There's no reason to post this today in particular, but 2016 is the 70th anniversary of the Roosevelt dime. Huzzah! It holds the US record for longevity in design: aside from dates and mint marks, it's remained unchanged for its entire 70 years.1

There's an interesting story about that design. Obviously Franklin Roosevelt is on the obverse and the symbol for the March of Dimes, which was closely associated with Roosevelt, is on the reverse. But there's more. At the time of Roosevelt's death in 1945, the Soviet Union was still an ally against the Axis powers in World War II, and there was a strong pro-communist clique within the US Mint's Bureau of Engraving that wanted to memorialize our alliance with "Uncle Joe" Stalin. They settled for quietly engraving his initials right below Roosevelt's bust. Unfortunately for the clique, by the time the dime was released to the public in 1946 the Soviet Union was no longer an ally and the red scare was well underway. When Stalin's initials were discovered, conservatives went ballistic and the Mint had to quickly come up with some kind of plausible cover story. Luckily, the artist who drew Roosevelt's bust was named John Sinnock, so that was the story they settled on. The initials had nothing to do with Stalin. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that Sinnock shared Stalin's initials.

But it really is Stalin's initials on the dime, and they're there to this day. You can see them pretty easily with a magnifying glass. In fact—

What's that? You don't believe this? Well, of course not. That's because everyone reading this blog has at least a room-temperature IQ. Modern US coins all feature their designers' initials, which is why you can see VDB on the Lincoln Cent, GR on the Kennedy half dollar, and so forth. But in the right-wing fever swamps of the 1940s, a lot of people really did believe that these were Stalin's initials.

So you see? Americans have always been a little bit crazy. Or even a lot crazy sometimes. We should all just feel lucky that Donald Trump wasn't president at the time. He would have insisted on the dime featuring his initials, not some loser artist's. And initials probably wouldn't have been enough. He would most likely have directed the Mint to engrave TRUMP on every coin issued during his tenure. No conspiracy theory would have been necessary to know where that came from.

1The Washington quarter lasted 67 years, 1932 to 1999, before it was changed for the state quarter series. The record holder for a single side of a coin is the Lincoln cent. Its obverse hasn't changed in the 107 years since its introduction in 1909.

The IOC has upheld the ban on Russian track and field athletes at the Rio Olympic Games, and Russia is naturally upset. "We have done everything possible since the ban was first imposed to regain the trust of the international community," the Russian Ministry of Sport insists. So how are they treating the whistleblower who provided reporters with all the details of Russia's doping scheme at the Sochi Olympics?

Russia has opened a criminal case against the former director of its antidoping agency, after his allegations that Moscow had systematically provided performance-enhancing drugs to its Olympic athletes....Russia’s Investigative Committee said Saturday it was opening a case against Grigory Rodchenkov for alleged abuse of authority in his role as head of the Russian antidoping agency, Interfax reported.

....In a series of interviews Mr. Rodchenkov detailed Russia’s intricate scheme of providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, with his own participation, and using law enforcement authorities to help cover up the traces in urine samples.

See? Russia is showing its full cooperation by ensuring that the guy who eventually ratted them out is suitably punished for his years of cheating on their behalf. Now, you may or may not approve of this, but as Donald Trump would say, it shows strength. And Donald appreciates strength. Unfortunately, his favorite strongman has turned on him:

Russian President Vladimir Putin walked back some of his previous praise for U.S. presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump on Friday at a forum....Asked about previous comments in which he complimented Trump, Putin said they were misinterpreted, saying he had only ever called Trump “flamboyant,” Reuters reported.

“He is, isn’t he?” Putin said Friday, smiling and prompting applause from the audience. “I did not give any other assessment of him.”

I suppose Trump will have to tweet something tonight about what a loser Putin is. That'll show him.

Friday Cat Blogging - 17 June 2016

Hilbert and Hopper get along fine, but they don't cuddle up together much anymore. Yesterday they did, however, when Hilbert decided to barge into the pod that Hopper had already staked out. Usually she gives up pretty quickly when this happens (you can almost feel Hopper mentally rolling her eyes and then heading off to some Hilbert-free spot), but this time she held her ground. Aren't they adorable?

And speaking of adorable, yesterday I wrote a post wondering what the hell Donald Trump meant by this: "Every time you turn on one of those aircraft carriers it costs you probably a million bucks. I'd say, don't turn it on. The captain would say, we want to show you how great these engines are working. No, I don't want to hear it, just don't."

Well, a reader from Denmark emails to suggest that this was—wait for it—a Reaganesque reimagining by Donald, who told this story years ago about his own yacht. As soon as he started talking about things that float on the water—i.e., aircraft carriers—his mind apparently drifted back to his own personal experience with things that float on the water—i.e., the ill-fated Trump Princess megayacht. And if my reader is right, a captain of the Trump Princess once wanted to show off his ship's engines to the boss, who was horrified at the potential expense of firing them up.

This totally makes sense, since Trump is so self-involved that everything always relates back to himself in one way or another. And it also makes sense that he might not have wanted to fire up the engines in his yacht—especially since he was in the process of going bankrupt at the time—whereas it makes no sense at all to worry about "turning on" the engine of a nuclear-powered Nimitz-class supercarrier. So: can anyone verify this? Did Trump originally tell this story about his own yacht, and somehow drifted back in time when he was talking about aircraft carriers yesterday?

And now, since you've all been so patient about me sneaking a Trump story into a catblogging post, on to the cats.

Word + LinkedIn? Sounds Great!

Randall Stross is not looking forward to the blessed union of LinkedIn and Microsoft Office. In particular, he's not happy with what he saw in a presentation explaining how the merger will benefit all of mankind:

I’m not a Microsoft shareholder myself, but I am one of the 1.2 billion users of Microsoft Office, and I was baffled to see my workhorse word-processing software show up in the rationale for this deal. Mr. Nadella supplied one explanatory clue in an email that he sent to Microsoft employees. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.”

....My version of Word, a relatively recent one, is not that different from the original, born in software’s Pleistocene epoch. It isn’t networked to my friends, family and professional contacts, and that’s the point. Writing on Word may be the only time I spend on my computer in which I can keep the endless distractions in the networked world out of sight....Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing,” said the move reflected a failure to understand what writers need. “Most of the most innovative writing tools now on the market position themselves precisely as distraction-free platforms,” he said.

Elon Musk once called Stross a "huge douchebag…and an idiot," which makes me like him already. But he's way off base here. Let's dispense with the obvious first: If this feature ever shows up in Microsoft Word, you'll be able to turn it off. It will take ten seconds. Not every new feature is the next Clippy, for chrissake.

I could just stop there, but what's the fun in that? Here's the bigger problem: Stross is a historian. Kirschenbaum is an English professor. They are the kind of people who think of writing as a profound, solitary activity. They lose themselves in their writing. They want to be left alone. They want to concentrate on the blank screen.

In other words, they represent about 1 percent of real-world writers. Kirschenbaum is right that there are lots of "innovative" writing tools these days that compete with each other to be the most distraction free. You can read about them here. Or if, like me, you think this is one of the most idiotic hipsterish trends to hit computers in a long time, you can read about it here. Either way, their market share is as minimal as their interfaces. Most people aren't such delicate flowers that a small array of icons and menus destroys their ability to pound out a few paragraphs.

More to the point, Stross needs to acknowledge that Word is designed for ordinary business folks who write data sheets, emails, memos, and other ephemera. They don't care too much about distraction-free writing because the whole concept is a joke: the average workplace is full of distractions all the time, from every possible direction. What's more, your average office drone writes about stuff related to their business and their industry. Getting hints about who might help with an estimate for the size of the left-handed screwdriver market probably sounds pretty handy.

If integration with LinkedIn ever makes it to Microsoft Word, I myself will turn it off faster than you can say "WTF is this?" And then I'll get back to work, none the worse for wear. Millions of others, perhaps, will try it out and find it useful. Who knows? Away from the ivory tower, it might turn out to be a handy thing.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Beijing: Apple iPhone Violated Chinese Patent

A dispute between Apple Inc. and Chinese regulators broke into the open after Beijing’s intellectual property authority said the design of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus violated a patent held by a Chinese company.

Yawn. Yet another cell phone patent dispute. Except for one thing: "Beijing" is not being used here as a metonym for "the Chinese government." It means Beijing. The city of Beijing, which apparently has its own intellectual property authority. Do other cities also have their own IP authorities? Yes indeed:

Civil enforcement of IPR in China is a two-track system. The first is the administrative track....Set up in the provinces and some cities, these local government offices operate as a quasi-judicial authority and are staffed with people who specialize in their respective areas of IP law. If they are satisfied with an IPR holder’s complaint, they investigate. The authorities can issue injunctions to bring a halt to the infringement, and they can even enlist the police to assist in enforcing their orders.

How about that? Cities can't award monetary damages, but they can order your product off the shelves. And that's not all these local IP offices do. They also celebrate IP:

China Intellectual Property Week 2016, which ran from April 20 to 26, held a range of activities to help increase the public's IP awareness....Local authorities across China have, since 2009, organized a series of activities in late April — collectively known as IP Week — to celebrate World IP Day on April 26....Yantai, Shandong province....Huzhou, Zhejiang province....Zhuzhou, Hunan province....Nantong, Jiangsu province....Harbin, Heilongjiang province.

I didn't know that China has IP authorities scattered around in cities all over the country. Nor did I know there was a World IP Day. Truly, the world is more wondrous than I ever imagined.

Has anyone noticed that old-school political science was thoroughly vindicated this year? Sure, Donald Trump is a cretinous demagogue who shouldn't be allowed within a thousand miles of our nuclear codes. But political science has nothing to say about that. What political science does say is that voters tend to elect candidates who are closer to the center.

And they did. Trump's bottomless ignorance and lying aside, he was a populist candidate who was fundamentally more centrist than modern tea-party ultras like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. On the Democratic side, despite all the drama, Hillary Clinton ended up beating Bernie Sanders pretty handily. Of the serious candidates with real backing, the two most centrist candidates ended up winning.

How about that?

POSTSCRIPT: Obviously Jeb Bush is the big hole in this theory. Well known, great credentials, lots of money, plenty of party backing, relatively centrist, and...he went nowhere. Of course, the median voter theorem doesn't guarantee that the median voter will like any candidate who happens to be fairly centrist. In the end, it turned out that Jeb was just a terrible campaigner.

Russian Track and Field Banned From Rio Olympics

The IOC has voted to ban Russia's track-and-field team from the 2016 Olympics due to its widespread and relentless doping operation:

Days before Friday’s vote, the World Anti-Doping Agency released information calling into question the credibility of Russia’s reforms. The agency said the testing authorities from the United Kingdom, in collecting urine samples, had been threatened by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service and that many athletes — a significant number of them track and field competitors — had evaded authorities to escape being tested.

Many athletes outside Russia had agitated for the vote to happen as it did. In recent weeks, Olympians have called on sports officials to conduct further investigations into the extent of the cheating of which Russia has been accused, extending across the spectrum of sports.

“Athletes have been losing sleep,” said Lauryn Williams, a track and field and bobsled athlete from the United States. “You can’t have faith in anybody who is Russian.” Whistle-blowers have provided further details on the clandestine doping scheme the report described. Fearing for their safety, at least three of them have fled to the United States.

The Times graphic above shows just how sophisticated the Russians were at the Sochi Winter Olympics. To evade the Javert-like doping cops at the IOC, they...drilled a hole in the urine collection room and passed bottles back and forth. I wonder why no one else has ever thought of that?

The Snake Oil Salesmen of Syria Are Back

I'm not quite sure why this is such big news, but apparently it is:

Dozens of State Department employees signed and submitted a memo early this week urging the Obama administration to adopt a more aggressive stance against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, including the use of military force.

The 51 signatories to the document, which was sent through the department’s internal “dissent channel,” were largely mid-level diplomats based in Washington and overseas, including a Syria desk officer and the consul general in Istanbul....The memo calls on the administration to respond to the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria — where at least a quarter of a million people have been killed in five years of civil war and nearly half the population has been internally displaced or has fled the country — with air attacks and other “stand-off” weapons, fired from a distance without troops on the ground, to force Assad into U.S.-led negotiations to end the conflict.

I just don't get it. If you want to argue for a massive ground campaign to wipe Assad off the map, fine. I disagree, but at least we're talking about something real. Air strikes and "stand-off" weapons, by contrast, are a joke. Those just aren't going to make a significant difference—aside from possibly prompting Russia to get back into the air strike business too, that is.

This stuff never stops. Everyone wants a miracle cure in the Middle East: the mythical "just right" military response that doesn't involve ground troops; won't get any Americans killed; and doesn't take very long—but that will be magically effective anyway. It's nuts. There are rare, specific occasions where this kind of thing might work: protecting a vital dam, supporting an allied offensive, etc. But in general? Forget it. You either fight a war or you stay out. This idea that we can be effective in a massively complex tribal conflict without getting our boots muddy is wishful thinking. It's not a miracle cure. It's snake oil.

Democrats decided to finally stand up for something by conducting a real live filibuster yesterday. I've personally never been impressed by the whole filibuster schtick, but put that aside. This is a public demonstration of how serious they are, and I'm told that this sort of thing matters. So what did they expend all this political capital on?

Answer: A bill that would allow the federal government to block gun sales to anyone suspected of terrorism. Here's how it would work. The FBI would be notified anytime that someone on a "known or suspected terrorist" list tries to buy a gun. That's nothing new. But they'd also be notified of attempted purchases by anyone who has been investigated for terrorist links or activities within the past five years. That's new. But what's really new is that the Attorney General could then block the purchase. Could. Greg Sargent explains:

The crux of the proposal is that it would not automatically result in anyone being denied the right to buy a firearm based on suspicion of terror-related behavior. Rather, it would give the Attorney General the discretion to block a sale to a given individual suspected of involvement of some kind in terrorism.

That's the theory, anyway. In real life, no AG would dare approve a gun sale after being notified of a purchaser's potential terrorist links. All it would take is one approval of a suspect who then went out and killed a few dozen people, and her career would be over. Ditto for the president, most likely. No matter what appeal procedures are put in place, the effective result of this is to automatically ban gun purchases by anyone who's ever been investigated by the FBI.

There are plenty of gun-control measures I'd support. Banning high-cap magazines, for one. But banning gun sales to anyone who's ever caught the FBI's attention? No thanks. Senate Democrats have finally put me in the position of agreeing with the NRA. Nice work, folks.

Do bodycams reduce the use of force by police officers? In the previous post, I wrote about a recent study in which the headline said bodycams had no effect but the study itself said they had a huge effect. What's going on?

Answer: there were two studies by the same group. The first one looked at the overall data from ten police departments and concluded that bodycams had little effect. The second study broke the police departments into those that followed the experimental protocol and those that didn't. This is from the second study:

We present results from preplanned subgroup analyses on the efficacy of the treatment for particular groups of interest, in a pre-specified manner. We did not perform these analyses when presenting the preliminary main effects in Ariel et al. (2016), as the data we were interested in—police officers’ discretion—were not available at the time.

Here are the basic results. The treatment groups are supposed to keep their bodycams on at all times when they're interacting with the public. The control groups are supposed to keep their bodycams off at all times:

So there you have it. The authors conclude:

Given our preliminary findings, we think that there is a clear route for...improving the implementation of BWCs around the world: cameras should remain on throughout the entire shift—that is, during each and every interaction with citizens—and should be prefaced by a verbal reminder that the camera is present. We argue that the verbal reminder delivered by the officer wearing the camera provides a mechanism to remind that ‘rules of conduct’ are in play—common courtesy from officer and citizen for one, and potentially a legal requirement given the weight of privacy sensitivities in the public domain.

I continue to have some doubts about the sheer size of the effect here, which is pretty unprecedented in real-world interventions like this. It's also worth noting that the big difference in use of force comes from only three police departments: those that followed the experimental protocol faithfully. This small sample size opens up the possibility that these police departments were different in some way other than the fact that they followed the experimental protocol. Perhaps they had better leadership to begin with, and that's why officers did what they were supposed to do?

Nonetheless, interesting stuff. It certainly provides an obvious avenue for follow-up studies, and it deserves more play than the first study. Perhaps someone should ask Donald Trump what he thinks of bodycams. That seems to be the only sure-fire way of getting the media's attention these days.