Politics as storytelling

Two decades ago, during my biweekly game in Berkeley, the black, white, and Latino players engaged in a series of long, heated debates about O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence. We didn’t necessarily change each other’s opinions about the case, but we gained a far deeper understanding of each other—and our respective group’s experiences—in the process. This surely affected our political perspectives too.

I’ve been mulling this scene. I think the reason I like to discuss politics with people of all perspectives is peeking under the onion layers. Prod someone into talking about something they are passionate about, and they tell stories. They describe how something makes them feel by talking about how it relates to a past event.

Okay, some people are going to be purely factual about a position. That is boring to the human brain. A story engages us. So people eventually fall into telling stories that make their point.

Most people fall near the center of a spectrum on a random issue. And, how they are asked about something can influence how they respond. Ask about abortion and someone is either for or against. Ask about different types and some people who are against turn out to be okay with allowing some types. Tell different stories about a certain type and depending on the details some people can flip their stance depending on the elements it contains.

We do this without really being aware. And I love to notice people not being aware of these inconsistencies.

And these stories reveal far more about them than just the stance. The stories we tell reflect an attempt at shaping how a person wants to be perceived. We instinctually leave out the parts that we don’t want others to know, but others who have experienced the same event know those details. Those omissions also over time get lost as we forget them.

USB Drives to Move Election Malware

From “Can Georgia’s electronic voting machines be trusted?“:

Though voting machines aren’t directly connected to the internet, witnesses testified last week that USB drives are used to transfer election data from internet-connected computers to election servers.

So, computers that are connected to the Internet are used to move data to the election servers. Malware can be used to reach those computers. The theory here is the election servers by not being on the Internet are more secure because they are “air-gapped.” However, Stuxnet eight years ago taught us: Not as much as once thought.

Stuxnet was never intended to spread beyond the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. The facility was air-gapped and not connected to the internet. That meant that it had to be infected via USB sticks transported inside by intelligence agents or unwilling dupes, but also meant the infection should have been easy to contain.

USB drives are the prime vector to contaminate air-gapped computers. It sounds like the election officials are aware because they added this claim to the article:

Election officials say security precautions protect voting machines from tampering. For example, a USB drive is reformatted every time before it’s plugged into an election server.

I find it unlikely they download data onto a USB drive, delete that data by formatting the USB drive, and only then insert the blank USB drive into an election server. It would be easier just to not use a USB drive at all. They probably mean they format the USB drive while it is in the potentially infected Internet-connected computer, which would not prevent malware from inserting itself onto the USB drive at the time the GEMs data is copied onto the USB drive.

 

Qualification for President

The office of President of the United States is an enormous one. This is a person who in order to run the government has to appoint over a thousand positions. The senior advisers number over a hundred.

Being able to locate and retain the services of high quality people is a huge challenge. Throw in the winner has less than 3 months from election to occupancy to get a good start. And the longer it takes, the more people question your ability to do the job.

Looking at the current administration, it strikes me that painfully obvious issues are starting to bear fruit.

  1. The President was picked by voters to shake up Washington elites. People like the Speaker of the House and Senate Leader are having to acclimate to change. This is why PotUS hates the legislation, but has to sign anyway to preserve the symbiosis.
  2. As an non-politician outsider, his inital advisers were limited to early supporters who tended to be fringe elements who burned their normal bridges. Or hacks no one else would hire. These are people without power or influence who suddenly have to figure out how to wield it. They were fringe because no one trusted them. They are why scary policy keeps getting retracted.
  3. Later advisers are elites whe saw the winds of change (sycophants). They are there because power is there. These are the people getting fired within a year because of corrupt instincts.
  4. Once everyone saw who would be President, longtime political operatives who disagree with most instincts of the president but love country and party signed on. These are the people trying to restore the status quo from the hacks and sycophants.
  5. The Deep State are career government employees of all parties. They provide the inertia that is the reason why presidential candidates usually to cause much actual change. The government needs them to function and there are millions compared to the thousand appointees.

The anonymous Opinion piece about the Republican Resistance is part of #4. There probably has always been elements of the above in administrations. Other administrations appointed almost all political operatives or people mentored to become one. Is it better? It worked smoother as these people were aligned with the bosses and easily replaced when not. It gets stuff done and allows the PotUS to focus on policy instead of little fires every day.

Talk about a Constitutional crisis is probably overblown. As is calling people keeping the status quo traitors. Their oath of office is to the country not the President. Many people are going to do their best for the country.

Next time, perhaps people will better consider whether a candidate has shown the experience of setting up a government. How they run their campaign is a useful way. Establishing functional headquarters in states who run a strong ground game talking to voters and being able to bring on advisers with strong connections shows what kind of government they will build.

GA Voter Registrations Increase

I was reading an article about how the two candidates for governor represent two sides of voter registrations. One ran an organization who went around getting people registered to vote. The other ran an organization who got legislation to make it easier to remove registered voters and make it harder for people to prove their identity to cast a vote.

Kemp said his record proves he has increased voting access.

The number of registered voters in Georgia increased from 5.8 million when he took office in 2010 to 6.7 million today.

The way this is stated suggests he increased the number of voters by 15% which is impressive.

But, then I remembered that the Georgia population over the same period increased by a significant amount. Maybe a similar amount of people became registered voters? From 2010 to 2017, the adult population was 7.4 million and increased to 7.9 million. So the adult population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters increased by 0.9 million. That seems like maybe the registration efforts have been successful.

Next, I thought maybe as a percentage of the adult population would better reflect the true state. In 2010, about 78.9% of the adult population were registered to vote. (Used the 5.8 million registered voters above and the Census numbers for adults in 2010.) The Census doesn’t have a 2018 estimate yet, but the registered voters from the quote are for current (August) in 2018. I went looking for historical registered voters records on the Secretary of State website, but they have only as recent up to 2014. Next, I looked at 2017 election results in hopes of finding one. Interestingly, the May 2018 primary claimed there were 6.1 million registered voters. So, I looked at the August 1 number in Kemp’s own website which is: 6,176,672.

Going back to the original, the Georgia population increased by 0.5 million and the number of voters by 0.3 million. As a percentage, it was 78.9% in 2010 and using the 2017 population and 2018 number of voters, the percentage was 78%. So the percentage of adults registered to vote dropped by almost a full percent. (The Georgia population is probably higher in July 2018 than it was in July 2017, so the percentage of adults registered to vote is probably lower.)

Not as good. And the AJC needs to fact check numbers like this. And, the Secretary of State needs to not inflate the number of registered voters by 10%.

Why Trump should counter Russian meddling in 2018 elections

A common complaint the PotUS has is that Democrats should agree with him. He rails on Twitter about this lack of support.

The Russian meddling in the 2016 elections was designed to target certain groups of people to discourage them from voting. We were already divided. The meddling exacerbated it. So, Democrats would hate Trump even more because of it.

If he wants a real chance at getting Democratic voters to agree with him, then he needs to reverse the effects of the Russian Effect.

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

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.

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.