Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Politics

That Time I Tweeted

So the other day I quickly tweeted a few things.

The aftermath was wild. The first tweet got just over 1 million impressions. Around 48K people interacted with it. 8K likes. Jake Tapper is now following me, but I’m more fanstruck by Eric Heisserer.

The retweeter with the biggest audience was Cory Doctorow, at 437K. He also picked it up for Boing Boing, although he didn’t ask. On the one hand, he didn’t need to ask. On the other hand, Dorkly politely checked with me first. On the third hand, someone at Boing Boing photoshopped Trump’s hair on top of Eric’s head. Meh, screw them.

After Doctorow, the retweeter with the most followers was this voice actor whose name I’m spacing, at around 100K. From there it follows the usual distribution. I spent two days hoping nobody with a million+ followers would pick it up. “OK, guys, you can stop telling Critical Role to look at this now.”  I watched it spread through liberal online journalism Twitter (you know, Vox et al) and through Catholic Twitter (“wait, is that a Jesuit priest?”). If I had to guess I’d say it was mostly spreading through tabletop gaming circles, though. That’s just a kinda wide set of circles now.

I only had a handful of people yelling at me. Some people felt I was naive for thinking kindly of Catholics; those people kind of missed the point. I met and chatted with a few really cool people and I have about 500 new followers, all of whom I followed back. I will trim a few over time (sorry, but if you retweet Louise Mensch as a reliable source I’m gonna be elsewhere) but in general I feel like I have expanded my Twitter universe in a cool way. I also reconnected with a few old friends and had a brief but nice conversation with my freshman year roommate, which oddly allowed me to let go of some stuff I’ve been carrying around for decades.

Three reporters chatted with me. None of them found a story in the tweets, although one guy has another angle he’s working on. I think that’s correct. I don’t have a good enough memory of that year to build a story. I just had an emotional anecdote with a killer stinger and a call to action.

I’m really happy about the call to action.

Final lesson here: tell your stories. You never know what’s going to resonate.

That Elephant There

Oh hey, remember that time I pointed out that Republican campaign manager Corey Bliss was ignoring healthcare as an issue? The Democrats have not forgotten that healthcare is an issue.

Health care will be a defining difference in North Dakota, where incumbent Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp faces GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, who backed repeal. In Arkansas, Clarke Tucker, a cancer survivor, says health care is the reason he’s running for Congress. And in New Jersey, Democrat Andy Kim is talking health care as he tries to unseat Rep. Tom MacArthur, who played a key role in finally getting a repeal bill through the House, only to see it die in the Senate.

I’m not terribly confident about winning the Senate back but the House is going blue.

Elephant in the Election

I was gonna be snarky about Corey Bliss in this New York Times piece because of how he manages to pretend health care and insurance costs totally don’t exist and shouldn’t be mentioned when you’re talking about the economy. Frank Bruni gets zero points for going along with it. This is literally just letting a Republican strategist control the message while pretending to be objective; well done, Grey Lady!

But then Kevin Drum went ahead and dropped a few charts about wage growth on us and I decided that was a way better reason to snark. Bliss can be laser focused on taxes if he likes but wages aren’t looking so hot. Think the mostly illusory tax cuts will make up for stagnant salaries? Me either.

Bliss also claimed progressive radical candidates are gonna get steamrolled the day after a pretty moderate set of candidates won in primaries. To be fair he’s actually just trying to get Bernie fans angry there.

Free Speech via Debate

I may talk about this Ezra Klein/Sam Harris debate more, because it’s really interesting and rewards close reading. However, quickie before work: this is exactly how I want to platform controversial ideas. I believe strongly that free speech is important. That doesn’t mean you get to completely control your context.

In this piece, Sam Harris gets a big platform to make his case. He just has Ezra Klein sitting there debating him in good faith every step of the way. Compare this to the Milo tour of college campuses, in which Milo has no interest in defending his views. He’s just there to whip people up with a big megaphone. Context matters, and if you’re interested in advancing ideas that are reprehensible, you maybe need to deal with some pushback in real time.

One detail from early in the Klein/Harris debate:

Ezra Klein
I think you should quote the line. I don’t think that’s what the line said.

Sam Harris
The quote is, this is the exact quote: “Sam Harris appeared to be ignorant of facts that were well known to everyone in the field of intelligence studies.” Now that’s since been quietly removed from the article, but it was there and it’s archived.

[I went back and looked into this and, as far as I can tell, the original quote that Harris is referring to is this one: “Here, too briefly, are some facts to ponder — facts that Murray was not challenged to consider by Harris, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, although they are known to most experts in the field of intelligence.”] (This is Ezra Klein writing.)

That’s gold. In other contexts, Sam Harris gets to recount his version of events as filtered through his aggrieved ego, and people hear him, and sure, it sounds likely. Here, he gets called on it and fact-checked post facto.

Much of this is better expressed in an editorial by Michael McFaul, on the topic of a Francis Fukuyama/Charles Murray debate at Stanford.

“Powered By Reason”

I’ll admit it: when you pop up an ad on my Twitter feed telling me about a debate platform powered by reason, the only thing I see is a hazy red cloud of danger surrounding the words “debate” and “reason.” I blame Gamergate and the alt-right for implanting this reflex deep within my soul. Why are you avoiding my attempts to rationally discuss your inferiority?

But I will rise above my bias and check it out… oh god.

Yes, that’s the problem. Not all claims are created equal; demanding that we put equal time into attacking the argument that oceans would flow away if the Earth were round is a bad idea. The quality of a debate is in part determined by the quality of the claims made during that debate.

Kialo tries to mitigate this by allowing users to vote on each statement’s impact, but that means the displayed validity of points is determined by who can turn out their side the best. Obvious flaws are obvious. More subtly, this concept accepts the assumption that all claims are worth engaging with. Consider the (decade-old!) concept of the social denial of service attack.

2017 Campaigns 1 of 5: The Golden Pyramid

Nights Black Agents campaigns are built using a diagram which represents the classic conspiratorial pyramid structure. It’s called a Conspyramid. The mastermind squats at the top, with minions at various levels beneath. PCs discover the fringes of the conspiracy, and work their way up as the campaign goes on.

The following diagram is a satire. Who would believe that Peter Thiel is secretly influencing 4chan, or that Steve Bannon controls Breitbart News?

Texas State Legislature

Our Texas State Senator is Kirk Watson, in Senate District 14. It’s a ridiculously Democratic district covering most of Austin. At a quick glance he doesn’t look incredibly progressive, nor terribly conservative — I’d guess he’s reasonably middle of the road for the Democratic Party. Health care is a big issue for him, as is the economy. He’ll be running against Guy Fielder on the Republican side. There’s a Guy Fielder in the area who’s been a high tech executive for quite a while — worked at Compaq, etc. — so I’d guess it’s him. No Guy Fielder campaign Web site yet.

Our State Representative is Elliott Naishtat (House page here) in House District 49. The House page is more informative than the single-post blog, but the single-post blog is kind of charming. He’s from Queens, moved to Austin after coming here as part of AmeriCorps, and appears to be very feisty. This is another safe Democratic seat and nobody filed to run in the Republican primary; there are also no Libertarian candidates. Or Green candidates, as far as I can tell.


As the Republican primary season wears on, there’s a lot of discussion of delegate math. Jed Lewison of Daily Kos keeps making arguments based on raw percentages — Romney now has to win 48.4% of the remaining delegates available to reach the convention with the nomination in hand. I think he’s just doing propaganda, though, because he’s making the implicit assumption that delegate apportions are simple. So I took the delegate count from Real Clear Politics and made a super-stupid, basic spreadsheet.

I assumed that Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich would split the remaining primaries and caucuses with 30% of the vote each; I gave Ron Paul 10% of each state. Pause for outrage, yes, I know. If you split delegates, 30/30/30/10, Romney doesn’t get over the hump. But then I went back and gave Romney all of the delegates from the winner take all states: Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Maryland, Washington DC, Delaware, California, New Jersey, and Utah. Utah should be pretty easy for him. Most of the other states ought to be easy Romney victories. Wisconsin is coming up soon; at 42 delegates, it’s a big prize and Santorum’s leading by a big margin there. Romney needs to take all the winner take all states to get to the delegate threshold. On the other hand, if he just misses Wisconsin, I bet there are enough unpledged delegates out there to push him over the top. Without Wisconsin, he’d be at 1152 delegates — with it, he’d be at 1110.

So OK, that’s kind of a rough road. Then I redid the numbers, assuming Gingrich drops and gets all his delegates to vote for Santorum. I gave 66% of Gingrich’s future support to Santorum, and 33% to Romney, which I think is a pretty reasonable estimate. In this model, Romney winds up with more delegates (1246) and he can afford to lose Wisconsin. Note that this scenario also works if you think Romney can pull in a mere 40% of the popular vote the rest of the way, even with both Gingrich and Santorum in the race.

Oh, wait, lemme fiddle with the model some more… OK. If Romney can get 34% of the delegates from proportionally allocated states the rest of the way, and win all the winner take all states except Wisconsin, he still winds up with enough delegates to win the nomination outright. He won 39% of the available delegates yesterday, so he made progress towards his goal. Romney’s right to think he can slowly push his way over the finish line. Lewison’s wrong; it wasn’t a setback. Also, Gingrich is not going to drop out because it would kill his ability to be any kind of a kingmaker at the convention.

Edit: this blog is a real professional doing the same kind of math, but much much better.