• Lunchtime Photo

    This is a small lake in Sumapaz National Park in Colombia. I don’t know if it’s a permanent lake, or just one that appears during the rainy season and then dries out. But it was very pretty when I was there.

    August 8, 2019 — Sumapaz National Park, Colombia
  • Study Says Police Use Force Far More Against Left-Wing Protests

    Over at the Guardian, they’re using data from the US Crisis Monitor to compare police responses to left-wing vs. right-wing protests:

    The Guardian compared the percentage of all demonstrations organized by leftwing and rightwing groups that resulted in the use of force by law enforcement. For leftwing demonstrations, that was about 4.7% of protests, while for rightwing demonstrations, it was about 1.4%, meaning law enforcement was about three times more likely to use force against leftwing versus rightwing protests.

    Well, OK, but maybe the left-wing protests were generally more violent. That would justify—

    The disparity in police response only grew when comparing peaceful leftwing versus rightwing protests. Looking at the subset of protests in which demonstrators did not engage in any violence, vandalism, or looting, law enforcement officers were about 3.5 times more likely to use force against leftwing protests than rightwing protests, with about 1.8% of peaceful leftwing protests and only half a percent of peaceful rightwing protests met with teargas, rubber bullets or other force from law enforcement.

    OK then. There’s also this, showing the trajectory of militia involvement in right-wing demonstrations:

    Militia involvement quadrupled after the election. The data only goes through the end of November, but it’s a safe bet that the upward trend continued all the way to January 6th.

  • Are Facebook and Twitter Monopolies?

    Are Facebook and Twitter monopolies? Here’s a quick look:

    Facebook accounts for about 17 percent of all users, and the top four sites together account for about 50 percent. (Note that lots of people use multiple sites, so if you add up all the sites you’ll come up with far more than the 4 billion or so total users of social media.)

    “Four firm concentration” is a quick and dirty way of assessing an industry, and a score of 50 percent is generally considered low to moderate. Just to give you an idea of the shape of things, here are some examples from the broad information services category:

    At 50 percent, social media slots into the middle third, along with book publishers, TV broadcasters, and music publishers.

    Note that this is strictly a measure of social media users. There are specific areas, such as online advertising, where the concentration level is considerably higher. However, if your concern is strictly about the influence these companies have over eyeballs, social media looks fairly normal.

  • Why Did Trust in Government Plummet? The Answer Below!

    Yesterday I made the case that if Joe Biden needs to “find a way to reach at least some of the disillusioned and the disaffected” in his inaugural address, talking about the economy isn’t the way to do it. Americans have been doing pretty well lately, and that includes even the working poor.

    But if there really are lots of disaffected Americans—and recent events certainly suggest there are—and money isn’t the fundamental reason for their resentment, then what’s the problem? To help us get to an answer, I posted a chart showing that trust in government plummeted starting in the early 2000s, which suggested we need to look at that time period for an answer. Now let’s take another look at that chart, broken down by Democrats and Republicans:

    You would expect the aughts to be a dismal decade for Democrats. George Bush was in the White House, a war was raging in Iraq, and tax cuts for the rich were the order of the day. For the same reasons, you’d expect it to be a pretty good decade for Republicans. But no. As you can see, Republican trust in government plummeted even more steeply. (This turned around a bit when Donald Trump was elected, which is pretty normal. But it didn’t turn around by much.)

    So what happened in the early 2000s that provoked Republicans so badly? They had a president in the White House; control of Congress for most of the time; and a pretty decent economy. What cankered their souls?

    The answer, based on a handful of evidence and some common sense, is Fox News. It started up in 1996, and after a few years of relatively moderate conservatism it moved distinctly rightward following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This was also the critical period when Fox expanded throughout the country and gained traction with a critical mass of conservative viewers.

    The effect was devastating: during this period Fox increasingly promoted not just conservatism, but a particularly toxic brand of conservatism that depended on stoking outrage over a different government “scandal” on nearly a daily basis. And it did it to a growing number of conservatives.

    It’s all but impossible to watch Fox News on a regular basis and retain any sort of confidence that government is a force for good. This is why conservative trust in government took such a nosedive during the aughts. Unlike Democrats, who were understandably unhappy with Bush era policies, Republicans were deliberately stoked into outrage because that turned out to be where the money was for Rupert Murdoch and his creation.

    Did social media amplify this effect when it spread during the late teens? Sure. Facebook and Twitter gave the outrage a place to swirl around and fester. But make no mistake: social media is basically a sideshow that obviously played no more than a small role in the critical period of conservative disaffection during the aughts. The real culprit for the ever-worsening fury and bitterness of rank-and-file conservatives is Fox News, along with its teammates in the talk radio universe.

  • Are Feelings of Victimhood Rising? Here’s a Quick Look.

    According to Miles Armaly and Adam Enders, a pair of victimologists, we’re all victims these days:

    Believing you’re a victim doesn’t appear to depend on any true state of oppression. In other words, people do not need to actually be victimized to feel like a victim. For example, a roughly equal fraction of Whites (53 percent) and non-Whites (57 percent) agree that “the system is rigged to benefit a select few.” Perceived victimhood doesn’t depend on gender either. For instance, while 39 percent of women agreed with the statement “I usually have to settle for less,” 45 percent of men did so. We didn’t find large differences based on education either. This helps explain why victimhood could loom so large in the minds of Capitol rioters, even though many appear to have been fairly privileged, based on race and socioeconomic status. Perceived victimhood is also similar among Republicans and Democrats and among conservatives and liberals. For example, 28 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats expressed agreement with the statement “great things never come to me.”

    Whenever I read something like this, my first thought is “But has this changed over the past few decades?” There’s usually no reliable way to say for sure, but it’s possible to find surveys that address similar issues. For example, here’s a question from the General Social Survey:

    If you believe that people have no say over the government, it seems likely that you’re expressing some level of victimhood. Likewise, there’s this:

    People who feel that promotions on the job are handled unfairly are expressing one aspect of victimhood, regardless of whether they happen to be right or wrong.

    This is obviously a back-of-the-envelope sort of analysis, but both of these charts suggest that feelings of victimhood haven’t increased over the past couple of decades. In fact, they both suggest small declines.

    I’m not asking anyone to take this too seriously. It’s just meant as a quick gut check on the question of whether feelings of victimhood are on the rise. One obvious defect is that averages like these can hide differences on the margins. It’s possible, for example, that one smallish subgroup has experienced a sharp increase in feelings of victimhood while another smallish subgroup has experienced a decline. You’ll never see this if you look only at averages.

    Nonetheless, it’s worth going through exercises like this. I do it all the time, and with very few exceptions I find that things haven’t actually changed much over the past few decades. This is what makes it all the more important when I come across something that has changed. More on that later today.

  • Republican Members of Congress Say They’re Afraid of Being Assassinated

    I understand that everything is crazy beyond belief right now, but:

    Shocking but not surprising? Go ahead and call me naive, but even now shouldn’t this be surprising? Republican members of Congress who are genuinely afraid that if they vote against Donald Trump they’ll be targeted for assassination?

    I am assuming, by the way, that these folks are afraid of the Proud Boys and other MAGAnauts acting on their own. But are they suggesting that the White House is also involved in this? What the hell is going on?