Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Utilitarian Financial Activity

My donations in 2016:
$10000 to the Against Malaria Foundation, which provides mosquito nets that protect Africans from malarial mosquitoes. GiveWell judged it the charity that could best put new money to use when I donated a few months ago.

$5000 to Deworm the World, which provides deworming pills to treat intestinal parasitic worm infections that cause severe illnesses in Africa and India. The educational benefits of deworming may give them the best expected value of any antipoverty charity, as intestinal worms severely impair students' school performance.

$5000 to Senator Jeff Merkley's Leadership PAC, which helps Democrats win Senate races and coordinates the party around one of its most talented and progressive legislative tacticians. This is my top pick for blocking bad Trump Administration initiatives, and I'll put up a big post about it when I donate again in a few days.

$1000 to RESULTS, which lobbies Congress for more global antipoverty funding, including vaccinations and AIDS / TB / malaria treatment. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio says, “RESULTS is the greatest citizens' lobbying organization in the history of Western civilization.”

$1000 to the Good Food Institute, which supports companies promoting plant-based meat alternatives. Real-tasting "clean meat" will eventually end factory farming, and we'll get there faster with a well-funded group that helps its producers push through regulatory obstacles created by corporations that do the factory farming.

When I took my job at Singapore in 2008, I told myself that I'd donate 25% of my annual income to a mix of political and charitable causes. I've fallen slightly below the 25% goal in previous years (while exceeding my 10% Giving What We Can pledge), but I hit it this time. If you're interested in making an end-of-2016 contribution to any of these groups and have any questions, feel free to ask.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Help them get into some good philosophy

I've given 74 talks since I left Singapore in April. Now I have a sort of fright at how many person-hours have been spent listening to me talk about things in philosophy that I think are fun. I really hope it was worth so much of people's time!

Giving a talk or writing a paper are both, in a broad sense, types of teaching. In a big lecture class for students, you're probably teaching stuff other people thought of first. In a department's weekly colloquium, you're supposed to teach stuff you thought of first. A paper is like a colloquium except you get to use footnotes and you don't get to use interpretive dance.

When you're teaching, you're trying to help your audience get into some good philosophy. The details of the various modes differ in various ways -- how much is supposed to be your own philosophy? who's the audience? how do they interact and contribute? do you make ephemeral living sounds or flat permanent letters? -- but the most basic goal is the same. Help them get into some good philosophy!

I like the idea of taking the best possible undergraduate lecture as our model for talks and papers and books. I'm thinking of the lecture that grabbed your attention and gave you a clear picture of an awesome problem or an amazing discovery. It was on your mind later that day. Maybe you told a friend about it. This happened because your teacher showed it to you clearly, and made you feel why it mattered. Maybe there were jokes! Jokes can help you get into some good philosophy.

Perhaps I should think of all my research activity (talks, papers, books) as aiming to be like that lecture. Of course, there are all kinds of modifications for format and audience and other such details. Sometimes you're giving a talk at a department full of experts, and it's Q&A, and you're supposed to answer their objections on the spot. What are you supposed to do?

Help them get into some good philosophy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Identity Politics

As a Democrat and a philosopher, identity politics will always be at the heart of how I see the world.

Trump is the next President. Trump's Chief Strategist is a misogynistic white nationalist, so the next President's Chief Strategist is a misogynistic white nationalist. And Trump's infrastructure plan is a trillion dollars of useless corporate welfare, so the next President's infrastructure plan is a trillion dollars of useless corporate welfare.

There's room for tactical disagreement about which issue we should emphasize at what time. But we're bound together by a commitment to the rights of women and minorities, opposition to economic structures that benefit the rich at everyone else's expense, and the principle that x=y→∀F(Fx↔Fy).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Supreme Court Tactics After the Trumpocalypse

If you want a story about getting Trump to nominate a judge who isn't another Scalia, this is the story for you.

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March, and Republicans never held hearings so that they could pass the nomination forward to Donald Trump. This weekend, Senator Merkley told Republicans that if they want Democrats to cooperate, Trump needs to nominate Garland so he gets the hearing he deserves.

I think Garland is about as likely as Andy Egan to be the next nominee. But that just takes us to the other side of Senator Merkley's conditional: no cooperation, and a filibuster. Mitch McConnell might want to eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations in response, but there are enough old institutionalists in the Republican Party to make this challenging within the GOP caucus. And there are a lot of other ways to tie up the Senate, which Chuck Schumer might employ if McConnell just ends the filibuster. Even if the vote goes forward, defections from three Republicans are enough to defeat the nominee.

With this in mind, Republicans will want to negotiate with Democrats about whom they nominate instead. And here's where things get fun. The person with nominating authority, Donald Trump, doesn't have any deep ideological commitment to the goals of the conservative movement. His main commitment is his own narcissism. Mike Pence will want to nominate another Scalia, but there may be a way around him.

The path forward might look like the Harriet Miers nomination of October 2005. Harry Reid's crafty move was to suggest that Bush nominate his unqualified but non-ideological friend to the Supreme Court. Bush accepted!

The nomination only failed when movement conservatives within the Bush Administration made him pull the plug. I don't know if anybody within could make Trump pull the plug on a nomination -- he doesn't feel he owes movement conservatives very much, and anyway Trump isn't a man who pays his debts. So a new Harriet Miers is a judge we can be very happy with.

A court with 4 progressives, the old institutionalist Roberts, the romantic libertarian Kennedy, two movement conservatives, and a Trump-crony who decides at random will rule our way pretty often. There are majorities there that can stop really bad Trumpy stuff, and also that can decide our way on other issues. I don't think this is the most likely outcome -- Pence is in the White House to prevent it. But it's an outcome worth playing for.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The path forward under a Trump Administration

2016 is the fourth time I've lived through this, and it's worse than the previous three. 1994 was Gingrich, 2000 was Bush, 2004 was Bush again. The deepest pain for me is the Supreme Court vacancy. That was our best path to a big advantage. Losing it is tremendously bad.

I'll offer optimism, because I'm your optimism guy. 2004 seemed like the worst -- unified Republican control under President Bush. But he didn't manage to do much new original damage apart from Supreme Court appointments. Nancy Pelosi shut down Social Security Privatization in the House when the Republican majority couldn't agree around a plan, and they couldn't pass it without Democratic votes which sweet Nancy made sure they didn't get. Bush gave up on a legislative agenda, and the worst we got was continuation of the terrible policies we had, including enormous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that make Libya and US Syria involvement look trivial -- plus economic mismanagement that led to the financial crisis. Obviously, really bad. But Bush didn't manage to initiate new hell.

Democrats held on, played defense, and won big in 2006 and 2008. House and Senate Democrats are way more functional than they were in the bad old days when Gephardt and Lieberman were supporting Bush's Iraq War Resolution. Schumer can get Wall Street money to fund Senate challengers (we didn't want to rely on this goddamned source of support, but the markets are crashing on Trump news). Pelosi does it because she's pure of heart.

So a possible scenario is for internal dysfunction between Trump and Congressional Republicans (combined with stalwart opposition from Pelosi and Senate Democrats) to prevent anything from really going forward. I didn't expect us to need to play the defensive filibuster game, but that's what it looks like we might have to do. I'd probably expect Republicans to get rid of the filibuster entirely for anyone else, but maybe not for Trump? I hope. We've pulled victory out of the elephant poop of past defeat a couple times before. Let's hope Pelosi and goddamned Schumer can do it again.

Certainly, the big worry is that Republicans fuse themselves to a crazy Trump agenda and there's no stopping it and everything goes to hell. That... could happen. But if there's enough internal conflict in the party to make things not work smoothly, as happened in much more subtle ways in 2004, we could get Trump-as-failure for the 2018 and 2020 cycles. After all, Trump is made to screw stuff up. Maybe his disaffected white working class supporters get the "actually, this sucks" message and don't support Republicans so well in 2018 and 2020 while our folks do their thing. Control redistricting in the 2020-2022 cycle, and you can take the House again. And then you can pass all kinds of progressive legislation, especially after this year's Senate misfortunes get flushed out in 2022.
As I said, I'm your optimism guy. Be well, and keep safe. We're going to need you.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

In Defense of Partisanship, forthcoming in Ethics in Politics

I argue for being a partisan Democrat in my forthcoming paper, "In Defense of Partisanship". Here's what I say about minor parties, beginning with an anecdote from a 2006 Senate race:

"The counterproductive nature of minor parties is well-understood by political tacticians. The $66,000 donated to Pennsylvania Green Party Senate candidate Carl Romanelli came entirely from Republican sources, except for $30 from the candidate himself. $40,000 came from identifiable supporters of Romanelli's Republican opponent Rick Santorum, or from their housemates. Romanelli received 99.95% of his funding from Republicans who hoped that he would cut into the Democratic share of the vote. Knowing how counterproductive minor parties are, hard-nosed tacticians among their ideological opponents coordinate funding schemes to prop them up.

Trying to get a major party to support a policy by voting for a minor party endorsing that policy is similarly ineffective. The major party may instead concede that policy's supporters to the minor party, and seek other ways to make up the lost votes. This is especially likely when the minor party is further from the center than the major party. If Democrats move right and win over a Republican voter, they gain a vote while the Republicans lose a vote. But if Democrats move left and win over a Green voter, they gain a vote without reducing the Republican total. So as long as Greens have less support than Republicans, winning Republican votes is twice as good as winning Green votes. Nader's pivotal role in 2000 certainly didn't create a left-wing resurgence within the Democratic Party. Two years later, 22 Democratic Senators voted for the Iraq War...

...Primaries make it easier to take over an existing party than to win with a new one. Winning three-way general elections requires at least a third of the voters. 34% will win if the opponents are divided at 33% and 33%, but usually the opposition won't be so neatly divided and more than 34% will be needed. But over a third of the electorate is always enough voters to take over one of the two major parties and win its nomination. If over a third of the population supports a policy, it's mathematically impossible for both major parties to consist of more than a third of the population entirely opposing the policy. So ideas with enough democratic support to win three-way general elections will always have enough support to enter and win a major-party primary."

Thanks to David Killoren, Emily Crookston, and Jonathan Trerise, editors of Ethics in Politics: New Papers on the Rights and Obligations of Political Agents, for inviting me to write this! It begins with an account of party coalitions. The selection above is on the section about partisan political action. The final section is on epistemic partisanship, with an argument from coalition dynamics that Democratic media will be systematically more reliable in getting the truth than Republican media and perhaps even nonpartisan media.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The abortion gun

We need to invent some kind of gun that performs safe abortions. When Republicans can't figure out whether to ban it, women in conservative states might get more abortion access amidst the confusion.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Fathers' Day!

My dad was telling me about this paper of his a few days ago, so I thought it'd make a good Fathers' Day post.

A standard job for industrial chemists is making a lot of some useful molecule. A problem they often run into is that their reactions only make a small amount of the desired product, and make a lot of waste. (If making the molecule is a multistep process, the amount of waste at each step can make the final product very expensive.) With a reaction Dad was working on as a postdoc at Kansas, an input molecule kept reacting with itself, leading to lots of waste products which happened to smell terrible.

Dad got the idea that the surface of silica gel had the right structure to hold the input molecule apart from others of its kind when the reaction was started, preventing it from reacting with itself. So he put some in when he did the reaction, and got very little waste. Later at a conference, two chemists working in industry publicly thanked him for figuring out how to do a clean synthesis of the desired product. One expressed wonder that silica gel, of all things, was the way to make it work.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Thoughts on the Orlando mass shooting

When I first visited the French Quarter of New Orleans in August 2014, it was during a gay community event called Southern Decadence. Lots of men were nearly naked, lots of men were wearing elaborate costumes, and lots of men were nearly naked while wearing elaborate costumes. People were throwing beaded necklaces from the balconies as they do in New Orleans, but the structure of heterosexual Mardi Gras nudity-for-beads transactions had been disrupted by the sheer oversupply of nudity. Most of the necklaces were flung wildly into the frolic below, guaranteed to end up around some scantily clad reveler.

Perhaps this is because I'm relatively inexperienced with gay nightclubs, but I tend to imagine them as full of the merry raunch that I saw at Southern Decadence. Mass murder anywhere is terrible. But what happened in Orlando, I think, is mass murder of people who were doing something awesome.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Feed a man, and he can solve a trolley problem for a day.

Teach a man to push, and he can solve trolley problems for a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Super Tuesday favorability ratings

Here are the favorability-unfavorability ratings for primary candidates on Super Tuesday morning, averaged from recent polls by Huffington Post:
Donald Trump: 36.5 F   58.2 U
Marco Rubio: 35.9 F  40.9 U
Hillary Clinton: 40.4 F   54.0 U
Bernie Sanders: 50.8 F   38.0 U

Bernie's numbers definitely won't be that good after a general election campaign full of attacks. But +12.8 when everyone else is net negative, and the most likely candidates are double-digit negative, is pretty astonishing. If I thought America would flee in terror from a self-described socialist, these numbers would make me rethink things. There's plenty of viable space to the left of traditional Democratic positions.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Milennials support Bernie because of what they've seen, and what they haven't seen

Lots of people are trying to explain why millennials like Bernie Sanders so much. Some of the explanations are terrible. But the truth is simple. Democratic millennials and their elders are responding to what they've lived through in a rational and well-intentioned way.

The two most formative political events in millennials' lifetimes are the Iraq War and the global financial crisis. So it's no surprise that their favored candidate voted against the war and defines himself as an enemy of Wall Street. They're understandably skeptical of a candidate who supported the war for way too long and receives large donations from the financial services industry. And since the scary overseas enemy of their time was Islamic fundamentalism, not a radical left-wing government, they're not so hesitant to vote for a self-described socialist.

All of this is perfectly reasonable, especially regarding Hillary Clinton's longtime support for the Iraq War. Millennials are understandably astonished that the Democratic Presidential nomination might go to someone who voted for the greatest foreign policy catastrophe of their lifetimes and spent a decade claiming that it was the right thing to do. Someone like that could trundle along in a red-state Senate seat, but in a blue state constant primary challenges would be warranted. The networks of pro-war foreign policy advisors they bring with them need to be kept out of power. This is why I gave Mazie Hirono $1000 to keep Iraq War supporter Ed Case from getting the Democratic Senate nomination in Hawaii. Iraq War supporters who didn't recant quickly are a threat to us all.

As for the economic issues -- I'm not optimistic that Bernie will actually be able to achieve any of his economic agenda with a Republican House and if Chuck Schumer is Senate Democratic leader. But millennials are right to see him as an ally against the economic forces that ruined the economy just when they were looking for entry-level jobs. And with the Cold War 27 years dead, their view that a self-described socialist could become President isn't implausible.

Their elders remember Newt Gingrich's Republican Party seizing control of Congress in 1994. The Clinton White House held firm against him through a 22-day government shutdown and saved the majority of the American social welfare infrastructure that he was threatening. Bill Clinton won re-election, while Gingrich's career collapsed in a futile effort to impeach him. It's not that everything went perfectly -- welfare reform was a loss. But it's a small loss compared to the broad cuts in Medicare and other social programs that Gingrich wanted, and which a Republican President who won in 1996 would've supported.

The Clintons' victory against the Republicans under circumstances likely to resemble the next Presidential term provides the best reason for choosing Hillary to do the same job again. She may not have been President herself, but she was at the core of the White House decision-making process, and no possible candidate is more experienced than her at dealing with the political challenges we're going to face. With Congressional district maps squarely against us, it's essential that our nominee be able to play good defense all the way through re-election, and Hillary is our best pick for doing that.

There's much more than this, of course. The abuse hurled at Hillary over those years, from bizarre conspiracy theories that had her ordering assassinations to the brutish misogyny of Rush Limbaugh, created a deep bond between her and ordinary Democratic voters. I don't think that such bonds are a good basis for voting decisions, which is why I emphasize her role in operating the White House as the main argument for her. But the thing about millennials is that they're too young to remember any of this or have formed these bonds. The youngest voters in this election won't remember Bill Clinton winning an election, because they weren't alive the last time he did.

Born in 1980, I'm at the millennial / Gen-X cusp. (I identify more with millennial earnestness than Gen-X sarcasm.) I was very interested in politics during the Clinton years and followed the budget battles as closely as any high school kid could. From the perspective of the 1990s, I can feel good about putting Hillary Clinton in the White House. From the perspective of the Bush years, I feel much better about Bernie Sanders.

Ultimately, I expect that I'll make my best electability calculation when I vote on March 7, and decide on that basis. I don't know yet what the result of that calculation will be, and I'm still undecided. The Supreme Court situation raises the stakes, making any Democrat far superior to any Republican. But if this post leaves you with any insight on the Democratic primary, let it be this: whether you support Clinton or Sanders, the people on the other side are being more reasonable than they're getting credit for.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I'm undecided between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Democratic primaries usually motivate me to do things. I've donated thousands of dollars to left-wing Senate primary candidates in places like Hawaii where I've never lived, and I was a committed enough John Edwards supporter in 2007 that a staffer informally offered me a full-time job with the campaign. (Fortunately, I turned it down and finished my PhD.) But here I am on Iowa caucus day, undecided between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

If this were January 2008, I'd be all for Sanders. Democrats went into 2009 with control of the House and a large Senate majority. That's when you can pass big things, and health care reform was Democrats' biggest domestic policy achievement in several decades. It's exciting to think about what Sanders would've done, coming into the White House amidst a financial crisis, with big majorities in the House and Senate.

Sadly, a future President Sanders isn't going to end up signing anything remotely as significant as the Affordable Care Act. Because of gerrymandering and the tendency of Democrats to cluster in urban areas, Congressional district maps give Republicans an impenetrable House majority until 2022 when the next redistricting occurs. Without some way of taking the House, we can't pass anything for a very long time, and single-payer health care or anything like that which Bernie is advertising is impossible. (This also diminishes the importance of the few issues where Clinton is to Sanders' left, like guns and immigration.)

I should explain how I came to be so confident in Democratic inability to take the House over the next six years. A while ago I had an opportunity to talk to the woman who guided Democrats through the bipartisan Oregon redistricting that led to Democratic victories in the state legislature in 2012. It's a pretty awesome story. Republicans thought they'd win because the traditional PVI measure gave them an advantage in the redrawn districts. But Democrats were using her more sophisticated regression models. Democrats won.

I was excited to ask her about Democratic prospects in the House. She impressed on me that Republican state legislatures have drawn districts to ensure a basically impenetrable House majority. You're basically stuck trying to win over people who trust Fox News, and they think all your sensible ideas are actually about death panels. Genuinely progressive and capable Democratic candidates occasionally show up in these districts, and they lose. You can win if you're really good and your opponent has some big gruesome scandal, but that's what it takes, and then you usually lose re-election. Right now if Democrats win all the seats leaning towards them, all the tossup seats, and all the seats leaning Republican, they still don't take control of the House. The total number of likely or solid Republican seats is 220.

As David Roberts has written, what we face in Congress from 2017 onward is the endless trench warfare of budget battles, with an occasional break or two for a Supreme Court nomination. (That's if a Democrat wins. Let's not think about the other possibilities for now.) The most important progressive work of a Democratic administration will happen through deft use of executive power that circumvents Congress, and through slowly putting Democratic judges onto the bench so that change can follow the form of Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board.

Above all, the major task of a Democrat who wins in 2016 will be winning re-election in 2020. Maybe then we can actually pass things in the 2023-2024 session after redistricting, if it goes our way. But with the Republican Party getting more and more extreme, we can't afford to have Ted Cruz 2.0 inaugurated in January 2021. So the most important objective of the next term is preventing that. I wish I could say that the most important thing about the Presidency was the power to make the world a better place, but it's not really that powerful an office on domestic matters unless it's aligned with Congress. If you're a Democratic president and Congress is run by this decade's Republicans, you've got to just keep them out of the White House by any means possible because otherwise they can smash everything.

The one area where a Democratic president will have a somewhat free hand is foreign policy. And here Bernie Sanders has a clear advantage over Hillary Clinton. Certainly, Hillary has more experience. The trouble is that a lot of it is experience making and defending the worst American foreign policy decision that happened in my lifetime: the decision to invade Iraq. Spend a decade defending that decision, and the other beliefs you'll form to stay consistent with it will end up being very bad.

Just so we're clear on what the problem is, let me concede that voting for the Iraq War in October 2002 was excusable, because the clear signs that Iraq posed no serious threat came afterwards. These include Colin Powell's nonsensical presentation and especially the things Hans Blix was telling us after being able to inspect Iraq as he liked. The responsible thing for a Democrat to do after voting for the war was to loudly criticize the rush to war in February or March 2003 when all these signs had appeared. Failing that, a clear public apology like that of Edwards in 2005 would be a step on the road to not making that kind of mistake in the future. But Hillary instead kept defending her decision even her rivals for the 2008 nomination were all making clear that it was a mistake. She apologized only in 2014, and remains one of the leading hawks in the Democratic Party to this day.

While I'll allow that there are some situations where it might be a good idea to use the American military, these are few enough that we're safer just saying no to war every time. Perhaps the lone case where America really screwed up by not deploying troops was Rwanda, but as Hillary was part of the White House that got that wrong, it's can't really be a point in her favor. I think it was the right decision to bomb Gadhafi's tanks on the way from Tripoli to their mission of slaughter in Benghazi, but then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates says she was largely responsible for stepping things up to the more dubious mission of regime change.

All in all, the upside of American military action is generally limited while the downside is massive. I'd rather have a pumpkin in charge of deciding to go to war than Hillary Clinton, because pumpkins lack agency and thus will never decide to go to war. The great virtue of Bernie Sanders is that he will more closely approximate the behavior of a pumpkin.

I should finish with some thoughts on which candidate is more likely to defeat the Republican in the presidential election. The crazier the Republican Party gets (we are now contemplating a Trump Administration) the more this issue matters. In a primary you aren't voting to make your candidate president. You're voting to give your candidate a x% chance of becoming president, where x% is the chance of your candidate beating the Republican. You're also voting to give the Republican a (100-x)% chance of being president, where that's the chance of the Republican beating your candidate. Do you want to give Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz, or even Marco Rubio's madly pro-Iraq-War foreign policy advisors a (100-x)% chance of controlling the US military and nuclear arsenal? If you don't, electability matters. So with the candidates looking like very different but equally desirable Presidents, I have to choose. And I really have no idea which candidate is more electable.

Many people deeply dislike Hillary Clinton, but most of them wouldn't vote for Democrats. Most of the others will cast a grudging vote for her when faced with a clearly horrible alternative. She'll lose a few that Sanders would've won, even to the worst Republican. But she's been on the inside of campaigns that beat Republicans in two Presidential elections, as well as statewide races in both Arkansas and New York. Just as she has the most White House experience of any candidate who hasn't been President or Vice President before, she has the most Presidential election experience of any candidate who hasn't held either office.

And here we come to Clinton's biggest advantage over Sanders: she was on the inside of a White House that decisively won re-election when faced with a Republican House and Senate in 1996. Since the most important thing a Democratic president will have to do is to prevent a Republican from winning the White House in 2020, that experience is incredibly important. The next six years are going to look a lot like the six years beginning in January 1995. I don't think everything went perfectly then -- I wish we could have welfare reform back. But the Clintons did a lot better than Gingrich and Dole did during that time, and that's the skill we need now.

Back to electability in 2016: I don't think it's a major problem that Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist. Just as the Republican Party has spent decades turning its faithful into Hillary haters, it's spent decades making them think every Democrat is a socialist, so that's just par for the course. Bernie's hatred of Wall Street burns brightly enough that most undecided voters will get the point: he self-describes with extreme words like 'socialist' because he hates the big money guys that much. And that's not bad. Current polls have him running ahead of Hillary in general election matchups. While he'll probably sag down to her level once faced with Republican attack ads, I don't think it's obvious that he'll do worse. And maybe he'll do better.

I see two problems with Sanders as far as winning elections are concerned. First, he has less experience going up against Republicans outside the cozy environment of Vermont. So he may make missteps that a more experienced candidate wouldn't. But I don't think this is a huge problem -- he hasn't been a gaffe-prone candidate up to this point, and he seems generally competent in managing a campaign. Second, and more importantly: he's built for actually making change happen and not for endless partisan slugfests over tiny things, which is impossible given Republican control of the House. So if he becomes president, he might not focus properly on all the trivialities that bump down his opponents' poll numbers and make 2020 an easier win. And with Republicans controlling the House, that approach is more suited to our times.

Strangely, the candidates' advantages are advantages of omission. Hillary is good at doing small stuff that hurts her opponents in the polls instead of pushing for big change, so she's likely to do a better job of winning re-election in a time when big change is impossible. Sanders is likely to make better foreign policy decisions because he's less likely to use the military, which is always a risky thing to do. Static times demand static candidates.

If I don't think either candidate is as awesome as their supporters think, I think they're better than their detractors think. Maybe I'll write more about that in the future. But if the the primary season keeps running, I'd like to hear more about things like which executive orders the candidates might issue. Small ways to eke out progress remain important when grand measures are impossible. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

17 villages

I made my first donation to the Against Malaria Foundation, which distributes mosquito nets in Africa. The founder, Rob Mather, sent me this email:

"I am catching up on recent donations to AMF and wished to thank you for your exceptional generosity and support. It is very much appreciated. 100% of your US$11,698.40 donation will buy 4,670 long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) and protect some 8,410 people. That's 17 entire villages."

I don't know whether I'm obligated to donate money like this, and I don't care. I just think it's awesome to be the defender of 17 villages against an inhuman blood-drinking child-killing evil.