Sunday, May 21, 2017

The truth is a cross -- Why the anti-anti-Trump temptation must be resisted.

When pushback first started against the "anti-anti-Trump" position, I was not on board. Wasn't Trump himself a response to the failures of the media and the establishments of both parties? Should we ignore those problems? Don't we need to provide a credible alternative to Trump, and isn't taking on some the excesses (and there are and have been real excesses) of the anti-Trump movement a part of doing that?

I was particularly unpersuaded by this Damon Linker piece, perhaps because he began with an unfortunate parallel to anti-communism. I had thought the historical consensus was that the zeal of anti-communism ranked below things like slavery, segregation, and the treatment of native Americans in ranking of American sins, but somewhere in the neighborhood of things like the internment of Japanese Americans. "McCarthyism" is not a compliment. Blacklisted movie industry workers are our American version of martyrs. The Vietnam War cost many lives for little apparent effect. Ronald Reagan didn't defeat communism; it was never a threat, and self-destructed. This was the cultural consensus until the day before yesterday. There are still some artifacts from this time in history.

But now we're supposed to believe this was wrong? That communism really was a threat, that the anti-Communists weren't opportunistically taking advantage of people's fear for their own ends but taking a necessary stand, and that those opposed to them were the real cowards?

Anyway, this was my general attitude until the last couple weeks.

It is apparent that Donald Trump is not a good president.

It is also apparent that there are a number of people who are committed to the idea that, whatever Trump's faults may be, they pale in significance to the faults of the media and elites, and that the best way to confront those is to allow Trump's presidency to run its course. Any criticism of President Trump is not a response to Trump's actual behavior, but a desperate attempt by the elites to regain their stranglehold on all the institutions of power over the expressed desires of the voting public.

The more people become committed to this idea, the harder it will be for them to confront the reality, and, human nature being what it is, they will grasp at any reason not to.

Enter the respectable anti-anti-Trump commentator, with their well-worn criticisms of the media and establishment figures. Which probably have truth behind them. But it feeds these supporters' sense that Trump is being persecuted for standing up to power rather than facing legitimate criticism for poor behavior. And that is bad.


I may have some problems with the healthcare industry, or how the case for vaccinations has been made.

But if I have a friend who refuses to vaccinate her children, and whose child is suffering from a disease that could be addressed by vaccinations, it is not a loving thing for me to do to commiserate with her about the arrogance of the medical community, or to forward her articles and comments on this theme.

Does this mean that the medical industry is perfect and above criticism? No. But there is an acute problem that needs to be addressed, and focusing on this chronic issue prevents us from doing that.


There are many problems we had in our society before Trump entered politics, some of which contributed to Trump's election. We do need to address them.

But the biggest problem we have right now is a childish president who doesn't seem to understand the responsibilities that come with his office. Getting through this will require us to be vigilant, and not wave off crticisms. Commentary like this, which pre-empts all criticism as so much turf-defending, is profoundly unhelpful:

Was Trump's speech any good?  This tweet doesn't give me any basis to determine that. But I do know that any Trump supporters now have support for the notion that any criticism of it is motivated by protecting turf instead of its actual content.

A Dramatic Loss

I'm sure the sabermetric community would kill me for this, but it seems like last week;s thrashing of the Rockets at home in an elimination game by a Spurs team missing its MVP candidate best player and point guard was more than just a single game. It seemed like a rejection of the Rockets' system by the basketball gods (and incidentally, a rejection of tanking and other similar systems).

First, for the Rockets Moreyball system. In its purest form, it is that the only good shots are dunks/layups and 3 pointers. The theory is that this is a higher percentage strategy, but the three pointers introduce a higher degree of variance.

This should give them a puncher's chance in against a superior team like the Warriors because, if the shots are falling, then they count for 3 points instead of 2, and they can have a better result than they merit.

But it also means that the possibility of being run off the court at home by a team with inferior talent is also in play. They have a higher ceiling, but a lower floor.

Now, I don't care for the Rockets system, so perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit. But I don't think the Rockets system can win a championship. Sometimes you need to grind out a win when the shots aren't falling, and the Rockets do not seem capable of that.

Perhaps there's some incremental tweaks. But a 39 point loss at home at an elimination game to a team missing its best player (and that doesn't appear to belong on the same floor as the Warriors) suggests something more fundamental.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Criminal DefenseA Criminal Defense by William L. Myers Jr.

I enjoyed this book up until the ending.

It was a tight, legal thriller and mystery. Having grown up in South Jersey, I enjoyed the mentions of Philadelphia landmarks (though I'm pretty sure nobody keeps track of time on the City Hall clock).

Then, we get to the "twist" ending, which I will discuss my problems with in the spoilers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Digital Citizenship

In his farewell column at This Week, Michael Brendan Daugherty apologizes for writing for the internet, and notes the negative consequences of our life online.

I am more optimistic about the future of this than MBD is (as I am about a lot of things), but I too have noted the bad effects. Indeed I think a big reason for the election of Trump is that we haven't yet adjusted to the new streams of information that are coming our way.

As a technology worker for the entirety of the internet era, I should be ahead of the curve on these things, but even I admit letting it things bother me more than I should. We have build a machine that is excellent at presenting us information to get us angry.

What I think we have is a national mood, and thus an electorate, that is being formed by unbalanced pieces of information. We seek out and find information that reinforces our point of view, and the only thing we see about those we disagree with is framed to make them look ridiculous.

This is not sustainable.

But I think we'll figure it out.

To speed that along, here's some guidelines I've adopted.

  • "Hypocrisy," or supporting a principle when it helps your party, and not when it supports the other party, especially from a partisan figure or organization, is unremarkable, and detecting it is not a laudable feat.
  • If someone says or does something stupid, that is mostly about them, rather than about every cause or movement they can semi-plausibly be linked to.
  • Think through what you intent to accomplish and what you are likely to accomplish before passing some piece of information on.
  • Do not share anything simply based on a headline without actually reading the article, remembering that headlines and tweets are often crafted by someone other than the author of a article to maximize clicks and views.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Being Right Isn't Enough

For some time, I've resisted the tendency to give great credit to politicians and pundits who were "right" in opposing the Iraq war. Yes, obviously, this is better than being wrong, and many prominent people were very wrong about it, with disastrous consequences. But those who were opposed were ineffective in doing so. The war went on. Their being against it did nothing to prevent it.

This came back to mind reading Isaac Chotiner's response to Jimmy Kimmel's talk about his son's scary first few days, and his call for coverage of pre-existing conditions.

First, I want to applaud Kimmel for considering what his experience might have been like for someone is a less privileged position than himself, and using his forum to try to improve that. As a father of a child with a chronic disease (ahem), I'm thankful for his witness.

So what problem would Democrats have with it? Well, Kimmel didn't quite say that removing this limitation was all Republicans' fault, and that Democrats were all tirelessly working to ensure no parent would ever have to face the choice he describes:

We need to make sure the people who represent us, the people who are meeting about this right now in Washington, understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team. It is the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.
As the Bret Stephens controversy has demonstrated, many people on the left simply cannot abide the notion that they are anything less than perfect, or that Republicans are anything more than miserable reprobates. The important thing isn't that we work together to ensure children with such conditions have medical coverage, it's that some might have come away from Kimmel's talk not knowing that this is all Republicans' fault:

But the problem in Washington is not partisanship per se. It’s an ideologically deranged party and its know-nothing leader in the White House. The fact that approximately half the voters in this country support that party is a much less comforting thought than the one about America coming together to care for kids like Billy. Until we face up to that pre-existing reality, we don’t have any chance of ensuring that we live in a society that truly cares for its most vulnerable citizens.
Kimmel wants kids to get covered; I get the sense that Chotiner would be just as happy if they weren't covered, and it was Republicans' fault.


Yes, Chotiner is right that this coverage is in place because of ACA, which was advanced by the Obama Administration and opposed by Republicans, who are currently trying to dismantle it.

Bravo. That and $5 will get you a coffee at a hospital cafeteria.

What Chotiner refuses to grapple with is why ACA is vulnerable. Yes, the Republican Party has a number of people with a disordered commitment to small government, and probably a few mean-spirited people who don't want to give coverage to those who don't "deserve" it. I don't think those numbers add up to one sufficient to provide the majorities the GOP currently has attained.

What makes up for it is what's included in the package. How they were willing to risk it to keep abortion coverage. How it was used as a weapon against organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor to coerce them into violating their conscience. Things like this whittled away at the ACA's popularity to make it vulnerable.

Then the Democrats nominated a candidate loathed by much of the electorate with a questionable ethical track record who lost to the worst major party presidential candidate in living memory.

If Chotiner and others really want to make sure kids are covered, they'll stop trying to cover their own asses, and roll up their sleeves and try to win elections. That might mean dealing with people he doesn't like. That might mean compromising on some social issues. That might mean not chasing people out of the coalition for favoring legal protections for the unborn. That  might mean taking people's concerns seriously rather than just calling them names.

Yes, it is unfair that those who are right on an issue bear a moral burden that those who are wrong don't share. As a pro-lifer, I need to present the case for the unborn in a way that people will respond to. If I am aware of the horror of abortion, but I advocate for the unborn in an ineffective or counterproductive way, then I have failed in a way that someone who doesn't recognize it has not. My being "right" on the issue does nothing for the unborn.

So, yes, Chotiner is correct that the Democrats are on the right side of this issue, and Republicans are on the wrong side. But that is entirely besides the point. Those who value medical coverage can be angry at Republicans for taking it away, but also at Democrats for putting it in a package that people are repeatedly rejecting.