Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

Matt YglesiasOne thing I’ve learned over years of blogging (Coming up on our 10 year anniversary!) is that it is wrong to be vague about things you criticize. More than wrong, it’s boring. You see this all the time with conservatives. “Libtards are saying white men should be killed!” Really? Who is saying this? So I find it a little worrying that I say this: Matt Yglesias has been arguing for the Democrats to nominate Joe Biden.

I’ve been following Yglesias’ on Twitter and on The Weeds podcast. And he has this overarching idea that Elizabeth Warren is more popular than she should be and that the people who support her shouldn’t. And below all this is, I think, the idea that she can’t beat Trump. You know: because people don’t actually support her ideas. The people (as though Yglesias has any more of a clue what “the people” want than I do) just want to get rid of Trump and don’t actually want any structural reform of the American economic system.

For all I know, Matt Yglesias will vote for Elizabeth Warren. But he’s fond of the “hot take.” He loves to play the informed iconoclast. So I’m not arguing anything about what’s in his heart. But his “take” on Warren seems to be ill-advised.

Why Does Matt Yglesias Think Warren Will Lose?

Elizabeth WarrenDoes he really think that people are going to choose to vote for Trump over Warren because of these policy issues? She’s talking about making structural changes to the economy when Trump is talking about nuclear war with Iran. I wonder how the American people will vote?!

But what really bugs me about this is that we have loads of political science data on this question. Unless 2020 is somehow completely different from every other election for almost 50 years, Trump will win or lose based on the economy.

And it’s worse than that. The economy is the most important thing. Pretty much everything else runs against Trump. If the economy slows down, Trump is toast. It doesn’t matter what Democrat runs against him.

On the other hand, if the economy heats up to a point that none of us can even imagine now, no Democrat will be able to beat him.

Remember: my simple political science model predicted that Trump would win in 2016. Trump’s election to president doesn’t change the underlying political science.

Why Has Matt Yglesias Forgotten Political Science?

This political science is exactly the kind of stuff that Vox writers live and breath. So why does Yglesias seem to have forgotten it all?

I suspect that it all comes down to him playing the part of a journalist rather than living the part — you know, where he actually looks for the truth?

There’s not much point in focusing on political science since it doesn’t change much over time. Instead, focus on your own ideas about electability!

And that’s what Yglesias is doing. He’s far too smart to fall into the trap of thinking “electable” means “white man.” But he isn’t so smart that he can’t fall into the same trap with a more sophisticated notion of electability.

But really: it isn’t that sophisticated. Despite all evidence, he’s assuming that people vote based upon policy rather than what we know: people base their policy ideas on the candidate they vote for.

This is sad to see because, despite it all, Matt Yglesias is still an interesting and insightful writer. His problem is simply that he, like far lesser journalist, is being blinded by the narrative he has landed on.

Erik Satie Makes a Joke

Erik Satie by Suzanne ValadonFor most of my life, I’ve dismissed Erik Satie as a composer who created pretty but ultimately uninteresting music. Like most of the opinions I developed as a teen, this was wrong. And over the last few months, I’ve been listening to a lot of his work. It’s magnificent.

The other night, I was listening to Embryons Desséchés. It’s pretty typical of his mature work. But right at the end of the piece, he makes a joke. And it was wonderful for me to hear because I don’t usually get musical jokes. While it’s true that I know a lot more about classical music than most people, I don’t actually know that much about classical music.

What’s more, musical jokes are like regular jokes: they don’t age well. Satie’s joke only works in the context of the move out of the Romantic period. And I only get the joke because I’ve spent so much of my life fuming about the excesses of this most-played and least-fulfilling period of classical music.

Find the Joke!

Before I explain the joke, see if you can’t hear it in the third movement. You should at least note that the ending seems out of place with the rest of the piece.

Slapping Romantics for Fun and Profit

Even in this one movement, you can tell that Satie is messing around. He skips around in terms of style — as he does in the piece as a whole. The first movement even previews what he will ultimately do in the third.

So as I listen, I enjoy hearing Satie having fun bouncing around stylistically. And then he says, “Hey! Remember this?!” And he provides one of these ridiculously extended endings that I love to hate.

This is usually said to be a direct attack on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. That does seem to be the case, but I think Satie means for his attack to be broader:

Erik Satie’s Other Jokes

Apparently, Satie was making more jokes than this one. In particular, he ridicules the music-hall song “Mon rocher de Saint-Malo” (“My rock of Saint-Malo”), which you can hear quoted very clearly in the first movement.

This isn’t really a musical joke, however. You can only see it in Satie’s notes on the score such as, “‘It was a very nice rock! Very sticky!” But even if musically it had been more than a quotation, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I don’t recall hearing the song before. And I have no context within which to find it funny. Apparently, the song was very popular at that time and Satie was not a fan.

Humor Ages Poorly

This is a problem with all humor. In fact, I developed my approach to theater in an effort to find an audience for my jokes. I found that people didn’t find my jokes funny because they couldn’t understand them. So I got the idea of creating theater to teach the audience so that they would then laugh at my esoteric jokes. How well that works is open to debate.

The good thing about music is that by the time people don’t understand any jokes placed in a piece, they’ve also gotten to the point where the joke doesn’t stand out as odd. A great example of this is Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spaß (A Musical Joke). Most people think it sounds fine. To me, it sounds clunky and certainly not the work of Mozart at this late stage of his career. But I have little doubt that he and his friends screamed with laughter when they performed it.

I’m just glad that I was able to pick up a notable musical joke for a change. And I did laugh — a lot!

The New UK Prime Minister Will Have Exactly the Same Problem as the Old One

Boris JohnsonThe UK’s new prime minister will be announced on Tuesday. And it will make absolutely no difference at all to anyone.

Even if Jeremy Hunt had a chance of winning, it would not change the political situation one bit.

Not that he has a chance, of course. Everyone knows Boris Johnson will become prime minister despite being totally unfit for the job.

Brexit continues to be a time-sucking, resource-leeching distraction for the entire country. Because of Brexit, UK campaigners and politicians cannot direct appropriate attention to climate change, the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, or the desperate lack of funding for public services.

Businesses have no idea whether they will still be importing goods in four months’ time. Even the people who voted for Brexit and want it passionately now say, “Just get it over with!”

If I had to bet on an outcome, I’d say we are in for at least ten more years of not knowing what will happen.

There is No Brexit Agreement That Will Pass

Parliament will not pass the agreement with the EU that Theresa May negotiated.

When she attempted to arrange a compromise within the UK parliament to get it through, she was immediately ousted by her own party, which shows just how little room there is for movement. It just won’t happen.

In parallel, the EU will not renegotiate her agreement. It has wasted many months attempting to negotiate with hapless British ministers, and presumably has no desire to prolong the agony.

Besides, the agreement is just the first in a very long, protracted process of debating and negotiating with the UK, so it wants to get to stage two as soon as possible.

The UK’s Three Options

Theresa MaySo without an agreement that can be passed by Parliament, or constrained by the EU, the UK has three options.

  1. Leave without a deal. This is essentially where all laws governing trade and travel cease to exist overnight. Some planning has been done, but nowhere near enough to prevent a massive economic shock. The other main issue with this is the island of Ireland, which is then almost impossibly split by a land border that is currently invisible.

    The border weaves through people’s houses and fields of livestock; one family home has its front door in one country and its back door in the other. It would have to be somehow marked and patrolled, undoing the fragile peace facilitated by the Good Friday agreement, which currently allows freedom of movement and choice of nationality.

  2. Cancel Brexit altogether. The UK can revoke its application to leave the EU without EU agreement, but it cannot unilaterally postpone the decision. So canceling is really the only guaranteed way to halt the process without having to seek anyone else’s permission.

  3. Have another vote. A prime minister with time and inclination could re-run the referendum now that we are further down the line. Of course, Boris Johnson has neither the time nor the inclination.

    I’d love to believe that this provides an easy way forward. But there’s nothing stopping either side from lying or cheating, because the laws on that are the same as they were last time. If anything, the loopholes are just going to be more obvious now, and the campaigns more ruthless, because both sides have had a practice run.

In a hypothetical second vote, the remain side could expect — at best — a slight swing in their favor. This is hardly going to settle anything, although it might fuel the compromise position for some sort of half-in, half-out option that pleases nobody.

I personally think the first vote should have been voided once the massive illegal overspending came to light. But that opportunity is long gone.

No Border No Barrier
Sinn Féin protest against a hard border post-Brexit.

It’s All About the Conservatives… Again

Boris Johnson, the man who will likely win on Tuesday, is unconcerned about the outcome of Brexit. The Conservative Party likes the noises he makes on Brexit, mainly because it has new competition: the Brexit Party.

For those who lost interest in Brexit many months ago, you may have missed the bit when Nigel Farage set up the Brexit Party Limited — a public company — after failing to be elected as an MP for Ukip seven times.

Along with his rebrand comes a rather appropriate “optimization” of what being a political party actually means in Brexit Britain; the Brexit Party has no manifesto, and takes untraceable donations via PayPal.

(One of its MEPs, David Bull, recently complained that he had to travel to Strasbourg to do his job as an MEP on his first day, having presumably failed to look up the location of the office before applying.)

The Conservative Party is rapidly losing ground to the Brexit Party because Farage wants to get Brexit over with, and doesn’t care what happens during or afterward. This is fitting, because a very large proportion of the electorate feel much the same, as does — Hey! — Boris Johnson.

The New PM Cannot Solve Brexit

On Tuesday, the new prime minister will be faced with exactly the same shitty situation the old one was faced with, but with less time to do something about it. (The EU warned the Conservative party not to waste time; the Conservatives know that wasting time is the only thing keeping them in power.)

To find its way out of this mess, the UK will need to do something that it so far has failed to do. It will need to look back at the reasons Brexit came about: inequality, an outdated voting system that doesn’t represent left or right adequately, and a generation that enjoys the workers’ rights and benefits of EU membership without really being clear on how they were won.

Of course, the fact that various Conservative politicians have part-time jobs with prominent right-wing newspapers plays a part in this mess as well.

Right now, the only positive outcome I could hope for from any of this would be a modernization of the voting system in the UK. That way, at least voters would be better represented in normal Elections, more able to have their voices heard without fear of a “wasted” vote, and less likely to move to extremes to be counted. And — like in Germany — I’d like to see a total ban on referendums.

Support HR 763: The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act

Jenga

If someone were to head to the farthest visible galaxy, it would take 13.3 billion years traveling at the speed of light to get there. Obviously, there is not yet the means to accomplish such a trip, but this scenario gives us an idea of the vast scale of the universe.

We live within this unfathomable space on the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy in a solar system on a small lonely planet that is currently our only home. Earth is effectively an island, and, like all islands, it has limited resources.

Unfortunately, humans have been depleting these resources. In some ways, it is done directly, such as by razing entire forests and all the flora and fauna that exist within them.

Indirectly it is done by pulling out carbon-rich decomposed plants and animals in the form of coal, oil and gas from deep within the earth so they can be burned for energy, releasing greenhouse gases. This creates the insulating blanket that is causing the planet to rapidly heat up and is leading to detrimental and far-reaching consequences that affect many aspects of life.

Coral Bleaching

When I was in college in the late 1980s, one of my biology professors discussed a relatively new and very concerning phenomenon, coral bleaching, which is what happens when coral-producing polyps expel the algae living inside them.

Coral Reef

The problem with this is that algae provide 90% of the nutrition for coral. Without algae, coral dies, and when coral dies it can lead to the destruction of many ocean ecosystems. Coral polyps do so much. They provide habitat for over a million species, food and jobs for humans, potential medicines for life-threatening illnesses, and protection for coastal areas.

At the time I was taking the aforementioned class, no one knew what was causing the coral bleaching. Research had begun, however, and scientists have since learned that it is due to a rise in ocean temperatures caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is, again I add, the result of human activity.

Ocean Acidification

Another very troubling matter is associated with too much carbon in the atmosphere: ocean acidification.

Oceans have been doing a decent job of absorbing carbon from the air — about 25% of it — but this makes water more acidic, and the way it affects shellfish is particularly worrisome because acid corrodes their protective calcium carbonate shells. This has been causing many mollusks and crustaceans to die.

Sometimes shells are unable to form at all, so these creatures do not even make it to adulthood. Entire populations of shellfish are suffering, and that is spilling over and detrimentally affecting the animals that eat them. The decimation of these creatures is also extremely problematic for people who rely on the shellfish industry for their livelihoods.

We’re in This Together

The examples I have mentioned are just two among many in which the use of fossil fuels is having far-reaching and negative consequences for the planet. It is like humans are playing a game of Jenga with nature. We are taking pieces out one by one, and at some point, the tower will come down.

No species lives in isolation. Any we can name is tethered in some way to at least one other species. When one is adversely affected, others are adversely affected as well. In 50 years some of us will not be here, but our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and that 6-year old down the street, hopefully, will be.

They will have to live with the horrible fallout from our actions if we are unwilling to change.

At the risk of facing critical responses from readers, I believe most of us can do better. I promise to do better, to buy less, reuse and recycle more, and use what I already have.

Additionally, we can all help in a very easy and practical way by writing a letter, emailing, or calling our politicians and voicing our concerns.

HR 763

Specifically, we can contact Rep Katie Hill [or your own representative], asking her to co-sponsor HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This is a bill that will effectively help to combat climate change by rapidly reducing the excess greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet. It is also supported by many well-respected financial experts because it will be good for the economy.

If it is for the sake of future generations, I feel these are small things we must do.

Kim is a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Rod Dreher: Serious Christian Thinker and Homophobe

Rod DreherEzra Klein’s most recent interview sounded really interesting, “Rod Dreher on America’s post-Christian culture war.” Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative — a journal I have a fairly high opinion of. And at first, I was onboard for what he had to say. Dreher talked about something that’s important to me: that most religious people are facile and don’t take their beliefs seriously. But then he talked about his own political beliefs and they were no impressive.

Rod Dreher Cares About Poverty — Sometimes

Klein asked Dreher the classic question: why the focus on sexual matters and so little on, say, poverty. As Klein noted, sexual matters don’t hurt anyone but poverty does. Dreher went on to explain why sex was so important to people like him who think it is a good idea to base their morality on an ancient religious text and tradition. But before he got to that, he said that he felt that Christians should talk more about poverty.

But the question is not why that amorphous group of facile Christians focus on sexual matters; it is why the Very Serious Christian Rod Dreher does. Because looking at his writing he doesn’t seem that concerned about starving children. Like unserious Christians, he is most concerned about the brave martyrs forced to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

Rod Dreher Persecuted by LGBT ActivistsSaint Sebastian! You knew nothing of pain! American Christians might someday not be able to fire employees for being gay!

It’s Not Homophobia — It’s Religion!

Ezra Klein pushed Dreher many times on why his homophobia is okay when racism is not. (He didn’t put it in such a coarse way, of course.) Dreher has a theological argument for why there is a difference. But I don’t see how it matters.

If things were switched and now homophobia were something no respectable person would admit to but racism were, a racist Christian could now make a theological argument for why homophobia was un-Christian but racism was not.

Rod Dreher’s argument comes down to this: because he has a Biblical rationalization for his beliefs they aren’t bigotry; they are just his faith. I don’t see how this helps him. Racists have reasons for their beliefs too. That’s what all the conservative obsession with IQ tests is about.

Rod Dreher: Alarmist

He’s also an alarmist. Ezra Klein explicitly stayed away from this because he didn’t want to have a debate and wanted to share Dreher’s thoughts that were worth listening to. I’m not sure any of them are. Dreher really isn’t a serious thinker.

Here is some of the “evidence” that Rod Dreher presented for how the secular society is destroying Christians and why he writes so much about religious liberty (and by extension, so little about child poverty):

“We’re being made to care!” That’s Erick Erickson’s line. You can’t ignore it when the freedom of your religious school is put at risk by lawsuits by the advance of gay rights… I’ll tell you a story here. A pastor here in Baton Rouge here where I live, which is pretty much deep Trumplandia, came to me and said that a woman came to him and his congregation and said, “I need your help here. My middle-school daughter has come home and said that she thinks she’s a boy. And I went to the [public school guidance counselor] and asked what was going on with my daughter and she told me quite firmly, ‘You had better accept your son how he is.'” This is a huge thing.

There are a couple of things worth noting here. First, the guy is quoting Erick Erickson. I’m surprised that any thoughtful person would associate with Erickson. While it is true that Erickson was once a never-Trumper, like most he eventually supported Trump (after seeing that Trump was just a typical bigot-Republican and thus of no threat to the status quo).

God Wants Anecdotal Evidence

The main thing to notice is that this is a three-level story. Are we really to believe that the counselor said “quite firmly” given it came through two men who would just assume it? Plus, this woman wasn’t even a member of this church! (What are the odds that she has a religious reason for her concern?) Is she credible? She might just be some crazy person.

It sounds like the kind of case that the church would have made a big deal about had the woman been credible. Yet I haven’t found any news stories about it.

I would think that anyone who really thought that Christians were being oppressed would look for actual data. But of course, Rod Dreher doesn’t look for actual evidence. He don’t need no stinking evidence. He feels that Christians are being oppressed and those are the only (Ben Shapiro-approved) facts he needs!