Vote in person if you can

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[If you’re not American, or you’re American but a masochist who enjoys the current nightmare, this post won’t be relevant to you—sorry!]

Until recently, this blog had a tagline that included “HOLD THE NOVEMBER US ELECTION BY MAIL.” So I thought I should warn readers that circumstances have changed in ways that have important practical implications over the next few weeks. It’s no longer that we don’t know whether Trump and Pence will acknowledge a likely loss—rather, it’s that we know they won’t. They were repeatedly asked; we all heard their answers.

That means that the best case, the ideal scenario, is already without precedent in the country’s 240-year history. It’s a president who never congratulates the winner, who refuses to meet him or coordinate a transfer of power, who skips the inauguration, and who’s basically dragged from the White House on January 20, screaming to his supporters (and continuing to scream until his dying breath) that the election was faked.

As I said, that banana-republic outcome is now the best case. But it’s also plausible that Trump simply declares himself the winner on election night, because the mail-in votes, urban votes, yet-to-be-counted votes, or any other votes that trend the wrong way are fake; social media and the Murdoch press amplify this fantasy; Trump calls on Republican-controlled state legislatures to set aside the “rigged” results and appoint their own slates of electors; the legislatures dutifully comply; and the Supreme Court A-OKs it all. If you think none of that could happen, read this Atlantic article from a few weeks ago, carefully to the end, and be more terrified than you’ve ever been in your life. And don’t pretend that you know what would happen next.

I know, I know, I’m mentally ill, it’s Trump Derangement Syndrome, I see Nazis behind every corner just because they killed most of my relatives, a little global pandemic here and economic collapse there and riots and apocalyptic fires and resurgent fascism and I act as though it’s the whole world coming to an end. A few months from now, after everything has gone swimmingly, this post will still be here and you can come back and tell me how crazy I was. I accept that risk.

For now, though, the best chance to avert a catastrophe is for Trump not merely to lose, but lose in a landslide that’s already clear by election night. Which means: as Michelle Obama advised already in August, put on your mask, brave the virus, and vote in person if you can—especially if you live in a state that’s in play, and that won’t start tallying mail-in ballots till after election day. If your state allows it, and if early votes will be counted by election night (check this!), vote early, when the lines are shorter. That’s what Dana and I did this morning; Texas going blue on election night would be one dramatic way to foreclose shenanigans. If you can’t vote in person, or if your state counts mail-in ballots earlier, then vote by mail or drop-box, but do it now, so you have a chance to fix any problems well before Election Day. (Note that, even in normal circumstances—which these aren’t—a substantial fraction of all mail-in ballots get rejected because of trivial errors.) I welcome other tips in the comments, from the many readers more immersed in this stuff than I am.

And if this post helped spur you in any way, please say so in the comments. It will improve my mood, thereby helping me finish my next post, which will be on the Continuum Hypothesis.

Update: It’s always fascinating to check my comments and see the missives from parallel universes, where Trump is a normal candidate who one might decide to vote for based on normal criteria, rather than what he himself has announced he is: a knife to the entire system that underlies such decisions. For a view from this universe, see (e.g.) today’s Nature editorial.

Another Update: If it allays anyone’s fears, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of pandemic preparedness when Dana and I went to vote. It was in a huge, cavernous gym on the UT campus, the lines were very short, masks and 6ft distancing were strictly enforced, and finger-coverings and hand sanitizer were offered to everyone.

Unrelated Update (10/16): For those who are interested, here’s a new podcast with me and Matt Asher, where we talk about the use of quantum mechanics (especially Bell inequality violations) to generate certified random numbers.

231 Responses to “Vote in person if you can”

  1. Jacob Steinhardt Says:

    Scott, this seems like the wrong advice to give even for the outcome that you’re worried about. If people vote by mail now (a month in advance) then the ballots will likely have already been counted by election night. In fact, it might even be harder for Trump to object to the results if there’s already overwhelming majorities among the early mail-in ballots.

  2. pku31 Says:

    I’d add that early voting is probably better to not do on the very first day of early voting, which has had problematically long lines in many places (any other day should be much better).

  3. pku31 Says:

    @Jacob Steinhardt This varies by state – some states (mainly Florida) allow counting mail ballots before election night, but most states (including midwestern swing states) only count them after the in-person vote. There’s also a higher rejection rate for spoiled ballots for mail-in ballots (see

  4. Mo Nastri Says:

    I’ve been excitedly looking forward to your post on the continuum hypothesis ever since you mentioned it the other day! Was worried you’d forgotten to update us.

  5. Mike Williams Says:

    After watching Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s riveting exposition of dark money corrupting the Supreme Court, the next bit of news is that the GOP is putting out “unofficial drop boxes” to collect mail ballots.

    Astounding and sickening.

  6. Scott Says:

    Jacob #1: I’d agree with you were it not for the following three considerations.

    (1) In many states, they’re prohibited by law (!) from even starting to count mail-in ballots before the polls close on election day.

    (2) Even in normal circumstances, a substantial percentage of all mail-in ballots get rejected, for example because of a “non-matching signature” (in the subjective judgment of someone staring at it), or lack of a witness signature, or lack of a secrecy envelope (e.g. in Pennsylvania).

    (3) These are not normal circumstances! Do you really put it past the gangsters whose democratic consciences are totally untroubled by Merrick Garland and Amy Coney Barrett to maintain equally straight faces and oleaginous demeanors when they announce: “because of this appalling scandal, of five mail-in ballots that we discovered in a dumpster, the defense of democracy requires our State to appoint a slate of electors based on the results of in-person voting only”?

  7. John Gordon Says:

    In MN our hand-dropped early vote ballots are tallied immediately and we can view status online.The web site says I applied or a ballot 11/3/2020, ballot was accepted 11/13 and “will be counted”. Better than in person because I could get COVID and be quarantined on Election Day…

  8. John Newton Says:

    Sorry, too late. I dropped my (Biden) ballot in the municipality ballot drop box a week ago.

  9. JM Says:

    My state mailed every voter a ballot; anyone who casts their vote in person will be casting a provisional ballot that will be counted after the ballot counters ensure they haven’t already voted by mail. I imagine part of this design was to mitigate or even reverse the blue shift. (My state’s solid blue unfortunately so it’s not as useful as it could have been.) They’ve also scrapped together a ballot tracker website so I can make sure my ballot arrived, got counted, the signature matches, etc.

    Regardless, I voted a week ago, dropping it off at the county election office the hour it came in the mail. Not much more for me to do but wait… refreshing the ballot tracker and…

  10. Megasaur Says:

    I’ll be honest, Scott. I don’t see much use in voting (my vote doesn’t count for much) but I will vote this year for Trump because my number one issue is stopping abortion (which I consider genocide). Another four years and Trump might be able to appoint some more Supreme Court justices like Barrett.

  11. Scott Says:

    Megasaur #10: Right, maybe 25% of the electorate is in your situation, and Trump knows it, and that was crucial to how he took power in the first place. But keep in mind that 70% of the American public supports Roe vs Wade. Which means: either (1) your new Supreme Court justices, who you’ve burned the country to the ground to get, still won’t be able to deliver what you want, or (2) if they did deliver it, then much of the 70% would be talking in terms like secession or civil war.

  12. Mike Says:

    @Scott #11: I read an opinion piece recently by a political academic who suggested that a discorporation of the current states into a possible loose federation is a conceivable outcome of the current division. In that case the anti-RvW states would likely end up as a substantially economically reduced system compared to the remainder. In that you end up with a likely flight of talent. Overall, the result is a politically neutralised USA as China grows more ascendant.

    The other concern is that an ousted Trump may set himself up as a self-positioned “leader in exile”, or Twitter warlord over whatever base remains coalesced around his derangement.

  13. Guan Says:

    I think optimistic people sometimes are just too simple even blind, while pessimistic people are usually deep thinker and more insightful, seeing potential crisis and cope with it in advance.

    people with repetitive depression are usually more sentimental, Sympathetic good-hearted.

    I guess every talent has a price, or side effect to its owner

    but in my humble opionion and experience your brain is after all just your organ, you could train your subconsicous and regular exercise to gain more mental power. mental drug is just aid, you have to believe firmly that you are the solo master of your mind.

    I could not agree more with you, but do take care.

  14. Chris J. Says:

    Scott, just as you say it’s better not to vote by mail if those ballots won’t be counted until after Election Day, you should provide the same caveat for voting early in person. Some jurisdictions handle in-person early voting by having the person fill out and hand in a vote-by-mail ballot, in which case the same counting timeline would apply as for vote-by-mail. (The county of San Francisco, CA is like this, though our tabulation of mail-in ballots can begin before Election Day.) So in terms of general advice, the safest bet for one to ensure their vote is included in the election night tallies may be to vote in person on Election Day (unless you can confirm that vote-by-mail or early voting ballots are counted early).

  15. Rahul Says:

    So doesn’t the go out and vote advice contradict the covid transmission advice of staying in and avoid crowded places?

    Will the US see a post voting spike in cases?

  16. JK Says:

    Thanks for the reminder, I’ll vote in person (for Trump), as I don’t want 4/8ys of warmongering and democracy-export with outcomes like Syria, Libya, etc.

  17. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Megasaur #10: I find thoroughly unsurprising that a person dedicated to an evil goal (forcing a woman to carry out an unwanted pregnancy is a particularly cruel form of torture) is willing to achieve it through evil means.

  18. Luca Says:

    Scott, I am registered to vote in a state that, according to 538, is the sixth more likely to go to Biden, and I am living abroad. Is there anything else I can do to encourage you to write the post on forcing?

  19. Scott Says:

    JK #16: If Trump gets a second term, it will no longer be a question of exporting democracy but of importing it.

  20. Scott Says:

    Luca #18:

      Is there anything else I can do to encourage you to write the post on forcing?

    You just did it.

  21. Scott Says:

    Chris #14: Thanks for the important clarification! Updated the post.

  22. Scott Says:

    Rahul #15:

      So doesn’t the go out and vote advice contradict the covid transmission advice of staying in and avoid crowded places?

    Of course it does. Who forced this choice?

  23. Elizabeth Says:

    I genuinely feel bad that you are distressed about this. For what it’s worth, my take on the situation is that Trump would be happy to lose fair and square and leave the white house. I think articles like that one from the Atlantic are a good example of my perpetual complaint about the media, which is that they amplify fear and thrive on doom and gloom. The most logical reason Trump would have to fight to stay in office would be to avoid prosecution for crimes he’s surely committed; but we’ve been in a situation since roughly the 1980s in which powerful people routinely get away with crimes because the judicial system is afraid to prosecute them. There are so many unprosecuted crimes on both sides, they clearly have back room arrangements for this kind of thing. Just to name one example on the other side of the aisle, many people believe that Joe Biden is running mostly to help protect his son from prosecution for the payments he took from Burisma. It’s endless corruption all the way down with all these people.

    I think the polls we hear about in the media are quite wrong (Nate Silver gives A+ ratings to polls that use landline telephones…I swear they aren’t trying to tell the truth), and a fair and square Trump landslide is a real possibility. It would be great to see something decisive in this election, whether that is a blue Texas or a red New York. I also don’t see how things have been that bad the last 4 years (especially once we subtract the media’s scaremongering). Back in 2016 it was kind of reasonable to worry about Trump getting the nuclear codes or causing some great catastrophe, but those fears turned out to be overblown. In fact he’s been the most anti-war president since Carter. There’s been some real effects on immigration of international scholars, I’ll grant that, though I’ll also point out that the media amplifies those fears and scares away many more scholars than those who have faced real visa issues. And the worst-case scenario of staving off immigration is that there are more opportunities for US citizens, which is not the end of the world. So I think if the media would calm down and just accept that Trump won twice because the democrats let us all down with weak candidates, then we could just get on with it and wait for 8 years of president AOC starting in 2024 (followed by Hitler part II in 2032 if the media doesn’t get its act together, since that bit of history teaches us that communist antifa are the fastest way to push people into electing real Nazis).

    I look forward to your post on CH and forcing as well. I remember you’ve written in the past about the possibility of P vs NP being independent of set theory. Maybe in 20 years our understanding of complexity will be in terms of algorithms and properties through the SOS/UGC program instead of all these questions about classes that turn out to have no answers. Whatever happens with Trump, the world will go on and there will be many more good things in the future.

  24. asdf Says:

    I know people are paying a lot of attention to this election, but something much more important has happened. The best known value of ω, the exponent in the time complexity of matrix multiplication, has been lowered again, a huge drop from 2.37287 to 2.37286. All hail to Josh Alman and Virginia Vassilevska Williams. See:

  25. Scott Says:

    asdf #24: Hurrah! Had I known, I certainly wouldn’t have wasted time on the election.

  26. Ethan Says:

    Mike #12

    I am not saying publicly who I am voting for but on this particular issue I would say that it takes a lot of naiveté to believe that the forces that took Trump to the White House and that would have given him a second term with an electoral college landslide had it not been because of the pandemic -pre pandemic every informed person I spoke to, including people who had visceral hatred towards Trump agreed he would win a second term given the Democratic Party’s lackluster performance during their primaries- are going to quietly go away. Ditto of the forces that gave Barack Obama two terms.

    The United States is not a monarchy. Notions of top down government work in other countries, particularly most European countries, but not around here.

    Division has been a feature of the United States since its founding. What we have forgot is how to live in harmony and making compromises despite our differences.

    Take the issue of Roe v Wade. What’s wrong with devolving the issue to the states? It’s a very divisive issue that has polarized our politics for close to 50 years. The 1970s were very tumultuous worldwide, not only in the United States. A lot of things that had been accepted as dogmas were questioned not only in the US but in the West as a whole. People forget that the US Supreme Court also suspended the death penalty nationwide in 1972 but it changed its mind in 1976 and left he issue to the states (for crimes that fall under state jurisdiction). These issues are very personal and don’t necessarily go along party lines. The state of California has twice rejected in 2012 and 2016 by clear margins abolishing the death penalty there. On both years, the Democratic candidate won the race at the presidential level by significant margins.

    If the issue of abortion were devolved to the states, our politics would be very different and less divisive than they have been during the last 50 years. Many people who refuse to vote for the Democratic Party -despite liking parts of their platform such as their stance on education or the environment- because the issue of abortion is a gateway issue for them would probably give them a chance. Ditto of people who believe abortion is a right who like free market capitalism more than than the Big Government agendas that is embraced by many in the Democratic Party. Many of these would move to the Republican Party.

    The abortion debate highlights, in my opinion, more than the issue at hand the two very different visions about what the role of government should be:

    – The statist vision that contends that a strong central government of “experts” micromanaging the lives of people is the answer to all of society’s problems because most people are unqualified to make decisions affecting their personal lives. This is Communism without its totalitarian aspects, kind of what they have in Western Europe.

    – The vision of decentralized government that contends that people should be left alone to make their own personal decisions -particularly bad decisions- and that the best government is small, with limited powers and close to people it serves.

    These two visions are for the most part irreconcilable and one reason the United States is a federal state is precisely to have a framework that allows people to sort themselves out along those lines with the federal government providing the minimum services required for the United States to exist as a country (such as the common defense). The phrase “states are laboratories of democracy” popularized by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis captures this. As an aside, I love many of Brandeis’ writings, particularly those around the value of individual freedom.

    A Trump win didn’t quash the statist forces in the US just as a Biden win wouldn’t quash the non statist forces in the US. It’s in the interest of the survival of the United States as a nation that we learn as a people to co-exist. Devolving Roe v Wade to the states would be a step in that direction although I am sure we would find other issues to argue about although probably it would not be as divisive as this one.

  27. lewikee Says:

    Elizabeth #23: Trump being “happy to lose fair and square and leave the white house” is not compatible with every display and utterance from the man up to this point. He’s already said that the only way he’d lose is if the election is rigged:
    Is that clip, which consists entirely of Trump, fake news, or perhaps “scaremongering” from the media?

    Do you see how even if that isn’t a preview of his stance on the day of the election, we still have the problem of a sitting president instantly causing delegitimizing damage to the vote?

    I am curious to read how you will explain the video away, Elizabeth.

  28. Elizabeth Says:

    Thanks Lewikee for the video, it was tremendous and beautiful 😀 But seriously, Trump is an undisciplined speaker who gets pumped up with maniac energy in front of crowds, and has very little control over his mouth. The way he talks is like falling down the stairs. And he constantly tells bold-faced lies, anyone with a brain can see that. I don’t choose politicians based on their personality, but rather their policies.

    As to your point, how can he say there is no way he’d lose unless the election is rigged? Remember, Trump has a habit of blabbing about secret information that he’s been told. Although Nate Silver and the mainstream media construct polls based on biased estimators, there is no honest excuse for that in an election where multiple billions of dollars are spent. So we know that campaigns have internal polls, where there is no incentive to use biased estimators. The internal polls sample voters uniformly at random and see the truth. Trump has seen the internal polls, and he knows he’s about to crush this election in a historic landslide. That is what he’s blabbing about to his supporters. That’s why he says there is no way he will lose unless it’s rigged.

  29. Kirk Says:

    I agree with what Elizabeth wrote, including/especially extending my sympathies to Scott.

    I’ll be supporting Trump. He’s willing to call out racist policies that discriminate against Asian students, popularized the idea that news media organizations cannot be trusted to provide an accurate picture of the world, been honest on the issue of illegal immigration, pushed back on the kangaroo court nature of Title IX trials and general woke nonsense, among other things. In short, he’s normalized legitimate views that (I think) were in danger of falling completely outside the Overton window.

    Yes, I wish COVID had gone better, but I don’t blame Trump for that, nor do I think Clinton or Biden would have done any better. My main gripe with Trump are those policies that make it harder for highly-skilled immigrants to come/stay in the US via legal means, as I think such policies have negative long-term consequences.

    Like Elizabeth, I would also not be surprised at a Trump win. I think much of the polling cannot be trusted (despite breathless protests to the contrary by organizations like 538), and I suspect some of it may even be a tactic to de-legitimize such an event (“The polls were so heavily in favor of Biden, so Trump must have somehow stolen the election!”, cue the Russian nonsense again…).

    And if Trump loses, then I believe he will voice his normal blunt/abrupt (but honestly-held) views and step down without much fuss.

  30. Marc Says:

    @ Mateus Araújo #17

    “I find thoroughly unsurprising that a person dedicated to an evil goal (forcing a woman to carry out an unwanted pregnancy is a particularly cruel form of torture) is willing to achieve it through evil means.”

    Your smug moral preening has changed my mind on this issue!

  31. lewikee Says:

    Elizabeth #28:

    I expected some contortions from you, Elizabeth. But I didn’t expect the one where everyone else is dead wrong about all the polls, except for Trump’s internal polling which is amazing and great and perfect and says Trump will “crush this election in a historic landslide”. And the poor guy slipped and let it out!

    Let me get this right – he’s not delegitimizing the opposition’s votes, he’s just accidentally divulging the 100% certainty that he’s got the election locked. And so once the election is locked, of course you can say votes against you are part of a rigged process! I mean he probably shouldn’t say that, but he’s such an undisciplined speaker, that silly Trump! He gets so riled up in front of crowds!

  32. James Cross Says:

    The concern I’ve had with voting my mail is that inadvertently you could forget something or miss dotting some i or crossing some t and then have some poll worker toss the ballot. I doubt that could happen to me since I’m usually good about directions. But a poll worker might find some other excuse to toss it – signature isn’t a good enough match (in his/her view) or the page is folded wrong and they can’t get it to go through the machine or the poll workers themselves mangle the ballot.

    So bottom line I’m voting in person as soon as the lines get a little shorter.

  33. P Says:

    I’ll do it! For our planet, and for our country.

  34. JimV Says:

    Well, I never agreed with your previous vote-by-mail header, because even back when it first appeared Trump was talking about voter fraud with mail-in ballots, which of course was wrong but it signaled his strategy. So I was and am going to vote in person (masked) even if it kills me. I won’t go to restaurants or movies or sports stadiums or card games, but I’ll crawl to the polls if a leg is broken.

    To those who only vote on abortion, I assume you know the Old Testament specifically condones it to the extent of only requiring the fine of a calf, and don’t personally accept that, because who bases their morality on the OT in this day and age? Which is fine, but haven’t we learned that morality can’t be legislated? (See Prohibition.) You don’t accept abortion, so don’t do it or support it, but I do (as a possible choice for others, depending on circumstances which I haven’t faced and can’t evaluate, e.g., the mother who has three small children to raise, pregnant with the fourth, who needs chemotherapy which may kill the fetus) so I’m going to your Hell and those aborted souls will go to a better place (Heaven or Limbo, depending on what you believe), so won’t it all work out in the end? Meanwhile you have made a deal with the Devil. So if I wind up in Hell I’ll be seeing you there.

    Also, those judges you wanted are not going to eliminate the Death Penalty, and one out of nine Death-Row prisoners the Innocence Project has investigated has turned out to be innocent. Just so you can’t say you weren’t told. That’s also in the ballpark of the percentage of miscarriages your God allows naturally, which exceeds the number of abortions.

    Speaking of which, during the Middle Ages, when religion reigned, infant mortality varied between 30% and 50%. So maybe voting for administrations which support science and medicine might be more productive, if the objective is more babies surviving.

    Not that it’s much of my business, and I wouldn’t bring it up if I didn’t seriously think the country and the world needs Trump out of office.

  35. Jair Says:

    Scott, does this mean you’re not advocating vote-trading this time around? Why not?

  36. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Comment #30: I’m glad to hear that! I wasn’t aiming so high, I merely wanted to insult that despicable person.

  37. Rahul Says:

    I think Trump is silly and stupid but OTOH I’m skeptical that the covid trajectory could have been grossly different without Trump.

    The failures are systemic and I doubt Trump had much to do with the way things evolved.

  38. Scott Says:

    Jair #35: No, I still strongly support vote-trading for anyone who wants to do that! If I haven’t made it a focus, it’s only because

    (1) the Libertarian and Green Party candidates (what are their names again, anyway? 🙂 ) seem less likely to be decisive this time around, and

    (2) the stakes this time are so obviously existential that anyone who understands those stakes, lives in a swing state, and would even consider voting third party, seems more likely to be impervious to reason.

  39. Ethan Says:


    As I said, I am not saying publicly who I am voting for, but as it pertains to this,

    “For a view from this universe, see (e.g.) today’s Nature editorial.”

    My general opinion of endorsements is that they serve mostly as reinforcement mechanisms. I don’t think that they change many minds and in fact, the most likely result of endorsements is that they end up backfiring, particularly those who rely on “No true Scotsman” reasoning such as “no true scientist would for for the other guy” or “no true national security official would vote for this or that”. Politics are very personal matters. The notion that to be X (being “X” a respected profession) in good standing one has to vote for Y was disqualified long ago, particularly during Nazi Germany, a time when the overwhelming majority of Germany’s best physicists and engineers supported Hitler.

    I think it’s a very sad state of affairs that the scientific enterprise is increasingly part of the cultural war. The only effect I can foresee of Nature endorsing one candidate over another is the acceleration of this trend and STEM fields in academia being infiltrated by the same PC forces that have been ravaging the humanities for decades.

  40. Scott Says:

    Ethan #39: Unsurprisingly, I draw precisely the opposite lesson from the same period of history. Should Science and Nature and so on have stayed neutral about Hitler?

    I actually agree with the ideal that science should stay apolitical to the extent possible—but only to that extent! The whole enterprise of science presupposes certain norms, of civility and cooperation and responsiveness to reality and so forth, that Trump threatens as no other president has in US history.

    Yes, it’s a matter of historical record that many scientists and engineers worked for the Nazis. It’s also a matter of historical record that more and better scientists and engineers worked against the Nazis, in many cases shortly after having fled the Nazis, and kicked the asses of the first group.

  41. Ethan Says:

    Rahul #37

    I agree.

    The reality of the United States, which I think is a good reality, is that medical experts advice but do not make policy. It’s those on top who call the shots after listening to experts. And the reality is that back in January, the only country that had reliable data about how the severity of covid19, China, actively misinformed the world about it. One theory I have heard, that I think is very plausible, is that China feared being overwhelmed with requests for PPE and ventilators -given their status as factory of the world- and they waited to contain the epidemic to be more truthful, causing a world wide pandemic and economic collapse in the process.

    China becoming “the factory of the world” didn’t happen over night. It took decades of shortsighted decisions by politicians of different political persuasions to get there.

    Also, medical experts have been al around the place, which is what you would expect in a case like this of an unknown virus. Even the WHO has now adopted a more nuanced view of lockdowns . Keeping indiscriminate lockdowns until a vaccine is widely available is unsustainable and it’s vulnerable people who generally pay the price in these situations. Here in the United States, the economic and mental health issues caused by lockdowns have affected disproportionately blue collar workers, service works in particular.

    At the same time, politicians, particularly in election years, are in the business of convincing people to vote for them over the other guy. If Biden wins because of covid19 is because Trump didn’t do a good job convincing the American people that the covid19 epidemic would have been managed similarly had Biden been president. “Being able to vote people out of office” as opposed to “micromanaging the political power” is, in my view, the main role of voting in the US and I think that politicians who are perceived as incompetent -fairly or unfairly- deserve to be voted out of office.

  42. Nick Says:

    > [If you’re not American … this post won’t be relevant to you—sorry!]

    The outcome of this election is directly relevant to many people in the world. If there is anything like a civil war in America, or even if there is just massive instability and confusion that the top level of government, American military power will be adversely affected. In the worst case scenario, that will trigger a fire sale on the settling of historical grievances all over the place. The current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is a sneak peek of what’s to come.

  43. Scott Says:

    Nick #42: Obviously the outcome is relevant for everyone on earth, with the possible exception of Sentinel Islanders. It’s only details about the process that are mainly relevant for Americans.

  44. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott 6,

    (1) In many states, they’re prohibited by law (!) from even starting to count mail-in ballots before the polls close on election day.

    Your link has two columns. The first is for processing ballots, I guess things like checking the signature on the envelope. This sounds slow. But in almost all states, this can be done before election. (Yes, I deplore the states that leave this to election day, or even the day before.)

    The in-person ballots are both processed and counted on the day of the election, so counting mail-in ballots should be very fast, even if it starts when polls close. Partly because it’s just counting, not processing, and partly because it is poll workers, not voters, feeding the ballots into the machine.

    Do the rules in your link predict which states will drag out? No! The two examples that the Atlantic article gives of 2018 elections that dragged out for a week, one which reversed and one which “seized Trump’s attention” were in Arizona and Florida, with the seemingly best possible rules, where mail-in ballots can be counted a week before the election day.
    What happened?

  45. Allemaraiccire Says:

    Major October Surprise bombshells are dropping (some starting before this month). But the mainstream media, and their comrades in big tech, are totally silent. It’s totally Orwellian. It’s terrifying. Biden should have dropped out by now.

    The Left is already dominating many institutions, and democracy is barely hanging on by a thread. If Trump loses, The Left will rapidly move to irreversibly consolidate power, and it will be game over for humanity. Then the US will implode, and China (CCP) will be the sole power, and what follow will be far worse than anything in the twentieth century.

  46. Ethan Says:

    Scott #40

    All I am saying is that endorsements are tricky. Take for example the issue of Nature. It is part of the historical record that Nature took a critical view of the Nazi regime that prompted Hitler to ban them. The highest profile scientist who backed Hitler and went around telling people that “resistance is futile” that I am aware of is Werner Heisenberg . The extend of such support was hidden from public view for decades: .

    At the same time, I think that comparing Hitler to Trump is complete nonsense, thus, fair minded people knowledgeable with what Hitler did and what Trump is doing -irrespective of whether they like Trump- are put off by such comparison. In all fairness to Nature, I skimmed through their editorial endorsing Joe Biden and I didn’t see them making the association. I doubt that Nature had QAnon believers in making the endorsement. If it had “fair minded” people in mind, what do you think these people -who for reasons the Nature editors might not understand- will be voting Trump are going to think about Nature given their editorial?

    The way the political system works in the US is that every 4 years in November, voters are given a choice between two candidates -and that choice is more real than symbolic in so called “swing states”. The reasons for people to prefer one candidate over the other are very varied and in many cases very dependent on timing. For example, had Biden been the candidate in 2016, I think he would have won easily because the election was Trump vs Hillary Clinton, a person that is widely disliked by the American public because she and her husband exposure in national politics for decades. Earlier this year I thought Biden stood no chance against Trump. How he is ahead in the polls, and has a very real chance at winning because covid19 happened and people have lost loved ones to the disease blaming the losses, fairly or unfairly, on Trump’s management of the crisis.

    It’s also the same reason I thought that 24 Turing Awards coming out “for Biden” was a mistake. Computer science has been spared, for the most part, of the most vicious aspects of the cultural war. The notion that someone making a living in computer science will automatically vote for Biden because 24 Turing Awards winners said so, particularly given that the alleged reason they defend Trump is immigration is preposterous. Many practitioners of computer science have suffered job losses as a result of the abuse of the H1B visa program by Indian contracting companies. UC Davis computer science professor has an entire page about the topic . IEEE-USA, a lobbying organization representing American members of the IEEE, has also come out denouncing these abuses . Thus, what did these winners expect the message to be? Some of the people who refused to sign the statement saw things with a clearer head “All 35 American Turing winners were invited to join the endorsement. Some did not respond because of poor health, and some declined to participate, at least in part because they did not want to pull their employers — whether companies or universities — into a politically charged situation, Dr. Patterson said.”

    Politics and religion are extremely personal matters. Those seeking to bring them to the mix of how people make a living will soon discover than when given a choice between abiding by theier sincerely held beliefs and coming across with “being cool” with the leaders of their profession, the sincerely held beliefs will win every time, which is why academia in the humanities has largely become a one party state and, if things like the Nature endorsement of the Turing Awards endorsement continue to happen, the end result will be many Americans deciding that STEM fields are not for them. Nobody wants to come to work everyday to an institution where their leaders think he or she is intellectually limited for not having the same politics as said leaders.

  47. Scott Says:

    Ethan #46: It’s obvious to any fair-minded person that Hitler went much, much further down the road to humanity’s darkest depths than Trump has so far, but it’s equally obvious that it’s the same road … especially now that the QAnon cult is mainstreaming violent fantasies about what to do with all the liberal cosmopolitan elites.

  48. Scott Says:

    Allemaraiccire #45: Any further comments of that nature will be left in moderation. Get help.

  49. Radford Neal Says:

    “… Arizona and Florida, with the seemingly best possible rules, where mail-in ballots can be counted a week before the election day.”

    I’ve no idea what the rules in the various US states actually are, but it would seem shocking to me if some of them actually allow counting of mail-in ballots until after the in-person voting is done.

    It’s hard to believe that the counts could be kept secret – particularly if representatives of all candidates are allowed to observe the process, which surely they should be – which means that candidates could change their campaign strategies based on the counts of mail-in ballots. They could also use these counts to judge whether the risk of attempting election fraud is worth it in that state. And of course, news of mail-in ballot counts could affect voter turnout, and votes for third-party candidates.

    My guess is that mail-in ballots are not actually counted until after in-person voting is done. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some places do things like check signatures ahead of time.

  50. Steve Says:

    The Atlantic article ignores the fact that, if a Republican state legislature passes a law appointing Republican electors, a Democratic governor [as in Pennsylvania] could veto the law. Moreover, state legislators subverting the popular vote could be committing political suicide. So, at least in Pennsylvania, that outcome seems unlikely.

  51. Ethan Says:

    Scott #47

    I agree that QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory, but chances it becomes mainstream? I don’t think it will. In my personal circle, I know more people who can be described as very well educated Americans who are troubled by the “Trump is Hitler” conspiracy (never-mind his son in law is a Jewish guy married to his favorite daughter-who herself converted to Judaism- and Trump now has 3 Jewish grandchildren) than QAnon believers.

    I think that “conspiracy theories” are a fact of American political life, present across the political spectrum and (this perhaps will surprise people) I believe their existence to be a good thing given that the alternative is government sanctioned “official truth”.

    One of the innovations introduced by the United States in its founding is the abandonment of the idea of “official truth” which was then common among European rulers (in fact the notion of government dictating “truth” and what constitutes “hate” is still very popular over there). Among the Founders you had people who believed as true that Blacks were inferior -and thus slavery was a noble institution that existed among other reasons to protect slaves- and people who were appalled at the idea of such thought such as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. That didn’t prevent them from reaching agreements where there was agreement helped bring Americans together first to win the war against the United Kingdom and then pass the US constitution. In doing so, these Founders created a system where it was possible to deeply and profoundly disagree on core issues and having a healthy culture of debating matters as opposed to having some “holier than thou” entity dictating “official truth” for everyone.

    When it comes to conspiracy theories, the 2 most dangerous ones I am aware of in the last 20 years have come from government:

    1- Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction. Cooked by the US intelligence agencies, and embraced by the establishment of the Republican Party, to justify a war that continues to drag the United States to this day. Eventually people got tired of these people and they fired them twice: with the election of Barack Obama and by getting rid of the Bushes in the 2016 Republican primary.

    – Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016, also cooked by the US intelligence agencies and embraced by the establishment of the Democratic Party, that has consumed 3.5 years of American political life at the federal level. A casualty of this conspiracy, in addition to loss of whatever trust was left in America’s national security community, is having made a joke of the impeachment process. The precedent has been set that impeachment will be used in the future as what in many European countries is known as a “vote of no confidence” rather than an exceptional mechanism to get rid of a corrupt president. In the case of Bill Clinton, even though it was already a stretch, at least there were actual charges that regular criminals are regularly convicted of (such as lying under oath). “Abuse of power” is just “I don’t like your policies”.

    It seems to me that anyone who sees salvation in politics or politicians in the American system hasn’t paid too much attention to what our politicians have been doing since the beginning of the Republic. At this time in history, to me voting is more about firing people you don’t like more than actively endorsing particular political platforms 🙂 .

  52. 1Zer0 Says:

    I am not an american and I likely would not vote at all between these two candidates if I was. I sometimes wonder if there are other (mwi) universes where world politics is more “sane” + logical, by whatever metric that could be measured, and where the scientists inhabiting them take the rationalism of their respective universes as an argument against the existence of other worlds. “Look, it’s all so boring, sane and within reason. It all makes perfect sense, how could it be any different?”. They would never know. Likewise, given the evidence we have here, I do take the irrationality of our world as an additional argument for the existence of other branches in Ψ with more insane world histories, and I am mostly completely agnostic about QM interpretations usually. I am excited to see the future. God bless America and good luck.

  53. Scott Says:

    Ethan #51: Believe me, I’m well aware that Trump’s hundreds of profound failures as a human being don’t appear to include a hatred of Jews. That’s a central reason why I’ve remained in the US at all, rather than fleeing with my family. But I’m also not so parochial as to think that far-right nationalism has to be antisemitic in order to be terrifying. And I know the historic propensity of far-right movements to become antisemitic even when they don’t start that way.

    If you think I’m interested in being lectured about Democrats’ “abuse of the impeachment process” (!) after what the Republicans did to Bill Clinton (this time, there was actual abuse of power caught on tape, not just a semen-stained dress, though Trump surely has plenty of the latter as well!) … there’s no point in discussing further.

    Frankly, the main thing I’m interested in discussing in this thread is how to ensure that people’s votes get counted. Further “missives from parallel universes” are likely to be left in the moderation queue. Sorry in advance!

  54. Douglas Knight Says:

    Radford Neal 49,

    If you want to know what the rules are, you could just click the link I was quoting (and which Scott was citing). Maybe people don’t actually follow the rules, but in that case it’s not so useful for Scott to cite it, either. Maybe early counting of mail-in voting encourages fraud, but late counting is almost as bad.
    As I said, it seems to me that counting pre-processed ballots should be very fast. The failure to actually do it seems to me much better evidence of fraud than hypotheticals.

  55. AJD Says:

    Steve #51: That’s not actually a fact. It’s a reasonable interpretation, but not the only one.
    The relevant constitutional language is “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”, which gives all the power directly to the legislature and only the legislature, not to the state as a whole. Certainly passing a law is one way they could so direct, but just declaring that a given list of electors is the correct one is actually directing, but it’s not passing a law, and wouldn’t involve the governor at all.

    Direct legislative appointment used to be common early on, and was still used very late for newly-formed (or reconstructed) states, where setting up elections was going to be too much work to do quickly enough. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether those cases involved passing laws saying the legislature directly chooses, or whether they just went ahead and chose.

  56. Michael Says:

    Ethan #51:
    I basically agree with you about the concerns about Russia during the first half of the Trump administration: Trump didn’t collude with Russia, and Democrats shouldn’t have used that idea as an excuse to try to block his policies. However, the impeachment was not about the Russia investigation, it was about his attempt to blackmail the Ukrainian government into investigating Joe Biden’s son for corruption. “Abuse of power” essentially means using your office to bias the political process in your favor, target your enemies, or otherwise illegally attain personal goals; that is how the charge was understood during the preparations to impeach Nixon over Watergate, and it describes the actions Trump was impeached for quite well.
    I agree with you about the advantages of voting in person. I would have done so myself, except that I registered to vote before the pandemic caused my college to be evacuated, so I no longer live in the same state. Instead, I applied to vote by mail more than a month ago and filled out and submitted my ballot as soon as I received it. Voting by mail as early as possible is, I think, the best strategy short of voting in person, since it makes it easier to solve logistical problems and might, depending on state laws, allow your vote to be counted before election day.

  57. I Says:

    Scott, have you considered buying a P3 mask instead of the cloth ones? They’re more comfortable, re-usable with filters lasting for a couple hundred hours and more effective. There’s a Lesswrong post which outlines all this, and gives some arguments for the last point. To quote from it:
    “…there is ample precedent for successful use of well fitted P3 masks even against dry airborne threats like anthrax [20]. The known properties of the SARS-CoV-2 virus suggest that it should be even less likely to penetrate such masks.

    Preliminary evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 becomes nonviable when dried out [21]. This also fits prior expectation since SARS-CoV-2 has a lipoprotein envelope, which should be denatured by desiccation. This means that very fine particles around 2.5 µm, which are most likely to penetrate a high quality particle filtering mask, should already be dried out at the point when they might be inhaled under most plausible circumstances. And even these particles are retained to 99,95% in a P3 filter with filtering efficiency steeply rising with larger (or smaller!) particle diameters.”

    Perhaps the strongest argument that can be made against them is that they’re ugly, they tend to collect moisture from your breath and make it a little harder to breathe. The latter seems to be features, so there’s nothing to be done. Something like a P3 stealth ameliorates the first. At least somewhat.

    Here’s the lesswrong post by the way. It is quite thorough.

  58. clayton Says:

    I’m going to drop my ballot in a dropbox ASAP (they opened this morning), and, furthermore, I volunteered to be a pollworker and passed my “exams” this weekend! So this faithful reader is hearing you, and is even going a step further 😉


  59. Isaac Says:

    Thank you for this post. Here in Washington State there is no in-person voting, but rest assured I will be filling out my ballot as soon as it arrives (it is scheduled to be sent on Friday), and putting it directly into the official ballot drop box. I will then watch the status site to ensure my vote is recorded.

    Your post has persuaded me that making my voice heard is worth the cost of participating in social media, and so I will be posting daily from today until the inauguration on January 20th, 2021.

  60. Antia Says:

    Scott, it might be worth pointing out that, at least in TX, early voting was extended this election compared to previous ones and this has led to court challenges ( Given the -admittedly remote- possibility of early-early votes being part of a post-election legal challenge, I have decided to do early voting in person only in the “standard” early voting period, which is next week.

  61. Jo Says:

    Scott #53 “President Donald Trump reportedly said Jews “are only in it for themselves” and “stick together” after a call with Jewish lawmakers. “. In a washpo article from September. And if you dug a little you will find ” ambiguous” statements around loyalty to Israel ( as opposed to loyalty to the USA, for US citizens) and money…
    You are right that extreme-right has a “natural propensity” towards anti-semitism. The seeds are here.
    Jewish people may not be the first target this time around., but there could come a time when the alt-right/Trump needs a new ennemy…
    About the election: don’t forget the senate seats also! From a “planet/climate/future of humanity” point of view it is equally important, and if we want to have a more optimistic view of the future, we must have Biden in the WH and a not only a democratic majority in the senate but the largest one possible so that they have the “courage” to expand the Supreme Court and grant statehood to DC and Puerto Rico. Otherwise meaningful legislative change re:climate will probably never happen.

  62. Scott Says:

    Antia #60: I didn’t know about that at all! To throw away millions of votes after they were already cast, and after the voters were assured by the state that their votes would be counted, seems extreme, but I certainly won’t put it past them to try.

  63. Scott Says:

    Jo #61: Agreed on everything!

  64. Boaz Barak Says:

    Congrats to you and Dana on doing your part to make Texas blue.
    If people want to help flip the senate, this page (maintained I believe by David Shor) is a good source for “most efficient states”

    I agree with you that the comments in this thread are from a “parallel universe “ and don’t need to be engaged. At this point if an educated person that follows the news is still supporting Trump then there’s no point on further discussion. For the people on that universe, this is also a waste of your time – we simply speak a different language. It’s OK: not everyone has to oppose Trump, it’s enough that 53% of the voters do (if things were fair then it would have been enough that 50.1% do)

  65. Marn Says:

    At this point if an educated person that follows the news is still supporting Trump then there’s no point on further discussion.

    That’s funny, I feel almost the same way about intelligent people who cast their votes for Biden et al. Everybody involved in this election thinks they’re on the side of the angels.

  66. hnau Says:

    Hi Scott– If you’d like to hedge against what you call the “best-case scenario”, then I’m more than happy to bet a substantial amount, at even odds, that at least two of the following four things will happen on or before January 20 2021, conditional on mainstream media calling the election for Biden:
    1. Trump (or a representative) makes some kind of concession speech.
    2. Trump administration participates in some kind of transfer-of-power discussion.
    3. Trump and/or Pence attend the Biden inauguration (virtually if there’s no in-person event).
    4. Trump vacates the White House without incident.
    Serious offer, details negotiable. As framed I consider this easy money. Email me if you’re interested.

  67. Scott Says:

    I #57:

      Scott, have you considered buying a P3 mask instead of the cloth ones? They’re more comfortable, re-usable with filters lasting for a couple hundred hours and more effective.

    Thanks for the advice! Just ordered one.

  68. Scott Says:

    hnau #66: I’ll bet you $500 at even odds that not all four of the following things happen (with the bet called off if mainstream media don’t call the election for Biden):
    (1) Trump makes a concession speech.
    (2) Trump administration participates in a transfer-of-power discussion.
    (3) Trump attends the Biden inauguration.
    (4) Trump vacates the White House without incident.
    To my mind, if even one of these things doesn’t happen, then we’re already in terra incognita in American history, and the basic point of this post stands.

  69. Vampyricon Says:

    I take issue with that Nature tutorial, specifically this part:

    “In the pandemic’s earliest days, Trump chose not to craft a comprehensive national strategy to increase testing and contact tracing, and to bolster public-health facilities. Instead, he flouted and publicly derided the science-based health guidelines set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the use of face masks and social distancing.”

    In “the pandemic’s earliest days”, the CDC were discouraging the use of face masks, saying things like “no double-blind study has shown the effectiveness of face masks”. (I remember this because I am still salty about an argument I had over this.) So Trump was right (I threw up in my mouth a little typing that) to call out the CDC on their inconsistency. They should have recommended face masks from the very beginning.

    But also good luck to Biden. For a country that affects so much of the world, sometimes I feel that it is unfair the rest of the world doesn’t get to vote in US elections. (But then again, the CCP might order their people to vote for Trump.)

  70. Joshua Brulé Says:

    > (3) Trump attends the Biden inauguration.

    Didn’t this not happen with Adams and Jefferson? It’s certainly been traditional for a while, but hardly unbroken in the history of the US. (Compare to, say, FDR running for a third term which I would consider a considerably stronger break of tradition.)

    > (4) Trump vacates the White House without incident.

    What counts as an ‘incident’? I seem to recall the Clinton’s taking tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars of items from the White House (which did they later return). Is that an ‘incident’?

    > if even one of these things doesn’t happen, then we’re already in terra incognita in American history

    I, respectfully, disagree. But I sincerely admire you for making strong, public predictions, that have the potential to look ridiculous in hindsight. I think we could use a lot more of that.

    Counter proposal (if you’re still open to bets):

    Conditional on Biden winning the electoral college vote: Trump gives a concession speech prior to January 20th at 4 to 1 odds. (Say, my $400 to your $100?)

    Conditional on Trump winning the electoral college vote: In the days up to, and including inauguration, there is widespread (in more than one city) violence against Trump supporters, including multiple deaths, at even odds.

    (It should go without saying, but I’m not endorsing these outcomes, just making some predictions.)

  71. LK2 Says:

    Hi Scott, of course I hope Trump will badly loose the election. Badly off-topic question: out of pure curiosity (because I like jewish history, because I lived 10 years in Germany and speak German), you made a reference to killed relatives during WW2 times. How far relatives were them? Since how many generations are the Aaronsons in US? From which country/region were they coming from originally? Thanks and fingers crossed!

  72. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    It’s not so unprecedented as you think. John Adams skipped Jefferson’s inauguration. He left the capital early in the morning without coordinating with anyone. He said it was a long trip back to Quincy and he wanted to get an early start. But politics was so acrimonious at that point that it’s hard not to suspect he just didn’t want to deal with it for one minute more. Of course he didn’t claim to have actually won the election like Trump might. But the 1790s were nasty in a lot of ways that are similar to our own times. Fake news and arguments about fake news. Political censorship. Actual foreign interference and nutty conspiracy theories about foreign interference. Political mobs brawling in the streets. Aaron Burr killing Hamilton in a dual. Crazy times. Maybe even more crazy than life here in earth-45

  73. PG Says:

    Re #68:

    Does “(4) Trump vacates the White House without incident.” include “pranks” made by staffers or is that _only_ about Trump himself refusing to leave or doing something wildly inappropriate?

    While a lot of the Clinton -> Bush Jr. transition vandalism claims seems to have been made up or exaggerated, indicates that _some_ damage probably has been done (e.g. with the “W” keys on keyboards, page 45+), so that wouldn’t be unprecedented (and who knows what other shenanigans were going on during other transitions.)

  74. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Elizabeth #23

    So many here find joy in claiming a slight majority but I lived in a 50/50 split country for about a year and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. There are people who enjoy a life dominated by politics but most do not. Once the guns come out then it goes from very bad to horrible.

    We are in the unfortunate situation of having a president that is hated by the media and have the politics of hate saturating the media 24/7. In this situation the evolution of our brains provides a tribal response. Outrageous expectations are not based on considered evaluation but rather a tribal emotional response fostered by the constant input of hate and fear.

    I have a hard time imagining how a rational person could claim that a man who supported his beloved daughter’s conversion to Judaism, her husband the top trusted adviser, and who has supported Israel so strongly could be labeled an anti semite. I can’t imagine it because it isn’t rational but just a tribal response from the hindbrain. Hindbrains will be in control of many people over the coming days and so the claims will become even more emotional and devoid of reason. The only thing the US media provides is hate and fear to further fuel the fire.

    Trump hasn’t been linked traitorously yet with the lizard people from Zeta Reticuli but it could be coming.

  75. P Says:

    When receiving optional customer feedback, I’d imagine there’s a strong bias toward negative feedback, because people with lukewarm and even positive feelings are unlikely to be moved enough to want to say “good job”, whereas people with negative feelings have specific grievances they want to communicate.

    This is my best guess at explaining the unusual quantity of pro-Trump comments here 🙂 Many of your fellow Biden voters are silently nodding along in agreement.

  76. Scott Says:

    Vampyricon #69: Yes, the CDC has seemed breathtakingly incompetent since the very beginning of the pandemic. From what I gather, there’s still lots of genuine expertise there, but it’s been effectively muzzled. Note that Trump is the one who appointed Redfield, the current milquetoast dud of a director! I join many other people in saying that, in the wake of this catastrophe, the CDC needs a much greater degree of protection from political interference.

  77. Scott Says:

    Joshua Brulé #70 and Lawrence D’Anna #72: Thank you for the history lesson! OK, I concede, what I called the “ideal scenario” for 2020 is not completely unprecedented in US history. It’s just that you have to go all the way back to 1790, when the Republic was just getting started and leaders were still resolving disputes via gun duel, to find a precedent.

  78. Scott Says:

    LK2 #71: My great-grandparents were extremely lucky—they fled the pogroms for the US around 1905, well before the US closed off almost all Jewish immigration in 1924. I’m eternally grateful to the Russians for chasing them away! 🙂

    Most of them came from what’s now Belarus, in the shtetls around Vitebsk (literally where Marc Chagall, whose paintings inspired “Fiddler on the Roof,” was from). A few also came from Poland and Romania. All places I’ve never been.

    The other thing the Czar was doing at that time was conscripting Jews for 30 years of military service (!). One of my great-grandfathers actually deserted his post while fighting the Russo-Japanese War (he had nothing against the Japanese 🙂 ), fled through forests, swam across a river, and somehow eventually made it onto a ship bound for Liverpool, and then another ship bound for Philadelphia, which is where all my great-grandparents settled.

    None of them were important rabbis or scholars. They built furniture (some of which we still have) and raised chickens, stuff like that. They were all dirt-poor.

    When my great-grandparents came to Philadelphia, they left behind numerous brothers and sisters, who they eventually fell out of contact with although they exchanged letters at first. We never tracked down exactly what happened to them; someday I’d like to do that. However, it’s a matter of historical record that almost all the Jews who remained in Vitebsk were murdered by the Germans (shot or drowned, mostly) beginning in October 1941.

  79. LK2 Says:

    Scott, thank you very much for the detailed historical account: very much appreciated.
    And now I also understand the connection between you and the painting on the blog’s banner!
    Best, LK.

  80. Elizabeth Says:

    OMG #74: I hope this won’t be filtered as a missive, because I intend to be conciliatory.  I appreciate Scott’s support of free discussion, and I also understand why that has its limits.  Laughing at horror is one way to deal with dark times.   Of course I’m very unhappy about the division in the country, compared to my ideal philosophy of government.   I’m not personally voting for Trump either.  I’ve stated here before that I think the repeal of the FCC Fairness Doctrine in 1987 accelerated us down a terrible path of political division, and things were already pretty bad by the time W passed the Patriot Act and started the Iraq War.  The media needed reform after the WMD lies that caused us to squander trillions of dollars, but most of those journalists are still working in the same positions today.   So in this dystopian hellscape, I admit I derived some petty satisfaction from seeing the media in pain, without thinking of the overall cost.  But what I’m hearing now from the other side, is that even if the media has issues, their punishment comes at too great of an expense.   I hope all the admirable scholars in this thread find peace and happiness.  

  81. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #74: The serious argument is not that Trump hates Jews — clearly, he’s able to embrace people (Miller, Kushner, his own daughter…) as hollow as he is even if they happen to be Jewish 🙂 — but rather that, by destroying the norms of civil discourse, he overturns the rocks that all the antisemites (and the racists and white nationalists and so on) had previously been hiding under. But it’s a moot point, since even if Trump were the best thing to happen to the Jews since Cyrus the Great (he isn’t), there would still be 500 other reasons to recoil in horror.

  82. Scott Says:

    P #75: I fervently hope you’re right!

  83. Partisan Says:

    Hi Scott-

    I’ve chimed in in the past to tell you that I thought you were overreacting, but on this issue we are perfectly calibrated together. Thank you for using your blog in the defense of decency, democracy, and so on.

    It seems very hard to game out what kind of voting advice is best. Encouraging people to vote by mail might lead to a higher turnout, enough to negate possibly higher rejection rates, and might also reduce the lines making it easier for those who choose to vote in person. But, voting in person might make the count quicker. Perhaps the more channels that we use, the harder it will be for Republicans to game any one of them. I myself will be dropping my ballot in a drop box next week and tracking it from there, which should be more than enough for this blue municipality.

    Best wishes for all us, that we might get through this month with our sanity intact and see a brighter future.

  84. Alyssa Vance Says:

    Teri Kanefield on why spending time on “what if” scenarios is counter-productive:

    And what to spend time working on instead:

  85. Scott Says:

    Partisan #83: Thanks!!

    Searching your comment history, I see that you criticized me for freaking out about covid back in March. In light of what’s happened since—the 210,000+ Americans dead so far, businesses shuttered, millions of kids in the unmitigated disaster called “Zoom school,” virus still raging out of control, the failed national response an embarrassment before the world…—would you agree that some level of panic was understandable and justified?

  86. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Scott #81

    I am nearly certain there are more opponents of Zionism in support of Biden than Trump and and suspect the same is true of anti semites.

  87. Partisan Says:

    @ Scott 85:

    Well, yes and no. On the one hand, my criticism at the time was not so much that you were overestimating the gravity of the situation, but that the specific way that you were responding was more likely to lead to unproductive panic rather than a serious but measured response. I think I stand by that assessment.

    On the other hand, one thing I (perhaps foolishly) did not anticipate at that time was the politicization of the response: the rise of anti-maskers, armed militias storming state capitols (with the explicit support of the President), and all the other lovely things that we’ve seen this year. If I had foreseen this, I wouldn’t have bothered spending any time on the comparatively minor differences between two people who both at least believe that the virus is real!

  88. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Scott #81

    Also it seems to me that the micro environments in the US right now that are most hostile to civil discourse are the universities that are firmly under control of anti Trumpers and this pre dates the run up to the election.

  89. Venky Says:

    In Michigan, where a superb Secretary of State is running the election, I got the mailing form unsolicited in my mailbox, emailed back a completed photoscan, got the ballot by mail, mailed it back, and got an email confirmation. Kudos to the SOS for going after robocallers harassing black voters in Detroit into not voting.


  90. hnau Says:

    Scott #68: Thanks, but I’ll pass on those terms. “Concession by November 17” (from either candidate) is trading at 54 cents on Predictit, and that alone makes it probably a bad bet for me. Also, from Wikipedia:

    “The outgoing president customarily attends the president-elect’s inauguration. Only five have chosen not to do so.”

    So, not exactly unprecedented territory. (It’s easy to forget how much of a nightmare scenario the election of 1800 was!)

    I don’t think your willingness to bet on such terms adds up to “we know they won’t acknowledge it” but I’ll stop trying to take your money. 🙂

  91. A1987dM Says:

    @Scott #68: 1+2+4 without 3, or even 2+4 without 1 or 3, might be unprecedented but they still don’t sound that catastrophic to me. (But I’m not American, so I dunno…)

  92. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #88:

      Also it seems to me that the micro environments in the US right now that are most hostile to civil discourse are the universities that are firmly under control of anti Trumpers and this pre dates the run up to the election.

    As I’ve said many times, I see myself (and all other Enlightenment liberals, whatever their more specific views) as fighting a two-front war against the Trumpists and the wokeists: two forces that need each other, amplify each other to infinity, and serve as each other’s ultimate justification. The Trumpists have power over the government (bad for the country and the entire world), while the wokeists have increasing power over academia (bad for science and for me personally), but it’s the same Enlightenment impulse that causes me to oppose them both. And anyone who doubts my sincerity merely needs to read this blog’s archives!

  93. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Scott #92

    I clearly see throughout your writings that you have a strong commitment to the truth in an objective sense and was only responding to your specific comments here. No doubt in my mind that your intentions are good but then we know what paved the entire interstate to Hell. 🙂

  94. Nick Says:

    Marn #65

    > That’s funny, I feel almost the same way about intelligent people who cast their votes for Biden et al. Everybody involved in this election thinks they’re on the side of the angels.

    These sorts of “both-sides” arguments are great for Trump, because they increase general voter apathy. Granting that institutional corruption in America is not limited to Republicans or red states, there is still an important asymmetry between the two sides, which is that Trumpism is a cult of personality.

    The only thing that really unifies Biden voters is the belief that Trump is horrible. It’s widely understood that Trump is a liar and a thief, and that’s really the only thing that all Biden voters can agree on. Beyond that, they are not a unified movement.

    In contrast, Trumpists love Trump, not just for his ideologies, but also on a personal level. He, personally, is beloved, personally, by the masses of Republican voters. They chose him to be their leader and their savior, and they did so with delight. He always “owns the libs”, and that carries a lot of weight in some circles.

    Trumpist propoganda has been pushing the idea that Biden represents the far left. This is an obvious and idiotic lie. People on the far left do not like Biden. They will vote for him because he is not Trump, but they are not happy about it, and they would rather be voting for Bernie.

    In contrast again, Trump really does represent the far right. He embodies the hopes and fears (mostly the fears) of all sorts of people: antisemites, slavery deniers, forced pregnancy advocates, police unions and terrorist militias, millenarianist religious fanatics, and so on. They all love Trump. I’m sure there a few people who will “hold their noses” while they vote for him, but they are an insignificant slice of the voting population. For the most part, Trump voters are enthusiastic about it.

    There is no “Trump of the Left”. Not Biden, not Clinton, not AOC, not anybody. Any claim to the contrary is Trumpist propoganda. In this way, the two sides are not even remotely similar.

  95. Sniffnoy Says:

    Btw, has anyone else noticed how crazy Trump ads have gotten? I see them on YouTube and they’ve gone from merely trying to associate Biden with the far Left, to making up ideas like “Nancy Pelosi is going to try to get Joe Biden removed after he takes office so Kamala Harris can become president.” That to my mind seems to be a bit too transparently crazy to be a winning approach? But it’s not like I have numbers or anything…

  96. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #95: One needs only peruse some comment sections, to see just how unhinged and conspiracy-minded Trump’s base has become. I don’t know if there’s any limit there. On the other hand, as long as his base remains only 40% and they don’t manage to suppress the Democratic vote too much, you’re right that it seems like a losing strategy.

  97. Mike Says:

    @Vampiricon #69. “So Trump was right (I threw up in my mouth a little typing that) to call out the CDC on their inconsistency. They should have recommended face masks from the very beginning.”

    You are talking about the CDC who Trump has effectively muzzled (!) with politically-charged management. Trump – intentionally or not – basically sets up agencies to fail.

  98. amy Says:

    Wow. Many thoughts about some of the comments here, Scott, but for now will just say that voting laws and officials’ attitudes vary considerably across states, so if you want your ballot counted Election Night or before, visit your county auditor’s website or call their office, find out how things work in your state and county, and ask whatever questions you have about voter-ID rules, which ballots are accepted where and under what circumstances, actual procedures for various kinds of voting, and how you could screw it up. (Drive-up/thru, for instance, can in some cases take much longer than stand-in-line.) My guess is that in most places in the US where readers of this blog live, officials are doing their best to help as many people vote as possible and will be happy to answer your questions, if busy.

    It may also be much easier than you expect to vote where you live. People around here are dumbasses about masks/social distancing and hospitals are filling up — a friend was recently in the ER having a miscarriage, bleeding like crazy for hours in a packed waiting room where people weren’t bothering with masks and were obviously sick, and couldn’t get in to see any medical people, wound up going home & hoping she wasn’t going to bleed to death — so I’ve got an absentee ballot and am waiting to drop it at the county building’s dropbox till Nov. 1. Very easy, no waiting, minimizes the odds of some ridiculous upset like “Joe got Covid and died, your old ballot no longer counts,” and allows the auditor’s staff to get to it in time for Election Night tallies.

    Also, don’t forget your flu shot. If you don’t want to go into a building to get it, those visiting nurses are awesome, they’ve probably got parking-lot clinics near you now.

    As for polling, I have a landline, which rings morning to fucking night if I keep the ringer on during election seasons. I’ve gotten, ever, one polling call on my cell phone. I’m wildly overrepresented in national polling, and I suspect that there’s a snowball effect, where if you respond to polls you wind up on “will respond” lists. I’ve lost track of how many polling calls I’ve had from the conservative garage outfit with the young guy who sounds like two children dressed as a guy in a trenchcoat. Whatever validity the polls have, I think, has mainly to do with whether or not voting skews old, at this point 55+.

  99. pete wills Says:

    I’m voting tomorrow in Portland, Oregon – we got our ballots in the mail today so THAT is working OK. We wont mail them back – just walk them to the local library where there is a very secure dropbox.

    Also: as you probably know, Trump vastly exaggerates the protests in Portland. While I am annoyed at some of the actions, we suburbanites are not threatened.

  100. William Gasarch Says:

    A question and a meta-question

    Scott- do you think Texas really will vote Biden? Or perhaps what do you think is the prob that Texas will vote Biden?

    Meta Question: I ask you because you are in Texas and hence have a better sense of how things are down there. Is that a fair assumption? That is, are you a good person to ask?

    bill g.

  101. amy Says:

    @Sniffnoy #95 – I keep blinking at some of these terrible threats the Trump people play flashlight-under-the-chin about, because every time they do that, I think, “That sounds fine, I’d be happy with that.” Ending fracking? It sounded perfectly stupid from go, that’s fine. Green New Deal? Yes please. Kamala taking over?….well.

    I mean I’m a much bigger fan after that debate — I really appreciate how unflappable and quick she is — but I remember seeing her in person and thinking, okay, she seems like she could be a very good senator, but she’s just too normal a human being to make a good president. I always do this thing, when I go to candidate events, where I try to figure out what I’d think they were doing if I didn’t know they were running for president. (Cory Booker was running for president. Or giving a TED talk, but probably running for president.) Kamala Harris…I figured she was a senior HR person at a large chain of summer camps that did some sort of social goodness, and she was doing some sort of tedious employee morale-boosting deal. Whoever she was, she was polite and patient but busy, and plainly had a desk full of much more pressing things to be doing. Seemed like a normal, sane, bright, warm person who likes people, likes having people around. Do I want her for president, no. Do I think she’d do better than Joe, yes, because Joe’s working his heart out but he’s yet to be acquainted with this century, and it’s time for the warm milk.

    So…once again, I’m here saying okay, bring on more of these loony-tunes Trumpiverse fantasies.

  102. Nick Nolan Says:

    #57 CDC: Masks with Exhalation Valves or Vents

    FFP/N95 masks with with exhalation valve are not recommended for the public. They protect the wearer better if properly fitted and used, but they don’t protect others. The effectiveness of everyone wearing mask in public comes mostly from the sick wearing them.

    You can improve the effectiveness of surgical masks by wearing them properly. Scott, did you adjust the metallic strip around the nose? From the photo it looks like you did not. You can also cross the strings going to ears to make better fit (noes not work for everyone)

  103. fred Says:

    Scott #47

    “the QAnon cult is mainstreaming violent fantasies about what to do with all the liberal cosmopolitan elites”

    I’m not super informed on the exact claims of QAnon, which do sound like BS.

    BUT… here are a few irrefutable facts: Bill Clinton was a very close pal to Epstein, and he flew many times on Epstein’s plane to stay at Epstein’s private island. And Epstein was involved with many under-aged girls.

    In many ways it’s very disturbing that nobody is demanding answers from the Clintons (in a very smart move, they produced the Netflix’s Epstein documentary that side stepped all this).
    Conveniently, this is also being overshadowed by the outrageous nature of the QAnon claims. Just like Epstein’s suicide was very convenient.

  104. fred Says:

    The lesson I’ve learned from the Barrett nomination:

    If you are a 70-80 year old supreme justice with a history of metastatic cancer, it’s really important to leave nothing to chance and call it quit (i.e. retire) while your side is still “ahead” (i.e. owns the senate), so that you can help “your” president pick a successor worthy of your legacy.

  105. Scott Says:

    Gasarch #100:

      Scott- do you think Texas really will vote Biden?

    Living here (in Austin, obviously an unrepresentative part) gives me no ability to improve over FiveThirtyEight’s prediction, which is currently that there’s a 31% chance.

  106. Scott Says:

    amy #101: TBH, I felt deeply disappointed while listening to Harris at the debate. I wanted her to directly answer the questions that were asked—thereby putting a finer point on Pence’s many evasions— rather than launching into little barely-related speeches, and I especially wanted her to rip Pence a new asshole, directly exposing and ridiculing his lies, and treating him like a man on trial for complicity in a criminal regime. Later, though, I reflected that she wasn’t trying to impress me, she was trying to win over undecideds (are there any? how is that possible??), and having me judge her success at the latter is kind of like employing me as a taste tester for cat food. And given where the polls are, her main goal was just to avoid saying anything that could change the race, and as is typical for VP debates, it looks like she succeeded.

  107. Sonya Says:

    If I might respond to Megasaur, comment #10 –

    I agree with you on abortion, and I used to be a single-issue prolife voter. That’s changed over the last twenty-odd years of my life not because view of prenatal life and human rights or the proper role of government in protecting them have changed at all, but because I’ve watched the Republican party fail to make any significant progress on the issue while being consistently hostile to social safety net measures.

    The vast majority of abortions are performed because of financial strains on the mother – sometimes expressed directly in terms of being too poor to care for a child, sometimes less directly in terms of fearing how parenthood would interfering with work or school. Republicans as a class – there are individual exceptions – oppose welfare, they oppose raising the minimum wage, they oppose parental leave, they oppose funding of childcare services on university campuses or in state and federal workplaces. These policies have a body count. Even were abortion both prohibited by law and widely viewed for what it is – an act of unthinkable violence against a child – these policies would be cruel and punitive to mothers and children. They would drive up the number of abortions even were it illegal – just as growing up in poverty increases the odds a child will be abused, neglected, or killed.

    But Republicans have failed even at providing the unborn child with the most basic of legal protections. I can think of two uncomplicated victories for the pro-life cause in the last twenty years; the spate of laws allowing prosecution for the life if s/he is harmed or killed in the course of an attack on her mother, and the inclusion of pregnant women in coverage under CHIP. I do not mean to dismiss the importance of either; both are important and significant. But they’re hardly what I’d call great progress considering it’s been nigh on fifty years since Roe v Wade.

    Then there is this game of chicken they’ve been playing with Planned Parenthood, in which prolifers scored the largely symbolic point of making women drive farther before getting an abortion anyway, and Planned Parenthood proved itself willing to choose its dogma over its patients. There was no realistic possibility Planned Parenthood was going to opt to cease providing abortions so as to maintain access to federal funds for the legitimately-vital health services they provide, keeping their clinics open and accessible to provide OB/GYN care, birth control, STD screening, etc. It would have been the obviously decent, reasonable, moral thing to do, but if anyone honestly expected it to go that way, I have a bridge to sell them. Yes, I know the ‘abortion is 3% of what PP does’ figure is misleading – and that’s a charitable description – but they do provide health care, even if it’s not not the overwhelming majority of what they do as they would like the public to believe. Instead they closed clinics and raked in the donations from individual quite understandably incensed that women had lost local access to PAP smears and mammograms. Spoilers: those funds are not going to end up providing PAP smears and mammograms. They’re going to be used for lobbying and yet more fundraising. This was a victory only for politicians and and Planned Parenthood’s PR department.

    (This is not to say that I support funding Planned Parenthood – but IMO it was handled badly, in ways that, were they not quite deliberate, were at minimum mind-bogglingly short-sighted.)

    Some state legislatures have enacted laws that are (or largely, were) direct legal challenges to Roe v Wade – not one of them has been enforced. Literally not one. The courts block them immediately. None has made it to the Supreme Court.

    Now how about outreach efforts? Education? When that bunch of heartbeat bills (see above re: efficacy) was passed and the pro-choice response was to claim that a heart is somehow not a heart, where was the well-funded, polished campaign to counter this flagrant semantic nonsense? Not that we don’t specialize, as a nation, in flagrant semantic nonsense in place of reasonable political of scientific discourse, but really – memes all over my Facebook, claiming that a muscular organ serving the purpose of pumping blood through a circulatory system is in fact not a heart, it’s pulsing cells (yes, a heart is made of those), it’s ‘electrical activity’ (yes, a heart produces that), *and they got away with it*. Just how incompetent are we? You want to keep giving these same people money and positions of influence?

    Point being, I won’t give my vote to Republicans based on abortion because their strategy has failed, repeatedly, spectacularly, *for fifty years*. This will not be the one election cycle when that changes. It wasn’t last time, or the time before that, or the time before that, and it won’t be next time either, because their methods demonstrably do not work. It makes me feel physically, skin-crawling sick to vote for a party that proudly advocates the continued denial of basic human rights to a class of people. I get how you feel. I really, really get it. But Democratic policies have the effect of reducing actual body counts. They may not care about the lives they’re saving, they may in fact deny that they count as lives at all, but those children still get to be born.

    Voting based on balancing up stacks of bodies as opposed to principles does nothing to help my overall faith in humanity – but I believe it is the rational, moral thing to do, that we must hold our noses and do what actually saves lives. Others should not pay for the comfort of our consciences.

    (Scott, apologies for the manifesto – I know you disagree on the main issue, but hope you will appreciate efforts to dissuade my ideological fellows from putting their faith in Trump.)

  108. Scott Says:

    Sonya #107: Thank you for sharing that!

  109. fred Says:

    amy #101
    “Seemed like a normal, sane, bright, warm person who likes people, likes having people around”

    From Harris’ wiki:
    “After the 2011 United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata declared California’s prisons so overcrowded they inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, Harris fought federal court supervision, explaining “I have a client, and I don’t get to choose my client.”[145] Harris’s record on wrongful conviction cases as attorney general has engendered some criticism from academics and activists. Law professor Lara Bazelon contends Harris “weaponized technicalities to keep wrongfully convicted people behind bars rather than allow them new trials”.[146] Harris declined to take any position on criminal sentencing-reform initiatives Prop 36 (2012) and Prop 47 (2014), arguing it would be improper because her office prepares the ballot booklets. John Van de Kamp, a predecessor as attorney general, publicly disagreed with the rationale.[145]
    In September 2014, attorneys for Harris argued unsuccessfully in a court filing against the early release of prisoners, citing the need for inmate firefighting labor. When the memo provoked headlines, Harris spoke out against the memo. She said she was unaware of it, and the attorneys had produced the memo without her knowledge.[147] Since the 1940s, qualified California inmates have the option of volunteering to receive comprehensive training from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in exchange for sentence reductions and more comfortable prison accommodations; prison firefighters receive about $2 a day, and another $1 when battling fires””

  110. fred Says:

    Scott #92

    “while the wokeists have increasing power over academia (bad for science and for me personally)”

    wokeism started in academia, but it’s been a while now that it has spilled into the “real world”, leaving the average corporate worker very aware, puzzled, and worried.
    It started when that young guy working at Google got fired for publishing an essay about the difference between the sexes. And now one can get fired when his/her spouse says “all lives matter”. None of this has gone unnoticed.
    I think your world doesn’t understand the extent of the issue – gen-X Americans (i.e. grew up in a way more reasonable version of the world) just want to raise their family and need their corporate job are keeping very quiet about this, especially in all the places that HR can reach (i.e. pretty much everywhere), but they will express themselves at the voting booth.

  111. fred Says:

    In the meantime, this is what NYC is currently dealing with when it comes to covid19.
    And I do hear from Jewish friends that lots of NY Jews are now pro-Trump, go figure!:

  112. Joshua Brulé Says:

    > she was trying to win over undecideds (are there any? how is that possible??)

    Apolitical observation: higher variance is good, under a couple of assumptions.

    If you’re worried about peaceful transfers of power, then a landslide for either candidate is better; it makes contesting the outcome of the election less likely.

    So, assuming that your point estimate of the outcome is near a 50-50 split (well, a 269-269 split), higher variance shifts more probability mass towards the tails, which is exactly what you want.

  113. Scott Says:

    fred #111: I just looked it up; looks like Jewish support this election is splitting 66% Biden, 30% Trump, which is indeed a slightly less extreme Democratic skew than the last few elections. I wonder how much of that is because of enthusiasm and/or population increase among the ultra-Orthodox?

  114. David Glenday Says:

    To state the blindingly obvious, whatever administration is in power in the US, it ought to be doing everything in its power to encourage and make it easy for people to vote.

  115. John Stricker Says:

    Interesting opinion in the Wall Street Journal:

    “(…) wokeism holds that “the important truths are already known, and that the American aristocracy has to impose those truths on the country.” These are “given positions”—irrefutable and sacrosanct. Wokeism, he says, is a “perilous threat” to America and particularly to the First Amendment. “It says we don’t need debate. We don’t need free speech. We don’t need freedom of religion. We need to obey.””

    (Archived link because paywall:

  116. Scott Says:

    John Stricker #115: Reading a denunciation of wokeism in the WSJ op-ed page is kind of like reading a denunciation of American segregation in 1950s Pravda! I.e., even if you’d otherwise agree, the publication is so utterly compromised by its complicity in the converse evil that it’s lost standing to criticize anything else.

    If anyone wants to deal a body blow to wokeism, the best way I can think of is to help Biden win in a landslide two weeks from now—thereby both (1) removing from the White House the greatest advertisement and demonstration of the woke worldview that history ever coughed up, and (2) demonstrating that those who the wokeists hate and fear even more than they do Trump—namely, the old, boring, vanilla, process-oriented moderate liberals—actually get results, far more than the wokeists themselves do.

  117. Hassan Says:

    asdf #24: This is hilarious and amazing.

  118. Gabriel Says:

    Human challenge trials are coming!

  119. Michael Says:

    You are acting like a kid irrationally afraid of a bully. The scenario described in the Atlantic article is really unlikely. The leader of the Pennsylvania legislature’s Republican majority at some point even pinned a tweet saying he won’t go against the popular vote in his state.

    But say this happens and Biden wins a majority of votes in enough states to take him over 270 electoral votes, but then the Republican-led assemblies manage to get enough Trump electors to reverse this. Do you seriously think Pelosi is going to give Trump bills to sign? Do you seriously think half the country will follow his executive orders? There is no situation where the Democratic section of the country will ever go along with this. There would likely be violence, and even something like a nationwide general strike could happen. If this happens the US becomes a failed state.

    I think you overestimate the willingness the Republicans have to go along with this. Many of them are fully aware of what kind of person Trump is, and won’t cause the country to fail to support him if he loses the election.

  120. John Stricker Says:

    Scott #116:

    I didn´t post the quote and link because I thought that the Liberal Bastion that is the WSJ 😀 all but defeated wokeism via this one opinion piece, but because I found it an interesting and in some ways illuminating read about a New York liberal professor who is also jewish, who will vote for Trump in November.

    Of course we all may choose what we do and don´t read, especially considering the potentially corrupted sources. But I find it remarkable that you opted for jumping into the political fray of how to best defeat wokeism with no real necessity.

  121. Scott Says:

    John Stricker #120: Alright, you shamed me into reading the full article. The overwhelming impression I got was if you took the Facebook rants of any of the lately-turned-right-wing friends of my parents and printed them in the WSJ! 🙂

  122. Scott Says:

    Michael #119:

      You are acting like a kid irrationally afraid of a bully.

    In the over a decade I spent as a kid, fear of bullies almost never turned out to be irrational.

  123. John Stricker Says:

    Scott #121:

    There you go 😉 ! (That was easy; perhaps I should try it more often…)

    And as for those “lately-turned-right-wing friends” of your parents: considering the WSJ commentary and also fred´s comment #111 I am kind of tempted to add two and two together…

  124. John Stricker Says:

    Joshua Brulé #112

    Interesting points; and I am wondering whether the Trump campaign also recognizes this, since from their perspective it could also be important.

    Michael #119

    If Trump and his administration actually were the bullies Scott mistakenly believes them to be (instead of being pretty much standard Republicans, though perhaps pre 1990´s), his fear would in no way be irrational, but more than appropriate, and potentially life-saving, especially given what he described in comment #78.

    What is in fact irrational, and a great tragedy, is that he really believes it and really feels the dread, which I believe is absolutely horrifying for him 🙁 (and also clouds his political judgement even further, unfortunately).

    Nevertheless, I have hope that things will change for the better.

  125. lewikee Says:

    Why are people concern-trolling Scott’s assessment that Trump will simply stick to his word: “The only way we will lose this election is if it is rigged”.

    The man has shown that all news unfavorable to him is deemed “fake news”. What could be more unfavorable than a lost election? That approach started on day 1 (with his inauguration numbers, remember Sean Spicer?) and has continued consistently ever since.

    What is irrational about believing that a person who has shown consistency in a certain regard and telegraphed his next moves in a particular matter would simply follow through with his actions?

  126. fred Says:

    Am I the only one to feel as if the election is some sort of event horizon, and the closer I am to it, the slower time passes?!

  127. John Stricker Says:

    fred #126:

    In order to prepare for this effect, I have lined up a number of interesting things for me to do. Keeps away some of the anxiety as well, which is nice 😉 .

    (By the way, your last name isn´t Siegel, is it 😀 ? )

  128. fred Says:

    Scott, you wrote

    “while the wokeists have increasing power over academia (bad for science and for me personally)”

    but, what about the students?
    As far as you can tell, as a professor, what impact is wokeism having on them?

    When I was in engineering college back in Europe, Iraq invaded Kuweit, and we (the students) were having sometimes very passionate arguments over the Gulf War (some even got into fights over it). I think it’s because we were all very afraid by it (it was the first time since ww2 something like this happened, so close to Western Europe). But also the academia was keeping out of all this, and we were free to express ourselves.

    But with wokeism, the situation seems very different. The administrations of the colleges are incorporating it as part of their infrastructure. And, from what I’ve gathered, many professors are also going along because this is just a new way for them to get ahead of their colleges (esp in non STEM). But how many students really buy into that stuff? Isn’t there a silent majority that will just “play along” because they’re smart enough to know that, if they don’t, it will only bring them trouble? Things could be different in a few years once wokeism is integrated into education as early as possible (when the kids are 5 or 6, and up).

  129. Gerard Says:

    John Stricker #115

    I’m not a huge fan of most of the political views in the article you reference but I think the last paragraph, the one you quoted, hits very close to one of the fundamental problems with American society today. But I would nonetheless adjust that statement a bit. It isn’t so much that the wokeists believe that “the truths are already known”, it’s that they don’t believe in any kind of empirical objective truth at all. All that matters to them is their own ideology and desire for things to be a certain way. No amount of evidence that reality is actually different from their desires will convince them that they are in error. However this problem, the denial of truth, isn’t unique to the wokeists, it’s also exactly the approach of Donald Trump who has proven time and time again that he cares nothing for the truth, only his own will.

    This denial of truth, or the idea that anyone can make their own truth to satisfy their narcissistic desires, is a disease that appears to have infected the country to its core.

    fred #128

    > Things could be different in a few years once wokeism is integrated into education as early as possible (when the kids are 5 or 6, and up).

    I think that happened long ago. It’s probably why so many of the young are unable to see things in any other way.

  130. Scott Says:

    fred #128:

      but, what about the students?
      As far as you can tell, as a professor, what impact is wokeism having on them?

    I mean, I teach courses about quantum computing and theoretical computer science, which are taken only by students who (whatever their backgrounds) have self-selected for being serious about learning those topics. So it’s not like I have my ear to the ground about wokeism the way a humanities professor would.

    When the comment-171 thing blew up, most of the students I’d taught in classes either didn’t know or didn’t care. A few vocally supported me, which meant a huge amount to me.

  131. fred Says:

    Gerard #129

    “I think that happened long ago. It’s probably why so many of the young are unable to see things in any other way.”

    On second thought, the education institutions are probably just playing catch up with the real place where young minds get shaped these days – social media.
    Peer pressure on kids is mostly done through online content. That’s the way kids connect (even so more with lockdown I would think). So they probably understand very quickly how to “walk the line”. And then if they can no longer take that kind of social pressure, there are anonymous ways to blow steam off (reddits, 4chan, …).

    Regarding the effects of wokeism on grad students, the irony is that STEM is mostly foreign students, especially from China… coming from a country with no free speech whatsoever, they already know how to deal with all this – i.e. shut up and keep your head down, or push back on anything by framing it from a woke angle, i.e. every problem has racism at its root (the CCP has been very effective at turning America’s wokeism against itself this last year).

  132. Sniffnoy Says:

    Gerard #129:

    It isn’t so much that the wokeists believe that “the truths are already known”, it’s that they don’t believe in any kind of empirical objective truth at all. All that matters to them is their own ideology and desire for things to be a certain way. No amount of evidence that reality is actually different from their desires will convince them that they are in error.

    I’d say that they equivocate between the two. Nicholas Shackel described this as “The Postmodernist Fox-Trot” in his “The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology”.

  133. william e emba Says:

    Regarding the forthcoming Satmar wedding: the images are, of course, of a past Satmar wedding. Satmar claims they had taken COVID-19 appropriate steps in accordance with existing NYC and NYS law, with a small ceremony and distant, quick opportunities for congratulations from the community.

    Whom to believe? I have no idea. The article in has the official Satmar response. The commentary, mostly right-wing Orthodox, seems split. Even the usual one-sided hatred for the fellow who apparently alerted the authorities, Naftuli Moster (founder of Yaffed, which attempts to have NYS take over Yeshiva K-12 curricula), seems not so one-sided here.

  134. william e emba Says:

    So, Trump is now joking that if he loses, he’d leave the US in a huff. No kidding. He’ll obviously have to pick a country that does not have a relevant extradition treaty. Maybe Saudi Arabia would give him a special deal, like they did with Idi Amin?

    The last time a sitting US president did not attend his successor’s inauguration was when Nixon ran out of town the morning that Ford was due to be sworn in. Interesting precedent, don’t you think?

  135. Foreign Observer Says:

    Mike #12: > The other concern is that an ousted Trump may set himself up as a self-positioned “leader in exile”, or Twitter warlord over whatever base remains coalesced around his derangement.

    Just out of curiosity: If Trump loses this election, would he then be allowed (in principle) to run for the next election in 4 years? Like Putin did in Russia?

  136. Foreign Observer Says:

    Ethan #51: I agree that QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory, but chances it becomes mainstream? I don’t think it will.

    Non-mainstream activism can have huge influence on people. Just one example: I would not be surprised if the recent beheading of a French teacher for showing graphical material to his class already had a huge influence on the behavior of other French teachers in classroom.

  137. fred Says:

    Foreign Observer #136

    “Non-mainstream activism can have huge influence on people. Just one example: I would not be surprised if the recent beheading of a French teacher for showing graphical material to his class already had a huge influence on the behavior of other French teachers in classroom.”

    Uhh, wait, are you suggesting that the “non-mainstream activist” in this case is the teacher (who showed his class drawings of Mohammed, in order to illustrate freedom of speech in the context of Charlie Hebdo), not the 18 year old Tchechen (who came to France when he was 6) who severed the teacher’s head off with a knife?

  138. fred Says:

    When it comes to Trump and the election, I’ve heard a few times the opinion that he would actually be ok with not winning, as long as he doesn’t lose face (e.g. spinning it as if there was cheating, etc), and he can make sure he won’t face any charge later on.
    About the latter, constitutional “scholars” don’t agree whether a president can pardon him/herself or not.
    Now that Barrett is in place, maybe Trump will feel more comfortable with losing and pardoning himself… (of course, like for anything else with Trump, what he thinks now and may think 2 minutes from now is totally uncorrelated and unpredictable, including to himself).

  139. John Stricker Says:

    Gerard #129:

    While I see the nuance in your point, I am flabbergasted how one can believe that “Donald Trump (…) has proven time and time again that he cares nothing for the truth, only his own will”.

    Maybe I shouldn´t be surprised at this point, but it still gets me when people exhibit such a lopsided view of the man.

  140. Michal Says:

    fred #138:
    Trump pardoning himself, even if it’s ruled constitutional, wouldn’t protect him from all prosecution. The Constitution says that the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment” (Article 2 Section 2), i.e. he can only pardon people for federal crimes, and Trump may be prosecuted for state crimes. Given this information, if his motivation is as you suggest, he has more of an incentive to try to stay in office, since he can’t be confident of avoiding prosecution.

  141. Gerard Says:

    John Stricker #139

    If you think Trump values the truth then I can only assume that you’re living in some alternate universe with this blog being your only connection to the one the rest of us are in.

  142. John Stricker Says:

    Gerard #141:

    Well, sure, if by “the rest of us” you mean most of the readers of this blog, as well as of course its host, then certainly.

    Still, my point is that many here misinterpret whatever Trump says whenever possible, and always in the least charitable way, which in my view is more of a willful political act than a necessity, which is why I find it pointless.

    The reason why I am still commenting here occasionally is to offer a different perspective, a glimpse into other political views than the prevalent ones here; so in case you and the rest of your group should suffer a severe disappointment in two weeks´ time because of another “rest”, of ordinary Americans whose judgement is different from yours, don´t be too surprised.

  143. T Says:

    Hi Scott,

    For argument’s sake, let’s say the pollsters are off again like in 2016. Let’s say Trump appears to win narrowly (but with a far more narrow margin than in 2016). To make things concrete, let’s say the scenario that mimics 2000: Trump wins by a single state, and the margin of victory in the state is <1000 votes a day or a few days after election.

    Should Biden concede? Should Biden concede if the Supreme Court hands it to Trump? Could the country survive a repeat of 2000 in the current political climate?

  144. Scott Says:

    T #143: If there’s another 2000-like scenario, Biden should concede when and only when there’s no longer any plausible legal path to victory. And then I’ll start inquiring whether there’s any interest in quantum computing theory in New Zealand.

  145. fred Says:

    T #143

    “For argument’s sake, let’s say the pollsters are off again like in 2016.”

    My understanding is that this time a site like FiveThirthyEight is taking this into account for their 2020 predictions. They say it’s really difficult this time to find an actual realistic scenario where Trump wins (even though they do show a ~15% probability that this could happen).

  146. fred Says:


    “he can only pardon people for federal crimes, and Trump may be prosecuted for state crimes.”

    Can you give an actual example of what could be a state crime against Trump?
    The Ukraine stuff he was impeached for?

  147. Gerard Says:

    fred #146

    Most activities are regulated first under under state laws. The extensive development of federal criminal law is a relatively recent development. Given the extent of Trump’s business interests and his questionable ethical standards it seems likely that some state prosecutors (especially New York’s) will be able to find something to charge him with.

  148. David R Says:

    fred #145

    I think that FiveThirtyEight has always taken possible polling errors into account in its model. Perhaps you are thinking about pollsters weighting white voters without a degree more this time around because it seems like they underweighted them last time. I do think that FiveThirtyEight has built more uncertainty into their model this time, but if I understand correctly this is mainly related to potential effects of the coronavirus pandemic:

    “They say it’s really difficult this time to find an actual realistic scenario where Trump wins (even though they do show a ~15% probability that this could happen).”

    I think Nate Silver would respond to this by saying that 15% is 15%, so the first part of the sentence is not really relevant I don’t think. Although now it is down to 12%.

  149. Michael Says:

    @fred#146- New York State tax evasion.

  150. Mike Says:

    Fred #146

    Bank and insurance fraud. See below. I think tax fraud charges would follow. Perhaps other criminal charges as well.

  151. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Some comments on your disappointment, as expressed in your interview, with government agencies not hot-shotting a Covid 19 vaccine-

    For vaccines to be effective they must be used to treat a high percentage of the population (including children) that are healthy. Applying the Hippocratic Oath to this requirement for vaccines requires an exceptionally high standard of certainty. Since vaccines are never totally benign ultimately hard tradeoffs must be evaluated. There will be some percentage that suffer damage to health (including children) counterbalanced by lowered risks to health of another demographic by some other percentage. The belittling label of “anti-vaxxers” doesn’t eliminate the fact that vaccines are never completely benign.

    Following is a summary of the testing results for four SARS vaccines that were not recommended for human testing because they actually produced sensitization to Coronavirus infections.

    It is unfortunate that NIH withdrew funding for SARS vaccine research and the fact remains that no vaccine is totally benign and to use a vaccine to treat millions of healthy children demands (in my view) a very high degree of understanding of the risk of short term and long term risks. The impact of unforeseen consequences can be catastrophic for some percentagevof the population.

    Vaccine manufacturers have been relieved of indemnity risks for some decades but recent legislation pursuant to this pandemic even relieves them from gross negligence. It is another case of politicians wanting a quick solution without proper regard for standards of vaccine safety rightfully developed over the last seventy years.

  152. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Terribly sorry-replace indemnity with liability in last post where appropriate. Vaccine manufacturers have been relieved of liability risks.

  153. John Baez Says:

    “They say it’s really difficult this time to find an actual realistic scenario where Trump wins (even though they do show a ~15% probability that this could happen).”

    If you go to the 538 blog page of presidential election forecasts you’ll see some scenarios up on top where Trump wins. Presumably these were chosen to be representative. In all three he wins Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.

    In Pennsylvania there have been 2.8 million requests for mail-in ballots, and their laws don’t allow the envelopes to be opened until 7 am on November 3rd. As you probably all know, on a 4-4 vote the Supreme Court just allowed ballots to be counted if they arrive up to three days late. So, it’s gonna be messy at best.

  154. Radford Neal Says:

    Gerard #147: “Given the extent of Trump’s business interests and his questionable ethical standards it seems likely that some state prosecutors (especially New York’s) will be able to find something to charge him with.”

    Yes, that’s a possible scenario if the US has degenerated to banana-republic status.

    In non-banana republics, a person would either already have been charged, if there’s good evidence that they did something illegal, or will not be charged, if there isn’t good evidence that they did something illegal. Whether they had become politically active, and then lost an election to a political opponent, would not play a role in this.

  155. KI Says:

    Radford Neal #154

    As a matter of fact, Manhattan District Attorney is trying to investigate Trump right now, by subpoenaing Trump’s returns. But subpoena was charged in courts, first on the grounds of immunity, and then Trump’s position became that it aims at undermining him politically rather than investigating actual crimes. Are you saying that the investigation should be dropped because if there were something wrong with the documents Trump is fighting to hide, he “would already have been charged”?

    Whether you are charged and convicted certainly should not depend on whether you became politically active, but it is a fair game for everyone to look for what a politically active person could be charged for. If you’re a president, you are in a spotlight, and be sure that smart people will look for evidence, and you might not get away with a crime most other multi-millionnaires get away with. Once someone (say, a media outlet) has found something, it is impossible to push the toothpaste back in the tube.

    To me, some NYT findings, e. g., paying to Ivanka for “consulting” and then deducing it as a business expense, look very much like possible tax fraud. See nothing banana-republicky in investigating it.

  156. fred Says:

    I really love Scott’s thousand-yard-stare in that selfie.

    The man is directly looking at the horrors coming our way…

  157. Gerard Says:

    Radford Neal #154

    In an actual banana republic political battles are typically resolved by firing squad.

    The US is a much more civilized monkey circus. The volume and complexity of laws has grown without bound to the extent that no one engaged in any kind of business activity can be certain they are in strict compliance. However it isn’t in anyone’s interest to imprison all productive members of society so the system relies on “prosecutorial discretion”. This gives prosecutors and Attorney’s General enormous power to disrupt the lives of anyone they don’t like.

    The fact is that Trump has made himself some very powerful enemies due to his words and actions that have so often gone far beyond the bounds of what most consider acceptable political discourse. Were I in his shoes I would not rest easy.

    That said he has the advantage of being a billionaire which means that he can hire the very best lawyers to fight any charges that are brought. He may very well win because another characteristic of the US “justice” system is that the result often depends on the size of a defendant’s legal budget.

    So I think that while there is a fairly high likelihood that Trump will face some criminal charges after leaving office, I wouldn’t necessarily bet on him ever doing time.

  158. fred Says:

    Talking about corruption and what can be prosecuted and not, let’s remember this:

    “In December, 2013, Vice-President Biden flew to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping. Biden often asked one of his grandchildren to accompany him on his international trips, and he invited Finnegan to come on this one. Hunter told his father that he wanted to join them. According to a Beijing-based BHR representative, Hunter, shortly after arriving in Beijing, on December 4th, helped arrange for Li to shake hands with his father in the lobby of the American delegation’s hotel. Afterward, Hunter and Li had what both parties described as a social meeting. Hunter told me that he didn’t understand why anyone would have been concerned about this. “How do I go to Beijing, halfway around the world, and not see them for a cup of coffee?” he said.

    Hunter’s meeting with Li and his relationship with BHR attracted little attention at the time, but some of Biden’s advisers were worried that Hunter, by meeting with a business associate during his father’s visit, would expose the Vice-President to criticism.”

    but, let’s congratulate Biden on this move back in 2019:

    For reference, the company that hired Hunter :

    the wiki entry above has been cleaned of any negative story about BHR, which can still ben seen in the history:

    “BHR, according to reporting in The Intercept, invested in Face++, a mobile phone app built by the Chinese government to introduce a mass surveillance state and spy on its citizens. The application has been used to spy on Muslims in China’s western province of Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Muslims are being held in “re-education” camps, providing government authorities access to data that shows personal information.”

    “In August 2019, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has called on the Treasury Department to investigate CFIUS’s 2015 approval of AVIC’s acquisition of a U.S. automotive supplier Henniges. The state-run AVIC was involved in stealing sensitive data regarding the Joint Strike Fighter program and later incorporated the stolen data into China’s Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang FC-31 fighters.”

    “Investments in China General Nuclear (CGN), 3Bio Inc., and Didi Taxi. In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department charged CGN with stealing nuclear secrets from the United States.”

    But don’t you worry guys, there’s really nothing wrong with the son of a VPOTUS making an honest buck from Making China Great Again!

  159. Job Says:

    In some ways, i wonder if embracing a marketplace for ballots is not the right thing to do.

    Maybe that’s how you’d vote, by selling the ballot. That would certainly increase engagement.

    You could still give the ballot away, in support of a candidate, or throw it away. But it would mean more.

    There would probably be a focus on authentication, no one wants to buy fake votes right.

    Plus, think of how ballot prices would fluctuate across different states. Kind of like how things are today, but in more explicit terms.

    And the ballot sale could still be anonymous. Maybe use crypto?

  160. michael Says:

    fred #158
    I heartily agree – no one should vote for Hunter Biden in this election. Similarly, no one should vote for anyone who pays more taxes to China than they do to the US.

  161. Nilima Nigam Says:

    “And if this post helped spur you in any way, please say so in the comments. It will improve my mood, thereby helping me finish my next post, which will be on the Continuum Hypothesis.”

    The cumulative effect of your many posts over the years has been very positive, and likely inspired lots of young people who are interested in science to continue pursuing it in all spheres of life. This has been reinforced by your reputation in the all-important Marvel Fans universe as a “a real-life [Tony] Stark without the vast fortune and fancy suit.”

    Why does this matter? Well, at least up here in BC, young people who are scientifically-minded and deeply concerned about the environment are shaking up the local political landscape. They are happy to see scientists who are also concerned about the fate of humanity, and to see that rational, decent debate is possible. Their scientifically-informed views can be seen in the platforms of all the major parties running in this election.

    So while this isn’t the USA, I hope evidence of your impact (direct/indirect) cheers you up, and that you finish your post on the Continuum Hypothesis.

  162. Suma Dartson Says:

    Two predictions, Scott: 1) Biden will win this election 2) before his term his up, you will wish he hadn’t – you will express this wish in a blogpost on this blog sometime between 2021 and 2023 (I can’t narrow these time bounds any further without compromising the accuracy of my prediction).

  163. Scott Says:

    Suma Dartson #162: I’m genuinely curious. In your alternate universe, how exactly do I come to regret Biden’s victory? Does my life get destroyed by an online cancel-mob? Such an event remains possible, of course, but what exactly would Biden have to do with it? Or, like, does the world get destroyed via some chain of events involving Hunter’s emails?

  164. fred Says:

    The latest predictions (pretty well put together):

  165. fred Says:

    Sum Dartson #162

    There’s really no downside to getting rid of one’s TDS.
    For years to come it will be something like “Sure, everything’s pretty bad… but still way better than it would be if Trump was still around!”.

  166. OhMyGoodness Says:

    fred #164

    Monte Carlo simulations are worthless exercises that just suggest more importance than they contain if there are biases in the underlying central tendency statistics and distributions. If you run simulations millions of times with biased underlying statistics it doesn’t add anything at all of importance to the forecast but just provides a number that appears more convincing to many. I have no reasonable certainty what the outcome will be but if they are offering 87/12 odds then I have dollars I will risk.

  167. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Fred #156

    Clear from the photo that his wife is the font of calm wisdom in his family. 🙂

  168. fred Says:

    OhMyGoodness #166

    As I read your comment I was just watching a video with Sean Carroll and other physicists about many world, the meaning of probabilities, etc.
    They all disagree with one another.

    So I think the only effect of the 87/12 probability is to soothe the anxiety of the voters that are on the 87 side, and raise the anxiety of the voters on the 12 side, and therefore possibly affecting the motivation to vote or getting pumped to contest the election.

    But I do wonder whether that probability is close to the corresponding quantum probability of taking the present wave function of the universe, from now till the day of the election, and then taking the square of the amplitudes of all the macro states where Biden wins.

  169. Arul Says:

    Every year since 2004 it has been like the most important election. Right now 2020 beats them all. We knew 2004 was more important than 2000. 2008 more so than 2004 and so on. Will there be a 2024 to worry about?

  170. OhMyGoodness Says:

    fred #168

    Have you started the quantum calculations? 🙂

    My model of corporate offices in mature large corporations is they consist of various groups of people trying to poison each other with PowerPoint presentations. A few decades ago Monte Carlo simulations were a state of the art weapon in some industries and produced elegant slides
    . No one had a clue what the underlying distributions were but jazz it up with Monte Carlo and simple minded bureaucrats had simple numbers they could plug in to forms. The trick was to bias the underlying distributions that Monte Carlo sampled from in a manner that supported the desired decision outcome. Inevitably when the results were far different then expected (at the bad end tail) it was noted that the Monte Carlo showed a 1/1000 chance the results would be this bad and so the analysis was sound. 🙂

    I don’t know anything about 538 but your explanation sounds plausible. If you did get 87/12 then you could cover with a bet on Biden at Paddy Power. 🙂

  171. anonymous Says:

    Scott #163: I actually think a roaring hyperinflation is a very possible scenario after a Biden win. The political climate and the extent of money printing already done because of the coronavirus, and the willingness of the democratic party to ignore any fiscal responsibility, and their ambitious climate change goals (while I agree with the necessity of climate change actions, if you do this wrong you can ruin the economy). If we get 80s style inflation believe me you’d wish to just have a moron spewing hatred in the white house.

    Biden’s weakness with China can be even worse and we can end up with China being a bigger economy than the U.S, and given their human rights violations and dictatorial government, this will be a very bad thing for humanity to have so much power in their hands.

  172. Gerard Says:

    anonymous #171

    > If we get 80s style inflation believe me you’d wish to just have a moron spewing hatred in the white house.

    If time travel were an option I’m sure there are lots of people who would gladly trade 2020 for 1980. Also remember which party was in charge during the 80’s.

    > Biden’s weakness with China can be even worse and we can end up with China being a bigger economy than the U.S

    That’s likely inevitable at some point no matter who is the White House. It’s just a fact we’re all going to have to learn to live with.

  173. Daniel Seita Says:

    Hi Scott,

    So, three and a half years ago, I asked if you were interested in running for political office.

    Your response:

    Now, has anything changed? Do you think you could do a better job than some elected officials?

  174. John Baez Says:

    “If we get 80s style inflation believe me you’d wish to just have a moron spewing hatred in the white house. ”

    I lived through the 1980s and believe me, I’d really prefer to have the inflation of those days than the moron we have now spewing hatred in the White House.

  175. Scott Says:

    Daniel Seita #173:

      So, three and a half years ago, I asked if you were interested in running for political office … Now, has anything changed? Do you think you could do a better job than some elected officials?

    One could do better than at least half of elected officials by doing absolutely nothing. That’s way too low of a bar.

    Of course I could make pretty good decisions if I somehow attained office. So could many of the commenters here (though certainly not all of them).

    The hard part is winning an election. I didn’t even make a very good showing running for student government, or president of the Cornell CS undergraduate association.

    Let me put it this way: despite being a bullied, socially-inept, neurosis-filled nerd, I’ve dated and am now married with two kids. I have a successful career doing what I love, and colleagues who stood by me even when thousands of strangers on the Internet tried to cancel me. I have tens of thousands of people who read my writing or watch my talks and interviews on YouTube. I’ve already done way more than could reasonably be expected on the “getting others to like me” front, without needing to push my luck by running for elected office.

  176. James Gallagher Says:

    Don’t you worry that Trump will lose so easily that all your carping will come back to haunt you?


    But it’s just politics, it’s not a scientific revolution with Biden, it’s just a smokescreen for likes of you to think the world is good again.

    You have another elderly white man in charge of your country, who will barely change anything.

  177. Arul Says:

    With no growth in the western world and resource infrastructure still being maintained by command economies in the eastern side tied directly to mid east economies it is hard to see inflation coming for a generation or so without a major event on a scale of at least the pandemic for a substantial period of time. This statement probably can be put in financial economic jargon formally. I do not know how to do it and if he wins (which is a good point even at this stage) his influence will be there for even beyond the foreseeable future.

  178. Scott Says:

    James Gallagher #176: I’ll gladly accept an outcome where Trump loses and concedes so easily that I look silly. Believe me that that’s the least of my worries!

    And I don’t accept the wokeish premise that you can judge someone by the fact that they’re an “elderly white man.” It actually matters whether we’re talking about an elderly white man who, in his rambling, stuttering way, supports liberal Enlightenment values, or one whose supporters can be easily induced at a rally to offer Nazi salutes and chant that we should “cut journalists up the way the Saudis do” (have you seen the new Borat movie yet?).

  179. anonymous Says:

    John Baez #174: Then you’re truly suffering from TDS. If a moron in the white house which doesn’t effect your day to day lives is worse than 12% annual inflation rate while your wages don’t rise accordingly, your savings are burned and discarded and you’re in the critical stage of life trying to start a family, and remember this will happen while still suffering from 2020’s damage (just because 1980 weren’t as shit doesn’t mean getting similar inflation in 2020 wouldn’t be disasterous).

    But hey, maybe you’re just one of those boomers already sitting on their money, getting their fat pension, then maybe you couldn’t care less about young people getting destroyed economically by other boomer Biden policies.

  180. Nick Says:

    anonymous #179

    All that money-printing you’re worried about? It has already happened, and it was enacted by Trump. I have a nice letter on my fridge right now that was sent to me from Trump himself via the IRS. In it, he claims that he “proudly signed into law” the CARES Act. “Fast and direct economic assistance to you” — wow!

    Calling that a “Biden policy” is really dumb. You know that Biden doesn’t currently hold any office at all, right? Trump commandeered IRS communications to personally take credit for all that money being sent out. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on all the funny business that has been keeping the stock market propped up. Do you actually think an elderly plutocrat like Trump has the slightest interest in whether or not you’re able to start a family?

    This is just like those Trump ads that show pictures of burning buildings along with the text “BIDEN’S AMERICA”. No, it’s been Trump’s America for four years. All those stores got looted in Trump’s America, and all that money got printed in Trump’s America.

  181. JimV Says:

    In response to anonymous at 179, I also lived through the 1980’s and it was no big deal. The Republican trope of inflation-mongering has been going on practically my whole life without any evidence. The irony of it is that the major driver of inflation is the government spending more than it collects in taxes which is what happens under (wait for it) Republican administrations!

    The much maligned Clinton administration raised taxes and reduced the size of government and left us with, in the words of Alan Greenspan “surpluses as far as the eye can see”–which GB II promptly gave away in tax breaks to the rich.

    Prior to Reagan and Bush II (Bush I recognized “voodoo economics” when he saw it) the USA economy (under Democrat administrations) was the best it has ever been. Helluva job, Reagan, Bush II, and Trump.

    Had there been Democrats in power during those years, college educations would be better subsidized, the minimum wage would be higher, there would be tax incentives for corporations keeping their jobs in the USA, and yes, rich people would be paying top marginal rates of around 50-60% (not the 70-90% they paid under Eisenhower, though). (Remember those years fondly? You should.)

    You’ve been screwed, yes–by the Republicans. The Boomers who screwed you were the ones who voted for Reagan, Bush, and Trump. Some I knew personally got $100 more back in their tax refunds by voting for Reagan and were proud of it. I get the strong feeling you would have done exactly the same. “Every man for himself” seems to be the Republican motto.

  182. Gerard Says:

    anonymous #179

    Losing 12% purchasing power would be significant but not catastrophic for the median American household.

    What are some things that would be catastrophic ?

    • Becoming seriously ill or dying of covid.
    • Losing your job because of covid shutdowns.
    • Not being able to get health insurance due to preexisting conditions while unemployed/self-employed.

    All evidence suggests that the likelihood of these and many other disastrous outcomes would be far higher under a Trump/Republican administration than under a Biden/Democratic one.

    Electing a president who has no respect for the truth and no compassion for anyone who isn’t at least a millionaire has very real consequences for millions of people. It astonishes me that 40% of the US population either can’t see that or doesn’t care, especially given that most of those 40% come from classes that are typically very poorly insulated from the vicissitudes of life.

    It seems self-evident to me that unless you are certain that your economic status is unassailable the rational approach must be to support policies that are expected to lead to the greatest mean increase in utility across the population. It is also self-evident that the marginal utility of an increase in resources is a strongly decreasing function of the amount of resources you already possess.

  183. Gerard Says:

    Here’s a statistic that I think deserves more attention.

    According to the CDC there have been nearly 300000 excess deaths in 2020 through the beginning of October. That’s almost 100000 more than the number of official covid deaths.

    That seems like a pretty hard number to explain for anyone who thinks that the severity of covid is being exaggerated or that Trump is doing a good job of running the country.

  184. fred Says:

    James #176

    “But it’s just politics, it’s not a scientific revolution with Biden, it’s just a smokescreen for likes of you to think the world is good again.”

    I’m not saying any of the following as some sort of support for Trump, but that the Left went about it the wrong way all along, and there will be a price to pay for all this eventually.
    Just like Trump blames everything on foreigners, the Left has been blaming everything on Trump. It’s so much more simple when you can do that.

    The problem is that we’ve basically been in an election year for the past 4 years, i.e. nothing but crying wolf in the name of losing in 2016. The Democratic party just went along the click-bait narratives that the likes of CNN ad NBC have been putting out for 4 years, driving up their ratings.

    At first it was two years of constant relentless outrage over the so-called Russian control of the 2016 election. It all amounted to pretty much nothing.
    Then it was the outrage over so-called Ukraine corruption, and it’s now clearly documented that Biden’s meddling/corruption in Ukraine and China has been just as bad if not worse, but totally ignored.
    Then it was covid (one wonders what it would be like if covid never happened).
    The covid situation is all but Trump’s fault. Never mind that Trump did send the army hospital ship and set up a military hospitals here in NYC, when we needed it, never mind the extraordinary successful effort over making the respirators, same with the vaccines, and then the testing. Never mind that Cuomo thanked Trump on many occasions. Then we had protest and riots, and suddenly covid didn’t exist – progressive mayors were telling us that protesting for BLM was more important than stopping the spread.
    Now we’re being told that Trump carries the whole responsibility for the 80,000 new covid cases per day we’re currently seeing in the US.
    Ok… but the reality is that France right now is having 45,000 new covid cases per day (so half the cases of the for a country that’s an order of magnitude smaller). That’s with a young, progressive, science-oriented President, a population that’s entirely mask friendly, and top notch researchers.
    So, what’s gonna happen once Biden is in office and it’s clear there’s no magic bullet? Even the WHO now says lockdown was a mistake and isn’t acceptable because the effects on the economies are too dire.
    I’m guessing they’ll claim they’ve inherited everything from Trump, so it’s not really their fault. How long is that going to fly? Maybe it won’t matter because even the people who suffer from TDS know it’s really all bullshit?
    After all, they already agree that Trump is a symptom and not the root of the disease… and we’re told the only answer to the disease is wokeness.

  185. fred Says:

    For the record, I donated to Andrew Yang, then even decided to donate to Biden at some point.
    But in the end I decided to vote Libertarian, just as a fuck you to the two parties. I’m just sick of all this bullshit.

  186. anonymous Says:

    Nick #180: I’m already concerned about the money printing that has already happened. I’m even more concerned that somehow even with Trump breaking records of debt, his opposition seems to think the right idea forward is to print even more than him.

    I would be glad if the opposition took the opposing side in this, instead of seeing it as a recklessness and short-sightedness contest. I would praise them for their responsibility. But what I see instead is a race to the bottom. I don’t actually trust Trump on this for a second, but I trust the democratic party in their promise to surpass his recklessness, and I think the republicans are showing more fiscal responsibility, with Trump actually being the exception.

  187. Gerard Says:

    fred #184

    > the reality is that France right now is having 45,000 new covid cases per day (so half the cases of the for a country that’s an order of magnitude smaller).

    The population of France is 67 million vs. 329 million for the US, so quite a bit less than an order of magnitude difference. But yeah the latest numbers are huge in both countries. It looks increasingly like sooner or later everyone will get covid regardless of government policies, unless an effective vaccine becomes widely available quite soon.

  188. anonymous Says:

    Gerard #183: I got an explanation for you: economic recession causes deaths. This isn’t some covid denial made up statistics, there is actual scientific research, although from different recessions. You can look up the book capital flight, or Google around and see for yourself.

    I’m not saying Covid-19 isn’t serious or that actions shouldn’t be taken, just that with the excess mortality statistics you might accidently tuck in people who died because of the actions against coronavirus (suicides, heart attacks, etc) as a proof of those actions necessity, instead of a proof of the costs. Unless you give real statistics about where this deaths come from, they might even contradict your point.

  189. Gerard Says:

    anonymous #188

    I agree that we don’t understand the causes of these deaths. 2020 has produced a kind of natural experiment where different states and even cities/counties have implemented different policies. Unfortunately as far as I can tell the detailed mortality data broken down by county and cause of death is not publicly available, though it seems clear that the federal, state and local governments already have this data. One of the things competent political leadership should certainly have done by now is break down these silos so that the raw data can be analyzed, which might allow covid policy to be put on a sound rational basis rather than just relying on blind faith in official “experts”, who I believe have been completely out of their depth since this pandemic began.

  190. Mike Says:

    Anonymous @188: As many articles have been written throughout the course of the pandemic excess deaths are caused by people with existing conditions who cannot easily seek treatment because they need to visit a health centre which is full of people who do or may have the virus.

    Consider the risk of having an risk-magnifying underlying health condition and having a car accident or heart-attack, and the difficulty of first-responders in being able to reach you and treat you without possibly passing on COVID-19.

    Yes recessions cause deaths, but the numbers are going to vary with the underlying health of your social-support culture. The US health system is a basket case with or without recession and people are dying in excess numbers because of it – even before COVID. In other countries with better health systems, the numbers will be much more moderate.

    @various commentators: I’m seeing the enduring habit of US commenters only noticing what’s going on in the rest of the world when the numbers suit. Pointing to the small number of countries with equal or worse results than the US (for anything) is missing the point that you’re at the back of the pack despite having the best resources in the world. EVERY country had to deal with this sudden event, but the US has done particularly poorly even with better access to information that could have forestalled hundreds of thousands of deaths. If the bar is only go to be “better than 30 countries” (as one commenter cheered) then you have to realise that 164 countries have done better.

  191. fred Says:

    Gerard #187 #189

    Thanks for the correction.

    As far as covid goes, it seems that in many countries there is a stark divide where the poorest are the ones accounting for the most cases.
    This isn’t surprising of course – if employed, they can’t afford to skip work and can’t work from home, which drives up infection rates, and they’re also less willing to go to the doctor until things are really bad, which drives up the chance of a bad outcome.

  192. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Mike #190: I’ve just had a look (via Worldometers) at the world’s countries ranked by deaths per million, and (via Statista) at US states ranked by deaths per 100,000.

    The Americas in general (Canada excepted) have the highest death rates, followed by much of Europe. But US states vary enormously in their death rates. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey have done worse than any country did; Texas compares to Italy, California perhaps to France; and many US states did very well.

    I wish I knew how to interpret this. Is it that the west is cosmopolitan (so the virus spread quickly), but doesn’t have Asian social discipline (and thus performed comprehensively worse than Asia)? Also, we have a lot more old people than most of the developing world. Maybe that’s part of why the west overall ‘did badly’. But what accounts for the regional variations within the west?

  193. fred Says:

    It’s quite hard to find a good comparison between countries.
    The US is a way more open society than most other Western countries. Open in terms of population diversity (lots of very different communities), density of population and tourism in coastal cities (NYC), and then a bigger disparity between the poor and the rich.
    The US is plagued by chronic medical conditions, like obesity/diabetes (with no political push to address).
    Also the fact that this is an election year didn’t help at all.

    But the point is that many Western countries that don’t have to deal with all this aren’t doing all that great.
    And as far as I’m concerned those are the countries I keep an eye on, because I’ve lived there most of my life.
    The trend in Belgium is very disturbing:
    This is for a population of 11 millions.



    Death rate don’t bump up as much (yet?).
    Maybe the virus has mutated to being more transmissible and hopefully less lethal (a french virologist was claiming this a few day sago), which wouldn’t be surprising since this is all driven by (natural) selection.

  194. Some Indian Says:

    Best of luck for getting rid of your demagogue. If it is some relief to you, most likely US will get over it.

    Wish us luck for overcoming ours.

  195. Election prediction (Again) | chorasimilarity Says:

    […] The result will probably bring no big surprise, though. I felt the need to make such a post after reading through comments at the interesting Scott Aaronson post here. […]

  196. atreat Says:

    Scott, I’ve already made sure my wife/kids passports are all up2date. New Zealand you say? That is on my short list. Others I’ve been considering: Norway, France, UK, Australia…

  197. Anon2 Says:

    Gerard #182:

    Are the democrat policies actually better for the poor though?

    The hard truth is that fighting climate change is not good for the poor. Trying to avoid a possible global cataclysm happening in 30 years sounds like a no-brainer if you have got everything. But if you are losing your job and going to die lonely in 30 years anyway? Fuck it give me a job now.

    This problem requires a better solution than mocking people as stupid.

  198. Jo Says:

    A commenter (Fred #184) brought up France:
    “That’s with a young, progressive, science-oriented President, a population that’s entirely mask friendly, and top notch researchers.”

    Well, I would argue that our president has old ideas in his head, is not progressive at all (for France), the population is not really mask friendly (without mask mandates almost nobody wore them) and has not understood the nature of the threat (24 hours before mandated curfews because the situation is almost out of control, bars/restaurants are packed (outside seating) with people “having one last beer” and “showing support for the bars/restaurants”…)

    The french government’s response to Covid is its own scandal, and not the subject of this blog. But pointing at failed responses elsewhere in the world does not negate the catastrophic response of the Trump admin!

    To go back to one item, no the french president is not science-oriented. He is only science-oriented in some pretty french-politician-speeches, but does not at all walk the talk. In fact public research has never been in such a bad situation, budget cuts, no job openings and so on. France *had* research to be proud of. Now most researchers spend their time begging for money to various administrative structures so they can mount 10.000€ experiments.
    Granted this change started before the current president, research on bat-borne virii was cut before his time (I think.)
    Emmanuelle Charpentier, winner of this year’s Nobel prize in chemistry with Jennifer Doudna fro CRISPR-Cas9, is French but has not worked in France since her PhD! At some point she applied for a job in France’s largest research institute (CNRS) and failed because basically “her resume/achievements were not strong enough” … A friggin’ future Nobel prize winner! Way to go, French research system!

    And about the president… He criticizes french social sciences because (I think) they’re too “woke” since they study the mechanisms of racial domination, something taboo for the french political elite:

    Now maybe if the president respected science (including social sciences) the preparedness and response to the covid crisis would have been better. Maybe if science (including social sciences) were properly funded, future Nobel prize winners would not be arbitrarily rejected, and applicants (especially in social science) would not have to utter “woke” and/or “blind allegiance” shibboleths to be accepted, and there would be enough room for a diversity of point of views and healthy construction of scientific consensus, where it makes sense.

    What part of the “woke” phenomenon in academia is due simply to competition for a scarce resource (jobs) that is resolved by more and more absurd means?

  199. Gerard Says:

    Anon2 #197

    I agree that finding the best course of action on climate change is not a simple problem. Personally I suspect that the answer lies somewhere between the extremes of abolishing the EPA and extracting hydrocarbons like JD Rockefeller, as Trump would have us do, and abolishing the petro-chemical and transportation industries so we can all go back to living like hunter-gatherers, as some on the left seem to want. To that I would add that innovative technologies like CO2 extraction from the atmosphere and methods to directly cool the planet should also be developed and I think we should be beginning some large scale demonstration projects in these areas.

    I’m cautiously optimistic that Joe Biden might be able to put us on a somewhat sensible course on this issue.

    But in any case you’re talking about 2nd order effects relative to the blindingly obvious core difference in philosophy between the two parties. In sum the Republicans care nothing for the less fortunate and would be happy to see them all die of starvation or from lack of basic medical care while the Democrats consider protecting those who have lost the lottery of life to be a core function of society.

  200. Gerard Says:

    Jo #198

    With regard to Emmanuelle Charpentier note that Steve Cook was rejected by Berkeley a year before he discovered the theory of NP-completeness, so these things do happen, scandalous as they may be.

    I wasn’t able to read the entire Le Monde article because I’m not a subscriber but the quote from Emamanuel Macron strikes me as a short, sweet and accurate portrayal of the disservice a certain portion of the academic community has been doing to our society.

    « Il a encouragé l’ethnicisation de la question sociale en pensant que c’était un bon filon, a poursuivi le président. Or, le débouché ne peut être que sécessionniste. Cela revient à casser la République en deux. »

    My (approximate) translation:

    “It (the academic world) encouraged the ethnicisation of of the social question. The result can only be secessionist, it amounts to breaking the Republic in two.”

  201. fred Says:

    Jo #198

    “But pointing at failed responses elsewhere in the world does not negate the catastrophic response of the Trump admin!”

    Correct, but it does show that the proper response to covid isn’t obvious at all, and it’s important to manage expectations once Trump is out.

    If France/Belgium/Spain/Italy/Germany populations can’t deal with masks, noone in the West will.

    As far as Macron goes, sure, he’s not perfect, but he’s very pro-European (one of the last). After decades of trying the conventional parties, the population has run out of patience with both the left (socialists) and the right… so Macron was kind of the last “centrist” option.
    After him, what are the real options besides Le Front National or Communism?

  202. fred Says:

    atreat #196

    “Scott, I’ve already made sure my wife/kids passports are all up2date. New Zealand you say? That is on my short list. Others I’ve been considering: Norway, France, UK, Australia…”

    How cute…if you think all it takes to permanently move abroad is your passport, you’re in for a big surprise… at best you’ll be dealing with a country that has an meritocracy based immigration (like Canada, Australia, etc), which ironically is what Trump wants to put in place here in the US. Oh, the irony and hypocrisy of you people.

  203. Ethan Says:

    Jo #198 Gerard #200

    While unrelated to the main topic of the conversation, I already said that France has little to teach the United States when it comes to identifying and developing exceptional talent because while it is true that in one specific area -mathematics- it has one school -ENS- that produces world class excellence, there is a lot of nepotism involved in the process of selecting talent in France today.

    To the cases mentioned in the thread, I would add France’s only winner of the Turing Award, Yann LeCun. He went to an OK engineering school, but not one of those populated by France’s elite. He developed his Turing Award winning work largely in the United States with Canadian collaborators.

    If you are an ambitious individual interested in pursuing your dreams, the United States plays in its own league given the vast opportunities available to those willing to seize them. This will remain the case irrespective of who wins the election one week from now. All those people promising to leave the country if the other party wins will say “never mind” on November 4th.

  204. Gerard Says:

    fred #202

    Someone of Scott’s stature would probably have little difficulty in moving to any country that he would want to live in, but you’re right that for the majority of us it’s either not a realistic option or at best a very difficult one. I almost succeeded in permanently migrating to France in the 90’s but after more than 12 years there I was forced to return to my country of birth due to some of the vicissitudes to which my life has proven so vulnerable.

  205. Mike Says:

    Fred @201 wrote : “If France/Belgium/Spain/Italy/Germany populations can’t deal with masks, noone in the West will.”

    I raise you New Zealand / Australia / Canada.

    In my state of NSW where we’ve had low 1-2 digit new cases for weeks after our second wave (and most of those are incoming passengers who are quarantined), there is still a strong mask-wearing mentality. We’ve seen how our neighbours in Victoria have had to endure a months-long lockdown to get back to these figures, and know how easily it can spike up again, given how urbanised our populations are.

  206. fred Says:

    Gerard #204

    The hypocrisy is indeed high when academics are waving around their privilege to move wherever they please at the first sign of things not going their way… they’re also American born, i.e. they never even explicitly chose to become American, it’s just something that landed in their lap.
    It’s because they’re so used to siphon young bright brains from other countries, so leaving one’s roots can’t be a big deal, right?
    Those people would never have endured through the civil war or the civil rights movement.
    In contrast, first generation immigrants and the unprivileged masses seem to understand better that the American experiment was supposed to be easy.

    At least, if those people do move abroad, I sure hope they put their money (*) where their mouth is and renounce their American citizenship.

    (*) talking about money, good luck to them with moving their financial assets out of the US.

  207. fred Says:

    Another interesting video from Sabine, nice to see someone try and do some constructive analysis, for a change:

  208. Ethan Says:

    fred #206

    As an immigrant who is an American by choice not by accident of birth, I completely agree with everything you say except for this,

    “At least, if those people do move abroad, I sure hope they put their money (*) where their mouth is and renounce their American citizenship.”

    I would love for these “American born citizens who have romantic views of other countries” to move for a while to their idolized country of choice to test empirically their proposition. Every single personal case I know -irrespective of their ideological persuasion of the American- who tests it ends up regretting the move. I vividly recall someone -very liberal in the American sense, defender of the European nanny state- who moved to Germany for 1-2 years because of this person’s spouse profession and who ended up hating the place.

    Asking these ungrateful Americans to renounce their US citizenship when they move abroad is a bridge too far. I rather have them return and preach in their circles of influence their mistaken views.

    God bless the USA!

  209. Gerard Says:

    fred #206

    Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical for you, an immigrant (unless I’ve misunderstood several of your posts), to denigrate those who choose to emigrate ? Because it certainly sounds like that’s what you’re doing.

  210. Mike Says:

    Ethan #208

    ‘Every single personal case I know -irrespective of their ideological persuasion of the American- who tests it ends up regretting the move.”

    Empirically, there are millions of Americans who have chosen to settle in other countries, and many changed their citizenship (often because of the US double-taxation laws). I’ve worked with them in Australia, UK and France to name a few.

    See also: which provides referenced numbers

  211. fred Says:

    Gerard #209

    My motivation to emigrate/immigrate sure wasn’t over losing my mind over “my side” not winning some freaking election and equate it all as the new Shoah.
    I simply wanted to experience more of the world, to open my mind.

    Ethan #206

    That’s right.
    And the Americans who romanticize other countries are often the same ones who keep bringing up that American ‘exceptionalism’ is dead – they’ll shout “When it comes to xyz, the US ought to be doing so much better than the rest of the world! What an outrage! This place no longer deserves me!”.
    Of course that very demand/belief in American exceptionalism is itself yet another confused romantic view… with this type of delusions they’ll never happy anywhere. In fact exceptionalism is nothing more than an aspiration (those are good to have!), but not a right… we all gotta work on it.

    I’ve lived 25 years in Europe, 25 years in the US, and I can say they both equally suck in their own ways.
    The highs are higher and the lows are lower in the US. In Europe, there’s a very middle of the road contentment about things (at best people aspire to becoming “bourgeois”), while at the same time people love to constantly bitch about *everything*.
    I love NYC with all my heart, I love its energy, I love its variety of people… whenever I go back to Brussels or Paris, sure, the food is better, people dress better, but after two days it’s very difficult to deal with the lack of energy and the depressing homogeneity.
    Many Americans are currently being very confused by wokeness, i.e. America has convinced itself and the rest of the world that it’s the most racist country, with the worst institutional racism, … again, no place is perfect, but the reality is that Europe is the place that has made hardly any progress on that side for decades, they’re incapable of having any nuanced way to make any progress on it – the best they can do is banning head scarfs, stacking immigrants in isolated suburbs and treat them as second class citizens, or electing actual neo-nazi politicians.
    And don’t get me started on the racism in Asia…

    Anyway, another interesting Sam Harris podcast about the virus

  212. Gerard Says:

    @ fred, Mike, Ethan

    In my experience the biggest downside of Europe compared to the US is the money. I was brought up with the “romantic” notion that money didn’t matter all that much and I thought that someone with a decent education would always be able to make “enough”. It turns out that was a fantasy. In the US engineers do seem to be payed enough that you don’t really need to spend much time worrying about money (as long as you can remain employed and don’t run into health issues) but that wasn’t really true in France, especially in the public sector.

  213. Ethan Says:

    Mike #208

    I understand. I am talking of what I know in my personal circle. What you say and what I say are compatible statements. I stand by my invitation to those who want to give it a try.

    A few years ago both Tina Turner and Eduardo Saverin (lesser known by the general public but one of the co-founders of Facebook who made billions of dollars off Facebook) gave up their American citizenship. Theirs is not the average case either of Americans living abroad.

    fred #211

    Without getting into specifics -although some people might suspect that my knowledge of the French education system gives out some of those-, my experience is pretty much like yours. I particularly resonate with this,

    “whenever I go back to Brussels or Paris, sure, the food is better, people dress better, but after two days it’s very difficult to deal with the lack of energy and the depressing homogeneity.”

    I think that “depressing” is an understatement. When I go back to Europe it’s mostly for family reasons. After a few days, I can’t wait to return where I feel most at home here in the United States. I doubt I will go back often once my parents are gone -hopefully many years down the road.

    “Many Americans are currently being very confused by wokeness, i.e. America has convinced itself and the rest of the world that it’s the most racist country, with the worst institutional racism,”

    Not all Americans are like that. They are certainly the majority in the large metropolitan areas such as NYC’s but there are plenty of Americans who love their country’s exceptionalism all while acknowledging its faults without being necessarily uneducated. You have to pick better friends and stop watching CNN :-).

    In short, becoming an American citizen and renouncing my former citizenship is one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life. The EU feels like a decaying museum site. Around 20 years ago, it still had ambitions of world domination as unrealistic as they were then with proposals such as the Lisbon Strategy . Now they don’t try to hide it anymore that they are in full blown decadence, each country on its own. I think that covid19 has accelerated the process started with Brexit of EU disintegration.

    God Bless the USA! Going forward is us vs China.

  214. Ethan Says:

    fred #211

    BTW, if you feel like, Scott can introduce us over email, and I will be happy to be more specific once I know who you are. I prefer to keep the most details private as possible in the public internet.

  215. Mike Says:

    Gerard #212

    “but that wasn’t really true in France, especially in the public sector.”

    I lived in France for about three years in the last decade. The cost of living was much lower than in the US, and the healthcare was all taken care of – even my dog’s medical insurance was covered! I think my quarterly health insurance contributions were about the same as what I paid for one prescription of medicines when I lived in the US. (Those medicines cost 17x as much in the US as in Australia).

    Yes the French public service mentality there is completely depressing, but was also true in the US. My memories of dealing with endless bureaucracy over Green Card and other certifications in the US in the early 2000s were not very different to the French in 2012. The last time I entered the US, I was taken aside at the airport and told by US Homeland Security that when I got residency I was not supposed to EVER leave the country again!

    True story: I was walking down the ramp to the airplane when I departed the US after five years. A security official pulled me over to ask if I was taking over $10,000 in cash with me. I said I wasn’t taking any money. He looked puzzled “Why”.
    – “We have our own money in Australia”.

  216. Ethan Says:

    Gerard #212

    “I was brought up with the “romantic” notion that money didn’t matter all that much and I thought that someone with a decent education would always be able to make “enough”. It turns out that was a fantasy.”

    Right there you describe the “statist fantasy”: increase taxes, give control to government over the most important areas of a person’s life (education, healthcare) and everything will be fine. Well, it’s great for high placed government bureaucrats that get paid handsome salaries. For the average citizen, it’s a pretty bad deal. Every statist experience ends up the same. The covid19 epidemic is exposing this fact when it comes to healthcare. The worst affected -by far- European countries during the March-June wave of the epidemic (France, Italy, Spain, the UK) all had single payer systems whose bureaucrats made life/death decisions with respect to who would get life saving healthcare and who wouldn’t. Compare that situation with Germany’s or the United States were none was denied care because people had choice due to the over capacity of their systems built over the years due to the multi-payer nature of their healthcare systems. The over capacity of multi-payer systems is totally unrelated to the conversation over whether lockdowns are a good/bad strategy to deal with the epidemic (now even the World Health Organization has come out against indiscriminate lockdowns).

    Big Government is about one thing and one thing only: control of the average citizen by government bureaucrats. We in the United States have been spared of this for both education and healthcare although we came close to fall into the trap in the aftermath of the 2008 election (irrespective of who wins next week we have turned the page; whatever happens with healthcare, we won’t have a government run healthcare system like the one envisioned by the extreme left). That’s a good thing in my opinion because it unleashes the talent of individuals to produce as much as they see fit. Society as a whole benefits from having ambitious people contributing to it.

  217. Ethan Says:

    Mike #215

    One difference between not only France but also other European countries and the US is that in Europe being a “civil servant” is a very sought after profession because of the perceived stability associated with the government’s inability to go out of business. A lot of ambitious people end up working for the government which is a waste for society since government is inherently a wealth extraction mechanism, not a wealth creation mechanism.

    In the US, while there are exceptions to this pattern, ambitious people largely avoid working for the government. I am not talking about people like Scott or other professors who work at America’s prestigious public universities -being a tenured professor at one of these carries a lot of prestige. I am talking about run of the mill federal or state government jobs. If you go to an American cocktail party and you want to be perceived as a “loser” nothing will get you there quicker than advertising that you work for the government.

    Europe and the US are two fundamentally different mindsets at this point in history. I think we can trace the divergence to WWII. For Europe it was a catastrophic event that sent future generations into a lot of soul searching as to how the continent could avoid to fall into something like that again. The EU was their answer. The United States emerged as victor and it didn’t suffer within its borders -with the exception of Hawaii- major damage. The Cold War hid this divergence for a few decades because the US and the EU needed each other to confront the soft power of the Soviet Union but since the fall of the Berlin Wall Europe and the US have taken markedly different paths with the EU becoming largely irrelevant geopolitically. The biggest question the EU is facing these days is whether to ally itself with the US or China, knowing that either way it will become largely subordinate to whoever it chooses to align itself with, not a partner on equal footing with their chosen ally.

    Many Europeans are fond of going around lecturing Americans -because in the European psyche Americans are still seen as barbarians- as if these were the times of Alexis de Tocqueville, unable to understand that those times are long gone. It is true that there was a time when America looked to Europe for inspiration when it came to creative endeavors but those times are long gone (as I said, at least since WWII). Right now the US is its own beast and it looks at Europe mostly as a stable market for its products and a place where their companies can still find well educated and ambitious employees lured by America’s soft power.

  218. Gerard Says:

    Ethan #216 #217

    Your points address some very complex questions that volumes could be written about but you are vastly oversimplifying and reducing everything to a US good/Europe bad narrative.

    I don’t think the average European feels that they are in any way “controlled” by government bureaucrats or that they have less practical freedom at the individual level than the average American. Note that I’m taking about average people here, for rich coastal elites in tech or finance the story may be different.

    It is true that European governments have been more active in attempting to shepherd their economies at a global level than has the US. In some areas this approach has been very successful, in others less so. Europe typically did better than the US at managing large scale projects during the late 20th century. For example the French nuclear industry was far more successful during that time period than was that of the US (or pretty much any other country in the world), modern mobile telephony developed first in Europe and it remained ahead of the US for many years in both communications and payment systems (the chip cards that US banks have started issuing in the last few years were already in widespread use in France in the early 90’s). However Europe really fell behind in the transition to an Internet economy as we entered the 21st century, due largely, I think, to a deficit in entrepreneurial dynamism.

    Concerning healthcare I have seen no evidence that under-capacity has been the problem in Europe. If that were the case you would expect it to show up in death rates, not infection rates. Also the New York City area was hit nearly as hard as Italy and worse than France in the early months of the pandemic. Even if what you say were true I don’t think it would be fare to judge health care systems solely on their response to a once in a century outlier event that no one has foreseen and that no one is really handling well.

    As for when the US and Europe diverged I would put that much later than WWII, at the beginning of the 80’s, when the US went neo-liberal with Reagan while continental Europe tended to the left (with France, for example, electing a socialist government).

  219. suomynona Says:

    Perhaps it’s the wrong people who should be thinking about moving abroad. Maybe it’s folks like Sonya (#107) and Megasaur (#10) who should be considering foreign emigration, specifically to Poland, or maybe Malta.

  220. fred Says:

    The course of the virus in many Eastern European countries has been very surprising – i.e. almost no deaths back in April (the first wave), but now a second wave that has way steeper death rate.





    Anyone living there has any insights into this?

  221. Ethan Says:

    Gerard #218

    I am well aware that things are complicated. I disagree I am simplifying things. The way I see it is that I am putting forward a framework to understand why the US and Europe have so different approaches to deal with problems in their respective societies. I read once that things go back even further than WWII, explaining why the US is different not only from Europe but also from Cananda. The story goes something like this: the US was founded by rebels and outcasts, those not only where unwilling to put up with the absolutists European rulers of the 16th-18th centuries but that when things got heated, they mounted a war to get independence from Great Britain. Today’s Europeans are the descendants of those who were willing to put up with these rulers “in situ” whereas Canadians are the descendants of those in the New World who sided with these rulers rather than with the rebels when things got complicated. Of course both Canada and the US have incorporated successive waves of immigration into their respective countries since the Revolutionary War, but both countries have distinctive DNAs: for Canada submission to an authority that is above all citizens is accepted, in the US our foundational credo says “we believe all men are created equal”. These are aspirational goals, of course, the day to day is work in progress.

    To your specific points,

    – I agree that until the 1980s or so Europe was still producing technologies that impacted the world at large. To the ones you mention, I will add the WWW that was born at CERN. But those times were coincident with the Cold War. During this time Europe was the center of attention of American foreign policy. During the 1990s, the US became increasingly disinterested about Europe to the point that Bill Clinton had a very hard time convincing the American people about the need to intervene in the Balkans. So I clearly see American influence in all those things you mention for geopolitical reasons.

    – On healthcare systems: if you look at the data from for March-May (the worst phase of the epidemic), those 4 countries led the world in death rate (France, Italy, Spain and the UK). The US was behind and, as you said, a big chunk of the deaths came from NYC. The US was able to deploy military hospitals quickly to New York to meet the shortcomings as well as to manufacture ventilators to meet the increased needs for this kind of equipment. The governments of those 4 countries were for the most part unable to meet the demand of ICUs and ventilators. On the latter, they engaged in nasty behind the scenes battles for the right to import them from China. That’s well documented. So I stand by my contention that covid19 exposed the lie behind single payer systems. These systems are optimized (or over fit if you prefer machine learning terminology) for a particular health profile (typically obtained from studying the preceding years). They are ill-prepared to handle situations like the pandemic that deviate heavily from the nominal case. As I said, not only the US but Germany has a multi payer system and it served that country really well. Multi payer systems are less efficient when there is stability in the health profile of a society because there is a lot of duplication in efforts. But that extra capacity works wonderfully in cases like the pandemic. As it is usually said in business, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  222. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Gerard #199

    Political discourse has suffered because of biased numerical models used to develop catastrophic forecasts in an effort to galvanize public opinion. I believe this started with Edward Teller, then Paul Ehrlich, then The Club of Rome, and most recently Mann et al. In the case of Ehrlich and Club of Rome the fundamental premise is certainly reasonable that human population can outstrip an environment with limited resources. The problem comes when a numerical model is used to generate a catastrophic prediction for the near future. Then actually, in contrast to the predictions, collapse of global civilization does not take place and the identified resources are not nearly exhausted in the term specified. The testable predictions of the model have been found false.

    The Club of Rome identified that environmental degradation was only a symptom of human population but could be cast as a common enemy to galvanize mass action. I agree except when the vilification is based on bad science and biased catastrophic scenarios.

    I agree there is a strong case for conversion to renewable energy considering fossil fuels ultimately are finite and their use creates undesirable by-products. On the other hand renewable sources are relatively expensive and also produce by-products during manufacturing. There are trade offs that should be considered as part of the political discussion. My opposition comes when bad science is used to create catastrophic predictions intended to frighten people into action. I don’t think that the frequent use of fear and loathing as political strategies is in the long term interest of a democracy and is far from the rationale discourse that is a fundamental requirement for this form of government to well operate. When the body politic sees that the Maldives are not submerged and the signs taken down in Glacier National Park noting no glaciers by 2020, many rightfully become distrustful of “settled” public science proclamations. This distrust undermines the sensible cohesion that underlies a healthy democracy because it suggests manipulation rather than reason, victimization rather than participation.

  223. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Gerard #199

    I hadn’t thought about it before but as soon as computers were available they were used to start modeling near future catastrophes. 🙂

  224. atreat Says:


    With respect, you know nothing of me, my family, my history or my situation. You don’t know what thought I’ve put into moving in certain election hypotheticals or my motivations for doing so. You don’t know much of anything, yet you feel confident making assumptions about all of these things and then castigating me for hypothetical dreadnought arguments that exist exclusively in your imagination. Maybe consider you don’t know what you think you know.

  225. David Metzler Says:

    Scott, you may be interested in this letter that the folks at Braver Angels put together. Not sure it would appeal at all, but FWIW, it tries to send a message of de-escalation of any violent, destructive responses to the election.

  226. fred Says:

    atreat #224

    “With respect, you know nothing of me, my family, my history or my situation.[…] Maybe consider you don’t know what you think you know.”

    Uhh, I’ve said nothing about you, man, you’re talking about maintaining an “up2date” passport and then list a random list of countries with totally different immigration policies.
    I simply pointed out that:

    if you think all it takes to permanently move abroad is your passport, you’re in for a big surprise. (I’m talking from experience).

    But, sure, maybe I’m all wrong and your passport is really special! Good luck and godspeed to you, sir!

  227. fred Says:

    I was expecting this:

    “A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. This mirrors a study published in July that found that around the world, viral strains with the same genetic mutation quickly outcompeted other strains.”

  228. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Ethan #221

    Hispanics have longer life expectancy than Caucasians in the US. It is very amusing to me that since this doesn’t fit the income unequal health care narrative it is labeled the “Hispanic life expectancy paradox”. Facts that don’t fit the political narrative are actually labeled a paradox.

    Going in to the pandemic the US had the most ICU beds per capita in the world and three times higher than Italy. This didn’t fit the US medieval health care narrative so it was simply ignored.

    If you look in more detail you will see that no national health care systems were overloaded by this pandemic. Particular hospitals in particular regions were overcapacity and this was woven by the media into catastrophic failures of national health care systems. I had correspondence with someone in the Lombardy region itself during the height of the outbreak and he said the hospitals in his city were actually under capacity but patients were not being transported from the hospitals that were overtaxed. The Lombardy media blitz resulted in a lot of money being spent in the US needlessly with temporary multi million dollar facilities being constructed and military hospital ships being deployed that were never used.

    I won’t continue my diatribe here about how biased numerical models were misused during this pandemic but will say that just as with SARS and MERS the R naught exponential growth model is inappropriate.

  229. Ethan Says:

    OhMyGoodness #228

    At the expense of giving out more than I want, I will say that I was in Europe between March-June this year in the place where my parents live, both of whom are older than 70 -thankfully none of them suffered any consequences-, and I can say that this chart that you shared correlates very well with the the death rate during that time as reported by in the sense, the higher the capacity, the lower the death rate.

    The UCI’s beds per capita was just one factor. There was also the management, largely at the hands of government bureaucrats in the countries that were worst affected by the outbreak, deciding who would get critical care and who wouldn’t. In some situations age alone was used as a factor in deciding who would get to an ICU and who wouldn’t. These bureaucrats were the bottleneck for most people. Every single payer healthcare system in Europe I know is really a two tier system: one funded and managed by the public and the only one that 70-80% of the people have access to (I am using statistics lousily here) and another one (actually it’s more accurate to say a collection of other systems) that can be accessed by the rest, typically the very wealthy but also well paid professionals who get private insurance as part of their compensation package. This notion that someone like Bill Gates (and all these European countries have very wealthy people) is going to go to the same hospitals as everybody else is a fairy tale.

    What I saw in person -I prefer not to say much more other than my parents live in one of the 4 aforementioned countries- was directly taken from a horror movie. Not that I had many doubts that government is fundamentally an evil institution; it’s well documented that governments were the most murderous agents in the 20th century by far , but I witnessed first hand the result of government bureaucrats making decisions that impacted the life and death of people, some of those people close to me, and I left the place terrified.

    I think that irrespective of who wins tomorrow, we are unlikely to see that in the United States because we are a federal country and there are many mechanisms embedded in the system to give individual citizens power to contest evil government decisions (besides the fact that most of us get our healthcare through a multi-payer system that forces services providers to offer great customer service) but what I lived earlier this year was a great reminder that statism is fundamentally an evil political system.

  230. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Ethan #229

    We have similar views on government and statism. I used to believe it can’t happen in the US but that has changed more to I hope it doesn’t happen in the US. The US education system has changed dramatically and distrust of statism has been replaced with trust. Very clever extreme leftists, say starting in the 70’s, targeted the education system as providing the best means to fundamentally change the US to be more in line with their statist vision. The support of some uber wealthy individuals was added later and they have been astoundingly successful. As Stalin noted-Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.

    I can only hope that the US remains an open forum for thought and debate but the trend is towards closed conformity. The article you linked mentions the growth of legislation in the US and that is the natural path all countries follow to the statist destination marked by warehouses full of laws and regulations.

    Machiavelli had it slightly wrong I believe and absolute power doesn’t absolutely corrupt but rather attracts the absolutely corrupt. No additional corruption of character added just enablement provided by statism.

  231. Scott Says:

    Sorry, but I’m closing down this thread, as I no longer have time to monitor it. Thanks for playing, everyone, and may we all survive whatever comes tomorrow!