• “Don’t Feed the Trolls” Is Even Better Advice Than it Used to Be

    You should think long and hard before sharing this tweet with the world. Unfortunately, the people who most need this advice are the least likely to heed it.

    Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf calls out lefty call-out culture. It’s become so excessive, he says, that Twitter mobs routinely go ballistic over the smallest, most inadvertent micro-slights, even those from folks who are basically on their side:

    I don’t understand why they believe that extreme anger and stigma should be directed at people whose intentions and substantive beliefs are so close to their own….

    I don’t understand why they dedicate so much energy and focus to what even they call microaggressions at a time when an ascendant coalition in American politics is bent on deporting as many immigrants as possible….

    I don’t understand how they think they can defeat that nativist faction if their own pro-immigrant coalition engages in divisive infighting over transgressions as inevitable as clumsy wording….

    Even if every object of dragging deserved it, I don’t understand how the outcome could be anything other than punishing an infinitesimal percentage of bad actors while turning off so many with the excesses that it provokes a backlash.

    Over at Vox, I think Ezra Klein coincidentally provides most of the answer in an interview with Tristan Harris:

    Ezra Klein: I had Jaron Lanier on this podcast a couple months ago, and he said something I’ve been thinking about since then. He said that the key to a lot of social media is [that] negative emotions engage more powerfully than positive emotions. Do you think he’s right about that?

    Tristan Harris: Oh, absolutely. Outrage just spreads faster than something that’s not outrage. When you open up the blue Facebook icon, you’re activating the AI, which tries to figure out the perfect thing it can show you that’ll engage you. It doesn’t have any intelligence, except figuring out what gets the most clicks. The outrage stuff gets the most clicks, so it puts that at the top….If the first thing you do when your eyes open is see Twitter and there’s a bunch of stuff to be outraged about, that’s going to do something to you on an animal level.

    Journalists as a group evaluate social media poorly, and we evaluate Twitter especially poorly. Think about how Twitter works. There are a very few influencers who are determined to root out and denounce anything that’s even remotely problematic. They do this mostly via absurdly hostile readings of other tweets or by making connections that most people would never notice. Nonetheless, once that bell is rung, it can’t be unrung—and their followers all rush in to denounce the micro-slight in question. Why do the influencers do this? Because they’re zealots, and that’s what zealots do. And why do they attract mobs who follow them so uncritically? Because those are the kinds of mobs zealots always attract.

    It’s exhausting to be on the receiving end of this stuff, but it’s truly meaningless. There will always be zealots and their mobs looking for outrages to slay. And while Twitter makes them more visible, their numbers are still tiny. A few hundred? A few thousand? That’s nothing considering the minuscule effort it takes to dash off a bit of tweetrage. Unless a Twitter mob gets into the 10-100,000 range, it simply doesn’t represent anything important.

    Even among the far reaches of the left, I imagine that most people agree with Friedersdorf that outrage is a stupid response to micro-slights. So the answer to his bewilderment, I think, is twofold. First, social media is a magnet for outrage, and the platforms themselves encourage this because it keeps people engaged and delivers more eyeballs to their advertisers. Second, even given this, the number of people outraged by micro-slights is truly insignificant. Social media tidal waves, in which a few thousand responses rain down within a couple of hours, merely make them seem big.

    If you ignore small Twitter mobs—and by small, I mean at least anything under 10,000 tweets—most of the paradoxes and conundrums of the social justice zealots go away almost instantly.

  • Republicans Are Trying Out a Shiny New Excuse For the Great Kansas Failure

    Last week a reader emailed me about a new meme he had just come across:

    Heard a random Republican talking head on NPR recently, and when the interviewer questioned him on the “Kansas experiment,” his automatic response was a) Kansas “massively” increased spending when they cut taxes, so that’s why they have problems; and b) North Carolina has done the same thing without the increased spending and it’s working great.

    Of course this smells like bullshit to me, but I don’t actually know. Are either of these assertions correct?

    I’m too lazy to waste time on North Carolina right now, but spending in Kansas is easy enough to check. Here it is:

    Since 2011, when Sam Brownback took office promising a “red state experiment,” general fund spending has been flat while spending from all sources has declined by 1.7 percent. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t count as “massively” increasing spending.

    Bottom line: Brownback slashed taxes, kept spending flat, wrecked Kansas schools, and turned in lousy economic performance compared to his neighboring states:

    By just about any measure, the red-state experiment failed, and Republicans can hardly run away from Kansas fast enough. I guess their latest wheeze is to pretend that Brownback was a faker all along and it was really North Carolina we should have kept an eye on. Uh huh.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Ansel Adams became famous for making iconic pictures of Yosemite National Park like “Moon and Half Dome.” I too seek photographic immortality, so I’m following in his footsteps. Ladies and gentlemen, today I present “Airplane and El Capitan.”

  • Pennsylvania Gets a New Map

    Via the Sunbury Daily Item, here is the new congressional map for Pennsylvania:

    Republicans flatly refused to create a non-gerrymandered map, so the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created this one for them. It’s the map that will be used for this year’s midterm elections unless Republicans are able to get a federal court to issue an injunction of some kind. Since the Supreme Court’s decision was based entirely on state law, Republicans seem unlikely to succeed, but you never know. If you find the right judge….

  • Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men?

    Sarah Kliff points today to a new study from Denmark on the gender wage gap. Danes are famously egalitarian, and labor force participation is nearly equal between men and women these days. However, Denmark still has a large gender wage gap—nearly as large as the United States, in fact. Why? Researchers Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Jakob Egholt Søgaard conclude that it’s almost purely a childbearing penalty:

    I’ve overlaid men and women in a single chart here to make it easier to compare them. Earnings are shown relative to the year before the birth of a first child, and the trajectories of men and women are similar prior to childbirth. Generally speaking, men’s earnings start a little higher but women’s earnings accelerate a little faster. For women without children and for all men, regardless of whether they have children, these trajectories continue throughout their careers: men suffer no earnings penalty at all when they have children. However, women who have children take a huge hit in earnings.

    This is unsurprising. The big question is why they have lower earnings. Here’s a panel of charts that breaks it down:

    After childbirth, fewer women work; they work fewer hours; and they get lower wages. And this is unrelated to education level: college graduates bear childbirth penalties that are about the same as high school grads. In fact, nearly all gender inequality has been wiped out in Denmark except for the gender gap due to childbirth:

    However, this still doesn’t answer the question of why. Do women with children work less out of preference, or because firms treat them badly and eventually some of them give up? There’s a limit to what administrative data can tell us, but by expanding their dataset the authors are able to conclude that some of it is due to family influence:

    Women incur smaller earnings penalties due to children if they themselves grew up in a family where the mother worked more relative to the father….The size of this effect is roughly unaffected by including the detailed non-parametric controls for education and wealth….[This] suggests that female child penalties are driven partly by female preferences formed during her childhood, rather than by male preferences formed during his childhood.

    Women from more traditional families form an early preference for working less when they have young children to take care of. Women from more liberal families don’t. In other words, it’s women from traditional families who account for the biggest share of the childbearing penalty. However, the size of the difference between traditional and liberal families isn’t large, so there’s clearly a lot more going on than just that.

    That’s the case in Denmark, anyway. Is something similar true in the United States? We lack the detailed administrative data of Denmark, so it’s not easy to conduct a similar study here. However, American studies do show that the gender gap in earnings opens up mostly between ages 25 and 35, which certainly suggests that children are the prime cause. More research, please.

  • Donald Trump Is America’s Worst, 2nd Worst, or 5th Worst President

    Today is Presidents/President’s/Presidents’ Day, and the New York Times is celebrating with a bit of clickbait that ranks all 44 presidents.¹ It turns out that presidential scholars of the left outrageously rank Donald Trump as our worst president after only a year in office, which means we have to turn to right-leaning scholars to get a more considered view of things:²

    Number 40! Now that’s more like it. Trump is better than the guy who sleepwalked into the Civil War and the general who died after only 40 days. But he’s still worse than the Teapot Dome guy and the guy who inspired the Mallard Fillmore comic strip. Sad.

    ¹In presidential numbering, Grover Cleveland counts twice since he had two separate terms, so we’ve had 45 presidents. In presidential rankings, Cleveland is just one person, so we’ve had 44 presidents. Got it?

    ²It’s worth noting that presidential scholars, just like us common folks, seem to have a bias for the present. Six out of 14 postwar presidents make their top 10.

  • We Should Ban Semi-Automatic Firearms

    Beretta

    I’m not generally on the gun control beat, but I’ll repeat my view for the record: semi-automatic weapons should be banned for civilian use. Basically, shotguns, revolvers, and bolt-action rifles would remain legal, and that’s it.

    The last time I mentioned this, a bunch of gun folks chimed in to claim I was an idiot. Revolvers are semi-automatic weapons! Ha ha ha. Being the reasonable guy that I am, I was willing to consider them manual load weapons, since it takes human power to advance the cylinder. A true semi-automatic uses the power of expanding gas¹ to chamber a new load. However, if the gun folks consider a double-action revolver to be a semi-automatic, who am I to argue? That just means my list has been revised to include shotguns, single-action revolvers, and bolt action rifles.² In other words, the only legal firearms would be those that require a separate human action to load a new round. There are other details I’d support too, but this is the main thing.

    If I were your benevolent dictator, this is what would would happen. But I’m not, and nothing like this will happen in my lifetime. This is why I don’t spend much time writing about guns.

    ¹Or, in the case of most handguns, recoil force.

    ²Or pump action or lever action. You get the idea, I’m sure.

  • How Many Threats Can the FBI Evaluate on a Daily Basis?

    FBI Director Christopher Wray.Ron Sachs/CNP via ZUMA

    The FBI has taken a lot of criticism for failing to follow up on a warning about the teenager who killed 17 schoolchildren in Florida last Wednesday. Here’s the BBC’s report:

    On 5 January a person close to the teenager contacted the FBI tipline to provide “information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting”, said an FBI press release….In 2016, the FBI received about 1,300 tips a day through its website, which is staffed around the clock by two dozen people. In addition to online tips, FBI field offices receive dozens of calls. About 100 of the tips are considered “actionable”.

    This means that in January the FBI received something on the order of 50,000 tips. If they spend an average of, say, an hour on each one, that’s about 300 agents working full time doing nothing but investigating tips. Or, perhaps it means a thousand agents spending a quarter of their time on tips. Are they staffed to do that? What exactly is the protocol for responding to this tidal wave of tips?

    But even that isn’t the real question. Suppose they had investigated Cruz more thoroughly. What could they have done? It’s not illegal to own a bunch of high-powered guns. It’s not illegal to rant on Twitter or Facebook. The FBI could have interviewed the guy, but unless he’s broken the law that’s about the end of it. It’s not clear to me what the FBI could have done here even if they had followed every protocol to the letter.

    I’m genuinely curious about this. How well staffed is the FBI to handle tips? What can they do against a motivated attacker aside from an interview? To the extent that conservatives are using this failure as a handy excuse to attack FBI Director Christopher Wray, I don’t care what happened. These scattershot attempts to suck up to Donald Trump are too patently phony to worry about. But to the extent there might truly be something we can do better, I do care. Has anyone made any concrete suggestions on this score?

  • Wall Street Journal Says Silicon Valley Is Too Liberal, But Cites Not a Single Bit of Evidence

    Conformity? What conformity?Christoph Dernbach/DPA via ZUMA

    The Wall Street Journal reports today that Peter Thiel is right: Silicon Valley is a liberal echo chamber and that’s prompting a lot of people to move away. Here’s the evidence:

    “I think the politics of San Francisco have gotten a little bit crazy,” said Tom McInerney, an angel investor who moved a decade ago to Los Angeles from the Bay Area. “The Trump election was super polarizing and it definitely illustrated—and Peter [Thiel] said this—how out of touch Silicon Valley was,” said Mr. McInerney, who describes himself as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Tim Ferriss, the tech investor and best-selling author of the “4 Hour Workweek,” moved to Austin, Texas, in December, after living in the Bay Area for 17 years, partly because he felt people there penalized anyone who didn’t conform to a hyper liberal credo.

    OK. One guy who moved to LA a decade ago and another who’s a famous entrepreneur/part-time crank—and who listed the echo chamber as one reason out of ten for moving to Austin. (Reason #1: He’s wanted to live in Austin ever since he graduated from college.) What else?

    Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders “have a certain way of thinking, and if you don’t fit into that way of thinking you’re not in the cool club,” said [Preethi] Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn’t influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project—a blockchain startup—didn’t require her to be in Silicon Valley.

    Nothing here. In fact, less than nothing: Kasireddy says politics had nothing to with her move. What else?

    According to a recent survey by Lincoln Network, an advocacy group for conservatives and libertarians in the tech sector, 31% of the 387 tech workers polled said they know someone who didn’t pursue or left a career in tech because they saw a conflict in viewpoints with their employer or colleagues.

    Hmmm. A tiny poll by a group with an axe to grind. And even at that, all it shows is that about a third of Silicon Valley tech workers “know someone” who left tech—not Silicon Valley—due to “a conflict in viewpoints,” which could be anything. Knowing techies, this is more likely to be a religious dispute over the future of lightweight network protocols than a problem with #MeToo.

    Aside from that, the story quotes a guy who left Google—not Silicon Valley—after the Damore memo affair, and another guy who moved to Utah to be with his Mormon girlfriend. Oh, and there’s also this brief aside:

    Many are being driven away from the Bay Area by soaring housing costs and increasing traffic congestion, a 2016 survey by the Bay Area Council suggested. Of the 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties making up the Bay Area, 40% said they were considering leaving the region, citing the cost of living, traffic and a lack of availability of housing.

    This might set a new record: there is literally not a single bit of evidence in this piece, either anecdotal or otherwise, that tech workers are moving out of Silicon Valley because it’s too liberal and intolerant. This is especially odd since I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Silicon Valley is too liberal and intolerant. Still, if that’s the case, surely it shouldn’t be hard to find at least one or two facts to back that up?

  • Yet Another Russiagate Witness Flips

    Rick Gates and his pal Donald Trump back in happier times.Mark Reinstein via ZUMA

    Why was Donald Trump so irritable this weekend? Was it because his advisors told him that playing golf would make him look insensitive after Wednesday’s school massacre in Florida? Maybe. Or maybe he had some idea beforehand of this report from the LA Times:

    A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days – and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul J. Manafort Jr., the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign. The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Richard W. Gates III, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

    This is all part of the money laundering charges against Manafort, and Gates may not have any inside dope to offer beyond that. Then again, maybe he does. Trump can bellow “NO COLLUSION!” as many times as he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s so until and unless Robert Mueller closes the books on his investigation with no charges filed. Needless to say, Trump knows this perfectly well.