Democracy’s Boaty McBoatface problem

boatyIn individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Like many disasters, it began with a great promotional idea. Britain’s leading environmental science institute was about to commission a new polar research vessel. To highlight their achievement and increase public engagement they decided to let the public name the ship in an online contest.

Public response was both predictable and disappointing. A BBC radio presenter heard of the promotion and weighed in publicly with a fun suggestion: Boaty McBoatface. His idea took off and won by a huge margin. Coming in a distant second was the name of a cancer-striken toddler who had become the momentary darling of British tabloids. Other notable entries included: It’s Bloody Cold Here and Boatimus Prime. Near the bottom finished a few more relevant nominations, heroic British scientists and explorers relatively unknown to the TV-watching public.

The soul-sucking killjoys who run the Natural Environment Research Council made the controversial decision to disregard the overwhelming will of The People. Britain’s most advanced polar research platform will be christened the RRS David Attenborough. That name earned a tiny fraction of the contest votes.

There isn’t always an adult in the room. In groups, we often do stupid things, things we later regret. While giving a research vessel a stupid name would have been demeaning to the men and women who served onboard, no one would have gotten hurt. The FTSE 100 would have remained untouched. No bond downgrades would be announced.

Sometimes we’re not so lucky.

As democratic ideals take hold globally, becoming the de facto standard for political legitimacy, democratic processes are beginning to show troubling weaknesses. Disasters loom in the dark alleys of majority rule. From Trump to Brexit to the convulsions of the Arab Spring, democracy is experiencing some growing pains.

We’re being reminded that effective, representative government requires more than just letting people vote on stuff. Nothing mystical happens inside a voting machine to transform half-informed opinions into policy gold. Solid, effective democracy does not magically emerge from elections. Institutions and process that support democracy must adapt to fresh demands. Voting will not solve all of our problems.

Since human beings began living in social groups larger than clans or tribes we have faced a consistent challenge. How do we build decision-making structures for these large groups which are smart enough to make competent decisions, but also retain their members’ agency?

For the first time in human development, we seem to have arrived at a global consensus on the best solution to this problem – representative democracy. We may have found the best way for human societies to organize themselves, but we’re still struggling to work out the details. Like Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Democracy can be summarized as government by majority-rule. Structures may vary, from direct to representative, but a democracy is organized on the principle that public policy disagreements are resolved by an appeal to the will of a majority. Legitimate governments are built on the expressed will of their citizens.

Democracies suffer from two frustrating weaknesses. The first is justice. Majorities might thwart the greed or violence of a few, but who will stand in the way of an angry electoral mob? Majorities can as easily be assembled toward lynching as problem-solving.

The other problem is expertise. We make fairly good decisions for ourselves when we understand the subject matter and we have a personal stake in the outcome. We make consistently terrible decisions when we have little understanding of their implications and the decision involves consequences which are distant in time and dispersed in impact. Without direct personal concern for an outcome or an appreciation of consequences, novelty, entertainment, bigotry, and outright graft heavily influence electoral outcomes. Described another way, we make our best decisions in our personal lives and our worst decisions in politics.

Democracy places equal weight on the opinions of a seasoned climate science expert and that Hibyyjobby lady from the Trump rally. It is impossible to assemble a majority of geniuses. Democracies struggle to arrive at smart solutions to complex, expert problems.

Our Founders recognized democracy’s Boaty McBoatface problem and worked hard to limit it. They were suspicious of democracy, instead choosing to construct a republic, which has evolved into a form of “representative democracy.” Public will in our system is expressed through the election of representatives. Actions of those representatives are checked by laws and shared power among other layers of representatives. Those laws (most of them) are subject to amendment, but altering the most critical and precious of those laws requires nearly impossible levels of public unanimity.

In order to make expert decisions possible in a fundamentally representative system, we sometimes insulate public decision makers from direct public scrutiny. We delegate power to bureaucrats. Some of our most effective public institutions, like the Federal Reserve and the NSA, are also our most politically independent. Holding a public vote on every change in the Fed’s discount rate, or on every drone strike, would be a nightmare bordering on farce. For our government to be capable of performing certain expert tasks, it must enjoy a some discretion.

If the Fed chairman was appointed by the likes of Louis Gohmert, hilarity would ensure, followed shortly thereafter by its twin – tragedy. On the other hand, remove these institutions from all accountability and even the best ones would sour. If the Fed chairman could not be summoned to face his mental inferiors in Congress, we would all eventually suffer. Balance is key. Achieving that balance depends on our willingness to create and sustain intelligent, accountable processes.

Public will is now our de facto standard for legitimate authority on a global basis. That is an enormous human achievement that deserves to be considered The End of History. Yet, we do not have smooth sailing ahead. Each great challenge we overcome opens the door to its evolutionary successor. Winning just means graduating up to better and better problems.

Our challenge now is to stabilize this representative system, to build systems of administration that can continue to channel public opinion into sound public policy while public participation expands. In the course of that effort, sometimes we get David Attenborough. Sometimes we get Boaty McBoatface. Sometimes we get a Kennedy. Sometimes we get a Trump. How do we ensure more of the first and less of the latter?

Developing a more nuanced understanding of the meaning and extent of so-called “democracy” might help. More democracy does not necessarily produce better government, just like more people in a room shouting does not mean more people have been heard. Each step in the direction of greater representation must be accompanied by adjustments in our expectations.

If we’re going to insist on wider democracy, perhaps we should temper our ambitions for government. A simple equation might be helpful. As a system grows more delicately sensitive to public will, its capacity to perform complex, expert tasks declines. At the other end, if a system comes uncoupled from public opinion, it becomes similarly incapable of meeting public needs. Again, balance is key.

The ballot box is not a miraculous decision-making machine, a political Magic Eight Ball. More democracy is not the solution to every public policy problem. Boaty McBoatface is not a story about silly voters. The failure in this story happened in a boardroom among a group of experts. No one with a rudimentary understanding of social media should have imagined that a public process conducted in that manner, on that subject matter, would yield a credible outcome. Process matters.

This was not a failure of the masses, but a failure of elites. Planners placed too much weight on a poorly constructed process. Voting works better as a decision-making mechanism if someone is paying careful attention to what we’re voting on and how.

Making democracy work as we broaden representation requires awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the voting process. Donald Trump and Brexit are elite failures, outcomes of processes constructed by delusional “experts” out of touch with conditions on the ground.

Voting works well when we use it to express big picture values, or to select representatives who will work within an established process. It breaks when when ask it to perform feats of public policy magic. A brief, vomit-stained ride on the RRS Boaty McBoatface may be just what we need. Once our stomachs settle we may be a bit less lazy in our approach to voting and democracy.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Political Theory, Politics of Crazy, Uncategorized
200 comments on “Democracy’s Boaty McBoatface problem
  1. Bobo Amerigo says:

    My thinking about democracy is conflicted — as might be expected from someone who twice ‘managed’ a non-profit organization run by volunteer artists. 😐

    The PBS series on the Greeks tells the story of the invention of democracy in Athens.

    Democracy seemed to serve Athenians reasonably well for a significant period of time Under the administration of a skilled politician named Pericles. An animation sequence depicted Pericles as a surfer on a series of waves, an interesting visual, as he had military, cultural and political victories to his credit. Given his personal skills and accomplishments, I wonder if some might correctly call him a strong man politician.

    An advantage citizens had then was exile. They could exile anyone for a set period of time, by vote. (I think we’d love to have that option in our style democracy …)

    Councils didn’t vote, they proposed. Citizens, male citizens, voted on the proposals.

    Citizens became members of the councils much the same way we choose juries; their number came up and they had to serve. (universal service)

    Although Pericles was wealthy and well-educated, he proposed salaries for council members who worked for a living. (basic income)

    Events that upset the Athenian democracy?

    –A storm that washed soldiers off returning ships before they could get to shore prompted citizens to demand military leaders be punished (Bengazi).

    –A plague blamed on imported food. (immigration)

    —Hubris. Their city was so clearly superior it would always excel. (exceptionalism)

    Pericles abandoned his marriage to form a relationship with a woman called Aspasia, who was treated as an equal by Pericles and his friends.

    Before he died, Pericles said Athenians should not neglect their citizenly duties and they should expand their minds through art and literature. (Hear! Hear! Liberal arts!)

    My sense of our situation today and Athen’s then is that
    -strong man politicians can be very attractive when their is chaos
    -everybody has to do their part for any form of democracy to succeed
    -in the absence of participation by councils and leaders, altruistic citizens will play their democratic role for awhile, they then get pissed and anything can happen

    tl;wboinr (won’t be offended if not read)

  2. Pseudoperson Randomian says:

    “Yeah, but they are being raised White”

    This explains Trump far more than any whinging about anti-semitism. It’s culture, more specifically, rural conservative white american culture. It’s resistant to change, and it’s losing ground, rapidly. And this is what Charles Murray’s “Do you live in a bubble?” quiz was all about.

    Perfect example is Asians. This is the reason why Asians, who tick all the boxes about a strong work ethic, are far more likely to say “hard work is the path to success”, have stronger family bonds, have lower crime rates, have higher educational standards, are more hurt by affirmative action than whites, and higher incomes aren’t voting GOP – even though, on paper, they do all the things that the GOP pretends to care about – and statistically better than white people too, in many cases. They’re simply not white enough, culturally, and the GOP’s gone and terrified people.

    Take a look at this

    Click to access Asian-Americans-new-full-report-04-2013.pdf

    And explain why these people don’t lean GOP already (on average, not individual).

    Everything comes down to this – start with that and work outwards, and Trump and a large proportion of the GOP base makes perfect sense when you look at it that way. It’s all a matter of varying degrees. The white male thing (including issues with how the left treats it), the anti-semitism thing, the anti-black thing. Everything.

    I have plenty more to say about this, but I’ve been trying to stay off the internet. Probably will come back in a few months from a new country. Real life commitments and all that. Perhaps I’ll retire this pseudonym and assume a new persona next time…

    @tutta: the robotic nature of discussions with screen names without faces behind them was kind of the point – but the internet lets everyone have exactly the kind of conversation they want, and I am happy about that.

    • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

      Oops, this was supposed to be a reply to @Houston-Stay-At-Homer

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi Pseudo

        The GOP says (loudly) that is is for those things – but it sure as hell does NOT act that way!

        Anybody who” values outcomes more than rhetoric” would NOT vote GOP

    • tuttabellamia says:

      Pseudo, I hope we didn’t ruin things for you by releasing so much information about ourselves. Is that why you’re leaving the internet, because you can no longer be totally unbiased? Have the magic been lost?

      • tuttabellamia says:

        HAS the magic been lost?

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Robots don’t make typos.

      • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

        What? No. I see that my last post might have given that impression, but that’s not it. I have real life commitments. The posts I make and the related reading I have to do take up far too much of my time. It’s not good when you’re up till the morning carefully typing out persuasive arguments for your position, to the left, right and the libertarians. Well, it’s fun, and it’s challenging and it’s stimulating, but it takes up too much of my time all the same.

        I’ll be busy for a few months, and then I’ll be in a new country again. If I have some free time, and a reliable internet connection, I’ll be back – just under a new name, and probably some tweaks to my writing style.

        The pseudonym thing is just what I do. It keeps discussions very fresh – and I like that.

    • johngalt says:

      I get it now – PR is on the run from the law and that’s why he doesn’t want to reveal too much. Maybe he’s Jason Bourne. Or the Bandit. 🙂

  3. Well, at least I now know whose name will appear on my write-in presidential ballot: Boaty McBoatface! 😉

    • tuttabellamia says:

      The scary thing is that he might win. Remember, voting has consequences.

      • flypusher says:

        I’d take Boaty McBoatface over Trump. McBoatface has yet to say anything ignorant, which puts it way ahead. Also is probably more trustworthy with the nuke codes.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        One thing Trump and Boaty have in common is that they’re adored by the masses and surrounded by controversy.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Sorry, that’s TWO things in common, not one. Forgot how to count.

    • 1mime says:

      Ha! I’m surprised that the fiscal conservative in you won’t go with the “Boaty mcboat-farce”!

    • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

      I, for one, would be very happy if Boaty McBoatface became president of the ENTIRE WORLD.

  4. Rob Ambrose says:

    Obama and Hill on their first joint rally now on CNN.

    Man, what an effective 1-2 punch. Hillary is talking specifics and Obama is at his best. Trump has no way to compare to this.

    My gut is that’s why he’s so outrageous all the time, and whybhe can’t “pivot” and become presidential. Because outrage is all he has and if we’re not talking about that, his deficiencies are even more obvious.

    • 1mime says:

      It has already been predicted: Congress “will” call for an investigation into the investigation of Hillarygate. Well, one thing’s for damn sure – they sure do have a lot of practice at investigations. “Hillary Clinton is above the law…..there is a double standard for the Clintons…” Even good old LA David Vitter (you recall, he had a little diaper problem in D.C.) piled on….guess as long as you’re flogging HRC, anyone is acceptable judge and jury.

      Let me be clear. What Clinton did was sloppy and extremely careless, but it has been investigated thoroughly and nothing criminal found. I hardly expect that to slow the righteous indignation of Republicans who fully expected a different outcome.

      • Shiro17 says:

        See, this is what makes me think that Bill planned his “accidental” meeting with Lynch. It was a complete taunt to the Republicans to open up yet another investigation into something to do with Hillary, and they fell for it. Now, they’re going to go after the FBI and the Department of Justice, agencies which are typically so scrupulous and apolitical, they’re bound to find nothing.

      • 1mime says:

        No, I don’t think Bill’s meeting with Lynch was a set up – it was a very awkward meet and greet given the timing of everything that was happening. I’m certain if they could have a “do-over” it would never happen.

        Wanted to share this very well researched and comprehensive look at James Comey to offer some context for “who” he really is. I think you’ll be impressed. I had forgotten some of his history, but the John Ashcroft hospital bed last stand was an impressive act of courage.

    • 1mime says:

      Pres. Obama in his first Clinton ad: “”When I consider what I’ve learned over the last seven and a half years, this job ultimately is not about making fancy speeches. It’s not ultimately about public appearances. It’s about when nobody’s watching and you’re alone or in a small group of people and you’re making really tough decisions, do you have somebody who’s steady? Do you have somebody who has done their homework? It’s got to be somebody who recognizes that we all have a part to play. ”

      Well said, Mr. Pres, well said. The job is about so much more than the SC, but then everything about the job is important…

      Read more:
      Follow us: @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook

  5. 1mime says:

    Speaking of “boats”, maybe we could start a campaign to name the charade being perpetrated by Congress onto the Navy, by forcing (yes, forcing) the Navy to purchase a ship it doesn’t want. US Boaty -mcboat”farce” anyone? Oh, and it costs $475 million…..a trifle to a Congress that is struggling to find funds to battle Zika… Priorities, my dears. Pardon me while I barf.

  6. I watched part of Comey’s speech! What the hell were the Clinton’s thinking? If Hillary was running against any of the more decent Republicans, like a Kasich, she would be toast! Not that i would vote for a Republican! But people would. Even now, I can see people who would have voted for Hillary, if they read what Comey said, might just not vote period!

    “There is evidence that they were extremely careless” with highly sensitive information, Comey said of Clinton and her aides.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      With all respect, the question isn’t whether Clinton had access to or sent sensitive information; that was always going to be the case. She was SOS at the time. The real question is whether national security was compromised because of what she did, and the answer to that by the FBI comes across as a resounding no.

      That Clinton was even able to do that is a showing of just how lacking standards and protocols are in Washington. If anything good at all is to come out of this, then fix that.

      Really though, let’s be real here. Is anyone going to be seriously talking about this in a few days other than political pundits and those who are obsessed with the Clintons? No.

    • 1mime says:

      Here’s a take by Nate Silver, of 538 fame. (This statement released pre-FBI report release.)

      ““My gut is that there is going to be a fairly significant third- and fourth-party vote, and people under-voting the top of the ballot,” Silver said — and that’s why Clinton is leading recent polls with a modest 43 percent of the vote to Trump’s godawful 37 percent.
      The unusually large number of undecideds and third-party voters this year threatens to throw off his model, Silver allowed: “That’s a big thing that we’re looking at.”

      Read more:

    • goplifer says:

      After years of investigation and endless threads of conspiracy hype we come to this final conclusion, which is the same as the initial conclusion that was obvious to anyone at a glance:

      **Hillary Clinton presided over the misconfiguration of an email server**

      I know, it’s a an inexcusable horror.

      And the damage that resulted from this monumental error in leadership and integrity:


      Well, unless you count the millions of dollars and endless hours wasted by political opportunists combing through her emails looking for something incriminating.

      If this is not the stupidest supposed “outrage” in our modern political history, it has to rank in the top five. Just reading the summary of this investigation will cost you brain cells.

      And you know what this “scandal” tells us about Hillary Clinton – she may be the only major political figure of our time who knows enough about the world to get into trouble misconfiguring an email server. Most of the rest of those drooling idiots on Capital Hill are still trying to find all the “tubes.”

      This reminds me a little bit of the birther thing, just for the way it distracted and crippled the people who pursued it during a time when they could have been building a real political campaign.

      • flypusher says:

        I’d love to see the end if this and get on to some actual substance, but no way the conspiracy crowd let’s this one go. They’ve invested so much time and $ and hope into it. But I’ve not heard much outrage from this crowd about Colin Powell’s e-mail account choices. Or David Petraeus actually giving classified info to an unauthorized person (his mistress). More political jitterbug. I decline to dance it.

      • Shiro17 says:

        If this tells us anything, it’s that if Hilllary wins, but the Republicans keep Congress, it will be an endless onslaught of investigations and impeachment hearings. Normally, I’m all for a divided government to prevent things from going out of control one way or the other, but I’m not sure if that mindset is the correct way to approach things anymore.

    • vikinghou says:

      For me, the upcoming Presidential election can be distilled into one question. Who do you want to nominate future Supreme Court justices? We may be saddled with Clinton or Trump, warts and all, for up to 8 years, but we will have to live with their SCOTUS appointees for decades. It’s time to play the long game in 2016.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Viking, I hear the same thing from the Right, that Trump is terrible, but that at least he will nominate the “right” justices, IF he can be trusted to do as he says, which is the main complaint I hear from the right, that he’s too unpredictable.

      • johngalt says:

        That’s not the only issue, viking. I don’t know what the crises (or, more likely crises) will be, but someone in the White House will have to answer a phone at 3am, evaluate options, and make the best possible decision for U.S. national security. Which one do you think is best placed to do that?

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Viking, while I agree that the SC is a huge issue, Tutt is correct here.

        If the SC is the “one question” then we are looking at a near 50-50 toss up election between right-leaning and left-leaning voters.

        If that is the criterion, moderate Republicans have to vote for Trump in order to prevent the court from going seriously out of whack to the liberal side.

        Sheila Jackson Lee is an embarrassment to everyone with a vowel or consonant in their names, but she’s a reliable Democrat who would nominate left-leaning judges. Were she running against someone like John Huntsman, I just don’t think I could vote for SJL simply to try to preserve the SC.

        When talking about the SC being the key differentiator, it would be an election between Hillary and someone like John Huntsman. You could argue that they might both be generally decent presidents, and Huntsman would have less political baggage, but i might still vote Hillary because I think Huntsman is more likely to nominate two or three John Roberts rather than two or three Ginsburgs.

      • JeffAtWolfcreek says:

        So what will the issues be that the new court is ruling on? Abortion? Gay Marriage? Gun Control? What decisions from the court are going to loom so large on the American Way of Life that we should elect the next president in the hope of getting a judge who maybe will rule the way we might feel about something in ten years.

      • 1mime says:

        How about a repeal or great modification of Citizens United? Genetics issues? Voting Rights? Climate change/control? Immigration? To name a few…..

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I look forward to rulings about freedom of expression and privacy in the age of the internet.

      • JeffAtWolfcreek says:

        How do those admittedly important issues, which would take years to work through the court, trump the issue of whose finger is on the nuclear codes? I do not see the logic of voting for Trump because of SC nominations. President has other duties that are, arguably, more important. Voting for unfit president in the hope of getting court to rule your way is irresponsible.

      • 1mime says:

        I agree, and that was precisely John Gault’s point. Balance, steadiness, patience, boldness, energy, empathy, intelligence, independence, political skill, good judgement……all are required, but not all presidents have all of these qualities. The great ones do.

      • vikinghou says:

        You all raise great points. My concern is that the judicial branch of government today has an outsize influence on American affairs. The executive and legislative branches today are so dysfunctional that the Court has filled the vacuum and become more powerful than it should be.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I guess it comes down to short term versus long term results. Are you willing to accept a short term negative for a long term positive outcome? It would depend on how risky and probable the short term negative is and how probable the long term positive is.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Would I be willing to risk nuclear holocaust in exchange for a guarantee that my freedom of expression and privacy will remain intact during my lifetime?

      • vikinghou says:

        Tutt, I guess those are questions each of us must answer for ourselves. Such is the nature of politics.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Viking, you brought up an excellent point about Supreme Court appointments being so important. Our rights ARE important and must be protected, even if we are looking at the issue many years from now. And you never know who on the Court might die or resign from one moment to the next.

  7. 1mime says:

    For all who are interested, FBI Director Comey is on tv delivering their report.

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      Obama’s bipartisan nature pays off big time. Without a Republican FBI director, it would have been almost impossible for Hillary to come out of this relatively cleanly, given the Ill advised meeting between Bill and Lynch.

      If Trump wants to start accusing the FBI of being involved in this huge cover up and conspiracy, that’s his perogative, but he does so at hisnown peril.

      Independents and moderates won’t go for it, and it’ll just cost him allies in Washington.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      With all due respect to those who were genuinely concerned about this as an issue, can we please stop talking about the stupid e-mails now? Please?

      • 1mime says:

        We “can” but the rest of America “will”. Hillary may have dodged a bullet but this is not going to help her going forward.

      • Ryan Ashfyre says:

        I assure you that with Donald Trump on the other side, this is not going to be nearly as much of an issue as some, like Andrea Mitchell (who, despite all her candor and credibility, obviously does not like Hillary Clinton) would otherwise portray it.

  8. 1mime says:

    Before 2016 Fourth of July fades from view, consider this post by The Weekly Sift which asks: Are we overdoing the founding fathers? Are you getting tired of those who harp on: WWFFD? (hint – read the article if you don’t know the acronym’s meaning)

  9. 1mime says:

    OT, but to keep us all in the loop where gun issues reside, here are two articles that speak to (1) frustration (medical and research community, and (2) fear of losing control of the issue (Republicans). Either way, it demonstrates exactly what many of us have been saying and waiting for – the public is waking up and speaking up on this issue and want responsible change. Either participate or become an obstructionist. Let the dialogue begin and let it be positive.

    • tuttabellamia says:

      I am pro second amendment rights but I am also pro first amendment rights (freedom of expression) so I think that dialog and research should be allowed and encouraged.

  10. 1mime says:

    The coolest thing ever! Juno enters Jupiter’s orbit within 1 second of planned entry.

    • It was amazing. My friends at NASA are all really psyched.

      • 1mime says:

        NASA, the little engine that can! And every year, they have to fight for funding….amazing – one of the best things we do in America. To be within 1 second is just incredible. The team must be thrilled. Hope we get lots of information, but the years long effort just to enter the orbit is such an accomplishment. I’m so proud of our space engineers.

    • flypusher says:

      There’s something that Americans can be proud about!

  11. tuttabellamia says:

    Another thought about online anonymity — if you know nothing about the person with whom you’re having a discussion — gender, age group, general geography — it’s like talking to a robot.

    • Sir Magpie De Crow says:

      I have a small admission. This sh*t is really staring to get to me. Does anyone else have trouble comprehending how Trump’s black, Jewish, evangelical and female surrogates can sleep at night after their interviews to the media in which they have to defend the indefensible?

      Because I can’t. Call it a failure of imagination.

      • Sir Magpie De Crow says:

        I imagine there are some Jewish people watching how this Trump surrogate talks, that they are probably feeling the same way African-Americans feel when they see someone like Allen West or Alan Keyes or Ben Carson (circa 2015-2016) talk politics… A wave of disgust that defies all verbal description.

      • 1mime says:

        Honestly, I feel the same way about Paul Ryan, John McCain, and McConnell. Party before country. If this was never patently clear before, it is now.

      • 1mime says:

        I call it shallow. But, then look at our fine Sen. McCain…who is endorsing him and he not only has “cause” not to but knows better. You’re trying to figure out irrational decision making rationally, and it just won’t work. Some things are inexplicable in their obtuseness.

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        In fairness to Trump (at least the 10th time I’ve typed that phrase this year), he didn’t have anything to do with the tweet (other than hiring idiots – which we’ll get to later).

        If shown the tweet, I believe he very likely wouldn’t recognize the Star of David in there.

        Trump’s social media director released a statement today saying that the graphic used in the tweet was not from an anti-Semitic site but was pulled from an anti-Hillary twitter user with hundreds of graphics and that it was a “sheriff’s badge”.

        Sadly, that twitter user appears to be a flaming anti-Semite with a twitter name that is slang for skinheads with other tweets that include swastikas as such.

        Maybe Trump’s social media director is simply an idiot who did not recognize a Star of David and who is too lazy to do any research into the sources of images and tweets.

        Alternatively, Trump’s social media director is anti-Semitic, actively follows skinheads on twitter, and gleefully posts the tweet without recognizing that it could play badly for Trump, in which case he is an idiot and an anti-Semite.

        Either way, he’s an idiot and remarkably not good at his job.

        One a weekend when your opponent spent Saturday brunch being interviewed by the FBI, it might be a decent idea for your crack social media team to do nothing that draws away from the attention given to the FBI interview.

        If anything, send out tweets like:

        We heard the FBI director is thinking of changing Bureau’s name
        Federal Bureau of I-Don’t-Believe-Hillary

        We heard the FBI director is thinking of changing Bureau’s name
        Federal Bureau of I-Can’t-Believe-We-Have-to-Investigate-The-Clintons-Again

        4th of July Weekend
        Trump – Saturday breakfast with my family, proud of USA
        Hillary – hoping I don’t go to jail for breaking USA laws

      • 1mime says:

        Homer, we’re going to have to take up a collection (anonymously) for a a T-shirt for you:

        “In fairness to Trump” … on the front,

        On the rear…..(You get to make that one up yourself with your nimble wit!)

      • Sir Magpie De Crow says:

        Hey, boys and girls!
        Welcome to Sir Magpie De Crow’s Kids Show!!!

        It’s that time of the week for everyone’s favorite question… Do you know this White supremacist Trump Supporter?!

        Matthew Heinbach, the most important White Supremacist of 2016.

        “Heimbach, 25, has either personally worked with or has connections to almost a dozen white supremacist organizations. Dubbed “The Little Führer” by the SPLC and the “next David Duke” by the Washington Post, he describes himself as “self-radicalized”. He’s the sort of man who quotes infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Goebbels on Twitter, and he’s been banned from the U.K. and excommunicated from the Orthodox Christian Church for his inflammatory rhetoric. He’s gained media attention for violently shoving a protester at a Donald Trump rally and attacking a participant with a cross at an anti-rape “Slut Walk.” Now, he’s focusing on the development of a political party to build support for the rising white nationalist movement.”

        Join us next week when Dr. David Duke and a random Breitbart blogger stop by to show us creative ways of using 2X4’s (before setting them on fire) and how to make awesome ghost costumes.

        Our final act will be Paul Ryan aka “The Wisconsin Contortionist” who will marvel us with his ability to twist himself into positions that will defy belief!

        Fun, fun, fun.
        Thanks for watching!

      • 1mime says:

        Clever! I’d rather the “make believe” version though…….

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        Homer, you’re probably right, I really doubt Trump both personally sentbthat meme AND knew what the star meant.

        But the issue isn’t so much that. For me, at least. If he had just said “whoa, we hadn’t realized where the meme came from and hadn’t noticed the obviously anti Semitic tone to it. We apologize for posting it” it wouldn’t have had any legs.

        The story is Trumps refusal to clearly renounce obvious white supremacist leanings, even if they were unintentional at the time, as well as his total inabikity to take even the slightest bit of responsibility for his actions and apologize.

        Any person who thinks ANY apology is a sign of weakness (even when clearly wrong) doesn’t have the temperament to be President.

      • flypusher says:

        “In fairness to Trump (at least the 10th time I’ve typed that phrase this year), he didn’t have anything to do with the tweet (other than hiring idiots – which we’ll get to later).”

        Here’s the gigantic fly in that ointment. Trump has zero, zip, nada experience in holding public office. He is also useless about many current events to a degree that is horrifying. But we are being assured that it’s no big deal, because he can surround himself with “the best people”. This is your screaming air raid siren warning us no, NO, NO!

        To channel Santayana- don’t forget the last time we had a candidate who lacked intellectual rigor and had big gaps in relevant experience. We were assuring that he had good judgment and would have the best advisors, and we got W and the Iran invasion and the clusterfuck that keeps going and going (death count in the latest Bagdad bombing creeping towards 200).

        So call me an elitist, but HELL NO to people who are racist or that ignorant. Neither one is acceptable.

      • flypusher says:

        “Useless” should be “clueless” (thanks autocorrect), but that word also fits.

      • objv says:

        In fairness to Trump … Ivanka’s husband is Jewish, and so he has grandkids who are half Jewish. Tying him to Anti-Semitism is a bit of a stretch.

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        obj…I do agree with you here…I don’t actually think Trump is anti-Semitic.

        However, I would not be shocked if he would pretty readily agree that, “Jews are great at banking…the best. I love the Jews”, and you can almost hear him saying, “You know, Asians are really great at math”.

        However, your argument of “he has friends/family that are ______, so he can’t be ______” is generally not the greatest argument.

        It is certainly possible to have friends and or relatives belonging to any number of groups while still holding very bigoted and idiotic views about the larger group, because the friends/relatives are “one of the good ones”.

        My parents were racist as all get out, and when I pointed out that my sister’s adopted children were Hispanic and maybe not all Hispanics were whatever rant she was going on, she said words that are still with me now 30 years later, “Yeah, but they are being raised White”. I believe that was the first of only a handful of times I used a curse word (“I don’t even know what the hell that means”) when talking to my parents.

      • 1mime says:

        The problem with Trump is that he lives by hyperbole, where at any moment, he can “go off” on any person, ethnicity, group, etc. His lack of personal discipline is appalling. And, it is this lack of consistent, balanced judgement that is fundamental for any POTUS that he lacks. Imagine how a loose cannon like Trump “could/would” handle sensitive matters of state. He simply is deficient in so many areas that we are becoming accustomed to his outbursts and irresponsible behavior and fail to hold him to a standard that we should expect of our presidents.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Hey, in any case, Trump’s grandkids are only half Jewish, and the wrong half, to boot! (Just kidding).

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Mime, I think a lot of what is happening is due to the change in forms of communication. FDR used the radio as a medium for his fireside chats, JFK won in part because he was better suited for TV than Nixon, and now we have the age of internet and social media, with all its craziness. I think Mr. Obama was our first true internet president, and he has come out to make statements about things that would normally be local matters, but the pressure of social media demands it, and Mr. Obama has handled it well. Perhaps Mr. Trump plus social media make for an explosive combination.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Social media is good for bringing attention to important matters, but it also turns things into circus and spectacle.

      • objv says:

        Homer, I’m interested in your take on nature (genetics) vs. nurture since we’ve got on the subject of prejudice against Jews and the way kids are raised.

        I would also be terribly insulted if “raised white” was used toward my kids if I was in the same situation. However, Jewish people do regularly test above average on intelligence tests and they have contributed disproportionately to scientific advancements.

        “While only about 2% of the U.S. population is of full Ashkenazi Jewish descent,[2] 27% of United States Nobel prize winners in the 20th century,[2][3] 25% of Fields Medal winners,[4] 25% of ACM Turing Award winners,[2] 9 out of the 19 world chess champions, and a quarter of Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners have either full or partial Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry”

        Clearly, there is some factor or factors in play.

        My 23andMe results showed that I had a tiny bit of Ashkenazi ancestry. I was happy with the finding even though the amount is too small to have had any meaningful boost to my intelligence. (As you’ve probably guessed. 🙂 )

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi objv

        This is the old Nature V Nurture problem

        And it is forever obscured by one of last centuries scientific frauds

        Everybody knows that intelligence is mostly hereditary – (Nature) –

        The reason that is well known was a large twins experiment – twin children raised by different parents –
        The results of that experiment (that Nature is much more important than Nurture) have sunk into our collective unconsciousness

        But that experiment was a total FRAUD – the numbers were simply made up! – and when people looked at the results with a reasonable degree of skepticism the bloody numbers didn’t even make sense arithmetically

        So the fact that people of a particular descent are overrepresented in science may be genetic but it may simply be cultural
        And the Jewish culture does have just a tiny amount more respect for learning than the overall US culture

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I’d like to do one of those ancestry things. My mom was Mexican but her maiden name is of Mediterranean origin, and a lot of people on her side of the family look Jewish.

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Obj…we’ve ventured into nature versus nurture a few times here.

        There are countless twin studies that show a huge influence on genetics and an equal number of studies showing the influence of environment. The obvious answer is that it is both.

        For a few decades, I leaned more strongly to the nurture side of the argument but having kids has opened my eyes to how very little control or influence I have on many aspects of my kids’ personalities and skills.

        Three boys (two fraternal twins) raised by the same parents in moderately similar environments, and the personalities and skills are wildly different. One is a bit more thoughtful and a tinkerer, one is louder and more musical, and one is generally affable, more physically coordinated, and has been slower to hit developmental milestones. I don’t think we had much control over those things.

        We absolutely controlled (or miserably failed to control) whether they eat fruits and veggies, whether they will refuse to even try a new food, and whether they melt down at the prospect of not getting to watch Paw Patrol on TV, but that stuff is tweaking around the edges.

        I think environment will play a role in the expectations they have and the experiences they are exposed to. Their experience will be that college is the “default” position and they will be in decent schools that will provide them the appropriate level of challenges.

        There are some innate cognitive “horsepower” characteristics that vary greatly and are probably largely genetic or by chance, but what you do with that horsepower will come from personality and environment.

        For all but the very upper echelons of human work (e.g., the folks winning Nobel prizes), people just need to get over a certain thresholds of cognitive skill to do a job, and then other factors (e.g., motivation, personality, having time available) differentiate performance.

        When talking about people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, it becomes very, very difficult to partition out nature versus nurture. In many parts of the world, and for a long time in the US, being Jewish often meant that you were in larger Northeastern cities, part of a Jewish community, and going to schools with larger than normal populations of other Jews.

        Looking at the percentage of Ashkenazi Jews compared to the US population mushes over a few contributing or confounding factors. I would guess that 90% of those award winners are from a handful of cities/states in the Northeast. I suspect the number of Jewish Fields Medal winners from Mississippi equals the number of non-Jewish Fields Medal winners from Mississippi (I’m too lazy to look it up, but I bet it is zero).

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi Houston
        There have not been that many “twin studies” and the biggest most influential was found to be a total fraud – a long time ago – but once a meme is out there it seems to live forever

      • objv says:

        Tutt, I’d highly recommend taking the 23andMe test. JG did us a huge favor when he brought up the subject of DNA testing. 23andMe has raised its price since it started offering some health results, but I’ve noticed that they offer specials at times. (They did for both Mother’s and Father’s Day.)

        “Finding your Roots” on PBS used 23andMe results to explore Jessica Alba’s genetic origins.

        I’d suggest watching the whole episode since it’s so fascinating.

        Cap might want to find out more about his ancestry, too. Being adopted must leave him with many unanswered questions about his heritage.

      • objv says:

        “For all but the very upper echelons of human work (e.g., the folks winning Nobel prizes), people just need to get over a certain thresholds of cognitive skill to do a job, and then other factors (e.g., motivation, personality, having time available) differentiate performance.”

        Thanks for the explanation, Homer! I thought the above was especially enlightening and is, to my mind, the best argument for diversity.

      • duncancairncross says:

        I agree 100%
        It used to really piss me off when people would assume that because they had a degree they were “the top 5%” in intelligence
        IMHO having a degree means that you are probably not in the bottom 5% – but that is all

        90% of people have the innate ability (given the right kick up the behind) to do 99% of jobs

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Duncan – there are a number of really bad research studies out there, but it is pretty safe to say that the consensus is that there is a good correlation between identical twin intelligence scores, even when reared apart. Twins reared apart will have a stronger correlation with their biological brother/sister than they will to their adopted siblings. There also is a pretty decent correlation between biological parents and adopted kids.

        Assuming adequate nutrition and stimulation as children, the fundamental cognitive horsepower may be relatively static. However, there are a few thousand things that can develop, grow, and enhance (or detract) from that potential.

      • duncancairncross says:

        “but it is pretty safe to say that the consensus is that there is a good correlation between identical twin intelligence scores, even when reared apart. ”
        That is true
        BUT that “consensus” was established by the various “Burt” studies – which were later found to be fraudulent

        There may have been later studies that show the same but if you dig back you find that almost all of the reporting of that “consensus” goes back to the Burt studies

        As a result I consider this as “not proven”

        It takes a long time in science – especially biology – to overturn “consensus” even if it is wrong

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Duncan – Burt died 45 years ago, and the fraud was detected almost immediately after his death by people who supported and disagreed with Burt’s findings. While the controversy lingered for a few years afterwards, there has been 40 years of decent research on this topic with primary studies and meta-analyses (that excluded Burt’s work).

        Burt was a stain on cognitive research, but no one who has studied this issue for the past few decades has relied on his data. You could just look at studies conducted since 1990 or 2000 and find these solid correlations.

        Incidentally, Burt did have a few supporters who looked at the data a decade or two later, and they disagreed that it was fraudulent. Nonetheless, no one is relying on his data for conclusions today.

        We should be skeptical of science and of scientific research. It is an absolute travesty today that most students (and adults) are not taught a basic understanding of data and research findings. Given all the crap we see online or in the news (e.g., doctors find that X is six times more likely if you Y), way too many people over-interpret and over-react to summaries of research findings.

  12. 1mime says:

    “That’ would be something else!” A Sanders/Trump match up……Then four years of either……of course, I’d rather Sanders than Trump, but….if you listened to the Friedman interview, this is a very serious time in our world and it is going to require a POTUS who can simultaneously focus on domestic and foreign challenges. I think we will all hold our breath until this election is over….(not to mention the FBI report is released).

  13. rulezero says:

    If you guys want a good chuckle, head over to Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook page Berniebots have turned into the left version of the Tea Party for her endorsing HRC. She’s lost over a million followers because she isn’t pure enough.

    Oh yeah, tell us how you’re not gonna vote when your 18-29 demographic historically doesn’t anyway. Bernie needs to concede defeat and be done with it. He won’t because he’s enjoying the attention he’s getting and the personality cult that’s grown around him.

    I hope he’s relegated to obscurity by Chuck Schumer upon returning to the Senate.

    • vikinghou says:

      Perhaps Bernie’s waiting for the FBI decision concerning Hillary. Just in case…

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        I don’t see that as reasonable on his part. If the conclusion isbthatbshe gets charged, and it’s decided that the charges are serious enough that she shouldn’t be given the Dem nomination, it’ll go to Sanders whether he’s still officially in or not.

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Rob – I suspect we would see Joe Biden candidacy before we would see a Bernie candidacy in that situation.

      • 1mime says:

        How would he be eligible? Direct floor nomination?

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Bernie doesn’t have enough delegates to win the nomination, so it would have to be worked out at the convention.

        There is no way on god’s little green earth that Bernie is the Democrat’s nominee in 2016.

        The Democrats are stupid, but they aren’t that stupid.

      • 1mime says:

        Well, Bernie sure is doing his damnedest to keep his delegates locked up.

    • 1mime says:

      I have ceased finding Bernie Sanders’ recalcitrance and demands amusing.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      It’s difficult to say precisely what role Schumer will choose to take for Sanders, and I imagine he feels the same right now. If he more or less marginalizes himself and just goes back to how he used to be in the Senate, that’s all well and good. Give him a chairmanship on a committee to keep him happy and show a due amount of respect, but nothing more.

      Honestly, it’s hard to see what more he could hope for than that. He knows he’s too old to run for president again and he’s made about as much noise as one could reasonably expect.

      • 1mime says:

        Sanders has made a clear play for the chairmanship of the Senate Health Committee (or minority chair, depending upon how Senate majority emerges). Clearly, Patty Murray has worked hard in her spot there and has earned the chairmanship. I can’t see Clinton giving in to Sanders on this. He is playing too many games and honestly hasn’t even endorsed her yet. I would like to see Bernie have a significant chairmanship but boy is this tough. He is making demands when he is still registered as an Independent, which is fine, but don’t expect to be rewarded for being coy.

      • Ryan Ashfyre says:

        As things stand, it would take an honest miracle for Republicans to retain a majority in the Senate, so let’s just run with the presumption that Democrats hold the majority come 2017, for argument’s sake.

        In other words, Sanders wants a big say in whatever kind of health reform bills make it to the full Senate. Well, as far as that goes, I’m with you. I can’t imagine either a President Clinton or Schumer going for that. Who knows if he’s trying to bargain for it behind the scenes right now, but I would never even enter into negotiations like that until after he’d endorsed Clinton and campaigned vigorously for her. Of course, as you’ve said, his leverage diminishes every day he holds out and makes it that much harder for him.

      • 1mime says:

        More importantly, there are Democrats who’ve been working in the trenches for O’s entire term and have earned the right to chairmanships. Loyalty is important, especially in politics. Moreover, I just don’t like anyone making demands because they ran a good campaign or because it’s required for an endorsement. Doesn’t that strike you as as self-serving as some of the people Sanders is criticizing? I think he should communicate where he would most like to serve and let the process work. After all, he.didn’, and I’ve watched too many sports events to not understand that winners get to choose.

      • Houston-Stay-At-Homer says:

        Come February 2017, a precious small number of a people are going to remember who Bernie Sanders is, and an even smaller number of those people are going to care what happens to him in the Senate.

        At that point, Clinton (or Trump) will have already won, so there won’t need to be an offer in order to keep Bernie’s supporters on board.

        You could argue that then Democrats will be punished in the 2018 midterms by Bernie supporters, but I would venture to say that less than 20% of Bernie supporters voted in the 2014 mid-terms, so until they show up to do something, no one is going to take them seriously.

        This scenario might change if Bernie goes all in with the Democrats through the campaign, supporting and campaigning for Hillary, and more importantly, for down-ballot Democrats in those few regions in the country where an old socialist wouldn’t hurt the candidates’ chances.

        Then, he spends 2017 supporting and working on the grassroot campaign for his revolution to start in the 2018 mid-terms.

        He does that, and he can have whatever chair he wants.

      • 1mime says:

  14. Off topic:
    I read this article and found it very interesting. I’d be fascinated to hear what some of the minds here make of it.

    • 1mime says:

      “…those he’s rallied to his side couldn’t be more human, serious, or needy. The messenger might not last; the message is another story entirely. ” I think this is on point. When the subject arose about working class people voting against their best interests, Lifer has commented that those of us who feel this way are not attentive to what is going on with these people. We are not “hearing” them nor are we understanding the deeper needs that are motivating them.

      Very interesting comparison, America A & B, Poland’s shift since 2005 as a portend of America’s future. BREXIT may reflect a knee-jerk reaction mirroring this dynamic, but the important point is, it did happen by popular vote, there are real consequences, and it will impact not only Great Britain but the wider world. America does need to “listen up”.

      Thanks for the great link, EJ.

    • Rob Ambrose says:


      There will always be winners and losers in any economic system, more so when that system is capitalism. The difference is, now the losers are those who are used to being winners, and uneducated white men are finding it is no loger enough to simply be white and available between 9-5.

      I don’t see this as inherently bad or novel. The solution is what it always was: mitigate the misery of the losers with a robust social safety net. The Trumpistas who are now so hot and bothered are the very ones that voted for Reagen that decimated the social safety net. And why not? It was only the “undeserving” blacks who were hurt. They didn’t need it. They had great jobs down at the whistle factory. Of course, now the tables have turned and they kind of do need it.

      The problem is, they don’t realize it. They think it’s the Mexicans andnthe Muslims and the Jews and everybody else pouring into the country that is causing all their problems, and all we need is someone who “tells it like it is” to bust the “PC culture” and punt out all these unworthy foreigners and we can all roll in prosperity again. The problem with that is, of course, it’s wrong, it’s immoral, it won’t work, and in fact, it will make things worse.

      And things probably will change. The sun is setting on failed conservative ideas, such as trickle down economics. The idea of tax cuts for the wealthy in today’s atmosphere is unthinkable. In many ways, it’s similar to the drug thing . when crack was decimating black communities, the response was to criminalize it and mass incarceration. Now that it’s heroin decimating white communities, we are seeing the (correct) response of treating addiction as a public health issue and we focus on treatment and prevention.

      When it was black communities mired in poverty, the solution was demonization of “welfare Queens” and the “makers and takers” bullshit and they cut the social safety net tonthe bone (but don’t touch my Medicare!). But now that it’s white communities mired in poverty , would it be surprising to see a sea change in the way we view the welfare state, and change how we percieve the role of the federal government should be with regards to providing services tonthe people? Not from my end.

      • 1mime says:

        Very sharp analysis, Rob. Friedman spoke to this in the interview by stating that if he was able to design a plan for America, it would be a much bigger safety net. He predicts that since most “new” jobs will require more skills rather than less, those who are caught in this cycle of unemployment will have greater need than ever for support. He has some pretty novel ideas about how he would finance it, too.

        Meanwhile, against this backdrop of discontent, Paul Ryan is rolling out his ten point plan which, frankly, IMO, runs smack dab into the wall of anger that is building. He offers an ACA replacement, only with lots of generalities and a paucity of detail. He’s more specific about his plans for Medicare (which as noted, he seems to have a long-standing animus for). Is he counting on only the privileged paying attention to the details, and, does he not see that these changes add yet another layer of fear and anger onto an already towering stack?

        “Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) plan calls for upending Medicare.

        Instead of a guaranteed government healthcare plan for seniors, the Ryan plan will create an option in which a set dollar amount is offered to seniors so they can buy health insurance from private companies.”

        Timing, they say, is everything. Could this proposal come at a worse time for a citizenry who are already freaking out?

      • antimule says:

        Agree with you, Rob.

      • Stephen says:

        When people were freaking out about ObamaCare my congresswoman (Republican) held a series of town hall meetings. They were routy to say the least. It also was the time Ryan was trying to voucherize Medicare. I asked her at the meeting I attended why ObamaCare, which is what Ryan was actually proposing, OK for seniors but not for pre-Medicare age people? Boy did she shut me down quickly and move the conversation away from my point. Medicare is a single payer system and seniors love it.

        What happen to agriculture in the early 20th century has happen to manufacturing. It is automated and needs far fewer workers. Originality, creativity and uniqueness is what you need to thrive in today’s working world. You have to be able to produce something that cannot be mass produced and is your unique brand. Artist, craftsmen, service people and professions that need creativity and analytical skills is where employment is going. Trying to change that is like trying to spooning back the ocean.

      • duncancairncross says:

        There will always be winners and losers
        Yes – that is what makes the wheels go around

        BUT in the past (during the 40’s – 70’s) the winners got more
        But NOT “the Lion’s share”

        The change is not “inequality” but excessive and unearned inequality

  15. formdib says:


    Boaty McBoatface won because it wasn’t that big of a deal, and it never should have been if the committee just accepted it with the whimsy and humor intended. It’s only relevant aspect of ‘representation’ is that by rejecting the name, the committee now comes across as stuffy and humorless.

    Brexit is actually a really good wake-up call to discussing this issue of representation versus pluralism, and I don’t think that coming to the conclusion that people shouldn’t vote for important issues isn’t really the best approach to take.

    Among various things, Brexit shows:

    > that the political establishment is really not listening to the people they’re supposed to represent, which means the people are frustrated and the representatives are taken by surprise;

    > that technical and disconnected information like ‘It’s bad for the economy’ don’t play well when the effect of such arguments have been diluted in service of corporate interests for decades,;

    > similarly, that more effort needs to be done to communicate the advantages and helpfulness of current administration to those who are feeling increasingly disconnected from the gains made from recent progress, and that that information should be carefully considered based off of the feelings and needs of the disenfranchised;

    > and that better options need to be presented for the public to vote on to achieve productive purposes, beyond just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option.

    All of these involve two pieces of work that I feel professionals / experts / wonks / elites (and whatever else you want to call them) struggle with as a natural disadvantage of their specialist communities: listening and communicating. Science’s problem has always, to some degree, been an image issue of hardass four-eyed nerds playing post-modern Prometheus for their lack of a woman’s touch (and associated misogyny derived therefrom).

    ‘Politician’ is pretty much the worst job you could design for a human being: your job is specifically to deal with issues that make people angry or potentially cause their life harm; no matter what decision you make, by the fact that it’s an issue in the first place, someone will get hurt; and no matter how well you do your job, unforeseen side-effects will cause further issues to be addressed.

    This means MORE communication needs to happen between legislators and the public, the issue is the type and quality of the communication. Somehow we have to design a method of critical and creative communication so that decisions made by politicians can be better understood on the one hand, but concerns and complaints raised by the public can be heard on the other.

    Here’s one of the things I know as a freelancer, that I was already starting to understand but then was put into words by this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article about communication between Creatives and Non-Creatives:

    “Even if someone gives you ridiculous feedback, treat it as valid. His pain is real, even if his issue makes no sense.”

    The problem with the public is that they don’t know how to put to words the complaints that they have. They just want the representatives to ‘fix it.’ Tell a Leaver that Brexit would be ‘bad for the economy’ and that’s not hearing the fact that the Leaver doesn’t recognize his advantages in that economy. But giving him the option to vote ‘leave’ is asking the wrong question on how to design critical legislation to gain the Leaver recognizable advantages for the EU economy.

    Same thing with Trump. In order to keep people from voting for demogogues BECAUSE they want a bull introduced into your china shop, you need to make that china more accessible to the voters. You can’t just call them uneducated economic losers just because your china is meant for 1%ers, and respond to their bull ticket by removing the tickets (and leaving the bulls ready to charge).

    • formdib says:

      Once again though, part of the issue I have with the ‘public’s’ side of this issue is that they seem unwilling to engage in the civic structures that are already available to communicate to the government.

      For all the people on my Facebook wall who complain almost daily about bipartisanship and the issue of voting ‘for the lesser of two evils’, few of them ever seem to write their representatives, create petitions, join community organizations, follow local elections and issues, or even follow party platforms that they’ve joined (not just R and D but L and G as well). The best you get from them is something like a Whitehouse online petition signing.

      And any time I tried to point this out — which I’ve given up doing — they’ve just told me that I’m wasting my time and nobody’ll respond to my activism, despite the fact that I have specific examples of times when politicians have responded to my communications directly, or local votes that I was within ten votes of deciding.

      • 1mime says:

        You are correct and they are wrong. This is where the disconnect has occurred – between people feeling they “can” make a difference and actually making the effort “to” make a difference outside simple voting. I’ll admit that I have always believed I could and did make a difference when I focused on whatever issue/cause/election that was important to me. People who feel that government and political institutions have demonstrated their utter disregard for their needs and opinions, are angry and somehow this year, that anger has coalesced into a populist movement. The danger is, as Lifer has pointed out (and others) – results may not turn out like you wanted them to.

        Getting involved at the local level in some issue, election or activist organization will teach you a great deal about how to navigate the political process (it is ALL political) and more importantly, how to make your efforts most effective. You’re headed in the right direction, Formdib. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

    • tuttabellamia says:

      Very well said. The elites shouldn’t condescendingly dismiss the concerns of the so-called masses. I think your idea of improving communication is excellent.

      I think the elites dismiss the masses mostly when the masses dare to disagree with the elites. You will notice that when the masses happen to agree with the elites, all is well and the masses are praised for their wisdom.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        With respect to your idea of improved communication, I think there’s a role for intermediaries, for individuals who represent neither left nor right, diplomats or mediators who can form a bridge between the groups, be a channel of communication, someone who speaks both languages.

      • 1mime says:

        This is where lobbyists have it all over regular citizens. They have: access and information. They are persistent and they have resources to back up their positions. It is easiest to access elected officials when they are local. National or state level positions are cordoned off by staff, schedule, priorities. It’s hard to get through that wall.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Somebody without an agenda, whose only agenda is to be a channel of communication.

      • 1mime says:

        These people are called “facilitators”. Their job is to “facilitate” dialogue and help a group achieve consensus. In the political realm, and, I dare say government, everyone has a bias. If they don’t, they don’t have a job. Kind of cynical, I know, but true.

    • antimule says:

      “> that the political establishment is really not listening to the people they’re supposed to represent, which means the people are frustrated and the representatives are taken by surprise;”

      Or they don’t want to listen. They believed that they could get away with infinite austerity. Turns out, they were wrong.

      • 1mime says:

        As Lifer says, “bingo”. They’ve had a nice, long run at shoring up the 1% while income/wealth disparity grew larger and larger. The tipping point has arrived.

    • Bobo Amerigo says:

      formdib, these are good posts.

  16. 1mime says:

    OT. The revolving door in Washington…….It’s no wonder it’s so hard to change things…the same people moving in the same corridors in a never ending cycle……..Could populism change this?

    “Of the 352 people who left Congress alive since the law took effect in January 2008, POLITICO found that almost half (47 percent) have joined the influence industry: 84 as registered lobbyists and 80 others as policy advisers, strategic consultants, trade association chiefs, corporate government relations executives, affiliates of agenda-driven research institutes and leaders of political action committees or pressure groups.”

    Read more:

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      Something of a quagmire as to how to reform that kind of system when you’re asking the people who stand to benefit most from it to vote against it. Seems like the best place to start would be on the state level with ballot measures that could keep state legislators and the like from taking advantage so, perhaps, they’d be less inclined if and when they got to Washington.

      • 1mime says:

        I don’t know how to change it but I think it is dangerous for Democracy. For all the criticism from the right about government being “too big” , they sure do stick around. Seems self serving to me…one wonders if they simply can’t make it in the regular workplace.

  17. flypusher says:

    A bit off-topic- does Trump have a neurodegenerative disease?

    It’s a circumstantial case at the moment, but it could explain a lot. I wonder if this is how the GOPe could pull off a coup. Medical records are no longer private when you run for President. So how erratic does his behavior have to get to justify replacing him on medical grounds? I can’t see him volunteering for any tests.

    • 1mime says:

      During Trump’s recent speech on trade, he did point to the sky and refer to Mexican planes being up there ready to attack……I’d say that was pretty demented, but not enough for many otherwise rational people to not vote for him. Because………

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      “Medical records are no longer private when you run for President”

      The same was thought about tax returns, until 2016.

      • flypusher says:

        I wouldn’t mind making it a law- if you run for President, you must release x number of years returns. Probably 5 would do. Likewise I think all candidates should be screened for any cognitive impairment- look what happened with Reagan.

        In Trump’s case I’m willing to bet (and I have a whole lot of company) that his net wealth isn’t even close to the amount he so incessantly brags about. It would be hilarious if Mark Cuban’s “mere” $156G estimate is nearer to the mark.

        As for the state of his brain, the disease does run in his family.

      • 1mime says:

        To this day, I feel Mitt Romney was hiding something when he didn’t release his full income tax returns. If not, why not release them? Same with Trump. We complain about people making uninformed decisions when voting, yet there is so much effort expended to control what is known about the candidates that it feeds the perception of trouble.

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi 1mime

        I’m in favor of the Norwegian approach on Tax returns –
        Everybody’s tax return is public knowledge – anybody can look up anybody else’s tax return

        The only part I’m not sure about is that when somebody looks at your tax return you get a notification that Fred has looked at your tax return – I’m not sure if that is a good idea

        But I am very certain that having everybody’s tax return accessable is a great idea

      • 1mime says:

        Not sure I can agree with you on the Norwegian method, but when people seek the highest office in the land, their financial history as well as their health should be public.

      • duncancairncross says:

        I see this as a general point of transparency

        Nasty things grow in the darkness – let some light into everybody’s life

      • 1mime says:

        In TX, where I live, property taxes are publicly available by address – at least residential ones are. I can’t speak to commercial property taxes. That is appropriate and useful as a public good because property can have shared value due to proximity, type, location. This transcends privacy needs as a result. It also helps keep the process more honest as we can check our neighbor’s taxes and see if our taxes are disproportionately high (or low). I don’t agree that personal income taxes should be public. It seems to me that this is no one’s business but the tax authority, the filer, and any legal entity which might have a vested interest (loans, second mortgages, courts). Guess we disagree on this one Duncan, but we sure agree on a whole lot of other “stuff”!

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi 1mime

        I think the same arguments you use for property taxes apply to personal income – in fact they are stronger when applied to personal income and to the taxes you end up paying!

        If you have time read David Brin’s novel – Earth – it is quite old now but it is still an interesting read

        If you don’t want to read a ScFi novel Brin’s “Transparent Society” is well worth reading

      • 1mime says:

        I have signed up to receive updates from him and noted the two works you cite. I wish I had time to read all the books and articles that interest me, sigh……….

      • 1mime says:

        One of the intriguing comments by Tom Friedman in his interview dealt with world disorder. He said: “What do you do when the necessary is impossible, and the impossible is necessary?”

        Hope you get to watch this from way over in NZ. 38 minutes.

      • 1mime says:

        Add mandatory tax returns for “x” years and health exam to Fly’s list of criteria to be eligible to run as a candidate for one of the parties. I recall how FDR tried to conceal the fact that he couldn’t stand unsupported. He served several terms despite his crippling issues and IMO, is one of the greatest presidents of all time. Kennedy had serious back issues. Health problems should not be a disclaimer but it should be disclosed.

      • flypusher says:

        FDR’s health issues, at least at the beginning of his time as President, would not have prevented him from functioning. But sadly there was too much stigma attached to being in a wheelchair. Now his 4th term, I think he and his doctors probably knew that he was living on borrowed time; very fortunate that Truman was up to the job. IIRC Kennedy had Grave’s disease, and that mattered, and should have been disclosed.

      • 1mime says:

        We need to get past the wheelchair phobia. There are many smart people who have injuries but whose minds are still sharp. The biggest concern I have for anyone running/serving as POTUS is the extraordinary amount of energy required. Their days are long and grueling and they have to function at very high levels all the time. For this reason alone, I think health records are a valid eligibility criteria. We never really knew how long Reagan was non-functional….any neurological impairment in my view should require immediate disclosure and a plan for succession.

      • vikinghou says:

        Greg Abbott isn’t helping.

  18. Jack Hughes says:

    Democracy requires an informed electorate. With the rise of the internet, talk radio and 24/7 “news” networks, can anyone really argue that voters are now better informed than back in the day of 30-minute daily Big-3 network newscasts?

    The commercialization of information has reduced the concept of journalism to “infotainment” and “propaganda for profit.” Democracy has suffered for it.

    • flypusher says:

      The info is there- the question is, do you know how to sort the wheat from the chaff? As someone who deals in knowledge, the Internet is a glorious thing. I can indulge my curiosity at any time, about any thing. It’s nerd heaven. On political issues I try to read the opinions from more than one side. But you can also use these wonderful things to confirm bias, close your mind, and stay in your echo chamber. Horses-water-drinking.

    • goplifer says:

      I’m not so sure about that. I’ve never at any point in my life encountered an informed electorate. The majoritarian nature of democracy pretty much precludes any sort of expertise from entering into the equation. Propaganda certainly doesn’t help, but more important to the process all through our history has been relationships.

      We very rarely cast a vote on an issue. Almost every vote we cast is for a person. Harping on social capital again, but I still think it’s key. Strong democratic institutions are built on strong social institutions. The less connection voters have to the people they’re voting for the closer we get to candidates just pandering on issues – in other words – the closer we get to something like direct democracy.

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        How to separate issue from person in our system?

        Candidates, who are also persons, espouse a particular point of view on an issue.

        (On the issue of access to medical insurance, Obama, a person, said he wanted to increase access to medical insurance. Many people voted for him based on his position on the issue.)

        So we vote on people based on their POV on the issue.

        It seems to me that referendums are about particular issues. And most states don’t provide a referendum option.

      • 1mime says:

        I agree, Bobo. I used to vote the “person” until the person in politics became so straight-jacketed by party policy that they were unable to perform outside of that structure. Now, I am far more likely to vote the “issue” or the “platform” because I hope that this will be a bedrock for the candidate’s performance. In the Democratic Party, this structure still allows individual lattitude. I like that. In the Republican Party, it is party line or be primaried. I’ll take my chances with the Dems.

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      We need to overhaul the entire school curriculum. ‘Critical Thought’ needs to be a subject taught at every level in high school, similar to English or Math is today. Kids need to be taught how to think critically, how to identify and seek out primary sources, and the simplistic power of the scientific method.

      With the current amount of oure propoganda out there thabks tonthe digital age, people juat do not havebthe tools to counteract it all. The government has as much an interest in its citizens knowing how to think critically as it does that they know how to read and write.

    • 1mime says:

      The Thomas Friedman interview finally posted. Since it is such a wide-ranging discussion (both there and here), I’ll post it in this thread for your consideration. It speaks directly to dissolution of our political institutions.

  19. flypusher says:

    OT, in memory of Elie Wiesel

    It’s even sadder he’s gone because with all the hateful speech going on right now, we need to listen to people like him even more.

    • 1mime says:

      So true, Fly. There are not many “uniters” out there today, and our social order is suffering as a result. Instead, individualism seems to be the trend – where people cordon themselves off and function more narrowly. This is part of the whole “putting country before party” meme is all about.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        I think, Mime, that in order for a uniter to unite, people have to want to be united.

        It’s like how an addict simply cannot be helped unless they themselves want to stop.

      • 1mime says:

        That’s true, Rob, but not to split hairs, just as the people need to want to be united, the world needs inspirational leaders – people who are able to share a message an idea that is bigger than themselves and provide not only hope but moral guidance. A Billy Graham, a Dali Lama, a Nelson Mandela, a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King – each of who had their own flaws but transcended them to offer a greater message for mankind.

        Lifer has talked about a leader with great courage that can bring force change in the Republican Party – that dares to tell the truth and to lead. These people are rare but vital to a deeper need all people share – a higher purpose than self. Right now, this decade, we are pretty much mired in a focus on self. Where is that getting us?

  20. Ken Rhodes says:

    “Boaty McBoatface is not a story about silly voters. The failure in this story happened in a boardroom among a group of experts. No one with a rudimentary understanding of social media should have imagined that a public process conducted in that manner, on that subject matter, would yield a credible outcome. Process matters.

    “This was not a failure of the masses, but a failure of elites. Planners placed too much weight on a poorly constructed process. Voting works better as a decision-making mechanism if someone is paying careful attention to what we’re voting on and how.”
    I think the Boaty McBoatface brouhaha was an interesting way to introduce this essay, but it is not particularly relevant to real-world politics. The “poorly constructed process” was nothing like political process. Why? Because the election was conducted without a nomination process.

    I suppose, at the smallest local level, there may be some government somewhere that conducts a write-in election. I’m not aware of it, but it could happen, I guess. But if the result of this naming process was not what the Fathers wanted, they shouldn’t be blaming the election, they should be blaming the nomination (or lack thereof) process.

    • johngalt says:

      Not relevant? I’d argue that a 17-person field (in the GOP primary) was as close to a write-in process as you get in politics and it produced an outcome in which the two leading vote-getters were the two worst outcomes. Trump didn’t win a majority of his party’s voters until the process was 2/3rds over; Cruz never won a majority. Yet they rode their unimpressive pluralities to commanding leads. Like Boaty McBoatface (and Brexit), the outcome was decided by unserious voters most interested in stigginit to someone than the actual consequences of their votes.

      • flypusher says:

        I wonder if the major parties will end up tightening the eligibility rules for the next round. In both cases there were outsiders who crashed the party and had a major impact. Bernie fell short, but barring some GOPe coup at the convention, Trump has pulled off his hostile takeover. So could you see a requirement for running for President under the party brand such as having held state or federal office as a member of the party, or at the least 10 years as a declared member of the party?? Granted that only reduces the last GOP field by a few, but any hostile takeovers require much longer term planning.

      • 1mime says:

        It might also require adherence to at least basic party principles and platform. Witness the latest broadside by Sanders. When the party lacks the controls you suggest, they box themselves in all the way to convention (and possibly later) and can do irreparable harm.

    • goplifer says:

      ***I think the Boaty McBoatface brouhaha was an interesting way to introduce this essay, but it is not particularly relevant to real-world politics.***

      I really wanted to address that, but the post was already too long and rambling. The outcomes of the Dem & Rep primaries point directly to our over-emphasis on democratic decision making.

      One key reason Clinton won is that her victory was pretty nearly inevitable all along b/c of the structure of the process. Clinton has been running for president for about 15 years. She locked up nearly all of the potential institutional support, and on the Democratic side (ironically) that institutional support (including super-delegates) still matters.

      Republicans were able to compete for the White House pretty well while being locked out of Congress for 60 years b/c the constructed a nominating process heavily insulated from democratic processes. 2012 was the last nominating campaign to follow that model. Placing too much faith in pure voting as a means of determining representation gave us Donald Trump and it may end the party.

      Decisions made by elites about the structure of the nominating process have had a powerful impact on the ground. Basically, since the end of the Cold War, we’ve adopted an almost magical attitude about the power of elections. A slightly more circumspect attitude about elections as a decision making mechanism might have saved us a lot of heartache.

      • 1mime says:

        Might I also suggest that a little more responsible, rational establishment leadership might have contributed to the outcome?

      • 1mime says:

        Then, Lifer, how do you explain the GW Bush 2008 win? The people did vote. The process that pre-empted the FL recount was about as blatant an abuse of democracy that I have seen. IF the popular vote was of paramount importance, why didn’t the SCOTUS respect that process and allow it to continue to its conclusion? Most people would have accepted the Bush win if the recount ended in his favor. As it was, there will always be a cloud hanging over this election which only adds more distrust of the political structure.

      • johngalt says:

        Notably, the UK Tories will decide amongst the elected members who will be the two candidates put forth to the general membership for party leader. One doubts that a Donald Trump gets through that process (though Boris Johnson might have had he stayed in, but at least he has some bona fide credentials and is quite a bit more amusing that Donald).

  21. Ken Rhodes says:

    “Public will is now our de facto standard for legitimate authority on a global basis. That is an enormous human achievement that deserves to be considered The End of History. Yet, we do not have smooth sailing ahead. Each great challenge we overcome opens the door to its evolutionary successor. Winning just means graduating up to better and better problems.”

    Sadly, “evolution” is not a one-way street. Failures (or perceived failures) of legitimate authority may cause regression to an earlier state of government, e.g., the Third Reich.

    • goplifer says:

      Bingo. The Third Reich was an evolutionary collapse, an example of systemic failure in the face of environmental changes. That pressure toward a direction (broader representative government) did not ease, but it could not be accommodated until an awful lot of people had paid a terrible price.

      • flypusher says:

        One of the scariest things- it happened in one of the most advanced Western nations. Not some 3rd world country where Westerners consider the inhabitants to be savages, but Germany, with all its contributions to Western art and culture. Anyone who says that it couldn’t possibly happen in America needs a reality check.

        There are 2 TV shows I’m thinking about here. One was the miniseries “Holocaust” from back in the 70s (was a kid at the time and it was my first memory of the awesomeness that is Meryl Streep). Two of the main characters are a Jewish doctor and his wife, a pianist. At first she is not wanting to believe that her country could be sinking into barbarism-this was the same culture that produced Goethe and Mozart and Beethoven. His reply-Goethe and Mozart and Beethoven weren’t running the government. The 2nd is the classic Twilight Zone episode: “The Monsters are Due on Maple St.” When people are ignorant and/or scared and/or in economic distress, civilization can be revealed as a very fragile thing.

      • 1mime says:

        We are on parallel thought waves here, Fly.

      • 1mime says:

        I think that people have lost the belief that they can individually make a difference, so they retreat from active engagement in the process. Dictators and institutional power (in this era, political parties/super PACs/mega donors/unresponsive government) take advantage of this and exacerbate the situation by controlling media message and subsequent thought formation. We have talked many times about seniors who rail against deficits, the ACA, but boldly admonish anyone who might “touch their medicare”. And, this is without the fear of a police state as existed during Hitlers reign of terror. Imagine the fear and guilt of Germans who watched silently as their Jewish neighbors and friends were hauled off to a fate they surely didn’t want to share. Then there are those who are rugged individuals and are able to carve out a place in the world that protects them and their ideology from “the government”. One group is motivated by fear, the other by anger. The latter is more likely to seek hostile solutions.

        Institutions are made up of people, after all.

      • Happy birthday, America!

        I think Fly is exactly right when he said that it happening in Germany is the scariest part. Germany, for many years, had been one of the least anti-semitic places in the world. Jewish people had fled to Germany from Poland and Russia to escape the pogroms.

        The Nazis came out of one of the wealthiest, most tolerant, most educated, most civilised nations. We, to our shame, followed them into the abyss.

        I really, really hope that we can be the only nation which does this.

      • 1mime says:

        Thanks, EJ!

  22. Pseudoperson Randomian says:


    A continuation from the discussion on the previous page about anonymity. I was commenting on how anonymity is a good thing to reduce bias.

    It was in good faith, mime – not accusing you of anything or other – but my point wasn’t about the accuracy of my assumptions, but the categories I’d subconsciously fit you into. And how they might color my perception of what you post.

    I try and reveal as little as possible about my person for precisely this reason. Any such information about me is likely to color everyone’s opinion of what I post, while an unbiased discussion requires people to look at the data, and interpretations alone, while disregarding human factors.

    Human factors are pretty much the bane of science. Science is essentially a system based on removing all human bias from the system. That’s why it’s been so successful. If I told you information about myself, it would most definitely make for more *interesting* discussion and there might be friendships formed and you might hear a lot of very interesting stories, but that does mean more unbiased discussion – and that does not help when discussing tricky problems, like those in politics, where there personal stakes. I’d feel uneasy if I wanted to present some negative data about, say, Mexicans, if I knew there is one in the room – even if I was completely sure said person would be able to approach it academically.

    Look at it this way. People here have no idea who I am, where I’m from, race, socio economic status I belong to, my religion and so on. You don’t know what me personal stakes are – and it’s much harder for someone to attribute my position on a topic to a shortsighted personal interest. This makes it more likely that arguments will be based on reason. That’s what I want – to have my positions and hypotheses challenged from unexpected directions to see if they stand up under scrutiny.

    • duncancairncross says:

      Hi Pseudo

      I think you have that backwards –
      If I don’t know where you are coming from I don’t know if you are axe grinding

      If I do know who you are then I have a much better idea of what is going on

      As an example think that a lot of the more extreme “Bernie Bro’s are actually Koch shills
      If they were not hiding behind false identities I would be sure

      IMHO anonymity makes it much LESS likely that arguments will be based on reason.

      • antimule says:

        > If I don’t know where you are coming from I don’t know if you are axe grinding

        Yup, anonymity made everyone think that everyone else is a shill for something or other.

      • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

        I could be axe grinding, and so could you. And that’s the point. I don’t really care if that person is a “real Bernie supporter” or “Bernie Bro” or “Koch shill”. That’s irrelevant to the discussion. I won’t dismiss people because of that.

        If you’ve got legitimate arguments, throw them at me and I’ll either counter them, or modify my position. If you don’t, keep repeating the same things without listening to me, or talk in circles, then I’ll move on to somewhere else where I can have intelligent discussion. If my hypotheses and positions are untested, they are worthless. Good science is dependent on falsifiability.

        Of course, if your goal to influence public opinion, rather than to have unbiased debate, then I agree with you that transparency is essential. And that’s why we want our campaign financing to be completely transparent (including the SuperPACs).

      • duncancairncross says:

        “if your goal to influence public opinion, rather than to have unbiased debate”

        debate is ALWAYS about changing opinion – that is why we have debates!,

      • 1mime says:

        I had exactly the same thought, duncan. If you enter into an intellectual exchange, you test your own ideas against others. The very process implies a willingness to share and change – either one’s own ideas or the other person’s. It doesn’t have to be adversarial, although it may become so; rather, it demonstrates a willingness to explore concepts/thoughts/ideas/opinions that are different than one’s own.


      • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

        To influence *public* opinion, you don’t need a scientific unbiased debate. You just need whatever wins – and telling people that other guy is not credible because that person is one reliable way to win. Prey on the lizard brain, give people reasons to reinforce whatever notions they’ve already got, and you win. Most people don’t have the time or energy and do exactly that. I don’t – research takes time. It’s easier for me to dismiss a white supremacist, than to analyze the data, look at their evidence (trust me, there are people who deal in racial science), and then try and disprove it all. So, I generally take the shortcut, and assume other people have done the research.

        But that’s not how science world works. It doesn’t matter who the hypothesis comes from – and that hypothesis can be from a White supremacist – if there’s any evidence supporting it, the experiment can be replicated and there’s no research proving that evidence is flawed in one way or another, then you must gather new evidence to disprove the hypothesis, or accept the hypothesis.

        And I like having unbiased conversations about policy.

        My hypothesis is that *scientific* debate would work really well with anonymity. Calling someone a “Koch shill” or “white supremacist” or “libtard” or “progtard” is not an argument – it’s an ad hominem. All it says is “disregard this person’s opinion as he does not belong to our tribe. Signal loyalty to our tribe now by doing so and passing on the message”.

      • duncancairncross says:

        Your hypotheses is that *scientific* debate would work really well with anonymity

        Mine is that it doesn’t work at all well with anonymity

        But it does work well with transparency

        How do we perform an examination of the data?

        I would present this forum and the Contrary Brin forum
        Both of which are inhabited by people who have fixed identifiers and where “anonymous” posters are rare and tend to be disruptive
        As examples of at least slightly transparent debates

        And compare them to most of the web where anonymity is the norm

      • flypusher says:

        I go with a “semi-anonymous” approach. I do not reveal my identity, but I will bring up a detail or two about myself if it is relevant to the conversation. The assumption thing can be amusing, for example, every time I join a new forum, people almost always get my gender wrong.

    • johngalt says:

      PR, I tend to agree with Duncan here. You write, “…it’s much harder for someone to attribute my position on a topic to a shortsighted personal interest. This makes it more likely that arguments will be based on reason.” Not exactly. Writing in this sterile manner might give the appearance of rationality, but masking your own biases does not mean they do not exist.

    • tuttabellamia says:

      Pseudo, I think we have biases no matter what, and if I have no clue about who you are, I’m probably just as likely to be biased based on my PERCEPTION of you. I’d rather form my opinion of you based on truth as much as possible and not on assumptions. (And no, I am not referring to home addresses or phone numbers, just general information, IF people want to provide it.)

      I do understand that once you know more about people, you might be less likely to say certain potentially controversial things around those people, or you might act differently around them. Just knowing that Mime and Rush are 70-ish makes me straighten up and be more respectful to them than I might be with other people. And I used to think “kids” were a vapid bunch, spending all their time mindlessly surfing the web and on social media, and now that I know that many of you here are twentysomethings, I realize how intelligent and thoughtful you really are. So, knowing who people are can actually help to reduce bias.

      Knowing more about people also helps us from making assumptions like “You cannot possibly understand what’s it’s like to be a minority,” which I have been told on more than one occasion.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I do agree that it’s probably not a good idea for everyone to describe themselves upon first meeting, because that would almost surely lead to bias before anyone has a chance to put their ideas out there. I think it’s good for impressions to form over time based on our comments, the little hints we pick up about each others’ identity, and what we do choose to say about our identity. I think that’s the best way for all of us to get to know each other, which is similar to how we get to know people in “real” life. Not that the online connection is a fully-formed relationship, but I do think a strange sort of bond is formed with people you deal with on a daily basis, even if it is online.

      • 1mime says:

        Trust is important in relationships, Tutta, no matter how superficial. GOPlifer has created something fine here – a loyal group of smart people who are respectful of both one another and the process. A family of sorts, comprised of many different personalities all of which contribute something very interesting and nice to the whole.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        And a lot depends on why we’re here. I’m not here to engage in sterile, completely unbiased debate, or to change minds, with winners and losers. I just want to connect with people, put my ideas out there, develop my ideas as I write, get feedback, learn from the perspective and experiences of others, bring my own perspective to the table, hopefully say something original, because I get tired of the repetitive nature of commenting, improve my writing skills, and above all, to make a positive contribution to this blog.

      • 1mime says:

        That’s a perfect reason, Tutta, and totally honest. I think we all strive for contact for our own personal reasons, otherwise, why participate in a blog at all?

      • Tutta:
        It is my opinion that internet argument is a uniquely poor method for actually changing minds. Disagreeing with people over the web will only make them angry and make them dig in their heels even further, rather than convincing them. As such I definitely agree with you that being here for something other than internet debate is the way forwards.

        As you’ve pointed out, this blog is excellent at bringing together people who differ from one another, but do so respectfully and intelligently, and who are interested in talking rather than in engaging in screaming matches. I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve learned a great deal from it, and I hope I continue to do so.

    • 1mime says:

      I understand, PR, but it’s a pretty lonely choice. If it works for you, great. It wouldn’t for me. Vive la differance!

    • 1mime says:

      But do you not assign any value to the accuracy of the categories you subconsciously place people into?

    • 1mime says:

      Not to get back for long on the “anonymity” discussion, but in reading The Weekly Sift’s second post today, ( one of the commentators made a statement that is relevant. In this instance, the writer maks the point that we all have bias based upon the “familiar”, and that it is more difficult to apply the same level of compassion and understanding of situations/people/places that are foreign to us. We simply have no personal connection with them. It struck a cord for me regarding the value of having a dialogue that lacks any contextual foundation.

      Rickey Greenwald writes: “…if we want to solve the world’s problems we do have to find some way of caring about people who are not “close to home.” One thing that works for me is seeing people’s faces and hearing their stories.”

  23. duncancairncross says:

    I agree with Pseudo –
    Boaty McBoatface is a very very good name for a research vessel
    It would both deflate any “puffed up academics” AND reduce the public misapprehension that all academics are “puffed up”

    I honestly don’t see the Trump and Brexit things as a failure of “dumb voters” so much as a dismal failure of our “free press”

    We have the situation where the media is owned and controlled by the 0.001% – with no requirement for any form of balance in their reporting

    It is actually surprising that Trump and Brexit are outliers –
    With such a stranglehold on the main communication flow it is surprising how often the voters DON’T screw up

  24. flypusher says:

    I’m surprised that the dismal state of education didn’t get mentioned, but perhaps you are saving it for a future post? An educated public doesn’t guarantee the various problems you mentioned won’t happen, but a poorly educated public is a damn good bet to run the whole system off the rails sooner or later. We are flirting with that disaster right now.

    • 1mime says:

      Depends upon your definition of educated….I know many “educated” people who are voting for Trump….college degrees, good jobs, etc. I think what we should strive for is people who use good judgement. Education can help one understand complex issues, but if an educated person doesn’t think independently, what good is education?

      • flypusher says:

        There a phrase that comes up often in biology “necessary but not sufficient”- that applies to the role of an educated public here. It’s not the only thing you need for a functioning republic, but bad things happen in its absence. As for college degrees, I see them as indicators that someone was exposed to knowledge. Whether any of it sank in is something I reserve judgment on.

      • Wasn’t an education requirement clause one of the methods by which black voters were disenfranchised in the Deep South? I remember reading it somewhere but my memory for things non-European is, alas, spotty.

      • 1mime says:

        Yes. Then, of course, the other device was to deny them an education at all, and later, an education that was clearly inferior.

        It’s more of the same tactics whereby if the goal is to eliminate a program or a division, you simply either de-fund it entirely so it can’t function, or, you fund it so inadequately that it will fail which is then used as justification for why it shouldn’t exist.

        Clever, devious, wrong.

  25. Griffin says:

    Yeah speaking of the Trump disaster are you going to get a new website if they nominate Trump in a few weeks under the name “WhigLifer” of something? I’d like to bookmark it as soon as possible.

    “This was not a failure of the masses, but a failure of elites.”

    In more ways than one. The imposition of austerity measures is also partly to credit for the anger of the working class both in the US and even much moreso in Europe.The abondonment of the basic Keynesian economics that has long kept working people away from radical politics is a rather baffling decision by the political elite.

  26. Pseudoperson Randomian says:

    But,but,but what’s wrong with Boaty McBoatface? Everyone would love that name – even people who serve on it – it evokes the cutesiness, and that evokes warm and protective feelings. It’s a great way to make people care.

    Rest of the article, though. Makes sense.

    • antimule says:

      Yeah. Are we weird for thinking it is a good name?

      • Griffin says:

        I honestly liked it but I’m a coward so I needed a few people to come out in favor of it first to confirm my suspiscions that it’s a decent name. Perhaps this proves Lifer’s point…

      • goplifer says:

        That was really funny. More than proving my point, it bears on the argument from The Wisdom of Crowds about why that phenomenon doesn’t work in politics. It’s actually a really interesting observation.

      • 1mime says:

        The “wisdom of crowds” explains so much about what is happening today. The “herd” mentality of the religious right; the opposition crowd to global warming….In each of these cases, the message becomes the position because it is repeated and reinforced until it becomes reality for its proponents. Interesting examples about 9/11, Columbia Shuttle disaster, etc.

    • The name “Boaty McBoatface” was actually very popular amongst the academic community, particularly those who were going to be crewing her. Arctic explorers are a coarser breed than one might expect.

      The story has a happy ending though: after the announcement was made that that name would not be used, the crew decided to use it for the ship’s ROV. (An underwater drone, used for exploration.) As such, there will now be a Boaty McBoatface doing science in the Arctic after all.

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