Muhammad Ali and the Abuse of Ellipses

In February 1966, Muhammad Ali said:

I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.

In March 1967 he said:

My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.

In popular culture, this has become:

I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong...They never called me nigger.

I have to say that this is a pretty breezy employment of ellipses. Using them to indicate the passage of a few sentences? Fine. Using them to indicate the passage of 13 months? I have to cry foul on that, no matter how good it makes the quote.

Quoctrung Bui of the New York Times writes today about perceptions of massive unemployment among young college grads:

We asked: “What would you guess is the current unemployment rate for four-year college graduates between the ages of 25 and 34?”...The most common answers for college graduates were between 20 and 30 percent. Perhaps an understandable mistake....But what surprised us was that the majority of people thought that unemployment rates for those with college degrees were higher than for those without.

....We posed the same question to our friends and parents. Many have college degrees themselves; some are educators. They, too, mostly guessed that college graduates would be more likely to be unemployed than nongraduates....We ran the quiz one last time with the same question and anchor, structured as a multiple-choice quiz. This time, nearly half of the people in the survey guessed that college graduates had higher unemployment rates. We had to concede that we weren’t witnessing a mirage.

Are we — the news media — to blame?

Yes! Yes you are!

But I'll cut you some slack. The range of 20-30 percent seems to be the American public's go-to guess for just about everything in the news. What's the percentage of gay people in the US? 20-30 percent. The inflation rate? 20-30 percent. Illegal immigrant population? 20-30 percent. Amount of the federal budget dedicated to foreign aid? 20-30 percent. Bird deaths from wind turbines? 20-30 percent.

As near as I can tell, anytime something becomes familiar enough to intrude on the public consciousness, it falls into the 20-30 percent trap. That seems to be the all-around perception of "a smallish but still newsworthy amount."

That said, the news media still shares a lot of the blame for this, because they're the ones who collectively decide how much to cover stuff. By over-covering the alleged employment woes of college-educated millennials, they encourage people to think the problem is worse than it is—and they distract attention from where the problem really is. The truth is quite different: even at the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate of college-educated millennials never cracked 5 percent other than momentarily. It was young high school grads who suffered from astronomical joblessness:

But wait! Maybe college grads got jobs, but they were all crappy jobs that paid peanuts. Not really. College-educated millennials took a beating during the Great Recession, just like everyone, but rebounded to their 2003-05 level after three years and have rebounded even further since. Young high school grads, by contrast, are still making about 10 percent less than they did in 2003-05:

(This is from Census table P-28 here if you feel like checking it out yourself.)

College-educated millennials get all the attention, but that's not because they have it so bad. It's largely because they loom large in the minds of the press corps—who are all college educated themselves—and because they're verbal enough that they write a lot about themselves. High school grads, not so much. But they're the ones who were really hit hard by the Great Recession.

Muhammad Ali's Fist — Life Size?

This is from the great Pictures on a Page, by Harold Evans. Originally published in Esquire in 1974.

But is it really life size? On the printed page, yes it is. On the web, who knows? It all depends on how your device scales it. That's something that goes missing in the digital world. For the record, "life size" in this case is 173 mm wide from the left margin of the picture to the right. If you want to compare your fist to Ali's—and yes, it really is kind of irresistible—zoom in and out until that's how big the image is.

Weekly Flint Water Report: May 21-27

Here is this week's Flint water report—late but not forgotten, due to some kind of weird screw-up at the Michigan DEQ site. First they didn't have the data. Then eventually they did, but the spreadsheet was unreadable. Then they took everything down entirely. Then they finally reposted last week's data. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 392 samples. The average for the past week was 11.10.

For some reason I got curious about the whole Trump University thing this afternoon, so I started googling sort of randomly to learn more about it. I came across several interesting items that seemed worth sharing, but I don't really have any special narrative to put together about them. Instead, here's a semi-random three-part Trump U dump. Be sure not to miss footnote 2!

1. The Evolution of Trump's Racist BS Against Judge Curiel

A few days ago the whole world suddenly went ballistic because Donald Trump went after the judge in the Trump U case. But this is nothing new. Three months ago he railed against judge Gonzalo Curiel at a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas: "We have a very hostile judge....tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine, he's Hispanic, which is fine....but we have a judge who's very hostile." The next day he told Fox News Sunday: "I think it has to do perhaps with the fact that I'm very, very strong on the border, very, very strong at the border, and he has been extremely hostile to me."

Curiel has since gone from Spanish to Mexican to "of Mexican heritage," but Trump has basically been peddling this racist BS for months. So why is it that no one seemed to care much about it back in February, when it might have mattered?

2. The 98 Percent Satisfaction Rate

Back in November Steven Brill wrote a really good piece about Trump U for Time. If you have any interest in this case, you should put aside a few minutes to read it.

One of my favorite bits is about Trump's most treasured defense, which is that all the suits against him are the work of a tiny number of malcontents. "Listen to me," he said in February, "98 percent of the people that took the courses, 98 percent approved the courses, they thought they were terrific." Trump has a whole website devoted to this, Here is Brill:

Trump’s director of operations Mark Covais...declared that the satisfaction percentages were taken from “about 10,000” surveys of Trump University customers. Yet in the same affidavit Covais said that there were 7,611 tickets sold to Trump University programs....How could Trump have 10,000 “rave” surveys from paying customers if there were only 7,611 paying customers?

....The more apparent inconsistency is that Covais...declared that the company had issued 2,144 refunds to 6,698 attendees of the $1,495 three-day program, or 32%. That a third of the customers demanded refunds is hard to reconcile with a claimed 98% satisfaction rate....Similarly, the refund rate for the $34,995 program, which according to the lawsuits was tougher on giving money back, was 16%. If at least 31% of one group and 16% of the other were so instantly dissatisfied that they immediately demanded refunds, how could 98% have been satisfied?

How indeed? Perhaps it's just the usual Trump "puffery," his second-favorite defense for the lies he told about Trump U?

3. Is Judge Curiel Biased Against Trump?

I Am Not A Lawyer™—about which more later—but I was still curious about whether Judge Curiel has, in fact, ruled against Trump overwhelmingly. So I googled a bit until I got bored. Here are the rulings I could find:

March 1, 2014: After years of legal maneuvering, Curiel allowed two cases against Trump to go forward. "Curiel certified one case, Tarla Makaeff vs. Trump University, as a class-action in California, Florida, and New York. The plaintiffs had hoped it would get certified in all 50 states. Curiel also narrowed down the pursuable actions from 14 to 5. In a second related case, Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump, Curiel denied Trump's motion to dismiss the case." I'd score that as two anti-Trump rulings (both cases were allowed to move forward) and one pro-Trump ruling (the class-action was limited to three states).

October 29, 2014: Curiel certified Cohen's suit as a class action. That's one anti-Trump ruling.

April 20, 2015: Trump countersued the plaintiff in one of the cases, Tarla Makaeff, and she eventually won a motion to dismiss Trump's suit as a nuisance.1 She asked for $1.3 million in costs, and the case was sent to Curiel for resolution. "Curiel found the rate requests for associates and partners reasonable, but denied Makaeff's request for staff attorney and paralegal fees....Curiel scaled back the number of hours expended on most of the plaintiffs' 25 proceedings by 20 percent, others by 50 percent and some he declined entirely, reducing the fees award by $542,920.85 to $790,083.40." That sounds fairly pro-Trump.

July 3, 2015: Curiel ruled that Trump would have to testify about his net worth: "Publicly available figures of Trump's wealth have been the subject of wild speculation and range anywhere from $4 to $9 billion," Curiel ruled. "Simply stated, plaintiffs are entitled to answers made under penalty of perjury." I think we can safely call that one anti-Trump.2

November 18, 2015:  Trump lost a bid for summary judgment throwing out the suits. However, Curiel ruled in his favor against an injunction that would have prohibited further false advertising. That's basically one ruling against Trump and one for him.

March 22, 2016: Curiel allowed Makaeff to withdraw as a lead defendant in her case. He dismissed Makaeff's claims and denied Makaeff's request to bar Trump from any further litigation he may file against her. He allowed the defense to re-depose the other main plaintiff, Sonny Low, and ruled that Trump would "likely be entitled to some award of fees and costs." That's one ruling against Trump and four in favor.

April 26, 2016: Curiel issued an order setting a July 18 hearing on a motion by Trump's lawyers to toss out the Cohen v. Trump case. "The judge also plans to take up other motions, including one asking that the case be stripped of its class-action status." This seems neither pro nor anti-Trump.

May 6, 2016: Curiel set a November 28 date for one of the suits. "[Trump's lawyer] asked for a trial after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, but the judge raised concerns about distractions if Trump wins the election."

May 27, 2016: Curiel ruled in favor of a Washington Post motion to unseal several exhibits in the Trump U lawsuits. This is the ruling that ignited Trump's most recent hailstorm of attacks on Curiel.

I dunno. Does this pattern show any kind of bias for or against Trump? Trump seems thoroughly convinced that the whole case against Trump U should have been tossed out on summary judgment instantly, and the fact that Curiel didn't do that means he's "tremendously hostile." Of course, that's Trump's view of anyone who does something Trump doesn't like. But summary judgment was never very likely in these cases, and aside from that Curiel seems to have ruled for and against Trump fairly evenly. Hell, even Trump's own lawyer blew off Trump's rantings: "He's got very strong views about everything and he expressed his own views," he said, before acknowledging that, no, he didn't plan to ask Curiel to recuse himself.

What's more, a local TV station interviewed a San Diego lawyer who pointed out the obvious: "Judge Curiel gave lots of his rulings before Trump made those comments about the border and illegal immigration." And: "NBC 7 checked federal court records and confirmed Von Helms' claim." Curiel has been on these Trump U cases off and on since 2010, and obviously Trump's views on a border wall couldn't have influenced him before June of last year.

Now, I realize this is all sort of pointless. I think we all know perfectly well that Curiel is just an ordinary judge, and Trump is ranting against him because that's what Trump does whenever something doesn't go his way. He whines. Endlessly. Still, I'm kind of curious. It would be interesting if some kind of qualified lawyer type went through the records of these trials and reported back on whether Curiel seems to be conducting things fairly. Maybe he's not! Maybe he really does hate Trump. Unfortunately, I suppose that would be a lot of work. Oh well.

1But only after an appeals court overruled District Judge Irma Gonzalez, who had ruled in Trump's favor. Another Hispano-Mexican judge!

2Wait. What? Trump was required to testify under penalty of perjury about his true net worth? Yes indeed. And I believe he's already given that deposition. Oddly, though, he's never mentioned that, and hasn't brought it up in any of his recent ravings either. I imagine there's a good reason for that: If this becomes common knowledge, someone will ask him what number he provided under oath. Does he really have any good excuse not to share that with us?

Health Update

My M-protein level is basically the same as last month, and my oncologist thinks things have probably stabilized. This is both good and bad news: Stable is obviously good, but on the other hand, we'd have preferred things to stabilize at around zero, not 0.33.

Still, he's fairly satisfied since everything else is in its normal range. Satisfied enough that we're tentatively deep-sixing the Evil Dex, anyway. Hooray! Hopefully this means that my sleep will return to normal and I might be able to lose some of the weight I've put on since I started taking it. We'll see.

In case you're curious, I feel fine these days. In fact, ironically enough, my health is as good as it's been in years if you don't count the multiple myeloma. That's a big "if," of course, but I'll take what I can get. And if I stay off the dex for good, I'll feel even better.

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 June 2016

Here are four common pet names for Hilbert and Hopper in our household:

  1. Chickie
  2. My little kittenball
  3. Pumpkin
  4. Sweetie pie

Can you guess which ones are mine and which ones are Marian's? In the meantime, enjoy this picture of Hilbert in jail. This cage is normally used to keep Hilbert out of the plants in the background, and when it was moved for maintenance he wanted in—plants or no plants. However, he earned parole for good behavior very quickly. Lucky cat.

For many years now, the Republican Party has relied on the votes of white men to win the presidency. But that's gotten harder and harder. As Lindsey Graham famously put it four years ago, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

Graham was right: there's only just so much you can do with this demographic. In 1980 Ronald Reagan pulled white evangelicals and social conservatives away from the Democratic Party. That got the ball rolling. George Bush seized on Willie Horton in 1988. That helped things along. In the 90s, Newt Gingrich teamed up with Rush Limbaugh, the champion of the angry white guy. That helped some more. A decade later Karl Rove went off on a dogged search for the final scraps of the evangelical vote. That helped—but only by a percentage point or two. The pickings were getting slim. Finally, with nothing more available to them, a few years ago the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to suppress the non-white vote via voter ID laws. That was a desperate ploy, and it eked out only a slight advantage. For all practical purposes, by 2012 they seemed to be out of ideas. What more could they do?

At the time, I figured they were at the end of their rope. There are only so many angry white guys out there, and only so many that you can get out to vote. The GOP had squeezed the onion dry, and there wasn't anything left to do.

But I was wrong. There was one more last-gasp possibility that I hadn't seriously considered: nominate a guy willing to explicitly base his campaign on racism and xenophobia. No more dog whistles. No subtlety. No "self-deportation" or "Southern heritage." No winking and nudging as talk radio and Fox News did the dirty work. This was, literally, the only option left to them.

And so we got Donald Trump. It makes sense, but most of us simply didn't think Republicans would be willing to go quite this far. We were wrong. The embarrassing part of this for me is that I wrote about this very thing four years ago in Democracy Journal:

Here are six trends that I think are likely to continue for the next dozen years and beyond....Trend #5: The Republican Party will continue to become ever more dependent on the white vote, while the Democratic Party will depend ever more on minorities.

....So what does this all mean? With the usual caveats taken—world events can change things, anything can happen, etc.—here are some guesses. One: Certain aspects of the culture wars will heat up. In particular, thanks to the increasingly polarized demographics of the two main political parties, fights over immigration and race may well be even more acrimonious than they are today.

I guess I should have listened to myself.

Hillary Clinton gave a "big" foreign policy speech yesterday, but it wasn't really a foreign policy speech. That is, its purpose wasn't to spell out a "Hillary Doctrine" or reprise her well-known positions on various global issues. Its purpose was to clearly expose Donald Trump as the ignorant cretin he is. And it did!

He is not just unprepared — he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility. [Applause] This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.

....He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists — even though those are war crimes. He says he doesn’t have to listen to our generals or our admirals, our ambassadors and other high officials, because he has — quote — “a very good brain.” [Laughter] He also said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” You know what? I don’t believe him.

....It’s no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons, and said this about a war between Japan and North Korea — and I quote — “If they do, they do. Good luck, enjoy yourself, folks.” I wonder if he even realizes he’s talking about nuclear war?

....And I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, “You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit” for taking over North Korea — something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.

Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. [Applause] I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are. Because it matters. If you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.

....Just look at the few things he’s actually said on the subject [of ISIS]. He’s actually said — and I quote — “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS.” Oh, okay — let a terrorist group have control of a major country in the Middle East. Then he said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS. He also refused to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS, which would mean mass civilian casualties. It’s clear he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

....It also matters when he makes fun of disabled people, calls women pigs, proposes banning an entire religion from our country, or plays coy with white supremacists. America stands up to countries that treat women like animals, or people of different races, religions or ethnicities as less human. [Applause] What happens to the moral example we set — for the world and for our own children — if our President engages in bigotry?

....Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal. Do we want him making those calls — someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism? Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?

Very nice! Hillary's remarks seem to have left Trump relatively speechless.1 The best he could do was to claim he is "the opposite of thin-skinned";2 that Hillary's temperament is bad; that she read her speech badly; that she is "pathetic"; and that she killed four people in Benghazi. By Trump's standard, this is very weak tea. All he could do was stutter the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?"

Apparently this speech really did get under his skin. But what can he do? His own record over the past few months shows that he's abysmally ignorant of foreign affairs. He doesn't know what the nuclear triad is.3 He favors Britain leaving the EU but has never heard of "Brexit."4 He doesn't know where Iraq's oil is.5 He doesn't know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.6 He's blissfully unaware that Germany cares a great deal about Ukraine.7 He was taken by surprise when he learned that US companies aren't allowed to sell planes to Iran.8 He thinks Iran is the main trading partner of North Korea.9 These are all howling bloopers. Anyone who had so much as perused a daily newspaper over the past couple of decades would be familiar with all this stuff.

Apparently Trump hasn't done that. What's more, over the past year, while he was running for president, he still didn't bother. This is inexplicable, even for Trump. How is it that he hasn't picked up more stuff just by osmosis? It's not only scary, it's genuinely puzzling. He obviously cares so little about foreign affairs that he actively resists learning anything about it. I guess that might ruin his prized ability to say anything he wants without letting facts get in the way.

1Note that "relatively" is the key word here. Nothing actually shuts the guy up.

2Just spitballing here, but I think the word he's searching for is "thick-skinned."

3Missiles, airplanes, and submarines.

4Brexit = Britain Exit.

5Pretty much all over the country.

6Hezbollah operates in Lebanon; Hamas operates in Israel (the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Territories).

7For example: "From the start, Merkel has played an impressive role in responding to the Ukraine crisis. In fact, her actions have allowed Germany to assume geopolitical leadership of Europe for the first time since 1945." Or this: "In the course of the Ukraine conflict that erupted in 2014, Germany has for the first time taken the lead on a major international crisis. The main center of Western action and coordination hasn’t been Washington, Brussels, Paris, or London, but Berlin." Or this from last year's G7 meeting: "Germany, Britain and the US want an agreement to offer support to any EU member state tempted to withdraw backing for the sanctions on Moscow, which are hurting the Russian economy." Etc.

8From his March New York Times interview: "Did you notice they’re buying from everybody but the United States? They’re buying planes, they’re buying everything, they’re buying from everybody but the United States." NYT: "Our law prevents us from selling to them, sir. " Trump: "Uh, excuse me?" NYT: "We still have sanctions in the U.S. that would prevent the U.S. from being able to sell that equipment."

9From the same interview: "Mr. Trump with all due respect, I think it's China that’s the No. 1 trading partner with North Korea." Trump: "I've heard that certainly, but I've also heard from other sources that it's Iran." Actually, it's China, by a factor of about a thousand. Iran and North Korea have basically no bilateral trade.

Here's a jaw-dropping entry in the annals of prosecutorial misconduct. Down in Miami, the US Attorney's office tells defense attorneys to use a local shop called Imaging Universe when they make copies of discovery documents. Its owner, Ignacio E. Montero, then turns around and provides the government with a CD that contains everything the defense has copied:

Arteaga-Gomez [the defense attorney] phoned Montero on April 25 to ask who had told him to provide copies of the CDs to the government. Montero, the motion says, answered that an “agent” told his office manager to do it. “Mr. Montero then stated that he had been providing to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the past 10 years duplicate copies of the discovery documents selected by defense counsel in other cases.”

Montero also forwarded to [defense attorneys] an April 21 email he sent to a healthcare-fraud paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stating that he’d provided the Justice Department with duplicates of defense records “since 2006.” Montero added that both his old company, Xpediacopy, and Imaging Universe had done it.

....“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has admitted that Agent Deanne Lindsey had been receiving copies of the CDs and had been keeping the duplicate CDs in a folder as she received them,” the motion says. Lindsey also “confessed to opening four of those duplicate CDs” looking for files, copying and pasting files onto her own CDs and providing “those new CDs to the government’s expert witness for trial preparation,” the motion says.

The government's response is apparently to claim that Lindsey, the FBI agent, was some kind of rogue operator, and prosecutors never saw any of this stuff. Maybe so. But then, that's what they always say, isn't it?