Sunday, January 14, 2018

Trump, Twitter, and Shy Tories

President Trump has established a clear pattern of saying something
that people would naturally be expected to attack, but which they
can't attack without bringing attention to a subject which hurts their
cause. Often but not always he has done this on Twitter. Often, indeed
perhaps almost always, little considerations like whether making the
intended attack will hurt their cause don't stop people from attacking

For example, this pattern seemed pretty clear in Trump's "Pocahontas"
remark about Elizabeth Warren. The remark was a fullthroated violation
of the taboo of using some stereotypical folk figure to refer to real
racial issues, so of course it was going to be criticized. But it
couldn't be criticized without exploding the Journolist-style working
agreement to bury the sorry Elizabeth Warren purely-fake-diversity
affirmative action affair. (Also, to an interesting extent, making the
people criticizing look like creepy villains for prioritizing the
oh-so-sensitive stereotypical-figure taboo over things that are more
central substantive violations of modern racial norms, such as using
false claims of racial identity to get affirmative action preferences
which were supposed to be for members of other racial groups.)

In many cases, including the Warren one, this plays out in a fairly
obvious predictable way, and I find myself pretty sure that Trump has
a pretty good idea what he's getting from this, and a pretty good idea
the price that he's paying, and that he's basically correct that the
political benefits for him are large compared to the political costs.
But in some messier cases, including the recent controversy over his
(vaguely second-hand sourced) remarks along the lines of "why do we
want immigration from that shithole", I can't see how anyone, me or
Trump included, could make the computation very accurately, in part
because it's difficult to anticipate people's reactions to the remark,
and in part because it's a "Shy Tory" sort of issue that makes it
difficult to observe people's reactions reliably. I can't think of any
wonderfully sophisticated professional marketer/politician survey
technology Trump could be using to overcome these problems, so it
seems as though he must be mostly "playing it by ear".

So far, eyeballing it from the outside, my impression is that he's
likely been pretty successful at it even in these messier cases, but I
wonder whether that impression will hold up in hindsight as we learn
more (e.g. from voting, or from other tells) about people's reactions.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

self-refuting arguments

Sometimes an argument is constructed so that it doesn't make much sense in its own terms. For example, saying that US constitutional law needs to be reinterpreted because standards have changed seems to bite itself in the tail: if standards have indeed changed, the Constitutional amendment process is right there.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Merry Christmas, etc.

Merry Christmas! And a happy New Year, too.

2017 has been the kind of year that makes me think of wry remarks like "there is a lot of ruination in a nation" and "may you live in interesting times". And indeed, maybe the whole decade ending in 2017 was exhibiting a similar spirit. But perhaps I should be if not cautiously optimistic, at least open minded. Among other things, the more I have learned about history, the more I have been reminded that the baseline level of "ruination" and "interesting" tends to be pretty high, even in times when in hindsight we can see that things were looking up.

To a relative whose birthday falls very near Christmas, I sent a pair of gifts close to that year-end theme: Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs as recorded in Poland in 1987, and Moynahan's Book of Fire. And if none of your relatives thoughtfully gave you such timely gifts, and you want to remedy the deficiency for yourself, and you don't need to stick to copyrighted works in order to make a traditional purchasable gift, you can try Macaulay's History of England, which is available free on Project Gutenberg (and which might make a subject for another post).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

two different perspectives on an investigation

Is it noteworthy not to look at the emails in question in context? And not to ask questions such as: "Prof Jones, did you delete any e-mails?" Some think so. Others think not. If only there were any commonly accepted standards by which we could judge one of them to be absurdly wrong...

Monday, June 28, 2010

"destitute, hopelessly stagnant proletariat" in 1971 South Korea

another 1970s time capsule, this time from Super-Economy:
The book is hints at how crazy the ideological atmosphere was in 1971. As I wrote, Villy Bergström was a brilliant economist, and considered a centrist Social Democrat. Yet he writes in one point, favorably comparing North Korea with other nations: "[Classical] liberalism and capitalism in South Korea has led to fascism and an upper class in ruthless luxury, with a destitute, hopelessly stagnant proletariat. This has happened in South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Pakistan, South America and southern Italy."

I am quite impressed with the epic fail of choosing 2/4 of the Asian Tigers to illustrate "hopelessly stagnant proletariat."

(And incidentally, I don't think that that sharp disconnect from economic reality discredits the other remarks here. Most of the other remarks in the passage are not as sharp as "stagnant [vs. a reality of dramatic economic change]," leaving room for reasonable people to disagree about how correct they are, and I even agree that some of them are correct. I do disagree about how "classically liberal" these societies were. I also have a narrower disagreement with "fascist" not because it's overharsh, but because it's overspecific. I don't see how the 1971 snapshots can be classified with Hitler but not with Stalin, or with Mussolini but without 1900 Japan or 1900 Russia or 1920s Russia. Thus I'd prefer a term less misleadingly specifically referring to the enemies of the Social Democrats, perhaps "tyranny" or "absolutism.")

Saturday, June 26, 2010



I cut capitalized page titles from an EconLog web form and an EconLog posting-delay-notification screen and pasted them into my remarks in two blog comments. OOPS!

I have spent a lot of time working with program comments and plain ASCII documentation files like this, using a convention where ALL CAPS indicates not yelling but quoting of fragments of computer programs, rather like italics can indicate not emphasis but quoting of title text like The Wealth of Nations. This seems to've created a blind spot in my proofreading skillz, since the yelling interpretation wasn't glaringly obvious to me. The yelling interpretation was certainly glaringly obvious to EconLib Ed., though: "If you can't wait so much as five or ten minutes before griping and screaming and yelling, you are pretty hair-trigger, eh?".

Sadly, perhaps EconLib Ed.'s assessment that I'm a ranting loon is uncontroversially true. More positively, though, perhaps I should take this a sort of double hint from fate (first that this occurred in my comment about how it's technically easier to do something on my own blog and second that this occurred in a blog post advising "Get Your Own Blog") reminding me that even if I am a ranting loon I can still post here! (What could possibly go wrong?)

Meanwhile I should probably try to remember to proofread more carefully the next time that I need to identify a web screen URL-suitable global meaning so that I am tempted to identify it by giving its title and furthermore its title happens to be capitalized. Too bad the brain is too inexpressive to support OAOO implementation of this as (DEFMETHOD MAKE :AROUND ((M MISTAKE)) (UNLESS (ALREADY-MADE-P M) (CALL-NEXT-METHOD)))...

On maintaining the appearance of balance

I'm surprised that both Tyler Cowen and Julian Sanchez wrote lengthy blog posts about the severity of Dave Weigel's problems with his Journolist emails, but didn't mention the coincidence that this is in the wake of the controversy over apparent maneuvering to try to protect Rep. Etheridge. (A "any video of a member [of Congress] acting strangely, no matter how grainy" forsooth!) When fire from the right catches you just as you're heeled over that far to the left, it tends to strike below the waterline.

UPDATE: also observed at Colby Cosh

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On Hacker News on New Scientist on Living in Denial

(This is an extended version of a comment posted on a Hacker News article .)

(No, I don't remember the customary capitalization rules for different parts of speech in titles, why do you ask?)

From the article in question: "Vaccine denial: Umbrella term for a disparate movement claiming that certain vaccines either (1) do not work or (2) are harmful"

I have no particular sympathy with any anti-vaccine activism that I'm aware of. But I wonder how, other than by not being an important faction in the appropriate big political tent, "anti-vaccine denial" ended up on this article's excrement list along with Holocaust deniers, while "nuclear power denial" and "genetic engineering denial" didn't.

My impression is that political opposition to nuclear power plants, to nuclear waste facilities, and to GM crops have had at least as much economic impact as political opposition to vaccines. Thus, it seems to me that they shouldn't be left off this list because they're unimportant.

Perhaps the columnist thinks that the anti-nuke and anti-GM-crops political movements don't belong on the list because they have achieved their success primarily by honestly making valid technical points? Granting for the sake of argument that that is a tenable position, then why ignore them? Wouldn't the anti-nuke and anti-GM movements make useful examples to clarify his position by comparing and contrasting? Wouldn't describing what is healthy and good about the thinking of the anti-GM and anti-nuke coalitions help us understand better what is exactly is so characteristically diseased and vile about anti-vaccine folk to justify grouping them with Holocaust deniers?

Now, I vaguely remember that long ago, when I first encountered "politically correct" used in the usual modern sense, I laughed pretty hard. Cruelly. Since then I've used the term repeatedly, trying to criticize suitably dishonest tactics with the nasty reminder that they seem not only dishonest, but significantly parallel to dishonest tactics which were used to support murderous totalitarian regimes. So maybe I should recognize that being labelled a "denier" for arguing against the IPCC version of AGW (as opposed to, say, little-feedback "lukewarming") should be considered karmic justice. (Pretty crude justice, I think, since the parallel seems broken in various ways. E.g., the left regards Che t-shirts rather more fondly than right regards Rommel t-shirts. If you want a recognizable parallel, it would work a lot better to make a nasty reference to how Confederate sympathies are widely tolerated. It's not that there are no real problems to be nasty about, just that being nasty about the particular problem of Nazi sympathies is delusional.)

Perhaps what's going on is a rhetorical declaration of political factional loyalty by politically correct use of a partisan barb, not an actual assessment that people are violating some objective standard of analysis and discourse. Perhaps then I should accept that, since I've confessed to politically-correct-for-libertarians[*] use of the barb "politically correct." However, if indeed that's what's going on, I think it would be nice if the New Scientist would be honest about it. If the tables were turned, I'd be pretty disgusted with a magazine article, either an openly partisan one or a nominally objective one, which published a lot of text based on a definition of "politically correct" in neutral terms, but mysteriously happened to choose only targets on the left when illustrating those terms, avoiding e.g. any school boards which have made embarrassingly right-wing curriculum or library choices, or various episodes of narrowly doctrinaire in-group infighting weirdness among libertarian groups, even when discussing parallel kinds of misbehavior on the left.