I get asked frequently whether I'm worried about this election. Of course I am. It's a blot on our country that a man like Donald Trump has even won a major-party nomination, and it's possible he could even win the presidency. Who wouldn't be worried about that?

But am I especially worried because the national polls are within four or five points and sometimes even moving in Trump's direction? Nope. This is an election with no incumbent running. There have been six of these in the postwar era, and the average margin of victory is about 4 percentage points. That's just the way they go, and we shouldn't be surprised that this one is running about the same. The fact that Trump is even closer in some polls is also entirely normal. If he's truly four points behind, you'd expect a range of about 0-8 percentage points in different polls. And the fact that he's sometimes closer and sometimes farther behind is also normal. External events will affect these things. Put this all together, and you'd expect individual polls to range anywhere from Trump ahead by two points to behind by ten points.

And that's pretty much what we're seeing right now. Trump could win, and that's hardly cause for cheer. But he's been steadily behind Hillary Clinton by 4-6 points for the past month, and the fact that individual polls sometimes show the race closer is nothing to get extra jittery about. Ordinary jitters are quite enough.

Is Brexit Delayed Brexit Denied?

Hmmm....

Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation....Ms Sturgeon has promised to explore every option to keep Scotland in the EU, and has repeatedly warned that if that is not possible as part of the UK, it is “highly likely” to lead to a second independence vote.

This sounds an awful lot like a way to ensure that Brexit never happens. Or am I missing something?

Did you miss Donald Trump's speech "announcing" Mike Pence as his running mate? No worries. The Twitter version is always more fun anyway:

UPDATE: Here's the whole thing in all its glory:

Friday Kitten Blogging - 15 July 2016

A friend of mine was visiting this week and got a new kitten while he was here. Why? Because the breeder happened to be nearby, so it was more convenient than making a special trip later just to pick her up. As a result, our house endured a kitten invasion for several days. She has no name yet, but she's a calico Siberian with all the exuberance of kittenhood—which means that most of the time she looked about like this:

However, she occasionally slowed down enough for my camera's shutter to catch a better view:

Isn't she adorable? Unfortunately, that view was not shared by everybody. We mostly kept her isolated in her own room, but we took her out to play periodically and occasionally she squirmed away, as kittens will. Here's her first—and only—meeting with Hilbert:

Poor Hilbert. He lasted about five seconds under her gimlet eye. Then he turned tail and ran under the bed. Courage is not his strong point.

Anyway, she's a tiny fluffball who is going to grow up into a great big fluffball. That's the way of Siberians. And I have a note for scientists: she currently weighs nothing. I suspect that her fur has antigrav properties, which someone should probably look into. Could be useful.

Um, what?

What kind of moron leaks something like this? Is it actually some kind of Trump-approved effort to make sure Pence knows his place? Jesus. Apparently Trump can't even make up his mind about his running mate, let alone something that's actually important.

Are Conservatives Serious About ISIS?

Over at The Corner, conservatives are using the opportunity of dozens dead in France to—what else? Blame it all on President Obama. Here's a small sampling:

Mario Loyola: I don’t want my incandescent anger at Obama’s ISIS policy to get in the way of a simple observation: Obama thinks that more people die in bathtubs than in terrorist attacks, and accordingly, it would be disproportionate to make more than a minimal effort to eliminate the ISIS safe havens in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. He thinks today’s elevated risk of mass-casualty terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. is more acceptable than the risks of really going to war against ISIS, and he thinks that going to war against ISIS won’t stop the terrorist attacks anyway.

Jeremy Carl: One sees how deeply unserious a country America has become. And this is true not just among politicians, but in our entire public culture, which has ultimately permitted as dangerous, divisive, and shallow a man as President Obama to occupy the highest office in the land....We’ve fallen so far that a French socialist dandy is teaching us about resolve in the face of terror, just as previously a bunch of French leftist cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo taught the simpering cowards in our mainstream media a lesson about the true purpose of and, sadly, the ultimate price that must sometimes be paid for, defending free speech and expression.

Jay Nordlinger: What I have to say is not very sophisticated. It would not pass muster at the Council on Foreign Relations. But I think you have to kill these jihadists, and kill them, and kill them, until they simply tire of being killed and leave civilization alone.

A final thought, for now: Al Haig used to say, “Go to the source. You gotta go to the source.”...Iraq, Syria, and Iran are home bases for terrorists worldwide. (And I have confined myself to three.) I know that, for more than ten years, we’ve been tired of the phrase “Either confront them over there or confront them here.” Yeah, yeah, yawn, yawn, warmongering neocons. But some clichés are true, whether we want them to be or not.

Peter Kirsanow: The JV team is whipping the Super Bowl champs because the latter’s coaches are weak, stupid, and deluded....At the same time the president wrings his hands about possible radicalization of American youth he moves heaven and earth to release the most dangerous of radicals from Guantanamo. The commander-in-chief can set red lines toward no purpose and apologize to enablers of terror but he can’t summon the interest or ability to secure a status of forces agreement. No place on the planet is more secure and peaceful than when the president took office.

All of these folks are fundamentally pissed off about our "seriousness" in going after ISIS—although I don't think ISIS has yet been connected to the Nice attack. But put that aside. Whenever I read stuff like this, I have one question: What do you think we should do?

If you really want to destroy ISIS, and do it quickly, there's only one alternative: ground troops, and plenty of them. This would be a massive counterinsurgency operation, something we've proven to be bad at, and at a guess would require at least 100,000 troops. Maybe more. And they'd have to be staged in unfriendly territory: Syria, which obviously doesn't want us there, and Iraq, which also doesn't want us there in substantial numbers.

Is that what these folks want? Anything less is, to use their words, unserious. But if they do want a massive ground operation, and simply aren't willing to say so because they're afraid the public would rebel, then they're just as cowardly as the people they're attacking.

This is the choice. Don't bamboozle me with no-fly zones and tougher rules of engagement and better border security. That's small beer. You either support Obama's current operation, more or less, or else you want a huge and costly ground operation. There's really no middle ground. So which is it?

Via Alex Tabarrok, here's a New York Times story about a "new" treatment for cavities:

Nobody looks forward to having a cavity drilled and filled by a dentist. Now there’s an alternative: an antimicrobial liquid that can be brushed on cavities to stop tooth decay — painlessly.

The liquid is called silver diamine fluoride, or S.D.F. It’s been used for decades in Japan, but it’s been available in the United States, under the brand name Advantage Arrest, for just about a year.

....Silver diamine fluoride has another advantage over traditional treatment: It kills the bacteria that cause decay. A second treatment applied six to 18 months after the first markedly arrests cavities, studies have shown.

Tabarrok's reaction is the obvious one: the Japanese have been using this for decades but it only became available in the United States a year ago? What the hell is wrong with the FDA?

But wait. What about other countries? If this stuff is so great, is it being used in Canada and France and India and Spain? I looked around and found this (written three years ago):

Studies suggested that SDF is effective in preventing new caries and arresting caries both in primary teeth and permanent teeth....Although SDF has been used in Australia, Asian countries, such as China and Thailand, and South American countries, such as Brazil and Peru, are concerned that SDF is not yet cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration but is accepted to be used in many European countries and in USA. More well-designed clinical trials on SDF for arresting dental caries are necessary to provide sound and convincing evidence.

The big problem with SDF is that it turns your teeth black. That's not too big a deal for a back molar or something, but it's not so great for visible teeth.

As for the FDA, they can't approve something until it's submitted, so I'm not sure they really bear any fault for the nonavailability of SDF until recently. Apparently SDF is fairly well known in other countries but hasn't caused any kind of revolution in dental care, which might explain why no one bothered with it here until recently. It's used mostly for children, because (a) they hate getting drilled and (b) their teeth are going to fall out eventually, so black stains don't matter so much.

SDF is certainly a quick and low-cost treatment, and I could see it being favored by roving dentists in poor regions of the world, or for indigent patients who can't afford conventional treatment. Aside from that, dentists around the world still seem to use conventional fillings almost exclusively even though they know about SDF. I feel like there has to be more to this story, but it's not immediately obvious from what I could find on Google. Are there any dentists out there who would like to weigh in on this?

POSTSCRIPT: Also, is it really not possible to cover up the black stains? If we could do this, would SDF become the primary treatment for most cavities?

It's Pence!

After a couple of days of will-he-or-won't-he, Donald Trump has finally announced that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will be his running mate. Trump was going to postpone the announcement in light of the attack in Nice, but I guess he reconsidered. However, he is postponing the press conference, so for now all we have is a tweet.

Pence is a hardline conservative and a ferocious opponent of abortion. There was a time when he was one of the most conservative men in Congress, but time passed and now he's just a run-of-the-mill lunatic conservative. He's really unpopular in Indiana, so I guess the VP spot seemed like something of a life raft to him.

Pence is not especially bright or quick on his feet, which means he might have trouble defending Trump's frequent idiocies and backflips. It should be fun to watch him squirm.

UPDATE: Presented without comment:

Did saturation media coverage of Donald Trump drive his success in the primaries? Reporters swear it didn't: they were just covering a popular candidate, the same as they always do. Given the immense amount of coverage Trump got, especially from cable news outlets anxious to broadcast his every speech in full, this is a little hard to take seriously. Trump played the press like a Stradivarius, and they loved every minute of it. Matthew Dickinson brings the evidence to make this case:

What about the argument that the media coverage followed Trump’s popularity rather than inspiring it? Importantly, the heavy media focus on Trump began before his rise in the polls and in the absence of other traditional indicators of candidate strength, such as campaign fundraising prowess. That’s suggestive of media influence, but research also backs up the idea that causality runs in that direction.

For both the 2012 and 2016 Republican presidential races, political scientists Kevin Reuning and Nick Dietrich analyzed daily data from the start of election polling up to the Iowa caucus. They looked at public interest in candidates (gauged by online searches), polling support for candidates, and media coverage on major cable news stations. They found that increased media coverage influenced the polls — not vice versa.

Trump borrowed the insight that used to power Ann Coulter's book promotions before everyone got tired of her: anything suitably outrageous will get media attention. Today, this works far better than it ever did for Coulter. Outrageous stuff routinely drives social media into a frenzy, and old media's current infatuation with new media meant that anything going viral online almost automatically became news all by itself. Trump rode this editorial gullibility to the Republican nomination, and maybe to the White House.

Will it ever work again? I doubt it. Eventually, digital outrage will wear out its welcome and social media will move on. Alternatively, old media will finally figure out that social media isn't its salvation—and that several thousand bored folks spending a few seconds each to express an opinion isn't news anyway. Either way, this is a moment, not a sign of the future.

When the Supreme Court was considering an affirmative action case in 2003, both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell broke with George Bush and announced their support for taking race into account in college admissions. "I wish it was possible for everything to be race-neutral in this country," Powell said, "but I'm afraid we're not yet at that point where things are race-neutral."

In 2009, when Congress voted on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Republicans voted almost unanimously against it—with the exception of all four Republican women in the Senate, who broke with their party to support its initial passage.

Yesterday, the Senate's only black Republican told his white GOP colleagues that police officers aren't quite the racial paragons they like to think they are:

He described several encounters with police, including one where he was stopped because the officer suspected his car was stolen. He described a similar incident that happened to his brother, a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army. And he told the story of a staffer who was "pulled over so many times here in D.C. for absolutely no reason other than driving a nice car." The staffer eventually traded in his Chrysler for a "more obscure form of transportation" because "he was tired of being targeted."

"I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very similar story to tell no matter their profession. No matter their income, no matter their disposition in life," he said.

He asked his Senate colleagues to "imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of those stops."
Scott also described walking into an office building on Capitol Hill and having an officer ask him to show his ID even though he wore a Senate pin.

A white friend writes to say much the same thing:

For about a year and a half, I lived in a northwest Atlanta neighborhood that, aside from me, was pretty much all black. Just across the river was Smyrna in Cobb County, where everyone is pretty much all white.

I'm 56 and I've been stopped for license checks 12 times in my life. Once was in high school. The other 11 were when I lived there, and every single one was the Smyrna cops sitting at the end of that bridge. Being white, I got a smile and a wave. The drug sniffing dog was for everyone else.

It is pretty hard to mistake that message: "Weer keepin ar eyes on yew boys!" That constant low level surveillance only of people who don't look like you makes it difficult to believe that most cops are all that conscientious.

Conservatives take note. Just because you don't notice this stuff yourself doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Even your own colleagues say so.