for center-left, big data more useful for finding racists than understanding elections

Vox is center-left opinion with well-documented conflicts of interest masquerading as objective analysis, but every now and again they have something resembling reporting. Such was actually the case — despite the explosive headline “Persuasive proof that America is full of racist and selfish people” — when they interviewed Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former Google data scientist and occasional New York Times contributor. In addition to backing up the assertion that anonymity fosters both nastiness and honesty, that article established an apparently strong correlation between the frequency of certain internet searches and broader trends in our polarized voter population around election day. I found the interesting big data analysis lurking behind the volatile headline to be most fascinating for supporting what I believe to be a general dysfunction of the mainstream progressive dialogue today and a major liability for Democrats.


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Clinton apologists and the popular vote

A lot of people have been trying to make sense of Clinton’s loss to Trump last week. Conservative pundits not necessarily pleased with the rise of Trump have blamed an aggressive backlash to “weaponized” political correctness. On the left are continued complaints about Russian interference, even motivating calls that the Electoral College deny Trump the office when they vote next month. And extremist elements to both the far-right and far-left have responded with vandalism and violence.

The situation is frantic and there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what got us here. Many blame racism at a high level, but that charge lacks specificity and therefore explanatory power. All meaningful approaches rightly address the Electoral College, but the underyling forces seem yet to be clearly articulated. A careful study of two pro-Clinton apologetic flavours of voting analysis is instructive in understanding just how Trump won in 2016.


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understanding black support for Clinton

As the primary race creeps along we keep hearing about Hillary Clinton’s popularity among blacks. That apparently explains her sweeps in southern states: “according to exit polls, Clinton won more than 80 percent of black votes in Tennessee and Georgia, and 90 percent in Arkansas in Alabama.” I’ve been trying to understand what can explain this.

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Jonathan Chait’s Nonsensical “Case” Against Bernie Sanders

Jonathan Chait, a smug, center-left blogger of some note among Democrats and moderates, recently weighed in on the Democratic primary. The article, with the self-congratulatory title “The Case Against Bernie Sanders” is worth exploring in some detail because of its bad logic, exaggerated arguments, and extreme cynicism. Ultimately, no one should be convinced by his “case.”


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Washington Referendum Measure 74: The Righteous Case for Marriage Equality

I’m a dedicated but lazy citizen, so it was only this weekend that I got around to reading the literature presented in the Washington State voters’ pamphlet concerning Referendum Measure 74, the gay marriage bill. The measure was ratified by the legislature, but sufficiently many assholes petitioned for a referendum that it now requires approval from the People. Per the ballot:

This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.

The state legislature passed and the voters approved the so-called ‘Everything but Marriage’ bill in 2009 that equated domestic partnerships with marriages in every respect except the terminology. That’s obviously very stupid since a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so don’t dick around with names in the first place: call a rose a rose. It follows that R-74 is a no-brainer, but what really struck me was the stark contrast between the arguments for and against its passage reproduced in the voters’ pamphlet. It is that juxtaposition more than anything else that has solidified my understanding that this bill is not only necessary and proper; but that opposition to it is the basest, most detestable position of any on the ballot this year.

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The Final Debate, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Israel

(Update)

The third and final presidential debate of this election cycle was to be about foreign policy, just as the first (and the only other which wasn’t a Town Hall format) was to be about domestic policy. That didn’t really come to pass in earnest, and it also happened that this final debate was pretty flat. I think the main reason for that was the broad agreement that both candidates have on their approach to foreign policy: both love Israel, both fear and want to look tough on Iran, and both think America is the greatest thing to have recently happened to the world. This is obviously a bad position for Romney to find himself in as he attempts to convince us that we need a leadership change, which explains how much the debate pivoted back to the economy in variously clever and tired ways. A few interesting things happened, including a few zingers from Obama, but the tone after the tension of the second debate — and the last one before the election — was one of measured caution.

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Prez Debate II: The Wrath Of Mitt

If there was one conclusion most of the pundits drew from the first presidential debate, it was that Obama was functionally asleep and let Romney walk all over him. If there was a second conclusion, it was that Jim Leher was functionally asleep and let Obama and Romney walk all over him. So it isn’t surprising, especially after announcing that it would be the case, that Obama was much more aggressive and challenging for this match-up,  the first and only Town Hall-style debate we’ll see this election. Romney must have known this, so he upped his game as well, and tensions ran high. Obama won the debate by being engaged, articulate, and right on the issues. But he got help from Romney, who emphatically lost it by over-correcting and quite frankly embarrassing himself.

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Nothing Even Matters: VP Debate 2012

I hesitate to say anything at all about the one and only Vice-Presidential debate of 2012 which happened last Thursday. Full disclosure: I was sloppy drunk while watching it, and I missed some of it while moving among rooms for reasons I don’t need or care to elaborate. I took some notes of what I could hear while many of us were talking over it at an impromptu viewing party that changed venue twice, but they’re mostly illegible. So I’m about to phone this in and I recommend you just stop reading right now. Really. There’s a lot of porn on this internet thing, and if for some reason that isn’t your bag, there are pictures of cats too. So a lot to do. Then again, maybe Biden and Ryan will kiss?

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Barry v Mittens, Round the First

You might not have noticed since it was pretty dull and a lot of other things were happening, but the Sitting Decider and some asshole Mormon upstart spent an hour and a half talking about basically nothing last night, the first such exercise in extemporaneous theatre of a scheduled series of three.

As is my wont, I’m going to talk a little about it.

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I’m Akin to move on

I was surprised at first by the ferocity and duration of the controversy surrounding Missouri Rep. and Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s embarrassingly boneheaded remarks about the female reproductive tract’s alleged powers of discernment. The excoriations you’d expect to hear in response to an aging white male wax scientific about “legitimate rape” have been in ample supply from both parties. Even the insufferable Sean Hannity called his comments “a terrible mistake” on his show Tuesday night, and the next co-president of the United States, Mittens Romney, earlier that day called upon Rep. Akin to leave the race.

But then I got to thinking about why this is such a huge flap. Why should anyone be surprised that a republican has some seriously backward views? Obviously his comment about rape was as stupidly incorrect on the facts as it was ignorantly dismissive of the horrors, but stunning ignorance is a stock-in-trade of the modern republican party. I guess that’s the point really: Akin’s mumbling struck a nerve precisely because he’s again revealed the ugly truth of the far-right pro-lifers which have increasingly become the standard bearers of the republican mainstream. They’re so tragically or willfully misinformed in order to cling to their manifestly bogus stance on reproductive rights that it was inevitable one of them would detonate a land mine on camera sooner or later.

What’s really interesting (read: disgusting) is how transparently political the fallout has been. Continue reading