19 December 2017

On offensive analogies

I make a lot of analogies when talking to people lately. Some of them don't work as well as I would hope, and others work fine. Because this particular subject keeps coming up in some form over the last few years, I'm going to make one as a thought experiment which might be offensive. You have been warned. It's also not originally mine.

Something which occurs often in atheist and secular circles is the question of how to deal with often zealously religious people, and some not so zealous. I find I probably have fewer problems than most other atheists. Mainly because I wasn't brought up with some strange beliefs and did not lose many friends or associates as a result of abandoning them either. I was raised on cultural things like Star Trek and its humanism and the writings and philosophies from Aristotle, Mill, and Adam Smith, and later the Stoics. Maybe those are strange to others, but they're fairly normal within American and Western culture. I was also brought up around a rather more tolerant friend group, and family members that did not tend to push religious beliefs. There were occasional arguments over evolutionary theory or points of ethics, but it wasn't by and large causing major social rifts. The fact that I didn't and don't like most people did that, or vice versa.

What I intend to do is explain how it is I try to get along with religious people, and why it is that breaks down sometimes. There's a famous formulation of analogy for belief in god to wonder whether there is a tiny teapot floating between Earth and Mars. While there are some logical philosophical problems with it, it should suffice to examine this question for my purposes.

The primary disagreement atheists and theists have is whether or not there is a teapot there in the first place (and indeed this is the primary logical problem with the argument is that this materialist framing bogs it down in the face of faith-based reasoning in teapots). This is a rather trivial disagreement in my view. I do not care if people want to believe in very silly things to extract comfort and meaning from life or on how to practice and put forward their ethical values. Only whether or not these are sensible ethical values or lead to contented and fulfilling lives for as many people as possible seems a pertinent question to me. The metaphysics of teapots isn't a very interesting debate for me. Ethics are.

The relevant disagreement atheists and theists that I see as having is to suppose that this difficult to find teapot has also been broadcasting instructions and teachings on the ethics and meaning of existence to human beings for centuries, and that human beings should act accordingly and follow this as a doctrine or dogma about what appropriate human behaviors and social arrangements are.

This poses (at least) four separate scenarios for how human beings will act. (Note that none of this requires that the teapot actually exist, merely that some people believe this is an origin point and act upon that).

-1- That the teapot sends beneficent messages about compassion, kindness, generosity, charity, hope, tolerance, or love, and people who follow its teachings mostly try to follow these examples and virtues in their actions. In so far as being kind or compassionate is difficult to do sometimes, they won't do it perfectly, more something to aspire toward as a set of values and virtues.

-2- That the teapot sends beneficent messages about compassion, kindness, etc, etc, and teapot followers do not mostly try to follow these teachings, but instead expend a lot of energy about which version of the teapot's teachings they should listen to, or whether or not other people believe in the teapot in the first place. Or if they do believe in the teapot if they do not follow it perfectly or in the way they believe is perfect. Rather than whether or not other people tend to ascribe to some significant elements of those teachings in their own independent behaviors and judgments of ethics and decency and tend and intend to behave as such.

-3- That the teapot sends mixed messages, with some benevolent and some intolerant or cruel, and people have to decide for themselves which are beneficial and wise and which are not, or determine when they apply and when, or if, they do not from context and structure of words and accompanying doctrines. Sometimes people will succeed at this challenging task, and sometimes they will fail.

-4- That the teapot sends cruel or intolerant messages and people decide (or not) to follow these, and act accordingly. (Trump and some of his more rabid religious Christian followers, ISIS types, etc). This is one possible solution to the theodicy problem, to suggest that the teapot has a message, or at least some parts of messages, that would be favored by some sick fucks in the first place and at least some people are acting in accordance with that.

In the first and perhaps third versions, if the net result of people's belief in teapots net results in acts of mercy, kindness, charity, and love and compassion for other people (and sometimes even other living things), I see little reason to complain about this. I can think it's silly, but they're unlikely to bother me much about it or be bothered that I think it is silly in the societies that result. In general, many religious people I have encountered try to work within that framework, trying to be decent human beings toward one another, and not all that bothered that I am not of their religious tribe if I likewise act with decency or kindness and respect toward them. I might have some significant quibbles with what things are found to be ethically questionable at times by their teapot related messages, or what things are deemed intolerant or cruel by teapot followers. But these are not generally because they believe in wise and virtuous space teapots or not in the first place. More because ethics are really hard as a subject for people to reason through, and they mostly do not bother to try (teapots or not). And because these are not always simple and non-contradictory commands that are being followed. Interpretation is involved, and wisdom or folly will proceed from there.

People will learn, hopefully, from their errors, and the correcting instruction of others, how to behave sensibly and appropriately, and generally this could result in a more just and fair society. I see little basis for judgment or derision of the silly beliefs in teapots somehow being reliant in forming these habits of justice in others, so long as they are aspiring to form these habits and mostly successful at doing so. Many religious people I encounter act more in this world according to the wishes or teachings of a benevolent teapot and ignoring other considerations or scenarios. This does not make them always good people, but it can make them more sensitive to arguments about compassion even for people who might violate some of the more strange ethical commands made by the benevolent teapot. And the net result is a society that could kind of slide by those more strange and perhaps harmful conceptions of goodness in favor of the more beneficial ones.

Not all people however hew to this arrangement. It is the second and fourth versions I find really challenging to deal with, and also perplexing as common in public perceptions of teapot followers and common behaviors by some. And indeed, perhaps increasing in the commonness of public perceptions that these are the more likely ways for teapot followers to behave.

The second option devolves into a lot of arguing over theology and doctrine and ingroup-outgroup tribalism dynamics. It is responsible for a lot of bloody wars and genocides over the last several centuries. This is hardly an ideal way to follow this teapot with its supposedly benevolent messaging. It remains active as an artifact of skepticism of the Christian bonafides of Catholics by other Christians for example, and generally leads to a wide array of religious people fighting with each other. As an atheist, this scenario has the most impact upon the quality of arguments and salience of religious orders, simply because it acts to weaken them and cause disarray and distrust of them internally within religious organisations that are no longer as unified by their common belief in the great teapot. If it were thus limited to that arena of humanity, people willing to fight and die over such disagreements, this would be deeply disturbing but not something I would actively work to stop either. This group of people will expend a lot of time harming people that don't really care that much about these arguments, and mostly just wanted to follow the general messages of good teapots everywhere (or those who don't care about teapots in the first place and want some coffee or beer instead, say). Either by making such people look bad by acting like fools and defaming the good name and example of decent people, or by acting with intolerant cruelty and hypocrisy toward people of the "other" groups.

It nevertheless makes dealing with such people incredibly frustrating. The quality of theological debate is typically poor and poorly informed, the quality of philosophy poor, and the embrace of any positive social messages and changes they might otherwise have used as poorly convincing but at least beneficial evidence of their beliefs gets bogged down in these tedious spaces. Society does not progress toward a more beneficent set of arrangements for its people and risks or inflames many pointless conflicts along the way.

The fourth scenario has its obvious drawbacks. The first being that convincing people that their teapot is in fact a vile asshole is really hard. Trump, as a practical example, is really, really popular among very religious (white Christian) Americans, particularly with a lower standard of education, and not so popular at all with anyone else. Or at least many people who claim to those beliefs. This suggests these are people don't see his actions and behavior as a problem, and further suggesting their beliefs and teapot based communities are more about intolerance and cruelty he displays toward unfavored others in the first place than about any beneficial messages from their teapot.

The second and most pertinent problem is that it would lead to a lot of unethical and inappropriate behavior harming other human beings. Cruelty and suffering being things that should be avoided where possible to foster a peaceful and prosperous world for people, following such a teapot's messages or the people who think they would prosper by them, is something that should be avoided. Getting people to stop doing so is going to be really hard, and probably not usually worth the effort. But that still leaves cleaning up the messes they're making on the way, which is not absolved by ignoring vile and unpleasant people either.

12 March 2017

Final Rankings NCAA 2017

Seem to be the best two teams now.
1) Gonzaga 10-1 - 6 top 25 wins, but 3 are against St Mary's
2) Villanova 19-3

Other likely title contenders.
3) North Carolina 17-7 - top rebounding team, 6 top 25 wins
4) West Virginia 17-7-1 - forces tons of turnovers
5) Kentucky 20-5

Mixed bag, mostly teams to avoid taking too far.
6) Louisville 14-8 - only 8-7 in Road/Neutral games
6) Kansas 20-4  - lowest 1 seed, 6 top 25 wins, 14 top 50
8) Wichita St 4-4 - 10 seed, 0 top 50 wins
9) Virginia 14-10 - 5 seed, #1 defense
10) Duke 18-7-1 - most top 25 wins, 8, 15 top 50 wins, also most
11) Florida 17-8

12) SMU 10-3-1 - 6 seed, but rates higher than 3 seed Baylor
13) Purdue 15-6-1
14) Oregon 14-5  -only 2-3 vs top 50
15) UCLA 11-4
16) Baylor 19-7 - 13 top 50 wins
17) Iowa St 16-10 - 13 top 50 wins

Upset potential teams (in either direction)
18) Florida St 15-7-1 - 13 top 50 wins, losing record in road/neutral games
19) Michigan 15-11 - 10 top 50 wins
20) Arizona 12-4
21) Cincinnati 10-5
22) Wisconsin 16-9 - 10 top 50 wins, but 8 seed...for some reason? (RPI has them at 32, I'm not sure how)
23) St Mary's 5-4
24) Notre Dame 14-9
25) Oklahoma St 13-12 - 10 seed, #1 offense, bad defence
26) Butler 17-6-2 - 11 top 50 wins
27) Creighton 11-9 - started year 18-1 overall, but slumped since starting PG was injured (was leading nation in assists)

Most teams from here will have middling records against competitive teams.
Non-NCAA bid teams will appear in italics
28) Marquette 9-11-1 - top 3 point shooting team, but awful defense
29) Kansas St 10-13
30) Wake Forest 8-13 - 3-13 vs top 50, worst defense among at-large teams
31) South Carolina 15-9-1 -only 3-5 vs top 50, worst offense among at-large teams to make the field, plays de facto home games in first and second round (7 seed)
32) Miami 8-11
33) Minnesota 13-9
34) Vanderbilt 12-14-1 - 4 top 25 wins got them in
35) Indiana 9-13-2 - first team out
36) Xavier 10-13- only one good win post-injury (Butler)
37) Northwestern 10-11 1st NCAA bid in school history
38) Arkansas 14-8-1 - 3-7 vs 50
39) Clemson 9-15 
40) Rhode Island 8-7-2
41) Michigan St 11-13-1
42) Dayton 10-4-3
43) TCU 9-15 - 2-8 in last 10 games
44) Syracuse 9-12-2 - 2-11 in Road/Neutral games
45) Texas Tech 7-14 - 2-11 in Road/Neutral games
46) Virginia Tech 11-9-1 - 8 top 50 wins
47) Maryland 14-7-1
48) VCU 8-7-1 - 1-3 vs 50
49) Middle Tennessee 4-1-3

Last "out" at larges and mixed upset mid-majors/low rated at-larges
50) Utah 4-8-3  - 0-6 vs 50
51) Houston 5-7-3  - 1-5 vs 50
52) Nevada 5-3-3
53) Seton Hall 11-9-2
54) Alabama 8-14  
55) Georgia 11-14 - 1-11 vs 50!
56) Illinois St 1-3-3 
57) Providence 10-9-3
58) UNC-Wilmington 4-3-2 - 0-2 vs 50
59) California 6-11 - 0-7 vs 50
60) USC 5-8-1 - lowest rated at-large team, 2-6 vs 50, got in because of RPI rating (41)
65) Vermont 0-4-1
66) ETSU 2-4-3 - 0-1 vs 50
70) Princeton 1-5-1

Rest of Field
77) Bucknell 3-5-3 - 1-2 vs 50
93) New Mexico St 0-1-4
105) Florida-Gulf Coast
110) Winthrop
112) Iona
132) Kent St
134) Troy
144) N.Kentucky
155) UNC-Central
166) Jacksonville St
178) North Dakota
179) South Dakota St
186) Texas Southern
194) Mount St Mary's (only team in field with negative scoring margin, also gets clobbered on the boards)
202) New Orleans
205) UC-Davis

Critical injuries
Xavier- Sumner (6-7 since, but 3 of those wins are against DePaul)
Creighton - Watson PG (6-6 since)
Oregon- Boucher (injured in conference tournament)

03 March 2017

Cultural critique

I've been off to the side watching a lot of film and TV, during what appears to be a golden era of TV and TV writing, and cultural nerd/geek ascendancy in film. 

There are two major issues I keep seeing repeated. 

1- It's a visual medium, use "show, not tell." This fails the viewer on many levels. Showing us acts of heroism/villainy or romance or cleverness establishes clearly these features as a reason to care about or relate to the character. Telling us someone is clever or a hero is the same function as a person assuring us "I am smart". In that it generally tells us "you are an idiot." Dialogue can be used to establish any of these things instead of action, but there is a less is more style approach to this that is frequently abandoned, as though the expectation is the viewer won't understand what is going on without being spoon-fed lines of exposition constantly. Dialogue of this sort should be more about establishing the character, by making them seem more real or relatable. For example, to tell a joke or a moving back story to another character, having them gossip or engaged in some act of chicanery and mischief, rather than about spoonfeeding us details about them. With a more complicated show with many moving parts and characters (the Wire, or Game of Thrones say) this might be true that the viewer needs a little bit of explanation to follow it. Game of Thrones essentially invented the concept of "sexposition" as a method of having complicated pieces of information conveyed while someone, or several someones, is nude and engaged in various salacious actions on screen. By contrast. The Wire has a sequence, a entire brilliantly written and shot sequence, where the two characters communicate entirely by variations of phrases including "fuck" key within them, with no dialogue exposition whatsoever. It's all shown through reenactment and body language what they are thinking and doing and the viewer is simply expected to apply what exposition they've had before and know what's going on. And it isn't hard to follow in spite of this limitation of words and precision. 

The most dramatic cultural difference I've noticed is between Marvel's films and DC's in the last few years. We are constantly told Superman is a hero, and then rarely see much heroism and instead watch a city getting destroyed through collateral damage in his own fight with the main villain. This doesn't really convey much of a reason to care much about this apparently indifferent and possibly sociopathic superhero because the depiction we are seeing is at odds with the depiction we are told we are seeing. Guardians has a bunch of anti-heroes, or at least very unlikely heroes and their tree creature companion, running around eventually working together to save a planet that probably hates or fears them just as much as we are told Superman is hated or feared by humanity. It's acted out and it fits more or less what we are told needs to be done in those moments of exposition between explosions. 

Romance plot lines in most films follow a similar problem, where the chemistry and interplay and dialogue between the main love interests is usually an unconvincing dud that is neither escapist entertainment nor realistic depiction of human pair bonding and attraction. 

Even with Game of Thrones, which is one of the better shows on TV for avoiding the show not tell problem (although it often dwells too heavily on the showing of barbarism), spends most of the last couple of seasons telling us that Tyrion is clever and wise, and then watching most of his plots and clever schemes blow up in his face. We are buoyed along by the fact that he has done clever and wise things in the past, but no longer seeing the more convincing evidence of this fact. 

2- "it’s more interesting in theory than in practice." This is a frustrating component of a ton of film and TV. Rogue One could have been a very interesting and compelling work of fiction set in the Star Wars universe to tell us a story most people could conclude was not going to work out that well. The way it could have done this was to have interesting characters who will all, eventually, be sacrificed for a good cause. We should care more who these people are, why they are fighting, and that they are dying. Dirty Dozen managed to carry this off in a war-themed film, where most everyone dies (spoiler alert if you haven't been alive since 1967). Instead the characters are fairly disposable means of creating action sequences. Some of them may as well have been named "plot device", for all I know they were. This is frustrating because there's an angle where the context and content that's available should have been really interesting and engaging, but nobody bothered to use it. 

The most common example of this is sci-fi themed. Westworld and the Expanse are both shows that hit some interesting questions of psychology, neuroscience, or philosophy. What would a world with AI be like, what is consciousness, what would the discovery of alien life do to a primitive space-faring human society and its messy politics? But they fall short by being a tangled mess of story that rarely allows people to care about dynamic characters doing something interesting on its own. There is a huge gap between Omar in the Wire, a guy who runs around robbing drug dealers who should not at all be a popular and well-regarded character (and is), and whoever the hell these people are in the Expanse (I have a vague idea of names other than one of them does the voice for a Quarian admiral in Mass Effect). Or William in Westworld. One of these is a well-developed character who doesn't even appear until the 3rd or 4th episode of the series. And the others, I've been following these people around for an entire season of a show and still don't really feel like they are anything other than ciphers and plot devices around which things are supposed to happen to make me feel like there's something interesting happening. I don't relate to them. They don't seem to have complicated motivations, or even get along all that well to where I'd understand why they back each other up. 

Where I think this is falling flat mostly is that stories are about the people in them and how we feel about them. And it feels like writers or show runners have forgotten that. Sometimes in favor of flashy action sequences. Not always. A writer can and should expose people to interesting concepts or ideas, but stories they tell are primarily about people (actually primarily about themselves or the people they know well, which is why so many films or shows are about people trying to act or write or succeed in some creative endeavour). The ideas are smuggled in alongside that. I thought that having everyone important in the story die (spoiler alert from 1977) in Rogue One should have been a really interesting risk to take with a film, especially when it seems to be a war film. This would confront us with the horrific cost of war and violent resistance and that even if there seems to be a valorous sacrifice in the works, a victory will feel hollow and painful for the losses we accrue to get there. But then I didn't care about any of these people and they barely seemed to care about each other. So. It didn't work very well as a story about people. It traffics, as Force Awakens did before it, but in a less reliant way, on a cultural memory that we have seen from characters before (Han Solo or Darth Vader), rather than giving us much new about these characters now. 

There are films and shows that get around these problems. I may be expecting a bit much for a big blockbuster production to have ideas and complex characters in it for example. Still. It isn't that much of an ask to have the main character not be "the explosion in scene 24" either. 

March NCAA Ranks

All records are top 100 records only (with any losses to non-tournament quality teams designated).

1) Gonzaga  9-1
2) West Virginia 14-7

I still don't feel like these are the two best teams. Gonzaga has only played one meaningful game since last month. The gap has also closed. The next two teams are right behind them now
3) Villanova 19-3
3) North Carolina 15-6

5) Kentucky 15-5
6) Florida 16-6
7) Kansas 21-3
8) Louisville 13-7
9) Virginia 12-9

10) Wichita St 2-4
11) UCLA 11-3
12) Purdue 14-6
13) Duke 14-6-1
13) Baylor 17-6

15) Oregon 13-4
16) Florida St 12-7

17) Oklahoma St 13-10
18) SMU 11-3-1
19) Butler 18-5-1
20) Iowa St 13-9
21) St Marys 4-3
22) Wisconsin 14-7
23) Cincinnati 10-4
24) Arizona 9-4
25) Creighton 12-7
26) Notre Dame 13-7

Bubble thoughts going into the tournament weeks
Teams I have "in". These are not all teams I would put in, in fact none of them are). These are teams ranked high enough to sneak in basically.
31) Wake Forest 7-12 - All of Wake's losses are in the top 50.
34) Texas Tech 7-12
36) Kansas St 7-12 (yes all three of these teams have 7-12 top 100 records)
38) Indiana 7-13-1
39) Clemson 10-14
40) Vanderbilt 9-13-1
46) Houston 7-6-2

Of these, Wake, Kansas St, Vandy, and Houston are the only ones even getting bubble chatter. The fact that any of these teams are seems like a problem. The bubble looks incredibly soft this year.

Teams I have "out" that will almost certainly get in
47) Michigan St 12-11-1 (injuries and actually a decent record against top-100 teams and a tough schedule)
56) Providence 11-9-2
58) Seton Hall 10-9-1
67) USC 5-7-1

Actual bubble right now
42) Xavier 11-12, fallen about 15 spots in the ranks in the two weeks. Probably safe, but fading badly
44) Syracuse 8-12-1
49) Rhode Island 5-7-2
50) California 4-8-1
51) Illinois St 1-2-3 (not much of a schedule)
All of these teams are in right now, probably. If there's a couple of at-larges because of upsets in conference tournaments, these are the teams getting axed. Syracuse appears to have a terrible RPI, but will probably be getting in anyway (again). Which is a good sign the RPI is useless and starting to be ignored/replaced.

08 February 2017

Early NCAA ranks

All records are top 100 records only (with any losses to non-tournament quality teams designated).

1) Gonzaga  9-0
2) West Virginia 9-5

I don't have much faith these are the best two teams, mostly because they both have lower quality schedules, so far. Partly this is because nobody seems that far ahead of the rest of the pack this year.

3) Virginia 11-5
4) Louisville 10-5
5) Villanova 15-2

6) Kentucky 10-5 (seems to be in a funk, they were ranked #1 two weeks ago)
7) North Carolina 13-4
8) Kansas 13-3
9) Florida 11-5

10) Purdue 10-5
11) Wisconsin 12-3
12) Baylor 13-3
13) Duke 9-5
13) Florida St 11-4
15) Wichita St 2-4
16) UCLA 8-3

17) Cincinnati 7-2
18) Oregon 7-3
19) SMU 6-3-1

20) Arizona 7-3 (currently projected as a #2 seed on bracketmatrix)
21) Oklahoma St 7-8 (toughest schedule in the country)
22) Creighton 11-4
23) St Marys 5-2
24) Butler 14-4-1
25) Notre Dame 9-7

Non-top 25 notes
Michigan and Indiana are the first teams which I have ranked that are considered bubble teams (and probably out), at 31 and 32. Followed by Wake Forest and Miami. And Syracuse, as the ACC has a string of middling teams. None of these teams looks that distinguished. Syracuse has only one road/neutral win so far all year, for example. This is typical as bubble teams are usually mediocre.

ACC vs Big 12 as the "power conference" for the year
ACC has 11 potential teams up for bids (more like 10, Clemson hasn't beaten anyone, neither has Wake Forest), and the #3 and #4 and #7 teams.

Big 12 has 8 teams most likely all getting in, with #2 and #8 also in the conference. Additionally, even the weakest two teams that won't get in (Texas and Oklahoma) are in the top 100.

In general, the Pac-12 looks overrated by tournament prospects. Arizona's very high on the projected seed line, and Utah is projected as a bubble team, with a 2-7-1 record, and USC has a very low computer ranking (I have them at #59), mainly because they don't appear to have played anyone (5-4 record). California also has some bubble potential and a poor ranking (I have them at #55). I'd say there are probably some of the usual RPI shenanigans, but I don't look at RPI. These things could improve, but don't count on it.

UCLA rates as the best offense in college basketball.. but their defense is outside of the top 100.

Best non-major conference teams as upset spoilers should they get in:
#54 Middle Tennessee 5-1-3
#57 UNC Wilmington 3-3-1

28 January 2017

In which I am a hypocrite?

In the wake of this election and the early days of the new administration, there are two core themes I'm picking up on as problems

1- How do we find and evaluate reliable news and information. Particularly news that Trump fans/conservatives in general will find reliable? (to the extent that is possible). There are extended and competing narratives about the nature of various problems (crime, immigration, climate change, racism), which sometimes rest upon factual assessments.

I am often asked this, or somehow regarded as a broker of information. Even if people disagree with me about what I conclude should be done about it as a matter of public policy (often: nothing). And to be honest, I'm not sure that I have a good answer. I trust sources that tend to be more grounded in what evidence is available on a subject, make sound and robust interpretations of that evidence, or include and attempt to evaluate contrary evidence/studies. I try to avoid too many obvious partisan sources (so no Fox News, no HuffPo, MSNBC, Breitbart, Catholics4Trump, etc). Not that these are equally bad, just that they tend to be less useful than some other source that will require less filtering. Then avoid subjects on which the writer/journals in question might exercise a great deal of bias without grounding that bias in attempting to convey a relevant expertise in the subject at hand. That is: if they're studying the subject with a particular eye on what policies or ideas it should favor, chances are conclusions and methodology will be sloppy or unserious, and if they're not studying the subject at all, chances are they don't know what they are talking about (so an example here would be "don't read David Barton or David Wolfe", and probably don't talk to people who have taken him seriously either).

This is not a snappy answer directing people to a single source ultimately. So it isn't a very good one. People don't like it.

2- How do we resist effectively objectively bad policies from being enacted?

The second question, as someone who thinks there are always bad policies being enacted, is hard. But one core insight someone familiar with the division of powers and activities of government has is to suggest that local and state politics are much easier to influence, and still likely to have direct influence upon your own life. Local politics and events can be ignored to a point, but the things that happen there tend to be more noticeable immediately. Opposing or supporting changes at this level, or even introducing such changes, would have an immediate impact as a result upon the lived experiences of your neighbours. People you see or interact with every day at work or school, or church should that be your thing. It feels good to (potentially) affect change like this because people who might be helped are evident and visible to us. And the people who might be harmed are likewise, suggesting we could take more caution in adopting harmful policies (not that we do). Large scale policies like federal income taxes, trade policy, international relations, and Supreme Court rulings can impact large numbers of people at once significantly, but often the impact is modest, if still attributed to government actions at all by the time it reaches the public (there can be individual actors that benefit mightily of course, by distributing the costs across hundreds of millions of people). It also involves many, many activists and actors clamoring for attention at that level that it can be difficult to get attention or affect any changes. It magnifies and intensifies these political and cultural chess matches such that they can take years, decades even, to shift noticeably.

Meanwhile. Voters, in their infinite wisdom, have essentially acted to punish the President or the President's party for increases in their local property taxes. Rather than looking to punish them solely on the basis of these large scale shifts in policy at the top. This is not a new problem to this election; it's been on-going. One reason for that is a lack of involvement or rigorous coverage of local and state politics. This is something I routinely encourage people to seek out and engage with. Voter participation in local or state elections is often abysmally low. Some, like school board votes, are deliberately scheduled in off years, sometimes even off months, such that interested parties might influence the results, on this basis that there simply won't be enough voter turnout to overcome such effects. This is clearly something we could attend to with more interest as a public. But accepting that turnout is low, that also means there is more opportunity to overwhelm popular attention quickly, or to be well known by political officials within that community and have concerns or demands engaged with seriously (it could also mean such notoriety is punished of course, so be careful what you wish for).

There are obvious limitations to this as a strategy, for instance if you favor XYZ policies and live in an area dominated by other people that find XYZ policy to be abhorrent or a terrible idea, advocating for it is likely to be unpopular, and getting a movement of people started to potentially alter public views is likely to take quite a while. Most people would find it more convenient to move to somewhere that does want to do those things, as sometimes that doesn't even require uprooting to a new area, just another civic jurisdiction nearby. So paying attention in a sustained way to the local policies and politics and views of the local populace is not something most people do beyond this first pass screening to look for cultural cues and heuristics suggesting they are moving somewhere which modestly favors their outlook and views. And will tend to vote accordingly.

But there's one bigger problem with attending to local political action and activism, and it ties into the first issue that's afflicted people in the wake of the last few years: in most cities there isn't as good of a pipeline of routine and reliable information about local and state politics. So knowing what is going on, what might be changing, and why, is hard to discern. Local TV news is usually a useless stream of stories about how everything in your home and outside the door is trying to kill you (spoiler alert, they're not out to get you), in a vicious cycle of bleeds and leads coverage. I would even suggest that people watching it are less informed than people that do nothing at all, because they will routinely be misinformed rather than properly contextualizing new information about potential hazards, criminal activity, and so on (this is a common issue with Breitbart or Fox and various other national news outlets as well but its much worse locally because there is less competition). Local papers might still have some coverage of local politics, but it can be hit or miss on how focused this is, and space in newspapers is limited. National news coverage soaks up a lot of attention because it's usually easy to find a bigger story somewhere else than what is happening to be announced by a town crier, and for which another paper or news organisation has produced news in a format that can be readily published more cheaply than paying reporters to go sit in on city council meetings. To an extent, it should absorb considerable coverage, because the policies enacted can have weighty consequences. But such coverage devoted to political infighting and horse trading as often occurs can be readily looked up later by interested parties (at election time for instance), and is often of little significance to the average voter. The ugly sausage making of writing laws and regulations meanwhile, is. At least some of this oxygen could be devoted to supporting lower levels of journalistic activity in states and cities.

I myself probably should consume much more local news and events (or produce more of it) in order to have some occasion to do productive, or at least productive seeming, political and cultural effects upon the land. At a national level, I find sources that I can deem somewhat reliable at producing information I can then use to make decisions. Flawed sometimes. But reliable. Locally. Not so much. Lacking good reliable sources of information, it will be difficult to determine what might need to be done in a local community, or what needs to be blocked and protested at the statehouse.

That leaves things like political activist and advocacy groups, who will have biased messaging or political and local facebook groups/friends, again, with a self-selected bias problem endemic to all social networks. The amount of filtering, expertise shortages, and biases involved in sorting these sources could be immense. I would not look forward to that starting from scratch in a way that filtering national news sources takes ample time already. Instead, there are institutions within a community, such as churches and some non-profits, which do interact and engage, and may possess valuable information that could be directly used (even if it is sometimes amounting to town gossip). If turning this into clear policy initiatives seems less likely, at least initially, it at least provides the probability of direct action helping some small number of people.

I've been thinking about this problem as a consequence of being mildly associated with a local group of atheists and contemplating how to organise that typical band of misfits to do productive social and civic things (besides hang out and tell other atheists how ridiculous some theological point is). There are opportunities to do this and they have been pursued in the past, but sporadically at times. That is ultimately a concern that there are fewer institutional ties to the community which can be easily pulled to produce a thread of something to go do in that community, and often stubborn resistance to using some of the existing ties (such as those conceived of by churches and other religious entities) and precious little group cohesion to build some infrastructure of our own. Drawing upon local knowledge of events, where possible, at least offers the prospect of civic engagement to such a group. Whether or not it chooses to take up arms.

There are two other important consequences to local activity and activism I could conceive of.

- More people could be exposed to the idea that other people hold some really strange ideas to be true. That would include some of the people they consider friends or respected co-workers or public figures, or people who might otherwise be fellow ideological travelers (on one issue or another). Or concurrently be aware some of their own ideas are thought of in strange terms by others.

- More people could be engaging in semi-productive, possibly respectful dialogue over said strange ideas.

Or possibly more shouting matches and protest fighting would occur and I would be people watching such events.