Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Election 2018 wrapup

With all of Election 2018 finally done, it’s time for a wrap-up on predictions and outcomes and strategies for the past and future. I also get to tell you about Katie Hobbs!

The House: I thought we’d gain 36 seats. We got 40! Now we can investigate Trump, block major Republican legislation, and throw our weight around in budget battles. Nancy Pelosi will wield the gavel. No Speaker in my lifetime has swung it better.

I donated $250 to one House race on a tip from a friend, but no more. I was already pretty confident, and running up the score after about 230 seats doesn’t affect things that much. (Especially with Nancy optimizing on the inside, which is worth five seats easily over a replacement-level speaker). The House won’t be a major 2020 donation focus unless something weird and bad happens. I’m projecting economic and Mueller conditions to be worse for Republicans next time, letting us hold the House easily.

The Senate: This hurt. I thought we’d stay at 51R-49D. But we lost two seats, and fell to 53R-47D. Indiana, Missouri, and Florida are the losses that I thought we’d win. FiveThirtyEight had Joe Donnelly up over 3% in Indiana, and then he lost by 6%. Things were almost as bad for McCaskill in Missouri. Something weird is going on with Midwestern polling – over the last two cycles, Democrats have underperformed the polls there, even as they’ve outperformed the polls out west. But I expected Democrats to outperform in AZ, MT, and NV, and they did. The Mountain West trends our way.

I donated $11K to Senate races this year after $7K last year, mostly through Leadership PACs. (These are the awesome way to make Senate donations; I’ll explain later.) I expect that Senate contributions will be my big thing into 2020. If we beat Trump but can’t win three Senate seats, Mitch McConnell just blocks the Democratic President’s legislation and judges. That must not happen. I’ll talk to you about ways to stop it in the coming weeks.

Governors: I didn’t anticipate the losses in Ohio and Iowa – more bad Midwest. And I didn’t expect Andrew Gillum’s heartbreaking defeat in Florida. I did correctly pick a split between the two big vote suppression states. The sorrow was Brian Kemp suppressing the Georgia African-American vote hard enough to beat Stacy Abrams in Georgia.

The joy was Laura Kelly giving Kris Kobach the beating he deserved for shutting down Hispanic polling places in Kansas. We won Nevada too, as Jon Ralston’s masterful analysis of the early voting predicted. Fellow academics and union siblings rejoice, Scott Walker is beaten in Wisconsin!

I didn’t donate into gubernatorial races, because I don’t know state stuff as well as I know federal stuff. It would be good to know more. Governors are powerful. Also on the state level, winning state legislatures in 2020 is how you control redistricting and get gerrymandering power. I want to learn more about how to win those in 2020. But to win the 2020 battleground states, the big race to win in 2018 was…

…State Secretary of State in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio: These races control voting procedures in important states for 2020. The polling on these races is sparse and useless, so it’s hard to make any predictions. I thought we’d win Michigan and 3 of the next 5; I was 1 too optimistic. Losing Ohio hurts big, as that office has a lot of power. Iowa confirms the story about the interior Midwest moving away from Democrats.

On the awesome side, the new state Secretary of State in Michigan is marathon-running law school Dean and Ubermensch Jocelyn Benson, author of State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process (2010). Jena Griswold will oversee the 2020 presidential election in Colorado, and, I expect, the Democratic acquisition of Cory Gardner’s Senate seat. We lose the interior Midwest; we gain the interior West. Which brings me to Arizona, and Katie Hobbs.

I should say a little about her Republican opponent. Steve Gaynor opposed the use of Spanish (and local native languages like Apache and Navajo) in election materials, and called for repealing the sections of the Voting Rights Act that say that they should be printed in languages that the local population speaks. (Hello Arizona Republican, I see that you are trying to win elections by confusing Hispanics and Native Americans.) An intrepid reporter noted that the “no trespassing or else I call the police” signs outside his mansion were printed in both English and Spanish.

Meanwhile, Hobbs’ big idea was making it easier for people to vote. She ran in part on a platform of shortening voting lines. She also opposed dark money (anonymous political donations). My Facebook friends and I donated tens of thousands of dollars to state Secretary of State races – thanks to everyone who got involved. Katie Hobbs may have gotten close to 1% of her campaign funding from us.

On Election Night, it looked like we had lost. But the same swell of late-counted votes that won the Senate race for Kyrsten Sinema later carried Hobbs to victory. The final tally was Katie Hobbs 50.4%, Steve Gaynor 49.6%.

It’s always hard to tell where the tipping points are with these things, but there’s a slight chance that we collectively tipped the race for Katie Hobbs. And if we did, we gave Democrats control of voting for a Presidential battleground with a vulnerable Republican Senate seat in 2020. So if you donated and Arizona wins the White House for Democrats, or if a close Arizona Senate win lets us pass Medicare for All funded by a carbon tax, it might’ve been you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

How NC Republicans meddled with judicial elections, and defeated their candidate

North Carolina Republicans may be America's worst for gerrymandering. They control 10 of the state's 13 Congressional seats, despite being in a battleground state Obama won in 2008. This year they tried manipulating other election rules. The story of their failure may brighten your day.

The NC Supreme Court keeps objecting to Republican gerrymanders. Republicans had one of their favorite judges up for re-election this year, and they didn't want Democrats to defeat her.

So Republicans decided to end judicial primaries. They expected the Republican judge's incumbency to prevent other Republicans from entering the race. But since Democrats had an open field, multiple Democrats were likely to run. With Democratic votes divided, the Republican incumbent would win. It's basically Gore-Bush-Nader 2000, except with the Nader (G) changed to (D).

This whole plurality-wins system isn't a great way to run an election. But if you're in that system, you need primaries! That way, one side doesn't lose an election simply because it had more candidates. Republicans were trying to rip down that safeguard for temporary partisan gain. They would soon learn how important it was.

Democrats informally coordinated amongst themselves and put up only one candidate. Well, kind of. Anita Earls, who had done important legal work against Republican gerrymandering, ran as the only official Democrat. Another Democrat named Chris Anglin switched to the Republican Party and ran. He and Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson would both be on the ballot with (R) after their names.

Republicans soon realized what had happened. They thought they were going to divide the Democratic vote, but Democrats had created a bogus Republican to divide their vote instead. Republicans tried passing a new law that would prevent Anglin from running with the (R) because he hadn't been a Republican long enough. But they hadn't passed the law soon enough. Courts ruled that Anglin could run with the (R).

Anglin mostly kept a straight face through the whole thing, but sometimes he just seemed to be having fun. From his op-ed in the Charlotte Observer, where he repeatedly taunted the Republican state legislature:
When I announced, I stated I was running as a Republican to be a voice for the many disaffected, conservative, constitutional Republicans who believe the party has left them, and to make the point that partisan judicial elections are a mistake. They force judges to kowtow more to parties, and it is how you get judges like Roy Moore. 
Some have questioned if I’m a “genuine” Republican. That is a fair question for many elected GOP leaders today. Is Donald Trump?
Infuriated Republicans tried to get their people to vote for Jackson rather than Anglin. But people don't pay enough attention to state Supreme Court races to receive the message. The election results were:
Anita Earls (D) 49.56%
Barbara Jackson (R) 34.07%
Chris Anglin (R) 16.37%

If it didn't stop the percentages from summing properly, I'd add: "Schadenfreude: 100%".

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Run for Senate!

People like to talk about their favorite Democrats running for President. But if those Democrats aren’t Senators, I want them running for Senate instead.

The 2020 Democratic presidential field will be crowded. Senator Merkley once told me that every Republican in the Senate looks at Trump and thinks, “I could do that job so much better!” while every Democrat in the Senate thinks, “I could beat him in 2020!”

Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren are all testing the waters, and I expect most of them to run. Probably we get a bunch of other Senators (Jeff, were you talking about yourself too?), various governors, and a few celebrities.

This isn’t a primary where a Hillary Clinton figure will have locked down near-unanimous support from major Democratic party actors like labor unions, national pro-choice groups, and influential legislators like John Lewis and James Clyburn. I’m not seeing that any one candidate has consolidated that much early support among party actors. (That’s the term the political scientists use, though “party actors” often makes me think of Lindsay Lohan.)

It might seem easier to win a primary that’s anybody’s game. You don’t have to go up against Hillary! But it’s actually really hard. You have to go up against everybody. It may be harder to beat everybody.

With so many candidates, I expect the best and second-best ones to be almost equally good, when ranked in terms of all the good things like having the right policy ideas, general competence, and being able to win the general election. Even assuming that Beto is in total a better Presidential candidate than Kamala, Kamala for President and Beto for another Texas Senate challenge in 2020 could easily be better for progressives than Beto for President and a definite loser for the Texas Senate race.

Why? Because having more Democratic Senators is a huge deal. One fewer Democrat in 2010, and Obamacare would’ve been filibustered to death. One fewer Democrat in 2017, and Obamacare repeal would’ve passed.

There’s also the issue of judicial nominations. I expect we’ll be ready to quickly refresh our Supreme Court bench if we win the White House in 2020. Trouble is, Mitch McConnell can just refuse to hold votes on our nominees if he controls the Senate, like he did with Merrick Garland. What you can do as President depends on whether you have legislative majorities. It’s best if your majorities don’t depend on Joe Manchin.

So when I hear about a red-state Democrat who put in as awesome an electoral showing as Beto, I think to myself: please, just run for Senate (again) – you’re worth much more to us there. Montana governor Steve Bullock is talking about running for President, since he’s pretty popular there and term-limited out… and Steve, your state has a Senate race in 2020! Maybe some of these people are happy just to raise their national profiles with Presidential attention, which is totally fine, as long as they're okay with running for Senate in the end.

I say this with Sinema likely to win AZ, and Nelson still having a fighting chance in FL. Winning those seats probably won't affect that much in 2019-2020, but they could be huge in 2021-2024. That's why I donate most heavily to Senate races. Good Democrats should take my money.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

2018 midterm predictions, donor's eye view

While Election Eve is a good time for predictions, my donation strategy has depended on them all along. I want my money to tip the balance in important races, so I need to predict how close those races are. My predictions are below, combined with discussion of how they've guided my campaign contributions over 2017-2018.

I should thank everyone else who listened to my donation advice. I contributed over $25K of my own money over the last two years, and it seems that I've guided close to that amount in other people's donations. I hope I've advised you well, and that we can make tomorrow night a happy turning point in these terrible times.

The House: I'm guessing that Democrats gain around 36 seats and win a 231-204 majority. This is roughly the consensus forecast between 538 and insiders with access to private polls. Polls suggest that Trump's awful responses to recent right-wing violence slightly hurt Republican chances over the last week.

I only donated $250 to a House candidate this year (Sean Casten in Illinois -- 538 has him down by 50.1% to 49.9% right now, so that's where I like to send my money). Winning the House matters big for blocking Trump's policies and protecting Mueller, but running up the score doesn't help that much. Since it seemed to me that I had a better chance of tipping an important balance in other races, I didn't donate much to House campaigns.

The Senate: My median forecast is for the Senate to stay 51R-49D. That forecast could easily be off by one, and perhaps more. I have Democrats winning NV, FL, and two out of three in AZ, MO, and IN. (I donated to AZ and MO -- IN snuck up on me.) I could easily see 3/3 or 1/3, though -- things are really close. I'd be delighted to see Beto win in TX, Taylor Swift's army pick up a Democratic victory in TN, and another Heitkamp miracle in ND. If you're in these states, you have a real chance and I dearly hope you win! My guess has always been that Beto's coattails would generate some House wins but that he'd fall just short. But his poll numbers have strengthened in the last days, and I hope my Texas activist friends can prove me wrong.

The sheer number of Senate races in play, plus the bonus effectiveness of donating through Leadership PACs, made the Senate central to my donation strategy. I put in $15K in Senate Leadership PAC contributions over 2017-2018, plus $3K in direct donations. Some of my 2017 money went to Sherrod Brown in OH and Tammy Baldwin in WI, who seem safe, but insofar as early contributions have the effect of intimidating challengers, those may have been worthwhile. The top challenger in OH dropped out earlier this year, so Brown got to run against a second-tier guy. I'd love to win the Senate and block any further Republican nominations. But even if that's out of reach, making things close could have a nomination-disrupting effect, and I dearly want a Senate majority in 2021 to make major legislation possible.

Governors: I'll basically take the 538 model with Democratic wins in FL, OH, WI, NV, and IA, and assume one out of two in KS and GA based on late-breaking news. In KS, the pointless independent candidate's campaign treasurer resigned and endorsed the Democrat. In GA, the Republican's spurious allegations of Democratic hacking have at least a decent chance of working against him, and in any case aren't the kind of risky move you make if you're confident of victory.

I didn't have early knowledge about the state-level details important to these races, so I didn't donate any money here. But a lot of them are very important, especially where the governor has significant power over voting and redistricting, which are a big deal for 2020.

State Secretary of State in AZ, CO, IA, MI, OH: Hard races to predict, because polling is scarce and murky for offices at this level. Michigan looks good; the others are close. But in view of good Democratic trends in IA and OH, I'll say we win Michigan and 3 of the 4 others.

State SoS races have been my #1 donation priority this year, and many of you gave to them. They let you have a huge impact on 2020 by controlling voting procedures, and are probably the most cost-effective way you'll ever find to defeat Trump. My donations here totaled $8320, and I hit the state-level ceiling in CO. Facebook friends donated even more! I hope I have happy things to say about these races in the days to come, and again two years from now when they've done their work on the 2020 election.

Monday, November 5, 2018

If we lose

Seeing the early voting numbers from Nevada makes me optimistic about this election. (Most of this year's votes are in, Dems up 3%.) I think we win the House, keep the Republican Senate majority around 51-49, and pick up some Governor and state-level offices that set up 2020 well. I'll make more specific predictions on Election Eve.

But suppose that doesn't happen. Suppose we don't even win the House and Republicans pick up a few Senators. Nate Silver has this as a 15% outcome. Best to be prepared, so here are my thoughts in advance for a bad Election Night:

We are, of course, going to have two more years of bad things because Republicans are in power. They'll expend resources on arbitrary cruelty towards vulnerable people when Democrats would expend them on solving major national and global problems. There are all kinds of things that could go horribly wrong on larger scales too.

But there will still be time to prevent the total collapse of democracy, with total Republican dominance, that defeat in 2020 might bring about. If Republicans win 2020, they'll have the Supreme Court and new gerrymandering and the vote suppression offices. Then it may be 10 years or more of Trump-like Republicans rather than two, and I don't even know what kind of dystopia we'll be at the end of that. But losing 2018 doesn't mean we lose 2020.

Maybe in 2020, the stock buyback bubble just popped and Trump botched the response so the market crashed more. And even after Mueller was fired, a State AG picked up the pieces and convicted Trump of giving $200 million in Magnitsky Act fines back to the Russian mafia in exchange for hacking Hillary. If none of this had happened in 2018 and we came close, having it by 2020 probably adds up to a winning year.

I've hoped to win 2020 in 2018. Winning the offices that control voting in 2018 and just letting natural Democratic majorities do their work in 2020 is a big part of the strategy. Protecting Mueller will help too. And the Senators we win now, we keep until 2024.

If you're doing a lot this year (thank you so much people who are calling/ texting voters or knocking on doors!) you're doing amazing things to build the path out of the Trump Administration. But if we lose this time, please don't stop. I'll be right here with you for the next two years doing the weird set of things I do to help. They won't have beaten us yet.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

My amazing junior colleagues

Since the last time I boasted to you of my junior colleagues at the National University of Singapore, Weng Hong Tang got tenure (congratulations!) and we hired Zach Barnett (also congratulations!) Now we're hiring again, and I want to show you the amazing publication records of the people you'll get to work with if you join us.

Together the four of them have a total of 32 papers at stages from conditionally accepted to published, with 20 appearing in top-10 journals. Their average year-of-PhD is 2016, so they've achieved all this while being collectively only 8 years out of grad school. So apply for our job and join these prolific young philosophers!

Qu Hsueh Ming, NYU 2014
“Hume’s (Ad Hoc?) Appeal to the Calm Passions” (forthcoming) Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie
“Laying Down Hume’s Law” (forthcoming) Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
“Hume’s Internalist Epistemology in EHU 12” (2018) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
“Hume’s Dispositional Account of the Self” (2017) Australasian Journal of Philosophy
“Hume on Mental Transparency”, (2017) Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
“Hume’s Doxastic Involuntarism” (2017) Mind
“Prescription, Description, and Hume’s Experimental Method” (2016) The British Journal for the History of Philosophy 
“The Title Principle (or lack thereof) in the Enquiry” (2016) History of Philosophy Quarterly 
“Hume’s Positive Argument on Induction” (2014) Nous
“Hume’s Practically Epistemic Conclusions?” (2014) Philosophical Studies
“The Simple Duality: Humean Passions” (2012) Canadian Journal of Philosophy

Bob Beddor, Rutgers 2016
“The Toxin and the Dogmatist” (conditionally accepted) Australasian Journal of Philosophy
“Modal Virtue Epistemology” with Carlotta Pavese (forthcoming) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
“Might do Better: Flexible Relativism and the QUD” with Andy Egan (forthcoming) Semantics and Pragmatics
“Noncognitivism and Epistemic Evaluations” (forthcoming) Philosophers’ Imprint
“Subjective Disagreement” (forthcoming) Noûs
“Believing Epistemic Contradictions” with Simon Goldstein (2018) Review of Symbolic Logic
“Justification as Faultlessness” (2017) Philosophical Studies
“Process Reliabilism’s Troubles with Defeat” (2015) The Philosophical Quarterly
“Evidentialism, Circularity, and Grounding” (2015) Philosophical Studies

Abelard Podgorski, USC 2016
“Normative Uncertainty and the Dependence Problem” (forthcoming) Mind
“Wouldn't it be Nice? Moral Rules and Distant Worlds” (2018) Nous
“Rational Delay” (2017) Philosophers’ Imprint 
“Dynamic Conservatism” (2016) Ergo
“A Reply to the Synchronist” (2016) Mind
“Dynamic Permissivism” (2016) Philosophical Studies 

Zach Barnett, Brown 2018
“Philosophy Without Belief” (forthcoming) Mind
“Belief Dependence: How Do the Numbers Count?” (forthcoming) Philosophical Studies 
“Tolerance and the Distributed Sorites” (forthcoming) Synthese
“No Free Lunch: The Significance of Tiny Contributions” (2018) Analysis
“Fool Me Once: Can Indifference Vindicate Induction?” with Han Li (2018) Episteme
“Conciliationism and Merely Possible Disagreement” with Han Li (2016) Synthese

Monday, July 30, 2018

A variety of formats

"Large numbers are written in a variety of formats: In English, numbers may be represented as numerals (5,000), as numbers words (5,000), or in what we might call the hybrid system (5,000)."

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn Landy, Silbert, and Goldin -- victims of a tyrannical copy editor ruthlessly enforcing journal style.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Saving American democracy with Secretaries of State

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Trump will appoint his replacement. This leaves American electoral democracy at risk of being turned into racial aristocracy in the next decade through extreme vote suppression and gerrymandering.

Today I've done the most effective thing I know of to prevent this. After laying out the grim situation facing us, I'll tell you what that is.

I'm over 90% confident that Trump will succeed in appointing a replacement who votes like Gorsuch and Alito. Mitch McConnell, who delayed the last nomination until after elections to steal it from Obama, controls the process. Expect him to speed this nomination through -- effective legislative leaders usually have to be hypocrites, and nobody does hypocrisy better than McConnell.

The 49 Senate Democrats have no power over the process unless two Republicans defect. I'd love to see Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski rise to save Roe v Wade, or some kind of McCain surprise. But every current Senate Republican voted to eliminate the filibuster to confirm Gorsuch. I don't expect them to depart from that path now.

Where does this lead? Republican politicians will continue with gerrymandering and vote suppression. Republican judges will reject Democrats' challenges to these abuses. With every election won, Republicans appoint more judges who in turn entrench their power. This cycle could coexist despite majority popular support for progressive policies, which can't be translated into election victories or legislative action because the courts make sure Republicans stay in power.

This general kind of political/electoral oppression was the story of the South from the end of Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. It's the ancient evil that slaveowners entrenched by setting up the three-fifths compromise. Because slaves counted towards state electoral votes at a 3/5 rate but couldn't vote themselves, the Electoral College transferred their political power to pro-slavery whites around them. This ensured the preservation of slavery even if there was a slight white majority against it. And that's the kind of self-perpetuating political structure that racists throughout American history have instituted.

I don't know how far into hell today's Republicans want to take us, or how far tomorrow's will. But neither do I know where the limits on their power will be. I expect all the horrors of the Trump Administration -- gratuitous cruelty to immigrants and indifference to climate change, for example -- to find newer and more vicious expressions as their power is entrenched. Vote suppression is the perfect way for Republicans to hurt minorities while making themselves unbeatable in general elections.

The decisive moment for saving American democracy will be the 2020 election -- and only in part because we can remove Trump. It's a redistricting election, so the winner gets to draw district maps that last ten years. Give Republicans that power, and we descend into hell.

Give Democrats that power, and things could take a much better direction. If it's accompanied by a big Democratic victory at all levels, perhaps brought to us by Trump scandals or economic mismanagement, you could see President Elizabeth Warren passing Medicare for All and setting up an immigration system that's about helping foreigners do useful things in America rather than pointless cruelty. Controlling redistricting will entrench whatever we pass and get us in position to pass more. What I'm thinking about most of all today are voting reforms to set Republicans back a few decades in instituting racial aristocracy at the ballot box.

What do we do in 2018 to win 2020? The absolute best thing I know of is to donate to 2018 state-level Secretary of State candidates who will control voting in 2020 battleground states. This link lets you spread your donations among five Democratic SecState candidates, in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. (All are women.) I'll tell you how much I donated today at the end of this post. Together with my donations to Senators it brought me up to over $13K in contributions to Democrats this year.

If I had to guess (this is very hard to estimate), I'd guess that winning these races would swing 1-2% of the vote in each state. That's 1-2% across each election on the ballot, which turns lots of heartbreaking losses into exciting wins. I don't know any better source of leverage on the 2020 elections than this. And it's not something you can donate to in 2020 -- you have to win this year.

Consider Ohio, where the Secretary of State controls early voting hours and other election procedures. Republican Jon Husted tried to eliminate Sunday voting so that black churches couldn't operate their "Souls to the Polls" voting drives. After a great deal of litigation, polls were kept open only four hours on Sunday. Additionally, the uncertainty of back-and-forth litigation seems to have impaired planning and made the voting drives less effective.

Ohio also has purged 2 million voters since 2011 -- more than any state. Under Husted the state was refusing to reinstate voters that courts said were illegally purged. State Representative Kathleen Clyde called this "shameless behavior that endangers our democratic process." She's now running to replace Husted in Ohio. I want her controlling voting for offices from the President to all the way down to the state legislature in 2020.

I'd donated before to the campaigns of Kathleen Clyde (OH), Jena Griswold (CO), and the apparently superhuman Jocelyn Benson (MI). (At age 40, Benson has been Dean of Wayne State Law School, worked for the SPLC in Alabama, written a book on the role of Secretaries of State in voting, and run 22 marathons, including the Boston Marathon while 8 months pregnant.) Matt Singer, who puts together the ActBlue page, has now added Katie Hobbs in AZ and Deirdre DeJear in IA.

How much did I donate today to help these five Democrats save the 2020 elections? The answer is $2020! (You can donate however much you want.) I'm an old Buffy fan, and I like to make puns when preventing the apocalypse.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Humean Nature symposium in RiFP

Thanks to my book symposium contributors, Humean Nature hasn't fallen dead-born from the press! Carla Bagnoli presents classic rationalist objections, Nevia Dolcini explores my account of moral judgment, Kengo Miyazono offers a detailed discussion of how vividness affects desire, and Alex King maps out the options for a Humean account of reasoning. It was wonderful to have people engage so deeply with my work.

The symposium appears in a new Italian open-access journal that brings together philosophical and psychological research, the Rivista internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia. All the symposium contributions are in English, so you don't have to learn Italian to read them. You can see them by clicking the 'pdf' buttons on the right-hand side of the page. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Introducing foof: if or only if

I hereby introduce an unimportant new logical connective: if or only if!

 It's like if and only if, but with a disjunction of material conditionals instead of a conjunction. Since we already have iff, I suggest calling it "foof", for iF Or Only iF. So "p foof q" is true if p→q or q→p.

Those of you who are quick with logic will notice the thing that makes foof so unimportant. No matter what the truth-values of p and q are, p foof q is true! If either p or q is false, at least one material conditional is trivially true because of a false antecedent. If neither is false, both conditionals are true.

Since foof claims always come out true, I don't think anything significant depends on them. But maybe someone can show me otherwise, or make a cool point about foof with kinds of logic I'm not good at. Then I'll be happy to give up my claim about the unimportance of foof. Maybe foof is useful for conditionals other than the material conditional, since some of them won't guarantee trivial truth.

Even with the material conditional, I suppose you might like foof if you have a weird and intense love of truth. Whenever you see a claim of the form "p foof q", you know it's true! The other connectives you learned in introductory logic could never guarantee you that.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Radcliffe on Humean Nature in AJP

Elizabeth Radcliffe refers to Humean Nature as “Neil Sinhababu’s brilliant book” and says that it “manages to rebut a remarkable number of critics.” (The book note is behind the AJP paywall.) She describes the structure and strategy of the book just as I conceived of it, and as I hoped readers would understand it. She concludes:

“Humean Nature is written in a clear and personable style. Its ingenious arguments will prove invaluable for scholars and students and—given the range of literature that it covers—for those simply seeking an overview of the current state of discussion in action theory.”

The Humean psychological story is broader and more interesting than people have thought over the past couple decades. I wanted to tell that story in a clear and engaging way. It didn’t occur to me that I was writing a good overview at the time, but I see how my pursuit of other goals might’ve had that result.

It’s very fulfilling to have an eminent Hume scholar tell me that Humean Nature is what I hoped it would be, and maybe even more.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Oprah for Democratic Primary Interviewer / Moderator!

People are talking about an Oprah Winfrey presidential candidacy after her speech at the Golden Globes. It’s probably a good time to say some general things about X-for-President conversations as they relate to 2020.

1. The Democratic field is going to be packed. I’d guess that at least half of the following are going to offer themselves as options, at least in the early stages: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. There will be many others too. I remember Jeff Merkley telling me that every Republican Senator looks at Trump and thinks: “I could do so much better!” and every Democratic Senator thinks “I could totally beat him!”

We’re going to have way more choices than we did in 2016 when everybody got out of Hillary’s way, except for Bernie who probably was just running to bring left-wing issues into the conversation… until a movement formed up behind him. So if 2016 has led you to think we'll have a shortage of options, we’ll have a lot more options in 2020, and it’s worth looking into them.

2. Given that we’re going to have a densely packed field, I’m just going to let candidates bid for my support by coming out with innovative policy proposals. This primary needs to be policy-dense, with candidates pledging support for things like Medicare for All, defense cuts, opening up immigration, marijuana legalization, and foreign policy ideas that prevent the collapse of the world into feuding illiberal ethnic nationalist regimes. I expect to vote for a candidate with a good package of all that stuff, plus good favorability ratings when early 2020 rolls around and the polling isn’t all name-recognition effects.

There’s a decent chance of unified Democratic control of Congress in 2020, and we need to hit the ground running and pass big stuff fast. If Oprah comes out with the best policy ideas on stuff like this, I could see voting for her, but since she hasn’t been in the business of doing that before it’s a bit hard to expect.

3. Oprah is uniquely well-positioned to make a big impact on the 2020 race, as a power broker rather than a candidate. She could start a show sometime in 2019 where she interviews the leading primary candidates, asks them questions, and presses them to sign onto her favored policies. This is broadly like the role that Al Gore played in the 2008 primary – instead of running, he let the candidates compete for his support with good climate-change policies. Everybody came out in favor of cap-and-trade, and there was enough of a party consensus behind the policy that Nancy Pelosi got it through the House. If not for the filibuster, we’d have passed major climate change legislation in 2010.

Oprah’s media profile gives her the ability to galvanize support behind a favored policy in a much bigger way than Gore did. Moderating Democratic primary debates would also be a natural extension of her core skills. If I were a person Oprah listened to, I'd say: do that!