Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Student loan forgiveness

This is Joseph.

Mark mentioned this briefly yesterday but I thought it was worth a full post. 

In the United States there has been some controversy about student loan forgiveness and the modest amount of debt relief that was recently given. I understand the reasons why it was good to do something and also why the time isn't optimal as it could have an inflationary impact. Still, the amount of inflation, according to Paul Krugman, is about 0.2% and much larger sums were forgiven for business support in covid-19. It is quite reasonable that the lockdown could have made student loans worse than expected for some people and so forgiveness is a reasonable policy.

It was then attacked for funding very left wing educational opportunities -- the exact phrase being "lesbian dance theory". Now, one thing to consider is that very few students take classes in identity. Here is a statistics from the far more left wing province of Ontario in Canada:

That's less than 1%. As expected, in the United States it is even lower:

There are more philosophy majors than in these fields!

Looking at the linked tables from the Department of Education (USA), we see that the top two majors are business and health sciences, together making up 32% of bachelor degrees (that is 1/3). There are five times as many students studying agriculture than "Area, ethnic, cultural, gender, and group studies" which is lumping a lot of different things together (are Russian studies and women's studies really appealing to the same students?). Now it is true that 4.5% of degrees go to visual and performing arts (which would include dance) but also things like acting, painting, and film school. Maybe it is or is not the optimal vehicle for teaching these skills  but there are also a lot of students taking degrees in "Homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting" (about 2./3 this total) which is also a case where the applied and theoretical pieces might be quite different. 

And this ignores the engineers, computer scientists, and mathematics degrees. Now, it is true, that a system where students pick what they want to study does occasionally result in bad decisions that compound. But this is also true of health decisions, employment decisions, and financial decisions -- we are not considering regulating those, either. 

If the student loan program is seen as a type of covid-19 relief than it isn't a bad program. It will help most those students who started a degree and did not finish due to the world changing -- most defaults are for small amounts and students who did not finish their degrees. This also addresses the question of whether it is only backwards looking -- it is, but the justification is reasonable and it matches other parties who borrowed money and had it forgiven due to covid-19 impacts

Now I agree with Dean Dad that a forward looking policy is overdue. But that doesn't mean that this plan is without merit and the general idea seems to be justifiable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Tuesday Tweets and another reminder that Republicans were counting on an election about Biden and inflation, not about Trump and abortion

Listing "inflation" and "cost of living" separately is a bit of a stretch, but at least it's better than "inflation and high gas prices."

(And given that we're talking about Michigan, I assume he's talking about the security of the Canadian border.)

I wonder if they left in Masters' opposition to a right to contraception.

 And in related news.

Of course, changing the subject is easier when everyone reads the memo.

Someone seems to be under a bit of stress.

And though you've been told different, this remains Trump's party.



Built around a cult of personality.

No matter how much parts of the mainstream press dislike talking about it.

Remember how David Brooks spent the early part of 2016 touting Rubio as the sane alternative to Trump?

God, this one breaks my heart.

"The kids ask me, 'Can I go get a book?' They're so excited, and I have to say no."

You know Biden's foreign policy is going well when OAN switches from "this would never have happened if Trump were in power" to "this is only happening because Russia and China are afraid of Trump coming back to power"

I did not expect her to work NIMBYs into this one.

Before I could get around to making fun of Neumann's follow-up to WeWork, it collapses and he gets another $350 million for the next fiasco,

Though Utah is still a fairly safe seat, the fall-out from Jauary 6th continues to reverberate.

From the feral disinformation files.

This is what an actual never-Trumper looks like.

Sure it sounds bad, but...
...that's just Trump being Trump. Surely no respectable Republican would say something like...

One case where Russia's media being untrustworthy is kinda reassuring.

The anti-anti-Trump left has now crossed the "Marjorie Taylor Greene is right" threshold.

The Overton window on nuclear power appears to be moving.

On the student debt debate.

Well, no one saw that coming.

And Misc.

Monday, August 29, 2022

When it comes to conventional wisdom, always check the numbers

Here's a quote from an otherwise pretty good CNN political analysis.[Emphasis added]

The onus is on Demings to prove she -- or any Democrat -- can win statewide in a state that has overwhelmingly backed Republicans for years. But Democrats got a morale boost recently: The National Republican Senatorial Committee came in with an ad campaign for Rubio while Demings was widely outspending the Republican. 

There is no question that the GOP has had a hell of a run in Florida recently, currently controlling all of the statewide office, but there's an widespread misconception (at least based on a very small and non-random sample). When the subject of DeSantis's 2018 election comes up, even people who  follow politics closely tend to be surprised at the actual results


 The last senate race results were similar. 

Of course, 2018 was a good year for Democrats, but in 2014, Scott beat Crist by a relatively tight 48% to 47% and that was a pretty good year for Republicans.

Not all of these races have been close -- Rubio had a solid win in 2016 -- but if you have to generalize. recent Florida politics seems to mainly be stories of Republicans pulling out narrow wins in big state elections, not of voters "overwhelmingly" supporting the GOP

None of this necessarily tells us anything about the upcoming mid-terms -- we are so far out of the range of data that you'd have to be an idiot to make predictions -- but the narrative lots of people have been telling themselves doesn't fit the data. 


Friday, August 26, 2022

The essential Columbo

Something lighter for the weekend.

One of the consequences of the rise of streaming that everyone should have seen coming (but almost no one did) was the rediscovery of classic shows. The pandemic accelerated the process, possibly because people sought out the familiar. 

One of the shows that has been finding a new audience is Columbo. Joe Dator of the New Yorker had a ten panel appreciation of the show and the phenomenon back in 2020.


The show was part of a wheel series where various shows shared the same time slot. As a result, there are very few episodes for such long running show -- less than fifty if you don't count the reboot -- we made it easier to keep the quality high and to line up A list talent for the guest murderer slot.

These things make Columbo relatively easy for new viewers to get into, but as with any TV show, there are high points and low points. Here, more or less in order, are the episodes I'd recommend starting with.

These are all available on Amazon's ad supported service, Freevee.

1. "Murder by the Book" The first episode of the series after the first two TV-movies. Set the mold (and the standard). A career making show for Stevens Spielberg and Bochco. All this and Jack Cassidy too.

2. "A Friend in Deed" Directed by Falk buddy Ben Gazzara   Richard Kiley is smug and despicable. Twisty, inventive murder. One of the best endings. Perhaps the ultimate example of the lowly lieutenant bringing down the rich and powerful.
3. "Candidate for Crime" If not for the previous title on this list, I might call it the definitive episode. Another one of the best endings. Story by B-movie legend Larry Cohen;

4. "Suitable for Framing" Ross Martin was always fun. Good story. Memorable closing shot.

5, "Blueprint for Murder" Falk's directorial debut. Patrick O'Neal was born to play a Columbo villain. Ripped off by the Mentalist (as was the original TV movie).

6. "Identity Crisis" Columbo vs. the Prisoner (directed by McGoohan).

7. "The Conspirators" Interesting friendly relationship with Irish poet/IRA terrorist Clive Revill. Great closing line for the series finale.

Honorable mention

"Γ‰tude in Black"    Neither the murder nor the solution was that interesting, but it's Cassavetes and Falk

"Any Old Port in a Storm" Fine work from Donald Pleasence, with a genuine friendship between cat and mouse.

"Negative Reaction" Good resolution and how often is Dick Van Dyke the bad guy?

"A Stitch in Crime" Good work by Nimoy and Will Geer is always fun.

"The Most Dangerous Match" For Laurence Harvey fans

"Prescription: Murder" A good detective movie but neither Falk nor the creators had a firm handle on the role (which had previously been offered to Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby).

"Ransom for a Dead Man" Lee Grant was wonderful as always in a not-that-memorable story. Great closing scene, though.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Return of the Petruchio liberal

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Petruchio liberals

As Shaw observed, Taming of the Shrew can be difficult for modern sensibilities (Benedick and Beatrice, by comparison, stand up well and are still being repackaged by comedy writers), but recently one particular element of the story has been coming to mind.
In Verona, Petruchio begins the "taming" of his new wife. She is refused food and clothing because nothing – according to Petruchio – is good enough for her; he claims perfectly cooked meat is overcooked, a beautiful dress doesn't fit right, and a stylish hat is not fashionable.

There is a certain type of vocal liberal, almost always white and reasonably affluent, who insists on blocking virtually every viable attempt to advance a progressive agenda because nothing meets his or her standards. They feel enormously proud of themselves for refusing to compromise, despite the fact that the price of their principled stands are invariably paid by the most disadvantaged.

Lawyers, Guns and Money has spent the past year or so dismantling this silliness.

Here's Scott Lemieux:

There should be a fancy Latin term for “arbitrarily chosen deal-breakers selected to reverse-engineer a justification for not voting for a candidate you’ve decided a priori you don’t want to support.” People who actually care about how the next president will affect environmental policy evaluate the candidates on environmental policy. People who want to effectively ignore environmental policy focus solely on fracking.

Her laundry list also serves to illustrate the utter stupidity of “dealbreaker” logic. “If Hillary Clinton favored a $15 minimum wage that won’t pass Congress, I might support her. But since she only favors a $12 minimum wage that won’t pass Congress, I’ll take my chances on Trump winning.” “I used to be a Democrat, but when I found out that Hillary Clinton is insufficiently woke on GMO labeling I can live with several decades of a Supreme Court where the median justice would have to turn to the left to see Antonin Scalia.” OK.

First of all, with the FBI director having decided to try to throw the election to Trump, this is an odd characterization. Clinton remains a favorite and probably an overwhelming favorite, but it would be wrong to say that Trump has no chance, and if Stein got any real traction he certainly would. But, hey, not only will it not be Sarandon who might die because she can’t get medical care or be unable to get an abortion or lose her legal marriage privileges or lose her welfare assistance or have no remedy for discrimination or be denied the vote if Trump wins, she stands to gain considerably from the Trump presidency she’s urging her fans to make more likely.

And it’s worth noting again that what utter chickenshit the qualifier is. At least the “heighten-the-contradicitons” crap she was peddling earlier is an argument — a really terrible argument in the vast majority of circumstances including this one, but an argument. “Vote Stein because it won’t matter anyway” just makes you a free rider patting yourself for what a special snowflake you are. Lamest. form. of. masturbation. ever. If you think that we can’t have an omelet without Trump breaking America’s most vulnerable then own it, and if not spare us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

I shouldn't have to say this but a 49-25 poll is not good news for the 25 (and it gets worse)

First off, the decision of the New York Times to even conduct a presidential poll more than two years before the election is irresponsible and bad for for Democracy. It distracts from important conversations and, since the data are largely worthless,  its main function is to introduce noise into the conventional wisdom. 

 But while the data are not worth wasting any time analyzing, the analysis in the NYT piece by Michael C. Bender is worth talking about, and I don't mean that in a good way. This represents a disturbing throwback to the wishful analytics of the second half of 2015, showing that many data journalists and the publications that employ them have learned nothing in the past seven years.

Back in the early (and not so early) days of the last Republican primary, 538, the Upshot, and pretty much everyone else in the business were competing to see who could come up with the best argument for why being consistently ahead in the polls was actually bad news for Trump. These arguments, as we pointed out at the time, were laughably bad.

Just as being ahead in the polls was not bad for Trump in 2015, the results of this poll (to the extent that they have any meaning) are not bad for Trump in 2022. When elections approach, parties tend to converge on whoever has the clear plurality, and 49% is a big plurality, particularly when a large part of it consists of people who are personally loyal to Trump rather than to the GOP. On top of that, 53% of self-identified Republicans had a "very favorable" opinion of the former president and 27% were "somewhat favorable."

80% favorable is a good number.

Politically, this is a time of tumult, and all predictions at this point are little more than educated guesses, but given the losses and scandals Trump had seen by the time this poll was taken, his support was remarkably solid, which is the opposite of how Bender spun it.

And it gets worse

Here's the headline and the beginning of Bender's piece. [emphasis added.]

Half of G.O.P. Voters Ready to Leave Trump Behind, Poll Finds

Far from consolidating his support, the former president appears weakened in his party, especially with younger and college-educated Republicans. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the most popular alternative.

By focusing on political payback inside his party instead of tending to wounds opened by his alarming attempts to cling to power after his 2020 defeat, Mr. Trump appears to have only deepened fault lines among Republicans during his yearlong revenge tour. A clear majority of primary voters under 35 years old, 64 percent, as well as 65 percent of those with at least a college degree — a leading indicator of political preferences inside the donor class — told pollsters they would vote against Mr. Trump in a presidential primary.

Notice the phrase "GOP voters." That 49% refers to the respondents who said they thought they would vote in the Republican primary. Among that group, those who identified as Republicans went for Trump over DeSantis 56% to 21%.

If we're talking about who is likely to be nominated (which is, as mentioned before, an incredibly stupid and irresponsible question to be asking more than a year before the election), people who say they are going to vote in the primary are a reasonable group to focus on, but they cannot be used interchangeably with Republicans, which is exactly what Bender does.

While we're on the subject, this was a survey of 849 registered voters, so when we limit ourselves to those who said they were going to vote in the Republican primary then start slicing and dicing that, we are building big conclusions on a foundation of very small numbers.

And it gets worse. [Emphasis added]

While about one-fourth of Republicans said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion about Mr. DeSantis, he was well-liked by those who did. Among those who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020, 44 percent said they had a very favorable opinion of Mr. DeSantis — similar to the 46 percent who said the same about Mr. Trump.

Should Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump face off in a primary, the poll suggested that support from Fox News could prove crucial: Mr. Trump held a 62 percent to 26 percent advantage over Mr. DeSantis among Fox News viewers, while the gap between the two Floridians was 16 points closer among Republicans who mainly receive their news from another source.

Here's a fun bit of context. Fox has been maxing out its support of DeSantis for years now.

Steve Contorno writing for the Tampa Bay Times

(from August of 2021):

The details of this staged news event were captured in four months of emails between Fox and DeSantis’ office, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a records request. The correspondences, which totaled 1,250 pages, lay bare how DeSantis has wielded the country’s largest conservative megaphone and show a striking effort by Fox to inflate the Republican’s profile.

From the week of the 2020 election through February [2021], the network asked DeSantis to appear on its airwaves 113 times, or nearly once a day. Sometimes, the requests came in bunches — four, five, even six emails in a matter of hours from producers who punctuated their overtures with flattery. (“The governor spoke wonderfully at CPAC,” one producer wrote in March.)

There are few surprises when DeSantis goes live with Fox. “Exclusive” events like Jan. 22 are carefully crafted with guidance from DeSantis’ team. Topics, talking points and even graphics are shared in advance.

Once, a Fox producer offered to let DeSantis pick the subject matter if he agreed to come on.

If I were DeSantis's campaign manager, this poll would scare the shit out of me. Fox has pushed him to a degree unprecedented for a politician at that stage of his career. He has also gotten tremendous (and appallingly credulous) coverage from the mainstream press, but he just doesn't register. I know political scientists and data journalists don't like to talk about things like personality, let alone charisma, but for whatever reason, DeSantis has not made much of an impression.

It's possible cataclysmic events (of which we're seeing a definite uptick) will hand the Florida governor the nomination or maybe even the presidency, but if this poll had any meaning, it would be bad new for him and good news for Trump.

And it gets worse.

This wasn't just an article based on worthless data sliced ridiculously thin wishfully analyzed to get conclusions completely at odds with the actual numbers; this was an influential and widely cited article based on worthless data sliced ridiculously thin wishfully analyzed to get conclusions completely at odds with the actual numbers. It instantly became a fan favorite among political journalists.

The article was published on July 12th and immediately became part of the conventional wisdom. A little less than a month later, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, and the "Republicans are moving on from Trump" voices suddenly grew quieter, as even the highest ranking party members responded with unhinged accusations and threats of retribution. Though the pundits desperately wanted to believe otherwise, they  had to acknowledge that the GOP still belongs to Donald Trump.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Our condiments don't explode is a pretty good sales slogan

I always assumed concerns over preservative were a post-war thing. Lots of other things feel modern about this too, like the way companies use research findings to build brand and attack their competitors.

From Sam Lin-Sommer:

Fermentation also sped up a more dangerous process: Occasionally, bottles of fermenting ketchup would explode. In 1895, the New York Sun reported, “A bottle of catsup exploded on the dinner table of a family at Michigan City, Indiana, recently, and the force knocked all of the dishes off the table.” A 1903 headline in the Saint Paul Globe read, “BOTTLE OF CATSUP EXPLODES IN HER HANDS: Twelve Year Old Emma Setley Is Badly Cut By Flying Glass.”

To protect customers and their bottom lines, ketchup companies embraced chemical preservatives. Smith cites turn-of-the-century studies in California, Connecticut, and Kentucky that found that the majority of commercial ketchup samples contained some form of antiseptic.

Then, in 1883, a man named Dr. Harvey Wiley became chief of the Division of Chemistry of the United States Department of Agriculture, where he fought preservatives with the religious zeal of a man raised evangelical in rural Indiana. Born in 1844 in a log farmhouse, he spent his childhood tending to his family’s crops, then earned chemistry and medical degrees before shifting the Division of Chemistry’s focus to the food-safety problems that plagued the nation.

For the next two decades, he proposed countless Congressional bills on food safety, each of which was killed. But in 1904 he formed “The Poison Squad,” enlisting a group of healthy, young, male volunteers—mostly his colleagues at the Department of Agriculture—to eat all of their meals at work and ingest increasingly large quantities of preservatives. The results read like the last 10 seconds of a modern-day drug commercial: stomach cramps, headaches, sore throat, dizziness, decline in appetite, and loss of weight. Multiple trials stopped when participants became too sick to continue. Sensationalized in the press, “The Poison Squad” shifted public opinion against preservatives.

At a meeting of the U.S. regional canners associations in 1907, Wiley called for a ban on the use of benzoates, the preservative of choice for the ketchup industry. But executives were not convinced; Wiley couldn’t come up with an alternative to prevent ketchup bottles from souring and, occasionally, exploding.

But then Wiley gained a powerful ally: Henry Heinz, owner of the H.J. Heinz Company. Once a teenage horseradish peddler, by the age of 52 Heinz helmed a condiment firm with offices in London, Antwerp, Sydney, and Bermuda. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s, when he removed preservatives from his ketchup line, that he became the largest tomato-ketchup producer in the world, Smith writes in Pure Ketchup.

Heinz supported Wiley’s food-regulations movement, according to Heinz’s biographer Robert C. Alberts, because of “idealism and noble purpose compounded with self-interest.” Heinz stood at the forefront of food hygiene, so regulations would only help the company command high prices and maintain its reputation.


Thanks in part to high-quality ingredients, Heinz’s new tomato ketchup cost two to three times more than its competitors. But the price increase also paid for the largest advertising campaign the industry had ever seen. In one of several advertisements to grocers, “Heinz stated that grocers should ‘get rid of any chemically preserved foods’ before they were confiscated by the government,” Smith writes. Heinz took out a two-page spread in the Saturday Evening Post that shouted, in block letters: “WARNING! THE U.S. Gov’t Says benzoate of Soda in Foods Produces Injury to Digestion and Health.”

In response to Heinz and Wiley, a cabal of ketchup companies formed a fierce pro-benzoate lobby. In meetings with President Theodore Roosevelt, they argued that an anti-benzoate law would destroy the ketchup industry. American grocery stores stocked few preservative-free, shelf-stable ketchups, so the lobby said that Heinz’s claims were impossible, and they spread rumors about ketchup bottles exploding without preservatives. According to Smith, an industry journal reported that “a priest in Washington, Pennsylvania, ‘was hauled across the room and struck his head against the door’ because of an explosion caused by the lack of preservatives.”


In 1908, a board of scientists created by President Roosevelt ruled that benzoate of soda was harmless if consumed in quantities of less than a half of a gram per day. But this didn’t matter: Wiley and Heinz continued their campaign on public opinion, and Americans soured on preservatives. By 1915, Smith writes, most major ketchup companies stopped using them altogether, and those that didn’t lost many of their customers. It helped, too, that the thick consistency of Heinz’s preservative-free ketchup allowed it to cling tenaciously to the hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries that swept the nation in the 1900s.

Monday, August 22, 2022

We live in an age of mad kings

“Let’s talk about something other than women driving. The NEOM project, the futuristic city that he (the crown prince) plans to invest half a trillion dollars in. What if it goes wrong? It could bankrupt the country.”
 Jamal Khashoggi, June 2017

 We've talked over the years about the damage done by futuristic bullshit, how it dumbs down the conversation, takes oxygen away from real innovation, forms the basis of bubbles and Ponzi schemes. These are not trivial things, but the stakes get much higher when a head of state buys into the bullshit, particularly if he happens to be a murderous sociopath.

From Scott Alexander:

You really want to watch this video. I had read a few other articles on Neom, thought I understood what level of craziness we were talking about here - but no, this is much, much crazier. I didn’t understand the full scale until they gave their proposed dimensions: a structure 500 meters tall, 200 meters wide, and (wait for it) 170 km long.

500 meters is about the height of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the US. 170 km is about the east-west length of the Republic of Ireland. So the Saudis are going to build something . . . as tall as the World Trade Center . . . and . . . as long as . . . Ireland? That’s their plan? Yes, says the video, that is their plan.

Is this just some crazy attempt to build hype, like when Elon Musk says the next Tesla definitely will have full-self-driving ability? I don’t think so. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is obsessed with Neom and very vain; I don’t think he would deliberately promise impossible things knowing that he will be embarrassed later when they don’t work out (and he says it will be done by 2030, so we’ll know the results relatively soon). Also, the government has earmarked $500 billion to $1 trillion for the project - around the GDP of Sweden - which sounds kind of like being serious. Also, they’ve already started on important Saudi construction preliminaries, like murdering the people who previously lived in the area. Also, they’ve already set up on-site camps for the construction workers (source):


…the Bloomberg article offers some tantalizing clues:

Among the misdeeds most likely to anger Al-Nasr, the former employees say, was failing to spend enough money. Three of them described Al-Nasr keeping a diagram showing which department heads were disbursing less than their budgets allowed, which the ex-staff half-seriously referred to as a “wall of shame.”

Maybe if you demand grander and grander plans, and have a reputation for killing anyone who opposes you, then eventually you get a really grand plan and nobody has the guts to tell you that it’s impossible.


Friday, August 19, 2022

This is how you review something not worth reviewing


Dwight Garner's review is getting a lot of praise which I can only put down to the NYT halo effect. There are no real insights here and the wit is mainly Maureen Dowd style pop culture jokes ("With or without you, Bono.").  This is not the second coming of Dorothy Parker.

It does, however, raise the question how do you review something completely without interest or value without, in a sense, dignifying it with your response? This video by Bob Chipman is probably the best approach to the problem I've seen. The most notable part starts at 2:47 but you should take a few minutes and watch the whole thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2022


This is Joseph.

I think that this tweet gets the dynamics of the situation incorrect:

I think that this misses just how much restraint there actually has been. Dr. Oz was born in the United States but did his military service in Turkey to retain citizenship. Note that the attacks on Dr. Oz have been all about his living in New Jersey despite the dual citizenship issue being right there.

Nor is this concern unique to Dr. Oz. Ted Cruz felt it necessary to renounce his Canadian citizenship due to being a US senator. Rishi Sunak, a UK politician running for leader, returned his US Green Card after he joined the cabinet. Yet this has been a very understated vision. Instead the focus has been on the person in question not being resident in the state. 

To address the Ilhan Omar point: if she chose to run as a senator in North Dakota, because there was a promising opening there, without relocating then I am quite sure that people would ask whether that made her a good representative for a state in which she has no personal stake. Or consider Michael Ignatieff -- a former leader of the Canadian liberal party. He left Canada for the UK as a young college graduate and ended up at Harvard University. After 27 years abroad, he returned to the University of Toronto and then became the head of the Liberal Party. He was promptly beaten in the subsequent election, it being a very bad outcome, resigned, and then, two years later, he went back to the US. His lack of time in Canada was a big deal:
Ignatieff was also subject to scathing attack ads by the Conservative Party, slamming him as "Just visiting" Canada for the sake of political advancement
So one should be prepared for these issues when running for political office.

Has it been done well? Yes, look at Hilary Clinton. After her husband finished as president, they were inevitably going to move somewhere. They picked New York, where she decided to run as a senator. She bought a house in New York in 1999 that remains a primary residence to this day. She visited the entire state as a way of showing her interest in it and directly engaged the outsider issue. This was a white person born in Chicago who did her university work in New England. 

So, I think that this is a reasonable and common line of attack. Politicians for the senate are elected, so far as I can tell, on: a) Party loyalty, b) Policy positions, and c) Are they a good fit to represent the people of a state. The questions being asked now are really relevant and Dr. Oz needed to act like Clinton and get ahead of the issues (by a couple of years) by carefully planning his argument for how he makes a good representative. Also, when there is a weak point, you should lean into the other issues but I don't see a lot of policy that he is well suited to go after. His website says things like:
Dr. Oz seeks to rebuild the middle layers of society – institutions like family and community – that have been hollowed out by failed policies, narrow thinking, and toxic culture wars. He knows that no government can substitute for the dignity of work, the security of health care, and the spiritual support of our family
Worthy goals but what about Dr. Oz makes him uniquely suited to helping the middle layers of society? The recent grocery store video looked like an out of touch rich guy. Now maybe this is unfair but these issues continue to enhance the representation piece, without any comment on his background (for the record, he was born in Ohio). 

So I think the effectiveness of this line of attack is due to a lack of careful pre-emption and that this is just a really basic point that candidates need to think carefully about. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Are the Republicans more vulnerable to the internal veto problem than the Democrats?

This is a follow-up to Monday's repost "The GOP needs the crazies more than the crazies need the GOP. " The whole piece is relevant, but in terms of this discussion, here's the money shot.

 Probably since 2008 and certainly since 2012, pretty much every nontrivial faction of the GOP has held veto power which means the question is no longer who has it, but who is willing to use it. The Tea Party was the first to realize this. Now the alt-right has caught on to the dynamic as well.
Andrew Gelman wasn't convinced:

I see your point, but given that the 2 parties have approximately equal support (OK, maybe the D's have 51% and the R's 49%, but it varies from election to election and they're both close to 50%), doesn't your argument apply to the Democrats as well? Indeed, wouldn't it apply to both parties most of the time for the past few decades? I agree there's something new in recent years with the crazies and the Republican party, but I can't see how it could be simple math. 

Let's see if I can shore up my claim.

                                            Sometimes 50 x 100% > 100 x 50%. Sometimes it's not.

Though I'm tempted to push back a little bit more, we can let the equal support stand for the sake of argument, but what exactly do we mean by the term? Are we talking about a hypothetical voter in an election where everyone participates or are we talking about actual voters who show up at the polls? And if so, which polls?

One of the great insights of the conservative movement was that most elected offices were undervalued. For instance, it was in many ways better to control the majority of state legislatures than it was to control the White House. Therefore, a substantial block of voters who will make it to the polls for every single election and reliably pick members of your party are especially valuable, valuable enough to justify losing a few other members to keep the loyal ones happy.

There are a lot of examples but the first that comes to mind is white evangelicals. 

From sociologist Lydia Bean:

Back in October 2014, pollster Robert Jones pointed out that white evangelicals were declining as a percentage of the U.S. population, even in the South – which could have been bad news for Republicans who count on loyal support from white evangelical voters. Starting in November 2014, Jones predicted, evangelical population decline could start tipping close races to Democrats in Bible Belt states like Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. But Election Day on November 4th proved Jones wrong. White evangelicals turned out at high rates and played a major role in handing Republicans decisive victories in Senate races across the country. White evangelicals may be declining as a percentage of the population, but because they flock to the polls when Democratic constituencies often stay home, they still rule the midterms.

The group is shrinking (they now make up just under 15% of the population), but the reliability of their support has made them indispensable to the GOP, and recently they have come to realize the power they wield. They, along with other factions, have started demanding that the party make costly concessions. In its current incarnation, this dynamic started with the Tea Party.

By comparison, we haven't seen anything that like with the Democrats for a long time.  I think you'd have to go back before the Clinton administration to find examples of factions using the "I'll take ball and go home!" tactic to force the party into taking massively unpopular positions (at least not on the level we've seen on the other side). That doesn't mean there haven't attempts but none have gone anywhere.

One possible explanation is that the Democrats tend to rely more on the soft support of large groups (young people, non-white voters). These voters will be more likely to stay home if you take a toxic position and can fill in the hole with with higher turn-out if a fringe group bolts.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Definitely not a cult (except for the child sacrifice part) UPDATED

This just in...


I was just going to throw this in with the rest in a Tuesday Tweets post, but I decided it needed a post of its own.


Rob Stumpf writing for the Drive.

Video of the test was released earlier this week and shows a Tesla Model 3 repeatedly striking a small, stationary dummy directly in front of the car while supposedly operating on Tesla's controversially named Full Self-Driving Beta software. However, clips from the video led some online publications to instead call the test a "smear campaign" under the notion that FSD was not actually engaged, and after further evidence emerged that FSD was engaged during the test, Tesla fans and FSD users began filming their own experiments to see what happened—with mixed results. One noted Tesla devotee even staged a public call for people to volunteer their own children to stand in front of his Tesla and prove it'll stop in time.

So will a self-driving Tesla run over a child? Amid the noise, the answer seems to be a resounding "maybe," which is just as bad as "yes" in this case. Here's where things stand.

To understand why this test is so controversial, it's important to start with the funding behind it.

The test, video of which is embedded above, was paid for and performed by The Dawn Project, an organization campaigning to promote "unhackable" software and systems. The Dawn Project is backed by Dan O'Dowd, who is the CEO, president, and founder of Green Hills Software, a competing company in the AV space. In January, O'Dowd took out a full-page ad in the New York Times campaigning to have Tesla's FSD Beta banned from operating on U.S. roads. O'Dowd also ran in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary to represent California earlier this year, though he only garnered 1.1% of the vote. [O'Dowd's "campaign" was strictly about publicizing the flaws in FSD and never pretended to be about anything else. 1.1% was probably more than he expected. -- MP] Tesla CEO Elon Musk publicly slammed Green Hills following the full-page ad, calling it "a pile of trash."

O'Dowd's test clearly shows the Model 3 slamming into the dummy three times, but its stitched-together footage showing the infotainment screen doesn't match up with how the car would actually look when FSD Beta is engaged. There is no Autopilot icon, the prediction line remains gray, and the speed doesn't match up with the reproducibility steps published by The Dawn Project. Electrek took this as evidence that FSD Beta was not engaged and published an article condemning the test.

Tesla fans began to reference this article as proof that the test was flawed. Even Elon Musk joined in on sharing the article, tweeting it at The Guardian while calling the test a "scam video."

Later, raw footage was published that showed the view from inside the cabin, and it appeared to show a UI on the central screen that would indicate FSD was in fact engaged. Furthermore, Art Haynie—the driver who conducted the test on behalf of The Dawn Project—signed an affidavit claiming that FSD Beta was active at the time of the test.

Regardless, this discrepancy then caused some people to go into full-on defense mode and re-enact tests themselves in an attempt to disprove the findings published by The Dawn Project.

Some people began setting up their own stationary mannequins on residential streets. They attempted to recreate the test results and published videos showing the vehicle avoiding the mannequin without hitting it. Others were able to replicate the findings as their own vehicles slammed into their homemade dummies. And yes, there's that guy on Twitter who asked for volunteers to have their children run in front of his own Tesla to prove it'll stop in time.

We've known for a while that FSD would sometimes try to steer into pedestrians, cyclists, pylons and especially stationary vehicles. There are endless videos on YouTube and Twitter (at least until Musk buys it) of test drivers having to disengage the system to prevent disaster, but the footage of Tesla mowing down statues in the shape of small children very much struck a nerve, particularly after the more honest attempts at debunking started producing more videos in the same vein. 

The most popular defense has been that Tesla's AI is smart enough to tell the difference between a small child and a mannequin without any real chance of error. This argument has been made most visibly by the Whole Mars Catalog. More than "that guy on Twitter," the site has an unofficial but very close relationship with Musk and Twitter, which makes these latest threads all the more bizarre.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Five years ago at the blog: there are things I'd change if I were writing this today, but the title wouldn't be one of them

 I'd definitely address gerrymandering if I were writing this today. I don't have a good answer for why I didn't back then.

Of course, the crazies have grown in number and in lunacy and have grown more dangerous. Now a plurality and possibly a plurality of one of the two major parties holds demonstrable delusions among their core political beliefs.

If the crazies leave, the Republicans cease to have a viable party.


The GOP needs the crazies more than the crazies need the GOP.

The following is not really a voting paradox, but it is kind of in the neighborhood. You have three stockholders for a company. A holds 48% of the shares, B holds 49%, and C holds 3%. Assuming that any decision needs to be approved by people holding a majority, who has the most power? The slightly counterintuitive answer is no one. Each shareholder is equal since an alliance of any two will produce a majority.

Now let's generalize the idea somewhat. Let's say you have N shareholders whom you have brought together to form a majority. Some of the members of your alliance have a large number of shares, some have very few, but even the one with the smallest stake has enough that if he or she drops out, you will be below 50%. In this scenario, every member of the alliance has equal veto power.

I apologize for the really, really basic fun-with-math explanation, but this principle has become increasingly fundamental in 21st-century politics. At the risk of oversimplifying, elections come down to my number of supporters times my turnout percentage versus your number supporters times your turnout percentage. Arguably the fundamental piece of the conservative movement has been to focus on ways to maximize Republican turnout while suppressing democratic turnout. (Yes, I'm leaving a lot out but bear with me.)

There are at least a couple of obvious inherent dangers in this approach. The first is that there is an upper bound for turnout percentage. This is especially worrisome when the number of your supporters is decreasing. Sen. Lindsey Graham was alluding to this when he observed that they weren't making enough new old white men to keep the GOP strategy going.

There is, however, another danger which can potentially be even worse. When you need nearly 100% of your supporters to show up to the polls in order to win, you create a situation where virtually every faction of your base has veto power. One somewhat perverse advantage of the large base/low turnout model is that groups of supporters can be interchangeable. You have lots of situations where you can alienate a small segment but more than make up for it elsewhere. In and of itself, this allows for a great deal of flexibility, but the really important part is the power dynamic. You have to represent a large constituency in order to wield veto power.

Probably since 2008 and certainly since 2012, pretty much every nontrivial faction of the GOP has held veto power which means the question is no longer who has it, but who is willing to use it. The Tea Party was the first to realize this. Now the alt-right has caught on to the dynamic as well.

Even with increasingly aggressive and shameless voter suppression techniques, Republicans tend to get fewer votes. It is true that they have, through smart strategy and tactics, managed to get an extraordinary number of offices out of those votes, but it is a precarious situation. We can debate how many people really believe in shadowy Jewish banker conspiracies or Martian slave labor camps, but it is almost certainly a large enough group to sway some close elections if the crazies collectively decided to go home or, worse yet, opt for a third party.

Ed Kilgore (whom I follow and generally respect) had a badly ill-informed post, Trump Should Emulate Buckley and Tell Racists: ‘I Don’t Want Your Vote.’ That simply won't work for Trump or the GOP. They need the crazies more than the crazies need them.


Friday, August 12, 2022

J.D. Vance: David Brooks doing Hee-Haw cosplay

Before we get to Vance, here's a bit of relevant personal history. My grandparents on my father's side had a family farm in the Rio Grande Valley. On my mother's side, my grandparents started out as sharecroppers until World War II gave my Grandfather the opportunity to find work as a carpenter. 

I was born in Texas, but when I was five, my family moved to a small town in the Ozarks and I stayed in the region until I was in my thirties. I taught high school and college there before making the jump to the corporate world and the East Coast before ending up in California. 

I mention this to give you some idea why the transparent fraud of J.D. Vance pissed me off so much, and why I'm so angry with the national press and particularly (as always) the NYT for their role in the sham.


 2022 has been a rough year for conventional wisdom which means a rough year for the NYT and journalists like Weisman. Not only was his framing inappropriate; it was wildly off base. Vance has taken what was supposed to be a safe seat and made it into a tight (an for the GOP, expensive) race.

But it's not just Vance's competence as a candidate that the press got wrong; it was his sham persona, and no publication bought into the lie more than the New York Times.

Take a look at Jennifer Senior's 2016 review of Hillbilly Elegy.

But his profile is misleading. His people — hillbillies, rednecks, white trash, choose your epithet (or term of affection, depending on your point of view)  [These terms are in no way interchangeable -- MP] — didn’t step off the Mayflower and become part of America’s ascendant class. “Poverty is the family tradition,” he writes. His ancestors and kin were sharecroppers, coal miners, machinists, millworkers — all low-paying, body-wearying occupations that over the years have vanished or offered diminished security.

We start hitting likely embellishments right off the bat. The part of Kentucky Vance's grandparents came from does not and probably did not produce the kinds of cash crops associated with sharecropping. It's possible that Vance's family moved there from more productive land, or it might be he was just adding a flourish to his tale of humble origins. 

Mr. Vance was raised in Middletown, Ohio, a now-decaying steel town filled with Kentucky transplants, which at one point included his Mamaw and Papaw — in newscaster English, that’s grandma and grandpa — who moved there shortly after World War II. Though the couple eventually managed to achieve the material comforts of a middle-class life (house, car), they brought their Appalachian values and habits with them. Some were wonderfully positive, like loyalty and love of country. But others, like a tendency toward violence and verbal abuse, were inimical to family life.

Just to emphasize this point, J.D. Vance was born in the suburbs and never liver in rural America (no, summer vacations don't count). His mother was born in those same suburbs. Middletown is a lower middle-class suburb located between Cincinnati and Dayton. While hardly prosperous, it is better off than some of the surrounding area, For instance, the percent of the population below the poverty line in 2020 (back when Vance was living there) was around 9%, roughly half that of nearby Dayton.

As for violence being inimical to family life, Vance is on the record as saying women should stay with abusive husbands for the sake of the children, so maybe that's more his thing.

Papaw was forever coming home drunk. Mamaw, “a violent nondrunk,” was forever tormenting him, whether by serving him artfully arranged plates of garbage for dinner or dousing him with gasoline. All this guerrilla warfare affected their children. Mr. Vance’s mother was an empress of instability — violent, feckless, prone to hysteria. A long stint in rehab couldn’t shake her addiction to prescription narcotics (she’d later move on to heroin). She spun through more boyfriends than this reader could count and at least five husbands.

The only reason Mr. Vance made it out in one piece is because his grandparents eventually reconciled, becoming his unofficial guardians. (He also spent a terrifically affirming four years in the Marines.) Mamaw was especially encouraging. She was tough as snakeskin, foul-mouthed as a mobster and filled with love. In a town where many children don’t finish high school, she raised a grandson who managed to graduate from Ohio State University and Yale Law School, defying skyscraping odds.


Have to stop for just a minute and  say something about those "skyscraping odds." Besides being purple prose, it was also badly inaccurate.

Ohio State is a good school but it is not (to its credit) particularly exclusive with an acceptance rate of 68%. Furthermore, Vance went to OSU by way of the military, meaning he had a tremendous support network to help him get into college.Vance graduated summa cum laude, so he was clearly hard-working and academically talented, but suburban kid raised by his grandparents graduates high school, joins the Marines, gets into a good university, goes on to get an ivy league law degree is not particularly inspiring. 

I've taught high school in the Delta and in Watts and I can point you to lots of kids who genuinely defied the odds to get where they are. Putting Vance in that group is offensive. 

It's also worth noting that Vance got his opportunities primarily through the GI Bill and the land-grant college system, two landmark progressive programs that Vance's mentor, employer, and political backer Peter Thiel would beat to death with a tire iron given the chance.

“Hillbilly Elegy,” in my mind, divides into two components: the family stories Mr. Vance tells — most of which are no doubt better experienced on the page than they were in real life — and the questions he raises. Chief among them: How much should he hold his hillbilly kin responsible for their own misfortunes? 


Time and again, Mr. Vance preaches a message of tough love and personal responsibility. He has no patience with an old acquaintance who told him he quit his job because he hated waking up early, only to take to Facebook to blame the “Obama economy.” Or with a former co-worker at a tile warehouse who missed work once a week though his girlfriend was pregnant.

Just to recap. Vance is a Thiel disciple with a history of romanticizing and possibly embellishing his stories. Perhaps we should take that into account when reading his unlikely sounding anecdotes.

Squint, and you’ll note the incendiary nature of Mr. Vance’s argument. It’s always treacherous business to blame a group for its own misfortunes. Certainly, an outsider cannot say what Mr. Vance is saying to his kin and kind. But he can — just as President Obama can say to fellow African-Americans, “brothers should pull up their pants,” as he did on MTV.

 Except that Obama is an African-American while Vance is a venture capitalist from the suburbs doing hillbilly cosplay.

None of it mattered, not the sham persona, not the embellished bio, not the association with and dependency on a far-right billionaire so extreme he publicly called women's suffrage a bad idea. Journalists across the country immediately fell in love.

David Brooks got where he is by telling often fabricated anecdotes with a veneer of pop sociology that confirmed his target audience's preconceptions about the class system. Vance took the act to the next level, adding "first-hand" observations and substituting tough love for Brook's "more to be pitied than censured" shtick when discussing the lower classes. Vance also seemed to offer special insight into the rise of Trump, something that had caught the pundit class completely off guard.

 The mainstream press swallowed the obvious fraud because they wanted to believe it.

I feel bad about associating Hee Haw with Vance, so I picked out a few clips to balance things out.



Thursday, August 11, 2022

A few late night thoughts on recent events and the state of the Grand Old Party

1. The counter-intuitive take is usually wrong. That's why we have it. If the intuitive was wrong most of the time, natural selection would have removed intuition from the gene pool long ago. 

In 2015 and early 2016, armies of political pundits and data journalists assured us that counter-intuitively being consistently ahead in the polls was bad news for a candidate. In 2022, lots of those same experts are arguing that being raided by the FBI in a corruption case is good news for a politician (or at least bad news for his opposition. 

Counter-intuitive takes can be right. but they make for poor default positions. 

2. At this point, speculating about the nature of the documents or the details behind the raid is one of the least productive ways you can spend your time. The ratio of words to facts is already way to high.

3. All those articles and op-ed pieces about the GOP moving past Trump conveniently assumed he would let them. A large chunk of the party is personally loyal to Trump and at any time, he can turn them against the Republicans. As he has been for almost seven years, Trump remains the man with the grenade.

4. The more frightened Trump becomes, the more he will demand that Republicans and the conservative establishment leap to his defense. Of course, the things that he is currently afraid of have the potential to make him politically toxic in the near future. 

5. The Republican response has basically broken down into two camps: the first goes on Fox and threatens retaliation; the second burrows deep into the ground. No one in the GOP believes it is safe to attack or even distance yourself from Trump. Chaney is a cautionary tale. 

6. Some parallels to the Dobbs decision. The Republicans worked to make that story about the leak not the contents of the decision. In this case to make it about the raid and not the crimes being investigated. In the first case, the strategy initially worked with the press but the public didn't buy it. We'll see how this one plays out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

"That’s not the way any of this works…"

[Meant to post something about this a month ago but things have been hectic]


Ryssdal was referring to the supremely misguided idea of addressing inflation with stimulus checks.

 From the SF Chronicle. [Emphasis added]

It’s official: Most Californians who filed their taxes in 2020 will get one-time payments totaling about $9.5 billion from the state starting in October to help offset rising inflation.

The Franchise Tax Board has set up a web page with some of the details and a calculator where people can estimate their payment.

The Legislature passed an election-year bill, AB192, authorizing the payments with zero votes against it, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it Thursday as part of his budget package.

The bill called these payments Better for Families Refunds, but the tax board is calling them Middle Class Tax Refunds, even though couples making up to $500,000 in 2020 adjusted gross income and individuals making up to $250,000 are eligible.


We shouldn't have to say this but handing out stimulus checks is the worst thing you can do in a period of high inflation. It did, however, make for a nice photo-op.