Monday, June 17, 2024

Summer in Texas means it's time for a ground source heat pump repost

Put in XKCD terms, if you're trying to heat your house on a very cold day (or, reversing the process, cool it on a very hot day), you're going to have to squeeze really hard, which is going to put additional strain on the grid, but as far as your ground source system is concerned, the days are never very hot or cold. It's always in the mid-50s.

Of course, for the walls of your house it's still below zero or in the triple digits and you'll have to run the system more, but this will still go a long ways toward flattening out the spikes and avoiding the deadly power outages that have become a regular part of living in Texas.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Ground source heat pumps are "the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available," but maybe we can get journalists to talk about them anyway.

I'm joking but I'm not kidding. 

If Elon Musk or some other Silicon Valley visionary proposed some laughable plan based on non-existent technology, reporters would be scheduling interviews within the hour, but a solution supported by experts based on mature, tested systems will get little to no coverage.

One of the biggest crises facing California is a failing electrical grid, particularly during summer heat waves which are going to continue becoming more frequent and severe as the planet warms. Ground source heat pumps and similar technology could greatly alleviate pressure on the grid, especially when coupled with roof top solar. On top of that, its efficiency reduces demand for fossil fuels.

If we're going solve our problems, we can't go on being disinterested in solutions. 

From Wikipedia:

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called ground source heat pumps the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available. Heat pumps offer significant emission reductions potential, particularly where they are used for both heating and cooling and where the electricity is produced from renewable resources.
Ground source heat pumps are characterized by high capital costs and low operational costs compared to other HVAC systems. Their overall economic benefit depends primarily on the relative costs of electricity and fuels, which are highly variable over time and across the world. Based on recent prices, ground-source heat pumps currently have lower operational costs than any other conventional heating source almost everywhere in the world. Natural gas is the only fuel with competitive operational costs, and only in a handful of countries where it is exceptionally cheap, or where electricity is exceptionally expensive. In general, a homeowner may save anywhere from 20% to 60% annually on utilities by switching from an ordinary system to a ground-source system. However, many family size installations are reported to use much more electricity than their owners had expected from advertisements. This is often partly due to bad design or installation: Heat exchange capacity with groundwater is often too small, heating pipes in house floors are often too thin and too few, or heated floors are covered with wooden panels or carpets.
Capital costs may be offset by government subsidies, for example, Ontario offered $7000 for residential systems installed in the 2009 fiscal year. Some electric companies offer special rates to customers who install a ground-source heat pump for heating or cooling their building. Where electrical plants have larger loads during summer months and idle capacity in the winter, this increases electrical sales during the winter months. Heat pumps also lower the load peak during the summer due to the increased efficiency of heat pumps, thereby avoiding costly construction of new power plants. For the same reasons, other utility companies have started to pay for the installation of ground-source heat pumps at customer residences. They lease the systems to their customers for a monthly fee, at a net overall savings to the customer.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Two pieces of satirical press criticism from Mitchell and Webb.

The Alien Invasion sketch is very good and sharply observed, but Train Safety (from the team's wonderful radio series, That Mitchell and Webb Sound) is the essential one here. Every news editor should be required to listen to this every morning.

"Not Your Father's Apple Fail" (another video you didn't know you needed)

Bob Chipman takes a deep dive into Apple's disastrous and quickly aborted ad introducing the new iPad, approached in terms of marketing, cinema, and cultural/consumer history (the title is a hint to that last one.) I'll admit that when I started the video, the length seemed a bit excessive but it more than of my attention to the end. If you're not a fan of film criticism and bad marketing, your results may vary, but it's still a genuinely thoughtful video essay.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Has anything nonviable, stupid and/or evil come out of Silicon Valley without funding from Andreessen Horowitz?

Example 14,305:

From the indispensable Stephen Findeisen, a.k.a. Coffeezilla.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Eating Eric Roberts – – rational versus irrational desperation

Think about these two scenarios.

One. After a particularly fuzzy night you realize that you have spent most of this month's mortgage payment on strippers and cocaine. You decide to go to the track and try to get ahead by betting longshots before your wife finds out.

Two. You are thousands in debt to a loan shark and only have perhaps 1/10 of what you owe. If you can't come up with all the money tomorrow, you will be taken out to the desert, beaten, and shot in the head. You decide to go to the track and try to get ahead by betting longshots.

In both cases, opting to play the ponies is an act of desperation, but second case it is arguably a rational one. The odds are just as bad as they are for the first scenario, but assuming you have no other options, there's really no chance of your finding yourself worse off. If you lose you have the same outcome you would have if you didn't play at all.

(We discussed a related idea in our Ponzi threshold thread. If a company becomes sufficiently overvalued, it has an incentive to opt for business models with lower expected value but a better chance of having a huge windfall.)

The problem with this idea is that, while we can come up with endless hypotheticals sitting around in safe and, more importantly, calm surroundings, those conditions almost by definition seldom apply to real life desperate circumstances. Calculating expected values in complicated situations involving unlikely events is extraordinarily difficult even for those who keep their heads. For those who panic, rational desperation arguments are almost inevitably excuses for bad judgment.

Recent case in point is the small but still surprising number of respectable, center-left pundits continuing to call for the Democrats to somehow replace Joe Biden and second-in-line Kamala Harris with an unspecified dream candidate. There's a curious disconnect between the situation which is concerning but hardly Dukakis in October and the "solution," a plan with lottery ticket odds that, to the extent that it has precedents, follows the example of some of the most disastrous campaigns in living memory. It feels a bit like shipwreck survivors proposing setting the lifeboat on fire on the off chance that there might be a ship out there that could see the flames (which is basically an old Star Trek plot now that I think about it).

At least part of this curious reaction can be traced back to the mainstream press (with the exception of Amy Chozick and a few others) learning the wrong lessons from 2016. Rather than coming away saying perhaps we shouldn't use presidential elections settle old scores or allow ourselves to become accomplices of hostile foreign powers manipulating the election, the main take away apparently was we shouldn't of been so optimistic about the Democrats' chances.

For the rest of us, perhaps the best lesson for the rest of us is to try to keep track of who has been mostly right over the past nine years and who has been mostly wrong (at least when it mattered) over the same period, and to spend as little time as possible listening to the second group.

We'll close with perhaps the ultimate example of prematurely jumping to extreme measures.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Twelve years ago at the blog – – in 2024 the concept of persuadables is more relevant than ever, Red Lobster... not so much

This 2012 post its on one of the topics I've been meaning to bring into our election-year blogging. Persuasibility is one of if not the fundamental concept of marketing. The target audience of virtually all advertising is the persuadable segment of the audience. Given the large cash reserves of the Democratic party and the high stakes for this campaign, the question of how you identify persuadables and how best to reach them is going to be central to this race.

Now to review the basic concept:

Friday, August 3, 2012

A bit more on persuadables

Following up on the last post, persuadables are one of those ideas with a high utility to difficulty ratio. They aren't hard to understand but they come in handy. So I thought I'd tack on a simple but fairly realistic example.

You own a casual dining place, think Red Lobster. You're sending out good coupons -- a popular twenty dollar entree for  fifteen  (still leaving you a profit of about a few dollars) -- to a random selection of people in the area. You've seen an uptick in business associated with the offer and you're seeing new faces (always a good thing), but the mailings cost you a quarter a piece and with a response rate of about two percent, the campaign is costing you a lot of money.

So you hire a statistician who builds a logistic regression model that lets you rank recipients and you only mail people who are highly likely to respond. Your response rate is now ten percent. A while later, though, you notice that your number of customers since you started using the model is back down to pre-coupon levels and your profits are way down. What happened?

The explanation lies in the three primary kinds of people who got your coupon in the mail. The first group is non-responders. They cost you a quarter a piece. Next are people who normally wouldn't have gone to your restaurant but decided to because of the coupon. These are the ones you like; they bring in money and may go on to become regulars. Finally, there are people who used the coupon but would have come by even without it. Giving them a coupon represents five and a quarter in lost revenue.

Remember, the model was built to rank likelihood to respond and as a general rule, the people most likely to come by after receiving a coupon are the people who would have come by anyway. By mailing only to the top deciles, you effectively selected the worst possible customers to market to.

This may seem like an obvious mistake, but it's not that unusual. Most people  who've worked with marketing analytics can come up with a few examples, some of which came with hefty price tags.


Monday, June 10, 2024

Ethno-states and Ethnic Nationalism

This is Joseph.

I had a conversation with Mark about why I was not a big fan of ethnic nationalism and ethno-states. I thought it might be worth putting these thoughts out. This is especially true in the context of nation states, which, by definition, tend to have borders. One of the great challenges is deciding what borders each ethnic group is entitled to based on history and links to the "soil". Here is a rather extreme example:

Does this mean that the natural range of this ethnic national group includes modern Germany and Vietnam? And, if so, what is the plan for the Germans and Vietnamese? 

What about Ireland? Northern Ireland has settlers who have been there for centuries. There was a big wave of English settlers in Ireland during the early to mid-1600's, the same time as the Acadians were settling in North America. Which of the different ethic groups has title to Ireland? Or Acadia, for that matter, which included modern Nova Scotia, a place with relatively few Acadians today but many other families who have lives there for centuries.

You also have new groups arising. Sikhs seek a homeland but Sikhism arises in the 1500's, well into historical time and there will be competing historical claims to any reasonable Sikh homeland. That is in the same timeframe that Istanbul was Greek, but who thinks evicting the current inhabitants would make sense?  

So any specific piece of land is always going to end up with a set of competing claims from different ethnic groups, if you are going to use historical claims and crimes to support ownership. This doesn't mean that pragmatic decisions cannot be made. The splitting up of ethnic groups after World War 2 seems to have lessened tensions in Europe and it is a reasonable argument for a group which is being discriminated against in a larger state to want to form their own ethno-state, given the woeful record of states at ending such issues. 

But I think you end up with claims that are impossible to adjudicate from a perspective of historic rights (and wrongs). Where I think there are legitimate claims is where a nation state is unable to demonstrate the ability to treat citizens of a particular ethnicity with fairness under the law. Even there, I think the goal is to ensure that the human rights abuses end, and a separate state is just one of several possible tools. I see First Nations as having stronger arguments under "we are not being treated as full citizens" then a land claim because of history. Not that claims of land theft and dishonest dealing do not have moral weight, but that there is no way to ever repair the evils of the past.

Caesar was a war criminal in Gaul, but the modern Italians are not going to be able to compensate the modern French, nor is it even clear that "Roman" and "Gaul" map onto anything recognizable in the modern ethnic map. The citizens of Russia had ancestors who were treated badly by the Mongols, but it isn't at all clear what would be a remedy for this in the modern world. The Celts have legitimate historical issues with the Anglo-Saxons, but what is a remedy for that? Send people back to Germany? Mexico once owned California and Texas -- is it time to shift populations around to return the land? How many ethnicities are in modern China and how do you cut them up? Is Taiwan Chinese? The questions make one crazy. 

Instead I want to hear about mitigating modern war crimes and how to ensure that human rights are respected. Russia's actions against Ukrainians in the latest war are the best argument for Ukrainian independence, even if you accept some of Russia's imperial claims. I think a state has an affirmative duty to not oppress or tyrannize its citizens and that is where the arguments for separation seem strongest to me. Sometimes this overlaps with ethnic claims and sometimes it does not. 

But I think it is much less problematic to base the integrity and legitimacy of the state on its ability to provide fair government for all. I know, it makes very ethnically American to have this type of view. But I think it's worked rather well in the United States and see it as a more productive lens for examining these questions.  

Friday, June 7, 2024

The latest YouGov survey is useful and even important, but it doesn't support the conclusions people are drawing from it.

 [I'm trying to get this one out the door quickly so I'll be using an outline format because it's faster.]

1. Unlike most of the polls we've seen over the past week, this survey actually serves a useful purpose in terms of history, political science, sociology, etc. It is important to capture immediate public reactions to big events. Researchers in the future will want to know the answer to questions like what percent of the population agreed with this verdict? It will take time for voters to digest these new developments and decide what impact it does or does not have on their choices. That's a question best left for later. How you felt when you heard the news is a question that has to be asked now.

2. That said, the analysis from YouGov is based on things that aren't in the data. Though this is presented as a side-by-side, apples to apples series of comparisons, you cannot dip your toe twice in the same river, as the saying goes. The April and the June numbers are based on fundamentally different questions, making it basically impossible to get an accurate read on shifts in opinion.

2.a. In order for a question to be the same, it has to be the same implicitly and explicitly, and presented in the same context. This is why the first thing they teach you when you take a class on survey design is that order of questions matters. If you look at the fine print on this widely circulated question from the survey, you'll see they didn't even try to duplicate the original conditions. This isn't a criticism. There really was no way casually work up to "OK... and what if it were the president?"

2.a.i. There is, however, one point we should criticize the April survey on. The way these questions are formatted ("Do you think a felon should be allowed to be a schoolteacher?" "Do you think a felon should be allowed to be a bank teller?" Etc.) is likely to produce a kind of ratcheting action. Once you've said yes to a far less responsible post, it would feel inconsistent to say that it's okay for president. This makes comparisons for this question especially problematic.  

2.b. In the April survey, these questions were hypothetical. People think about these what-ifs differently. Among other things, it can be easier to justify contradictions in your position. In the June survey, these contradictions were impossible to ignore. It is extremely difficult to say that you are planning on voting for Donald Trump and that you don't think a convicted felon should be allowed to become president while maintaining any sense of consistency. It would be surprising if a substantial portion of Republicans had not changed their answer on this question.

3. None of this is meant to suggest that opinions have not shifted or that Republicans haven't become more open to the idea of a felon being allowed to serve as president. We would expect this to happen. The problem is we have no way of knowing what part of the shift in the data was caused by an actual change in opinion and what part was caused by the inevitable mismatch of the questions from April to June. Add to this high probability that things are still in flux, and you have a very good argument for not putting too much weight on analyses of the political implications of this and similar surveys for the next few days.

4. Finally, a note of psychic criticism for the analysts of the near future. If these numbers remain fairly constant, and continue to line up with other data we've seen from surveys and exit polls of Republicans, do not fall in the trap of believing that Trump holding onto 80 or 85% of the Republican vote is an encouraging sign for the candidate. I'm not saying that this survey indicates trouble for Trump. I'm not putting any weight in any surveys taken within two weeks of the verdict, nor am I going to get all that worked up about any polls at least until the conventions. What I am saying is that when a pundit tells you that having more than 20% of the members of your party say the de facto nominee shouldn't be allowed to be president is good news, it's time to get another pundit.

[Garbled sentences in 3. have been fixed.]

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Trump's verdict – – always remember the secondary and tertiary effects

Given the situation and what we know about Trump, it has been obvious since the first investigation started gathering steam that the more intense the pressure got, the more support and greater displays of loyalty he would demand from GOP officials and candidates, and that a time would likely come when those demands would extract a steep cost. We have reached that point with countless examples of Republicans prostrating themselves, often going so far as to dress like the former president while doing it.

Far less common but perhaps even more instructive have been the cases where Republicans tried to put even a slight distance between themselves and their candidate.

Consider Larry Hogan. For a while it looked like Hogan was God's gift to the Republicans in the upcoming Senate race, a blue state GOP governor who had somehow managed to remain popular and leave office in 2023 with high approval ratings. Though the Democrats had managed to field a solid opponent, Hogan was still the favorite. Then he tried to thread the needle with a very mild middle-of-the-road statement shortly before the verdict was read.


From CNN:

Last week, Hogan had urged Americans to “respect the verdict and the legal process” before a Manhattan jury found Donald Trump guilty of all 34 charges of falsifying business records. The unprecedented and historic verdict makes Trump the first former president in American history to be convicted of a felony.

“At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders—regardless of party—must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship. We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law,” Hogan had said.

Asked Sunday whether the RNC would withhold money from Hogan’s campaign, Lara Trump declined to answer directly but again called Hogan’s statement “ridiculous.”

“I’ll get back to you on all the specifics monetarily. But what I can tell you is that, as the Republican Party co-chair, I think he should never have said something like that,” she said.


 As TPM's David Kurtz observed, this going after Hogan could cost the GOP the senate. Remember, while Hogan's chances looked very good, those favorable odds depended on him pulling a reasonable amount of support from non-and even anti-Trump voters. The statement he put out was at most the bare minimum required to avoid alienating those voters, but it was still too much. To borrow a phrase from another era, counterrevolutionaries will not be tolerated in the party.

And you don't have to be a candidate

The official College Republicans account, which raises money on the official Winred platform, was blasted by MAGA loyalists for stating that Trump's conviction should be "respected." The group critiqued the conviction while calling for it to be respected along with the 2024 election results.


 The article provides a helpful sampling of responses from prominent Republicans. Here's a sample of the sample.





We often hear pundits discuss the presidential election in terms of a referendum on Biden or a referendum on Trump, but increasingly this applies to most statewide elections as well. Trump controls most of the money and has a cult of personality which may not be all that large in absolute terms, but is more than enough to scuttle any Republican candidate. Few if any will be allowed to contradict political prisoner/martyr narrative. If voters, especially independents, decide that the conviction is no big deal, then the impact of this will probably be minimal, but no one knows how this will play out, and there is certainly the possibility of it being a very big deal indeed.

Closing with a couple of examples of acceptable rhetoric.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

When it comes to converging on a narrative, Politico can still give the NYT a run for its money

Within minutes of the verdict being announced, jokes started to circulate on twitter from people like James Fallows and NYT pitchbot, speculating on how long it would take for pundits and political journalists to start cranking out articles and think pieces explaining how the multiple conditions don't matter. Sure enough, that very afternoon we started seeing examples including an inevitable entry from Frank Bruni.

I'm going to focus on this (also inevitable) Politico piece because it provides such an instructive example of the way the press converges almost instantly on a convenient narrative, even when there is absolutely no evidence to support it.

The article by Melanie Mason and Lara Korte posted at 5:00 AM on the 31st, only a few hours after the verdict, and unlike the Bruni piece, this had some original reporting (though not the reporting the narrative needed, but we'll get to that later).

I'm not sure what the terminology here is, but the title that showed up when I shared the article over email and appears when I mouse over the tab is "Trump's guilty verdict unlikely to sink California's battleground Republicans." Obviously, there is no way that anyone can know this, and the piece itself doesn't really even try to argue it (if anything, the opposite, but I'm getting ahead of myself). Instead, we get a slow walk back through the length of the article, with each successive section failing to support and by the end actually contradicting the thesis.

The moonwalking starts right out of the gate with a title that greatly tones down the previously mentioned subject line.

"Trump’s guilty. Republicans could still win in California."

Notice how we've gone from likely to win to "could still win." Now take a look at the opening paragraph.

California Democrats indulged in some schadenfreude over Donald Trump’s guilty verdict Thursday, but when it comes to pivotal House races, they shouldn’t be celebrating prematurely. There’s no guarantee that his legal troubles will sink California Republicans down-ballot.

This is a perfect Politico lede, and I mean that in the worst way possible, "savvy," snide, disapproving, reporting subjective impressions as fact, and pouring cold water on the Democrats. You'll also notice a disconnect, a strawman, and some subtle moving of the goalposts. Pretty impressive for such a short paragraph. We don't get any examples of the "schadenfreude," not even a link, nor do we get any indication that California Democrats believe this will hand them multiple house seats. There is certainly no indication that anyone thought these gains were "guaranteed." That is, of course, an impossible standard, but it nicely sets up what is already becoming the standard narrative.

Then we get to the only part of the article that briefly even comes close to arguing its thesis.

GOP Rep. David Valadao, for example, eked out a win in his Central Valley seat in 2020, even when that district backed Biden by 11 points. His seat tilted more Democratic after redistricting, yet Democrats were unable to oust him in 2022.

Orange County Rep. Michelle Steel is another Republican who was able to topple a Democrat in 2020, even as the district narrowly sided with Biden. She held her seat in 2022.


For the most part, Rob Stutzman, a Republican Trump critic, said he expects GOP House contenders to “stay away” from the former president’s legal troubles. “Probably not much of a factor by [November] in House races,” he said.

That's pretty much it. The fact that two Republican House members had been previously able to win seats in districts that went for Biden, along with a quote from a Republican campaign consultant who unsurprisingly said he didn't expect Trump's legal problems to be much of a factor.

After that, takes a very strange turn. The focus shifts to actual reporting which largely undercuts what had come before.

California Republicans in swing seats have largely stayed silent about the verdict so far. Those who have commented, such as Rep. Ken Calvert, echoed Trump’s complaint that the trial was a partisan frame-up — an argument that reinforces Democrats’ messaging about Republicans doing Trump’s bidding. 


Shortly after the verdict, Democratic House candidate Will Rollins tweeted a video clip of his opponent, the GOP’s Calvert, previously urging Republicans to rally around Trump. The Palm Springs Democrat added, “We deserve a representative who cares more about the 750,000 of us in Riverside County than one convicted felon in New York.”

Coby Eiss, Rollins’ campaign manager, predicted the verdict could help Democrats flip Calvert’s seat due to the larger number of independent voters in the inland district that is sandwiched between Los Angeles and San Diego. He argued voters want the government to look “more like what you see on CSPAN, less like a soap opera.”

Despite Stutzman's prediction, at least one (and based on the "Those...such as" phrasing, apparently more than one) of the at-risk house members has lashed himself to the mast on this, and given what's happening to Larry Hogan, there will be considerable pressure for others to do the same. 

While there's no way of knowing how this will play out, California Democrats are clearly looking to make this an issue, which given Trump's unpopularity in the state would seem to be a good bet. Not a sure thing, but not evidence that "Trump's guilty verdict unlikely to sink California's battleground Republicans" either.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Ten years ago at the blog -- a rare Richard Feynman/Tom Lehrer post

 Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adding in base 8, counting by ten, and other reform fixations

With all of the usual caveats about small samples, I've been reading up on education reform movements past and present recently and I've noticed something. There seems to be a tendency to latch onto some interesting but non-essential concept and impose upon it considerable, even central importance. Mastering these concepts is often seen as necessary conditions for truly understanding the material, despite the generations of students who had managed to get by without them.

Counting by certain intervals and ELA concepts like close reading, and the distinction between perspective and point of view are a couple of examples associated with Common Core, but the richest stake might well belong to the New Math movement of the post-Sputnik era. Some of the concepts were extremely important in higher level math courses (such as set theory). Others (such as performing operations in bases other than ten or two) seldom came up  even for mathematicians.

It's worth noting that both Richard Feynman and Tom Lehrer singled out working in other bases when criticizing New Math, Lehrer in song and Feynman in memorably scornful prose:
I understood what they were trying to do. Many [Americans] thought we were behind the Russians after Sputnik, and some mathematicians were asked to give advice on how to teach math by using some of the rather interesting modern concepts of mathematics. The purpose was to enhance mathematics for the children who found it dull.

I'll give you an example: They would talk about different bases of numbers -- five, six, and so on -- to show the possibilities. That would be interesting for a kid who could understand base ten -- something to entertain his mind. But what they turned it into, in these books, was that every child had to learn another base! And then the usual horror would come: "Translate these numbers, which are written in base seven, to base five." Translating from one base to another is an utterly useless thing. If you can do it, maybe it's entertaining; if you can't do it, forget it. There's no point to it.
Part of the standard narrative about New Math was that the new concepts being introduced were too advanced and unfamiliar for teachers to handle or parents to accept, but in many cases, the greater tension was between authors of the reforms and the people who actually understood the math.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Do Frank Bruni and Politico prove that we are living in a simulation?

[We dive a bit deeper into "what is intuitive? in the comments.]

A few years ago, a Doctor Who episode had the doctor (or more accurately a doctor) figure out that he and everyone around him were simulations because, when asked to name a number, everyone independently always came up with the same answer. (Yes, I have questions about that too, but it's a fun story. Just go with it.) I got to thinking about that plot device Thursday afternoon when multiple sources started popping up with headlines like this:

If you gathered together a group of people and told them that a presidential candidate had been convicted of multiple felonies six weeks before the nominating convention, you wouldn't expect them to all instantly declare that the conviction would have no impact on the upcoming election. Don't get me wrong. It could well be true, but that's not what you'd expect the immediate consensus to be.

And, yes, I know what you're going to say. Trump. Normalization. Everything's different now. But is that true? He was still something of an unknown entity in 2016. Since then, he lost both the popular vote in the electoral college in 2020 and his party either lost or at least underperformed in both midterms. That at least opens up the possibility of electoral consequences for Trump's misbehavior. What's more we have considerable data indicating that being convicted would have a negative impact on Trump's campaign including a sizable protest vote and poll respondents saying that convictions would make them less likely to support the man.

Should we trust that data? I don't know. Some analysts have argued that Trump's protest vote isn't actually that big (I'm not convinced by these analyses, but it's possible I'm wrong). Polling about future actions given hypothetical situations is always questionable. So it's not that this is unassailable; it's that the evidence on the other side the proposition is no better and is possibly even weaker. Other than the fundraising bump (at least some of which will be going toward legal fees), I'm not sure what evidence suggests that this won't have a negative effect on independents or wobbly Republicans. To the extent that there is a preponderance of evidence, it would seem to support the strongly intuitive conclusion that being a scandal-ridden convicted felon is bad for a politician.

I realize some of you out there might disagree with some, perhaps even most of these assertions, but that's not really the point. If we were seeing some pundits and journalists think the problem through then come to the conclusion that the ruling will have no impact (at least no negative impact), while others concluded it will hurt Trump (though possibly not enough to decide in the election), and hopefully a few would defer taking a position until they had more data, I could understand. This is a confusing situation, unprecedented along the number of dimensions, with plenty of conflicting information, misinformation, and disinformation to be dealt with. Any of those conclusions or non-conclusions could be justified.

But that's not what we saw.

Instead, with in a matter of hours, the mainstream, respectable press largely converged on the same somewhat counterintuitive narrative. There was no time to accumulate actual data about how people were responding, no time for opinion makers to ask themselves if the reality was somehow different than the scenarios they considered, no time to think.

If we had a press corps made up of independent-minded people trying to digest information, analyze it, and yes form narratives, but narratives that are evidence-based and data-driven, this would not happen. Instead, the discourse is driven by publications like the New York Times and Politico which appear to be guided by herd mentality and cowardice.

Or we're in the simulation. Believe whichever one gives you the most comfort.

[Great Capaldi moment at the end.]

Friday, May 31, 2024

In the aftermath of the verdict, things are going to get ugly. You'll see things you can't unsee (and that's just in the data journalism section)

Even under the best of circumstances, reading the polls at this point hoping to see who will win the election is a bit like weighing yourself to see whether or not you will be obese in six months. There is some correlation, but it doesn't actually tell you that much. Under the current circumstances, however, it's like weighing yourself on what is probably a worthless scale while jumping up and down like Andrew Gelman's kangaroo.

Why are things going to get so ugly?

1. The inverse relationship of information and certainty, squared. As a general rule, the more uncertain the situation, the greater the demand for reliable information. In the case of big, black swan events, the incentives for journalists not just to speculate, but to speculate wish an air of assurance can be irresistible. Analysts and pundits who were already way too confident before Thursday are about to try to convince you that they are the Oracle of freaking Delphi.

2. We are about to see a wave of thrown-together crappy polls. Part of this will be due to demand, part of this will be due to interested parties trying to grab the reins of the narrative, all of this will lead to noise and distraction.

3. The potential for selection effects is huge. Remember only a very small part of the population bothers to respond to polls. It doesn't take a lot to swap that signal, and we have every reason to believe that different segments of the public will be more or less likely to respond because of this news.

Back in 2012, we hypothesized that self-selection would tend to amplify the impact of good news and bad news through self-selection (a theory that has since been backed up by research*). This would presumably create a false surge for Biden caused by happy Democrats being more eager to talk to pollsters. On the other hand, we have both anger and cognitive dissonance on the right, which would presumably make Trump supporters more likely to pick up the phone either to vent or to convince themselves that their beliefs were not actually being shaken.

Add to that people who will be more eager to talk about something because it's big news and people who will be less likely to respond because they are getting burned out on the whole thing. How big will the selection effects be? How long will they last? How will they play out? I have no idea. And more importantly, neither does anyone you are about to read in the New York Times or see on CNN. Nobody knows.

4. A cannonball in the kiddie pool. Even if you could get a true picture of public opinion through the polls, it would still tell you virtually nothing. We can expect violent swings in the next few weeks, but we have absolutely no way of telling which are transitory and which are permanent. Which shifts will be followed by a backlash? Which moves will be permanent? Nobody knows.

5. Narrative preservation and the coming cherry picking epidemic. We are about to be swarmed by serious sounding journalists all insisting that they are channeling the data like a carny medium communing with the spirits. The trouble is, even more than normal, most of what you can get from the data over the next few weeks will be noise and contradiction. The only way to get a nice, clean, editor-friendly narrative at the moment is to ignore certain parts of the data while credulously accepting others. For example, expect to see I have lot of "this won't change anything" stories that unquestioningly repeat polls that say people are mainly concerned with inflation and the border (despite research suggesting these voter influence results aren't reliable) while dismissing or ignoring polls where Republican voters said that a conviction would make them less likely to vote for Donald Trump. Should we trust those latter polls? How the hell should I know? As I believe I've mentioned earlier, nobody knows.

How should you deal with this?

Here's my advice. It may sound a bit radical at first, but it's really not. Just go cold turkey in June. Unless you have some professional reason for needing to follow the polls and the resulting political commentary, don't. There will be vanishingly little real information in those articles you skip and distinguishing between the worthwhile and the worthless will be next to impossible. Reading these pieces will waste your time, possibly raise your blood pressure, and may well leave you more misinformed than you started. Spend the month reading other things (If you enjoyed Gone Girl, I recommend A Kiss Before Dying). 

You'll have plenty of time to catch up with the polls in July. You might even find yourself wishing you'd taken even more time off.

Jesus Christ. Back in 2012, you completely anticipated the main result of our Mythical Swing Voter paper, which is based on data we collected in 2012, analyzed in 2013, wrote up in 2014, and published in 2016, and which other people picked up on in time for the 2016 campaign.

I probably even read your post when it came out, but I didn't get the point.

There's something wrong with the world that your blog doesn't have a million readers.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Thursday Tweets -- If your verdict isn't delivered in thirty minutes or less...

I don't know what the impact of RFK jr is going to be in November (nobody knows) but for someone funded in large part by Trump supporters as a stalking horse, he's certainly spending a lot of time playing to the right.

Been a long time since I've seen a good Martha Mitchell reference.

Remember, don't blame the reporters for the headlines, blame the editors. (Guess which editors we're talking about this time.)

Even my considerable reserves of snark wouldn't be up to this.

I taught math/English at the high school and junior high level and math/statistics at the college level. If my students didn't know basic facts, I considered my responsibility. How much responsibility does the press have for the what the public doesn't know?

What the fck happened to Felix Salmon? He used to be so good.
The press locked into a doom narrative and it proved comically wrong but rather than admit it, they're changing the meanings of the words. Anything to keep the vibecession going.


We should have kept up better with the education reform story. Lots to talk about.

And while on the subject of ed reform, how about a Goodhart callback?

Between quotes on abortion and clips like this, the Democrats might want to outsource all of their ads to Republicans this year.

Also useful for those "I can't vote for Biden" leftists.

We've talking about ratcheting of the right for years. Good to know we're on the same page.


Let's see how things are going back in Arkansas.

I've been following the Huckabees for around thirty years and I can tell you, they're soulless, every damned one of them. 

And check in with my birth state.

This one connects to at least a couple of threads I've been meaning to do about the meangirling of Harris, the growing realization on the sensible left that this was a big mistake, and the general sharpening of the mind we're seeing in a lot of quarters.

Polling news

AI -- As long as there are tech bros, we'll all have a reason to drink.


Great thread for the ag and forestry nerds in the audience.

This is a pretty one.

 What's the point of having a micro-blogging platform if you can't have clips of puppies attacking door stops?

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

"she, like so many Americans before her, could imagine no greater spiritual fulfillment for herself or the nation than an extinction event."

I grew up in the Bible Belt and was still living there in the late 90s when things started to change. We were never evangelical, instead opting for the Fred Rogers wing of the Presbyterian Church (and even by those very lax standards, I still soon qualifed as lapsed). Arguing with evangelicals was something I had done my entire life, sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes with more of an edge. Nonetheless, there was generally at least some level of respect.

Things are  different today. It is a very different movement. Less spiritual. More political. Less interested in theological questions. For what still claims to be a fundamentalist religion, woefully ignorant of scripture (though I personally don't believe in divinely inspired texts, I can still appreciate scholarship and a sincere desire to live up to what you see as holy words). Ironically, the one change which is often held up as a positive sign strikes me as decidedly mixed. Evangelical acceptance of Catholics and Mormons is far greater than what I saw growing up. If this represented a general move toward tolerance, that would be a wonderful thing, but I am mostly convinced that it is the product of expediency and growing disinterest in the religious part of the religion, becoming what I have called previously secular evangelicalism, a movement based more on culture and political beliefs than on faith and spirituality.

I strongly suspect that one of the overlooked causes of the shift was Y2K mania. The denominations' deeply ingrained tendency toward millennialism lined up too perfectly with the popular fascination and anxiety over a possible mass failure of computers and automated systems, something that even mainstream media often described in apocalyptic terms. For those inclined to believe, it very much felt like the nightly news and the cover of Time magazine were laying the groundwork for the Book of Revelations. The overlap between Southern Baptists and preppers grew quite noticeable. I remember seeing a sign in a Bible store window advertising water purification tablets.

With the notable exception of a very good front page story in the Wall Street Journal, all of this passed unnoticed by the national press, but having arguably the country's most influential religious group go through an actual when prophecy fails experience is probably something we should pay more attention to. The non-apocalypse described in this account by Emily Harnett preceded the Y2K bug by a decade, but it's still instructive as well as being a fascinating read.

In 2021, General Michael Flynn, the Christian nationalist and former national security adviser to Donald Trump, gave an address at a nondenominational church in Nebraska that internet sleuths suspected had been plagiarized from one of Elizabeth’s “dictations,” as her dispatches from the Masters were known. One helpful YouTuber spliced together footage of the two for comparison. Both propose a religious call to arms and entreat the “freeborn” to resist becoming “enslaved by any foe,” while making confusing allusions to “sevenfold rays” and “legions.” But Flynn recited this prophetic word salad with the delivery of one’s least-favorite uncle plodding through an ill-prepared wedding toast. Elizabeth—with her precise elocution, her terrifying and obvious sincerity—sounded like a woman on the brink of a great cosmic battle.

QAnon conspiracy theorists, who quickly noted that some of Flynn’s language wasn’t exactly biblical in origin, believed the “occult prayer” exposed Flynn as a satanist. But if the incident reveals anything besides the mutinous humor of Flynn’s ghostwriter, it’s the degree to which millenarian rhetoric has saturated American public life. In 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell predicted “an end to chiliastic hopes, to millenarianism, to apocalyptic thinking—and to ideology.” But as the historian Paul Boyer has noted, after the great revolutionary movements of the Sixties waned in America, much the opposite came to pass. Prophetic belief—whose adherents, in Boyer’s description, “take very seriously the Bible’s apocalyptic sections and derive from them a detailed agenda of coming events”—exploded in popularity during the Seventies and Eighties. Such beliefs have shaped not only American religiosity but our understanding of the human psyche itself.

In the Fifties, the psychologist Leon Festinger coined the Psych 101 term cognitive dissonance, based in part on research he’d done for the book When Prophecy Fails, which described the mental state of a Fifties UFO cult after its leader’s apocalyptic predictions went unrealized. There have been so many of these groups, flourishing and flaming out in endless cycles, trading places in a Beckettian limbo wherein divine reckoning approaches but never arrives. They have furnished streaming services with an endless supply of podcasts and documentaries rehearsing the history of America’s ill-fated apocalyptic sects and outsider religions. But whenever I try to place Elizabeth in this tradition, I come up short. She would be easier to categorize had she been more like Jim Jones, to whom she was often compared, or Charles Manson, whose Family had allegedly sent her death threats. But while her church was armed to the hilt, they never killed anyone; although Elizabeth could be mercurial and vindictive, she was a beloved mother of five. Were it not for her prophecies of nuclear Armageddon, it’s possible that the church would have remained one of the many fledgling religions eking out its existence far from the center of American life. Perhaps the one thing Elizabeth had in common with the believers of those other faiths was that she, like so many Americans before her, could imagine no greater spiritual fulfillment for herself or the nation than an extinction event.