Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Mittens '16!

Shorter Republican Elites: That yahoo Trump is running circles around our establishment candidate in the primaries, so let's bring back Mitt Romney, the establishment candidate from the last election who had a half dozen yahoos running circles around him in the primaries.

(via Memeorandum)

Mirror image

It's hard not to see parallels between our hard liners and theirs.

That's not to say they're exactly the same. But on both sides this is really more about domestic politics than the nuclear deal on its merits.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Probably no one else cares, but I think it's interesting that Kazakhstan's new regional airline is called "Qazaq Air." "Qazaq" is how the name of the "Kazakh" people and language should be spelled, and "Kazakhstan" really should be "Qazaqstan." It is only an accident in the country's colonial history that the country and people have their current spelling.

I think I went through this before, in Kazakh the word "Kazakh" is spelled "Қазақ". It is hard to see the the first and last letters are not a regular "K" rather they have a little tail at the bottom of their right leg. That's because in Kazakh that first and last letter makes a slightly different sound, the sound that the letter ق makes in Arabic. That Arabic letter usually gets transliterated as a "Q" (think the first letter in "Qur'an" or the last letter in "Iraq").

But in the Kazakh's case, the transliteration was being done by Russians and the Russian language has no Q ("Iraq" in Russian is "Ирак", which is "Irak" if transliterated to Latin script). So Russians would have been inclined to write a word that sounds like "Qazaq" as "Казак." But they couldn't do that because the word "Казак" was already taken (it's the word we write as "Cossack" in English). So instead, they transliterated it as "Казах", the X as the end being the voiceless velar fricative that all the guidebooks always say sounds like the "ch" in "loch" when pronounced by a real Scot (but I think more people associate the sound with middle eastern languages). That X in Cyrillic gets transliterated by English speakers as "Kh." Thus, the original "Қазақ" became "Казах" in Russian which became "Kazakh" in English.

If Kazakh had taken a different path, through a language that uses the "Q" to transliterate the sound in the original language, we would be writing "Qazaq" for the people and "Qazaqstan" for the country. And that would be better because the transliteration gives us a better idea of how those words are actually pronounced by native speakers.

So it is interesting to see an airline, originally called "Air Kazakhstan," decide to go with the better transliteration in their new name.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The new(ish) 538 still sucks

Last year I complained that the "new" 538 site just isn't as good since Silver founded his current site as it was in its previous incarnations.

Want another example? It's not quite a presidential election year yet, but the presidential primary is still getting a lot of attention. So, for the first time since I started paying attention to the primary shenanigans, I googled up Nate's site to see what poll-crunching he was doing over there. The front page, barely mentioned the presidential primary, so I clicked over to the "politics" tab to see what he had there.

Not much, it turns out. The top article is relevant ("Most of the Biden Speculation is Malarkey"--a goof headline by the way). But there were no comprehensive analysis of the polling of the Republican or Democratic primary races, certainly not the state-by-state polling averages I was looking for. The politics page did have 538's Senate Forecast for 2014, which probably was once nice, but it's 2015. Forecasts stop being interesting after-the-fact. The main politics page also featured a forecast for the 2015 General Election in the UK. That happened almost four months ago, so again, not a forecast anymore.

It is really too bad. By this time in the 2012 race and the 2008 race, Silver's site was my go-to spot when I wanted to know what was actually going on with the race (beyond campaign bluster and the vapid coverage of most political reporting). I keep trying to check back, hoping to find another indispensable site, but instead it just isn't doing what made Silver so famous.

We're number 19!

Woo-hoo, worst airport in overall quality in the whole world!!!

The funny thing is that I know a lot of people around here who try to fly out of Newark to avoid the misery that is PHL, But Newark is rated even worse than Philly.

(Also, the list is crap. PHL does suck, but compared to a lot of airports in the developing world, it does really well. The survey only measured "major airports" which probably just means the places that people who wrote the article would go).

ISIS's attempt to end the Fed

The best thing ISIS has going for it with its decision to mint its own currency is that the coins are sure to become collectors items (which is another way of saying that I want one).

Right now, the people living under the Islamic State are using dollars, euros, Syrian and Iraqi dinars. In other words, currency that has internationally recognized value and is not traceable back to the Islamic State. If they refuse to use that "fiat currency" and insist on their own metal-backed coins, it is going to immediately cut down on the people who are willing to do business with the group as the profits of those transactions will also be clear evidence that the dealer is breaking the law with an almost universally despised group. Who would want that? Unless ISIS bends its own rules and is willing to trade in other currencies, this will be a barrier to finding people who are willing to do business with them.

But even if ISIS somehow found customers, its decision to only accept gold for oil means that its oil sales will not be buffeted by two commodities prices and not just one. Maybe sometimes they will balance each other out (with oil down and gold up, like it was in 2012). But right now, gold and oil prices are both sinking. So this bad idea seems like a particularly bad idea at this time.

You say McKinley, I say Denali

I live in Pennsylvania. I feel zero connection to James Buchanan (the only U.S. President from this state, err, um, I mean commonwealth). If someone wanted to rename Buchanan County, Missouri, I wouldn't care. So why do politicians from Ohio feel like the Mount McKinley name change is an issue for their constituents?

On top of that, John Boehner's argument makes no sense. I don't know all that much about President McKinley, other than the fact that he was assassinated. But even if you take everything that Boehner says as true: that McKinley served with distinction in the Civil War, that he was a wonderful congressman and governor, and that "he led this nation to prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War as the 25th President of the United States" why does that settle the question of what a mountain in Alaska should be called? A lot of people have done impressive things in this country's history. What makes him entitled to have a mountain named after him? That's especially true when you consider that we tried to name the mountain after him for the last 100 years but the locals just kept calling it something else. Even if we assume that McKinley was the greatest guy who ever presidented, I don't see the case for "Mount McKinley."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Great Wall of Canada

In Walker's defense, if we had one of these maybe it would have kept Ted Cruz out.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Clinton is clearly winning but if you read the press you wouldn't know it

What Matthew Yglesias says.

The weirdest thing about the way the press treats the Clintons is that it continues to treat the Clintons that way even after people started writing about the "Clinton rules." I would have thought that kind of attention would have altered the coverage somewhat. But it really hasn't. The media story will always be that the Clintons are unpopular or losing popularity or that the public is sick of their scandals, no matter what the polls actually say. That's just the narrative and it isn't going to change no matter what.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"You Stink"

I am trying to figure out the words the Lebanese protesters use for their "you stink" movement. First I assumed it would be something like أنت نتن (I didn't know the verb "to stink" until google translate told me--blame gw!!!). But when I did a google news search with the phrase "أنت نتن" nothing about the protest came up. I was able to find the protesters' hashtag, which is #طلعت_ريحتكم and the movement's facebook page. So it looks like طلعت ريحتكم is what is getting translated as "you stink." Is that a Lebanese colloquialism? I can't figure it out even as I see words like ريح ("wind") and طلع ("inform"? or "ascend"?) in the hashtag. Maybe wind is related to a stinky smell? Can anyone explain what those words mean and how the phrase gets translated as "you stink"?

Yeah, it has been years since I have tried to study Arabic. But every once in a while I see a reference to an Arabic word or phrase in the news and I try to see if I can puzzle it out. I usually can, especially with the help of Hans and google translate. But this one really stumped me.