An Armada of Geese Is Coming For You

This is a very purposeful-looking armada of geese in our local pond. It reminds me of pictures of the Battle of Jutland, all sea and fog with lines of battle wagons in the far distance steaming toward some horrible final confrontation. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will have some pictures of our latest crop of baby geese, who are more reminiscent of an armada of fuzzy dinghies. Soon you will get very tired of geese. But at least it distracts me from writing about Donald Trump.

Here is the start of a Jake Tapper question to Donald Trump this morning. Trump has just gotten done lying yet again—and at length—about his support for the Iraq War, and Tapper finally decides to move on:

TAPPER: At a rally in Sacramento, you accused [Hillary Clinton] of lying about your foreign policy as it relates to expressingsupport for Japan being able to get nuclear weapons.

TRUMP: A hundred percent.

TAPPER: Well, let me just read from you....This is from an April 3 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News. You said: "North Korea has nukes, Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea."

And Chris Wallace says, "With nukes?"

And you say, "Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes."

So...

This is followed by nearly a thousand words over the course of three minutes of Tapper vainly trying to get Trump to address his question at all. It's not that Trump tap dances or makes excuses or pretends he really meant something different. He just flatly insists on talking about something else and bowls over Tapper whenever he tries to get him back on track. Finally Tapper gives up and moves on again.

This is not a criticism of Tapper, who has been more aggressive than most about trying to hold Trump accountable for the things he says. But what can you do? Trump very plainly has expressed support for Japan getting nukes. It's on tape. He's been explicit on multiple occasions that we should withdraw our military presence from Japan unless they're willing to pay us a lot more money. That's on tape too.

Hillary Clinton responded with this: "It's no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons." That's 100 percent accurate. It's not even slightly exaggerated. And yet Trump blithely insists that she's lying and then refuses to answer questions about it. Eventually exhaustion sets in and everyone just lets it go.

How do you handle someone like that?

Tyler Cowen points me to this from the Economist:

Most trading in bitcoin takes place in China: Huobi and OKCoin, two Chinese exchanges, are thought to account for more than 90% of transactions. The currency seems to have become an outlet for Chinese savers frustrated with their limited investment options and searching for high-yielding assets. The Chinese authorities are worried enough to have banned banks from dealing in bitcoin, but individuals are still free to speculate and have been doing so with gusto.

....China has also become the global hub for bitcoin mining, the process by which heavy-duty computing power is used to process transactions involving bitcoin, earning those doing the processing some new bitcoin as compensation. Over 80% of new bitcoin are now minted in data centres in places like Sichuan and Inner Mongolia.

One of the selling points of e-currencies like Bitcoin is that their decentralized nature makes them inherently free of government meddling. But is that really true? I've long thought that techno-evangelists show far less respect than they should toward meatspace assets like nuclear bombs, gun-wielding police forces, ownership of fiber optic networks, vast fortunes in physical goods, and so forth. This is, for example, why so many of them were naive enough back in the 90s to believe that the internet would spell doom for traditional marketing—only to wake up a few years later and discover that traditional marketers had adapted remarkably quickly to their supposed revolution. It turned out that high IQs aren't limited to Silicon Valley, and that websites and Google searches and Facebook advertising posed no more of a challenge to the existing order than television did in the 50s.

So is Bitcoin really safe from government meddling? It has been so far, but only in the same sense that an ant is safe from my boot as long as it doesn't annoy me. China, however, has already proved that a meatspace government can, in fact, crush the digital world if it's sufficiently motivated to do so. It's not even all that hard. So if e-currencies are now mostly a ploy for evading Chinese capital controls, I'd say we're about to learn pretty quickly whether (a) e-currencies can grow big enough to matter, and (b) national governments are truly helpless to do anything about them. I'll put my money on the meatspace men in Beijing if push ever comes to shove on this.

UBI Continues To Be Wildly Unpopular

The concept of an Unconditional Basic Income has become a hot topic on the interwebs. Conservative Charles Murray started things up in 2006 with the publication of In Our Hands, which created a brief stir and then sank into oblivion because (surprise!) conservatives were distinctly uninterested in cutting unconditional checks to lazy welfare bums.

Then it came out of hibernation a few months ago for reasons that escape me. At the time, I vaguely figured that much of the credit belonged to Vox's Dylan Matthews for his tireless advocacy of a UBI. It also, of course, had something to do with the explosion of Bernie mania. Bernie doesn't actually support a UBI, but he's said that it's "something that must be explored" and it pretty plainly fits into his general worldview. Nonetheless, after another 15 minutes of fame, it went into hibernation again. But it refused to die, emerging from its lair yet again a few weeks ago. Considering the fact that a UBI has less chance of being enacted than a law guaranteeing everyone a pet unicorn, this is a little odd. What's going on?

I'm still not sure, but much of it was probably due to an upcoming UBI referendum in Switzerland, engineered by the lefty Swiss community a couple of years ago. Today, after months of anticipation, they finally voted on it—and the results weren't pretty. Even in the heart of social democratic Europe, the mere concept of a UBI1 ended up with only 23 percent approval. It's still in pet unicorn territory.

But eventually it will become reality. We just have to wait for the robot revolution to evolve to the point where lots of middle-class white people are permanently put out of work. Then it swiftly will go from pet unicorn to "duh." I imagine this transformation will take a surprisingly short time and will happen sometime around 2030 or so.

1Despite endless headlines suggesting the Swiss were voting on payouts of $2,500 per month, the actual text of the initiative directs the Swiss parliament only to enact a UBI that "shall enable the whole population to live in human dignity and participate in public life." The actual level and financing of the UBI are not specified.

We already know that Donald Trump thinks Judge Gonzalo Curiel is biased against him because he's "Mexican." But what about other judges with non-white backgrounds? John Dickerson asked him about this on Face the Nation today:

Later, when asked if he believed a Muslim judge would treat him unfairly because of another controversial proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S., Trump replied: "It's possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely."

"Isn't there sort of a tradition though in America that we don't judge people by who their parents were and where they came from?" Dickerson asked. "I'm not talking about tradition," Trump replied. "I'm talking about common sense, okay? He's somebody, he's proud of his heritage."

OK then. No Hispanics and no Muslims. I wonder which non-white ethnicities are allowed to pass judgment on Trump? He's been pretty rough on China and Japan, after all. And Trump was king of the birthers a few years ago, so blacks probably don't think much of him. This brings up an obvious question:

When questioned on whether he would instruct his lawyers to ask that Judge Curiel get thrown out of the Trump University case, Trump said: "Well, I may do that now—We're finding things out now that we didn't know before."

"Because of his Mexican heritage though?" Dickerson pressed. "No, but because of other things," Trump responded. "I mean because of other things."

Hmmm. He wants Curiel tossed off the case, but not because of his Mexican heritage. Why is that? A reader points me toward a piece by Garrett Epps in the Atlantic this morning about a 1998 case overseen by federal judge Denny Chin:

Eventually, Chin dismissed Klayman’s client’s case....Not long after, the judge got a letter from Klayman and his co-counsel, Paul Orfanedes, asking a few “questions” about the judge’s Asian American background....In a written response, Chin...lowered the boom. Klayman and Orfanedes were required to withdraw as counsel from the case and would not be permitted to appear in Chin’s court on any matter ever again. They would be required to show his opinion to any other judge in the district in any future case. The court clerk would also report the sanctions to every court where they held bar membership.

....The Second Circuit briskly affirmed Chin’s order. “Courts have repeatedly held that matters such as race or ethnicity are improper bases for challenging a judge's impartiality,” wrote the chief judge, Ralph Winter, a Reagan appointee.

In public, Trump can rant about anything he wants. But in court, if his lawyers so much as mention Curiel's Mexican heritage in a recusal motion they risk nuclear sanctions. Even for Trump, they aren't willing to do that.

Still, there are always those "other things." My own guess is that this is a blustery Trumpian fiction, just like all the evidence of Barack Obama's Kenyan birth that Trump insisted his private investigators had been digging up back in 2011. We'll see.

Bottom line: Donald Trump apparently believes that the only judge qualified to try his case is a white Christian. I guess this is the new, more presidential Trump that his backers keep insisting will show up any day now for the general election.

I recommend that the following two words be officially removed from the English language:

  • Neoliberal
  • Fascist

The purpose of words is to facilitate the communication of thoughts between human beings. I have conducted exhaustive research1 on Twitter and other popular social networks which conclusively proves that these two collections of phonemes now do the opposite of that. They are therefore not words. Let's stop using them.

1Forthcoming in the Journal of Demotic Memes and Dialectics.

The Guardian claims that "at least 33" large American cities use testing methods deliberately designed to undercount the presence of lead in tap water:

Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

....Testing methods that can avoid detecting lead include asking testers to run faucets before the test period, known as “pre-flushing”; to remove faucet filters called “aerators”; and to slowly fill sample bottles. The EPA reiterated in February that these lead-reducing methods go against its guidelines, and the Flint charges show they may now be criminal acts.

....The EPA has warned since 2008 that pre-flushing is problematic and goes against the “intent” of regulations designed to detect lead....Further distortion is achieved through the removal of “aerators” — the small metal filters at the tip of faucets. These filters can collect lead particles and add to lead detected in tests.

I don't know how serious this is. I suppose no one will know until these cities collect data properly and compare it to their old results. The EPA says it plans to release new testing rules in 2017.

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.