The Jesus Christ Show (3-8-21)

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The Revolt Of The Public

Martin Gurri tells Matt Taibbi:

* Content moderation, in my opinion, isn’t really a movement but part of this delusional thinking. The idea is to make the great digital platforms look like the front page of the New York Times circa 1980. It won’t happen. The digital realm is too vast. There can be no question that, with Joe Biden as president, we have entered a moment of reaction — a revolt against the revolt. But all the techniques of control wielded by the elites are, like their dreams, stuck in the 20th century and ineffective in the current information landscape.

To take down an opinion, or an author, or a small platform like Parler would have had a shocking impact in 1980, but today is simply swarmed over by similar opinions, authors, and platforms. This is truly a Marshall McLuhan moment, in which the message is the medium, rather than little threads of contested content.

* In the digital age, people are trained to express themselves, to perform in a way that will grow their following, rather than to govern. (Think Donald Trump.) Yuval Levin has written that our institutions were once formative — they shaped the character and discipline of those who joined them — but are now performative, mere platforms for elite self-expression and personal branding. I completely agree. Outside of the military, which still demands a code of conduct from its members, I don’t see where people are trained to govern today.

* I hold that Trump was a symptom — an effect rather than a cause. He possessed an outlandish personality, and that brought its own effects, but one can easily find Trump-like populists all over the world. Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, for example, makes Trump seem like an etiquette book by comparison. Globally, the public is looking for alternatives to the ruling elites, and these populists, by their very outrageousness, are signaling that they are not them.

Second, the elites, as I said before, are stuck in a sterile nostalgia for the 20th century. They are at war with the world as it actually is today, and I imagine they would love to disband the public and summon a more obedient version. Hence the panic about fake news and the tinkering with control over content.

When Trump won in 2016, the elites refused to accept his legitimacy. He was said to be the tool of Vladimir Putin and an aspiring tyrant. When Trump lost in 2020, he and many of his followers refused to accept the legitimacy of that election. A Trumpist mob sacked the Capitol building to demonstrate its rage. None of this is good for democracy or the legitimacy of our political institutions.

But let’s look at the big picture. Trump won in 2016, and, in his inimitable style, ran the US government for four years. He lost in 2020 and moved out of the White House to make room for Joe Biden, just as he was supposed to do. Now Biden is in charge. He gets to run the government. The drama of democracy has generated lots of turbulence but remarkably little violence. The old institutions are battered and maladapted but they have deep roots. The American people may be undergoing a psychotic episode, but they are fundamentally sensible.

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SMH: Neo-Nazis go bush: Grampians gathering highlights rise of Australia’s far right

In his 2017 book Making Sense of the Alt Right, academic George Hawley wrote: “I am not implying that the Alt-Right is a terrorist movement. At the time of this writing, I am aware of no acts of physical violence directly connected to the Alt-Right.”

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 27, 2021:

The first thing hiker Nathaniel Maxwell noticed as he trudged towards an ancient rock cavern in the Grampians National Park last Saturday was the sound of dozens of voices singing Waltzing Matilda.

It was the Australia Day long weekend and as Mr Maxwell peered into the cave-like formation known as the Cool Chamber in central Victoria, he noticed that many of the men were wearing black T-shirts bearing a distinctive Celtic-style symbol. Others were wearing army fatigues. Some raised their arm in a Nazi salute. As Mr Maxwell walked away, he heard shouts of “white power!”

Other hikers and residents of nearby Halls Gap watched members of the same group marching through the small tourist town on Sunday and Monday. They assembled around the local barbecue area, some shirtless with Nazi tattoos, and sipped coffee outside the Black Panther Cafe, which is staffed and owned by an Indian family.

“We are the Ku Klux Klan,” one of them belligerently told a local, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions. Another heard the group screaming racist slogans as they got drunk on Sunday night while camping illegally at Lake Bellfield, a beautiful body of water at the foot of the Grampians’ granite peaks and ridges.

When Halls Gap resident James passed the group on his mountain bike on Sunday afternoon in town, he was addressed with a Sieg Heil.

“There were 40 white males, many with skinheads, some chanting ‘white power’. That is intimidating for anyone, let alone the young Asian families sharing the barbecue space,” he says…

The decision of Halls Gap locals to call the police and the immediate law enforcement response is indicative of a change in the way authorities, and many in the general public, are viewing extreme right-wing groups.

They were once widely dismissed as little more than disorganised attention-seeking misfits spruiking racist political manifestos, but Australia’s policing and security agencies are increasingly concerned about the capacity of a group adherent or lone wolf feeding off social media posts to commit an act of domestic terrorism.

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Make Noise: A Creator’s Guide to Podcasting and Great Audio Storytelling

Eric Nuzum writes in this 2019 book:

* There is a term that journalists and producers use to describe a certain type of production: a deep dive. A “deep dive” is a podcast story or episode (or long-form article, video, or other form of media) that explores a topic, happening, or event in great “depth”: lots of context and detail, as well as getting into the “how” and “why” of a story.

Guy likes to think of the role a deep dive plays in a listener’s life by taking the term and using it metaphorically.
“If you are on a boat and it’s very turbulent on the water, it’s very choppy, right. It’s very unpleasant,” he says. It becomes a metaphorical reference to the turbulence and drama of daily news, which can often overwhelm people and cause them to want to get a breakaway.

“All you have to do is dive twenty meters beneath the surface of the ocean, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a hurricane, because it’s always going to be calm. It doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s always calm twenty meters down. The motion of the waves twenty meters above doesn’t affect what’s going on deep down. It’s calm. It’s quiet.”

… Guy sees his shows as the calm water underneath, the place where listeners can dive in to escape the turbulence.

…That’s actually a beautiful and thoughtful gift for his listeners. It’s saying that you, the listener, come to this show to get away from the frantic news of the day. The show is not just an escape, but a provider of perspective. All the craziness of the day and the week—they are all just waves on the surface: distractions. They will pass. In the deeper, still waters, we will be safe until things are calm.

* Recently a friend of an acquaintance called me for advice on starting a podcast. When I asked what the podcast was about, she told me they had done some investigative work on a local doctor who had been accused of molesting young female
patients—very young female patients.

“So tell me,” I asked. “Why would someone want to listen to that?”

“Because it is an important story,” was the reply. “And we really dive in deep on who this guy was and what makes him tick.”

I said that I didn’t doubt its importance and praised her for her journalism and efforts to approach a difficult and highly emotionally charged subject. But none of that was a reason to listen to the story. And it wasn’t a good reason to look at podcasting as the right way to distribute it.

I told her that it would be hard to imagine someone seeking out a podcast that was basically a biography of a serial rapist. I wasn’t suggesting that their portrait of this guy and his crimes wouldn’t be sympathetic, but that is really rough material.

“But no one else has this,” she protested. “We have interviews with a lot of his victims, those who knew him, and many others. We basically own this story.”

I told her that those were good reasons to cover the news story as a news story in their news programs on other platforms. But to create a stand-alone podcast, they were shitty reasons.

She just couldn’t understand why I would say this. The story was new material on a heavily reported story. It had been so widely covered before, that had to be a sign that people were interested in it.

I told her that in broadcasting, there are thousands of examples of news stories, big, important, relevant, news stories that were widely covered every day in the press—that had been found to drive listeners away in droves. Syrian refugees. The Bosnian war. Famine. Ebola. All incredibly important stories journalistically, but they drove many listeners away.

To put it simply, people couldn’t bear to hear that much bad news. It was too much.

* If the point of your journalism is to inform and enlighten as many people as possible, focus on how to tell the story in a way that engages them first, then informs and enlightens them. No one ever listened to a podcast because they “should” listen to it. That’s work. That’s not entertainment.

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No Evidence For Voter Fraud: A Guide To Statistical Claims About The 2020 Election

Anyone who believes that voter fraud played a significant role in the 2020 elections is either an idiot or a liar.

From the Hoover Institute: “We focus on fraud allegations with the appearance of statistical rigor. Trump and allies used statistics to claim some election facts would be unlikely if there had been no fraud. The claims fail either because sometimes the “fact” is inaccurate or it is accurate but not surprising. For example, a viral anonymous report claimed Dominion machines added 5.6% to Biden’s vote share. But, we show that the purported Dominion effect disappears as soon as we control for 2016 results, or make any number of other sensible design choices. Other times this is because accurate claims about the 2020 election simply are not that surprising. Trump and his allies claimed it was suspicious that Biden lost 18 of 19 counties that had correctly picked the winner since 1980. But we show that bellwether counties are bad at predicting future winners. Since these counties went for Trump in 2016, Biden’s low haul of bellwether counties isn’t suspicious at all. Likewise, in a lawsuit filed against PA the Texas Attorney General claimed that Biden had a “one-in-a-quadrillion” chance of winning. The probability comes from a report filed by Charles Cicchetti who examined election-to-election changes and the shift from early-to-late votes. We show Cicchetti’s tests are riddled with errors and vastly understate the probability of change. We apply his test historically and show that vote changes he said had a “one in almost infinite chance” of occurring actually happened in 6% of US elections. Our work is intended to help assess the security of US elections. We think it is important that non-partisan election experts evaluate fraud claims–to either identify suspicious results or reassure the public about the safety of US elections.”

Paper.

Justin Grimmer weighed in on the comments section at Hoover:

* Crowd size is a poor predictor of final votes, there were not more mail in ballots (we deal with that explicitly, you should read the paper!), the thousands of affidavits are largely nonsense or unrelated to fraud (you should read the news reports about this!), can you link to the video of ballots being destroyed? (the GA video was debunked), ballot run off happens all the time and isn’t evidence of fraud. Yes, there was much higher turnout this election, so Biden got more votes, but a smaller vote share than Obama. The Biden vote increases were not statistically impossible (you should read the paper, we cover this!). We also cover this bellwether argument, which is not a very good one and Nixon won Florida, Iowa, and Ohio but lost the presidency in 1960. I don’t know what to do with this last argument, but if we assume a different state of the world things would be different. But that isn’t what happened!

* Zimny-Schmitt and Harris are describing the characteristics of bellwether counties, rather than measuring how predictive they are. So even though bellwethers might tend to have certain characteristics, what really matters is how well they can predict future elections. We show that bellwethers tend to be *worse* at predicting elections than counties with similar election results in the previous election. On the number of losses: it actually isn’t that surprising. If you “rerun” the 2016 election results, you’d expect Biden to lose 18 or more bellwether about 20% of the time. You can see in Figure 3 that Trump didn’t just win these bellwethers in 2016, he won them by a lot. In fact, this reflects a trend where Republicans do better in many smaller population counties, while Democrats do better in fewer high population counties. The result of this is that Biden loses bellwether counties (which exist by statistical accident). Again, if you look at our Figure 3, you’ll see that there really isn’t anything necessary about flipping the bellwether counties for Biden’s win, because he tended to improve his margin in larger counties. That said, Biden did win more counties than Clinton.

* I’d be curious about the correlation between crowd size and support for a candidate. There are related factors (like yard signs) which tend to not be particularly predictive. But I’m not sure of a systematic study of crowd size and candidate performance in an election. One reason to be doubtful of the relationship is that crowds in a presidential election will still be much smaller than the number of votes needed to win. What’s more, the Biden campaign actively pursued smaller crowds because of COVID.

Comments at Andrew Gelman’s blog:

* I didn’t see where the Hoover article covered the discussions I have seen significant reductions in various places in the % of mail in ballots rejected (compared to prior and sometimes very recent elections) as invalid. From what I have read, most of the rejections have typically been for failure to sign the mail in ballot.
I personally found it very comforting that our electorate improved its ballot signing performance in such a dramatic way… if indeed this was as widespread as some have suggested. I haven’t seen this addressed elsewhere, and maybe I missed it in the Hoover piece.

Justin Grimmer: The state where this comes up is Georgia. Gabriel Sterling , a republican election official, explains this as a result of a law change in GA that gives citizens a chance to fix their signature if the election workers find a problem.

“The decrease in rejections is attributable to a recently passed law that gives Georgians a chance to correct problems, such as a rejected signature, with their ballots. Both parties had teams roaming the state and contacting voters whose ballots were at risk of rejection, but Mr. Sterling said the Democrats were simply more prepared for the task.”

One thing that went along with the increase in mail in voting were changes in laws that made it possible for people to fix ballots that would be potentially rejected. This made it possible for the parties to connect voters to potentially rejected ballots and have them corrected. So on the one hand, it does seem intuitive that an increase in mail in ballots might increase signature issues. But on the other hand, the ability to fix signatures suggests that it should decrease substantially.

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