Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Epistemic closure is a liability

Business Insider has a back and forth between Oliver Darcy and Pamela Engel, on the one hand, and Josh Barro, on the other, about the effects of the right-wing media on the current GOP. Darcy/Engel argue that the Republican Party won't be able to reform until it first changes the rightwing media. Barro views the rightwing media as a symptom of the parties' disfunction and lack of commitment to truth.

While I agree that there are multiple causes of Republican disfunction, I really think Darcy/Engel are more right than Barro on this one. The problem with the right-wing media is that by not reporting or downplaying information that is contrary to the ideology, consumers of that media eventually start living in their own political universe. Because there are not enough people consuming right-wing media exclusively to win a national election, the party is in an impossible situation. A Republican candidate has to appeal simultaneously to people in the alternate wingnutosphere as well as at least a portion of the public who don't share any of the background assumptions of their base. As the right-wing media gets more and more extreme, incorporating elements of what used to be fringe alt-right theories, there is less and less in common with people who are outside that bubble. It just doesn't work.

The right-wing media is really good at getting people angry, and that can be a good motivator to turn out the vote among consumers of that media. In low-turnout elections (such as mid-term elections), the extra motivation to turn out can be a big benefit to Republican candidates. But it dooms them in Presidential years, when the turnout is much greater and whatever extra motivation the wingnuts might have is overwhelmed by the larger electorate.

On top of that, there is also evidence that the candidates themselves are believe in the alternate reality of the right-wing media and, because that reality is not accurate, sometimes make bad strategic decisions in their campaign. There are tons of examples from this campaign, Trump's ridiculousness knows no bounds. But the problem goes back since at least the 2012 campaign. Witness, for example, Mitt Romney being caught flat-footed at the debate when Candy Crawley corrected him and pointed out that Obama had described the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror"--Romney apparently had only been getting his news from places like Fox that were wrongly insisting that the President never said those words while other sources quickly found a tape of Obama and moved on. Or when the Romney campaign jumped all over the false story (pushed by Breitbart) that the Obama administration was suing to prevent members of the military from voting in Ohio. Or when Romney did that mystifying swing through Pennsylvania on election day because he was taken in by "unskewed polls" that contradicted regular polls that showed he had little chance in the state.

The right-wing media is not just a symptom of the Republicans' difficulties, they really are part of the problem. But because they do give some benefit in the off years--which means just after a big presidential loss, when they otherwise would have the largest incentive to get things under control, they will immediately start looking ahead to the next election, when their media does give a benefit--I have a hard time imagining that the powers that be in the party will deal with the problem (even if we assume that they are able to do something about the right-wing media, and that's not clear either).

(via Memeorandum)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"You're the puppet!"

I think this exchange in the third presidential debate encapsulates the absurdity of the entire Trump campaign:

Clinton: Well, that's because he would rather have a puppet as president of the United States. 

Trump: No puppet. You're the puppet.

If any normal candidate were accused of being a puppet of a foreign power, he would probably laugh it off and dismiss the claim as absurd, or point out all ways his policies differ from the foreign leader's, or explain that while sometimes his policies might happen to be what foreign leaders also want they still are in the best interests of the United States. But no, Trump went with "you're a puppet."

But that's not all that is absurd about that exchange! That happened in a nationally televised presidential debate and it wasn't even the most talked about moment in the debate. There were so many other wacky and norm-defying moments, the fact that the Republican nominee said "you're the puppet" was not a stand-out moment (although it did make lists of several "top moments").

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Then vs. Now

Both conventional wisdom and post-debate polls say that Trump won every debate he participated in during the Republican primary but lost every debate in the general election. Is that more a commentary of who the audience was for each debate (i.e. "winning" in the primary means appealing to the GOP base whereas "winning" in the general means appealing to the whole electorate), Trump's primary opponents (including alleged debate master Ted Cruz), or Hillary Clinton's skills as a debater?

Before you say "all three", of course it's all three to some extent. But is there one reason that predominates? As I have said before, I usually don't buy the idea of a winner or loser in debates. There is no clear measure to determine a winner and so for most debates partisans on each side claim their person won and the actual winner is not universally acknowledged. But according to clear majority Clinton creamed Trump in all three debates. Trump was terrible on both a stylistic and substantive level in each one. Why did the guy who was such an unstoppable force against Republicans come across so abysmally against Clinton? The same shtick that dispatched primary opponent after primary opponent fell completely flat against Clinton, at least to anyone who wasn't deep inside the Trump-tank.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Does the Islamic State believe its own ideology?

The Syrian town of Dabiq is where some Muslims believe a great battle that heralds the end of the world is supposed to take place. The Islamic State embraced that idea, especially after it seized control of Dabiq in August 2014. It naming its magazine "Dabiq" and referred to the coming battle over the town with apocalyptic excitement.

It lost control of the town this week. As rebel armies closed in, ISIS shifted its narrative:
More recently, as Dabiq was surrounded on three sides by the Turkish-backed rebel force, Islamic State followers “began to frantically explain why the approaching showdown in Dabiq would not be THE showdown,” Will McCants, the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” wrote on the blog Jihadica.

Islamic State media outlets pointed out that other conditions for the prophesied battle had not materialized, like the appearance of a “crusader army,” or the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure, or an 80-nation coalition of fighters.
Why did they change their story before the battle over the town? Sure, the town was surrounded and the ISIS fighters knew they were outgunned. But if they were really true believers, wouldn't they have insisted that they would still pull off a surprise victory as prophesied in the Hadith? If they really are religious fundamentalists, why don't they buy their own bullshit?

Trump is a bigger fuckup than I thought

I gotta agree with Steve M. on this. I have thought that Trump's one real talent was self-promotion and the ability to play up to a crowd. But having Malik Obama as his guest in tonight's presidential debate is remarkably stupid showmanship.

You could argue that having the women who have accused Bill Clinton of harassment and (in one case) assault might rattle Hillary during the debate. I didn't think that would happen (all of the accuser's claims are old news, so the odds of rattling seemed low to me), but you could at least argue there was a plausible debate strategy there. But with Malik Obama there is no strategy. He is just a non-U.S. citizen who does not support Hillary Clinton. Why would Clinton care? He is not Clinton's relative, I don't think they even know each other, and as a foreign citizen, he can't even vote.(see update) Also, Clinton is not so close to Obama that she would take personal umbrage at some random disaffected relative of Barrack appearing in the room. Remember, Obama's national prominence started in a rivalry with Hillary Clinton. They have gotten along recently, but I don't think they are best friends on a personal level.

There simply is not strategy there. All it can do is throw red meat to the Breitbart crowd, and even with that only the portion of the Breitbart crowd who are too stupid to reflect on how little sense this makes. This is going to make both Trump and his supporters look really really dumb. How is that going to help him in the debate?

So much for the one thing that I thought Donald could do well.

UPDATE: Oops, apparently Malik is a naturalized citizen. So he can vote for Trump. That doesn't change my point though. He's just one vote, why would Clinton care?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Let the people decide! unless, um, the people decide wrong.

This should be a compelling reason for people to vote Democrat, any Democrat, in their local Senate race. Vote against the party of constitutional crises.

Monday, October 17, 2016


There is one third party candidate who has a real shot at winning a state and it's not Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

(That said, McMullen probably won't win Utah even if he is tied in the polls right now, and it won't matter much if he does as he won't win any others--he is only on the ballot in 11 states)

Anderson with a sandwich in the conservatory

The powers that be probably just cut off his internet access, and I bet the codes are just Julian's attempt to release some files in retaliation. But the theory that Pamela Anderson killed Julian Assange with a poisoned vegan sandwich is appealing.

The Arizona throw down

As I have mentioned before, there are a lot of election forecasting models this election. 538 seems to be the most popular, partly because it's run by the gay wizard of the 2012 election but also because the site is just better (more interactive and more accessible) than the others. I probably do check 538 the most, but I also try to check in with the others on a regular basis. Luckily, the Upshot has a handy comparison chart of the nine most prominent models.

The models have mostly all pointed in the same direction throughout. Currently, they all point to a Clinton win (as they have almost every day since they each launched). So they are not that far off from one another. But there are a few differences. While the ones that express their prediction in terms of a percentage all put Clinton's victory at between 87 and 98% likely, the ones that don't all say the likely presidential outcome is "lean Dem." "Lean Dem"?!?! how can that be consistent with the others that are giving chances in the 90s or close to it?

My current test case is Arizona. AZ is a weird outlier for the 538 model. As I write this, that model is giving AZ a 53.6% chance of being won by Clinton and the model has shown the state to be leaning Clinton for the past week or so. The other models all have Trump favored to take the state. The Upshot gives Trump an 84% chance, Daily Kos 64% Trump, Huffington Post 83% Trump, Predictwise 63% Trump, Princeton Election Consortium 96% Trump, and the Cook Report, Rothenberg & Gonzales, and Larry Sabato all have AZ as leaning Republican. It is interesting that the biggest contrast for AZ is between Nate Silver (aka 538) and Sam Wang (Princeton Election Consortium) because those two are longstanding rivals.

Maybe the models will start projecting AZ closer as election day approaches. And I realize that even Nate Silver is not predicting a sure thing in AZ--he is still giving Trump just short of a 50-50 chance of carrying the state. But who cares. I have the right to be arbitrary and I am arbitrarily picking what happens to AZ on November 8 to be my test case for which model is correct. Assuming they all pick the overall outcome correctly, if Clinton wins AZ, Nate Silver is the official wizard of this election. If Trump wins AZ, then Wang will get the crown (fuck the other 7). I'm sticking with this even if 538 shifts and starts predicting AZ will go for Trump down the line.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sinking brand

I've been predicting severe damage to the Trump brand post presidential race for a while now, and here is even more evidence that it is already happening.

When some biographer looks back at all of Trump's business failures, I predict the worst business decision Trump ever made (of all his bad business decisions) will be his decision to run for president.