The actual news today, such as it is, concerns the federal deficit. A few weeks ago President Trump tweeted this:

The media has not reported that the National Debt in my first month went down by $12 billion vs a $200 billion increase in Obama first mo.

ZOMG! Trump is a fiscal genius! But today the Treasury released its deficit report for February:

Sad news. January's modest surplus has been wiped out. The deficit in February was $192 billion. Just like last year. I don't suppose Trump will be tweeting about that, will he? But he still could: His February deficit is $0.74 billion less than Obama's in his first February. Is that worth a tweet?

But who cares about all this? It's just money. The real motivation for this post is to mock the Bureau of the Fiscal Service for the op-art inspired bit of visual ugliness they use to report the deficit over time. Seriously, guys? What possible piece of software could they be using to produce this? Every time I look at it the world starts spinning.

Here's a snippet from "Bernie Sanders in Trump Country," airing tonight on the Chris Hayes show:

Bernie may not believe that, but an awful lot of people probably do. This is, obviously, one of the big problems with American politics right now: both sides over-respond to extreme caricatures of the other side. So at the risk of insulting you all with a really simplistic diagram, here's the real world:

In every country, probably since the beginning of time, populations have lived on a continuum like this. Some people enjoy cultural change and look forward to it. Some are apprehensive of cultural change and resist it. At one extreme end you have stone racists and xenophobes, and at the other you have the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

But they're actually a pretty small part of the population. Standard issue Republicans and Democrats are closer to the middle, and it's just human nature that there's a limit to how much change they can accept. If you push past that limit you're going to run into political blowback.

I'd add that I suspect some of us are less open to change than we think. For example, I'd probably put myself at about an 8 on this scale intellectually. But emotionally I'm more like a 5 or 6. I'm a creature of habit, and not especially thrilled about exploring new and different places, but I'm not especially afraid of cultural change either.

In any case, my fairly obvious point here is twofold. First, both sides should try to respond to the standard issue folks on the other side, rather than pretending that they're all represented by the loudest, most extreme voices. It's easy to mount arguments against the extremists, but those arguments never actually persuade anyone. Second, we liberals should keep pushing for more tolerance of cultural change, but we should also recognize that lots of perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary people get nervous about it a lot faster than we do. That doesn't make them bad people, it just means they're a few notches away from us on the bell curve.

A few days ago, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway talked to the Bergen Record about the possibility that Trump Tower had been wiretapped:

What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their — certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways, and microwaves that turn into cameras, etc., so we know that that is just a fact of modern life.

Conway repeated this claim yesterday on one of the Sunday chat shows, and she has a point. You can aim a concentrated beam of microwaves at a window and make out conversations on the other side.1 This is hardly science fic—wait. What?

She was talking about microwave ovens? For God's sake. I've said this before and I'll say it again: why does anyone talk to Conway? Seriously, what's the point?

1Yeah, yeah, it's actually a laser that you aim at a window. But maybe it's a microwave laser?

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. economic expansion is now the third-longest on record and showed no signs of letting up in February, with robust hiring, falling unemployment and firmer wage growth opening the way for the Federal Reserve to raise short-term interest rates....Average hourly earnings in the private sector rose 2.8% from a year earlier,1 a sign that the tightening job market is pushing employers to raise pay.

"Firmer wage growth." Maybe so. But overall wages can be skewed by big gains at the top, so every month I look at production and nonsupervisory workers as a gauge of how wages are doing for ordinary people. Here it is since the end of the recession:

Production and nonsupervisory workers had a pretty good 2015, notching wage gains a little over 2 percent (adjusted for inflation). But it's been downhill ever since, and they've actually seen wage cuts in the first couple of months of 2017. Maybe the economy is overheating, but it sure looks to me like inflation is still pretty restrained and a lot of people aren't seeing that supposedly tighter labor market.

1This is not adjusted for inflation, so even for the broad labor market, wage gains haven't been all that impressive recently.

President Trump has already claimed that Barack Obama left him an economy in a "mess"; that Obama is probably behind all the protests and leaks; and that Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign. Now along comes OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to add yet another ugly accusation:

We thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers in terms of the number of people in the workforce to make the unemployment rate, that percentage rate, look smaller than it actually was.

These folks just don't stop. This isn't quite as bad as the wiretapping thing, but it's still plenty appalling. Then there was this:

The BLS did not change the way they count, I don't think, but you can have a long conversation when you've got a numerator and a denominator, how to arrive at a percentage.

Oh FFS, it's a pretty short conversation even for a sixth grader. Here's the formula:

  • Percentage = 100 * (numerator / denominator)
  • Employment rate = 100 * (number employed / labor force)
  • Using the jobs numbers from February: 100 * (152,528 / 160,056) = 95.30 percent. Subtract from 100 to get the unemployment rate: 4.70 percent.

There are no alternative ways of doing it. Here's a pretty chart for Mulvaney showing the numerator, denominator, and unemployment rate for the past decade:

Frisbee Golf!

I got caught up in some other stuff today and didn't use the new camera much. But I promised to annoy you, and the weekend is almost over, so annoy you I shall. Here's my pal David on the 6th hole of the UC Irvine disc golf course this morning. We play every Sunday. This picture shows off the burst mode of the Lumix, which my old camera didn't have:

That was David's best shot of the day. The disc landed about a foot from the pin. Here's a full-frame crop of a penny in macro mode. Not bad, but nothing special:

And here's a flower at UC Irvine, just because:

Here's a look at new job creation over the past six years. The trendline has been steadily downward since 2014. Perhaps the Fed should have second thoughts before deciding that the February report was strong enough to deserve an interest rate hike.

Panorama!

Exclusively for my weekend readers, here's the first-ever panorama shot showing the nerve center of this blog. Impressive, isn't it? Phone, computer, TV, the whole nine yards. And convenient to the refrigerator. Sort of like Air Force One.

I would have shown even more, but this was the most I could coax out of the camera. I'm not sure if this is some limitation in the Lumix, or if it expects you to hold the camera very, very level, and I didn't.

Bokeh!

As you'll recall from yesterday, bokeh refers to the blurry background in a photograph. It's a word taken from the Japanese, probably because blurriness didn't sound very professional. Besides, every profession needs its own jargon to refer to simple concepts in a way that will confuse outsiders.

This morning was bokeh test day. I chose flowers for my subjects because they don't move around as much as some other subjects I could name. All of these shots are full frame, with a small bit of exposure compensation in some cases but no other retouching.

First up is a succulent of some kind, precise name unknown. This was taken very close with a sunny background in the far distance. The round white circles are typical of bokeh, so this shot makes an excellent test subject:

When professional photographers talk about bokeh, they mean more than just the blurriness itself. They're talking about quality of the blurriness. Is it nice and smooth? Is it pleasing to the eye? Are the circles round, rather than cat-eyed? I'm not experienced enough to judge bokeh at a deep level, but this seems pretty good to me. However, anyone with more expertise is welcome to comment. Don't worry: I won't be offended if it's not actually all that great.

For comparison, here's the same shot with the old Canon. I couldn't fill the whole frame, so this picture is cropped. It was also tricky to compose because the Canon doesn't have as much focusing flexibility as the Lumix. It's not bad, and you might actually prefer it to the Lumix version. But more to the point of this exercise, the amount of blurriness in the background is far less than the Lumix with its bigger sensor and longer lens. The Lumix can easily be set to provide less blurriness if you want, but the Canon can never get more than this:

Next up is a salvia. It's similar to the picture of the succulent (i.e., taken up close with the background far away), but shot away from the sun:

Next is a calla lily. This one was shot at medium zoom. It turns out the Lumix can focus pretty close even at longish focal lengths, which helps produce bokeh even when the background is fairly close:

Ditto for this one, a pretty flower that I don't know the name of:

Thie next shot shows how you can use a narrow depth of field to highlight a single subject in a field. This was shot at maximum zoom, so the background flowers are out of focus even though they're only a few inches away from the foreground flower:

In theory, all of these pictures were shot at f4.5, which maximizes the bokeh. However, the Lumix randomly changes aperture on me for some reason, even though I have it set to aperture priority. I'm not sure what's going on with that. However, I've downloaded the full manual, so I'll study up on that today.

Finally, here's a cat:

Why? Well, why not?

Every couple of weeks I like to post the latest Pollster aggregate of Obamacare's approval rating. It's been rising for months, and it's now a solid five points in positive territory.

And as long as we're on the subject, a friend reminded me the other day of just how infuriating Democrats have been on Obamacare. They've had seven years to extol its benefits, which they should have been doing at the top of their lungs. Instead, most of them have done their best to avoid being associated with it. This is one of the biggest own-goals in party history. Is it any wonder that the public has been lukewarm about Obamacare when one party has attacked it relentlessly and the other has mostly twiddled its thumbs and stared at the ceiling?