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17 Oct 05:46

How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas

by Farnam Street Team
Image Source: XKCD

John Pollack is a former Presidential Speechwriter. If anyone knows the power of words to move people to action, shape arguments, and persuade, it is he.

In Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas, he explores the powerful role of analogy in persuasion and creativity.

One of the key tools he uses for this is analogy.

While they often operate unnoticed, analogies aren’t accidents, they’re arguments—arguments that, like icebergs, conceal most of their mass and power beneath the surface. In arguments, whoever has the best argument wins.

But analogies do more than just persuade others — they also play a role in innovation and decision making.

From the bloody Chicago slaughterhouse that inspired Henry Ford’s first moving assembly line, to the “domino theory” that led America into the Vietnam War, to the “bicycle for the mind” that Steve Jobs envisioned as a Macintosh computer, analogies have played a dynamic role in shaping the world around us.

Despite their importance, many people have only a vague sense of the definition.

What is an Analogy?

In broad terms, an analogy is simply a comparison that asserts a parallel—explicit or implicit—between two distinct things, based on the perception of a share property or relation. In everyday use, analogies actually appear in many forms. Some of these include metaphors, similes, political slogans, legal arguments, marketing taglines, mathematical formulas, biblical parables, logos, TV ads, euphemisms, proverbs, fables and sports clichés.

Because they are so disguised they play a bigger role than we consciously realize. Not only do analogies effectively make arguments, but they trigger emotions. And emotions make it hard to make rational decisions.

While we take analogies for granted, the ideas they convey are notably complex.

All day every day, in fact, we make or evaluate one analogy after the other, because some comparisons are the only practical way to sort a flood of incoming data, place it within the content of our experience, and make decisions accordingly.

Remember the powerful metaphor — that arguments are war. This shapes a wide variety of expressions like “your claims are indefensible,” “attacking the weakpoints,” and “You disagree, OK shoot.”

Or consider the Map and the Territory — Analogies give people the map but explain nothing of the territory.

Warren Buffett is one of the best at using analogies to communicate effectively. One of my favorite analogies is when he noted “You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” In other words, when times are good everyone looks amazing. When times suck, hidden weaknesses are exposed. The same could be said for analogies:

We never know what assumptions, deceptions, or brilliant insights they might be hiding until we look beneath the surface.

Most people underestimate the importance of a good analogy. As with many things in life, this lack of awareness comes at a cost. Ignorance is expensive.

Evidence suggests that people who tend to overlook or underestimate analogy’s influence often find themselves struggling to make their arguments or achieve their goals. The converse is also true. Those who construct the clearest, most resonant and apt analogies are usually the most successful in reaching the outcomes they seek.

The key to all of this is figuring out why analogies function so effectively and how they work. Once we know that, we should be able to craft better ones.

Don’t Think of an Elephant

Effective, persuasive analogies frame situations and arguments, often so subtly that we don’t even realize there is a frame, let alone one that might not work in our favor. Such conceptual frames, like picture frames, include some ideas, images, and emotions and exclude others. By setting a frame, a person or organization can, for better or worse, exert remarkable influence on the direction of their own thinking and that of others.

He who holds the pen frames the story. The first person to frame the story controls the narrative and it takes a massive amount of energy to change the direction of the story. Sometimes even the way that people come across information, shapes it — stories that would be a non-event if disclosed proactively became front page stories because someone found out.

In Don’t Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff explores the issue of framing. The book famously begins with the instruction “Don’t think of an elephant.”

What’s the first thing we all do? Think of an elephant, of course. It’s almost impossible not to think of an elephant. When we stop consciously thinking about it, it floats away and we move on to other topics — like the new email that just arrived. But then again it will pop back into consciousness and bring some friends — associated ideas, other exotic animals, or even thoughts of the GOP.

“Every word, like elephant, evokes a frame, which can be an image of other kinds of knowledge,” Lakoff writes. This is why we want to control the frame rather than be controlled by it.

In Shortcut Pollack tells of Lakoff talking about an analogy that President George W. Bush made in the 2004 State of the Union address, in which he argued the Iraq war was necessary despite the international criticism. Before we go on, take Bush’s side here and think about how you would argue this point – how would you defend this?

In the speech, Bush proclaimed that “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.”

As Lakoff notes, Bush could have said, “We won’t ask permission.” But he didn’t. Instead he intentionally used the analogy of permission slip and in so doing framed the issue in terms that would “trigger strong, more negative emotional associations that endured in people’s memories of childhood rules and restrictions.”

Commenting on this, Pollack writes:

Through structure mapping, we correlate the role of the United States to that of a young student who must appeal to their teacher for permission to do anything outside the classroom, even going down the hall to use the toilet.

But is seeking diplomatic consensus to avoid or end a war actually analogous to a child asking their teacher for permission to use the toilet? Not at all. Yet once this analogy has been stated (Farnam Street editorial: and tweeted), the debate has been framed. Those who would reject a unilateral, my-way-or-the-highway approach to foreign policy suddenly find themselves battling not just political opposition but people’s deeply ingrained resentment of childhood’s seemingly petty regulations and restrictions. On an even subtler level, the idea of not asking for a permission slip also frames the issue in terms of sidestepping bureaucratic paperwork, and who likes bureaucracy or paperwork.

Deconstructing Analogies

Deconstructing analogies, we find out how they function so effectively. Pollack argues they meet five essential criteria.

  1. Use the highly familiar to explain something less familiar.
  2. Highlight similarities and obscure differences.
  3. Identify useful abstractions.
  4. Tell a coherent story.
  5. Resonate emotionally.

Let’s explore how these work in greater detail. Let’s use the example of master-thief, Bruce Reynolds, who described the Great Train Robbery as his Sistine Chapel.

The Great Train Robbery

In the dark early hours of August 8, 1963, an intrepid gang of robbers hot-wired a six-volt battery to a railroad signal not far from the town of Leighton Buzzard, some forty miles north of London. Shortly, the engineer of an approaching mail train, spotting the red light ahead, slowed his train to a halt and sent one of his crew down the track, on foot, to investigate. Within minutes, the gang overpowered the train’s crew and, in less than twenty minutes, made off with the equivalent of more than $60 million in cash.

Years later, Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of what quickly became known as the Great Train Robbery, described the spectacular heist as “my Sistine Chapel.”

Use the familiar to explain something less familiar

Reynolds exploits the public’s basic familiarity with the famous chapel in the Vatican City, which after Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is perhaps the best-known work of Renaissance art in the world. Millions of people, even those who aren’t art connoisseurs, would likely share the cultural opinion that the paintings in the chapel represent “great art” (as compared to a smaller subset of people who might feel the same way about Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, or Marcel Duchamp’s upturned urinal).

Highlight similarities and obscure differences

Reynold’s analogy highlights, through implication, similarities between the heist and the chapel—both took meticulous planning and masterful execution. After all, stopping a train and stealing the equivalent of $60m—and doing it without guns—does require a certain artistry. At the same time, the analogy obscures important differences. By invoking the image of a holy sanctuary, Reynolds triggers a host of associations in the audience’s mind—God, faith, morality, and forgiveness, among others—that camouflage the fact that he’s describing an action few would consider morally commendable, even if the artistry involved in robbing that train was admirable.

Identify useful abstractions

The analogy offers a subtle but useful abstraction: Genius is genius and art is art, no matter what the medium. The logic? If we believe that genius and artistry can transcend genre, we must concede that Reynolds, whose artful, ingenious theft netted millions, is an artist.

Tell a coherent story

The analogy offers a coherent narrative. Calling the Great Train Robbery his Sistine Chapel offers the audience a simple story that, at least on the surface makes sense: Just as Michelangelo was called by God, the pope, and history to create his greatest work, so too was Bruce Reynolds called by destiny to pull off the greatest robbery in history. And if the Sistine Chapel endures as an expression of genius, so too must the Great Train Robbery. Yes, robbing the train was wrong. But the public perceived it as largely a victimless crime, committed by renegades who were nothing if not audacious. And who but the most audacious in history ever create great art? Ergo, according to this narrative, Reynolds is an audacious genius, master of his chosen endeavor, and an artist to be admired in public.

There is an important point here. The narrative need not be accurate. It is the feelings and ideas the analogy evokes that make it powerful. Within the structure of the analogy, the argument rings true. The framing is enough to establish it succulently and subtly. That’s what makes it so powerful.

Resonate emotionally

The analogy resonates emotionally. To many people, mere mention of the Sistine Chapel brings an image to mind, perhaps the finger of Adam reaching out toward the finger of God, or perhaps just that of a lesser chapel with which they are personally familiar. Generally speaking, chapels are considered beautiful, and beauty is an idea that tends to evoke positive emotions. Such positive emotions, in turn, reinforce the argument that Reynolds is making—that there’s little difference between his work and that of a great artist.

Jumping to Conclusions

Daniel Kahneman explains the two thinking structures that govern the way we think: System one and system two . In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he writes “Jumping to conclusions is efficient if the conclusions are likely to be correct and the costs of an occasional mistake are acceptable, and if the jump saves much time and effort.”

“A good analogy serves as an intellectual springboard that helps us jump to conclusions,” Pollack writes. He continues:

And once we’re in midair, flying through assumptions that reinforce our preconceptions and preferences, we’re well on our way to a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. When we encounter a statement and seek to understand it, we evaluate it by first assuming it is true and exploring the implications that result. We don’t even consider dismissing the statement as untrue unless enough of its implications don’t add up. And consider is the operative word. Studies suggest that most people seek out only information that confirms the beliefs they currently hold and often dismiss any contradictory evidence they encounter.

The ongoing battle between fact and fiction commonly takes place in our subconscious systems. In The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, Drew Westen, an Emory University psychologist, writes: “Our brains have a remarkable capacity to find their way toward convenient truths—even if they are not all true.”

This also helps explain why getting promoted has almost nothing to do with your performance.

Remember Apollo Robbins? He’s a professional pickpocket. While he has unique skills, he succeeds largely through the choreography of people’s attention. “Attention,” he says “is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”

“Pickpocketing and analogies are in a sense the same,” Pollack concludes, “as the misleading analogy picks a listener’s mental pocket.”

And this is true whether someone else diverts our attention through a resonant but misleading analogy—“Judges are like umpires”—or we simply choose the wrong analogy all by ourselves.

Reasoning by Analogy

We rarely stop to see how much of our reasoning is done by analogy. In a 2005 study published in the Harvard Business Review, Giovanni Gavettie and Jan Rivkin wrote: “Leaders tend to be so immersed in the specifics of strategy that they rarely stop to think how much of their reasoning is done by analogy.” As a result they miss things. They make connections that don’t exist. They don’t check assumptions. They miss useful insights. By contrast “Managers who pay attention to their own analogical thinking will make better strategic decisions and fewer mistakes.”


Shortcut goes on to explore when to use analogies and how to craft them to maximize persuasion.

Sponsored By: Greenhaven Road Capital: You think differently - now invest differently.

17 Oct 05:39

When Analogies Fail

by S. Abbas Raza

Alexander Stern in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Photo_78335_landscape_650x433An analogy is, according to Webster’s, "a comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way." The definition seems to capture exactly what Simmons, a sports commentator, and Dowd, a New York Times columnist, are doing in the sentences above: comparing two things and explaining how they’re alike. Being a dictionary, however, Webster’s has little to say about why we use analogies, where they come from, or what role they really play in human life.

Analogies need not, of course, all have the same aim. They’re used in different contexts to varying effect. Still, it is evident that we use analogies for mainly rhetorical reasons: to shed light, to explain, to reveal a new aspect of something, to draw out an unseen affinity, to drive home a point. As Wittgenstein wrote, "A good simile refreshes the mind."

This Simmons’s and Dowd’s analogies demonstrably fail to do. Our understanding of Trump is unlikely to benefit from an attentive viewing of Species. The careers of the basketball player Robert Horry and the actor Philip Baker Hall, admirable though they may be, leave Australia similarly unilluminated. This kind of analogy — which often consists of an ostensibly funny pop-culture reference or of objects between which certain equivalences can be drawn (x is the y of z’s) — has become increasingly common.

You also find it in academic writing. For example, from the journal Cultural Critique: "Attempting to define multiculturalism is like trying to pick up a jellyfish — you can do it, but the translucent, free-floating entity turns almost instantly into an unwieldy blob of amorphous abstraction." The analogy aims not to enlighten, but to enliven, adorn, divert.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with this, as far as it goes, but its increasing prominence reflects more general changes in the way we relate to the world around us.

More here.

18 Aug 17:55

Wheel of Fortune

by Mark Hay

Will a change in the way America names its cheeses hurt sales?

cheeeeeeeeeeeeeese (Photo: shelleylyn)

If you were to ask a random American what he or she thinks about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), it’s safe to bet they wouldn’t have much to say. The European Union-United States trade deal, first floated in 2013, makes the news on a near-daily basis across the pond. However, whether because the US has been so opaque on the details of ongoing negotiations, or because many of the issues involved feel abstract from daily life, many Americans don’t even know what the TTIP is.

And yet, deep within the bowels of the treaty, there’s one clause that could have a profound effect on everyday American life — by making it illegal for US cheese makers to use common names rooted in regional European culinary traditions like feta, muenster, or parmesan. EU negotiators are serious enough about this that it’s had the US dairy world in a tizzy for two years, underscoring how attached our cheese culture is, both emotionally and financially, to its (often only name-deep) European heritage.

One clause [could make] it illegal for US cheese makers to use common names rooted in regional European culinary traditions like feta, muenster, or parmesan.

This provision is just the latest in a long crusade by traditional European cheese makers against the willy-nilly usage of their region’s dairy terms by foreigners. In the early 20th century, some European states blocked the importation of foreign products using their names, hoping to protect the integrity of their culinary heritage. Predictably, France was among the first to implement a cohesive system of cultural protections for their cheeses, limiting the use of the name Roquefort in 1925. But other nations like Greece, historically less litigiously finicky about their food, jumped on the boat as well. Starting in the 1930s, you couldn’t sell brined goat or sheep’s cheese under the name “feta” in Greece unless it was verifiably made in specific regions of that nation using exact ratios of sheep’s milk to goat’s milk.

Maybe feta, maybe not! (Image: Stacy Spensley

In 1992, the EU picked up these precedents and codified a “Protected Designation of Origin” system to judge which names, tied to traditional regions and modes of production, ought to be protected throughout the Union. It was a move geared towards protecting the flavor integrity and economic viability of traditional products. To wit, after the EU embraced Greece’s claim that feta was a distinct regional product in 2005, other European feta makers weren’t just barred from selling their products in Greece. They also could no longer call their cheeses feta in total — to the chagrin of British, Danish, and German producers who’d long dominated the EU market with cow’s milk feta and to the benefit of poor cheese makers in the rural Greek mountains.

Since then, the EU has slapped these protections onto about 180 cheeses, including Asiagos, Bries, Camemberts, Gorgonzolas, Goudas, Gruyeres, Manchegos, and Provolones. EU officials have been so pleased with the benefits of these cultural protections, building the exclusivity and thus brand strength and profitability of cheeses on the continent, that they’ve sought to extend them across the world via trade treaties, including one finalized between the EU and Canada in the summer of 2014, which is currently just awaiting implementation.

Mmmmmmmuenster! (Image: bl0ndeeo2)

In early 2014, American cheese makers realized Europe’s push to extend the frontiers of their cultural protection regime included the TTIP and freaked out. According to Massimo Vittori, managing director of the Geneva-based pro-cultural protection group oriGIn, at least 70 cheese names that most Americans consider generic conflict with European restrictions. American cheese makers, from industry powerhouses like Kraft-Heinz to Midwestern craft producers, say they’ve spent decades and gobs of cash developing brands built on these generic names — just think about every tube of grated white stuff in the refrigerated aisle of your grocery store you associate with parmesan or every deli slice you associate with muenster.

At least 70 cheese names that most Americans consider generic conflict with European restrictions.

Some claim American producers and marketers actually built the international reputation of and demand for European-heritage cheeses that EU producers now want to leverage through cultural protections. They fear that, if they’re forced to start calling their products brined cow’s milk cheese instead of feta or parmesan-style hard cheese instead of parmesan, they’ll lose global market recognition—they’ll seem cut-rate. No one I spoke to in the US cheese industry could put a figure on it, but they all suspect this would take a fair chunk out of the multi-billion dollar industry, jeopardizing the well-being of many dairy farmers and manufacturers at home for the benefit of small pockets of farmers and producers abroad.

Naturally, a bipartisan group of 55 senators attempted to protest the provision — because cheese is perhaps the one thing that can unite this nation, even today. And the US has officially pushed back, arguing that EU producers can just file trademark applications for protection in the US. Just like under the EU’s system, this would prevent people other than the trademark holders or licensed users from labeling their cheese with specific names in America. However we don’t issue trademarks for names we consider too generic, like parmesan, which Americans have long used as a general term for a hard white cheese.

Shawna Morris, who handles trade policy for the National Milk Producers Federation and US Dairy Export Council, points out that a number of European cheeses included on the list for protection, like Roquefort or Parmigiano-Reggiano already have trademarks. But for Europeans that’s not enough; the trademark for Parmigiano-Reggiano doesn’t extend to parmesan, which to them is a synonym, not a generic genus term.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, the real deal. (Image: Matt Lewis)

“If the [European negotiators] spent as much time and effort helping [producers] simply register their names through the existing system as they have in trying to impose new restrictions in the US market,” Morris said, “their goal of greater protection for EU terms would have already been achieved. It’s a shame, really, because [they] continue to adamantly refuse to acknowledge that it is actually US producers who face genuine trade barriers in this context. It’s US companies that cannot sell asiago or feta to the EU and increasingly to a number of other global markets, directly as a result of inappropriately broad EU… policies.”

Despite staunch pushback and accusations that the EU’s bid goes beyond protecting its farmers and moves into an overreaching protectionist assault on American dairy, the EU has stood strong; 201 of Europe’s over 1,300 cultural food protections show up in papers from TTIP negotiations this spring, 78 of which are cheeses. Just last month, an event hosted by the EU included a session on the importance of global recognition of these protections for the security of regional agriculture within the bloc, which used cheese as a key example.

It’s a stubborn position born of a firm conviction that generic American cheeses, no matter how long they’ve used the terms or how many dollars they’ve sunk into branding, are clearly just piggybacking on the haute reputation of their classier European kin. That’s not always the case — as Morris points out, some American cheeses have won international awards going head to head with EU-made counterparts — like BelGioioso Parmesan, which took first in class in global competitions in 1986, 2010, and 2012. But Europeans do have a point that many American parmesans taste nothing like their continental equivalents, because they use ingredients Italians would consider unholy—like cellulose powder and potassium sorbate—and then market themselves using Italian imagery or oblique references to the quality and story of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The same could be said of American fetas, which may be part of our heritage through southern European immigration, but which cannot truly mimic traditional tastes due to federal regulations on US cheese production and the usage of non-traditional materials like cow’s milk instead of sheep’s and goat’s milk in many offerings. Even if we popularized the terms and sometimes do credit to their heritage, that doesn’t mean we don’t also often irresponsibly capitalize on and detrimentally bastardize that heritage.

Many on the European side have tried to convince the US industry that the TTIP is an opportunity to build strong local brands, which could be more profitable in the end. OriGIn’s Vittori points out that a similar deal in Australia killed its dependence on “generic” wine names rooted in European heritage, like Chablis or Champagne, which folks in the know realize are tied to specific regions in France, but which many firms in Australia at the time (and in America now) used to up their class factor and sales. In the aftermath, Australian vintners created wildly successful narratives of local wine region-brands like Barossa Valley or Margaret River. Vittori thinks there are at least 500 products that the US could create culturally distinct and protected titles for, including many cheeses, giving a massive boost to local producers offsetting any damage the recognition of European protections might do.

“From the marketing perspective,” he told me, “more and more consumers are looking for authenticity…leveraging specific characteristics of place.” Already, producers of US cheeses like Grayson, Hooligan, and Humboldt Fog have drawn on their location or unique processes and ingredients to establish popular and profitable American brands.

Vittori hasn’t, he admitted, found much traction with this narrative. “We have a good dialogue,” he said, “but as far as I understand, the [US] position remains quite skeptical.” That’s mainly because local cheese makers can easily point to the pain their European counterparts say forced name changes caused them, or the trouble Kraft-Heinz faced when, in 2008, it was finally forced to rename its parmesan “pamesello” in the EU, as proof that these restrictions are just painful trade barriers designed as political tools to hurt viable and large-scale American producers.

“local cheese makers can easily point to the pain their European counterparts say forced name changes caused them”

US producers seem to be so convinced that this potential forced name change is a fundamental injustice, violating the values of free trade and fair usage, that no one I talked to was aware of any efforts to come up with contingency plans for rebranding or repositioning. Instead, explained Doug DiMento of the Northeast’s Cabot Creamery Cooperative, “we’re simply trying to fight.” The industry has formed an entire lobbying group, the Consortium for Common Food Names (whose media outreach Morris runs), to push back on European cultural protections in the TTIP.

Chances are the entire TTIP deal is not going to freeze over a debate on the rightful usage of the term parmesan. So, given how entrenched the US position is, it’s likely we’ll see some kind of compromise. Vittori has floated the idea of allowing the US to use names we consider generic under certain conditions, such as not associating our parmesan with Italian cultural symbols; maybe we could make hyphenated American-X cheeses, making it clear there are differences between traditional European cheeses and their fine American cousins. The details of those compromises would have to be hashed out by producers on both sides of the Atlantic, though.

In truth, it’d probably be good for US producers to move away from explicit callbacks to our European heritage, as a matter of pride in our local products, a move in the direction of US food trends that privilege a clear and local provenance, and a means of allowing consumers to better understand what they’re buying — something the US historically sucks at.

It’d probably be good for US producers to move away from explicit callbacks to our European heritage.

Renaming our cheeses, say, Oregon cow feta or something totally novel doesn’t seem so bad. But the fact that a multinational trade conflict has spun out of cheese name usage rights says something about the perceived value of an established brand — and the abject fear the prospect of a forced change can inspire. This obscure trade deal about which so few of us give a shit has the potential to make us more food-conscious consumers and benefit local brands and producers. It also has the potential to put a dent in the US dairy industry. Either way, it’s a conversation we’re going to have.

Wheel of Fortune was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Read the responses to this story on Medium.

18 Aug 17:55

how can I say “I don’t know” without saying “I don’t know”?

by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I am in a scientific field in a project management role. I have been at my company for just over a year and it’s my first job after getting my PhD (I had an entry level position as a bench chemist for three years before going back to grad school). There have been a lot of rearrangements in project assignments since I started. Along with my inexperience within the role and periodically shifting responsibilities, it’s been hard to get a solid grip on how some things are done around here. Overall, though, I feel like I’m doing pretty well, and my manager thinks so, too.

My question is about how to handle myself when I don’t have all of the necessary information. For example, Project X was handled by a project manager who left right after I started here in July 2015 and passed it to another colleague who then left in June 2016. Now I have responsibility for Project X. There is an issue that has come up dealing with a topic from two years ago that I am being asked to handle. I have done as much research as possible, but there are still some knowledge gaps due to 1) my lack of experience in my role, 2) information I don’t have because this occurred before I started, and 3) missing data due to the project being passed around so much.

I was in a conference call and colleagues were pressing me for data that I simply did not have. I ended up explaining that I am new to the project and my predecessor’s predecessor did not keep records of the exact data that they were looking for. I laid out a plan to rectify the issue and got general agreement for the timeline I suggested. I got everyone on the same page and set in motion a plan to solve the problem, though I can’t help but feel like I could have handled it better. To me, admitting that I didn’t have the information they wanted sounds at best like a total cop-out and at worst completely ignorant. Is there a better way to handle this type of situation? I’ve had coworkers warn me about asking too many questions or admitting I don’t know something because people will think I’m not fit for my position.

In any job, there are going to be times when you don’t know something. Acknowledging that — and saying that you’ll find out and circle back, when that’s a possibility — is far, far better than trying to bluff your way through or risking giving inaccurate information.

In fact, one of the things that people who are great at their work and widely respected have in common is that they’re willing to say “I don’t know.” It actually makes them look more confident and credible because they’re secure in their overall competence and standing, and they know that they don’t have to (and can’t) have every single answer.

I’m curious about these coworkers who are telling you that admitting you don’t know something will reflect badly on you. Are they inexperienced themselves? Not terribly respected? Or tipping you off to some dysfunctional aspect of your company culture? The only other likely option would be that you in fact aren’t prepared with info that someone in your role should be expected to have and they’re telling you that inartfully, but it would still be pretty bad advice — because what do they think you should do, bluff? There’s no faster way to destroy your credibility if the bluff doesn’t work.

Generally, the best thing to do when you don’t know something is to be straightforward. These are all good things to say when that happens:
* “That’s a good question, and I don’t actually know. Let me find out and get back to you.”
* “You know, I’m not sure. I think it might be X, but I can’t say with certainty. I’ll find out.”
* In the example you gave where your predecessor didn’t keep the data in question: “This is something I’ve been trying to figure out, but previously we didn’t keep data on this. We’re going to track it going forward, but unfortunately it means we don’t have answers to questions like that yet.”

Straightforward, not defensive, not BS’ing anyone.

If you played it any differently — avoided the question, took your best guess and later turned out to be wrong, or otherwise weren’t up-front — people would notice. And generally people will really be Not Pleased by that approach. (That’s especially true with guessing! When you’re guessing, you have to be clear that it’s a guess, or people may act on the potentially wrong information you’ve just provided.)

And if you feel like you’re having to say “I don’t know” more than you’re comfortable with, you can always check with your boss about it. It’s totally reasonable to say something like, “I’m getting a lot of questions that I don’t know the answer to, like X and Y. Is that pretty much what you’d expect, or should I be able to answer those sorts of things by now?”

But really, it’s pretty normal not to know the answers to everything people ask you.

how can I say “I don’t know” without saying “I don’t know”? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

18 Aug 17:54

How the GOP will change after Trump

by goplifer
Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 4.52.27 PM

Our “reasonable” alternative

How much will the Republican Party change after the Trumpocalypse? Zero. Nada. None at all.

Leaders at every level have signaled that white nationalism is now acceptable in the Party of Lincoln. From Paul Ryan to Scott Walker to Marco Rubio, senior figures have confirmed that tax cuts are a higher priority on the Republican agenda than basic human rights and civil liberties.

No one can unring that bell.

Many Republicans fantasize that after Trump’s defeat the party will execute a miraculous “pivot,” restoring sanity and regaining some semblance of relevance. Unfortunately, our embrace of racist groups will dictate the party’s short, grim future. A change of direction is impossible because all of the party’s feedback mechanisms have been systematically dismantled.

The Politics of Crazy has eroded the social capital institutions that once blunted the influence of dumb ideas and daffy candidates. A conservative entertainment complex has destroyed any means by which Republican voters might confront dissonant information. Whatever organizational structure the party once enjoyed has been replaced by a vampire squid of grift, a matrix of interconnected cons funneling contributions down a bottomless hole.

Very few of the people who built this mess have any stake in the outcome. If RNC Chairman Reince Priebus fails to retain his position next year, he’ll leave the worst job on the planet to quadruple his income (at least) with a fat position on K street. For Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the rest of the conservative entertainment complex, the show will go on without pausing to apologize. The same people who bought tickets to see Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America will fork over more cash for next year’s low-budget sequel. Nobody pays for getting it wrong.

With the party stripped of feedback mechanisms, Trump’s defeat will do nothing to interrupt the GOP’s decline. The kind of people who think climate change is a hoax aren’t going to reconsider their life choices just because some guy lost an election.

The Reagan coalition is dead, but the remaining members can’t smell the corpse. They don’t understand why their rhetoric falls flat. They have no idea why younger voters have rejected them. They can’t comprehend why their policies are failing in the places that have adopted them. Most of all, they refuse to rethink the positions and rhetoric that have driven non-white voters from the party.

After November, Republican leadership will pretend that Trump was some kind of anomaly, an act of God like a hurricane or earthquake. There will be so-called “reforms.” Fresh slogans will be spray-painted over the same flaming dumpster. Smiling, cooperative, “well-spoken” black people will be paraded on stage at Republican events all over the country. No effort to soften the party’s tone will change the fact that 70% of Republican primary voters supported either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in 2016. Those voters aren’t going to get smarter overnight. They aren’t going to reflect on their choices. And they aren’t going away.

Absent a fundamental reconstruction of the party it will never again nominate a competitive candidate for President. That reconstruction isn’t coming anytime soon, because there are no forces in the party capable of delivering it.

What does this mean for the party’s future?

The party’s shift toward a more open white nationalism is a terminal event that will play out across the next four years. Big losses in 2016 will probably be tempered somewhat by a fleeting recovery in 2018. Forces that boost Republicans in off-year races remain at work, though they continue to weaken. A few wins in 2018 will not be enough to staunch the bleeding.

By 2020 the demographic forces that have driven the party out of contention nationally will be impossible to ignore. That will be the first election in which a significant number of millennials have hit the real voting age – 35 – the age at which people start to participate reliably in politics. In the next Presidential election millennials will be nearly 40% of eligible voters. Beyond 2020 they will completely dominate our politics.

Their coming of age will coincide with the emergence of a massive younger wave of Hispanic voters, far more politically engaged than their parents. These two forces are the hammer and anvil waiting to crush the weakened remnants of the GOP. Their arrival in serious numbers will finally break the party’s state and local successes in nominally red states that have large urban areas.

Whatever talk show host or religious fanatic the GOP nominates in 2020 will enter the race polling just ahead of the Libertarians and Greens. If that sounds unlikely, take a look at Trump’s current polling in Utah and New York. The future is now.

At this point there’s only one thing that can rescue the Republican Party – the Democratic Party. In this political climate, a Democratic coalition large enough to win 55% of the vote in a Presidential election is too large to be structurally sound.

There’s reason to believe that Democrats might suffer their own Politics of Crazy-style disaster. In 2016 Democrats came very close to nominating the left’s version of Ron Paul. Based on that 2016 close call, 2020 could be rocky. Larger social, economic, and political forces that have overwhelmed the Republican Party may be just one or two cycles away from ruining the Democrats.

Barring such a failure by Democrats in 2020, a Republican implosion will trigger a powerful and potentially destabilizing scramble to occupy the second spot in our two-party system. How that plays out is impossible to predict. We can be sure though that Trump’s defeat will not change the Republican Party’s trajectory. No advice or warnings will be heard. It’s too late now to take this train off the tracks.

16 Aug 16:04

The Quality Without a Name at the Betsy Ross Museum

by Sarah Perry

Warning: some of the haiku and tweets reproduced herein contain naughty language and references to having intimate relations with an inanimate national symbol.

Is beauty subjective? People have strong feelings in both directions. A stylized representation of possible opinions about the nature of beauty might look like this:

  • Strong Subjectivism: the phenomenon of beauty is essentially random with little regularity, a purely personal response that is not predictable across time and person.
  • Weak Objectivism: the phenomenon of beauty can be partly predicted by definable regularities in its perception as a result of our specific environments of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA).
  • Strong Objectivism: the phenomenon of beauty can be predicted by definable regularities because of regularities in our EEAs and in the phenomenon of intelligence itself.

The architect Christopher Alexander is an advocate for an objectivist position. Just as people have strong emotional responses to the question of the subjectivity of beauty, they often have polarized reactions to Alexander’s poetic language:

There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.
The Timeless Way of Building, p. 19

Here I will present some of the components of Alexander’s Quality Without a Name (sometimes called by other woo-sounding synonyms like “wholeness”), with reference to new and old art forms. Alexander was obsessed with Turkish carpets (those same carpets that W. Somerset Maugham hints hold the secret of life in Of Human Bondage) and often uses examples from his collection to illustrate the Quality Without a Name. I have much more experience with lace knitting, twitter, and haiku than with rugs, and will use examples from those domains. Finally, I will try to show how Alexander’s theory of beauty and wholeness fit with information theory and the nature of intelligence.

Deeply Interlocking

One property of the Quality Without a Name is that it is composed of deeply interlocking units that are themselves composed of such units (Alexander calls them “centers”). He gives a concrete example of this recursive definition:

Imagine a prefabricated window which sits in a hole in a wall. It is a one, a unit; but it can be lifted directly out from the wall. This is both literally true, and true in feeling. Literally, you can lift the win-dow out without doing damage to the fabric of the wall. And, in your imagination, the window can be removed without disturbing the fabric of what surrounds it.

Compare this with another window. Imagine a pair of columns outside the window, forming a part of the window space. They create an ambiguous space which is part of the outside, and yet also part of the window. Imagine splayed reveals, which help to form the window, and yet, also, with the light reflected off them, shining in the room, they are also part of the room. And imagine a window seat leaning against the window sill, but a seat whose back is indistinguishable from the window sill, because it is continuous.

This window cannot be lifted out. It is one with the patterns which surround it; it is both distinct itself, and also part of them. The boundaries between things are less marked; they overlap with other boundaries in such a way that the continuity of the world, at this particular place, is greater. . . .

The Timeless Way of Building, pp. 522-523

In Alexander’s second window, many patterns interlock to support each other and create a space with “wholeness” or “life.” The window is not alone; it is supported from outside as well as inside.

Compare Alexander’s notion of “positive outdoor space.” What predicts whether an outdoor courtyard will be pleasant and well-used or dead and empty? One predictor is the nature of the space defined by the buildings and boundaries. If the space defined is more or less convex – not counting proper entrances – the space will live; if it has no defined shape, it will be dead.

A Pattern Language, p. 518

A Pattern Language, p. 518

When the outside is as strong as the inside, the space created inside and out can have wholeness. The two create a figure/ground system in which neither is dominant; both build up the boundaries to create and define each other, like symbiotes or two intelligent beings interacting.

The many levels and subsystems “fit” each other because they are allowed to define each other, created from intelligent processes that resemble biological ones. This kind of complex interaction is hard to fake with industrial processes.

Local Symmetries

Within the deeply interlocking spaces in architecture and art, there is often an overall symmetry, but more importantly, there are many local symmetries within the overall structure. These are symmetries within the strong “shapes” created by both figure and ground.

Pure symmetry is boring (a circle, a square). Complexity with many interlocking local symmetries is interesting.

Lace knitting is a relatively ancient craft offering austere obstructions: forms can be created using only a small library of stitches. Ultimately, lace is constructed of stitches and tiny holes. Classic laces clearly illustrate the interlocking nature of the Quality, with strong figure and strong ground.

Fountain Lace is the simplest lace here, composed of only four pattern rows. Its figural “fountains” made of holes interlock with boomerang shapes made by the ground stitches:


Strong shapes and boundaries interlock in Dayflower. Hanging flowers are composed of simple convex shapes, and lines of stitches wind around them, swaying back and forth:


The half-drop principle in lace knitting is frequently used to create figure-ground tessellations. In many patterns, you alternate knitting bottom halves and top halves of motifs, then reverse the pattern and knit the tops on the bottoms and new bottoms on the tops. An example is Oriel Pattern, composed of many interlocking centers and local symmetries:


The Oriel Pattern itself represents and architectural form, the oriel window. Here is an example:


This is a window of Alexander’s second kind, profoundly located, a shape composed of many smaller shapes with many local symmetries.


Hand knitting exhibits the property of roughness – not that it is imprecise, but that effort is spent creating the pattern, rather than making each stitch identical. The fabric need only be precise enough that the pattern is evident.

Alexander says that “Each pattern is a generic solution to some system of forces in the world. But the forces are never quite the same.” This is the reason for roughness – slight variation in the exact instantiation of forms, just as ocean waves have a common form but are each different.

Roughness (not sloppiness) in art and architecture is difficult to produce from mass-produced materials. Alexander says:

We have become used to almost fanatical precision in the construction of buildings. Tile work, for instance, must be perfectly aligned, perfectly square, every tile perfectly cut, and the whole thing accurate on a grid to a tolerance of a sixteenth of an inch. But our tilework is dead and ugly, without soul.

In this Mexican house the tiles are roughly cut, the wall is not perfectly plumb, and the tiles don’t even line up properly. Sometimes one tile is as much as half an inch behind the next one in the vertical plane.

And why? Is it because these Mexican craftsmen didn’t know how to do precise work? I don’t think so. I believe they simply knew what is important and what is not, and they took good care to pay attention only to what is important: to the color, the design, the feeling of one tile and its relationship to the next—the important things that create the harmony and feeling of the wall. The plumb and the alignment can be quite rough without making any difference, so they didn’t bother to spend too much effort on these things. They spent their effort in the way that made the most difference. And so they produced this wonderful quality, this harmony . . . simply because that is what they paid attention to, and what they tried to produce.

“The perfection of imperfection,” 1991, quoted in Richard Gabriel, Patterns of Software.

Roughness “not because it is less precise, but because it is more precise” is the reason that Chinese characters are more beautiful than Roman characters. Each character is composed of radicals that change size, shape, position, and exact structure depending on the demands of the form of the character as a whole. This is also why simplified Chinese is less beautiful than the classic forms.

Tweets and Haiku

Can the Quality Without a Name exist on twitter? The tweet is a tiny and highly constrained form (though not so constrained as a haiku). If these properties of the Quality Without a Name are universal, they should be found in the best tweets and the best haiku.

Consider the now-classic tweet mentioned in the title of this post:

This tweet is composed of three interlocking parts of approximately equal strength: setting the surreal scene (volunteering at the Betsy Ross museum), introducing a surreal and ribald problem as if it were an everyday irritation, and revealing that the surreal longing is shared by the narrator with a bump of intimacy (“buddy,”). The author does not use capitalization or standard punctuation on the final sentence: precision in spelling and punctuation does not contribute to the wholeness of the tweet, and so is ignored. The tweet does not progress randomly, but follows an internal logic by which all its pieces fit together. There are internal symmetries between the longing of the public and the longing of the narrator.

Compare its structure to Robert Hass’ translation of Issa’s competition haiku:

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
is not art.

Here there are also three equally strong interacting parts, but the naughtiness is introduced early, and the sacredness comes later to show what could be instead. In the Betsy Ross tweet, the sacred item is introduced first, and then recursively, subjectively violated. The three parts work together to create a frisson.

Similarly, in Robert Hass’ translation of Issa’s patriotic poem:

These sea slugs,
they just don’t seem

This is more similar to the Betsy Ross tweet: a patriotic sacredness is humorously contrasted with something slimy and weird.

Here is a more recent tweet that I think is already classic:

This tweet is also composed of three pieces, and uses roughness in its construction even though the author is completely capable of writing standard english (dropped period on final sentence, “its” for “it’s”). Here, an obvious assumption is presented (your brain is not a supervillain), and then two surprising pieces of evidence are deployed in turn to call this assumption into question. Part of the local symmetry is the coincidence and equal strength of the two odd pieces of evidence; another symmetry is how they answer the original assumption.

“Snowclone” tweets are combinations of joke forms; the more elegant and unexpected the connection between the combined forms, the more pleasing the result. The parts of the tweet can be more or less deeply interlocking, with each part supplying a strong perspective on the other. A coincidence is itself often a symmetry; for instance, a tweet that once had a specific meaning and now, because of a change in the world, has acquired a different meaning, may be funny because of the coincidence of past and present meanings, supporting each other like figure and ground.

It may be entirely spurious, but note that many of the concrete objects mentioned in these tweets and Issa’s haiku themselves possess many local symmetries, roughness, deep interlockingness, etc. Sea slugs are obvious (do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes looking at pictures of them). The human skull has many local symmetries and is composed of an actual biological process, in conjunction and tension with other processes creating flesh, eyes, brains, etc. It fits together perfectly (but roughly, every skull is different), and it fits within its system perfectly. Finally, consider old flags like this one:


Instead of the rather banal pattern we are used to, this old flag uses different-sized stars and arranges them in order to create locally symmetric background spaces with strong shape (circled). Old flags have much more roughness than industrially produced flags; the creators of the old flags were capable of making perfectly linear stripes and evenly spaced stars, but did not put their effort into this kind of precision, preferring instead to focus on achieving forms in harmony with each other.

Alien Beauty

Would species with different evolutionary conditions, but that are still intelligent, experience beauty much differently from us? A strong form of beauty objectivism, as mentioned at the beginning, asserts that our perceptions of beauty would have a lot in common with those of intelligent aliens.

Haley Thurston summarizes Schmidhuber on the information theory aspect of beauty:

In his Formal Theory of Creativity & Fun & Intrinsic Motivation, AI scientist Jürgen Schmidhuber suggests the idea of “compression” as the explanation for both why art exists and why it is pleasurable. The gist of Schmidhuber’s concept of compression is that the human brain is itself a kind of hard drive with a limited amount of space. Given that the brain is space-limited, it makes sense that information that uses that space efficiently might reward the brain with pleasure. It’s in our interest, in other words, to find patterns so that we can get rid of extraneous data and use our brain for more things. This reward system explains why things like stereotypes (all people are X) or religion (everything happens because of X) feel good; it also explains why we’re drawn to symbolism, metaphor, and succinctness.

Essentially, Schmidhuber posits that an intelligent system must have a good way to know what to pay attention to in order to learn. We pay attention to beautiful things because they are elegant compressions of many interacting forces. We find things interesting when they offer the opportunity for quick compression progress. Perfect symmetry is boring, but local symmetries and rough symmetry offer a balance of complexity and compressibility.

Aliens much more intelligent than us, with fewer constraints on storage and processing power, might enjoy much more complex art than we can appreciate. But it is likely that their appreciation would be balanced between compressibility and complexity, if a feature that goes along with intelligence is a regular “appetite” for information, with “taste receptors” reflecting the amount of information represented succinctly.

This kind of alien, in the form of mathematicians, may already be among us:

16 Aug 16:03

Plasma Bombs and Sky Bridges

by Geoff Manaugh

[Image: Via NOAA].

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a handful of small business grants for exploring the “controlled enhancement of the ionosphere.” The aim of the grants is to find new ways “to improve radio communication over long distances”—and one of these ways might be “detonating plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere using a fleet of micro satellites,” or cubesats, New Scientist reports.

As the initiating government contract describes it, in order to perform this new atmospheric role, the cubesats—or an equally viable competitor technology—will need to produce “highly exothermic condensed phase reactions yielding temperatures considerably higher than the boiling points of candidate metal elements with residual energy to maximize their vapor yield… Such hardware will provide for controlled release options such as conventional point release, as well as extended in time and space.”

They would be, in effect, small plasma ovens—the metaphoric “bombs” of the New Scientist article.

The resulting “vapor yield” from metallic elements boiling in space would then chemically interact with the Earth’s atmosphere to create the aforementioned plasma. While spreading locally through the ionosphere, the plasma would, in turn, generate small patches of electromagnetic reflectivity across which radio signals could be bounced or relayed.

By ricocheting along this sky bridge of temporary plasma patches—like tiny chemical mirrors in space—radio signals would be able to travel far beyond the curvature of the Earth, greatly increasing the distance and accuracy of specific transmissions.

This long-range transformation of the sky itself into a transmitting medium recalls the work of radio historian Douglas Kahn. Kahn’s book Earth Sound Earth Signal specifically looks at the role of terrestrial and atmospheric dynamics on radio transmission, including the deliberate incorporation of those seemingly unwanted side-effects—such as interference from sunspot activity—into electronic art projects.

Kahn’s work came up on BLDGBLOG several years ago, for example, in discussing a proposal from the 1960s for transforming an entire Antarctic island into a radio-transmitting apparatus. The topographic profile and geologic make-up of the island made it a great potential resonator, according to researcher Millett G. Morgan.

[Image: [Image: Deception Island, from Millett G. Morgan’s September 1960 paper An Island as a Natural Very-Low-Frequency Transmitting Antenna].

By taking advantage of these physical factors—and even subtly tweaking them in what we could also call “controlled enhancement”—the island would become part of a dispersed global infrastructure of electromagnetic relay points.

It’s worth mentioning that this would also make a fascinating landscape design project: sculpting a patch of terrain, from its exposed landforms and its subsurface mineralogy to the flora planted there, such as tree-antennas, so that the whole thing becomes a kind of radio-transmitting garden.

In any case, these tactical archipelagoes of plasma dispersed across the ionosphere by military cubesats would enable emergency wartime radio contact around the planet. By introducing patches of reflectivity, they would create a temporary extension of ground-based antenna infrastructure, stretching from one side of the Earth to another, an invisible bridge in the sky put to use for planet-wide communication.

Read the original contracting information over at the Small Business Innovation Research hub.

Briefly, it’s interesting to note another piece of recent tech news. Back in April, Swati Khandelwal reported that “a team of researchers from the University of Washington’s Sensor Lab and the Delft University of Technology has developed a new gadget that doesn’t need a battery or any external power source to keep it powered; rather it works on radio waves.”

She was referring to a device called WISP, “a small, battery-less computer that works on harvested radio waves,” in the words of project researcher Przemyslaw Pawelczak.*

[Image: Przemyslaw Pawelczak’s “small, battery-less computer that works on harvested radio waves”].

This is relevant for the possibility that this sort of thing could be scaled up to much larger pieces of equipment, such as uncrewed ground vehicles or other autonomous machines (including rovers on other planets); those devices could then be deployed in the field and simply wait there, essentially hidden in a powerless state.

You could then turn on these otherwise dormant computers, even from a great distance, using only pinpointed radio transmissions assisted on their way around the planet by localized plasma clouds; like electromagnetic Frankensteins, these sleeper-systems could thus be brought back to life by this strange, military wizardry of otherwise impossible radio transmissions.

Patches of plasma appear in the sky—and machines around the world begin to awaken.

[Note: When using the appropriate Polish lettering, Przemysław Pawełczak’s name renders oddly with this blog’s typeface; it is thus deliberately misspelled in the text, above; apologies to Pawełczak. Thanks to Wayne Chambliss for his thoughts on sleeper systems while I was writing this post. Very vaguely related: Operation Deep Sleep: or, dormant robots at the bottom of the sea].

16 Aug 15:20

How to get aircraft turbulence information?

by Cliff Mass
Some folks are a bit nervous about flying, with turbulence being a major concern.  They feel better knowing what will happen or is happening.  So where can you secure such information?

My favorite is from the NOAA/NWS Aviation Weather Center on their ADDS Turbulence website (  You can see an example below.  This page has turbulence SIGMETa (colored turbulence warming areas) in the upper left, pilot reports of turbulence (PIREPS) in the upper right, and model-driven turbulence forecasts at many levels and times (bottom panel).

The pilot reports are particularly useful and they are color-coded (green for light, orange for moderate, and red for severe).    Below is  a recent example for the Midwest.
 Turbulence symbols look like strange omega symbols--here is a blow up of how they look:

Light turbulence is routine--a modest movement that is not even uncomfortable, sort of like driving on a rough rode.  Moderate turbulence makes it a bit uncomfortable to walk around, but generally doesn't send things airborne (although the seat belt sign is virtually always on in moderate turbulence).  Finally, there is severe, which CAN send you airborne.

The final plot (on the bottom) provides forecasts of non-convective turbulence (from wind shear and mountain waves).  It is useful, but sometimes gets the pattern wrong.

To check out turbulence on an international route, go to this  NOAA site: /   An example over the Pacific (shown below) indicates turbulence with yellow dashed lines and thunderstorms by the scalloped red areas.   The Great Circle route to Japan looks clear, except for some thunderstorms over Japan.

Another source, and one particularly good for international routes, is   They have some of the same things as the NOAA site, but they have other products as well.  You can even sign up for warnings.

You want some advice on lessening your exposure to turbulence?  Fly early in the day, because thunderstorms are generally less frequent then.   Don't sit in the back of the plane, which tends to be bumpier.  Avoid switching planes in Denver (a notoriously bumpy place to land any time of the year).  And fly as big an aircraft as possible.   But most important of all is to lock your seatbelt at all times.   Not all turbulence is forewarned. And having your head go through the ceiling is unpleasant.


New Weather Smartphone App, uWx

At the UW, we have developed a wonderful FREE weather app for Android smartphones that also collects pressure for use in weather forecasting. If you want to try it, please go to the Google PlayStore and download it.

Talk in Port Angeles on Wed. August 17th 

I will be talking in Port Angeles about the Future of the Pacific Northwest Under Global Warming at 6:30 PM on August 17th. More information here.
15 Aug 17:22

employee won’t stop talking about a coworker’s prosthetic limb

by Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I recently applied for and was promoted into a management position. I manage a team of nine people. We are all new to each other, and the team has come together well, except for one issue.

Our admin/divisional office manager/support person, “Jane,” has a prothestic limb. “Fergus,” one of the other team members, constantly refers to Jane’s disability or brings up her being disabled. This annoys Jane because she doesn’t consider herself disabled. If Jane ever asked for accommodation, there would be no issues and it would be done, but Jane says she is fine and doesn’t need anything. She has repeatedly asked Fergus to stop calling her disabled, but he continues to do it.

For example, if someone from another division or location comes to our work area looking for Jane or our admin, Fergus will direct them to Jane and say something along the lines of “That’s Jane, she’s disabled you know.”

If a courier is coming to drop off a package, Fergus will tell them, “Leave it with the admin. You’ll know who it is because she’s the disabled one with a prosthetic.”

Or he’ll say things like “I wonder what it would feel like to have a disibility like Jane” or he’ll ask Jane things like “how can you play baseball in a league with people who aren’t disabled like you?” He basically finds a way to call her disabled every time almost he interacts with her or has to direct someone to her. It’s awful to constantly point out if someone has a disability, but Jane gets especially annoyed because she doesn’t feel that label applies to her.

I have asked him at least six times to stop. Whenever I hear him do it, I will say something along the lines of “Fergus, we’ve repeatedly discussed that you are being inappropriate. Is there a reason why you continue to call Jane disabled?” But all that happens is that Fergus mumbles an apology and says he won’t do it anymore, but it never lasts and it inevitably happens again.

Jane came to me after it became unbearable having to constantly explain that she isn’t disabled and can do everything anyone else can do. I have spoken to Fergus, but it still continues. He is an otherwise good worker. The division is still fairly new and everyone is learning still but besides this I have no complaints.

Jane told me she is considering applying for an internal transfer to another division. Jane is great at her job and she makes the division run smoothly. Her work makes me and the division look good. I don’t want to lose a such a competent employee and, at the risk of veering out of management territory, a good person. I also don’t think Jane should have to leave because of someone else’s behavior. The company only has one HR person and he’s out of the office so much that it’s impossible to get ahold of him. Jane has been nothing but professional even though she dreads dealing with Fergus. I want to bring the problem to the attention of my manager but I’m not sure if it’s appropriate or even how I can say it without looking like I’m an ineffective manger shunting off the problem to someone else.

Stop asking Fergus to stop, and instead tell him that it stops immediately or he’ll no longer have a job with you — and mean it.

And yes, loop in your manager because she needs to be aware that Fergus is harassing one of your employees and that this may end in you needing to fire him.

This is harassment, and it’s illegal. Federal law prohibits harassing an employee because she has a disability or is believed to have a disability. And your organization is violating the law by knowing about it and not putting a stop to it.

Of course, even if that weren’t the law, it would still be 100% your ethical obligation to put a stop to it because it’s in no way okay to let an employee harass another employee about a perceived disability.

And I know that you’ve been trying to get Fergus to stop, but you haven’t backed that up with any teeth at all. You’ve been relying on trying to convince and cajole him, rather than exercising your authority as a manager and ensuring that it stops, period. This is not an “is there a reason you continue to do X?” situation. It’s an “if you continue to do X, I will let you go” situation.

Stop asking and start telling.

Specifically, sit down with him right now — don’t wait for him to make yet another offensive remark — and say this: “Fergus, I’ve spoken with you in the past about the inappropriate remarks you’ve made about Jane. You’ve continued to make those remarks. I want to let you know that these remarks are harassment, and we have a legal obligation to ensure they stop. Effective immediately, if you make any further remarks about Jane’s prosthesis or your perception that she’s disabled, I will ____ (insert consequence here).”

What to fill in for that consequence depends on what your boss and/HR will okay. Frankly, I’d advocate firing him — Fergus is creating a hostile work environment for a coworker, has been told repeatedly to cut it out, and has continued anyway. But it’s possible that your boss will have different ideas — like a formal warning, followed by firing if it happens again, or a variety of other less severe consequences. You want to get aligned with her on how you’re going to be able to proceed, so that you can lay out the consequence for Fergus with confidence when you talk to him.

But you really do need to put a stop to this permanently. No more asking and hoping that Fergus will behave like a decent human — that should be a bare minimum condition of staying on your team, and you need to enforce that.

employee won’t stop talking about a coworker’s prosthetic limb was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

15 Aug 16:13

A Cute Joke Gone Too Far

by James Kwak

By James Kwak

For weeks now, Vox columnist Matt Yglesias has been mocking the idea that “economic anxiety” is a substantial factor in the Rise of Trump. Here’s one of dozens of examples:

It’s understandable where this particularly highbrow putdown (also used by other twitterers) came from. Belittling the economic anxiety explanation has two understandable if not entirely pure motivations. One is the idea that chalking up Trump’s success to economic factors minimizes the central role of racism in his campaign; pointing out other reasons people might have for voting Trump distracts from the main issue or can even be seen (in an illogical sort of way) as an apology for Trump’s racism. The second motivation is that, since Hillary Clinton decided to run on the poorly worded “America is already great” theme, talking about economic insecurity only plays into the hands of the enemy; instead, we should just pretend everything is hunky-dory. (Yglesias does not share this second motivation.) But to many people, including me, it seems bizarre to insist that economic anxiety has nothing to do with Trump’s success, and much simpler to simply acknowledge that some of his voters are racists, some are worried about their economic prospects, and some are both.

Today, instead of letting the by-now-stale joke simply fade away, Yglesias decided to double down with a column arguing that Trump is all about “white grievance politics,” not economic anxiety.

Yglesias’s first point is this:

not only is white racial resentment clearly a statistical correlate of support for Donald Trump, it’s a perfectly good reason to support Donald Trump.

(He uses “good” to mean reasonable given your perceptions of the world, not morally good.) That’s completely true.

Then he goes on to claim that “adding an economic anxiety factor to your account doesn’t actually help to explain anything.” But here his arguments don’t make any sense. Here’s the first one:

Trump’s supporters, for example, are considerably whiter and considerably older than the American population at large. If the economic problems of the past decade had been unusually hard on the white and the old, then an economics-focused explanation could be valuable. In reality, things have been rougher on nonwhites and rougher on younger cohorts.

To see how silly this argument is, consider the racial dimension. The fact that Trump has less support among nonwhites is explained by the fact that he is a Republican and a racist. Let’s say there is such a thing as economic anxiety, and it makes you more likely to be a Trump supporter. African-Americans are somewhat more likely to have economic anxiety, so more of them should vote Trump, all other things being equal. That’s Yglesias’s point. But other things aren’t equal; being African-American makes you much, much less likely to be a Trump supporter for other reasons (party, racism). Add those factors together, and voilà! Trump has better numbers among whites than among African-Americans. This is entirely consistent with the economic anxiety interpretation. (Conceptually, Yglesias is using race as an instrument for economic anxiety when the dependent variable is Trump support. This only works if race has no effect on Trump support other than via economic anxiety.)

The age dimension behaves the same way, just less obviously. Young people skew liberal and non-racist compared to old people. (For the record, I’m middle-aged.) So they will support Trump at lower rates than old people, even though they are poorer.

Besides, while it is true that Trump runs better among whites than blacks, the question should be: relative to what? I don’t place a lot of faith in poll breakouts (low sample sizes), but it’s not clear he’s doing better among whites (or old people) than Mitt Romney did in 2012, and he may be doing considerably worse. That comparison is complicated by the fact that Barack Obama is himself African-American. But if anything, the poll data (which, again, I am not convinced by) tend to undermine the idea that this is an election about white privilege.

Wait—I just reread the column, and that was the only actual argument against the economic anxiety explanation. Most of the rest is Yglesias acknowledging that people do have real economic grievances.

Here’s a half-argument, near the end:

But when Trump voters say they’re upset about needing to press one for English, mad that Black Lives Matter protesters are slandering police officers, and worried that Muslim and/or Mexican immigrants are going to murder their children, it’s perverse to interpret them as secretly hankering for a refundable child care tax credit.

First of all, do we know what proportion of Trump voters are worried that brown people are going to murder their children? This doesn’t rebut the idea that different people vote Trump for different reasons. It’s possible that there are people supporting Trump because they are worried about the cost of child care.

Second, there are many reasons to think that insecurity, economic or otherwise, makes people more receptive to racial appeals. See, for example, the relative support for Hitler among small businesspeople and industrial workers. (I believe that Godwin’s Law has been suspended until November 8, and perhaps—though hopefully not—beyond.)

There is a hint of another argument here:

If Clinton becomes president and has the opportunity to enact her agenda of higher minimum wages, expanded Social Security benefits, expanded Medicaid eligibility, subsidized child care and college tuition, and$275 billion in new infrastructure spending, a huge share of the benefits will flow to economically struggling white people — and rightly so.

The argument would be that since Hillary Clinton’s policies are more likely to actually help poor people than Trump’s, it doesn’t make sense that economically anxious people would support Trump. But this argument is so silly that I don’t think the very smart Matt Yglesias is making it, because it assumes that people know and vote their economic interests. Ronald Reagan disproved that, and I’m sure he wasn’t the first one.

The simple economic anxiety argument goes like this: Many Americans face real economic insecurity—stagnant real wages, higher health care costs, lower homeownership rate, “gig economy,” low workforce participation rate, etc. They think “the system”—whatever they mean by that—isn’t working for them. Hillary Clinton represents “the system” much more than Donald Trump, particularly since she’s claiming most of the legacy of Barack Obama. So they vote Trump. And to repeat: The reason white people support Trump at much higher rates than black people, even though white people are richer than black people, is that Trump is a racist. Is that so hard to understand?

It was a clever joke. But it’s time to move on.

15 Aug 16:11

Trump Frustration

by Rod Dreher

Getting some pushback from Trump fans for my blowing up over him Sunday morning. Some of it is the usual can’t-hear-a-bad-word stuff, but there are some completely fair complaints. Let me address them.

1. My laptop melted down on Friday, so I haven’t been online much. I truly had no idea that the epic Louisiana flooding had not been all over the national news. True, Trump has said nothing about it, but to my knowledge, neither has Hillary, or the president, for that matter. So why did I lose it over Trump, but not over Hillary?

2. Because it wasn’t really about the flooding, though going over to the shelter and seeing the incredible suffering people here are enduring crystallized my anger at Trump. The deal is, I am in despair over this election. Hillary Clinton is so bad in so many ways, especially when I think about the Supreme Court she’s likely to appoint, that I have been trying to find any way I could justify a vote for Trump. On Sunday morning, drinking coffee, I checked my Twitter feed, and found six or seven tweets in a row from him bitching about how unfa-i-i-r the media are to him. Then I saw this NYT story about how people in Trump’s inner circle are desperately trying to save him from himself, but getting nowhere. Excerpt:

Advisers who once hoped a Pygmalion-like transformation would refashion a crudely effective political showman into a plausible American president now increasingly concede that Mr. Trump may be beyond coaching. He has ignored their pleas and counsel as his poll numbers have dropped, boasting to friends about the size of his crowds and maintaining that he can read surveys better than the professionals.

In private, Mr. Trump’s mood is often sullen and erratic, his associates say. He veers from barking at members of his staff to grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts during the primaries and suggesting he should not have heeded their calls for change.

He broods about his souring relationship with the news media, calling Mr. Manafort several times a day to talk about specific stories. Occasionally, Mr. Trump blows off steam in bursts of boyish exuberance: At the end of a fund-raiser on Long Island last week, he playfully buzzed the crowd twice with his helicopter.

But in interviews with more than 20 Republicans who are close to Mr. Trump or in communication with his campaign, many of whom insisted on anonymity to avoid clashing with him, they described their nominee as exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process and why his incendiary approach seems to be sputtering.

He is routinely preoccupied with perceived slights, for example raging to aides after Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, in his re-election announcement, said he would stand up to the next president regardless of party. In a visit to Capitol Hill in early July, Mr. Trump bickered with two Republican senators who had not endorsed him; he needled Representative Peter T. King of New York for having taken donations from him over the years only to criticize him on television now.

3. Think about what is at stake here. This man has the GOP nomination for president. He is running against an extraordinarily unpopular Democrat, a woman who represents what people hate about American politics at the elite level. Any other Republican nominee, whatever his flaws, would be hammering away at Hillary’s sleazy ethics, at the Clinton Foundation and its entanglements with the Hillary-run State Department, and so forth. But not our Donald. No, he’s got to pick fights with a Gold Star family, and let The New York Times get inside his head. Every Republican presidential candidate knows that he faces a hostile news media. Do they go to pieces over it? No! Well, Richard Nixon did, but he held it together long enough to win two presidential elections. Trump is such an immature narcissist that he cannot hold it together for four months, even though the prize of the US presidency could be his.

Who does this? What kind of person behaves this way with so much at stake? For one thing, the Supreme Court could be gone to the liberals for an entire generation if Republicans lose this election. The chance to remake US foreign policy away from the interventionist Washington consensus — gone. The opportunity to pivot away from globalism towards a more robust nationalism — also gone. And on and on, all because Trump thinks it’s all about him, always. If Donald Trump can be unhorsed by Khizr Khan and the news media, how on earth would he be able to handle the challenges of foreign leaders?

Seriously, think about it. A man whose emotions control him can easily be controlled by someone who can manipulate those emotions. Can’t you see President Trump’s advisors sitting in the Oval Office, begging him to pay attention to what’s happening in the South China Sea, while he’s on his smartphone checking Twitter to respond to this or that slight by a pundit or an editorial page. Sure, Hillary is going to be Nixonian, but Trump on his best day won’t be as capable and as controlled as Tricky Dick, who was, as we know, brought down by his own hatred and paranoia.

4. And consider that this is what it has come down to for American conservatism. The self-serving smugness of the GOP Establishment rendered them incapable of discerning the conditions that made Trump’s rise possible. Trump didn’t come from nowhere. However crudely and often, well, insanely he spoke, Trump raised issues (e.g., immigration, trade, interventionism) that really do matter to a lot of Americans, and that the GOP elites didn’t understand or accept. They needed to have their heads knocked around, and Trump did that. Good for Trump! But now look at what conservatives are stuck with: this boob who can’t even be bothered to put together field offices in states he has to win.

He’s not even trying. Would a sane GOP presidential candidate spend a Saturday night three months before the election at a rally in … Connecticut?! Excerpt:

That a Republican presidential candidate was spending a Saturday night and campaign resources addressing a crowd in Connecticut was surprising, given that a Republican presidential candidate has not won the state since 1988, a fact that Trump himself acknowledged.

“You know, we are making a big move for the state of Connecticut, just so you understand,” Trump said. “Normally that wouldn’t happen because a Republican, in theory, doesn’t win Connecticut.”

How many electoral votes does Connecticut have? Seven. How many does Florida have? Twenty-nine. And Ohio? Eighteen.

So naturally the GOP presidential nominee spends a Saturday night in August in Fairfield, “making a play” for a state that no Republican has one since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and that even if a Republican won it this time, no big whoop. Seven electoral votes.

At some point, “But he’s not Hillary!” ceases to be a plausible excuse for this guy. There is so much wrong with the country right now, so many real and serious things that Donald Trump could focus on, if he actually cared. He doesn’t. At some point this fall, the Republican Party is going to have to cut him loose, and do what it can to save the House and the Senate, to have some way of checking Clinton II. There is not going to be a Trump reset. This is who he is. A spoiled brat who is taking what’s left of political conservatism in America down with him.

I look forward one day to voting for a Republican presidential candidate who is smart, decent, and who actually cares about the problems of ordinary people more than Conservatism, Inc., does. I eagerly anticipate the day I can cast my ballot for Ohio Gov. J.D. Vance for President. Campaign 2028 cannot come soon enough.

01 Aug 17:44


by carrionnation

25 Jul 14:31

Hillary's Web of Promises

by Oren Cass
Dividing and conquering the electorate, one issue at a time
20 Jul 22:08

What Happens Now that the Turkish Coup Has Failed

by Sean Paul Kelley

3414031599_2dbf0262e3_oI spent a handful of years living in Turkey, and I’d like to take a little of your time discussing how Turkey went from a typical Eastern European country to the emergent Islamist state it is today.

(This piece is by Sean-Paul Kelley – Ian)

The last time I was in Turkey, in Fall 2015, the tension in the city was palpable. More Turks than ever before expressed, outright, their distaste and even hatred of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern republic. Vastly different than my first visit in 2001, now it was all tension bordering on rude to inhospitable in late 2015. If you know anything about the Turks you’d have been shocked at the lack of hospitality.

But it was the anger directed towards Ataturk in several conversations that had me so confused. As Walter Russell Mead notes, Atatürk’s accomplishments were great: “Kemal Atatürk rallied the remnants of the nation, defeated a Greek invasion, forced the Allies out of Constantinople and made Turkey a secular republic and an ethnic nation state on the European plan.” He also instituted deep and widespread internal reforms: Women’s rights, education, and the legal system were given rights and responsibilities were overhauled, and he built a new capital in Angora—Ankara—site of the Ottoman’s worst defeat until the 19th century. This defeat by Tamerlane in 1402 set the Ottoman project back by 50 years, and let Constantinople stagger on another 50 wasted years. 2786

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk would let nothing hold him back. He first major achievement came during the defense of Gallipoli. Stopping near the highest point in the area where the Allies advanced he noted their failure to capture the heights. amateurish moves on the part of the British generals, which would cost the souls of hundreds of thousands of men. But Kemal, ever moving forward, ordered his soldiers haul artillery to the top. There they were to pour a merciless, relentless stream of enfilading fire into the Allies lines, halting them permanently.

After WWI, Turkey faced the consequences of the Sykes-Picot Treaty, that dubious deposition of schoolboy skullduggery launched inside the bowels of an English gentleman’s club. Atatürk felt no obligation to adhere to the contemptible treaty and steeled himself for a fight against each of the Allies or, hopefully not, all at once. There would be no rump Turkey. Atatürk was a fighting general and he met the Franco-Armenian army first. They invaded form the East but, possessed by a Seljuk warrior, Atatürk sacrificed land for time until he met and defeated the Franco-Armenian invasion force at Marash in 1920. Rallying his soldiers for more hardship, for the Turks had their backs up against the wall between 1920-22. A year and a half after his defeat of the Franco-Armenian force, he met the Greeks at Sakarya, where he thrashed them so badly that even poor, old Gen. Venizelos, consumed of the great idea, Megali, Greater Greece, at long last conceded it was dead.

The end of the wars brought no respite for Atatürk, by now he had the reigns of the entire nation firmly in his grip. Working harder than ever, there he was, day after day, remaking Turkey along new lines: the nation-state. Here, he changed the alphabet, sent little girls to school, opened the faculty of Turkey’s greatest universities to foreigners, aiming for foreign knowledge and science and suspended Shari’a law in April, 1924. Turkish women gained the right to vote in local elections in 1930. Four years later, universal suffrage came to Turkey, sooner than many of its more “enlightened and advanced” Western neighbors. One of his greatest achievements, although this is beyond the scope of this essay, deserves mention: Ataturk abolished marriage for the misogynist, or what we call polygamy, in 1926. Had Muslim jurists been traveling along with Ataturk whispering in his ears that this is haram (forbidden), that is haram, all is haram, none of his achievements would have lasted a decade. Modern Turkey is impossible without Ataturk’s drive to secularize.

Atäturk, however, failed at two crucial problems, which when left to fester, as they would, troubled the young republic for the remainder of the century and beyond.

First, Atäturk and his brain trust never addressed the bigotry and discrimination shown towards the Alevi (Alawites if you are Suriani or live in Syria), which frequently led to what we would call pogroms. Second, the Kurds. I’m convinced Ataturk ignored the Kurds with a deep and abiding silence as a matter of policy. If he even whispered to someone that they existed then the logical conclusion demanded a state of their own, as Turkey had demanded based on Wilsonian principles of self-determination. Nationalism, that evil virus from Europe was spreading and all it has left the Kurds is death, destruction, blood and tears.

Even now the Kurds are a paradox, to others and to themselves. Turkey’s economic miracle was fueled by Kurdish immigrants willing to leave their dusty Anatolian farms for the balmy Aegean and Black Sea cities like Izmir, Bursa, Sinop and Trabzon have all benefited from the Erdoğonomics. So have the western Anatolian cities like Eskişehir, Afyon, Kayseri, Sivas and Konya. But the immigrants from the far eastern provinces bring their problems with them, especially those from the deep countryside. They are exceptionally conservative, the veil is never even spoken of. Daughter’s are chaperoned, a mother or aunt is fine, “after all,” a young woman friend of mine from Afyon once said, “we aren’t so backwards as the Saudis, although a little of their money would be nice.” This is paradox number one: they have gained tremendously from ‘Erdoğonomics’ even as the AKP and government as a whole treats them like shit. However, go out to Diyarbakir, Van or Urfa and it’s a different story. The Kurds proclaim their undying brotherhood with the Turks, they just “want to speak their own language and maybe watch TV in it. Is this not asking too much,” one young Kurd asked me back in 2009 during a multi-year lull in the violence. The answer: obviously no.

IMG_2855My neighborhood, Tophane, has changed enormously over the last few years. Once a party area for European backpackers, it’s now mostly Kurds, Zazaki speakers, not Kurmanj, and enough Syrian refugees to notice. Both groups wrapped up tight in the comforts of hejab, modest clothing for both men and women. One day even I was chided wearing shorts to the bodega to get a pack of gum. Mead notes that my nieghborhood was like many others across the peninsula. “In Ankara and Istanbul the generals, the statesmen and the businessmen live international and largely secular lives,” he writes, “Women went bareheaded, and, for the daughters of the upper middle class, the freedom of western secular life beckoned.” However, ominous clouds float above the economic success of Erdoğan, “in the cities and villages far from the metropolitan centers, in places like Konya and Gaziantep, something else was happening.” That something else was Anatolian peasants migrating en masse to plentiful jobs in the cities, but these migrants brought their piety with them and demanded everyone else live as they do.

moderate islam notHejab was mandatory in my mahalle, which makes me biased. That said, a novelist friend who lives in the Asian-side, uber-posh mahalle Moda, said even there the intolerance grew. Often it manifested itself as conservative men and women walked through the mahalle shouting at walkers, shaming them. Fatih—where the sumptuous Sulimaniye Mosque is—is terribly conservative. And even benighted Şişhane has been cleaned up a little, brothels moved to Zeytinburnu. In the suburbs it’s now a rough, blue-collar heroin infested mahalle of young unemployed male mayhem.

I loved the old, secular, Turkey.

All this as preamble to the coup, and what it will mean for the future.

The moment I heard about the coup attempt in Turkey yesterday I posted my thoughts without pause or editing. My gut said “I seriously doubt the coup will take hold. Erdoğan cut far into the military muscle with Ergenekon.” The dying optimist in me, however, thought that “maybe it’ll last—and I hope it does—because Erdoğan is a vile, hateful little man.” My loathing for Erdoğan is spectacular, I hope his end resembles Ceaușescu’s, limbs torn from his body into shreds by an angry street mob, and not that of Islam Karimov, the leader who boiled his opponents alive yet will more than likely die peacefully in his large palace on a hill outside Tashkent overlooking the rolling Hungry Steppe.

Turkey’s military deserves an altogether different fate as units were trying to fulfill a constitutional purpose expected of them in the 20th century and/or two, they were lied into believing their movements into the streets of Istanbul were just an exercise. Whether they were lied to or not their highest constitutional duty has been the preservation of the secularism Kemal Atäturk imposed on the young nation he cobbled together in the late 20s and early 30s. Their duty is not the preservation of democracy, but of secularism.

American Liberals, Progressives and a handful of Conservatives usually incorrectly believe the Turkish army’s main goal is to promote and protect democracy. Democracy is not the only good, secularism is a good in an of itself.

But the army was never likely to succeed.

Why not? What was different this time? Why, in the past had the army been successful and Friday it was not?

In a word: Ergenekon.

In the old Turkish myths Ergenekon is a mythical “Land of Darkness,” a homeland cut clean and deep from the Archean rocks of the Tien Shan, a time when Titans and man roamed the Earth and man, terrified of the giants, sought shelter in the deep valleys the Tien Shan are famous for in search of their very own Shangri-la.

wolf sheep clothingErdoğan’s Ergenekon was the persecution of allegedly ultra-secular and nationalist (read: Kemalist) high ranking officers in Turkey’s armed forces, up to and including the general staff. Erdoğan conducted his military purge at great risk to himself, but with very good reasons based his own persecutions and jail-time at the hands of what we now Turkey’s deep state. Erdoğan’s left jail in 2003 and immediately became prime ministership—he feared a large group of officers would coalesced in opposition to the AKP-Gulenist alliance he led in parliament. (Allied at the time, Gulenists and Gulen himself apparently witnessed a bit too much immorality and tattled. This led to an irrevocable break between Erdoğan and Gulen.) There were fears in 2003 that AKP represented a brand of crypto pan-Islamism. Most analysts disputed this, using an analogy Americans would understand. Imagine if Pat Robertson’s hand-picked candidate won the presidency? It would not be a theocracy in America, would it? It sounds great, except that they were wrong.

Protecting Turkey from this kind of pan-Islamism was part of the military’s job description. Under any other prime minister the military would have kicked him or her out office, brought order to the country and help elections as soon as possible thus preserving secularism in Turkey.

Ataturk and his immediate successors had good reason to believe that if a Muslim nation was to be modern it must embrace secularism. He looked at the chaos in Saudi Arabia, the emerging Hashemite Kingdoms and Egypt and their chronic inability to manufacture their own needs and support themselves. He believed in secularism first, then there could be democracy.

A portion of Turkey’s armed forces will soon be tried as traitors for their embrace of the Kemalist constitution. That’s just as Erdoğan would have it, too.

turkey-military-akp-nationalturk-34567A disclaimer is needed here. No one likes generals sticking their noses into politics. Too often they end up like the Sphinx in Egypt: noseless, after the target practice of bored troops. Nor do I like it when generals engage in retail politics. President Clinton should have fired Colin Powell for insubordination when he wrote an op-ed opposing Clinton’s proposed gays in the military policy early in his first term. President Obama did fire one general who had the poor taste of telling the truth and getting caught. But there is a more recent case, this one quite scary, too. General Breedlove, former SACEUR, actively plotted against Obama’s Ukrainian-Russia policy. Breedlove contrary to President Obama’s express orders pushed for war. Once Obama learned of this he should have busted the general down to private and forced him to resign, on a private’s pension. Sadly, this is another example of old, clear lines of separation fraying in many of America’s most hallowed institutions. But I digress.

In America there is a clear separation (still) between civilian leaders and military brass; but, as mentioned above, modern Turkish precedent gives the military a special role, wide latitude to defend Kemal’s most important and lasting achievement: the secularization of Turkey. Secularism is the sine qua non of the Turkish Republic’s existence. Without it, Ataturk knew Turkey would flounder toward modernity, flailing and failing, until turning inward against the enemy within: the Alevi or the the Kurds. The Armenians had left, forcibly, and what few Greeks remaining either assimilated into Turkish culture as to be invisible, or were so old they were left alone and forgotten. Ataturk’s prescience was scarily precise, once the independence of the army was curbed, secularism would die. Turkish secularism perished before our eyes on June 15, 2016, after lasting almost a century.

A little clarity is necessary to avoid confusion: Erdoğan is not the prime minister, who is technically the most powerful individual in Turkey. Erdoğan is president now, one who is fighting to create a new constitutional order in Turkey where the president, a once ceremonial job only becomes the alpha of all alphas.

Is Tayyip America’s stooge? He most certainly is not. He is an Islamist, an elected one. On multiple occasions. But because he also implemented the right conditions for the economy to soar for almost ten years—when he was elected it cost 10,000,000 lira to buy a glass of tea. At one point the Lira to dollar exchange rate was 1.6 Lira to the dollar. He tamed inflation and then European light manufacturing investment money poured in to the country. It was an economic miracle.

This gave him an enormous amount of political capital that he’s been living off of ever since. He also had a skilled foreign minister, Davotoglu, who brought a real peace between the Kurds and Turkey. I was in Diyarbakir in 2008 and it was lovely. Meanwhile, many Kurds began migrating from the countryside to the cities along the Aegean and Black Sea where jobs were to be found.

They also blew Istanbul up like a balloon. In 2003 the population was 7 million. Today it is roughly 14 million. Most of the Kurdish migrants are very conservative religiously and with the peace seeming lasting, combined with the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan’s death sentence being commuted by Prime Minister Ecevit in 2002, Turkey’s future seemed positive. Add to that a last IMF/World Bank bailout to solidify Turkey’s perennially troublesome, embezzled banks. The growth was impressive. But as Walter Russell Mead writes the wheel turns and those once ignored will soon rule, “Atatürk’s Turkey marginalized the pious Anatolian peasants; now their grandchildren and great grandchildren are building a new Turkey. They see themselves storming the citadels of cosmopolitan, urban privilege in much the same way that Sultan Mehmet Fatih, the Conqueror, took Constantinople from the last Byzantine emperor. They have come to the cities like Mehmet and his warriors, and they are remaking them in their image.” This they did.

After almost a decade a speed bump crept up on Turkey’s leaders. The Arab Spring arrived and to everyone’s surprise the wheels came of economic and foreign policy. The foreign policy he and Davutoğlu implemented, “Zero Problems with Neighbors” fell apart. Had one observed closely signs pointed to the unraveling of the Turco-Israeli Entente. First, Turkey and Israel verbally sparred over who would sit where during negotiations for their next summit meeting. Traditionally the host nation had the high seat but Netanyahu and Lieberman had a new government, necessitating they prove themselves to constituents back home and hatched a plot to humiliate Erdoğan. Erdoğan being a man who never forgets a slight soon saw an opportunity for a propaganda victory against Israel: the Gaza Blockade.

Then Turkey sent the Mavi Mara and it was a PR disaster for Israel. Erdogan learned an important lesson: if there is an enemy abroad he can maintain and increase his power. Why? During this time his party the AKP won an outright majority in a parliament historically fragmented and factious. He has been doing this ever since. I

Turkey has a long history of expecting and appreciating the military stepping in as guarantor of secularism in the country. The military is not and never has been the guarantor of democracy. This is a fundamental support beam in Turkey.

But not on Friday.

turkish-air-forcePepe Escobar autopsies the scene, cutting straight through to the viscera: “in the end they did not have the numbers – and the necessary preparation. All key ministries seemed to be communicating among themselves as the plot developed, as well as the intel services. And as far as Turkish police as a whole is concerned, they are now a sort of AKP pretorian guard.”

Escobar then unloads an idea that floated around NatSec circles on Twitter and Facebook in the hours after the coup seemed doomed: somehow Erdoğan had foreknowledge of the plot, knew it to be weak and let it proceed secure and possibly giddy over the giant power-grab he’d soon achieve.

Escobar explains, “Erdoğan’s intel services knew a coup was brewing; and the wily Sultan let it happen knowing it would fail as the plotters had very limited support. He also arguably knew – in advance— even the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose members Erdoğan is trying to expel from parliament, would support the government in the name of democracy.”

Unlike all the windbags and chatterboxes on TV or the earnest but easily mislead Knights of Keyboard Manor thwacking bits and bytes across the ‘net, using words like Reichstag and False Flag without a shred of evidence to support their suppositions other than a gut feeling, Escobar does something radical: he offers some very plausible evidence for his theory. Like a modern day I.F. Stone, cutting through an overload of giga-this and peta-that, Seńor Escobar informs his readers how “[e]arlier last week Erdoğan signed a bill giving soldiers immunity from prosecution while taking part in domestic security ops – as in anti-PKK (but hypothetically this law could be used to excuse soldiers who were unknowingly misled into participating ed. note ~spk); that spells out improved relations between the AKP government and the army. And then Turkey’s top judicial body HSYK laid off no less than 2,745 judges after an extraordinary meeting post-coup. This can only mean the list was more than ready in advance.” (Emphasis mine.) This same thought was expressed by a friend and I’m with her and Escobar: it’s more than plausible, it’s probable.

Turkey-The-captured-soldiers-in-a-courthouse-IstanbulThose who thought Erdoğan had been wounded badly over the confrontation with Russia—even the United States began evacuating non-essential military and diplomatic personnel after the fallout with Russia and a spate of terrorist bombings—are now watching the biggest power grab in Turkey since 1908 when 200 “Young Turks” demanded the reinstatement of the Constitution of 1876. Sultan Abdul Hamid II refused on principle, only to watch revolt spread like wildfire on the steppe across his ever shrinking patrimony, until he capitulated. The Turks may call Erdoğan “the Little Sultan” as an insult on the sly, but he’s got some big ole’ britches now, britches that will only get bigger.

What kind of actions can be expected from Erdoğan once the coup dust settles, a friend asked the evening of the coup? “The immediate consequence,” explains Pablo Escobar, “is that Erdoğan now seems to have miraculously reconquered his ‘strategic depth’” both internally and externally. In laymen’s terms: he’s more powerful now domestically—look for purges—even after the fiasco that was Syria and with Russia’s shot down jet, and more. Plus the unholy Kurdish mess, including its lack of real policy doesn’t much matter. Erdoğan’s much like Bismarck in 1866 after defeating the Austrians at the Battle of Königgrätz. “Bismarck punched his fist on his desk,” writes historian Jonathan Steinberg, “and cried “I have beaten then all! All!’”

Neo-Ottomanism, Turkey’s version of Neo-conservativism, previously almost discredited, is now in the ascendant. Neo-Ottomanism can be described as “a dramatic shift from the traditional Turkish foreign policy of the Kemalist [type], which emphasized looking westward towards Europe with the goal of avoiding the instability and sectarianism of the Middle East (emphasis added).” Instead “Neo-Ottomanism promotes greater political engagement (read: interference) of the modern Republic of Turkey within regions formerly under the rule of the Ottoman Empire” of which it is a successor state. In practical terms this means more intervention in Syria, a continuance in the break with Israel, possible incursions into Iraqi-Kurdistan for which there is a 1990s precedent by former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller.

If Erdoğan was previously perceived as a bit unbearable, something of a hothead, he’ll be insufferable now and for the foreseeable future. How big a chair at the big boys table is he going to demand? With NATOs second largest armed forces of 640,000 troops, it’ll be fairly sizable.

For the foreseeable future Turkey’s fate is inextricably bound with that of President Erdoğan. With Erdoğan in such a commanding role in regards to his peers and the club he wants to join in Davos, it’s going to be tough when he’s ironically bested by the only leader the West cannot stomach, Vladimir Putin. Is this an opening for Putin and Erdoğan to settle the Armenian issue?


Might Putin shave Erdoğan and Turkey away from the Atlantic Alliance? Putin and Erdoğan share similar conservative domestic and foreign policy ideologies. What of the NATO-Turkish partnership? Does Turkey close İncirlik Air Force Base every time it gets an itch, or wants to retaliate for some perceived slight? Erdoğan is notorious for perceiving slights where none exist. For instance, he walked out of a speech by Shimon Peres because Peres hurt his feeling, then Erdoğan used it as an excuse to dissolve the entente between Israel and Turkey. Is this the kind of behavior NATO can expect? Even now İncirlik Air Force Base is closed to US flights. Consider: İncirlik is “home to A-10s, the most reliable manned aircraft the US possesses for providing air support to ground forces fighting Isis.” Is this a temporary bug or long-term feature?

Then there is the domestic American fallout. Facts are curious things. In the case of Turkey the many Islamaphobes in the USA (and some of Western Europe) will no doubt inform everyone, correctly, too, that Turkey is governed by Islamists. Then they, or someone like them will point out how NATO—and by NATO I mean the USA who foots 75% of NATO’s bill—is legally and morally obligated to defend Turkey if attacked by an outside force, be it Iran, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia or even Fiji. Is it plausible to imagine a situation where Turkey’s new found èlan might hold the great Atlantic alliance, and America’s 60-70 tactical nuclear weapons currently based in Turkey, hostage? What price would we be willing to pay? Would we extradite Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, once Erdoğan’s partner but now his bête noire. Would we evacuate İncirlik?

How these questions and many others unfold in the near future depend on voters in other nations, plus those in the United States who get to choose between the fascistic Donald Trump and the corporate sellout and former Goldwater Girl, Hillary Clinton.

The voters of the Western democracies must be bewildered (and a bit exhausted) at present. Consider that the following events have occurred in the span of seven days: Brexit, a new British PM, a possible ITexit, an attempted coup in Turkey, and a terrorist attack in Nice, France. Did I miss anything? I’m certain I did. Regardless, all these events give voters everywhere a complicated set of variables to digest before even considering domestic matters, much less voting on them. No wonder everone wants to be on antidepressants. What a week.

I don’t think Erdoğan is lacking in the pelotas o huevos department. I do think he believes his own PR—and when leaders begin to do that they quickly lose touch with the people who put them where they are. That spells trouble. But, that’s for another post. I want to address another crucial point: “If Gulen and his organization were really behind the coup that means it was orchestrated by the CIA.” For the life of me, and perhaps I am naive or just credulous enough to believe the CIA would never get into bed with the Gulenists, I find this rumor making the rounds implausible. The Gulenists stand for everything the United States is opposed to, at least rhetorically. Further, I don’t see Gulenist-American interests in alignment here, either. If you have more, please elucidate.


Just a short while ago this headline scrolled across the television: Judicial Reform Comes to Turkey at Long Last. As widely known, the courts in Turkey have long proven to be Erdoğan’s prime obstacle in recreating the constitution in his image. The news story implied that in the midst of the coup attempt, members of the courts were being rounded up, detained and/or arrested. 188 arrest warrants were issued for members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors—Turkey’s highest official judicial body—five members were removed at an emergency meeting Saturday morning..

Ever the cagey one, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is taking no chances. While taking on the Hugh Courts he slashes through the lower courts like Alexander sliced through the Gordian Knot. “2,745 judges of duty [in total],” writes RT, were fired Saturday morning.

All of this leads us inexorably to the possible conclusion that the coup was premeditated and orchestrated by Erdoğan or one of his key allies. An Anglo-American court of law would judge this behavior premeditated, indicating clear intent on the part of the anti-coup party, Little Sultan Erdoğan his own self.

So, why is that important?

I’ll let esteemed Col. Lang explain:

“What I am hearing from sources in Turkey is that this was a pre-emptive false flag designed to fail in which the people sent into the coup were sacrificed by their superiors who are Erdoğans adherents in the armed forces.”

If these judicial dismissals aren’t a smoking gun, they’re at least warm shell casings. They point to further purges in the days ahead. How far Erdoğan goes—civil servants, public school teachers, regional administrative workers—no one knows.

Over the weekend of July 15-17, there were several more developments furthering the claim that the coup was a set-up by Erdoğan or that he knew it was coming. First, there was the demand by Erdoğan and his surrogates in the media that the United States must give up Fethullah Gulen before any activites at İncirlik Air Force Base could be resumed. To prove how serious the Turks were several actions were taken to rattle the Americans based there. First, the power was shut off and remained off for at least three days. Pro-Erdoğan prosecutors then raided the air force base, accusing Americans of hiding pro-coup generals and others loyal to Gulen. Following these incidents the air force base was “blocked by Turkish military authorities” and placed under siege. Nothing is going into the base and nothing is coming out. As of 9:40 PM last night the base was still without electricity and remained surrounded by the Turkish military in what is fast becoming the century’s greatest game of chicken, this one between Erdoğan and NATO.

As of this writing—10:12 am Central Time—the total number of those purged is somewhere between 50,000-60,000 Turks deemed disloyal to Erdoğan, the AKP and/or supporter(s) of the Gulenist-terror organization. The BBC writes, “The purge of those deemed disloyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan widened on Tuesday to include teachers, university deans and the media.”

With these measure Erdoğan is cutting broad and deep, like Stalin, before him; eliminating potential sources of opposition before they can coalesce into revolt. With the sacking of teachers, however, it’s clear one of his main aims is the complete destruction of the Kemalist-Secular order in Turkey. Schools have been the repository of Ataturk’s legacy. Where Turkish children have their first encounter with Ataturk, the father of the modern Republic of Turkey. Sweeping away secular teachers will change Turkey irrevocably.

There is more to the purges than just schools. 9,000 people are in custody, for starters and expected to rise much higher. With numbers like these it’s clear that President Erdoğan’s claim the purges are necessary to “cleanse all state institutions” of members of the Gulenist-clique is a lie.

As of 3:00 AM US Central Daylight Savings, the BBC estimated the following have been purged with more to follow:

  • 7,500 soldiers have been detained, including 118 generals and admirals
  • 8,000 police have been removed from their posts and 1,000 arrested
  • 3,000 members of the judiciary, including 1,481 judges, have been suspended
  • 15,200 education ministry officials have lost their jobs
  • 21,000 private school teachers have had their licenses revoked
  • 1,577 university deans (faculty heads) have been asked to resign
  • 1,500 finance ministry staff have been removed
  • 492 clerics, preachers and religious teachers have been fired
  • 393 social policy ministry staff have been dismissed
  • 257 prime minister’s office staff have been removed
  • 100 intelligence officials have been suspended

Again, the BBC makes a crucial observation: “The purge is so extensive that few believe it was not already planned. And there seems little chance that everyone on the list is a Gulenist.”

Some immediate results of the counter-coup and purges: Turkey’s tourism industry (13 percent of GDP) will die. It is unknown what will happen to the EU manufacturing investments made in country over the last 13 years. Will Turkey remain the Continent’s light manufacturer of choice? At three lira to the dollar odds are it will.

Questions remain, however, festering, itching, and irritating. For example, why does the Civil Service make up such disproportionate numbers? The BBC has an interesting, if sad, answer: “The government is weeding out opponents from Turkey’s Alevi community, which numbers some 15 million.” The Turks spell it Alevi, but President Erdoğan’s enemy to the South, Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, calls himself an Alawite. The names are identical.

And what of the poor benighted Kurds? More ambivalence, I say. The status quo, but a violent one, if that makes any sense. Continued migration into cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Eskişehir, Balıkesir, Izmir, Trabzon will face more pressure on already aging infrastructure.

What are we to look for next? A few obvious variables come to mind first. Exit visas. For example, just this morning we learned that Erdoǧan issued a blanket foreign travel ban on all Turkish academics. Curfews in selected areas, those known to have opposed President Erdoğan in the past. Detentions without charge are not without precedent in situations such as these in Turkey. Extended purges from the civil service. Reinstatement of the death penalty have been sent up as a trial balloon in several media outlets.

If, as I believe, Erdoğan’s ultimate aim is to remake Turkey into a fully Islamic society, religious judges, or qadis, will be placed in the former positions of their secular counterparts. Moreover, hejab, or modest dress, will be imposed upon women, thus remaking Turkey into an Aegean Iran overnight. This will be followed by the creation of a morality division of the current police departments. All of this might require the abolition of parliament. At that point NATO has a serious decision to make, if Turkey hasn’t already abrogated the North Atlantic Treaty: Stay and tacitly support Erdoğan—supporting despots in the region is SOP—or go, using one of the Balkan nations for operations conducted out of İncirlik Air Force Base. None of this would surprise me now.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for whatever reason, feels compelled to sweep away the entirety of the old order; the Kemalist-Secular order that jailed him multiple times, but also the same order that brought stability and safety to a shaky new Turkish Republic formed in April, 1920.

As of this writing, it appears Erdoğan and his henchmen in the AKP will succeed. Turkey’s civil society will be dragged back 100 years under the guise of modernity and religion, the greatest paradox of our age. For this writer, however, it’s heartbreaking. Turkey was a second home, and I grieve its loss keenly, every day.

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01 Jul 19:33

Overwatch: What SHOULD be the Play of the Game?

by Ben Adams

Overwatch is Blizzard’s latest entry into the world of first-person shooters. Unlike the mud and blood soaked browns and grays of the various Call of Battlefield: Space Marine Editions, Overwatch is saturated with color and vareity. With more than 20 playable characters hailing from all over the globe, Overwatch is a much more inviting entree into the world of online multiplayer shooters.

Overwatch has no single player campaign. Instead, it is a team-based multiplayer game. Both sides compete to secure an objective, either capturing a location or escorting a payload to a destination. Killing the opponent is of course part of the strategy, and is a lot of the fun, but it is not the ultimate goal: your kill/death ratio might be through the roof, but that doesn’t do any good if you weren’t paying attention to the payload slipping past your defenses.

At the end of every game, players are treated to a “Play of the Game” animation, showing a brief snippet of gameplay as a “highlight.” They look like this:

Or this:

That’s the character Pharah doing some fancy rocket work to jump behind the enemy, then using her rocket barrage to deal some serious damage. (It’s a fun game guys).

As one might expect, the internet has had a lot of fun with the POTG feature. Of course, there are the clickbait(ish) roundups of “The Best Overwatch Plays of the Game,” and POTG makes regular appearances at the top of Overwatch communities like Reddit’s r/Overwatch.

In addition to just showing off moment from the game, there’s a lot of creativity and fun as well – the POTG format is a thriving internet meme, with loving parodies and even real-life cosplay recreations. My personal favorite is this mashup of the POTG with last week’s Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards”:

The POTG is interesting for a few reasons. For one, it’s a further expansion of the idea that video games are no longer just something you play – they are also a source of entertainment, a way of seeing and experiencing something cool. When the POTG comes on, you might get to bask in one of your own past moments of glory, learn some new tactic or technique, or you might just watch your own hideous failure, only this time from the perspective of the guy or gal who killed you.

But more than that, the POTG of the game is interesting because of the way it is generated – entirely automatically. The POTG is the first thing you see after finishing a round, and is selected entirely by some algorithm inside the computer or gaming console.

Which has led to a lot of speculation about how, exactly, the POTG is selected. Because the POTG is not always the most exciting 20 seconds of gameplay that you might hope for. Here, for instance, is the dwarf Torbjörn, staring at a wall while the turret he built somewhere else on the map does all the work for him:

And here’s the character D.Va getting knocked off of a building by another character:

To be fair, selecting “cool” moments is a really hard problem, and one that computers tend not to be very good at. Blizzard has acknowledged this problem, saying that the algorithm is being tweaked to better select what highlight will be shown.

According to one YouTuber, the current algorithm appears to look for four different POTG “types” – either its the highest “scoring” portion of play, or it fits into one of three predefined categories (long range kills, stopping the enemy from deploying a “Super” ability, and getting a kill the prevents an ally from dying).

But let’s leave aside the computational difficulties for a moment. Before we can program the computer to look for something, we have to have some idea of what we’re looking for in the first place.

We have to ask what should the Play of the Game be in the first place? What should we value in selecting a real-time “highlight” reel in a video game like Overwatch?

I can think of three possible values that we might want to try and capture:

  • Performance – what was the most technically impressive thing done in the game?
  • Value – what thing was the most valuable contribution to accomplishing the team’s overall objective?
  • Highlight – what video clip will be the coolest looking?

There’s a case to be made for all three – and I think it comes down to what you think the Play of the Game is supposed to be for.


If you think of Play of the Game as a reward, a goal to strive for, then either Performance or Value makes the most sense. “Performance” makes sense if you see Overwatch and the POTG as a recognition of individual achievement: the best player who made the best play should get the “reward” of being featured in the POTG.

“Value”, on the other hand, makes sense if you recognize that Overwatch is a team sport, and individual performance doesn’t mean anything except in a larger context of accomplishing the team objective.

But there’s a wrinkle, because one of the things that makes Overwatch popular is the diversity of character types that you can play as – sure there are soldiers with guns and rockets and sniper rifles, but there are also “Tanks” with lots of hit points and a giant hammer, “Builders” that place defensive structures, and “Support” that can heal their teammates or enhance their power.

And so comparing performances across classes is extremely difficult – sure, you can count kills, but that leaves healers in the dust. So you need to come up with some way of scoring “plays” in a way that recognizes the accomplishment of each class: a kill might be worth X points, healing is worth Y, and blocking damage might be worth Z, with modifiers based on how close to the objective you were, how close your allies were, etc.

One more wrinkle: every character has something called an “ultimate,” a special ability that charges over time and gives them some temporary superpower. These ultimates are more powerful than the normal abilities by a pretty substantial margin – so if you’re just counting up accomplishments, you run the risk of overvaluing the ultimate: a relatively mundane usage of Pharah’s rocket barrage might do more damage in a short period of time than the most masterful instance of shooting from Widowmaker’s sniper rifle. So if your goal is to recognize technical accomplishment, you have to account for that as well.


But all of that assumes that the POTG is a reward, an individual accomplishment like the medals or “Achievements” you can unlock as you go along. And one of the things that sets aside the POTG is that it’s a group experience – it’s not just something that you get to see, it’s something that all 12 players get to see. It is, in the moment, a brief little piece of shared culture.

Think about the ESPN highlight reel – how often do they show the key block thrown by a tight end that allowed the running back to walk in to the endzone? How often do they show the crucial pass that led to an easy layup in a basketball game? Rarely.

No, they show the crazy long run, even if the only reason the RB was able to make it was because the defensive line made some amateurish mistake and blew their coverage. They show the monster dunk, even if it had no impact on the outcome. They show the thing that’s cool to watch, because that’s what we want to see.

So you could throw out the “Performance” or “Value” idea out altogether, and just show the POTG that will make for the coolest viewing experience. This has some benefits: win or lose, we all want to see something cool. As the success of Twitch (the video game streaming site) shows, people are excited to see new an interesting things in the games that they love.

Two problems here.

One, looking for the “Highlight” means that a huge chunk of characters just lost any hope of ever getting the POTG: you’re not going to look very cool just following people around and healing them up, and as the clip of Torbjorn above shows, it’s definitely not going to look cool when a turret halfway across the map does all the killing for you. How do you make healing look cool? What about blocking?


And two, programming a computer to look for “cool” is hard. How do you teach a computer what’s going to look interesting to a human eye? It’s one thing to count up kills and accomplishments, but it’s quite another to teach it to know whether those accomplishments are going to look cool on a video recap.

Of course, any solution is going to be some middle path between all three – we want some good blend of all three philosophies of POTG selection, so that we get stuff that looks cool, but also recognize genuinely out of the ordinary accomplishments.

Personally, I’d lean towards the “Highlight” philosophy of POTG selection. But that probably just shows my own bias: I am never going to be anything but a casual gamer, and thus a mediocre at best player. I’m there to have fun, and that means seeing cool stuff, regardless of who did it.

But I can totally see a different opinion: if I’m really into Overwatch and want to play competitively, then I’m going to be gunning for that POTG, trying to get it as a de facto MVP award for the game.

So I leave it to you – how SHOULD Overwatch choose the POTG?


Overwatch: What SHOULD be the Play of the Game? originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

26 Dec 05:13

Weekly Roundup of Heterodoxy—November 27, 2015 Edition

by Chris Martin

Paul Schwennesen reflects on returning to academia after a stint in the non-academic world. His article is Rise of the Academic ‘Identitarians’.

Neil Howe asks why Millenials love political correctness.

Speaking of Millenials, Pew has released survey results showing that 40% of Millenials are OK with limiting speech offensive to minorities. The percentages for older generations range from 12 to 27.

Law professor Terry Smith documents the unintentional aid that progressives give to conservatives when they suppress free speech.

And a yoga class has been suspended for cultural appropriation.



16 Dec 22:16

Where to Start with Diana Wynne Jones

by Alex Brown


So you want to read Diana Wynne Jones. Congratulations! An excellent decision, if I do say so myself. But now what?

For an author who produced a book a year for forty years, figuring out which book to read first is no mean feat. With a catalogue as long as hers and full of so many related and unrelated series, there’s no reason you have to start at the beginning. Lucky for you, I am a huge fan and ready to get on my soapbox and sing her praises.

I cried the day Diana Wynne Jones died. I barely knew her as an author at that point, but the little I had read had affected me deeply. She is up there with the top tier of British fiction writers. Her work has the charm of Jane Austen, the wit of Douglas Adams, the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, the mythical fantasy of Neil Gaiman, the YA tweaks of Robin McKinley, and the creativity of Mary Shelley. Even the least of her works are better than most children’s and YA fantasy currently flooding the market. While at Oxford University in the 1950s, Jones attended lectures by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and their influence fill the nooks and crannies of her stories.

With determined witches, charming wizards, sinister shapeshifters, and curious beasts Jones crafts worlds that crackle with energy and sparkle with vim and vigor. Morals never turn to moralizing but stay on the side of cautionary fairy tales – there are lessons to be learned, sure, but they are part of the story not the point. I plowed through the Chrestomanci series like it was a drug, something I haven’t done that since when I read the Narnia books as a kid.

Sometimes the language surrounding PoC and people who aren’t thin and pretty can range from grating to downright offensive in today’s context. But having read so much of her work and interviews I know she never intended to be hurtful and if she were writing now her tone would certainly change. She’d probably be championing #WeNeedDiverseBooks with the best of them. Overall Diana has populated her fantasy worlds with a variety of characters with different personalities, skin colors, and cultural histories. The problematic passages are few and far between so don’t let them be a sticking point in your reading journey.

Anyway, enough on the preamble. Let’s get to the fun part! If you’re sick of me blabbing on, just go to your local library and check out Howl’s Moving Castle and Enchanted Glass and thank me later. Otherwise, I’ve broken some of her best books down into categories to help you find the best book for you.



Author101_DWJ-HowlHowl’s Moving Castle (1986) is a great entry point for Diana Wynne Jones in general, but especially if you’re looking for a book with great female leads who are more than just a Strong Female Characters trope. Sophie, her sisters, and the witches start, drive, and end the story while the men – yes, even the great Wizard Howl – mostly get into trouble or make matters worse.

There isn’t much to tie it to Hayao Miyazaki’s absolutely wonderful movie other than the lead characters and a world made of magic, so don’t go into this expecting a comment on warfare and environmental destruction. As much as I love the movie, Jones’ world is just so much more interesting and vast. And she expands it even further with the other two entries in the series (Howl and Sophie appear in all three): Castle in the Air (1990), set in a Middle East-like nation and House of Many Ways (2008), lead by a bookish rich girl and grumpy magician’s apprentice.


Still going through Harry Potter withdrawals?

Author101_DWJ-ChrestomanciChristopher Chant is the Chrestomanci, or head honcho of monitoring the use of magic across the multiverse. The Chrestomanci series, which includes six books and one anthology of short stories, follows Christopher as he discovers his abilities, earns his title, and guides the next generation of mages. As Chrestomanci, Christopher benefits from having nine lives, but can also be summoned just by calling his name. He also appears in every book in the series.

It’s a bit of a mix of Harry Potter and the Narnia books. Or to put it another way, children going on grand magical adventures while adults get in the way. Of course you can read the series in any order but I suggest a slightly updated version of what Jones preferredCharmed Life (1977), The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), Conrad’s Fate (2005), Witch Week (1982), The Magicians of Caprona (1980), The Pinhoe Egg (2006), and Mixed Magics (2000).


Random weirdness

Author101_DWJ-FantasylandSome of my favorite books by fantasy fiction writers is when they twist into weird non-fiction. Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff is basically what a dictionary written by P.G. Wodehouse would sound like. Neil Gaiman’s Ghastly Beyond Belief is some of the weirdest stuff he’s ever written. The Tough Guide To Fantasyland (1996) is part satirical encyclopedia, part parody travel guide, and all blithely irreverent. It’s based on the notion that the fantasy worlds in fiction are a real place, a theme park essentially, that can be visited on a package holiday. The tourist can take a fantasy adventure similar to those in books and what to do when encountering characters who usually pop up in them.

With Tough Guide, Jones skewers sword and sorcery like it’s going out of business. She leaves no stone unturned and no field unpillaged, but there’s nothing but love and affection in her words. She understands every dark corner and overused cliche in this subgenre and uses her mockery to both call out the worst tropes and underscore the the most enjoyable bits.


SFF with a splash of grimdark

Author101_DWJ-HomewardThe Homeward Bounders (1981) is one of Jones’ darker books. Once again she uses the idea of a multiverse, but instead of being supervised by a genial wizard, this one is a playground for demons. When young Jamie stumbles upon the Them he’s turned into a Homeward Bounder, a person who is exempt from the hellish universe-spanning board game. No one in the game can harm him, but neither can he get involved in the game. He is also forced to wander the multiverse until he finds his home, and only then will he be released from their curse. Jamie collects other children impacted by the game and they work together to try and defeat Them. Tonally it’s the exact opposite of Howl’s Moving Castle; Jamie learns many hard, unpleasant truths about the world and his place in it. Jones once said, “I really do believe there are some people who are just irredeemable,” and that is never more prevalent than in Homeward Bounders.


Award winners

Author101_DWJ-DerkholmJones won or was a finalist in the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards multiple times, so you have your pick of titles. However, I’d recommend Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) or The Crown of Dalemark (1993). Where Crown (the last in the Dalemark Quartet, so probably start with the first book…) takes its high fantasy setting very seriously, Derkholm is more or less a goofy parody of the genre. Think a kid version of Lancelot du Lac versus Monty Python and the Holy Grail and that’s Dalemark and Derkholm, respectively. Derkholm was indirectly inspired by Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and both books are often paired together as the Derkholm series. When the locals finally get sick of Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties, a holiday package tour, constantly destroying their villages, and set up a patsy and his human and griffin children to save their world. The Dalemark Quartet tells the history of a nation from ancient kings to present-day children. In the final story, characters from the previous books help a young girl find a magic crown and do battle against a sinister villain with a grudge.

Archer’s Goon (1984) was nominated for a World Fantasy award, won a Boston Globe-Herald Honor Book award, and is on the American Library Association’s list of best books for children and young adults. The Sykes family gets tied up in wizard politics and jump between the past and future untangling the mystery of what the seven wizards who run their town want and to whom they are beholden. It’s a lovely, quirky story about families and secrets.


By age

Author101_DWJ-EnchantedMost of Diana Wynne Jones’ books are aimed at children and young adults, but she’s also branched out into younger children and adult readers. Who Got Rid of Angus Flint? (1978) is a delightful little picture book about an unwanted friend of the family who stops by unexpectedly and just won’t leave. With only six chapters, it’s a light, fun book for young book lovers practicing their reading skills.

Enchanted Glass (2010) was the last book published by Jones before she passed, and it’s also coincidentally one of my favorites, second only to Howl’s Moving Castle. Perfect for older children and pre-teens, it tells of a magician and his teenage ward who unravel the secrets of Melstone House, including frustrating fairies and persnickety spells.

Author101_DWJ-HexwoodA bit darker and more mature, Hexwood (1993) is great for teenagers, especially those who appreciate blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy. In an English estate, a strange machine called the Bannus has inexplicably been turned on and has trapped its caretakers on the property. Ann sneaks onto the property and encounter powerfully magical beings as well as a boy named Hume and his robot. The Bannus screws with the humans, magicians, and a race of galaxy-controlling dictators, and it’s up to Ann and Hume to sort the whole mess out. The story is a bit convoluted – like, seriously convoluted –  but it’s worth the muddle through.

Adults can easily read any of Jones’ books and get something wonderful out of them, but A Sudden Wild Magic (1992) is specifically written for them. Again Jones delves into the messiness of a multiverse in the need of supervision, this time by a coven of witches. A gaggle of magicians from another universe start mucking about in ours and the witches send some enchantresses over to put them in their place. Things go haywire from there as everyone works for and against each other. The themes are definitely adult here, although nothing salacious. In a lot of ways it reminds me of A.A. Milne’s grownup stories compared to his Winnie the Pooh stuff. It’s the same kind of humor just directed at a more mature target.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

20 Nov 16:32

Painful Lessons from the Start of the Lesser Depression: Hoisted from the Archives from Nigh on Five Years Ago

by J. Bradford DeLong

Hoisted from the Archives from Nigh on Five Years Ago: What Have We Unlearned from Our Great Recession?

Graph Real Gross Domestic Product 3 Decimal FRED St Louis Fed

Jan 07, 2011 10:15 am, Sheraton, Governor's Square 15 American Economic Association: What's Wrong (and Right) with Economics? Implications of the Financial Crisis (A1) (Panel Discussion): Panel Moderator: JOHN QUIGGIN (University of Queensland, Australia)

  • BRAD DELONG (University of California-Berkeley) Lessons for Keynesians
  • TYLER COWEN (George Mason University) Lessons for Libertarians
  • SCOTT SUMNER (Bentley University) A defense of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis
  • JAMES K. GALBRAITH (University of Texas-Austin) Mainstream economics after the crisis:

My role here is the role of the person who starts the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

My name is Brad DeLong.

I am a Rubinite, a Greenspanist, a neoliberal, a neoclassical economist.

I stand here repentant.

I take my task to be a serious person and to set out all the things I believed in three or four years ago that now appear to be wrong. I find this distressing, for I had thought that I had known what my personal analytical nadir was and I thought that it was long ago behind me

I had thought my personal analytical nadir had come in the Treasury, when I wrote a few memos about how Rudi Dornbusch was wrong in thinking that the Mexican peso was overvalued. The coming of NAFTA would give Mexico guaranteed tariff free access to the largest consumer market in the world. That would produce a capital inflow boom in Mexico. And so, I argued, the peso was likely to appreciate rather than the depreciate in the aftermath of NAFTA.

What I missed back in 1994 was, of course, that while there were many US corporations that wanted to use Mexico's access to the US market and so locate the unskilled labor parts of their value chains south, there were rather more rich people in Mexico who wanted to move their assets north. NAFTA not only gave Mexico guaranteed tariff free access to the largest consumer market in the world, it also gave US financial institutions guaranteed access to the savings of Mexicans. And it was this tidal wave of anticipatory capital flight--by people who feared the ballots might be honestly counted the next time Cuohtemac Cardenas ran for President--that overwhelmed the move south of capital seeking to build factories and pushed down the peso in the crisis of 1994-95.

I had thought that was my worst analytical moment.

I think the past three years have been even worse.

So here are five things that I thought I knew three or four years ago that turned out not to be true:

  1. I thought that the highly leveraged banks had control over their risks. With people like Stanley Fischer and Robert Rubin in the office of the president of Citigroup, with all of the industry's experience at quantitative analysis, with all the knowledge of economic history that the large investment and commercial banks of the United States had, that their bosses understood the importance of walking the trading floor, of understanding what their underlings were doing, of managing risk institution by institution. I thought that they were pretty good at doing that.

  2. I thought that the Federal Reserve had the power and the will to stabilize the growth path of nominal GDP.

  3. I thought, as a result, automatic stabilizers aside, fiscal policy no longer had a legitimate countercyclical role to play. The Federal Reserve and other Central Banks were mighty and powerful. They could act within Congress's decision loop. There was no no reason to confuse things by talking about discretionary fiscal policy--it just make Congress members confused about how to balance the short run off against the long run.

  4. I thought that no advanced country government with as frayed a safety net as America would tolerate 10% unemployment. In Germany and France with their lavish safety nets it was possible to run an economy for 10 years with 10% unemployment without political crisis. But I did not think that was possible in the United States.

  5. And I thought that economists had an effective consensus on macroeconomic policy. I thought everybody agreed that the important role of the government was to intervene strategically in asset markets to stabilize the growth path of nominal GDP. I thought that all of the disputes within economics were over what was the best way to accomplish this goal. I did not think that there were any economists who would look at a 10% shortfall of nominal GDP relative to its trend growth path and say that the government is being too stimulative.

With respect to the first of these--that the large highly leveraged banks had control over their risks: Indeed, American commercial banks had hit the wall in the early 1980s when the Volcker disinflation interacted with the petrodollar recycling that they had all been urged by the Treasury to undertake. American savings and loans had hit the wall when the Keating Five senators gave them the opportunity to gamble for resurrection while they were underwater. But in both of these the fact that the government was providing a backstop was key to their hitting the wall.

Otherwise, it seemed the large American high commercial and investment banks had taken every shock the economy could throw at them and had come through successfully. Oh, every once in a while an investment bank would flame out and vanish. Drexel would flame out and vanish. Goldman almost flamed out and vanished in 1970 with the Penn Central. We lost Long Term Capital Management. Generally we lost one investment bank every decade or generation. But that's not a systemic threat. That's an exciting five days reading the Financial Times. That's some overpaid financiers getting their comeuppance, which causes schadenfreude for the rest of us. That's not something of decisive macro significance.

The large banks came through the crash of 1987. They came through Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Everyone else came through the LTCM crisis. Everyone came through the Russian state bankruptcy when the IMF announced that nuclear-armed ex-superpowers are not too big to fail. They came through assorted emerging market crisis. They came through the collapse of the Dot Com Bubble.

It seemed that they understood risk management thing and that they had risk management thing right. In the mid 2000s when the Federal Reserve ran stress tests on the banks the stress was a sharp decline in the dollar if something like China's dumping its dollar assets started to happen. Were the banks robust to a sharp sudden decline in the dollar, or had they been selling unhedged puts on the dollar? The answer appeared to be that they were robust. Back in 2005 policymakers could look forward with some confidence at the ability of the banks to deal with large shocks like a large sudden fall on the dollar.

Subprime mortgages? Well, those couldn’t possibly be big enough to matter. Everyone understood that the right business for a leveraged bank in subprime was the originate-and-distribute business. By God were they originating. But they were also distributing.

I thought about theses issues in combination with the large and persistent equity premium that has existed in the US stock market over the past century. You cannot blame this premium on some Mad Max scenario in which the US economy collapses because the equity premium is a premium return of stocks over US Treasury bonds, and if the US economy collapses then Treasury bonds' real values collapse as well--the only things that hold their value are are bottled water, sewing machines and ammunition, and even gold is only something that can get you shot. You have to blame this equity risk premium on a market failure: excessive risk aversion by financial investors and a failure to mobilize the risk-bearing capacity of the economy. This there was a very strong argument that we needed more, not less leverage on a financial system as a whole. Thus every action of financial engineering--that finds people willing to bear residual equity risk and that turns other assets that have previously not been traded into tradable assets largely regarded as safe--helps to mobilize some of the collective risk bearing capacity of the economy, and is a good thing.

Or so I thought.

Now this turned out to be wrong.

The highly leveraged banks did not have control over their risks. Indeed if you read the documents from the SECs case against Citigroup with respect to its 2007 earnings call, it is clear that Citigroup did not even know what their subprime exposure was in spite of substantial effort by management trying to find out. Managers appeared to have genuinely thought that their underlings were following the originate-and-distribute models to figure out that their underlings were trying to engage in regulatory arbitrage by holding assets rated Triple A as part of their capital even though they knew fracking well that the assets were not really Triple A.

Back when Lehman Brothers was a partnership, every 30-something in Lehman Brothers was a risk manager. They all knew that their chance of becoming really rich depended on Lehman Brothers not blowing as they rose their way through the ranks of the partnership.

By the time everything is a corporation and the high-fliers' bonuses are based on the mark-to-model performance of their positions over the past 12 months, you've lost that every-trader-a-risk manager culture. i thought the big banks knew this and had compensated for it.

I was wrong,

With respect to the second of these--that the Federal Reserve had the power and the will to stabilize nominal GDP: Three years ago I thought it could and would. I thought that he was not called "Helicopter Be"n for no reason. I thought he would stabilize nominal GDP. I thought that the cost to Federal Reserve political standing and self-perception would make the Federal Reserve stabilize nominal GDP. I thought that if nominal GDP began to undershoot its trend by any substantial amount, that then the Federal Reserve would do everything thinkable and some things that had not previously been thought of to get nominal GDP back on to its trend growth track.

This has also turned out not to be true.

That nominal GDP is 10% below its pre-2008 trend is not of extraordinarily great concern to those who speak in the FOMC meetings. And staffing-up the Federal Reserve has not been an extraordinarily great concern on the part of the White House: lots of empty seats on the Board of Governors for a long time.

With respect to the third of these--that discretionary fiscal policy had no legitimate role: Three years ago I thought that the Federal Reserve could do the job, and that discretionary countercyclical fiscal policy simply confused congress members, Remember Orwell's Animal Farm? Every animal on the Animal Farm understands the basic principle of animalism: "four legs good, two legs bad" (with a footnote that, as Squealer the pig says, a wing is an organ of locomotion rather than manipulation and is properly thought of as leg rather than an arm--certainly not a hand).

"Four legs good, two legs bad," was simple enough for all the animals to understand. "Short-term countercyclical budget deficit in recession good, long-run budget deficit that crowds out investment bad," was too complicated for Congressmen and Congresswomen to understand. Given that, discretionary fiscal policy should be shunted off to the side as confusing. The Federal Reserve should do the countercycical stabiization job.

This also turned out not to be true, or not to be as true as we would like. When the Federal funds rate hits the zero lower bound making monetary policy effective becomes complicated. You can do it, or we think you can do it if you are bold enough, but it is no longer straightforward buying Treasury Bonds for cash. That is just a swap of one zero yield nominal Treasury liability for another. You have got to be doing something else to the economy at the same time to make monetary policy expansion effective at the zero nominal bound,

One thing you can do is boost government purchases. Government purchases are a form of spending that does not have to be backed up by money balances and so raise velocity. And additional government debt issue does have a role to play in keeping open market operations from offsetting themselves whenever money and debt are such close substitutes that people holding Treasury bonds as saving vehicles are just as happy to hold cash as savings vehicles. When standard open market operations have no effect on anything, standard open market operations plus Treasury bond issue will still move the economy.

With respect to the fourth of these--that no American government would tolerate 10% unemployment: I thought that American governments understood that high unemployment was social waste: that it was not in fact an efficient way of reallocating labor across sectors and response to structural change. When unemployment is high and demand is low, the problem of reallocation is complicated by the fact that no one is certain what demand is going to be when you return to full employment. Thus it is very hard to figure which industries you want to be moving resources into: you cannot look at profits but rather you have to look at what profits will be when the economy is back at full employment--and that is hard to do.

For example, it may well be the case that right now America is actually short of housing. There is a good chance that the only reason there is excess supply of housing right now is because people's incomes and access to credit are so low that lots of families are doubling up in their five-bedroom suburban houses. Construction has been depressed below the trend of family formation for so long that it is hard to see how there could be any fundamental investment overhang any more.

It is always much better to have the reallocation process proceed by having rising industries pulling workers into employment because demand is high. It is bad to have the reallocation process proceed by having mass unemployment in the belief that the unemployed will sooner or later figure out something productive to do. I thought that American governments understood that.

I thought that American governments understood that high unemployment was very hazardous to incumbents. I thought that even the most cynical and self-interested Congressmen and Congresswomen and Presidents would strain every nerve to make sure that the period of high unemployment would be very short.

It turned out that that wasn’t true.

I really don’t know why. I have five theories:

  1. Perhaps the collapse of the union movement means that politicians nowadays tend not to see anybody who speaks for the people in the bottom half of the American income distribution.
  2. Perhaps Washington is simply too disconnected: my brother-in-law observes that the only place in America where it is hard to get a table at dinner time in a good restaurant right now is within two miles of Capitol Hill.
  3. Perhaps we are hobbled by general public scorn at the rescue of the bankers--our failure to communicate that, as Don Kohn said, it's better to let a couple thousand feckless financiers off scot-free than to destroy the jobs of millions, our failure to make that convincing.
  4. I think about lack of trust in a split economics profession--where there are, I think, an extraordinarily large number of people engaging in open-mouth operations who have simply not done their homework. And at this point I think it important to call out Robert Lucas, Richard Posner, and Eugene Fama, and ask them in the future to please do at least some of their homework before they talk onsense.
  5. I think about ressentment of a sort epitomized by Barack Obama's statements that the private sector has to tighten its belt and so it is only fair that the public sector should too. I had expected a president advised by Larry Summers and Christina Romer to say that when private sector spending sits down then public sector spending needs to stand up--that is is when the private sector stands up and begins spending again that the government sector should cut back its own spending and should sit down.

I have no idea which is true.

I do know that when I wander around Capitol Hill and the Central Security Zone in Washington, the general view I hear is: "we did a good job: we kept unemployment from reaching 15%--which Mark Zandi and Alan Blinder say it might well have reached if we had done nothing." That declaration of semi-victory puzzles me.

Three years ago, I thought that whatever theories economists worked on they all agreed the most important thing to stabilize was nominal GDP. Stabilizing the money stock was a good thing to do only because money was a good advance indicator of nominal GDP. Worrying about the savings-investment balance was a good thing to worry about because if you got it right you stabilized nominal GDP. Job 1 was keeping nominal GDP on a stable growth path, so that price rigidity and other macroeconomic failures did not cause high unemployment. That, I thought, was something all economists agreed on. Yet I find today, instead, the economics profession is badly split on whether the 10% percent shortfall of nominal GDP from its pre-2008 trend is even a major problem.

So what are the takeaway lessons? I don’t know.

Last night I was sitting at my hotel room desk trying to come up with the "lessons" slide.

The best I could come up with is to suggest that perhaps our problem is that we have been teaching people macroeconomics.

Perhaps macroeconomics should be banned.

Perhaps it should only be taught through economic history and the history of economic thought courses--courses that start in 1800 back when all issues of what the business cycle was or what it might become were open, and that then trace the developing debates: Say versus Mathis, Say versus Mill, Bagehot versus Fisher, Fisher versus Wicksell, Hayek versus Keynes versus Friedman, and so forth on up to James Tobin. I really don't know who we should teach after James Tobin: I haven't been impressed with any analyses of our current situation that have not been firmly rooted in Tobin, Minsky, and those even further in the past.

Then economists would at least be aware of the range of options, and of what smart people have said and thought it the past. It would keep us from having Nobel Prize-caliber economists blathering that the NIPA identity guarantees that expansionary fiscal policy must immediately and obviously and always crowd-out private spending dollar-for-dollar because the government has to obtain the cash it spends from somebody else. Think about that a moment: there is nothing special about the government. If the argument is true for the government, it is true for all groups--no decision to increase spending by anyone can ever have any effect on nominal GDP because whoever spends has to get the cash from somewhere, and that applies to Apple Computer just as much as to the government.

And that has to be wrong.

So let me stop there and turn it over to Scott Sumner.

Well Worth Reading

04 Sep 20:42

Links and Tweets for the Week of June 15, 2015

by J. Bradford DeLong

Sanzio 01 The School of Athens Wikipedia the free encyclopedia



  • Must-Read: Richard Baldwin: VoxEU Told You So: Greek Crisis Columns since 2009
  • RT @zeynep: Ugh. Slate takes its hate-link baiting for clicks strategy to its logical, ugly conclusion. (#NotallSlate but a lot) https://t.… Jun 22, 2015
  • RT @ntableman: Am I the only one who loves listening to @baratunde? Jun 22, 2015
  • RT @LOLGOP: Even the Pope gets Climate Change and even Mitt Romney gets why the state shouldn't sanction the Confederate flag. These are no… Jun 21, 2015
  • RT @tanehisicoates: All countries fail, somehow, to live to their ideals. Confederacy did not merely "fail" to be just. Injustice was the e… Jun 21, 2015
  • RT @reidepstein: Walker on Confederate flag: "The placement of a Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds is a state issue." Jun 21, 2015
  • RT @AdamWeinstein: How can you claim you'll stand up to Russia & Iran if you can't stand up to an army that surrendered 150 years ago? htt… Jun 21, 2015
  • RT @GrumpyMoll: "Convincing Americans that Obama doesn’t want you to have Obamacare will not be easy." haha MT Republicans lying Jun 21, 2015



  • @Noahpinion Friedman very clear that preference for monetary over fiscal technocratic, pref over income distribution ideological & moral Jun 20, 2015
  • @t0nyyates @Noahpinion Keynes not huge redistribution booster BtW. Believed strongly in rich, leisured taste-making class--of his friends Jun 20, 2015
  • @t0nyyates but an influential data point, no? @Noahpinion Jun 20, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion Russ Roberts claims Milton Friedman was a big redistribution booster? Laugh test not passed... Jun 20, 2015



  • .@PatrickIber Jun 20, 2015
  • .@PatrickIber Agatha Christie, Autobiography, p. 255: “Looking back, it seems to me extraordinary that we should have contemplated having both a nurse and a servant, but they were considered essentials of life in those days, and were the last things we have thought of dispensing with. To have committed the extravagance of a car, for instance, would never have entered our minds" Jun 20, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion I found it remarkable at the time that @Andolfatto did not know that a rate has denominator as well as numerator. @paulmromer Jun 20, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion does @andolfatto still claim recessions C “surge in job finding rates” among unemployed? cc: @paulmromer Jun 20, 2015
  • @tyillc “keep” is the important word to the answer here… Jun 20, 2015
  • .@haroldpollack @voxdotcom A jerk: liking “free markets” Jun 19, 2015
  • .@haroldpollack @voxdotcom Not a jerk: likes markets properly regulated so individual incentives conform to marginal societal well-being Jun 19, 2015
  • @HeerJeet mute? I report them for spam… Jun 19, 2015
  • .@NormOrnstein perhaps: “why Roberts won’t break 30 years of ad law precedent and the ACA too”? Jun 19, 2015
  • .@binarybits why not skip foreplay, go all-in with defense of Ebenezer Scrooge?
  • .@moorehn at least in law school, Obama was no stoner… @hhavrilesky @nytimesbooks Jun 19, 2015
  • Ed Kilgore: Savage is a wingnut... but he has an immense audience, and if he’s Going There with insinuations that the Pope is the Antichrist or... in league with the Antichrist (Obama! Obama!), he’s almost certainly not the only one...
  • John Scalzi: [Brad Torgersen's Wish] to Be the Anti-Scalzi, and Other Foolishness


  • .@hhavrilesky Wait a minute! “Or”? What about GWB? cc: @nytimesbooks @moorehn Jun 19, 2015
  • @nick_bunker @shaneferro @MattBruenig I have always wanted to use Twitter to, like Glyndwr in Henry IV, call spirits from the vasty deep… Jun 19, 2015
  • .@MattBruenig I had thought we did have a mention of your contribution on site. Am I losing it? (Quite posit @equitablegrowth @nick_bunker Jun 19, 2015
  • .@imillhiser But on those rare occasions when Clarence Thomas’s dormant empathy sense is roused from its slumber, it’s different! Jun 18, 2015
  • @jbarro Given that my best friend from 2nd grade just lectured me for half an hour at dinner about how this repeats the EU’s mistake of setting in unamendable stone international institutions that may be badly flawed and that we don’t really understand how they will work on the ground, I think you may have to wait a long time then. Surely there’s someone drawing a paycheck from the administration willing to make the technocratic case in words of relatively few syllables. Isn’t there? Jun 16, 2015
  • @jbarro did anybody ever write piece in favor of dispute resolution mechanisms? I mean, there’s Hufbauer “not as bad as Warren says”, but… Jun 16, 2015
  • @juliacarriew RU really now interacting with egg-avatars? Jun 16, 2015
  • @AndyHarless @NathanTankus @Noahpinion @farmerrf r not wage rigidity & nominal debt contracting the only live games in town? coord failure tend to produce gross nominal instability wo/ nom rigidity, however Jun 15, 2015
  • .@AndyHarless @NathanTankus @Noahpinion haven’t seen any evidence anywhere that P adj instantly to keep Y at supply-determined potential Jun 15, 2015
  • .@charles_gaba it depends on whether doctrines like “federalism” & “= dignity of states” are real doctrines or partisan Repub weapons only. Respect for federalism and for the equal dignity of the states requires HHS and Sup Ct to take state at its word if a state passes a law or governor issues executive order stating that it ordains and establishes exchange
  • .@CardiffGarcia could also increase FDI flows by giving $500M in gold to every CEO who undertakes FDI. @AshokRao95 for that too? Jun 15, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion Evidence against MV(i)=PY LM Curve eq can? None IM aware of. Ev against S=I Wicksellian IS Curve eq cdn? None IM aware of. IS-LM an accounting framework to keep track of Fisher and Wicksell eq cdns. Can’t see how there could be evidence against IS-LM given no evidence against either its Fisher or Wicksell component. Hence think people who are IS-LM denialists haven’t done their homework… Jun 15, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion thought K admits huge evidence fisc pol often ineffective—for ex, away from ZLB. Roberts not know this, or just being a dick? Think K believes fisc pol can be ineffective at ZLB if central bank on GS or equivalent—triggering gvt debt crisis not good Jun 15, 2015
  • .@AardvarkBlue @mattyglesias indeed. Debated Tom Davis last week. Creeped out that the guy had subpoenad a dead woman to appear B4 his ctte Jun 15, 2015
  • @StephenBankOnIt if, however, you do start sealioning, ISO standard for sealioning requires tweet include picture of sealion @Noahpinion Jun 15, 2015
  • .@jamespoulos the context? that American treatment of Amerindian peoples a great evil, & a genocide. That’s the context… cc: @Noahpinion Jun 15, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion yes, I’m trolling. It started with you trolling w/ FoxNEWS trolling UCLA. It’s trolling all the way down Jun 15, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion I’m just reading Tocqueville on American policy toward the Indians: “The evils enumerated above are great, and to me they seem irreparable” Not much of a melting pot there, is there? Today’s Economic History: Nineteenth Century Amerindian Removal .@atlemar no, I don’t fear my students. I like my students a lot… we meet our interlocutors where they are. First job of professor is to figure out where they are, and so where to meet them… In talking to Sailer, we say not “evolution is true” but “evolution is true, but recognize human generations are 20 years” UC Policy is: think who your students are & where they come from, & don’t be a dick. FoxNews wants me to be a dick. I decline. Jun 15, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion in the Republican heartland, “America is a land of opportunity” is often part of an argument ending: “it’s the Negroes fault!” If it is a melting pot, how come west-country Puritanism still 50% of its culture? As you know as well as I do, “land of opportunity” ≠ “land of opportunity for voluntary immigrants”. I mean "America has always been a land of opportunity for all" strikes me as not a micro but a macro aggression... Jun 15, 2015
  • .@jayrosen_nyu @pierre there’s a right crowd to say: “my trouble with girls… when you criticise them, they cry” to? Jun 14, 2015
  • .@HeerJeet @YAppelbaum Why doesn’t anyone at the New York Times appear to know Pickett’s Charge was a costly, futile, ill-advised disaster? .@froomkin most interesting question for me is why did the NYT reporters pick that quote, and what did they think they were doing? usually there is a wink-wink somewhere in the text. This is told absolutely straight…. yes, that is the question. As I.F. Stone used to say, the real news is this is being reported now in this way cc: @froomkin Jun 14, 2015
  • .@Noahpinion & how is it that these rare disasters have no effect on the likelihood that government bonds get repaid without inflation? low equity prices are low relative to government bonds. Catastrophes in which both go to zero or its neighborhood are irrelevant to the relative price. Catastrophes that hit stocks but not government bonds are unlikely to be large enough to do the job. Catastrophes help by amplifying the utility cost of risk and holding the standard deviation constant by concentrating probability mass in the lower tail. But they do not help that much unless they are really large--in which government bonds lose value too, and the only asset classes that hold value are bottled water, sewing needles, and ammunition... Jun 14, 2015
  • .@mattyglesias I need an explainer explaining to me why the Obama administration thinks the IP and DR pieces of TPP are good ideas… Jun 13, 2015
  • @scalzi now, now, I have direct personal knowledge that “Locked In” sold at least two copies… and it had a beginning, a middle, and an end Jun 12, 2015


07 Aug 06:02

Liveblogging the GOP Debate

by Rod Dreher

Whoa! Audacious Trump saying he won’t pledge not to run third party if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination. Good on Rand Paul for jumping in and landing a punch on Trump’s chin: “He buys and sells politicians of all stripes, he’s already hedging his bets on the Clintons.”

This might actually be a fun night.

UPDATE: What is the point of Ben Carson’s campaign? He’s not ready to be president, and is so sleepy.

Rubio is vigorous, aggressive. “If I’m the nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me on living paycheck to paycheck. I was raised paycheck to paycheck.”

Good question from Bret Baier about dynastic politics. “I’m my own man,” said Bush, then offered a bunch of facts and figures. I don’t think that he really dealt with what bothers people about the dynastic business.

Megan Kelly brought up ugly things Trump has said about women; Trump cut her off, saying, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” It was a very funny line, delivered with typical Trumpian bombast. He dismissed Kelly’s hard question as “political correctness.” This guy plays very well on TV, I’ll give him that. He’s going to blow up, but it’s going to be a fun ride until he does.

UPDATE.2: Good, crisp response from Chris Christie. Good questions, by the way, from the Fox panel. Megan Kelly hit Walker with a strong question about abortion, and he didn’t give an inch. Great rhetoric by Huckabee on abortion, but it was meaningless — as if we could overturn Supreme Court precedents legislatively.

Rand Paul comes off ornery as hell.

Megan Kelly poses a hard question to Kasich about expanding Medicaid, and how un-Republican that is. Kasich expected that, and had mostly a good answer, but got tripped up by citing statistics.

UPDATE.3: Trump is unstoppably bombastic on immigration. Doubling down on emotion and outrage, avoiding answering questions. I can report that the people with whom I’m watching the debate are loving Trump, and loving him hard.

UPDATE.4: Kasich: people who just want to tune Trump out are making a mistake. Kasich blew the question about how to handle immigration, though, by talking about all the things he did in Washington, none of which had anything to do with immigration

Rubio more coherent, but not much better in terms of offering a solution tonight. Things must be done, etc. I think I see why Trump is connecting on this. He is the most outraged, and his outrage comes in part from the fact that politicians keep coming up with the same “solutions,” but nothing happens. You don’t get the impression from any of these candidates tonight that they will do anything meaningful about it, except furrow their brows.

Except maybe Ted Cruz, who had the best line of them all: “It’s not a question of stupidity [of US politicians]. It’s that they don’t want to enforce the immigration laws.”

UPDATE.5: Hell of an exchange between Christie and Paul over intelligence gathering, though edifying to neither.

I don’t quite understand this point that Cruz and Jindal keep making, that we won’t destroy radical Islamic terrorists unless we have a president who will call them “radical Islamic terrorists.” Cruz says if you join ISIS, we will kill you. OK, fine — but how are we going to do it? More troops in the Middle East?

UPDATE.6: Barack Obama created ISIS by removing US troops from Iraq, said Jeb Bush. This is the lesson he learned from the Iraq War failure? I find it hard to believe a thing he says about foreign policy.

UPDATE.7: “There is no such thing as a politically correct war,” said Ben Carson. So opposing torture is “politically correct”?

Ben Carson supports torture. Disgusting.

UPDATE.8: So … Trump concedes that he exploited the pay-to-play political contribution system, and that’s why he can fix it? That’s a bizarre statement, but I think this is why he’s making headway as a populist: people have the idea that he’s so rich that nobody can buy him.

Trump is the #ManchurianBullworth "I gave and these assholes picked up the phone."

— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) August 7, 2015


OK, so who's your least favorite person on the stage thus far?

— Mollie (@MZHemingway) August 7, 2015

Well, aside from Trump? I’d say Ben Carson, who is sleepy and way out of his depth, though not obnoxious. And I’d say Rand Paul, who has been the candidate I’ve been most interested in, is a real disappointment tonight. He seems irascible and petulant in a way that’s not helping him. Chris Christie does too, but we expect that from him.

UPDATE.9: At this point in the debate, Rubio and Bush are the two most plausible presidents of this pack.


Has anyone noticed that debate champion @SenTedCruz might as well have been in the 5pm show for all the impact he's had in this debate?

— Jonathan S. Tobin (@TobinCommentary) August 7, 2015

UPDATE.11: Four Trump business bankruptcies. Why trust him to run the nation’s business? Trump has nothing but bluster and bloviation on this question. Chris Wallace pressed him on a particular case, which lost a fortune for investors, and cost 1,100 jobs. Trump used that as an example of his success, and besides, the people who loaned him money, they’re “killers.”

A priceless line: “This country owes $19 trillion, and it needs somebody like me to straighten out this mess.”

Trump is like the lead character in a Muppet movie directed by Oliver Stone.


rand paul doesn't like the iran deal? literally what niche is rand paul anymore?

— Catherine Addington (@caddington11) August 7, 2015

True, very true. Alas… . Reader Father Frank comments: “I enjoyed the Christie/Paul sparring match, but I believe Paul has a decent head on his shoulder, and would help himself greatly if he came across less bitchy.”

UPDATE.13: Hey Trump, when did you actually become a Republican? asks Megyn Kelly. “I’ve evolved on many issues over the years, and you know who else evolved over many years? Ronald Reagan evolved.” Good grief.

@MZHemingway It’s sort of creepy how the child had to become a superstar to make Donald Trump change his mind about abortion.

— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) August 7, 2015

UPDATE.14: That’s a good question from Kelly to Kasich: If one of your kids were gay, how would you explain to them your opposition to gay marriage? He whiffed on the philosophical side, but the rest of his answer was great, saying that it’s ridiculous to say that you hate people who disagree with you: “God gives me unconditional love, and I’m going to give it to my family, my friends, and the people around me,” Kasich said. Yes, this.

Disappointing answer from Rand Paul about religious liberty and gay rights. I think he’s got the right instincts, but that answer wasn’t worth much.

UPDATE.15: Total dodge by Rand Paul on why he changed his mind on defunding Israel.


We have arrived at the "No one will escalate international conflicts more rashly than I will" portion of the show.

— Will Wilkinson (@willwilkinson) August 7, 2015

Walker: I would unilaterally return us to the paranoia and civilization-endangering norms of the Cold War.

— Michael B Dougherty (@michaelbd) August 7, 2015

Nothing alienates me more from the Republican Party than hearing Republicans talk about war and foreign policy.

UPDATE.17: Poor Kasich. I think he’s probably a good man and a competent governor, but he was just dying on that God answer. I was hoping that he would break out tonight, but I think he’s going to remain dead in the water, in the polls. On his final answer, I don’t know why politicians think it helps them to recite their resumes. People want vision, not statistics.

Ben Carson is not going to be on the stage at the next debate. He’s just not up for this. I think he’s a good, even great, man, but he is not called to the presidency. Give the Carson slot to Fiorina in the next debate.

Rand Paul says, “I’m a different kind of Republican.” That’s true, but we didn’t see nearly enough of that tonight. I don’t think he helped himself this evening.

Chris Christie didn’t help himself either, but he probably didn’t hurt himself, as Kasich and Carson did.

Ted Cruz grates, but for people who like that kind of thing, he is very much the kind of thing they like. He’s going to do well.

Mike Huckabee — man, I miss the Huck of 2008. I like him a lot, but he’s a TV host. He’s not going anywhere. Cruz is going to get a lot of the votes that would have gone to Huckabee.

Scott Walker did nothing for himself tonight, but he didn’t hurt either. He needs to be bolder in the next debate.

Trump is Trump.

Marco Rubio struck me as the most presidential tonight — him, and Jeb Bush. Bush is the Romney of this field. He’s respectable, solid, a plausible nominee, but nobody actually loves him. Rubio, I think, has more fire in his belly. He had the best night.

The big winner overall tonight was Carly Fiorina, who suddenly seems interesting. After tonight, Huckabee, Kasich, and Carson fade. Christie, Paul, and Walker need to step up their game greatly. No one needs to do this more than Jeb Bush; if he were not a Bush, and wasn’t sitting on top of a massive pile of donor money, he would be an also-ran. He just seems so tired, so last-decade.

I was startled by Cruz. I cannot abide the man as a politician, but I think he’s going to go far. When Trump blows up, his people are going to default to Cruz, I think.

So, Rubio. He came across as serious, solid, and fresh.

By the way, Frank Luntz’s focus group started out with a big number of Trump supporters, but Trump’s performance tonight alienated almost all of them. Said he came off as bombastic, shallow, and mean, said these people. “All he did was point at himself and have nothing to say about anything,” said one man. See, I’ve thought this all along, and it’s nice to see others seeing it, at last.

“He showed himself for what he is: he’s a casino owner,” said a woman.

16 Jul 22:59

My reaction to the 2015 Emmy nominations

by Ken Levine
Well, the knock on the Emmys has always been it’s the same shows vying every year. Not so anymore. Today’s announcement of this year’s nominations make it very clear – we’ve entered a new era, where new delivery systems are recognized, where buzz beats out ratings, and where DVD screeners determine which shows and actors get selected.

Some random thoughts:

You can now be on any network, channel, website, or streaming service and get nominated… except the CW.

JANE THE VIRGIN, on the CW, received one nomination… for Best Narrator.

Lily Tomlin was nominated but not Jane Fonda. That should make for a fun set.

Expect THE DAILY SHOW to win everything. Expect people to say nice things about David Letterman but give Jon Stewart the hardware.

The best drama of the year was not even nominated – THE GOOD WIFE. Considering they have to make 22 a year when the other nominees get to make 13 in two years it’s just not fair.

There were nominated shows that I never heard of, have no idea what platform they’re on, and I have the screeners.

Good job NBC. You had KIMMY SCHMIDT but tossed it out. Much better to keep and air ONE BIG HAPPY.

As I’ve said before, I love TRANSPARENT but it’s not a comedy. That said, there are many worthy candidates for Best Comedy and I would not be upset if any one of them toppled MODERN FAMILY. MF is a great show, has deserved its accolades, but I’m sorry, it’s been on auto-pilot for the last few years.

What does it say when MODERN FAMILY and DOWNTON ABBEY get zero writing nominations?

I was a little surprised BLACKISH didn’t get a nom for Best Comedy. MOM as well. They too are penalized by being on the big delivery services that everyone can see. If BLACKISH were on BET-3 it probably would be in there. If JANE THE VIRGIN were on BET-3 it might have received a nomination.

Why was BROAD CITY ignored?

And why didn't EMPIRE receive more Emmy love? Taraji P. Henson, however, is my one lock this year. Even though Robin Wright deserves to win.

Okay, I have two locks – Jeffrey Tambor.

BIG BANG THEORY is done as far as Emmy is concerned. Even Jim Parsons wasn’t nominated.

I say this every year, THE MIDDLE deserves to be nominated, if not win.

In a very crowded drama category, why the hell is DOWNTON ABBEY still getting nominations?

Tatiana Maslany finally got a nomination… now that her show is no longer good.

As always, the TV Academy loves movie stars. Appear in anything other than a Michael Bay film and you get a nomination.

To be nominated for Best Limited Series you must have AMERICAN in your name. Not so for Best Drama where THE AMERICANS was passed over. (It did get a writing nomination, though.)

Ricky Gervais’ nominated for DEREK, but in the Mini-Series category?  Huh?

Multiple nominations for Alan Alda. So MASH wasn’t just a fluke.

Toughest acting category: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. All are great except for Lena Dunham. But this is Amy Schumer’s year. (UPDATE:  The list I saw was incorrect.  Lena Dunham was NOT nominated.  Her fifteen minutes are officially up.)

Gee, how come they announce the actor categories on the live stream and not the writer categories? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Christina Hendricks just nominated for MAD MEN was fired last week from a new Cameron Crowe upcoming series.

I didn’t see any of the Outstanding Television Movies. I have no idea what’s happening in that category. I binged-watched TRANSPARENT instead.

I love that Paul Giamatti was nominated for Best Guest Actor playing “Juror #10.” That 12 Angry Man sketch on INSIDE AMY SCHUMER was the funniest five minutes of the year.

Jon Hamm was also nominated for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy for a KIMMY SCHMIDT appearance. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if he won for that and never for MAD MEN?

And of course Tina Fey got nominated for Best Guest Actor. If she put herself up for Best Lighting Director she’d be nominated. Same with Jeff Daniels.

And ditto Bill Murray. He gets nominated for everything. When was the last time Bill Murray was actually great?

Jill Soloway is going to easily win the Best Writing in a Comedy Emmy. Her pilot script is sensational. The only thing it’s missing is laughs.

She’ll probably win for Best Directing too, but I have no beef with that.

And finally, Heidi Klum got nominated for an Emmy. Whew!

I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out and there are snubs I’ve overlooked, but I wanted to post this as soon as I could.

Congratulations to all the nominees. Most are well deserved. There’s a lot of celebrating today, along with a lot of people saying, “Fuck you, Academy!”

The Primetime Emmys’ are September 20th. I’ll be reviewing them in this space. Andy Samberg will host. You’d think that would be worth a nomination but apparently not.  So the Emmy host is saying, "Fuck you, Academy!"
22 May 04:37

Revisiting reputation: How past actions matter

by imp
If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality. The concept is embodied in a measure [...]
07 May 04:26

The Revolution in Rojava

by Robin Varghese


Meredith Tax in Dissent magazine image (Biji Kurdistan/Flickr):

While the Syrian opposition is understandably bitter that the YPG and YPJ withdrewmost of their energy from the war with Assad, leftists worldwide should be watching the remarkable efforts being made by Syrian Kurds and their allies to build a liberated area where they can develop their ideas about socialism, democracy, women, and ecology in practice.

They have been working on these ideas since 2003, when the PYD (Democratic Union Party) was founded by Syrian members of Turkey’s banned Kurdish party, the PKK. By January 2014, they had established a bottom-up system of government in each canton, with political decisions made by local councils and social service and legal questions administered by local civil society structures under the umbrella of TEV-DEM (Democratic Society Movement). TEV-DEM includes people from all the ethnic groups in the cantons, who are represented by more than one political party, but most of its ideological leadership comes from the PYD.

According to Janet Biehl, who was part of an academic delegation to the Cizîre canton in December 2014, the district commune is the building block of the whole structure. Each commune has 300 members and two elected co-presidents, one male, one female. Eighteen communes make up a district, and the co-presidents of all of them are on the district people’s council, which also has directly elected members. The district people’s councils decide on matters of administration and economics like garbage collection, heating-oil distribution, land ownership, and cooperative enterprises. While all the communes and councils are at least 40 percent women, the PYD—in its determination to revolutionize traditional gender relations—has also set up parallel autonomous women’s bodies at each level. These determine policy on matters of particular concern to women, like forced marriages, honor killings, polygamy, sexual violence, and discrimination. Since domestic violence is a continuing problem, they have also set up a system of shelters. If there is conflict on an issue concerning women, the women’s councils are able to overrule the mixed councils.

In short, the Rojava revolution is fulfilling the dreams of Arab Spring—and then some. If its ideas can be sustained and can prevail against ISIS, Kurdish nationalism, and the hostile states surrounding the cantons, Rojava will affect the possibilities available to the whole region. So why isn’t it getting more international support?

More here.

29 Apr 05:08

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson: American Politics: No Cost for Extremism

by J. Bradford DeLong

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson: American Politics: No Cost for Extremism: "This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. And click here for a free PDF of this 25th Anniversary Issue of the Prospect....

According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.” There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. The “proxy wars” of 2014 were mainly about tactics and packaging, not moderation.

Consider three of the 2014 Senate victors—all touted as evidence of the GOP’s rediscovered maturity, and all backed in contested primaries by the Establishment’s heavy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

  • Thom Tillis in North Carolina (a “purple” state at the presidential level) moved to the Senate from being Speaker of the House in North Carolina, where he had been a central player in the state’s sharp right turn. A strong ally of multi-millionaire Art Pope, an arch-conservative and member of the Koch brothers’ inner circle, Tillis sits on the national board of directors of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which in 2011 selected him as its “legislator of the year.”

  • Joni Ernst in Iowa (another purple state), touted for her just-plain-folks demeanor and service in Iraq, also has an impressive record of extremist policy positions. During the primary, she called for abolishing the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and indicated her support for a proposal that would allow Iowa officials to nullify the Affordable Care Act and arrest federal officials who tried to enforce it.

  • Tom Cotton, who got the Chamber’s backing in Arkansas, opposed the 2014 farm bill—because it didn’t cut food stamps enough. About the program’s beneficiaries, he said, “They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.” He voted to voucherize Medicare and raise the Social Security retirement age to 70, and even opposed a resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis, saying that to do otherwise would be “cataclysmic” and default would only create a “short-term market correction.”

Indeed, based on voting records, the current Republican majority in the Senate is far more conservative than the last Republican majority in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the incoming House majority is unquestionably the most conservative in modern history, continuing the virtually uninterrupted 40-year march of the House Republican caucus to the hard right.

The GOP’s great right migration is the biggest story in American politics of the past 40 years. And it’s not just limited to Congress: GOP presidents have gotten steadily more conservative, too; conservative Republicans increasingly dominate state politics; and the current Republican appointees on the Supreme Court are among the most conservative in the Court’s modern history. The growing extremism of Republicans is the main cause of increasing gridlock in Washington, the driving force behind the rise in scorched-earth tactics on Capitol Hill, an increasing contributor to partisan conflict and policy dysfunction at the state level, and the major cause of increasing public disgust with Washington—which, not coincidentally, feeds directly into the Republicans’ anti-government project.

It’s also deeply puzzling. Republicans are gaining more influence even though Americans seem less satisfied with the outcomes of increased Republican influence. Poll after poll shows that major GOP positions are not all that popular. Among swing voters, there has been nothing like the party’s right turn. Political scientists often suggest that the “median voter” runs the show, but on basic economic issues, people at the center of the ideological spectrum express views similar to those of the typical voter a generation ago. On many social issues, such as gay marriage, middle-of-the-road voters have actually moved left. Yet the Republican Party keeps heading right.

And yet, contrary to expectations that swing voters will punish them for their extremism at the polls, they just keep on going.

Nor is it tenable to argue that Republicans pay no electoral price because the Democrats have raced to the left as quickly as they’ve headed right. Figuring out exactly where parties stand isn’t easy. But widely respected measures of ideology based on congressional votes show Republicans moving much farther right than Democrats have moved left. (When you look at the positions that presidents take on congressional legislation, you also find that Democratic presidents have become more moderate even as Republican presidents have become more extreme.) While Democratic politicians have tacked left on some social issues—mostly where public opinion has, too—the party is arguably more moderate on many economic issues than it was a generation ago: friendlier to high finance, more venerating of markets, more cautious about taxes. It is the core of the Republican Party that has transformed. And yet, contrary to expectations that swing voters will punish them for their extremism at the polls, they just keep on going.

In a 50-50 nation, Republicans have learned how to have their extremist cake and eat it too. Figuring out how they’ve pulled off this feat is the key to understanding what has gone wrong with American politics—and how it might be fixed.

What Happened to the Median Voter?

That the Republican Party has grown more conservative is not exactly breaking news. Yet journalists routinely fail to point out just how significant the shift has been. When Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana was defeated by a Tea Party opponent in a GOP primary in 2012, commentators lamented the loss of “a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era,” as the Times put it. Yet, as the political scientist David Karol rightly countered, what moderate? When Lugar joined the Senate in 1977, he was on the conservative end of the party—to the right not only of middle-of-the-road Republicans, but even relatively conservative senators such as Robert Dole and Ted Stevens. By the time of Lugar’s defeat, he was indeed at the moderate end of the party, but this had very little to do with any movement on Lugar’s part. The depiction of him as a “moderate” is akin to that eerie sensation you get when a train passes you while your train isn’t moving—scientists call it “vection.” The long-timers aren’t really moving left; they’re being left behind as their party moves right.

You feel political vection a lot these days. Newt Gingrich went from the right fringe of the party to the center before he was ousted from the leadership. John Boehner, now the Establishment pleader-in-chief, was significantly to the right of Gingrich when he entered Congress. Today, pundits wonder whether the “moderate” Jeb Bush can attract enough GOP conservatives to win the presidential nomination. (He might—presidential nominations are the one place where centrist GOP voters have some sway.) But when he started out in electoral politics in the 1990s, as Alec MacGillis recently wrote in The New Yorker, he was clearly on the conservative side of the GOP and to the right of his brother George. Jeb was a self-described “head-banging conservative” who said he would “club this government into submission.” He has mellowed a little, but mostly it’s that his party has gotten more hyper.

Today, mainstream Republicans denounce positions on health care, climate legislation, and tax policy that were once mainstream within the party. Leading figures in the GOP embrace rhetorical themes—state nullification of federal laws, the wholesale elimination of cabinet departments, “makers” versus “takers”—that were only recently seen as beyond the pale. Under pressure to appear neutral and play up conflict, the news media like to focus on the divide at any moment between the GOP’s right fringe and its more moderate members. But look at American politics as a moving picture and you see an ongoing massive shift of the whole GOP (and, with it, the “center” of American politics) toward the anti-government fringe.

To understand the puzzle that this raises for political analysts, it helps to be familiar with the most famous concept in American electoral studies: the median voter. The idea comes from the economist Anthony Downs, who in the 1950s drew on research about where stores were located relative to the distribution of consumers. Downs’s simple insight was that politicians in a two-party system have strong incentives to position themselves in the middle, right next to their opponents. The prediction looked pretty good in the age of Dwight Eisenhower and congressional bipartisanship, and the “median voter theorem” was born.

The median voter theorem allowed for a reassuring conclusion: Politicians who win must be pursuing the preferences of the middle-of-the-road voter. In the “equilibrium” created by competitive elections, voter preferences and the aims of elected officials align. Thus politicians who persistently don’t do what the theorem predicts raise not one but two fundamental questions: Why do they head to the extremes? And how do they get away with it? In other words, you need both motive and opportunity to knock off the median voter.

The Proof Isn’t in the Pudding

The median voter theorem may seem ridiculous today. But, in fact, it lurks behind much of the commentary on elections in professional and popular publications. Implicit in the endless attempts to explain why swing voters side with Republicans is a simple assumption: Republicans are winning elections and so they must be doing what a majority of voters want. The proof of voter preferences is in the pudding of electoral results.

Consider the recent thoughtful commentary on the 2014 election by John B. Judis, the journalist who (along with Ruy Teixeira) gave Democrats the greatest hope that demographic and economic shifts heralded an “emerging Democratic majority.” In his new salvo, published in National Journal, Judis says the prospect of such a majority was an illusion. Republicans are not just pulling in the usual suspects: evangelicals, working-class whites, Tea Partiers. They’re also attracting the broader white middle class. These voters would “probably not vote for a Republican who was openly allied with the Religious Right,” says Judis. But they are “willing to support an antiabortion Republican” if that’s not the main selling point. Most important, while “not unbendingly opposed to government,” “they are worried about overspending and taxes” and hence willing to back the GOP.

Like most analysts, Judis starts with the unstated belief that if Republicans are winning, they must be reaching moderate voters with their policy stances. But that assumption is unwarranted. First, Judis passes quickly over an absolutely critical aspect of Republicans’ advantage—turnout. If everyone votes, the median voter is the typical American citizen. But not everyone votes, and turnout in midterm elections is particularly low (historically so in 2014). In the past, that did not matter as much as it does today. The midterm electorate has always been smaller, but it has not always been so disproportionately Republican. High-turnout voters, such as the aged, have increasingly sided with the GOP, while the young and minority voters in Teixeira and Judis’s “emerging Democratic majority” have the lowest turnout rates, especially in midterm years. This, in fact, is one explanation for Republicans’ big statehouse edge. Though not widely noted, governors are overwhelmingly elected in non-presidential-election years, when turnout is much lower, even across different groups. Only nine states hold gubernatorial elections alongside the presidential election.

And it’s not just turnout that drives a wedge between citizens’ preferences and election results. In the House, gerrymandering and the electorally inefficient distribution of Democratic voters (with high concentrations in urban areas) give the GOP a sizable structural advantage. In 2012, a high-turnout year, Mitt Romney received a majority of votes in 226 congressional districts versus Obama’s 209. In the Senate, the lean of low-population states toward the Republicans has a similar effect. The 54 Republicans in the Senate won their seats with fewer total votes across the last three elections than the 46 Democrats (who also represent a larger total population). This is another reason why the fortunes of the GOP are so different between congressional contests and the presidential race.

It’s also the beginning of an explanation for why individual Republicans have the motive and opportunity to move so far right. In many congressional districts and red states, GOP politicians need to worry first and foremost about primary challenges. For these Republicans, the district median voter is less important than the Republican median voter. What makes the GOP shift so remarkable, and so harmful to the workings of American democracy, is that it has proved so sustainable.

Still, this doesn’t explain why even extremely conservative Republicans don’t face challenges from moderates within the party (in contrast, Democrats are routinely challenged by other Democrats to their right). And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Republican Party faces no electoral risks from its members’ continuing rightward lurch. Parties are collective organizations that balance what’s good for their individual members with what’s good for the growth and survival of the whole. In theory, when individual Republicans adopt stances way to the right of the typical voter, the party brand is tarnished and candidates in contested races lose, especially at the presidential level. What makes the GOP shift so remarkable, and so harmful to the workings of American democracy, is that it has proved so sustainable.

To understand why, we must first figure out where the motive for heading right is coming from.

The Race to the Base

Conventional images of the two parties see them as symmetrical reflections of each other. But when it comes to the activist core of the parties, there is no comparison. The Republican base is larger, more intense, better organized, and fueled by distinctive partisan media outlets that make those on the other side look like pale imitations. Strong liberals are often motivated primarily by one issue—the environment, say, or abortion, or minority rights. Strong conservatives tend to describe themselves as part of a broad effort to protect a way of life. Even during the George W. Bush presidency, liberals wanted Democratic Party leaders to take moderate positions and expressed a strong desire for compromise. Conservatives consistently indicate they want Republicans to take more conservative positions and never, ever compromise with opponents.

Not surprisingly, self-described conservatives also show up when it counts. Whatever the form of participation—voting, working for candidates, contributing to campaigns—the GOP base does more of it than any other group. At the same time, the ideological distance between the party’s most active voters and the rest of the party’s electorate is greater on the GOP side than the Democratic side. Democratic activists are moderate as well as liberal (and occasionally even conservative). Republican activists are much more consistently conservative, even compared with other elements of the GOP electoral coalition.

Nonetheless, the imbalance in prevalence and intensity between self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives hasn’t changed much in 35 years—even as the role of the Republican base in American politics has changed dramatically. Something has happened that has given that base a greater weight and a greater focus on “Washington” as the central threat to American society.

Here, we need to turn our attention from the GOP’s most committed voters to the organized forces that have jet-propelled the GOP’s rightward trip. Even the most informed and active voters take their cues from organizations and elite figures they trust. (Indeed, there’s strong evidence that such voters are most likely to process information through an ideological lens.) The far right has built precisely the kind of organizations needed to turn diffuse and generalized support into focused activity on behalf of increasingly extreme candidates.

Those organized forces have two key elements: polarizing right-wing media and efforts by business and the very wealthy to backstop and bankroll GOP politics. Pundits like to point to surface similarities between partisan journalists on the left and right, but the differences in scale and organization are profound. The conservative side is massive; describing its counterpart on the left as modest would be an act of true generosity.

At the heart of the conservative outrage industry, of course, is Fox News. Fox’s role as an ideological platform is unparalleled in modern American history. Its leading hosts reach audiences that dwarf their competitors’. The network plays a dominant role for its audience that is unique. And Fox is also distinguished by extraordinarily tight connections to the Republican Party—linkages, again, that have no parallel among Democrats.

What’s most remarkable is that Fox is just the beginning. The other citadel of the conservative media empire is talk radio, and if cable news looks like a lopsided teeter-totter, talk radio is that teeter-totter with a 16-ton weight attached to the right-hand side. Conservative on-air minutes outnumber liberal ones by a ratio of at least 10 to 1, and all of the major nationally syndicated shows are conservative. Just the top three have a combined weekly audience of more than 30 million. Moreover, the number of talk radio stations has tripled in the last 15 years.

The impact of all this is difficult to calculate. After all, Republicans were moving right even before Fox came on the scene, and much of Fox’s audience consists of people who already have strong political views. Even so, a recent, innovative study by scholars at Emory and Stanford finds that Fox News exposure added 1.6 points to George W. Bush’s vote in the 2000 election—more than enough to cost Al Gore the presidency. And this excludes the impact of talk radio and Fox’s further expansion since 2000. Arguably, however, the bigger impact of conservative media is to increase and focus intensity within the Republican base, sending compelling messages that build audience trust while insulating that audience from contrary information.

Flanking conservative media is a vastly expanded political infrastructure advancing a right-wing economic agenda and rewarding politicians who maintain fealty to the cause. Some analysts have stressed divisions between Establishment and Tea Party wings. But while differing over tactics and a handful of issues, the two large networks dominating GOP finances—the Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove–led network, on the one hand, and the Koch brothers network, on the other—overlap and agree far more than they conflict. These networks have coordinated their efforts in recent general elections and now provide organizational and financial support on a scale that makes them virtual political parties in their own right. The Koch network alone has announced plans to raise nearly $1 billion for the 2016 elections.

In short, the Republican base generates an exceptionally strong gravitational pull, and that pull takes politicians much farther from the electoral center than do the comparatively weak forces on the left of the Democratic Party.

Republicans, then, have a strong motive to move right. And we have seen that they have greater opportunity to do so because of uneven turnout and favorable apportionment. Still, as Judis suggests, Republicans are winning over many centrist voters, including many who express positions on specific policy issues that are relatively moderate. How have Republicans managed to escape the iron law of the median voter theorem: move to the center or lose?

Part of the explanation is that electoral accountability is far from perfect. As the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels have documented, politicians are often punished for things they do not control, such as weather and momentary economic shifts. Misplaced accountability is a vital issue in electoral democracies. Where voters systematically make major mistakes, accountability vanishes. And without accountability, politicians don’t have to worry so much about being responsive to voters.

Call it the “shark attack” problem. In July 1916, a series of shark attacks on the Jersey shore left four people dead and prompted a media frenzy. (Sixty years later, the events would become the basis for the movie Jaws.) Four months afterward, Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election. On the Jersey shore, his vote was down three points.

Political scientists have found many examples of the shark attack problem:

  • Voters are often only dimly aware of the policy positions and legislative actions of politicians, and politicians can do many things to diminish what awareness they have. (UCLA’s Kathleen Bawn and her colleagues call this “the electoral blind spot.”)
  • Voters often have a hard time distinguishing more moderate candidates from more extreme ones. The mainstream media’s horse-race orientation and strong incentive to maintain an appearance of neutrality often make journalists unwilling to describe one party or candidate as more extreme than the other.
  • Voters make decisions on the basis of factors (such as the very recent performance of the economy) that are unrelated to the policy stances of politicians.
  • Voters may be increasingly willing to support the candidate perceived to be on “their” team rather than the one whose policy positions are closer to their own.
  • Given the intensity of the base, extremism may generate compensating support (in money, endorsements, or enthusiasm) that offsets any potential lost ground among moderates.

All these factors suggest that we shouldn’t assume—in the style of evolutionary biology—that Republicans are winning because they are a better fit with voters’ beliefs. But Judis is right about one thing: Voters are a lot more fed up with government. And here we come to another depressing fact about accountability in America’s distinctive political system: The anti-government party has a huge advantage.

Cracking the Code of American Politics

The shark story seems absurd, random, and of limited relevance. But imagine what would happen if political actors could actually make shark attacks happen. And imagine if they could also have those attacks attributed to their opponents. Sounds preposterous, right? But our political institutions make something like this possible.

In a parliamentary system, legislative majorities govern, and those majorities are accountable for the results. Voters know who is governing and how to reward and punish. Our political system instead combines increasingly well-organized, parliamentary-style parties with a division of governmental powers. That dispersal of authority simultaneously makes governing difficult and accountability murky. It also creates opportunities for a party that is willing to cripple the governing process to gain power. And over the past generation, a radicalizing GOP has done precisely that, making American politics ever more dysfunctional while largely avoiding accountability for its actions.

Indeed, the most distinctive and damaging feature of Republicans’ right turn is that they have steadily ramped up the scale, intensity, and sophistication of their attacks on government and the party most closely associated with it.

Indeed, the most distinctive and damaging feature of Republicans’ right turn is that they have steadily ramped up the scale, intensity, and sophistication of their attacks on government and the party most closely associated with it. The legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls these tactics “constitutional hardball.” From between-census redistricting to open attempts at Democratic vote suppression, from repeated budget shutdowns to hostage-taking over the debt ceiling, from the routine use of the filibuster to block legislation and nominations to open attempts to cripple executive bodies already authorized by law, the GOP has become, in the apt words of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, “an insurgent outlier in American politics”—a party willing to tear down governance to gain larger majorities in government.

Appropriately for a party increasingly geared not to governing but to making governance impossible, the two leaders of this transformation were not in the White House but in Congress: Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. Gingrich liked to describe himself as a “transformative figure”—and he was. His political genius was to sense that if voter anxieties and anger could be directed at government and the majority party that ostensibly ran it, power would come. Achieving this goal required simultaneously ratcheting up dysfunction and disgust while more sharply distinguishing the GOP as the anti-government party.

Gingrich and his allies adopted a posture of pure confrontation. The goal was to drag the Democrats into the mud, and if some mud got on the Republicans, well, they were the minority and, besides, they were not the party of Washington. In 1988, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich described a “civil war” with liberals that had to be fought “with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.” He meant it.

Fatefully, Gingrich also went to war with moderate Republicans. (His faction liked to joke that only two groups were against them: Democrats and Republicans.) He led a rebellion against the first Bush administration’s efforts to reach across the aisle, hobbling the president’s 1992 re-election campaign before it had even started. Once the elder Bush was out of the White House, it became even easier to pursue a strategy of uncompromising opposition and scandal-mongering. Obstruction and vituperation became a twofer. With a Democratic president, the Republican assault not only weakened an opponent but promoted the sentiment that politics and governance were distasteful. Association with “Washington” became increasingly toxic, and the Democrats were the party of Washington.

The second phase of Republicans’ anti-Washington strategy was engineered primarily by Mitch McConnell. Personally devoid of mass appeal, McConnell nonetheless has a rare understanding of the American voter. Early on in his leadership, he recognized that American political institutions create a unique challenge for voters. The complexity and opacity of the process—in which each policy initiative faces a grueling journey through multiple institutions that can easily turn into a death march—make it difficult to know how to attribute responsibility. Even reasonably attentive voters face a bewildering task of sorting out blame and credit.

McConnell fully embraced this opportunity after 2008. He organized the GOP caucus in a parliamentary fashion and worked to prevent individual party members from accepting compromise: “If [Obama] was for it,” “moderate” Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”

Without Republican willingness to “play,” the imprimatur of bipartisanship was unavailable. Republicans could make the Democrats’ policy initiatives look partisan to voters and produce a pattern of gridlock and dysfunction that soured voters on government—and the party of government. American institutions, McConnell knew, gave Republicans a lot of capacity to impede governance without a lot of accountability. On occasions, Republicans have overplayed their hand, as they did with the government shutdowns of 1995, the impeachment of Clinton in 1998, and the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011. But the GOP has escaped blame for the general decline of effective government. What voters get is a sense that the system is a mess and Washington can do little about pressing problems. If voters place blame anywhere, it is as likely as not to fall on the pro- rather than the anti-government party, and on the president, who is viewed as the country’s leader even if he has no capacity to pass laws or effectively promote bipartisanship when the GOP refuses to reciprocate.

Thus Judis is right to note that many moderately inclined Americans are now open to an anti-government message, fueled by their completely understandable distaste for contemporary Washington. This is not, however, because these voters have become more conservative. It reflects the GOP’s success in simultaneously activating and exploiting voter disgust. The deeper message of 2014 is that a radical GOP first drove government into the ditch, generating historically low approval ratings for Congress, and then reaped the benefits.

In short, Republicans have found a serious flaw in the code of American democracy. What they have learned is that our distinctive political system—abetted by often-feckless news media—gives an extreme anti-government party with a willingness to cripple governance an enormous edge. Republicans have increasingly united two potent forms of anti-statism: ideological and tactical. And they have found that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Disrupting the Doomsday Machine

By now, reform-minded commentators have offered every manner of political fix for our present political dysfunction. Some are silly—getting members of Congress to hang out after hours isn’t going to bring back a relatively moderate GOP. Others are sensible. Reducing the role of the filibuster would increase accountability, reduce gridlock, and make government more effective. Many reforms that would increase turnout (especially in midterm years) would also reduce the rewards of extremism. But these reforms are unlikely to be enacted as long as Republicans are in a position to stop them.

These are Herculean challenges, but not insurmountable ones. The key is to start heading in the right direction now.

That’s why we believe that the vicious cycle of dysfunction, distrust, and extremism will require a long-term effort directed not just at formal rules but also at informal features of American politics. Republicans benefit from the decline of norms of moderation and fair play and from a deep public cynicism about government. To reverse the vicious cycle, Republicans have to be called out when they go too far, and voters need to be dissuaded from their anti-government skepticism and animus. These are Herculean challenges, but not insurmountable ones. The key is to start heading in the right direction now.

Despite the evidence of increasing Republican extremism, elite discourse—in journalism, academia, and foundations—resists the notion that Republicans are primarily responsible for polarization and deadlock. To argue that one party is more to blame than another for political dysfunction is seen as evidence of bias, not to mention bad manners. Foundations will fund nonpartisan vote drives; they will not fund efforts to shame right-wing Republicans for crippling governance. Academics worry about seeming biased when the truly biased perspective is the one that treats the parties as equally extreme. And while Fox News takes an avowedly partisan line, most of the media world retreats into self-defeating denials of the truth that stares them in the face.

Consider what happened in 2013 when Mann and Ornstein, who had probably been the most quoted observers of Congress during the previous two decades, issued their well-documented critique, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. The book emphasized the responsibility of the GOP for government dysfunction. After it came out, the authors were not quoted in the press or invited to the public affairs shows on which they had regularly appeared. As Mann explained, “I can no longer be a source in a news story in The Wall Street Journal or the Times or the Post because people now think I’ve made the case for the Democrats and therefore I’ll have to be balanced with a Republican.”

Balance is one thing when you are talking about ideological differences; it is dangerous when you are talking about basic facts of American political life. In too many crucial venues, the mainstream media’s desire to maintain the appearance of neutrality trumps the real need for truth-telling. The inevitable complexity of the governing process further increases the temptation to offer narratives that do not help more casual observers of our politics to determine accountability. This isn’t just bad journalism; it’s a green light for extremism.

Nowhere is this more true than with regard to the extreme anti-government tactics that have become such a central part of the GOP strategic repertoire. American political leaders in the past refrained from playing constitutional hardball not because it was legally impossible but because it was normatively suspect. Those norms were costly to breach; violators were subject to both public and private censure. Today, however, the price of hardball is effectively zero. For Republicans, indeed, it is often less than zero because the GOP gains so much from political dysfunction. Raising the price of these tactics requires opinion leaders to call out violations again. Journalists should treat partisan realities in the same way they should treat scientific disputes—by attending to the evidence.

Equally important, those who recognize the dangerous implications of extremism are going to have to make a concerted case for effective governance. Currently, Democrats are caught in a spiral of silence. No one defends government and government looks increasingly indefensible. Public life and government are seen as hopelessly gridlocked and corrupt, so they become more hopelessly gridlocked and corrupt. Even politicians who know that government has a vital role to play in making our society stronger have little incentive to make what is now an unpopular and unfamiliar case. Consider the almost complete silence of Democrats about the Affordable Care Act—a law that despite its limitations has unquestionably delivered considerable benefits to the majority of Americans. A 2014 study found that spending on anti—Obamacare ads since 2010 outpaced money spent for ads defending the law 15 to 1. No wonder public opinion remains doubtful even as actual results of the law look more positive.

As difficult as it surely will be, there is no substitute for restoring some measure of public and elite respect for government’s enormous role in making society richer, healthier, fairer, better educated, and safer. To do that requires encouraging public officials to refine and express that case, and rewarding them when they do so. And it requires designing policies not to hide the role of government, but to make it both visible and popular. A tax cut that almost nobody sees, and which those who do see fail to recognize as public largesse, will make some Americans richer. It will not make them more trusting of government.

We are under no illusion about how easily or quickly our lopsided politics can be righted. But put yourself in the shoes of an early 1970s conservative and ask how likely the great right migration seemed then, when Richard Nixon was proposing a guaranteed income and national health insurance and backing environmental regulations and the largest expansion of Social Security in its history. Reversals of powerfully rooted trends that threaten our democracy take time, effort, and persistence. Yet above all they require a clear recognition of what has gone wrong.

06 Apr 17:28

How to stop worrying and love the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

by Raj M. Desai and James Raymond Vreeland
China's President Xi Jinping meets with the guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his guests at the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2014. (Takaki Yajima/AFP)

China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in October of 2014 and has met with nothing but opposition from the United States. Officially, the objection cited by the United States is a lack of clarity about AIIB’s governance, as well as concerns about whether the AIIB will adhere to strict environmental and labor standards in its operations. It is clear, however, that U.S. opposition also derives from fears that the AIIB — spearheaded by China and part of China’s “New Silk Road” strategy — will diminish U.S. leadership in the region.

But if the AIIB jeopardizes U.S. leadership in Asia, it will be a result of the manner in which American authorities have responded to the organization. Through its intransigence, the United States continues to push Asian countries — including certain key allies — away. By refusing to participate in this new institution, the United States gives up a vital role in shaping the Asian regional development agenda. And by goading other bilateral and multilateral donors to resist the AIIB, the U.S. government may end up cutting American investors off from the potential benefits of private investment in Asian infrastructure.

Despite its efforts, the United States has been unable to keep its allies from joining the AIIB. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia applied for membership. Last week, the United Kingdom announced that it would join as a founding member — a move that received a rare, public rebuke from the White House. Now a trio of European powers — France, Germany and Italy — have also applied for membership.

Ironically, the founding of the AIIB is partly a result of the United States’ unwillingness to reform the Bretton Woods institutions. Since 2010, the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify an agreement on governance reform that would have doubled resources available to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by increasing capital contributions from emerging market countries, which would proportionately expand their voting power on the IMF Executive Board — where current quotas treat France as though it were more economically dominant than China, and Belgium more dominant than Brazil.

Nevertheless, the United States has used its blocking vote at the IMF to keep countries such as China, India and Brazil underrepresented. Late last year, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned that governments would be forced to look for “alternative options” by which development financing could be provided. Not surprisingly, the New Development Bank — the so-called “BRICS Bank” — was launched by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to fund development projects in member countries outside of the traditional multilateral channels. As we have pointed out, the BRICS bank will be managed by governments with little in common beyond their dissatisfaction with the Bretton-Woods institutions.

The AIIB is yet another creation whose aim is to challenge the hegemony of institutions dominated by the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Unlike the BRICS Bank, whose main shareholders may face coordination problems due to the equal distribution of voting shares, the AIIB faces no such difficulty since China will provide the largest share of resources. It also, of course, has a far more focused mission than the BRICS Bank.

In fact, the developmental logic behind the AIIB is paramount. Asia faces a massive infrastructure gap. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that Asia will need $8 trillion over the next decade for energy, transportation, telecommunication and water/sanitation. Private investment in infrastructure, according to the ADB, hovers at $13 billion a year, the majority of which is concentrated in low-risk projects. Official development assistance adds another $11 billion a year in financing. If true, this means that the shortfall exceeds $700 billion a year. The United States, as a result, places itself in opposition to regional investments that can expand trade, support financial market development and macroeconomic stability, and improve environmental, health and social conditions.

Were the current group of international financial institutions capable of plugging the gap, it is unlikely that the AIIB would gather worldwide support. But existing institutions cannot hope to fill this hole. The ADB and the World Bank have a combined capital base of less than $400 billion, which must support a wide variety of lending programs beyond infrastructure. Moreover, there is little chance that bilateral donors — including the biggest bilateral donor, the U.S. government — will increase its funding for foreign aid in the current political climate. The AIIB has an initial capital base of $50 billion, with authorized capital up to $100 billion. According to one estimate, using similar loans-to-equity ratios of the World Bank and ADB, the AIIB could commit some $30 billion in loans devoted exclusively to infrastructure (the World Bank’s own infrastructure financing was $24 billion in 2014).

In effect, the United States is informing fast-growing Asian nations:  We are not going to increase official funding for your important needs anytime soon; we are also going to prevent the institutions we control from increasing their funding for those needs; and lastly, we are going to admonish others from devising other ways of funding you. No wonder that Asian governments have jumped on the AIIB bandwagon. Australia, Indonesia and South Korea were conspicuously absent from inauguration ceremonies last year when they shared U.S. concerns. But now they have all warmed to the idea of joining the AIIB (Indonesia became a founding member, while Australia and South Korea have applied for membership). Moreover, ADB and World Bank officials have extended a cautious welcome to the new China-led bank, saying they see room for collaboration. But the clearest signal of the AIIB’s appeal has come from officials in Taipei, who have announced that Taiwan, too, will join the organization as Taipei, China. If Japan also joins — as is now expected — it will leave the United States isolated among major donor nations.

Not only does the United States endanger its own regional influence through its refusal to participate, it also threatens private American investment. Unlike most types of private investment, infrastructure projects tend to have extremely high up-front costs and longer maturities. This leaves infrastructure investors much more vulnerable to sovereign risk, regulatory instability, shifting political winds, and the threat of expropriation. For this reason, multilateral development banks play a critical role in attracting private infrastructure investment to developing countries through “additionality,” that is, by contributing their own funding, bringing financing partners into specific deals (through syndications or co-financing), and by using risk guarantees and other tools. Importantly, multilateral development banks cannot offer support to investors from non-member countries. Should the AIIB develop its own system of risk insurance and partial guarantees, they will not be available to American investors.

Asia, the United States — and for that matter, the whole world — would be better off if the United States were to participate in the AIIB. What better way to encourage the Chinese to implement a transparent regime that adopts global best practices in financing infrastructure than to be a voting member? If anything, China’s move towards multilateralism should be welcomed. Rather than rebuke others for joining, the U.S. should consider doing the same.

Raj M. Desai is associate professor of international development at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings InstitutionJames Vreeland is associate professor of international development at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

04 Feb 05:12

Wing Commander III: The Ethics of Genocide

by Mark Lee


I know what you’re thinking: “Here goes Lee again about that space combat simulator from the 90’s that he was obsessed with as a kid and is playing again as an adult. I’ve never played any Wing Commander and I never will. Skipping this article.”

WAIT. Keep reading. What if I were to tell you that one of the entries in the series was less a video game and more a movie starring Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and Tom Wilson…with a climax that involves the genocidal destruction of an alien race’s homeworld?

This is Wing Commander III, and this act of genocide is something that I’ve wanted to have a serious adult conversation about for a long time. So even if you know nothing about Wing Commander, strap into the cockpit and come along with me for this ride. I’ve been through a long war. We have a lot to talk about.

“In the distant future, mankind is locked in a deadly war…”



A quick synopsis of Wing Commander I-III: the human-led Terran Confederation is at war with the Kilrathi, cat-like aliens with an insatiable lust for conquest. The two parties wage interstellar combat with starships and starfighters. By the third installment, the Kilrathi are winning the war, and the desperate Terrans comes up with not one, but two technological methods for destroying an entire planet, namely, the Kilrathi homeworld. The first–a Death Star-esque beam weapon–is destroyed by the Kilrathi, but the second–a “temblor bomb” that exploits the tectonic weakness of the planet Kilrah–succeeds, thanks to you, the hotshot fighter pilot who drops the bomb and wins the day. The emperor dies along with much of the fleet, which was assembling near the planet, and of course, everyone who was living on Kilrah.

If it sounds incredibly simplistic, it’s…because it’s incredibly simplistic. The whole thing is exceedingly pulpy and leans heavily on unsophisticated storytelling devices: dastardly, evil aliens; heroic, war-worn humans; an existential fight for survival; a “head vampire” solution to a very complicated problem; and of course, the lack of any ethical hand-wringing over the way the war ended. But for video games of its time–and for teenage boys of the mid-90’s–the plot was immensely engaging and emotionally appealing. People ate this up. The games sold millions of copies. Wing Commander 3 was a big deal.

Tora! Tora! Kilrah!

But describing Wing Commander as unsophisticated sci-fi makes it too easy to write off as…unsophisticated sci-fi that’s not worthy of analysis. So let’s use a more relatable, and consequential metaphor to describe the story: World War II; specifically, the Pacific theater of that war. The Americans are the Terrans: mostly white humans who are victims of aggression from an expansionist, imperialist alien race: the Japanese/Kilrathi. Both sides deploy carriers, fighters, and other ships to wage war across great expanses of ocean/interstellar space.


And of course, both wars come to a dramatic end with the use of weapons of mass destruction. Americans deploy atomic bombs to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrender soon thereafter. The Terrans deploy the temblor bomb to destroy Kilrah, and the Kilrathi surrender soon thereafter.


The analogy starts to break down when you get to the circumstances surrounding the end of these wars. By the time the Americans dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, they had largely beaten back the Japanese; the question was not if the Americans would ultimately prevail over the Japanese, but when and how. By contrast, the Terrans are portrayed as badly losing the war and without options for staving off defeat other than destroying Kilrah.

These different circumstances go a long way towards explaining the lack of ethical handwringing over the destruction of Kilrah. Behind Door A was mass murder of Kilrathi. Behind Door B was enslavement of humanity at best; extermination at worst. Obviously, you choose Door A, right?

Well, let’s not open that door quite yet.

Make Space Love, Not Space War

What reasons could we offer for not pursuing the destruction of Kilrah as the path to victory?

First, we could challenge the assumption that the Terrans could not have succesfully defended against the imminent Kilrathi invasion. In the game, we’re never presented with any objective, unassailable information about the tactical situation that would back up this assumption. We are, however, presented with several instances where high officials are misleading rank-and-file soldiers, including the protagonist. There’s nothing that outright suggests that anyone is lying about the desperate nature of the situation, but there’s also nothing that outright closes out this line of questioning.

Second, we could challenge the assumption that destroying Kilrah would have brought a swift end to the war. The Terran’s theory was that destroying the home world and killing the Emperor would lead to a collapse of the rigidly hierarchical Kilrathi social order. What if this turned out to be wrong? Granted, it turned out to be correct, but prior to the event, such a massive societal collapse across an intergalactic navy could have been only predicted, not guaranteed.

Third, we could argue that victory achieved with the destruction of Kilrah would come at a heavy price. The Terrans had developed not one, but two different technologies for destroying planets, and shown themselves willing to actually use it. With the genie out of the bottle, there would be little to stop another alien race, or another human faction, from developing this technology to counter the Terran threat, potentially leading to a costly arms race and the constant threat that these weapons would actually be used. There’s also the huge price to be paid for lost moral standing. If Terrans blow up a planet to win a war, killing billions of innocent lives in the process, are they no better than the barbarous Kilrathi?


Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

Of course, these objections to temblor-bombing Kilrah don’t stack up well to the threat of imminent enslavement/extermination of humanity. The way the story is told in the game, it’s hard to fault humanity for taking the course of action that they did. Survival is a species’ most powerful, basic instinct, after all.

Which brings us to a dark, brutal justification for this act of genocide. This war was not merely a war; it was a struggle to the death between two hostile species. Perhaps a better analogy for Wing Commander than the Pacific theater of World War II is the Pacific Ocean itself, teeming with predators and their animal instincts to kill or be killed.

This calls to mind the “state of nature” as posited by Thomas Hobbes: with no laws or sense of mutual obligation, humans fight each other like animals. They’re only concerned with their own interests, and will kill to protect them. “The war of all against all.” Bellum omnium contra omnes. Such as it was in the war against the Terrans and Kilrathi. With no social contract or sense of mutual obligation to each other, the two species existed in a state of nature, each exercising its survival instinct, like animals in the wild. War of all against all. Kill or be killed.

It’s also worth noting that one of the characters in this game was named Hobbes, and that, after appearing to defect to the Terran side, he ultimately sides with the Kilrathi to defend the existence of his own species. Coincidence? Probably, but a good excuse to make this graphic of a Kilrathi Leviathan:


This wasn’t supposed to be the lesson of Wing Commander III: that humans can–and should–descend to animal levels of barbarism to defend their species. The game was going for something loftier: heroism in the face of impossible odds, good triumphing over evil. And don’t get me wrong: the game succeeds at this, in spades. I often tell the anecdote that I was so affected by this game–and the Kilrathi war–that I cried during the peace treaty signing scene at the end. I’d done it. I’d defeated the enemy and saved the human race. I was the hero. Fifteen years later, upon completing the game for a second time, I still felt a great sense of accomplishment, but I felt less like a hero and more like a survivor.

If you want to see for yourself why Lee is so obsessed with Wing Commander, you can download the games from Get a decent joystick as well; this is the one that Lee flies with.

Wing Commander III: The Ethics of Genocide originally appeared on Overthinking It, the site subjecting the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn't deserve. [Latest Posts | Podcast (iTunes Link)]

19 Aug 15:06

The Security of al Qaeda Encryption Software

by schneier

The web intelligence firm Recorded Future has posted two stories about how al Qaeda is using new encryption software in response to the Snowden disclosures. NPR picked up the story a week later.

Former NSA Chief Council Stewart Baker uses this as evidence that Snowden has harmed America. Glenn Greenwald calls this "CIA talking points" and shows that al Qaeda was using encryption well before Snowden. Both quote me heavily, Baker casting me as somehow disingenuous on this topic.

Baker is conflating my stating of two cryptography truisms. The first is that cryptography is hard, and you're much better off using well-tested public algorithms than trying to roll your own. The second is that cryptographic implementation is hard, and you're much better off using well-tested open-source encryption software than you are trying to roll your own. Admittedly, they're very similar, and sometimes I'm not as precise as I should be when talking to reporters.

This is what I wrote in May:

I think this will help US intelligence efforts. Cryptography is hard, and the odds that a home-brew encryption product is better than a well-studied open-source tool is slight. Last fall, Matt Blaze said to me that he thought that the Snowden documents will usher in a new dark age of cryptography, as people abandon good algorithms and software for snake oil of their own devising. My guess is that this an example of that.

Note the phrase "good algorithms and software." My intention was to invoke both truisms in the same sentence. That paragraph is true if al Qaeda is rolling their own encryption algorithms, as Recorded Future reported in May. And it remains true if al Qaeda is using algorithms like my own Twofish and rolling their own software, as Recorded Future reported earlier this month. Everything we know about how the NSA breaks cryptography is that they attack the implementations far more successfully than the algorithms.

My guess is that in this case they don't even bother with the encryption software; they just attack the users' computers. There's nothing that screams "hack me" more than using specially designed al Qaeda encryption software. There's probably a QUANTUMINSERT attack and FOXACID exploit already set on automatic fire.

I don't want to get into an argument about whether al Qaeda is altering its security in response to the Snowden documents. Its members would be idiots if they did not, but it's also clear that they were designing their own cryptographic software long before Snowden. My guess is that the smart ones are using public tools like OTR and PGP and the paranoid dumb ones are using their own stuff, and that the split was the same both pre- and post-Snowden.

14 Aug 18:21

This One Guy Approves 30,000 Beer Labels A Year, And Brewers Hate Him

by John Brownlee

Meet Kent "Battle" Martin, the eccentric bureaucrat beer-label designers love to hate.

This year alone, 29,500 individually designed beer labels have been submitted for approval to the Trade Department's Tax and Trade Bureau. And every single one of those label designs was approved or denied by a single man: Kent "Battle" Martin, a man who is the bane of the beer industry for his power to reject labels for the flimsiest of reasons.

Read Full Story

13 Aug 21:36

historicallyaccuratesteve: marthajefferson: twostriptechnicolor...

by carrionnation




Swing dancing, 1939.

99% certain this is footage from the 1939 World’s Fair at Corona Park in Queens, NY (note the national flags in the background of the bottom two gifs and the artwork and statues on the building in the upper right gif).

07 Aug 03:07

You Are Now Less Dumb now out in paperback!

by David McRaney

fbbookHere are just a few of the hundreds of new ideas you’ll stuff in your head while reading You Are Now Less Dumb:

*You’ll finally understand why people wait in line to walk into unlocked rooms and how that reveals a universal behavior that slows progress and social change.

*You’ll discover the connection between salads, football, and consciousness.

*You’ll learn why people who die and come back tend to return with similar stories, and you’ll see how the explanation can help you avoid arguments on the internet.

* You’ll see why Bill Clinton, Gerard Butler, and Robert DeNiro all believe in the same magical amulet because they are all equally ignorant in one very silly way that you can easily avoid.

* You’ll learn about a scientist’s bizarre experiment that tested what would happen if multiple messiahs lived together for several years and how you can use what he learned to debunk your own delusions.

*You’ll learn why the same person’s accent can be irritating in some situations and charming in others and you can use that knowledge to make better hiring choices and improve education.


Amazon – IB –  B&N – BAM Powell’siTunes – Audible – Google



Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.51.41 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.51.41 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.51.41 PM


Before I explain where the idea came from, I’d like to endorse the people who did the hardest work. If you need a video, please contact Plus3. They made the trailers above, and they are great to work with. You can visit their website at

It’s true. People educated and not so educated believed that geese grew on trees for at least 700 years.

A certain type of barnacle often found floating on driftwood was thought to be a goose egg case because it kind of, sort of, looked like a goose that lived in the same area. According to the naturalist Sir Ray Lankester, nature texts going back to the 1100s described trees with odd fruits from which geese would hatch, and there is evidence to suggest the belief goes back 2,000 years earlier.

Images from goose transformations from Diversions of a Naturalist by Sir Ray Lankester

Images from goose transformations from Diversions of a Naturalist by Sir Ray Lankester

There was a particular breed of goose that lived along the marshes in Britain, and this goose migrated to breed and lay its eggs. The geese seemed to sometimes suddenly appear in large numbers in the same places where, while the geese were missing for long stretches, the barnacles tended to wash ashore. Wise, learned monks explained to the people of the day that the barnacles were the geese in their early stages of development. Lankester wrote that the belief was further solidified by those same monks who also claimed you could eat a barnacle goose during Lent because, well, it wasn’t a bird. Apparently the belief was well-established and quite popular because in 1215 Pope Innocent III announced that, although everyone knew they grew on trees, the eating of barnacle geese was still strictly prohibited by the church, effectively closing the loophole created by those wily monks.

“They do not breed and lay eggs like other birds; nor do they ever hatch any eggs nor build nests anywhere. Hence clergymen in some parts of Ireland do not scruple to dine off these birds at the time of fasting, because they arre not flesh nor born of flesh!” – Gerald of Wales, medieval historian, writing as royal clerk to Henry II in Topographia Hibernica

The idea wasn’t difficult to accept to minds of that era because spontaneous generation was already an accepted truth yet to be torn apart by scientists using scientific methods. People still believed that rotting meat gave birth to flies all by itself and that piles of dirty rags could transform into mice and that most everything else came from slime or mud. A tree that sprouted bird buds seemed reasonable, especially if after 500 years you had never once caught two of the adults mating.

Sometime in the 1600s the myth began to fade because explorers in Greenland discovered the birds’ nesting sites. The second blow came when people finally started poking around inside the weird buds. Lankester writes in his 1915 book, Diversions of a Naturalist, “The belief in the story seems to have died out at the beginning of the seventeenth century when the structure of the barnacle lying within its shell was examined without prejudice, and it was seen to have only the most remote resemblance to a bird.”

You don’t believe in goose trees today not because it’s a silly idea, but because scientists discovered evidence to the contrary and then passed that information around. The lesson here is that silly ideas don’t just go away because they are silly. You need a system to test them.

Science can be difficult to define without explaining a lot of explanations of explanations, but physicist Sean Carroll recently wrote on his blog that science can pretty much be boiled down to three principles (the following is a direct quote):

  1. “Think of every possible way the world could be. Label each way an ‘hypothesis.'”
  2. “Look at how the world actually is. Call what you see ‘data’ (or ‘evidence’).”
  3. “Where possible, choose the hypothesis that provides the best fit to the data.”

Think about how you might apply those same principles in your own life – shopping, eating bagels, discussing politics, choosing a career, and so on.

Remember, without an agreed-upon system for making sense of reality and a network of observers questioning each other’s data and methods, goose trees remained common knowledge for hundreds of years. Imagine what weird, untested things might be floating around in your aquarium of beliefs.

I write about this in You Are Now Less Dumb because you should understand that your natural way of understanding the world is no better than the people who used to believe geese grew on trees. Just like them, you’re pretty terrible at being skeptical. Just like them, you prefer to confirm your beliefs instead of disconfirming them. It’s just the way brains work. You are less dumb because you were born after science became an institution. People have done science for long enough to falsify a lot of old myths.

The scientific method is a tool human beings use to prevent themselves from doing what comes naturally. Without it, you prefer to explain what you observe in reverse: you start with a conclusion and use motivated reasoning to defend an assumption formed through the lens of confirmation bias while committing the post hoc fallacy as you argue for your an explanation couched in narrative supported by hindsight bias and a mixed bag of other self delusions.

Science forces you to see your conclusions as what they usually are – hypotheses. It then makes a zillion other hypotheses and starts smashing them all to pieces with data. Eventually, the hypotheses that survive are more likely than the ones that perish. It’s a method you should borrow. Try it sometime, and after you’ve subjected your own hypotheses to abuse notice how that forces you to draw new conclusions about this strange, beautiful, complicated experience of being a person.

Diversions of a Naturalist by Sir Ray Lankester

Diversions of a Naturalist by Sir Ray Lankester


  • Carroll, S. (2013) What is Science? –
  • Heron-Allen, E. (1928). Barnacles in Nature and in Myth 1928.
  • White, B. (1945, July). Whale-Hunting, the Barnacle Goose, and the Date of the “Ancrene Riwle.” The Modern Language Review Vl. 40, No. 3