Saturday, July 30, 2016

100 Days

One of the most encouraging things I looked at in the NY Times this morning was the interactive "Who Will Be President?" feature, part of their numbers-oriented Upshot section. It says that based on current polling, as of yesterday, Hillary Clinton has about a 69% chance of winning the presidency. With Donald Trump continuing to double down on his crazy statements and his traitorous flirting with Putin, I have to believe that Clinton's odds will improve over the next 100 days. There will be debates (that will certainly be bizarre) and probably more surprises from Russian hackers, but I'm hopeful that Hillary's team is ready for all of this and that the Dems' convention bounce will exceed the one Trump got from the RNC. I think the DNC did a masterful job of making the case for optimism about the country and for the qualifications of Mrs. Clinton.

Of course there are always ways to look on the dark side. I also read an essay in The Atlantic summarizing the typical Trump supporter's view of "what is really going on" and why they believe he will win. It seems to hinge on voter turnout and male support. Supporters believe there are many people, especially men, who normally wouldn't even vote but who secretly support Trump and who will turn out in droves to vote for him. They believe this latent "surge" of disgruntled people is invisible in polls. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe these closet Trump supporters are embarrassed and lie to pollsters but will choose him in the privacy of the voting booth? Some of these Trumpsters even believe that many black and Latino males will go for Trump because they would feel emasculated by a woman president -- the machismo vote?

This reminds me of similar ideas in 2008 and 2012 about President Obama. It was called the Bradley Effect. It posed the idea of what you might call "embarrassed racists," people who would tell pollsters they supported Obama but who would actually refuse to vote for a black man for president. Subsequent analysis found that this did not occur -- the polls were pretty reliable. But could it be different with secret Trump supporters? I hope not.

In any case, I am excited that Hillary Clinton is the nominee and I plan to do whatever I can to support her against the very real threat of Trumpism. I can see more donations and some New Hampshire front doors in my future -- at least in the next 100 days. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016


My heart goes out to the many people who have been injured or lost loved ones in terrorist actions around the world, most recently the horrific Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, France. These actions are unconscionable and the people who perpetrate or support such acts must be brought to justice.  Terrorism is obviously intended to terrorize, and these attacks are certainly scary, with the scariness amplified by instant and repetitive news coverage that makes Nice or Paris seem as close as Orlando or Boston (and for my friends in France, recent attacks have been all too close). It is a small world thanks to global communication and the internet, and we know that terrorism, like other types of crime, can happen anywhere, so we shouldn’t be complacent. But we shouldn’t panic either.

Terrorism is a real problem, but it is not the end of the world, which is currently home to some 7.2 billion humans and countless other species. For perspective, note that in the US, something like 100 people die in car accidents each day. Worldwide, over a million people die annually in car accidents, and there are over half a million “intentional homicides” each year. So many lives tragically cut short every day, yet we hear nothing about most of these millions of deaths. Commercial plane crashes are rare, and when one does occur, many people may die, so it’s big news. The same with terrorist attacks, which have become more common worldwide, though nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Nigeria continue to bear the brunt of those attacks, even though attacks in Western countries get much more news coverage.  

You can Google for statistics as well as I can and find that you are more likely to be killed by falling furniture than by terrorism. My wife has recently told me she’s getting more concerned about my business travel, especially to Europe. But I am far safer on a business trip to anywhere in Europe, Japan, or Korea than I am driving my car to work. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned about terrorism. It’s an awful thing if this is the “new normal,” and we shouldn’t simply accept that. We can and should come together worldwide to make progress against this threat, though it is certainly not the greatest threat to civilization that we face (that would be climate change).

Steven Pinker and others have pointed to extensive data to show that even as terrorism and crime fill the headlines, the world is not falling apart, and on an overall basis, violence in the world has greatly decreased, and not only because there are fewer wars.  Other forms of violence and cruelty are also greatly in decline, though they have not reached zero and probably never will. I’m optimistic that we can still build a better world for my grandchildren -- and for everyone else. We should not be complacent about terrorism, but we shouldn’t freak out, change our way of life, or start another war over it. 

The image above has nothing to do with it except that this is the planet we all happen to share (a screen shot from the free Orbiter space flight simulator, and one of my most popular pictures on Flickr).