Superstition and Politics

One of the biggest problems with politics is superstition. Every time a candidate wins, their campaign strategists are treated as having conjured up a magical creature known as victory out of thin air. They are treated thusly by the party they won for, but also largely by the media. They pushed the right button combination, they cut the right wire, they made the thing happen. Never mind all the factors outside of their control, the flukes, the weather. They get credit without any definitive evidence that they even knew what they were doing.

But that’s not the whole of superstition in politics. It extends to all sorts of frets and worries that interrupt policy and legislation. The NRA has a monkey’s paw that will unleash torment upon Republicans if they don’t fall in line. Rich criminals like Weinstein and Epstein were insulated from accountability (again, in both the media and in political circles) by superstition, primarily. The worry about what it would mean to the unknown backwaters and backrooms of power to cross people who are the equivalent of made-men in those circles.

Superstition dictates that Republicans can’t compete in blue states, nor Democrats in red ones. They certainly shouldn’t treat those foreign lands as opportunities to throw some spaghetti at the wall on the cheap. I mean, it would be bad luck to run a Republican candidate in LA on the platform of (insert some idea that Republicans generally don’t run on but won’t be offensive).

The media similarly has its superstitions around politics, including what kind of coverage is expected, what polls really mean, which voters count more (evangelicals, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc.), who gets access, what the differences are between Republicans and Democrats, and so on. It has its superstitions about who is important and what ideas are important. Campaigns should be about identifying problems, but they’re mostly about offering canned solutions to undefined problems, and then the solutions become the focus and they aren’t perfect so candidates get tarred for that.


The problem of superstitions is quite extensive in our lives. They represent blockages that prevent honest progress, out of fear of the unknown. The media’s focus on the ten-year-cost of Medicare-for-All, despite the actual ongoing economic cost already being greater, is one example of this. The Republicans’ reluctance to give up on repealing the ACA, in favor of some real policy is another.

These superstitions exist because of mere coincidence. The apparent interest in Republicans around the time they championed repealing the ACA caused them to believe that people wanted repeal, rather than the people wanting further development of healthcare policy toward some unknown better system. The media believes then ten-year costs of Medicare-for-All are important because they believe big numbers are important.

I don’t think Medicare-for-All is the be-all-end-all of healthcare. It is one way to do the thing. But I do think that continuing to refine healthcare funding is entirely necessary, and systems that tend to diminish the involvement of employers in healthcare are generally superior to those that do not. Over a ten year period where healthcare isn’t provided by employers, ceteris paribus, we should expect a healthier economy and a healthier population.

Streaming, Game Instrumentation, and Better Experiences

Happy New Year!

I’ve been watching a bit of video game streaming of late, and one thing that’s struck me is that most games aren’t instrumented to accommodate stream integration. I couldn’t find much information on the subject, so I thought I’d scratch out a few thoughts.

Streamers may want to track in-game deaths. That should be trivial with an API (and it may already be possible with game mods). Games should absolutely provide some kind of event stream that can easily be integrated into streamers’ on-screen displays. There are a wide variety of possibilities this opens up, including better multi-stream races (where the programmatic reporting of milestones can be plotted on a simple race chart) to better and automated tagging of stream clips (e.g., automatically linking to significant in-game events).

The Steam platform has added some game-tracking for their social component, so that you can see what your friends are playing with a little more detail, but that’s only a baby step. Valve’s own games also feature statistics, and with the advent of GDPR customers can see more of that data than ever, but there’s a lack of tools to connect that sort of data into something that would improve game streaming.

What else? How about viewer experience? The visual environment of the player can and should diverge from the viewer in some ways (with the viewer still having the choice to watch the game footage or the enhanced version). For example, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has a spectator mode that shows all players, shows grenade ballistic arcs, etc.

At some point, it may even go the other direction, with viewers being able to influence the experience of the streamer by causing enemies to spawn or such. Watching a charity stream earlier in the year, they played some Jackbox Party Pack 5 which lets viewers interact through a website/per-game password combination (rather than directly from the stream chat) in order to avoid the streamers seeing the viewers’ answers. There are also a few games like “Marbles on Stream”, which let viewers “play” by assigning their name to marbles in a physics simulation/marble racing game and see whose marble wins.

The interaction model may have to change a little, such as having streamer-blind chats for the purpose of letting viewers have more control without “stream sniping” (when someone can gain advantage by watching a stream or chat).

Some work on stream-and-chat interactions have already been done with the famous Twitch Plays Pokemon and the like. This seems like very fertile soil, and it seems reasonable to expect that game makers will start to implement things to let it develop and mature.

Because They Can

There’s an old joke:

Q: Why do dogs lick their own genitals?
A: Because they can.

The modern Republicans function on the same principle. It sees no cost to hypocrisy, it says that it can do whatever it wants, and if you try to stop it, there’s always a 2nd Amendment Solution threat to toss around like a grenade with the pin removed.

Under Barack Obama, the deficit was a major threat to our future. It was stealing bread from future generations to prop up silly programs (like roads and bridges!) today. And then, the clock struck midnight, Trump entered, and lo! cutting taxes to create a massive deficit is what all the cool kids do.

What would happen if they defied illogic and stood up to dumbassery?

  1. They would be primaried, losing 30-60% of the challenges
  2. The alt-right boneheads that replaced them would also lose 30-60% of their races

So, the GOP would be in a temporary setback, until the voters realized that getting creamed in the legislative races doesn’t do them any good and would inevitably moderate.

What does happen, instead?

  1. They adopt alt-right dumbassery
  2. They remain viable enough to slip farther into the pit of doom they will soon call home (and if we’re not careful, we all will as well)

Even now, before the Democrats take the gavel in the House, parts of the news media are back to treating Trump as a normal president. They think, wrongly, that being bested at the polls might make him face the music. There are takes along these lines:

  • Dems should prioritize legislation over investigation
  • Trump seeks to cut deals with the Democrats

To the first, it’s a false dichotomy. There will be investigations. There will be legislation. Those are both jobs of the Congress when it’s operating properly. Moreover, they go hand-in-hand. You have to investigate in order to legislate properly.

As to making deals, that’s part of the job, too. Not just with the president, but with other legislators, with the minority. There are a thousand deals done in Washington per day (including Xmas!), but almost no good (and only a little evil) comes of most of them.

Why does the news media fall back to the same worn narratives at each stage of the disaster of Trump? Because that’s their reflex, their muscle memory. They are working off a parametric equation that says something like:

  Republican president
+ Republican Senate
+ Democratic House
——————————————————————
  Democratic cooperation

It’s the same reflex that was at work when they did a wholly-inadequate job questioning the intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. It’s the same reflex that couldn’t properly deal with Trump in 2015-6. This is an industry that had tape ready to roll as soon as President George Bush’s death was announced. It’s not the investigative journalists that are the failure in media, it’s the rank-and-file paper-pushers that are merely providing a nice Muzak-esque environment for advertisers.

Which is the same God damned thing that the rank-and-file Republicans (and plenty of Democrats, to be sure) are doing for all sorts of dubious organizations and industries.


There’s a reason that the odds of Paul Ryan coming out in favor of doing something about climate change jump from 0% to at least 50% as soon as he is out of office. It’s the same one, over again. He can’t say that in the House, he has to wait until he’s a civilian. It takes time to sober up from the years-long binge on campaign adrenaline. The scent of lobbyist cologne and perfume does wash off, but it lingers awhile.

Media and Political Bias Isn’t Binary

Nor is it just news media bias. As we saw with the recent revelations in the New York Times story, it extends to (anti-)social media as well (see The New York Times: 14 November 2018: Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Mathew Rosenberg, and Jack Nicas: “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis”). It also happens in non-news programming.

There is a tendency to believe that if the media is biased against conservatives, it can’t also be biased against progressives. This is clearly false, as bias is anchored on difference, and the media has its own political culture to defend.

The media is biased against conservatives in some ways, and some of those biases are reasonable; for example, being pro-environment and therefore biased against those who are indifferent, at best, to the environment. But the media is also biased against progressives, seeming to believe that math works differently when it applies to money, and therefore that a universal healthcare system is rainbows on roses and whiskey-toting kittens.

The right-wing uses this effect as a handy political signal. They made hay of the IRS looking for political groups in social welfare clothing. They made hay of (anti-)social media having a bias. But we know in both cases that the IRS also targeted progressive groups and that Facebook has a bias against progressive criticism.

The constancy of the “Democrats in Disarray” narrative is such that you could set your watch, if you still wore one. The media dutifully revives the notion of the “fiscal conservative” like it’s a civilian costume on a superhero. Poof! Where did the tax-slashing big-spending party go? Nobody here but us arch-penny-pinching conservatives.

We saw the ultimate absurdity of this media tendency on several occasions in Trump’s first year or so. He would read a speech, and the media actually thought it was worth pretending he was presidential. They still give enough gravitas to him, merely for occupying the oval office, that they’ll print his lies as headlines.

Media bias is a thing. It comes in many forms. Not all of them are unreasonable, but every one of them is acknowledgable, and those that aren’t reasonable should be discarded.

To Combat Fake News, Give People More Media Control

Whether it’s Sinclair’s five minutes of hate, Alex Jones’ rants, Russian Federation bots’ tweets, Assange’s leaks, or Fox News’ commentators’ lies, one of the biggest problems today is bad information, media pollution.

And there’s an open question of how to deal with it all. Well, to deal with some of it. Really, it depends whom you ask.

But the best solution is to empower people by giving them greater control over what they read and watch, how they read and watch it, and how they share content with others. That’s a heavy lift, as the same lack of control that empowers the bad actors helps the media conglomerates to exert influences that pad their own pockets.

Copyright law badly needs an update for the modern world, where it’s easy and useful to share content beyond what the strictures of existing law allow. Having greater control over hardware and software that enables media access would shake up the marketplace while letting users spend their finite time more wisely. There is much work needed here, and there is little impetus for the incumbents to roll up their sleeves.

This past week on at least one cable provider The View and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had their listing data screwed up. That meant that at least some users’ DVRs failed to record James Comey’s book promotions. It’s almost certain to be a screw up in the listing distribution chain, but it is an example of media pollution that people who have paid for the privilege may have missed content they wanted to see. They could jump through hoops to see the interviews, but it’s not in their preferred format or at their preferred time.

The technology industry could have a hand in empowering viewers, but the FCC blocked a proposal to force cable companies to grant access to third party hardware. For whatever reason, the Apples and Googles of the world did not lobby hard enough to make it happen. Missed opportunity. These talking-listening hubs they sell for homes would be much more useful if they allowed for interaction with the real main home hub: the television.

On websites like Twitter and Facebook, the limited access they give their users to filter and augment the feed means that people are forced to dig, scrounge, or put up with so many bad behaviors. Every single time I search on Twitter, I’m bound to find at least one tweet with every hashtag under the sun trying to advertise some stupid thing (or porn).

Now, you say, back when newspapers were the thing, people didn’t have control. But newspapers, I say, weren’t endless streams of data. Paracelsus says the dose makes the poison, and high-volume media vehicles like Twitter increase the dose considerably.


The media companies that aren’t thrilled about the likes of Trump, Fascism, and the Anti-American Way should give more power to the viewer. Make it happen. It’ll make you more money in the long run, and it will help to thwart bad actors like Sinclair in the meantime.