This could be a pre-election post on Italy, where the subject line would fit. But it is not.

It is about a really annoying error I just noticed in Votes from Seats. The heading for Table 3.5 is WRONG.

Obviously, Japan uses MMM, not MMP. Not only do I know that (as does my coauthor, Rein Taagepera), but we say so in the text just below this table (not shown in the image). So this made me want to check the document that we submitted to the press for production.

Pretty clearly we had it right! The error was introduced in a later stage. Perhaps partly due to confusion with the preceding table, 3.4, which shows an example from MMP (New Zealand, 2008), and is titled correctly.

I post this not to shame the press. These things happen. It is a lesson in checking proofs, and re-checking them. Do it. Carefully. Of course, we did. Both of us. And still this got through. It happens. Publishing is imperfect. But errors like this in the final print version are so very annoying.

Freeze of 2018 update

It got cold. Even colder than forecast. Five out of six nights over the past week saw sub-freezing temperatures. Friday night it was 29F as early as 10:30 p.m. and it was 26 as late as 6:30 a.m. Saturday and not above freezing till about 8:20. That is a lot of cold for the time of year, especially given that this time of year is bloom season for almonds and many stone fruit.

The most sensitive trees I have here are two citrus trees. This is how I covered the ‘Gold Nugget’ mandarin. In addition to this tent, I have a string of lights on the tree (note orange extension cord). I placed a hi-lo thermometer inside. The temperature under the tent never reached freezing, thanks to the heat from the lights and the thick greenhouse-style plastic.

The other one I always protect in freezes is the ‘Wekiwa‘ tangelolo. In addition to this plastic over a frame, inside I have placed not only a string of lights but also a heat lamp (the kind made to keep chicks warm). On that cold Friday-Saturday, the lowest it got in here was 39.

Note the new leaf shoots at the top of the branches. These are what I was most worried about, as this is where flower buds will form soon. This variety may be hardy down to the low 20s (and this tree did survive 20F, albeit with extensive damage, without a heat source in Dec. 2013). But new growth would not take well to repeated freeze exposure.

Blooms of deciduous fruit and nut trees also do not take well to freezes. Many such trees were already breaking dormancy when the cold struck. My ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium was in bloom by about the 15th of the month. All signs were encouraging for good fruit this year, after a year when it did not fruit (due to heavy rain during this time of year in 2017).

Immediately after the freeze, the tree looks like this:

The flowers have all collapsed. They were near the end of their bloom anyway, but this dramatic a collapse likely means major damage. There also are no leaf shoots, as there normally would be as the bloom wraps up. There are a few buds in evidence, and the tree itself likely will be fine. But I certainly would not count on any fruit. Many other stone fruits had buds swelling before the freeze, and those could have been rendered non-viable by cold temperatures.

As I said in the earlier post in anticipation of the freeze, I do not have to count on fruit and nut trees for income. For those that do, this past week has been very rough. Almond growers, whose trees reach peak bloom around this time, are looking at substantial damage. Some will come through OK, others may have total losses. It will be a while before a full damage assessment can be made. If you like almonds, expect to pay more for them this year. California’s Central Valley produces most of the world’s supply. The effects of this freeze will reach far.

Here comes the freeze of 2018

I just can’t believe these local forecasts. For tonight:
“Patchy frost after 4am. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 30. West wind 11 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph.”
For tomorrow night:
“Areas of frost after 4am. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 27. Northwest wind 10 to 13 mph.”
Normally here, if it is going to be that cold, there’s no wind at all. This is the most ominous forecast I’ve seen since January, 2007, when we were still in San Diego County. That week, I lost a large percentage of my subtropical fruit trees.
In this climate, I don’t have subtropicals, but I do have citrus. Plus because it is the second half of February, the deciduous trees are either blooming, or have buds ready to open. A freeze could ruin any hope of fruit.
I don’t make a living growing fruit. But spare some thoughts the next few nights for those who do. California looks like it is about to be hit hard by one of its worst freezes in over a decade.

European Parliament votes to review Daylight Savings Time

As an ardent foe of the so-called Daylight Savings Time, already practically dreading that in less than a month, suddenly the sunrise will again be almost as late as 7:30 a.m., my day was brightened by some news.

The European Parliament voted 384-153 “to review whether Daylight Saving Time is actually worth it.” Some excerpts:

The claim that setting clocks an hour ahead in spring doesn’t save energy or make societies safer is often used by Daylight Saving opponents. In the past, when lighting a home was the primary driver of electricity consumption, adjusting clocks to take advantage of late-evening sunlight might have made a dent in that consumption. But in today’s world, air conditioning and electronics are also significant portions of electricity demand, and optimizing business hours to coincide with daylight hours doesn’t significantly impact that draw of electricity.

In fact, the US added three more weeks to Daylight Saving Time in 2005, in part in the hopes of capitalizing on potential energy savings. But by 2007 that dream hadn’t panned out: people just consumed more electricity in the dark morning hours instead of in the dark evening hours.

The vote is small and preliminary step, and even the finding of “not worth it” would not directly help me in California, but it’s a start.

Daylight Savings–an idea way past its time.

A tale of two curry-leaf trees

When I planted our older, potted, curry leaf tree last summer, I thought where I was putting it would be protected and that the tree would do better in its new ground location than where it had been growing in the pot. Apparently not.

That is it, in a spot protected by taller trees and a fence, with only a few leaves on it in early February. (It is an evergreen, but will drop leaves in response to sharp cold snaps.) Meanwhile, an offspring of the tree, growing next to a different fence where the parent used to be, looks great.

Sometimes plants really surprise me. The potted one looked pretty unhappy its first winter at the location when we had some significant cold snaps. But the offspring has shown no leaf loss this winter, even though we’ve had a couple of periods of temperatures in the high 20s.

Both should be fine–the transplanted one gets less sun this time of year but will get plenty as we get farther into spring and summer. And it shows no major stress, even if it has few leaves at this point. In fact, with another cold snap coming, it may be better off than its offspring on account of being somewhat dormant.

Spring 2018. Or is it winter?

Sometimes in a climate like this one, the seasons kind of mash together. It was an unusually warm January, and some trees are in bloom now. Yet this morning the temperature was 30F and there were ice crystals on the grass.

First blossom one one of our almond trees–8 Feb.

The Flavor Delight aprium is in bloom, 11 Feb.

The blooming is not early, despite the January warmth. The almond depicted above usually has its first bloom around the same date in February: the 12th in 2017, 6th in 2016, 3rd in 2015. The Flavor Delight likewise tends to have its first several blossoms open around now: 14th in 2017,  7th in 2016, 15th in 2015.

What is somewhat more unusual is below-freezing temperatures at this time of year. (I am sure they were common at this point in February decades ago, but not recently.) The latest date of a below-freezing temperature in 2017 was 25 Dec. (29F, though it was 32 on 24 Feb.), in 2016 2 Jan., in 2015 3 Jan, and in 2014 5 Feb. And the current forecast calls for a few days of low temperatures in the 20s and 30s. This could be bad for pollination of the trees in bloom and for tender young leaf growth on the citrus and some other trees.

That is the nature of a Mediterranean climate–“spring” begins in early February, but winter can keep hanging on.

South Africa: No confidence vote looming?

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa is attempting to get President Jacob Zuma to resign. Media coverage of this (such as a BBC story from 5 Feb.) too often implies that this is a “normal” presidency with a fixed term. However, despite the title, as far as executive survival in office is concerned, South Africa’s head of government is a prime minister. He can be removed by a vote of no confidence.

See the Constitution of South Africa, Article 102(2):

If the National Assembly, by a vote supported by a majority of its members, passes a motion of no confidence in the President, the President and the other members of the Cabinet and any Deputy Ministers must resign.

It could hardly be more clear than that. So if the ANC (which has far more than a majority of assembly seas) wants Zuma out, there’s no question how this will end. Zuma may have his own reasons to want to make the party go through the spectacle of a no-confidence vote, rather than step down “voluntarily”, but he does indeed serve at their pleasure.

It is also not as if is unusual in parliamentary systems for parties to replace their leader and the prime minister before an election. In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I show that roughly a third of PMs in parliamentary democracies lose office by an intra-party procedure (rather than by losing a general election or leading a coalition that collapses). We did not note the timing of such removals relative to elections, but there is little doubt that many of the party-initiated removals take place closer to the next election than the preceding one. (In most such systems, the election can be called early on initiative of the new PM. The South African constitution also has a provision for early election, at the initiative of the assembly majority itself–Art. 50.)

Already this past December the ANC’s convention narrowly voted to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as head of the party (over Zuma’s ex-wife). He will lead the party in the campaign for the general election of 2019, whether or not Zuma is still president at the time.

A key difference in South Africa, compared to most other parliamentary systems, is that the prime minister is also the head of state–hence the title, President. In fact, other constitutional provisions in South Africa seem lifted from an actual presidential system (i.e., one in which the head of government is popularly elected for a fixed term). For instance, Article 89 has a provision for impeachment:

  1. The National Assembly, by a resolution adopted with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members, may remove the President from office only on the grounds of ­

a. a serious violation of the Constitution or the law;

b. serious misconduct; or

c. inability to perform the functions of office.

It is hard to imagine what this is doing in a parliamentary constitution! If, like most parliamentary republics, the head of state (“President”) and the head of government (“Prime Minister”) were separate persons, the presence of both provisions quoted here would make sense. But what purpose does an impeachment clause, requiring a super majority, have in a constitution that lets the assembly remove the combined president/PM by a much simpler procedure?

The pressure is ramping up, the State of the Nation speech has been postponed, and the rumors are running rampant ahead of a special meeting of the NEC. The party leadership body could “recall” him in a manner similar to how Thabo Mbeki’s term ended early in 2008. However, that is a party procedure with no legal standing and thus would not be binding on the President.

Will he resign, or will the ANC need to invoke Art. 102?