LOSERPALOOZA 2020

Maggie Haberman, Sabrina Tavernise, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Zach Montague, reporting for The New York Times:

President Trump in his motorcade drove by hundreds of his supporters who showed up in Washington on Saturday for demonstrations protesting the outcome of the 2020 election. Mr. Trump has refused to concede the election even as his loss in the Electoral College grew this week.

The president drove by in the motorcade on his way to his private golf club in Sterling, Va., and was greeted by applause and cheers. Supporters nearby carried signs reading “Best prez ever” and “Stop the steal.”

Crowds fanned out for several blocks around Freedom Plaza as thousands of supporters filled in, though the crowd was not overwhelming by most measures.

On Twitter, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, offered an exaggerated assessment of the event, called the “Million MAGA March,” claiming that a million supporters had turned out.

Accounts on the ground suggested that estimate was wildly inflated.

This comment, tho:

They’re trying to get a count of how many people are at the MAGA March in Washington but every time they reach 270, someone screams for a recount and they have to start over.

Basically.. a LOSERPALOOZA 2020.


November 14, 2020
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“We cannot perpetuate the election-year fiction that the deep and bewildering problems facing millions of people in this country will simply end with the Trump Administration.”

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, writing for the New Yorker:

Like tens of millions of Americans, I voted to end the miserable reign of Donald J. Trump, but we cannot perpetuate the election-year fiction that the deep and bewildering problems facing millions of people in this country will simply end with the Trump Administration. They are embedded in “the system,” in systemic racism, and the other social inequities that are the focus of continued activism and budding social movements. Viewing the solution to these problems as simply electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both underestimates the depth of the problems and trivializes the remedies necessary to undo the damage. That view may also confuse popular support for fundamental change, as evidenced by Trump’s one-term Presidency, with what the Democratic Party is willing or even able to deliver.


November 10, 2020
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“The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming.”

Zeynep Tufekci, writing for The Atlantic:

Make no mistake: The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming. And it won’t be easy to make the next Trumpist a one-term president. He will not be so clumsy or vulnerable. He will get into office less by luck than by skill. Perhaps it will be Senator Josh Hawley, who is writing a book against Big Tech because he knows that will be the next chapter in the culture wars, with social-media companies joining “fake news” as the enemy. Perhaps it will be Senator Tom Cotton, running as a law-and-order leader with a populist bent. Maybe it will be another media figure: Tucker Carlson or Joe Rogan, both men with talent and followings. Perhaps it will be another Sarah Palin—she was a prototype—with the charisma and appeal but without the baggage and the need for a presidential candidate to pluck her out of the blue. Perhaps someone like the QAnon-supporting Representative-elect Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who first beat the traditional Republican representative in the primary and then ran her race with guns blazing, mask off, and won against the Democratic candidate, a retired professor who avoided campaigning in person. Indeed, a self-made charismatic person coming out of nowhere probably has a better chance than many establishment figures in the party.

At the moment, the Democratic Party risks celebrating Trump’s loss and moving on—an acute danger, especially because many of its constituencies, the ones that drove Trump’s loss, are understandably tired. A political nap for a few years probably looks appealing to many who opposed Trump, but the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024. And make no mistake: They’re all thinking about it.



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“Trump has laid a set of traps designed to discredit and demean the electoral system.”

Anne Applebaum, writing for The Atlantic:

Now, having spent months talking darkly about the rules being rigged against him, he [Donald Trump] has laid a set of traps designed to discredit and demean the electoral system so that some Americans, at least, lose their faith in it. This has been said by others, but it bears restating: That Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan did not finish counting their votes on Tuesday night is no accident. In all of these states, Republican legislators prevented their election boards from counting postal votes before Election Day. In the midst of a pandemic that Democrats take more seriously than Republicans do, after Trump himself told his followers that voting by mail was suspect, the partisan gap between in-person and postal voters was always likely to be stark.

But even if Trump’s Hail Mary pass quickly fizzles, even if his attempt to stay in the White House is drowned out by the reality of the vote count and a tsunami of “Biden won” headlines, that doesn’t mean Trump will admit that the election was fair—ever. Even if Trump is forced to make a grudging concession speech, even if Biden is sworn in as president on January 20, even if the Trump family is forced to pack its Louis Vuitton suitcases and flee to Mar-a-Lago, it is in Trump’s interest, and a part of the Republican Party’s interest, to maintain the fiction that the election was stolen. That’s because the same base, the base that distrusts American democracy, could still be extremely useful to Trump, as well as to the Republican Party, in years to come.

Just like George Costanza from Seinfeld once said, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”


November 8, 2020
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“Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them.”

David Graeber:

It is the peculiar feature of political life that within it, behavior that could only otherwise be considered insane is perfectly effective. If you managed to convince everyone on earth that you can breathe under water, it won’t make any difference: if you try it, you will still drown. On the other hand, if you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were King of France, then you would actually be the King of France. (In fact, it would probably work just to convince a substantial portion of the French civil service and military.)

This is the essence of politics. Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. No king would openly admit he is king just because people think he is. Political power has to be constantly recreated by persuading others to recognize one’s power; to do so, one pretty much invariably has to convince them that one’s power has some basis other than their recognition. That basis may be almost anything—divine grace, character, genealogy, national destiny. But “make me your leader because if you do, I will be your leader” is not in itself a particularly compelling argument.

In this sense politics is very similar to magic, which in most times and places—as I discovered in Madagascar—is simultaneously recognized as something that works because people believe that it works; but also, that only works because people do not believe it works only because people believe it works. For this why magic, whether in ancient Thessaly or the contemporary Trobriand Islands, always seems to dwell in an uncertain territory somewhere between poetic expression and outright fraud. And of course the same can usually be said of politics.

Full PDF here.


November 6, 2020
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“Sex robots are going to emulate an increase in the ratio of women to men.”

Diana Fleischman:

The men who would have been most likely to have access to multiple women throughout history were men high in status, like kings and men high in dominance, like warlords. Video games and social media already undermine the native psychological mechanisms that make us work towards status — they supply more immediate rewards and take far less effort than anything we work towards out in the real world. Sex robots are only going to make that worse, especially for young men. The game Love Plus, in which the ultimate reward is simply getting to know a virtual girl and attaining her virtual signals of approval has already replaced pursuing dating real women for thousands of men. Imagine if winning a video game was punctuated not with just saving the princess but having sex with her. Imagine if men could have the diversity of sexual experience of Genghis Khan, Muhammad, or John F. Kennedy without actually achieving anything. Sex robots are about to make the virtual world even more alluring.

What does this mean for women? When the sex ratio changes, so too do sexual norms; sex robots are going to emulate an increase in the ratio of women to men. Contrary to a prediction based on the idea that men would wield greater patriarchal control if they were in higher numbers, a larger percentage of women relative to men on University campuses is associated with women who are more likely to have casual sex and less likely to be virgins. When there are more men than women, women are much less likely to have casual sex. The majority sex (in this case men) competes for the minority sex (in this case women) and the minority sex calls the shots. When there is a female majority in the population, women compete for access to mates with casual sex. Whereas a male majority competing for access to scarce women compete with long-term commitment.

Sex robots will emulate a majority women ratio, shifting women to compete for men’s attention by requiring less courtship and commitment in exchange for sex. The long-term ramifications are unclear, especially the way long-term technologies and cultural norms will interact. Perhaps women will discover they have to make the costs of courtship both low and transparent to compete with sex robots. Or, perhaps, new technology could enable women to recombine their genes with one another, making men enamored with sex robots (or men generally) totally redundant.


November 5, 2020
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“Having fun is a fine ambition, but it’s not the same thing as eating good food.”

Tyler Cowen, writing for The Atlantic:

When I’m out looking for food, and I come across a restaurant where the patrons are laughing and smiling and appear very sociable, I become wary. Don’t get me wrong. Having fun is a fine ambition, but it’s not the same thing as eating good food. Many restaurants, especially in downtown urban areas, fill seats—and charge high prices—by creating social scenes for drinking, dating, and carousing. They’re not using the food to draw in their customers. The food in most of these places is “not bad,” because the restaurant needs to maintain a trendy image. The menu will feature some kind of overpriced fusion cuisine, sponsored by a famous or semi-famous chef who is usually absent. There are worse places to eat, but if I’m spending my own money, I’ll usually give these a pass.

I also start to worry if many women in a restaurant are beautiful in a trendy or stylish way. The point is not that beautiful women have bad taste in food. Instead, the problem is that they will attract a lot of men to the restaurant, whether or not the place serves excellent food. And that allows the restaurant to cut back on the quality of the food.

Good advice, especially if you live or are visiting NYC. Also Cowen’s tip on choosing restaurants in Manhattan on the streets over those on the avenues is very accurate and also makes a lot of sense:

Manhattan’s avenues tend to have higher rents than its streets. Given the long, thin shape of the island, the north-south avenues carry more vehicular and foot traffic. That neat Korean place can make ends meet on 35th, but it would not survive on Fifth Avenue. No matter where you are, turning just a bit off the main drag can yield a better meal for your money.


November 3, 2020
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“Any fool can make a fortune. It takes a man of brains to hold on to it after it is made.”

Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, writing in Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt:

Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest people in the United States, having been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick, and Ford. Forty-eight years after his death, one of his direct descendants died penniless. Within seventy years of his death, the last of the great Vanderbilt mansions on Fifth Avenue had made way for modern office buildings. When 120 of the Commodore’s descendants gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them.

“Any fool can make a fortune,” the Commodore had told his son William, whom he still called Billy, shortly before he died. “It takes a man of brains to hold on to it after it is made.”


October 31, 2020
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“Taking temporarily high rates of annual exponential growth as indicators of future long-term developments is a fundamental mistake.”

Vaclav Smil, writing in Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities:

Taking temporarily high rates of annual exponential growth as indicators of future long-term developments is a fundamental mistake — but also an enduring habit that is especially favored by uncritical promoters of new devices, designs, or practices: they take early-stage growth rates, often impressively exponential, and use them to forecast an imminent dominance of emerging phenomena.

Many recent examples can illustrate this error, and I have chosen the capacity growth of Vestas wind turbines, machines leading the shift toward the de-carbonization of global electricity generation. This Danish maker began its sales with a 55 kW machine in 1981; by 1989 it had a turbine capable of 225 kW; a 600 kW machine was introduced in 1995; and a 2 MW unit followed in 1999. The best-fit curve for this rapid growth trajectory of the last two decades of the 20th century (five-parameter logistic fit with R2 of 0.978) would have predicted designs with capacity of nearly 10 MW in 2005 and in excess of 100 MW by 2015. But in 2018 the largest Vestas unit available for onshore installations was 4.2 MW and the largest unit suitable for offshore wind farms was 8 MW that could be upgraded to 9 MW (Vestas 2017a), and it is most unlikely that a 100 MW machine will be ever built.

This example of a sobering contrast between early rapid advances of a technical innovation followed by inevitable formation of sigmoid curves should be recalled whenever you see news reports about all cars becoming electric by 2025 or new batteries having impressively higher energy densities by 2030.

But the final, inescapable power of this reality may seem inapplicable in those cases where exponential growth has been underway for an extended period of time and when it keeps setting new record levels. More than a few normally rational people have been able to convince themselves — by repeating the mantra “this time it is different” — that performances will keep on multiplying for a long time to come.


October 28, 2020
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“Uncertainty must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.”

Bertrand Russell, writing in History of Western Philosophy:

Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them.


October 18, 2020
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