Category Archives: Commentary

Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump

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So no one told you life what gonna be this way…

Disclaimer: this post contains the word “fuck” multiple times. Also a lot of links.

Frantically refreshing Twitter at 4am, I thought to myself: “Is Florida going to do it again?”

Looked like it: 91% in and Trump was 100 000 votes ahead.

Crap cake! I woke up and the NYT’s headline was all: Trump Triumphs.

What the fuck happened?

What can we understand from that? how can we prevent such people to rise to the top in other countries? (I’m talking to you, chère France).

We’ll first get an overview of the situation by analysing how some people/institutions/ideas have changed in status. I’ll then try and summarise a few lessons and predictions for the future. Finally, I rounded up some interesting articles and very succinctly summarised them.

Losers

  • Women — a sexist can become President
  • minorities — a racist can become president
  • global warming — looks like coal is coming back, Tesla is going down
  • Anti-establishment — from the Tea Party in the US to Dieudonné in France, it looks like anti-establishment types do not realise they are a necessary part of the system and that they’re not substantially changing anything. An illusion, really. Radically changing things will require blood/violence and Trump/Brexit is not what they’re looking for (You Are Not So Smart)
  • the democratic party — Hillary was a bad candidate, at least badly timed; mired in scandals, a technocrat/establishment figure (I believe Bernie would have won, he was a guy and a populist)
  • liberal democracy — Fukuyama’s End of History… maybe one of the most tunnel-visioned idea of all time is now officially (and thankfully) dead; the FT still published a piece by Francis though
  • experts, pundits — they failed to predict Brexit,  Trump, the FARC vote in Colombia… what’s next?
  • pseudo-intellectuals — West Wing-watching, glasses-wearing, Sciences Po-attending people have lost a lot of political relevance (that includes me)
  • Good as in Good vs. Evil — thinking that Clinton was “good” and Trump “evil” is a very relative/ambiguous notion that has little substance. The world is a multifaceted gem and not a binary, black and white system.
  • Pollsters and Nate Silver — his model was flawed, see Nassim Taleb’s rebuttal (that I don’t understand but a lot of mathematicians seem to agree with him, including this blogger). Only 10% of people responded to polls. Polls are flawed.
  • the Truth — lying will not prevent you from getting elected, we truly live in a post-factual world + in the social media world, truth is irrelevant for filter bubbles rule over the content you consume (NiemanLab)

Winners

  • White rural voters — the most important demographic in US elections
  • Twitter — losing users and cash, yes but increasing in relevance (Slate)
  • Facebook — people are starting to realise that instead of being a reflection of the complex world we live in, Facebook serves opinions that reinforce your world view. The revelation will weaken Facebook in the short term but my guess is that we enjoy scrolling through the News Feed more than we dislike this fact (TechCrunch)
  • conservative politics — a Republican-controlled Congress is going to make things much less liberal
  • The Republican party — the media narrative was that the Republican party was undergoing a civil war, turns out it’s okay
  • the peculiar American democracy — so only 25.5% voted for Trump, 45.6% did not vote and 25.6% for Clinton… only in America the third most popular person can be elected. And that’s thanks to this beautiful thing named the electoral college
  • Peter Thiel — the Silicon Valley VC who supported Trump will be part of the transition team and help prioritise policies (Bloomberg)
  • Russia — to take with a pinch of salt for Putin said mending relations is going to be hard and long (Washington Post)
  • China — Trump’s purported isolationism could pave the way for a new hegemon
  • racists — a racist can become President
  • sexists — a sexist can become President

Lessons and predictions

Why Trump won, the succinct edition

Trump won thanks to his anti-establishment message that appealed to the most important demographic: white rural voters (an op-ed by Bernie Sanders in the NYT). Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were blue states in the past elections. Hillary didn’t even campaign in Wisconsin.

There is a growing (and now critical) discrepancy between said white rural voters and urbanites. The media reflects only the life of the latter. Globalisation and multiculturalism don’t sit that well for that key demographic. So take that, add increasing economic inequality and a clever electoral strategy and you have President Trump.

Trump did not want to be President 

Trump is fucking clueless as to what a President does. Actually, he didn’t want to be President. He doesn’t even want to live in the White House (NYT). And he suddenly loves Obama and longs for his wise counsel (CNN on Facebook).

Now, he has to become a politician.

Being anti-system is great for the campaign. But once you’re elected and they give you the CIA file thanks to your newly-acquired security/intelligence clearance, you realise that this whole shit is a bit more complicated than you originally thought.

(By the way, if you’re interested in America’s “deep secrets” with regards to intelligence, this piece casually published in the Washington Post probably won’t relax you (it’s a spine-chilling experience, how can they write that the CIA topples governments so shamelessly?)).

Will Trump aggressively pursue his campaign pledges? 

I don’t know but let’s venture some guesses for the fun of it.

Based on the transcript of his 60 Minutes interview (CBS News), Trump’s campaign persona is being replaced by a more subdued and serious discourse. He appears to be willing to compromise greatly (with regards to gay marriage or prosecuting Hillary for instance). To my eyes, it looks like he’s realising now what it means to be President and he naively feels like he wants to do well. He was saying all these fucked up things to get elected.

When he talked to Obama about the Middle East, he noticed the U.S. paid 6 trillion dollars in the last 10 years there. To Trump’s eyes, this is too much and he’s saying “look at our roads and our bridges”.

If by any chance, Trump decides to use this kind of money to rebuild America and stop militarily intervening across the world, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Am I being too naive myself?

On the the other hand, Paul Ryan is now strengthened to carry out the Republican agenda. Who will impose his will on the other?

Also, Trump’s chief of staff will be Reince Priebus, the head of the RNC. An establishment figure who will probably soften some of the strongest Trump ideas. The Cabinet will set the tone for Trump’s administration and here’s the NYT’s shortlist. Since the NYT can’t predict shit, it’s a non-binding read.

So will he build the wall, repeal Obamacare or ban muslims from entering the United States? Very, very hard to say, despite all that we’ve read about that already and what Trump is saying right now. It’s not as if he could simply click on some buttons and watch the magic operate. My personal bet is that none of these dramatic things will take place, the institutional homeostasis being too strong (crash course on homeostasis).

The liberal reaction

There’s California wanting to secede from the Union (TechCrunch). An isolationist and privileged response coming from a supposedly open-minded community. Although the electoral college, two-party system is not particularly democratic, this ain’t either. Doing exactly what Texas wanted to do when Obama was reelected in 2012. They truly do live in a bubble.

Then you have people from major cities across the U.S who are protesting. Oddly enough, Trump won fair and square: did he cheat? He is a fucked up human being. A liar, a sexist, a racist. Protesting against him is an understandable short-term move but how will you prevent him from being reelected in 4 years? Why was he elected in the first place? Let us understand the problem and only then, we’ll find a solution.

Short-term problems

Short-term problems that may become long-term are the vindicated crazy, criminal people of the United States who are going to feel free to do whatever comes across their minds. Trump is their president and so they’re going to have the license to do all kinds of fucked up things to people they don’t like. You can check out Shaun King’s Facebook Timeline for info.

What can we do? 

A quick word about sharing news on Facebook. Please stop sharing “dramatic” news events on Facebook to voice your outrage. The more you share, the more media outlets will produce clickbait dramatic news for you to share. Anyway, the people who follow you on Facebook already have the same opinions as you! It’ll make you feel better but it’s a sterile, vicious cycle (Read Nicky Case‘s post about that, she’s got some great insight).

Instead: act politically. Volunteer. Experiment. Do something concrete.

Trump took advantage of the economic and cultural situation. The narrative must be reversed. There must be a way for a liberal platform to reach white people’s hearts and minds without sounding naive or weak. Sanders 2020?

The situation in France

Marine Le Pen has slimmer chances of being elected because of the nature of the French electorate as well as the political system. However, Hollande, Juppé, Macron and Valls are representative of the unease white rural voters feel. Quite cleverly indeed, Sarkozy positioned himself as the more legitimate candidate on the right. His anti-establishment message is inspired by Trump (whom he congratulated) and he’s not on the Front National so he’s a better choice than Marine for most French people. Marine will have the best macroeconomic timing imaginable so the political offer must be at least as appealing as she is. Today, it looks quite dire.

Further reading

My former professor shares some insights as to what lies have been demolished since Trump was elected: Sick Chickens.

Why pollsters were wrong [spoiler: low response rates]: Harvard Business Review.

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit [favouring of the elite by institutions, accurately analysed by Glenn Greenwald]: The Intercept.

The media’s epic fail [Trump and Brexit as entertainment, the media chased clicks and gave him a lot of free coverage]: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Donald Trump Victory: how to tackle the new “nationalist international” [create a progressivist international]: Newsweek

Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there [American liberals are complacent and thought this was going to be an easy win/took the ethical “higher ground” that backfired]: The Guardian

● Authority, LSD & hippies: the advent of the personal computer

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Yes, Alan Turing is “the father” of modern computer science.

Without him, no modern algorithms, no contemporary concepts of computation.

But what about the personal computer? I’m talking about the one I’m using right now to type those words.

And the web — how you’re reading these words.

So, yes. We do stand on the shoulder of giants.

But the people who made the personal computer possible were science-fiction loving, long-haired hippies.

As Steward Brand — founder of the Whole Earth Catalog — puts it, in a 1995 article for Time Magazine:

‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Do it yourself,’ we said, happily perverting J.F.K.’s Inaugural exhortation. Our ethic of self-reliance came partly from science fiction. We all read Robert Heinlein’s epic Stranger in a Strange Land as well as his libertarian screed-novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Hippies and nerds alike reveled in Heinlein’s contempt for centralized authority. To this day, computer scientists and technicians are almost universally science-fiction fans. And ever since the 1950s, for reasons that are unclear to me, science fiction has been almost universally libertarian in outlook.

So the answer to the perennial question “why are all computer science geeks Star Wars fans?” you have the answer here.

Vintage science-fiction books have anti-authoritarian slants that appealed to young people in the sixties and seventies.

First then, the rejection of authority.

In his 1984 book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy enshrined the hacker ethic — the political beliefs that motivated the creation and promotion of personal computers by said hippies:

  1. “Access to computers should be unlimited and total.”
  2. “All information should be free.”
  3. “Mistrust authority – promote decentralization.”
  4. “You can create art and beauty on a computer.”
  5. “Computers can change your life for the better.”

So the idea is that the books brought the original enthusiasm.

What brought the vision?

Can we go as far as arguing that LSD  — “turn on, tune in and drop out”, a phrase popularised by Timothy Leary — is what enabled these people to create machines that would set them free? If not, where does the inspiration to make the necessary abstractions computers require come from?

For instance, do all the people using IBM’s application Lotus know that it is based on Lotus 1-2-3, a spreadsheet software created by Mitch Kapor, a transcendental meditation teacher, hence the name Lotus?

My point is that the invention of personal computers has a political origin, unlike the invention of the lightbulb — but please let me know if I’m wrong.

The people responsible for the promotion of computers rejected the ideas of authority that led to the horrors of the 20th century. Aided by drugs and the smooth climate of California, new ideas popped into their open minds.

Somewhere along the road, though, it went a bit sour.

Initially, Steve Jobs was a different creature that what is known of him in popular culture today:

In the 1960s and early ’70s, the first generation of hackers emerged in university computer-science departments. They transformed mainframes into virtual personal computers, using a technique called time sharing that provided widespread access to computers. Then in the late ’70s, the second generation invented and manufactured the personal computer. These nonacademic hackers were hard-core counterculture types – like Steve Jobs, a Beatle-haired hippie who had dropped out of Reed College, and Steve Wozniak, a Hewlett-Packard engineer. Before their success with Apple, both Steves developed and sold “blue boxes,” outlaw devices for making free telephone calls. Their contemporary and early collaborator, Lee Felsenstein, who designed the first portable computer, known as the Osborne 1, was a New Left radical who wrote for the renowned underground paper the Berkeley Barb.

In 1995, as Brand wrote this article, I’m sure he wouldn’t know that in 2016, scores of people would despise Steve Jobs for his wrongdoings — ranging from how he treated his own daughter, to the closed nature of the Apple ecosystem and the despicable way the iPhone is manufactured by Foxconn.

I understand the betrayal computer scientists may feel today.

Jobs took their ideas, applied a healthy dose of human-centred design and marketed them to death.

Brand concludes his piece (again, written in 1995) with a hopeful vision that unfortunately — as iOS & Android, Facebook and overall progress of social media cement our entrance into the 21st century — is not unfolding as he intended:

Our generation proved in cyberspace that where self-reliance leads, resilience follows, and where generosity leads, prosperity follows. If that dynamic continues, and everything so far suggests that it will, then the information age will bear the distinctive mark of the countercultural ’60s well into the new millennium.

The Internet-equipped smartphone created a new frontier for computer science. Everyone has a computer in their pocket and people can see their loved ones’ faces from across the globe in the blink of an eye with software like Skype. Closed distribution models (Google Play and App Store) are hurdles.

But!

But the Internet enables anyone to learn new skills — do you want to learn how to code? How to fix an oven? How to write in Portuguese? — and the Internet enables anyone to then sell their skills by means of products or services. If you’re not into making software, you can use it to advance yourself or your business. And if you’re into making software, it is up to you and I to make it useful — politically and economically.

People like Aaron Swartz, that Brand wouldn’t have known, are the ones behind new, public technologies like RSS and other standards. They are part of the fourth generation of hackers he mentioned in his Time article.

We have the tools and the information. Our cleverness will help us cut through the chaotic noise to only get the delightful juice of the signal.

Next time you boot your computer, maybe you’ll think of its history, maybe you won’t.

Now though, you can’t say you didn’t know.

P.S Original pieces (categorised in “Commentary”) will now be preceded by a black circle, ●.

A list of useful mental models

Mental models are mind devices you can use to explain things.

Over the years, I have developed a few models that may be useful. I don’t know whether they attach to existing ones but here goes:

  • Scale: consider the scale of things, if they affect they micro-level and/or the macro-level. 
  • Factuality: consider the fact of something vs. the content of something. 
  • Meaning: what is said vs. what is meant. Often, people will say something and mean something else. 
  • Depth: consider the depth and/or breadth of something (a decision, for instance). 
  • Convenience: consider the convenience of something vs. its scale (especially useful in understand how technology and consumerism evolved). 

Here’s an example (Hanlon’s Razor) from Gabriel Weinberg’s list (he is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, “the search engine that doesn’t track you”). 

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.”