Late Night Long Read: “At Sea with America’s Largest Floating Gathering of Conspiracy Theorists”

Jezebel‘s Anna Merlan, “Sail (Far) Away”:

… [Sean David] Morton is a radio host, among other things. Here he was one of the lead organizers of Conspira Sea, the first annual sea cruise for conspiracy theorists. While the ship looped from San Pedro to Cabo San Lucas and back, some 100 of its passengers and I would be focused on uncharted waters, where nothing is as it seems. Before we docked again, two of them would end up following me around the ship, convinced I was a CIA plant.

Elsewhere aboard, people’s vacations were already exuberantly underway, the cigarette-browned casino bustling. Those of us in the conspiracy group were crammed into a dim, red-carpeted conference room in the bowels of Deck 6 to hear Morton, a Humpty Dumpty-shaped man with a chinstrap beard and an enormous, winking green ring, explain our mission.

“Conspiracy theorists are always right,” Morton told the room. He spoke with the jokey cadence and booming delivery of his profession; he’s basically Rush Limbaugh, if Rush Limbaugh claimed to have psychic powers (Morton practices a form of ESP known as “remote viewing,” which he says he learned from Nepalese monks). It was a bit of a pander, since the room was filled with conspiracy theorists.

“In 40 years,” Morton added, “as many people will believe a bunch of Arabs knocked down the World Trade Center as will believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” A lot of people nod…

There was Helen Sewell, a British astrologer, and her husband Andy Thomas, a conspiracy researcher. There was Jeffrey Smith, an anti-GMO activist with no scientific credentials and a previous career in “yogic flying.” There were Sherri Kane and Leonard Horowitz, a team in both research and life, who were there to tell us how the media and the CIA control the gullible populace.

There was Laura Eisenhower, the great-granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fact that sometimes would seem significant and sometimes would not. She explained she was there to show us how to get beyond “the seven chakra system that’s been implanted within us,” and a bunch of other similar phrases I found hard to follow. There was Nick Begich, the son of the late Alaska congressman John Nicholas Joseph Begich, a low-key, sweet-natured guy who believes the government is controlling both the weather and people’s minds with the use of a research program called HAARP.

Near Begich was Winston Shrout, who runs a staid-sounding financial advice company called Solutions in Commerce, dedicated to the idea that the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have us all literally enslaved. A few seats down was Dannion Brinkley, who’s from South Carolina, and who has died and been to Heaven three times. Death, he told us, is not, in fact, real.

Most notably, there was Andrew Wakefield, the British gastroenterologist who authored the now-infamous 1998 study that suggested there might be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Jenny McCarthy was breathed into being because of Andrew Wakefield…

Spoiler: These people are (at best) generally unhappy, not to mention very lightly hinged. But, as Douglas Adams would say, mostly harmless.”



Why not a pony

The Sanders’s campaign economic analysis of their plans is at this link. I pulled out a couple of their tables and highlighted the interesting to me areas

Friedman

I want a pony with these projections.

UPDATE 1: 

Yesterday I mentioned the Sanders plan claimed 5.3% GDP growth but I am highlighting a different number here of 4.5%

P.2 of the link:

The growth rate of the real gross domestic product will rise from 2.1% per annum to 5.3% so that real GDP per capita will be over $20,000 higher in 2026 than is projected under the current policy

The difference is the qualifier.  Yesterday was economy-wide growth of 5.3%.  The highlighted number today is 4.5% per person.  Slightly different metrics that are both wild-eye guesstimates that don’t pass basic sensitivity testing.  I can understand a campaign putting out optimistic numbers but when the numbers coming out are so optimistic that people who look at this stuff for a living start to first laugh and then cringe, three things need to be asked:

 

a)  What is the mechanism of change that can produce these massive variances?

b)  If they are real in A, why have they not been proposed and implemented in the past as 5% economy wide real growth solves an amazing shit ton of problems without any hard decisions or trade-offs?

c) Does any of this make sense?

 



Sanders and the McArdle rules

One of McMegan’s famous fuck-ups was adding verifiable numbers to an argument and getting called on it:

Last week, during a Washington Post online chat, this exchange took place:

Anonymous: You said that medical innovation will be wiped out if we have a type of national health care, because European drug companies get 80% of their revenue from Americans. Where did you get this statistic?

Megan McArdle: It wasn’t a statistic–it was a hypothetical.

A number is not trusted if proffered by McMegan until it has been independently verified twice.  This is the McArdle Rule.

The Bernie Sanders campaign proposals are veering into McCardle Rule territory. In my one area of particular expertise, the healthcare plan by the Sanders’ campaign had an initial WTF mistake (via Vox)

Sanders assumes $324 billion more per year in prescription drug savings than Thorpe does. Thorpe argues that this is wildly implausible. “In 2014 private health plans paid a TOTAL of $132 billion on prescription drugs and nationally we spent $305 billion,” he writes in an email. “With their savings drug spending nationally would be negative.” (Emphasis mine.) The Sanders camp revised the number down to $241 billion when I pointed this out.

Then initial number to be saved from a sector was more than the entire sector.  The revised number after being called on the bullshit is only 79% of the entire sector’s current spending.  Is that a reasonable assumption?

On emptying out the prisons, Mark Kleiman a criminologist who is an expert on the inefficiencies of incarceration  looks at the promise and the mechanics:

Consider, for example, this from Bernie Sanders:

… at the end of my first term, we will not have more people in jail than any other country.

That’s a very specific promise, with a timeline attached. And it is a promise that no President has the power to fulfill…. (emphasis mine)

But of the 2.3 million people behind bars in this country, fewer than 10% are Federal prisoners. The rest are in state prisons and local jails. If the President were to release all of the Federal prisoners, we would still, as a country, have more prisoners than any other country. So Sen. Sanders was very specifically making a promise he has no way of keeping. Either he knows that or he does not.

And finally, the macro-econonomic impact of his plans will produce a growth rate that the US has not consistently seen since we introduced three massive new pools of labor to our economy (Boomers in general, women and minorities in particular) and benefited from a one time massive deepening of the human capital pool via the GI Bill:

We rightly mocked the Republican plans to declare a goal of 4% economic growth as Green Lanternism. 5.3% growth is also Green Lanternism.

These are three distinct policy areas.  The commonality is that goals expressed are very popular within the Democratic primary base or the general electorate and the numbers backing them are sloppy, slipshod and tilted so far that the “analysts” responsible for them are clinging to the edges hoping that they won’t fall off the ledge.

Once is a mistake, twice is a coincidence, but three times is deliberate policy.  As this point, I am assuming that any number excluding donation numbers are solely acting as priority signals and shields against the claim that the Sanders campaign has not done an analysis on their proposals.  It is a number that is doing numbery things, therefore it is a defense that the campaign has no numbers to put on their proposals.

And when the campaign is getting called on it by left/liberal wonks, their defense is to either go after the critic who is a usual ally or claim the number is a hypothetical and not a statistic.



Horse drawn buggies and driverless cars

Kevin Drum is asking an interesting question and coming to a conclusion that I think is completely wrong:

But here’s a more interesting question: after driverless cars become widely available, how long will it be until human-driven cars are made illegal? I say ten years. It will vary state to state, of course, and there will likely be exceptions of various kinds (specific types of commercial vehicles, ATVs meant for fun, etc.). Still, without a special license they’ll become broadly illegal on streets in fairly short order. The proximate cause will be a chart something like the one on the right.

I think this is an interesting question, but when I went to visit my in-laws last month, there were still horse and buggies on the road.  And those have been technologically obsolete for a century now.

There are a few things that I think Kevin is getting wrong.  First, there is a massive distributional issue.  Driverless cars will by definition be new cars.  The first wave of driverless cars won’t be 100% adapted.  Some people will be technophobic, others will like driving sticks, others will be reluctant to put their life into the hands of a piece of software even if that software is statistically a much better driver than the average human (as we are all above average drivers in our own internal estimation it’s just those assholes who are honking at me that can’t drive).  And others will decide that they don’t want to spend the money.

Even assuming that there is a fairly rapid shift in the share of proportion of driver controlled and driverless vehicles sold over a couple of years so that in five or ten years from the first good autopilot to 90% of new cars being sold are driverless or driver minimized vehicles, there will be millions of new vehicles that require drivers on the road.

No state government is going to tell tens of thousands of middle class or better voters that they need to junk their $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 capital investments for safety reasons.

Furthermore, the used car market lags the new car market.  My primary used car in high school was made several months before I could walk.  Factory fresh, it had sixty six horsepower and by the time I bought it for $50 it could just hit 65 MPH going down hill with a good tail wind.  It did not help my social life in high school but retrospectively that car kept me out of a lot of bad decisions simply because the car simply would not allow me to show off and be stupid.

The typical American car has at least a fifteen year lifepan.

There is no way any state government is going to successfully tell most of its working class voters that they need to scrap a $5,000 to $20,000 capital investment for a marginal safety improvement.

What is far more likely once there is good data on operational usage of driverless cars is that they will be treated like anti-lock brakes and skid-control features by the insurance companies.  Driverless cars will receive a massive insurance discount because they’ll be far less risky as they remove the most common source of error (human error) from the equation.  But driven cars will still be available and still be insurable but at a higher rate.



Saturday Night Open Thread: Thank You, Mr. President


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… and also Balloon Juice’s own 2016 presidential candidate, Baud, for the link.



Open Thread: “The Common Clay of the New West…”

“…. you know — morons!”

Adam, bless the man, is doing serious, constructive updates on the Great Malheur Bird Sanctuary Loon Invasion. Which leaves me free to do what I’m best at — aggregating the bathos, cheap shots and snark. Has anyone else made note that “Malheur” is French for “misfortune”?…

Amanda Peacher’s a local reporter:

The prospect of hundreds of out-of-towners who openly carry firearms concerns some residents in Burns.

Fliers with the message “Militia go home” hang on signposts downtown.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said he received death threat emails from people in other states after he told militia organizers he would not create a safe haven for the Hammonds to stay in Harney County.

“I haven’t slept a full night in close to two months now. I have a lot of anxiety,” he said. But Sheriff Ward wants to protect his county.

“What we’ve been threatened with here is civil unrest and the insinuations of armed rebellion,” said Sheriff Ward…

Even Bundy is unsure whether the protest is a good idea, and whether it’s proper for his family’s supporters to get involved. “I don’t quite understand how much they’re going to accomplish,” Bundy said. “I think of it this way: what business does the Bundy family have in Harney County, Oregon?”…

Read more



Open Thread: Spoiler Free!


(Warning: continuous autoplay)

You’re welcome, totebaggers. Alyssa Rosenberg, at the Washington Post:

…[T]o honor the release of “The Force Awakens,” I recruited PostEverything’s Dan Drezner, Act Four columnist Sonny Bunch and Digital Opinions Editor James Downie to work with me and genius video editor Thomas LeGro to remake “The Civil War” “Star Wars”-style. This video is completely spoiler-free–we’ll discuss “The Force Awakens” in detail on the blog and in Monday’s chat. But in the mean time, I hope this makes the wait for your first glimpse of “Episode VII”– or the wait in between screenings — a little more bearable.