I often use a term “borked” to mean to fail in a spectacular fashion. (The official definition is: obstruct (someone, especially a candidate for public office) through systematic defamation or vilification.)

The “fake” news about President Trump wanting to end Mueller’s investigation in the Russia connection reminds me of origin of this word.

President Nixon ordered the firing of an independent special prosecutor looking into the Watergate scandal. The Attorney General refused and resigned in protest. The deputy who was then acting also resigned in protest. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, was the new acting AG and fired the special prosecutor.

Bork’s memoir stated Nixon promised him a Supreme Court seat afterwards for his loyalty. Instead, he was given an appeals court seat by Reagan in 1982. Then Reagan put him up for a Supreme Court seat in 1987. He was so strongly opposed that we got a new word from it. There were 46 Senators in Reagan’s party and 6 voted against Bork. Justice Kennedy was then appointed and managed to get confirmed 97-0.

Weird that I missed the stories celebrating the 30th anniversary of the nomination on July 1, 1987. The nomination vote was October 6th, so there is still time!

The current witch hunt firestorm makes me curious what new terminology we will have in 30 years because of current events.

Facebook Feature Request: Privacy and Tags

This is essentially the issue of the Friends of Friends post. In this case, I am not really interested in expanding the audience.

Say I publish a friends only post. Victor, my friend, makes a comment tagging Roberta, not my friend, and asks a question directed at her. She is not notified about the tag. Nor can she see the comment or post.

Therefore, in my mind, allowing the tag to be done is counterproductive. Facebook should warn Victor that Roberta cannot see it. Ideally it would be ahead of time and prevent it. Less acceptable, but I would be happier is after the fact having a “Roberta cannot see this” notice. (The “Who can see this?” thing is vague and not generally very helpful clarifying exactly who can see it.)

Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in 2012, I took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire test. So almost five years later, I finally got around to reading the book that explains it. Since it is now Facebook integrated, I kind of want ALL my friends to take it.

The framework presented here makes sense to me. I was fascinated by Drew Westen‘s
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation
talking about fear being the key to reaching conservative voters. I could see that in the 2012 and 2016 elections. But, in the 2016 one, it felt like there was something missing. This book explains that pretty well for me. First, there are several values: Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. People who favor certain ones tend to skew into certain parties.

Also, the cycle tends to be we feel something, then judge it based on the feeling, and then create reasons to explain away the judgement. We mistake the reasoning as the basis for values and morality when it is much more subservient to the feelings. I would love to see where Behavioral Economics could go with Moral Foundations Theory.

Applied to politics, I finally understand why people so often vote for policies that will hurt them. They are keyed to emotional reactions to values triggered through how candidates express themselves. Being such a fan of behavioral economics, my impression of humans as purely rational was discarded long ago. MFT fits my observations of others and even myself better than anything else I have seen.

We also are highly social and dependent on the group dynamic. And yet, what policies are chosen to by governments can fray the social capital they have. Immigration and ethnic diversity can trigger a push back leading to more racism.

The book does not really have answers. The questions will drive some of my reading for the next decade in search of them.

View all my reviews

Patriots’ Day

I watched the movie the other day. It made me realize that I know next to nothing about what the title is referencing. The synopsis I read about the movie made clear it was about the Boston Marathon Bombing, so it made it seem that the movie was about the heroic efforts of the Boston police to track down the bombers. After watching the movie, I still had no idea about the title of the movie.

So, I did some Googling.

Apparently Massachusetts, Maine, Wisconsin, and some other states honor the first battles of the American Revolution with Patriots’ Day. The battles took place on April 19th. For a few decades the third Monday in April is the day used for the state holidays. The Boston Marathon is run on Patriots’ Day. Thus the title of the movie.

Here in Georgia there is some hurt feelings over the governor dishonoring Confederate Memorial Day by changing it to:

Monday, April 24 — State Holiday (originally on April 26)

There was a bill on the agenda seeking to make April called Confederate Memorial Month and to officially re-instate the holiday. It looks like it never received a floor vote.

If the state wants an April holiday, then maybe Patriots’ Day fits the bill? It honors American valor and values. Georgia was one of the original colonies unlike Wisconsin.

Gotcha Jerks

Part of the political content that lately makes me uncomfortable about discussing political things are the gotcha posts. Someone makes a mistake and another person on the “good side” catches them in that mistake and cuts them down in epic style. (We call  it “owning.”) The one I saw prompting this post was a name redacted Facebook post where someone was glad the GOP is going to end Obamacare but did not realize their ACA insurance would go away as that is from Obamacare. It ended with the “friends” gloating about the post still being up and not deleted after getting owned so hard. I also have seen interviews where Fox News, Daily Show, John Oliver, and Tomi Lahren all shut down someone who was on the other side. It is easy find people on our side who does this kind of thing to people on the other side.

And easy to adopt a superior feeling at catching the people on the “bad side” in their mistake. The thing is people on the “good side” make mistakes too. Both (or all) are doing this to each other over and over in a perpetual pointless cycle. Catching a person in their mistake is going to make them more invested in their side not less. Because they know they made a mistake, they are going to become more invested in proving the other side is wrong.

Both sides are making the other more committed because of this activity. Neither side is getting the other to convert over getting embarrassed online. Conversations between strangers in forums or public spaces are all about catching mistakes to embarrass each other. Friendships on opposite political sides have devolved into replicating this activity, such that it is more important to prove friends wrong than discuss to understand new perspectives.

I am tired of this. I am sure others are too. I bet they thought their side winning the election would end it. That was a mistake because it just means the losing side wants to push harder to prove they indeed still have the moral high ground. And the winning side will push harder to prove they indeed have a mandate to govern. It solves nothing. Growing empathy works leaps and bounds better.

This sat in queue for a while as I tend to let some posts marinate. I ran across this LinkedIn story where a woman let board members think she was the secretary and man coyly asked her for the expert opinion to shame their sexism and felt the comment below by Fred Patterson more eloquently expressed my last point:

This will be my last post to this and as I write I know I shouldn’t continue. I am so confused by what I keep reading. People are so offended by this mistake or misguided move, but yet they revel in it. Joy in the train wreck that is sure to leave someone injured. This is why racism, sexism, etc continue. It is the voyeuristic delight and if it were ever gone that delight will be as unacceptable as the slight was. So many posts of jubilation and so few of TOLERANT understanding that there are people that need guidance. I’ve learned those lessons in my life from coworkers, my sons, someone I’ve never met. They didn’t take joy in it they took time and humbly helped. I’m convinced that the vocal minority doesn’t want this to end because they would have to sit idly by until a new issue appeared. Be kind. Be helpful. Coach. Mentor. Most of all set a great example for others coming up in life. Good luck.

So… Instead of reveling in each other’s mistakes, lets kindly help each other.


Quasi-Mandatory Voting

Yesterday, in Mandatory Voting I wrote:

In the end, I think finding ways to lower the costs of voting is the best approach. A low participation rate suggests there are problems. Solving those problems would be better than simply punishing people for not overcoming those costs.

Additionally I mentioned:

Certainly, I am in favor of things we can do to make it easier for people to vote like early voting, mail voting, or a national holiday.

Let’s expound on these ideas.

  1. Early voting:  Almost three quarters of states allow voters to cast an early ballot in-person. Some states open an office where people can go to vote in the days prior to the election. Some allow voters to acquire an absentee ballot without an excuse and cast it in the same trip to the office. Essentially it is an in-person absentee. I would love to see all states achieve this.
  2. Mail / absentee voting: Colorado, Washington state, and Oregon all hold elections only by mail. About 20 states require an excuse to vote absentee by mail. It would really helpful for their voters for those to follow the other 27 and allow voting absentee by mail without an excuse.
  3. National holiday / weekend: Tuesday is a bad day for voting for people who work M-F 8-5. My state law requires my employer to give me time off if my schedule does not give me an hour either before the polls open or close. I was in line just before 7am and did not get to cast my ballot until almost 8am. Some employees lack that luxury. Early voting provides some flexibility for people find a day when they can get off work to vote. I liked that my state offered a Saturday option and a county wanted to do a Sunday one. (That latter was deemed politically objectionable because churches might gives rides to polls and potentially influence voters.)
  4. Automatic voter registration: States have ID requirements to vote. My state helpfully asked when I updated my ID if I also want my voter registration updated. I really like the easiness of this. (Why I am not very sympathetic of the person in yesterday’s post who got caught with their registration at their old residence.) But, if the state automatically updated registrations so they match the IDs, then it would help voters and this person could have voted.
  5. Online registration: The flexibility to confirm and/or fix the registration outside of M-F 8-5 would help many voters.  Being able to log into a web site to view my registration status was extremely helpful for making sure I could vote. Not all states are there yet, though they should in the 21st century. My local library also helps people with navigating the site.
  6. Online voting: Given the hacking concerns of this recent election, I know this is a controversial stance.

Mandatory Voting

Given the closeness of the recent election, the inevitable complaint about how few people voted are swirling in the national conversation from the losing side. Part of the conversation is the winning party does not have a mandate. The more interesting claim is that if everyone had to vote, then Hillary could have won.

The rationale is that only about 60% of eligible voters did, if the other 40% of voters did so the outcome would have been different. Yeah, I think there is a possibility that if 80-90 million more people voted, then we could see something different. After all that pool of votes is more than either candidate received. Jason Brennan rejected the thought non-voters skew left months before the election:

There’s a widespread belief among Democrats that compulsory voting would deliver more states to Democrats. It turns out that’s not true. The people who vote and the people who don’t vote are roughly the same in terms of their partisan preferences.

Australia has compulsory voting and enforces it. They have about a 95% voting rate which is amazing compared to the 25-60% rate in the USA depending on the type of election. Interestingly enough, they justified the implementation because of only have a 59.38% turnout in their 1922 federal election. I do not know terribly much about Australia, but as a country they seem to doing pretty well. They also use preferential voting, which I think would be an interesting addition to the US voting systems. They also have a parliament, which is different than here, so it might not work the same here.

Given the importance of voting, there is teasing attractiveness to have it compulsory like registering for Selective Service, jury duty, and taxation. “No taxation without representation” does not work as well when representatives were approved by less than 25% of the registered voters.

Certainly plenty of people use the logic that the costs of voting outweigh the likelihood of their vote being the one that decides an election, something called the Paradox Of Voting. Certainly, I am in favor of things we can do to make it easier for people to vote like early voting, mail voting, or a national holiday. It also bothers me when governments implement additional security without taking care that the methods will not accidentally suppress the votes of certain populations.

My girlfriend’s boss’ spouse neglected to move the registration from over 4 hours away and did not realize until the poll workers informed the lack of it. Should a mistake like this result in a fine? It is not much different than forgetting to renew a driver’s license or car tag. I can see umbrage at fines like this causing mandatory voting problems like the resentment at the Affordable Care Act’s compulsory health insurance.

Personally, I think an informed voter is a good voter. Some people on both sides have complained about the voters on the other side being ignorant about reality. There are probably true examples about both sides. Shifting campaigns from playing cheerleader to motivate people to at least show up might mean they can spend more energy on policy and intent. Certainly, I wished more of the media coverage was on the policy and less on the cheer leading. Would voters pay more attention? Or would mandatory voting bring an influx of even lesser informed voters than the current slate?

Something I would also like to see (at least an experiment) is a “reject all” option for candidates paired with requiring a simple majority. Combined with almost all eligible voters participating, a candidate failing to achieve the simple majority would be instrumental. When I go to vote, I can choose not to vote for any candidates. It is not clear whether I made a skipped that ballot item by mistake or neglected to return back to it after voting on others. A specific rejection of the candidates would be interesting. What I heard so much of was that both major party candidates were really bad, but people wanted to prevent the other party from winning. And opposition to voting for a third party because of this. Preventing such candidates from winning by a “reject all” could be interesting.

And an “unclear; reword” to signal constitutional amendments or referendums are poorly designed. In my state people spend an extraordinary amount of time making sure that potential voters understand the language in the brief description on the ballot is misleading. A way to say “I am not going to vote for this because I do not understand it” would be nice. Amendments would have to get a simple majority with the unclear helping prompt voters they should not vote for things that are confusing.

Of course, there ought to be reasonable exceptions to mandatory voting. People whose religions forbid them to vote as an example. Probably there would be contentious objectors. I guess there should be some way to allow for picking who gets to sit out.

In the end, I think finding ways to lower the costs of voting is the best approach. A low participation rate suggests there are problems. Solving those problems would be better than simply punishing people for not overcoming those costs.

Revoked Citizenship?

I wonder what happens to someone whose United States citizenship is revoked. My president-elect suggested this as a potential consequence to burning the American flag. [1]

In my own case, my parents and grandparents were all born in the US. From the ancestors I know enough about, the most recent ancestor to immigrate to the United States was a 5th great-grandfather just before 1800. [2] So I probably could not go to Germany and say, “Hey, this guy was born here, would you let me as his ancestor in?” I do have a 4th great-grandmother who was Cherokee, but similarly, I doubt they would take me.

If my citizenship were revoked, then does that mean I even have to leave? I could see where the government might take away someone’s citizenship but not deport them. The problem with deporting undocumented immigrants is that the government negotiates how and when to send people back to their home countries. It is closer to the prisoners at Guantanamo where the government is trying to send people to countries where they are not from so will be a burden on the state.

Better for the government would be if I could seek asylum somewhere. Maybe I should go back and work on my French.

Not that I have a desire to burn the flag. As a form of protest, I think it is beyond stupid. Disrespecting the US flag makes the person angry about that act. Whatever you have to say to the people on the other side is lost because of your act. So the only reason to do it is to make a statement to people who agree with you.


  1. Why flag burning is legal. Interestingly, Trump’s favorite justice, Scalia, cited the Constitution over his personal views and allowing flag burning was his case for showing that. “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”
  2. The records are incomplete beyond that for some great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, so I am unsure of where their parents or grandparents game. My paternal great-great-grandparents were probably all slaves in the U.S. freed through the Civil War.

In the time of Hamilton

So, the social media sphere is abuzz over our President-elect tweeting about a member of the cast of the Hamilton play reading a statement to the VP-elect. The P-elect seemed upset about it all. The VP-elect seemed amused people are buzzing about a non-issue and people should expect the P-elect to be the kind of person they want him to be.

The whole thing got me thinking about how the Presidency and Vice Presidency worked at the time Hamilton was a politician. And perhaps a return to that is how to heal this country. The way it worked back in beginning was the Electoral College voted. The candidate with the most votes became President and the runner up became Vice President. Applied to the upcoming vote, Trump still becomes President but Clinton becomes Vice President. She would be the tie-breaker in the Senate. They would deal with each other running the country.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists about her would stroke out over worry Trump would meet the same fate as the hundreds of others who have crossed her. Okay, so maybe it would not actually heal this country.

Illusory Truth Effect

Repeated statements receive higher truth ratings than new statements, a phenomenon called the illusory truth effect… Repetition makes statements easier to process (i.e., fluent) relative to new statements, leading people to the (sometimes) false conclusion that they are more truthful… Indeed, illusory truth effects arise even without prior exposure—people rate statements presented in high-contrast (i.e., easy-to-read) fonts as “true” more often than those presented in low-contrast fonts.

When the news media focused one summer about shark attacks, people became a little more scared of the ocean due to the increasing danger. Except… The number of attacks had not gone up. The prominence of them had.

There is a police officer who goes to the coffee shop nearest home. The first time I saw him, he looked me up and down and dismissed me. In that time, I held my breath. See, as a large man with brown skin I knew about many, many instances of people who look like me getting killed when in contact with police officers. It was all over the news, Facebook, and Twitter.

I have previously mentioned how seeing political things that agree with our ideologies are strengthened WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE TRUE makes no difference to their effect. See, we are not wired to find truth. We are wired to find agreement.

This is what makes Facebook and Twitter so dangerous. We find those who agree and bolster those sensibilities. We cull from our attention those who challenge us. We share things from these sources without reading them and without verifying anything from them. And… That is dangerous. Especially because the most extremes of either side are pushing fake “news” on us.

Steps I have taken to combat this tendency:

  • Do not share things I have not read and searched for more background information.
  • Actively block very biased news sources not the friend. My goal is to eliminate the bullshit curation in favor of better information.
  • Read or listen to conversations to understand. I do reply to anyone involved because that would put me in the mindset of making them agree with me instead of learning from someone different.
  • Read books with differing view points to understand.