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Posted by Nate Silver

What if upon taking office in January, President Trump had carefully balanced the insurgent influence of Steve Bannon, his chief strategist (now gone), with the establishment-friendly approach of Reince Priebus, his chief of staff (now gone) — and governed as a kinder, gentler, more media-savvy populist?

It wasn’t so long ago that such an outcome seemed possible. In January, The Atlantic’s David Frum envisioned a scenario in which Trump passed a truly populist program of “big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits,” along with “restrictive immigration policies.” Such an agenda would prove fairly popular, Frum imagined, leading to Trump’s easy re-election in 2020. Trump would continue to push everyone’s boundaries but would also pick his battles somewhat carefully; there might be a border wall,1 for instance, but there would be no mass deportations of illegal immigrants.

Instead, almost the exact opposite has occurred. Trump has maintained most of populism’s rough edges — including its tendency to inflame racial resentment, as was evidenced by his comments on the Charlottesville white supremacist rally earlier this week. But he’s adopted few of the policies that actually make populism popular — or, at least, made it popular enough for Trump to win the Electoral College.

This isn’t Bannon’s fault — it’s Trump’s.

Take the various iterations of the Republican health care bill, which Bannon was reportedly lukewarm about. It proposed massive cuts to Medicaid spending and would greatly have reduced subsidies for older, poorer Americans — exactly the people who helped propel Trump to victory in November. And it would have done all of this partly to finance tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy. It was one of the least populist bills that one can imagine. And it cost Trump politically; his approval rating fell significantly while the bill was first being debated in March and then again after it finally failed to pass the Senate last month.

Or take Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. There was nothing especially populist about the Comey firing, which put Trump — who campaigned as a “law and order” president — at odds with the intelligence community. And like health care, it’s brought nothing but trouble for him, having led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and having further hurt Trump’s popularity rating. But it wasn’t Bannon’s doing; he reportedly opposed the firing. Instead, more establishment-friendly figures such as Jared Kushner had reportedly advocated for canning Comey.

But when Bannon prevailed and won internal arguments against Kushner or Priebus or new chief of staff John Kelly, it didn’t turn out all that well for Trump, either. The “travel ban” that Trump implemented at Bannon’s urging in January wasn’t all that unpopular, but its implementation was a mess, leading it to be repeatedly struck down by the courts until the Supreme Court finally allowed a narrow version of it in June. Trump’s Charlottesville response, which was reportedly cheered on by Bannon, has also been a disaster, producing a major backlash from the business community and from establishment Republicans.

The overall result is a president who has yet to sign any major legislation into law — and who has a much greater base of opposition than a base of support. (As of earlier this month, 47 percent of Americans strongly disapproved of Trump’s job performance, while just 20 percent strongly approved of it.) That could make it hard for Trump to “pivot”; he may have alienated too many voters to expand his support, but his base isn’t all that large either.

It’s easy to imagine how things theoretically could turn out better for Trump in the aftermath of Bannon’s firing. Trump could use the firing as an excuse to turn the page on Charlottesville, for example, or to repair relations, with Kelly’s help, with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But Trump has more often gotten the worst of all possible worlds. He could wind up with Bannon as a dangerous outside antagonist who knows many of the White House’s secrets, for example, while elevating Kushner — who seems to have consistently given Trump bad advice — into a position of greater influence. And Trump’s most self-destructive impulses aren’t likely to be affected one way or another because they come not from Bannon or Kushner or Kelly but from Trump himself.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

The departure of Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, from the White House on Friday may not mean much of anything.

When I described the eight main “power centers” in the Trump administration in an article earlier this year, I emphasized what I called the “Bannon Wing” and included in that bloc figures like Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both of whom remain in the government. This group, I argued, had the biggest potential to change U.S. policy because its policy preferences differed from much of the Republican Party establishment’s. On economic matters, the Bannon group was generally more populist than the rest of the GOP, wary of international free trade agreements like NAFTA and viewing China chiefly as an economic rival. And on issues of race and identity, this group was pushing a kind of conservative identity politics, from favoring limits on legal immigration and the building of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico to harboring deep skepticism about Islam.

But these views don’t die just because Bannon is leaving the administration. All evidence, both from Trump’s past and his seven months as president, suggests that he himself is a “nationalist” (as Bannon dubbed his own political ideology), with or without his one-time chief strategist.

More than a decade before he was the president, Trump complained that the U.S. was being ripped off in trade deals, and now, he is pushing his administration to reconsider such agreements. He was touting his proposal for a border wall well before Bannon formally joined the Trump presidential campaign. In office, Trump praised John Kelly’s work as homeland security secretary in deporting undocumented immigrants and then promoted Kelly to chief of staff. In a 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said that there was a “Muslim problem” and that the Quran “teaches some very negative vibe.” It’s not clear if Bannon urged Trump to make remarks this week suggesting that white supremacists were on an equal moral footing with people protesting racial injustice. But Trump made racially charged comments before Bannon started working for him, most notably his repeated (and false) claims that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

So Bannon-style views will still be represented in the West Wing. It is hard to see Trump reversing himself on the border wall, the temporary ban on people from some majority-Muslim countries entering the U.S., or other issues because Bannon is gone. Miller, who is heavily involved in Trump’s speeches and policy stances, remains. So does Sessions, who is pushing Trump’s agenda on issues like stripping federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

And even while Bannon was in the White House, he wasn’t always swaying Trump anyway, particularly on economic issues. For example, the president has not declared China a currency manipulator despite his campaign pledge to do so.

So will Bannon’s exit change anything? Well, the administration’s internal feuds could be less tense and less public. Bannon and his allies viewed themselves as advancing the true views of the president while arguing that other members of the administration were trying to impose establishment views on Trump. That fight often played out in public. Bannon-aligned staffers on the National Security Council, for example, were allegedly the unnamed sources behind stories that attacked national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Several of those aides were pushed out a few weeks ago. Bannon aide Sebastian Gorka has issued statements on foreign policy that contradicted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s views. Gorka is rumored to be on the way out as well. Bannon himself gave a long interview to The American Prospect in which he publicly disagreed with the administration’s North Korea policy. He is now gone.

That said, even with Bannon out, Trump’s administration still includes at least seven power centers. (Virtually all the staffers who were aligned with Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have departed, effectively eliminating the “Party Wing” of the White House. I think the Bannon Wing remains, even if its namesake is gone.) Trump’s administration contains a weird mix of strong conservatives (the wing led by Vice President Mike Pence), Wall Street types (White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn), foreign policy hawks (Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley) and his family members (Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump). These groups disagree with one another (Kushner and Ivanka Trump are less conservative on issues like abortion and LGBT rights than is Pence, for instance) and with Trump (his foreign policy team is much more skeptical of Russia than the president is). The federal bureaucracy is likely to remain in some tension with Trump, and figures like Kelly and Tillerson still have powerful jobs, even if they don’t fit into an obvious wing.

The administration may be less internally divided with Bannon gone, but it’s still a long way from being ideologically or politically united.

And ultimately, as this week showed, the Trump administration’s tendency toward chaos and its white nationalist rhetoric come from the president himself. Trump, not Bannon, is the architect of the administration’s nationalist policies. Trump, not Bannon, does the combative press conferences and tweets in defense of Confederate monuments. The chief strategist is gone, but the strategist-in-chief remains.

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Posted by FiveThirtyEight


On this emergency edition of FiveThirtyEight’s Politics podcast, the team reacts to the news that chief strategist Steve Bannon is leaving the Trump administration. The crew discusses how the shakeup changes the power dynamics in the White House and what influence Bannon might have as an outsider.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Posted by Oliver Roeder and Brin-Jonathan Butler

Floyd Mayweather, the great welterweight boxer, will enter next Saturday’s blockbuster fight against UFC champion Conor McGregor undefeated in his pro career: 49 wins, zero draws, zero losses. Zero, in this case, is a huge number.

Mayweather’s perfect record has played a central role in his career and his brand. He’s declared himself “TBE” — The Best Ever — on the basis that he’s undefeated and that everyone else in history with a case for TBE status — Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, Willie Pep — all have imperfect records. So according to that simplest of metrics, Mayweather triumphs.

For some perspective on Mayweather’s record in the history of boxing, we assembled the career records of every undefeated professional boxer we could find, beginning with a list maintained by BoxRec. These are all of their careers since 1940:2

Only three boxers on the list have ever amassed more wins than Mayweather without suffering a defeat, although two of their records have been tarnished by draws. One modern boxer, Ricardo Lopez, who fought most often in the minimumweight class, retired in 2002 with 51 wins, zero losses and a draw. A century earlier, Jimmy Barry, not shown in the chart above, was a 59-0-10 flyweight who fought his final fight in 1899.

But the real potential prize for Mayweather in Las Vegas on Saturday, in addition to the nine-figure payday, is the legacy of Rocky Marciano, also 49-0-0, who knocked out Archie Moore for the heavyweight title in his final fight, at Yankee Stadium in 1955. Marciano scraped his way to a perfect record after numerous heart-stopping close calls. The heavyweight, who had a crude style and was of limited stature, also benefited from timing: No boxing expert would give Marciano a chance in hell against a dozen fighters who emerged in his weight class not long after his retirement. Yet his career glistens in boxing history on the basis of his pristine record. Many others stayed in the game too long, and the public witnessed their boxing demise: Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and, most recently, Wladimir Klitschko.

But for Mayweather, the primary function of the zero in his record is not about boxing history, it’s about branding. He’s leveraged this marketing angle into a career as a pay-per-view star and one of the wealthiest boxers in history, regularly appearing on the Forbes list as the highest-paid athlete in the world.

Mayweather wasn’t remotely as marketable as he is today until 2007, the year he fought Oscar De La Hoya, the successor to Mike Tyson as boxing’s marquee pay-per-view attraction. They fought 11 years into Mayweather’s professional career, and before that night Mayweather himself was never a main attraction. Why? Few cheered for Mayweather to win, and perhaps no fighter in history ever cared less about being booed for how he won, which was frequently by grinding out decisions and seldom by knockout. Mayweather only became a top draw when he transformed from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money” Mayweather.

This transformation into a “heel” — the self-aggrandizing showman we know today — was a shrewd turn. Mayweather fights became more spectacle than substance. Fans were willing to pay to watch a fighting style that was routinely dismissed as boring and utterly defensive. And central to his status as a boxing villain was the record: He was holding up his quest to top Marciano’s perfect 49-0-0 with each fight, luring the public into thinking his carefully selected opponents had a chance to beat him. The more obnoxiously he played up the character of “Money,” the more appealing a sales pitch he made to pay-per-view buyers about the potential pleasures in watching him lose.

The loudest cheer Mayweather has ever heard in the ring was not because of anything he accomplished. It was in 2010, in the second round against Shane Mosley, when he was struck by the biggest blow of his career and nearly fell to the canvas. That moment distills how brilliantly Floyd has calibrated his business model. The crowd is reacting to the possibility of witnessing a profoundly narcissistic caricature of the American Dream subjected to humiliation and having his record sullied with a loss. Mayweather recovered from Mosley’s blow to win every round of the remainder of the fight.

In another close shave, in a 2011 fight, his opponent Victor Ortiz head-butted him, incurring a penalty. As a defenseless Ortiz gave Mayweather a half-hug, trying to apologize, Mayweather clocked him with a left and then a right, knocking him out in the fourth round. Some suggested that Mayweather should have been disqualified and given a loss; others argued he’d won fair and square. “In the ring, you have to protect yourself at all times,” Mayweather said after the fight.

Every boxing analyst on the planet thinks the McGregor fight poses no such threat to Mayweather’s record — but Showtime is selling the fight for $99.95 and the event is expected to make nearly $1 billion all told. Mayweather’s business model is a brilliantly constructed, cynical exploitation of fans’ expectations in the same way modern Hollywood recycles franchises with sizzling trailers that hook audiences — invariably creating a host of unsatisfied consumers. Mayweather’s legacy, unlike Marciano’s and those of other historical greats, has included no career-defining fights that fans discussed with any residual excitement after he retired from the sport (twice). His argument for being “TBE” is a bit like an argument that “The Avengers” is better than “Citizen Kane” because it made more money. In truth, Mayweather was not even his era’s best fighter for the first decade of his career: That was Roy Jones Jr., the cruiserweight voted the fighter of the decade. While both fighters were in their primes, Floyd was never in the discussion about who was the best pound-for-pound boxer. But Jones lost in 2004 and Floyd stepped in. All of which is to say that Mayweather’s claim for being TBE is heavily in debt to his immaculate record — not the substance therein.

Lest we forget: Mayweather’s opponent, Conor McGregor, is technically an undefeated boxer, too: zero wins, zero draws, zero losses.

Dhrumil Mehta contributed research.

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Posted by Rebecca Boyle

Anyone who’s seen an eclipse like the one coming to the U.S. on Monday is likely to tell you that they’re special because of their strangeness, ethereal beauty and awesome power. But they’re also special because they require such a specific alignment of objects and events. That we can even see a total solar eclipse from Earth in the first place is a glorious mathematical accident, one that has led to a lot of unique scientific discoveries.

A total eclipse is only possible because the moon is positioned juuuust right relative to the Earth and the sun. This doesn’t happen on every planet with a moon and won’t always be possible for Earth. In about 600 million years, we won’t have total eclipses anymore, because by then, tidal forces will have flung the moon to a spot too distant to completely block the sun’s disk. Even today, total eclipses are only visible across a narrow path on Earth.

That leaves only several hundred thousand millennia for us to do some fun science. This year, math buffs are using the eclipse to measure the sun’s diameter and even to bask, very briefly, in the levels of illumination one would experience on the other planets.

The task of determining the sun’s size is trickier than it might seem because the sun is a roiling ball of plasma with no surface. It’s also constantly spewing gas and radiation and magnetism, so the diameter of its “disk” is constantly fluctuating. But it’s easier to measure during an eclipse. In Kansas City, St. Louis, and Minden, Nebraska, citizen-scientists will fan out to measure the sun. Working in pairs, the researchers will stand at 175-foot intervals across the very edges of the so-called path of totality, the 70-mile-wide swath darkened by the shadow of the moon. The path’s location is well-known, but the precise location of its edges is a little more uncertain, because of the fluctuating sun and the movement of the moon. One person will shoot smartphone video while another sketches naked-eye observations of exactly when the shadow appears. Assuming that the phone is synchronized to global positioning satellites and can take a time-stamped video, this system should allow for a hyper-accurate measurement of where and when the shadow arrives. By making precise measurements, scientists hope to figure out the exact edge of totality and how much it might vary from predictions. This will help scientists understand how precisely they can measure changes in the size of the sun.

While eclipses provide a unique view of Earth and the sun, they can also give us a glimpse of what being on other planets may be like. Michael Zeiler, a cartographer and eclipse chaser who runs the website GreatAmericanEclipse.com, determined when the sunlight during the eclipse will be of the same intensity as it is elsewhere in the solar system. If you were standing on the center of the moon’s shadow in the path of totality at 28 minutes, 40 seconds before totality, you’d experience the intensity of sunlight on Mars. A breath before totality, just 7.7 seconds before the sun is swallowed, you’d experience the sunlight on Pluto. At 59 seconds before totality, you would experience the sunlight on Saturn, which — as it turns out — is special for more than just its rings.

In the excitement surrounding this year’s eclipse, some astronomers have speculated that Earth is the only place where conditions for a total solar eclipse, in which only the sun’s corona is visible, exist in the solar system. Is there anywhere else we could find an alignment of planet, moon and sun that could produce total, corona-only eclipses as well as an alignment that could produce ring-of-fire eclipses, in which the sun’s outer circumference is visible behind the moon?

Eclipse chaser Bill Kramer, who first saw a total eclipse as a 13-year-old standing on a cruise ship in the North Atlantic, aimed to find out. Kramer, who is a retired computer engineer and runs what you might call an online eclipse museum, first gathered NASA data on all of the solar system’s planets and their moons. He then wrote a simple code that analyzed their mutual orbits, the moons’ apparent sizes from the planets’ surfaces — or, in the case of gas giants, their cloud tops — and other statistics. He threw out some moons because of their weird shapes. All told, he ended up with 141 moons with the potential to cause eclipses.

Kramer didn’t expect to find any that could do what Earth’s moon does. “When you think of Carl Sagan’s ‘billions and billions’ — 131 ain’t a big number,” he said, referencing the renowned astronomer’s imagined number of stars and planets in the universe.

In the end, he found two moons with eclipse potential — both orbiting Saturn. The moon Pandora, which looks like a dented potato, can produce a total eclipse as viewed from Saturn’s cloud tops, but its weird shape makes it less likely to produce a perfect black hole surrounded by a corona. There’s just one moon with that distinction: Epimetheus, a dinky thing just 84 miles across at its longest point that hangs out in a gap amid Saturn’s rings and zips around the planet every 17 hours.

We won’t get images of an Epimetheus eclipse any time soon. The Cassini spacecraft, designed to study Saturn and its rings and moons, will end its 20-year mission in a few weeks by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, and its orbit was never aligned to see the sun eclipsed by this moon. Even if the spacecraft’s orbit had hit the right spot, an Epimetheus eclipse would be breathtakingly short: just 0.6 seconds of totality, according to Kramer’s calculations.

The Cassini spacecraft has spent 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons, including Rhea, the larger moon in this image, and the much smaller Epimetheus. But Cassini’s orbit was never designed to see the sun eclipsed by those moons.


What all this means is that Kramer got what he was after — sort of. “I just wanted to be able to state, unequivocally, that, yes, we have the only total eclipse of this style in the solar system,” he said. Now he knows that’s not the case. But, he said, “I can now state unequivocally that we have the best solar eclipses in the solar system. I believe that strongly.”

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Posted by Erin Ptah

Photos of the Boston construction of America’s first subway system.

“On Jupiter, which has 69 moons, it’s possible for there to be multiple eclipses occurring at the same time. On Pluto, whose moon appears much larger in its sky than the Sun, total eclipses can happen every day for years on end.” [Video]

The only music that was allowed were classic composers, or simple folk tunes, whose words were all about how great socialism was.” So Soviet Russia got an underground cottage industry in illegal music…recorded on discarded X-ray film.

Doctor Who co-creator Sydney Newman advocated a female Doctor in 1986. (As well as some very ’70s companions.)

People tend to lose track of actual facts about the Bible, including how Lovecraftian it is: There are twelve pearly gates, they’re carved from a single pearl each, and they are never, ever closed.

Filed under: Fandom, News Roundup Tagged: astronomy, Boston, Doctor Who, religion, SCIENCE!, things made of awesome
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly posting in [community profile] metaquotes
It should be pretentious and snobbish to say: “Sure I eat hot dogs, I have homemade mustard and homemade lingonberry ketchup on it”. Then to take the DIY philosophy serious you have to make the hot dog yourself.

Context sounds delicious!

LBCF, No. 147: ‘The Holy Hand’

Aug. 18th, 2017 05:26 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

“If any of it was true, all of it was true” seems to be simply another version of the fundamentalist insistence that if any of it is not true, then none of it is true. This is the house-of-cards implication fundies draw from their notion of biblical “inerrancy” which, again, has very little to do with the supposed inerrancy of what the Bible actually says and everything to do with their own alleged inerrancy as its interpreters.
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Posted by SuperUser

by wj

It can be all too easy, it the flood of stuff happening these days, to overlook something which would be stunning in other times. I wonder what all there might be....

For example, consider these tweets from last week:

Events in Charlottesville unacceptable & musnt be tolerated @USNavy forever stands against intolerance & hatred...
-- Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations

No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act.
-- General Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps

The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It's against our Values and everything we've stood for since 1775.
-- General Mark Milley, Army Chief of Staff

I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we're always stronger together-it's who we are as #Airmen.
-- General Dave Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff

I stand with my fellow Joint Chiefs in condemning racism, extremism & hatred. Our diversity is our strength.
-- General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was traveling (in Beijing), and so a bit late to the party. But he weighed in as well:

I can absolutely and unambiguously tell you there is no place -- no place -- for racism and bigotry in the U.S. military or in the United States as a whole.
-- General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

Let's think about that for just a second.  Every single one of the Joint Chiefs came out and rejected the comments of the President of the United States. They didn't denounce their commander-in-chief by name, of course, which they shouldn't -- that would cross the line into insubordination. But there is absolutely no question what occasioned their statements.

I simply cannot remember a time when the leaders of the military, any of them, let alone all of them, stood up immediately and did something like this. Any other time, it would have been both headline news across the country and occasioned a huge uproar -- not to mention the individual in question being fired instantly. This week? It did get mentioned, but it was a one day wonder at most. The times we live in!

What else has happened in the last week that would, in more normal times, have gotten big mention?

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Posted by Clare Malone

President Trump’s defense of “very fine people” within the ranks of white supremacists in Charlottesville last weekend has angered many, including Republican politicians. But Trump has also tried to stand up for something else: the statues that the white supremacists ostensibly came to defend. On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.” That’s a far less controversial stance — new polls show many Americans share his views on the statues, or are at least unsure how they feel about them.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist University poll conducted after the violence in Charlottesville said that statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should remain standing as historical symbols rather than be removed. In a different poll, by Economist/YouGov, a plurality of people (48 percent) said they disapproved of removing the Robert E. Lee statue from the Charlottesville park while 30 percent approved of taking the statue down. Notably, more than one out of five people (22 percent) had no opinion — a show of real ambiguity from Americans who aren’t sure about the best thing to do.

Far more Americans are sure about their feelings on white supremacists. Eighty-six percent, according to the Marist poll, disagree with the white supremacy movement and 94 percent disagree with the views of the KKK.

The polling shows a partisan split on the statue question, as you might expect: About half of Democrats in the YouGov survey said they approved of Charlottesville removing its Lee statue, versus 11 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Independents. Only 27 percent of Democrats disapproved of the statue being removed. Many people weren’t sure what to think, including nearly a third of independents and one-in-five Democrats. (The Marist poll found Democrats and Republicans split on roughly the same lines when asked about removing Confederate statues more broadly.)

Race, perhaps predictably, split the views of survey respondents, as well. In the YouGov poll, 49 percent of blacks approved of removing Charlottesville’s Lee statue, compared to only 25 percent of whites and 29 percent of Latinos. In the Marist poll, 67 percent of whites and 65 percent of Latinos thought Confederate statues should be allowed to remain as historic symbols, while only 44 percent of blacks felt the same. Just 40 percent of black respondents, however, said the statues should be removed.

The issue of statue removal is a relatively new national debate – there are few polling questions on it – even though local communities have grappled with the renaming and removal of Confederate-era memorials for years. Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Corey Booker are calling for the removal of Confederate monuments in the U.S. Capitol. Now, cities are also responding to the national conversation by moving quickly to take down statues. Baltimore removed its Confederate statues in the dead of night and the mayor of Richmond, Virginia, is asking for that city’s to be removed.

But some Americans — those who are unsure of what to do or who don’t want to make a change from the status quo — appear to still be pondering whether history is history, for better or for worse. Perhaps some regions of the country with fewer Confederate monuments – the Northeast, West and Midwest aren’t as fluent in the debate over whether these statues are racist symbols or vestiges of a fraught history that has something to teach us.

Trump may know the statue debate is a safer place for him to be than the maelstrom over whether both sides were to blame in Charlottesville. His true sentiments about his white nationalist supporters, whatever they may be, can lie unseen in the tall grasses of a more academic debate about how we memorialize our history.

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Posted by Kyle Wagner

When Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette said the jump to the NFL was “really easy” after his time playing in the much-hyped SEC for LSU, a lot of observers raised an eyebrow. Things certainly haven’t always looked easy for SEC backs drafted in the first round.

Todd Gurley, who was taken 10th overall out of Georgia in 2015, had an outstanding rookie season but struggled badly as a sophomore. Alabama’s Trent Richardson was out of the league in just four seasons after the Browns used the third overall pick on him in 2012. Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno had one 1,000-yard season among the six he lasted in the NFL after going 12th in 2009.The most productive highly drafted SEC backs around these days are likely Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden — neither of whom has ever looked like the star he was in college.

Still, while the SEC hasn’t had the standouts of the Big 12 (Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma) or even the Big Ten (Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State), it has put a lot of backs in the league. Since 2001, there have been 97 player seasons in which a player from the SEC has had at least 100 rush attempts in a season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, compared to only 58 for the Big Ten, 43 for the Big 12, 68 for the Pac 10/12 and 38 for the ACC. This complicates the SEC’s reputation for turning out relative busts at the running back position a bit, since its players have at least shown the capacity to earn carries in the league.

Here’s a chart showing each individual player season for SEC backs drafted since 2001:

Many of the outliers aren’t much of a surprise — Peterson has seen some of the finest rushing seasons in league history over that period, and Bell may be the best back in the league today. But others require a bit more strain on the memory, such as Penn State’s Larry Johnson, who had two outstanding seasons after he emerged from behind Priest Holmes on the Kansas City Chiefs’ depth chart.

More relevant, though, are the players who not only didn’t come up playing against SEC speed, but were outside the Power Five altogether. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Johnson, Michael Turner, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy and a cavalcade of high-performing backs have combined for 187 player seasons with at least 100 carries since 2001. (This includes players such as Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, who played for Miami before it joined the ACC in 2004.)3 And today’s top backs also include Jay Ajayi out of Boise State and David Johnson out of Northern Iowa.

Not that any of this falls on the head of Fournette, whom everyone is taking a little too seriously. The SEC does put a lot of players in the league, and in positions to contribute for their teams. But if Fournette runs over the NFL the same way he did those SEC run defenses, he’ll be the first to do so in quite a while.

Can You Unravel These Number Strings?

Aug. 18th, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Edited by Oliver Roeder

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-sized and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,4 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint, or if you have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Peter Neuhaus, a puzzling sequence:

A mysterious figure emerges from the shadows and hands you a note with the following list of six numbers:


He wants to know one thing: What number comes next?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Brad Ramirez, a second shrewd sequence:

Take a look at this string of numbers:

333 2 333 2 333 2 33 2 333 2 333 2 333 2 33 2 333 2 333 2 …

At first it looks like someone fell asleep on a keyboard. But there’s an inner logic to the sequence:

This sequence creates itself, number by number, as explained in the image above. Each digit refers to the number of consecutive 3s before a certain 2 appears. Specifically, the first digit refers to the number of consecutive 3s that appear before the first 2, the second digit refers to the number of 3s that appear consecutively before the second 2, and so on toward infinity.

The sequence never ends, but that won’t stop us from asking us questions about it. What is the ratio of 3s to 2s in the entire sequence?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Kari Matthews-Vaughn 👏 of Tulsa, Oklahoma, winner of last week’s Express puzzle!

You’re the president of the United States and you have a problem: Someone on your staff keeps leaking stories to the press. So you and your new chief of staff devise a plan. You will give different pieces of information to different staffers so that you’ll learn who the leakers are by seeing what information ends up in the newspaper or on TV. (You know you have only one leaker, and you know he or she leaks any story he or she is given.) If there are 100 people on your staff, how many different stories do you need to be able to identify your leaker for sure?

You’ll need seven stories.

The trick is to release stories sequentially. Here’s your strategy: Tell half your staff (50 people) one story and withhold it from the other half (also 50 people). If it leaks, you know the leaker is in the first half, and if doesn’t, you know the leaker is in the second half. Do the same thing again with the 50 remaining suspects: Give a second story to 25 of them and withhold it from the other 25. Once you see whether it leaks or not, you’ll have narrowed it down to 25 suspects. Rinse and repeat.

With this strategy, you’ll narrow down the staff, in the worst-case scenario, in a sequence like so: 100, 50, 25, 13, 7, 4, 2, 1. (If you get lucky, the leaker will be in one of the smaller groups created when you split the odd numbers in half, which might let you find them sooner.) So in seven steps, you’ll find the leaker for sure.

This is an example of a binary search. In the worst-case scenario, this type of search will take \(\log_2 100\) (rounded up to the nearest whole number) steps. The number \(\log_2 100\) equals about 6.6, so we’ll need 7 steps to guarantee we find the leaker.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Seth Colbert-Pollack 👏 of Minneapolis, winner of last week’s Classic puzzle!

Fans of “Dungeons & Dragons” will have fond feelings for four-sided dice, which are shaped like regular tetrahedrons. Some of you might have noticed, in those long hours of fantasy battle, that if you touch five of these pyramids face-to-face-to-face, they come agonizingly close to forming a closed pentagon. Alas, there remains a tiny angle of empty space left between two of the pyramids. What is the measure of that angle?

It’s about 7.4 degrees.

If you knew what to look for, you could pretty quickly work out the answer to this problem via Wikipedia. The site lists a tetrahedron’s dihedral angle — the angle between two intersecting planes — as 70.528779 degrees. There are five dice, so five such angles. There are 360 degrees in all, so \(360-5\cdot 70.528779 =\) a gap of 7.356105 degrees.

But if you eschewed help from the internet, or if you just wanted to start from scratch, here’s how you could get there, adapted from a tidy solution submitted by Matthew Baron.

Assume the sides of the triangular faces of the dice have a length of 1. Now, begin with a single face and find the height of the triangle.

We know from the Pythagorean theorem that \(h^2+0.5^2=1^2\), so \(h=\sqrt{3}/2\).

Now we want to find the angle between two faces — the dihedral angle. Let’s call it \(\gamma\).

We can find the angle \(\gamma\) using the law of cosines:

\begin{equation*}\cos(\gamma)=\frac{-1+3/4+3/4}{2\cdot 3/4}\end{equation*}

Simplifying, \(\cos(\gamma)=\frac{1}{3}\), so \(\gamma \approx 70.53\) degrees. And, again, subtracting five such angles from a total of 360 degrees (\(360-5\cdot 70.53\)) gives our answer: about 7.4 degrees.

Solver Amy Leblang happened to have some tetrahedral dice on hand, and she verified the result:

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at oliver.roeder@fivethirtyeight.com.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

Looking for a single page to bookmark to always access the latest Significant Digits? Say no more.

-1.54 percent

Drop in the S&P 500 Thursday, the second largest one-day drop of the year for the index, and part of a broader slip in markets yesterday that was partially triggered by a rumor that the top economic advisor to the president and ex-Goldman Sachs exec Gary Cohn was resigning. That rumor was fueled by an inaccurate tweet from a breaking news Twitter account. Man, if that’s how markets handle Cohn not leaving the administration I’d hate to see how they’d handle it if he ever does. [Business Insider]

30 engineers

Creating a universally comfortable mattress takes a lot of brain power. Thirty engineers’ worth of brain power, to be exact. That’s how much thought and engineering goes into the research and design behind this mattress to ensure that you get your best night’s sleep. Sponsored by Casper

18 percent

India is seeing a huge media opportunity in an unlikely place: FM radio. Radio revenue in India increased 18 percent in 2016 to $416 million across 313 commercial FM radio stations and a state broadcaster. That revenue is small compared to the U.S. market, but the growth is explosive even compared to markets like Brazil and China (under 3 percent). Plus, the rights to 800 more stations are being auctioned off over the coming years. [The Wall Street Journal]

62 percent

Percentage of Americans in an August poll who considered North Korea a very serious threat, up from 48 percent in the same poll back in March. Meanwhile, a Marist University poll found only 19 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence that President Donald Trump can lead the country through an international crisis. [FiveThirtyEight]

30,000 members

Number of members who left the American Civil Liberties Union over their legal defense of a neo-Nazi group in the late 1970s. The ACLU assiduously fights cases on first amendment law, and defending the rights of hate groups like the neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan to demonstrate and distribute fliers tend to be the provocative cases that skirt the edges of that kind of law. In light of the incidents in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend, the ACLU announced yesterday that it will no longer defend hate groups that attempt to incorporate firearms into their demonstrations. [The Wall Street Journal]

1.7 million

Number of elective plastic surgeries in the U.S. in 2016, of which more than 200,000 were nose jobs. The plastic surgery business is an interesting one with a fascinating gender gap: 75 percent of the people who got those rhinoplasties were women, but 85 percent of board certified plastic surgeons are men. [Racked]

7.5 million

Any discussion of jobs at risk of elimination tends to focus on the manufacturing sector, but it’s truly retail — the most common job in America — at the most profound risk. There are 7.5 million jobs in retail at high risk of computerization. Cashiers, who number 3.5 million, may be in the worst position of all. [The Guardian]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

Trump Keeps Derailing His Own Agenda

Aug. 18th, 2017 09:54 am
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Posted by Ben Casselman, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Welcome to TrumpBeat, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly feature on the latest policy developments in Washington and beyond. Want to get TrumpBeat in your inbox each week? Sign up for our newsletter. Comments, criticism or suggestions for future columns? Email us or drop a note in the comments.

Shortly before 4 p.m. on Tuesday, President Trump walked up to a set of microphones in the lobby of Trump Tower to talk to reporters about what was once meant to be one of the signature issues of his administration: infrastructure.

Armed with a visual aid — a huge flow chart that purportedly shows the federal highway permitting process — and flanked by senior aides and Cabinet members, Trump explained how a thicket of environmental reviews and other regulations slow infrastructure projects, and he announced a new executive order intended to streamline the process. “This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said.

Then, of course, everything went off the rails. Trump spent most of the impromptu Q&A that followed the infrastructure announcement defending his response to last weekend’s deadly white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and arguing that the right-wing protesters — some of whom chanted Nazi slogans and carried Nazi flags — included some “very fine people.” It was, one might say, a “massive, self-inflicted wound” on Trump’s presidency.

There is, perhaps, no better encapsulation of Trump’s first seven months in office than a press conference about the economy being derailed by a defense of — or at the very least equivocation about — white supremacists. Trump’s comments, and the near-universal condemnation they drew, have been much-discussed this week. But it’s also worth noting what wasn’t discussed as a result: the infrastructure plan that, in an alternate universe, could have been a lynchpin of a populist — and popular — Trump agenda.

Increasing infrastructure spending was one of the few policy areas where Trump and Hillary Clinton were in agreement during last year’s campaign. Economists mostly endorsed the idea too; repairing the nation’s roads and bridges could create jobs immediately while also boosting the country’s long-term productivity. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which a newly inaugurated Trump scored an early bipartisan win by daring Democrats to vote against a plan that would directly benefit their states and districts (and that their presidential candidate had broadly supported).

Instead, Trump chose to prioritize a divisive fight over health care, and he has seen his agenda repeatedly pushed from the headlines by distractions, mostly of his own making. His first days in office were dominated not by talk of policy proposals or Cabinet appointments but by a fight over how many people attended his inauguration. An early press conference announcing his new nominee for labor secretary devolved into an attack on the news media. A March speech meant to make the case for health care reform instead turned into a tirade against the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This week wasn’t even the first time that a Trump-induced controversy has distracted from infrastructure, specifically: The White House’s planned “Infrastructure Week” in June turned into a running joke on Twitter when the headlines were instead dominated by fired former FBI Director James Comey’s congressional testimony.

Twitter jokes aside, it’s hard to assess exactly how damaging the various scandals and distractions have been to Trump’s policy agenda. It’s possible that a more popular, savvier president would have been able to round up the one additional Senate vote necessary to pass a repeal of Obamacare, but it’s far from certain; the repeal effort was undermined, as much as anything, by internal divisions within the Republican Party. Tax reform, similarly, would be hard to get done under any president — that’s why it hasn’t happened in three decades. And for all Trump’s failures on Capitol Hill, his administration retains the power to make major policy changes in immigration, criminal justice, business regulation and other areas. As we’ve noted before, it’s a mistake to label Trump a “do-nothing” president.

But it would also be a mistake to think that the controversies and distractions — and Trump’s historic unpopularity — are having no effect on the president’s ability to govern. For one thing, they effectively guarantee that Democrats will be united in their opposition to all but the most trivial administration proposals. It’s notable that Democrats from red-leaning states, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, have voted with Trump far less often than would be expected based on how handily Trump won their states in 2016. In a narrowly divided Senate, losing those votes can be the difference between a narrow win and a painful loss. Democrats have also held up Trump’s nominees for key administration posts, which could make it harder for him to enact his policies through executive action. And then, of course, there is 2018: Historical patterns suggest Trump’s unpopularity could imperil Republicans’ congressional majority in next year’s midterm election.

Trump’s challenges will likely only grow following his Charlottesville comments. Numerous Republicans denounced Trump’s “blame on both sides” equivocation (though some have been more direct than others), and business leaders abandoned him in droves. Trump was forced to disband two advisory councils on Wednesday after their members — including the CEOs of some of the country’s biggest companies — organized a mass resignation. The councils were largely symbolic, but they were powerful symbols: Trump, the businessman-turned-president, rallying titans of industry to fix the American economy. This week, they instead became symbols of Trump’s mismanagement, lack of focus and increasing isolation. If Trump wants to get anything done, he’ll have to find a way to get out of his own way.

Environmental policy: Still getting sued

During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly railed against the Environmental Protection Agency, saying it was an example of regulatory overreach by the federal government. One of the surest signs of that overreach, according to Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is how often the EPA had been sued under President Barack Obama. “The previous administration … did not respect rule of law,” he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “So when you do that, what happens? You get sued.”

Those comments might suggest that Trump’s EPA was being sued less often than Obama’s, but that isn’t what has happened so far. Between Feb. 17, when Pruitt took office, and Aug. 2, the organization has been sued 50 times, according to records available through the federal electronic court records search. In contrast, the EPA was sued 57 times during roughly the same period in 2016,5 under then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. And during the first year of the Obama administration, Lisa Jackson’s EPA incurred far fewer lawsuits — just 30 between February and July of 2009.

The lawsuits being filed against Pruitt’s EPA have a lot to do with the rule of law, though now it’s often Democratic attorneys general and environmental advocacy groups filing them, instead of Republican attorneys general and energy companies. For instance, a lawsuit filed earlier this month by several environmental groups accused the agency of providing loopholes that would allow companies to circumvent laws governing the control of toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, the State of California sued the agency on Aug. 11 for failing to provide records that the state’s attorney general requested as part of an investigation into Pruitt’s alleged conflicts of interest.

“Administrator Pruitt and the Trump administration are not above the law,” wrote California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a public statement not all that dissimilar from the ones Pruitt used to make when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Now, as EPA administrator, Pruitt is forced to take the same sort of rhetorical challenges he once dished out.

Health care: Costs and benefits

The Trump administration on Wednesday said that it would go ahead with a key payment to companies that participate in the insurance marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act. Under normal circumstances, these “cost-sharing reductions” would be deep in the weeds of health care policy, but this week’s announcement drew “breaking news!”-style tweets and coverage because Trump has threatened to withhold the payments — a step that experts warn could send the insurance marketplaces into a tailspin. That threat has not passed, however: Trump’s decision drew quick condemnation from conservatives, and he’s only been agreeing to make the payments on a month-to-month basis since he took office.

Cost-sharing reductions are discounts insurers are required to give to some of the lowest income enrollees on the marketplaces; at issue are the government reimbursements to insurers for these discounts. The government payments have a complicated — and ongoing — legal history. They were written into the ACA, but Congress refused to appropriate the funds to pay them. Obama paid them anyway, sparking a lawsuit by the House of Representatives against the executive branch. A federal court ruled with Congress last year, though it allowed the payments to continue while the White House appealed the decision. That suit is still wending its way through the courts.

If Trump follows through on his threats to stop making them, the impact on the insurance marketplaces could be substantial. The Congressional Budget Office’s weighed in this week with a report finding that ending the cost-sharing payments would cause short-term chaos: Insurance premiums would rise by more than 20 percent for the majority of people who currently buy insurance on the ACA marketplaces, and many insurers would flee. Those findings follow previous work by the Kaiser Family Foundation that reached similar conclusions.

The long-term consequences of ending the payments, however, are a little bit different. Under the ACA, lower-income people also qualify for subsidies to help them pay for insurance on the marketplaces. Those subsidies are based on premiums, so when premiums rise — as the CBO says they would if the cost-sharing payments end — so do subsidies. As a result, the CBO doesn’t think many people would actually lose insurance if the cost-sharing payments ended, because the government would pay the majority of the price difference. The increase in subsidies would, however, increase the federal deficit by $194 billion from 2017 through 2026, according to the agency’s estimates. For complex reasons tied to the structure of ACA subsidies, ending cost-sharing payments could also result in people having more coverage choices in the long-term.6

But a lot of things could change in the long-term, and likely will; the GOP has signaled it plans to keep pushing to repeal and replace parts of the ACA. What is more certain is that cutting the payments would cause chaos in the immediate aftermath, and the Trump administration would be left to deal with it.

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Posted by Harry Enten

The final Subway Series contest of the 2017 season takes place this evening at Citi Field, and if you put on the game, you might get the impression that the Yankees and Mets have a big-time rivalry going. It’s not that way for most baseball fans, however. The numbers show that only a minority actually like one team but not the other, while far more people hold the same opinion of both teams (good or bad) or just don’t care about one or both. In other words, most fans will probably be fine no matter the outcome tonight.

That’s according to data from a combination of two FiveThirtyEight-commissioned SurveyMonkey Audience polls conducted in June and July. SurveyMonkey asked baseball fans across the country how they felt — whether they had a favorable view, an unfavorable view or didn’t know enough to say — about each MLB team. Here, we’re examining a subset of that data, totaling 321 baseball fans who were asked specifically about the Mets and Yankees.

Of those, many fans (29 percent) held a favorable view of both the Mets and the Yankees. It’s not just that a fairly high percentage liked both teams. It’s that if you like one team, it actually increases your chance of liking the other team. While just 49 percent of the overall subsample held a favorable view of the Mets, 66 percent of fans who viewed the Yankees favorably felt the same way about the Mets. And a similar story holds in reverse. Only 44 percent of the fans in our subsample held a favorable view of the Yankees, but that percentage jumped to 59 percent among fans who held a favorable view of the Mets.

While the idea that someone could simultaneously like the Mets and the Yankees is unthinkable to this Yankee hater, it actually makes a lot of sense. Fans often root for the hometown team, whether it be in their city or even their state. So it’s not unreasonable to say you like both the Mets and the Yankees because they are both from New York. Indeed, among our subsample who live in New York state, the Mets and Yankees sport a 71 percent and a 67 percent favorable rating, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, 21 percent of baseball fans dislike both franchises. So that means 50 percent of baseball fans either like both the Yankees and Mets, or dislike both — not quite what you’d expect from a heated rivalry where battle lines are drawn and allegiances sworn. In fact, disliking the Mets or the Yankees actually makes one less apt to like the other team as well. The Mets sport just a 41 percent favorable rating among those who dislike the Yankees, 8 points below their overall favorable rating. And the Yankees do even worse among fans who dislike the Mets, with a 33 percent favorable rating — far below their 44 percent favorable mark overall.

Again, part of this may just have to do with disliking a city or a state. As an illustration of this, the Mets and Yankees sport favorable ratings of just 40 percent and 30 percent among our subsample that hailed from New England. New England, of course, is a natural geographic rival of New York.

Still, there are some people who do like the Mets and dislike the Yankees, and vice versa. One-fifth (20 percent) of fans hold a favorable view of the Mets and an unfavorable view of the Yankees. Meanwhile, 11 percent of fans hold a favorable view of the Yankees but an unfavorable view of the Mets. These fans, however, total only about a third of our subsample. That’s not much more than the 20 percent of fans who hold no opinion of at least one (if not both) teams.

Don’t tell that to the New Yorkers in the stands, jawing at each other about the two ballclubs. But the bottom line is that most baseball fans around the country won’t have much of anything on the line in tonight’s Subway Series finale.

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Posted by Clare Malone and Dhrumil Mehta

While news from Charlottesville, Virginia, has dominated media coverage in recent days, it was only a short while ago that Americans were Googling the projected trajectory of intercontinental missiles launched from North Korea and fretting about the prospect of war. In late July, North Korea tested a missile that experts believe is capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States, and in August it was reported that the country had also figured out how to miniaturize nuclear weapons to fit on these missiles. In unscripted remarks at an event on the domestic opioid crisis, President Trump said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Americans have long perceived North Korea as a threat, but more acutely so in the last few weeks, according to recent polling. That renews the relevance of questions about the prudence of military action, the public’s tolerance for a looming specter of nuclear conflict, and Trump’s ability to lead effectively in a moment of crisis.

Recent events have left Americans demonstrably shaken. A CNN poll shows that in March of this year, 48 percent of Americans saw North Korea as a “very serious threat” to the U.S., but by early August, that number had reached 62 percent. That puts North Korea on par with the threat posed by ISIS in American minds: 64 percent of those asked in the same August poll viewed the terrorist organization as a very serious threat.7

Right now, North Korea worries Americans more than Iran does; 33 percent said Iran was a very serious threat. This is a change from September of 2015, when 49 percent of people saw Iran as a very serious threat and 37 percent said the same about North Korea.

But Americans have long feared the North Korean regime. Back in 2003, the year North Korea pulled out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, a Gallup poll found that 60 percent of people in the U.S. thought the Kim regime’s weapons capabilities were a “major problem.”

The rhetoric Trump used to talk about North Korea might be exacerbating Americans’ worries. Threatening “fire and fury” against a nuclear-armed, anti-American dictatorship is apt to keep some people up at night, particularly when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would consider an attack on Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific.

A recent Marist University poll, conducted in the days following Trump and Kim’s comments, found that only 19 percent of Americans have a “great deal of confidence” in the president’s ability to lead the nation in an international crisis, and 76 percent preferred the U.S. pursue non-military options. In the past few days, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 68 percent of people favored negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear program, though 52 percent of respondents thought Trump wasn’t just talking tough and actually meant to attack the dictatorship.

But what happens if diplomacy doesn’t work? Americans remain nervous about the likelihood of a nuclear strike by North Korea. While an August CBS poll found that most people — 68 percent — think North Korea is just posturing and isn’t actually planning a strike, a July poll from Bloomberg found that 55 percent think there’s a realistic chance that North Korea could launch a nuclear attack in the next several years. For historical context, in 1982, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 63 percent of Americans thought that the Russians would be willing to start a nuclear war. Americans might have felt the chill of the Cold War creeping back into their collective consciousness this month.

When asked how the U.S. should approach efforts to end tensions with international adversaries over the nuclear issue, Americans have tended to favor nonproliferation agreements, though the negotiations with Iran during the Obama era were more controversial with the public; a Gallup poll from February 2016 found that 57 percent of people disapproved of that agreement.

That might be in part be because Americans rarely seem to trust an adversary to uphold their end of a bargain. Eighty percent of respondents to a 2015 Fox News poll said that Iran couldn’t be trusted to keep its promises in the nuclear deal. Going back to 2002, a Time/CNN poll found that 47 percent of Americans thought Russia would live up to its end of a potential nonproliferation agreement, but 41 percent thought it wouldn’t. In 1963, at the height of U.S.-USSR tensions, only 19 percent of people thought the Soviets would live up to the terms of a test-ban treaty.

Should the U.S. enter into some kind of negotiations with North Korea in the future, it seems likely that a pattern of public distrust would continue. For now, what will carry on are tensions and an international standoff.

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Posted by Rob Arthur

A few names come to mind when pondering the surefire Hall of Famers playing baseball today. Adrian Beltre, who recently broke the 3,000-hit barrier, is one, as is Mike Trout, despite his youth. But there’s another all-time great who is toiling away on one of the worst teams in MLB: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. The Giants’ record might make Posey easy to overlook, but his combination of hitting and defense makes him almost a lock to one day join the Hall. In fact, despite being only 30 years old, Posey might already have a Hall of Fame résumé if he retired today.

It’s difficult to forecast whether any given catcher will find his way to Cooperstown. Only 18 backstops have made the Hall, and some did so in part because of accomplishments after their playing careers (as managers or executives).8 Perhaps because of the strain of constant crouching and the beatings they receive behind the plate, catchers are notoriously quick to decline, and historically great performers can become merely ordinary in the space of a few years.

But Posey is special. In a nine-year career, he’s already amassed 37.5 wins above replacement (WAR),9 which puts him 25th on the all-time list among backstops. If we look at how productive all catchers have been through age 3010 — Posey’s current age — he looks even better, ranking 11th all-time in WAR.

According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, a rough guide to measuring a player’s Hall-of-Fame qualifications,11 Posey would have a decent chance to make the Hall even if he never played another game. I looked at the top 500 catchers’ JAWS scores and used them to calculate the probability that they would one day be inducted into the Hall.12 Posey’s JAWS score is 36.8 — already only a little below the catcher average of 43.9. (Coincidentally, Posey’s current JAWS score is identical to the end-of-career score of stalwart backstop Ernie Lombardi, who made the Hall of Fame.) Based on this analysis, Posey would have about a 29 percent chance of getting to Cooperstown if he retired today — and as we’ll see below, those numbers probably understate Posey’s contributions.

Why is Posey’s résumé so strong? It starts with his impressive numbers at the plate. Since 2009, Posey’s first season in MLB, he has the 17th-highest Weighted Runs Created Plus in baseball, and he’s the only full-time catcher in the top 50. Posey has power, to which his 128 home runs (in one of MLB’s least hitter-friendly ballparks) can attest. He also has patience, with a career walk rate of 9.6 percent, well above the MLB average of 8.1 percent.

But Posey is much more than just a catcher who hits well. In addition to his power and discipline, Posey has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball during his career — thanks to his particular knack for pitch framing.

Catcher framing is the art of receiving a pitch so that an umpire is more likely to call it a strike. Before the debut of pitch-tracking technology such as PITCHf/x and Statcast, the idea of framing as a skill was unproven, but now it can be measured. And as Hall-of-Fame voters increasingly understand and recognize the importance of framing, catchers like Posey will probably benefit.

Baseball Prospectus rates Posey as the seventh-best framer since 1988,13 so he’s among the cream of the crop. And because framing isn’t factored into most versions of wins above replacement, Posey is somewhat underrated even by newfangled Hall-of-Fame yardsticks like JAWS.

Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR incorporates the number of runs a catcher saves via framing (which the versions from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs do not). Unsurprisingly, Posey’s value under that measure is higher, shooting up to 49.8 WAR. If we recalculate his JAWS score using Prospectus’s version of WAR, then, Posey is already good enough to have an 85 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. Now, Posey’s framing value this year has been minimal, so it’s possible that he’s losing his touch (he wouldn’t be the only older catcher to forget how to frame a pitch). But even if you assume that he will be a league-average framer going forward, Posey’s JAWS could end up high enough to practically guarantee a Hall of Fame induction.14

In some ways, comparing Posey with the historic greats of yesteryear in this manner isn’t fair. We don’t know what kind of framer Johnny Bench was, for example, and it’s possible that his already-tremendous WAR total would just get more inflated if we did. But we do know that it’s rare for a catcher to have both offensive ability and framing skills. (The few catchers better than Posey defensively tend to be specialists like Jose Molina and Brad Ausmus.) Conversely, there are a lot of catchers who are not great framers but nonetheless have long careers because they excel at the plate. So it’s likely that at least some of the catchers ahead of Posey on the all-time list would see their total value decline if we could measure their framing ability.

Add it all up, and Posey has likely already had a Hall-of-Fame career. And his playing days probably won’t end anytime soon — the average catcher who had 20 or more WAR through age 30 ended up playing another six and a half seasons. So Posey has plenty of years to improve upon his already impressive career. To get a sense of how Posey might end up finishing his run, I asked the folks at Out of the Park Baseball — a baseball simulation engine — to game out the rest of his career.

Out of the Park came back with four simulations of Posey’s future. And according to each, the hypothetical Busters fared very well. In each simulation, Posey earned an end-of-career JAWS score of greater than 51, which would give him at least a 90 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. With an average of about 2,000 hits, 400 doubles and 250 home runs, Posey’s milestones weren’t overly impressive, so he didn’t make the Hall on the first ballot in the simulations — it usually took three to four years for him to get in — but he was eventually inducted in each universe that was played out. That sounds pretty similar to what will happen in our universe, too.

Posey is one of the few catchers in history who can do it all. He can hit and frame, and he even provides extra value by blocking errant pitches and throwing out runners. When you combine his offensive and defensive skills, Posey might just be the most underappreciated Hall of Famer playing today.

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Posted by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Brace yourself, because we are about to ask you to read a story about a boring technological problem and its impact on government. Like many dull things, though, it’s also important — a failure so pervasive that it costs taxpayers billions and has the power to bridge partisan divides, uniting Jared Kushner and congressional Republicans with congressional Democrats and Obama-appointed scientific experts. Despite those things, the problem remains so deeply unsexy that Kushner publicly speaking about it resulted mostly in headlines about what his voice sounded like.

Senior advisor Jared Kushner speaks during an event with technology sector CEOs at the White House on June 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C. His data center consolidation initiative is supported by both Democrats and Republicans.


Data center consolidation — the art and science of making sure technological infrastructure is being used in an efficient way — does not make for great TV. But experts say it does represent good governance, because fixing it simultaneously saves money and corrects structural problems in the way the federal government is managed. This spring, bipartisan proponents of data center consolidation managed to get a bill through the House that would help get the job done more easily. But it’s now sitting in senatorial limbo. Even when an issue has cross-party cooperation and the support of the White House, it can still fall victim to the current state of political disarray.

Data centers are physical places housing the computers that archive information for the government — records that have to be backed up so a single, failed desktop won’t mean they’re lost forever; historical data that can’t be consigned to the virtual trash bin but also isn’t needed every day; statistics that need to be accessed by multiple people who work in different locations. Some are like warehouses — imagine the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but with racks of blinking electronics instead of wooden crates. Others are more prosaic, like a closet in someone’s office with a couple computers sitting screenless and lonely in the dark. As storage becomes less physical and more digital, we’ll only rely on them more.

But, right now, the federal government has more data centers than it needs, which is a problem since excess data centers mean more spent on building rental, electricity demand, maintenance workers and air conditioning bills. Between 2012 and 2016, data center consolidation efforts saved taxpayers a reported $2.3 billion. But experts say there’s still a long way to go. They talk in terms of the utilization rate — effectively how much of the energy being used by the equipment in a data center actually goes to doing productive work. If the rate is low, that means you’re spending money without getting much benefit from it. The average server in a data center owned by the federal government has a utilization rate between 9 and 12 percent, said David Powner, director of information technology management issues for the Government Accountability Office. The goal set by the federal Office of Management and Budget is something like 60 percent.

This problem isn’t confined to the government, but the government has run into some unique problems while trying to solve it.

Federal data center consolidation efforts have been ongoing since 2010, but while more than 4,300 federal data centers have been closed — out of a total 5,597 scheduled for elimination — many were low-hanging fruit: small, closet-size data centers that didn’t take much effort to close down but also didn’t save much by disappearing, said former Obama Chief Information Officer Tony Scott. Closing larger data centers is more complex and, in many cases, would require technological upgrades that agencies don’t have the budgets to implement. That’s because, in government, funding for software, programming, and other technological infrastructure comes when a project is first implemented. As time goes on, the project will get the funds to maintain itself, Scott said, but not the funds to improve. “If it was started in the ‘90s, it’s running on ‘90s technology. If it started in the ‘60s, it’s running on ‘60s tech,” he said. That can make it difficult to merge the data centers where that software is running.

Meanwhile, Powner said, there have been cases of agencies closing data centers and saving money but not reporting it. “There are some weird incentives in government,” Powner told me. “If you don’t spend your budget, they’ll take it away.” The result is a loss of transparency about how federal dollars are being spent. Document the savings, and you can’t use it for other projects, no matter how legitimate. Fail to report the savings and it becomes available to use, but taxpayers now have no real record of how it’s being spent.

Texas Republican Will Hurd and Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly are trying to solve these problems with their Modernizing Government Technology Act. It would establish a centralized modernization fund that all agencies could use, and, more groundbreakingly, authorize agencies to reallocate the money they’ve saved by consolidating data centers and reinvest it as working capital. Both Powner and Scott praised the effort. It passed the House easily in May. If it becomes law, the bill could be both a heartwarming show of a functional Congress working across party lines and a success for the White House. When Kushner made his first public speaking appearance in June, as part of a White House technology summit aimed at bringing ideas from the business world to government, the need for data center consolidation was one of the main issues he championed.

But that only works if the Senate has time to pay attention. “We are awaiting action in the Senate,” Connolly said. “Given the … what’s the polite word? … the current hiccups legislatively, one does not know if it will be a convenient time to bring it up or if they are just in stasis.”

For now, the Senate version of the Modernizing Government Technology Act is sitting in committee, where it’s been since April. And, even if it does make it to a vote, the project of data center consolidation could still be hamstrung by management issues this bill doesn’t address, like the overabundance of agency-level chief information officers. There are at least 250 people in the federal government with that title, according to Connolly and Hurd. They’ve counted 14 in the Department of Homeland Security alone. Most private companies just have one, but technology often came to the government piecemeal from the bottom up, rather than all at once from the top down. Today, so many people have the same title that it’s not always clear who has ultimate authority, making it difficult to know where the buck stops and who can approve consolidation decisions.

Ironically, this problem is currently exacerbated by the lack of a top CIO, the one in the White House. That role is currently unfilled, and Powner, Scott, Connolly and Hurd all said that position was important for coordinating among the different agencies and ensuring that someone has the authority to make the kinds of decisions that allow large, complex data centers to be reconfigured. It’s wonderful that Kushner’s Office of American Innovation is paying attention to data center consolidation, Scott said, but that top CIO role will be crucial to making those goals a reality. “Ideas are great, but implementation is what really matters at the end of the day,” he said. “If you don’t have somebody really, really focused on implementation, you’re going to come up short.”



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