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Randy Smith
Worked at Google
Attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Lives in Arlington, MA
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Arlington, MA
Chicago, Ill - Frederick, MD - Cambridge, MA - Jamaica Plain, MA - Piermont, NY
Boston area computer hacker, ex-graduate student in Neuroscience, dancer and biker (the non-motorized kind :-})
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Neuroscience, 1989 - 1992
  • University of Chicago
    Chemistry, 1982 - 1986
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Randy Smith

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I think this article makes a very good point about Trump's popularity, which I'd summarize as:

"There's no single explanation for the 'Trump phenomena', and folks that are telling you there is are dangerously oversimplifying the situation. However, one thing that's often important in elections is how much respect the candidates seem to be showing to the electorate (or the part of it whose votes they are chasing). Trump's showing respect for white, working class voters (and disrespect for the people who sneer at them) in a way that hasn't happened in a long time, and those folks are really appreciating that. Clinton's comment about 'deplorables' has really strengthened that dynamic and helped Trump."

h/t +Arun Sannuti 
I think this opinion article explains Trump more than anything else I've seen.

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+Jesse Cox Hmmm. I'm wondering if you read something in my post I didn't intend to put there.

You bring up interesting and worthwhile questions, which I think lead in the direction of "hate the sinner, forgive the sinner" and a challenge to the compassion of the judger. But that wasn't the direction I was aiming for with my post.

My short-circuit of those questions would be that there are people who support Trump that I find deplorable (starting with the candidate :-{) and at the moment I don't feel the urge to challenge myself to engage with those people with compassion. But I'm certain there are people who support Clinton who I'd feel the same way about, and I don't think that those people are a majority in either camp.

But that leaves me wondering "Why do the people who support Trump support him, if not for reasons I find deplorable?" This article gives me a new possible answer (which I think is one of many)--he's talking to those people with respect. I think many such people feel disrespected by "my" political class; they've been told they're stupid, they don't understand the big picture, which is why they're voting against their self-interest, and if they really knew what was going on they'd support us. Trump instead tells those people that they're smart, they know what's going on, and the coast liberals have been lying to them for years. I suspect the contrast makes Trump a much easier sell.

Does that address the point you were trying to make, or have I missed it?
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I found this a really interesting analysis of "Earning to give" (maximizing your salary and giving away a large chunk of it) as a pathway to doing good in the world. I don't completely follow the pathway sketched out (my partner and I only give %20 of our income and I've put very little energy into optimizing my income). But I valued the exploration of the space, and it may well inform some of my choices in the future.
"Earning to give is a career path that is well suited to people who are good at earning money, who are still exploring cause areas, who prioritize interventions that are funding-limited, who are early in their careers and want to build their skills, or who want to balance altruism against other things in their lives. I find that it suits me well, but I also can imagine myself doing something else five years from now."
I gave a talk on Earning to Give at the 2016 effective altruism conference. It wasn't recorded, but here's a transcript. Eight years ago I was working for my first full year after graduating. I was still spending money at student rates, but I now had a programmer's income. This disparity made it clear I was earning more than I needed for myself, and easier to accept the argument that I should be ...
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That makes good sense on static issues, but for things that are rapidly getting worse (e.g. climate change) a dollar donation delayed us worth a lot less than a dollar today.
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A short analysis of Trump's appeal to rural American voters I found worth reading, as it's the first thing I've read that plausibly explains the preference for him over Clinton. The short summary is "They're both crooks, but he's honest about it, and I'd rather have an honest crook than a hypocritical one." This is a perspective I can basically understand--if I thought Clinton was a crook (*), I could imagine preferring someone who was clean about that to her. But it's a level of cynicism that I don't think is compatible with American having a democratic future. I hope most of the electorate doesn't feel the same way.

((*) I do think she's a politician, which includes a fair amount of spinning and certainly doesn't imply an ethic of "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". But within that realm, I think more highly of her ethics than average for politicians. See for instance -- a biased source, but quoting sources whose objectivity I trust.)
Some voters are convinced both candidates are crooks—but at least Trump is honest about it
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I think there are a lot of different reasons why people support Trump. "Honesty" (as per this article) is part of it--a perception that he's not trying to pretend to be something different than he is. "Good businessman" (the country's dysfunctional, someone who's been successful in business could put it in order) is another. "Strong" (the country's on the brink of an abyss, threatened by shadowy forces, we need someone ruthless and authoritarian to pull it back) is another.

And even the "cornerstone of his campaign" is debated--I read an editorial from his jewish son-in-law who had been challenged around Trump's anti-semitism by one of the employees at his magazine (New York Observer) which was a full-throated defense of the kindness and generosity of the guy. And many people feel that it's not fair to blame someone for the actions of some of his supporters. All folks need is an excuse to turn a blind eye to the bigotry, and if they want, they will.

To be clear, I loathe Donald Trump, certainly more than any politician in my lifetime and possibly more than anyone I know, for all the reasons you give and several more besides. I'm certainly more afraid of him than anyone else I'm aware of in the world. But I do badly want to understand his appeal--thus this article and comment.
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A career intelligence officer and leader, unaffiliated with either party, having served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and who has historically stayed very much out of politics, explains why he's endorsing for and working to get Clinton elected.
She is well prepared to be our commander in chief. Donald Trump, in contrast, is a national security threat.
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TL;DR: Suggestions on how to help keep Trump out of the White House.

So a quick heads up that I intend to be a lot more active in politically related posts in the next couple of months than I ever have been before. When I get a chance, I'll set up a G+ collection (so those folks that really don't want to deal don't have to) and do a post as to why this election matters so much more to me than any other in my lifetime (or that I'm aware of before my lifetime). But I wanted to make sure to forward this right away, so I don't lose it; I think there's lots of good advice in it, for those who care about this situation as much as I do.
How to Help, Part 1

You want to help with getting Hillary elected President. Let's start with that. Yes, there are downticket races and they're crucially important: but no one of them, win or lose, will cue the Seven Angelic Trumpeters. (Christian humor. You don’t have to get it: “No one of them, win or lose, will put the nuclear codes in Donald Trump's hands.”)


So we're going to skip talking about anything except Hillary, to start.

There are, more or less, three pieces of this.

1. Convince people to vote for Hillary.

You're probably doing this already; it's what social media is for. And while it's useful and may be more important than paid media in terms of moving the undecided, any one person's efforts are not going to be a large multiplier. That is to say, it's great that you're arguing with people, encouraging people, supporting them in getting to where they need to be (and where we need them to be.)

So keep it up. I'm going to. But it's the smallest and easiest part of what you could be doing.

2. Register people to vote for Hillary.

Money helps here. If you have some, consider donating. If you don’t have money, but do have time, consider donating that – links on how to get in touch with people who will take your time and/or money are below.

Are you registered? Do you know people who aren't registered? Have you asked? Here's where pragmatic politics gets going: while it's important to register people, and every single local Democratic organization will be thrilled to hear from you when you volunteer to help with registration or whatever they may need, there's only about nine states where it matters in terms of getting Hillary elected. (It matters hugely in downticket races, no matter where you are; we'll come back to that in another post.)

Those nine states are what are traditionally called “swing states,” though I like Nate Silver's description of them as “tipping point” states: states that are likeliest to tip an election to one party or another. A bit more about them here:

The top nine are:

Florida – 17% chance of tipping the election
Pennsylvania 11.2%
Ohio 11.1%
Virginia 6.6%
North Carolina 6.6%
Michigan 5.9%
Colorado 4.7%
Minnesota 4.3%
Wisconsin 3.7%

At this moment – good news! – Hillary's leading in all of them except North Carolina, according to 538's weighted averages. And she's only down there by 3/10ths of a percent. (In order, Dems are +1.1 in Florida; +3.2 in Pennsylvania; +.7 in Ohio; +3.4 in Virginia; -.3 in North Carolina; +6.3 in Michigan; +4.3 in Colorado; +4.3 in Minnesota; +6 in Minnesota; +6 in Wisconsin.)

There are a few other states that might come into play, though we're increasingly in territory where if they flip from their historical voting patterns (Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey) … the election is likely to be a massive wave. If Donald Trump takes New Jersey, he's already taken most of the tipping point states listed above. If Hillary takes Arizona or Georgia, we're in the midst of a wave election where Dems are likely to retake both the Senate and the gerrymandered House.

So here's where, in the next ~100 days, we need to register people: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

This isn't news. People are on the ground in all those places, and have been since the last Presidential election cycle, registering people to vote, and while they'll be thrilled to have your help, be aware they've been at this a long time; they want help, not leadership on short notice. They'll give you marching orders: follow them.

Their websites are fairly horrible, in many cases. I'll post phone numbers separately in a comment. But start with the websites:

For Florida, you can sign up here:

For Pennsylvania, here:



North Carolina Democratic Party:




And finally, Wisconsin:


Are you in one of these states? Can you get to one of these states? Go volunteer to help register people.

You may not end up helping register people. The odds are fair that whomever you contact will be a professional – certainly more professional than you, if you're new at this. There are cases where you'll end up dealing with someone else's amateur hour moment; cut them a little slack and let them learn along with you. At the volunteer level there are a lot of amateurs; be gracious if you catch one. But more likely they’ll know what they’re doing.

If you contact one of these state orgs, and they suggest some other task for you, pitch in. The odds are good that they know their needs better than you do – and if they don't, well, after a while you'll know that, though it may not happen in the next 100 days.

Consider staying around after the election's over. I had five children when I dropped out of active politicking; life happens. They’re growing up; I’m getting back in, as that happens. You know your own circumstances and the time you can really spare.

But whatever that time is, please: devote it in this election cycle. This is the one with Donald Trump in it.


You can do something at a personal level. There's no better incentive to register than being approached by someone who loves you and being asked to please do the right thing this time. Maybe you don't live in any of the swing states above: but the odds are good you have friends or family in at least one of them. It's up to you what level of outreach you feel comfortable with – but I will say this:

Non-Hispanic whites vote at rates between 40% and 60%, depending on whether it's an off-year or Presidential election. It's nothing to be proud of. Non-Hispanic blacks essentially mirror that; in 2008 and 2012 they came out at rates beating that of non-Hispanic whites. In any event they're a politically mobilized community and know to vote.

Hispanics have never broken 50% in an American Presidential election cycle. Are you Hispanic? The reason Donald Trump thinks it's safe to threaten you is that you don't have the political power you should, to go along with the number of you who are citizens. Go register, if you're not, get your family and friends to register, go register others in your community, and then –

3. Get to the polls on Election Day.

I'll have a lengthy piece about getting out the vote, coming up, and a few more besides, on downticket races.
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Randy Smith

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My apologies for a repeated advocacy (I've fanboyed about Hans Rosling before) but I just watched this video and wanted to recommend it specifically.  It's about very common bad heuristics people use when evaluating global economic and social changes (that generally lead to answering questions in those spaces at worse than chance level), and simple new heuristics you can use to much more often get the right answer.

+Ed Kenschaft +Janice Lichtman just because I've had a couple of conversations with both of you about whether optimism or pessimism is a more accurate model for what's happening for the world as a whole.
How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.
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An article I found absolutely fascinating on the link between core (primal) beliefs and political orientation. This was a one-off project with a small data set that that author did because they were curious about politics and had been doing a lot of similar, more in-depth analysis for their thesis, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. But it's quite thought provoking, and if backed up by a more solid study, could be very important.

Let me quote the last paragraph to give you a sense of what's behind the cut: "In the meantime, I think it is important to not be condescending. My original hypothesis had been that Trump people are essentially scared children, and that drove them, their politics, and their party into the arms of a demagogue. This paternalistic theory was wrong. The major difference between me and Trump supporters is more interesting and, hopefully, more useful."

h/t +Jesse Cox 

+Lori Kenschaft I'm going to want to talk about this article with you.
The title is way more clickbaity than the actual content, which is some really fascinating stuff on beliefs and assumptions. Many many things to the person who slipped me a copy of this on the sly!
If you are anything like me, you don’t quite understand what to make of the Trump phenomenon. Sure Hillary is winning, but what is more interesting to me is that over a third of Americans st…
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lj:siderea also has a good post on people who firmly believe some people are less important than they are, and how this enables bigotry and bullying, which I can't find right now but which your readers might find relevant.
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I ... wish I had something to add to this, but I don't.

Donald Trump is the second largest challenge to American Democracy we've ever had.
"Stochastic terrorism" is a concept in the theory of war. It refers to putting out open calls for terrorism, and trying to incite specific acts of terror, without knowing who (if anyone) will take you up on it. It's one of the principal tactics of ISIS outside its home regions: this is why we hear of "ISIS-inspired" terrorists, who had no particular funding, backing, or material support from the organization, but who were simply acting on a call to arms put out by the terror group to go out and kill infidels. (Or other Muslims, or whoever else ISIS feels like killing that day)

It's not a legal concept, and in fact our laws have no good mechanism to handle it. "Vague threats" are deliberately not threats, under the law; you can't be imprisoned for saying "I'm gonna kill that son-of-a-bitch," or for "Someone oughta do something," unless one can show that in the context it was said, that's something that would cause someone to fear for their life. (It's actually even more complicated than that, but that would be a whole long article in its own right. +Ken Popehat wrote a short summary relevant to today's news here:

In general, this sort of narrow law is wise; we don't want people being rounded up and imprisoned for anything that sounds vaguely angry. However, it creates an opening for groups like ISIS to actively try to radicalize people around the world.

In the specific case of ISIS, of course, there's a workable solution, one which involves the liberal application of high explosives. However, not all terror threats so conveniently live in places where we feel free to engage in open warfare.

All of this brings us to today's news. Remember that just a few days ago, Trump "suggested" that the election was rigged, and that if he loses it, people should reject its legitimacy. Today, he took that a step further, "suggesting" that, if elected, Clinton should be murdered. That is to say, Trump has rather pointedly rejected the most fundamental principle of democracy: that elections should be the mechanism which decides who is in office.

(People often say that elections are the basis of democracy, but that's not quite true. Syria has had elections for decades, in which you could vote for anyone you wanted, so long as it was Hafez (or later Bashar) al-Assad. The crucial thing which defines a democracy is that after an election, the losers step down. The preconditions for people to feel safe doing this are complex, and have a lot to do with why democracy is working better in some places than others)

Beyond the obvious problems of an American Presidential candidate openly preaching against democracy is the issue we just discussed: this was not merely a thinly veiled call to overthrow a potential US President, but a textbook example of stochastic terrorism.

As this article put it:

Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication "to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable."

Let's break that down in the context of what Trump said. Predicting any one particular individual following his call to use violence against Clinton or her judges is statistically impossible. But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future.

Stated differently: Trump puts out the dog-whistle knowing that some dog will hear it, even though he doesn't know which dog.

h/t +Lev Osherovich.
Donald Trump engaged in so-called stochastic terrorism with his remarks about "Second Amendment people" and Hillary Clinton.
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Lori's convinced me that the Civil War was a greater threat. Which is reassuring, in an odd, painful way.
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I think of David Brooks as on the conservative side of moderate, though not extremely so, and generally pretty intelligent. Which makes this opinion piece not at all surprising (at least to me). But one of the things I want to highlight in this election is conservative thinkers seeing something very dangerous in Donald Trump, so I'll share it.
His behavior has left them no more middle ground to keep dancing between embracing him and disowning him.
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Until he says "I am not voting" or "I am voting for Hillary", I'm not sure I can take him seriously. He always asks people to make the difficult choice, but he hasn't done so himself.
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I found this article fascinating if you stop before you get to the politics (the first 2/3rds is about the mechanics and production of nuclear bombs). And that's making it a public post rather than in a new Election 2016 collection..

If you go beyond the first 2/3rds, it's an interesting and persuasive argument from a basically politically conservative person about how important it is to keep Trump out of the White House. Possibly worth sharing with conservative/Republican friends.
My friend and official Wise Man, Rob Hansen, who would never have voted for Hillary under normal circumstances, who lives in Virginia, a swing state, and whose vote is more valuable than mine ... is voting for Clinton. And this is why.
This election year I plan to vote for Hillary… and that's not the frightening bit. The frightening bit isn't even why I plan to vote for her. The frightening bit is what might happen if you don't. We invented the nuclear bomb in the 1940s. More to the point, we invented two different kinds of ...
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I find this so cool, both in a "It's a new way to treat cholesterol plaques in the arteries!" way and "Intelligent laypeople drive doctors to try a treatment to save their own children and the rest of us win big!"  way :-} :-|
Here’s how parents of kids with rare disease found what may be blockbuster drug.
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Randy Smith

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Apparently a gene drive (forcing a particular chosen gene through a wild population, to, e.g,, drive that particular population to extinction)  is being considered for dealing with the Zika virus.  That's pretty scary.  A quote from one of the scientists that's been working on gene drive technology:

“Four weeks ago we were trying to justify why we are doing this. Now they’re saying ‘Get the lead out,’”

(Note: I'm not sure that it would be wrong to use this technology.  It's just powerful enough to really scare me that we're considering using it.)
Fear of the Zika virus could generate support for gene drives, a radical technology able to make species go extinct.
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It was fairly horrifying, yes.
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