October 2018, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

But Is It Art?  Computer scientists have created an artificial intelligence program that can produce portraits, some one of which is being sold at Christies.

They are signed "Algorithm".

You can look at some of the program's work by searching on "Algorithm + portraits".

I can't say I see the need for such a program, but I do understand that it is an interesting problem.

(Some of you will have guessed that I borrowed the post title from Rudyard Kipling's "Conundrum".)
- 4:31 PM, 24 October 2018   [link]

Who Will Win Thirteen Days From Today?  As I said last week, the Democrats will win the House, the Republicans the Senate.

To which I should add, probably.

The FiveThirtyEight estimate on the House seems a little high to me; they currently give the Democrats an 85 percent chance of winning with an expected net gain of 39 seats.  I'd be happier with a probability of 80-82 percent, and a net gain of 35 seats.

FiveThirtyEight is giving the Republicans an 82 percent chance of winning the Senate, with an expected net gain of 0.6 seats  I'd be happier with a probability of 75-80 percent, and a net gain of 2-3 seats.

I should mention that the British bettors are giving the Democrats about a 61 percent chance of winning the House, and the Republicans an 86 percent chance of winning the Senate.

(The Wikipedia articles on the House election and the Senate election have gobs of data, and links to the 2016 elections.)
- 2:03 PM, 24 October 2018   [link]

More Mail Bombs:  To, as far as I know now, George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, CNN, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

According to early reports, the bombs are similar enough so that they were probably sent by a single person, most likely a man.

Like everyone else, I can speculate on the motive or motives, but won't until we know more.

It was good to see Sarah Sanders condemn these attacks immediately.
- 12:44 PM, 24 October 2018   [link]

The Current "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me laugh out loud.

(And the latest A-hed story on an unusual use for Disney World made me smile.)
- 8:37 AM, 24 October 2018   [link]

It Is Almost Reassuring To See That Barack Obama Hasn't Changed:  He's still a narcissist.

Folks, next time let's not elect a narcissist; let's not even nominate one.

We've had two in a row now, and neither has been a great success.
- 4:33 PM, 23 October 2018   [link]

Recent Fashions At Our TV Networks:  If you watch TV news at all, you have probably seen the same innovations that I have:

1. The moving background.  I first saw this on the BBC, and then at the local Fox affiliate, Q13.  The news gets two-thirds of the screen, and, to the left and the right there is a moving background

2. The oval, glass-topped main desk, with its distracting reflections.

3. The knee-to-knee interview, with the two sitting in plain chairs, face-to-face, with knees two or three feet apart.

The first two are bad for the viewers for obvious reasons; the third deserves some explanation.

Whenever I have seen one of those knee-to-knee interviews, I have begun by wondering why the two are sitting in such an unnatural position, and why neither has a place to put written materials or even a computer.

I suppose the pose is intended to look egalitarian — but that doesn't really work, since the interviewer controls the show, but is usually far less powerful than the person they are interviewing.

(And if either is a woman, there may be the short skirt problem.)

It isn't hard to understand how these ideas spread; one network gets an idea, and then others decide that is the fashionable thing to do, and so you soon see, for instance, oval desks everywhere on TV.

What I am saying may seem of minor importance, but I have a larger reason for bringing it up.

Years ago, I learned from Only Yesterday that women's fashions had changed in a year or two in the 1920s.  Women's skirts, for instance, went from six inches from the ground to just below the knee.

And, as Frederick Allen also tells us, ideas once thought set in stone, changed just as quickly, and in the same way.

For better and for worse.

And the same is true today; often the ideas we hear from TV come from news readers who have put little thought into them — but they know what is fashionable in newsrooms, and they tell it to us, from behind those oval, glass-topped desks.

(Every American should read Only Yesterday, at least once.)
- 3:16 PM, 23 October 2018   [link]

It Shouldn't Be Necessary — In America — To Say That We Decide Issues By Votes, Not Violence:  But it is.

Which is shameful.
- 1:50 PM, 23 October 2018   [link]

Baseball Fans may like the current "Pepper . . . and Salt" cartoon.
- 9:07 AM, 23 October 2018   [link]

If You Are Wondering Why People Flee Central American Nations like Honduras and El Salvador, take a look at their murder rates.

The gangs that commit most of the murders need replacements for their own losses, and recruits often don't have much choice about joining the local gang.

(How accurate are those numbers?  Not very, I would guess, and, if anything, likely to be lower than the real numbers since some murders must go unreported.)
- 3:35 PM, 22 October 2018   [link]

It Is Intended To Attract Females:  But the company probably wasn't' thinking of tigresses when they designed it.
Vets with tranquilizer darts, drones, and even a powerful breed of hunting dogs haven't been able to track down and take out a dangerous tiger in India suspected of killing 13.  So now, forest rangers near Pandharkawada are turning to a bottle of something they hope will make the tigress "roll and cheek-rub" and send her into "absolute heaven."  That would be Calvin Klein's Obsession cologne, the latest weapon in the hunt for the tigress named T1, who has been eluding searchers for months, and who spurred a Supreme Court ruling last month allowing her to be killed if necessary, per the Independent.
Good luck to the Indian forest rangers.
- 8:54 AM, 22 October 2018   [link]

Modern Children may have modern fears.
- 8:00 AM, 22 October 2018   [link]

The Current "Pepper . . . And "Salt" made me chuckle.
- 2:35 PM, 21 October 2018   [link]

As Happens Too Often, The Kindest Thing To Do is to assume Trump is joking.
Donald Trump says he finds Saudi explanation of Khashoggi death 'credible'
(Perhaps the Saudis should have taken his hint, and blamed the death on "rogue operatives".)
- 2:47 PM, 20 October 2018   [link]

This New Yorker Cartoon made me smile.

Mostly becaue of the ambition; it isn't every day I see a cartoon that uses the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
- 10:09 AM, 20 October 2018   [link]

Apple's Tim Cook Wants A Retraction; Bloomberg Is Sticking By Its Story On The Malicious Chinese Computer Chips:  As far as I know, this BBC story has the essential facts on the dispute right.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook has called for the retraction of a story alleging Chinese infiltration in its and other major firms' infrastructure.
. . .
Businessweek has said it stands by its reporting.

"Bloomberg Businessweek's investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews,” the publication said in a statement.

“Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks.
It is hard to imagine Bloomberg publishing this story without hard evidence — and it is almost as hard to imagine Cook calling for a retraction without a thorough internal investigation.

(Here's the Businessweek story.)
- 2:10 PM, 19 October 2018   [link]

Correction:  I am embarrassed to say that I made a silly mistake on Elizabeth Warren's ancestry.

I said her Indian ancestry was "1/1024th or less"; I should have said between 1/64th and 1/1024th, since the report said she had an Indian ancestor between 6 and 10 generations back.

I've corrected the mistake in the original post.

(How did I make the mistake?  I saw the phrase at another site, and didn't bother to do the simple arithmetic to check it.)
- 10:41 AM, 19 October 2018   [link]

A Juvenile Court:  Run by actual juveniles.
- 9:55 AM, 19 October 2018   [link]

Dr. Kivelson's Clever Dinner Meetings:  When I wrote about physicist Margaret Kivelson, I mentioned her Wednesday dinner meetings, but I should say a little more, since they are such a fine example of intelligent leadership.

The faculty and graduate students share a meal, and listen to and critique, informal presentations on their work.

Wednesday evening is the right time for this kind of event; it doesn't happen on a weekend when, in principle, even graduate students might have social lives.

Sitting down together for a friendly meal builds morale; it tells everyone they are members of a team, maybe even a family.

The critiques can save immense amounts of time, because often someone else will have made the same mistake a presenter is making.

The tone of the meetings, as described in the article, strikes me as just right — and I am nearly certain that Kivelson deserves most of the credit for that, too.

(I should add that her idea works for her kind of organization, but would need modifications to work in other kinds.  But the central idea, sharing ideas at regular social events, would work in most of the organizations I am familiar with.)
- 8:34 PM, 18 October 2018   [link]

Worth Reading:  This Kaiser Health article on the voluntary addition of folic acid to corn flour.
Two years after the Food and Drug Administration allowed manufacturers to add folic acid — a crucial B vitamin that prevents terrible birth defects — to their corn flour, very few have done so.

A new research report found that only 10 percent of corn-masa flour and no soft corn tortillas contained folic acid, which can help prevent devastating neural tube birth defects, including spina bifida and anencephaly.  The grain is a staple food in the diet of many Latinos, who have higher rates of the disabling and sometimes fatal defects.
So far, voluntary hasn't worked very well, if that limited study is even close to correct.

The article doesn't explain why corn wasn't included when folic acid was mandated for other grains, two decades ago.  It was less commonly used, then.

Nor does it explain why it would take so long to add corn to the list, now — but I don't doubt they are right about the time required.

(folic acid and other folates and Masa)
- 6:21 PM, 18 October 2018   [link]

Congratulations To New York Mayor Bill De Blasio:   According to Advocates for Children of New York, the number of homeless children has soared while he has been mayor.
Tonight, about one out of every 10 students in New York City will sleep in a homeless shelter or in the homes of relatives.  That's more children than at any other time since city records have been kept
(I'm quoting from the local print version.)

The number of homeless children was growing before de Blasio became mayor at the beginning of 2014; if anything, judging by a graph accompanying the article, the number has grown faster since then.

The repairer, Eliza Shapiro, does not blame the mayor for this massive failure, does not mention anything he should have done, or should not have done.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but I suspect she might have said something if he were a conservative Republican, rather than a "progressive" Democrat.

(Caveat:  As their name says, the group producing these numbers is an advocacy group, so we shouldn't be surprised if their numbers not absolutely accurate.

(Bill de Blasio))
- 1:53 PM, 18 October 2018   [link]

Classic Joke 2:  There are many versions of this joke; here's the simplest I've seen:
In Heaven, the English are the policemen, the French are the cooks, and the Germans are the mechanics.

In Hell, the English are the cooks, the French are the mechanics, and the Germans are the policemen.
(You might have some fun adding other nationalities to that joke.)

What the joke appeals to, of course, is our sense that there is some truth in national stereotypes — and I think there often is.

(You can make a similar joke in the United States by appealing to state differences; for example, in Heaven the cooks come from Louisiana.  The rest is left as an exercise.)
- 10:06 AM, 18 October 2018   [link]

The Deficit For The Fiscal Year Ending In September Reached $779 Billion:  And is projected to reach more than $1 trillion, soon.

That isn't what Donald Trump said would happen during the 2016 campaign.  Then, Trump was claiming he could eliminate, not just the deficit, but the national debt, then about $19 trillion.  To eliminate it now in, say, seven years, would require us to run a yearly surplus of about $3 trillion.

If you would like to figure out how that could be done, here are some numbers to play with.

It's not a trivial problem.
- 7:15 PM, 17 October 2018   [link]

If An Ordinary Politician Did This:  You'd suspect they were trying to lose an election.

With Trump, it's hard to tell, but perhaps subconsciously . . .

(Don't miss the unintentional joke.)
- 1:05 PM, 17 October 2018   [link]

The Turks Have Been Bugging The Saudis:  It's not terribly important, but it is interesting.

By claiming to have an audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, the Turks are admitting that they bugged the Saudi consulate.  (Or that they have an agent inside who could make or access a recording.)

The Middle East is not a high-trust place.
- 10:21 AM, 17 October 2018   [link]

Another Joke from the Russian collection:
As an ex-KGB agent, Vladimir Putin knows how to make a Happy Meal cry.
(That may seem absurd, but I am not absolutely sure he can't do it.)
- 9:12 AM, 17 October 2018   [link]