Monday, September 21, 2015

Walker just dropped out. That's not good

Scott Walker dropped out of the Republican primary race today. Last week, Rick Perry dropped out. Most of my liberal friends on Facebook and Twitter cackled gleefully and made fist-pumping “oh, yeah” noises over each of those. They enjoyed the schadenfreude of watching two people they disliked being humiliated and slinking home with their tails between their legs. They shouldn't have enjoyed it. Walker and Perry dropping out is bad for us.

The more people there are in the primary, and the longer they last, the better it is for us. The worst thing that could happen for us is for all of them to drop out (except, presumably for one. No one running as a Republican would be very good for us). There are two simple points involved. One is financial/economical and the other is sociological.

The money issue is the easiest to explain. Lots of candidates eat up a lot of money. Money spent running against other Republicans in the primaries is money not available to spend running against the Democratic candidate in the general election. I want the big donors to spend it all in the primaries. Walker in particular was positioned to waste a lot of money. He was the Koch brothers' anointed. They have publicly promised to spend almost a billion dollars this cycle to create a government to their liking. The longer he looked viable, the more of that money he would have sucked up. Now they are free to decide whether to spend that billion on another presidential candidate or to spread it around buying as many congressional seats as possible (which is what I would have done from the beginning). Allowing the money to become more focused is bad for us.

The sociological issue is almost as simple. The longer the primaries remain competitive without a clear front runner, the more divided the party is going into the general election. After the convention, they'll need to spend valuable time uniting the party rather than running against our candidate. The sooner someone emerges from the pack as the obvious winner, the sooner they can focus their money and supporters on defeating our candidate. Bringing the party together is a major strategic issue. The longer a party remains divided between viable candidates, the more supporters become dedicated to their candidates. The more they become dedicated to their candidate, the more they begin to see other candidates as the enemy. If the enemy wins, their enthusiasm for supporting them approaches zero. An actual convention battle would guarantee hundreds of thousands of supporters, if not millions, either staying home or voting for third parties in November. In 2008, Obama's greatest challenge wasn't defeating McCain, it was regaining the support of the Clinton bitter-enders.

My conservative/Republican friends seem to understand this calculus far better than my liberal/Democratic friends do. We look at every Republican joining the race as mere entertainment. They look at every Democrat joining the race as bad news for Clinton. We need to learn from them. If Carson and Fiorina keep up with Trump, that's great. If Jeb!, Kaisich, and Cruz stay viable, that's even better. If Jindal and those other guys look viable, that means we've all suffered major head injuries and need someone to get us to the ER as fast as possible.

To summarize: lots of Republicans = good, one Republican = bad.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Adventures in pointless paperwork

When the oil money started to pour in from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the end of the seventies, there was a spirited public debate over the best way to spend it. There were some good decisions and some bad decisions. One of the best was to create a rainy day account which we named the Permanent Fund. Under the law, 25% of the state's oil revenue goes into the account. According to a complex formula, a certain amount is paid out in dividends to all the permanent residents of the state.

Since I've been back for almost two years, I'm entitled to a dividend this year. The deadline for filing the paperwork was back in February. The checks start going out in three weeks. Naturally, the Permanent Fund has waited till now to let me know they want more documentation. They have records of me from when I lived here in the seventies and eighties. They want me to prove that I'm that guy. I've already given them my birth date, Social Security number, and Alaska driver's license number. Now they want a birth certificate.

I go to the California Department of Vital Statistics where I find out it will take me over six months to get one. A helpful note tells me that it might be faster for me to go to the county registrar's office. I go to the County of Los Angeles' registrar's office where I find out it costs $28, it could take up to three weeks, and they don't take payments over the internet. They do, however, work with a third party vendor who will take my payment and make my request for me. I go to VitalCheck where I fill out the forms and find out it will cost me $6 more. Oh, and I need to prove who I am first.

Monday was a bank holiday. This morning I trotted down to my bank, found the clerk with the notary stamp, and had him attest that I am who I say I am. Of course, I had to prove that to him first. How did I do that? I showed him the driver's license issued to me by the state of Alaska. Back home, I scanned the signed and stamped form and sent it to VitalCheck. They'll look it over and send it to the County of Los Angeles. They'll look it over and send me my birth certificate. Since the clock is running out, I asked for the overnight mail which will cost me $26.50 more.

To sum up: The State of Alaska wants me to prove I am who I say I am. To do that, I'm spending $60.50 to have a piece of ID, issued to me by the State of Alaska, shipped down and up the West Coast. There is a fair chance that I'll miss the deadline. And it's completely pointless. Not only am I wasting time and money to tell one part of the state about a piece of ID issued by another part of the state that I already told them about, none of this proves that I'm that baby that was born in California. And, whether I am or am not that baby is irrelevant to the requirements of the Permanent Fund law. They need to know whether I met Alaska residency requirements for all of 2014. They're still just taking my word for that.

Now, I'm going to have a salami sandwich. It's the only way I could think of to end this on an up note.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Mammoths in the news

Note: I really need to put up more mammoth news without thinking I need to write a dissertation about each one. I have about twenty unfinished posts that fell prey to that impulse.

Here's a new mammoth find from San Diego.

In July, a work crew preparing the ground for a huge, one might even say mammoth, housing development started coming across big bones. California law requires construction projects that move large amounts of earth to have a paleontologist on site (he probably doubles as an archaeologist). Usually, with projects like this, someone is standing over the excavation tapping their foot moaning over the time being lost. In this case, the were able to move the work to another part of the project, which covers sixty acres. John Suster, the project superintendent, told the scientists "Take your time, this is kind of cool." Even Ure Kretowicz, the CEO of the development company, seems excited about it.  

So far they've found mammoths, horses, turtles and an undetermined species of bison. The mammoths are Columbian mammoths; woollys didn't live that far south. Woollys and Columbians are siblings. Both are descended from the steppe mammoths that lived in Eurasia six million years ago. Before the ice ages, steppe mammoths colonized North America, just one of many imperialist intrusions from that direction.

Steppe mammoths were adapted temperate grasslands. As the northlands grew colder, they had plenty of room to move south in North America. They evolved to better fit the specific the local ecologies from the northern plains of the US to the Valley of Mexico around Mexico City. Since the first discovery of their remains in 1726, they've been given several names: Jefferson's mammoth, the imperial mammoth, and the Columbian mammoths. Some taxonomists have tried to use two or all three to describe stages in their evolution. The current preferred taxonomy is to merge all three into one species. (Dammit! I'm getting all dissertationy.)

Meanwhile, back in Eurasia, rather than moving south and adapting to warmer climates where they would have had to compete with already established proboscideans (elephants), old world steppe mammoths adapted to the gradually cooler conditions of the north, eventually becoming woolly mammoths. In fact, they were a key species in the creation of a unique arctic ecology, the mammoth steppe, Since they went extinct, that territory has all been colonized with Arctic tundra.

Steppe mammoths were the second largest known probiscidean, after the odd looking giant dienotherium. They were tall and long legged with, we assume, some hair. Columbian mammoths were somewhat smaller (coming in at third largest) and, we think, hairer. Woolly mammoths differed quite a bit from it's parents and siblings. Not only were they shorter and stockier, they had multiple specific adaptations to the cold north. Besides hair, they had two layers of wool. Their trunk had a different shape that allowed them to scoop snow, for water, and protected the naked top of the trunk. Most intersting, they had a different blood hemoglobin that bonded oxygen at lower temperatures. They also had something called an anus flap.

Aside from just showing off my knowledge, my point is that the Columbian mammoth is a distinct species easily distinguished from the woolly mammoth. Mastodons, despite some superficial resemblances, aren't even close. Quite a few mastodon relatives might have lived in that area, but, except for the somewhat familiar American mastodon, all of them were extinct by the time mammoths arrived.

Possibly the coolest thing about this discovery is that so many different species have been found. Individually, each of these animals is fairly well known. Taken together, we have a slice of an entire ecology. The owners of the property are being very patient about letting the scientists take their time examining the site. The deserve credit for that. Send those guys a cake.