Fun analysis of the Donald Trump phenomenon


I haven’t followed Donald Trump too closely due to my dual theories that

1) an amateur cannot win a party’s nomination

2) a Republican cannot win a general election with a large turnout

This analysis of the Trump phenomenon by a Washington insider is interesting, however, even if Trump himself is not. Here are some excerpts:

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents “an existential threat to conservatism.”

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

Separately from this fun piece of writing… I think that Trump’s relative popularity can be attributed to the fact that the professional politicians in the Republican race are so numerous. Thus the multiple professionals, who are barely distinguishable to the average voter, each get only a fraction of the people who want to vote for a professional politician while Trump gets 100 percent of the voters who prefer an amateur.

[Separately, let’s not forget that if that Nantucket job results in a pregnancy with a high-income visitor, there could be 23 years of lucrative payments (minimum total: $1 million, tax-free) under Massachusetts family law or a $250,000 to $500,000 abortion sale.]

The liberal and the beggar in the Whole Foods parking lot


A friend’s Facebook status:

This is what inequality looks like: Yesterday I’m accosted in the Whole Foods parking lot by a woman asking me for a dollar to buy a sandwich. I grumpily refused. A poignant moment for me, another rejection out of too many to count for her. What a world [frowny emoticon] [link to Atlantic article on rich bastards worldwide]

This guy is a software engineer married to a Harvard professor. His household income is approximately $300,000 per year. He tirelessly advocates on Facebook for higher taxes on the “wealthy” and for the election of Bernie Sanders. Yet he apparently refused to redistribute 1/300,000th of his household’s income to the beggar. In other words, he rejected a 0.00033… percent increase in his personal tax rate.

[You might reasonably ask why there are beggars in Cambridge, Massachusetts given that a non-working adult can get a free apartment, free food, free health care, etc. Certainly there are poor families receiving packages of assistance that work out to more than $100,000 per year after tax, e.g., starting with free occupancy of an apartment with a market value of $5,000 per month. However, a person who has not been favored by the various government poverty ministries and/or is bad at paperwork might find himself or herself with only free health care.]

I asked about the apparent logical contradiction between his political advocacy and his personal actions. He responded with “A $1.00 donation to a random bum in a parking lot is not equivalent to a tax increase.” His friend who is also a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter added “I have been trained to wonder if panhandlers use monetary donations to prolong unhealthy dependence of substances” to explain why he won’t give money voluntarily.

I then asked “Why couldn’t a welfare recipient just as easily use the taxpayer cash to ‘prolong unhealthy dependence of substances’? If you give me a free apartment, free food, and free health care, what stops me from spending the day doing whatever I want, e.g., smoking crack?” Neither he nor his fellow Bernie Sanders supporter had an answer for that. Instead they talked about wanting to “give people a guaranteed minimum income.” I responded with “Why not start with the woman at Whole Foods then? Her current guaranteed minimum income is $0 (though she may be able to receive an array of goods and services, such as food, housing, and medical care). If you gave her $1 then her guaranteed minimum income would be $1.”

Where can one move to escape the Zika virus?


For about the third time during my 52 years, human life on Planet Earth is coming to an end. First it was nuclear war, then it was AIDS, now it is the Zika virus.

Perhaps a vaccine will be found one day, unless it turns out that this virus, like most others, is smarter than humans. Killing all of the world’s mosquitoes with a massive one-time dose of DDT would be great, except the mosquitoes also turned out to be smarter than humans (see this paper on genetic resistance to DDT).

Here’s a question for readers: Are there long-term effects from this virus? (New York Times says “no” but the paper has been known to be wrong…)

Given that the virus is spread by mosquitoes, where could a person go to escape the virus? Hawaii would have been ideal, except that Europeans began trashing the place in 1826 with this pest. (Pregnant women should watch out, though, because child support is quasi-capped at $72,000 per year.)

Can the virus survive if the mosquito population is dormant for most of the year? If not, that would make mostly tax-free Alaska a potential choice, except that one human visitor from the Lower 48 in May could reinfect the state? (Pregnant woman: watch out that you don’t end up like Bristol Palin as an actual target of a child support lawsuit under Alaska’s gender-neutral laws.)

How about a desert? There were no mosquitoes at Burning Man! Unfortunately, it seems that there are some in income tax-free Las Vegas (source). (Pregnant women: Nevada has the least lucrative child support system in the United States. Though more profitable than in Europe, the cash value of a child in Nevada might be 1/10th or even 1/100th of the potential revenue in Massachusetts or California.) Arizona and New Mexico have plenty of areas that seem too dry for mosquitoes, but pregnant women whose income is or might become higher than the fathers’ would need to be aware that they could become child support lawsuit targets in Arizona due to the 50/50 shared parenting default.

What about staying cold all year? Spend the winter in Alaska or in Jackson, Wyoming (neither state has an income tax). Spend the Northern Hemisphere summer in southern Chile or Argentina?

Go to a true desert? Take a job working on a telescope in the Atacama Desert? Or head to the South Pole?

Can we invest on this trend? Even if Las Vegas is not completely mosquito-free, could this be what finally gives a lift to Vegas real estate? Can we short Brazilian Olympics tickets?

Who else loved the movie Footnote?


Footnote (2012) seems like an ideal movie for people involved with academia and/or parents whose children are in similar fields of endeavor. Who else loved it?

One thing that I enjoyed about the movie is that there are some loose ends. We never figure out the significance of the extra woman. We never learn what the bigshot professor knows about the father.

[Yes, it seems that I am at least four years behind the cool kids.]

How good are students at evaluating teachers?


“Why Female Professors Get Lower Ratings” (NPR) contains a true gem regarding an experiment conducted in France:

Overall, there was no correlation between students rating their instructors more highly and those students actually learning more.

[Note that it doesn’t seem as though the researchers, university teachers themselves, considered the hypothesis that university teachers have no consistent effect on student learning outcomes, which would certainly explain the above result.]

If a standalone country, Baltimore would be the world’s second most dangerous


The New York Times has an article about Baltimore’s murder rate in 2015: 55 per 100,000. Looking at Worldbank data for 2013, if Baltimore were its own country, it would be the world’s second most dangerous.

[Separately, for math and statistics nerds, the article is interesting because it is missing the seemingly simplest explanation for why the murder rate in Baltimore has climbed: as the population falls, the people who have moved out are disproportionately the ones in careers that don’t require occasional murders while people who have moved in are disproportionately those engaged in illegal activities where business disputes cannot be resolved through the courts. The seed of this idea is in the article: “Unfortunately, many of our victims are involved in the illegal drug trade or involved in illegal activity.”]


Why don’t newspapers report GDP per capita growth?


“U.S. Economy Grew Anemic 0.7% in Fourth Quarter” is a WSJ article on the latest GDP numbers for our country. The headline is inaccurate because the economy grew at a 0.7 percent annual rate during the fourth quarter. The actual “growth” was thus 0.175 percent.

Nowhere does the article mention the population size. If the population grew by more than 0.175 percent during the quarter, the per-capita GDP actually fell. If the popular shrank, on the other hand, then each of us is potentially significantly richer (though perhaps the evil Koch brothers can take all of the growth for themselves!).

“U.S. Economy Barely Grew Last Quarter, Stoking Concerns About Momentum in 2016” is the New York Times equivalent story and it has the same omission (though at least they don’t have the arithmetic wrong in the headline).

The CIA Factbook says that the growth rate is 0.78%. Thus, adjusted to a per-capita basis, the U.S. economy was shrinking slightly during the fourth quarter of last year. Considering the lack of cold and snow in the Northeast, which ordinarily would have given the economy a boost, the core shrinkage rate was probably higher.

Assuming that the CIA and Department of Commerce numbers are both correct, why would we be congratulating ourselves for a growing economy when in fact we have a shrinking economy from the perspective of the average resident?

Ted Cruz’s Art Historian and the pro-Obama NPR host


Here in Orlando I flipped the rental car radio on for a trip to Chick-fil-A. I found an NPR host interviewing Victoria Coates, a PhD art historian (LinkedIn profile) now working as an advisor to Ted Cruz. The host plainly wants to celebrate Barack Obama’s achievements in negotiating a deal with Iran. Start listening to the audio at about 6 minutes in for how Coates responds. It is interesting even if you don’t have a strong opinion on the subject.

Worth playing if your parents are questioning your decision to major in art history!

Is Florida the land of large-dollar cash transactions?


I withdrew $400 from a Bank of America ATM here in Orlando. Instead of the stack of $20 bills I would have gotten in the Northeast, I received three $100 bills (“Manhattan food stamps”) and five twenties.

Was this a one-time fluke or has BoA figured out that Floridians want to have $100 bills in their wallets more so than people in other parts of the U.S.?

Only one American can work at a time: New York City Helicopter Tour version


The government in New York City is planning to cut its local helicopter tour industry’s revenue by roughly 50 percent (NY Post). All of the income from these tours was earned by people living and working in the New York metro area. Nearly all of the payments (about $50 million per year total says the article) was coming from visitors, including a lot of foreigners. #howtoshrinktheeconomy

On the other hand, it looks as though at least some money was made by lawyers and politicians off the regulatory fight:

Sources said that powerhouse lobbyist James Capalino, a longtime friend and fund-raiser of de Blasio, played a key role in the negotiations. Among the meetings he arranged was a rare face-to-face session with the mayor at City Hall last May – a day after Capalino’s firm gave de Blasio’s nonprofit fundraising arm, Campaign for One New York, a donation of $10,000, records show.

Capalino’s firm has received $120,000 in lobbying fees from the industry since de Blasio took office in 2014, including $85,000 from the Helicopter Tourism & Jobs Council.


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