So it turns out, lying *constantly* in public office is actually, well, bad.

If the coronavirus turns out not to be the 21st century’s Spanish influenza, I think that outcome will occur because of simple, blind luck. That would be nice, if it falls out that way.

It’s clear that there is no real plan, Trump won’t listen to epidemiologists or anybody else he thinks wields expertise, and the doctors that actually DO fit within Trump’s inner circle (Rand Paul, Ben Carson) do not seem motivated to say “Hey, let’s send a coherent message about not panicking and taking measures you can: hand-washing, staying home if sick, etc., sending your employees home if sick,. etc. ”

We are in this moment with a guy whose supporters—supporters–say that what he says should be taken “figuratively, not literally.” Now that we are two years into locking up children, that was all BS, but people still say it. Now, what, exactly, do you do with figurative actions about a virus that a president blames on a conspiracy?

Donald Trump lies and brags incessantly. When he talks, nobody can judge anything for what it is. And he never shuts up, so that anything real he does say gets lost in the noise.   

That works to his benefit when he and his people want to further obscure the questionable conduct documented in the Mueller Report. But just as all that lying, bragging, and spinning hides the bad things Donald Trump has allegedly done, it also hides the real…..and the urgency of the real.

Donald Trump, according to himself, conducts “perfect conversations” and “the best deals.” He writes “beautiful letters, perfect letters.” Come on. Nobody writes perfect letters, and if they did, who cares?  Ronald Reagen wrote some damn good letters, and he didn’t expect us to give him a cookie for it.  

By contrast, Barack Obama could announce the death of Bin Laden to an American public that had been primed into justifying the terrorist’s death by two presidents capable of a) shutting up and b) talking about something other than themselves. After 9-11, Americans had had periodic news of Bin Laden’s activities, videos, and latest threats.  Americans could then understand what Bin Laden’s death meant in the larger history about our struggles with terrorism in the post 9-11 world.  Leadership means helping your people see what they need to see. 

In Trump’s presidency, there is no news about anybody other than Trump, and he does his level best to make sure of that, and to make sure nobody can see anything but him. 

Thus having not discussed anybody else for three years and bragging about minutiae, Donald Trump announces to the American public that our special forces trapped al-Baghdadi. Or he has a press conference to reassure us all that It felt, as the kids say, random, instead of part of a sustained effort in anti-terrorism. I’m betting most of us had to Google al-Baghdadi.  After that, I suspect most Americans just filed what was, in reality, a world-changing report about al-Baghdadi’s death with all the rest of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless cheap talk.  They put it in the blather file along with beautiful, perfect letters and raids on revolutionary war airports and buying Greenland and how Christy Teigen says naughty words. 

All politicians lie and self-promote. This statement is not an indictment of politicians’ character. It acknowledges that politicians are human and that human beings lie and present our best selves to the world. 

 Because politicians wield power, political lying is consequential, and as such, lying has preoccupied some of history’s most influential thinkers. Liars and cheats run amok in the Old Testament, doing all sorts of shady things for important political and social ends. Plato discussed the need to create peace-keeping fibs to keep society stable. Machiavelli, that grumpy realist, instructed his princes that they must employ both force and fraud in a cutthroat world. Kant discouraged lying as a legitimate means to specific ends. Public ethicists today debate lying in politics along all these facets.   

The president’s supporters have told me that Donald Trump has redefined politics so that all his chatter is merely a performance beloved by the masses of real Americans. I do not buy it. Always there must be a strategic reasons for lying, and always—always—a point where leaders keep things real, if not always factual.

 In the early days, President Trump’s supporters could view his bloviating as showmanship and project onto him whatever they wished for.  After all this time, however, we must now see a president who has run out his strategy. He can’t lie enough to cover his conduct with Ukraine or the embarrassingly dumb Doral mess. And he cannot clear away the confusion he has fostered for years when his genuine “al-Baghadi moment” finally arrived— a moment that could have delivered to him the respect he so obviously craves. 

We the people cannot be faulted for failing to recognize the diamond amongst all the cheap imitation glass that Donald Trump has tried to sell us for years. Nobody expects a political leader to be a saint, or if they do, they are likely to be deeply disappointed. But nobody wants to be doused in bull poop all the time, either. If Donald Trump wants the respect of the office, he has to start being real. He has to stop making things up during press conferences, tweeting nonsensically, and rocking the boat just to get attention with silly celebrity feuds. If he can’t be real—if this constant jibber jabber really is all he is– he shouldn’t be in office. 

Sometimes, the truth really is that simple.

I am an American scholar who studies American cities, and I am tired of publisher-based “making it relevant to a global audience” pressure

There, I said it. American cities are worth studying, So are Zambian cities. I personally do not study Zambian cities not because I think only American cities are worth studying, but because there are Zambians who can write perfectly well about their own cities without me getting in the way and cluttering things up.

They can also write perfectly well about American cities, from an interesting vantage point.

I happen to think that the obverse, e.g., American scholars writing about cities internationally is a well-established genre that I do not need to be a part of. I don’t claim that my study of whatever and whatever in Los Angeles generalizes to “cities internationally.” It is very unlikely that I am going to claim that my study of Los Angeles is going to generalize to San Diego. Much depends on the topic.

Nobody tells presidential historians that they must make their Lincoln biography “relevant to an international audience.” Lincoln is just interesting. It’s ok.

Twenty years ago, we could say “oh, it’s important to think about how things apply across cities because of lessons learned.” Now we know from scholars from the global south that much of urban theory from the global north just isn’t all that relevant to cities in the global south. They have me convinced, save for a few things that are definitional about cities.

Publishers do not pressure me to appeal to “an international audience” for the benefit of the international audience or necessarily the integrity of the actual thought I’m trying to publish. They are doing it because they want to broaden audiences for their financial gain and relevance during a time when they are struggling. I do empathize, but not everything should be applied to everywhere. Lots of comparative studies simply aren’t that valid, but they are still interesting because they contain insightful writing about each place rather than really sound conclusions from their comparison. You would never know this from the way publishers push things.

I am all for global scholarship is global via by inclusion of voices around the globe. I am just one of those, writing about where I live.

On the Astros, confirmation bias, and how people just KNEW how much Dodgers pitchers sucked at the time

I have been thinking a lot about Astros and how much they have done to debase themselves and a sport that I have loved since childhood. I am not a particularly competitive person with sports, but I was sad the years the Dodgers had fielded such an excellent team only to come up empty at the end—at the hands of the Astros. I saw the thing as unfortunate—something that happens in sports. There’s always next year.

I don’t really know what you do with the title. You can’t award it to the Dodgers, unlike the perpetually omniscient Bernie supporters about election 2016, we have no idea whether the Dodgers would have won or not. But I do think they should take the title away from the Astros and make them pay back their gains. Give it to charity, something.

Beyond that, those jerks ruined Bolsinger’s career for him. Yeah, he might have washed out on his own. But he won’t ever know now, either.

The reason why I am thinking about this is that I am reading Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum’s A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault Against Democracy. It’s a really useful book; I am a fan of Nancy Rosemblum’s work in general, and this book doesn’t let me down. She and Muirhead explain the difference between the conspiracy theories that have always been around in American politics—since the Revolution—to what the authors refer to as the “conspiracism” onthe Right today in the US. Conspiracy theory, they note, requires theory and most
evidence. Much of the evidence is wrongly interpreted, but people still
work to find evidence of the truth.

In conspiracism, truth is irrelevant. Conspiracism is a mindset that deals with anything event or evidence that is counter to what one wants to be truth by ascribing it to a conspiracy on the left. We dislike Hillary Clinton so she’s a criminal. Running a pedophilia ring from a pizza parlor. Clearly. Can’t find the evidence. It was hidden by Deep State Democrats. Also, even if there is no evidence, it could be true. It’s disturbing. What matters isn’t whether it is actually true, what matters is eyeballs and circulation and maintaining your in-group status by echoing it and liking it. Alex Jones gets rich doing this, Donald Trump gets elected.

It’s dangerous and tempting because it rides on cognitive biases, and in particular, confirmation bias. We want something to be true, and conspiracism gives us an excuse to believe it is true regardless of the evidence and facts presented to them. Contradicting evidence has been manufactured by a cabal of scientists or a media cabal,
or a cabal of FBI agents, those notorious deep-state liberals. Mike Bolton goes from being ever-present on FoxNews to suddenly being a liberal stooge. Any evidence that does verify what we want to be true gets pulled in and elevated to serve our confirmation bias. Ha! We were right!

Randy Crane was pretty clear when I was a PhD: the more you believe something is true, the more you work to disprove it. If the hypothesis is left standing, you migh have something. We try in research, or we should try, to discipline our cognitive biases to the degree we can.

At the time the Dodgers were losing, I was surrounded by Giants fans who
haaaaaaate the Dodgers. This behavior is hard for me to respect, but people do engage in these sports rivalrie,s and I have to chalk it up to a human social behavior my autistic mind doesn’t quite grasp—or potentially, it comes down to my fundamental laziness in getting worked up or becoming engaged in something where my efforts really have little to do with outcomes.

It also fails my cost-benefit criteria. Friendly rivalries with genial ribbing I suppose is fine, but I don’t see much of that these days. Anywhere. Instead, I see friendships getting strained. The number of times I have seen my gentle, pure-hearted husband flinch as some Giants fan is all “Dodgers SUCK” in his sweet face….sports just don’t seem worth that to me. It just makes us small instead of what it should do.

This chorus of individuals who hate the Dodgers and who surround me supplied all the reasoning we needed to understand why Dodger pitchers were doing so poorly. The pitchers simply “sucked” I was told, over and over. And over and over. I remember watching Bolsinger get lit up again and again. That guy, I was told dipositively, always sucked, and there he was, sucking. And, of course, it never occurred to me to think otherwise. The Dodgers pitchers, I was told, were overpaid, lousy, overhyped. I
believed the chorus. People were so confident in their assessments.

But it turns out, there was another explanation, one that would be discovered by an Astros fan whose chose to observe instead of opine, who noticed too much banging on trash cans and too many Astros hitters showing way more discernment than they normally did. They didn’t accept the easy answer the way I did, and I am so impressed and grateful.

.Question everything, within reason. That’s where discovery is.

The Dodgers pitchers may have choked all on their own. We don’t know. The problem was…way too many of us think we know when we do not.

Vacancy rates really don’t measure what either YIMBY or tenant advocate orgs want them to

We talked about SB50 in class a few days ago, my undergrad class, and I had a student come up to me later and say “How can you say that we need more housing when vacancy rates are so high?” I asked her where she got the impression that vacancy rates are high in Los Angeles, and she told me about a study from some well-intended people at Luskin who published a study that pretty much epitomized why vacancy rates are not a great measure of the many things that both YIMBY and tenant orgs cite them for.

I don’t link to the study because I don’t want the dunks to start again, and plenty of people criticized that exercise already, but I have since had (also well-intended) YIMBY folk quote vacancy rates at me, leaving me my normal, nonplussed self.

We can put vacancy rates in with average rents as being decidedly poor measures of where we are in terms of housing supply and demand information. Point-in-time rate measures are useful in engineering but descriptive in social sciences, and there are so many things about vacancy rates that are not likely to add up that it’s kinda hard to know where to begin.

First off, a 1 percent vacancy rate is low, but not if a week after the occupancy rates were reported, 100 new buildings with 11 million new units available come on the market. Just so, an 80 percent vacancy rate is high, but not if it describes the occupancy of the 50 available rental units and 11 million families are heading towards the city in Uhauls. These are silly, extreme examples, but you get the point: vacancy rates, like average rents, are only really illustrative when we have repeated measures over a relatively long period, and those measures stay relatively stable over that time. How long indicates a decent market-clearing supply rent profile? I don’t know. How stable? Don’t know that either.

A second problem is that we really don’t know for sure what the relationship, and the timing of that relationship, between rents and vacancy rates. WHOA NELLY. I know right at that point I have YIMBY advocates clearing their throats to yell at me that OF COURSE, WE KNOW THAT LOW VACANCY MEANS HIGH PRICES DUH ECON 101 LADY. Yes, but blunt theoretical knowledge of that relationship really doesn’t tell us when one moves the other or vice versa, and these very likely seems to be mutually reinforcing phenomena. At what vacancy rate, for how long, do landlords really get the message that they have to go lower/can’t go higher? And how much lower do they go when they do go lower? Ditto with renters: are they aware of vacancies such that they walk from bad deals? What about places with lots of recent migrants who are very unlikely to know the rental landscape and very likely take what they can get until they know the place well enough to shop around?

How good even are periodic vacancy reports? Data are scarce enough in housing, and much of it is proprietary, and call me old-fashioned, but I don’t trust business or business associations collecting and reporting data properly. The more information have about their competition, the better, and they all know that, so gaming data that you report to others strikes me as possible but likely, and it also seems to me that the bias here is likely in favor of over-reporting occupancy rather than under-reporting.

This is not me trying to do some “oh see your measure is wonky you can’t prove there is a housing shortage” nonsense. It’s very clear from the accumulated evidence that California cities are too expensive and supply lags are a major part of the problem. It’s just that vacancy rates do not give us much of a guidepost, and granted that they are one of the few data points available, it’s fairly easy for that one, wonky guidepost to be less helpful than we need it to be.