Archive | March 2016

Thought Experiment

In The Elbonian Zombie Virus, Scott Adams asks what should happen if one percent of a given nationality of people, his cartoon Elbonians, were infected with a virus that turned them into zombie killers.

There is no cure for the Elbonian Zombie Virus. So what would world health organizations do?

For starters, they would quarantine the entire nation of Elbonia to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all uninfected Elbonians but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.

Now here’s the interesting part. What is the functional difference between the Elbonian Zombie Virus and radical islamic terrorism?

So, Adams established an analogy between a medical quarantine and Trump’s idea to keep Muslims out of America. I’m sure that will please Trump supporters, and doing so would probably reduce the number of Americans killed by Muslim terrorists, which is around three dozen per year. But it wouldn’t do anything about the three hundred other American deaths by non-Muslim terrorists. We’d also have to quarantine Christians, Jews, Sikhs and even atheists. So the Amish would be running things.

But let’s extend Scott’s thought experiment to other dangerous groups, for example, gun owners. Even though some talk about it first, no one knows for sure which gun owners will actually and suddenly start shooting innocent victims – or themselves. No one knows which gun owners will leave their weapons in reach of children. We don’t even know which police officers will start shooting innocent victims.

How would Adams’ approach work against firearms enthusiasts??

So what should world law enforcement organizations do?

For starters, they should quarantine gun owners to limit the damage. This is obviously unfair to all responsible gun owners but it is also the only practical way to protect the rest of the world. Once the quarantine is in place, the professionals can get to work on a cure.

Effectively ending the Second Amendment would not please Trump enthusiasts, but it would reduce the number of suicides, murders and accidental deaths that currently number about thirty-two thousand per year. It would also reduce the eighty-five thousand non-fatal gun injuries every year.

In other words, discriminating against gun owners would save far more lives and makes just as much sense as discriminating against Muslims – which makes no sense at all.

Primary Snapshot II

According to FiveThirtyEight’s delegate targets, here’s where the candidates were on March 3rd, after Super Tuesday when a Trump vs Clinton contest looked inevitable:

Candidate – Won/Target – Percentage of Target
Trump – 338/297 – 114%
Cruz – 236/384 – 61%
Rubio – 112/242 – 46%

Clinton – 609/529 – 115%
Sanders – 412/492 – 84%

Here’s where they are on March 28th:

Candidate – Won/Target – Percentage of Target
Trump – 754/789 – 96%
Cruz – 465/882 – 53%
Kasich – 144/657 – 22%

Clinton 1267/1174 108%
Sanders 1037/1129 92%

Trump is no longer a lock for the Republican nominee, not because of votes, but because the RNC seems to be considering rule changes that would lock him out. Cruz has fallen off pace, Rubio dropped out and the lone remaining establishment candidate, Kasich, has no path to winning on the first ballot.

But the Republicans are truly trapped. If they finagle Trump out, they will openly alienate the blue collar segment of their base, and could become an irrelevant third party. If they allow Trump’s win, though, they risk becoming an extremist American Ba’ath party. They would probably lose the election, but as Michael Wolraich described in a recent Salon interview, even losing elections can signal the start of a powerful movement. Wolraich was talking about progressives, but the Tea Party movement has been smoldering for almost a decade.

Clinton has dropped by seven percent, is out of Southern states, but still is considered the presumptive nominee by both the mainstream and much of the new internet media. Sanders has risen by eight percent, has momentum and solid fundraising, but is out of caucus states. Sanders must continue to win decisively but his main hurdle will be winning New York, which is his home state, but Clinton’s adopted state.

The Democrats are not trapped, but do risk alienating those millennial voters that should be their future core constituency. Since Arizona, the shadow of voter suppression looms large. One of my office friends thinks Hillary will have to ask Bernie to the prom, as VP, to keep her party together. Sanders has already said he would not look to include Clinton in his cabinet, so I would have bet against him being part of a neoliberal Clinton ticket. But she needs him much more than he needs her, and in a recent Young Turks interview Sanders cited a long list of policy demands that would reconcile him with the Clinton platform. So it is at least possible.

Brussels Bombings

Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is a long term campaign of insurgency carried out by decentralized guerrillas acting independently of an official state, but in the name of a victimized people. The insurgency may include media manipulation, legal challenges, political action, and non-violent protests, as in the campaign of Gandhi. But all too often an insurgency vaults past non-violence and manifests in symbolic destruction of property and deadly attacks on civilians.

The Western oligarchy’s response to 4GW, part of what one might call 5GW or unrestricted warfare, has increasingly been the drone strike, which has increased bystander civilian casualties, which has incensed and increased the pool of volunteers for insurgency, and so on.

As a result we have two sides killing people they don’t even know and expecting to eventually prevail. We shake our heads, glad it didn’t happen to us. In the aftermath some of us want more attacks on the other side, while some want less, but very few of us can actually change the political/economic systems we were born into. Without a change, the warfare will continue.

Two Weak Candidates

After This Week and Meet the Press, I caught the second half of Face the Nation, which included a seven minute video of Republican strategist Frank Luntz asking a focus group of Florida voters to explain why they refuse to vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Luntz had obviously worked with the group before, and I wondered if it was a setup against two candidates the Republican establishment hate, but they all seemed to genuinely mistrust each candidate for a variety of familiar reasons. One of the key exchanges was after Luntz replayed a tape of Scott Pelley asking Hillary Clinton whether she had always told the truth, and Clinton answering, “I’ve always tried to. Always. Always.”

One woman commented, “She just … you could turn off the sound, and still see on her face that she was lying. She was the worst liar I think I’ve ever seen in my life.” Another said, “… if the Republicans put Donald Trump up, and the Democrats Hillary Clinton, it will be the worst turnout election ever.”

Not in the seven minute video, but in this CBS News article, Florida voters “fed up” with Trump and Clinton speak out, are these quotes:

“The only way I wanna see Donald Trump in the White House is on a guided tour. The only way I wanna see Hillary Clinton in the White House … is if her prison’s on a guided tour.”

“The thing about Hillary Clinton is that all of her flaws are verifiable and provable. Because we see one scandal after another that followed her husband and now it’s following her, between Benghazi, and also The Clinton Foundation, the money that’s coming in, the email scandal. It’s all there.”

I looked up Frank Luntz. He is famous for promoting the term Death Tax in place of inheritance or estate taxes, and for recommending that the Bush administration use the term Climate Change because it was less scary than Global Warming. In 2010, he was given PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award for promoting Government Takeover instead of healthcare reform.

But, Luntz appears to have reconsidered the spin game during the Occupy movement, when he told the Republican Governors Association:

I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.

Luntz sold his firm, and spoke frankly enough about the divisive effects of spin that conservative outlets accused him of having Stockholm syndrome towards liberals. After a Luntz focus group criticized the almost universally-condemned Fox Republican debate, RedState attacked his use of focus groups in Is Frank Luntz the Trump University Of Focus Groups?:

There are a couple of key points to keep in mind. First, it is impossible to create a group model in a focus group. On one project I ran for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the client wanted “two Hispanics, an elderly black woman, a three-toed red haired gypsy, etc.” (just joking about the last one). What they were trying to do with at twelve person focus group was create an demographic sample. You can’t do that. No matter how you choose them, you’ve just got a dozen plus people. Second, focus groups are only useful if you are using them in conjunction with a larger poll.

But even the polls support Luntz’s focus group.

Recovering with Heart Medication

I was reminded of this 2012 interview where Aussie serve and volley throwback Pat Cash said of tennis, “It’s the perfect sport to take performance enhancing drugs, with the recovery, strengthening etc, but I think the lack of positive results shows that tennis is a clean sport.”

Cash may have been right for when he was playing, but today a whole slew of sports are finding that players are using questionable substances to help recover between exertions. According a TASS interview of the Latvian manufacturer Grindeks, Mildronate, a heart attack recovery medication which is marketed as Meldonium:

“is widely used in the clinical practice. … During increased physical activity, it restores the oxygen balance of tissue cells as well as it activates the metabolic processes that results in lower requirements of oxygen consumption for energy production, … Mildronate is widely recognized by health care professionals and patients, and this may include athletes as well.”

Mildronate was not approved by the US FDA, or in the European Union, but was widely available in Eastern Europe. After it was rumored to be used by a lot of Eastern European athletes, it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s monitored list in 2015. The drug was banned by the WADA starting January 1, 2016.

Tennis player and model Maria Sharapova is the biggest name to have been caught, and claimed she had been using meldonium for ten years on the advice of her doctor. Although Grindeks was widely quoted that the normal course of treatment was 4 to 6 weeks, Sharapova clarified that she took the drug, “not every day,” but in low doses as recommended by her doctor, and that the full Grindeks quote was:

“Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient’s health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time.”

Just this week champion breaststroke swimmer Yulia Efimova was suspended. Other Russians include cyclist Eduard Vorganov, figure skater Yekaterina Bobrova, skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, short-track skaters Semion Elistratov and Ekaterina Konstantinova, volleyball player Aleksandr Markin and biathlete Eduard Latypov, but almost 100 athletes in total have been caught using Meldonium.

According to the New York Times, “One such study, at last year’s European Games, suggested that nearly 500 of the 6,000 athletes competing were taking the drug. That study was also forwarded to WADA and its list committee.”

Even though she is very beautiful, I’ve never been a big fan of Sharapova and her shrieking, but I have been impressed in the last few years by her persistence in the face of getting hammered by Serena Williams. It is sad that her persistence may have been chemically enhanced.

PPI: Republican Lite

In, Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back, FiveThirtyEight cites a report by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI):

PPI is a centrist Democratic think tank that, while not formally affiliated with the Clinton campaign, is effectively an organ of the party establishment; it bills itself as “the original ‘idea mill’ for President Bill Clinton’s New Democrats.” Its new report was widely interpreted as a bid by centrists to show they could compete with Sanders on big economic ideas.

So what were those big ideas? In addition to free trade (including ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Sanders and now Clinton oppose), there was a grab bag of fairly familiar progressive policies: infrastructure spending, paid family leave, improved workforce training. …

But the PPI report, called Unleashing Innovation and Growth – A Progressive Alternative to Populism, also includes a lot of big ideas that would not be out of place in a Republican stump speech. Here are some snippets from their 72 page PDF:

In light of the economic and security benefits, Democrats can only lose credibility with the public by parroting green activists who exaggerate the dangers of fracking or demand that America’s shale windfall be kept “in the ground.”

So much for climate change. Drill, Baby, Drill.

U.S. leaders also should act to speed the development of a new generation of nuclear reactors.

Of course since no entrepreneur is ever going to put their own money in a proven money loser like nuclear power plants, it will have to be done with public money.

… we do working Americans no favor by promising to preserve or bring back labor-intensive production jobs that can be done cheaper by machines or low-paid foreign workers, especially if other countries retaliate and close their markets. America’s future lies in an open global knowledge economy that supports well-paying jobs in sectors where we enjoy comparative advantages—including digital innovation, sophisticated services, and additive and intelligent manufacturing enabled by the marriage of IT and the physical economy

We like our cheap Chinese running shoes and Korean flatscreen TVs, so the manufacturing jobs really aren’t coming back. Start watching The Big Bang Theory and taking notes.

Democrats, historically America’s free trade party, should be leery of aligning themselves with these voices of economic reaction. Around the country, a significant majority of the Democratic rank and file views trade and trade agreements as generally good for America.

Forget the campaign promises. We’ll be passing the TPP and TPIP after all.

Cut the top business tax rate to 15 percent

It only sounds like a Republican idea.

Open America’s infrastructure market to private capital

Again, it only sounds just exactly like a Republican idea.

… Progressives should champion a new model of school governance that enables more school autonomy and innovation, more customized learning, rigorous standards, and genuine accountability for results.
The ideologically-charged debate over whether charter schools perform better or worse than traditional schools has detracted attention from the most valuable lesson of the charter experience: governance matters. A new and better way to organize public education is rapidly evolving—a method that has come to be known as the portfolio strategy.
This approach has delivered dramatic results in portfolio cities with strong charter program authorizers, where more than a third of students attend charters or schools treated much like charters.

We’ll rename charter schools, and create more of them, cleaning up that pesky NEA union.

The hollowing-out of middle class jobs is no myth.

No, but since the jobs aren’t coming back their only answer is sending everyone to college. “Fight fiercely Harvard! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

How can progressives make college more affordable without creating costly new subsidies or entitlements? And how can we begin to reshape our post-secondary education system to reflect the reality that college graduates increasingly are going on to post-graduate and professional schools? …
Encourage U.S. colleges to offer three-year degrees based on achieving competency rather than paying for credit hours.

So you can only go into debt for 75% of what you couldn’t afford before, and still not find a job. We’ll call it the three quarters compromise.

TSV Missiles

Have you ever heard of TOW missiles?  They are a cheap but deadly anti-tank missile. Do you know what TOW stands for? Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided. The operator fires the missile, then keeps his sight on the target even if it moves, and wires send signals from the sight to the missile as it rockets towards the target.

Have you ever heard of TSV missiles? Of course not, I just made that up. It stands for Trump-launched, Socially-guided, Voter-impacted. I got the idea from yet another Scott Adams blog post on Trump being a Master Persuader, an expert in autosuggestion, a combination of salesman and hypnotist as described by Émile Coué or Norman Vincent Peale.

Adams thinks that Trump calling out Hillary Clinton for having no stamina is a, “linguistic kill shot.”

The best Trump kill shots have the following qualities.

1. Fresh word that is not generally used in politics

2. Relates to the physicality of the subject (so you are always reminded)

Clinton has already experienced some coughing fits on the campaign trail. And her voice often sounds hoarse, which is to be expected when you give speeches every day. Neither of those things mean much. But add the Internet rumors that Clinton has some lingering brain issues from a concussion, plus her long bathroom break during that one debate, and some rumors that she has trouble with balance, and there you go. That’s enough circumstantial “evidence” to convict her of being unhealthy.

As noted by one of Adams blog commenters, in one of the few Dr Who episodes I have seen with David Tennant, a lady Prime Minister ordered an attack on a bunch of aliens that were no longer a threat, and in fact leaving Earth. The ticked-off Doctor remarked to an aide, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” and within hours she was facing a vote of no confidence. That’s important because if it happened in Dr Who, it must be possible.

But seriously, I’ve been getting stuff like TSVs for years. Usually they come from Drudge, or Little Green Footballs, or Redstate, and by way of my uncritical siblings end up in my Facebook feed. They always fail the Snopes test, but no one in my family have ever admitted that they were wrong, and no one seems to have started fact-checking memes before reposting them – because they want to believe what they are being told.

So let’s test this meme. I’m refraining from posting this on social media, and I’ll be interested to see if and when a ‘Hillary has no stamina’ post shows up on my Facebook feed. Let me know if you see one, too.

Voting for the next Bogeyman

According to FiveThirtyEight, all the candidates have fallen off the pace they were on after Super Tuesday (except that Kasich replaces Rubio). Here’s where they were on March 3rd::

Candidate – Won/Target – Percentage of Target
Trump – 338/297 – 114%
Cruz – 236/384 – 61%
Rubio – 112/242 – 46%

Clinton – 609/529 – 115%
Sanders – 412/492 – 84%

Here’s where they are on March 16th:

Candidate – Won/Target – Percentage of Target
Trump – 652/719 – 96%
Cruz – 407/804 – 54%
Kasich – 146/582 – 25%

Clinton 1100/1050 108%
Sanders 778/968 83%

The one who has dropped the most, Trump, may be headed to a brokered convention because he has fallen under 100%, and there are dozens of theories about how that may play out. Clinton has dropped 7% but FiveThirtyEight considers her a lock; Sanders, who has dropped only 1%, is now presented as mathematically eliminated:

… a night that wasn’t quite as bad as it seems wasn’t what Sanders needed. Even a pretty good night wouldn’t have mattered for him all that much. Instead, he needed a stupendous night that redefined the campaign. Big wins in Missouri, Illinois or Ohio might have done that; so might have making Clinton sweat in North Carolina or Florida. Sanders didn’t come close to passing that admittedly high bar.

I have to admit to being discouraged by Clinton’s sweep on the Ides of March, but Sanders is not mathematically done yet. He does have to do very well in his best states, which are coming up. We will see.

In place of a Sanders ticket, some have talked about writing him in, and one of my friends is voting for Jill Stein. One of my very sick friends was planning on Trump as a second choice because only he and Sanders were open to legalizing the medical marijuana he needs, but he may reconsider. I suspect a lot of younger voters will just stay home.

CNN says Bernie Sanders is not a loser and that he has made Clinton a better candidate. Likewise, Clinton supporters are all smiles, saying that it is time for Democrats to come together to defeat the Trump menace. But Counterpunch reminds us that the Clintons are still neoliberals.

Who set the stage for Trump? Was it really just Republican dogwhistle politics? No, the primary engine of Trump’s and Sanders’ base was the neoconservative’s and neoliberal’s economic savaging of the working class to create a comfortable nest for elites on both sides of the aisle. How can neoliberals exhort us to defeat Trump when their very policies will be creating the next populist strongman – perhaps one for each party?


Violence Feels Good

In The Imitation Game, the often-bullied Alan Turing character says, “Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes… hollow.”

At a recent rally in North Carolina, a group of black protesters were being ejected, and one young man gave the middle finger to the crowd with both hands – which didn’t reflect well on his opposition and escalated a bad situation. On SNL’s Weekend Update, Michael Che showed a clip of an elderly Trump supporter sucker-elbow-punching that man, then said, “Look at this guy. He’s been dreaming of punching a black dude since the first time he heard jazz on the radio.” But ‘this guy’ went even further than Che, reflecting on Trump and his supporters perfectly by saying, “You bet I liked it. Knocking the hell out of that big mouth. … Yes he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” He was arrested for assault, but he probably won’t have to buy a drink for the rest of his life. In an interview Trump acknowledged that he has instructed his people to look into helping that man with his legal fees. [Update 20160305, On ABC’s morning show Trump denied offering such help, but I heard him say it.]

An interesting Talking Points Memo piece suggests that Trump may be motivated after being roasted by President Obama at a White House Correspondents Dinner. But his followers are just getting warmed up. Violence feels good to them.

A friend posted Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC timeline of escalating violence at Trump rallies. This Week, Meet the Press and Face the Nation all presented shorter but similar versions. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all choked out that they stood by their pledge to support the Republican nominee, but Rubio admitted that it was getting harder every day. Both Cruz and Kasich dodged by insisting Trump is not going to be the nominee.

The Republican pundits all realize that their party is dancing with the devil. On This Week, Donna Brazile laid the blame on Republican dogwhistle politics. Other guests tried to blame the media coverage, but Stephanopoulos pointed out that the press covered Trump, people knew exactly what he was and chose him anyway.

On Meet the Press, Alex Castellanos raised eyebrows by saying that Bernie Sanders is going to be the Democratic nominee, then said, “Whether he’s wearing a man suit or whether he’s wearing a pant suit. … The campaign belongs to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. It’s not Hillary’s campaign. She’s the figurehead. … She’ll end up being the nominee. But it doesn’t fit her at all. How can she sell that in the general?” That was an obvious lead-in to the SNL skit with Hillary morphing into Bernie.

We have two fractured parties, and as I’ve written before, we’re going to have two weak candidates no matter who gets nominated. I’m pulling for Sanders, but he will be weak without the party moderates fully behind him, and because of the Socialism word. Clinton will be weak without the Sanders supporters, who will probably just stay home, or vote Green. Trump will be weak because of his polarizing behavior. Any other Republican will be weak because of the outraged Trump supporters.

But one of them will win.

Imitation of Turing

I watched The Imitation Game last weekend. Benedict Cumberbatch did a good job of not playing the somewhat autistic Alan Turing just like his somewhat autistic Sherlock Holmes. All the actors played their parts well, and the film was very believable, though not quite accurate.

Early on in the film, Charles Dance’s character, Major Denniston, interviews Turing and tells him, “Enigma isn’t difficult, it’s impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.”

In reality, three Polish cryptologists, taking advantage of poor German operating procedures, had broken Enigma in 1932, long before WWII. They even designed a bomba kryptologiczna (cryptologic bomb) machine for breaking ciphers faster. Six were built. But enigma devices were then made more complex, and decryption became increasingly difficult and expensive. So the Poles shared their techniques with the French and British.

In the film, Turing joins the British team under Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) after the war has started, dismisses the team’s cryptological efforts as too slow, and by letter implores First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill for funding to build a codebreaking machine, a forebear to the modern computer. After the machine itself, which he names after a schoolboy crush, proves still not fast enough to perform the bazillions of operations required to crack an Enigma cipher, Turing is accidentally inspired to start the machine searching for expected words and phrases, like Heil Hitler, which codebreakers called ‘cribs’.

In reality, Turing had been working with the British government for at least a year before the war, using cribs and building on the work of the Poles. In addition to many theoretical strategies, Turing conceived of a new ‘bombe’, a machine that could decrypt Enigma with what we now call more brute force methods than the Polish bomba, but which were still based on looking for a crib. One was built, and was successful, and a few more were built. He, Alexander, and the team together wrote a letter to Churchill asking for additional funding to build many more such machines. Along with the two hundred bombes approved by Churchill, British intelligence never stopped using cribs, and exploiting other German slipups, for every small advantage they could get.

While watching the film, I was wondering if the presence of Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke was a romantic fabrication, but Clarke was actually a very real and highly-regarded cryptanalyst at Bletchley, was briefly engaged to Turing despite knowing about his homosexuality, and did remain his friend after he broke it off.

Of course I recognized Allen Leech, who played Tom Branson on Downton Abbey, and Charles Dance, who played Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones, but I didn’t recognize Matthew Goode as having played Ozymandias in Watchmen, though he did look familiar.