Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

September 30, 2017

Why Trump could murder someone and people would still support him

Filed under: Donald Trump,Politics,Trump — David Hume @ 10:48 am

In 1683 the Ottoman Turk marched toward Vienna. John Sobieski, the king of Poland, became a hero to all Europe because of his defense of the Habsburgs in their time of need. In contrast, France had traditionally been a rival of the Habsburg monarchy. In honor of their tacit alliance with the Ottomans they rejected aiding the Austrians. But by 1683 pan-Christian feeling was strong enough that the Bourbons received some blowback for their implied approval of the Ottoman thrust into the heart of Europe.

But not all Christians fought with the Habsburgs. The Protestant Hungarian noble Imre Thokoly led a contingent of his followers against Vienna in alliance with the Ottomans. Hungarian Protestants were suffering persecution and marginalization at the hands of the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. In the years before the Ottoman invasion rebellions based on demands for religious liberty were occurring due to the vigor of the re-Catholicization efforts of the Habsburgs.

Red = Catholic and Blue = Protestant

The Hungarian Protestants allied with the Ottomans against all of Christendom because only through that alliance was their existence safeguarded.* To this day the demographic stronghold of Hungarian Protestantism is to the east, where Ottomans held sway the longest, and so shielded Protestants from Royal persecution and conversion.

The general principle here is obvious. If the cost of acceptance and approval is a negation of who you are, then you will make whatever compromises and sacrifices necessary to continue to be who you are. The Greek Orthodox church arguably made this choice when most of them rejected union with Rome as the cost for Western aid against the Turks.

The relevance for modern American politics should be clear. But if it isn’t, I’ll make it clear: many pro-Trump Americans perceive that Trump may protect them and their values, and see that anti-Trump politicians and leaders will never do so. Obviously there are a range of attitudes of people who support Trump, from genuine fondness and loyalty, to resigned acceptance that he is there only choice in a binary world.

Why is he their only choice? Perhaps “it’s time for some game theory.”

Consider a book like Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. Many center-to-Left Americans look to the year 2050 (or 2042) as a terminal date when a social-political milestone will be achieved: white people will be made dispensable. Not in a literal sense, but the centrality of white Americans will be no more. The coalition of the ascendant will have come into its own.

At least that’s the theory. Even one of the major early theorists of the new Democratic majority is not sure it will ever come to be (count me as a guarded skeptic as well).

But that’s neither here nor there. Many people on the Left and the Right in American culture see that white Christian America will be marginalized. Demoted. They seem that people are picking sides, and you have to stick to your tribe. It’s a matter of existential concern.

Many pro-Trump Americans perceive that the Left and the cultural elite hate them in their bones. Wish they would disappear. Dislike their aesthetic preferences, think their religion is contemptible, and are simply waiting for their expiration date so that history will march onward, and leave them an unpleasant memory.

Some of them see their livelihoods in danger, as they perceive that their political choices and identities will make them targets for being unpersoned, without a way to keep a roof over their heads or food on their family’s table. They accept the narrative of their marginalization, and are terrified of the consequences that will be meted out to them by their triumphalist adversaries in the culture wars.

When elite Americans argue that these voters are supporting a conman, they shrug and reject these arguments. First, they don’t trust the elites to have their interests at heart in the first place, so why trust their sincerity? These are the same elites joyfully writing think-pieces about how these middle class white Americans are no longer necessary in electoral coalitions, nor do they set the terms in American culture. The alternative offered is dispossession and marginalization with a smile, and that is not an offer they are willing to take.

American society today is in a “you are with us or against” modality. Even if you are on the losing side, there is no incentive to change sides, because no one perceives that there will be charity from one’s erstwhile enemies (notice how many liberals accepted John McCain’s rejection of Republican Obamacare replacements begrudgingly; he may have sided with them in some cases, but he wasn’t on the team). These sorts of tribal dynamics are not surprising in the age of identity politics. In India caste politics is such that plainly corrupt politicians who regularly disappoint their constituents continue to be reelected over and over. Why? Because ultimately their people have nowhere else to go.

We live in a zero-sum world now. Identity is dominant. To some extent it always was, but very few now make the counter-argument that principles matter. Better get used to it.

* A curious fact is that the ancestors of the Polish Lipka Tatars marched with Sobieski.

September 26, 2017

The cretin shall rise again

Filed under: Politics,Roy Moore — David Hume @ 11:28 pm

Roy Moore is almost certain to be the Junior Senator from Alabama soon enough. That much we know.

Part of me takes pleasure in the victory, as it is true that the Republican establishment of states like Alabama is sclerotic and corrupt (just like the Democratic establishment of Illinois or California). Roy Moore is certainly not a politic individual. And that makes for great entertainment. Cable news programmers just got a gift!

But Moore is also bizarre in his views in 2017. An atavism. His stance on Church-State separation was tenable a generation ago but in a rapidly secularizing America, they are not election winners outside of Alabama that they are inside the state.  In a rapidly de-Christianizing country, the tight identification of the Republican party with Evangelical Christianity is not the broad-based winner it used to be, and Roy Moore manifests all the most uncouth and blunt tendencies which are going to remake the party in his brand….

September 4, 2017

On the Rohingya issue

Filed under: Islam,Politics,Rohingya — Razib Khan @ 6:53 am

I have a post over at my primary blog, Rohingya Unmasking Complexity In A World We Want Simple. Because the Rohingya issue is going to be in the media spotlight for a bit in the near future we need to be clear about the deep historical facts, which frankly the press is going to not be concerned about in their reporting.

December 3, 2016

We are all the secular Right now, but what does that mean?

Filed under: Politics,secular right — David Hume @ 9:32 am

donald_trump_august_19_2015_croppedThis blog began in the fall of 2008 somewhat on a lark. This was during a period when the American Right was beholden in many ways to the Religious Right. By “many ways,” I mean more in symbolics and rhetoric than reality. The reality is that conservatism in the 2000s was a “three legged stool” where the Religious Right was fed rhetorical “red meat,” while the neocons were ascendant and the economic conservatives achieved some gains (and losses).

But the power of religion in conservatism was such that genuflection to Christian values and identity was normative, even among the mostly secular Washington and New York conservative intelligentsia. Of course, there were always libertarians, but the libertarian position within the Right has always been one of tactics rather than strategy. It was not controversial being a libertarian and an atheist. What was more atypical was a non-libertarian conservative admitting their atheism. In 2008 George F. Will declared he was an agnostic. By 2014 he was admitting to be an atheist. Will’s transformation from bashful to agnostic on the Colbert Report in 2008 to sanguine atheist in 2014 illustrates a change in American culture: secularization entered a new phase in the 2000s, and a much larger proportion of Americans are no longer Christian in belief. In the United States over the past generation the number of Americans who have “no religion” has gone from one out of ten to one out of four.

As if to portend these trends in Barack Obama and Donald J Trump you will have two presidents who are cultural Christians at best. Though many assert that Obama is an atheist at heart, I suspect that despite his lack of belief in most of the supernatural elements of the religion he does have some rationalization for why he is a Christian. Trump’s position is different, as he is from a Protestant background by heritage, and it seems likely that that heritage is what he would lean on to assert his Christian bona fides. But Trump is arguably as religiously disinterested in the confessional aspects of Christianity as Obama, as adduced by his public comments, as well as his sanguine attitude toward the conversion of his daughter Ivanka to Orthodox Judaism (Eric Trump was married under a chuppah, as his wife is Jewish, while Donald Trump Jr.’s wife has a Jewish father, though she does not seem religiously Jewish as evidenced by her wearing a cross at her wedding).

Trump’s attitude toward religion is not the aspect that it is notable. Many Republican politicians are not particularly religious in private. What is notable is that he made no attempt to not be transparent in his lack of strong religiosity when appealing to religious voters. Trump’s appeal to religious voters in the Republican party was that he would defend their rights and interests, not that he was truly one of them.  The Religious Right then has become part of the interest group constellation of the Republican Party, but it is not calling the shots on the optics and symbolic rhetoric in the same manner as before.

What is the future then? I don’t think anyone knows. The election was a close one, and trends don’t help. Social-cultural systems are sensitive, and nonlinear. Expect chaos before we settle into a new system and stationary state.

April 17, 2014

Leftist blasphemies

Filed under: Oberlin,Politics,Trigger Warnings — David Hume @ 3:14 pm

Oberlin has had to walk back its policies about “trigger warnings.” An op-ed defending the old policy highlights what’s really going on here:

Trigger warnings exist in order to warn readers about sensitive subjects, like sexual violence or war, that could be traumatic to individuals who have had past experiences related to such topics, not to remove these subjects from academic discussion. They do not “glorify victimhood”; instead, they validate the life experiences of certain members of our community and allow individuals to make informed decisions.

Who defines what a “sensitive subject” is? The headline tells you who, “Staff Seeks Balance Between Free Speech and Community Standards in Online Comment Moderation.” The Oberlin community is not the same as the community of an Iraqi village, and its standards of different. The emphasis on sensitivity and emotional reaction and perception is a common one on the liberal-Left, but I wonder if they stop to reflect that this sort of standard has traditionally been used to defend standard religious orthodoxies from vigorous, even blasphemous, critique. I doubt that anyone at Oberlin would wish to censor a thorough thrashing of conservative Christianity, because it seems unlikey that there are many conservative Christians at the university. But the same logic could be used by a different demographic.

April 14, 2014

The end of liberal universalism

Filed under: Politics,Progressivism — David Hume @ 8:47 pm

Ross Douthat nails it in his most recent column, Diversity and Dishonesty:

It would be a far, far better thing if Harvard and Brandeis and Mozilla would simply say, explicitly, that they are as ideologically progressive as Notre Dame is Catholic or B. Y.U. is Mormon or Chick-fil-A is evangelical, and that they intend to run their institution according to those lights.

As I have stated before, to a great extent neutrality in matters of ideology is a transparent fiction, at least at its root. Consider this recollection by a transgender individual, Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms, or How I Learned to Hold My Pee:

Every time I bring up or write about the hassles trans and genderqueer people receive in public washrooms or change rooms, the first thing out of many women’s mouths is that they have a right to feel safe in a public washroom, and that, no offense, but if they saw someone who “looks like me” in there, well, they would feel afraid, too. I hear this from other queer women. Other feminists. This should sting less than it does, but I can’t help it. What is always implied here is that I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine.

I happen to agree with the women on this. But I also think that there’s probably an aspect of hypocrisy here, which the author implies. The same feminists who wish to reorder social norms to their convenience balk when the tables are turned, and they’re the ones who are in the position of defending a conservative normative status quo. The radicalism of many ends when their own comfort zone is impinged. Change is for others.

December 17, 2012

Conservative atheists not rare in South Korea?

Filed under: Politics,Religion,South Korea — Razib Khan @ 11:30 pm

In a few days South Korea will have a new president, and this is very important because of how large North Korea looms in geopolitics. An interesting aspect of this race for Americans is that the candidate of the conservative party, Park Geun-Hye, may be an atheist, running against a Roman Catholic liberal. I say may be because there are some confusions over Park Geun-Hye’s religious identity. Her parents were Buddhist, she was baptized as a young woman as a Roman Catholic, and seems to have drawn without much discrimination from a variety of religious teachings to inform her world-view. It wouldn’t be shocking if Park Geun-Hye was an atheist. According to the World Values Survey ~25% of South Koreans are convinced atheists.

I was curious if atheists in South Korea leaned to the Left or the Right, and from what I can tell there’s no strong correlation. This may surprise Americans, but the historical experience of the two nations is very different. Until recently South Korea has had weak institutional religions, and a substantial portion of what we might term “progressives” were Christians, in particular Roman Catholics. Below are the results for the USA, Great Britain, Sweden, and South Korea for the World Values Survey using religious identification and political self positioning. Percentages and sample sizes are included.


N Religious person Not religious person Convinced atheist
Great Britain 854 49.90% 39.10% 11.10%
Left 30 40.00% 36.80% 23.20%
2 24 39.60% 36.40% 23.90%
3 70 40.30% 34.60% 25.10%
4 78 41.20% 48.70% 10.10%
5 340 50.20% 42.20% 7.60%
6 129 56.30% 38.30% 5.40%
7 80 48.40% 43.90% 7.60%
8 56 55.50% 28.40% 16.10%
9 23 59.70% 18.60% 21.70%
Right 24 70.80% 15.80% 13.30%
United States 1175 71.80% 24.70% 3.50%
Left 21 51.10% 33.70% 15.20%
2 18 67.90% 27.10% 5.00%
3 70 50.80% 41.00% 8.20%
4 96 62.80% 31.20% 6.00%
5 418 72.30% 26.60% 1.10%
6 233 71.10% 25.80% 3.10%
7 130 77.00% 16.90% 6.10%
8 104 82.90% 11.70% 5.40%
9 43 97.50% 2.50% -
Right 43 69.00% 31.00% -
Sweden 953 33.10% 49.70% 17.20%
Left 26 25.70% 49.20% 25.10%
2 36 26.80% 36.40% 36.70%
3 137 28.40% 54.10% 17.60%
4 132 27.30% 51.80% 20.90%
5 139 32.70% 51.20% 16.00%
6 109 42.50% 47.80% 9.60%
7 156 32.70% 49.00% 18.30%
8 149 32.50% 53.20% 14.30%
9 41 48.70% 39.50% 11.80%
Right 29 45.90% 37.50% 16.60%
South Korea 1195 30.10% 41.40% 28.60%
Left 18 17.00% 56.30% 26.70%
2 32 28.00% 31.70% 40.30%
3 148 41.70% 30.00% 28.30%
4 145 34.60% 37.20% 28.20%
5 245 22.10% 50.10% 27.90%
6 142 30.20% 40.20% 29.60%
7 169 26.00% 38.20% 35.80%
8 182 36.80% 39.80% 23.40%
9 62 27.20% 51.90% 20.90%
Right 54 20.40% 51.20% 28.30%

December 15, 2012

The G.O.P. as the white Christian party

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 1:13 pm

A few weeks ago I reiterated that the most parsimonious explanation for why Asian Americans have been shifting to the Democratic party over the past generation (George H. W. Bush won Asian Americans according to the 1992 exit polls) is a matter of identity politics (reiterated, because I noticed this years ago in the survey data). In short, since the 1950s a normative expectation that America was defined by its historic white Protestant majority has receded. The proportion of “Others,” non-whites, non-Christians, etc., has grown to the point that for all practical purposes these groups have found a secure home in the Democratic party, and the Democratic party has been able to benefit electorally from this support (this would not be the case in 1950, because not enough Americans were non-white or non-Christian). Naturally then the Republican party has become the locus of organization for white Christians, and more specifically white Protestants.

My rough argument is that identity is multifaceted and complex. In relation to the Republican party an evangelical Protestant Korean American Christian sees part of “themselves” in the party. A secular white New York banker from the Midwest who went to Northwestern University may also see themselves in the Republican party. The problem is that a Indian American Hindu cardiologist may have a difficult time emotionally connecting to the party, despite the clear economic rationale for such an affinity. The political scientist Andrew Gelman has argued that in fact it is the economic elites who vote on cultural issues, so it is not surprising that non-Christian Asian American business and professional elites feel alienated from a Republican party whose appeal is purely material and economic.

There may be  other more complex explanations, but the data seem sufficient to warrant this being a working hypothesis. I am now rather pleased to see that this viewpoint is gaining traction among some conservative movement types. Over at TownHall Jonah Golberg has a column up, The GOP — Not a Club For Christians. In the column he relates his own personal experience (as an identified Jew), and the opinions of two conservative Indian Americans (one a convert to Catholicism, and another now a well known Christian apologist and polemicist).

The aspect that needs to emphasized here is the matter of style. In my original posts I did not outline a prescription (contrary to what some who don’t bother to read posts that they characterize may think). Rather, I described the situation. As a matter of politics the broad outlines of the Republican and Democratic party seem inevitable, and it would be bizarre for the Republicans to try to reinvent themselves as something they are not. Rather, my suggestion is simply that the Republican party needs to soften the edges and be less sectarian. For better or worse the Republicans are not viewed as the white Christian party, but as the party of white evangelical Southern Protestants. Though this segment of the electorate is the core of the base, it is not sufficient for victory.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Democratic party for all practical purposes became defined by its McGovernite core; the secular liberals, ethnic minorities, and grab-bag of special interests. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as white Southern Baptist males, were not sufficient to redefine the party, but they began a process of reinvention, and the perfection of a stylistic affect which manages to embrace just enough of the white suburban and moderate vote to produce a winning coalition. The irony here for the Republicans is that the party is notorious for giving the social conservative white evangelical wing nothing but rhetoric, all the while placating economic conservatives. But it is the symbolism of the former which is coming to define party, and narrow its base. A perhaps audacious ‘solution’ to this problem would be for the Republican party to actually follow through on the promises made to social conservatives, while shedding their explicit sectarian coloring.

Addendum: In response to the thesis above Steve Sailer has pointed out that the nominees were neither white Protestants in 2012. A quick response to that is that despite white male Southern Baptists being nominated in 1992 and 1996, everyone knew clearly who and what the Democratic party was. And it wasn’t the party of white Southern Protestants.

November 25, 2012

Are you “Driftless”?

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:22 pm

GeoCurrents on the political anomaly of the “Driftless” zone of the upper Mississippi (via GLPiggy). The anomaly has to do with the fact that this area is very white, very rural, and not in the orbit of a larger cosmopolitan urban area (e.g., “Greater Boston,” which extends into New Hampshire). The post goes into much greater detail, but concludes with a request for more information. This is the area where local knowledge might be helpful.

I went poking around old county level presidential election maps, and I can’t see the Driftless blue-zone being a shadow or ghost of any past pattern. But, I did stumble upon again the 1856 presidential election map by county…can there be a better illustration of the “Greater Yankeedom” (the red are Republican voting counties, the first year that the Republicans were a substantial national party):

Addendum: Obviously not the whole North was Yankee. So who were the others? The ancestors of what in the 20th century become “white ethnics,” disproportionately urban Catholics (in this case, mostly Irish and German) were already Democratic leaning by this period. There were also old groups, like the Hudson Valley Dutch, as well as the merchant class of New York City, which were long anti-Yankee in their politics and sentiments. Not only that, but New York City was economically integrated with the South’s cotton economy to a greater extent than other zones of the North. And in places like Pennsylvania there were deep reserves of populist Democrats. Finally, across the southern half of the Midwest states the settlers were actually often from the Upper South states. The “Butternuts.”


Going short and going long in terms of blog traffic

Filed under: Arnold Kling,Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:59 am

Arnold Kling took a break from blogging, but is coming back. But under an explicit set of personal guidelines. About This Blog:

I decided to go with my own blog, rather than return to EconLog, because I want to have total control over the blog content. I want to model a very particular style of discourse, as indicated by the tag line “taking the most charitable view of those who disagree.” In June, I wrote

Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can

(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author

So, think about it. Wouldn’t you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn’t that sort of pathetic?

My goal is to avoid (c). I will try to keep the posts here free of put-downs, snark, cheap shots, straw-man arguments, and taking the least charitable interpretation of what others say. So, if what you most enjoyed about my past blogging efforts were the put-downs, be prepared for disappointment with this incarnation.

I’ve been “around the block” for a long time in blog time. Around ~2002 and forward there was a naive initial moment when the fervor over the “War on Terror” resulted in some post-partisan good feeling, but that faded soon enough. Today the American Left and Right are rather insular when it comes to interaction and linking. Because most of the blogs I follow are science related, any political comments tend to be on the Left liberal end of the spectrum. To me the problem, if there is one, tends to be in the strawman/least charitable interpretation aspect that Kling mentions (aspects of raw and low style are easy to filter). As someone who is not liberal I find it curious when Left liberals fulminate against positions or motives which I don’t really even seen conservatives holding. It seems pointless over the long term, though it can result in greater in-group cohesion, and generate some psychic utils. A converse element are conservative bloggers who rage against ‘secular liberals,’ and routinely false positive me as liberal because I’m secular (the reality is outside of the internet most political liberals are not secular in their religious orientation in any case!).

An interesting issue here is that people who have a particular viewpoint don’t see their own viewpoints as viewpoints at all. Rather, their own viewpoints are positive descriptions of the world. So, for example, I once had an exchange with a reader who suggested that if I express any political viewpoints that would alienate readers, so I should avoid it. When I pointed out that most (though not all) science oriented weblogs seem to express conventional to radical Left liberal perspectives, he conceded the point. Because my own perspectives were at variance with the reader’s, the political posts were very salient, but on other science blogs they probably didn’t register as “political.”

In this vein I had dinner with a long time reader who told me that this weblog had helped shift his own political worldview over the past six years. It was interesting because my own political passions in the proximate sense (i.e., do I care if the president is a Republican or a Democrat?) are attenuated at best to a shadow of what they once were. I have opinions, but my interest in those opinions is rather marginal compared to science or historical topics. Nevertheless you can’t account for how you impact other people.

And that’s the sort of thing I suspect Arnold Kling is aiming for. Long term impact. The main skepticism I have is that are there even enough interlocutors in this domain? He’ll probably have to go solo and slowly accrue a following who shares his own philosophy.

November 22, 2012

Prop 37 vs. Obama (by county)

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:12 pm

Following up my request a reader crunched the numbers (here is his data table) to show the association between supporting supporting Proposition 37 and voting for Barack Obama by county in California:

From what I know this issue really polarized people in highly educated liberal enclaves in the state of California. Many of my Left non-scientist friends supported the measure because of an anti-corporate animus. But, another issue that sometimes came up was transparency and fair play, in a “teach the controversy” fashion. My own contention is on the scientific point there is no controversy.

Prop 37 vs. Obama (by county)

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:12 pm

Following up my request a reader crunched the numbers (here is his data table) to show the association between supporting supporting Proposition 37 and voting for Barack Obama by county in California:

From what I know this issue really polarized people in highly educated liberal enclaves in the state of California. Many of my Left non-scientist friends supported the measure because of an anti-corporate animus. But, another issue that sometimes came up was transparency and fair play, in a “teach the controversy” fashion. My own contention is on the scientific point there is no controversy.

November 20, 2012

San Francisco supported Proposition 37!

Filed under: Agriculture,Politics,Proposition 37 — Razib Khan @ 12:15 am

A few weeks ago I alluded to the controversy around proposition 37. This was the GMO labeling law proposal. Many life scientists in California opposed this law. One aspect of this issue is that it is an area where the Left may be stated to be “anti-science.” This is why this was highlighted in Science Left Behind. But there’s a problem with this narrative: the survey data for it is weak. There are broad suggestive patterns…but the reality is that the strongest predictor of skepticism of genetically modified organisms is lower socioeconomic status. The GSS has a variable, EATGM. Here are the results by ideology:

Liberal Moderate Conservative
Don’t care whether or not food has been genetically modified 15 16 17
Willing to eat but would prefer unmodified foods 55 53 52
Will not eat genetically modified food 30 30 31


I would caution that the sample size is small. But, if you dig deeper into the survey data you can find evidence that conservatives are more unalloyed in their support of biotech.

And yet with all this said, today I noticed that the California proposition 37 results are rather stark in their geographic distribution. The measure failed statewide, but 2/3 of the people in San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties supported it, as did 60% of the people in Marin (interestingly, only a little over 50% supported it in San Mateo and Santa Clara). I couldn’t find a tabular list with the results by county, but there are interactive maps. If someone was industrious (and had more time than I do) they would go and collect the data from the maps, and do a loess of “support proposition 37” vs. “support Obama.”

The main problem is that from what I can tell a lot of Left-liberals who support anti-GMO policies, explicit or implicit, do so because they believe that that is anti-corporate. My argument is that whatever issues one might have with agribusiness, one should litigate the question of scale in agriculture directly and forthrightly, rather than focus on sidelights like GMO.

November 5, 2012

Nate Silver will tax your crap!

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 1:22 am

I am currently reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. The review will go live concurrently with Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled, which I finished weeks ago. The two works are qualitatively different, but fundamentally they’re both concerned with epistemology. I do have to admit that halfway through  The Signal and the Noise I long for Manzi’s density and economy of prose. As someone on the margins of the LessWrong community I’m already familiar with many of the arguments that Silver forwards, so perhaps this evaluation is not fair.

But this post isn’t about The Signal and the Noise. Rather, I want to state that I’ve put some bets down on the upcoming election. Silver attempted to do the same, and got some blowback from The New York Times public editor. I’m not surprised, the idea of betting on ideas strikes many as transgressive. But what people have to understand is that this isn’t gambling, it’s putting your money where you mouth is. As Alex Tabarrok has stated it is a “tax on bullshit.” I really hate bullshit. I hate it from other people, and I hate it from myself. The more bullshit there is in ...

October 17, 2012

The unpredictability of cultural norms

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:28 pm

I do pay for The New York Times, but as you may know I get frustrated with the lack of context for international stories. Most Americans are not particularly informed about world affairs, so fact without frame can confuse. For example today a story came into my feed, Uruguay Senate Approves First-Trimester Abortions. Naturally the article alludes to Latin America’s Roman Catholicism, but I also happen to know that aside from Cuba Uruguay has long been Latin America’s most secular nation. The chart from the left is from Uruguay’s household survey. I don’t know Spanish, but even to me it’s clear that 17.2 percent of Uruguay’s population identifies as atheist or agnostic, about three times the similar number in the United States (being generous). Fully 42 percent of the nation’s population is non-Christian, with 40 percent disavowing any religion.

This is all relevant because most readers of The New York Times are going to see Uruguay, a Latin American country where the Catholic religion is the dominant confession, and make some inferences of the weakening of the power of the church. But in Uruguay the church has been weak ...

October 2, 2012

Who would vote for an atheist: Dems vs. Republicans

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Razib Khan @ 8:43 am

In response to a comment below, I thought this chart from Gallup is particularly informative:

September 28, 2012

Skewing my winnings

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:42 pm

Last spring I made a bet with a friend that Mitt Romney would win. He gave me 5:1 odds, and I assumed a 40% chance that Romney would win. So I expected to lose, but if I won I’d win big. At this point I assume I’m out that money, because I’d put Romney’s chances at less than 40% (though I think people underweight uncertainty, so I believe there’s a lot of variation in this prediction). But now I’m hearing/reading that many Republicans are under the impression that the polls are skewed. If you believe that the polls are skewed would you be willing to bet money that the polls are skewed? Specifically, I want to wager that “unskewed polls” turn out to be further off the mark than the regular polls in reference to the final election results. I’m not 100% sure that the pollsters are correct, and I don’t know more than a superficial amount as to the weighting methodologies, but the track record of skew-skeptics is suspect enough that I think this is a way I can make money off people who I perceive to be suckers. Of course, the people who I perceive to be ...

September 1, 2012

Which states vote Democratic?

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 10:24 pm

In the comments below there was a question as to political party consistency over the decades in terms of voting by state. A quick correct impression is that the Democratic South shifted toward Republican, while New England went the opposite direction. In contrast much of the Midwest remained Republican over the whole period. How does this comport with the quantitative data?

I went about this in a relatively straightforward manner. First, I computed the national average Democratic vote in presidential years since 1912 (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and D.C.) using the states as input values (so this would differ from the popular vote percentages, as low population states would have the same weight as high population states). Second, I then converted the state results into standard deviation units. Then, I computed the standard deviation of these values. So, for example, Mississippi tended to have larger positive values in the first half of the 20th century (voted more Democratic than the nation as a whole), but shifted toward negative in the later 20th century (less Democratic than the nation as a whole). Because of this shift Mississippi had a high standard deviation over the years, since its national position was highly dispersed over ...

August 30, 2012

Quantifying the great flip

Filed under: Politics — Razib Khan @ 12:13 am

The two maps above show the Democratic and Republican counties in blue and red respectively. Carter in the 1976 presidential election, and Obama in 2008. A few days ago it was brought to my attention that Matt Yglesias was curious about how Maine become a Democratic leaning state in the past generation. How is a deep question I’ll leave to political scientists, but how about the patterns of voting Democratic over elections by state for the past 100 years? That’s not too hard to find, there’s state-level election data online. So I just calculated the correlations between past elections and Democratic results, and Obama’s performance in 2008. If you’re a junkie of political science I assume you’ve seen something like this….


There is county level data out there, but it is hard to find the older stuff online. If you have some, especially the 1856 election, please contact me! If not, and you want to enter the data in by hand (you can find it in most libraries), I am willing to pay (I tried doing this once, but found it ...

July 16, 2012

Minding the trend: Bain Capital

Filed under: Bain Capital,Politics,Trend pieces — Razib Khan @ 8:19 am

Long time readers know that I like to use analytics like Google Trends to put up short posts. Why? I was prompted by the fact that the mainstream often likes to write meandering “trend” pieces which are basically spiffed-up versions of the type of think-pieces essays you’d pen in 10th grade. Basically the modus operandi is to start with a novel or counter-intuitive proposition, and then assemble a number of individuals or data points supporting your theses. For example, It’s Hip to Be Round, which argued 3 summers ago that male New York New York hipsters were now sporting potbellies fashionably. The problem with these sorts of pieces is that it’s not 10th grade in the pre-internet era, where you have a fine number of resources and time. Using above system you can construct a trend piece around any thesis. Just dive through the Google stack, or ask enough people and just cull the ones willing to be quoted. The modern trend piece in fact is a perfect exemplar of the sort of non-fiction which someone with a deconstructive mindset might argue is actually form of fiction. Trend pieces which reflect genuine social truths are then rather like ...

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