Archive for February, 2016

This is true, but it’s not enough to get my vote

February 29, 2016

democraticimperfectbut notnutsimage001Hat tip to Bill Elwell

In 1991 election for Governor of Louisiana, the Democratic candidate was the corrupt Edwin Edwards and the Republican candidate was David Duke, a Nazi sympathizer and leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’m told that billboards read: VOTE FOR THE CROOK, NOT THE KOOK.

Now Democrats are making the same argument on a national level.  Yes, they say, the Clinton-Obama faction of the Democratic Party is in bed with Wall Street, committed to perpetual war and unable to unable to advance the interests of working people, but at least we aren’t totally disconnected from reality, like the Republicans.

That’s not a good enough argument to get my vote.  I probably would have voted for Edwards if I had been a Louisianan in 1991, but that was because this was a one-time situation.  In the long run, I’m not going to support anyone without a positive reason.

Frederick Douglass said, “Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”  If all that’s needed to get people to vote Democratic is not being a Republican, that’s all the Clinton-Obama Democrats will offer.

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A whole new meaning for ‘trigger warning’

February 29, 2016

A new Texas law gives college students the right to carry guns.  College administrations are allowed to establish “safe zones”, but these cannot include classrooms or dormitories.

Below is an advisory by the University of Houston faculty senate to its members.

houstonpp.png.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

Peter Van Buren wrote on his web log that it might also be advisable for Texas faculty to wear Kevlar vests and put bullet-proof transparent screens in front of their lecturns.

I don’t think the warning is far-fetched.  There is such a thing as road rage, and there is such a thing as people flying into a rage at hearing ideas they think are reprehensible, or even not being called on when it is their turn.

It is a statistical certainty that someday some armed student will fly into a blind rage about something.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution affirms the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, but, as the late Justice Antonin Scalia once remarked, that right is subject to reasonable limitations that are consistent with its purpose.

As Van Buren pointed out, even the U.S. military, whose members have all received weapons training, keep firearms locked up except when necessary for training or combat.

LINKS

Texas Academics Told to Avoid ‘Sensitive Topics’ to Prevent Angering Armed Students by Peter Van Burn on We Meant Well.

University of Texas President Hates Guns on Campus, But Will Have to Allow Them by Jeff Herskovitz for Reuters (via Huffington Post)

 

THE ANGRY MAN: a poem

February 27, 2016
Phyllis McGinley

Phyllis McGinley

By Phyllis McGinley

The other day I chanced to meet
an angry man upon the street —
a man of wrath, a man of war,
a man who truculently bore
over his shoulder, like a lance.
a banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
thus scowling down the human road,
scowling, he answered, “I am he
who champions total liberty—
intolerance being, ma’am, a state
no tolerant man can tolerate.

“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
to cherish oppositional views,
lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with this banner
till they cry mercy, ma’am.”  His blows
rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the intolerant beware!”

Donald Trump and his art of the deal

February 26, 2016

Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.  You just can’t let people make a sucker out of you.
        ==Donald Trump, in a 1981 interview

∞∞∞

What kind of a businessman is Donald Trump?  What does his business career reveal about what kind of a President he would be?

the-trumps-9780743210799_hrI read two biographies, THE TRUMPS: Three Generations That Built an Empire by Gwenda Blair (2000) and  NEVER ENOUGH: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by Michael D’Antonio (2015), and some magazine articles to try to learn an answer.

Gwenda Blair’s book goes into Trump’s family background – his immigrant grandfather, Frederick Trump (originally Friedrich Drumpf), who operated saloons during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, and his father, Fred Trump, who built FHA-subsidized housing in Brooklyn.

Michael D’Antonio’s book brings his career down nearly to the present.  Neither book is a hatchet job and both authors are careful to give credit where credit is due.  But both writers reinforced my belief that Donald Trump is not the kind of person I want to see in the White House.

Trump’s purpose in life is to demonstrate that he is a winner, which is validated by making others into losers.  Winners, because they are strong and smart, deserve to be both rich and famous—fame being the most important.  Losers, because they are weak and gullible, deserve no pity.

Like his lawyer and mentor, Roy Cohn, he never backed down, always counterattacked, and never forgave an injury.

MichaelD'Antonio.NeverEnough51C4Vkw0E2L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_He was a risk-taker, a skilled negotiator and a brilliant self-promoter.

He was a skilled negotiator, who understood the other person’s weaknesses and desires,  He could not be bluffed or intimidated.  Seemingly insurmountable difficulties spurred him into redoubled efforts.  All these are good qualities.

But he was not always a man of his word, did not always told the strict truth, and made others pay the price of his failures.

He played off multiple negotiating partners against each other.  He enticed lenders into giving him so much credit that they threw good money after bad rather than cut their losses.  He was a master of publicity and used notoriety as a business asset.

He is a workaholic who does not drink, smoke or use drugs.  He lives in luxurious settings among expensive possessions, but takes no time to enjoy them.  He is uninterested in art, music, literature or fine food and wine.  His one indulgence has been the company of beautiful women, which adds to his fame and celebrity.

Unlike his father, Fred Trump, he was not an especially good manager of his businesses.  Once he has completed a deal, he then becomes interested in the next deal.  The same was true of his first two marriages.

Based on his life history, I think it is plain that Trump regards the Presidency as another prize to be won, rather than a duty to be performed or a means to right wrongs.  I don’t know what he would do if elected.  I’m not sure he knows.

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The secret of Donald Trump’s hair

February 26, 2016

How-to-Get-the-Donald-Trump-Combover-Look

Evolving Trump

Trump’s evolving hair

Donald Trump, according to biographer Michael D’Antonio, had an abiding fear of growing bald.  This wasn’t the image he wanted to project to the world.

Starting about 30 years ago, his hair become thicker and thicker, and blonder and blonder.

Trump always denied that he wore a wig or that he had hair transplants.  In 1990, a Time magazine reporter interviewed New York hair stylists about how the Trump look could have been achieved.  The diagram above is the result.

A role model?

A role model?

Many men three decades ago would have thought Trump was strange for devoting so much time and attention attention to altering his hair.  Now both men and women dye and shape their hair without embarrassment.

Trump’s distinctive hairstyle has served him well.  It has become part of his brand.  Because of his hair, Trump is instantly recognizable.  He would not be confused with somebody else.

How rich is Donald Trump, really?

February 26, 2016

Many multi-billionaires would just as soon not call attention to their wealth.  But Donald Trump thinks it important to not only be rich, but seem rich.  He regards his reputation for being rich as an important business asset.

He once sued a biographer for $5 billion for underestimating his net worth.  Tim O’Brien, author of Trump Nation, estimated Trump’s net worth at $150 million to $250 million in 2005.  Trump said his true net worth was $5 billion.

O’Brien and his publisher won the lawsuit, but legal costs probably ate up any profit they might have made from the book, and then some.

He once sued a biographer, Tim O’Brien, author of Trump Nation, for $5 billion for unde estimating his net worth in 2009 at $150 million to $250 million.  TrumpHe lost the lawsuit, but legal expenses ate up any profit the author of publisher may have made on the book.

But how rich is he, really?

valuingdonaldtrump-1x-1

Source: Bloomberg Politics.

Trump is on record as favoring “truthful hyperbole”.   Whatever that means, I suppose it applies to his net worth along with everything else.

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Report card on the candidates’ foreign policies

February 25, 2016

hawishness-scorecard-revised-554x380

Although I call myself a liberal, I find myself agreeing with writers for The American Conservative these days more than I do with writers for supposedly liberal publications such as The Atlantic.

The editors of the American Conservative published useful summaries of the candidates’ views on foreign policy issues, although with their evaluations, which I agree with.

Their evaluations are based on the idea that (1) the United States should not attack countries that do not threaten us, (2) the United States should not intervene in foreign conflicts that do not concern us and (3) the main mission of the American military should be defense of the homeland rather than world military supremacy.

It is noteworthy, though, that all six issues on which TAC editors focus are problems which the USA has created itself – problems that would not exist if Washington did not seek world military supremacy and had not tried to destabilize Ukraine, conquer Iraq, overthrow Libya and Syria and wage cold war against Iran.

There are less urgent, but more important, problems that we Americans should be thinking about:

  • How to manage our economic relationship with China, the main rival for the United States economically.
  • How to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war, accidental or otherwise, with Russia, the only nation that has the power to destroy the United States militarily.
  • How to help Mexico achieve political stability and economic progress, the only long-range
  • How to work with other nations to mitigate (it is too late to prevent) the threat of global warming.
  • How to manage international trade in a way that benefits Americans and our trading partners (the TPP isn’t it).

But The American Conservative editors are not wrong to focus on the issues they do.  The first step toward making things better is to stop making them worse.

LINK

A 2016 Foreign Policy Report Card by the editors of The American Conservative.

Ian Welsh on the culture of meanness

February 23, 2016

One of the most striking things about much culture in America is the simple meanness of it.  The cruelty.  Most of this seems to come down to three feelings.

  • Yukon raven by gavatronMy life sucks.  I have to work a terrible job I hate in order to survive.  I have to bow and scrape and do shit I don’t want to do.  You should have to as well.
  • Anyone who doesn’t make it must not be willing to suffer as I do, therefore anyone who doesn’t make it deserves to be homeless, go without food and so on.
  • Anybody who is against us needs to be hurt and humiliated, because that’s how I see my superiors deal with people who go against them. [snip]

This appears to be a result of something simple: at every stage of American life, it’s a zero or negative sum game, and who gets ahead is decided by authority figures.

Source: Ian Welsh

Not 100 percent true, I know of many exceptions, but becoming more and more true.  Welsh’s whole post is well worth reading.

The feminist case for Hillary Clinton

February 23, 2016

blackpresidentfeministargument.tedrallSource: Ted Rall.

What is an unjust law?

February 22, 2016

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr.

What to do when the Saudi monarchy falls?

February 22, 2016
Secretary of State John Keller with King Salman bin Abdulazziz

Secretary of State John Kerry with King Salman bin Abdulazziz

Photo Credit: The Atlantic.

The United States, back to the times of Henry Kissinger and maybe Franklin Roosevelt, has based its Middle East policy on support for the Saudi Arabian monarchy.

Washington has treated the Saudi monarchy’s enemies (except for Israel, and maybe Israel is not that much of an enemy) as its own enemies—Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the ayatollahs in Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and even the Shiite community in Yemen.

In return, the Saudi monarchs have kept oil prices under control, charged for oil in dollars and deposited those dollars in U.S. banks, and bought billions of dollars with of weapons from American aerospace and defense contractors.

But Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal, writing in The Atlantic, warn that the Saudi Arabian monarchy, like the rule of the Shah in Iran, cannot go on forever.   And like the Shah, the Saudi royal family is ripe to be overthrown  by militant, anti-American religious zealots.

The Saudi government has appeased these zealots by encouraging them to go wage jihads in foreign lands.  The best result, from the Saudi perspective, is that they die fighting and never come home.  The next best result is that their identities are known and they can be tracked.

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The hierarchies of knowledge

February 21, 2016

fieldsbypurityXKCD435-650x270

xkcd-purity2-by-sansscience-creativecommons-attribution

I lifted these two cartoons from the Biology vs. Theoretical Physics post on the Sans Science web log, which is now private.

The top cartoon is, of course, from Randall Munroe’s xkcd series.

The problem with reductionism

February 21, 2016

nontrivial_subfieldSource: Abstruse Goose.

Why school segregation is so hard to overcome

February 19, 2016

schoolsegregationIMG_5031_blur.0.0

Photo Credit: Vox.

In the American educational system, the students who are most in need of good teaching are the ones most likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers in rundown classrooms with old teaching materials.

In the American educational system, the students who are most in need of good teaching are the ones most likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers in rundown classrooms with old teaching materials.

This system perpetuates itself because most parents who live in a poor school district will try to get out if they can.  That means the concentration of poor students, especially poor black students, will steadily increase.

Amy Piller, a New York city school administrator, wrote a good article for Vox about how this works and her struggles to help poor and disadvantaged students.

She is making some difference, as you can see by clicking on the link to her article.  She is not making a fundamental change in the system.

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Flawed algorithms mark people for death

February 18, 2016

The National Security Administration’s Skynet system marks people for death based on algorithms and metadata—the same technology that Amazon uses to guess what books you’ll probably like.

I find that chilling.  I find the precedent it sets even more chilling.

Now an expert has come along who says the Skynet program is inherently flawed and has likely resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

TravelPatternsDocuments leaked to The Intercept indicate that the Skynet program collects data on people in Pakistan by monitoring their phone calls.  Supposedly terrorists can be identified within a certain margin of error by characteristics that, on average, differentiate them from non-terrorists.

Patrick Ball, director of research for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and a frequent expert witness before human rights tribunals, told Ars Technica that the problem with this is that the terrorist sample is based on a very small number—seven individuals—and the innocent sample is based on a random sample of 100,000 people.

Since there is usually no independent way of verifying that the victim really was a terrorist, that means that there is no “learning” process, as would be the case with a commercial algorithm, such as Amazon’s, which is based on commercial responses.

One of the variables in setting the algorithms is that the fewer false negative (real terrorists who are not detected by the system), the more false positives there will be (innocent people who are marked as terrorists).

Bell said that if the algorithm is set at 50 percent false negatives, that means thousands of innocent people will be killed for every real terrorist who dies.

[Added later]  Martin Robbins wrote in The Guardian that Skynet is used to identify likely Al Qaeda couriers, who are not killed but tracked so as to reveal the locations of Al Qaeda camps and safe houses.   It is a fact that computer algorithms are used to target people for killing, but Skynet isn’t as clear an example as I originally thought.

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Bernie grew up poor, Hillary didn’t: It matters

February 18, 2016

The cartoonist and writer Ted Rall, author of a new biography of Bernie Sanders, wrote a good article about how the political differences between Sanders and Hillary Clinton can be explained by the fact that Sanders grew up poor whereas Clinton didn’t.

One of the differences between people who grow up poor vs. people who grow up middle class is that the latter on average are better able to delay gratification in anticipation of future gains.

Bernie0.tedrallMiddle class moralists like to say this is because poor people lack strength of character.  I say the difference is that is hard to take the long-range view when you’re not sure week-to-week whether you will have food on the table or be able to pay the rent.

Psychological tests show that middle-class children on average are more likely than poor children to refrain from eating a marshmallow if they are promised a second marshmallow in return.

Middle class moralists say this is because middle class families have better moral values.  I say the difference is that it is easier to delay gratification if your life experience is that people keep promises and that nobody will snatch away what you have.

Bernie Sanders grew up in a home in which his parents lived paycheck to paycheck and never could be certain of the future even on a month-by-month basis.

Hillary Clinton never experienced anything like this.  She and her husband said they exited the White House $10 million in debt, but there never was any danger they would have to live on Ramen noodles or live in a homeless shelter.

So Sanders is passionate about immediate and drastic reforms of the economic system, and Clinton tells working people and the unemployed to be realistic and settle for tiny incremental under the existing system.

LINK

For Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Politics Is Personal by Ted Rall via Counterpunch.

The enemies of the good

February 18, 2016

In politics, it is often true that—

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you’re not satisfied with anything less than perfection, you might forfeit the lesser good.

But we need to remember it also is true that—

The lesser evil is the enemy of the good.

If you’re always willing to accept the lesser evil, you will never get anything good.

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The Clinton legacy and the Democratic Party

February 17, 2016

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations taught the Republicans to accept the New Deal.

In recent times, the Clinton and Obama administrations taught the Democrats to accept Reaganomics.

Democrats cannot adequately represent working people unless they free themselves from that legacy.

Thomas Frank wrote a good article in The Guardian about this:

In my younger days, the Democratic party seemed always to be grappling with its identity, arguing over who they were and what they stood for all through the 1970s, the 1980s and into the 1990s.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

What Democrats had to turn away from, reformers of all stripes said in those days, was the supposedly obsolete legacy of the New Deal, with its fixation on working-class people.

What had to be embraced, the party’s reformers agreed, was the emerging post-industrial economy and in particular the winners of this new order: the highly educated professionals who populated its clean and innovative knowledge industries.

The figure that brought triumphant closure to that last internecine war was President Bill Clinton, who installed a new kind of Democratic administration in Washington.

Rather than paying homage to the politics of Franklin Roosevelt, Clinton passed trade deals that defied and even injured the labor movement, once his party’s leading constituency; he signed off on a measure that basically ended the federal welfare program; and he performed singular favors for the financial industry, the New Deal’s great nemesis.

Source: Thomas Frank | The Guardian

In the Reagan era, I thought that since the Republican Party had become an ideological party of the right, the Democratic Party would become an ideological party of the left, and this would result in meaningful choice for voters.

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Youth and old age

February 16, 2016

Youth is when the youngest serious Presidential candidate is older than you are.

Middle age is when you are in the same age group as the Presidential candidates.

Old age is when the oldest serious Presidential candidate is younger than you are.

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How should you tell the temperature?

February 16, 2016

xkcd.degrees

Source: xkcd

Hillary Clinton’s basic conflict of interest

February 15, 2016

What's Not Happening In Hillary's MeetingsHillary Clinton asks her supporters to believe that there is no contradiction between accepting big campaign contributions from Wall Street, the private prison industry and the oil and gas industry, and promising to crack down on Wall Street, private prisons, fracking and greenhouse gas emissions.

Hillary Clinton says it is possible to take a donation to an interest group and not be captive to it.  That is true.  But it is harder to ask an interest group for money and still vote against its interests.  In any case, it is something you can only do once, and Clinton has been around for a very long time.

Either her fat-cat donors are being fooled, or her supporters are.  I wouldn’t vote for a candidate based on a hope that he or she is telling me the truth and misleading somebody else.

Hillary Clinton says she hasn’t done anything that President Obama hasn’t done.  That is true.  That is why I voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, when Obama ran for a second term.

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Could the Supreme Court be un-packed?

February 15, 2016

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left the U.S. Supreme Court with an even number of justices.  If they divide four-four on any case, the decision of the lower court stands, but it does not become settled law.

 As things stand now, a divided court would not be the worst thing from the standpoint of liberals.  They mostly like existing precedents and mostly oppose have them overturned.

My friend Bill Elwell wonders what would happen if President Obama or President Hillary Clinton simply refused to nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to pack the Supreme Court with nominees of his liking.  Bill asks: Would this be un-packing the Court?.

I don’t see how this would be any different, or any more obstructive, than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that Republicans will automatically reject any Obama nominee, no matter who the person is.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the President the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, with the advice and consent of the Senate, but I find no wording requiring him to do so in a timely manner.

President Obama has already said that he intends to nominate someone to fill Scalia’s vacancy, but does he have a responsibility to nominate a second person or a third if the Senate rejects his first nominee?  Of course this is a moot question if the Republicans are going to reject any nominee.

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Albert Camus on happiness and love

February 14, 2016

wendycamus

Source: Albert Camus on Happiness and Love Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton on Brain Pickings

Love and weirdness

February 14, 2016

valentines.day_weirdnessNSource: Zen Pencils.

The power of validation

February 13, 2016