September 2016, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Last Night, Clinton Lied And Trump Lied:  That's not the most surprising news in the world, I know, but the persistence of their lies on some subjects — Clinton's on her email server, Trump's on his claimed opposition to the wars in Iraq and Libya — should not just surprise us, but shock us, since they have been called on these falsehoods so many times.

By now many have become numb to their endless lies, I suspect, so we are no longer shocked, even when we should be.

For a detailed refutation of both candidate's lies, see this Washington Post fact check.    (Some parts of it were new to me; for example, I had not known that Trump had favored our intervention in Libya, too.)

On one issue, ground troops, I thought the Post reporters were too easy on Clinton.

Here's the complete exchange:
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, as an Army veteran, a commander-in- chief's to empathize with servicemembers and their families is important to me. The ability to truly understand implications and consequences of your decisions, actions, or inactions.  How will you determine when and where to deploy troops directly into harm's way, especially to combat ISIS?

LAUER: As briefly as you can.

CLINTON: We have to defeat ISIS.  That is my highest counterterrorism goal.   And we've got to do it with air power.  We've got to do it with much more support for the Arabs and the Kurds who will fight on the ground against ISIS.  We have to squeeze them by continuing to support the Iraqi military.  They've taken back Ramadi, Fallujah.  They've got to hold them.  They've got to now get into Mosul.

We're going to work to make sure that they have the support -- they have special forces, as you know, they have enablers, they have surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance help.

They are not going to get ground troops.    We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again.  And we're not putting ground troops into Syria.  We're going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.  So those are the kinds of decisions we have to make on a case-by-case basis.

And, remember, when I became secretary of state, we had 200,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I'm very grateful that we have brought home the vast majority of those.  We have a residual force, as you know, in Afghanistan.  We have built up several thousands of the folks that I've talked about who are assisting in the fight against ISIS.

But it is in our national security interest to defeat ISIS.  And I intend to make that happen.
In fact, we have thousands of troops on the ground, right now, in Iraq.  Most are advisors and trainers, but when shot at, they shoot back.  Moreover, our special forces — which are ground troops — from time to time stage attacks in both Iraq and Syria.

But she has to show that she is not George W. Bush, even though she favors policies similar to those he was following when he left office.

(I have a feeling I may need that headline again, before the campaign is over.)
- 2:19 PM, 8 September 2016   [link]

Has He No Ambition?  That, by now, is my almost automatic response to those who say:  "Let Trump be Trump."

I recognize, of course, that the chances are infinitesimal that he would ever have the character of a Mitt Romney, a John McCain, a George W. Bush, or any other Republican nominee, but I do think that, even at 70, he could do a little better — if he tried.

He could, for instance, cut back a little on the endless lying.

(One of the more impressive things, for me anyway, in Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, is his description of his systematic efforts to improve his character.

That conscious effort to improve one's character is, or was, a characteristically American thing to do.)
- 8:57 AM, 8 September 2016   [link]

Police Often Protect Us from ourselves.
- 8:30 AM, 8 September 2016   [link]

Negative Interest Rates For European Companies?!  I had just barely gotten used to the idea that some European governments could borrow at negative rates; now I learn from the Wall Street Journal that a few European companies can, too.
Investors are now paying for the privilege of lending their money to companies, a fresh sign of how aggressive central-bank policy is upending conventional patterns in finance.

German consumer-products company Henkel AG and French drugmaker Sanofi SA each sold no-interest bonds at a premium to their face value Tuesday. That means investors are paying more for the bonds than they will get back when the bonds mature in the next few years.
. . .
Both deals will put buyers only narrowly in the red—they each priced with a yield of minus-0.05%—and both were part of larger packages ​that included bonds with low but positive yields, the notices said.
Even so, this is definitely weird.
- 4:01 PM, 7 September 2016   [link]

Just In Case You Missed the staring contest.

There is no obvious, easy solution to the Syrian civil war, but I do think that a president who was a more competent diplomat than Barack Obama could have done better, or at least not so badly.

He has managed to prolong the civil war — and worsen our relations with Russia, a lose-lose result.  (I am nearly certain that he does not realize he has blundered, badly.)
- 10:47 AM, 7 September 2016   [link]

If You Bought Last Weekend's Wall Street Journal, you got an important article on mosquito control — and Dave Barry's defense of his home state, Florida.

Barry believes Florida has been unfairly criticized by people from states which have a few problems of their own.  For example:
These interviewers are not always calling from states that have a lot to brag about.  I have been interviewed on the wrongness of Florida by people who live in, for example, Illinois, which constantly has to build new prisons just to hold all of its convicted former governors, who form violent prison gangs and get into rumbles with gangs of convicted former state legislators.
All right, that isn't exactly true, but Illinois has jailed governors (and legislators) in recent years.

But then Barry admits that some of the criticisms are justified, admits that Florida does have more than its share of weird happenings.

(The current governor of Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner, appears to be both honest and a competent manager, a combination that has confused Democratic politicians in Illinois.)
- 10:00 AM, 7 September 2016   [link]

An Insult, Bad Staff Work, Or An Obama Screw-Up?   The incident at the Chinese airport was widely reported as a deliberate insult.
China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou before the start of the G20.

Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning.
(Links omitted.)

Which puzzled me, because I couldn't think of a Chinese motive for a snub, at this time, in this way.  Other times, other ways, sure.

Now the Chinese are saying that it wasn't their fault.
China on Monday leveled responsibility at the United States and journalists for a fracas at a Chinese airport, in which officials of both countries exchanged heated remarks as President Barack Obama disembarked from his aircraft.

The comments by a foreign ministry spokeswoman were in response to questions whether China, which is hosting a G20 summit meeting in its eastern city of Hangzhou, intentionally failed to provide Obama's plane with a staircase, an event that has fueled speculation it was a diplomatic snub.

"I think if only the American group had respected the working arrangements first made with China then this wouldn't have occurred," Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing on Monday.
A snub, or Obama and team going off script?  The latter seems more likely, and I say that as one who does not admire the Chinese regime.

If there are clear examples of Chinese snubs in the remaining months of his second term, I may change my mind.
- 10:47 AM, 6 September 2016   [link]

Creepy:  And, I suppose, a little bit funny.

The contract Donald Trump's campaign requires volunteers to sign, a contract David Post calls "Trump's adhesion contract from hell".
It’s a very peculiar document.  I understand the campaign’s desire to have some agreement in place prior to allowing people to work on a campaign, and to require volunteers or others to assent to the terms before allowing people to join up.  I’ve read a lot of documents like this in my day, the world of computer and Internet law being awash in “adhesion contracts” (shrinkwraps, browsewraps, clickwraps …) of this kind, and there are certainly some pretty silly and outrageous terms in many of them.

This one, while it isn’t the silliest or most outrageous one I’ve ever read, is on the shortlist.
The contract does not quite require volunteers to give up their first-born children — but it does require them to give up many free speech rights, forever.

(Some of the language in it, particularly the bit about restraining employees, makes me think it may have been copied from the language Trump uses in contracts with his sub-contractors.)
- 10:14 AM, 6 September 2016   [link]

It's Been A While Since I linked To XKCD:  Which is a mistake, because there are often funny cartoons there.

(I like the current one, and last week's "Jupiter" cartoon.)
- 9:25 AM, 6 September 2016   [link]

Two Melania Trump Scandals, One Almost Certainly False, The Other Unsettled:  First, the almost certainly false scandal.
The Daily Mail has issued a lengthy, grovelling retraction after Melania Trump filed a lawsuit against them in a Maryland court for publishing claims she was once an escort. Trump’s attorney Charles Harder is suing them for $150 million:
(There's a nude picture with the post, in case you were wondering how anyone could have had such thoughts.  Her background doesn't seem typical of our first ladies, I must say.)

The second is unsettled because we simply don't know whether she is an illegal immigrant.
Remember when the New York Post ran a front-page story showing nude photos of Melania Trump? (Yes, you do.) Politico realized that the date of that shoot, 1995, put her in the United States before 1996, the year she has said she arrived on a visa.
If she worked on a visitor's visa, marrying Donald Trump would not fix her legal problems, would not entitle her to a green card.  (They could petition for a waiver, if they could show extreme hardship.)

As I understand it, the Trumps could clear this up by asking for the release of her immigration records.  If they don't do so, people will suspect — reasonably — that they have something to hide.
- 4:22 PM, 5 September 2016   [link]

Election Scorecard, 9/5:  Donald Trump gained again during this last week.  Clinton's margin in the poll model is now 5.4 percent, down from 7.0 percent, and her probability of winning in the betting market is now 69.7 percent, down from 74.9 percent.

Despite that Trump gain, I agree with Natalie Jackson and Ariel Edwards-Levy who say that Hillary Clinton "looks strong heading for the fall".
A 5-point lead leaves room for Trump to catch up, but it’s still considerably wider than the edge President Barack Obama enjoyed over Mitt Romney at this point during the 2012 cycle. And Clinton’s lead has been remarkably consistent:  Not a single poll included in HuffPost’s average has had Trump ahead since late July.  Historical precedent suggests that bodes well for her.  In each of the past 16 elections, the candidate leading after the conventions has gone on to win.
Let me be a little more precise:  If I were just trying to maximize expected value, I would bet on Clinton if the odds were even, probably bet on Trump if the odds were 10-1, and probably bet on Clinton if the odds were about 7-3, as they are now.

For now, I wouldn't go higher because of possible events, especially events that might be caused by ISIS or Vladimir Putin.  Both the terrorist organization and the Russian leader appear to prefer Trump — which should make Trumpistas have second thoughts, but appears not to have done so — and both are capable of creating events that could help Trump.

It is also possible that there are still more dramatic revelations to come in those emails, but for now I am inclined to think that we know most of what is to be known.  On the other side, we know that there is more to be known about Trump.

(Here's the current 538 prediction, which is quite close to mine.  And here, for the ambitious, is an article describing the election models political scientists have dreamed up.)
- 3:31 PM, 5 September 2016   [link]

For Labor Day, a cartoon on one of the rewards of laboring.
- 10:44 AM, 5 September 2016   [link]

Worth Buying:  This weekend's Wall Street Journal if only for the article on a potential method for wiping out aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, and other nasty diseases.

For now, I think we should experiment with an older method of insect control, flooding an area with sterile male mosquitoes, to reduce the population.  That method has been quite successful against the screwworm fly, cochliomyia hominivorax.  (Screwworm females mate only once, which helps.)

But we should also be thinking hard — and experimenting — with more advanced methods, including the one described in the article.
- 6:51 PM, 4 September 2016   [link]

It Isn't Often That An Adoption Reunites Two Sisters:  But it can happen.
- 3:32 PM, 4 September 2016   [link]

Confession On Colin Kaepernick:  Before I confess, I should remind readers that I am not a rabid fan; I enjoy watching football games, but I don't care a whole lot who wins, and don't follow the players closely.

So, though I knew who Kaepernick was, and who he played for, and had seen pictures of him, I did not know his race, or, to be more precise, the race he identifies with, until he stood up for his principles by sitting down.

Which makes me color blind (in a racial sense), clueless, or both.

(Kaepernick is of mixed race, but I don't know — or care — what the proportions are.  I think that he was not wearing an Afro earlier in his career, but could be wrong about that.)
- 3:19 PM, 3 September 2016   [link]

Do Some Restaurants have this policy?

- 8:46 AM, 3 September 2016   [link]

You Can Trace Your Family Tree Even Further Back, Now:  200 million years further back, to be specific.
Scientists probing a newly exposed, formerly snow-covered outcropping in Greenland claim they have discovered the oldest fossils ever seen, the remnants of microbial mats that lived 3.7 billion years ago.

It's a stunning announcement in a scientific field that is always contentious.  But if confirmed, this would push the established fossil record more than 200 million years deeper into the Earth’s early history, and provide support for the view that life appeared very soon after the Earth formed and may be commonplace throughout the universe.
The finding is compatible with a number of theories, including these:
  1. Life evolves quickly when conditions allow it.
  2. The earth was really lucky.
  3. Life is floating around in space, ready to move in when conditions permit.   (Panspermia)
  4. Aliens seed planets with life, as soon as the planets are ready.
There doesn't seem to be any way to choose among those theories, now, though I will say the first seems the most likely, to me.  But I think we have to up the probability for the third a little, too.

(Life may have evolved or arrived quickly, but it took more than 3 billion years before much of it advanced beyond pond scum.

 Stromatolites are still forming; those bacterial colonies are survivors.)
- 3:45 PM, 2 September 2016   [link]

How Numerate Are Your News Readers?  The weather guys and gals tell us temperatures, wind speeds, and sometimes pressures; the sports guys tell us scores, and a few statistics; and the business guys and gals tell us what happened in the stock market.

But what about the rest?  What about those folks with the bright smiles and the good hair, who give us the rest of the news?

For years, I have suspected that most just weren't very good with numbers.  That would explain, for instance, why you see so many stories on budget cuts (which are sometimes not even cuts), without either the budget totals, or the amount of the cuts.

Recently, the local TV stations have been providing confirming supporting evidence for that suspicion.  The Washington state Department of Transportation has been preparing graphs for them, showing likely traffic during holidays.  (The department is hoping to reduce congestion by showing when to avoid it.)  The graphs are simple enough, showing traffic by hours, with a few extras.

So far, I haven't seen a single station display those graphs correctly.

Months ago, I saw a station display one of the graphs by printing it out on a long sheet of paper, and then holding it up, at an angle, for the camera.   Today, I saw the Q13 traffic guy come closer; he used a series of graphs as background, while he stood in front, explaining them to us.  (The right way to do it would be to let the graph fill the screen, with the news reader using a cursor to point out details.)

It is not just American news organizations that have trouble presenting numbers; so do many European news organizations, notably the BBC.  Here's an example, which is awful in many ways.  A simple line graph showing murders by year (with a projection for this year) in Chicago, would have been far better.

There are news organizations that are numerate; there are even TV news organizations that are numerate — but the only ones I have seen are in Asia.  For example, Japan's NHK World routinely uses bar and line graphs in its programs.  Yesterday, for example, they noted that Japan had just registered its 55th straight month where exports were larger than imports.  They illustrated it in the obvious way, with a line graph showing the two trends, and they left the graph up long enough so that a viewer could check a few of the details.

So it is possible.
- 2:04 PM, 2 September 2016   [link]

Rube Goldberg, Heath Robinson, And "Storm P"   Americans of my age are almost all familiar with Rube Goldberg, and will have seen some of his drawings.

Some will also know about his British equivalent, Heath Robinson, and will have seen some of his drawings.

But I expect very few will know about the Danish artist, "Storm P", or will have seen any of his drawings.   (I just learned about him today, and one of my grandmothers was from Denmark.)

(There is a mildly serious point here, if you like.  Many of our systems have become so complex that they resemble the drawings made by those three artists.   It's less obvious to most of us, since the complexity is, almost always, more in the software than the hardware.)
- 9:52 AM, 2 September 2016   [link]

They Lose Me At "Trump Said"  Once you have decided that a man is a pathological liar, once you recognize that the man uses hyperbole to sell fantasies, is there any reason to pay any attention to what he says?

Not if you are looking for a guide to how he might act in the future.

And so I have paid little attention to Trump's meeting with the Mexican president, and no attention at all to what he said in his speech on immigration.

But, as far as I can tell, most people are still treating him like an ordinary politician, like a man whose words have some consistency on the issues, like a man whose words mean something, and are not just part of a cynical sales pitch.

Treating what Trump says now seriously is a mistake, in my opinion.

What should you do, instead?  Here are the suggestions I made in July — and I will continue to look for more examples of what he has done, to share with you.

(There are legitimate reasons for paying attention to what he says now, for example, if you want to study his persuasive techniques.)
- 2:32 PM, 1 September 2016   [link]

Here's An Odd Question:  When The European Union sent Apple that tax bill for more than $14 billion, how did they deliver it?

It seems safe to say that they did not send it by ordinary mail in an ordinary business envelope — from the EU, to Apple, Attention Tim Cook — but beyond that I haven't the faintest idea how such things are done, never having received a tax bill of that magnitude.

Perhaps a large package, sent by special messenger, and signed for by some company executive?
- 1:36 PM, 1 September 2016   [link]

What Was The Big Election Issue In Gabon?   According to the New York Times, elephants, which invade farms, and destroy crops.
In most countries, the exchanges would probably not have even registered as a blip on the presidential radar.  But they caught the attention of Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has made protecting this central African nation’s wildlife and forests a centerpiece of his tenure.

Mr. Bongo, whose family has held Gabon’s presidency since the Lyndon B. Johnson era, has earned international praise for his commitment to conservation.

But as he faces re-election on Saturday, his efforts have earned him something else as well: resentment from many residents who complain that he worries too much about wild animals and not enough about them.

Some potential voters said they planned to sit out the vote in protest, repeating a common refrain that can be heard in the forests and on city streets alike:   Let the elephants vote for him instead.
(Links omitted.)

The election last Saturday did not go well; the result was close, and is being disputed, violently.  Most likely, the people — and the elephants — are in for troubled times.

For the record:  I don't know whether the elephants voted, and, if so, for whom.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Gabon.)
- 10:02 AM, 1 September 2016   [link]

That's A Relief:   Probably.
- 9:17 AM, 1 September 2016   [link]