Kevin Drum

Theoretical vs. Experimental Physics: Quien Es Mas Macho?

| Sat Jan. 23, 2016 2:49 PM EST

Warning! I have not followed Deflategate except in passing.1 I don't have the kind of grassy knoll knowledge of what happened that lots of people seem to. The naive question that I'm about to pose may inspire jeers in those of you who have immersed yourselves in it.

Anyway: the first thing that I and thousands of other geeky types thought of when Deflategate first burst onto the scene was the Ideal Gas Law. I didn't actually try to calculate anything, but I remember vaguely thinking that the temperature probably dropped about 5 percent between the locker room and the field, so the pressure in the footballs might plausibly have dropped about 5 percent too. Then again, maybe the volume of the footballs changed slightly. Hmmm. Then I got sick and didn't care anymore—about Deflategate or anything else. Joe Nocera writes about this today:

John Leonard is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology....When the Deflategate story broke after last year’s A.F.C. championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts [in January], he found himself fixated on it....“Of course, I thought of the Ideal Gas Law right away,” Leonard says, “but there was no data to test it.”

....In May, the data arrived....Numbers in hand, Leonard went to work. He bought the same gauges the N.F.L. used to measure p.s.i. levels. He bought N.F.L.-quality footballs. He replicated the temperatures of the locker room, and the colder field. And so on....The drop in the Patriots’ footballs’ p.s.i was consistent with the Ideal Gas Law.

By early November, he had a PowerPoint presentation with more than 140 slides....A viewer who watched the lengthy lecture edited it down to a crisp 15 minutes....It is utterly convincing.

This is what's always puzzled me. You don't need to be an MIT professor of Measurement and Instrumentation to get a good sense of what happened, and you don't need to spend a year pondering the minutiae of the Ideal Gas Law and writing 140 slides about it. Get a bag of footballs, inflate them to 12.5 psi, and take them outside on a 50-degree day. Wait an hour and measure them again. Maybe do this a few times under different conditions (wet vs. dry, different gauges, etc.). It would take a day or two at most.2 The league office could have instructed the referees to do this quick test just to see if 11.3 psi footballs were plausibly legal, and that might have been the end of it. Why didn't that happen? Why didn't lots of people try this? Even if you only have one football to your name, it wouldn't be hard to at least get a rough idea. Inflate it, put it in your refrigerator for an hour, and then remeasure it.

Since I wasn't paying attention, it's quite possible that lots of people did this. Did they? Did the league? What happened here?

1Yuk yuk.

2Because I'm an optimistic guy, I'm just going to assume that this would be done in at least a minimally rigorous way. Nothing that would be necessary for publication in Nature. Just good enough to satisfy Mr. Lantz, my high school physics teacher.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 22 January 2016

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 3:15 PM EST

Meet Buddy, a lovely cat recently adopted by a friend of mine. Buddy is quite the sociable furball. He was carefully put into an acclimation room after the 6-hour (!) ride home, but only spent about five minutes there. Then he hopped out and started exploring. He explored the fish tank. He explored the gigantic cat perch. He slid across the wood floors. He jumped into everyone's laps and started purring. And as you can see, he found a lovely, color-coordinated snoozing spot. It seems to be a match made in heaven.

I Review NR's "Against Trump" Issue

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 2:43 PM EST

Everybody is writing today about National Review's big "Against Trump" issue. I did that last night, so today I want to review their effort. I give it a D+.

This isn't my usual liberal carping at NR. Normally I carp because I disagree with them, but this time we are joined in a mutual bond of disgust. Virtually every single thing that everyone said in their anti-Trump symposium was true. I applaud what they did.

But why was it so damn lazy? Every editor in the world knows that the easiest way to fill pages is to corral a bunch of writers from the ol' office Rolodex and ask them each to write 300 words on some topic. Every editor also knows that unless there's some serious adult supervision, these "symposiums" are usually flaccid and unpersuasive. Lots of contributors will repeat what others have said. They mostly just bang something out instead of working on tight pieces that make crisp points. Some of them just toss out a few bromides and email it off.

That's what happened this time too, and it's yet another example of what I was complaining about yesterday: no one seems willing to really attack Trump. Obviously I don't expect NR to produce the written equivalent of a Willie Horton ad, but despite all my past (and future) kvetching about them, I have no doubt that NR's stable of writers can produce very persuasive, very well-written agit-prop1 when they put their minds to it. I've seen it before, and it's not always easy to respond to.

What NR should have done is simple: Figure out half a dozen of Trump's weakest points—points that even Trump supporters might find troubling—and assign a writer to dive into each one. Give each one the time to really do some research and produce a tight, fact-checked piece that tears Trump a new asshole. Put them all together and you'd have the definitive anti-Trump manifesto. Something like this would have an impact beyond the mere fact of NR doing it.

I don't know why this didn't happen. Lack of time? Lack of staff enthusiasm? It's a mystery.

1I don't mean this in a derogatory way. (Not this time, anyway.) This is what political magazines do. It can be done well or poorly, subtly or noisily, but our mission in life is to persuade people and provoke change.

Raw Data: State Abortion Restrictions Over the Past Three Decades

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 1:26 PM EST

Here's what's happened to abortion restrictions since the Republican landslide of 2010. After decades of passing a couple dozen laws each session, the number of new restrictions has skyrocketed. In the aftermath of the Democratic midterm debacle, states have averaged over a hundred per session. The moral of the story is: Midterms matter. States matter. If this doesn't stop, the year 1950 is coming soon to a state near you.

I Still Think Trump Will Lose

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 12:44 PM EST

Just for the record, I haven't changed my mind: Donald Trump will not win the Republican nomination for president. At some point fairly soon, the other candidates are going to take off the gloves and really go after him. When that happens, Trump will have to fight back in a fairly ordinary way. Insults on Twitter will no longer be enough. Eventually the attacks will stick, Trump will do something dumb, and his support will drop.

That's it. That's all I've got. I don't know who's going to hit him hard. I don't know which attack will stick. I don't know what kind of mistake Trump will make. I don't know what will finally bring Republican voters to their senses. But something will.

Unless, of course, the Republican candidates continue to inexplicably shuffle around morosely and simply accept their fate as pathetic losers. It's hard to believe that's what's happened so far, and hard to believe it will continue. But I guess it's possible. Maybe what the GOP really needs is an institutional-size Prozac. Or Viagra. Or something.

When Will It Become Illegal to Drive a Car in the United States?

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 12:16 PM EST

When will driverless cars become a reality? That is, real driverless cars, where you just tell it where you want to go and then sit back and enjoy the ride?

My guess is seven or eight years. Maybe you think five. Or ten. Or fifteen.

But here's a more interesting question: after driverless cars become widely available, how long will it be until human-driven cars are made illegal? I say ten years. It will vary state to state, of course, and there will likely be exceptions of various kinds (specific types of commercial vehicles, ATVs meant for fun, etc.). Still, without a special license they'll become broadly illegal on streets in fairly short order. The proximate cause will be a chart something like the one on the right.

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Republicans Find New $1.7 Billion Iran Chew Toy

| Fri Jan. 22, 2016 11:26 AM EST

Here's the latest appeasement of Iran from the capitulator-in-chief:

A deal that sent $1.7 billion in U.S. funds to Iran, announced alongside the freeing of five Americans from Iranian jails, has emerged as a new flashpoint amid a claim in Tehran that the transaction amounted to a ransom payment.

The U.S. Treasury Department wired the money to Iran around the same time its theocratic government allowed three American prisoners to fly out of Tehran on Sunday aboard a Dassault Falcon jet owned by the Swiss air force.

....Republican lawmakers are calling for an inquiry....“There’s no way the recent events occurred randomly,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R. Kan.), who wrote Secretary of State John Kerry this week to ask about the payment. “We will do our best to find out if this was in our interest.”

You know, I could almost believe that this was just a coincidence. If it were really a direct payoff, both sides would have taken more care to conceal it. At least, that's how these things usually go.

But I suppose it probably was a payoff. We would have been forced to pay out the money eventually anyway, but I guess the Iranians wanted to feel like they got the better of the Great Satan or something. And now the Republicans have something new to hold an endless series of hearings about. Everybody wins!

National Review Is Against Trump, But it Probably Doesn't Matter

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 11:32 PM EST

National Review has finally released its big anti-Trump issue. A bevy of conservative stars contributed to the issue, and they complained about Trump's boorishness, his ignorance, his bullying, his libertine personal life, his racism, his narcissism, his love of dictators, his vitriol, and the fact that he'd probably lose to Hillary Clinton. But the most common complaint was simple: Trump is no conservative. Here are a few snippets:

The Editors: Trump’s political opinions have wobbled all over the lot. The real-estate mogul and reality-TV star has supported abortion, gun control, single-payer health care à la Canada, and punitive taxes on the wealthy....Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.

Glenn Beck: While conservatives fought against the stimulus, Donald Trump said it was “what we need”....While conservatives fought against the auto bailouts, Donald Trump claimed “the government should stand behind [the auto companies] 100 percent”....While conservatives fought against the bank bailouts, Donald Trump called them “something that has to get done.”

Mona Charen: One thing about which there can be no debate is that Trump is no conservative—he’s simply playing one in the primaries. Call it unreality TV. Put aside for a moment Trump’s countless past departures from conservative principle on defense, racial quotas, abortion, taxes, single-payer health care, and immigration....Is Trump a liberal? Who knows? He played one for decades — donating to liberal causes and politicians (including Al Sharpton) and inviting Hillary Clinton to his (third) wedding. Maybe it was all a game, but voters who care about conservative ideas and principles must ask whether his recent impersonation of a conservative is just another role he’s playing.

David Boaz: Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.

Brent Bozell: Until he decided to run for the GOP nomination a few months ago, Trump had done none of these things, perhaps because he was too distracted publicly raising money for liberals such as the Clintons; championing Planned Parenthood, tax increases, and single-payer health coverage; and demonstrating his allegiance to the Democratic party.

Erick Erickson: In October 2011, when many of the other Republican candidates were fighting Barack Obama, Donald Trump told Sean Hannity, “I was [Obama’s] biggest cheerleader.” Trump donated to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, as well to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and other Democrats. In 2011, according to the website OpenSecrets.org, “the largest recipient [of Donald Trump’s political spending] has been the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with $116,000.”

Dana Loesch: I love conversion stories. I have my own, from when I became a conservative 15 years ago. But I’m not running for president. Donald Trump is. And his “conversion” raises serious questions. Trump wrote in his book The America We Deserve that he supported a ban on “assault weapons.” Not until last year did he apparently reverse his position. As recently as a couple of years ago, Trump favored the liberal use of eminent-domain laws.

David McIntosh: For decades, Trump has argued for big government. About health care he has said: “Everybody’s got to be covered” and “The government’s gonna pay for it.” He has called for boycotts of American companies he doesn’t like, told bureaucrats to use eminent domain to get him better deals on property he wanted to develop, and proudly proposed the largest tax increase in American history. Trump has also promised to use tariffs to punish companies that incur his disfavor. He offers grand plans for massive new spending but no serious proposals for spending cuts or entitlement reforms.

Whew! But will it do any good? Probably not. The kind of people who read National Review are already convinced that Trump is a menace. Trump's fans, by contrast, are far more likely to have heard of Rush Limbaugh than William F. Buckley or Edmund Burke. And Rush thinks that Trump is great.

At the moment, everyone is eagerly awaiting "Trump's reaction" to NR's destruction derby. I sure hope they've never asked him for money in the past. In any case, I'm sure he'll just write them off as establishment losers who are jealous of his success and afraid they won't get invited to his inauguration. Still, at least the editors of National Review will always be able to say that their magazine has lasted a lot longer than the Trump magazine.

UPDATE: Oh goody! Trump, as usual, is already bored and tweeting out insults:

National Review is a failing publication that has lost it's way. It's circulation is way down w its influence being at an all time low. Sad!

Very few people read the National Review because it only knows how to criticize, but not how to lead.

The late, great, William F. Buckley would be ashamed of what had happened to his prize, the dying National Review!

Hmmm. Kinda weak tea. I give it a C-. And Trump used the apostrophe wrong twice in the first tweet. He must be tired. I guess the NR criticism hit him hard after all. And as long as we're here, let's do a fact check:

Is NR's circulation "way down"? Their circulation normally goes up when a Democrat gets elected president and then slowly falls off. Their circulation today is down from its 2010 peak, but about the same as it was during the Bush administration. I rate this Mostly False.

Would William F. Buckley be ashamed of this issue—or of NR in general? Nope. I rate this Pants on Fire.

Does NR only know how to criticize, not lead? Yeah. It's a magazine, after all. I rate this True. Still, people with glass keyboards should probably tread lightly on the CAPS LOCK key.

Why Does Everyone Still Treat Donald Trump With Kid Gloves?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 6:41 PM EST

As many, many people keep pointing out, no one has really taken on Donald Trump. Nor does anyone seem likely to start. Trump has somehow developed a myth of invincibility: nothing anyone says ever hurts him, so why bother trying?

But this is ridiculous. No one has ever really tried. The other Republican candidates tiptoe around, uttering only milquetoast criticisms, and nobody cares what Democrats have to say. But if there's anything Trump has shown us, it's the fact that presidential contenders can be a whole lot blunter than we ever thought. So why not really go after him? I can think of at least half a dozen avenues:

  • His serial affairs, divorces, and remarriages to models and actresses.
  • His obvious lack of religious faith.
  • His miserable financial record: bankruptcies, lawsuits, failed businesses, refusal to pay vendors, etc.
  • His endless penny ante shilling (Trump steaks, Trump University, Trump mortgages, etc.)
  • His many, many liberal beliefs held as recently as a decade ago.
  • His absurd penchant for lying.
  • The "bone spurs" that kept him out of the Vietnam War.
  • His abominable charitable record
  • His risible habit of naming everything after himself.

I'm not suggesting that somebody ask him about this stuff. That will just produce the usual hot air. Nor am I thinking of routine "contrast" ads. I'm thinking of full-bore, kick 'em in the nuts, Willie Horton style ads. Ones where you get to frame the attack in as vicious and unfair a way as you want. Ads that will really hurt him.

Would it work? Beats me. But it's hard to believe that no one is even bothering to try long after it's become obvious that he's not going to collapse on his own. There's a ton of money sloshing around the Republican primary this year, and Republicans aren't especially noted for conducting touchy-feely campaigns. So why is Trump being treated with kid gloves?

Enough With the Eugenics Already

| Thu Jan. 21, 2016 5:49 PM EST

Jonah Goldberg:

I have on my desk Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers which I am very much looking forward to reading and, if time permits, reviewing. Leonard is a brilliant and meticulous historian and his new book investigates the eugenic roots of progressivism. More on that in a moment.

Everybody needs a hobby, but this is sure an odd thing to keep obsessing about. Yes, many early progressives believed in eugenics. Modern liberals aren't especially proud of this, but we don't deny it either. There are ugly parts of everyone's history.

So why go on and on about it? If it's a professional historical field of study for you, sure. Go ahead. But in a political magazine? It might make sense if you're investigating the roots of current beliefs, but eugenics died an unmourned death nearly a century ago. And no matter what you think of modern liberal views toward abortion or right-to-die laws, nobody can credibly argue that they're rooted in anything but the opposite of eugenics. Early 20th century progressives supported eugenics out of a belief that it would improve society. Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.

So what's the deal? Is this supposed to be something that will cause the general public to turn against liberals? Or what? It really doesn't make much sense.