I'm looking for ppl over 18. Preferably towards my end of the age spectrum. Lgbt parents. People into femslash and people who aren't overly into m/m pairing in their fandoms. People who get social anxiety. Poets and writers.
Anyone else. I don't mind.
I'm 35, bi, genderfluid, married with a kid. I live in Wales, I work in a pharmacy and write fiction and poetry too.
I've got five cats and four chickens.
I will always love Stargate (SG-1 and SGA) and Trek (TNG, DS9, VOY) I have passing interests in other and currently love Dragon Age, MCU, Steven Universe, Brooklyn 99. I don't write as much fanfic as I used to still have a lot of ideas peculating up there. I miss being part of fandom though I've always felt like I was on the fringes.
I ship f/f and het mostly, and I read that too but I will write anything. Any pairing. I'm either mental or gifted. Not sure which.
I love old films from the beggining to the 70s. Love MST3K. The new series was great. I love crap films, I hate reboots but I will watch them sometimes.
I have a post here that has more about me if you want to check it out.
First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter.
Now, let me talk a little bit more about the part where I say “rich people don’t miss their taxes,” since I think there are people who may be reasonably skeptical about this. Warning: I’m going to talk about my money. Then I’m going to talk about other people’s money.
To begin: I pay taxes on a quarterly basis, because I’m self-employed and the IRS, alas not entirely unreasonably, questions whether self-employed people will keep track of their money for a full year in order to pay off one big tax bill. So every quarter, I pay taxes. And in each of those quarterly tax payments, I pay in taxes roughly what I grossed (and definitely more than I netted) in income from the entire four-and-half years of my first job out of college, working for a newspaper. Add up my yearly tax bill, and it’s close to what I grossed my first ten years of being a professional writer — and there was never a time in there I didn’t do okay; it was a solid continuous progression up the middle-class income ladder.
So these days, whenever I see how much I pay in taxes annually, my first thought is always something like HOLY CRAP that’s a lot of money. I could totally use that! As someone who grew up poor and has worked his way steadily up the income ladder, it’s a freakin’ huge amount in terms of the raw dollars.
And then I pay my taxes and I discover that anything I would have used that ridiculous wad of tax money for, I still have enough in my net income for. I literally cannot think of a thing I want — or need — that my post-tax income can’t handle. Because as it happens, even with federal, state and local taxes, my tax burden is reasonable. I don’t pay taxes in 1980, when the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 70%; I pay taxes in 2017, where top federal tax bracket maxes out at just under 40%. With state and local taxes, I would have to break a sweat to have a total tax indebtedness of 50% — but I don’t come anywhere near that, because like lots of people in my position I have a very smart accountant who finds me lots of deductions.
So even with literally the full (pre-deduction) tax burden someone in Ohio can pay — we max out all the marginal rates — there is more than enough left over for pretty much anything that we want to do, individually, as a couple or as a family. We save a lot, invest a bunch, and thus take that money out of the short-term income pool we use for bills, household spending and, uh, “consumer activity,” and we’re still just fine, thanks. I suppose it’s possible that we could spend so much of our post-tax income that we’re left with little or nothing and thus would wish we had some of the money that we paid in taxes back into our hands, but speaking from experience, this takes effort, and some willful stupidity about your money. Yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Cage and Johnny Depp. But if you’re not the sort of person who spends $30,000 a month on wine, you’re probably going to be fine.
We do just fine. The other people I know who have similar or better incomes than we have also do just fine. The ones I know with substantially better incomes than we have are also doing just fine. No one at my income level or better actively misses the money they spend on taxes, because they’re still rich after they pay taxes.
Would I like to pay less in taxes? When I look at the raw number of dollars I send to the IRS, sure. When I think about the actual impact on my day-to-day life having that money would make, versus the actual and positive impact on the day-to-day life of millions of other people, when people like me pay our taxes? Nope. I have certain (in more than one sense of that word) opinions about how those taxes I pay in should be used, and whether they are being used effectively, and whether I’m getting value for what I pay, to be sure. Those are different issues, however.
Cratering health care for millions in the United States (and crippling Medicaid in the bargain) in order to give people like me a tax cut means that we are taking something from people who need it, often desperately, to give something to people who don’t need it and may not even notice it in any substantial way. In the House version of this legislation, you have to make more than $200k to get any tax benefit from it; people with incomes between $200k and $500k a year would get a tax break of $510 on average. $510 is not a lot to get in return for asking millions of other Americans to be potentially priced out of health coverage, have lifetime insurance caps reinstituted, be denied for pre-existing conditions, get sicker and die earlier. And the roughly 95% of Americans who don’t make $200,000 a year won’t even get that.
Rich people don’t need any more tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. They will continue to do just fine. And no, their tax burden isn’t onerous. Trust me, I know. I live that tax burden daily. It doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is knowing that people I know and care for will likely die sooner and sicker than they should just so someone like me gets back a few more dollars they won’t notice. Don’t come at me with “but the rich earned those dollars.” Dude, I earned my dollars, too. I earned them in a country that helped me get where I am in part through taxes. I earned them understanding that getting rich came with an obligation to the society I live in and benefit from, an obligation discharged, in part, by paying a perfectly reasonable amount of taxes.
The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.
So... from here to Wavre, the time of sunset is different this time of year but the time of sunrise is the same. And from here to Austin, the time of sunset is the same this time of year but the time of sunrise is different. But on the other solstice, it's the other way around - Austin and NYC share a sunrise time, Wavre and NYC share a sunset time.
There is some way this all makes sense, and I know I've had it explained to me before, but... I guess it didn't make enough sense. (It has something to do with how the sun appears to move in a figure 8?)
Semi-related, Mr. "How did they know it was noon?" reminded me of something. There is an algorithm to convert sundial time to clock time, and vice versa. Apparently, when mechanical clocks first became common, their time was considered inaccurate, and true time was sundial time. This is blindingly obvious the second you hear it explained, but it didn't occur to me until I happened to read it on Wikipedia while looking up common sundial mottoes. (It's later than you think!)
There must have been a middle period in there where the younger generation was chronically annoying the older generation by showing up for things at clock time when the older generation obviously meant real time.
The Deseret Alphabet, a 38-Letter Writing System Developed by Mormons
Pictures: Colored Honey Made by Candy-Eating French Bees (There's something to pointlessly engineer - flowers with multicolored nectar to make multicolored honey! If they think they can sell pink pineapples, colorful honey is sure to be a hit. And it won't be garbage, so it won't be gross.)
Census: US growing older and more racially diverse
The Mussels That Eat Oil
When the Bus Stop Button is Broken
Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics
Man sent home from work for wearing shorts in over 30°C heat comes back in a dress
Memory for stimulus sequences distinguishes humans from other animals
This ‘Indian Dr. Seuss’ Is Very Fond of Nonsense
How the Liberal Arts Help Veterans Thrive
Urban agriculture only provides small environmental benefits in northeastern US
Supreme Court Says You Can't Ban People From The Internet, No Matter What They've Done
People with disabilities at risk in Central African Republic
Abused children find Japan’s shelters provide little comfort
Desperate Venezuelans set sights on Colombia as worry mounts
Hundreds of Inmates Still Confined to Tent City During Phoenix Heat Wave
Former immigration detainees challenge labor practices
How Our Modern Lifestyles Perpetuate Slavery
War-torn Yemen to get cholera vaccines as death toll mounts
U.S. will take weapons from Kurds after Islamic State defeat: Turkey
Senate Republicans released the text of their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act today, and like the House bill before it, the measure would give big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and roll back Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. It also would get rid of the unpopular mandate that most people have insurance or pay a fine.
The draft bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would repeal most taxes in the Affordable Care Act, including two on the wealthiest individuals, a medical device tax, a tax on tanning salons and a tax on the insurance industry. It would also restrict Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood clinics for a year.
The measure also includes a host of details that would affect how millions of Americans get their health insurance, how much they pay for it and what it covers. The measure would cut back subsidies that help defray the cost of insurance for people who don’t get it from their employer or a public program. And it would loosen regulations on the insurance markets, likely meaning lower premiums but for more limited health insurance coverage.
But how much this bill would affect a person largely depends on how she gets her insurance. The 142-page bill is complex, and it will take some time to fully understand what it would mean for the health care landscape. Still, there are some clear initial takeaways for different groups:
The 20 percent of the population with Medicaid:
Much like the House bill, the Senate bill would make dramatic cuts to the health insurance program for people with low incomes. The ACA expanded Medicaid to cover everyone earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line, but the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether to participate in that expansion. The new measure would reduce how much the federal government pays for the program starting in 2021. For at least eight states, that means the expansion would end altogether — these states expanded Medicaid with the caveat that the expansion would end if its federal funding decreased, which would occur under the Senate bill. But the bill would go beyond just phasing out expansion, additionally enacting deep financial cuts to the part of Medicaid that covers children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and older people in nursing homes. That part of the program would be put on a strict budget, with limits to how much the federal government would contribute for care.
That’s very different from how the program works now. The federal government generally reimburses states for a percentage of whatever they spend on program enrollees. Medicaid expenses fluctuate broadly from year to year within states. Sometimes that’s related to outbreaks or the availability of a new, expensive drug, as was the case with costly pharmaceuticals used to treat Hepatitis C.
The cuts, which are even steeper than those in the bill that passed the House in May, essentially shift more of the cost of Medicaid back to states. States, in turn, are likely to react in a variety of ways. Some could look for the money to pay for enrollees, but the expense would be substantial. Others will likely limit eligibility or the care that is covered. Some could eliminate the expansion program altogether.
The bill does fix one problem with the ACA that arose after the Supreme Court ruling on Medicaid expansion. About 2.6 million people in 19 states that didn’t expand Medicaid landed in a health insurance gap: They earned too little to be eligible for subsidies (the ACA assumed everyone with incomes below the federal poverty line would be on Medicaid, so they weren’t eligible for subsidies), but they earned too much to qualify for Medicaid. These people would be eligible for subsidies under the Senate bill. They would have to spend about 2 percent of their already small incomes on premiums, however.
The 7 percent who buy private insurance:
Even though the Medicaid expansion affected more people, this is the group that has been at the center of much of the Obamacare discussion and criticism: It includes the people buying insurance on the marketplaces created by the ACA. The Senate bill would change how subsidies are provided to help some in this group buy insurance, and it would change what kind of coverage insurance companies have to offer.
For starters, insurance companies would have to pay a smaller portion of an enrollee’s costs each year than they currently do. That probably means that the insurance plans eligible for subsidies would have higher co-pays and higher deductibles.
But the bill also would change how the subsidies are calculated. Under the Senate plan, subsidies are tied to income and cost (if you make less and live in a place with expensive coverage, you get a larger subsidy), as is the case with the ACA. But they would apply only to people making up to 350 percent of the federal poverty line, about $42,000 this year; the cutoff under the ACA is 400 percent. And the bill would raise the amount that some people are expected to contribute to their insurance. A 60-year-old earning about $24,120 a year (about 200 percent of the federal poverty line) is currently expected to pay about $1,550 in premiums. Under the Senate bill, that would be $2,412. A 30-year-old earning that amount, however, would be expected to pay slightly less, about $1,400 under the Senate bill, compared with $1,550 under current law.
The cost of insurance would likely decrease under the Senate bill, meaning lower premiums. That’s because insurers would be allowed to sell plans that cover a smaller percentage of annual costs and fewer services. But removing the requirement that people get insurance will likely mean fewer healthy people signing up for plans, which would be worse for premiums.
A common complaint about Obamacare was that it hurt the middle class. It’s true that the middle class didn’t turn out to sign up for insurance under the ACA marketplaces the way lower-income people who received a lot of subsidies did. The Senate GOP bill could exacerbate that problem because it would further restrict who can get subsidies. People who don’t want insurance would no longer be required to either buy it or pay a tax, but it’s not clear that this legislation would make it easier for them to afford insurance if they wanted it.
The 49 percent who get insurance through their employer:
Employers will no longer be required to offer health insurance, which could affect people who are insured through their employers. But the Senate bill also keeps a tax that’s generally loved by economists and unpopular with the public: the “Cadillac tax.” Currently, people with employer-sponsored insurance get a tax break on money they spend on their coverage. The Cadillac tax essentially would cap that tax break, charging a 40 percent tax on insurance premiums paid beyond a cutoff (the tax wouldn’t start until 2020, but it would affect plans costing more than $10,200 in 2018 dollars).
There’s debate among experts over whether employers will adapt their plans to prevent employees from having to pay that tax, likely by raising deductibles, or will find creative ways to reduce health care costs so the plans don’t cost so much.
The 9 percent who are uninsured:
The fate of this group is the question looming over the Senate as it prepares for a report from the Congressional Budget Office, which will assess the bill’s impact. As with the House bill, the number of uninsured will likely be projected to grow under the Senate bill. Some could join the ranks of the uninsured by choice if the individual requirement to buy insurance were to go away. But others would be priced out of the market. A pending report from the CBO, due by early next week, will help clarify who might be uninsured under the Senate bill. But there would likely be an increase among at least three groups: 1. low-income people who currently qualify for Medicaid but would be cut from the program, 2. older adults, because insurers would be allowed to charge them higher premiums under the Senate bill than they can under current law, and 3. young and healthy adults who might have less incentive to buy insurance in the absence of the individual mandate. It would likely also include a swath of middle-income adults who are already uninsured, those who receive little in the way of help to buy insurance but still face relatively high premiums.
The country as a whole:
There would be “winners” and “losers,” as there are with every health care policy. The details matter, and policy wonks will surely begin to shake out their effects on the insurance market over the next few days. But the main outcomes are clear. The wealthiest people would get a large tax cut. The poorest would be the most likely to lose their insurance. The cost of insurance would go down for some, particularly younger adults. For middle-income, older adults who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare, premiums would go up. But, as with the ACA, the bill would do little to curb overall spending on health insurance, which means someone will be stuck with the bill. The Affordable Care Act was a redistribution of wealth that took money from the highest earners and used it to pay for coverage for the poorest. The government also foots a larger share of the bill. Under the GOP Senate bill, many of those costs would revert to individuals with low incomes.
If you’re wondering what will happen with the Senate’s effort to repeal Obamacare, I recommend you follow the words, actions and eventually the votes of four Republican senators over the next days or weeks: Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rand Paul (Kentucky).
Why those four? First, they are part of a broader group of Republican senators who have been complaining about the GOP’s repeal-Obamacare process since the start of the year. Lee and Paul, along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have generally worried that the Obamacare repeal may still leave too much of the law in place. “No Obamacare lite,” Paul wrote in February.
On the other ideological end, Collins and Murkowski — along with Sens. Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Dean Heller (Nevada) and Rob Portman (Ohio) — have at times pushed back against repealing too much of Obamacare, worrying that the Republicans may not be doing enough to protect people on Medicaid or those with pre-existing conditions.
|SENATOR||STATE EXPANDED MEDICAID||TRUMP MARGIN||TRUMP SCORE|
|Shelley Moore Capito||✓||+42||97.6|
So any of these members could provide the three votes that would kill this bill. I chose those four because I would argue they would have the clearest rationales to stop an Obamacare repeal and be able to explain that vote to their Republican constituents. Based on our “Trump Score,” Collins and Murkowski are among the five Senate Republicans who most vote against Trump’s positions on major legislation. Collins has a reputation as a more moderate Republican and is in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. In 2010, Murkowski was defeated by a more conservative Republican in Alaska’s GOP primary, but then ran in the general election and won as a write-in candidate.
Also, both of these senators, unlike many of the others in the group of more moderate Republicans, have specifically complained about a provision in the bill that would effectively bar, for one year, Medicaid recipients from getting coverage at Planned Parenthood clinics. Republicans object to Planned Parenthood because it offers abortion services. (There is an existing ban on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.)
I’m not saying other moderates won’t oppose this legislation. But if a coalition of more moderate members rises up to oppose this bill, it is very likely to include Collins and Murkowski.
On the conservative end, Cruz has been hinting that he wants to use this bill to show fellow Republicans that he can be a team player, working with the party instead of clashing with it as he did for much of 2013 and 2014. It’s hard to see him leading a lonely charge against this legislation.
In contrast, Paul in particular has been scathing. Speaking to reporters this week, before the bill’s official release, he called what he had seen of the Senate’s work on Obamacare repeal “weak-kneed.” Lee has also been a regular critic of the Senate’s bill, even before its release. And the Senate bill, like Obamacare, will use a system of tax credits that vary based on income, which makes it easier for poorer people to buy insurance. The House bill gave tax credits to people to purchase insurance based on age. That change could embolden both Paul and Lee further.
What else might affect these senators’ decisions and potentially those of their colleagues? First, how will outside groups react? Generally, groups representing patients, such as AARP, and medical groups, like the American College of Physicians, have been wary of this legislation. Will they try to aggressively mobilize their members against it? Perhaps more importantly, how will major conservative groups view the bill? One important factor in the initial failure of the House version of Obamacare repeal was that conservative groups felt it did not repeal enough of Obamacare.
Indeed, Philip Rocco, a political scientist at the Marquette University who co-wrote a book called “Obamacare Wars” that details the fights over the law in states from essentially the moment it passed, said it was particularly important to watch the moves of conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action in the context of Lee and Paul. He argued that if key parts of the conservative movement said this bill is enough of an Obamacare repeal, it will be hard for Lee and Paul to oppose it.
“I don’t think it’s right to think of them as lone wolves,” Rocco said.
Second, how will Republican House members, particularly the hard-to-please Freedom Caucus, view this legislation? Freedom Caucus members have been in contact with the Senate about the legislation, Alyssa Farah, the group’s spokesperson, told me. That said, it’s not clear if they have signed off on the final product. Republican senators will be leery of backing a bill that the Freedom Caucus does not want, since that means this legislation may not be able to pass the House.
Third, don’t forget the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is expected to release its “score” of the bill next week. That will be a heavily covered news event. But it is unlikely to be very surprising, since this legislation is not radically different from the two House different bills that the House had evaluated by the CBO. Last month, Collins blasted the House version of this legislation, specifically citing numbers from the CBO report on it.
I have not included President Trump’s reaction as something to watch, because I’m not convinced he will be a major factor. His closed-door comments about the bill the House passed being “mean” were probably not helpful to Republicans, but it’s hard to see him publicly blasting the Senate bill or ultimately vetoing whatever legislation comes through Congress. I will acknowledge that the president’s behavior is unpredictable and that a strong denunciation of a Republican health care bill by a Republican president might shift things.
We don’t know where this process is headed. Senate Republicans say there could be a vote next week, but it could be put off if senators demand changes. A broad coalition of members could come to McConnell and say that they can’t back this bill, as what happened to the initial version. The House is still a wild card.
But this legislation will only be truly dead if it’s clear that at least three Senate Republicans are prepared to vote against it — or they actually do. And that gives a little power to this group of four senators.
CURTIS C. CHEN:
It is very likely that I set Kangaroo Too on the moon because of The Fifth Element.
In that movie, there’s a throwaway line of dialogue when Korben Dallas’ mother telephones him and complains that he never visits her on the moon. I had totally forgotten this until I went to see a 20th anniversary screening this year (yes, we really are that old), but it must have been stewing in my subconscious all that time.
Because why wouldn’t you put a retirement community on the moon? Gravity there is only one-sixth of Earth’s, so elders with mobility issues will find it easier to get around. Every habitat needs to be pressurized and climate-controlled anyway, so it can be as tropical as residents want. The only downside is that your family will have even more excuses for not visiting. Q.E.D.
Using the moon as a setting also let me put characters in a wider variety of awkward situations. Most of the first novel took place in a single location—a cruise spaceship traveling from Earth to Mars—but each hemisphere of the moon is roughly as wide across as the entire continental United States. Add a futuristic high-speed subway connecting population centers, and a reckless secret agent can get into plenty of trouble all over the place.
One lunar feature I latched onto early in my research was a “crater of eternal darkness.” The moon is tidally locked to the Earth (i.e., one hemisphere always faces toward us), and there are places along the day/night terminator that either always or never see sunlight. If you want continuous free electricity to power a transportation network, put solar panels on mountaintops near the north pole; if you want to keep something hidden, bury it under the deepest crater at the south pole.
And, of course, I had to include visits to at least a couple of Apollo landing sites, which are preserved as historical museums in this future. I’m sure the same thing will happen in reality. As soon as people can affordably travel to other planets, there’s going to be a booming space tourism industry. Everybody wants to stand on the Lunar surface, see the Earth rise over the horizon, and cover that blue marble with their thumb.
But back to aging on the moon. NASA recently conducted a Twins Study in which they followed identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly for one year, while Scott lived aboard the International Space Station and Mark remained on Earth. The final report isn’t out yet, but researchers are already seeing unexpected results (e.g., telomere lengthening) which raise many interesting questions. It seems possible that humans could naturally live longer in low gravity environments.
Of course, the most important scientific question raised in Kangaroo Too is: could we actually keep chickens on the moon, and therefore have fresh eggs? The only way to know for sure is to establish a Lunar base and start breeding livestock up there. Make me a liar, Fish!
Hi: I'm back. And a regular commenter asked me an interesting question anent the state of current US/UK politics: how much money can you make by crying fire in a crowded theatre?
Note that "crowded theatre" and "crying fire" are not to be taken literally; rather, it's a question about how much money you can make by manipulating social media to drive public opinion.
I'm going to start with the money markets: hedge funds bet big on Brexit, because they predicted that in event of a "leave" vote going through, shares in the FTSE 100 would underperform by 20%: so they shorted the entire market. However, it's a bet that, by and large, they lost money on. Rather than the FTSE 100 dropping 20%, Sterling dropped 20% and the shares continued to trade at much the same level (in the now-debased currency). Oops. Notably, billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who donated £3.2M to the Leave campaign, managed to lose on the order of £400M (warning: DM over-simplification alert—the market didn't tank, his portfolio lost value). Still, as bets go, it's a good if obvious example of crying fire in a crowded theatre for pleasure and profit: put £3.2M into sending 15 million letters to voters urging them to vote one way, aiming to profit to the tune of hundreds of millions.
Another fairly obvious example is the investment by the current Russian leadership in cyberwar ops against the perceived-as-more-competent candidate in the last US presidential election. Regardless of her other characteristics, Clinton was experienced in foreign affairs and no friend of Russia's. Russia today is primarily an oil and gas exporter, with the world's second largest (official) reserves after Saudi Arabia, and the current leadership can't help but be aware that they're vulnerable to some of the same factors that brought down the USSR —notably vulnerability to externally induced commodity price fluctuations. Clinton could have continued the transition to renewables that the Obama administration began, and applied the decreased US dependency on fossil fuel as an economic weapon against Russia (by depressing global oil prices): she had to be defeated at all costs. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is full of fossil fuel connections. Oil, gas, and coal companies contributed heavily to Trump's campaign, to his inauguration, and in federal lobbying since then, with predictable results.
Anyway, those are the two big recent examples; investors pushing Brexit propaganda not because they think leaving the EU would be good for the UK but in the pursuit of short-term profit: and big fossil fuel interests (national-level actors like Russia/Gazprom and corporate actors like Koch Industries) seeking a fossil-fuel-friendly policy environment by buying targeted political campaigning and deploying cyberwar techniques against politicians perceived as being less receptive to their desire for profit.
Aside from these two examples, and also leaving aside the Grenfell Tower disaster (latest: inflammable cladding may have been used on up to 600 other high-rise apartment buildings in the UK; replacing that is going to cost billions), what other examples can you think of where you can profit by crying fire in a crowded theatre?
I’m getting a smidgen better at taking pictures of these little glowy dudes. The secret, which is not a secret at all, is long exposures on steady platforms, and low ISO settings so you don’t blow out the picture. This one, which is actually a detail of a larger photo, is a 20 second exposure at ISO 250 at late dusk (close to 10 pm here because it was literally the night before the solstice), so the sky was darker than it is here. I used the birdbath in the front yard as a platform.
I was focused on the fireflies but as you can see a little here, and rather better in the photo linked above, I caught some stars in there too, as well as twenty seconds of their movement across the sky, which was apparently just long enough to catch some streaking. I think this is pretty cool.
I’ll probably post one or two more firefly photos before the season is done. I think they’re pretty.
Also, be sure to do today's Google doodle. I could do that all day.
Cow herd behavior is fodder for complex systems analysis
Making Cents of Currency’s Ancient Rise
The Lion-Shaped Maps That United a Nation
African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test
Summer solstice: the perfect day to bask in a dazzling scientific feat (First comment: "How did they know it was noon?" I can't even...)
Discovery could lead to sustainable ethanol made from carbon dioxide
She May Be The Most Unstoppable Scientist In The World
Dinosaurs got an evolutionary assist from huge volcanic eruptions
The Great Uprising: How a Powder Revolutionized Baking
Why the 'peculiar' stands out in our memory
Incredibly pictures of NYC when it was covered in farmland
'Human Project' study will ask 10,000 to share life's data
The App That Does Nothing
DNA reveals how cats achieved world domination
The ATU Fable Index: Like the Dewey Decimal System, But With More Ogres (I don't really care what happens in "Bunnies Beware of the King", but I'm more than a little perturbed that I can't even read the entire synopsis for 910J: Never plant a thorn tree.)
Chimps' cultural traditions extend beyond family
A Good News Story About Diarrhea — With One Surprising Exception
The Forgotten Trains of India (Photojournalism)
South Africa's District Six Cookbook Helps Preserve A Lost Community
Forever green: Cemeteries make more room for natural burials
Debate heats up over teaching climate change in US schools
Bosnian students keep up their protest against segregated schools
Afghan de-miners cling to hard but much-needed jobs
What Is the Point of Sean Spicer's Briefings? (I've got a question for Sean Spicer. "Do you know that you make yourself a laughingstock every time you hold one of these briefings? How much are you getting paid to shred your dignity to bits? Are you sure it's really worth it?" Damn, that's such a good question, rather than waiting for a journalist to ask it, I should send him a postcard. Or I could go traditional - "How do you sleep at night?" Postcards are cheap, I can send both questions.)
Iraqi forces advance on Mosul mosque where IS declared caliphate
What Is Putin Up To in Syria?
US interrogates detainees in Yemen prisons rife with torture
And well, yes, that's because it did. Most of my memories of childhood summers take place in Belgium. The sun didn't set in Wavre today until 10pm. It set here at 8:30.
Logically, I know that I spent many more summers in NYC than in Belgium (and I also spent a few in Austin, with my other grandmother), but... somehow, in my memories, except for the 4th and the occasional trip to the beach, it's always Belgium. And in Belgium, the sun stays up forever in the summer. (It sets correspondingly earlier in the winter, but we never were there in the winter.)
The trick is not to draw well, but to draw like everybody else. A quick sketch of a rectangle with a fin on it is better than a beautiful, photorealistic picture of a shark - and apparently, the entire world, when confronted with "animal migration", decides to make a few m-birds and call it a day. (The algorithm is entirely too fond of throwing out "animal migration" as a challenge.)
Earlier today I talked about one reason for increased polarization on the Democratic side. Now I want to match it with one reason the Republicans have even more of a problem.
Ask anyone what Republicans want, and they’ll say things like “smaller government”, “fewer regulations”, and “less welfare state”.
Meanwhile, here are some graphs showing how they’re doing (disclaimer: graphs like this are very dangerous, and I can only plead that I’ve seen numbers like these from enough sources that I think they have some contact with reality):
Apparently not so good.
This is true even though this is a historic apex of Republican power. They control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, 66% of state governorships, 68% of relevant state legislatures, and are kind of tied-ish for control of the Supreme Court. They’ve been two of the last four Presidents, and controlled Congress more often than not during that period.
This is really strange. Whatever they wanted, they should have been able to get. Who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Don’t make me laugh.
But in fact, we mostly kept getting bigger government, more regulations, and a bigger welfare state.
My guess is this is a larger-scale version of what I talked about in Considerations On Cost Disease. Various secular trends make everything more expensive and worse, which means government has to spend more money and regulation to get the same level of services, which means government gets bigger. There’s no easy way to stop this except to understand cost disease (which people don’t) or to drastically cut the level of services and admit it will keep getting worse (which politicians are scared of doing on their watch). This is not really the Republicans’ fault.
But Republican voters don’t know that.
All they see is candidates running for office on a platform of small government and less regulation. Then they win, they’ve got a huge majority and a great mandate, and at the end of their term government is as big as always and there are more regulations than ever.
And if maybe you’re not that sophisticated about these kinds of things, you think – these guys betrayed me. They’re Republicans in name only. They were corrupted by Washington. The liberal media finally got them. They’re weak and they caved as soon as the Democrats called them mean names. What we need are some real Republican candidates, ones who are actually willing to stand up to the establishment.
Then you elect the Real Republican Candidates, the Tea Party or whoever, and the same thing happens. Because we’re talking about secular trends and not about anything that Congress can easily affect.
So then the voters think they’re frauds too, and they get defeated in the primaries by other people who are even more Tea Party than they are, people who can say oh yeah, those Tea Party people were fake, but we have the necessary commitment to go to Washington and not cave in immediately.
This will never work. But the superficial logic of “Republicans are powerful enough to get whatever they want, we don’t have small government, therefore the current crop of so-called Republicans didn’t really want small government enough” is convincing. You end up with a signaling spiral where everyone’s in an arms race to show that they’re not actually the craven compromisers that people will inevitably assume them to be. That means hyperpartisanship and refusal to compromise on anything.
I’m talking about this as a Republican problem, but I think it’s a general issue whenever people have unrealistic expectations, ie always. The more our hopes diverge from the possible, the more we’ll reject all existing governments in favor of stronger and stronger forms of extremism.
Senate Republicans are expected to release the text of their health care bill Thursday morning, after weeks of negotiations that have occurred behind closed doors. We convened a group of FiveThirtyEighters to talk about the process so far — and what might be coming down the pike. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
blythe (Blythe Terrell, senior editor): Let’s set the stage. The American Health Care Act passed the House on May 4, and now the Senate GOP is working on its version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). But the process has been … unusual: All of the discussion has happened in private. How weird is this? What has the response been?
anna (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, lead writer, health): I don’t claim to be a Senate historian, but it’s been interesting to read about this from people who are academics, or have covered the Senate as journalists for a long time. And they have written a lot!
The main thrust seems to be that this is very secretive, given that it’s such a big, important bill, but that the secrecy is also the extension of an existing reduction in quantity and quality of Senate hearings.
- Most closed-door bargaining in the Senate is bipartisan.
- When leaders close the doors, it’s often because the legislative process has ground to a halt. For example, negotiations over federal discretionary spending often take place in secret.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s tactics are particularly unusual because Republicans are trying to legislate on one of the nation’s most complicated policy issues.
- Bipartisan deals that emerge from closed-door groups are usually then defended in public in committee and on the floor, and the committee process is not happening here.
The reasons Binder gives for why Republicans are doing things this way seem right to me too:
- Avoiding President Trump getting involved.
- The bill will be unpopular.
- They only need GOP votes.
anna: Yeah, it’s particularly striking that closed-door sessions are usually used for bipartisan work, so that the public doesn’t see the sausage getting made, each party making concessions to get their big asks. That’s not the case here; this is a select group of Republicans crafting this bill.
blythe: Perry, do we have any idea if part of the GOP strategy is to keep Trump away from the bill? Is he seen as a liability here?
perry: This has not been said to me explicitly, no. I just think that Trump tends to tweet and comment on topics that are in the news a lot. And by having a closed process, Senate Republicans are kind of keeping this from becoming the only topic in Washington.
anna: Worth noting that a lot of conservatives are irritated that the GOP is using the arcane budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes (50 senators and the VP). It really limits what the Senate can do, because they can’t fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, they can just make changes to it that affect the budget. It’s gonna make for some messy policy.
blythe: Right, they don’t have to bring any Democrats on board. But we’ll all see the text on Thursday (reportedly). Is there a long-term political risk to doing it secretly?
anna: I’ll let Perry get into political costs, but I certainly think the secrecy could have a policy cost, which is, of course, related. There’s a much higher risk of unintended consequences, loopholes, people falling through the cracks, in a bill that’s not subject to scrutiny from various constituencies.
perry: Right. I think it’s important to emphasize that this health care bill affects a lot of people differently. If you’re defunding Planned Parenthood, it might be worth hearing from that group. Or other constituencies who maybe the people writing the bill have not considered.
anna: Agree. And I should also clarify, I’m not really even talking about this politically, like whether it includes ideas people like or don’t like (though that’s also true!). More that you can end up with messy language that’s hard to implement, or legislative language that’s open to different interpretations and so ends up in costly legal battles.
perry: In terms of political costs, I assume the politics are about the bill itself — not the process. By 2018, the bill will be having real-world impacts. If this process were happening in October 2018, I might feel differently.
Also, if the closed-door process was going to kill the GOP politically, they would not be doing this.
blythe: Gotcha. So by then, the secrecy issue will likely have faded.
anna: Perry, as you’ve written, the process here seems to indicate that the GOP thinks there’s a bigger cost to not passing a bill than to passing one that people don’t like?
perry: I think questions of motives are always difficult. That said, they seem to understand that their vision of health care is not going to be easy to defend publicly, but they want to pass this bill anyway. I think it goes to others’ motives: this being a real goal of the party, party activists and donors really caring about repeal, etc.
blythe: OK, so it initially sounded like senators were going to write a new bill. But doesn’t a lot of what’s trickling out mirror what the House Republicans included in their bill?
perry: I’ll be honest: I never believed that.
anna: Agree with Perry.
perry: Republicans have been talking about repeal since 2010. And the basic outlines were always about rolling back Medicaid expansion and changing the tax credit systems.
anna: And they were pretty clear early on that they wanted to not only roll back Medicaid expansion, but also restructure the rest of the Medicaid program.
(And let’s not forget cutting taxes!)
perry: I also think a broad-based new bill would be hard because they have to get it through the House. So writing a whole new bill, then having the House get into that, we could be into October. Or next year even.
blythe: What do we expect to be different in the Senate bill?
perry: Here’s a broad summary from Politico:
The Senate is on the verge of unveiling a sweeping Obamacare repeal bill that would end Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement, roll back health insurance subsidies and strike multiple taxes from the Affordable Care Act.
The bill is expected to repeal the biggest parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate and the employer mandate. It is also expected to defund Planned Parenthood for one year by kicking the women’s health organization out of the Medicaid program. That provision could be dropped if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs votes from key moderates who oppose it.
anna: Right, it’s clear Medicaid is going to be rolled way back. But the details are really important to senators here because they have a massive effect on state budgets.
perry: The House process had a big fight over pre-existing conditions. I think we are going to see one over Medicaid in the Senate.
blythe: Where are the battle lines in those fights?
anna: For Medicaid, how fast to roll back the program and how much to limit funding.
For the subsidies for people buying insurance on the marketplaces — folks that don’t get insurance from an employer or a public program — there’s the push and shove of how to calculate those subsidies.
Rand Paul really doesn’t want them tied to income or the cost of insurance, which is what the ACA does, because it’s maintaining an entitlement. But moderate Republicans like Susan Collins in Maine and Lisa Murkowski in Alaska do. Health care is really expensive in their states.
perry: And in a political way, there’s a group of Medicaid expansion state senators (Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Murkowski) and then the “I want a big repeal” senators (Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah).
One big factor I think we should mention here: In the House, a lot of members basically said, “We had a vote over here, but the Senate will fix whatever we did wrong.” This Senate bill is the real deal. This is the vehicle. So I think you are going to see a huge mobilization on the left to make calls to Senate offices. Dramatic speeches from senators.
The CBO score release will be a big event too.
blythe: Yeah, and that could come next week. The Senate wants to do this all before the July 4 recess, right? Is that still the goal?
anna: Right, that’s expected early next week. The last CBO score was pretty devastating to public perceptions of the House bill.
perry: So I think people should be watching how senators react, how key groups (AARP, Heritage Action) react, how Trump reacts, what the CBO says and how the public reacts.
But I would not plan your life around this happening before the July 4 recess.
perry: This just seems like a lot to do in a week. I assume the CBO score will force some members to demand changes.
blythe: Yeah, that will give Democrats and Republicans some numbers to wave around.
perry: I think Democrats only!
perry: But I think the GOP can wave around something else: the number of insurers pulling out of markets. That is their big argument.
Last thing: Anyone who tells you they know what will happen, maybe other than Mitch McConnell, is lying.
anna: Ha. I mean, among other things, even once this bill comes out, there will be changes. Even if the usual hearings aren’t happening, etc., there will be changes.
perry: This is a very complicated issue, and I think some members actually don’t know what to do. There are something like seven GOP senators who would like this bill to go away. But voting against it is different.
blythe: Closing question: What would be the biggest surprise?
anna: It would surprise me greatly if Medicaid isn’t cut waaaaay back, even though those cuts are posing a problem.
perry: It would surprise me if there is a vote before July 4. Nothing happens on time in Washington. It would also surprise me if there is an actual vote and this fails (as opposed to it passing or it somehow never coming to a vote). I’d also be a bit surprised if Trump did not say something weird/unhelpful about the bill.
More broadly, I have expected this to pass since the House passed their version. I just think there is a deep desire among the power players in the party to repeal Obamacare. So if this legislation does not eventually pass, I will be surprised.
But remember, no one knows anything. Donald. Trump. Is. President.
blythe: On that note: It looks like we’re about to actually get some data (read: legislation). So let’s see where that takes us.
[Content warning: discussion of racism. Comments are turned off due to bad experience with the comments on this kind of material.]
A set of questions, hopefully confusing:
Alice is a white stay-at-home mother who is moving to a new neighborhood. One of the neighborhoods in her city is mostly Middle Eastern immigrants; Alice has trouble understanding their accents, and when they socialize they talk about things like which kinds of hijab are in fashion right now. The other neighborhood is mostly white, and a lot of them are New Reformed Eastern Evangelical Episcopalian like Alice, and everyone on the block is obsessed with putting up really twee overdone Christmas decorations just like she is. She decides to move to the white neighborhood, which she thinks is a better cultural fit. Is Alice racist?
Bob is the mayor of Exampleburg, whose bus system has been losing a lot of money lately and will have to scale back its routes. He decides that the bus system should cut its least-used route. This turns out to be a bus route in a mostly-black neighborhood, which has only one-tenth the ridership of the other routes but costs just as much. Other bus routes, most of which go through equally poor mostly-white neighborhoods, are not affected. Is Bob racist?
Carol is a gay libertarian who is a two-issue voter: free markets and gay rights. She notices that immigrants from certain countries seem to be more socialist and more anti-gay than the average American native. She worries that they will become citizens and vote for socialist anti-gay policies. In order to prevent this, she supports a ban on immigration from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Is Carol racist?
Dan is a progressive member of the ACLU and NAACP who has voted straight Democrat the last five elections. He is studying psychology, and encounters The Bell Curve and its theory that some of the difference in cognitive skills between races is genetic. After looking up various arguments, counterarguments, and the position of experts in the field, he decides that this is probably true. He avoids talking about this because he expects other people would misinterpret it and use it as a justification for racism; he thinks this would be completely unjustified since a difference of a few IQ points has no effect on anyone’s basic humanity. He remains active in the ACLU, the NAACP, and various anti-racist efforts in his community. Is Dan racist?
Eric is a restauranteur who is motivated entirely by profit. He moves to a very racist majority-white area where white people refuse to dine with black people. Since he wants to attract as many customers as possible, he sets up a NO BLACKS ALLOWED sign in front of his restaurant. Is Eric racist?
Fiona is an honest-to-goodness white separatist. She believes that racial groups are the natural unit of community, and that they would all be happiest set apart from each other. She doesn’t believe that any race is better than any other, just that they would all be happier if they were separate and able to do their own thing. She supports a partition plan that gives whites the US Midwest, Latinos the Southwest, and blacks the Southeast, leaving the Northeast and Northwest as multiracial enclaves for people who like that kind of thing. She would not use genocide to eliminate other races in these areas, but hopes that once the partition is set up races would migrate of their own accord. She works together with black separatist groups, believing that they share a common vision, and she hopes their countries will remain allies once they are separate. Is Fiona racist?
As usual, the answer is that “racism” is a confusing word that serves as a mishmash of unlike concepts. Here are some of the definitions people use for racism:
1. Definition By Motives: An irrational feeling of hatred toward some race that causes someone to want to hurt or discriminate against them.
2. Definition By Belief: A belief that some race has negative qualities or is inferior, especially if this is innate/genetic.
3. Definition By Consequences: Anything whose consequence is harm to minorities or promotion of white supremacy, regardless of whether or not this is intentional.
Definition By Consequences Doesn’t Match Real-World Usage
I know that Definition By Consequences is the really sophisticated one, the ones that scholars in the area are most likely to unite around. But I also think it’s uniquely bad at capturing the way anyone uses the word “racism” in real life. Let me give four examples.
First, by this definition, racism can never cause anything. People like to ask questions like “Did racism contribute to electing Donald Trump?” Under this definition, the question makes no sense. It’s barely even grammatical. “Did things whose consequence is harm minorities whether or not such harm is intentional contribute to the election of Donald Trump?” Huh? If racism is just a description of what consequences something has, then it can’t be used as an causal explanation.
Second, by this definition, many racist things would be good. Suppose some tyrant wants to kill the ten million richest white people, then redistribute their things to black people. This would certainly challenge white supremacy and help minorities. So by this definition, resisting this tyrant would be racist. But obviously this tyrant is evil and resisting him is the right thing to do. So under this definition, good policies which deserve our support can nevertheless be racist. “This policy is racist” can no longer be a strong argument against a policy, even when it’s true.
Third, by this definition, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say a particular person is racist. Racism is a property of actions, not of humans. While there are no doubt some broad patterns in people, the question “Is Bob racist?” sounds very odd in this framework, sort of like “Does Bob cause poverty?” No doubt Bob has done a few things which either help or hurt economic equality in some small way. And it’s possible that Bob is one of the rare people who organizes his life around crusading against poverty, or around crusading against attempts to end poverty. But overall the question will get you looked at funny. Meanwhile, questions like “Is Barack Obama racist?” should lead to a discussion of Obama’s policies and which races were helped or hurt by them; issues like Obama’s own race and his personal feelings shouldn’t come up at all.
Fourth, by this definition, it becomes impossible to assess the racism of an action without knowing all its consequences. Suppose the KKK holds a march through some black neighborhood to terrorize the residents. But in fact the counterprotesters outnumber the marchers ten to one, and people are actually reassured that the community supports them. The march is well-covered on various news organizations, and outrages people around the nation, who donate a lot of money to anti-racist organizations and push for stronger laws against the KKK. Plausibly, the net consequences of the march were (unintentionally) very good for black people and damaging to white supremacy. Therefore, by the Sophisticated Definition, the KKK marching the neighborhood to terrorize black residents was not racist. In fact, for the KKK not to march in this situation would be racist!
So Definition By Consequences implies that racism can never be pointed to as a cause of anything, that racist policies can often be good, that nobody “is a racist” or “isn’t a racist”, and that sometimes the KKK trying to terrorize black people is less racist than them not trying to do this. Not only have I never heard anyone try to grapple with these implications, I see no sign anyone has ever thought of them. And now that I’ve brought them up, I don’t think anyone will accept them as true, or even worry about the discrepancy.
I think this is probably because it’s a motte-and-bailey, more something that gets trotted out to win arguments than anything people actually use in real life.
Definition By Belief Is A Mess
Is it racist to believe that Mexicans are poorer than white people? After all, being poor is generally considered bad, so you’re attributing a bad quality to a minority group. What if you add “Mexicans are only poor because of being oppressed and discriminated against?”
Is it racist to believe that Mexicans are more criminal than white people? What if you add “Mexicans are only criminal because their culture was shaped by the experience of oppressive Spanish colonization, which left deep scars on their national psyche”?
Is it racist to believe that Muslims commit more terrorism than white people? What if you’ve done a lot of calculations of per capita terrorist attacks and you can quote exact numbers that prove your point?
Is it more or less racist if then you add “…but this is because Islam is a violent religion that encourages murder, and has nothing to do with the genetics of Middle Eastern people”?
Is it racist to believe that Pygmies are shorter than white people?
But None Of That Really Matters, Because In Real Life, Definition By Motive Usually Trumps Definition By Belief
After the London attacks, I heard someone ask “Do you have to be a racist to want to restrict immigration from Muslim countries? Or can you just be really worried about the terrorism risk?”
A lot of people responded. Some of them said no, it was perfectly reasonable to be worried about terrorism. Other people said that concern about terrorism was just a smokescreen, that people said they were just concerned about terrorism, but actually that was just a way to cover up their racism.
Think about how confusing this is. It’s positing two different things. First, a belief that Muslims are often terrorists and so we should crack down on them. And second, racism. These things are considered opposing explanations, such that if we believe the first one, we can dismiss the second – or, if we admit the second, that proves the first was claimed dishonestly. Under Definition By Belief, it’s really weird.
(compare: “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who believe in Him gain eternal life.” “No, you’re just using that as a smokescreen to cover up that you’re Christian!”)
The only way I can make sense of this argument is to think of it as Definition By Motive trumping Definition By Belief. The first person is stating a belief that Muslims are more likely to be terrorists. The second person is questioning whether their motivation for restricting immigration is really this belief (in which case it would be ok) or if they’re motivated by an irrational hatred of minorities (in which case it would be racism).
Definition By Motive can even trump Definition By Belief when we’re talking about innate/genetic difference. Consider Charles Murray saying that he believes black people are genetically less intelligent than white people. Some of Murray’s critics object that this should be suppressed, even if true, because it could be used to justify racism.
Under Definition By Belief, this makes no sense. Imagine Murray was a geologist, pointing out that Antarctica contained mostly sedimentary rock. His critics object “This should be suppressed, even if true, because it could be used to justify believing that Antarctica contains mostly sedimentary rock!” Huh?
It makes more sense if we think of it as being about Definition By Motive. Then the critics are saying that if we find that minority groups are genetically worse in some way (ie racist beliefs are true), we should suppress that lest it be used to justify people’s irrational feelings of hatred for members of other races (ie justify racist motives).
Definition By Motive Makes Sense Of All Of The Above Examples And Basically Matches Most Real-World Usage
Definition By Motive fits the first example. When we ask “Was racism responsible for Trump’s election?” we mean “Did people elect Trump because they irrationally hated minorities and wanted to discriminate against them?”
It fits the second example. When we say that it wouldn’t be racist to resist a tyrant who wants to kill whites, we mean that such resistance is a good policy, which would be pursued for reasons other than just irrationally hating minorities and wanting to discriminate against them.
It fits the third example. When we claim a specific person (Bob, Barack Obama) is racist, we mean that they irrationally hate minorities and want to discriminate against them.
It fits the fourth example. When we say that the KKK marching through a black neighborhood to terrorize people is racist regardless of its consequences, we mean that it’s motivated by an irrational hatred of minorities and desire to discriminate against them.
It fits the fifth example. When we ask whether it’s racist to believe Mexicans are poorer than whites, we’re asking whether someone would only say that because they irrationally hate Mexicans and want to discriminate against them. But most of the time people making that claim are trying to point out inequalities and help Mexicans. So it isn’t racist.
It fits the sixth example. Somebody who believes that Mexicans are more criminal than white people might just be collecting crime stats, but we’re suspicious that they might use this to justify an irrational hatred toward Mexicans and desire to discriminate against them. So it’s potentially racist, regardless of whether you attribute it to genetics or culture.
It fits the seventh example. It’s probably not racist to believe that Muslims commit more terrorism than white people, since this seems to be a true or at least plausible claim, but if people talk about it too much it’s worrying that maybe they’re trying to justify their irrational hatred of Muslims and desire to discriminate against them.
It fits the eighth example. It’s probably not racist to believe that Pygmies are shorter than white people, because it’s obviously true and you would believe it whether you had an irrational hatred of Pygmies or not. Also, no one cares how tall anybody is.
It fits the ninth example. When people ask whether immigration restricts are really due to fear of terrorism vs. racism, they’re asking whether people who claim to be concerned with terrorism actually just irrationally hate minorities and want to discriminate against them.
And it fits the tenth example. When people say that Charles Murray’s claims about genetics might be used to “justify racism”, they mean that if you irrationally hate minorities and want to discriminate against them, you could use his claims about genetics as a justification for why your position makes sense.
Overall We Probably Use A Combination Of All Of These, Weighted In Favor Of Definition By Motives
I designed the discussion questions to be situations where Definition By Motive clearly didn’t apply, but one or both of the other definitions clearly did. I imagine some people stuck to their guns, went Definition By Motive all the way through, and said none of the people in the vignettes were racist. I imagine other people used one of the other two definitions, or a different definition of their own, and were able to navigate all of the objections and counterexamples down here in Part II successfully. But I think most people found a couple of inconsistencies, aren’t really sure what to do with them, and are just sort of echoing the Supreme Court’s view of pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
This is natural. I’m not trying to say that Definition By Motives is the one “real” definition. All of our word usage is a mess; we hardly ever use anything simply or consistently, let alone a complicated word like “racism”. In reality we go back and forth among all of these, proving that something is racist using one definition, then applying the consequences of another definition, switching from very strict to very loose based on whether or not it’s something we like. All of this is totally normal.
But in this case it’s kind of likely to lead to disaster.
A digression, from an alternative universe.
“Murderism” is the ideology that murdering people is good and letting them live is bad. It’s practically omnipresent: 14,000 people are murdered in the US each year. That’s a lot of murderists, and a testament to the degree to which our schools teach murderist values.
But not all murderism is that obvious. For years, people have been pushing “soft-on-crime” policies that will defund the police and reduce the length of jail sentences – inevitably increasing the murder rate. Advocates of these policies might think that just because they’re not gangsters with knives, they must not be murderists. But anybody who supports murder, whether knife-wielding gangster or policy analyst – is murderist and responsible for the effects of their murderism.
Our two major parties have many differences – but both are united in their support for murderism. Republicans push murderist policies like the invasion of Iraq, which caused the murder of thousands of Iraqis. Democrats claim to be better, but they support openly murderist ideas like euthanasia, promoting the killing of our oldest and most vulnerable citizens. There’s no party in Washington that’s willing to take a good look at itself and challenge the murderist ideals that our political system is built on.
Murderism won’t stop until people understand that it’s not okay to be murderist. So next time you hear people opposing police militarization, or speaking out in favor of euthanasia – tell them that that’s murderism and it’s not okay.
…okay, done. Back in our own universe, we recognize that “murderism” is silly: it confuses cause and effect.
Murder is usually an effect of a strategy pursued for other reasons. The drug dealer who wants to keep rivals off his turf, the soldier who wants to win a war, the gangster who wants to get rid of inconvenient witnesses. If you want to stretch it, add the neocon who wants to “liberate” foreign countries, the cancer patient who wants to “die with dignity”, or the activist who wants to keep people out of jail.
But except in maybe the most deranged serial killers, it’s never pursued because of an inherent preference for murder. Most murderers would probably prefer not to have to kill. If the drug dealer could protect his business equally well by politely requesting people stay off his territory, that would be much easier. If the soldier could win his war without bloodshed, so much the better for everybody. Murder is an effect of other goals – sometimes base, sometimes noble – and the invocation of “murderism” only serves to hide these goals and conflate different actions into a single meaningless category.
Talking about murderism isn’t just uninformative, it’s actively confusing. If you believed that gangsters killed their rivals because of murderism, then there’s no point in examining how poverty interacts with gang membership, or whether the breakdown of law forces people to form gangs to defend themselves. The problem is just that gangsters have murderist values. It should be solved by censoring the works of philosopher David Benatar, who writes about how being alive is bad and it’s morally better not to exist at all. Or by banning high school Goths, whose pro-death aesthetic makes murderism seem cool to teens and causes them to harbor murderist thoughts as adults.
Talk about murderism is obviously confused. But it’s the same confusion between the Definition By Consequences versus the Definition By Motive that we saw was a hallmark of racism.
Belief in murderism creates a hostile and ineffective society whose weird beliefs can only be countered by accepting that murder is rarely a terminal goal, but a usually result of strategies pursued for other reasons. We accept that having a terminal goal of killing people seems so awful, inhuman, and incongruous with the sort of decent humans we all know – that it’s a very strange explanation to even consider when other, better ones are available. We can apply the same analysis to racism. The discussion questions in Part I already started the process, but we can go further.
I’m not just making the argument “lots of things aren’t really racist”. I can’t do much about how you choose to define words, plus it’s doomed to fail anyway. Imagine having to convince someone that a guy who committed homicide “isn’t really murderist”. Doesn’t sound like the most winnable fight.
And if you only break down non-racist things into non-racist motives, what reward shall you have? Do not even the scribes and the Pharisees do the same? I say unto you, if you want to be righteous, look for the non-racist motives in actually racist things.
What does that mean?
Consider some business, let’s say a daycare center, that we know discriminates against black job-seekers. If we ask them why, they say “Because black people are criminal”. This sounds like just about the most typical and obvious example of racism possible.
But there’s actually a lot of really good scholarship on this exact situation, and it helps provide a different perspective. It starts like this – a while ago, criminal justice reformers realized that mass incarceration was hurting minorities’ ability to get jobs. 4% of white men will spend time in prison, compared to more like 16% of Hispanic men and 28% of black men. Many employers demanded to know whether a potential applicant had a criminal history, then refused to consider them if they did. So (thought the reformers) it should be possible to help minorities have equal opportunities by banning employers from asking about past criminal history.
The actual effect was the opposite – the ban “decreased probability of being employed by 5.1% for young, low-skilled black men, and 2.9% for young, low-skilled Hispanic men.”
In retrospect, this makes sense. Daycare companies really want to avoid hiring formerly-imprisoned criminals to take care of the kids. If they can ask whether a certain employee is criminal, this solves their problem. If not, they’re left to guess. And if they’ve got two otherwise equally qualified employees, and one is black and the other’s white, and they know that 28% of black men have been in prison compared to 4% of white men, they’ll shrug and choose the white guy.
Is this racist? Is this “statistical discrimination”? Describe it with whatever word you want. The point is that they have understandable motives (don’t hire criminals to take care of the kids), accurate beliefs, and in their shoes you might do the same. More important, once you give them the tools they need to solve their problems without racial discrimination – you let them see applicants’ criminal histories – they have no further desire to discriminate and your problem is solved.
If you tried to solve this by sending these people to sensitivity training, you would fail. IF you tried to solve this by firing these people, then the people who replaced them would have the same incentives, and you would fail again. If you try to solve it by realizing that racial animus has no role at all in this scenario, and daycare owners just want to do what’s best for their kids, then you can provide them with the tools they need to do that, and solve the racial discrimination at the same time.
Okay, fine. Harder example. Let’s take, uh, some guy who’s always ranting about how the Jews secretly control the world. They have underground tunnels where they have their secret Zionist meetings and talk about how they’re going to stick it to the Christians. Every major war and economic downturn has been caused by this. Are we allowed to treat this guy‘s racism as being a conceptual primitive that doesn’t need further breaking down?
I actually knew a guy like this. He was a schizophrenic patient in the mental hospital where I work. Overall I found it a nice break from the tedium of CIA-conspiracy folk, alien-conspiracy folk, and white-people-conspiracy folk (remember, this is Detroit).
Am I saying everyone like this is schizophrenic? Not diagnosably, no. But I notice that there are a lot of not-diagnosably-schizophrenic people who believe in the Illuminati, the New World Order, the Freemasons, and – yes – lizardmen. Is it really so outlandish to say that the same faulty reasoning that concludes that Freemasons run the world could conclude that Jews run the world, and for the same reasons? Does it really make sense to just blow one off as paranoid conspiracy-mongering, and the other as originating from a completely different process called “anti-Semitism” or “racism”? Remember, “healthy” people with paranoid and conspiratorial beliefs have the same kind of fronto-striatal prediction error signal that schizophrenics do, only less so, suggesting that their odd ideas probably come from the same kind of disturbed reasoning process.
“Are you saying that anti-Semitism literally plays no role in their theory about the Elders of Zion”? Again, call it what you want. I’m saying that by totally ignoring the anti-Semitic aspect, I was able to successfully treat this guy with Seroquel, whereas if you tried to read him Elie Wiesel books, he’d still be in that psych ward today.
Fine. Schizotypal conspiracy-mongerers are a noncentral example anyway. What about, I don’t know, rural Republicans in South Carolina who wave the Confederate flag all the time and think blacks and immigrants are ruining the country.
Here I would point out that this is pretty much the demographic that elected Nikki Haley (birth name, Nimrata Randhawa; daughter of two Punjabi immigrants) as governor, and that supports her so fervently that she remains one of the most popular politicians in the country. Also the demographic that loved Ben Carson, making him the only candidate to briefly displace Trump for first place in the 2016 Republican primary polls. One plausible explanation is that the South Carolinians don’t like blacks and immigrants because they view them as having foreign values – specifically, Blue Tribe values (it may be relevant here that 90%+ of blacks usually vote Democrat). If someone like Nikki Haley or Ben Carson proves that they share Red beliefs, they become part of the tribe and will be fiercely defended. Maybe this is more like the daycare situation than it looks – people using race as a proxy for something they care about, until they get direct information.
To be clear – I am not saying that racism doesn’t exist, I’m not saying that we should ignore racism, I’m not saying that minorities should never be able to complain about racism. I’m saying that it’s very dangerous to treat “racism” as a causal explanation, that it might not tell you anything useful about the world, and that’s a crappy lever to use if you want to change behavior.
And I’m not saying that it’s not useful to think of some of these things as places where there’s an opportunity for racial change. If a daycare owner is really interested in redressing racial inequality, they can hire minorities even if it’s against their incentives and self-interest (although it’s unclear why the owner should prefer that opportunity to other opportunities, like donating some of their profits to the NAACP.)
And I’m not saying that there will never be a case that’s impossible to break down into non-racist motives. Heck, I’m not even saying there aren’t some honest-to-goodness murderists out there. But I am saying we should at least try. Not because it’s necessarily costless. Not because there isn’t a risk of false negatives.
We should try because it’s the only alternative to having another civil war.
Arnold Kling likes to talk about how political groups are divided by different “languages”, different schemata for understanding the world that make it difficult to talk across political divides.
Jonathan Haidt accepts the premise but challenges the symmetry; his experiments ask liberals and conservatives to fill out questionnaires about their values, then to predict how someone from the opposite tribe would fill out the questionnaire. He finds that conservatives are able to predict liberals’ answers just fine and seem to have a pretty good understanding of their worldviews, but that liberals have no idea how conservatives think or what they value.
James Scott, as channeled by Lou Keep, draws the asymmetry a little differently. He says that the process of development, especially state-building and the switch from traditional to market economies, creates a pressure for “legible” language that renders entire classes of problems very difficult to talk about. This creates an asymmetry between an elite plugged into the global market structure whose concerns make perfect sense (“If we do this, GDP will go up 3% and we can build more roads!”) and the masses left behind whose concerns seem pointless and vague (“I feel like something important disappeared when we turned everything into a commodity”). Keep then proposes a very loose mapping onto cosmopolitan neoliberal Clintonites versus undereducated “I’m angry about losing my traditional culture” Trumpists.
There are a bunch more frameworks like this, but they all share the common warning that cross-cultural communication is really hard, and so a lot of the concerns of people who aren’t like us will probably sound like nonsense. And most of them say that our demographic – well-educated people proud of our commitment to logic and reason – are at especially high risk of just dismissing everyone else as too dumb to matter. The solution is the same as it’s always been: hard work, renewed commitment to liberal values, and a hefty dose of the Principle of Charity.
Racism-as-murderism is the opposite. It’s a powerful tool of dehumanization. It’s not that other people have a different culture than you. It’s not that other people have different values than you. It’s not that other people have reasoned their way to different conclusions from you. And it’s not even that other people are honestly misinformed or ignorant, in a way that implies you might ever be honestly misinformed or ignorant about something. It’s that people who disagree with you are motivated by pure hatred, by an irrational mind-virus that causes them to reject every normal human value in favor of just wanting to hurt people who look different from them.
This frees you from any obligation to do the hard work of trying to understand other people, or the hard work of changing minds, or the hard work of questioning your own beliefs, or the hard work of compromise, or even the hard work of remembering that at the end of the day your enemies are still your countrymen. It frees you from any hard work at all. You are right about everything, your enemies are inhuman monsters who desire only hatred and death, and the only “work” you have to do is complain on Twitter about how racist everyone else is.
And I guess it sounds like I’m upset that we’re not very good at solving difficult cross-cultural communication problems which require deep and genuine effort to understand the other person’s subtly different value system. I’m not upset that we can’t solve those. Those are hard. I’m upset because we’re not even at the point where someone can say “I’m worried about terrorism,” without being forced to go through an interminable and ultimately-impossible process of proving to a random assortment of trolls and gatekeepers that they actually worry about terrorism and it’s not just all a ruse to cover up that they secretly hate everyone with brown skin. I’m saying that when an area of the country suffers an epidemic of suicides and overdoses, increasing mortality, increasing unemployment, social decay, and general hopelessness, and then they say they’re angry, we counter with “Are you really angry? Is ‘angry’ just a code word for ‘racist’?” I’m saying we’re being challenged with a moonshot-level problem, and instead we’re slapping our face with our own hand and saying “STOP HITTING YOURSELF!”
People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.
And when I see someone try to smash this machinery with a sledgehammer, it’s usually followed by an appeal to “but racists!”
You say we must protect freedom of speech. But would you protect the free speech of racists?
You say people shouldn’t get fired for personal opinions that don’t affect their work. But would you let racists keep their jobs?
You say we try to solve disagreements respectfully through rational debate. But would you try to rationally debate racists?
You say people should be allowed to follow their religion without interference. But what if religion is just a cover for racism?
You say we need to understand that people we disagree with can sometimes have some good points. Are you saying we should try to learn things from racists?
You say there’s a taboo on solving political disagreements by punching people. Are you saying that we can’t punch racists?
The argument goes: liberalism assumes good faith and shared values. It assumes that, at the end of the day, whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, you can still be a basically good person. You can compartmentalize a few special beliefs relating to the Pope, and your remaining differences can be dissolved by the universal solvent of Reason. After everyone does this, you can invoke the wisdom of crowds via a popular election, and even if you don’t like the results you can at least understand where the other side is coming from. Some people prefer liberty to safety, other people prefer safety to liberty, but if the voters choose the wrong one then at least they’ve erred in an understandable way by preferring one real value to another.
But if there’s some group out there who aren’t connected to normal human values at all, some group that’s deliberately rejected reason; if they’re willing to throw liberty and safety under the bus in pursuit of some kind of dark irrational hatred which is their only terminal goal – then the whole project falls apart. Dialogue based on mutual trust may be all nice and well when it’s supposed to help us choose the optimal balance between liberty and safety, but if you give a platform to the people whose only value is hatred, then they’re just screwing over everybody.
A few days ago, Noah Smith posted on Twitter about hearing some people say racist things. The comments went like this:
Ah well. They said a racist thing. Guess we’ve got to kill them.
And I agree with this chain of logic. Using violence to enforce conformity to social norms has always been the historical response. We invented liberalism to try to avoid having to do that, but you can’t liberalism with people who refuse reason and are motivated by hatred. If you give the franchise to green pointy-fanged monsters, they’re just going to vote for the “Barbecue And Eat All Humans” party. If such people existed and made up a substantial portion of the population, liberalism becomes impossible, and we should go back to just using violence to enforce our will on the people who disagree with us. Assuming they don’t cooperate with our strategy of violently suppressing them, that means civil war.
I don’t want civil war. I want this country to survive long enough to be killed by something awesome, like AI or some kind of genetically engineered superplague. Right now I think going out in a neat way, being killed by a product of our own genius and intellectual progress – rather than a product of our pettiness and mutual hatreds – is the best we can hope for. And I think this is attainable! I think that we, as a nation and as a species, can make it happen.
But it starts with rejecting the “murderism” framework. Rejecting the choice to attribute whatever we disagree with to murderism, even if it is murderist, and instead trying to trace it back to root causes that make sense that and humanize the people involved. Working to find the reasons liberalism is possible, rather than the reasons it isn’t. Unless we can do that, semantic confusion and our political polarization are going to build off each other in a vicious cycle into who knows where.
In this week’s politics chat, we sift through Democratic finger-pointing after their latest special election losses. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Democrats are not happy today, having lost special elections in Georgia and South Carolina on Tuesday. And we’re here to talk about that unhappiness, to really dive deep into it, let it flow over us and try to understand it.
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): But what about the mail-in votes?
micah: So we’ll do five questions about the Democratic blame game (which is raging on the interwebs at the moment).
Question No. 1: Blame the blame game! Should Democrats even be playing the blame game?
harry: What’s the purpose of playing the blame game? To help the party succeed in 2018? Or is the purpose to throw blame around because it feels good? If the former, then it is always good to go over what could be done better in the future. If the latter, then it’s not worth it. There were questionable choices that were made by the Democrats in these special elections, but none of them were indefensible in my opinion.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): The whole fact that Democrats talked themselves into the narrative that Georgia 6 was a game-changer — and that, therefore, they need to put their tails between their legs today — suggests to me that they’re pretty bad at politics.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I guess I don’t want to tell Democrats or Republicans or anyone what they should be doing. But does a blame game make sense? When your party is losing key races a lot, some kind of debate about why is natural. I think looking at candidate selection, how the large amount of money raised by the campaign was spent, etc., seems natural. Some of the particular questions in this blame game are not great ones, though. We will get to that later, I suspect.
natesilver: Democrats have been competitive in four substantially red districts. We can debate what “red” means, because the districts are red in different ways. But they’re the sort of results you’d expect in an election where the House was in play. Heck, some of them are even consistent with the sort of results you’d expect in a massive wave election. We’re only five months into Trump’s term.
perry: In other words, Nate, you think there is really nothing to be blamed for? There were not real, unexpected “losses”?
micah: Wait a second, Nate. This was a red district, but it was also an eminently winnable race for Democrats. Sure winning it wouldn’t have been a game-changer, but shouldn’t they be doing some self-examination today? They lost by 4 percentage points in a district Hillary Clinton lost by 1.5 points. I know other non-Trump Republicans have done better there, but if Democrats are hoping to ride dissatisfaction with Trump to the House majority, shouldn’t they be concerned they couldn’t do that in a district we know already doesn’t love Trump?
natesilver: Was Trump on the ballot last night? No. When we modeled the House in 2010, we used a combination of the presidential results in the last two presidential elections, plus the previous House result, plus a bunch of other factors.
Using the last presidential race is just a shorthand that works fine in most cases, but wasn’t particularly good here. And we have a great example of that, given what happened in South Carolina, which was literally the opposite of Georgia in many respects: historically a swingy district that went very pro-Trump. Democrats did quite well there.
harry: I think Micah’s point is the argument why Georgia 6 was bad for Democrats, but I want to get at something I said last night. First off, as Nate points out, we usually use the past two presidential elections (with 2016 weighted more) to understand the lean of a district. Second, back in 2006, there was a district (California 50) that had the same partisan lean as Georgia 6 in the prior two presidential elections. The result was that Francine Busby, the Democrat, lost by pretty much exactly the same margin as Ossoff did last night. Did that mean Democrats were screwed come November 2006? No. They won big. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Democrats will be riding the wave in 2018, but it does show that sometimes these special elections that are built up to be the be-all, end-all aren’t. And keep in mind that the 2006 cycle, like this one, featured Democrats outperforming their baseline by a lot in other places.
natesilver: Certainly, we can debate the strategy in individual races. But basically it’s like if an obscure college football team goes and plays against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, and loses 30-27 when they were big underdogs going in. It’s disappointing for them, but, at the same time, an indication that the team has bright things in its future and that Ohio State has a lot to worry about.
perry: But what if the coach of team x got the team all hyped up about how it could beat Ohio State? And told the booster club this would be a big win?
micah: Yes ^^^. Which gets back to Democrats being bad at politics.
natesilver: Well, sure. I think Democrats can be blamed for that, to some extent.
natesilver: The official FiveThirtyEight pre-election spin was that Georgia 6 mattered more in perception than in reality. Which I think I still agree with.
We were looking to see if a candidate won by 5+ percentage points, which neither one did, although Handel wasn’t far from it. On the other hand, Democrats did much better than we would have guessed in South Carolina.
micah: Hmmm. I think Georgia 6 suggests that marginal Trump voters (whom we’ve dubbed Reluctant Trump voters) — i.e., people who voted for him but had an unfavorable view of him — are still generally with the GOP. That’s backed up by our survey data too.
And that is bad for Democrats.
natesilver: But Micah, the relevant factor is that they were marginal Trump Republicans. If you had a district where you had marginal Trump independents or Democrats — you had a few of those in South Carolina 5 — the outcome might have been different.
perry: I agree with Nate and Harry that last night should not be over-read, by Democrats or, frankly, journalists. But could the Democrats have some kind of internal debate about, say, “should we direct our base towards spending millions of dollars on better causes than House races that will be hard to win?”
natesilver: Yeah, I’m not sure why Democrats felt they had to go narratively all-in on an idiosyncratic district with a weird candidate.
micah: OK, next question. (I’m stealing most of these from Perry.)
Question No. 2: Blame Ossoff! How much was the Georgia 6 result about Ossoff as a candidate and his being too blah or too centrist?
harry: Who knows? is my answer.
natesilver: I’m kind of ambivalent about Ossoff. On the one hand, the basic metric that we usually look at is whether a candidate has been elected in the past, especially to another office in that state or district. Ossoff hadn’t been. On the other hand, I think of his performance as basically having been “fine” in Georgia 6, and he entered the race when few other Democrats were willing to do so.
Put another way, I think he was an average candidate in a race where Democrats could maybe have won with a great candidate, but could also have lost by 12 points with a candidate who wasn’t taking the race seriously.
harry: Yeah, there was nothing that Ossoff did that screamed “awful candidate.” He was milquetoast.
perry: I didn’t meet Ossoff. I wasn’t in Georgia. And I’m always loath to criticize candidates I have not seen in person. I read some more populist Democrats last night claiming the party needed a more populist candidate. Handel emphasized that he did not live in the district. He was obviously young and had little electoral experience. But he didn’t make any major gaffes, seemed to know the issues, got an endorsement from Bernie Sanders and received strong support from John Lewis.
I don’t see him as a clearly bad candidate.
micah: And what do we make of that “Democrats should have run a proud progressive” argument? I’ve seen that argument a lot!
natesilver: I mean, I think you can say he played it a little too safe. He played to not lose.
harry: Now, now, he wanted to connect everyone, Nate.
natesilver: For me, there are basically three prototypes of campaigns that Democrats will need to run in 2018: (i) anti-Trump; (ii) anti-Republican; (iii) anti-incumbent.
I think Georgia 6 ought to have been an anti-Trump campaign, given that Trump is a much bigger liability in Georgia 6 than the GOP overall is and that people are doing pretty well there economically.
For me, there’s lots of room for populist progressives to do well as anti-Republican and anti-incumbent messengers. I actually don’t think they’re ideal as anti-Trump messengers, however, which is what you needed in this district.
perry: I don’t totally think we have any sense if voters, as opposed to Democrats on Twitter, vote differently between a Bernie-Sanders-type Democrat and a Hillary Clinton one or can really tell the difference. Even in Vermont and Massachusetts, I think any Democrat would win those states, not just Elizabeth Warren and Sanders. In fact, both of those states have kind of non-populist Democratic senators right now.
harry: That’s interesting. Keep in mind that this is more of a Bloomingdales district than a Walmart one. It’s a well-off, well-educated district. Further, you know that Archie Parnell fella in South Carolina 5? He’s a former managing director for Goldman Sachs. Doesn’t exactly scream populism.
Question No. 3: Blame Nancy Pelosi! Republicans ran a bunch of ads featuring the former Democratic speaker of the House, and some analysts are asking today if she’s a liability for Democrats in districts like Georgia 6.
Clare is doing some reporting on this, btw. So I don’t want to steal her thunder, but a lot of people are talking about this so I thought we should include.
perry: Do we really think voters are sitting around thinking about Nancy Pelosi when they go to the polls?
natesilver: Handel gained ground during the stretch run of the campaign, and this was a big part of the GOP’s message.
micah: Doesn’t the fact that she’s featured in so many ads (and also was in 2010 and 2014 if I remember correctly), suggest that Republicans know — or at least think — that it works?
perry: It’s possible we’re just capturing partisanship there.
natesilver: For sure — any Democratic leader would become villainized after a sufficient length of time. But I think there’s something to be said for giving voters symbolically a new look.
I also suspect that this is what’s behind some of the Democratic infighting this morning. The knives are out for Pelosi. She took quite a few defections in the leadership vote late last year, which suggests there’s a lot of dissatisfaction in the Democratic caucus.
micah: But gender could play a role in all this too in addition to her being from San Francisco and all that. But again, Clare is doing some reporting on this, so we’ll get more deeply into it separately.
Question No. 4: Blame the party brand! Is the Democratic brand toxic in certain areas? (Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi, said this in The New York Times).
perry: Here’s the quote:
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who tried to unseat Ms. Pelosi as House minority leader late last fall, said she remained a political millstone for Democrats. But Mr. Ryan said the Democratic brand had also become “toxic” in much of the country because voters saw Democrats as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”“Our brand is worse than Trump,” he said.
heynawl-enten: This is a historically Republican district, so I’m not sure this is the best test for that. Nationally, the Democratic brand is usually stronger than the Republican brand. And more people identify as Democrat than as Republican.
natesilver: Yeah … this is a district where the Democratic brand is their biggest liability, because it’s much more of a Republican district than a Trump district.
The Democratic brand has been surprisingly nontoxic in places such as Montana, South Carolina and Kansas, however.
micah: So why not-as-toxic in those places and more toxic in Georgia 6?
natesilver: Because Georgia 6 is a strongly Republican-identifying place, more so than South Carolina 5 is.
Handel and the GOP figured that out and it got them over the finish line.
perry: OK, I don’t have the data in front of me. But I think the Democratic brand is a problem in the South.
micah: OK, final question …
Question No. 5: Blame the media and national Democratic groups and operatives! This was a theory Harry and Clare floated last night: National Democrats dumped a bunch of money and energy into this race, and we saw record turnout. But did that have the effect of motivating both already motivated Democratic voters and unenthused Republican voters?
perry: In other words, is the South Carolina result a blowout if it became the big race with all of the attention?
perry: I think that right. Turning a race into a nationalized, partisan battle is going to favor the party that has the most voters in that district/state.
harry: Nate thinks Democrats should have spent more money/energy in South Carolina.
natesilver: I do, yeah. Next year is going to be a very expensive, high-stakes election. Not a lot of candidates are going to fly under the radar. Democrats have to get used to competing everywhere.
harry: What’s the purpose of these special elections? To win now? Or to test messages/strategies/tactics for 2018?
natesilver: To test for next year, because the marginal vote in the House isn’t very important right now. (If a Senate seat were in play in a special election, different story.)
micah: OK, so let’s sum things up and then I have one final question:
Who’s to blame? Well, Nate doesn’t think Democrats should even be playing the blame game — they did “fine.”
natesilver: Overall, they should be very excited about their special election results, in fact. Georgia 6 was the worst of the bunch.
perry: They did fine and maybe blaming each other is not that important. But they should be worried that if Republicans campaign hard in every district, spend a lot of money, bash the Democrat enough, mobilize the base, Democrats will have a hard time gaining 24 seats next year.
harry: Overall, I think the special elections are a great sign for the Democrats. However, I always think lessons can be learned about what could have possibly been done differently.
micah: Relative to the weighted past presidential vote that we use, Democrats did worse in Georgia 6 than any other special election so far in 2017. So maybe it’s just a modest outlier in that regard. But Georgia 6 was also the 1. most competitive district to vote so far, and 2. highest profile race. In other words, maybe Georgia 6 is a closer approximation to the conditions in 2018 than other special elections. So, my question: Should Democrats, as the media has, pay more attention to the result in Georgia than to the results in other special elections?
harry: Here’s what I said two months ago, which I still think holds today …
… special House and Senate elections in the two years leading up to a midterm can go any which way. In any of the previous four cycles before a midterm, there’s at least one example of a candidate doing poorly in a special election — relative to the previous weighted presidential vote — only to have their party do well in the midterms.
So even if Ossoff won — even if he won comfortably — it wouldn’t be safe to assume a Democratic wave is building in 2018.
Instead, if you really want to use special election results to look ahead to 2018, you need to look at a bunch of them. While any individual special election may mislead, the average special House and Senate result compared to the past presidential vote provides a decent indication of the national environment heading into the following midterm election.
natesilver: We actually overshot a bit in Georgia 6 in that turnout was higher than it’s likely to be in the midterm, and spending was obviously much higher too. The most representative race of midterm-type conditions so far is probably Montana.
micah: I don’t know. I think people will be bonkers in the midterms.
natesilver: Ballpark, I’d say South Carolina 5 was roughly 60 percent as important as Georgia 6 in terms of helping us to forecast the 2018 midterms. And it’s gotten like 0.6 percent as much attention.
perry: I’m not the data expert here. But my general reaction is to not underreact to things anymore, since I under-reacted to the events of 2015 (the rise of Sanders and Trump.) So this does not change my overall view that Democrats have a strong chance of winning the House in 2018. But I’m not going to dismiss that Handel won by more than I expected and that maybe 2018 won’t follow the patterns of previous midterms.
Basically every time I do some mental arithmetic, I do the problem multiple times, coming at it from different directions. For example, maybe I need to find half of 47. I'd immediately take half of 46 and add 0.5, getting 23.5. But then I'd also take half of 50 and subtract 1.5, also getting 23.5.
(Sidenote: I know not everyone does this, as demonstrated by how outraged people are over Common Core. It just makes plain good sense to me. Mathematics shouldn't be the blind application of fixed algorithms -- you need to choose the approach that works best for you. And to do that, you need to see the different options and really understand how they're all the same thing, fundamentally. But most people don't really understand that. They can only solve problems in a single way they memorized 30 years ago. Then they feel dumb when their kid asks for help with their homework, and lash out.)
In part I do this to provide to a checksum on the original answer, but also because I always feel a small thrill of surprise and delight. Math is internally consistent, and every problem has an infinite number of ways you can solve it. It's just so neat -- and also staggeringly impressive. Imagine writing an operating system with no bugs. Imagine being able to design a legal system without any need for judges, because there was a single, obvious, undeniable verdict for any case. Imagine a taxonomy with no edge cases, no "miscellaneous" categories.
Math is quite literally inhuman in its perfection.
Take that, Wittgenstein.
My dad was a good model for how to gently enjoy human absurdity and I remember him being super entertained by the pet rock and playing along with it super well.