What I Learned Canvassing

Bill George Canvassing

On the weekend before Super Tuesday, I was out canvassing for Warren. On Saturday, I had a partner and on Sunday, I was alone. It’s more fun with a partner but more productive alone. Of course, I wasn’t really doing it to be productive. I knew that Warren was out of the race and that Super Tuesday would likely be her last race in the Democratic primary. To be honest, I don’t know why I did it except maybe to show some solidarity with other Warren supporters.

But what I got out of it was different. The places I canvassed were not Warren areas. There were a lot of Sanders supporters. And it retrospect, that makes sense because one day I was in a Latino neighborhood and Sanders did really well with Latinos in California. But I met a lot of Biden supporters too. This was, after all, at a point in the race where there were really only two candidates.

Bad Experiences

As I feared, there were a couple of unpleasant encounters. The worst was with a Bloomberg supporter. He seemed angry and annoyed. But he was clearly busy. He wouldn’t even shut his vacuum off. So I give him a pass.

And the other one was with a Sanders supporter. It wasn’t really that bad. He was just telling me some things I’ve heard online that, while untrue, were hard to counter without making things ugly. They were sexist, but I thought it best to simply extricate myself as quickly as possible. He had made up his mind and I had plenty of other homes to visit. But that interaction was more annoying than unpleasant.

The Glue That Binds: Donald Trump

Other than this, all the experiences were positive. They were also, to a shocking degree, predictable. Democratic voters hate Donald Trump! They weren’t emotional about it. They spoke of him the way you would a broken sewage pipe that was draining into your drinking water. There was a problem and it needed to be fixed as soon as possible.

Other than the two men I discussed above (and of course they were men), everyone was bound together and ready for the general election. Most people had their favorites but ultimately didn’t care. (There were a few who, like me, bristled at the idea that Michael Bloomberg might be the nominee.) I even spoke at some length to some of them about the nonsense conflict online between Sanders and Warren supporters.

My takeaway from canvassing is that the internecine fighting I see online is mostly absent offline. And sure: maybe that’s just because it’s a lot harder to yell at someone standing in front of you. But that just illustrates the point. It’s easy to vilify abstract people. It’s much harder to say that four more years of Trump is better than allowing Sanders/Biden to be president when you are talking to someone whose healthcare would be on the line because of it.

Thank You for Your Service

There was another kind of reaction that I got a lot — especially from people who had already voted. They were glad to see people out canvassing. I got this vibe of, “Thank you for your service!” And there’s probably a lot to that because many of them also seemed vaguely ashamed because they were not out doing it.

And there is a feeling of pride doing it. If we are going to keep what is left of our democracy, this is the kind of thing we need to do. (But it isn’t nearly enough as I plan to discuss later.)

United Left

Overall, canvassing made me feel a lot better about the state of the Democratic Party. It made me think that we are all a lot more united than it appears. And that was also my takeaway from Sunday’s debate between Sanders and Biden — contentious as it was.

But it’s made me a lot less tolerant of what I read on Twitter every day. It’s coming from both sides. And it’s all nonsense — or a more coarse synonym.


PA AFL-CIO President Bill George by Molly Theobald for the AFL-CIO America’s Unions, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tacos, Beer, and Defeat on Super Tuesday

Image

Frankly Curious

Thought I might do this like a sports game, I’ve done a few of those. Here it is.

Pre-Game

I’ve been to this place before, with Mrs James. I think for the Iowa caucus returns (that wretched clusterfuck). It’s overwhelmingly white, but that’s just the scene at Twin Cities microbrewery bars. Good luck finding a non-honky at any of these places (and I’ve been to plenty).

The Crowd

The mix tends to be late-20s and early-30s types, either artists beginning to realize that Most Art Don’t Pay Shit, or low-level office drones on the verge of marriage, house, and kids. (Half these people could be clip art for an article titled “10 Best Deals at IKEA.”)

It’s a crowd that’s worried about their future, and this is a good thing — you don’t want to be around these types who also brag about their brilliant lives. Those sorts are vile, and their children will need lots of therapy.

The Venue

This place used to be a factory. It made labels for Hershey bars and such until that got outsourced to wherever. You can still smell the machine oil in the hallway leading to the bathrooms. That smell doesn’t go away with a coat of paint.

It feels like the right location for a Sanders party. Where were the Biden people?

Where the Bidens Are

I looked this up. The Biden people had their Super Tuesday party at a Minneapolis bar kitty-corner from the Catholic Eldercare nursing home. I’m not familiar with that bar or that facility, but I must say: well done, Biden staffers.

The bar’s food menu features a burger that has “Irish whiskey BBQ sauce, with sharp cheddar, fried onion rings, and lettuce.” That’s so beautifully disgusting, I’d probably enjoy eating it. Although you’d lose the virtues of sharp cheddar by dousing it in BBQ sauce (minor quibble).

The menu has items in “$13.00” format, which is right and proper. Never go to a place where the menu has prices listed as “13” without the dollar sign or cents amount. Those are where the Happy Yuppies fester. If the fries with that “Irish Whiskey” burger have potato skins on, this would qualify as a decent bar.

In-Game

Bernie Sanders

Showtime: 8:30. The place is fucking packed. Less young yuppie crowd than before, quite a few people my age or older. Some black people, too. More than one table playing “Magic: The Gathering.” It feels like you could get a serious Kirk-vs-Picard debate going pretty easily, or even a discussion of “Doctor Who” episodes. These people are definitely nerds. My kind of people.

Colorado and Bloomberg

Colorado is called for Sanders. Polite applause. I’m guessing not a lot of Air Force Academy alums here. Certainly, most have been to Mile High Stadium, in the broadest sense.

Jesus H Cracker Crisper, does Mike Bloomberg look like a reanimated fucking corpse. DNC chair Tom Perez isn’t much better. Those two make me nervous my delicious juicy brain is uncovered.

Wolf Blitzer appears to be a live human, albeit one who’s overindulged on juicy delicious brains. Watch that chocolate sauce, Wolf! You gotta be able to fit under the Baghdad hotel room table! (1991 reference.)

Andrew Yang on CNN singing the praises of Bloomberg, “People think of him as a Wall Street guy; he’s a tech guy. He’s like a spaceship…” Oh, fart me.

Bloomberg has gotta be done, right? He ain’t winning shit, he’s just splitting the “electability” vote. At least I won’t have to watch his goddamn ads anymore.

Texas and Sanders

Texas called for Biden. Place is starting to get loud. People are clapping along to the applause lines in Bernie’s Vermont victory speech. My God, when he mentions healthcare as a human right, I’m clapping too. That and having opposed Iraq War get the most response here. (Climate change a very distant third.)

Wow, is Sanders going hard after Biden in this speech?! Fair enough, Uncle Joe’s basically the Senator From Your Credit Card Company, that’s how completely corrupt Deleware politics are. It’s just unusual for Bernie to slag off a primary opponent.

Biden

When Biden begins to speak, I make my way to the bathroom. But just when I think I’m free, I find they’ve got his vapid babblings piped in. Coffee got deep-sixed because, tacos! Three tacos and a beer for $10, momma Fillmore didn’t raise any boys stupid enough to turn that down. Not when the cheapest beer is $6.

(I suppose I could have gotten one of the more expensive beers at the same price, but those have a higher alcohol content. Momma Fillmore didn’t raise any boys stupid enough to drive drunk more than once.)

Went to get more napkins from the taco serving table; what can I say, good hot sauce makes my nose runny. A bunch of people standing in the way were asking, “Have you heard Krystal Ball on MSNBC today?” Methinks my time here is almost done.

California

California is called for Sanders. This was it — the big prize. It’s what everybody was waiting for. A guy behind me yells, “Well, those other states suck anyway!” It gets a laugh, as this includes Minnesota.

People are packing up their board games. It’s pretty clear at this point that Biden will probably be the nominee, either on the first vote or second. I think he’ll lose to Trump.

Still, it’s not a funereal atmosphere. Virtues of an older, slightly less lily-white crowd. We’ve all experienced political disappointments before.

Post-Game

Losing Minnesota tells it all. It’s frustrating because it went hard for Sanders in 2016.

A volunteer asked if I’d sign some clipboard on the way out. Why? What’d be the point? Sanders won what he was predicted to win, nothing else. His shot at getting a majority of the delegates is over. It won’t happen.

The Future

The liberal local radio station I listened to on the way home said, “If you loved the endless nonsense about Hillary’s emails, you are going to absolutely adore what’s coming down about Biden and Ukraine.”

Also, Joe Biden smiling with those flashy teeth looks like a Monty Python animation. It has to be said, so I’m saying it.

Anyhoo, I thought this poster was really neat:

Sanders Poster

The bartenders liked it, too. It’s a fool who doesn’t listen to bartenders (or doesn’t tip 20%). If I’d had another beer, I might have proposed to one of them. Yes, I’m married, so what?

Utah went for Bernie, Minnesota didn’t.

I’m quite glad I didn’t have another beer.

And that’s about as much as I think I can write on the 2020 election right now.


Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Poster image by the author.

Good News About the Democratic Primary

Bernie Sanders

After Saturday’s caucus in Nevada, I was shocked to see people get so worked up. Of particular note was Chris Matthews. But all I could think was, have these people been living in a cave?

The Real Clear Politics average going into the caucus had Sanders with twice the support of his nearest rival, Joe Biden.

So how did the first vote compare to the polling average? Shockingly well:

Candidate Poll Vote
Sanders32.534.0
Biden16.017.6
Buttigieg16.015.4
Warren14.012.8
Klobuchar9.59.6
Steyer9.09.1

In other words, everyone did just about as well as they were supposed to. I understand that most people don’t pay attention to this. But political commentators? I guess they were living in a dream world.

But okay: a bunch of people freaked out. Luckily, a lot of people stepped up. In particular, I was impressed with Paul Krugman who wrote a short twitter thread, Bernie Sanders Isn’t the Left’s Trump. Sadly, the initial reaction was not good.

Most people got hung up on one thing that Krugman said, “Bernie Sanders is now the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination.” How dare he say that?! The same people who were freaking out because Nevada supposedly made Sanders inevitable were now freaking out that a gentle call for perspective included the fact that Sanders was the frontrunner.

The Sun Came Out

And then something changed. I can’t quantify it. There are still a lot of people who hate the idea that Sanders will likely be the nominee. But it’s different. There’s a certain resignation and acceptance that maybe he isn’t that bad — and certainly, he’s nowhere near as bad as President Donald J Trump.

I should point out, however, that the people who are against Sanders are not, in general, against him because they think he is horrible and will be successful in stealing the Democratic Party. Mostly, they are concerned that he will lose.

This is a reasonable concern. My biggest concern about Sanders was always that a large fraction of powerful Democrats would sleepwalk their way to the general election. But I no longer believe that.

It seems that the anti-Sanders forces are pragmatic (Who would have guessed?!) and understand that Trump poses an existential threat to this republic. And the last couple of days have shown that the process has begun for everyone to get behind whoever wins the nomination.

(To be honest, I don’t know about the other side of this battle. Sanders supporters seem to be younger and more volatile. I see a lot more “I will never vote for…” from them than I do from the other side. If Sanders starts to lose, I’ll face that then.)

Just Like the Democrats

I was thinking recently that Sanders getting the nomination is the most normal outcome for the Democrats as one could imagine. We tend to like justice. In 2016, we nominated the second-place finisher in 2008. And in 2020, we are heading to nominate the second-place finisher in 2016.

I think we can all take some solace in that. Krugman also wrote, “America under a Sanders presidency would still be America, both because Sanders is an infinitely better man than Trump and because the Democratic Party wouldn’t enable abuse of power the way Republicans have.” Sanders is no radical.

And if Sanders gets the nomination and loses the general election, that’s too bad. We have a system. It isn’t perfect. Nor is it clear that any Democrat will beat Trump in November. So yes, I think I am reversing on Bernie Sanders Won’t Unify the Democratic Party.

Regardless, we persist.


Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Refined Tribalism Will Destroy Us

Fox News

Dental hygiene among Paleolithic people was, all things considered, pretty good. This came as a surprise to the first archaeologists who studied it. But it soon became clear that the issue was that our teeth had evolved for the kind of diet we had. With the rise of agriculture and especially more recently with processed foods and refined sugar, we reached a point that we were doing things to our teeth that they just weren’t designed for.

I think we are seeing this with our media diet. Fox News is a particularly good example because they have managed to refine their product better than anyone else. I’m very interested in the way that it is able to finetune the worst aspects of tribalism.

There are important and good aspects of our tribal nature. But a little tribalism goes a long way. And it’s hardly necessary for Americans to subdivide themselves — especially when many claim that they are the only “true Americans.”

Our Interests

For a long time, I’ve pushed back on the idea that many white Americans “vote against their interests.” My (and many others’) argument is that we shouldn’t define a person’s interest in selfish economic terms. By such terms, I vote against my own interests all the time.

I now see this as a limited argument, however. Far too many people are made to be confused about their interests. Yes, I fully admit that for insecure white men, the rising status of women and people of color can be seen as catastrophic.

But is it? In a more hopeful world, would their feelings of worth really be determined by Marvel only publishing comic books with white male superheroes — all other characters relegated to villains and bystanders?

I’m constantly shocked at the insecurity of those around me who are ostensively powerful but who require constant reassurance. I’ve noticed this about patriotic displays at sports events and the hysterical anger at the use of “Happy Holidays.” If you are secure in your patriotism, why the need for others to demonstrate it? If you know Jesus is the savior, why the need for Target clerks to reinforce it?

But outlets like Fox News have found that it isn’t profitable to tell these people they are doing fine (which is true). Instead, they stoke resentment and fear.

Trump Is Always Right

One of the most remarkable things during the Trump presidency is how nothing bad about him ever makes its way to his supporters except as an example of the “fake news” that is being unfairly reported by radical leftists at The Washington Post. And when talking to Trump supporters, you hear a never-ending stream of Fox News-approved talking points.

There is certainly some of this on the left. But it is limited by the fact that liberals and leftists still exists in the fact-based world. It’s really amazing that online conservatives like Jordan Peterson spend so much time complaining about the left’s “postmodernism” and “relativism,” yet it is the right in this country that has completely abandoned the concept of absolute reality.

And I don’t think this would be the case without Fox News and related media. Most people think that there is something like absolute reality. Even the Fox News viewers who act like cultists believe in it outside of politics. And why? Because that is the default belief. It is only the constant assault of propaganda that allows them to abandon it in politics.

Problems on the Left

Twitter

Where this manifests most profoundly on the left is in internecine conflicts. What I have in mind is the Democratic primary. I’ve seen a lot of people who only get information about candidates they don’t support from supporters of the candidate they do.

I first noticed this with myself regarding Kamala Harris. I kept hearing the same three talking points about her. They weren’t good, but they always weren’t terrible. Eventually, I started to think that if these were the worst things about her, she probably wasn’t that bad. So I did some research and I learned that they were largely true. There was more nuance to issues. But while I still found them negatives, they weren’t disqualifying.

This comes most from Bernie Sanders supporters, but only because they are more organized. I sometimes think if Sanders got a hangnail, his supporters would get #BernieNailCare trending. The problem is with everyone.

On the other side, people are hysterical in their hatred of Sanders. I’m not keen on some things that Sanders has done. But again, are they disqualifying? No. I never thought so little of Hillary Clinton as when she wouldn’t commit to supporting Sanders if he were the nominee.

Narratives and Facts

And it’s all the same thing. The only information that gets through to Sanders haters are things that make him look bad. And I am tired of hearing people tell me they get the full picture but these bad things just really matter. That’s just having a particular narrative and dismissing everything that runs counter to it as “unimportant.”

I first saw this tendency among Clinton supporters against Sanders in 2016. Then I saw it from Sanders supporters against Clinton in 2016. Most recently, I’ve seen it from Sanders and Harris supporters against Warren.

How do I know this is happening? Because these people only ever talk about these opponents when they have something bad to share. I’m constantly surprised to hear of a little-reported Warren gaff in a Twitter thread. But don’t worry: they know all about Warren; it’s just that only the bad things matter.

It’s as though each campaign has its own negative press secretary for the other campaigns. And their supporters think this constant stream of negativity represents who the other candidates are. And why not? It supports their narrative.

Refined Tribalism

Humans are not designed to deal with modern media that is designed to solidify tribes. Just as our teeth are harmed by the refined sugar in our food, our society is harmed by the refined tribalism of Fox News and social media.

And in this way, conservatives have the advantage. While the Democrats are fracturing, increasingly looking at a billionaire from New York to save us, the Republicans are as committed to Trump as ever.

But as long as [fill in your most hated Democratic opponent] doesn’t win, it’s all fine. Amiright?!


Twitter Image by David Ferreira; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Fox News by Johnny Silvercloud. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Status Quo Is Not Natural

Civilians with Hitler salute when Germans marched in - Occupation of the Sudeten area

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world there will always be people complaining about this or that endeavor being political. I recently saw a video by Jose on ComicsGate.

In that case, people were upset at the increase in diversity that was taking place in comic books. Many saw this as politicizing comics. They did not, however, see the facts the comics had always been overwhelmingly white and male as being a political statement.

Colin Kaepernick’s Crime Against the Status Quo

Another example of this is Colin Kaepernick. Now let’s be honest here. People hated him because he was protesting the status quo. The fact that he was black just made it worse. (Note how conservatives love people of color as long as they are telling other people of color they should sit down, shut up, and be happy they aren’t currently on fire.)

It was not because he was somehow disrespecting the American flag. But let’s assume that really was the issue for a moment.

If it were the case that his kneeling during the national anthem was politicizing the event then what was the national anthem itself? Clearly these people think there is nothing political about everyone standing and putting their hands on their chest and listening to the national anthem and watching the military flyovers.

Equating Status Quo With Natural

For these people, the constant jingoistic patriotism and the fetishization of the military is given. But it’s not. As Matt Soniak has explained, it wasn’t until World War I that the national anthem became part of professional baseball. And it didn’t become standard for sporting events until World War II.

It was all supposedly part of the war effort. But just nationalistic nonsense only accretes. When the wars end, these things stayed on. But that doesn’t make them natural.

In fact, I consider the whole thing disreputable. Why do professional sports wrap themselves in the flag? That’s especially true as sports become more international. What is the point of all this? It makes no sense to me. It goes against the things that I always thought America stood for like, for example, individualism.

Status Quo Destroys Freedom

Another thing conservatives love to go on about is freedom of speech and the supposed virtue signaling of SJWs. But ask yourself what would happen if you were an able-bodied person and you refuse to rise during the national anthem at a football game? You would certainly get a lot of angry comments. You might well be beaten up and even killed. Where’s the freedom of speech there? That’s fascist-level intolerance if you ask me.

But apparently as long as it is in the service of something that people think of as normal, it’s fine. But none of these things are normal. These things are the result of history. There is nothing fundamental about them. And you don’t have to be against the national anthem at sporting events to realize that.

I’d think proud patriots would rather that standing for the national anthem be voluntary. After all, what better way to signal that they are chauvinists than to stand proudly while people like me sit and chat with friends?

But it’s like with the War on Christmas: it isn’t enough to believe; everyone around them must also believe. If you ask me, this just means they don’t have a strong belief.

Social Convention

Everyone should admit that this is a social convention. It’s the way we do things. But it’s not the way we always did them. And it will not always be the way that we do them. So it’s open to discussion. And those who claim that it shouldn’t be open to discussion are villains.

Jose’s #ComicsGate Video

“Civilians With Hitler Salute When Germans Marched In — Occupation of the Sudeten Area” by German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv). It is in the public domain.

The Problem With Fact Checkers

Glenn Kessler Pinochhio

If the fact-checking industry were honest, there would be roughly two kinds of conclusions.

  • Republican said X, but X is not true.
  • Democrat said Y, but the issue is more complicated than that.

We see this all the time but fact-checkers try to hide it. They complain endlessly that liberals have distorted the truth while giving conservatives the benefit of the doubt because they are so much more likely to spout complete nonsense.

Reporting to Fact-Checking: False Equivalence Always

What ends up happening is that a false equivalence is created. A liberal over-generalization is equivalent to a conservative lie.

Note: this wasn’t always the case. There is a long tradition of conservative intellectuals.[1] Fact-checkers in 1970 probably would have caught equal lies. But American conservatism has been off the rails for a long time.

Eric Alterman has noticed that the same tendency of regular reporters to equate liberals and conservatives applies to fact-checkers. He provided a great example. During the 2008 DNC, The Washington Post fact-checker, Glenn Kessler complained that Obama’s statement about John McCain’s voting record didn’t have enough nuance. Four years later, it was very different when it came to the Republican Party:

During the 2012 Republican National Convention, for example, Kessler defended the falsehoods told in a speech by Representative Paul Ryan, then the party’s vice-presidential nominee. Why? According to the headline above Kessler’s column, “The truth? C’mon, this is a political convention.”

Balance always, truth not so much.

Two Fundamental Problems With Fact-Checkers

I remember when these outlets and sub-outlets first appeared, there were two criticisms of them:

  1. Fact-checking should be a regular part of reporting. To make it a special journalistic endeavor was going to make reporting worse.
  2. Fact-checking would have the same problems of regular reporting with claims of bias and so on.

The first criticism didn’t really matter because mainstream “objective” journalism had long before given up on doing anything as contentious as fact-checking what politicians did — especially conservative politicians!

The Same Old Problems

The second criticism played out as expected in a number of ways. The first is that conservatives don’t even pay attention to fact-checkers. Even “reasonable” outlets like RealClearPolitics dismiss them as nothing more than opinion journalism.

Although I don’t think that’s true when it comes to their analysis of conservative claims, it’s hard not to see that when it comes to liberal claims. A great example of this happened after Bernie Sanders said that millions of people work two or three jobs. It turns out that 8 million people do this.

But our good friend uber-fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave the claim 3 Pinocchios (out of a possible 4) because, well, I really don’t know. Apparently, Kessler thought Sanders meant 100 million? Who can say?

What we can say is that Kessler never would have nit-picked a conservative in this way for two reasons. First, he wouldn’t need to because they lie so much more. Second, he wouldn’t need to because he doesn’t need to invent conservative falsehoods to even things out.

It was always understood that if it turned out that the fact-checkers found a lot more conservative lies than liberal lies, the conservatives would just dismiss it as bias. And despite the efforts of fact-checkers to avoid this, they still find that conservatives lie a lot more.

Of course, it doesn’t matter. If fact-checkers found exactly the same number of falsehoods from Democrats and Republicans, conservatives would call foul. And this is understandable because there is a lot to complain about.

Skewed Samples

One of the things that skew results is also used to create false equivalence: the facts that are checked. Why do fact-checkers pick a particular claim to look at? Many of them are silly.

PolitiFact, for example, fact-checked the Facebook claim that all Fox News women are blond. That’s pretty amazing given that everyone understood that the claim was hyperbolic. What’s more, given that the vast majority of people have dark hair, the fact that most Fox News women have blond hair goes along with the point being made.

Fact-checkers go out of their way to seem balanced. That trumps any effort they have to find the truth. For example, Trump lies constantly. PolitiFact looked at 102 of his claims in 2019. It could have been a thousand. Or one.

I now refuse to reference fact-checkers. There is a tendency among people to disregard fact-checkers when we disagree with them but to hold them up as authoritative when we don’t. What’s the point of that?

They are useless. And they should be treated as such — especially by those of us on the left who are most abused by them.


[1] Note that these intellectuals were still wrong and mostly just as bigotted as modern Trump supporters. But they did care about the same intellectual niceties that I do. And they could be shamed. In other words, they were like Max Boot.

Bernie Sanders Won’t Unify the Democratic Party

Bernie Sanders

Matt Yglesias wrote a surprisingly good article over at Vox, Bernie Sanders Can Unify Democrats and Beat Trump in 2020. It glides over how easy it would be for Sanders to be a unity candidate, however. I’ll come back to that.

First, I want to discuss something it points out about Sanders that is very good: despite what people on both sides of the Sanders War claim: he’s shown himself to be highly pragmatic. I really like this, but this fact has made listening to Sanders supporters on Twitter very annoying.

Almost all of the complaints about the other candidates from Sanders supporters are that he is Good and Pure and they are all Compromised. But the record shows this isn’t the case. It’s all motivated reasoning: when Sanders was not pure, it was justified because he was getting something important.

Great! I agree. But why does this only applied to Sanders? Why is he always given the benefit of the doubt and otherwise held up as impeccable? This kind of thinking is at least a bit cultish.

Nathan J Robinson

Similarly, I saw that Nathan J Robinson produced an hour-long video, Why Warren Supporters Should SWITCH to Bernie.

However, Robinson evidences a lack of understanding about how presidential primaries work. He thinks Warren should drop out if she doesn’t do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let’s leave aside the fact that Robinson will suddenly abandon this argument should Warren do well and Sanders poorly. Presidential primaries just don’t work this way.

Major candidates normally run through the vast majority of the race as long as their funding doesn’t collapse. (Contra Robinson, $21.2 million in the 4th quarter is not a sign Warren is having trouble fundraising.) And it now looks like the 4 top candidates will do this. Thinking that one candidate will drop out for the good of some vague notion of “the movement” is just not reasonable.

He also seems to think that if Warren weren’t in the race, Sanders would get most of her votes. But in fact, he would get maybe half her votes. It’s become clear to me if this race were between Sanders and Biden, Sanders would lose with about the same percentage of the vote he got in 2016.

There seems to be the idea that Sanders is destined to be the nominee and it is just these pesky candidates standing in the way. And this is, again, a little cultish.

I don’t want to rag on Robinson because he is at least trying very hard to make a positive case for Sanders rather than complaining about Warren — which has been the default for as long as Warren has been a threat in this race (something Robinson himself has done).

However, the argument he makes is not that compelling. But I’ll admit: I’m biased in terms of my orientation. I like concrete arguments. I want to hear that the candidate is doing well with black voters and so they will do well in South Carolina and so on. I don’t find it compelling to make gauzy appeals to what a politician actually believes and so forth.

What’s more, these arguments are too finessed. You can see that they are designed post hoc to place Sanders inside the set of Candidates Who Are Good and Warren outside.

Where Presidents Can Make a Difference

Where Sanders most shines — and where I support him more than Warren — is on foreign policy. However, this is an area that is most easy to demagogue. And the Republicans will do so.

Additionally, because this is an area that a President Sanders would have the most power, it is also an area where the next Republican president would have the most power. Is 4 or 8 years of better foreign policy worth the cost of the next Republican demagogue cheered on by over half the nation insisting that America be “strong” once again?

It’s also worth noting that Warren’s ability to better manage the regulatory state is something that is simply ignored by her detractors. I’m not sure why this is so. People spend a lot of time making the (correct) case that Sanders is best on foreign policy and would have great power in enacting it. Why not conceded the same thing about Warren?

I believe a focus on domestic affairs will allow for better long-term foreign policy. Sanders seems too focused on Medicare for All, and I have a hard time seeing it pass.

Is Sanders a Unity Candidate?

My main concern about Sanders is that I believe it will do the opposite of what Yglesias says: it will divide the party. Many of the people we need working to elect him will be standing around: nominally supportive but not very helpful.

And this is not going to be made up for by the enthusiasm of young people. I don’t have hard data for this. It’s just that I’ve heard this for decades — including about Sanders himself — and it has never panned out.

The Case Against Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

None of this is to say that Elizabeth Warren is a great candidate. There are a number of things that I worry about with regard to her. The first is a personal reason: I don’t like her foreign policy positions. That isn’t a deal-breaker for me because I don’t see the American empire torn down under Sanders either. But there’s no doubt that things would be marginally better under Sanders.

I also worry about the politics of a Warren vs Trump fight. Warren is great. She’s positive and authentic. But I have a very low opinion of the American general election voter. Sanders and Biden look the part. There are doubtless a lot of people who would vote for either of these men but wouldn’t vote for Warren.

In fact, data from FiveThirtyEight shows that almost as many Sanders supporters have Biden as their second-choice as Warren. I tend to think that is sexism — if not that of the voter themselves than of how they perceive other voters.

(It’s also possible that this is the case because for a lot of Sanders supporters, defeating Warren is the most important thing. Reading YouTube comments and Twitter threads, you don’t see nearly the bile directed at Biden or Buttigieg as you do Warren. There’s a real People’s Front of Judea aspect of it. “The only person we hate more than Donald Trump is Elizabeth Warren!”)

One good thing about Warren is that, without the hysteria coming from Sanders supporters, she is a unity candidate. She bridges the divide between the left and the right of the Democratic Party. But the Sanders supporters have been very all-or-nothing and I suspect that means they are going to get nothing. And that takes away one of her main advantages. Good job people!

I Don’t Know

But the truth is that I can argue against any of the candidates. I just don’t know. I do know that Sanders isn’t going to bring the Democratic Party together. Just the same, anyone but Sanders may make a notable section of his supporters turn away — even from Warren, a candidate they would have loved 4 years ago. Now she’s just an impediment to Sanders taking his rightful place. Cultish? You decide.

Any Democrat will be good. There really is no comparison between them and Donald Trump. Trump is a negative force in the world. The Democrats will all be a mixed bag but generally positive. That’s even true of Joe Biden, who will almost certainly be the nominee.


Bernie Sanders by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Elizabeth Warren by ElizabethForMA licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Global Warming and Extreme Events

Forest Fire

Australia is suffering from extreme fires and all good scientists are supposed to say, “Well, we can’t say these are the result of global warming.” And that is true to some extent. But these fires are demonstrating my greatest fear about global warming and it ain’t the average global temperature.

The science of global warming is more complex than most people realize. The most basic of theory shows, for example, that as radiative forcing increases, the poles warm the most and the equator the least. And the stratosphere cools while the troposphere warms. But mostly, the climate system is really complicated.

Double CO2

For example, there is much made of double-CO2 experiments. But they are not meant to be realistic. They are just a shorthand way to compare how different models respond to changes in radiative forcing. So the models run under current circumstances and double CO2 levels. The differences can be large. When I worked in the field, one model I used saw a 2C increase from double CO2 while another saw a 5C increase.

At the time, I figured the lower estimate was right. But since that time, it looks like the higher number is. The Earth’s climate is surprisingly sensitive to radiative forcing.

Beyond Averages

None of this matters, however. No one lives through climate; they live through weather. Think about it like a car traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles at an average speed of 30 mph. That speed is meaningless if it runs you over. The only thing that matters is exactly what speed it was traveling when you were hit.

There clearly are problems with the temperature always being a few degrees warmer than usual. But the bigger problem is that having a higher baseline means more and harsher extreme events. Plants and animals have evolved to deal with temperature changes. But they aren’t evolved to deal with temperatures outside their normal range.

I realize most people — conservatives most of all — don’t think this matters to us because we can adapt. But we do sit at the top of the food chain. And while we air condition our way through a heatwave, not all the animals we depend upon can.

Extreme Consequences

In addition to more extreme heat, we will also see more extreme drought. If anything, that’s even worse. And it combines synergistically with the heat.

All of this is to say that the Australian fires are the result of global warming.[1] And this is how it will be.

I used to look forward to a time when even the global warming denialists would have to admit that they’d been wrong. But that won’t happen. For one thing, there are people who claim the Earth is flat. But more importantly, the worst effects of global warming will come in extreme events. And that means sudden mass extinctions. And sudden pain for us. Fun times!

But at least coal is cheap!

[1] These extreme events seem like they are coming on the order of once in the decade. But given the climate we had in 1850, these kinds of events would only occur every 10,000 years or more. I think we can thus use the shorthand that such events are due to global warming.


Image by Cameron Strandberg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sam Harris Was Right About Neanderthals

Neanderthal

Europeans have, on average, more neanderthal DNA than Africans. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Sam Harris said, “Had it gone another way, all of a sudden we can’t talk about Neanderthal DNA anymore.”

His point is that if Africans had more DNA, liberals like myself wouldn’t want to talk about it because it would be a concrete sign that Africans were more brutish. It’s a hilariously stupid thought to support his contention that Charles Murray is a perfectly fine person to platform on his show.

But Sam Harris is probably right. But not for the reasons he thinks.

What Would Happen If Africans Were More Neanderthal

The truth is that if Africans did have more neanderthal DNA than Europeans, it would cause a reaction. White supremacists would use the information along with the ignorant belief that Neanderthals were stupid brutes to argue that white people are superior to black people.

And thus, the discussion of neanderthals would become complicated. Because for each person who was discussing neanderthals seriously, there would be ten who were just using it to push racist bullshit.

Neanderthal DNA, IQ, Whatever

“All of a sudden we can’t talk about Neanderthal DNA anymore.” –Sam Harris

It’s like IQ. There are plenty of people who talk about it seriously and there is never a problem. No one demonstrates against James Flynn speaking on a college campus. They have a problem with Charles Murray because he isn’t actually a scientist. Instead, he’s a racist quack who uses the respectability of the pretense of science to push his own political agenda.

Sam Harris has shown himself to be open to racist IQ pseudoscience. He has also shown that he accepts the same tired stereotypes of neanderthals. So if it had turned out that Africans had more neanderthal DNA than Europeans, I have little doubt that Harris would allow racist quacks on his show to use this information to push their agenda.

And he would do this because, he’d claim, college students were trying to silence the brave neanderthal quacks. It certainly wouldn’t be because Sam Harris has some latent racism that he refuses to grapple with.

No, it would be because he’s just a brave truth-teller. It’s interesting that brave truth-tellers are almost always people pushing really old, regressive ideas. Leftist ideas somehow have a much higher activation energy when it comes to brave truth-telling.

Sam Harris Gonna Platform Bigots

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what neanderthal DNA says about human evolution. White supremacists would use it to make racist arguments if it helped them and ignore it if it didn’t. If it did help them make their case, liberals would rightly see the issue as a delicate one.

And Sam Harris would platform racists wanting to use it.


Image via PublicDomainPictures.net.

Who Is Virtue Signaling For?

Pledge of Allegiance

When people virtue signal, who are they signaling to? At least when it comes to liberals and leftists, the people they’re signaling to are themselves. They are trying to be the kind of people they think are good.

They absolutely are not signaling to others. In fact, that would be embarrassing. And that’s part of the problem with conservatives who point out supposed virtue signaling; it accuses them of something they absolutely are not doing at the same time it does what they don’t want to be done. If a liberal is signaling to others, they aren’t being the good person they want to be.

How to Be a Good Person

The conservative view goes along with Aristotle’s notion of how to be a good person. The idea is that you should pretend to be good. You should act the way that good people act and eventually, you too will be a good person.

But people have images of themselves. And they will give up a lot to live up to that image. For example, most people become vegetarians despite the taste of meat, not because of it. We see this very clearly with conservatives too.

There is a common liberal complaint that conservatives “vote against their interests.” But that is rarely true. They often vote against their economic interests. But white people voting for policies that oppress brown people? That’s an interest. They are voting for an idea that white people are better than brown people. And need I remind everyone that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly white.

Conservative Signaling

And conservatives signal too. What do you think all that ostentatious patriotism is about? And I think that’s genuine. Just as with liberals signaling that they are tolerant and so on, conservatives are signaling to themselves that they are good people — the kind of people who love the flag and all that.

Conservatives signal other things too. One I notice a lot is signaling that they are skeptics: nobody’s fools. Unlike liberals, who supposedly let emotions get in the way of their view of the world, conservatives see things the way they are. (Not that I agree.)

Allow People to Be Who They Are

I wish conservatives would allow us on the left to have our beliefs without pathologizing them. But I know they won’t because if leftists’ acceptance of others is a sincere belief, what’s wrong with them?

So it is doubtful things will change. But the charge of “virtue signaling” is hollow. It’s just a way of claiming they don’t accept our view of the world. And we know that. So it really means they have no argument.


Image cropped from Pledge of Allegiance by TheeErin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

John Kerry Wants Democrats to Lose a Second Time

John Kerry and John Edwards 2004

John Kerry has endorsed Joe Biden. I’m sure it makes perfect sense to him. But I’m equally sure that we shouldn’t follow John Kerry to catastrophe a second time.

Let’s look at this in detail. Back in 2004, Democrats nominated John Kerry as their presidential candidate. He picked John Edwards as his vice-presidential running mate. And they lost — by over 3 million votes — more than Trump lost by in 2016. Based on what we know about political science, this was not surprising.

Political Science 2004

In 2009, political scientist Lynn Vavreck published a book that looked at presidential elections, The Message Matters. In it, she argued that the country’s economic trend largely controlled the outcomes in presidential races. If the economy is improving, the political party in the White House wins; if the economy is going into recession, the party loses. This is standard political science.

What Vavreck added was that there were elections when this didn’t hold. She argued that a candidate could win the presidency against a strong economy if they could make the election about something other than the economy.

The classic example of this is Jimmy Carter in 1976. He should have lost. But he made the election about corruption and that allowed him to eke out a win by less than 2 million votes.

The Democrats had a great opportunity in 2004. People had turned against the Iraq War. If the Democrats had made the election about the war, they could have won. But they nominated two men who had voted for the war. And Kerry was especially bad when it came to justifying that vote.

John Kerry and Joe Biden - 2013

The right choice was Howard Dean. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like Howard Dean. He’s the kind of Democrat I’ve always had problems with. He’s one of the Democrats who rose in the wake of Watergate. He’s very much in favor of “good government” over ideology, which means that economically, he’s pretty conservative.

But his 2004 campaign was all about the Iraq War. And regardless of what he may have thought at the time, he wasn’t on record as being for it. Had the Democrats nominated him, it would have been Bush looking uncomfortable at the lectern, not Kerry. And Dean might have won. He certainly would have done better than Kerry did.

Political Science 2020

So here we are on the cusp of 2020 and Kerry has announced that he is supporting Joe Biden for the nomination. It’s not surprising. The two of them worked together at the top of the Obama White House. What’s more, I think the decline of Warren in the polls has caused a lot of establishment types to decide that Biden is their only choice.

But I think Biden is as electable today as Kerry was in 2004. I know: everyone claims he is the most electable candidate. But Trump is going to hammer him on his Iraq War vote, just like he did Clinton in 2016. And if you don’t think Hunter Biden is going to be the “But her emails!” of 2020, you haven’t been paying attention.

If Kerry is wrong this time too, don’t worry: the Democrats will listen to him again.

You know the Democratic saying: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on you; fool me three times, wow, you really aren’t a very nice person, you’d better not fool me a fourth time!


Kerry and Edwards by Richard Block, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Kerry and Biden by US Department of State and in the public domain.

Bullies Are Never The Adults In The Room: The Fall of Deadspin

Deadspin Logo

Recently, a “private equity firm” (read: rich guys with money) bought most of the Gizmodo Media Group. That company includes several sites which aren’t hugely read, and several that are — such as The Onion, Jezebel, The Root, and Deadspin.

I assume everyone knows what The Onion is. Jezebel is a feminist website. The Root is an online magazine co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr, which focuses on African-American politics and culture. (It’s often surprisingly funny, even when dealing with instances of dumb racism that infuriate the writers.) Deadspin is about sports, so I’ve cited it often in my baseball-related writing.

History of Deadspin

The thing about Deadspin is that it was founded primarily for writers to make snarky remarks criticizing the fawning coverage of successful teams and athletes often featured on ESPN.

Over the years, it maintained the snarky tone but branched out to include skeezy team owners and politicians (and even annoying holiday catalogs) among its targets. The great Neil deMause, our nation’s top writer on terrible taxpayer-funded stadium deals, often wrote there.

Drew Magary, a former commenter on the site, eventually became an editor. He made the absolutely true observation that when readers say “just stick to sports” they don’t really mean it. What they mean is “don’t cover sports with” things some readers don’t want to know about, such as players who make statements against racism or war or shabby college athletic pay. (They’re fine with F-15s flying over the Super Bowl, and stories of players who saved kittens.)

Deadspin would cover “edgy” political sports stories, usually with a left-of-center attitude, and made quite a bit of money doing so.

The Beginning of the End

Enter the new owners — a group of old men who’d run almost every publication they’d ever been in charge of into the ground. (Well, except Forbes. Rich people will always like their Forbes.)

They started off by hiring their buddies, ignoring internal candidates, and several female staff complained about a particularly rude, dismissive tone. The first thing they did was tell all the writers they were expected to generate Moar Page Views[1], which is the besetting nightmare of anyone who puts thought and energy into their writing (yes, even jokes about sports take thought and energy).

Then they made it clear that this political nonsense was going to stop. Deadspin was going to be a series of click-through articles with virtually no content to distract readers beyond increasingly loud, pushy ads. The staff, naturally, fought back on this, arguing that the site was successful precisely because it drew an audience bored by what most dumb sports sites were churning out.

That’s when heads began to roll. First, Megan Greenwell, the editor-in-chief, left. Next, the deputy editor was fired, after refusing to “stick to sports.” One day later, in a truly brilliant move, the senior writers all posted non-sports, fully political articles each tagged “stick to sports” — then quit. Drew Magary quit the following day (the site’s masthead still features a direct link to his archived articles).

What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work.

Jerk Boss Behavior

Similar complaints about editorial interference and overbearing new management prickiness have been made by editorial and writing staff at all of Gizmodo Media’s other websites, although none with an exodus so large as Deadspin‘s. Some former writers have noted, correctly, that this is exactly normal when private equity firms take over, well, anything (be it a successful website or struggling retail company).

But the most fascinating observation came from Deadspin‘s first high-profile escapee, aforementioned editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, in her essay called “The Adults In The Room”:

The beginning of the end of my time here came when Spanfeller, my boss’s boss, threw a tantrum in an email to the entire company over a story our staff was reporting on his hiring practices, management style, and threats to editorial independence. He accused us of biased journalism based on the fact that we had sent an early draft to our media lawyer, which is standard journalistic practice. He accused me and a 26-year-old reporter who works for me — a wildly talented reporter who has as much integrity as anyone I’ve ever worked with — of trying to “shame and discredit others in our community” by reporting a story. When another colleague suggested in an all-staff meeting that his email was itself an attempt to publicly shame and discredit his employees, he doubled down, saying he is a transparent guy who says what he thinks…

After I submitted my resignation, explaining that the ongoing undermining from my bosses made it impossible for me to continue to succeed in my job, and that I believed I was putting my staff at risk by staying, the CEO threw a tinier tantrum. When I passed Spanfeller in the office a week after I put in notice, he let out a cruel barking laugh, as if he was disgusted to be in my presence. I said “you can speak to me, you know,” and he responded in a tone familiar to anyone who was ever bullied in middle school. “I don’t want to,” he sneered.

Greenwell’s point, of course, was that this sort of management style is common among those who consider themselves to be the hard-nosed realists, the grownups, the adults in the room. And that as a result, it drives talented people away. What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work. (Sociopathic environments like Enron and the Trump White House have shown a spectacular propensity to ruin all they touch.)

That office interaction she describes also reminds me of a line from the show Deadwood: “Can’t shut up. Every bully I’ve ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth.”[2]

Why Can’t Bullies Ever Shut Up?

The bully, by definition, always has to have the last word. Because anything else means admitting, or at least allowing others to believe, that you realize your behavior was wrong.

Now, are bullies the only ones who do this? Heavens, no. We’ve all done it in arguments with romantic partners, family members, online commenters, insurance company phone reps, whatever, when we felt we were in the right. Most of us, though, will eventually realize we’ve taken an argument too far and agree to disagree, retire to separate corners, drop the argument altogether — apologize if we really feel crummy about the whole thing.

A true bully will always have the last word. Even if they apologized before, they’ll nurture and nourish their interior anger at having had to do so, and take the first opportunity to resume the argument (if not with the individual in question, then anyone who seems an appropriate abuse double).

A true bully never really regrets behaving the way they do; they consider it their right as the more powerful person.

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment.

Why Are Many People In Power Some Degree Of Bully?

Orwell once stated that every bully is also a coward. I’m sure there is some truth to this. Any child services professional knows that bullies are often children who come from abusive homes. So do behavioral psychologists who study serial killers. That sort of bully might have a twisted manifestation of the impostor syndrome, where someone who has power over others constantly fears being found out as a fraud.

Some bullies, however, show no signs of ever having been mistreated in their lives. And that’s the kind I think those new Gizmodo Media owners are. They don’t fear being exposed for the frauds, or jerks, that they are. In fact, they assume such a thing will never happen. Not to them.

Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and if that’s not innate to human behavior it is certainly innate to our current form of capitalism. Everyone under capitalism is ranked by their status, in ways both big (investment portfolio size) and small (an office worker at an ad firm is considered “cooler” than a garbage hauler who makes more money).

A great many people who demean others because they have a higher status under capitalism are Orwellian coward-bullies; they’ll be rank suck-ups to those above them and full-on buttholes to anyone beneath. (As another saying goes, “shit rolls downhill.”)

Not the ones at our very top, though. Not the ones who know that no decision they make will ever harm their lives in any serious way. The super-rich almost never become poor — and only go to jail when they present a problem to the other super-rich. Since they have no need to fear any repercussions for their actions, why not be a rude jerk “who says what he thinks,” if you like? If it makes you feel really, really badass.

The Ultimate Fate Of Deadspin

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment. Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports’s Hardball Talk does something very similar with his sportswriting. There’s lots of places a clever writer can go if they don’t want to write sports on the internet anymore. (One does need a solid resume for this, however.)

Could the site itself come back in some sort of different form? Ari Paul at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) thinks there may be, if writers band together to form some kind of employee-owned website. Paul admits such a venture would require considerable risk with very little early reward, yet suggests that “for independent media to survive… we’re at a breaking point, so it’s necessary.”

How about the site itself? No doubt it will continue in some sort of fashion, as it currently does, but I suspect it will never draw such a loyal following again. Especially not if the new owners continue amping up intrusive ad placements. Fans of witty sports/politics coverage can find other places to go, especially on podcasts and the like.

My guess is Deadspin‘s most consistent readers — you know, the ones advertisers like best — will drift away if they already haven’t fled in disgust. (God help these new owners if they push The Root‘s staff into mass escapage.)

Will it hurt the private equity investors at all? They might make less profit than they expected, but they’ll be fine. Even if they do take a loss, they’ll certainly blame someone besides themselves. Not every spoiled brat grows up to be a bully, but every rich bully is a spoiled brat.


[1] “Moar” is apparently who high young-people spell “more” online. Who am I to stand in the way? -FM

[2] The full quote is, “Can’t shut up! Every bully I ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth. Except when he’s afraid.” It is said by Seth Bullock to George Heart in the final film.

Deadspin Logo by Deadspin – Univision, Public Domain.