Thursday, November 10, 2016

Debunking Presidential Election Myths

It's probably time to debunk some myths.

The first myth is that America voted for Trump. In fact, more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. Politico shows that 59,814,018 voted for Clinton, while 59,611,678 voted for Trump. That is Hilary Clinton received 202,340 votes more than Trump, thereby receiving 50.08% of the vote of those voting for a major candidate. There are two reasons why Trump got elected despite Clinton receiving more votes. The first reason is that the system is rigged against Democrats. That fact is that in the US, for Presidential Elections, not all votes are equal. That is because Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution requires that each state have a number of members in the Electoral College equal to the combined total of their Members of the House of Representatives, and their Senators (ie, 2 per state). Because Wyoming (population 429,000) has two Senators, just as does New York (population 19.8 Million). The result is that a vote for President in Wyoming is worth 3.6 times as much as a similar vote in New York. Slate plotted the power of electoral college votes in 2012:

A comparison with a map of Red and Blue States shows a distinct bias in favour of the Republicans:

Of greater concern is the practice in most states of giving the person with the most votes in that state all the Electoral College votes from that state.  Thus in Florida, while Clinton trailed Trump by 1.3%, receiving 47.8% of the vote, Trump received all 26 of the Electoral College votes.  A difference of 0.1% of the national vote made a difference 52 in the relative Electoral College count.  Indeed, had 60,000 Trump voters in Florida voted Clinton instead, we would have a knife edge election with Clinton currently on 254 Electoral College votes to Trump's 253.  Nevada (6 votes), Pennsylvania (20 votes) fell to Trump by similarly close margins.  Without this bizarre feature in which a persons vote is set at nothing if they did not vote with the majority in their state, Clinton would have won the majority of the Electoral College votes in a close run election despite the pro Republican gerrymander mentioned above.

Whatever can be said for this system, that it is democratic is not one of them.  It is unlikely, but in principle this system could deliver the Presidency to a person with less than 25% of the popular vote.  That it only occasionally produces a President with a minority of the popular vote (the last time being to George W Bush) is down to good luck, not to any merit in the system.  And while Trump will happily accept a victory on these terms, the evidence is strong he would not have accepted a defeat where he had more of the popular vote.

The second myth is that Trump was elected by the working class.  Wikipedia has a rundown of the demographics the people who claimed to vote for Trump in exit polls.  Liberals and Moderates voted for Clinton, while Conservatives voted for Trump.  Republicans and independents voted for Trump, while Democrats voted for Clinton.  Woman voted for Clinton, while men voted for Trump, but married women voted for Trump while single men voted for Clinton.  Whites voted for Trump, while all other racial groups voted for Clinton. Protestants and Mormons voted for Trump, while people from all other religious affiliations voted for Clinton.  Those under forty voted for Clinton, while those older voted for Trump.  And here are the kickers, those without a college education, or with a post graduate education voted for Clinton, but those with only an undergraduate degree voted for Trump.  Those on $50,000 per annum or more voted for Trump, while those with less voted for Clinton.  Finally, those living in suburbs or the country voted for Trump, while who lived in cities voted for Clinton.

If you make a profile from this, you do not get somebody from the working class.  Rather, you get a white married person in middle age, or older who has a college education and is on above medium income.  The are not the people who lost jobs in the rust belt, but rather people who are doing reasonably well and are seeking to protect their advantage.  In short, the profile of a Trump voter fits the profile of a Tea Party member to a "t".

Trump was not voted in by the disaffected working class, but by the radical, irrational right.  By that body of the American public that have trained themselves to believe utterly irrational things, be it about global warming, the location of Barack Obama's birth, or the cause of the collapse of the Twin Towers in 9/11.  Having trained themselves in irrationality, they have been suckers for it in the form of Donald Trump.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Same Sex Marriage and Children

Many opponents of same sex marriage use as their bedrock argument, the claim that the children of same sex relationships fair poorly when compared to those from stable, heterosexual marriages.  I do not think that is the case.  In the USA, the children of African-American couples fair more poorly than do the children of same sex relationships, as do the children of people having an income below US$25,000 a year  (Rosenfeld 2010).  In both cases the performance is significantly less than is the average for the children of heterosexual married couples (significant to the 99.9% level).  Yet we do not on that basis argue that the marriage act should be amended so as to forbid the marriage of African-Americans or of the relatively poor within our society.  The reason we do not apply a parallel argument to that used against same sex marriage, even though the evidence supporting the argument is stronger, is that we do not think that race or wealth are morally relevant criteria on which to make that distinction.  Not only that, we do not think that the comparatively poor outcomes for the children of African-American or impoverished couples are sufficient basis to make them distinct moral categories with respect to marriage.  I think we can be stronger than that.  For most of us, including me, we think it would be morally offensive to argue for a ban on the marriage African-American or impoverished couples on that basis.

It follows from that, and that for some people they consider the outcomes of children relevant to the same sex marriage debate that they have already included the moral distinctness with respect to marriage of same sex couples as a premise in their argument.  Had they not already included that distinction, then the evidence with regard to children would be as irrelevant as it is in the case of race or poverty.  So, rather than being an argument from the moral distinctness of same sex relationships when it comes to marriage (as it purports to be), the argument from the welfare of children already assumes its conclusion in it premises.  It acts as an apologia to reinforce prejudice rather than as a reason that stands on its own.

Why there are no good arguments against same sex marriage

"Just so you know, I think support for marriage equality is a no brainer. The argument that same-sex marriage contradicts the definition of marriage is obviously false. We do not react to as we do to phrases like "a perfectly round square".

Nor is true that we are overly keen to preserve traditions all traditions of marriage.  In the Western European tradition, it used to be that the tradition was that marriage required no consent. It used to be that marriage could be solemnized with children as young as 12. It used to be that on marriage, women lost all legal standing. It used to be that on marriage, all of a woman's property became legally her husbands. It used to be that on marriage, a woman could not dissent from sex with her husband, so that if he forced her, it was not legally rape. All of these traditions (with there associated traditional definition of what marriage involved) we have been glad to get rid of as frankly immoral. That we should now further depart from the traditional Western European custom to, IMO, amend a grave, immoral restriction is no more troubling than that we no longer consider marital rape acceptable in law and custom. Certainly, the argument that we should preserve that tradition because it is the tradition fails in the face of these repeated amendments of what was involved, by law and tradition, in marriage.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Convention and ethics

Mathematics is a convention, but not an arbitrary convention. You cannot make a coherent mathematics in which the Peano axioms of arithmatic do not exist, or fail to define the natural numbers, addition, subtraction , multiplication and division. Likewise, ethics is just convention, but not arbitrary convention. Specifically, you cannot have a fully rational ethic in which it is acceptable to treat people as purely means to ends, or to consider their needs and desires fundamentally less important than your own. It follows that rape is wrong in any truly rational ethical convention, as is murder, and even dishonesty. Evil is just the persistent choice of an irrational ethical convention for your personal convenience, or perhaps for that of an ideology you hold. It is like insisting that 1+1 = 0 when adding up what you owe to others, but that 1+1=3 when adding up what others owe to you.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, November 14th, 2015

The attacks on Paris are horrific, and evil.  There is no question about that.  They also greatly sadden anybody with human sympathy, including me.  I cannot express how sad they make me.

Part of me thinks, and I am sure many others completely believe, that the Parisians are entitled to their grief ... that what they should here from the world now is sympathy - not little notes giving a wider context.  Those posts could be viewed as downplaying the tragedy, or (worse still) exploiting it to make political points.

Thought part of me thinks that, however, I recognize that it is a short sighted view.  We live in a world filled with tragedies, mostly unacknowledged.  If I love my neighbour as myself, then surely I must love Syrians as much as Parisians - yet Syria has experienced the equivalent of 10 Paris attacks over the month of October alone (counting just civilian deaths).  If the 14th of November was a great human tragedy in Paris (as it undoubtedly was), then October 2015 was ten times the tragedy in Syria - as was the month before, and the month before that, for five years now.

If I ignore the manifold tragedy in Syria out of sympathy for Parisians - I reject the golden rule and the ethic which underlies it.  If I do that, I turn my sympathy into mere tribalism, on which basis I have no basis to reject the views of those who delighted in 9/11, or who have no sympathy for the Parisians.  Paris deserves better than that, and so do the Syrians.

On that basis I also reject the view that Paris shows we should not provide shelter to Syrian refugees.  On the contrary, while it may show a need to upgrade security measures, our common sympathy for human kind means that Paris brings home to us the prolonged tragedy of the Syrian war, and should increase our sympathy for its victims, and our willingness to give them a place of refuge from that war.

The civilian death toll
Syrian Government 793
Russian Forces 263
Kurdish Forces 10
Al Nusra 1
Armed Opposition 45
Unidentified Groups 50
Total  1215

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hoax e-mails about Centrelink benefits

The following was posted on Face Book by my sister Kathleen.  The block quoted section is copy and pasted from the "A Just Australia" website, which provides an exhaustive set of links to Centerlink payment rates, verifying the claims.  I will note that while the hoax emails may be passed on in ignorance, they are started because of racism.  Anybody wanting to have a legitimate debate about Australia's refuge intake would not resort to such easily falsified lies.

Friday, September 18, 2015


FWIW, although I disagree on specific policy positions based on my own analysis, my political sentiment is broadly the same as that found in the Green Left Weekly that my cousin helped found.  More specifically, I am what I call a democratic, market socialist.  

Democratic because it is the only political system compatible the moral principle that you should always only act as though people were ends in themselves, and never merely means to an end, which I consider fundamental to ethics.   On that basis I consider the US very imperfectly democratic, primarily due to the undue influence from campaign funding, but also due to some peculiarities of the constitution.  On the same basis I would strongly support reforming the General Assembly so that each nation had a number of its seats proportional to the population to which it gives the vote (such that, for example, if they deny votes to women, they halve their number of seats), and were the representatives are directly elected, along with other democratizing reforms for the Security Council.

Socialist because I believe radical title to all property rests with the people, and more formally with the government acting on the peoples behalf; and that the rights accruing from that radical title (including the right to regulate and tax) should be excercised on behalf of the people generally rather than on behalf of special interest groups.

Market because I accept that to the most part, a free market is the most efficient distributor of goods where 'free market' is implicitly defined by the fundamental argument to that effect, and therefore requires:
  1. No coercion, including no coercion resulting from the pressure to make trade on disadvantaged terms due to declining economic circumstances;
  2. Perfect knowledge of the outcomes;
  3. Perfect competition, in the sense that anybody making a trade has at the time of the trade an infinite number of alternate trades with marginally different properties in respect to all aspects of the trade; and
  4. No negative externalities.
The argument presented by capitalists that markets are the most efficient form of distribution of goods (where efficiency is defined as Pareto Optimality) assumes these conditions, and therefore they are the implicit requirements that a market be 'free' as assumed in their arguments.  It is blindingly obvious that unregulated markets are not always, indeed are not typically free in this sense.  IMO, the principle economic role of governments is to regulate with a light touch to ensure that markets are as 'free' as possible (using my special definition of 'free').  Further, it is evident that 'pareto optimality' is not the same as a maximum utility outcome, and hence not the desired policy outcome for any government working 'for the people'.  Specifically, income disparities decrease the utility function of a market outcome; so governments should also work to decrease income disparities, and to increase individual control of economic activity.

On top of all the above, I am a conservative in the original sense that I believe that change should be implemented gradually, except where it must be made with the utmost urgency.  That is because the more rapid the change, the more harmful side effects, and also the greater probability the outcome will not be the intended outcome.