(1) Not My Party
Before we get started: Are you on Snapchat?
I'm going to make a wild-assed guess that, based on conversations I've had with readers over the last year and a half maybe 2 percent of you use Snap.
And boy do I have a treat for all seven of you guys!
We've just launched a weekly show on Snapchat. It's called Not My Party. It's hosted by Tim Miller. It's really fun. You can subscribe to it here. Come for the video of Tim and Trump going at each other in person; stay for the Chewbacca call-out.
And if you don't use Snapchat, you can watch the show on YouTube by clicking here. Honestly: It's incredibly charming.
Also charming: My new podcast, The Next Level. This week's episode is out. You can listen to it here or subscribe on iTunes by clicking here.
If you like this newsletter, then this show is pretty much for you.
Moving on . . .
Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder announced today that he will be voting for Joe Biden. You can read his essay about it here.
I think it's worth highlighting how unusual this is.
It is not uncommon to see one or two defections from a president's party during a campaign. Sometimes these come from elected officials, sometimes from media boosters. Most of the time, the explanations are a variation of, "I didn't leave the XXX party. The XXX party left me." These are ideological moves caused by policy disagreements as the party coalitions shift.
So when a Zell Miller endorses George W. Bush or Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama, it's pretty much politics as usual.
But what we have seen in the Trump era is not politics as usual.
For starters, the number of disaffected partisans who have abandoned Trump is way bigger than "one or two." Just off the top of my head:Jeb BushGeorge W. BushMitt RomneyJohn KasichCarly FiorinaJeff FlakeMia LoveCondeleezza RiceLarry HoganBill WeldThis is just a partial list of politicos. A list of Republican intellectual/media types would be even longer.
So the sheer size of the exodus is unusual.
But what's even more unusual is that the reasons given by nearly all of these people have little to do with policy: They are about Trump's basic mental and characterological fitness for the job.
When is the last time you saw something like that, at such scale, from within a president's party?
And then there are the defections of people who worked within Trump's administration who, after seeing Trump up close while in office, make the same arguments about his mental and characterological unfitness:John BoltonJim MattisRichard SpencerJohn KellyRex TillersonAlexander VindimanFiona HillGordon SondlandMiles TaylorElizabeth NeumannAgain: These are just people who staffed the administration at high levels and it is not a complete list. None of them disagree seriously with Trump on policy grounds. All of them say, in one way or another, that what they saw suggests a man unfit to be president of the United States.
Now maybe you believe these people and maybe you don't.
But the point is that their very existence is highly unusual.
Scratch that: It's unprecedented. There is no historical analog.
You would think that this sort of thing my register with any remaining undecideds. But I've been assured that, like violations of the Hatch Act, Real Voters don't care about this sort of thing.
Good luck, America.
(2) Digital Asbestos
Gizmodo has a roundtable discussion up on the subject of dystopias. Here's the set-up:
For the most part, fictional characters rarely recognize when they’re trapped in a dystopia. Watching their neighbors get carted off for harboring subversive thoughts, they almost never say, “I wish we weren’t living in this dystopia.” To them, that dystopia is just life. Which suggests that—were we, at this moment, living in a dystopia ourselves—we might not even notice it. We might call this or that policy/data-harvesting technique “dystopian,” but, at least on some level, we believe we aren’t totally there yet—that there is still room, in our world, for a modicum of personal freedom/happiness. Is this a laughable delusion?
I mean, I don't want to brag but . . . I haven't been fooled. If you don't think that America in the Year of Our Lord 2020 counts as a dystopia then you are a pathological optimist.
Anyway, the most interesting answer to this question comes from Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain:
I’ve started thinking of some of our most promising tech, including machine learning, as like asbestos: it’s baked wholesale into other products and services so we don’t even know we’re using it; it becomes pervasive because it seems to work so well, and without any overlay of public interest on its installation; it’s really hard to account for, much less remove, once it’s in place; and it carries with it the possibility of deep injury both now and down the line.
I’m not anti-tech. But I worry greatly about the deployment of such power with so little thought given to, and so few boundaries against, its misuse, whether now or later. More care and public-minded oversight goes into someone’s plans for an addition to a house than to what can be or become a multi-billion dollar, multi-billion-user online platform. And while thanks to their power, and the trust placed in them by their clients, we recognize structural engineers, architects, lawyers, and doctors as members of learned professions—with duties to their clients and to the public that transcend a mere business agreement—we have yet to see that applied to people in data science, software engineering, and related fields who might be in a position to recognize and prevent harm as it coalesces.
This is an interesting frame for thinking about technology.
(3) NBA Draft Busts
I stopped caring about the NBA when the Sixers dumped Allen Iverson, but for the same reason people rubberneck at car wrecks, I'm fascinated by NBA lottery busts.
Zombie Deadspin has a ranking of the nine worst #1 picks in NBA history. I'll link to it as a professional courtesy, but it's a clickbait slideshow. I would not recommend clicking.
That is, unless you want to get really torqued off at the idea of the Kandi Man not taking the Overall Biggest Bust award.
Why should Michael Olowakandi be regarded as the worst #1 pick ever? Not just because of his underwhelming NBA career. Not just because he was a total reach at #1. But because there were three Hall of Famers picked in the top ten! (Big Dirk, Air Vince, and Paul Pierce.)
And aside from those greats, the top ten was stuffed full of quality players who had good NBA careers: Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison, White Chocolate, Larry Hughes, and Raef LaFrentz.
The only unproductive players in the first ten picks of the 1998 draft turned out to be Tractor Traylor (who was drafted at #6 and had health problems) and Olowakandi.
It was the most Clippers pick, ever.