The Night Before the World Changed

It’s trivia night.

I don’t much like trivia. I’m bad at it. But trivia night is fun.

When I arrive, I feel a slight guilt as I shake my friends’ hands. Hands are dirty. I’ve always known that. But now, there are rumors that dirty hands can be deadly. Maybe we’ll have to stop shaking hands. For the moment, everyone’s still doing it.

I like handshakes. I am not very manly. And I’m awkward with people who are. But I can shake their hands.

Some other kids once taught me to shake hands. My grip was too weak. Maybe it’s my small hands. They had me practice squeezing harder until it became a habit.

Most of tonight is forgettable. The restaurant is loud. We argue about our answers. I make sure to wash my hands before I eat my sandwich.

At one point, my friend shows me his phone. There’s a graph of hospitalizations and deaths. Data from the other side of the globe. Most people will live.

I’ve already seen the numbers. I’ve been thinking about them all week.

People like to say that a life is priceless. My policy analysis professor took great joy in debunking this myth. This professor was so kind to me. He wrote letters of recommendation. I still don’t trust him.

I realized my professor was half-right though. I thought about the theory. Industry can never be 100% safe. There is always pollution. And pollution will kill at least a few unlucky folks. How much money do we spend on reducing pollution? How many lives are we going to save?

It was all very good theory.

I order another beer. We rush to submit our answers in time. One of my teammates is quite good. We’re in second place.

I try to forget about my phone. It’s rude to look at it when I’m with other people. But I can still check Twitter when I get up to use the bathroom.

Tonight, Twitter is talking about the NBA and Tom Hanks.

We pay our bill and say goodnight. I walk to the bus stop. It’s getting late, and the city is quiet.

Everything is perfectly ordinary. Even wonderful.

FISA, the Russia investigation, and our justice system

For a while now I’ve been pondering (i.e., getting frustrated at political pundits on both sides) how the events of the Russia investigation relate to broader issues in our justice system. Given the recent IG memo on FISA applications, I’ll offer 4 quick thoughts:

1. Law enforcement and justice work are really hard. Preventing/punishing crime while simultaneously respecting civil rights is not easy, especially given how few cops there are compared to the number of bad guys out there.

2. Many of the shortcomings of our justice system were apparent in the Russia investigation. Detention in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, unfathomable legal bills for innocent people who might happen to have relevant info, invasive/aggressive tactics, overly-harsh prison sentences/guidelines.

3. I don’t see any reason to believe that the Russia investigation was an aberration. This is how our system works. It wasn’t a witch-hunt where they broke all the usual rules. It also wasn’t immune to the larger issues that plague our system.

4. Overall, I believe our justice system is fairer than what’s usually been seen throughout time and throughout the world. But we also have a lot of problems. The US currently locks up more people per capita than anyone else in the world.

A Guide to Persuading Those Who Already Agree (Or, Why I Hate Reading the Opinion Section)

So you want to be a political pundit.

Before I teach you techniques, you must understand the job of a pundit.

Political pundits do not try to persuade. That is too much work. So don’t worry about winning over any [libs OR conservatives].

Your one job is to rile up your base. Life is much easier that way. And you’ll get a much bigger paycheck.

That’s why I’ve created the non-partisan guide to riling up your base like a pro.

Political Punditry 101: A 3-Step Guide

Step 1: Find the most outrageous [lib OR conservative] you can who has spoken about your topic. Quote them, and then say something like, “Can you believe the [libs OR conservatives] actually believe this?”

(Never mind that not all [libs OR conservatives] believe the same thing, and most of them aren’t saying anything as outrageous as the example you provided.)

Bonus tip: It helps to only read nontraditional media outlets on the [left OR right] that employ minimal editorial oversight. Stay away from [the New Yorker OR the National Review]. [1,2]

Step 2: Introduce a simple fact that is definitely true and supports your side, even if this fact is of secondary concern to the broader argument. Be sure to say that all of the [lib OR conservative] media is ignoring this fact. Even if the fact was widely reported across [lib OR conservative] outlets, your audience doesn’t consume [lib OR conservative] media, so they’ll just take your word for it.

For example, point out that the [Republican OR Democratic] presidential nominee has more experience in government than the [Democrat OR Republican]. Or that the [Democrat OR Republican] is supported by [George Soros OR Charles Koch].

(Never mind that you’ve never been persuaded to drop your support for a politician you liked just because you found out an unpopular rich person also supported them.)

Step 3: Point out how hypocritical the [libs OR conservatives] are by reminding your audience of an example where a [lib OR conservative] commentator complained about a [conservative OR progressive] politician doing whatever you described in Step 2.

This will help to distract from the reality that your fact from Step 2 may be of secondary importance.

For example, point out that a [lib OR conservative] commentator recently complained that some [Republican OR Democrat] received money from [Charles Koch OR George Soros]. Or that four years ago (back when your own candidate had less experience) the [libs OR conservatives] argued that more experience as a politician was a good thing.

(Never mind that you’re also being hypocritical since you didn’t care about experience in government four years ago, yet now you’re arguing it matters.)

Bonus tip: You can easily point out hypocrisy among [libs OR conservatives] even if individual commentators have maintained consistency. Remember, your audience will assume that one [lib OR conservative] commentator speaks for the views of ALL [libs OR conservatives]. So if you need to, just find one [lib OR conservative] commentator who said in 2013 that government shutdowns are the fault of [Congress OR the President], and find a different [lib OR conservative] commentator who blamed [the President OR Congress] in 2018.


[1] Bonus bonus tip: Focus on the name of the media outlet rather than the name of the individual author. For example, say “A recent [Daily Kos OR Breitbart] article said…” rather than “Jane Doe said…” This will help to subtly lead your audience toward the conclusion that all [libs OR conservatives] believe whatever was said. Focusing on the media outlet will also remind your audience that they believe there is a grand conspiracy of [lib OR conservative] organizations hellbent on destroying everything good in America.

[2] Bonus bonus bonus tip: NEVER point out the distinction between the opinion section and the reporting section of a newspaper or TV station. You don’t want to draw attention to the fact that the [New York Times OR Wall Street Journal] has high journalistic standards even though their opinion section is run by a bunch of highly-partisan [libs OR conservatives].