FISHY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 8th, 2016 by Ed

So I'm trying hard to collect more data on this, but I noticed an odd anomaly on the the "Poll of Polls" aggregator on Pollster.com (now part of Huffington Post). There are three blue dots (representing Clinton support in the respective polls) that are equal (at 37%) and clear outliers, showing much lower Clinton support than any other polls.

All three are conducted by the same agency, Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen is a well-known partisan hack outfit that makes its money by generating results that please potential conservative donors. It tells clients what they want to hear, which in this case would be that the presidential race is either close or even favorable for Trump. The rightward lean of RR has been well documented, most publicly by Nate Silver after the 2010 midterm election. The green arrows identify the three Rasmussen results that stand out, as you can verify for yourself on Pollster's interactive site.

rass

Two questions: What does the "poll of polls" look like without Rasmussen's data? Since they contribute only a few polls to a very large pool of data for a site like Pollster, I wouldn't expect a dramatic change. Their inclusion is, however small, exaggerating the competitiveness of the race in national polling. Second, why is data so clearly suspect not being looked at more closely, or perhaps withheld until its notable skew toward Trump relative to other polling can be explained? I tend to be suspicious of media efforts to depict the race as competitive, so although the explanation is probably innocent ("We need to be Fair and Balanced! Which means including intentionally skewed data as long as it's skewed to the right!") part of me feels like we're beginning a repeat of 2012 when all the networks insisted up until the last possible minute that Romney was OMGSOCLOSE to winning in order to prevent viewers from getting bored and wandering away.

FORESIGHT

Posted in Quick Hits on September 7th, 2016 by Ed

The travel/adventure writer Robert Young Pelton is not the first person that would come to most minds when asked to name an expert on global politics and international affairs. He is an entertaining writer with a large supply of war correspondent / stringer / freelance journalist "So there I was, in the middle of the chaos" anecdotes. His books are readable and fun, occasionally informative. That said, he really deserves some credit for writing as early as the mid to late 1990s that the South China Sea was going to be a key axis of international conflict in the early 21st Century. Seriously. This guy was writing about the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal back when the rest of the world was still in the mindset of the Cold War or sagely explaining that India and Pakistan seem not to like one another very much. Pelton has made me sound prescient more than once for being able to cite the conflict over rock and coral clumps in the South China Sea long before the international press started bandying about terms like "Great Wall of Sand" and The Nine-Dash Line over the past year or two. Simon Winchester was also ahead of the game on this one, as were (I'm sure) many Asian experts whose writing is not widely available in this hemisphere. Searching "South China Sea" on Amazon shows a dozen nonfiction books on the topic written in 2014, 2015 or 2016. It's pretty impressive that some people were 20 years ahead of the game on it.

The Japan Times has a good Scarborough Shoal piece today, and other than to give Pelton some props I don't think I can explain the conflict any better than I could inform you by sharing some useful writing on the subject. Long story short: China and a number of others in the region – Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and others – assert historical ownership of a number of tiny, uninhabited rocks that were of no interest to anyone until modern times. They contain no resources, which one might expect, but they are outposts for establishing Exclusive Economic Zones and national-military sovereignty in an economically and strategically vital area of the world. China's approach has been one of extreme belligerence, building artificial islands (hence "Great Wall of Sand", referring to landfill) around rocks barely big enough to stand upon and staging military personnel and equipment there. Shipping lanes, fishing areas, potential undersea oil resources, and the patrol lanes of international navies (particularly the US Navy) are all affected by the outcome of this strategic land-grab.

One interesting thing I can add is that all of this has been made possible in part by a volcano. True story. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 in the Philippines – the largest eruption of the 20th Century, incidentally, which not many non-Asians realize – the US closed Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base. Both were heavily damaged and in the post-Cold War mindset of the 90s, once evacuated the decision was made not to return to either. The US withdrawal from the region left a power vacuum that the Chinese armed forces were more than eager to fill. In March of 2016 the Philippine government cordially invited the US military to place personnel and equipment at 5 bases in the region, a result of Obama's "Asian Pivot" strategy.

Thanks for helping me sound like I know what I'm talking about sometimes, RYP.

UNLOVABLE AT ANY SPEED

Posted in Rants on September 5th, 2016 by Ed

I write a lot, albeit intermittently, about architecture and related topics like urban planning and the built environment in general. And it is endlessly fascinating how so many Americans can create for themselves ghastly, fundamentally unlovable living spaces and then wonder why nobody – themselves included – loves them.

Try to love a McMansion, or even a smaller-scale new construction suburban Box o' Siding house. Try to love a subdivision. Try to love a strip mall, especially one surrounded by fifteen more. Try to love a six-lane divided street with no sidewalks and Fall of Saigon traffic. You won't. You won't because you can't. Tens of millions of Americans have moved to the suburbs since the end of the Second World War, and the design of new suburbs and the living spaces that fill them are not only a symptom of the malaise of "What's wrong with this country?" but also a cause of it. A Boomer who grew up in the 1950s in a 900 square foot brick home eight feet away from a similar home on either side and in 2016 lives in a 2500 square foot empty beige pastiche of gaudy anti-architecture on a big lot can ask without the slightest hint of self awareness or irony, "I wish things were more like they were in the good ol' days."

We complain that people don't know their neighbors anymore, which is a choice. When people move to the suburbs, the physical manifestation of the psychological impulse to withdraw and escape, it makes perfect sense that they don't know their neighbors. Their neighbors are probably just like them – misanthropes who want nothing more than to hole up in four cheaply built walls and shut out the scary world without. Add in an acre or two of lawn and a tall "privacy" fence and what do you expect? Of course you don't know your neighbors. That's the whole point of the lifestyle you chose for yourself.

I hear people make this complaint often and I never pass the opportunity to point out that I know my neighbors, which is pretty amazing considering 1) I have bad social skills, 2) They speak about 10 words of English and I speak about 10 of Polish, and 3) I'm kind of an asshole. But I know them because we live in the same building and arm's length from another building. We know each other because we have not chosen to live in an environment constructed to prevent us from having to know each other.

To live in the Midwest or New England is to be close at all times to urban decay and the depressing skeletons of places that obviously used to be very nice places; places people older than me are remembering fondly (and not without reason) when they pine for the way things used to be. The new, sterile, antisocial spaces they've built for themselves pale in comparison. They are by design shoddy replicas of a real urban setting, an authentic small town, or something resembling a community in which people interact with one another. But the places they once loved and are now depressing relics didn't get that way by accident. They fell apart because the people who now bemoan their loss chose to ran away rather than live near immigrants or black people. Maybe this is why they're so angry. What's the line? "That's what really hurts: you did it to yourself"?

There's a reason people under 40 want to live in urban areas and even those who can afford suburban living rarely choose it. We believe our parents when they say that life doesn't feel like it used to in this country, that something feels wrong, that something undefinable is missing. Unlike them, however, we haven't watched the Local News at Nine and Fox News to the point that we're terrified at the very thought of living in something other than self-imposed isolation, segregated from Scary Non-White People and without the lawns and parking lots and cathedral ceilings that they insist are going to make them happy someday.

It isn't rocket science. Create for yourself a home, a neighborhood, a town, a state, a country that is ugly, impersonal, cynical, and unlovable and you will not love it. To hear people who want to Make America Great Again bemoan everything wrong with the country as they experience it is to watch someone who has locked themselves in a closet for three decades complain that they're bored and lonely. When you construct a life for yourself behind a panoply of physical and psychological barriers it shouldn't come as a surprise that people seem different than they used to back when you had to talk to and interact with them.

BELABORING

Posted in Quick Hits on September 4th, 2016 by Ed

If I can offer you some advice on the American version of Labor Day, stop reading the internet and go do something. I mean, finish reading this and then go do something.

Rather that recount at great length the pitiful condition of the labor movement in the United States – and, surprise, since it declined we've been working more hours, more productively, for essentially the same income we were earning 35 years ago – I'll simply ask you to review this series of nine figures summarizing the extent of wage stagnation in the past few decades. Like most non-wealthy Americans, when inflation is considered relative to (hypothetical) changes in my income I'm actually working for less money with each passing year. Meanwhile the people in charge seem to be doing alright. They must be smarter and better than the rest of us.

There is a breaking point for this. I've no idea what it is or if I'll live to see it, but this trend can't continue indefinitely unless we revert to feudalism.

Shit. We're probably going to revert to feudalism, aren't we.