Wonder Woman in her original uniform.)
- 5:59 AM, 6 June 2017   [link]

Does Barack Obama Have A "Carbon Footprint" Larger Than That Of Some Small Nations?  You have probably seen that line used to criticize celebrities who fly all over the world, urging the rest of us to use less carbon-based fuels.

Usually people are joking when they say it, but it occurred to me that it might be literally true for Obama, even during his retirement.

Since he left office, he has flown to Palm Springs, to the West Indies, and to French Polynesia.  While there, he invited some of his celebrity friends to join him.   He touched base at least once in Chicago, and then flew to Italy and Germany.   (And I may have missed a few of his trips.)

As you know, he does not travel alone, so you have to count in his aides, bodyguards, and so forth, in his total.

Now, compare that to the nation of Niue, which has a population of about 1,600 and a GDP of about $10 million a year.

His book deal, assuming he completes the book in a few years, will give him a higher GDP than Niue, and it seems likely to me, considering his travels, that he and his entourage will burn more carbon-based fuels than they do, too.

(I can't be the only person who suspects that his travels since leaving office show that he really doesn't like the United States all that much.)
- 9:04 AM, 5 June 2017   [link]

This Is One Of The Better Political Cartoons I've seen in recent years.

(I've thought for some time about the problem of bribes/speech fees for "retired" politicians and have been unable to think of a legal solution that is consistent with the 1st Amendment.  Hillary Clinton's mistakes may discourage some of the worst practices, for a while, anyway.)
- 8:22 AM, 5 June 2017   [link]

This Weekend's Wall Street Journal also has a fine "Pepper . . and Salt" cartoon:

A little girl and a little boy are sitting at a dinner table.  The little girl has a dinner plate in front of her, the little boy, a salad bowl.  The little girl is saying: "Careful!  Lettuce is a gateway food to kale."

(It's good to see little kids warning each other of dangers.)
- 2:40 PM, 4 June 2017   [link]

Our European Allies Aren't Getting Much Bang For Their Bucks*  There is a front page article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal describing how our European NATO allies have let their military forces run down after the end of the Cold War — and are now having second thoughts after the Russian takeover of Crimea.

The article, by Julian Barnes, Anton Troianovski, and Robert Wall, has some disturbing stories and distressing numbers.  When the Belgians decided to put soldiers on the streets after the 2015 terror attack in Paris, they had to borrow a thousand sets of body armor from the United States Army.  Britain's Royal Navy, which once ruled the waves, has no battleships or carriers, and just six destroyers.

But what surprised me most in the article was this:
Today, European allies spend roughly half as much as the U.S. on defense, but have less than one-sixth of its combat power, European officials acknowledge.
There would appear to be room for improvement in how they spend their money on defense.

The NATO allies have agreed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs on defense.   Considering that inefficiency, I hope the alliance has set targets for modern equipment, as well as spending.

(*Or, if you want to be technical, for their euros, pounds, krone, et cetera.)
- 2:19 PM, 4 June 2017   [link]

The Latest London Terror Attack:  This story from the Guardian is probably reasonably accurate, though incomplete, of course.
At least seven people have been killed and 48 injured after three attackers drove a van into crowds on London Bridge and then went on a stabbing rampage in nearby Borough Market.

Police said armed officers shot dead all three attackers within minutes of receiving reports of the terrorist attack unfolding in central London.  The three men were wearing suicide bomb vests that were later confirmed to be fakes.
The fake suicide vests may explain why there is no mention of an effort to capture the attackers, even though the police had guns, and the attackers did not.
- 10:56 AM, 4 June 2017   [link]

Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon Made Me Laugh Out Loud:  Mostly, I suppose, because it was so unexpected.

And I am fond of that movie.
- 7:03 AM, 3 June 2017   [link]

Worth Watching, Possibly:  Frontline's hour-long program on Steve Bannon, "Bannon's War".

This Dorothy Rabinowitz review prompted me to watch it.
The subject of this documentary has never yielded in his regard for the infliction of shock and chaos as a political tactic, according to the commentators, mainly journalists, assembled for “Bannon’s War,” a “Frontline” film on the life and career of Steve Bannon.  It’s a perception regularly echoed in this telling portrait of the adviser primarily responsible for shaping Donald Trump’s message for most of the presidential campaign—and the one delivered in President Trump’s memorably dark inaugural address.
And I learned from it, but was left with unanswered questions.

For instance, the program credits (debits?) Bannon with the first Trump "travel ban", the one that was rushed out without any checking.  At the time I said it was "Mostly Political Theater", and that including Iraqis on the list was "idiotic".  The program provided evidence for my "theater" argument, but never asked Bannon whether he thought it had been an intelligent policy decision.
- 2:12 PM, 2 June 2017   [link]

Sometimes There Are Benefits To Being Out Of Touch With Pop Culture:  For instance, until this story about Trump's severed head hit, I am not sure I could have identified Kathy Griffin, even in a multiple-choice list.

And now I plan to forget about her, unless she comes up with a really good joke — or pops up next to some leftist politician.  (The second seems more likely than the first.)
- 12:56 PM, 2 June 2017   [link]

The "Uncertainty Monster"  Judith Curry does not believe we can predict future climates, even to the extent of making probability estimates.
While I appreciate the distinction that [Brett] Stephens is trying to make regarding ‘its not certain’, our understanding of future climate change is NOT a matter of probabilities.  Climate model projections and IPCC conclusions are possible future scenarios, and the uncertainties are too great to even come close to assessing probabilities.
An expert can describe possible "scenarios", but she believes experts can not, currently, give you odds on those scenarios.

We can't say that Barack Obama is wrong about climate change or that Donald Trump is wrong about climate change; worse yet, we can't even estimate the chances either man is wrong.

This Uncertainty Monster makes planning . . . . difficult.

(By PDF, I believe she means probability distribution function.)
- 8:43 AM, 2 June 2017   [link]

This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  In Politico, Matt Davies' "Climate change"; in RealClearPolitics, Michael Ramirez's "Special counsel".
- 7:37 AM, 2 June 2017   [link]

Some Basic Facts On CO2 Emissions:  Today's New York Times includes some basic facts about carbon dioxide emissions, but presents them poorly.  The front page article, by Justin Gillis and Nadia Popovich, begins with a long stream of "blame America first" paragraphs before admitting this essential point:
While the United States is historically responsible for more emissions than any other country, it is no longer the world’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gases.   China surpassed the United States a decade ago, and its emissions today are about double the American figure.  Some of China’s emissions are from the production of goods for the United States and other rich countries.
(Emphasis added.)

Accompanying the article in the print edition are six small graphs that show emissions by three nations: China, the United States, and India, and three groups of nations, including the European Union.  (You may be able to see them with your browser; mine is, to say the least, out of date.)

As of 2014, China was emitting about 10 billion metric tons of CO2 a year, and the amounts were growing spectacularly, so much so that I would not be surprised to learn that China was up to 11, or even 12, billion metric tons, now.

The United States was emitting about 5.5 billion metric tons, and the amounts had been falling for about a decade.

The European Union was emitting about 3.5 billion metric tons, and the amounts had been falling for about two decades.

India was emitting about 2 billion metric tons, and the amounts had been rising rapidly, for decades.

The Times included seven developed nations: Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, in a single group.  Together, those nations were emitting about 2 billion metric tons, but the amounts had leveled off in recent years.

Finally, there was an "other" group, including Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and "100 other countries".  Together, those nations were emitting about 10 billion metric tons, and the amounts were rising almost as fast as in China.

There are a number of conclusions one can draw from those numbers, but you can not reasonably conclude that China is being responsible and the United States is not.  However, thanks in part to Donald Trump, that's the conclusion a great many people around the world will draw.

(You can conclude, as I did some time ago, that you should be very cautious when reading any article by Justin Gillis.)
- 4:40 PM, 1 June 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Joanne Jacobs' post, "Math is dehumanizing, says ‘justice’ course".
Teaching Social Justice Through Secondary Mathematics, an EdX course designed by Teach for America, doesn’t just give middle-school teachers ideas for lesson plans, such as “Race and Imprisonment Rates in the United States,” reports Campus Reform.

The six-week online course tells teachers that math is a “dehumanizing tool” of oppression that’s been used to “trick indigenous peoples out of land and property.”
It gets worse from there.
- 9:53 AM, 1 June 2017   [link]

Angela Merkel And Nuclear Power:  For years I have been saying that, if a person sees global warming as a serious threat — and can do arithmetic — they will favor the increased use of nuclear power.

That's not a novel position; it is shared by, among others, James Hansen.
In a rented 15-passenger van barreling south on Interstate 55 out of Chicago in April, a group of environmental activists, a legendary scientist and a camera crew embarked on a quixotic rescue effort.

Their goal: saving Illinois nukes.

“We shouldn’t be taking them off the table, in my opinion,” said James Hansen, a former scientist at NASA famous for raising the alarm about climate change before Congress in 1988, speaking from the van.  “It’s our biggest source of carbon-free energy at this time.”
Moreover, since nuclear plants are used to supply base load electricity, they are particularly well suited to replace coal plants.

We can, I think, safely assume that Angela Merkel, with her doctoral degree in physical chemistry, can do arithmetic.

If you follow the news at all, you know that she sees global warming as a serious threat.

So, why did she favor a slow phase-out of nuclear power, and then shut down Germany's nuclear power plants completely, after the Fukushima disaster? (There were deaths from the accident, but not, so far, from radiation.
Though there have been no fatalities linked to radiation due to the accident, the eventual number of cancer deaths, according to the linear no-threshold theory of radiation safety, that will be caused by the accident is expected to be around 130–640 people in the years and decades ahead.[12][13][14] The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation[15] and World Health Organization report that there will be no increase in miscarriages, stillbirths or physical and mental disorders in babies born after the accident.[16] However, an estimated 1,600 deaths are believed to have occurred due to the resultant evacuation conditions.[17][18]
(Links omitted.)

The linear no-threshold theory is a worst-case assumption; among other things, it assumes that we will make no progress in preventing or treating cancer in the decades ahead.)

I have been able to think of only two possible reasons for Merkel's inconsistency:   First, although she is certainly capable of doing the simple analysis that would cause her to favor nuclear power, she may have refused to take the time to do that, may have thought "fast", rather than "slow".

Second, she may have chosen to oppose nuclear power for political advantage, to steal a popular issue from the Social Democrats and the Greens.

Sadly, the second seems far more likely to me.

(Merkel's case is especially interesting because it is safe to assume that she is capable of doing the simple analysis.  For many other world leaders, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump, it is not safe to make that assumption.

FWIW, George W. Bush, on at least one occasion, said he favored nuclear power to prevent global warming)
- 8:39 AM, 1 June 2017   [link]

This Solution For Speeding Up Baseball Games may not be entirely practical.
- 6:46 AM, 1 June 2017   [link]