Archive | February 2016

Good Pieces, Bad Pieces

With Donald J Trump in a commanding position on the eve of Super Tuesday, everyone is trying to explain to everyone else how the hell this could be happening. FiveThirtyEight dropped a small admission in their discussion of whether the Republican party is realigning:

Presidential elections already suffer from the problem of small sample sizes — one reason a lot of people, certainly including us, shouldn’t have been so dismissive of Trump’s chances early on.

But small sample size hardly covers the widespread dismissal of Trump by nearly everyone but cartoonist/blogger Scott Adams. Newt Gingrich recently blamed the media for rabidly covering and energizing Trump’s campaign – which is certainly part of it. At Barbarikon, Ali Minai discusses, What Donald Trump is doing to the Republican Party …. and may yet do to the Democrats, and lays the Trump phenomenon at the feet of the party itself:

For more than three decades, the Republican Party has been turning a large part of their electorate into a population of zombies who respond reliably to specific dog whistles, conspiracy theories and false memes come every election season. These triggers play on religious zeal, nationalism, suspicion of government power, fear of anarchy, economic insecurity, social anxieties, xenophobia, residual racism, and a host of other powerful emotions that exist in all societies. The so-called Republican elites have learned to exploit these emotions with finesse to win elections while, in fact, serving the interests of their paymasters in lofty mansions and corporate boardrooms. This project, implemented through so-called conservative “think” tanks, talk radio and Fox News with financial support from a few choice billionaires, has been wildly successful. It has allowed the Republican Party to hold the White House for most of the last thirty six years, and to claw their way back to power in Congress after a long exile.

The rabid nature of the Republicans is also certainly part of it, but given that there is a parallel outsider movement among liberals, one would have to look for some effect they share in common. That would be the flailing, disappearing middle class that the media has been loath to mention. Yesterday on ABC’s This Week, Greta van Susteren, she of the rigid face, thought that ordinary folk of both parties were so fed up with establishment politics that they were going for Hail Mary candidates.

Leave it to David Brooks, though, who in The Governing Cancer of Our Time tries to explain away the outsiders as inexperienced, narcissistic voters that want everything but don’t want to work for it:

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

I have stopped reading Brooks, but one of my Facebook theatre friends, a local politician herself, posted this article as a great explanation – whereupon my head exploded. Young people aren’t against politics, they are against corporate ownership of politicians. Right-wingers aren’t against politics, they are against politics that sends their jobs overseas and brings in guest workers that will work for food. Once again Brooks has pandered to the wealthy and comfortable – at the expense of their children and employees.

You Will Get the Revolution You Deserve

The Bernie Sanders campaign has seemed to me much like the Occupy movement, and the way Bloomberg describes it just reinforces that notion:

Sanders Supporters Navigate the Audacity and Fragility of Hope

The type of person who volunteers for a Sanders campaign—almost all millennials, with a few boomer activists tossed in for good measure—is the type of person who believes a candidate loses a caucus not because of demographic trends or institutional advantages or casino unions, but because they—personally, them!—didn’t work hard enough. When you are young and want to change the world, you don’t point at statistics or grouse over prediction models at FiveThirtyEight: You go out there and try to do it yourself. And so a loss is a personal failing.

When the Animal Farm revolt was in straits, Boxer the draft horse always said, “I must work harder!” Until he died of exhaustion.

Occupy’s flaw, if you will, was not that occupiers didn’t work hard, it was that their inclusive, but also unfocused, efforts eventually petered out in the face of disdain from the mainstream media, a failure to interest most citizens, benign neglect from establishment liberals, and finally violent dispersal by authorities. The Sanders campaign offers more focus, maybe too much focus, with the clear goal of electing an outsider as president. But is swapping out the chief executive in a grid-locked government enough of a step towards revolution? Obviously Sanders would champion more liberal causes than Obama or Clinton, but he would probably encounter even more establishment opposition.

Even worse, it seems that the outsiders that actually organize and vote come from the right wing. And the problem with a right wing revolution is the same as the problem with the Tea Party. While the TP briefly targeted the banksters responsible for the Great Recession, it was quickly and deftly redirected towards fear of non-white citizens and immigrants, and promotion of conservative cultural values.

Donald Trump has built on the remnants of the Tea Party but even more on the resentments of an underemployed and flailing working class. While he pays lip service to conservative values, he has vigorously directed economic resentment against immigrants (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) and has espoused stronger negotiations (protectionism?) with China. Rounding out his platform are acceptable right wing bullet points of gun rights, tax reform and increased veterans benefits. Trump’s only platform swipes at the wealthy are promises to discourage corporate inversions, overseas tax dodges and special interest loopholes.

So, it remains to be seen which outsider revolution we will see.

Primary Snapshot

After a very small and tumultuous caucus in Nevada, the mainstream media is once again ready to anoint Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic candidate. The Nevada Secretary of State lists 471,342 active registered Democrats in Nevada, but the caucus garnered about 12,000 votes. Clinton received 52.6%, and Sanders 47.3% of those votes. I have seen accusations that unregistered, possibly out-of-state, voters were allowed to caucus for Clinton, but that wouldn’t have mattered if a substantial youth vote had materialized for Sanders. Low turnout is bad for Sanders, and will be bad for Democrats in the general election.

Sanders needed Nevada because the next handful of primaries include a raft of Southern states – South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina – that poll strongly in favor of Clinton. In two primaries – Florida and Ohio – Sanders is polled as being competitive and in one – Massachusetts – Sanders is favored. All of that could change, of course, because Sanders has shown that he can make up ground as the actual voting date gets closer, but the loss in Nevada gives the media a sound bite against him.

After a larger Republican primary in South Carolina, the mainstream media is still talking about Cruz and Rubio, and still resisting the idea that Trump is winning this thing. It would be a historic collapse for Trump to win New Hampshire and South Carolina, then lose the candidacy, but then Trump is a historically unconventional candidate. He could yet implode by doubling down on his tendency to sound off like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, but it is looking less and less likely that his core supporters won’t forgive anything he says or does.

So, in the lead right now we have a weak establishment Democrat vs a weak outsider Republican.

I say weak because I think both candidates have unfavorables that limit the number of voters that will hold their noses and punch the card for them. For several months Nate Silver has been citing polling data to establish Trump’s ceiling at about 35%, but while I think that there are a lot of people that will stay home or vote third party rather than vote Trump, his ceiling could very well rise if his opponent is Clinton. Hillary Clinton has a lot of baggage, little personal warmth and some further investigation of her email server would damage her even more. A lot of Republicans will never, ever vote for her no matter how much they dislike Trump.

I suspect that three factors could decide an election between Clinton and Trump:
1 – Outsider voters will either vote for an outsider candidate or stay home. I know some millenials who say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is not an option.
2 – If the economy cracks before the election, people will swing to the out-of-power party.
3 – A third party run by Bloomberg, or someone like him, would probably sap the outsider vote, and probably help the establishment candidate.

I have seen some very bright posts by people, though, who note that a revolutionary movement cannot rise and fall on the strength of one election of one candidate. To change anything, millennials must do what the tea party has done: attempt to replace all the establishment candidates on all levels of government with candidates that reflect their views. Replacing national senators and representatives will be difficult because of corporate lobbying, gerrymandering and attacks on voting rights, but it may be the only way to actually change government without bloodshed.

TPM Letter

Though TPM seems to swing towards Hillary Clinton, Josh Marshall published a great pro-Bernie Sanders letter from a reader called Mac:

… far from being in a bubble, Sanders supporters (and nervous sympathizers) are a very big swath of the public whose economic conditions have diminished steadily over the last 10-20 years, with no hope in sight. I live in Aurora, Illinois, I was canvassing in Clinton, Iowa for Sanders. Both are cities devastated by neo-liberal trade deals and tax policies championed by both Clintons over the years, and whose largely blue-collar workforce have responded to the FDR type rhetoric that Sanders has the guts to promote – and a sense of his basic honesty. …

Speaking of the bubble (and I sincerely mean no disrespect here), anyone who is a national media person, is moving in rarefied air compared to the rest of us. You really have no idea how bad things are for the vast majority, even for “successful”, professional people. …

We’re not angry at Obama, we are disappointed that his personality just didn’t lend itself to the kind of FDR fight we needed. I’m enrolled through the ACA, and I can tell you that the costs, even for a Bronze plan, are outrageous without the premium supports, and are unsustainable. There will be no Obama legacy without an aggressive push toward Single Payer. With Clinton as the nominee, no doubt all the of regular Democrats will vote for her, but there won’t be the draw from Independents and the politically discouraged that Sanders has tapped into. Sanders has made it clear that his election will only be the beginning, not the end, of a sustained effort to bring back active citizenship. No doubt that entails several election cycles to establish a 21st century New Deal. …

I think Mac nails it. We don’t hate Obama or Hillary, it’s just that the things we see now, and that we see coming, are so bad that we need more of a revolutionary attitude in our candidate. We know it won’t be easy or immediate. Many of us will be dead before there is any real change, but we care about the government we leave to our children and grandchildren.

Zika Doubts

Actor and prolific social media maven George Takei took some heat last week for promoting a post that claimed that the numerous cases of microcephaly seen in Brazil may have been caused by an insect growth inhibitor called Pyriproxyfen, rather than by the Zika virus. Scientists swear that that particular chemical is not dangerous to humans. Given the lack of oversight of the chemical industry, there is very little trust in such pronouncements, but there is no clear evidence linking Pyriproxyfen to microcephaly.

The evidence in favor of a connection between Zika and microcephaly is stronger, but not yet proven: Some dead microcephalic babies have been found with the virus in their brains, or in their amniotic fluid. Some mothers of microcephalic babies have been infected with Zika. But there are also sound reasons to doubt whether Zika is related to the microcephaly in Northeast Brazil.

First of all, despite heart-rending pictures of babies with almost no foreheads, it isn’t that clear that there has actually been an increase in microcephaly. Definitions of microcephaly vary between doctors. Medical statistics kept in that area are not that thorough or reliable. Also, some attribute the epidemic to the awareness effect, and suspect that microcephaly hasn’t attracted much attention before.

Second, one bit of research may indicate that an increase in microcephaly began in 2012, two years before the recognition of the increase in Zika virus. It may be that Zika began to increase earlier than noticed, or it may be that the two are unrelated.

Third, Zika outbreaks in other regions have not been shown to correspond to more cases of microcephaly. Again, there may be bad reporting and varying definitions of microcephaly in those regions, or there may be no connection.

And fourth, as noted in FiveThirtyEight’s, Why It’s So Hard To Prove Zika Is Causing Birth Defects:

Zika would not be the first virus to lead to microcephaly — rubella can also cause the condition — but it would be the first virus of its kind known to trigger it. Other flaviviruses, such as dengue and West Nile, are not known to cause microcephaly, and that’s perplexing, said Moore, the RAND pediatrician. “There are plenty of other viruses in this family, and none of them cause this.”


Blood Clots in Fit Legs

In 2011, Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes in history, suffered a pulmonary embolism, was treated for that, then suffered a hematoma. Soon after winning Wimbledon for the fourth time, Serena cut her foot on a shard of glass, needing eighteen stitches to close the wound. Some combination of her injury and/or her resulting inactivity and/or a long flight from New York to Los Angeles led to a deep venous thrombosis (DVT), and some of the clotting material travelled through her bloodstream to a pulmonary artery, causing an embolism of her lung.

About a year ago, on a very cold morning, I biked down the hill, then tore a big muscle in my left thigh when I stepped up with my bike onto the light rail. My leg healed over the spring, and I commuted by bike almost every day all summer and fall and into the mild winter. It got cold a few weeks before the record setting snow fall, and I decided to begin walking down the hill to the station, walking back up in the evenings. I walk a lot, so I didn’t have any problems at first.

For a few days after the snowfall, I had to walk a lot further because light rail and buses stopped three miles from my office. Descending and climbing the hill was a chore because there was hardly any shoulder left for walking. Over Superbowl weekend, my old thigh injury began to ache. In a few days, my left calf began to feel tight. I assumed I was favoring the upper leg and had overused the calf, so I began taking the bus up and down the hill.

But after a week of limping between bus and light rail, I saw that my left calf was swollen. My right calf is 18 inches around, but the left one had increased to just over 20 inches. My wife reported my symptoms to my local physician, who urged me to get to the emergency room. The PA in the ER didn’t think I fit the profile of DVT, and neither did I, but an ultrasound exam found a clot just below and behind my left knee.

They prescribed the very expensive Xarelto, which wasn’t covered by my insurance plan, and I rested the leg at home for four days. For the last three days I have been driving a rental car to rest the leg as much as possible while still working to afford the bills that will soon be arriving for the ER visit. Next week I am to visit a vascular surgeon who will advise me on whether the clot should be removed surgically.

[Update 20160225: The vascular surgeon recommended that I continue on blood thinner for several months, wear a knee high compression sock during the day, and resume exercising. That’s good news.]

I have found several articles about endurance athletes getting DVT. It isn’t common, but it isn’t as uncommon as one might think, either. In, Hidden danger: DVT in endurance athletes, advises:

Some people are familiar with the potential for DVT to occur during or after a long airplane flight. This has been referred to “Economy Class Syndrome.”

Did you know that 85% of air travel thrombosis victims are athletic, usually endurance athletes?

Being a cyclist is no guarantee against clotting:

So what does this have to do with riding a bicycle? Bicycle riders typically are in good shape, watch what they eat, and take care of themselves. They are not generally overweight. If they have been riding for some time and cover 300 miles or more a month at a good pace, their resting heart rate is generally lower than the norm for their age.

Lower resting heart rate means slower blood flow throughout the body. This is especially true for those riders who participate in endurance events such as century rides, time trials, and other competitive events.

Slower blood flow — sound familiar?

Unfortunately, that slower blood flow that is great for your heart can work against you if you have mostly sedentary work, as I do. Most days I sit at the computer only getting up to go to the rest room or print room, or chat with a coworker. A little riding in the morning and an hour in the evening is better than nothing, but my life is still fairly sedentary.

Tesla Crush

With all the snow in January, and a sore leg, instead of biking or walking I was waiting for buses a lot. I noticed a lot of upscale cars passing by the bus shelter, including more Teslas than I would have expected. Treehugger was one of many that announced, Tesla sales crush every every other large luxury car in the market. Many of those articles were citing sales numbers from EVObsession’s article, Tesla Crushing Incumbents In Large Luxury Segment. EVO divided 2015 US sales numbers by model, which put Tesla’s Model S at the top, but below I have combined them by manufacturer:

28,806   Mercedes-Benz S & CLS Class
25,502   Tesla Model S
17,438   BMW 7 & 6 Series
12,711   Audi A7 & A8
7,165   Lexus LS
4,985   Porsche Panamera
3,611   Jaguar XJ

Despite no appreciable dealer network, Tesla is competing well against Daimler-Benz, BMW and VW/Audi in the luxury segment. The Model S is the only car to have seen increased sales (+51%), the rest dropping some five to sixteen percent from 2014 to 2015. It makes sense that smart people with means would be hedging against an eventual rise in oil prices by purchasing a car with a very serviceable range that can be charged at home. The Tesla even carries an aura of environmental responsibility, though it accelerates better than the ICE models against which it competes.

After seeing these numbers, one might expect that Tesla’s introduction of the the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 will be another eventual victory. But according to former TTAC alum Ed Niedermeyer, writing for Bloomberg, Tesla Will Get Trampled by the Mass Market:

 … what explains the company’s dismal earnings report on Wednesday and the 40 percent plunge in its shares this year? … Perhaps it’s because investors finally understand that the company is going to struggle mightily to ramp up production to the scale required to compete outside its luxury niche. Think about it: If even with all its hype and brand prestige it can’t make money on its high-price, low-volume Models S and X, why should anyone expect Tesla to do so on a new car that starts at half the price? … a huge amount of each unit’s cost would still be tied up in expensive batteries, where savings are going to be very difficult. Tesla will have to cut costs to the bone to reach the targeted price for Model 3, meaning all the features that surprised and delighted consumers in the Model S — long range, rapid acceleration, a high-tech interior and innovative design– will be lost.

In addition to Niedermeyer’s points, Tesla is what the energy depletion crowd calls a Subsidy Dumpster. As I previously quoted from the LA Times:

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups. …

If that support should dry up, or be insufficient against Model 3 losses, Tesla will go under, or will be bought out by one of its major competitors.