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Oct. 21st, 2016

devil duck

Another reason for Trump to talk about rigged elections

As Hillary pointed out in the third debate, any time Trump doesn't get his way he concludes that the system is rigged against him. Yes, this even applies to the third debate itself, where he alleges without proof that Hillary was given the questions in advance. Seriously, the six major topics were announced in advance, and anybody with half a brain could have made a decent guess as to what questions would be asked about those six topics. But I digress.

It occurs to me that another reason for Trump to talk about rigged elections and not accepting the results of the election is so he can call Hillary a hypocrite when Russian hackers deliver him the election and Hillary disputes it.

That sounds like a far-fetched scenario, but not impossible. We know that voting machines can be hacked to produce a total count that doesn't match the actual votes cast. We know that manual recounts are done (in most places) only when the reported vote total is very close, and even then political appointees may control how thorough the recount is. We know that some jurisdictions in the U.S. use electronic-only voting machines that make a manual recount impossible.

So if I were a security-cracker who wanted to shift the outcome of a U.S. election, I would pick a bunch of states where polling indicated my candidate was losing narrowly. On each voting machine, if a vote is cast for other than my preferred candidate, with 10% probability I record it instead as a vote for my preferred candidate. If the actual vote is 50% Clinton, 45% Trump, that hack is enough to reverse it to 50% Trump, 45% Clinton: a large enough margin to avoid a recount, but not so large as to be completely implausible.

Oct. 20th, 2016

devil duck

weight and food (spouse-locked)

165.2 lbs
breakfast: grapefruit, yogurt, soy milk, cereal, dried cranberries, cranberry juice
mid-morning: hard-boiled egg
lunch: burrito bowl w/chicken & seitan
dinner: pizza (Two Boots)
bedtime: milk

In bed 11:25, up 6:05, 94% efficiency in between.
Morgi whistled and whimpered a bit during the night as he shifted positions, but I didn't have to get up to calm him down. And last night he was right behind Luna to meet us at the door. Still limping, but using the front-left foot. I gave him a foot-soak yesterday morning. 100 mg of Rimadyl and two Gabapentins yesterday -- a fair amount of drugs, but only 2/3 the recommended dosage of each. Taking him for a follow-up visit to Blue Pearl at 9:00 this morning.
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Oct. 16th, 2016

devil duck


A year or so ago we bought a set of six Stickley chairs at an antiques auction. They all needed to be re-caned, so we looked up some YouTube videos on how to do that, and put the chairs in the basement awaiting re-caning.

Naturally, that hasn't happened yet. But a few days ago shalmestere mail-ordered the materials, in hope that their arrival will spur us to actually do the job.

The YouTube videos seem to assume that you're winding your "fiber rush" (i.e. fake cane made of recycled paper) directly around the edges of the chair. If you look closely at the above photo, you'll see that the "caned" part of the chair is a separate piece that drops into the receptacle formed by the four sides, so the precise technique shown in the videos won't work: you need to be able to weave over and under the sides, dozens of times (multiplied by six chairs), frequently using both hands, which is difficult if you're also holding the seat-bottom. So I built a jig from scrap lumber left in the garage by the previous owner:

It looks cockeyed because it is, because the chair bottoms are not rectangles but isosceles parallelograms; the sides have a slope of about 1/10. I thought that was enough to warrant chiseling a slope at both ends of the stretchers to accommodate the square legs.

And here it is doing its job:

BTW, the jig is sitting on my "carpenter's bench", which used to be a butcher's block in a neighborhood restaurant that was going out of business. The "crafts area" in our basement is cramped, cluttered, poorly lit, and a work-safety nightmare, but better than none.

Oct. 8th, 2016



I, for one, am shocked and stunned to learn that Donald Trump is a sexist boor, stuck forever at the emotional age of fourteen, who thinks of women exclusively as sex objects, valuable only insofar as they are sexually attractive and receptive to him.  I mean, who would have guessed that from his public statements and behavior over the past thirty years, particularly the past year, when he's been a model of gentlemanly respect?

Oct. 1st, 2016

devil duck

concert and stuff

We had been considering going to an SCA event this weekend, but it didn't work out for various reasons. So the night before last, shalmestere said "Wasn't there a concert that looked good but we couldn't get to because we'd be on our way to the event?" She looked on various web sites and discovered a TENET concert of Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova music, in two shows September 30. So yesterday morning she made some phone calls and nabbed two tickets to the early show.

It turns out that TENET is doing a series of three concerts this year focused on Machaut. This one started with Machaut's predecessors Adam de la Halle and Philippe de Vitry, continuing through Machaut's "early period" (i.e. pieces included in mss. dated around 1350); the second, in January, will be "middle period" Machaut and contemporaries; and the third, in May, will be late Machaut and "the next generation" (presumably Ars Subtilior, perhaps as far as Dufay). All three concerts will be in the same small performance space (seats about 40-50) on 13th Street.

I think this is the earliest repertoire we've heard TENET do: I tend to associate them with 17th-century music. And indeed, they're doing Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, and Gesualdo this year, in addition to the Machaut cycle. But (with a somewhat different choice of personnel and instruments) they did a terrific job of it. Music director Scott Metcalf gave an informal but informative overview of Machaut's life and work, as well as controversies and trends in performance practice of this music, and he played a pretty mean vielle (and occasionally harp). Debora Nagy wrote neat instrumental arrangements of some of the songs, and played either doucaine, on untexted tenor lines against two voices, or Boudreau stick recorders (just like the ones we just bought) on noodly upper lines in all-instrumental pieces. Charlie Weaver, whom we met in the "Machaut Project" at our first Amherst workshop and who is often seen around town with a theorbo longer than he is, played a more reasonable-scale plectrum lute. Singers Jolle Greenleaf, Luthien Brackett, Owen McIntosh, and Jason McStoots, in various combinations, took the texted lines and sometimes vocalized on untexted lines, blending well while remaining distinct enough to make out what their disparate lines were doing. We were particularly impressed with Luthien Brackett's clear, unfussy alto voice.

After the concert, we stopped for ice cream and were still home by 10 PM, which is pretty nice.

Now the weekend starts. I think it'll be largely a cleaning-and-home-improvement weekend: our dishwasher just died, and at thirty years old it's apparently irreparable, so it needs to be replaced. But we were planning a complete kitchen renovation some time in the coming year, and it seems silly to install a new dishwasher just before the renovation, so the renovation may have moved way up on the urgency scale. We'll probably see a movie or two in between house-related errands.

Sep. 15th, 2016

devil duck

The Trump Strategy

For over a year now, people have been exclaiming at the latest Trumpism "OK, this really is a step too far; this will finally destroy his chances at the Presidency," and for over a year, it hasn't been true.

Also, for over a year now, Trump has made sure he's in the news every single day, even if it takes a more-outrageous-than-the-last tweet or public statement.

Originally, I thought these were disconnected phenomena: the first was because he has magic Teflon pixie dust, and the second was an expression of his desperate need to hear his name, and perhaps an ultimate goal of not the White House but 120% name recognition in every country in the world, to further his business (which, for the past ten years, has been not buying and selling real estate but buying nothing and selling the Trump name; see Newsweek article).

On further reflection, however, I think the second phenomenon is a conscious strategy to bring about the first -- a sort of immunization.

Consider this: if you needed to complete the sentence "Hillary Rodham Clinton is unfit to be President because...", there would be three or four things to fill in: servergate, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. (You might not know much about the specifics of these scandals, or whether she actually did anything wrong in any of them, but you know they were scandals associated with her.) Lots of other things have been thrown at her over the past thirty years, but those are the ones people have mentioned in recent months, and almost the only things Matt Lauer could think of to ask about in the recent "Commander In Chief Forum". It's a relatively simple story line: "Hillary is corrupt and can't be trusted because X, Y, and Z."

OTOH, if you needed to complete the sentence "Donald Trump is unfit to be President because...", where would you start? It's like asking "Is there a good place to eat in New York City?" Things Donald said 50 weeks ago that should have disqualified him have long since been forgotten in light of things he said 49 weeks ago, which have already been forgotten in light of... you get the idea. And since there are no one or two problems that stand above the rest, the cognitively simple story is there's no one or two problems, full stop. The human mind cannot grasp such a YUUUGE collection of outrageous statements and actions, so it's left with only a vague cloud of outrage. And Trump supporters can easily dismiss each weekly expression of outrage from his opponents by saying, correctly, "Yeah, that's what they say EVERY week. The elites keep trying to tear him down, trying something different every week."

Trump benefited, of course, from running in a huge Republican primary. Everybody hated him, but there was never one clear alternative to him. He concentrated his early efforts on Jeb, his closest competitor for name recognition, then went after the other relatively-sane candidates one by one until he was left with only the equally-despised Ted Cruz as competition.

There may be something analogous -- not with other candidates but with issues and opposing groups -- going on now. Trump says A, which outrages group X. The next day he says B, which outrages group Y. The next day he says C, which outrages group Z. And so on through several alphabets. The result is a whole lot of groups of people, each with their own reason to be outraged and offended, but no single, clear story about why he shouldn't be President; instead, he can paint himself as the noble stag beset by lots of little hunting dogs.

He really is a master of the mass media, and this election is a win-win for him. If he doesn't win the Presidency, he'll make enormous amounts of money by selling his now-even-more-valuable name. If he does win, he'll leave the job of actually running the country to his Vice President except when it affects his business connections, and he'll make enormous amounts of money by manipulating U.S. policy to benefit those connections.

Jul. 28th, 2016

devil duck

minimum wages

So a month or two ago, Hillary officially joined Bernie in calling for a nationwide $15 minimum wage, on grounds that it'll reduce inequality and the "corporate welfare" phenomenon whereby McDonald's and Walmart can assume the Federal government will keep their low-paid workers alive. Republicans consider a $15 minimum wage -- or any minimum wage -- a job-killer, on grounds that when you make something (including labor) more expensive, people buy less of it.

Both are right, in a way. The Republican argument that a $15 minimum wage would eliminate all the jobs currently getting paid less than that is simplistic, ignoring the fact that when you put more money into low-income people's pockets, they spend it and stimulate the economy. And it seems harmless to take that money out of the pockets of large corporations that, for want of good investment opportunities, have been just sitting on it for eight years. But I think it's also dangerous to completely discount the job-killing potential.

Let's start with a reductio ad absurdum: if a $15 minimum wage is good, why not $20, or $30, or $50, or $100? At any given minimum wage level, workers whose value to their employer is less than that will be unemployable. With a $100/hour minimum wage, either (a) the majority of working Americans lose their jobs, or (b) inflation devalues the $100/hour until it matches their job productivity. Now, a certain amount of inflation would be welcome in the current economy (by everybody without a large bank account), but betting that the inflation would kick in before the unemployment did sounds risky to me. Anyway, it seems clear that above some level, a minimum wage will cost jobs; the question is whether we're currently above or below that level.

This is now a quantitative, empirical question, not a qualitative matter of principle, and its answer probably depends largely on geography and the local cost of living. $15 in New York City is a lot less money than $15 in rural Iowa, which is in turn a lot less money than $15 in Puerto Rico. A $15 minimum wage in New York City would be almost adequate to live on, and stimulate the local economy; the same wage in Puerto Rico would be comfortable for the people who got it, and could well devastate an already-struggling local economy by making many people unemployable.

So what would be a better solution? We can reasonably consider both a government solution and a free-market solution. The government solution is to set minimum wages based on the local cost of living (although finding the right formula to appropriately weight local factors against non-local factors would be tricky). (I guess another option would be setting minimum wages at the state level, as at present, but that predictably produces a "race to the bottom" effect.) The free-market solution is for workers and their employers to negotiate geographically appropriate wages. But we all know that when an individual, non-superstar worker "negotiates" with a multi-national corporation, the latter is in a much stronger bargaining position and will probably pocket almost all of the worker's productivity. The obvious counterbalance to this is unionization: if we still had strong unions in this country, we might not need a minimum wage law at all.

In short: if you don't want to see a nationwide minimum wage law, encourage your workers to unionize instead.

Jun. 8th, 2016

devil duck

A successful Republican strategy

Imagine you read, on the front page of your local paper, that Joe Schmoe was under investigation for child molestation. You'd be a little worried about having Joe Schmoe around, but you'd probably withhold your full judgment until the police investigation and court proceedings were finished.

Three months later you read, on the front page of your local paper, that Joe Schmoe is under another investigation for child molestation. Now you're more worried; you haven't heard what happened to the previous investigation, but you wouldn't want Joe Schmoe anywhere near your child, just to make sure.

Three months later you read about yet another investigation of Joe Schmoe for child molestation. And this goes on for years, a steady drumbeat of investigations of Joe Schmoe in connection with child molestation. Of course, any one of these accusations might be unfounded, but with this many accusations, you figure, it's almost certain that some of them are true. "Where there's smoke, there's fire," and there's been a lot of smoke. Joe Schmoe is now a serial child molester in your mind.

One day, throwing out some old newspapers, you see a page-6 item saying the first investigation had been closed, having found no evidence linking Joe Schmoe to child molestation. "Well, I guess he got off from that one." And it turns out the second investigation was also closed with no charges or indictments. "I guess he's got a really good lawyer." In fact, if you were motivated enough to track down all the page-6 announcements over the years, you might find that one or two found "inappropriate behavior", not serious enough to bring charges, and the rest found nothing at all. But that would take work, and why bother when you already know Joe Schmoe is a serial child molester?

It also turns out that several of the investigations were repeated investigations of the same incident, and all the investigations into child molestation by Joe Schmoe were led by the same prosecutor, which might raise some concerns in your mind that it's a personal vendetta by that prosecutor. On the other hand, it is the prosecutor's job to investigate child molesters, and everybody knows Joe Schmoe is a serial child molester, so I guess he's just doing his job.

If this is your first Presidential election, you've seldom heard the name "Clinton" except in the same sentence with "scandal". Not because the Clintons have done more scandalous things than most politically-visible couples, but because there's been one Republican Congressional committee or another investigating them for a scandal -- often the same scandal over and over, and usually finding no actual wrongdoing -- for most of the past 25 years. And the neat thing is, they don't need to find any actual wrongdoing; they only need to keep the words "Clinton" and "scandal" close together in the news for enough years that people associate them. If you really want to know how trustworthy the Clintons (or for that matter the Trumps) are, do some real research and look not only at the number of investigations, but at who brought those investigations and what they found. You'll probably find neither angels nor demons.

Another effective psychological strategy on the part of national Republicans: as some talking-head on NPR said yesterday, "today's young people have never seen government do anything except occasionally turn out the lights." Ever since Reagan ran for President on the slogan "Government doesn't solve problems; government is the problem," Republican strategy has centered on making government look corrupt and ineffective, sabotaging all government attempts to solve problems and spreading the Republican distrust of government to everyone under the age of thirty.

Really, folks, government used to accomplish things, and members of different parties used to talk to one another and cooperate. We have cleaner air and water today than when I was born, and a lot of species including the bald eagle are no longer on the brink of extinction, because of laws passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President. Blacks and whites sit at the same lunch counter, drink from the same water fountain, swim in the same pool, go to the same schools, marry one another, raise children together, and are both allowed to vote (in most places, until recently), because of Supreme Court decisions and laws in living memory that, while deeply divisive at the time, eventually won bipartisan support. Until a few years ago, we knew who was donating money to bribing politicians, and a billionaire couldn't donate bribe much more than an ordinary person, because of Federal laws. The Federal budget used to be roughly balanced, after inflation, year after year and decade after decade, and the government didn't shut down or threaten to default every few years in partisan temper-tantrums. Your bank account is safe, even if your bank fails, because of government action. If you have a job, you'll get paid at least a certain fixed amount, and your working conditions can't be too horribly dangerous, because of Federal laws. If you get laid off from your job, you'll get unemployment insurance, food stamps, and health insurance, because of government action. When you get too old to work for wages, you'll still get Social Security checks and medical care, because of government action. Government isn't the solution to all problems, but it can solve some problems, and it can make ordinary people's lives better -- if it actually represents the people.

May. 31st, 2016

devil duck

How we feel about people with different politics

Followed links from this post to this WikiPedia page to this 2012 research paper, which reports on a study in which self-described liberals, moderates, and conservatives were asked to answer a series of moral questions as themselves, as "a typical liberal", and as "a typical conservative". The questions are premised on the "moral foundations theory" that people make intuitive moral decisions based on a handful of fundamental principles (e.g. Care vs. Harm, Authority vs. Subversion), but different people weight those principles differently. The results are fascinating and sobering:

  • Participants of all stripes agreed that liberals are more concerned with "individual-focused" principles such as Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating, while conservatives are more concerned with "group-focused" principles such as Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. The perceived dichotomy appears to be true -- at least, people's answers "as themselves" match their self-reported political leanings in this way.

  • Participants of all stripes exaggerated these differences between liberals and conservatives, overestimating both their own group's and the "opposite" group's adherence to the above dichotomy.

  • Participants of different political leanings had different degrees of accuracy:

    • Conservatives were most accurate in describing how people of various stripes felt about "individual-focused" principles, and liberals least accurate. The latter overestimated how important these principles actually were to liberals, and underestimated how important they were to conservatives.

    • Moderates were most accurate in describing how people of various stripes felt about "group-focused" principles, and liberals least accurate. The latter overestimated how important these principles actually were to conservatives, and underestimated how important they were to liberals.

    • Liberals perceived more-dramatic differences between liberals and conservatives than moderates or conservatives did, which in turn was more dramatic than reality.

The lesson for Liberals Like Me (tm): yes, conservatives really do think differently, but by and large they're neither as heartless nor as authoritarian as you think they are. Your fellow liberals aren't quite as individualistic as you think they are. And conservatives might understand you better than you understand them.

ETA: Of course, all of that applies to conservative people, not elected officials (since the study was based on data from ordinary people, not elected officials). Elected officials who are Republican first and conservative second probably are just as spiteful, destructive, heartless, and authoritarian as you think they are. This study doesn't address them.

May. 21st, 2016


A liberal's discomfort with trans-gender

Unlike some people bothered by the trans-gendered, I wasn't raised in a "Mad Men" world, and I don't pine for it. I was raised in the feminist backlash against a "Mad Men" world: we watched "All In the Family" after dinner, and I nearly memorized the album "Free To Be You And Me". I was brought up to believe that your physical sex should have no bearing on your choice of toys, occupations, social and economic roles, clothing, etc.

Which leaves me puzzled when I hear of people who decide they "should have been born male" or "should have been born female". Why should it matter, for any purpose other than excretion and sex? (Two activities in which, combined, I expect to spend perhaps 1% of my life, leaving 99% for activities that have nothing to do with the shape of my sex organs.)

I took Home Economics in junior high school, because I liked cooking and wanted to do it better, and because I didn't know much about sewing but thought a competent person should. I knew I would be teased for it -- I already got a lot of abuse, and accusations of being "gay", for the twin crimes of being small and smart -- but I thought it was the right and brave thing to do. If I were in junior high school today and made the same choice for the same reasons, would I be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and advised to consider hormone treatment or even surgery? If, furthermore, I were exploring my teen-aged sexuality and found some attraction to other boys, would that seal the diagnosis? I certainly hope not!

When trans people win the battle to change their sex and be accepted in society as their new sex, it tells me we lost the war: your physical sex does determine your role in society after all. The trans movement seem to me to be working very hard to escape from prison... so they can check themselves into a different prison, when I would have preferred to raze both prisons to the ground.

To use a different metaphor, gender reassignment strikes me as a hardware solution to a software problem. I have a spreadsheet program and need a Web browser, so instead of installing a Web browser, I change the CPU to one which interprets the instructions of a spreadsheet program as those of a web browser. It just seems terribly inelegant and inefficient.

Mind you, I'll fight vociferously for your right to declare yourself male or female, and be treated as such; see here and here. But I'm deeply disappointed at your need to do so.

Comments, particularly from transgendered people and their loved ones, are welcome: I don't understand the motivations, and I really want to.

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