October 2018, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

What Is The World's Largest Organism?  As the New York Times reminded me, it's Pando.
Pando (Latin for "I spread out"), also known as the Trembling Giant,[1][2] is a clonal colony of an individual male quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) determined to be a single living organism by identical genetic markers[3] and assumed to have one massive underground root system.  The plant is located in the Fremont River Ranger District of the Fishlake National Forest at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in south-central Utah, United States, around 1 mile (1.6 km) southwest of Fish Lake.[4]  Pando occupies 43 hectares (106 acres) and is estimated to weigh collectively 6,000,000 kilograms (6,600 short tons),[5] making it the heaviest known organism.[6][7] The root system of Pando, at an estimated 80,000 years old, is among the oldest known living organisms.[8][9]
At first glance, the trees look, to me anyway, like any other aspens.

(There is a debate about how old Pando is, with some scientists thinking it may be "closer to 1 million years".)
- 5:21 PM, 31 October 2018   [link]

What Does The Exception In The 14th Amendment Mean?  Here's the first sentence, with the exception in bold.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
And here's what most legal scholars think that means:
The phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" excludes children born to foreign diplomats and children born to enemy forces engaged in hostile occupation of the country's territory.[35]
If you are feeling ambitious, you may want to read law professor Ilya Somin's discussion of the constitutional issues.
- 3:31 PM, 31 October 2018   [link]

Pakistan's High Court Does The Right Thing:  But not everyone in Pakistan agrees with them.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has attacked hardliners and appealed for calm after the acquittal of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.

In a televised broadcast, Mr Khan said hardliners were "inciting [people] for their own political gain", claiming they are "doing no service to Islam".
. . .
Wednesday's verdict by the Supreme Court triggered demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Clashes with police have been reported.

A leader of the hard-line Islamist Tehreek-i-Labaik party, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, said all three Supreme Court judges "deserve to be killed".
Asia Bibi will have to leave Pakistan for her own safety, according to her lawyer.

He's right.

And those judges are going to need additional protection, from now on.

- 2:44 PM, 31 October 2018   [link]

What's This Week's Good News On Exercise From Gretchen Reynolds?  That even brief, mild exercise can help our memories.

(Her columns are so cheerful that I think she must get regular exercise.)
- 10:09 AM, 31 October 2018   [link]

Need A Halloween Cartoon?  Here's a bunch.
- 9:47 AM, 31 October 2018   [link]

Thank You, Speaker Ryan:  For saying the obvious.
Hours after it was revealed that President Donald Trump planned to end the 150-year-old guarantee of birthright citizenship, House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared to push back on the idea, citing his respect for the constitution.

“Well, you obviously cannot do that,” he said during an interview Tuesday with Lexington, Kentucky’s WVLK radio.  “You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order. We didn’t like it when Obama tried changing immigration laws via executive action, and obviously as conservatives we believe in the Constitution.”
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment is admirably clear:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.   No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
One can find legal "authorities" who argue that it doesn't mean what it says, but there aren't very many of them, and they don't get much respect.

(As it happens, I think we should consider limiting birthright citizenship to , for instance, end "birth tourism".  But I recognize that such a change would require a constitutional amendment.)
- 3:58 PM, 30 October 2018   [link]

More Lottery Weirdness:  There was a second example of lottery weirdness in the Jason Zweig column I mentioned yesterday.

Some years ago, bettors in Italy noticed that the number 53 had not come up recently.  This led many of them to conclude — incorrectly — that the number was "due" and bet heavily on it.

And they lost heavily, according to the column.
- 3:17 PM, 30 October 2018   [link]

Directors often demand a lot from actors.
- 8:25 AM, 30 October 2018   [link]

Still Worth Studying:  Christopher Caldwell's article on the rise of Germany's AfD, "The Germans Turn Right".

Angela Merkel’s time as “leader of the West,” to use the honorific the New York Times and CNN bestowed on her, lasted about eight months​—​roughly from the swearing-in of Donald J. Trump in January until people began throwing tomatoes at her during a September campaign rally in Heidelberg.  “Traitor to the people!” the signs said.  “Hau ab!” the attendees shouted, an instruction too obscene to translate.  By election day, so loud was the whistling that outdoor rallies were moved indoors.
. . .
The rawness of the country’s memory of Nazism gave it an aversion to the style of politics now called populist.  But something has destroyed the German party system.  Possibly it is globalization or the mere passage of time.  More likely it is Merkel’s invitation in the late summer of 2015 to refugees fleeing the war in Syria​—​an invitation she saw fit to extend without consulting parliament.  Germany got over a million immigrants in the months that followed, virtually all of them Muslims, the vast majority young men, and most of them from places other than Syria.  At the time Merkel appealed to the common decency of Germans:  “If we have to apologize for showing a friendly face,” she said, “then this is not my country.”
(Emphasis added.)

I would say weakened, not "destroyed", but I understand his point.

(Caldwell's book on these problems is somewhat dated by now, but still worth reading.)

Recycled from 1 October 2018.  It seems timely again, now that Chancellor Merkel is stepping down as the leader of her party, and will not run again.

(Angela Merkel)
- 7:22 PM, 29 October 2018   [link]

Poor Sarah Sanders:  When you spend as much time with Donald Trump as she has to, mistakes like this one are almost inevitable.

(I've thought she should resign ever since she started working for Trump.)
- 2:52 PM, 29 October 2018   [link]

Economists Find Lotteries Revealing:  They remind us that most humans aren't very good at probabilities.

In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig describes a simple experiment showing just how bad many of us are.
In the 1970s, the psychologist Ellen Langer, then of Yale University, offered to buy people's lottery tickets before the prizes were drawn.   Holders demanded more than four times as much money for a ticket they had chosen for themselves as they did one randomly assigned to them.
(No link, since it is behind their pay wall.)

Now here's what makes that finding especially striking:  The random tickets are probably worth more.

Why?  Because the tickets people choose for themselves follow common patterns, and so, if you do win with one, you are more likely to share the prize with others.

Those who run lotteries, and other numbers rackets, know all about this weakness.

(I assume all of you know that lottery tickets are rarely worth what they cost.)
- 1:14 PM, 29 October 2018   [link]

Being Right Won't Always make you popular.
- 10:01 AM, 29 October 2018   [link]

Joachim Rønneberg, Telemark Hero;  After a miserable week, I found it a pleasure to read this New York Times obituary of Rønneberg, who led a successful sabotage attack on the Norwegian heavy water plant.

It is a remarkable story that would make a good Hollywood movie.  (It has already been the basis for an inaccurate one.)

(Joachim Rønneberg and Norwegian heavy water sabotage)
- 5:21 PM, 28 October 2018   [link]

She's partly right.
- 2:59 PM, 28 October 2018   [link]

I Have Been Expecting Something like this.
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Eleven people have been killed and a number of others injured after a shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday.

Police sources tell KDKA’s Andy Sheehan the gunman, 48-year-old Robert Bowers, walked into the building and yelled, “All Jews must die.”  Sheehan’s sources also confirmed that eleven people have died.  No children are among the deceased.
But saw no reason to say so, because of the tiny chance that what I wrote might be seen by some wicked man.

Grim thought:  There are places, for instance the Gaza Strip, where these murders will be celebrated, openly.
- 2:52 PM, 27 October 2018   [link]

It Certainly Looks As If They Caught The Mail Bomber:  What with fingerprint and DNA evidence.

What we have learned about Cesar Sayoc, Jr. justifies a tentative inference about his motives, in my opinion.  And, if I understood him correctly, in the opinion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, too.

(People who were pushing "false flag" theories should be quiet — and start thinking about apologizing.)
- 12:34 PM, 26 October 2018   [link]

Should The New Yorker have published this cartoon?

(It might give Jeff Bezos ideas.)
- 10:46 AM, 26 October 2018   [link]

Worth Studying:  This New York Times article on how President Trump often uses an insecure phone — which Chinese and Russian spies are listening to.
When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well.  But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones.  White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.
This is about as stupid as Hillary Clinton's private email sever.

(The story provided a neat example of confirmation bias this morning; I saw many links to it, but only one from a conservative, and that one from an anti-Trump conservative.  Those who support or just tolerate Trump couldn't bring themselves to say the obvious, though most would have had much to say had Obama done something similar.)
- 4:09 PM, 25 October 2018   [link]

Larry Sabato's Latest Look into his Crystal Ball.

Here's his summary on the House:
Our new Crystal Ball House ratings reflect 212 seats rated Safe, Likely, or Leaning Democratic, 202 Safe, Likely, or Leaning Republican, and 21 Toss-ups.  Democrats would need to win everything at least leaning to them and six of the remaining Toss-ups to win a majority.  As we assess the Toss-ups right now, we’d probably pick half or more to go Republican, and some of our Leans Democratic rated races may very well be too bullishly rated for Democrats.  Combine those two factors, and one can see why we have not shut the door on the Republicans’ chances of narrowly holding the House.  On the flip side, the Democratic path is easier, and the long Leans Republican column, in addition to Democrats only needing about a third of the Toss-ups, gives Democrats a lot of different avenues to the majority.
I think Sabato is saying that he expects the Democrats to win fewer net seats than the 38 FiveThirtyEight was predicting, as of this morning.

I'm not sure how to translate that prose into odds.  Perhaps 3-1 in favor of Democrats winning control of the House?
- 2:26 PM, 25 October 2018   [link]

The Democrats Now Lead In The Generic House Vote by 8 percent.

Here's how I interpret the two trends since June:  Democrats and Republicans are both "coming home" to their parties, but the Democrats are doing so at a slightly faster rate.
- 10:39 AM, 25 October 2018   [link]

Classic Joke 3:  This one is short:
Masochist:  "Beat me."

Sadist:  "Noooo . . ."
(If you tell the joke, you'll want to introduce each before you say their lines.)
- 8:55 AM, 25 October 2018   [link]