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.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Colbert Temptation...

While I'm ruining comedy by over-analyzing it, I'll turn to Stephen Colbert.

Now, I haven't caught much of his show since he's taken over the 11:30 CBS spot. I watched and enjoyed his Comedy Central show when I lived in the Central Time Zone, though I did have my issues with it.  But I have followed the news and ratings, and Colbert's apparent decision to make his show more overtly political in response to Trump.

I think this is a terrible idea.

To see why, let's look at Colbert's segment at halftime of today's Big 10 Championship Game on the occasion of Colbert's Northwestern Wildcats imminent first ever selection to the NCAA tournament.
Bear in mind that Colbert was addressing a different audience from his usual fans, and had an opportunity to win them over:


The Trump/political bits are easily the least funny parts of it. Those who enjoyed them aren't laughing at good jokes, but rejoicing in seeing their own views mirrored by a fancy celebrity. "It's the year of the underdog ... including reality TV show hosts!" Really? March Madness won't be covered by health insurance next year?  Is there even a joke there? Or are we just supposed to howl in recognition that health care will obviously be worse next year once the Republicans are done with it.


He's better than this.

But the problem is that Colbert (and his staff) receive tremendous amounts of positive feedback for this kind of thing, likely from people they like and respect. The temptation to just keep pounding out the anti-Trump stuff must be enormous.

But it's a temptation I think he and his cohorts would do well to resist. It doesn't make for particularly good comedy, and I don't think it's particularly good commentary either. If the Republicans really are ruining health care for millions of people, we shouldn't be chuckling about it not covering "March Madness;" we should be doing everything we can to prevent it.

I think Jimmy Kimmel is on the right track with Trump-free Tuesday -- if only force his writers to push themselves past the easy high of an anti-Trump hit.

Comedians like Colbert will have an important role to play in how we respond to Trump. They need to do so with care in order to be effective.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thinking Too Hard About the Big Bang Theory


The Big Bang Theory has been on for 10 years now, and has spent the last 5 being the #1 rated scripted show on network television, which doesn't mean what it used to mean, but is still something.

Despite (or, as this discussion may demonstrate, because of) being a bit nerdy like the main characters, I've never been much of a fan. I won't leave the room if it's on, but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it.

But why? It's a show about people somewhat similar to me (though I would much sooner spend a weekend on a retreat or watching basketball than at Comic-con) with attractive wives and girlfriends, successful careers, and quality friendships, which has top-level resources devoted to it (this isn't a "Christian" movie). What's not to like?

Then, I saw this video:


Now, I've written before about how, for a piece of entertainment like The Big Bang Theory, what is being sold isn't so much the show as an artifact of artistic achievement, but the experience of watching the show. So, the fact that there's not really a well-crafted "joke" here to go with the laugh track does not, in itself, convict the show.

But it does raise the question of what is being sold here.

And the conclusion I come to, is that the experience is of laughing at these characters, not with them, and by extension, me and other "nerdy" people.

--

Let's stipulate that the Big Bang Theory does not represent some crowning pinnacle of comedic or dramatic achievement, but just something that people enjoy the company of for a half hour a week.

Now, for a show to work this way does not require the characters to be people one would either admire or choose to hang out with in real life. The four Seinfeld characters were, of course famous for their antisocial behavior. All six Friends had traits that would be grating from a real-life friend. The Crane brothers would be insufferable for longer than a half hour. And so on...

And I think the pattern holds true for The Big Bang Theory. The characters aren't presented as malevolent, but they are not presented as particularly likable, either. We root for them, but I don't think we are supposed to want to hang out with them.

Penny is our audience-surrogate. She started the series as their neighbor, and now is married to Leonard, the least nerdy of the bunch. She rolls her eyes with us as the guys nerd out. She is also unrealistically attractive for someone who would spend any time with this group.

A typical episode's "A" plot these days will involve Leonard committing some obvious relationship blunder that gets Penny angry at him (say, not calling when he was going to be late or changing plans without consulting her first). At first Leonard will be indignant at how this innocuous action (or inaction) could possibly provoke this type of response, but by the final act, he has recognized his error, made some grand gesture to atone, and pledges not to repeat the error.

So, the non-nerdy fans get to feel superior to the nerds, who might be book-smart but are oblivious as far as relationships go, plus we're way hotter than they are. And the nerds are pacified because Leonard gets to keep his hot wife/girlfriend, even if it comes at the cost of his personality being gradually ground down.

A similar thing happens with the sequence above. Non-nerds (and milder nerds like me) laugh that the nerds care about all this stuff. Nerds are (supposed to be) thrilled to see someone who shares their interests represented in a sympathetic manner on a highly rated network television show.

--

The made me recall the Twitter fight between Scott Alexander and Freddie (which I can't find right now), which started with Freddie asserting that the commercial success of Star Wars proves that nerds aren't oppressed. Alexander responded that the prominence of blacks in entertainment didn't prove that blacks weren't oppressed, which Freddie uncharacteristically took as a cue to mock the idea that anyone would compare the experience of nerds to the experience of blacks, ending any productive conversation.

The point wasn't that the experience of nerds is in any way analogous to that of blacks, but simply that this was a bad way to demonstrate it. (And I probably wouldn't choose the word "oppressed" to describe the experience of nerds).

The fact that Hollywood is willing to portray things we like and take our money doesn't mean they respect us, any more than copying our homework in high school was a demonstration of social esteem.  Yes, Hollywood devotes a lot of resources to comic book and Sci-Fi movies, but as the Oscars demonstrated, this isn't really what they respect. They'll happily cash the checks and use them to make dramas celebrating themselves.

With The Big Bang Theory, I feel like I'm being made fun of, and also expected to be thankful for the privilege.

--

Of course, this made me wonder how other groups feel. Shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family are often praised for their positive portrayal of gay characters, to the point where some credited these shows with changing their position on same sex marriage.

But are/were they really so great? Weren't the portrayals a bit stereotypical? And weren't we invited to laugh at their fussiness?

Maybe some gay people did think so, but were afraid to make much noise about it since it was so much better than what came before, and were thankful for the progress.

And maybe that would be a good attitude for me to cultivate as well.

So I'll muster one cheer for The Big Bang Theory.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Clinton Team's Shit Didn't Work in the General Election

Yes! It's another MBB sports-politics analogy post!

When questioned about his Oakland A's lack of postseason success, Billy Beane famously remarked, "My shit doesn't work in the playoffs,"

There's a couple messages one could take from this statement:

  1. The baseball playoffs are essentially a crapshoot, and it's silly to draw any grand conclusions from a team's performance in a 5 or 7 game series. The 162 game regular schedule is a much truer test of a team's makeup. Beane's job was to get the team in position to be in the playoffs, and he did that.
  2. The A's were constructed for the long grind of the regular season, not the radically different postseason. The things that helped the A's be successful in the regular season worked against them in the playoffs.
  3. The way the A's were constructed was missing a critical element that was exposed in the pressure of postseason play.
Beane's defenders tended toward the first explanation, his critics tended to the third. I'm probably closer to the second.

I think one thing working against the A's is that the data Beane was working from was not fully mature, and only captured things that were easy to measure, such as the three true outcomes. There weren't good statistics for baserunning and defense, so they were put into the pile of things that don't matter as much as traditionalists think, like clutch hitting and clubhouse chemistry.

Now, of course, we have better data about these things, and analytics-strong teams include great defensive players and aggressively shift to leverage them. But Beane was still working with the 1.0 version of analytics, which was missing this, resulting in distortions. The Moneyball A's were built around hulking sluggers who walked a lot but weren't so great at running of fielding. This left some gaps which their postseason opponents took advantage of.

This popped (back) into my mind reading Sonny Bunch's comparison of the Trump campaign to the Moneyball A's. Bunch thinks that Trump was the "Moneyball" candidate, embracing unorthodox strategies that gave him an advantage over the more conventional Clinton campaign.

I think the opposite -- I think the Clinton campaign was more of "Moneyball" team, and fell short for similar reasons to why the Moneyball A's never won a World Series.

The Clinton campaign's decisions were very driven by the polls, and by the analysis thereof. Decisions like not campaigning in states like Wisconsin and Michigan which unexpectedly turned the election to Clinton were driven by data-savvy people in Brooklyn over the objections of the people on the ground.

This resulted in a distorted campaign, and an anomalous result.

And I think the lesson in not necessarily to abandon the analytic approach, but to get better at it, and until you are better, complement it with some old-fashioned ground work.

Working the Refs....

I don't recall exactly when the term "working the refs" entered the lexicon of sports, but the first coach I recall employing the tactic beyond simple complaining about close calls that didn't go his way was Phil Jackson.

Again, this may be a little hazy, but my memory is that in his post-game press conference, Jackson would drop tidbits such as that the Bulls' opponents had twice as many free throw attempts as the Bulls. Or note a tendency of an opposing player that could be outside of the rules. He wouldn't embarrass the official; he wouldn't take his or his team's focus off their own performance onto the officials, but he would make his point.

Then there's the approach of someone like Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. They seems to respond to every call that doesn't go their way as if it is the greatest injustice in human history. So Chris Paul picks up a technical for screaming at an official 3 minutes into a game where the Clippers got blown out by the Warriors.

There may be some advantages to this approach. It may be that, in the short term, the officials will be aware that they will pay the price for any call that goes against the Clippers. So they may be a bit more reluctant to make such a call.

But over time, this grates on people. Their complaints start being dismissed as them always complaining. The official may develop a hostility to a team that is constantly showing them up.

And it can take the team's focus off of what they need to do to get better. The team starts to see itself as a victim of unjust decisions rather than a unit with agency. Maybe a couple calls didn't go your way. You can still play better.

It doesn't seem absurd that this attitude may be one reason the Clippers have yet to enjoy a deep playoff run.

--

When I look at the commentary from many left of center sources about the media, what I see reminds me more of Doc Rivers than Phil Jackson.

A prime example is the notion of "false equivalence." Any time an article mentions the sins of the left in any proximity to some sin of the right, you can count on a series of concerns about "false equivalence" -- that by mentioning these two problems in proximity to each other, the writer is promoting the notion that they are equivalent when they are not even close.

If I can be indulged another sports analogy, this strikes me as akin to criticizing sportswriters for reporting the score from both teams out of fear that some readers would see that both teams scored points, and thus the game ended in a tie.

Yes, some people take mental shortcuts, and some may jump to the "both sides are guilty" conclusion, but I retain hope that people are capable of making value judgments based on the facts presented. And if they're not, I don't think the problem will be solved by declining to report the sins of the side seemed to be better.

I think that false equivalence is best confronted by:

  • being better
  • teaching people to recognize distinctions
  • modeling that themselves.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

The danger of Trump

Scott Alexander wrote a piece entitled "You're Still Crying Wolf" about how some of the reaction to Trump's election have been counter-productive.

Alexander endorsed Hillary Clinton, and I didn't, but I'm inclined to agree with Ross Douthat's (who also never explicitly endorsed Clinton, as far as I know) assessment of the piece as "important but wrong."

First, the important part -- in the final section, Alexander writes about people committing suicide because Trump won, and freaking out beyond what can be supported by the Trump campaign's words or actions, and concludes:

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.
I think this is important. I don't know where people got the idea that convincing people that some people hate them who actually don't was helpful to them, but it's not and it needs to stop. The hit of moral superiority you get from saying that other people hate isn't worth it.

The wrong part, I think, is misunderstanding how structures of racism and other structures persist. The passage that I think best exhibits this is in Section III, Questions 1-3, discussing Trump's support from the KKK and white nationalist groups.

The section doesn't lend itself to quoting, but the gist is that the KKK, white nationalists, unapologetic racists, etc. are such a small portion of the electorate, especially compared to minority populations and those sympathetic to them, that it would be foolish for Trump to court the former while eschewing the latter.

Which may have been true in the general election. And I'm inclined to agree that Trump's attitude is more of a businessman's "their votes counts as much as anyone else's" than actual enthusiasm for white nationalism.  I suspect Trump didn't do much better in the general election from self-described white nationalists than Romney or McCain.

But in the Republican primary with 15 other candidates, they were a more significant force. He had signaled a willingness to accept their support with no strings attached. And when he won the nomination, and then the general election, these were the people who had displayed loyalty, and thus the people who would run the campaign, and receive high level assignments in a Trump Administration.

Combine this with Trump's level of support from law enforcement, and I think the fear that a Trump Administration will bring about worse treatments of minorities by the police is far from absurd.

--

Alexander suggests that those who disagree with his piece do so by betting the other side of one of his predictions:

1. Total hate crimes incidents as measured here will be not more than 125% of their 2015 value at any year during a Trump presidency, conditional on similar reporting methodology [confidence: 80%]2. Total minority population of US citizens will increase throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 99%]3. US Muslim population increases throughout Trump’s presidency [confidence: 95%]4. Trump cabinet will be at least 10% minority [confidence: 90%], at least 20% minority [confidence: 70%], at least 30% minority [30%]. Here I’m defining “minority” to include nonwhites, Latinos, and LGBT people, though not women. Note that by this definition America as a whole is about 35% minority and Congress is about 15% minority.5. Gay marriage will remain legal throughout a Trump presidency [confidence: 95%]6. Race relations as perceived by blacks, as measured by this Gallup poll, will do better under Trump than they did under Obama (ie the change in race relations 2017-2021 will be less negative/more positive than the change 2009-2016) [confidence: 70%].7. Neither Trump nor any of his officials (Cabinet, etc) will endorse the KKK, Stormfront, or explicit neo-Nazis publicly, refuse to back down, etc, and keep their job [confidence: 99%].8. No large demographic group (> 1 million people) get forced to sign up for a “registry” [confidence: 95%]9> No large demographic group gets sent to internment camps [confidence: 99%]10. Number of deportations during Trump’s four years will not be greater than Obama’s 8 [confidence: 90%]
First, I think this is kind of silly. The danger of Trump is that he puts a number of outcomes in play that were previously unthinkable. A lot of bad things go from 0.01% to 0.1%.  For one catastrophic event, this might not be so bad, but there's a multiplier in place. If the probability of 10 separate catastrophic events went from 0.01% to 0.1%, then the chance of a catastrophe went from 0.1% to 1%. This seems bad, even if it would still make it foolish to bet on it.

Somewhat related, presidencies often go bad for reasons that aren't anticipated, but do have to do with the character of the president and those around him. Lots of people were probably wary of a Bush presidency in 2000, but I'm not sure they would have predicted that we would receive a large terrorist attack, and launch a misguided war in response that included torture. Or for Obama, that his health care bill would include a provision requiring employers to provide abortificient forms of birth control, and they would read the religious exemption narrowly, resulting in them taking the Little Sisters of the Poor to court.

Having said that, I'd be willing to take the other side of the predictions I bolded, assuming that there was some consistent way to measure them, which I fear would lead to some semantic arguments that would be unseemly. Plus, I'd rather not position myself to cheer for hate crimes or degrading race relations.

Furthermore, I think that if I'm wrong, then the mechanism by which I'm wrong would be some egregious event, either from law enforcement or by people emboldened by Trump's victory, that it unites people in support of minority populations, similar to how 9/11 united the county. This isn't something to cheer for.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Pledge

I understand that for many people, the results of last night's election are scary. Though I would have preferred a different outcome, they are not so for me, but I recognize that is at least partly due to my position of privilege.

Given that, I was to state that I will do my best over the course of the next four years to oppose policies that impact the most vulnerable among us -- in particular, racial and religious minorities.

I will oppose any policies that target them unfairly. I will use what forums I have to educate people about the negative impact such policies would have, and how they are out of step with American and Christian values. Should such policies be enacted, I will work to mitigate their impact, and to repeal them.

I will also opposes the actions of those who may feel that yesterday's results give them license for bullying and other bad behavior.

I am sorry for my lack of engagement that helped bring us to this point, and I will work to ensure we have quality candidates for whom to vote in future elections.

*I normally despise pieces like this that portray the writer as the last island of love and tolerance in a sea of hatred and bigotry. That's not my point -- I believe we are still a nation of good people (a number of whom made a wrong choice or series of choices), and I want us to say so, and reassure those who are scared today.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Why I Care About Email Server Management

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A regular feature of Matthew Ygelsias's Twitter feed has been referring to the controversy around Hillary Clinton's email server as "email server management," e.g. suggesting that the only people who would be concerned about that are "single-issue email server management voters".

This morning, Yglesias took this snark to article form: "The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign"

OK, well let's see how this starts out...
Some time ago, Hillary Clinton and her advisers decided that the best course of action was to apologize for having used a personal email address to conduct government business while serving as secretary of state.
Emphasis added.

Ok, we have a problem right off the bat.

One of the patterns of Clinton defenses is to conflate what Clinton did with what a lot of professionals have done. We've all probably mixed our personal and professional IT resources in ways our employers would not approve of, so we're invited to see what Clinton did as not much different, and identify with her. We wouldn't want to have our career prospects limited by this, why should Clinton?

A few problems with this gambit:


  1. Clinton didn't just mix her personal and professional email. She had her own server for this email set up at her home on Long Island. This wasn't a matter of forwarding an email to your personal account so you could look at it at home without lugging your laptop home. This was a systemized circumvention of standard protocols.
  2. Hillary Clinton was not some standard cog in a machine. She was Secretary of State with ambitions of becoming president. I might scoff at IT policies around the emails I'm privy to as a mid-level software developer as being a tad paranoid.  Oooh, maybe a competitor will find out that we're increasing our focus on quality this quarter! When you are Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world, those restrictions are a bit more meaningful.
  3. I'd like to think those who would be our leaders have stronger ethical fiber than I do. I might be tempted to ignore policies that I find inconvenient, but, in general, I don't, and neither do most people. That I can understand the temptation does not mean that I excuse succumbing to it, in particular from those who ask me to vote for them for president.

So why did she do it?  Here's Yglesias's explanation:

Like most people who started a federal job in 2009, she was also disheartened to learn that the then-current state of federal IT departments was such that she could not connect her personal smartphone to a State Department email address. If she wanted ready access to both her email accounts, she would need to carry two smartphones.
As any reporter in Washington knows, this indignity was in fact visited upon a huge number of DC denizens for many years. Everyone working in government felt that this was kinda bullshit, but nobody could really do anything about it. (Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts has opined that carrying two phones could be reasonable grounds to suspect someone is a drug dealer.)
Clinton decided to do something about it. Namely, she told her top aides to just email her at her personal address so she could keep using whichever devices she wanted. This violated an internal State Department policy directive, known as a Foreign Affairs Manual, which stated that while it was okay to use personal digital devices to do work occasionally, “normal day-to-day operations” should be conducted on standard State Department equipment. Clinton chose to ignore this guideline and because she was the boss nobody could stop her. 

So, according to Yglesias, the reason for the use of the personal email address was convenience. Who wants to lug around two devices?  The image this brings up is of a poor working mom dragging her kids to day-care and soccer practice and the grocery store and having to stand on the Metro to get to work, and you're asking her to carry one more thing around with her every damn day? Who could blame her for saying, "The Hell with that!"

Except Hillary Clinton wasn't a poor working mother riding public transportation to work everyday. She was Secretary of State and former First Lady, with a full staff and Secret Service protection. She hadn't touched the steering wheel of a car, let alone a post on a Metro train, in 30 years. The idea that it was just too darn onerous for her to carry two devices, while thousands of other people do the exact same thing with considerably less priviilege is risible.

So, why the email server? Yglesias goes on:

Clinton, as you may have heard, is married to former president Bill Clinton, who stepped down from office in January of 2001. Clinton was in the White House throughout the 1990s when the rest of us were being bombarded with AOL signup CD-ROMs, so he didn’t have a personal email when he left. Gmail didn’t exist back then, and his new job was, in effect, running a Bill Clinton startup. He launched a charitable foundation, he established his presidential library, and he made big bucks on speaking tours. He had a staff and he needed IT infrastructure and support. So he paid a guy to set up an email server that he could use.
Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual. What it’s not is suspicious.

I'll accept this, but note that Yglesias is asking us to grant Clinton slack based on her unusual position as a former first lady, while at the same time presenting her as poor working schlub like the rest of us who couldn't possibly be expected to manage two devices.

From there, Ygleisias goes on into the specifics of the Espionage Act, which I'm not inclined to dispute. My problem with this is not the specifics of the Espionage Act. It is the attitude of being above the law, both in this decision and the "how dare you!" response to it.

All of us encounter rules and regulations that make it harder to do the things we want to do. Our choices are:

  1. Go along with it and accept the slow-down
  2. Ignore the regulation.
  3. Work to change the regulation if it truly doesn't make sense.
Most of us are expected to choose Option #1, particularly if we lack the skill or initiative to challenge the status quo. And our lives are more difficult because of it. We lug two devices to the soccer field.

Occasionally, me might get away with Option #2. We drive 26 in a 25. We skip a few steps. We send a personal email from our work computer. We forward an email to our personal address. But if we get caught, we know we'll have to apologize or our livelihoods will be threatened.

I expect our leaders to choose Option #1 or #3. Yes, #1 makes life harder, and #3 requires courage. Tough. You want to be president.

This isn't about "email server management." This is about character. This is about how one regards oneself in relation to those one is asking to rule. The Clinton Team's response to this has not demonstrated they understand this.


This is why this story won't go away. Because people like Yglesias keep trying to shame us for caring about it, and we smell a rat.

We should expect more from our leaders than they expect of us.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Less Than My Standard

Please see my election disclaimer post.

I've seen a lot of commentary along these lines lately:

To illustrate this example, all 3 of the baseball teams I root for -- the Phillies, Cardinals, and the Mariners -- did not make the playoffs this year.

This does not mean that they were equally bad.  Indeed, the Phillies were significantly worse than the Mariners and the Cardinals by all measures.

But neither met the standard to qualify for the playoffs.

This is what those who have thoughtfully considered both the major party candidates, and have deemed both unacceptable have concluded.  Not that both the candidates are equally bad, but that neither meets the standard for the office they seek. 

To be sure, there is a strain of reflexive, "To hell with both of them" thought that ought to be challenged. But I think many of those who have found both these candidates wanting wish they had a candidate worth supporting.

Lowering our standards for either of these candidates sends the message that we will accept whatever the parties give us. And we'll be right back here four years later.

But wait, Clinton supporters say, maybe Clinton doesn't meet the threshold for your support, but surely Trump has crashed through another threshold, where it is necessary to vote for the opposing party, qualms notwithstanding, to prevent him from taking power.

My response is that I'll let the Clinton campaign tell me that by how they conduct their campaign. If voting for Clinton to prevent Trump from taking power is an imperative for me as a citizen, then it is also an imperative for the Clinton campaign to ensure their candidate can draw from the widest base of support.

The Clinton campaign has not done this. I can't say I blame them -- they will likely win anyway, and why handcuff yourselves if you don't have to? But I'm not going to sacrifice more than my leaders are willing to. If the Clinton campaign is not willing to bend on its principles to ensure Trump is not elected, than neither will I. Our leaders should sacrifice more than ordinary citizens, not less.


Please see my election disclaimer post.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Heroic Postseason Relief Appearances By Starting Pitchers

In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's save last night, and to cleanse my mind, let's review the most memorable relief appearances by starting pitchers in the postseason.

In baseball, postseaon games bear less resemblance to regular season games than in any other sport. One way is that the off days and "no tomorrow" mean that starting pitchers are available for relief duty.

Madison Bumgarner Game 7, 2014 World Series

Bumgarner completed his task of almost single-handedly lifting the Giants to victory with five shutout innings in Game 7 on the road, two days after throwing a complete game shutout.  This probably takes the lead for me, considering both the stakes and the body of Bumgarner's work during that postseason.

Pedro Martinez Game 5, 1999 ALDS

Coming at the end of what may be the most dominant pitching season in memory, Pedro came out of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians with a back injury

He returned with 6 innings of no-hit relief to push the Red Sox to a 12-8 victory over the Tribe. The score indicates how desperate the Sox were for some innings.

Randy Johnson Game 7, 2001 World Series

The 2001 Diamondbacks had come down to be almost a 2 man team, with their two aces of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Their closer Byung-Hyun Kim, had blown two saves in spectacular fashion.  

Johnson had pitched 7 innings in a 15-2 Snakes blowout, as analysts were screaming at Bob Brenly to take Johonson out of the game and save him for a possible relief appearance in Game 7.

The next night, Johnson came in to put out an eigth inning Yankee rally and pitched a perfect ninth before the Diamondbacks rallied in the ninth, giving Johnson his third win of the series.

Clayton Kershaw Game 5, 2016 NLDS

Unlike the other pitchers on the list, Kershaw came into this game with something to prove, fairly or unfairly. He had been unlucky in his postseason starts, and the heorics of the other California lefthanded ace had set the bar high.  And he passed the test with flying colors. 

Kershaw may have been overshadowed by the performance of closer Kenley Jansen, who came into the game with two runners on and no outs in the 7th, and pitched 2 1/3 innings on a career high 51 pitches. And unlike the other pitchers here, this did not come at the end of a great season (for him).

Orel Hershiser 1988 Game 4 NLCS

It's funny. I remember from that year:
  • Hershiser's record-setting scoreless streak to end the season.
  • Dodgers closer Jay Howell getting suspended for pine tar on his glove.
  • Hershiser dominating the A's in the World Series.
  • My dad was a Mets fan
But I didn't remember Hershiser's relief appearance in Game 4. Likely because it was in the 12th inning of a night game and I was 13 at the time. But one day after pitching 7 innings on two days' rest, Orel Hershiser got the final out of Game 4.

There's been other outings, typically back-end starters who were only going to get one start in a series making appearances, but these are the ones that stick out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Replay

A palate cleanser from my discussions of two candidates I can't stand.

To me, the main purpose of replay is to prevent gross injustices in officiating decisions. Things like the Don Denkinger decision in the 1985 World Series.

In particular, we want to prevent a player making a great effort, and getting screwed over by a bad call.

In football, the plays reviewed are generally plays of skill. Did the receiver keep both feet in bounds? Did the runner fumble the ball before the going down? Did the ball carrier get the ball over the goal line? There's some luck involved, but these are plays of skill.

In basketball.... not so much. Sometimes reviews are used for things like buzzer beaters. But more often, it's for determining who the ball deflected off before going out of bounds. This is almost always a matter of luck, not skill. Getting these calls wrong can be chalked up to a "bad break" rather than an injustice crying out for redress.

Now, in baseball, a common application is to ensure that baserunners who slid into 2nd or 3rd base maintain contact with the base throughout their slide while getting tagged. As Dave Cameron notes, if this is measuring a skill, it's one that has never been crucial in the history of baseball, and is only measured thanks to the new technology.

Is this a positive innovation? Well, assuming that sliding such that one never comes off the bag isn't something that can be easily picked up, the effect of this will be to drive down stolen bases and runners going for extra bases. Which are the more exciting plays in baseball, attempted by exciting players. Baseball needs more of these plays, not fewer. And these are not inaccuracies that are noted in real time.

There are more dimensions to justice than just accuracy. When Dustin Johnson played the final round of the US Open unsure if he had a penalty, that was an injustice, regardless of whether they got the call right.

Getting things right is an admirable motive, but in some cases, it's probably best to trade some accuracy for speed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How could this happen?

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A popular line of commentary these days is to list the many sins of Donald Trump, and question why it took these videotapes to turn people away from Trump. This Dan Rather Facebook post seems to be a representative example.

The implied answer is that these people are moral cretins who don't care about anyone by their own, and need to take a hard look in the mirror.

That's definitely true. But at the same time, I think the people driving our culture need to consider how they might have helped create an environment where Trump could thrive.

A few examples:


  • I am pro-life, which means I consider abortion to be the killing of innocent human life. Yet, every four years, I am instructed, often my those who also claim to be pro-life and/or who share my Catholic faith, that I should "look past" candidates's support for abortion, and consider proportional reasons why supporting a pro-abortion candidate might be the right thing to do.
  • By the same token, Planned Parenthood actually commits hundreds of thousands of these abortions a year. Yet, I am lectured that I should #standWith them, again even by some pro-lifers or fellow Catholics, because abortion is only 3% of their business, they do great things like cancer screenings, and their body of work may on net reduce abortions. So I should look past that.
  • For years after that recording was made, and several other incidents were common knowledge, the network that produced that video helped make Trump a TV star, promoting him as a kind of omniscient master of business whose opinion on others' work wasn't just meaningful, but the only opinion that mattered.
  • The host for many of Trump's lewdest comments was Howard Stern. Those who challenged whether someone as crass as he is should have such prominence were dismissed as prudes. Like Trump, NBC gave him a prominent spot in a prime time family variety show, while he continued to spend his mornings interviewing porn stars on the radio.
Again, those who have supported Trump are responsible to the choice. But the culture has been sending out a pretty strong message that those who stand for any values are simpleton fools worthy of mockery.

That may be worth changing.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Trump and the Supremes

Please see my election disclaimer post.


One justification for voting for Trump despite his obvious deficiencies is the judiciary.  E.g.
And on the surface, this is understandable. Roe v. Wade and other cases overturned laws that were passed by state legislatures and signed by the governors. But were undone by judicial decisions.  So, the key to enacting meaningful protections for the unborn is to fill the judiciary with judges willing to overturn these decisions.

But if you dig a little deeper into the reality, this starts to fall apart.

In order for the "elect Trump for pro-life judges" strategy to work, the following things would need to happen:


  1. Trump wins the election.
  2. Trump keeps his promise to nominate judges who would make pro-life decisions, despite this not being any kind of personal priority of his.
  3. These judges, who are apparently visibly pro-life, and were nominated by a President Trump with all his misogynist history, in the media environment that gave us the War on Women, are confirmed by the Senate.
  4. Once on the Court, these justices are not influenced by the cultural elite, and continue to make pro-life decisions, enduring harsh criticism that comes with it. (Recall that many of the decisions establishing Same Sex Marriage were made by judges appointed by Republicans)
  5. These decisions, again made by judges appointed by President Trump that restrict women, are accepted by the public, and do not launch a series of counter-measures including efforts to impeach Trump or these justices, constitutional amendments, and a laser-like focus on the Courts from the abortion lobby.
I would place the probability of each of these as less than 50%.

Making the probability of success for this strategy (0.5 ^ 5), or 1/32 at best.

Now, all things are possible with God. Though I don't think "with God" and "President Trump" belong in the same sentence.

I'm afraid there aren't any shortcuts. We need to move elite opinion such that pro-life candidates and judges are acceptable. Maybe, and otherwise popular president could get away with nominating a judge with a pro-life record, as President Bush did with Roberts and Alito when he was still popular. A President Trump, if elected, will never be popular enough to do that.

It also paints a dim view of our judiciary, which may be supported by reality, but I don't think is healthy. That judges don't make decisions based on the evidence before them or arguments presented or the text itself, but on their pre-existing ideological commitments. Again, maybe this is how things have worked out, but it's not for the best.

The Trump shortcut to a pro-life decision is closed, if it was ever open. The only thing is for us to do the hard work of making the case for the unborn. It does seem difficult, but the Truth is on our side. Given that, we shouldn't need to sell ourselves to the likes of Trump to achieve protections for the unborn.


Please see my election disclaimer post.

#NeverTrump, including now

Though I have posted before that I will not be voting for Donald Trump, I have not made the strength of that conviction clear.


  • I think Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Donald Trump
  • I think any of the nominees from either party in my lifetime would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think any of the candidates who made appearances in televised debates for either party in this year's election would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think Gary Johnson would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I think Jill Stein would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I do not know much about the other third party candidates, but I strongly suspect they would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I suspect someone chosen at random from the pool of American citizens who meet the Constitutional eligibility requirements would be a better president than Donald Trump, if only because she would approach the office with some degree of humility.

Trump was a no-go from the beginning for me since I grew up an hour from Atlantic City, and saw what became of it with him exercising great influence over it. 

As I hope is clear to anyone familiar with me, the contents of Trump's campaign had no appeal to me. My one sliver of sympathy was that he would be able to call the Clinton campaign to account for some things, but it quickly became clear that he was the wrong person to do that.

I probably should have written this sooner, but if this helps people realize what a terrible candidate Trump is, it can't hurt.

----

So now, it seems that the Trump campaign is cratering after a tape of him making lewd comments bragging about sexually assaulting a woman came to light.

On the one hand, this is good news. It is good that more people are starting to see the light on Trump and turning away from him. I hope and pray this continues. And his behavior toward women and general lack of shame and decency is as good a reason as any for his campaign to fall.

On the other hand, it might have been good to see the ideas he represents arrive at Election Day intact and be soundly defeated. As it is, his followers can tell themselves they were undone by excess "political correctness" and that if their candidate wasn't quite so overtly crude, it would have been OK, and maybe they can try again in 4 years.

In any instance, I wanted to get myself on the record. I suspect Trump's rise is a result of many sins of omission in not being sufficiently engaged.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

My Case for not voting for either Major Party Candidate


Please see my election disclaimer post.

Prompted by this twitter exchange:

My first response to this line of argument is what I tweeted -- our consciences are a mix of our hearts and minds, and they need to be informed by each other. Many things in our society only continue due to decisions that make no sense on paper.

Secondly, I think there is a more rational case for voting 3rd party or simply refusing to vote for either of the two major party candidates, even if one is clearly preferable:


  • The probability that my vote will impact the election approaches 0.
  • The probability that my vote will impact me approaches 1.
Now, one could argue that the stakes of presidential elections are so high (think nuclear war), that even the small probability of my vote impacting the election makes it a worthwhile investment.

I don't think that's true, in part because I don't think people properly evaluate the effect their votes had on me.

In particular, as a Catholic, these have been my observations:

  • Catholics who voted for Bush because of his position on abortion ended up defending him in all other contexts, including the war in Iraq and the torture regime.
  • Catholics who voted for Barack Obama soften on abortion, defend Planned Parenthood, etc.
It's certainly possible that these voters' commitment to Catholic values, both the ones that informed their choices and the ones that they later opposed, was not genuine and a mere cover for what they wanted to do anyway. (Pro-life groups' support for Trump's candidacy suggests this).

But I think it is an observable phenomenon that voting for a candidate inclines one to reflexively defend all of that candidates actions, both in the present and the future.  And this makes one a less effective advocate for certain positions, and in general, a worse person.

And further, I think the world is only going to be better by us being better citizens, not worse. So, by choosing "the less of two evils" you are moving the world in the wrong direction, even if there is a clear difference between the candidates.

The Parties are the ones who put us into this mess. They are not deserving of our blind allegiance or fealty. 

Rather than make the next four years marginally better, let's try to make the next generation better.

Please see my election disclaimer post.