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Links: December 2016

What’s Your Ideal Community? The Answer Is Political

It’s conceivable that people who live in cities come to value more active government. Or they’re more receptive to investing in welfare because they pass the homeless every day. Or they appreciate immigration because their cab rides and lunch depend on immigrants. This argument is partly about the people we’re exposed to in cities (the poor, foreigners), and partly about the logistics of living there.

The suburbs entail private yards over public parks, private cars over public transit, private malls over public squares. Suburban living even buys a kind of private government, Mr. Schneider wrote, with the promise of local control of neighborhood schools and social services that benefit only the people who can afford to live there.

His theory supports self-selection; people who want that environment move to it. But Jessica Trounstine, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced, believes that people who move to the suburbs, apolitically, can also become part of a political ideology that they find benefits them and their pocketbooks.

Nature acts, she argued.

Everything mattered: lessons from 2016’s bizarre presidential election

This is easily the best postmortem on the 2016 election.

One thing is clear: America’s archaic, unjust, racist Electoral College belongs on the ash heap of history.

Given the difficulty of picking apart causal threads around complex sociopolitical events, our inability to run counterfactuals, imperfect hindsight, and the strong temptation to motivated reasoning on all sides, the truth is that we’ll never know exactly which factors made the difference, or which narrative is “correct.”

The best we can probably do is echo Alex Pareene: Fuck everything and blame everyone.

The most agonizing implication of the narrow loss is that everything mattered.

Every decision to hype Clinton’s emails. Comey’s extraordinary violation of precedent. WikiLeaks. Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches. Her refusal to dissociate from the Clinton Foundation. Her poor retail politics. Trump not releasing his tax returns. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan hiding out. Sanders tarnishing Clinton’s image among young people. Institutions standing by and doing nothing as Trump shredded democratic norms. The gamble that Trump’s misogyny and racism would render him unacceptable.

Fake news on Facebook. Epistemological bubbles. Elite self-absorption. Hot take after hot take delivered to the choir. Americans making the contest into a crass reality TV show fueled by Facebook memes. The press refusing to cover policy.

And whatever else you can name.

Clinton bet most of her chips on there being some floor, some violation of norms too low even for today’s radicalized Republican Party. She thought responsible Republican officeholders would rally. She thought at least well-off, well-educated Republican women would recoil in horror.

She was wrong. There is no floor. Partisanship has been revealed as the strongest force in US public life — stronger than any norms, independent of any facts.

Whenever Washington pundits and politicians start talking about Dems appealing to the WWC, the result is demonizing minorities (see: Sister Souljah), passing punitive law-and-order policies (see: 1994 crime bill), supporting fossil fuels (see: Joe Manchin literally shooting cap and trade), and making a big show of, say, hunting (see: John Kerry, 2004).

It has never, in my memory, led to more social democratic welfare policies.

Members of today’s working class are just as likely to be urban minorities in service jobs — who vote Democrat, despite being, by most objective measures, worse off than the WWC.

So Trump did not appeal to “the working class.” Even among the white working class, he only really dominated in the South. His appeal was to low-education whites, not to any particular economic class.

Calls for the Democrats to turn away from identity politics amount to demands that the interests of rural white voters be recentered and that the interests and votes of other demographics be viewed as vaguely suspect.

Trump’s campaign was pure identity politics — white non-urban male identity politics. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in a righteous piece on this subject, “We should pay Trump voters the courtesy of assuming that at least some of them knew what they were doing when they opted for the politics of cultural revenge delivered by a billionaire in a gold-plated airplane.”

Of course Clinton spoke to the economic insecurities of working-class whites. She ran on the most progressive economic platform in a half-century.

Almost all the information that reached voters about Clinton was about scandal — emails, the foundation, pneumonia, etc. The three big nightly network newscasts spent three times as many minutes on Clinton’s emails as they did on all policy issues combined.

This is how discussions of racism in America get derailed. You start by conceiving of “racist” as a binary category, something one is or isn’t. Then you define racism as explicit belief that one race is superior to another. Only a small fringe has those self-identified racist beliefs, so, voila, there are hardly any racists! (You can play the same game with “sexist.”)

What American mainstream pundits often cannot see is that the latitude they extend white voters — “they know not what they do, they’re good people at heart, they’re just hurting” — is the essence of white privilege.

Such latitude is not offered to other groups.

But that feeling? That gut sense that “it’s going to be okay”? I no longer trust that feeling. At all. (It’s only us white guys who got to feel it anyway.)

What matters is what politicians do and how it affects people. Covering politics like a theater critic, speculating whether this or that move will play well with this or that group, has never seemed more inadequate.

Trump’s Business Empire Isn’t Just an Ethical Disaster

George W Bush’s chief White House ethics lawyer makes clear the issues raised by Trump’s many conflicts of interest.

Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About

The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.

After a toddler accidentally shot and killed his older sister, a family’s wounds run deep

He never worried something would happen because it never had before. Even in 2010, when a .25 pistol toppled off a bedroom closet shelf, hit the floor and went off, the bullet grazing his wife’s arm and narrowly missing Kimi, he dismissed it as a freak accident.

“We just put it right back up there in the closet,” he says.

The Comet Is Coming: Channel the Spirits

Maybe I just desperately want to abandon the planet, but this space jazz freakout might be my #1 record of 2016.

Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy.

If he does not fully understand what he is doing, his advisers certainly do.

A war where you never know what the enemy are really up to, or even who they are. The underlying aim, Surkov says, is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control.

“One thing that should be distinguished here, is the media is always taking Trump literally,” said Thiel during an October appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take him seriously but not literally.”

It is tempting to take solace in the belief that, if Trump cannot be taken literally, his extreme rhetoric might conceal a secret moderate streak. But that hope would be misplaced. Non-linear warfare is intrinsically authoritarian. The president-elect is speaking the language of dictators.

When political actors can’t agree on basic facts and procedures, compromise and rule-bound argumentation are basically impossible; politics reverts back to its natural state as a raw power struggle in which the weak are dominated by the strong.

That’s where Donald Trump’s lies are taking us.

Making Sense of Color Management

Color management has bewildered and enraged me for decades. No more! Blessed be Craig Hockenberry and A Book Apart.


“19 visual artists count down their 10 favorite albums of 2016 with reimagined cover art.” This is a delight.

How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts

Reminder: casinos are bloodsuckers.

Casino patrons bet more than $37 billion annually—more than Americans spend to attend sporting events ($17.8 billion), go to the movies ($10.7 billion), and buy music ($6.8 billion) combined.

A significant portion of casino revenue now comes from a small percentage of customers, most of them likely addicts, playing machines that are designed explicitly to lull them into a trancelike state that the industry refers to as “continuous gaming productivity.”

Even by the estimates of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which was founded by industry members, 1.1 to 1.6 percent of the adult population in the United States—approximately 3 million to 4 million Americans—has a gambling disorder. That is more than the number of women living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer. The center estimates that another 2 to 3 percent of adults, or an additional 5 million to 8 million Americans, meets some of the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for addiction but have not yet progressed to the pathological, or disordered, stage. Others outside the industry estimate the number of gambling addicts in the country to be higher.

At least nine independent studies demonstrate that problem gamblers generate anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total gambling revenues.

70 percent of patrons now use loyalty cards, which allow the casinos to track such data points as how frequently they play electronic gaming machines, how long they play, how much they bet, how often they win and lose, what times of day they visit, and so on.

Astonishingly, the patent application for virtual reel mapping, the technology that made all these deceptive practices possible, was straightforward about its intended use: “It is important,” the application stated, “to make a machine that is perceived to present greater chances of payoff than it actually has within the legal limitations that games of chance must operate.”

Regardless of the machine—slots, video poker—casinos’ ultimate goal is to maximize players’ “time on device.” This is crucial for casinos, because given enough time, the house always wins. Local regulations typically stipulate that machines must pay out 85 to 95 percent of the bets placed on them—which means that for every $100 inserted into the machine, on average, the player will lose $5 to $15. Whatever the exact figure, the house odds make it such that if a player plays long enough, she will eventually lose her money.

Some experts believe self-exclusion lists are not effective, because they seem to be erratically enforced. Despite the presence of sophisticated surveillance technology, patrons are not routinely screened for their self-exclusion status. “If a self-excluded gambler goes to a casino, it’s okay for them to lose money, but once they start winning, a worker taps the gambler on the shoulder and says, ‘You’re being arrested for trespassing,’ ” says Lorenz, the author of Compulsive Gambling. “Go to any casino, and the gamblers will tell you this is happening with regularity.”

Horbay points to informed choice as the central tenet of consumer protection

As it happens, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board addressed exactly this question during its 1983 hearings on virtual-reel technology. As Richard Hyte, then a Nevada commissioner, explained, if slot machines were to disclose a player’s odds of winning a payout, that would “take away the mystery, the excitement and entertainment and risk of playing those machines.”

The Chosen: Who Trump Is Putting in Power

New work: Jessica Huseman and I are making trading cards of Trump’s Cabinet picks, with a reading guide for each.

Trump’s 17 cabinet-level picks have more money than a third of American households combined

What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’

This movement that ostensibly wanted to protect free speech from cry bully SJWs simultaneously did what it could to endanger sites it disagreed with, encouraging advertisers to abandon support for media outlets that published stories critical of the hashtag. The petulance of that movement is disturbingly echoed in Trump’s own Twitter feed.

The majority of people who voted for Trump will never take responsibility for his racist, totalitarian policies, but they’ll provide useful cover and legitimacy for those who demand the very worst from the President Elect. Trump himself may have disavowed the “alt-right”, but his rhetoric has led to them feeling legitimised. As with Gamergate, the press risks being manipulated into a position where it has to tread a respectful middle ground that doesn’t really exist.

The right has its own version of political correctness. It’s just as stifling.

Believing in American exceptionalism means that anything less than chest-thumping jingoism is capitulation. Unionized public employees who can’t be fired are bad at their jobs and are more interested in increasing their own power than fulfilling their public duties — except if they are police or Border Patrol officers, who are unselfishly devoted to their jobs. The crime rate is high and rising, so when facts show that criminality has declined substantially over the decades, the patriotically correct respond with appeals to the bubbled feelings of the common man.

Poor white Americans are the victims of economic dislocation and globalization beyond their control, while poor blacks and Hispanics are poor because of their failed cultures.

There is no such thing as too much national security, but it’s liberals who want to coddle Americans with a “nanny state.”

Seth Meyers Is Going to Tell You the Truth, One Trump Joke at a Time

Between SNL and Late Night, Meyers has become an acolyte of the Lorne Michaels school of “the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” It’s the same tendency that made him give himself only three weeks between leaving SNL and starting Late Night. “If I had more time, it would not have been well spent,” he says.

Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America

Donald Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” Fran Lebowitz recently observed at The Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.


I’m pretty excited about Ethan Marcotte’s fancy new site and how it will give us all an opportunity to be smarter.

Resilient Web Design

I can’t wait to dig into this new book from Jeremy Keith, my favorite web philosopher.

Why Women Own Guns

Between 1980 and 2008, 90 percent of homicides, and 92.1 percent of gun homicides, were committed by men. In mass shootings since 1982, that figure rises to 96.5 percent, according to research done at Mother Jones. For all the strides we’ve made toward equality, there’s still a more violent sex.

Fear of Other People Is Now the Primary Motivation for American Gun Ownership, a Landmark Survey Finds

“Our survey suggests that many more people believe guns in their home make them safer, when in fact, epidemiological research suggests precisely the opposite,” Azrael says.

The combined arms of 14 percent of gun owners — or roughly three percent of all American adults — account for half of all civilian-owned firearms in the county.

Researchers estimate that between 300,000 and 600,000 guns stolen are stolen from private owners each year.

At the high end of the estimate, that would add up to 1,600 guns stolen every day, more than one every minute — enough firearms to provide a weapon for every instance of gun violence in the country each year.

Trump private security force ‘playing with fire’

Nonetheless, Rowland told POLITICO that as long as Trump’s campaign or an outside group “organizes and sets the rules for a private event, and a politician, including the president, is an invited guest, then the host can decide whether and when to revoke attendees’ invitations. That would make them trespassers and allow them to be legally removed.” If the rallies were funded or organized by the government, on the other hand, then only law enforcement could identify protesters for ejection and actually remove them, and only then for breaking the law, she said.

Trump’s private security team has taken full advantage of that latitude, and Deck, who appears to be the leader of the rally security unit, has served as the point of the spear.

Deck, a buff 62-year-old who at various times took to wearing street clothes to blend into rally crowds so he could sleuth out protesters, has drawn repeated complaints about excessive force and ejecting people solely because they don’t look like Trump supporters.

Slate Is Changing Its Approach to Design: Here’s How, and Why

A handsome new work in progress from Jason Santa Maria and his team at Slate.

Will Ivanka Trump Be the Most Powerful First Daughter in History?

It will be interesting to see what comes of Ivanka Trump’s seeming Stockholm syndrome.

“Everyone who knows Ivanka says, ‘How could she support her dad like this?’” said Mr. Davis, the society journalist. “But she works for her father. The Trump motto is: Win at all costs.”

This is what happens to the bodies of the women you know.

When she told us that there was no heartbeat, that the baby was dead, I remember thinking that this particular doctor, so shy and soft-spoken, was ill-equipped to deliver this sort of news. She was kind, but did not inspire confidence; she answered all the questions we asked, but not the ones we didn’t know to ask. She offered nothing to help us deal with our grief.

The fact that you can detect a heartbeat starting at around 6 pregnancy weeks is a miracle of modern science and a testament to the trans-vaginal ultrasound, not an indication that the fetus is a full-fledged person.

The Gun Violence Reporting That Most Inspired Us in 2016

The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does

On a 1–500 scale of delusion: 1: False memory 5: Collective false memory 500: False memory believed to be the result of a spacetime glitch

How Jon Stewart Took Over The Daily Show and Revolutionized Late-Night TV: An Oral History

I miss Jon Stewart.

Pantera: The Great Southern Trendkill (20th Anniversary Edition)

A sharp read on Pantera’s penultimate album, though it sidesteps the fact that extreme angst was de rigueur in 1996.

Pinegrove: Cardinal

Digging this album. In places, it feels to me kinda like an alt-countrified version of early Death Cab for Cutie.

Bored, Broke and Armed: Clues to Chicago’s Gang Violence

For some, there was admittedly a lack of motivation to job-hunt. For others, criminal records got in the way. Kaos said he had been turned away by Walmart, Walgreens, Footlocker and others. One in four adults in this neighborhood has not graduated from high school, and the unemployment rate is 33 percent, two and a half times the citywide rate.

Even when Kaos landed a job, there were complications getting there. Riding public transportation can make gang members easy targets for rivals.

“You go to jail, you get killed. It’s either/or. For what?”

Pinegrove on How Being a Good Artist and a Good Person Are the Same Thing

[C]omplexity is a little bit of a defense mechanism. I challenge myself all the time to simplify.

For example, aphasia is a neurological condition that prevents you from accessing words well, and we have a song called “Aphasia,” and people have asked, “Do you actually have aphasia?” No, it’s a metaphor. It’s a fear of mine that I won’t be able to express myself well enough, or that I’ll be somehow trapped inside myself. Maybe a lot of people feel that way. So I’m using it metaphorically as an extension of solipsism. Not only am I afraid of discovering that I am the only real thing, but I can’t communicate that discovery to anyone because I’ve lost my use of language. That’s what Cardinal is about for me.

The attorney general could have ordered FBI Director James Comey not to send his bombshell letter on Clinton emails. Here’s why she didn’t.

How the dominos fell from Bill Clinton’s foolish tarmac meetup with Loretta Lynch to the nothingburger Comey letter.

Mac McCaughan: Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)

So if you still have friends
Raise a glass with them
Happy New Year
Prince can’t die again

How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

No @font-face Syntax will ever be Bulletproof, Nor Should It Be

Simplified syntax is better for code health, cognitive load, and general software maintenance. Decreasing the number of formats also decreases the possibility that developers will list their font formats in the src attribute out of order. Remember that browsers use the first format they find that works—so if you don’t order them correctly the browser could waste resources (or render poorly) with a less-than optimal format.

The American Leader in the Islamic State

This story of an American jihadi who joined ISIS is a microcosm of ISIS itself: pedantry taken to wild extremes.

The Trump Matrix

No one knows what Trump will do, but from the available evidence, this matrix is a reasonable map of possibilities.

Our Automated Future

If nearly half the occupations in the U.S. are “potentially automatable,” and if this could play out within “a decade or two,” then we are looking at economic disruption on an unparalleled scale. Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle.

According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee, such talk misses the point: trying to save jobs by tearing up trade deals is like applying leeches to a head wound.

“If you look at the types of tasks that have been offshored in the past twenty years, you see that they tend to be relatively routine,” Brynjolfsson and McAfee write. “These are precisely the tasks that are easiest to automate.” Off-shoring jobs, they argue, is often just a “way station” on the road to eliminating them entirely.

Reshoring reduces transportation costs and cuts down on the time required to bring new designs to market. But it doesn’t do much for employment, because the operations that are moving back to the U.S. are largely automated. This is the major reason that there is a reshoring trend; salaries are no longer an issue once you get rid of the salaried.

When a twenty-two-billion-dollar company can fit its entire workforce into a Greyhound bus, the concept of surplus labor would seem to have run its course.

Under the old feudalism, the peasants were exploited; under the new arrangement, they’ll merely be superfluous. The best we can hope for, he suggests, is a collective form of semi-retirement. He recommends a guaranteed basic income for all, to be paid for with new taxes, levelled, at least in part, on the new gazillionaires.

The Year in Visual and Interactive Storytelling

A roundup of 2016’s visual and interactive storytelling highlights at ProPublica. I’m proud to be a part of it.

David Fahrenthold tells the behind-the-scenes story of his year covering Trump

I tried a Google Images search, feeding it a photo of the portrait, which showed Trump’s painted face.

“Best guess for this image: Orange,” Google said.

I got a screen full of oranges. Orange juice. Orange Julius. No portraits.

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was whisked out of a campaign event — viewing a collection of autographed cardboard hot-dog buns in Toledo — without comment.