Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

So this is too far?

Sam Harris has given a platform to, and even celebrated, some of the worst people (e.g., Jordan Peterson, Charles Murray). But I hear now that Sam has "turned in" his "membership card" to the "Intellectual [sic] Dark Web" because some of his IDW pals have remained in the Trump camp even after the election. 

News flash to Sam: These folks were clearly dishonest and terrible even before now. I know it triggers you, but Ezra Klein was entirely right and reasonable regarding this. 

I know some of you ask why I care about Sam Harris. It is because he's been good on meditation and very good on the Catholic Church (1, 2) in a time when most people are cowed into silence about anything to do with Christianity. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

To Infinitives and Beyond

 From Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue:

I can think of two very good reasons for not splitting an infinitive.

1.   Because you feel that the rules of English ought to conform to the grammatical precepts of a language that died a thousand years ago.

2.   Because you wish to cling to a pointless affectation of usage that is without the support of any recognized authority of the last 200 years, even at the cost of composing sentences that are ambiguous, inelegant, and patently contorted.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why Facts Don't Change Minds

Full article; excerpts:

“People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true.”

We don't always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about....

Any idea that is sufficiently different from your current worldview will feel threatening. And the best place to ponder a threatening idea is in a non-threatening environment. As a result, books are often a better vehicle for transforming beliefs than conversations or debates.

In conversation, people have to carefully consider their status and appearance. They want to save face and avoid looking stupid. When confronted with an uncomfortable set of facts, the tendency is often to double down on their current position rather than publicly admit to being wrong.

Books resolve this tension. With a book, the conversation takes place inside someone's head and without the risk of being judged by others. It's easier to be open-minded when you aren't feeling defensive.

There is another reason bad ideas continue to live on, which is that people continue to talk about them.

Silence is death for any idea. An idea that is never spoken or written down dies with the person who conceived it. Ideas can only be remembered when they are repeated. They can only be believed when they are repeated....

“Every time you retweet or quote tweet someone you’re angry with, it helps them. It disseminates their BS. Hell for the ideas you deplore is silence. Have the discipline to give it to them.”

Your time is better spent championing good ideas than tearing down bad ones. Don't waste time explaining why bad ideas are bad. You are simply fanning the flame of ignorance and stupidity.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Partisan and tribal divides

Just like the vegans who see every headline as justifying their personal beliefs, there is a certain strain of "public intellectual" who think every result justifies theirs. For example, Andrew Sullivan seems to think everyone who supports Trump does so as a reaction to "political correctness" and "cancel culture." 


I grew up in rural Ohio in the 1980s. The people there did not hate me because of something that they heard about at Evergreen College or Yale. They hated me because I had an IQ over 120. 

It wasn't a question of "understanding" them. It wasn't a question of "they would support pluralism and left-wing policies if sold correctly." It was "play stupid and small-minded or be 'othered' and hated." And I was a straight white male. 

Anyway, that's all just a preface to this:

I've spent 4+ years trying to understand Trump supporters. I'm all done now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Suffering under Obama

From Andrew Tobias:

Not long after Trump took office, Kentucky columnist Teri Carter offered this:

The sentence I hear most from well-meaning, conservative friends since President Trump’s election is this: “We suffered 8 years under Barack Obama.”

Fair enough. Let’s take a look.

The day Obama took office, the Dow closed at 7,949 points. Eight years later, the Dow had almost tripled.

General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of bankruptcy, with Ford not far behind, and their failure, along with their supply chains, would have meant the loss of millions of jobs. Obama pushed through a controversial, $8o billion bailout to save the car industry. The U.S. car industry survived, started making money again, and the entire $80 billion was paid back, with interest.

While we remain vulnerable to lone-wolf attacks, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed a mass attack here since 9/11.

Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

He drew down the number of troops from 180,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan to just 15,000, and increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He launched a program called Opening Doors which, since 2010, has led to a 47 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans.

He set a record 73 straight months of private-sector job growth.

Due to Obama’s regulatory policies, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 12%, production of renewable energy more than doubled, and our dependence on foreign oil was cut in half.

He signed The Lilly Ledbetter Act, making it easier for women to sue employers for unequal pay.

His Omnibus Public Lands Management Act designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, creating thousands of miles of trails and protecting over 1,000 miles of rivers.

He reduced the federal deficit from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2016.

For all the inadequacies of the Affordable Care Act, we seem to have forgotten that, before the ACA, you could be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition and kids could not stay on their parents’ policies up to age 26.

Obama approved a $14.5 billion system to rebuild the levees in New Orleans.

All this, even as our own Mitch McConnell famously asserted that his singular mission would be to block anything President Obama tried to do.

While Obama failed on his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, that prison’s population decreased from 242 to around 50.

He expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research, supporting groundbreaking advancement in areas like spinal injury treatment and cancer.

Credit card companies can no longer charge hidden fees or raise interest rates without advance notice.

Most years, Obama threw a 4th of July party for military families. He held babies, played games with children, served barbecue, and led the singing of “Happy Birthday” to his daughter Malia, who was born on July 4.

Welfare spending is down: for every 100 poor families, just 24 receive cash assistance, compared with 64 in 1996.

Obama comforted families and communities following more than a dozen mass shootings. After Sandy Hook, he said, “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.”

Yet, he never took away anyone’s guns.

He sang Amazing Grace, spontaneously, at the altar.

He was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two terms without personal or political scandal.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama was not perfect, as no man and no president is, and you can certainly disagree with his political ideologies. But to say we suffered? If that’s the argument, if this is how we suffered for 8 years under Barack Obama, I have one wish: may we be so fortunate as to suffer 8 more.

Andrew Tobias adds:

Carter might have added that Obama and his team prevented Ebola from becoming a deadly global plague; deployed CDC teams in 49 countries to prevent the spread of future pandemics (sadly pulled back in 2018); and left his successor a detailed manual for dealing with a pandemic if one ever should reach our shores (sadly ignored).

Oh!  And she might have mentioned the glorious sea change that moves millions of LGBTQ+ Americans, their families, and friends nearly to tears.  (It ain’t that way in Chechnya.)

But even without those two additions, Carter’s essay reminds us what Obama/Biden and their team of competent, dedicated public servants did . . .

. . . and gives me hope for what Biden/Harris and their team may do.

Monday, November 9, 2020

More on Biden as the Best Candidate for 2020

As a follow-up to this and this (and this new piece in the Washington Post: Joe Biden is already showing he is the right president for the moment), from the NY Times:

The Biden Bump

If Democrats had nominated any candidate other than Joe Biden, President Trump may well have won re-election.

It’s impossible to know for sure, of course. But Biden won the states that decided the election narrowly — by two percentage points or less in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, current vote counts suggest. And there is good reason to believe other Democrats might have lost these states. Consider:

  • In several swing states — including Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina — Biden also did better than the Democratic nominees for Senate. (Arizona is an exception.)
  • In Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, the Democrats nominated a Bernie Sanders-style candidate — Kara Eastman, who backs “Medicare for all” and was endorsed by progressive groups like the Justice Democrats — for a House seat. She lost her race by almost five percentage points, while Biden won the district by almost seven points.
  • These election results are consistent with polls from over the past year that showed Biden faring better against Trump than other Democrats in hypothetical matchups.
By The New York Times

Why does this matter? For the past four years, Trump has dominated American politics. At times, he has seemed to possess magical political powers, winning the presidency despite rejecting the usual rules of politics and maintaining a roughly steady approval rating even as he was impeached and presided over a terrible pandemic.

In the end, though, Trump didn’t have magical powers. He instead became only the fourth elected president in the past century to lose re-election, after Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. That’s the good news for Democrats.

But there is also a large dose of bad news for Democrats. Despite Trump’s defeat, the Republican Party has retained its popularity in much of the country. A small but crucial segment of Americans chose to vote for both Mr. Biden and Republican congressional candidates.

This combination means that neither party has an obvious path forward. Democrats are almost certainly fooling themselves if they conclude that America has turned into a left-leaning country that’s ready to get rid of private health insurancedefund the policeabolish immigration enforcement and vote out Republicans because they are filling the courts with anti-abortion judges. Many working-class voters — white, Hispanic, Black and Asian-American — disagree with progressive activists on several of those issues.

But the notion that Democrats should simply move to the center on every issue also seems wrong. A big increase in the minimum wage passed in Florida last week with 61 percent of the vote. Several drug-decriminalization measures also passed. Expansions of Medicaid, a health-insurance program mostly for low-income people, have also passed in red states.

Republicans have a different set of problems. They have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. They now appear headed toward a messy struggle over who their new national leaders will be — or whether Trump himself will continue to dominate the party.

For more: Congressional Democrats are arguing over the party’s next steps, Michael Shear and Maggie Astor of The Times report. And Ross Douthat, an Op-Ed columnist, looks at how Republicans can become a majority party after Trump.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

I could have scrolled Twitter all day long yesterday

Just a few of my favorites:

Biden in 1986.

Contrast with 2014:

March for Science.

The Descent of Trump.

The results of our national election may tell a story of division. Ballot measures tell a different tale.

Aaron Lewis: "I love that Donald Trump is being evicted by Black people."

Bryan Behar: "Can you imagine being so bad at your job that they ring church bells in another country when you’re done?"

Kurt "Mask Up, Vote Early" Eichenwald: It is quite fitting that the Rudy and Trumps other freakazoids  had their last big performance in a parking lot between a dildo shop and a crematorium. Because then they can all fuck off and die without needing to travel.

Elizabeth Spiers: "We already empathize with Trump supporters on policy. We want them all to have healthcare, to make a living wage, to have a fair and equal justice system. We don't have to empathize with them because they voted against those things and lost. ... Everyone I know who was upset about Trump winning was upset because we knew he'd hurt a lot of people. The Trump supporters I know who are upset are mostly upset because he can't hurt the right people anymore. It's not the same impulse."

Thank you Australia:

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Honestly Despairing

To quote the Pod Save America guys, I'm nauseously optimistic about the final outcome of the presidential election (Thursday at 3:30 pm MT). 

But I despair that we are literally just a few thousand votes from re-electing one of the worst Americas to ever live. 

I despised G. W. Bush's policies. I hated seeing him on television. I agonized when he won. But I never thought he was a truly, deeply loathsome human being. 

Yet more people are going to have voted for the vile former host of the Celebrity Apprentice than any American ever, other than Joe Biden.

(And I know some people live in non-falsifiable worlds, but as much as I would love to think otherwise, neoconservative Bill Kristol is probably right: "I think it’s very possible, maybe likely, that Biden is the only Democrat who could have beaten Trump." That is absolutely depressing as hell. But we really need to function in a center-right country with an undemocratic senate and electoral college. There are lessons to learn if we want to ever really make progress.)

Monday, November 2, 2020

More Tweets

 Matt Yglesias:

Any project that has any long-term value — feed a child, install a solar panel, repair a bridge, remove some lead, put air conditioners in a school — is worth financing with debt.

Also, we absolutely should be looking into the financial dealings of children: Donald Trump’s Sons Have Sold More Than $100 Million Of His Real Estate Since He Took Office

Eric Trump in 2014: 'We have all the funding we need out of Russia'