plenty ok boy
2103 stories
·
9 followers

Sometimes The Chicken Kills You, Though

3 Shares

In 2008, David Sedaris wrote a short piece for the New Yorker about undecided voters that has recently resurfaced. Sedaris was not sympathetic to those among the electorate who find it difficult to make up their minds: 

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I find that this short passage usefully demonstrates what I would call “some common bad tendencies in liberal thought” and so it’s worth analyzing closely.

First, this is 2008, so presumably John McCain is the plate of shit and Barack Obama is airline chicken (tepid, not likely to change your life, but, you know, fine). Sedaris thinks the choice between these two is so obvious that it should not require even a moment’s thought, which is why he can’t imagine anyone being undecided. But surely the bigger mystery is why there are so many Republicans, i.e. enthusiastic shit-gobblers (in this analogy). Surely it should be puzzling that there are so many people who are going for the plate of shit with tiny bits of broken glass. Perhaps this should lead us to wonder: is there something wrong with the chicken that I am not noticing? And given that this seems to happen every election since at least 2000, is the problem not particular to 2008?

In fact—and I say this not just to be fatuous but because it’s leading somewhere important—eating chickens is a leading cause of death worldwide. Sometimes the chicken has salmonella! If you simply say “well, everything else on this menu is a big ol’ plate of shit,” but it turns out that the answer to “how is the chicken cooked?” is “it isn’t,” then that would have been an important question to ask before agreeing to put it in your mouth.

I point this out because it captures what’s so wrong about the way Sedaris thinks about elections, i.e. mindlessly. His analogy is actually very useful, because the point it makes is: do not think about what you are eating, think only about what you are not eating. Do not ask even basic questions about whether the Democratic candidate is any good. Just look at the Republican, realize how terrible they are, and take whatever the alternative is. In other words, “vote blue no matter who.”

We need to reject the view of politics embedded in Sedaris’ analogy. The reason I bring up salmonella is to point out that it’s not inherently a given that someone with a (D) after their name is the best choice. We have to examine the candidates carefully. Yes, the Republican Party in this country is so monstrous that there are almost no conceivable circumstances in which voting Republican is the better choice. But to refuse examine your own candidate, to ask even the most basic questions about “how are they cooked” and what they stand for, means that over time you’re probably going to end up being served worse and worse chicken, because the airline staff (DNC) realize they can get away with serving you something that’s extremely close to a plate of shit and you’ll still eat it. 

My colleague Briahna Joy Gray explains this more eloquently and less disgustingly in her “Defense of Litmus Tests.” Briahna points out that when we make it clear at the outset that we have few standards for our party’s candidate, and we will vote for them regardless of how much they depart from or even betray our values, we are preemptively surrendering the leverage that we need to use to get better candidates. One of the most absurd moments in the Democratic primary was when progressives were asked if they would support the Democratic candidate even if it was Michael Bloomberg, a racist, sexist, Republican billionaire who might arguably have actually been worse than Trump. But this is what you get if you make it clear that you’re willing to be pushed around, to sit silently and eat your poisoned chicken. 

Notice how passive the voter is in Sedaris’ analogy. They are strapped into their seat, and their only ability is to make a binary choice between two meals. Presumably, since this is supposed to represent an election, it is not possible to “not eat at all”—they’re going to get something, and if they remain undecided, the airline staff will force-feed them the plate of shit with tiny bits of broken glass. (Not even Spirit does that yet.) We do not participate in making the meal, we just have to accept what we are given.

But we can’t accept that candidates are just going to be handed to us and that our role is to pick the least fecal one. There is no reason we cannot have good meals, but voters have to see themselves as active participants in the political process who get to make demands of their parties, who do not just have to accept a menu of options that has been pre-decided for them. 

A relevant anecdote: the last time I was on an international flight, the flight attendant told me that the meal options were chicken or fish. I am a vegetarian, so both were equally inedible as far as I was concerned. “You should have ordered the vegetarian meal,” she said. I told her I had ordered the vegetarian meal, which was true. She said that they had no record of this, and there was nothing available but chicken or fish. “Then I can’t eat either,” I said. “Because I am a vegetarian.” She looked very annoyed. Five minutes later she returned with a vegetarian pasta dish. It wasn’t half bad. The lesson: people in power want you to believe that there is no alternative to the options they give you, but oftentimes there are more available, and you only find out by making demands and sticking with them. 

The difficulty here is that once Election Day rolls around, we do face a binary choice. This election is particularly painful for many on the left, because the Democratic candidate is so utterly unrepresentative of our aspirations. My personal feeling is that when it comes down to it, we do need to hold our noses and vote for him, since Trump’s reelection would be so catastrophic. But we have to do so in full awareness of what it is we’re eating. We can’t, like Sedaris implies, just refuse to ask questions about or examine our own candidate. We’re stuck with him, but we cannot delude ourselves into thinking a Biden presidency will be good. It will be not as bad as what is going on now, which is possibly the lowest bar any person has ever had to clear. 

One reason voters are often undecided is that they realize just how unappetizing both of their options are. I think we should be sympathetic to that, not view it as insane. These are people with standards, who find it very difficult to accept “not literally eating turds” as their criterion for what to have for dinner. I sympathize with that, and it’s bizarre that some liberals consider this irrational. It reminds me of the contempt expressed for Nader voters after 2000. George W. Bush and the Republican Party subverted democracy and illegitimately installed the candidate who lost, yet liberals seethed at Nader, a candidate who only ran, and only got votes, because the Democratic Party was so disappointing that progressive voters felt politically homeless. To get angry at the undecided or third party voters, is to miss the far more important fact that for some reason, large swaths of people in the country do not seem at all interested in the chicken. 

If we don’t look at our side critically, and make demands of it, and improve it, then it will remain disappointing forever, or possibly get worse. People will not want it, no matter what the other option is. They will ask for something else, or they will stay undecided. Being critical of the Democratic Party is a crucial part of improving it and making sure that we have something that is not just “marginally better” but “actually good.” 

In short, always ask how the chicken is cooked. 

Read the whole story
rocketo
2 days ago
reply
seattle, wa
sarcozona
25 days ago
reply
iridesce
34 days ago
reply
DC
Share this story
Delete

Joe Biden Is Not Winning

1 Comment

Joe Biden, most experts say, is beating Donald Trump. If the election were held today, we are told that Biden would win comfortably. Biden’s lead is “the steadiest on record,” says Harry Enten of CNN: “Biden’s up 52 percent to 42 percent over President Donald Trump among likely voters nationally, and he has a 50 percent to 44 percent edge over Trump in the key battleground state of Wisconsin as well.” Biden’s lead is so strong that some are saying Biden may simply “coast to victory.” The Biden campaign has not opened field offices in battleground states and is not doing in-person canvassing, but they do not appear worried. After all, they have the steadiest lead on record. Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times cautions people against “freaking out,” saying that while “as of this writing FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 24 percent chance of winning” (in 2016 they gave him 29 percent), and while some on-the-ground organizers are “terrified” at the campaign’s inaction, party officials and the Biden campaign have offered assurance that a “digital” strategy will work. Donald Trump’s campaign may be knocking on a million doors a week to Biden’s 0, but Biden is winning in every poll.

I haven’t been nearly as reassured by this, because in 2016 everyone was telling me Trump couldn’t win and I thought they were delusional. I’ve recommended that the Biden campaign get its ass in gear and step up the fight, because after all, it never hurts to have too many votes. But when I’ve said this to people, they’ve responded to me with the signature piece of data: the polls. The polls. And, admittedly, I hadn’t really scrutinized the polls closely, so I assumed they were right that Biden’s lead was comfortable and steady.

Well, now I’ve looked at the polls. And I’m far more worried. So worried that I don’t think it’s even responsible to say that “Biden is winning.” Our working assumption should actually be that Biden is losing.

First, every single time you see a “national” polling average of Biden versus Trump, put it out of your head. It’s meaningless, or at least on its own it can’t tell you whether he’s likely to win the election. This is because we do not live in a system where the person who gets the most votes wins. Instead, we have the Electoral College, which is massively unfair and totally indefensible on rational grounds (people use absurd arguments to stick up for it). But those are the rules under which the game is played and thus the ones which will determine who wins. Hillary won the popular vote. She did not win the election. Biden could lead Trump 60-40 in the national polls and still lose the election if his voters were concentrated in deep blue states.

So what we actually need to look at is states. Specifically “swing states,” the ones where the outcome is fairly uncertain and which might contribute significantly to turning the Electoral College result one way or the other. Let us, then, open up the New York Timeslatest results from critical swing states and see what we find: 

How reassuring! Blue blue blue blue blue blue. +7 in Michigan! We got this. Don’t freak out. Except: what’s the column with some red in it? “If polls were as wrong as they were in 2016.” Hmm. What the Times is saying, then, is that the deep blue column on the left is only a reliable predictor of the result if we make one specific assumption, which is that the polls will not be wrong by the same amount in the same direction as they were in 2016.

And if they are as wrong as they were last time? Well, the Times shows us what the result would be: 

The map on election night would therefore end up looking like this: 

Biden gets Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona. Trump squeaks by in Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin. Trump wins a second term. 

So this is the outcome that, via the Times’ calculations, will occur if current polling stays the same but is off in exactly the same way as it was in 2016. You’d better hope to God that doesn’t happen, then.

How concerned should we be about this? Every time I voice a worry, I am deluged online by a class of people I call “Poll Guys.” Poll Guys do not suffer from doubt. They know statistics, and you do not. They laugh at you when you wonder if the polls could be off. No. You dummy. That was 2016. The polls are better now. We’ve fixed them. And then they tell you why the polls can be relied upon this time, why the same thing cannot happen again, because there are fewer undecided voters or the sampling is better or whatever. 

(Actually, to be more precise, that is Poll Guy Type A. There is a second type, Poll Guy Type B, who responds: “Well, of course we think Trump could very well win, Nobody Says Otherwise, we have always said it is a probability. This is Nate Silver-ism. As I have pointed out before, Silverism is where you give a very strong impression of one thing, but then you also say that the opposite could happen too. What happens is that people are left thinking you are reassuring them one outcome can be pretty well relied upon—especially since sometimes you drop the caveats entirely or bury them in the body text—but if it doesn’t, you get to say that you also told them the opposite thing was possible. It is a good way to never technically be wrong while also being functionally useless and giving a dangerously misleading picture of reality to people who will act according to the impression you give while overlooking just how important the caveats were because you did not frontload those caveats or put big flashing emergency lights next to them like a responsible commentator should have done.)

It is not productive to argue with Poll Guys of Type A, because Poll Guys do not allow the submission of evidence other than polls. So, if you have some concern about sampling technique, they will discuss it with you. But if you say something mushy and qualitative like “I’m a little concerned about the fact that I see a billion Trump flags in Florida and hardly any Biden signs, and the lack of canvassing seems troubling,” you will be told that this is not statistics. Which, indeed, it isn’t.

Let me give you a list of three assumptions, though:

Assumption A:

We can confidently assume that the polls will not be wrong in the same direction and degree as they were in 2016. Biden is therefore winning and winning comfortably.

Assumption B:

We cannot assume that polls do not have the same bias as 2016. But we also should not assume that they do. Perhaps the polls are off in Biden’s favor, or perhaps Trump’s. We should therefore be cautious about making any assertion about who we think will win, even if we think it probably favors Biden. 

Assumption C:

We should assume that what happened in 2016 is likely to happen in 2020. Last time the polls underestimated Trump, so we should treat them as if they will do it again. 


Poll Guys, at least those who have called me a fool on the internet, tend to hold Assumption A. Their faith in state-level presidential polling has actually increased since 2016. This is because they believe that polling gets better when we notice the errors, and adjustments are made to ensure the same oversight will not occur again. Thus 2020 Democrats need not have 2016 Democrats’ worries. 

I, however, tend to favor Assumption C. But this is not actually because I believe it to be the “true” or “correct” assumption. Rather, it is because I believe it is the assumption you should work from when you’re running in an incredibly high-stakes election. You want to be extremely cautious and conservative, and it is a perfectly sound form of reasoning to say: “In this election, we will operate on the basis of the assumption that what happened last time may happen this time. This is because we do not want to risk making a terrible mistake. The stakes are too high. Last time we relied excessively on the comforting predictions of pollsters and it was a horrible idea. This time, the pollsters offer us reassurance that everything is fixed. But given what happened last time, that reassurance is insufficient to stake an election on.” (This is also why “existential risk” matters so much. We may think the chance of a nuclear war is on the lower end but if it happened it would be so catastrophic that we must be proactive in trying to prevent it and operate on the assumption that it could very well happen.)

I want Joe Biden to win the election. I have made that very clear, even though I despise Joe Biden and think he will suck as a president. The consequences of Donald Trump’s reelection for the climate, immigrants, electoral democracy, and nuclear proliferation are far too severe for us to contemplate letting it happen. This means that I do not want Biden to screw this up. 

Not screwing up means assuming worst-case scenarios. It means fighting like you think you’re going to lose. That’s especially the case if there is actual hard data showing that all it would take is for the same fuckup to occur twice in order for Biden to lose. 

Ok, but how could the polls be wrong? Why specifically would they have underestimated Trump? Simple: Biden has made a decision that no other presidential campaign has ever made. He’s not running in-person campaign operations in critical swing states. No offices. No door-knocking. No tabling. Nada. Polls might have corrected for whatever errors led pollsters to underestimate Trump against Clinton, but there might be an entirely new error. Certainly, I think the decision not to have a ground operation is a huge X factor that could definitely bump things a few points in the direction of Trump. I don’t know that it will, of course. But unlike Poll Guys, I try not to be too confident.

We must also recognize that everyone is prone to bias. People who don’t admit that they have bias should never be trusted, because bias is most dangerous when it is unexamined. I freely admit that I was biased in favor of Bernie Sanders in the primary. This led me to underestimate Joe Biden’s chances of winning at the time. I endeavor to interpret facts accurately rather than the way I would like them to be, but it’s hard. 

The most important thing is not to be overconfident. After all, the world is extremely complicated. Are you sure there’s nothing you’ve missed? Are you sure your increased faith in polls this time around is warranted? Or do you perhaps want Joe Biden’s “do very little and hope Trump implodes” strategy to work, thereby influencing which numbers you put stock in and which you set aside? Michelle Goldberg’s “don’t freak out” article begins by quoting a ground-level organizer with a lot of experience at voter persuasion, who is deeply alarmed by Biden’s absence from Pennsylvania. But then she talks to lots of party officials, who say that they are confident and we should not be so troubled. Is it obvious, however, that they are right? And is it so obvious that we are willing to gamble everything on it?

I hope I am wrong. I hoped I was wrong in 2016. People don’t think I mean that, because there’s often satisfaction to be had from being right about things. Actually, what I found out in 2016 was that there is no satisfaction whatsoever. That’s the worst part, actually. It feels like warning someone they’re about to get hit by a train, and they don’t listen, and then you watch them get hit by the train. Only a psychopath enjoys that. No, when you’re right about something horrible, you don’t feel good; you just feel sad and scared. I keep having nightmares lately about watching the map turn red on Election Night. If that doesn’t happen, I will be absolutely elated. I will send Michelle Goldberg a big basket of cookies that say “I’m sorry I doubted you!” on them (although I won’t be sorry, because doubt is critically important and it’s far better to doubt too much that you’re winning than to be over-assured of victory). 

In 2017, we published this little cartoon about Poll Guys by Pranas Naujokaitis and I still like it: 

In other words: be careful. The fact that your data said you could never be attacked simultaneously by a bear, an octopus, three crocodiles, a snake, and a shark will be small comfort to you the moment it happens. “My certainty was rational” is not a reassuring statement if it turns out to be your last words.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Don’t wander into the deadly swamp confident you won’t be eaten by animals. Don’t assume Joe Biden is winning. The data suggests that actually, he might very well not be winning at all. If Trump’s past electoral performance is an indication of what his upcoming performance will be like, Biden’s solid lead is a mirage. 

Read the whole story
rocketo
3 days ago
reply
"First, every single time you see a “national” polling average of Biden versus Trump, put it out of your head. It’s meaningless, or at least on its own it can’t tell you whether he’s likely to win the election. This is because we do not live in a system where the person who gets the most votes wins."
seattle, wa
Share this story
Delete

Trump, Badly Needing to Reach Swing Voters, Pivots to … Esoteric White Intellectual Grievance Jargon?

1 Comment
A "distracted boyfriend" meme image in which Donald Trump is distracted from the concept of "anything else" by the concept of "Fox News stuff."

Read the whole story
rocketo
3 days ago
reply
p good faq though
seattle, wa
Share this story
Delete

changing the wind

1 Share
A photograph from the bow of a small sailing craft on calm blue waters. Grassy brown hills dotted with green shrubs on the horizon separate the light blue sky and the sea below. A white and blue sail hangs from the mast, with rigging here and there. Kind of a weird flex way to say I’ve been on a sailboat.

One of my strengths at work is creativity. I enjoy coming up with new ideas and different approaches to problems. Some of these ideas are pretty out there! When I started my career, I had to learn how to gain buy-in from leaders in a traditional hierarchy. I would make minor tweaks to their ideas, judge where I could push and where I couldn’t.

Several years later, I’m a senior manager leading a small department. I have the institutional power I need to act on my ideas. I can also encourage, elevate, and expand on ideas that come from my staff or colleagues. My ideas, too, have expanded. I now spend time daydreaming about systems-level changes. These ideas have the potential to affect a whole company, or even an entire ecosystem.

But I’m not an executive director. I still have hierarchical superiors. These leaders are often less excited about disruptive change that challenges power structures. It doesn’t make my ideas bad, but it does make them risky.

if the executive won’t do it, nobody should
You can often tell what a leader values by the workgroups they create. Leaders show us their priorities in explicit and implicit ways. They will talk more about the ideas they like, and less about ones they don’t care about. Their intent here doesn’t even have to be malicious. There are only so many hours in the day. If the executive is not on board with an idea, it doesn’t have to go anywhere.

A leader can show a project is important by assigning it to someone. They can make regular check-ins on their progress. The opposite end of the spectrum is also true. They could assign a ‘priority’ task to a committee that rarely meets. Or they could approve a vague plan with distant timelines or impossible milestones.

If leaders show no reward for success and no consequence for inaction, why would anyone spend time on it?

Early in my career, I interpreted inaction or ignorance as permission to do something. This created renegade cells that ran counter to the status quo. Working in this way sometimes made me feel worse about my ideas. What does success look like? If my boss found out, would the idea excite them? Would they think this was all a waste of time? Would they feel undermined because I was doing this without their explicit support?

ok then so how do we get new ideas off the ground?
Any time I do something on my own, I need more power and energy to get it done. I have to get all my other work done before I can work on my “passion projects.” I enlist others who have similar interests. I find allies across the company who support these changes and will advocate on their behalf.

I find it’s helpful to study what ideas executives do like. What kind of metrics do they consider valuable? When an idea does get off the ground, how did it happen? What approach did the person use? Easily-approved ideas generate funds, make a process more efficient, or have tangible benefits.

There is of course the worst approach, for when all other options fail. Incrementalism can help get an idea’s foot in the door. I don’t support it, though. You might help create a one-and-done decision that nobody has the capital to ever revisit. And if that incremental step does fail, the more ambitious idea will never get off the ground. This happens in politics all the time. For all the electoral costs of the Affordable Care Act, we lost the ability to push for true universal healthcare coverage. Now, progressives are forced to defend a healthcare plan with serious flaws.

what would this look like with a distributed leadership structure?
I’ve spent my career navigating white-dominant workplace hierarchies. I dream about finding a workplace with true power distribution (without having to create it). In such a structure, people can create new ideas without the threat of an override from a person with power. An idea can be reviewed, tested, accepted, or rejected on its merits.

The advice process is well-suited to create decisions that affect a large group. Autonomous teams can scope and test their own smaller ideas. If those ideas are a success, other teams can choose to adapt them. All of this can happen without a person in power unfairly moving the scale in either direction.

Changing an organization’s direction can feel like having to change the wind itself. It can happen! It’s so satisfying when it does. For all the work that entails, it’s sometimes easier to find a ship that believes in sails.

Read the whole story
rocketo
3 days ago
reply
seattle, wa
Share this story
Delete

Angels in the market

1 Share

The heart-tug tactics of 1950s ads steered white American women away from activism into domesticity. They’re still there

By Ellen Wayland-Smith

Read at Aeon

Read the whole story
rocketo
4 days ago
reply
seattle, wa
Share this story
Delete

probablyasocialecologist:Credit: Fuck Capitalism 2020

3 Shares


probablyasocialecologist:

Credit: Fuck Capitalism 2020

Read the whole story
rocketo
4 days ago
reply
seattle, wa
diannemharris
5 days ago
reply
tingham
5 days ago
Plutes gonna plute.
iridesce
5 days ago
reply
DC
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories