Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Trump on Trial - - as always, keep an eye on the secondary and tertiary effects

For around two years now, we've been hammering the point that much of the political impact of Dobbs would be from the secondary and tertiary affects the ruling. Secondary and tertiary is mainly where the unintended consequences lurk, women with miscarriages being denied urgent medical care to prevent serious permanent injury and even death, women who aren't even pregnant losing access to drugs because they might serve as abortifacients, pregnancy care being severely limited because OB-GYNs are leaving states with Draconian anti-abortion laws.

With the election interference trial in New York, something similar appears to be playing out, though probably not to the same degree. The interesting stuff is mainly on the tertiary level. Whether or not Trump is convicted, whether or not the coverage changes voter's Minds about Trump's guilt or innocence, the trial is already having a notable impact on his persona and on his ability to campaign.

Most presidents visibly age in office. Clinton, Obama, even George W. Bush (who was never mistaken for a workaholic) looked far more than 8 years older when they left office. With Trump, it appears to be the trial that does the aging.

Outside of the conservative media bubble, the dominant Trump narrative at the moment is one of a sleepy old man. Whether you get your news from legacy publications, social media, or late night talk and comedy, you have probably heard about the former president repeatedly falling asleep during his own trial, and there's a good chance you've heard the jokes about flatulence as well.

A number of political commentators I trust have been saying for a long time that when everyone finally accepts that this is a Biden versus Trump race, the issue of Biden's age will tend to fade. This new narrative actually threatens to flip it. It is worth noting that while Trump tried to push the insulting nickname Sleepy Joe, it has been the lines about Trump that have recently gone viral.

Probably more important, the trial has effectively paused the Trump campaign just as we are going into the height of the season. Before it started, Donald Trump was averaging 6 days a week of golf and one day a week of campaigning. Almost everyone assumed that would change when the election heated up and they were right. Now, he is spending 3 days a week playing golf and effectively no time campaigning.

The essential context here is that, in terms of campaigning, Donald Trump is, for all intents and purposes, a one-man show. Joe Biden has the money to dominate the advertising market, can send Kamala Harris to Arizona to campaign on the abortion issue, and has numerous field offices in all of the swing states. Donald Trump has none of these things. No running mate, no field offices, no cash to spare for TV spots. If he chooses to forgo rallies and other events in favor of golf, his campaign goes silent.

And it's not just Democrats who are talking about the imbalance.

There is no way to quantify the impact this is going to have or to say whether the current state of affairs will continue, but, as with so many other aspects of this campaign, it's important to remember that from a predictive analytics standpoint, it's not clear what if any old data generalizes and the more confident the prognosticators are, the less you should listen to them.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Six ago at the blog -- Old Tech April (and why we care)

Regular readers of the blog have probably noticed that I am at least mildly obsessed with the technology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We have run countless posts largely consisting of pictures and often articles from Scientific American published from 1880 to 1910. Admittedly part of the appeal is that the indispensable Internet Archive has an excellent collection from that era, all of which are now in the public domain. The pictures are undeniably cool and, frankly, it's nice to have a topic that doesn't require a lot of work or thought on my part.

But there's another more substantive reason. I honestly believe that any conversation about our present day attitudes towards technology, progress, and what we expect from the future basically starts somewhere in or near that 30-year range. The way we think about these things, the narratives, the imagery, the language, the assumptions all largely formed around that time. Add in a few refinements from the post-war era (stretching it a bit to include Hiroshima) and you have the foundation of the vast majority of conversations on the subject you hear today. Listen to a future-focused TED Talk, or an Elon Musk interview, or an effective accelerationist manifesto and you will find almost all of the ideas are over 50 years old and many if not most are over 100.

Knowing the context of these ideas is useful, perhaps even essential for an informed conversation. It can also make you a bit jaded, which might not be a bad thing.

Friday, April 27, 2018

..."and we'll visit the Man in the Moon"

When you see one of those pretty, quaint yet ingenious and functional turn-of-the-century aircraft, chances are it came from this guy.
Alberto Santos-Dumont; 20 July 1873 – 23 July 1932, usually referred to as simply Santos-Dumont) was a Brazilian inventor and aviation pioneer, one of the very few people to have contributed significantly to the development of both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air aircraft.


In 1904, after Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch during flight, Cartier created his first men's wristwatch, thus allowing Santos-Dumont to check his flight performance while keeping both hands on the controls. Cartier still markets a line of Santos-Dumont watches and sunglasses.

From Scientific American, 1905/10/14


And from Wikipedia (circa 1900)

When I started on this post, I immediately thought of a song a friend of mine named Jerron had introduced me to, so I did a quick Google search for the title and guess what popped up...

Friday, April 26, 2024

This has been building for a long time, but...

... things are suddenly starting to pop. I'm not going to try to make sense of all. For now, I'm just going to share some quotes and links and a few quick observations.

For years now, lots of people have been getting fed up with the New York Times. I'm not talking about bomb throwers and ideologues, but smart, sober, thoughtful journalists and commentators, people like Josh Marshall, Norm Ornstein, John Harwood and James Fallows who have earned a tremendous amount of respect for both their bodies of work and their judgment. Peers at other major publications are increasingly showing their annoyance. Even at the NYT itself, reporters are expressing their unhappiness off the record. Though n = 1, a high-ranking reporter for the New York Times told me in a private conversation that he was nervous about having publicly made a mildly critical statement about the paper.

While a number of former employees have spoken out after leaving the paper, as far as I can tell, the last high-profile person at the paper who was willing to seriously engage with and address criticisms was Margaret Sullivan about a decade ago. Losing her was devastating and the paper has never regained its internal compass. It has bee a long slide into self-parody ever since but things came to a head today.

I genuinely feel for that reporter. As mentioned before, the NYT is a top down, narrative driven paper and second tier people basically have to write what they're told.

God, the arrogance of a man whose one real accomplishment was being born with the right name.
    "In Sulzberger’s view, according to two people familiar with his private comments on the subject, only an interview with a paper like the Times can verify that the 81-year-old Biden is still fit to hold the presidency." https://t.co/Gq4PFkDm1R
    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) April 25, 2024
Harwood, whose work and reputation put him on par with anyone at the NYT, is one of the many counterexamples to the paper's complaints about Biden.
Norm Ornstein feels the blame should fall mainly on the editors. Fortunately there's enough blame to go around.


Someone in a position of authority at the New York Times actually thought that this was a good idea, that when credibly accused of serious journalistic lapses and abuses of power in reaction to a candidate not giving them an interview, the best response was to whine about that candidate not giving them an  interview.

Pierce, as usual, puts it best.

A statement which would have carried more weight if not for the previously mentioned "why won't he talk to us?!?" statement.

Seems only appropriate to close with Pitchbot.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Dobbs is forcing reality on the abortion narrative

Exceptional call-a-spade-a-spade reporting by TPM's Kate Riga

On Wednesday, the right-wing justices really preferred the safe world of legal abstraction, where they could pretend that Idaho’s abortion ban — which only has an exception to save the woman’s life — won’t inevitably leave women to gruesome suffering. 

The Court’s conservative wing tried with increasing and atextual persistence to convince listeners that Idaho’s strict ban still allows emergency room doctors to provide abortions to women in varying states of medical distress, and not just when doctors are sure the patient is facing death. They crafted a kind of anti-abortion fantasyland where not only do exceptions work, but that the narrowest ones will amenably stretch to cover all the sympathetic cases. 

They pushed this vision, even while hospital systems in Idaho attest that they are airlifting pregnant women in crisis across state lines, or waiting for them to painfully “deteriorate” before treatment, cowed by the fact that prosecutors could come after them with punishments including mandatory prison time for violating the state ban. 


“Is there any condition you’re aware of where the solicitor general says EMTALA requires abortion be available in an emergency circumstance where Idaho law, as currently stated, does not?” Justice Brett Kavanaugh lobbed to Idaho’s lawyer Joshua Turner, trying to prompt him to say that Idaho’s ban can coexist with federal mandates.

After trying to prod the struggling Turner to repeat the argument back, Kavanaugh got frustrated.  

“You’re the one who said it in your reply brief, that there’s actually no real daylight here in terms of the conditions, so I’m just picking up on what you all said,” he grumbled, rhetorically throwing up his hands. 

Justice Amy Coney Barrett heroically tried to salvage the effort, asking Turner: “What’s the conflict?” 

“Why are you here?” she pressed.


“I’m kind of shocked,” Barrett said after Turner struggled under Sotomayor’s gruesome litany. “You’re hedging,” she accused, insisting that his briefs said that the grim emergencies recounted by the liberals would allow patients to get abortions under Idaho’s law. 


The conservatives’ pique tracks with the grim underbelly of the abortion ban regimes that has been laid entirely bare in the post-Dobbs world. The anti-abortion movement long premised its case on a notion, implicit or explicit, that abortion was the provenance of young, irresponsible, promiscuous women. 

That’s always been a lie, but now it’s a lie that’s obvious to everyone: Abortion restrictions have always hurt everyone who can get pregnant, including women desperate to carry their pregnancies to term — the kind of women anti-abortion activists purport to support. And Wednesday’s case in particular centers on the suffering of those women, women who are fairly far into their pregnancies, whose loss is often a personal tragedy as well as a medical emergency.

“Leave it to the states” is the kind of messaging anti-abortion activists and their judicial helpmates love: It sounds clean, neat, reasonable. But when states enact near-total bans, when the federal government somehow loses its authority to block those bans even when they threaten women with serious illness — as Idaho is pushing for here — the reality for all to see is women bleeding out in emergency rooms, pregnant women loaded onto helicopters, doctors sitting back and watching patients writhe in pain until death is closer.

The dog that caught the car has become the cliche du jour, but the Producers may be more apt. For decades, the Republicans had a perfect arrangement with the anti-abortion segment of the party. They quietly gave them wins on the state level that entailed almost no political costs while dangling big politically costly promises (like fetal personhood) they had no intention of delivering. As long as they had a fairly tight majority on the court with at least one good soldier, they could keep their hand out to the evangelicals without ever having to come through. It's possible that getting that sixth justice will prove to be the costliest mistake either party has made in recent memory.

Not to make light of the tragic consequences of Dobbs, but in strictly political terms, McConnell's machinations may turn out to be the ultimate in political poetic justice, a Machiavellian triumph that turned into a Pyrrhic victory for the entire GOP.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

I remain a YIMBY skeptic -- granny flat edition

[For those who came in late, here's a checklist for (most) of our YIMBY/NIMBY thread.]

One of the main points in our voice-in-the-wilderness housing thread was that, with many of the YIMBY movement's highly touted solutions, the sign was almost certainly right but the promised magnitude was very probably high. 

With that in mind, check out this report from Erin Baldassari reporting for Marketplace.

Since 2018, a number of U.S. cities and states have changed their laws to allow more housing in most single-family neighborhoods. Among them are Minneapolis; Austin, Texas; and Oregon and Washington states. All now allow two or more homes on lots that used to just house one.

In California, a similar law, SB 9, was hailed as a way to spur housing construction in a state that has a dire shortage of it — but it was also decried as a threat to the character of suburban neighborhoods. 

In the roughly two years since the law’s been in effect, it hasn’t really done either of those things. But that may soon change. For homeowners with space to spare, a few new companies have emerged with an offer: cash for your backyard. 


But, despite a major housing shortage across the state, the law hasn’t produced much in the way of new supply. 

“These types of projects are really costly and complicated for a homeowner to take on,” said Ben Bear, CEO of BuildCasa, the company that bought the Tremaines’ lot. “They’re basically asking the homeowner to be a developer.”

Bear wants to make it easier for homeowners to benefit from the law without having to do all the work themselves. “Homeowners can get anywhere from $50 to $400,000 in cash while keeping their existing home and mortgage,” he said. 

Bear said his clients make, on average, just over $100,000. 

In exchange, they get a closer neighbor and smaller backyard, and potentially lose up to 10% of their existing property’s value. That’s according to Bear and another company that does these deals.


That’s what these companies are banking on: that they can entice more homeowners to sell their backyards. And hopefully make a dent in California’s housing crisis.

There's an unspoken caveat we should probably say out loud, people who have a suitable yard and decide to go for the deal and to whom offers are made, get, on average, just over $100,000. That amount suggests to me that the supply of suitable lots and willing sellers isn't that big.

Houses on small lots are ruled out. Houses in less desirable neighborhoods may not bring in enough money to justify the trouble. Owners of more expensive homes may decide that the potential hit in resale value isn't worth it. Many homeowners moved to the city specifically for the backyard. People with small children or large pets tend to make heavy use of the space, and even those who don't do much with it usually like having it back there.

Obviously, the more housing, the better, but I've always been skeptical of the potential of granny flats to be more than a trivial part of the solution.


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Tuesday tweets -- politics, math, fun with creepy chickens

To Russia with Love...

We start out with, I kid you not, a MAGA letter of apology to Moscow.

I originally was 80% to 90% certain that Eagleman was a parody account like Three Year Letterman, but I checked and -- God help us -- this is real.

I've heard that China was lobbying hard for aid to... [checks notes]... Taiwan

If you traveled back in time and told me Michael Steele would become a political voice of reason, I'd say "you have a time machine?!?!?"

In case you were wondering, there really are people on the far right who make Alex Jones look like the sane one.

The Republican Senate candidate from Arizona continues to spin like a weather vane in a tornado on the biggest issue of the campaign.

As we've been saying for about two years now, keep an eye on the secondary and tertiary impact of Dobbs (like preventing women from getting prompt and appropriate treatment for miscarriages).

In case you were wondering if the Republican establishment was planning on backing away from reproductive issues until after the election.

Republicans also continue staking out other notable positions on health care.


Every candidate's supporters will tell themselves the occasional lie, but this is like Democrats in '38 telling themselves what a great mountain climber FDR is.

I try not to rely too much on these crazies in the crowd. It's too easy to cherry pick to make the other side look bad, but you'll notice it's RSBN doing the cherry picking.

Dems in disarray...

Remember when we said the money story went from Biden/Harris all the way down to the state house races?


Lots of Republicans seem to be getting nervous.



 "I got past the guard rails."
"Did you hack the system?"
"No, I just used auto-complete."

Fun with chickens.

All kidding aside, this self-described Alabama redneck is an engineer with one of the smartest and most thoughtful science channels on YouTube.

When just the name of the jpeg is enough.

Monday, April 22, 2024

If a google search of "finger guillotine" and your product's name calls up multiple videos, you may have a PR problem

In terms of brand disasters, if the Edsel and the DeLorean had a child, it would be the Cyber truck. In terms of impact on the company, it would bearing much stronger resemblance to the latter. 

At the end of last week, Tesla was Trading under $150 a share, down over 40% for the year and almost two thirds from its two year high, and yet the company is still trading at an inflated price to earnings ratio far higher than any other major player in the industry (including BYD). This, despite a small and aging product line and a development pipeline that seems to have all but dried up.

The latest drop was probably driven largely by this.

Tesla is recalling all 3,878 Cybertrucks that it has shipped to date, due to a problem where the accelerator pedal can get stuck, putting drivers at risk of a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The recall caps a tumultuous week for Tesla. The company laid off more than 10% of its workforce on Monday, and lost two of its highest-ranking executives. A few days later, Tesla asked shareholders to re-vote on CEO Elon Musk’s massive compensation package that was struck down by a judge earlier this year.

I don't remember who it was but I heard a podcaster comment that it almost looked like Tesla had added a nook specially designed to hold the tip of the loose pedal. Judge for yourself.

This was the latest in a stream of what you might call bad press for the enormous vehicle. (Note: exposing your Cybertruck to a stream will void the warranty).

By all indications, other than a few wild promises (robo-taxis, humanoid robots) that even the cult members are starting to question, Elon Musk bet the company on this monstrosity which has been beaten to market by clearly superior competitors. At this point, the question isn't why Tesla's stock has dropped so much; it's why is it still so high?

Friday, April 19, 2024

Alex, what is Fear/Overcompensation/Laziness/Self-interest/Insularity/Cognitive Dissonance?*

How news organizations filled with smart, dedicated, ridiculously overqualified people can be manipulated into making serious and seemingly stupid mistakes.

Uri Berliner's controversial article about his now former employer, NPR, didn't have much to recommend it directly, but it was indirectly responsible for some excellent (and very much overdue) examination of the venerable institution.


 The Washington Post's Erik Wemple did a superb job addressing Berliner's arguments, but if you're looking for a higher level view of what's wrong with NPR (and with publications such as the NYT), you could hardly do better than Alicia Montgomery's piece in Slate.

As you read it, think about how the following factors (which we all fall prey to) lead people who disliked Trump arguably to aiding and abetting him.

1. Fear -- particularly since the conservative movement, the right has gotten exceptionally good at working the refs.

2. Overcompensation -- a sincere but misguided desire to address bias that ends up creating other biases.

3. Laziness/Self-interest -- the right is good at making life easy for boys and girls on the good journalists list.

4. Insularity -- Elite groups are always prone to this, but add in a cliquish, dysfunctional culture that discouraged honest communication.

 5. Cognitive Dissonance -- never underestimate the ability of individuals and groups to rationalize away uncomfortable thoughts.

 I could use this same list of five with lots of other publications that lost their way around 2015.

Uri’s account of the deliberate effort to undermine Trump up to and after his election is also bewilderingly incomplete, inaccurate, and skewed. For most of 2016, many NPR journalists warned newsroom leadership that we weren’t taking Trump and the possibility of his winning seriously enough. But top editors dismissed the chance of a Trump win repeatedly, declaring that Americans would be revolted by this or that outrageous thing he’d said or done. I remember one editorial meeting where a white newsroom leader said that Trump’s strong poll numbers wouldn’t survive his being exposed as a racist. When a journalist of color asked whether his numbers could be rising because of his racism, the comment was met with silence. In another meeting, I and a couple of other editorial leaders were encouraged to make sure that any coverage of a Trump lie was matched with a story about a lie from Hillary Clinton. Another colleague asked what to do if one candidate just lied more than the other. Another silent response.


I left NPR in the early fall of 2016, but when I came back to work on Morning Edition about a year later, I saw NO trace of the anti-Trump editorial machine that Uri references. On the contrary, people were at pains to find a way to cover Trump’s voters and his administration fairly. We went full-bore on “diner guy in a trucker hat” coverage and adopted the “alt-right” label to describe people who could accurately be called racists. The network had a reflexive need to stay on good terms with people in power, and journalists who had contacts within the administration were encouraged to pursue those bookings. 

*A friend of mine was on Jeopardy recently.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Six years ago at the blog -- Old Tech April

The more you read about what people thought about technological progress one hundred and twenty or thirty years ago, the more you come to question the standard line that technology always exceeds our expectations.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

People in the late 19th century fully expected to be commuting at a hundred miles an hour in the next ten or twenty years...

Remember that. It's going to be important for future discussions.

THE BOYNTON BICYCLE ELECTRIC RAILWAY.  Scientific American 1894/02/17

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Long deferred Tuesday Tweets (trust me, you need to check out the gorilla clip)

This, my friends, is a soundbite.

More data points on the money question...

Based on events and current trends, I guessing that between Biden/Harris, various downticket races, and campaigning for ballot initiatives, Democrats and alligned groups will spend between fifty and one hundred million dollars depicting Republicans as dangerous extremists on abortion, IVF, and birth control.


What women want...

"We'll talk about that during the election." ... I'm certain he can't wait.

Half of Republicans are trying to moonwalk back from this issue. The other half are doubling down.

Because there's no way that could backfire and make abortion even more of an issue in strongly pro-choice Arizona.

While on the subject of issues that are difficult to back away from.

Republicans, masters of message discipline.

Dept. of unintentionally(?) unfortunate acronyms.

Fortunately, GOP candidates in non-swing states can count on Trump's well-known sense of fairness when resources are being allocated.

... and on the Republicans' traditional advantage in party discipline and cohesion.

Remind me to do a post on the importance of vetting your candidates.

In a country with over 160 million registered voters, "tens of millions of men" is not quite the insurmountable obstacle he seems to think it is.

Let's check in with the plutocrats.

While the few remaining grown-ups in the GOP are getting really annoyed.

While this is a "sorcerer's apprentice complains about flooding" moment, I am still surprised to find myself nodding approvingly to a Karl Rove statement.

This remains an age of strange bedfellows.

My longstanding theory has always been that disinformation works best at a distance, where the narrative can't be contradicted by first hand experience.

You know you're a nerd when you work out the proof that the answer has to be 9 before you bother to look at the list.

And yet one of Elon's favorites.

One quick AI thread.


And what you've all been waiting for... miscellanea.

Make sure to catch the chest-thump near the end.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Elon Musk got a call from his portfolio manager and the manager said "I have some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?"

Musk said "Let's get the bad news over with first"

So the manager sends him a link.


Musk is quiet for a long time. Then he takes a deep breath and asks, "What's the good news?"

The manager sends him another link...

 ... and says "You could have invested in DJT."

For those who insist on having jokes explained. From Reuters (who have absolutely owned this story) and from CNBC.