6-8 inches of snow?


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Contra Munroe on Free Speech

There’s a popular xkcd cartoon explaining free speech:


I think Randall Munroe (who writes xkcd) is wrong here, or at least not entirely right. Munroe thinks of free speech in terms of laws: you have free speech if the government won’t punish you for saying something. But free speech isn’t about laws, it’s about social norms: you have free speech if you live in a society where people are not afraid to speak their mind. Munroe is therefore making a category error — thinking something is one category of thing when it is in fact a different category.

Scott Alexander puts it more pithily; Munroe is like a stupid libertarian strawman:

I have a friend who grew up gay in a small town in Alabama, where “faggot” was the all-purpose insult and the local church preached hellfire as the proper punishment for homosexuality. He unsurprisingly stayed in the closet throughout his childhood and ended up with various awful psychological problems.

If you’re a very stupid libertarian strawman, you might ask whether that town had any anti-gay laws on the book – and, upon hearing they didn’t, say that town was “pro-gay”. If you’re not a very stupid libertarian strawman, you hopefully realize that being pro-gay isn’t about boasting how progressive your law code looks, it’s about having a society where it’s possible to be gay. Not having laws against locking up gay people is a necessary precondition, but it’s useless on its own. You only get good results if good laws are matched by good social norms.

Likewise, the goal of being pro-free-speech isn’t to make a really liberal-sounding law code. It’s to create a society where it’s actually possible to hold dissenting opinions, where ideas really do get judged by merit rather than by who’s powerful enough to shut down whom. Having free speech laws on the books is a necessary precondition, but it’s useless in the absence of social norms that support it.

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Ha! Anal!


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Effective vs. Harmful Anti-war Activism


  • A lot of activism comes too late to be productive
  • Stopping adaptation at the bottom of an adaptive valley is bad
  • Activism which is not deeply intellectual and versed in real politics is a blunt instrument which may take away globally optimal policies as options inside democracies
  • Policy is complex, the history of anti-war activism is not only good, there are times it has caused harm and supported the strategic advantage of less democratic world actors.
  • Attempts to limits arms of one sort will lead to disproportionate investment in arms of another sort.
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The Young Vote

Whatever the result of the election — and the BBC are currently forecasting a Tory minority government with 322 seats — is it looks like young people have turned out in greater numbers in this election that they have done in previous ones.

This is likely to have a big long-term effect on politics. In the past parties have cared about older voters, because they actually turn out to vote, and not cared about younger ones, because they don’t.

If that’s changing, politicians will have to change too. They will have to give a shit about issues that affect younger voters, such as affordable housing and tuition fees.

This will be a positive development.

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BBC exit poll: Con 314

The BBC exit poll puts the Conservatives on 314 seats. This means they would lose their majority, and they would get 31 seats less than I predict (345, giving them a majority of 40).

I hope the BBC are right, because I don’t want another 5 years of Tory government, but I expect my prediction will be a damn sight closer to the result than the BBC’s.

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UK General Election Prediction: Con maj 40 seats

This UK general election is harder to predict than most. Polls vary between a Labour lead or 1 point and a Tory lead of 13 points. (1) polling organisations don’t know how bit the “shy Tory” effect will be and therefore don’t know how much to compensate for it, and (2) nor it is known what the turnout of younger voters will be — there have been reports of a million people registering to vote in recent weeks.

Taking an average Tory lead of 6 points, and then adjusting for:

  1. the Lib Dems keep all their seats and gain one from the Tories
  2. In Scotland, the Tories gain 4 seats from the SNP and Labour gain 1
  3. UK lose their seat
  4. The Greens keep theirs

We have:

Con         345
Lab         225
SNP          50
Lib Dem       9
Plaid Cymru   2
Green         1
NI Parties   18

Note that we count the speaker, John Bercow, as a Conservative. This gives the Tories an overall majority of 40 seats.




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