I joined YIMBY

So, in a bit of personal news, I joined the local YIMBY group. It’s a political group that fights for more housing.

California is currently in a housing crisis, which particularly impacts my generation because we move around a lot so we aren’t as protected by rent control. Also, we spent all our money on avocado toast. Many cities in California will welcome large companies that provide many jobs, but they refuse to let developers build housing near those jobs, leading to long commutes with large carbon footprints, from overpriced apartments in neighborhoods that don’t have as much political power to block housing development, because the older residents are poor. We end up displacing those poor residents and contributing to gentrification, all because the wealthier city where we work decided that if they built housing it would change the character of the neighborhood. It’s a complicated problem, but the solution must involve new housing.

I’m trying not to argue about it though. The important thing is not to persuade people, but to bring it to the attention of people who already agree with us and say, join our fight! This is a bit difficult since this is a blog with an international readership and housing is a very local issue. Nonetheless, housing shortages are a common political issue in many cities of the world, and you might check this map to see if there’s a YIMBY organization near you. Simply joining an organization makes politicians pay attention, but you might find other ways to contribute as well. And even if you’re not in California, the SF YIMBY group is a great informational resource that may help you understand your local situation.

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Warren is to the left of Sanders (and other observations)

When I recently read up on DW-NOMINATE, I learned a few things about certain political figures. DW-nominate gives every senator a score based on how left/right their voting behavior is, and sometimes the score does not match the senator’s public image.

In the 115th congress (2017-2019), the leftmost senator was… Elizabeth Warren. Not Bernie Sanders, where did you get that idea? After Elizabeth Warren, is Kamala Harris. Then we have another presidential hopeful, Cory Booker. And finally, we have Bernie Sanders–tied with Tammy Baldwin.

I made a plot! It’s copied directly from Voteview, with labels added for certain senators of interest.

A graph showing the DW-NOMINATE scores of the senate from 2017-2019 in two dimensions.

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Call your congress critters on SESTA/FOSTA

Remember when Tumblr decided to ban adult content? Well one thing I learned from all of that, is that it’s traceable to a specific set of laws, passed earlier this year, and which will begin to be enforced in January. I’m referring to SESTA & FOSTA.

I don’t really need to explain it, since Vox has already done a good job, and there’s a website dedicated to stopping SESTA & FOSTA. Here I give the short version.

SESTA & FOSTA are a pair of laws intended to fight sex trafficking. Under previous law, websites with user-created content could not be held liable for the civil wrongs of its users (however they are liable for federal crimes and intellectual property laws). SESTA & FOSTA add an exception, making websites liable for sex trafficking and sex workers who advertise services. Lumping together sex trafficking and sex work does not make sense.  And arguably this does not stop trafficking or sex work, but rather makes things less safe for sex workers and trafficking victims.

In any case, the proof is in the pudding that SESTA & FOSTA are too broad and vaguely written. Many tech companies, including very large ones that can certainly afford liability insurance, now think it’s too risky to host content that has even the vaguest resemblance to sex work. I mean, Tumblr banned illustrated porn. Facebook’s new content guidelines are so vague that they could include solicitations for dating, or even private banter between couples.

The upshot is that this passed congress without any significant opposition. The Senate voted 97 to 2, and the House voted 388 to 25. Clearly most of congress didn’t understand the implications of what they voted on. Call your representatives and let them know.

Trump blames self for fires

Around here, the big news is that everything is on fire!

Well, the fire is a bit too far away for me to personally to be in danger.  Nonetheless, it’s impossible to ignore.  See, the air quality took a sharp downturn.  You can smell it in the air, see it in the sky, and people roam the streets with N95 masks.  Businesses are all proceeding as usual, but personally, as an asthmatic, I’ve been trying to avoid going outside.  My partner and I decamped from our bedroom because something about the ventilation is allowing dust particles into that room.

I don’t know what to say.  People died, and cities were burnt to the ground.  Not much entertainment to squeeze out of that, except maybe a few sad puns about Paradise lost.

Oh I know, we could look at what horrible thing Trump has said.  Maybe that will brighten things up.

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What does a DW-NOMINATE score of zero mean?

In an earlier post, I talked about the asymmetrical polarization of US congress, and how DW-NOMINATE is used to quantify it. In this post, I’m going to discuss more technical details.  I’ll explain why I was initially skeptical, and why I came to accept the argument.

But before I get into the math, I should first emphasize that there are many arguments demonstrating that the US congress has become more polarized, and that the Republican party in particular is more extreme. I think those arguments stand on their own, with or without using any evidence from DW-NOMINATE. You can read some of those arguments here, or watch the Vox video I linked last time. It’s not just liberals who are saying this–one of the big proponents of asymmetrical polarization theory is Norman Ornstein, member of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute;

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The math behind political polarization

The asymmetry of US politics

Vox recently had a good video talking about “asymmetrical polarization”. Basically, this means that the two political parties in the US are moving further apart, and this is mostly driven by the Republican party, rather than the Democrats.

There are many aspects to this argument. Republicans have been more obstructionist than democrats, less likely to negotiate or compromise, and more likely to use filibusters. Their agenda has become more extreme over time. Democrats have also moved further left (despite complaints hereabouts that Democrats are too moderate), but in a way that trails the motion of the Republican party.

These many arguments stand on their own. But I want to address the very first argument that Vox presents, which comes from the following graph:

A plot showing the ideology of congress over time, on a scale from liberal to conservative. The two major parties are color coded, it is clear that the parties have moved further apart since the 50s.

Image credit: Voteview. I abridged the graph to only show history after 1900. Red dots represent Republicans, blue dots represent Democrats, and the solid lines represent party medians.

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California 2018 election positions

If you live in the US, please vote! It’s okay if you feel a bit under-informed–that’s true of most voters. You can spend just a little time to look up each issue in the local newspapers.  If you can’t figure an issue out, or if you just get tired of doing all that research, it’s still better to vote in part of the election than to avoid it entirely.

If nothing else, you should at least vote on members of congress (US Senate and US Representative). Trump makes it fairly easy, because even if you don’t follow politics that closely, you probably already have a stance on the Trump administration. Members of congress tend to vote along party lines these days, so it’s generally a good strategy to base your votes entirely on party affiliation. In principle I’m open to voting across party lines for lower offices, although I still tend not to.

I’m voting in the California election, and here I’m sharing how I plan to vote, and why.  I don’t provide citations, I expect readers to independently verify my claims.

State propositions

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