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AvatarComments by Michael Cain*

On “The Kid Fan

Even in my childhood -- depressingly closer to the 1919 date on the cartoon than to today -- for a kid, a new baseball put a significant dent in accumulated allowances. The ball park had to offer a significant value to keep the kid from sprinting the other way.

On “Biden Picks Kamala Harris

I said yesterday that I think a whole lot of pundits are ignoring that Harris won two different state-wide offices in a heavily Latino state (much more Latino than Black). And that if Biden holds everything Clinton won and adds AZ and FL, he wins. Without any of MI, PA, and WI.

By population, AZ and FL are both more Latino than they are Black, AZ much more. Sometime in the last couple of years, according to Census Bureau estimates, Latinos become the largest minority group in the US.

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Yes. The five Pacific states will have eight Democratic Senators. The eight Mountain West states will have (if you believe the current polls) either nine or ten.

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I think the strength that is being ignored by most pundits is that Harris won two different statewide offices in a state that is heavily Latino. If Biden holds all the states Clinton won, and flips AZ and FL, he wins.

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Is this the first westerner the Democrats have put on the ticket in my lifetime (born late 1953)? Have the Democrats ever put a westerner on the ticket?

I point out as being of possible relevance that come January, there is a good chance the Mountain West may have more Democratic US Senators than the Pacific Coast states, or the Midwest. And that of the four official Census Bureau regions, the West will have more Democratic US Senators than any of the other three.

On “The Crimson Letter

Globally, enlightenment values are a minority position on how the world should be run. Nationally, the contemporary version of enlightenment values is a majority position only when the economy is humming along. Lots of progress over the last 120 years, but the war's not over.

On “A Man of Casual Celebrity

I never had a hole-in-one. Came within six inches now and then. Holed out from comparable distances on second shots on par fours for eagle a couple of times. The only hole-in-one I personally witnessed was actually a mishit ball that took a lucky bounce to get on the green at all, then happened to roll in. The guy who hit it was more embarrassed than excited.

On “Day After the Circus

The more of these cartoons that run, the more I'm inclined to ask, "Where are the girls and what are they doing?"

On “We Deserve Donald Trump

I still say that the Democrats -- and also a lot of pundits -- missed/ignored that going into the 2016 election, Wisconsin had a Republican trifecta state government, Republicans in 5 of 8 US House seats, and one Republican US Senator. MI was almost as bad. The "great blue wall" in the Midwest beloved by the pundits had been looking increasingly shaky for years. The voters that didn't turn out to vote for Hillary there in 2016 hadn't been turning out for some time. More likely, they are increasingly not there at all in a relative sense.

The Republicans/pundits are making the same mistake in the Mountain West. The Republicans have lost New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, and are quickly losing Arizona.

On “Country Roads, Take Me Home

A couple of weeks ago we drove from Denver to Omaha for my mother's belated funeral. T-Mobile, from whom we buy service, now claims to be the second largest cellular carrier in the US. It was disturbing to find that in North Platte, NE halfway between the two cities and right on I-80, our phones told us we had 911-service only. No normal voice, no text, no data.

Once we were home I pulled up T-Mobile's coverage map. Along I-80, one of the most heavily used freight roadways in the country, there's no T-Mobile service across most of Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

On “Only Politics Stays U.S. Postal Service From Their Appointed Rounds

Anecdotes are not data, but... My prescription refill, sent as a first-class USPS package, was given to USPS in California sometime on Sunday Aug 2 and arrived in my mailbox around 12:00 pm today Aug 6.

In reading various stories about how bad first-class service is already, before DeJoy's changes kick in, they all seem to be in old cities. That is, the stories about first-class taking eight to twelve days on average to get from one place in a metro area to another in the same metro area seem to be about Detroit or Philadelphia. I don't see stories about it taking a week for first-class mail to get across, say, the Salt Lake City metro area.

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There were a surprising number of SCOTUS cases in the early days settling that an explicitly enumerated power that Congress could establish post offices and post roads means that Congress must do so. Also whether post offices and roads implied a power to run a postal service. My favorite was whether postal roads covered transporting mail by ship from SC to Boston.

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In the 13-state western region, we know now that >90% of registered voters will receive a ballot by mail (up from 71% in 2018). The only state making a late big jump in the percentage handled that way is Nevada, who made statutory changes based on their neighbors' experience, and threw a bunch of extra money into it. I anticipate the usual vanishingly small number of fraud cases.

Prediction: in 2028, all 13 of those states will be vote-by-mail. The only people who will vote in-person will be those who have moved and not changed their registration in time, and a small group that will be generally regarded as quaintly traditional.

That said, it's entirely possible that states that simply attempt to scale up an existing absentee ballot system that's been handling a small fraction of the ballots are going to have disasters. Eg, if 500,000 voters in Michigan wait until the last minute and drop their request for an absentee ballot into mailboxes during week of Oct 26-30, it's going to be a nightmare.

On “Wednesday Writs: Brief For A Change Edition

L2: If you watch Cory Gardner's ads on Denver TV, you would think that he single-handedly passed the bill against the opposition of everyone.

On “Massive Explosion in Beirut

LNG or LP don't explode that way without a well-mixed oxidizer.

On “Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Your Premise Is Bad Edition

In the opposite of harshing my mellow, I guess, yesterday the Nevada legislature passed a bill, which the Democratic governor is expected to sign, that will make them the seventh western state (of 13) to send essentially all registered voters a ballot by mail this November. Voters who register after the mail deadline will have to vote in person. Eighth state if you include Arizona at 80% of registered voters. Ninth if you include Montana at 70%. Tenth if you include New Mexico at 60%. Nevada's change only applies during a declared emergency. If vote-by-mail is as popular in Nevada as it is in other western states, the emergency requirement will be dropped.

On “Barbarians at the Gate: Credentialism and Loving Gatekeeping, Under Certain Circumstances…

And the Great Plains ecology when the land give-away policy that was ill-suited to that environment was continued. As much as I love the various Great Plains ecologies, I am more convinced than ever that the Poppers were right: biggest failed agricultural experiment in US history.

On “Weekend Plans Post: The Many Joys Of Self-Isolation

Condolences. My mom died at 92 last month. She was still sharp mentally, but was becoming disconnected from the world physically, first with failing hearing and then with failing vision. Also outliving so many of her friends and acquaintances. My sister and I both think that she was ready.

That reminds me that I need to rewatch Bicentennial Man. The critics may have hated it, but the tragedy of outliving everyone that's important to you always rips me up.

On “Thursday Throughput: The Hope of a COVID-19 Vaccine

It's been years since I drove in downtown Boston and I still get the nervous twitches thinking about it. Which is part of the reason I think the initial killer app for self-driving cars is chauffeuring elderly Boomers around the suburbs.

On “Barbarians at the Gate: Credentialism and Loving Gatekeeping, Under Certain Circumstances…

When I was on the budget staff for my state legislature, one of the requirements for applying was that the cover letter and resume be submitted on paper. There were typically 50-60 applications for the one or two openings each year. At some point after I had left I heard they allowed e-mail submissions one year, and got several thousand. I believe they have gone back to paper as a filter.

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I wonder at what point the level one digital box stackers will be automated.

The level one digital box stackers were automated long ago. Lots of higher jobs, too -- eg, spreadsheet software has eliminated a huge number of dedicated programming jobs.

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They look out over the mountains of really good, unique work they achieved climbing this mountain and realize they just want to be back at camp 4, doing that hard engineering.

After two years of managing a group of prima donna MTS, I gave it up and went back to being one. The company I was at sent all managers a summary of promotions and demotions each month. (What I did was officially a retreat, a voluntary step down in rank.) The month my change was in the summary, I got calls from a ton of department heads, most of whom I didn't know, saying, "Good for you, wish I'd done that 20 years ago, now my skills are so out-of-date I don't have that option."

On “Linky Friday: Last Day of July, or the 153th Day of March, Depending

LF9: The Colorado Dept of Labor estimates that it would take them until sometime in October to code and test the necessary verification of data and individualized 70% cap on benefits into the state's UI system.

On “Thursday Throughput: The Hope of a COVID-19 Vaccine

Sometimes I think AGI is "just" a big enough, deep enough hierarchy of game-like things. "Me" is a heuristic goal-setting system shaped by a billion years of ancestors that didn't make fatally bad choices too soon, plus the ability to set up my own deep learning processes, plus the occasional random number*. I don't expect I'll live long enough to see us assemble that much computation and communication in silicon form. But there will be a lot of stuff that we can build and combine limited specialized subsystems for if we want to. A hand may not be the ideal gripping element in any specific situation, but it's damned good as a general-purpose device. And once that control problem is solved well once, in the AI world it's solved everywhere.

* The other day I was going through all of the "random" things that had to happen to keep me from spending most of my life in California. From my Dad's teeth that kept him out of Navy OCS to the order in which I lusted after two different brunette women.

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There's now research software that does well at Texas Hold 'Em at a table with the software and five professional players. Granted I'm looking for certain approaches, but in the couple of papers I've read there's hierarchies of games, repeated subgames, guided search... Also, the software "discovers" some of the tactics humans use, like bluffing, and some tactics that humans don't.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.