• Make Federalism Great Again

    Americans don’t want federalism. But they should. I have convinced two friends that I am right and they offered their own implementations.

    1. Federalism With Moving Subsidies

    States can do whatever they want. The Bill of Rights are no longer incorporated against the the states. However, states must pay the the relocation costs of people who want to move. Perhaps state governments would moderate their culture war grandstanding if they were forced to pay for bad policies that drive residents away. States are allowed to experiment again and people aren’t trapped in places that are hostile to their values.

    2. Galaxy Brain Federalism

    Let states that don’t want to be part of the Union leave. Withdraw all federal military equipment and personnel who don’t want to stay with the neo-Confederate states. No longer America. Constitution no longer applies. Invade because America will not tolerate an enemy on her borders. Make Sherman’s March look like child’s play.

    Union. From Sea to Shining Sea.

    Activated Senator Daniel Webster c. 1847.

  • How I Got MoviePy To Work (Again)

    tl;dr:

    If MoviePy isn’t including audio in your final write_videofile clip, and you’re running MoviePy through Anaconda on Windows, then make sure Anaconda is installing and updating from the correct repo.

    If you’re stuck using an old version of MoviePy, removing the -an argument in the ffmpeg_writer.py file in the package library as described here might get it working.


    Since 2021, MoviePy, the wonderful command line tool for video editing, hasn’t added audio to finished video clips when I’ve tried to use it. The original clip(s) will have audio, or I supply the audio in a separate clip, but the write_videofile function will not return a video clip with audio.

    MoviePy will even generate a temp audio file, but not remux the audio into the final video file.

    My workaround for this has been to take the temp audio file that MoviePy generates and use ffmpeg to combine the video and audio tracks. 🤦‍♂️

    Today, I tried Googling the problem one more time which led me to a series of fixes I feel compelled to boost for any frustrated idiots like me who continue to use a command line video editor in 2023.

    Google took me to a GitHub comment I hadn’t seen before.

    ghost commented on Nov 2, 2019

    I faced this issue as well on a project I’m currently working on and it seems like many people are facing this issue as well. For some people, by changing the audio encoding that did the trick and fixed the issue (such as #820). However, changing the audio encoding didn’t work for me, the only solution I found for this issue is one mentioned in #876 was to remove the -an from the ffmpeg_writer.py file in \site-packages\moviepy-1.0.1-py3.7.egg\moviepy\video\io

    After I removed the -an from there it all worked like a charm.

    Comment out the `-an` argument on line 87 in the `ffmpeg_writer.py` file in your MoviePy package directory.
    The `-an` flag to be removed is highlighted in green.

    Implementing this fix worked on the test files and scripts that previously returned clips without sounds. However, the GitHub issue was closed in March 2020, which raised the question why was I still having this issue? Since I first encountered the problem in 2021, I’ve updated updated my installed packages in Anaconda before each time I’ve attempted to run MoviePy.

    When I attempted to check which version of MoviePy I had installed, I found this fun error:

    `conda search -f moviepy` returns the following error: `PackagesNotFoundError: The following packages are not available from current channels: - moviepy`
    Well that explains a lot.

    It turns out MoviePy is in conda-forge, but not the official Anaconda repositories. More searching informed me that the standard conda update --all command does not update non-conda packages. The -c flag can be added to the command to include non-conda channels in your update. Like this: -c conda-forge.

    Once I actually updated MoviePy, my test cases continued to work.

    Maybe it’s time to install the free version of DaVinci Resolve….

  • The US Isn't Rome, It's Spain

    Félix Parra, Episodes of the Conquest: <em>Massacre of Cholula</em>, 1877, oil on canvas
    Félix Parra's Episodes of the Conquest: Massacre of Cholula, 1877, oil on canvas.

    Americans love comparing their country to older and grander civilizations. Usually Rome. Even if things look grim, people take comfort in knowing they live in Interesting Times.

    For example, historian-turned-farmer-turned-AM radio scold Victor Davis Hanson is so comfortably bored at his San Juaquin vineyard that he pretends he lives “on the frontier near Carthage around A.D. 530, or in a beleaguered Rome in 455” because of a rash of metal theft and illegal dumping plaguing the valley. (Liberal bureaucrats, California DREAM Act beneficiaries, and “the media” peddling “Ministry of Truth Groupthink” are unsurprisingly to blame.)

    There’s danger in “laundering hot takes through history.” The true nature of both current events and the past is distorted. Likening the U.S.’s trajectory to the Pedagogue’s Saga of Rome in which a scrappy republic is corrupted into a decadent empire with a cataclysmic finale is flattering but it’s also worth remembering the other empires.

    John Dolan and Mark Ames from the Radio War Nerd podcast like to compare the U.S. to Spain. From their recent episode on Simón Bolívar:

    Dolan: In 1600, Spain seemed like the dominant world power, but by the time Bolívar was born in 1783 that hasn’t been true for a very long time. And the Spanish elite knew very well that it wasn’t true and there were plenty of theories, many of them quite valid, floating around on why it wasn’t true.

    Ames: It’s a good lesson too because you want to believe that the big events will happen at the right time, that would make sense and in your lifetime and a lot of people just sort of think, you know, ‘the American empire is on the verge of collapse.’ It doesn’t have to happen like that.

    Dolan: No.

    Ames: It can be a long, drawn out, barely discernible decline.

    Dolan: Very much so.

    Ames: With ups and downs—Ottoman Empire is kinda like that too.

    Dolan: Yeah, yeah. I mean long-term, I would bet against the American Empire, but I wouldn’t take any bets about the next ten years. You’re right it doesn’t happen like that. And, part of the reason Spain lost is because of a kind of excessive and just stupid cruelty towards its own colonies in Latin America.

    That analysis sounds about right to me. A meteoric rise, followed by an protracted, humiliating, expensive decline peppered with episodes of shameful cruelty.

  • A Point About US Conservatives

    There’s this New York Review of Books article about the resurgence of the political right in Europe. Far right movements around the world are coalescing around an anti-immigrant, protectionist, social conservative message.

    The strain of libertarianism obsessed with economic liberty has had an outsized effect on U.S. conservatism that was so complete I realized only recently how unique it was in the context of conservative movements around the globe.

    While they balk at bureaucratic EU paternalism, the European right, for example, also opposes neoliberal economics for sacrificing workers and the middle-class at the alter of financialization and globalization.

    Now American conservatism is falling in line with conservatism in the rest of the world.

    Citing polling indicating that the Republican base supports increased taxes on the rich, opposes cuts in Medicare and Social Security, and generally opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, George W. Bush speechwriter turned Never-Trumper David Frum wrote in 2016,

    Against all evidence, both [big Republican donors and the politicians who depend on them] interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    I guess the GOP base never cared for economic liberty either. Just the donor class.

  • Pragmatism for Creatives

    I’ve been offered a lot of good advice that I ignored. I’m well on my way to my thirties, so now I guess it’s my turn to proffer some unheeded advice of my own.

    Many people desire a job in a creative field. They think a career spent writing, or singing, or playing music, or acting will be free of feelings of aimlessness, frustration, and tedium.

    It isn’t. But just as they start taking the earliest steps towards building a career, they become disillusioned to learn that they’re often expected to work for free, and indeed are sometimes expected to already have an extensive body of work before they’ve even offered the opportunity to work for free. So they drift between low-paying service jobs, hoping that they will be handed their dream job once someone notices their “passion.”

    If you want to write, or draw, or sing, or play music, or act, by all means, develop those skills. Just don’t plan your future assuming you will be able to make a living doing it.

    Some of the best writers and artists that I’ve discovered don’t write and draw for a living. Instead, they see art as a key component of their lives. So every week, they write a new blog post or update a webcomic.

    After a few years of consistent output, their skills have developed, and so has a following; sometimes one large enough that they can earn a few coins from their work.

    Get a job you can live with. One that comfortably pays the bills, but doesn’t eat up all of your time or go home with you. Live cheaply, save money. Develop side projects related to what you really want to do.

    It’s quite possible you’ll find something that sticks—it’s making money. The trick will be to transition into making that side gig a full-time job. You’ll have to save more money, ramp things up with your side project, all while holding down another job.

    Or maybe none of your side projects will ever take off. Maybe time or financial constraints prevent you from honing your skills of your passion as much as you need to. Maybe the paying public just isn’t interested in your passion right now. Maybe things get interrupted with a family.1 That’s unfortunate, but none of that prevents you from writing, painting, acting, or playing music. It just means you can’t do that for a living.

    “Life does not ask us what we want,” writes economist Thomas Sowell. “It presents us with options.”

    1. Or maybe your current job develops into a career that you’d like to continue pursuing. 

  • The Debunked Backfire Effect and Its Implications

    Monty Python Argument Clinic Sketch

    In 2010, researchers Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler published a study documenting a phenomena they called the “backfire effect.” When shown facts that contradict their ideologically-held beliefs, says the study, many people double down and take an even more extreme position than before.

    The story the backfire effect tells about the intransigence of our political opponents is a very appealing one for American political commentators. If you’ve concluded that the opposition is beyond reason, you no longer have to attempt to persuade them, just threaten them.

    But like many social science truisms of the last 40 years, the backfire effect has failed the replication test.

    Ethan Wood and Thomas Porter assessed the reactions of over 10,000 subjects to “52 issues of potential backfire” in a series of studies and were unable to replicate the backfire effect. From an interview the two researchers did with Poynter:

    I’m hesitant to use the word “unicorn,” but there’s something about backfire… I have seen so many videos of people making a soufflé and I have tried for years but I cannot get a soufflé to rise.

    Backfire is not quite like that, but it does feel like something that you should write to your friends and be excited about when you observe it. Backfire is very unusual, and I don’t think it should be something that affects the way fact-checkers work.

    But, says Wood, “we didn’t see any differences on policy preferences among corrected and uncorrected groups…[w]e can make the factual intervention and they’ll cohere with the facts but they may still have the preferences they had beforehand.” [Emphasis mine.]

    This may sound like more excuse-making; more mental bulwarks members of the other team have erected to protect themselves against empirical reality. But as the data gathered in the Wood-Porter studies indicate, humans are pretty good at internalizing new information. It’s just that, as Wood points out, facts are “only one component of the way that average people come to hold political preferences.”

    Explaining to an opponent of gun-control, for example, that firearms kept in the home are by far more likely to be used on someone living in the home than a dangerous criminal breaking into the home will not be persuasive if she believes the Second Amendment is an important check against a tyrannical government. She understands the statistic, but it doesn’t override her main concerns.

    She is not stupid or evil. She just has a different worldview. And just because she hasn’t changed her position on guns doesn’t mean that presenting her with that statistic has had no effect.1

    In an episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, neurologist Steven Novella notes that you’re never going to end an argument with your opponent changing sides. What you can do is plant a seed of doubt in your opponent’s mind. Then, weeks or months later, she’ll find herself repeating your points in an argument with someone else.

    But even if you never actually persuade other people to change their minds, I don’t think arguing is pointless. You’re forcing them to reflect on their values in a way they probably wouldn’t by themselves. And at the very least, they’ll come away understanding that the situation is more nuanced than they previously thought. That alone seems valuable.

    1. [UPDATE] Another example, this one on two differing views on the #MeToo movement, can be heard here

  • Politics as Religion

    “Politics at its most basic isn’t a Princeton debating society,” wrote Matt Taibbi, “[i]t’s a desperate battle over who gets what.” If that’s true, then it’s probably best if that fight remains a boring one.

    In college, Professor Ackroyd (no relation to the Blues Brother) told us that politics can be three things:

    1. A question of policy. How many exits should the new highway have, and where should they be? What should the new tax rate be to pay for the highway? It’s fairly easy to compromise on policy.

    2. A question of ideology. What is your lens for viewing the world? Oppressor vs. Oppressed? Civilization vs. Barbarism? Liberty vs. Coercion? It’s harder to compromise on ideology.

    3. A question of morality. Bob’s political positions makes him a bad person, a dangerous person. You can’t compromise on your morals.

    American politics is at the third stage. There was a time when people said, “he may be a Democrat, but he’s also good Christian.” As religion has faded in importance in American society, politics has taken its place as a signifier of one’s morality. Now every policy debate is an opportunity to display your moral righteousness.

    As our personal identities are increasingly wrapped up in ideological identity, there’s more to to lose when our political team loses. In such an environment, compromise is portrayed as a loss. In fact, the desire for a team victory surpasses policy success. As we’ve seen with the congressional Republicans currently hyping up protectionism—who in the evening before the election were extolling the virtues of the free market—we will even change policy positions to increase our team’s chances of victory.

    And because our identities are tied to our team’s victory in a zero-sum war, we start to view the culture as source of endless potential fronts on which to fight that war, and thus everything becomes politicized. A friend pointed out to me the obvious but nonetheless depressing fact that for children growing up today, this will seem normal.

    Politics isn’t boring anymore because our politics has become a fight between good and evil on a fractal battlefield.


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