Saturday, November 30, 2019

Flaky New Age conspiracy theories are becoming more relevant. Here's some historical context [repost]

Monday, June 18, 2018

The idea of ancient astronauts is a bit more ancient than I realized.

Another interesting nugget I came across while researching the technology project. We've already discussed how the fundamentals of what we would now call new ageism – – mysticism, extraterrestrial civilizations, psychic phenomena – – were largely a product of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I had always assumed that the belief in ancient astronauts was a fairly recent addition, something that people came up with in the 1960s. Apparently, though, the notion that aliens visited her thousands of years ago and left their mark through mythology and monuments actually dates back to at least the 1890s.

From Wikipedia:

Edison's Conquest of Mars is an 1898 science fiction novel by American astronomer and writer Garrett P. Serviss. It was written as a sequel to Fighters from Mars, an unauthorized and heavily altered version of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. It has a place in the history of science fiction for its early employment of themes and motifs that later became staples of the genre

Emphasis added:

The humans reach Mars, but in spite of their superior forces they have lost half their men to the Martians' overwhelming numbers. The Martians envelop the planet in a smoke screen, and the humans retreat to the moon Deimos. During a raid on Mars for supplies, the earth men find Aina, the last of a population of human slaves whose ancestors were captured from Kashmir in a Martian raid 9,000 years before. During this raid, the Martians also constructed the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphynx in Egypt, the latter of which is a statue of their leader. Aina advises Edison that meeting the Martians in battle would be fruitless, and that they should instead attack the dams that channel water from the polar ice. Since most of Mars' cities are under sea level, the flood spreads rapidly, killing most of the Martians and destroying their civilization. Edison and company force a peace with the surviving Martians, and return home to great celebration.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Our annual Toys-for-Tots post

A good Christmas can do a lot to take the edge off of a bad year both for children and their parents (and a lot of families are having a bad year). It's the season to pick up a few toys, drop them by the fire station and make some people feel good about themselves during what can be one of the toughest times of the year.

If you're new to the Toys-for-Tots concept, here are the rules I normally use when shopping:

The gifts should be nice enough to sit alone under a tree. The child who gets nothing else should still feel that he or she had a special Christmas. A large stuffed animal, a big metal truck, a large can of Legos with enough pieces to keep up with an active imagination. You can get any of these for around twenty or thirty bucks at Wal-Mart or Costco;*

Shop smart. The better the deals the more toys can go in your cart;

No batteries. (I'm a strong believer in kid power);**

Speaking of kid power, it's impossible to be sedentary while playing with a basketball;

No toys that need lots of accessories;

For games, you're generally better off going with a classic;

No movie or TV show tie-ins. (This one's kind of a personal quirk and I will make some exceptions like Sesame Street);

Look for something durable. These will have to last;

For smaller children, you really can't beat Fisher Price and PlaySkool. Both companies have mastered the art of coming up with cleverly designed toys that children love and that will stand up to generations of energetic and creative play.

*I previously used Target here, but their selection has been dropping over the past few years and it's gotten more difficult to find toys that meet my criteria.

** I'd like to soften this position just bit. It's okay for a toy to use batteries, just not to need them. Fisher Price and PlaySkool have both gotten into the habit of adding lights and sounds to classic toys, but when the batteries die, the toys live on, still powered by the energy of children at play.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

"As God as my witness..." is my second favorite Thanksgiving episode line [Repost]

If you watch this and you could swear you remember Johnny and Mr. Carlson discussing Pink Floyd, you're not imagining things. Hulu uses the DVD edit which cuts out almost all of the copyrighted music. [The original link has gone dead, but I was able to find the relevant clip.]

As for my favorite line, it comes from the Buffy episode "Pangs" and it requires a bit of a set up (which is a pain because it makes it next to impossible to work into a conversation).

Buffy's luckless friend Xander had accidentally violated a native American grave yard and, in addition to freeing a vengeful spirit, was been cursed with all of the diseases Europeans brought to the Americas.

Spike: I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
Willow: Uh, the preferred term is...
Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not goin' around saying, "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it." The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of - Not that I don't like Spaniards.
Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
Willow: We don't wanna fight anyone.
Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
Spike: Heh heh. Yeah... Good luck.
Willow: Well, if we could talk to him...
Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It's kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
Xander: Maybe it's the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

In LA, we're dreaming of a white Thanksgiving

From the Los Angeles Times:

A “broad swath of precipitation” is expected to blanket Los Angeles County and surrounding areas starting early Wednesday, said Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. The heaviest rain and snow are predicted to fall on Wednesday from the morning to the afternoon. Lighter showers are forecast for Thursday and Friday and could extend into the weekend. Rainfall estimates for this week’s storm call for about 1 to 2 inches for the coast and valleys, and 1.5 to 3 inches for the foothills and at lower elevations of the mountains. A foot or more of snow is possible at higher elevations.

Snow levels are expected to plummet from 4,000 feet on Wednesday to about 2,500 feet by Thursday. This means the 5 Freeway over the Grapevine, along with Highway 14 and Highway 33, will likely see a significant dusting of powder — and with it, the seemingly inevitable traffic snarl, said David Sweet, also a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. 

 For you Easterners out there, the highest elevation in the city is around five thousand feet while the highest point in LA County around ten thousand. A snow level of  2,500 feet will cover a good chunk of land.

Of course, the real action is a ways north of here.
Dangerous winds in the Sierra toppled a semitrailer truck, downed power lines and closed a stretch of highway in Southern California on Monday ahead of a winter storm expected to bring up to 2 feet of snow to mountain tops around Lake Tahoe. U.S. Highway 6 was closed due to downed power lines south of Yosemite National Park near Bishop. A wind gust of 94 mph was reported Monday morning at Mammoth Lakes Airport.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tuesday Tweets

There was a brief period twenty-plus years ago when graphing calculators made some pedagogical sense, but that period is long over.

Talking Points Memo has become, unsurprisingly, my go-to site for impeachment analysis.  

The relationship between Trump and the GOP is another thread we'll be returning to. 

The punchlines just write themselves.

And to close.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Worst moral hazard argument ever (and that's a competitive field)

One of the more amusing subnarratives (in a schadenfreude way)  of the impeachment story has been the efforts of what we might call the Brooksian wing of reality-based conservatives. In contrast with the Rubin wing, which is perfectly willing to let the chip fall...
... the Brooksians also acknowledge the obvious with Trump but then look for a way of playing things out that minimizes the damage to the GOP and the larger conservative agenda. This usually involves arguing against impeachment, since as previously argued,  the trial represents a no win scenario for the GOP.

Jim Gergaghty of the National Review does, however, deserve credit for being the first to make the case against impeachment on moral hazard grounds.

Removing President Trump from office would say to the American people, “Don’t worry if you make a choice that turns out bad. We will save you from the consequences of your actions.” If you want the American people to exercise better judgment in future elections, you need to make them live with the consequences of their bad decisions. The lesson of a successful impeachment of Trump would be that Americans should vote for whoever they want and not worry about electing a seriously flawed president, because if he ever got too bad, Congress would step in and take him out. The narrative is clear: The will of the people matters, until the stakes get really high, and then the grown-ups will step in, reverse decisions, and put out the fires.

Friday, November 22, 2019

A couple of thoughtful video essays by Bob Chipman

To be a good popular art commentator in 2019 you have to have a deep understanding of nerd culture combined with strong critical detachment. It is difficult to find writers who can manage both at once and I don't think anyone does it better than Chipman.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

When your opponents face a no-win scenario, it's in your interest to see that they finish the game

Picking this up from Tuesday...

One of the reasons the impeachment is such a dilemma for the GOP is that it requires officials to take a position that will piss off either a majority of the country or a key block of the Republican base that is personally loyal not to the party but to Trump. If the first group really does exceed 70% and the second stays above some threshold (let's call it 15%), the situation can become almost impossible to navigate.

One of the main implications of this is that the saner conservatives out there have done these calculations and that's why they are desperately looking for a way out. The corresponding implication on the other side of the aisle is that, regardless of how the vote goes, it's in the Democrats' best interest to not only have it, but to make it as public and binding as possible.

I think I'm pretty much in line with Josh Marshall on this (which is generally a good place to be).
The Democrats’ job is to lay out the evidence in a public setting and get elected Republicans to sign on the dotted line that this is presidential behavior they accept and applaud. That won’t be difficult. They have one last chance to change their answer. Democrats real job is to clarify and publicize that that is their answer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Another example of Left/Right convergence

One of these days, I’m going to write a big bomb-throwing post proposing that political scientists should completely abandon the use of the left-right spectrum in serious research. It is an innately multivariate concept that cannot be reduced to a scalar. Attempts to create an operational definition have ranged from inadequate to disastrous. On top of all that, since everyone thinks they know what “left” and “right” mean, any use of the terms in a supposedly scientific context inevitably produces more confusion than illumination.

One of the indications that a Euclidean framework won’t work is the existence of beliefs and positions that tend to attract people from the extremes of both the left and the right. We’ve already discussed conspiracy theories and alternative medicine. Perhaps we should add certain segments of anti-war movements.

I’m not talking about strange bedfellow scenarios like the one that temporarily aligned the left with the reactionaries against FDR liberals. This is something more paradoxical, where people supposedly on opposite ends of the spectrum gravitate to the same point not out of convenience or strategic alignment (such as the apocalyptic evangelical wing’s support of Israel).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t differences between the anti-war movement on the left and on the right, but I suspect when you start going through the crowd at a Gabbard rally, it might not be easy to tell which direction a given supporter came from.

From Fresh Air:

GROSS: So Enoch is anti-Semitic, racist and promotes those thoughts on his blog and podcast. Did he support Donald Trump during the election? Does he support President Trump now? Did he play any role in promoting Trump?

MARANTZ: Yeah. So he and the rest of the alt-right definitely supported Trump during the campaign and saw him as the best they were ever going to get from a plausible presidential candidate. I mean, they saw him as someone who would give voice to their kind of white identity movement in a tacit way but still in a way that sounded very clear to them.

After he became president, he started to alienate them by being erratic and inconsistent - also by being a little too hawkish. A lot of these people came out of anti-war organizing, either from the left or the right or both. So when he started dropping bombs on Syria, a lot of the alt-right stopped being Trump supporters. And then also when he failed to build the wall and failed to enact what they wanted, which was essentially a proto-white nationalist agenda, he lost a lot of their support, too.

But a lot of them - you know, in a way the anti-Semitism, it's not just a kind of purely irrational - I mean, it's obviously irrational, but it doesn't come out of nowhere. A lot of it for them comes out of what they perceive as libertarian or anti-war politics.

GROSS: So if Trump were to run again, do you think he'd have the support of Mike Enoch or other people that you've written about in the book?

MARANTZ: Yeah, it's a really good question. A lot of them have moved on to other people like Tulsi Gabbard. A lot of people in my book are really into Tulsi these days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday Tweets

Lots of topics I need to revisit one of these days.

Describing your own paper's work as "deeply reported" is so New York Times.

One of the reasons the impeachment is such a dilemma for the GOP is that it requires officials to take a position that will piss off either a majority of the country or a key block of the Republican base that is personally loyal not to the party but to Trump. If the first group really does exceed 70% and the second stays above some threshold (let's call it 15%), the situation can become almost impossible to navigate.

As always, the question here is just how much of this Netflix Original does Netflix actually own.

We knew it was bad, but perhaps not this bad.

Leon G. "Lee" Cooperman (born April 25, 1943) is an American billionaire investor and hedge fund manager. He is the chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, a New York-based investment advisory firm managing over $3.3 billion in assets under management, the majority consisting of his personal wealth.

In September 2016 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Cooperman and Omega Advisors with insider trading, more specifically for "trading stocks, bonds and call options of Atlas Pipeline Partners in July 2010 on information he obtained from an executive at the company." Cooperman's firm agreed to a $4.9 million settlement with the SEC in May 2017 but admitted no wrong-doing.

Cooperman through his Omega Charitable Partnership, along with Anthony Melchiorre owns American Media, Inc. (AMI), publishers of the National Enquirer, since August 2014

Remember earlier in the post when we were talking about supporters being personally loyal to Trump?

One of the more encouraging recent developments in journalism has been people in the industry finally starting to listen to Sullivan.

SF remains the go to example, despite not being even vaguely analogous to the cities in question.

The sad part is that Steyer might not end up being the most clueless and self-indulgent billionaire to run for president this year.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Fun with Political Trivia

This picks up on a recent thread (telling which one might be too much of a clue). The ones and zeros represent a trait of Democratic candidates from 1964 to 2004. Take a look and think about it for a moment. Here's a hint, the trait is something associated with each man well before he ran for president.

Johnson           1
Humphrey       0
McGovern       0      
Carter              1           
Mondale          0           
Dukakis           0           
Clinton            1                 
Gore                1                      
Kerry               0

As you might have guessed, the relationship between this trait and the popular vote didn't hold in the previous or following elections. The trait is not at all obscure. It was well known at the time and figured prominently into their political personas, This is not a trick question.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Voting Referendum

From XKCD Highly recommend the ExplainXKCD for this one).

Plus a bonus cartoon

Thursday, November 14, 2019

"This strategy is cynical enough when the victim is something like Toys ‘R’ Us; it’s a societal crisis when it comes for journalism."

Glad to see that the New York Times ran this important op-ed by former Deadspin editor Barry Petchesky (as excerpted by Lawyers, Guns and Money), but you have to wonder how things might have been different if the NYT had stood with Gawker when these crimes against journalism first started rather than handing over a spot on their opinion page to noted women's suffrage critic, Peter Thiel.
    Why would anyone buy Deadspin to change Deadspin? It’s hard to understand why Great Hill Partners demanded that we “stick to sports” — especially at a time when the site was driving the conversation in sports coverage and had the highest traffic in its history — until you realize that this was most likely their plan.It’s the private equity model: Purchase an asset, strip it of everything of value, then turn around and sell the brand to someone else before they realize that what made the brand valuable in the first place has been lost and can never be recovered (the low-quality, un-bylined articles sweatily posted to the site after the mass resignations bear this out).

    This strategy is cynical enough when the victim is something like Toys ‘R’ Us; it’s a societal crisis when it comes for journalism.

    And come for journalism it has. In recent years, we’ve seen the deaths (and to varying degrees, the troubled rebirths) of the likes of Newsweek, The Denver Post, LA Weekly, Playboy and just last month, the granddaddy of all sports media, Sports Illustrated.It plays out the same way each time: The new owners come in, slash staff and costs and turn a once-proud publication into a content mill churning out bland and unimportant stories that no one wants or needs to read.

    It’s going to keep happening, faster than new outlets can rise up to replace the gutted old. For every refreshing new outlet, two will be zombified. Corners will be sanded down. Bitter pills puréed to a beige pap. Everything you liked about the web will be replaced with what the largest number of people like, or at least tolerate enough to click on and sit through three seconds of an autoplay ad. Unique voices will be muted, or drowned out altogether.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Yes, $100 million is certainly likely to buy a whole lot of indifference."

That quote alone is worth the price of admission, but it's worth your time to read the rest of this latest example of the increasingly absurd world of executive compensation from the always reliable Joe Nocera.
Everyone Gets Paid in CBS-Viacom Except Shareholders

Is it just me, or does the $100 million “severance” being paid to Joe Ianniello, the acting chief executive officer of CBS Corp., stink to high heaven? For starters, you can make a pretty compelling Elizabeth Warren-esque argument that handing a $100 million “severance” to someone who is not, in fact, leaving the company is exactly why income inequality has become such a hot-button issue.

But let’s be old school about this. Let’s focus on the shareholders and how this is their money that’s being handed to Ianniello. It is also an unpleasant reminder of how the father-daughter combo of Sumner and Shari Redstone seemingly can’t resist throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at executives who have not done much for their stockholders.

Which brings us back to Ianniello. Although he has been acting CEO only since Moonves departed late last year, Ianniello has also been the recipient of the Redstones’ largesse: Between 2016 and 2018, as the company’s chief operating officer, his compensation averaged $27 million a year, according to Bloomberg. The stock? It dropped from the low 70s to the mid-40s during those three years. This is what’s known as “pay for pulse.”

So why did Shari Redstone feel the need to hand Ianniello an additional $100 million? The reasons are twofold. First, Redstone is recombining Viacom and CBS. She doesn’t want Ianniello to leave — at least not right away — but she also isn’t going to make him the top dog. Second, for legal reasons, she can’t ramrod this deal through by herself, even though she is the controlling shareholder. She needs the CBS board and senior management to support the bid.

“You need Joe to get the merger done,” Robin Ferracone, the CEO of executive compensation consulting firm Farient Advisors, told Bloomberg. “So you need to make him indifferent to whether he’s going to lose his job or not.”

Yes, $100 million is certainly likely to buy a whole lot of indifference. Then again, $10 million probably could have achieved the same result. And in any case, if Shari Redstone needs $100 million to, er, persuade one of her executives to support her merger plan, maybe that suggests the merger’s success is not exactly a slam dunk.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Many years ago, on Monday" -- More Tuesday Tweets

We've been arguing for a while that LGBT attitudes in red states are more complex and are evolving more rapidly than outsiders realize. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

A bit of perspective on 2016

This piece by Tina Nguyen came out shortly after the election and most of the numbers are familiar to those who have been following the story closely, but recently we've seen the return of the unstoppable Trump myth, back up by the claim that the Republicans hold an enormous advantage in the Electoral College.

Before we all get caught up in the hysteria, it's good to be reminded just how thin the margin was.

You Could Fit All the Voters Who Cost Clinton the Election in a Mid-size Football Stadium

While nearly 138 million Americans voted in the presidential election, the stunning electoral victory of Donald Trump came down to upsets in just a handful of states that Hillary Clinton was expected to win. It has been cold comfort for Democrats that Clinton won the popular vote—at the last count, she was up by about 2.5 million votes, and climbing, as ballots continue to be counted. Even more distressing is the tiny margin by which Clinton lost Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—three states that were supposed to be her firewall in the Rust Belt, but that ultimately tipped the electoral college map decisively in Trump’s favor.

Trump’s margin of victory in those three states? Just 79,316 votes.

This latest number comes from Decision Desk’s final tally of Pennsylvania’s votes, where Trump won 2,961,875 votes to Clinton’s 2,915,440, a difference of 46,435 votes. Add that to the official results out of Wisconsin, where Clinton lost by 22,177 votes, and Michigan, which she lost by 10,704 votes, and there you have it: 0.057 percent of total voters cost Clinton the presidency.

It is not entirely unusual for the electoral college to be lost by such a slim margin. In 2000, Al Gore lost Florida (and therefore the election) by 1,754 votes, triggering a painfully drawn out recount drama that only ended with a Supreme Court ruling. And in 2004, John Kerry lost to George W. Bush by losing Ohio by a little over 118,000 votes. But it is worth considering just how few voters ultimately set the country on its current, arguably terrifying course. The 79,316 people who voted for Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all states that Democrats carried since 1992—is less than the entire student body of Penn State (97,494 students), or only slightly more than the number of people who attended Desert Trip, the Baby Boomer-friendly music festival colloquially known as “Oldchella.” If you put all these voters in the Rose Bowl, there would be slightly over 13,000 seats left over. There are more people living in Nampa, Idaho, a city you have never heard of.

Friday, November 8, 2019

One essential point to keep in mind about "Los Angeles": it's not just bigger than you think; it's way bigger than you think.*

There's a fundamental confusion about LA that pops ups constantly and can be tremendously misleading. If you look up U.S. cities by population, you get the following

1     New York     8,398,748
2     Los Angeles 3,990,456   

But when people say "New York,"  they mean the city of New York, but when people say "Los Angeles" without qualifiers, they almost inevitably mean the county of Los Angeles. Almost no one, including lifelong Angelenos are vague on which areas are neighborhoods and which are cities.

The population of LA County is over 10 million and the area is over 4,000 square miles. It covers mountains, beaches, valleys and, high and low deserts. Multiple microclimates can result in 36 degree temperature differences at the same time of day. The elevation ranges from 0 to over 10,000 feet.

East Coast journalists (and all too often, Bay Area ones, as well) are shockingly ignorant of LA, not to mention San Diego, the Central Valley, and the rest of the state. As a result, issues affecting small slices of the population are over-reported while widespread problems don't get the attention they deserve.

For example, relatively few Angelenos are worried about their houses burning down while the smoke from these fires can create a serious health concern for millions of people.

As bad as this is for us, the ignorance and provincialism of journalists is even worse for most of the rest of the country. If they get this much wrong about LA, imagine how little they know about a place like Phoenix.

* San Francisco, by comparison, is way smaller than you think, but how a city that doesn't break the top 12 in population became the goto example for urban planning narratives is a subject for another post.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Thursday Tweets (because it's been that kind of week)

Reveal does important work, which makes this all the more appalling.

If you want utopian urbanists to ignore you, bring this up.

Andrew has some thoughts on this. I wonder how you can account for the substitution effect in the analysis, but getting the musings to thought-status is too much work.


 "Most useless and over-hyped technology ever!"? -- the hyperloop would like to have a word with you.




Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Four years ago (more or less) -- something to remember when reading the latest analysis from Nate Cohn (and a lot of others)

Track records matter. Like it or not, unless you're actually working with the numbers, you have to rely to some degree on the credibility of the analysts you're reading. Three of the best ways to build credibility are:

1. Be right a lot.

2. When you're wrong, admit it and seriously examine where you went off track, then...

3. Correct those mistakes.

I've been hard on Nate Silver in the past, but after a bad start in 2016, he did a lot to earn our trust. By the time we got to the general election, I'd pretty much give him straight A's. By comparison, there were plenty of analysts who got straight F's, and a lot of them are playing a prominent role in the discussion this time around..

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Revisiting Nate Cohn -- Scott Walker edition

I was going back and forth on whether or not to revisit this critique of the New York Times' Nate Cohn in the wake of the Walker implosion. If you remember, little over a month ago, Cohn made the argument that:
In the end, Mr. Trump almost certainly won’t win the Republican nomination; the rest of the party will consolidate around anyone else. He can influence the outcome only if his support costs another candidate more than others. But for now, he seems to be harming all candidates fairly equally.
This was never a convincing claim (at the time I called it "strained and convoluted"), and it has gotten even less defensible in the light of recent events, but that's not necessarily enough reason to dredge things up. There's a difference between keeping score and piling on (and the last post on Cohn was a bit on the harsh side).

I was leaning toward dropping the thread until I read Cohn's piece on the collapse of the Walker campaign and again saw things that bothered me. It was better than the Trump pieces, but it was improvement without progress.

[Yeah, I know, it sounds garbled but let me unpack the oxymoron. If the most recent outcome is better than the previous one, that's an improvement; if conditions change so that we can expect future outcomes to be better than previous outcomes, that's progress. (My blog, my definitions.)]

Over the past three months, Nate Cohn and many of his colleagues have not only failed to anticipate major developments; they've also made a string of predictions that haven't come to fruition. This wouldn't be worrisome if it were leading to a critical examination of the analogies and assumptions that led to these errors, or at least a little less self-assurance.

What we don't want to see is yet is yet another simple narrative presented as the explanation. Which brings us to..
Mr. Walker faltered so quickly because he simply was not skilled enough to navigate the competing pressures of appealing to the party’s establishment at the same time as arousing its base. It was much like the story of Rick Perry.

Though the entry of Donald Trump into the race made things harder for all the Republican candidates, Mr. Trump can’t be blamed entirely for Walker’s troubles. Mr. Walker was tied with Mr. Bush for second place in national polls heading into the first debate, long after Mr. Trump took a lead in those polls. By the time he dropped out, Mr. Walker had the support of less than one-half of 1 percent of Republican primary voters, according to the most recent CNN survey.

The Walker campaign — or perhaps the candidate personally — felt pressure from the rise of Mr. Trump on his right, especially once Mr. Walker started slipping a bit in the polls. This sort of pressure isn’t unusual and was inevitable — he would have felt it at some point, if not from Mr. Trump, then from Ben Carson or Ted Cruz.

Mr. Walker, to put it gently, did not handle this pressure well. His instinct was to move to the right as fast as possible at any point of vulnerability. He staked out a conservative position on birthright citizenship and a fringe position on considering a wall at the Canadian border. These moves alienated party elites and weren’t credible to conservative voters. He quickly reversed positions; in the end, he reassured no one.

First off there's the argument itself. It seems to be a reasonable, if not all that convincing, little story (not all that different than the one Nate Silver tells, but more an that in a minute) until you consider magnitude of the event being discussed. Walker did have notable missteps (to use Silver's term) but they were relatively minor. If we were talking about a campaign losing momentum or dropping a few points they might make sense as a possible cause, but we're talking about a complete implosion with a well-funded candidate going from near the top of the field to less than one percent support in shockingly little time.

The important part here is the speed of the collapse. Cohn himself was discussing Walker's weaknesses as a campaigner back in July, but he also said Walker had "plenty of time to assuage these concerns."

We now know Walker didn't. A month later, he would already be in free fall.
Scott Walker has sought to reassure jittery donors and other supporters this week that he can turn around a swift decline in the polls in Iowa and elsewhere by going on the attack and emphasizing his conservatism on key issues.
And, if you check the dates, you'll notice that the donors got jittery before Walker started talking about that Canadian wall.

Furthermore, probably Walker's most high-profile move to the right was the anti-labor position. I suppose this could have alienated the party elites (though we are talking about Koch brothers here) but if Scott Walker can't make an attack on unions credible to conservative voters, I honestly can't imagine anyone who could.

But the argument itself isn't what really bothers me. What's troubling here is the way that Cohn deals with the failure of his predictions. Even those with a good track record on the GOP race, such as Josh Marshall, admitted to being surprised at just how rapidly the collapse transpired. As a good rule of thumb, if you did not expect something, you should be careful about offering explanations about how it happened. As far as I can tell, Marshall and company are doing their best to follow this rule.

Cohn, by comparison, has perhaps the worst track record of any of the analysts I've been following when it comes to the GOP primary. After calling a premature end to the Trump surge a number of times and making the just-another-Herman-Cain analogy on no less than five separate occasions, he then made the previously mentioned claim about Trump not having any effect on the race.

Despite this, Cohn appears to be one of the most confident commentators when putting forward his theories about the causes of the implosion. The comparison to Nate Silver here is instructive. Silver actually opens his piece by acknowledging just how wrong he and his team were on Scott Walker. In addition to caution, Silver also offers a great deal more in terms of complexity and counter arguments. Cohn actually uses the word "simply" to describe his version of events.

But what's important here is not just the unwarranted confidence. We all have our moments. What merits attention is what Cohn's confidence in this situation tells us about his process. Anyone who works with data long enough will have occasion to see their models break down and their predictions go so far awry that they are no longer even directionally accurate.

When journalists looking in from the outside describe these disasters, they almost invariably use the phrase "go back and check your numbers," but in complex situations that is relatively seldom the source of the problem. More likely and far more difficult to catch are problems with robustness and modeling assumptions.

I realize I may be making too much of this, but there's a bigger issue here that has been bothering me for a long time. When Nate Cohn says this is what happened to Scott Walker, he is displaying a this-is-how-the-world-works tone and mindset that is very common in places like the Upshot, even when it is not at all appropriate. If you read carefully the work of journalists inspired by Nate Silver (though not so much Silver himself), you pick up the implicit belief that the standard methods and assumptions being employed are as true and as reliable as the laws of mathematics , that they have always worked and will always work.

This is a dangerous way to approach the social sciences, particularly when you start running into range of data issues (and between Trump, Carson, and the rise of the tea party, I think we are definitely in new territory now).

As mentioned before, I strongly suspect that the theory that Walker collapsed because his move to the right offended the elites and yet was not credible to the base is wrong, but I would be much more comfortable with it and would certainly have not written this post if it had been clearly framed as a theory.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Tuesday Tweets

Read the thread.

Love the Archive.




We all need to relax.

Monday, November 4, 2019

To all my friends back East, we're all doing just fine here in LA

Though air quality is always a concern, other than a few hazy days, very few of us have been directly affected by the fires.

Homelessness remains a huge problem on a humanitarian level, but the streets do not run with sewage, used needles do not litter the sidewalks and the housed do not cower in fear.

Housing prices and traffic have definitely taken a turn for the worse over the past five or so years, but for those who are not at the bottom of the income ladder (and we should be doing more for those who are), the city is still manageable if you are flexible about where you live, particularly if you don’t insist on trendy neighborhoods and aren’t afraid of ethnic and economic diversity.

 Climate change has us worried about fires and droughts, but not so much about rising oceans. The California coast has lots of high ground. The elevation of downtown LA is almost 300 feet above sea level, with much of the town considerably higher. Perhaps more importantly, being on the western side of the continent, we are not in the path of any tropical cyclones. Rising oceans and more powerful hurricanes make for a bad combination.

Just to be clear, I don’t want to make light of any of these challenges facing the state, but it is possible to take the problems seriously and still recognize the silliness of the dystopian disaster porn coming out of otherwise respectable publications like the New York Times and the Atlantic.

Steve Lopez has the essential summary of the latest wave of California-is-doomed stories.

The political right, of course, has long specialized in the sport of California mockery. But we’re now getting it from the left, as well. People are running for their lives and losing their homes, and the haters can’t wait to do a grave dance.

“It’s the End of California As We Know It,” warned a New York Times headline on an op-ed piece declaring that “at the heart of our state’s rot” is “a failure to live sustainably.”

Yeah, we‘ve got problems and a long way to go, but is there a state in the union that has done more in the interest of sustainability?

“California Is Becoming Unlivable,” screamed the Atlantic.

Speaking of which, do we sit around in California wondering if the Southeast — where many states are governed by Republicans, not wifty liberals — is unlivable because decades of construction on fragile coastal land has put millions of people in the direct path of killer hurricanes?

“Climate change,” the Atlantic said of our state, “is turning it into a tinderbox; the soaring cost of living is forcing even wealthy families into financial precarity. And, in some ways, the two crises are one: The housing crunch in urban centers has pushed construction to cheaper, more peripheral areas, where wildfire risk is greater.”

Some fair points can be found in this article. But even when you have to clear your throat to draw attention to yourself, there is no good reason to use the word “precarity.” Second of all, are some wealthy families, God forbid, selling their Range Rovers and laying off half the domestic staff? Are those among the horrors of financial precarity?

Even before fire season, California was under attack.

“California’s Hobo Paradise” was the title of a September editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The piece parroted President Trump’s bashing of California, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, for its tent cities and public health problems.

By the way, please advise Trump he doesn’t need to fuel up Air Force One and fly to California if homelessness is a genuine concern, because there’s a sizable population within walking distance of the White House.
“California is a failed state,” said Breitbart News, which, as I recall, was founded by a man who lived rather comfortably here in one of the many affluent areas of our failed state.

“As climate change ravages the Golden State, earthquakes could become the least of residents’ concerns,” said the New Republic, which also questioned whether California is still livable.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Checking in with John Oliver -- Compounding Pharmacies

Another one for our health care thread.