Moving the Goalposts

Michelle Fields, a former reporter for Brietbart News (which, incidentally, has had a pro-Trump slant since the beginning of his race), alleged that Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's campaign manager, assaulted her after an event a few weeks ago.

When news of this first broke, Michelle posted a photo of her bruise to Twitter, and shortly thereafter an audio clip recorded from the incident was released.

To illustrate how goalposts have moved from the beginning of this incident, let me recap the changing talking points from Trump sycophants:

"Michelle Fields is a serial liar and out of hundreds of people at the event, no one saw anything. If Lewandowski assaulted her, let's see some proof."

video of incident is released

"You can't see anything from this video. If anything actually happened, Fields should press charges."

Fields presses charges

"I can't believe she's pressed charges! What an attention whore. If anything actually happened, Lewandowski would get arrested."

Lewandowski is arrested

additional video is released

"Trump is loyal and believes Corey is innocent. If he wasn't, Trump would fire him as his campaign manager."

Trump fires him as his campaign manager


Much eye-rolling ensues.

If this were the only incident where the goalposts have been shifted at each stage, that would be one thing. But Trump appears to have made this a habit.

A Giant Game of Chicken

From Patrick O'Connor at The Wall Street Journal:

“It’s not too late today, but time is running short,” said Katie Packer, executive director of Our Principles PAC, whose business partners have done work for Mr. Trump’s rivals. “If we don’t act now, we’re running out of runway.”

Source: Donald Trump’s Republican Foes Step Up Efforts to Defeat Him

Donald Trump just won the Nevada Republican Primary at a margin of 45.9% to Marco Rubio's 23.9% and Ted Cruz's 21.4%. This is Trump's third straight win (the previous two being in South Carolina and New Hampshire). By now, the time has long passed to laugh him off.

When Trump entered the race, everyone was convinced that his run wasn't going to go anywhere. Jeb Bush, brother of the most recent Republican president and son of the Republican president before him, had a Super PAC that had raised in excess of $100 million. What chance did Trump have?

I don't think any other the other campaigns considered his appeal, or why he could attract as much attention as he did. In hindsight (and I'll just speak the obvious here), this was incredibly stupid.

Trump has always been a media star. His show, The Apprentice, was one of the most popular reality segments for years. As a Presidential candidate in the age of memes, your follower count matters more than how many families you know in the Hamptoms. A ballroom gala where you raise $10 million dollars isn't a success. It means absolute shit in 2016.

And great, let's say you do have some money. You don't spend that on crappy TV advertisements that look like they were made in the 80s. Gosh darnit, people (is my hand-wringing coming across here?), who even watches TV anymore?

Alright, whatever, let's say your dead-set on making a video (TV is a dead word, don't say it or use it). Here's what you do: buy a Super Bowl spot (yes, too late, sorry) and/or upload it to YouTube. Make it super high production quality, hire a few small firms that specialize in making funny videos, and make some viral skits. Put them on YouTube, buys ads on Facebook, and gasp buy some Adwords. Show your voters that you're not just a person in a suit reading off a policy agenda on a podium. Yes, policy is incredibly important, but we're in an age where you need to show your potential voters that you're human, and relatable.

We're obsessed with tldr;, witty tweets, and memes. Candidates of 2016, that's your competition, not the other suits standing next to you at the debates.

By now, it should be obvious to you why Trump is winning.

His success has very little to do with people being angry and more to do with how jaded and banal our society is. He's taken advantage of the way the American hive-mind thinks and acts.

Those of us sitting on the ivory tower levy claims that America is ignorant or stupid; the irony is that the converse holds more truth. We're quite blissfully unaware of what life is like for a large number of Americans. Frankly, those with the money are used to being able to wield it to push agendas. Internet access has essentially re-enfranchised huge parts of the populace to make decisions and rally around a cause in a way that would have been unfathomable only a mere decade ago. Sarah Palin showed us that 8 years ago. Now the reality is back with a vengeance.

Another component of this is that Trump has taken advantage of what is essentially a giant game of chicken between the other candidates. Trump might be current leader in delegate counts, but he loses by large margins when pitted head-to-head against Cruz and Rubio.

What's happening is that the Republican party is not really one party; it's two. One of those parties has set on Trump as their candidate. The other party is split between Cruz, Rubio, and all the others. The unfortunate truth is that unless Cruz or Rubio drops out before Super Tuesday, Trump will probably get the nomination.

What's so, so frustrating is that we're seeing a real-world example of the Prisoner's Dilemma in action. What's normally an interesting intellectual discussion in college economics is now influencing the fate of the United States.

I'll lay out the dilemma as if you've never heard of it before. Imagine two prisoners—A and B—both caught for the same crime. They're sitting in their individual cells, each being interrogated. There's limited proof of their crime, so if they both stay silent, their sentences will be minimal. However, there's a chance that A could rat out B. If that happens, B gets punished severely, for both lying under oath and committing a crime. A is let go. Vice-versa if B rats out A. If they both betray each other, it's clear they both committed the crime and they'll both be sentenced.

The dilemma is that betrayal is the best strategy for getting the best outcome. The problem is that both players know this, and it essentially becomes a game of chicken. Who will fold first?

All it takes for Trump to lose is for either Cruz or Rubio to leave the race. However, leaving the race precludes that individual's best outcome (becoming president). Both candidates staying in is equivalent to them ratting the other out: they'll both lose.

What we need is for one of them to make a deal with the other. If one of them doesn't do this soon, the game is over, and Trump will win the nomination. One of them has to take the risk.

If none of this happens, and Trump does win the nomination, there is still hope. Michael Bloomberg is still weighing the decision of running as an Independent. If that happens, we're headed towards a very interesting November ballot.

Bernie Sanders’s Tax Plan Would Test an Economic Hypothesis

From Josh Barro at the New York Times:

Mr. Sanders has proposed a headline top tax rate of 52 percent, applying only to incomes over $10 million. But that’s just the federal income tax. When you combine it with other taxes that apply to income, like existing payroll taxes and new ones Mr. Sanders would impose to pay for Social Security, single-payer health care and family leave, and then add those on top of taxes levied by state governments, it would add up to a combined tax rate of over 73 percent on the highest incomes, more than 20 points higher than today. That’s in the average state — maximum rates in high-tax jurisdictions like California and New York City would be even higher.

While the economic theory might hold up, it assumes wealthy people don't change their behavior. I'll ask you: if you knew that any money you make after $10 million would be taxed so high, how hard would you work to try to make more than that? Or, gasp, might you consider moving to another country with a lower tax rate?

I know what you're thinking: "Boo-hoo. Greed is bad. We don't want people keeping what they make after $10 million anyways. That's an ungodly sum of money and no one needs that. They'll just have to make do with their paltry $9.99 million paychecks."

One big reason this is such a problem is that a large amount of federal revenue is dependant upon higher-income earners. If we drive higher income earners out or disincentivize those earning more than a certain threshold, our models stop working. Longer-term, we drive people away from higher-income jobs. Sooner or later, we have a deficit. And guess who's going to have to pay for the difference?

You guessed it. Everyone making less than $10 million per year. Which means higher taxes for pretty much everyone else.

We call it "theory" for a reason.

Replacing Tracking Speed

My iMac has started resetting my mouse's tracking speed upon every restart. While somewhat frustrating, it's pretty easy to open up System Preferences -> Mouse, and update the tracking speed to one notch below "Fast" and get on with my work.


While it's gotten a little old, it also got me to thinking: why does Apple measure mouse movement in terms of "Tracking speed"? And what is tracking speed, anyways?

After doing a "fair bit" of research (read: jumping to the mouse speed section on Wikipedia), I encountered an interestingly named measurement called "Mickeys per second" (tee hee). It makes some sense: according to Wikipedia, it measures "the ratio between how many pixels the cursor moves on the screen and how far the mouse moves on the mouse pad."

While, at some point in the past, this might have been a completely sensible measurement, we've moved somewhat beyond pixels. Pixels used to be visible to the naked eye, but with today's 4K and 5K displays, that's no longer true. What also struck me was that, unless Mickeys per second could change with each display, setups with multiple displays would need a variable number of Mickeys per second to render a constant speed mouse pointer (at least in physical space). Obviously, behind the scenes, modern operating systems are flexible and take account of this, but this dynamic behavior is hidden from the end user.

Let's go back to the beginning. Here I am, updating my tracking speed a couple times a week. When I do something more than once, my instinct is to find a way to stop doing it. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that we (or really, Apple or Microsoft) are thinking about this in the wrong way.

Think about it. Mouse velocity comes down to three things:

  1. The "reach" of the user's hand (i.e., the maximum distance the center of the mouse sensor can be moved by the user from one side to the other).
  2. The size of the screen.
  3. The "intent" distance (i.e., the smallest intentional movement a user can make)

Without taking into user comfort level, the absolute minimum for this hypothetical measurement should be one screen per reach. No matter how good you are with computers, it's a bad experience if you need to lift up your mouse several times to position the cursor in the right place. At maximum, it again needs to be user-specific. If mouse control is erratic or difficult for the user, the intent value should be larger than for someone with good hand dexterity.

Since we don't want to move the mouse at all until the mouse has moved at least the intent distance, and we don't want to move it less than the screen size, we can determine an upper bound and lower bound for mouse velocity. Furthermore, extracting these values doesn't entail asking the user to drag a marker on a screen for some arbitrary indicator.

It would be relatively easy to determine these values automatically based on a simple tool: just ask the user to move the mouse from side-to-side, and then display a grid to the user, prompting them to click between two points as close to each other as possible. Since screen size is already known by the OS, it would just be a simple matter of crunching the numbers to an internal value.

There's probably lots of bigger fish to fry on Apple's Mac OS X team, but I think it'd be a huge improvement to the user experience and would make this setting a lot less opaque to end users.