Kevin Drum

Here Is Today's Viral Correction

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:11 AM EST

I don't usually go in for funny corrections, but this one in the Daily Beast deserves the attention it's getting:

Correction: A previous version of the story indicated that Liz Mair would prefer a “dry dog turd” for president over either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. She would only prefer the turd to Trump.

Glad we got that cleared up. It makes sense, given this author squib at the end of the most recent piece she wrote for the Daily Beast:

Liz Mair is an advocate for immigration reform, an opponent of ethanol mandates and subsidies, and an opponent of Donald Trump.

You could say that. More here and here. Normal Monday blogging will commence shortly. Then again, Maybe this is normal Monday blogging these days.

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Raw Data: How #White Are the Oscars, Anyway?

| Sun Jan. 24, 2016 1:58 PM EST

The chart on the right shows the trend of black Oscar nominees in the four acting categories by decade. In the most recent decade—including the past two years, in which no blacks were nominated—there were 18 black nominees, which amounts to 9 percent of all acting nominees during that period. Here's a comparison (for Americans only) with top positions in other fields:

  • 4-star military officers: 13 percent
  • Members of Congress: 10 percent
  • University presidents: ~3 percent
  • Senators: 2 percent
  • Nobel Prize winners: 1.1 percent
  • Fortune 500 CEOs: 0.8 percent
  • Billionaires: 0.2 percent
  • Governors: 0

POSTSCRIPT: Most of the #OscarsSoWhite backlash has come in the acting categories, which is why I made this chart. The odd thing about this is that the acting categories are a gaudy aurora borealis compared to the paleness of the rest of the awards. With the exception of songwriting, a grand total of eight black artists have been nominated in every single other category over the past decade. Here are the percentages:

The Anti-Trump Campaign Starts to Get Real

| Sun Jan. 24, 2016 11:01 AM EST

Now we're talking. I'm not sure how much money is behind this, but here's the kind of attack ad against Donald Trump that I've been waiting for. There has to be a ton of stuff like this available, and it doesn't cost much to find it and put it together.

Obviously this piece would have to be edited down to 30 or 60 seconds. And I'd probably recut it to make it meaner. Nor it is enough by itself: it's just one of several avenues that might do some real damage. But it's a start.

Let's Have a Contest For Best Alternate "Against Trump" Cover

| Sat Jan. 23, 2016 5:54 PM EST

Just keep in mind: this is a cover that's supposed to persuade conservatives to turn against Trump.

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.

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.

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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.