Monday, May 23, 2022

Our view of Musk five years ago -- pretty comfortable with how this one aged

This was very much the minority opinion back then. Now? Not so much. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A few points to keep in mind when reading any upcoming story about Elon Musk

First, a quick update from the good people at Gizmodo, specifically Ryan Felton:

Elon Musk awoke on Thursday with the intention of sending Twitter into a frenzy by declaring that he received “verbal govt approval” to build a Hyperloop in the densest part of the United States, between New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. This is dumb, it’s not how things work, and requires, uh, actual government approval.

Felton goes on to contact the government agencies that would absolutely have to sign on to such a project. Where he was able to get comments, they generally boiled down to "this is the first we're hearing of it." The closest he came to an exception was the federal Department of Transportation, which replied

We have had promising conversations to date, are committed to transformative infrastructure projects, and believe our greatest solutions have often come from the ingenuity and drive of the private sector.

This is a good time to reiterate a few basic points to keep in mind when covering Elon Musk:

1.    Other than the ability to make a large sum of money through some good investments, Elon Musk has demonstrated exceptional talent in three (and only three) areas: raising capital for enterprises; creating effective, fast-moving, true-believer corporate cultures; generating hype.

2.    Though SpaceX appears to be doing all right, Musk does not overall have a good track record running profitable businesses. Furthermore, his companies (and this will come as a big slap in the face of conventional wisdom) have never been associated with big radical technological advances. SpaceX is doing impressive work, but it is fundamentally conventional impressive work. Before the company was founded, had you spoken with people in the aerospace community and asked them "what is closest to being Mars ready, who has it, and who are the top people in the field?", the answers would have been the type of engine SpaceX currently uses, TRW (which sued SpaceX for stealing their intellectual property), and the chief rocket scientist SpaceX lured away from TRW. By the same token, Tesla is pretty much doing what all of the other major players in the auto industry are doing in terms of technology.

3.    From the beginning, Musk has always had a tendency to exaggerate and overpromise. Smart, skeptical journalist like Michael Hiltzik and the reporters at the Gawker remnants have taken any claim from Elon Musk with a grain or two (or 20) of salt.

4.    That said, in recent years things have gotten much, much worse. Musk has gone from overselling feasible technology and possibly viable business plans to pitching proposals that are incredibly unlikely then supporting them with absurdly unrealistic estimates and sometimes mere handwaving.

5.    The downward spiral here seems to have started with the Hyperloop. This also seems to be the point where Musk started trying to do his own engineering rather than simply taking credit for the work of those under him. On a related note, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Elon Musk has no talent for engineering.

6.    Musk’s increasingly incredible claims have started to strain the credulity of most of the mainstream press, but the consequences have been too inconsistent and too slow-coming to have had much of a restraining influence on him. Even with this latest story, you can find news accounts breathlessly announcing that supersonic travel between New York and DC is just around the corner.

7.    Finally, it is essential to remember that maintaining this “real-life Tony Stark” persona is tremendously valuable to Musk. In addition to the ego gratification (and we have every reason to believe that Musk has a huge ego), this persona is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Musk. More than any other factor, Musk’s mystique and his ability to generate hype have pumped the valuation of Tesla to its current stratospheric levels. Bloomberg put his total compensation from Tesla at just under $100 million a year. When Musk gets tons of coverage for claiming he's about to develop telepathy chips for your brain or build a giant subterranean slot car race track under Los Angeles, he keeps that mystique going. Eventually groundless proposals and questionable-to-false boasts will wear away at his reputation, but unless the vast majority of journalists become less credulous and more professional in the very near future, that damage won’t come soon enough to prevent Musk from earning another billion dollars or so from the hype.

Ten years ago at the blog -- our first Musk post

Lot of Elon blogging coming up, which makes this an aptly timed repost. 

Frank's essay has not aged well. Despite Musk's increasingly grandiose and, to be blunt, delusional promises of Martian cities. when you take away government contracts, SpaceX's business is almost all low earth orbit, and that has been heavily subsidized. The primary focus has been on launching mega-constellations that offer better gaming and video conferencing in exchange for light pollution and an accelerated Kessler syndrome.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Adam Frank is better at science than business

This is Falcon 7, not Falcon 9

Astrophysicist Adam Frank is what you might call a fan of SpaceX:

So what's the big deal? Well, the Falcon 9 is a private spaceship, fully developed and owned by the private company SpaceX. And SpaceX is the brainchild of Elon Musk, the Internet billionaire who made his fortune from PayPal. With contracts from NASA to develop new launch platforms, SpaceX and other companies are poised to make space the domain of profitable businesses. And Musk has been explicit about his intentions to go beyond Earth orbit, to build commercially viable ventures that might take people to Mars in a decade or two.

His timing couldn't be any better or any more urgent. Even without the space shuttle, America needs to remain a leader in space. Now, when I was a kid, the U.S. space program fueled my imagination and led me into a life of science. But as I got older, it became clear that the real business of getting a human presence across the solar system was going to have to fall to business. Governments might get the exploration of space started, but the vagaries of election and budget cycles meant they could never go further.

Now, we've reached the point where it's the exploitation of space that matters. And while exploitation might seem a dirty word to some folks, they should stop to consider how dependent we are already on the commercialization of that region of space we call low earth orbit. Think of the billions of dollars in commercial activity tied to weather prediction, global broadcasting and global positioning. All this business depends on satellites orbiting overhead right now.

But if, as a species, we want to go beyond the thin veil of space directly overhead, then the basic principles of private venture and risk will have to apply. These are the ones that have always applied. While Queen Isabella may have given Columbus his ships to cross the Atlantic, it was private companies that built the seagoing trade routes and brought folks across to settle - for better or worse. Likewise, it's only through commercially viable endeavors that large numbers of humans are getting off this world and into the high frontier of space.

It's no small irony that the billionaires bankrolling the new space entrepreneurship built their fortunes not in jetfighter aerospace manufacturing but in the dream space of the Internet.
Frank's enthusiasm is understandable but his thinking about the business and economics of space ranges from the wishful to the hopelessly muddled, particularly when it comes to "the basic principles of private venture and risk."

Private space travel has not, if you'll pardon the phrase, taken off in a serious way because there is no credible business model to support it. No one has figured out a way to make money going beyond earth's orbit and until we see a major technological breakthrough, it's likely that no one will.

There's an important distinction that needs to be made, the economic forces Frank is alluding to only come into play when markets efficiently allocate resources where they will have the greatest return (and the markets have decided that doesn't include trips to Mars). What we're talking about here is having the government contract with an independent company. We can discuss the wisdom and practicality of that decision later, but claiming that this "the basic principles of private venture and risk" are behind SpaceX is like claiming that the hiring of Blackwater meant that the markets decided we should invade Iraq.

To salvage the Columbus analogy, before he returned with information about the existence and location of the new world, people didn't attempt voyages because the expected return on investment was negative. After people had that information the expected return was positive.

Giving some contracts to companies like SpaceX might be a good idea (that's a discussion for another time) but it will do virtually nothing to shift the economic fundamentals.

There are things that the government could do to improve those fundamentals -- research initiatives, mapping out resources, setting up infrastructure (ground and/or space based)* -- but they require lots of upfront money. Our only other option is to wait for technology to bring the costs of launching materials way down, but that is likely to take a long time.

When it comes to the exploration and exploitation of space, those are our realistic choices.

* This is a topic for another post but aerospace researchers are exploring some technologies that could shift those expected returns from negative to positive, such launching components and supplies by railgun.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Does Chekhov's gun apply to the legal system?

This is Joseph.

What is remarkable about the current US court hijinks is how they create legal uncertainty. It is not the case that every single issue is all bad. For example, Ken White notes that the recent decision requiring jury trials for the SEC and not allowing administrative judges is not all bad. He is right. But, there was a recent opinion not even allowing review of facts for an administrative judge in the immigration area. If the principle is the seventh amendment then why does it not apply to both cases? 

Similarly, the recent opinion on Roe versus Wade suggests that the privacy right that the case rests on is not as solid it previously seemed. Now, if the law is not correct (a big "if") then one can see a court overturning it. We no longer apply Dred Scott vs Sandford, for example. But if the privacy right is not "well established" then it makes sense to wonder if other cases based on the same right are at risk. Spoiler alert, they are:

So when men—because it’s pretty much always men—lecture you about what red-state legislatures—which are pretty much always controlled by men—are not going to do when Dobbs comes down, it’s most likely because they believe you to be either stupid or fundamentally powerless or possibly both.

This is all called gaslighting, and it’s a tactic of bullies, thugs, and authoritarians everywhere. The same Wall Street Journal opinion page that promised on July 2, 2018, that the court wouldn’t overturn Roe is now actively trying to cudgel the court into overturning Roe. Spectacularly stupid men gloat about the end of women’s freedom and then turn around and deride women as hysterical for worrying publicly about their freedom. Gaslighting is very much the point. When people in power tell you the precise thing you are witnessing isn’t happening before your eyes, it is done with a purpose. They are confident that if you let yourself be mollified by all the soothing talk about how, sure, you may feel (incorrectly, they will add) like they misled you at their confirmation hearings, but they are emphatically not misleading you now, then they can amass more power and more credibility to do more freedom-restrictive things with impunity in the future.

This brings me to the other part of the recent fifth circuit opinion. You could have forced a jury trial for the SEC defendants based on the seventh amendment alone, and Ken White might well be right. But what is causing so much angst is that new ideas are being introduced that might have implications:

In sum, we agree with Petitioners that the SEC proceedings below were unconstitutional. The SEC’s judgment should be vacated for at least two reasons: (1) Petitioners were deprived of their Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury; and (2) Congress unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to the SEC by failing to give the SEC an intelligible principle by which to exercise the delegated power. We also hold that the statutory removal restrictions for SEC ALJs are unconstitutional, though we do not address whether vacating would be appropriate based on that defect alone.

So the first point is fine. I'd love to see it extended to immigration law and there is a complicated question of how this might work in practice, but it isn't necessarily bad. But there are two wrinkles here.

One, the last point, is the idea that administrative law judges have too much job protection seems to be an exceedingly odd position for judges with life tenure to take. Like with Chekhov's gun, it seems odd to make a major point of law in a case where they decide not to even decide if it applies to this case. Why is it there? 

Two, the issue with power delegation is a potential problem for the entire administrative state. This principle is just crazy:

The idea behind the "non-delegation" doctrine -- it's a theory made up by judges -- is that if a decision is 'legislative' it has to be made only by Congress, and Congress can't give the President, the SEC, or anyone else the authority to make that decision


. . . To say that all actions are "legislative" if they have "the purpose and effect of altering the legal rights, duties and relations of persons . . . outside the legislative branch" is so ridiculously broad when you read it out of context! 

If everything that affects legal rights outside the legislative branch is legislative, then, like, um... uh, every agency regulation would be legislative? Which is why we even call notice-and-comment regulations "legislative" rules to distinguish them from other agency actions . . .

So the crux of the issue with the modern court environment is that we see very broad powers being claimed by the judiciary at the individual judge level. Given the risk of "judge shopping" it is even more important to have a clear set of laws. What I think is happening that is very destructive to the rule of law is the legal uncertainty. I am old enough to remember when conservatives argued that a strong constitution and predictable legal system had market value, by making a country a better place to do business in. I think that is correct. 

To go back to abortion for a moment, if justices had been less "it is settled law" at their confirmation hearings and in public, I think this would be less ground-shaking. If, all along, people had said "abortion is special among the privacy rights and has these legitimate open legal questions" then I might have been less in favor of their confirmation but would not have wondered where else this might do. For example, nobody has given an other than "settled law" defense of contraception, so why could not the same analysis follow? Is the only basis of these rights the whims of the legislature? This is the oppositive of stable and predictable. 

So I think this is my concern with the current era of law. It hints at huge changes. The non-delegation doctrine is the end of the modern administrative state. Now we did have such a state once, but things like automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure have somewhat changed the world making it hard to go back. It is like those who suggest we return to being hunter-gatherers, without any hard questioning about the carrying capacity of the planet for this lifestyle.

So I think we are in a period of cautious concern about just what is happening with the legal system, and that isn't ideal for something that is supposed to be clear and predictable.

P.S. Mark points out that Matt Levine has some thoughts

Thursday, May 19, 2022

One last note on crypto -- “He’s asking for an insurrection against the anti-bitcoiners!”

At least for a while.

I want to be really careful about generalizing here. There are certainly people on the left who are into crypto and NFTs and the rest of web3. It has become more difficult to reconcile liberal values with the underlying libertarianism of that world, but it is still possible. Add to that loads of apolitical people who have gotten sucked in by the promise of easy money and/or by the excitement of the next big thing. In that sense, we are talking about a fairly diverse crowd. That said, web3 skews heavily conservative with particularly strong ties to the far right including the extreme far right.
You'll notice this tweet isn't loading properly. It appears that all of Mandel's bitcoin tweets have been deleted. Fortunately, we still have some remnants. 
And from the Independent:
One tweet posted two days after Christmas took the candidate’s support of the currency to the next level, however. In a tweet sent early Monday evening, Mr Mandel wrote that his campaign was centered on making Ohio a “pro-God, pro-family, pro-bitcoin state”, and depicted a supposed divide in America between “States that submit to the authority of Almighty God [and] states that don’t” as well as “States that invest in #bitcoin infrastructure [and] states that won’t”.

We've already quoted Emily Shugerman's excellent Daily Beast article at length, but we didn't get to the political aspect, which is one of the best parts:

If you were looking to join the cult of crypto, Bitcoin 2022 was the place to do it. The conference was a four-day extravaganza dedicated to the world’s oldest and most expensive cryptocurrency, and it promised to be a “pilgrimage for those seeking greater freedom and individual sovereignty.” Speakers ranged from Jordan Peterson, the controversial psychologist and anti-political-correctness firebrand, to NFL quarterback and anti-vaxxer Aaron Rodgers. The attendees were a mix of bitcoin die-hards, casual investors, and finance and tech bros looking to profit off the latest trend.


If the adherents to the bitcoin gospel have shared core beliefs, they also have common enemies: old-guard billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, for criticizing bitcoin; Elizabeth Warren for her insistence on regulation; and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a newer target for his crackdown on the anti-vaxx trucker protests.

Perhaps no one put as fine a point on this as Peter Thiel, the billionaire entrepreneur and Trump supporter. At his keynote Thursday, Thiel presented a PowerPoint of the men he deemed “enemies” of bitcoin: Buffett, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink—all of whom have dismissed it as a passing fad.

“This is what we have to fight for bitcoin to go 10x,” Thiel declared, then called Buffett a “sociopathic grandpa.” The crowd, which has been silent for most of the speech, noticeably perked up.

“He’s asking for an insurrection against the anti-bitcoiners!” the man behind me said excitedly, to no one in particular.

(If Shugerman ever writes a script about crypto, she should cut this line. It's a bit on-the-nose for the screen.)

The Miami conference reflected a larger phenomenon.
And it gets worse.

Much worse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

"Gawker found out the hard way and you will too."

The puppet doesn't fall far from the sociopath

For those who came in late.

That attitude combined with sharp, funny writing and a willingness to tell interesting, important stories that the rest of the press were ignoring made Gawker a remarkable success story. It also unsurprisingly pissed off tech messiahs, obscenely rich people, and the establishment press

The editors did believe in pushing the envelope, especially when the target were rich white men doing despicable things. They were also reckless and self-destructive and had a huge problem with authority. Combine that with a desire to be provocative to the point of shocking, and you guaranteed that any enemy with deep pockets and a deeper grudge would have plenty of ammunition.

It was right wing billionaire and cartoon villain Peter Thiel who finally came after them. Thiel was a member of the PayPal mafia along with Elon Musk. According to a mutual acquaintance "Musk thinks Peter is a sociopath, and Peter thinks Musk is a fraud and a braggart" showing that for all their other flaws, both men are reasonably good judges of character. 

Thiel’s politics are not central to this story [they are now -- MP], but it is worth noting that he’s arguably the biggest Trump supporter in the tech industry (now even more so) and is also on the record as believing that it was a mistake to give women the vote.

Rather than take open action, Thiel went the coward's route and secretly bankrolled a lawsuit then engineered it so that Gawker was forced into bankruptcy. When word leaked out of his involvement, he showed no shame (because shame’s not really a big emotion for sociopaths). Instead, he immediately started depicting himself as a courageous defender of privacy (which was pretty ripe coming from someone who'd made a billion off of Facebook, but remember what we said about shame), and he was given the world’s best piece of journalistic real estate to do it from.

Thiel’s NYT opinion piece was as bad as you would expect -- self-serving and highly distorted – but even if it had been objective and honest, the very fact that the paper handed him the biggest gift it had to bestow meant that the gray lady was actively supporting the billionaire who set out, not just to punish, but to silence a publication that criticized him and his circle. 

Both Thiel and Masters are far-right extremists who also display that special blend of arrogance and Dunning-Kruger we've come to associate with venture capital. This combination lead Masters to say the quiet parts out loud and go on the record as wanting to overturn Griswold. 

As problematic as Roe is for Republicans, Griswold is potentially far worse. Most people want some form of legal abortion; almost everybody wants access to contraception. The GOP strategy has been to downplay it or, better yet, change the subject. Masters put it on his website.

When the Arizona Mirror talked about this in an article headlined "GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters wants to allow states to ban contraception use," he was horribly offended, insisted they misrepresented his words, and immediately removed the reference to Griswold from his campaign site.

Masters was also upset with how his earlier statements on World War II were being interpreted. While he may or may not have praised the Nazis (it comes down to whether or not you consider calling something "poignant" a form of praise), he was certainly willing to see their side of things. From Jewish Insider:

“I’ll stop just short of claiming that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, etc.,” Masters elaborates. “But clearly, we have seen here that blindly accepting the official historical account as absolute truth can be (and usually is) a grave and ignorant mistake. Are we really to believe the hackneyed paradigm of the gentle and peaceful America that contentedly minds its own business until some anti-democratic foreign band of lunatics inexplicably attacks us? That America only flexes its military might when the security of world peace or democracy itself are in jeopardy? I need not connect the dots and illustrate the obvious parallels with the current American wars and foreign policy.”

Unexpectedly, Masters concludes his article with what he describes as a “particularly representative and poignant quotation” from Goering, a high-ranking Nazi official who was known as Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Of course, it is unlikely that like Masters (or more importantly, Peter Thiel) meant this to be anything more than a thuggish act of intimidation. It is worth noting that while publications such as Business Insider and Jewish Insider have also reported on Masters' not-exactly-anti-Nazi writing and insistence on overturning Griswold, thus removing the right to buy and use contraception, the only publication being threatened with suit as far as I can tell is the small and vulnerable Arizona Mirror.

That tells us a lot about Masters and Thiel, but nothing we didn't already know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Alaska Paradox

While there are notable exceptions (Louisiana is often listed as the most anti-abortion state and its proposed abortion restrictions are arguably the most extreme), there doesn't seem to be much correlation between the support for abortion in red states and the nature of the laws being proposed.

Oklahoma is moderately pro-choice and yet it basically photocopied the Texas law, complete with bounties.

Ohio is solidly pro-choice and it produced this:

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade by upholding Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, then HB 598 would immediately begin.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Loveland, gave her sponsor testimony and answered questions for an hour.

The bill would
Prohibits a person from purposely causing an abortion by using a “substance” or an “instrument” or other means.
Makes criminal abortion a felony in the fourth degree. 
Prohibits any person from making, selling or advertising tools to cause an abortion.
Makes “promoting” abortion a first-degree misdemeanor.
Creates the crime of abortion manslaughter, which is when a person takes the life of a child born from an attempted abortion who is alive when removed from the pregnant person’s uterus.
Makes abortion manslaughter a felony of the first degree.
The penalties
Minimum of four to seven years and a maximum of 25 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000 for abortion manslaughter.
Minimum of one-half to two years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500 for criminal abortion.
However, the bill does grant immunity from prosecution for abortion manslaughter, criminal abortion or promoting abortion to the person who attempted an abortion or succeeded in an abortion. This individual would also be able to sue for wrongful death for violation of crimes of abortion manslaughter, criminal abortion or promoting abortion.

The intense back and forth between [Richard Brown (D-Canal Winchester)] and Schmidt revolved around the lack of exemptions for rape and incest.
“So under this bill, if a 13-year-old girl, let’s say, was raped by a serial rapist, broke into her house, or maybe more likely raped by a family member, which occurs frequently — unfortunately, this bill would require this 13-year-old to carry this felons fetus to term, regardless of any emotional or psychological damage or trauma that may be inflicted upon this 13-year-old girl to deliver this, felons a fetus. Is that right?” he asked.
Schmidt responded and said that rape is a difficult issue.
“It’s a shame that it happens, but there’s an opportunity for that woman, no matter how young or old she is,” she said. 
The opportunity — which would be the only option — is to deliver that baby.

There are a number of other pro-choice red states, but one stands out as the very last place that, according to conventional political wisdom, the Republicans should be willing to poke this bear, Alaska. 

Alaska is more pro-choice than California. "Alaska was one of only four states to make abortion legal between 1967 and 1970, a few years before the US Supreme Court's decision in 1973's Roe v. Wade ruling." On top of that, the GOPs hold on the state is surprisingly limited. Over 57% of registered voters are unaffiliated. For complicated reasons, Republicans share control over the house in the state legislature. You would not expect party loyalty to protect the GOP from unpopular policies. Abortion ought to be the one issue they'd like to avoid. 

I'm not going to try to speculate at this point about what's driving this, let alone whether it's politically wise. This could be anything from the GOP conducting a bold and savvy attack to a dysfunctional party playing six-bullet Russian Roulette.

I will say that perhaps the most interesting places in the current political landscape are the pro-choice red states, and smart people should be paying attention.

All of this ties into the Arkansas Paradox, which will be coming to a blog near you soon.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Leave politics to the politicians?

This is Joseph.

Let us recall the last two end of presidential terms SCOTUS vacancies:

  • Antonin Scalia: February 13, 2016 (position held to after the next election, filled April 10, 2017)
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg: September 18, 2020 (position filled October 27, 2020)

So one position was filled in six weeks (under a Republican president), the other was open for fourteen months (under a Democrat president) despite a nomination being made well in advance of the election (March 16, 2016). Why does this matter? Consider this interview with Clarence Thomas:

Asked if conservatives were living up to the “mantra” of civility in politics, he said: “They’ve never trashed a Supreme Court nominee. The most they can point to is Garland did not get a hearing, but he was not trashed.”

Thomas was referring to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who as an appeals court judge was President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court after Scalia died in 2016. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then the Senate majority leader, refused to schedule a confirmation hearing.

“It was a rule that Joe Biden introduced, by the way, which is you get no hearing in the last year of an administration,” Thomas said. He did not mention that Republicans pushed through Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Ginsburg just weeks before Election Day in 2020.

But that last part is the entire story. If respect for the Biden rule explains Neil Gorsuch instead of Merrick Garland then how does one explain Amy Barrett instead of a held position? Is it holding Democrats to a different standard than Republicans? 

The real answer is that Senators were playing politics and willing to break norms in order to gain a nomination advantage on the court. Guess what? There are other norm breaking methods that can be used -- like how Abraham Lincoln expanded the court in the 1860's to 10 members. Why would you ever try and justify the decision to use brute political power to shift the balance of the court at the same time as a major and controversial court decision that directly derives from it? 

All you do is make the court seem even more political. If the court is political, as opposed to a neutral arbiter of the law, then it should not be surprising if political solutions start to be considered. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Is the GOP trying to kill Wikipedia or is that just an unexpected bonus?

Very probably the latter, but that really doesn't make it better

From TechDirt:

So, I already had a quick post on the bizarre decision by the 5th Circuit to reinstate Texas’ social media content moderation law just two days after a bizarrely stupid hearing on it. However, I don’t think most people actually understand just how truly fucked up and obviously unconstitutional the law is. Indeed, there are so many obvious problems with it, I’m not even sure I can do them adequate justice in a single post. I’ve seen some people say that it’s easy to comply with, but that’s wrong. There is no possible way to comply with this bill. You can read the full law here, but let’s go through the details.

The law declares social media platforms as “common carriers” and this was a big part of the hearing on Monday, even though it’s not at all clear what that actually means and whether or not a state can just magically declare a website a common carrier (as we’ve explained, that’s not how any of this works). But, it’s mainly weird because it doesn’t really seem to mean anything under Texas law. The law could have been written entirely without declaring them “common carriers” and I’m not sure how it would matter.

The law applies to “social media platforms” that have more than 50 million US monthly average users (based on whose counting? Dunno. Law doesn’t say), and limits it to websites where the primary purpose is users posting content to the site, not ones where things like comments and such are a secondary feature. It also excludes email and chat apps (though it’s unclear why). Such companies with over 50 million users in the US probably include the following as of today (via Daphne Keller’s recent Senate testimony): Facebook, YouTube, Tiktok, Snapchat, Wikipedia, and Pinterest are definitely covered. Likely, but not definitely, covered would be Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Reddit, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and possibly Discord. Wouldn’t it be somewhat amusing if, after all of this, Twitter’s MAUs fall below the threshold?! Also possibly covered, though data is lacking: Glassdoor, Vimeo, Nextdoor, and Twitch.

And it gets worse from there.

Wikipedia is one of the best things and most hopeful developments to come out of the internet. I know that sounds like hyperbole but I am absolutely sincere. It might be the one place that actually lives up to the utopian expectations of Web 2.0. A non-profit collaboration of volunteers, it should be a disaster, yet somehow it manages, not just to work, but to achieve an unprecedented scope and a depth while maintaining a remarkable level of accuracy and objectivity. In my experience, you are far more likely to find serious errors and omissions in the New York Times or the New Yorker than in Wikipedia, despite the fact that the editors at the former publications are well compensated while the editors for the latter aren't paid at all. 

The Internet Archive (the only peer of Wikipedia I can think of) set up a backup site in Canada shortly after the election of Trump. Given the role vigilant content moderation plays in Wikipedia's operation, it's difficult to see how it could continue to operate in the U.S.

The standard response to these concerns is that even this court would have to find this law unconstitutional. The problem with that argument is that it has failed so often (months before the Roe decision finally caught everyone's attention), especially when there's been a chance to own the libs or rectify some perceived conservative grievance. Both apply here. 

The Republicans are poking some very big (and deep pocketed) bears -- did I mention your spam filter would go away? The latest far-right conspiracy theory claims that Gmail is biased against conservative emails -- so there will be a fight, and as long as Wikipedia is standing next to Facebook and Google, it will be defended. In 2022, that may be the best we can hope for.

More here from legal expert Ken White.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

What, me worry?

 I'll try to get Joseph to come in and explain some of this in greater detail (he knows far more about the subject than I do), but in the Bizarro world of cryptocurrencies, stablecoins actually make a certain amount of sense. There are a number of reasons why someone trading in these markets would rather transact coin to coin rather than cash to coin and back again, particularly if the second coin is pegged to a real currency like the dollar.

The trouble is that all that clever financial engineering has a way of convincing people that there's something there that isn't. In the end, it's just a better engineered perpetual motion machine.

Matt Levine explains the details (from his newsletter):

An “algorithmic stablecoin” sounds complicated, and there are a lot of people with incentives to pretend that it is complicated, but it is not. Here is how an algorithmic stablecoin works:

You wake up one morning and invent two crypto tokens.

One of them is the stablecoin, which I will call “Terra,” for reasons that will become apparent.

The other one is not the stablecoin. I will call it “Luna.”

To be clear, they are both just things you made up, just numbers on a ledger. (Probably the ledger is maintained on a decentralized blockchain, though in theory you could do this on your computer in Excel.) 

You try to find people to buy them.

Luna will trade at some price determined by supply and demand. If you make it up on your computer and keep the list in Excel and smirk when you tell people about this, that price will be zero, and none of this will work.

But if you do a good job of marketing Luna, that price will not be zero. If the price is not zero then you’re in business.

You promise that people can always exchange one Terra for $1 worth of Luna. If Luna trades at $0.10, then one Terra will get you 10 Luna. If Luna trades at $20, then one Terra will get you 0.05 Luna. Doesn’t matter. The price of Luna is arbitrary, but one Terra always gets you $1 worth of Luna. (And vice versa: People can always exchange $1 worth of Luna for one Terra.)

You set up an automated smart contract — the “algorithm” in “algorithmic stablecoin” — to let people exchange their Terras for Lunas and Lunas for Terras. 

Terra should trade at $1. If it trades above $1, people — arbitrageurs — can buy $1 worth of Luna for $1 and exchange them for one Terra worth more than a dollar, for an instant profit. If it trades below $1, people can buy one Terra for less than a dollar and exchange it for $1 worth of Luna, for an instant profit. These arbitrage trades push the price of Terra back to $1 if it ever goes higher or lower.

The price of Luna will fluctuate. Over time, as trust in this ecosystem grows, it will probably mostly go up. But that is not essential to the stablecoin concept. As long as Luna robustly has a non-zero value, you can exchange one Terra for some quantity of Luna that is worth $1, which means Terra should be worth $1, which means that its value should be stable.

All of this is, I think, quite straightforward and correct, except for Point 7, which is insane. If you overcome that — if you can find a way to make Luna worth some nonzero amount of money — then everything works fine. That is the whole ballgame. In theory this seems hard, since you just made up Luna. In practice it seems very easy, as there are dozens and dozens of cryptocurrencies that someone just made up that are now worth billions of dollars. The principal ways to do this are:

Collect some transaction fees from people who exchange Luna for Terra or Terra for Luna, and then pay some of those fees to holders of Luna as, effectively, interest on their Luna holdings. (Or pay interest on Terra, creating demand for Luna that people can exchange into Terra to get the interest.)

Talk about building an ecosystem of smart contracts, programmable money, etc. on top of Terra and Luna, so that people treat Luna as a way to use that ecosystem — as effectively stock in the company that you are building and ascribe a lot of value to it.

These things reinforce each other: The more fees you collect and distribute to Luna holders, the more big and viable your ecosystem looks, so the more highly people value it, so the more Luna they buy, so the more activity you have, so the more fees you collect, etc.


But there is no magic here. There is no algorithm to guarantee that Luna is always worth some amount of money. The algorithm just lets people exchange Terra for Luna. Luna is valuable if people think it’s valuable and believe in the long-term value of the system that you are building, and not if they don’t.

Or if they do, then they don't

From the WSJ:

TerraUSD traded as low as 23 cents Wednesday, according to data from CoinDesk. As of about 5 p.m. ET, it had rebounded partially to about 67 cents in volatile trading.

A stablecoin, this breed of cryptocurrencies had gained favor among traders for being the one part of the crypto universe that was known for its stability. While the most popular stablecoins maintain their levels with assets that include dollar-denominated debt and cash, TerraUSD is what is known as an algorithmic stablecoin, which relies on financial engineering to maintain its link to the dollar.

The break in TerraUSD’s peg began over the weekend with a series of large withdrawals of TerraUSD from Anchor Protocol, a sort of decentralized bank for crypto investors.
Here's a characteristically good discussion from Coffeezilla.

While it's easy to mock the celebrities and Silicon Valley visionaries who have been pitching web3, we need to remember that the human toll here is horrifying...

... with the worst yet to come.

As usual, Liz was there first.
But no matter how bad things get, you'll find a rich person with delusions of competence giving bad advice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Double standards

This is Joseph. 

Some of the recent political stuff has convinced me that there are some odd double standards between the left and the right. Consider England:

A former director of public prosecutions, steeped in the law, who called for the prime minister and chancellor to resign for breaking the rules, unwilling to confirm what he'd do if the same thing happens.

Instead Sir Keir has said if he's fined he'll resign.

This means he can reclaim - at least some - moral high ground and say the moral bar he set for others is the one he'll hold himself to.

The crime? Having lunch between work periods. The contrast, with Partygate, is stark:

Partygate In terms of scale, it’s pretty hard to argue that Partygate and Beergate were alike. The Partygate roster runs from May 2020 to April 2021. In total, 16 events were examined by civil servant Sue Gray for her report, 12 of which were also the subject of police investigation. Boris Johnson is reported to have been present for six of those 12 events. So far, he has been issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to one incident, though there could be other fines in the future.

Beergate The incident took place on 30 April 2021, at the office of Durham MP Mary Foy. It’s the only occasion on which Starmer has been accused of breaking lockdown rules.

Now lets us go to the United States. This is worthy of a police investigation:

Susan Collins called the cops to investigate “defacement of public property” after an unknown person wrote a message in chalk on the sidewalk near her home asking her to codify Roe.

It will be curious to see if this is taken as seriously as other cases of chalk use.  Just look at this terrifying scene as documented by Josh Marshall:

Everyone seems surprised that actions have consequences, even if this is as about as scary as a toddler on a tricycle. We are already past the "only a monster would leak a supreme court opinion" to "at least three conservative leakers". I wonder if the calls for punishment will increase or not, but it seems like equally bad regardless of the side leaking? But all of this seems more important than legislators dealing with chalk protests.  

It feels like there is an asymmetry in the commentary here. On one side you have the overturning of a long standing court decision based on political preference (or at least I have yet to see a good argument for how stare decisis being overturned makes sense but see lots of comments to the contrary). On the other side you have people protesting a major change in the legal landscape of the country.

This is the lack of proportion that we see in the UK as well. The leader of the opposition might be fined after a deep dive into his movements revealed one potential breach, depending on disputed context. How many people could survive such a level of scrutiny? On the other side, you have a Prime Minister who actually passed the laws who had a serious of parties (16 incidents) and has already been fined. And yet which one has offered to resign?  

It makes me worried about the ability of the press to focus on the key points. You may or may not think Roe versus Wade should be overturned, but the leak is not the biggest story (and the follow-up stories make it look like a conservative ploy to distract). The biggest story is the overturning of a prominent case that not only overturns a long established right but is also an non enumerated right and there are some of those that people also hold dear (Loving, Griswold, Obergerfell). Consider:

The leaked draft opinion seemingly puts several other constitutional rights squarely in the court’s crosshairs. As Mark Joseph Stern argued, Alito’s broadside attack against “unenumerated rights” that aren’t “deeply rooted” in American history could be deployed against the right of same-sex couples to be intimate or to get married. Like the right to decide to have an abortion, the right of same-sex couples to be intimate or to get married isn’t explicitly mentioned in the text of the Constitution. There aren’t state constitutional provisions or state or federal court cases from the 1800s or early 1900s recognizing those rights either. And these other opinions, like Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, are reasoned at a “high level of generality,” invoking concepts like dignity, destiny, and defining one’s own existence

Now maybe it is possible that abortion rights are special and that there is unlikely to be any further appetite for going after other rights. Or even that the new laws will be moderate. Maybe. But it does escalate the value of control of the supreme court in ways that are unhealthy, and I thought that before this change. 

This is a new world, and for better or worse why is that not the dominant conversation? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

We can't return to Ithuvania if we never left -- seven years ago at the blog

Things have been eventful since our first visit. Thiel has become even more cartoonishly evil. Musk has become even more delusionally messianic (and evil). Silicon Valley billionaires made bold claims about fixing the pandemic then mainly just pushed hydroxychloroquine. Through political contributions and crypto, tech messiahs and far right extremists are growing closer. 

VC unicorn disruptors are turning out to be mythical beasts.

None of which has dented their self-confidence in the least. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Adventures in Ithuvania

There's a wonderful Far Side cartoon that shows two scientists addressing a man sitting behind a desk in a sumptuous office. The lead scientist says:

"Sorry, your highness, but you're really not the dictator of Ithuvania, a small European republic. In fact, there is no Ithuvania. The hordes of admirers, the military parades, this office -- we faked it all as in experiment in human psychology. In fact, you highness, your real name is Edward Belcher, you're from Long Island, New York, and it's time to go home, Eddie."

Sometimes, when I come across yet another bit of jaw-dropping flakiness from some tech-bubble billionaire, my thoughts turn to Ithuvania. What if this were an experiment? What if some well-funded research organization decided to see what would happen if it randomly selected individuals of average intelligence, handed them huge checks and told them they were super-geniuses?

I'm not saying that's what happened; I'm just saying the results would have been awfully damned similar.

From Wired:

THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE was the toast of tech entrepreneurs when it received financial backing from venture capitalist Peter Thiel in 2008. Its mission was to build a manmade island nation where inventors could work free of heavy-handed government interference. One early rendering shows an island raised on concrete stilts in eerily calm waters. The buildings atop the platform resemble nothing so much as the swanky tech campus of an entrepreneur’s ultimate dream: No sign of land or civilization in sight. The island, despite appearing strapped for square footage, has room for a full-size swimming pool with deck lounges.

In a 2009 essay, Thiel described these island paradises as a potential “escape from politics in all its forms.” It wasn’t just desirable, he said. It seemed possible. “We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it will soon be feasible,” he wrote.

More than a half-decade later, the dream has yet to be realized. And optimism is starting to waver. Earlier this year, during a talk at George Mason University, Thiel said, “I’m not exactly sure that I’m going to succeed in building a libertarian utopia any time soon.” Part of the problem: A truly self-sufficient society might exceed the range even of Thiel’s fortune. “You need to have a version where you could get started with a budget of less than $50 billion,” he said.

For its part, The Seasteading Institute has also come to appreciate that the middle of the ocean is less inviting than early renderings suggest. It now hopes to find shelter in calmer, government-regulated waters. According to its most recent vision statement, “The high cost of open ocean engineering serves as a large barrier to entry and hinders entrepreneurship in international waters. This has led us to look for cost-reducing solutions within the territorial waters of a host nation.”

Thiel’s reassessment marks a clear departure from tech culture’s unflinching confidence in its ability to self-govern. In recent years a number of prominent entrepreneurs have urged Silicon Valley to create a less inhibited place for its work. Larry Page called on technologists to “set aside a small part of the world” to test new ideas. Elon Musk has aimed at colonizing Mars. And venture capitalist Tim Draper made a proposal to divide Silicon Valley into its own state. But aside from the continued growth of full-service tech campuses such as Google’s and Facebook’s, very little has been accomplished in the way of true societal independence.

Building a government, it turns out, is a more complex challenge than much of Silicon Valley would have you believe. Now, Thiel and other high-profile Silicon Valley investors are carefully taking stock of the anti-government view they helped popularize. For all Thiel’s open criticism of elected officials, he sounded remarkably like a politician recanting false promises on the stage at George Mason. Toward the end of the talk, he reflected for a moment on his early essay on seasteading. “Writing is always such a dangerous thing,” he said. “It was late at night. I quickly typed it off.”

Monday, May 9, 2022

X -- "A company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is."

 From Business Insider:

Elon Musk's aspirations for Twitter include a mysterious new product named "X," according to his investor presentation obtained by The New York Times. 

Product "X" would launch in 2023 and bring in 9 million users within the first year, the pitch deck estimates. Musk projects 104 million users would subscribe to the product by 2028, per the Times report.

It's one of several ideas outlined in the billionaire's grand plan to quintuple Twitter's revenue and quadruple the size of its user base, despite his previous claims that he doesn't care about the economics of buying Twitter "at all."

There are a lot of vague details in Musk's promised turnaround of Twitter, but the aptly named "X" is the most mysterious. The amazing promises and lack of specifics reminded me of this passage from Charles Mackay's  Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Some of these schemes were plausible enough, and, had they been undertaken at a time when the public mind was unexcited, might have been pursued with advantage to all concerned. But they were established merely with the view of raising the shares in the market. The projectors took the first opportunity of a rise to sell out, and next morning the scheme was at an end. Maitland, in his History of London, gravely informs us, that one of the projects which received great encouragement, was for the establishment of a company "to make deal-boards out of saw-dust." This is, no doubt, intended as a joke; but there is abundance of evidence to show that dozens of schemes hardly a whir more reasonable, lived their little day, ruining hundreds ere they fell. One of them was for a wheel for perpetual motion—capital, one million; another was "for encouraging the breed of horses in England, and improving of glebe and church lands, and repairing and rebuilding parsonage and vicarage houses." Why the clergy, who were so mainly interested in the latter clause, should have taken so much interest in the first, is only to be explained on the supposition that the scheme was projected by a knot of the foxhunting parsons, once so common in England. The shares of this company were rapidly subscribed for. But the most absurd and preposterous of all, and which showed, more completely than any other, the utter madness of the people, was one, started by an unknown adventurer, entitled "company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is." Were not the fact stated by scores of credible witnesses, it would be impossible to believe that any person could have been duped by such a project. The man of genius who essayed this bold and successful inroad upon public credulity, merely stated in his prospectus that the required capital was half a million, in five thousand shares of 100 pounds each, deposit 2 pounds per share. Each subscriber, paying his deposit, would be entitled to 100 pounds per annum per share. How this immense profit was to be obtained, he did not condescend to inform them at that time, but promised, that in a month full particulars should be duly announced, and a call made for the remaining 98 pounds of the subscription. Next morning, at nine o'clock, this great man opened an office in Cornhill. Crowds of people beset his door, and when he shut up at three o'clock, he found that no less than one thousand shares had been subscribed for, and the deposits paid. He was thus, in five hours, the winner of 2,000 pounds. He was philosopher enough to be contented with his venture, and set off the same evening for the Continent. He was never heard of again

Friday, May 6, 2022

Matt Damon's soul didn't come cheap and other Friday miscellanea


[Implosion sound effect]

From YouTuber and scam expert Coffeezilla.

More details here.

Also from Coffeezilla. You may have read about this interview, but that's not the same as actually hearing it.

"You're just like 'well, I'm in the Ponzi business.'"

Sam Bankman-Fried is worth $24 billion.

110 doesn't seem like a lot.

We'll probably do another post of this article by Emily Shugerman focusing on the politics of this 2022 bitcoin conference (Jordan Peterson, Peter Thiel, you see where this is going). Most of the well-written piece focuses on less famous and far more likeable characters. Much of it is funny. Most of it is sad. This will not work out well for these people.

MIAMI BEACH—The thing about bitcoin, the man at the back of the convention center wanted me to know, was that once you understood it, it changed everything. It seeped into every aspect of your life: personal, political, financial. Bitcoin was freedom, he said; it had the power to literally end all war. And that’s why he was here, at Bitcoin 2022—the largest bitcoin event in the world—trying to spread the gospel through women’s panties.

“Once you get into bitcoin, there is no way back,” the man, whose name was Pablo, said over piles of women’s underwear emblazoned with the cryptocurrency’s logo. A sign behind him read: “Panties for Bitcoin.”

“Once you understand it, it gets into your life from every point of view—not only the economic point of view,” he continued. ”Once you have control of your money... you have control of everything.”

I heard a similar refrain from other attendees over the course of the conference, including a man who quit his job as an industrial engineer to make bitcoin-themed merchandise on his 3D printer and a 23-year-old Lebanese jewelry heir who had recently convinced his family to invest part of their fortune in bitcoin.

The former engineer asked me why I was among the 25,000 people at the conference, and I told him my reporting beat included cults.

“We’re a cult, absolutely,” he said. “One hundred percent. I love the bitcoin cult.”

A free speech absolutist, but only in the relative sense.

I can't really call this miscellanea without including Cory Doctorow's chickenized reverse centaurs

Big Chicken tells farmers which chicks to buy, what kind of coops to raise them in, when the lights go on and off, which vets they’re allowed to use and which medicines the vets are allowed to administer. They even tell them who they’re allowed to hire to fix their coops (specifically, they bar farmers from hiring ex-farmers who speak out against the industry).

The processors tell the farmers everything…except how much they’ll be paid for their birds. This is decided only after the farmers bring them to market, and the sum is titrated to pay them enough to service their debts and raise another batch of chickens, but not one penny more.

This worker misclassification and control — governed like an employee, paid like a contractor — has spilled out beyond the poultry industry. Uber drivers are heavily chickenized, with their pay calculated to let them service their car loans, insurance payments and fuel bills — but not enough to save up and quit the industry.
In AI circles, a “centaur” is a human/AI collaboration, like when chess masters and chess programs form a team that can trounce the best people and the best programs. In these centaur ops, the human is the “head” and the AI is the “body” — a “decision-support system,” that augments the human.

A reverse centaur is when it’s the other way around. Think of an Amazon delivery driver, whose work is observed and analyzed by a constellation of cameras and algorithms. These workers are the body, not the head — the AI gives the orders and the human is the dumb meat, augmenting the machine.

Now we’re ready to put it all together. A chickenized reverse-centaur is a worker who is misclassified as a contractor, micromanaged like an employee, and given no guarantees of pay or hours.

This is end-stage app work capitalism, as with Doordash and Uber, where workers don’t get to see the full amount on offer until they take the job. This lets these unprofitable companies continue to grow by offering subsidized services to customers. The app work monopolists have always relied on subsidies to grow, and this tactic switches the costs of subsidies from their shareholders to their workers.

And a little politics. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thursday Thoughts: A tale of two tweets

This is Joseph.

So the leaked Roe versus Wade opinion has elicited a variety of reactions. On one side, we see the group that sees abortion as unique and unlikely to lead to further dramatic changes:

On the other hand we have people who are deeply concerned:

I think the real point of concern is what happens next. James Joyner, who I have always seen as fairly right wing, has this point to make that I think is largely correct
Regardless, Tribe’s larger point is surely right. There’s nothing stopping a Court that is willing to simply disregard precedent from making wholesale changes to the way the country is governed. Even aside from various “rights” that previous Courts found hiding in the shadows of the Bill of Rights, there are strong signs that this collection of Justices may overturn the very foundations of the Administrative State. Grounded in the Constitution of 1787, they have a plausible case for doing so. But it would be dangerous, indeed, making governing a modern continental superpower next to impossible
Really, this is the key point of concern. The law is a living and breathing thing, that evolves over time as technology and circumstances also evolve. It goes forward and backwards, makes mistakes but ultimately creates the underpinning of how to make a complex society work. Codified law has been a feature of complex (i.e. agrarian) societies for at least 4,000 years. There are different types of law but the sort of constitutional law that the United States uses is deeply based in precedent. It is also a system with a lot of veto points and a written constitution. It might be that a parliamentary system could react more quickly to a radical court -- but that isn't the US system. 

Now it is possible that things will improve. This could be a bad draft that is a lot better in final form. I hope nobody ever leaks the first draft of one of my papers! There could be bargaining to improve the legal reasoning and bring it more into line with precedent (laws can evolve, or, perhaps, devolve). It could be a one off decision like Bush versus Gore, that ages badly but does not foretell of future radical decisions (the Megan McArdle view, above). 

That said, I go back to Abraham Lincoln. In the face of a major internal crisis, he expanded the court to its largest historical number as a part of stabilizing the country. If there is too much tampering, I think we should consider that the primary legislative body is congress and that the democratic accountability of congress makes it a far better branch to enact radical change, should it be desired. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Late Night Thoughts on Roe v Wade, Black Swans, Elections, and Uncertainty

I normally let these things sit for a while and run them past a stat professor or two to check my logic and language, but this is a fast-moving story and I wanted to make some points before the experts weighed in.

Dictated to my phone, so beware the occasional homonym. 

1. All predictive models are based to some degree on the assumption that the underlying relationships that held before will continue to hold in the future.

1b. All causal relationships we observe or, more often, fail to observe depend on the ranges of the variables in question. You will find no relationship between age and blood pressure if your study is based on a group of college students.

When we have reason to believe that underlying relationships in changed, particularly when factors have moved out of previously observed ranges, you should be prepared to discard deeply held assumptions about what is likely and what is unlikely.

2. Also remember that most of those nice, straightforward relationships we throw around when explaining and predicting are at best oversimplifications and frequently useful fictions. We constantly gloss over complexity and complication in order to get a clear, concise explanation. Think using a simple linear model when an enormous Bayesian network would be more appropriate. Under normal circumstances, we can usually get away with this -- It may even be the best approach -- but when profound changes are happening these oversimplifications can lead to disastrously wrong conclusions and recommendations.

3. We also have a tendency to put far too much faith in what we have come to think of as fixed points. At least in the social sciences, there are very few values, thresholds, or relationships that we can treat as immutable laws of nature.

The main lesson here is that when we get into uncharted territory, no one can be certain of anything including the pundits and even researchers. 

My gut feeling is that the upcoming SCOTUS ruling is horribly dangerous for the Republican Party. The GOP has staked out a position as the anti-Roe, pro-Putin, anti-vax, pro-insurrection party. On top of that, the governors of their two most populous states have in effect declared war on their own states' economies. My instincts tell me that under these circumstances, bringing any of these issues front and center in the discourse is likely to hurt the Republicans.

But that's just a guess. 

I don't know what I'm talking about, not because this is way out of my field (which it is) and not because I am unfamiliar with the data (though I am, in fact, almost completely ignorant of it*). I don't know what I'm talking about when I make predictions about the upcoming election because nobody knows what they're talking about when they make predictions about the upcoming election. 

We are so far beyond the range of data that no statement can be made with any confidence, not just with respect to Roe v Wade but along a number of other dimensions, the extremism of the rhetoric, the level and precision of gerrymandering, the role of conspiracy theories, the infiltration (sorry, there's no better word) of one party by a hostile power, revelations of coups past and future, and this is not a comprehensive list. 

There are limited sorta-kinda parallels from history books and interesting, perhaps even informative findings from polls and previous elections, but none of it is science, at least not yet. A year from now, you will see some first-rate research coming from smart political scientists that will give us real insight into what is and is about to happen, but for now, no one is making any kind of statistically solid predictive analysis about November. 

*Yes, I know, but the plural just sounds stupid.