September 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Four Bankruptcies, Or Six?  I've been saying — relying on standard news sources — that Donald Trump had four of his companies go bankrupt.  In Monday's debate, Clinton says it was six, and she's right.
Trump’s companies have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means a company can remain in business while wiping away many of its debts.  The bankruptcy court ultimately approves a corporate budget and a plan to repay remaining debts; often shareholders lose much of their equity.
Glenn Kessler lists six, and then notes that Trump apparently counts the first three as a single bankruptcy.

(Right after that, Kessler himself makes an error, discussing crime rates.)
- 9:28 AM, 30 September 2016   [link]

For Some Reason, I rather like today's xkcd cartoon.
- 9:06 AM, 30 September 2016   [link]

Mike Smithson Dislikes "Unscientific, Online" Polls:  So much so that he has banned them from his site, Political Betting, even in comments, unless the commenters "distinguish them from proper polls".
PB is introducing a new policy for its comments. Any comment that refers to a self-selecting voodoo poll as though it was a real poll where the sample has been properly selected will be deleted.  Repeated regular offenders risk having their posting rights withdrawn.
So, for instance, a commenter can say something like this:  "Matt Drudge's voodoo poll gives Trump the lead."  But they must include the "voodoo" adjective, or something similar, so readers know not to take the poll seriously.

People who take those polls seriously are incompetent, dishonest or both.

(I don't believe I've ever mentioned any such poll, seriously.  If I did, it was a mistake, for which I apologize.)
- 2:07 PM, 29 September 2016   [link]

President Obama's Remarkable Foreign Policy Defeat:  Presidents don't lose many votes on foreign policy, even when the other party controls Congress.

And offhand, I can't think of any other important votes in the modern era that a president lost by such margins.
The House and Senate voted Wednesday to reject President Obama's veto of legislation allowing lawsuits against foreign sponsors of terrorism — the first successful override of a presidential veto since Obama took office.

The president had vetoed the legislation Friday because he said the bill — known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA — would infringe on the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. It was the 12th veto of his presidency.

But after an intense push by 9/11 survivors and families of victims who want to sue Saudi Arabia based on claims the country played a role in the 2001 terror attacks, even Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill voted to override his veto.

The House voted 348-77, well above the two-thirds majority needed.  The final vote tally in the Senate was 97-1.  Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast the lone dissenting vote.
(Links omitted.)

What's going on?  Here are some overlapping possibilities:
  1. President Obama made no real effort to win the vote in either the House or Senate.
  2. President Obama doesn't mind this jab at Saudi Arabia, because they oppose his policies toward Iran.
  3. Congressmen and senators from both parties are tired of trying to work with Obama.
  4. Senators know they will have to work with Chuck Schumer next year — and not Obama.
  5. Obama is right when he says this vote is an election-year plus.
Note, if you haven't already, that President George W. Bush did not get trapped this way, even when the Democrats held big majorities in both chambers.

(I would have voted against the bill, and to uphold the veto.  We have to work with the Saudis (and from time to time against them), and both are best done by diplomats, quietly.)
- 9:22 AM, 29 September 2016   [link]

Sometimes Music Is Better when you don't know the words.

(Some of the victims should get together and write new lyrics for the songs.)
- 8:48 AM, 29 September 2016   [link]

We've All Seen Reviews like that.

And sometimes the reviews are more entertaining than what they are reviewing.
- 8:31 AM, 29 September 2016   [link]

Little Prince George Has Already Learned to avoid bad company.
Justin Trudeau’s charm has finally met its match in the form of good old-fashioned British reserve.

The Canadian prime minister was shut down while trying to greet Britain’s Prince George on the runway when the royal family arrived for their tour of British Columbia.
All right, what we are probably seeing is just a tired toddler reacting to an aggressive stranger, but there is a small chance that his parents don't care for Trudeau, and that the little guy has picked up on their feelings.
- 7:26 PM, 28 September 2016   [link]

Important Issues, Unimportant Issues:  On Monday, two old issues were raised again.

Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump was mean to a beauty queen.

Nick Timiraos said that the next president will face fiscal constraints.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are likely to recite their varied promises for fresh government spending at Monday’s first presidential debate.  One reality they’re unlikely to note:  Whoever wins in November will enjoy far less latitude to spend money or cut taxes than any president since World War II.

Not since Harry Truman will a new leader enter office with a higher debt-to-GDP ratio.  And for the first time in decades, the new president will face the specter of widening deficits despite a growing economy.
(Links omitted.)

Judging by the TV news programs I've flipped through, the first issue is important, the second, non-existent.

As an occasional contrarian, I take the opposite view.  As long as no laws were broken, I do not care whether the Donald was mean to the queen years ago, but I care deeply about our worsening budget problems.

(The print version of the article is accompanied by some graphs that are worth a look, maybe even worth studying.)
- 2:31 PM, 28 September 2016   [link]

Scientists Have Another Lab Animal For Addiction Studies:  A very small lab animal.
The temporary euphoria associated with opioids comes at a steep price: heroin, oxycodone, opium, morphine and other painkilling drugs are some of the highly addictive culprits fueling the drug epidemic that is sweeping America.  On average, opioids claim the lives of 78 people in the U.S. each day.  Now, in a bid to understand more about substance abuse and how it affects people neurochemically, researchers are turning to some unlikely addicts:  Ants.
I was going to say this is interesting but not important, but changed my mind.  It might lead to some important discoveries.  Biologists are always playing the same/different game, always looking for ways in which species are the same and different.

That ants, which are so different from us in so many ways, can be like us in this way, might give us insights on addiction.

And, as almost any small boy can tell you, they are cheap lab animals.
- 10:04 AM, 28 September 2016   [link]

The Daily Mail Collected Enough Comic Reactions to the debate to amuse and/or annoy almost everyone.

My favorite?  Probably the little boy with the sockets.
- 7:43 AM, 28 September 2016   [link]

What Did President Obama Know About Clinton's Email Server, And When Did He Know It? (2)  In July, I argued that the White House staff must have known about Clinton's private email server.

There were three logical possibilities, I thought:
  1. No one noticed that the emails were not coming from a government account.
  2. Aides noticed, but did not tell President Obama.
  3. Aides noticed, and did tell President Obama.
And the first seemed implausible.

We now can exclude the first, definitely.
The White House was apparently aware that Hillary Clinton was using a private email account becuase her staff said so.  When Clinton changed her “primary email address,” the White House was informed so that Clinton could still send emails directly to President Obama, Clinton aide Huma Abedin told the FBI during its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server.  Obama could only receive emails from designated accounts, and Clinton’s was one of them, Abedin said.  Accounts that weren’t authorized would be rejected by the White House server.
Unfortunately, that article does not allow us to answer the question I posed in July.  We still do not know when Obama, as opposed to a few of his aides, learned about the private server.

In July, I was inclined to think the third was correct; now that I have learned more about how the system worked, the second seems more likely.

Or, to put it another way, I think it more likely that Obama was not paying attention to crucial details than that he has lied to us.  And that his staff wrongly did not tell him what they should have.

(There is a small technical reason why most in the White House might have missed the private server.  I believe that the White House uses Microsoft's Outlook for email, and have been told that Outlook does not, by default, display the actual email addresses.)
- 3:40 PM, 27 September 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  Noemie Emery's autopsy of Ted Cruz, "Cruzipus Rex".
The ancient Greek playwrights could have had a good time with Ted Cruz, the one time crown prince of the movement conservatives, who, due to his and their own colossal misjudgments, was in a series of stages turned upon by them, and finally hung out to dry.  His first real mistake was believing their stories:  That there was a silent and unseen conservative majority waiting for only the right voice to wake it, that the real enemy of all true conservatives was not the leftwing but Republican moderates, and that the road to success and perhaps to the White House lay in exciting this wing by attacking the moderates, which he proceeded to do.
Cruz is a very smart fellow, but you do have to wonder how good he is at reading polls and election returns, after that colossal error.
- 9:39 AM, 27 September 2016   [link]

British Bettors Were Quick To Declare Hillary Clinton The Winner:  Her probability of winning had jumped by more than 5 points, immediately after the debate.  As I write, it is now at 68.7 percent.

(The probabilities of the four candidates winning now add up to about 99.0 percent, so we can infer that the bettors think that all other possibilities, including a meteor strike, are at about 1.0 percent.  That seems about right to me.)
- 7:31 AM, 27 September 2016   [link]

Events At A Local Team Reminded Me of this joke from the Cold War:
An ordinary Russian, Ivan by name, gets drunk one evening, and marches up and down in Red Square, shouting, over and over again:  "Khrushchev is a fool!  "Khrushchev is a fool!

He is quickly arrested, given a secret trial, and sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag.

Ivan asks the judge:  "Why 15 years?"

The judge replies:  "5 years for insulting our leader, 10 years for revealing a state secret."
(It is obvious, I hope, that I am not intending this joke as an exact parallel to Clevenger's problems.)
- 7:07 AM, 27 September 2016   [link]

Election Scorecard, 9/26:  Donald Trump made another small gain in the poll model last week; Clinton was leading him by 4.1 percent; as I write, her lead is down to 3.5 percent.

Almost all of the change came today, presumably as new polls were added to the model.  I don't have any explanation for this late shift.

In the betting market, Trump also made a small gain; Clinton was at 64.7 percent and, as I write, is now at 63.1 percent.

As I should have mentioned last week, other candidates declined in the betting market, as, I assume, bettors saw it as less likely that Clinton would drop out, because of health problems.

(Here's Nate Silver's latest; he gives Trump a little higher chance than I do, and sees more potential for volatility than I do.

There is a little tiny bit of actual vote data from North Carolina.
The best early voting statistics are available for North Carolina, which has been voting since September 9th.  Requests for absentee ballots by registered Democrats and Unaffiliated registered voters are running ahead of 2012, for the same number of days prior to the election.  Requests by registered Republicans is down.  Given that Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by two percentage points, the early voting statistics appear to confirm polling averages which show a narrow lead for Hillary Clinton.
Of course it is possible, though unlikely, that those unaffiliated voters include a majority of Trump supporters.

. If you wonder why I think the Republicans are almost certain to win the House, here's an explanation.)  
- 4:57 PM, 26 September 2016   [link]

It Won't Surprise Long-Time Readers to learn that I don't intend to watch the debate tonight, or even listen to it.

Part of it is simple efficiency; I can get information far faster from reading than from watching TV — and so can almost any adult reader.  So I won't watch, but I probably will read the transcript, later.

Part of it is that I have come to see these "debates" as particularly bad ways to choose presidents.  If everyone stops watching them, maybe the sponsors will give up, and get rid of them.

And part of it is that I dislike both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, intensely, and expect both to lie.  In general, people, detectives for instance, get paid to listen to habitual liars.

Jason Gay, who writes on sports and cars for the Wall Street Journal, has low expectations, too.
Friends, I’m sure you know by now:  On Monday night, the first presidential debate will face off against a Monday Night Football game featuring the 0-2 New Orleans Saints and the 1-1 Atlanta Falcons.

Imagine that: the most soul-crushing thing on television has the potential to not be the Saints-Falcons game.
He goes on to provide a survival guide, if you are thinking of watching either, or both; I'll probably just take a walk along the lake, and then listen to some classical music.

(The debate might be worth watching, if they had real referees, able to give penalties for lies and personal attacks, say five minutes silence on the first offence and expulsion on the second.)
- 3:43 PM, 26 September 2016   [link]

Since Australia Is Moving, the Australian government has to adjust its coordinates, regularly.
That map of Australia you have?  It’s wrong.  And the whole country is going to officially relocate to correct the error.

The trouble is caused by plate tectonics, the shifting of big chunks of the earth’s surface.  Australia happens to be on one of the fastest-moving pieces of all, and by geological standards it’s practically flying: about 2.7 inches northward a year, with a slight clockwise rotation as well.
. . .
Four times in the last 50 years, Australia has reset the official coordinates of everything in the country to make them more accurate, correcting for other sources of error as well as continental drift.  The last adjustment, in 1994, was a doozy: about 656 feet, enough to give the delivery driver an alibi for ringing your neighbor’s doorbell instead of yours.
(Sadly, Michelle Innis does not explain the source of that 1994 error, which seems a bit large to be explained by the inevitable imprecision in ordinary surveying.)

One of the reasons they need to make these corrections is to keep remotely-controlled trucks — really large remotely-controlled trucks — going to the right places in mines.

(Wikipedia has a map that shows the plates, and their directions.)
- 9:31 AM, 26 September 2016   [link]

Hillary Clinton, Methodist:  For some, especially those of the Republican persuasion, that combination may seem odd.

But it makes perfect sense, as Kenneth Woodward explains in "The Democrats’ Methodist Moment".

Here's how he begins and ends:
After Bill Clinton, a Bible-toting Southern Baptist, was elected, I repeatedly tried as religion editor of Newsweek to interview him about his religious beliefs and practices.  Ten days before the 1994 midterm elections, the White House offered me Hillary, the sturdy Methodist, instead.

The first lady spoke candidly about her Methodist upbringing, her core Christian beliefs and prayer habits, and how she frequently consulted the latest Methodist Book of Resolutions, the church’s official handbook on social and political issues, which she kept upstairs in the family quarters. Piety plus politics was her message.
. . .
In sum, many of today’s Nones have retained the Methodists’ ethos of righteous politics while jettisoning the beliefs, behavior and belonging that made righteous Methodists Methodists in the first place.  Many Jews and Roman Catholics can and do find in progressive Democratic politics aspects of their own social-justice traditions.

But the emergence of the Nones shows us that anyone can think and act like righteous Methodists just by being a liberal Democrat.
The Methodists have always worked for changes in society, but the changes they pursue now are rather different from those they pursued in John Wesley's time, or even fifty years ago.

(This influence of Methodism may explain, partly, the tendency of so many on the left to see their political opponents as evil.)

Some will naturally wonder how Clinton's beliefs compare to Donald Trump's.   As I said in July, I think Peter Wehner is probably right to describe Trump's views as a crude version of Friedrich Nietzsche's.  This brief selection will give you a review of Nietzsche's thinking, if you need one:
Some prominent elements of his philosophy include his radical critique of reason and truth in favor of perspectivism; his notion of the Apollonian and Dionysian; his genealogical critique of religion and Christian ethics, and his related theory of master–slave morality;[5][13] his aesthetic affirmation of existence in response to the "death of God" and the profound crisis of nihilism;[5] and his characterization of the human subject as the expression of competing wills, collectively understood as the will to power.[14]
Those beliefs are better described as anti-Christian, rather than non-Christian, in my opinion.

You can decide for yourself how to describe Hillary Clinton's beliefs, but I think you will agree, after you read Woodward's essay, that she is, in fact, a Methodist.
- 5:51 PM, 25 September 2016   [link]

Funny Looking Fruits And Vegetables have their fans.
Steve Lutz used to sell banged-up apples for a loss on the juice market.  Until the day Wal-Mart called.

Suddenly, his company was hauling unattractive apples, which had been pelted by hail, out of storage.

“We are not trying to produce ugly produce,” said Mr. Lutz, vice president of marketing at CMI Orchards, based in Wenatchee, Wash.  But ever since Wal-Mart Stores Inc. started an ugly-apple pilot project this summer at 300 Florida stores, he has fretted about keeping up with demand.  “If you do have fruit that doesn’t make the grade cosmetically, you try to find another channel for it.”
And it turns out that there are a few customers who like the funny looking fruits and vegetables, like them enough to seek them out.

(My own view?  Unless I am serving them to company, I don't care much what they look like, as long as they taste good.  And for most fruits, my nose is a better guide than my eyes.

That said, I'll admit that I do get a kick out of the real oddities, but not enough to deliberately seek them out.)
- 10:32 AM, 25 September 2016   [link]