Friday, October 21, 2016

The Third Debate: The Nasty Woman Won. Did Democracy?

The third presidential debate of the 2016 US election is over.  The nasty woman won it.

Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a liar several times and a nasty woman  (a more polite form of a bitch) once.  He was able to turn one of the institutions of the democratic process into reality television, a  format for entertaining but not informing the audience, and in his case a format very much dependent on him being  outrageously insulting.

Then he stepped further away from the idea of democracy, and that made me angry.  I have spent enough time watching what happens in countries with dictators to know what the real alternative to this weak and wounded and barely functioning democracy might be, and I don't take Trump's insinuations lightly.

Julia Azari and David Firestone on make  my point about those insinuations:

When asked whether he would accept a Clinton victory in November, Trump’s ultimate response was, “I’ll keep you in suspense.” I don’t mean to editorialize here, but this is perhaps the most alarming thing I’ve heard a presidential candidate say on a debate stage. In some ways, this is almost as bad — or maybe worse — than Trump coming out and saying he wouldn’t accept a loss. There are two principles at stake beyond accepting the legitimacy of the election system. The first is being honest about one’s plans and stances. The American presidency is not the latest Tana French novel — leaders can’t keep the people in suspense. The second is that presidential candidates cannot cast themselves in the role of investigating elections. Trump can’t do this, Clinton can’t do this. The only answer is that evaluating the fairness of the election is up to the commissions that are appointed to do this, not to the candidates themselves. Regardless of your policy beliefs, this is not how democracy works.


The debate is going to move on to standard debate subjects now, but it’s impossible to forget that a truly extraordinary moment just occurred, one that will become the signal clip from this debate and possibly this campaign. A candidate representing one of the two major parties refused to accept the outcome of an American election. Think of the implications of that: Not only does it risk civil violence on the part of supporters who will be similarly encourage to resist an election, but it undermines the most fundamental democratic institution on which the country is based. Imagine the reaction of countries struggling to achieve democracy when a candidate questions whether an American ideal is legitimate. The political system will survive Trump, but the cynicism and doubt sown tonight will take a long time to heal.

Trump says, over and over,  that everything is rigged and corrupt:   Not only the election process itself, not only Hillary Clinton, not only the Democratic Party, but the whole leadership of the United States, the whole global order, and  all of the media.  Indeed, there is nothing that is NOT rigged, except, naturally, one Donald Trump, the bestest, the greatest and  the most honestest and informed presidential candidate ever.

Hearing Trump say that about the election results felt like ice water down my spine.   It made me think of Putin, of Erdogan, of Assad, of Saddam, of earlier dictators, both openly dictatorial and quasi-democratic,  both fairly benign and truly evil, and it made me think of the impossibility, absent democracy, of getting rid of a nasty dictator, except through the shedding of blood.  Whatever the weaknesses of democracy, and those are many, it is the only political system I know of where an unsatisfactory ruler can be deposed of without anyone having to die.

And when democracy functions poorly, the correct solution is to improve it, not to displace it with dictatorships.

And  how about that "nasty woman" statement?  You may have come across this pyramid about how to argue on Twitter:


The goal is  to debate as high on  that pyramid as you possibly can.
Few politicians climb all the way to the top of that pyramid in public debates, but I  have never seen anyone stay as low as Trump does.  The sad thing is that he dragged H. Clinton further down on those levels than was necessary, though she never quite sank to Trump's average level.

Much of political commentary consists of analyzing the game, of explaining why pragmatic politicians do what they do, of analyzing the wonderful plots to take power from  those who think differently, through all sorts of unethical-but-legal devices, of discussing the battle for power as if it was a baseball game.  And I get the fun in that, I do.

But I wouldn't write about the topics I cover if I didn't think they mattered greatly.   Democracy matters.  It's a messy system, it's  nowhere near close to giving power to all those who are governed and ruled under the US system, but it's bucket loads better than the other real-world alternatives.  That Donald Trump seems to disagree with that should leave the whole world gasping for breath.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Posts Not Finished

The ones which sob and moan in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, the ones which I tossed into the deep snow where they wander shoeless and coatless, in cold pain, looking for mama.  The ones which had so much care and work and effort spent on their nursing but which, nevertheless, I cruelly rejected and abandoned.

Those posts.

How does that beginning sound?  I veered off the topic there, because the posts I want to talk about here, the ones never finished, are not of the emotional sob-story kind.  No, they are statistical posts, based on an enormous amount of work by me:  Calculations and spreadsheets and all sorts of other boring yet electrifying crap.

Why these posts have never stepped into the limelight of this humble blog vary.  For example, I worked long on a post about the US Congress, about how representative it is for various demographic groups (such as, say, comparing the percentage of Latinas in the Congress to their percentage  in the US population).

But I gave up on it because of all sorts of tricky statistical problems, such as trying to find out if Latino Congress members are also counted again in the race categories, and if so, what I should do about it.  I got extremely uninformative answers to my queries from those who had compile some statistics I tried to use.

And then I wondered if anyone would be even interested in the findings (which suggest, as one would expect, that white Anglo men are over-represented, but which also suggest that not all minority groups are under-represented to the same extent, or at all, and that women, in general, are under-represented within all racial or ethnic categories).

Then there are the police shootings data, the fatalities among black men, white men and other population groups.  I spent quite a bit of time analyzing the Washington Post surveys for 2015 and 2016, going through their data case by case, calculating all sorts of averages and percentages.

And I may still write up that work.  But when to post it?  The time never appears to be right, because the work I have done is not emotional work.  It doesn't seem fit to post it when yet another black man is killed by the police, because it would sound like an instrument in the orchestra playing a different tune from all the others.  To post it at any other time would limit its exposure.

Then there are all the questions I have about those data sets.  How are they verified?  Why is the race of so many who died not recorded?  Is it because the data comes from newspaper articles?  If so, how many cases are not reported at all or reported wrong?  Whose reports are used when deciding if the killed person* was armed or not?

Finally, the data sets themselves seem to show a lot of short-term variation.  The relative number of Hispanic men killed by the police in 2015 was considerably higher than the relative numbers in the first half of 2016, though the relative numbers of black men killed remained fairly stable**.  It would be good to understand that, and other data characteristics better before writing about the surveys.

So are you sufficiently bored yet?  How about this topic for a post:  Suppose that before you are born you are told that one third of your life will be spent on practicing being dead.  Wouldn't you feel cheated out of all those years?  But we don't think of sleep that way.


* Those killed persons were, by the way, overwhelmingly men, especially in the unarmed category.

** And how do those who create the data set decide if the killed man was white or black or Latino?  Latinos can be either white or black, too, or can belong to other racial categories.


Short posts 10/18/16: Millennial Women Lukewarm for Clinton?, Tamika Cross and Some Fun

1.  This survey of the millennials about the coming presidential election is moooost interesting.  I quote:

Only 47 percent of millennial women support Clinton, and 18 percent support Trump. Another combined 18 percent back either Johnson or Stein.
Among men, 65 percent back Clinton and only 6 percent combined support third-party candidates.
Now parse those differences!  My first thought on them was that the researchers have made a coding mistake on gender.  Studies use a zero-or-one code for the respondent for being female or male, but there's no established rule about which sex you assign to one or to zero.  So a coding mistake is possible, and it would explain the odd findings pretty well, given that they would then look the same as the findings for other age groups (where the support for Trump is always higher among men than among women).

Such a mistake is pretty unlikely in a study of this sort (which would have a lot of double-checking before going public).  Still, I'd like to see similar results from another pollster (given that this poll looks at least like an outlier),  before spending brain calories on possible reasons for the lack of feminist support for Clinton among young women.  Or for greater feminist support among young men.  Or for the idea that there are more young women than young men who dislike Clinton's policies.

2.  This happens:

People across the country were horrified to hear of the way Tamika Cross, a doctor, was treated on a recent Delta Airlines flight from Detroit to Houston. A patient faced a medical emergency mid-flight and the crew asked if there were any physicians on board. Cross immediately signaled to the crew that she was available to help. But according to reports, the flight crew didn’t respond as you might think. They weren’t grateful. Instead, they doubted whether this young African American woman could actually be a medical doctor. They declined her help.

Cross has three strikes against her:  She is African-American, female and young.

Granted, airlines must have policies to be able to tell whether someone actually is a physician when help is sought, and Delta Airlines' answer to Cross's complaint was that out of the three individuals who offered to help only one had acceptable proof of qualifications with him.

But Cross's Facebook post suggested that he hadn't presented those qualifications and that the flight attendant treated Cross in a condescending manner:

A couple mins later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells "call overhead for a physician on board". I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me "oh no sweetie put ur hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don't have time to talk to you" I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.


Another "seasoned" white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me "thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials". (Mind you he hasn't shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the "description of a doctor")

 It could be that Cross didn't see the other physician show his credentials (calling card???) to someone.  But it's still likely that we all have stored images of how physicians are supposed to look, how professors are supposed to look and so on, and those stored images will affect that crucial first reaction.  That's part of what economists call statistical discrimination.

3.  This five-day-old video on Trump supporters from the Daily Show is good for a cleansing laugh.  I know that the respondents are not picked randomly, but hearing their arguments is still fun.