Quick hits (part I)

1) I was fascinated by this story about Trader Joe’s products.  Basically, they get national manufacturers to make a Trader Joe’s version to sell for cheaper and keep it entirely secret.

2) Nice 538 piece on the rise of white identity politics.  Pretty sure I’ve posted a version of this chart before, but it’s worth it again.  As long as Republicans manage to convince themselves that white people (and Christians!  My God, the level of delusion!) face more discrimination than Black people, we have a serious, serious problem in this country.

3) Seems like a good time to mention that Republican state legislatures across the country– including here in NC– would like to make it legal to run over protesters.  Seriously!

4) My solar eclipse glasses were refunded by Amazon out of “an abundance of caution.”  That said, based on this Today story, I’m using them anyway (rather than ordering more at what has quickly become astronomical prices):

One sure tip that the glasses are safe for use according to Pfriem is if they have “ISO 12312-2 standard” labeled on them.

Another tip: You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face while wearing the glasses. That would mean too much light is getting through the filter.

“So a third thing you could look for is when the product is actually in your hand,” Pfriem said. “Look at the film itself and make sure that there’s no pocking, bubbling or creasing. What those deformities sometimes serve to do is amplify the sun’s light coming through the filter.”

The ones I bought are literally like wearing a blindfold except when looking at the sun.  If blocking out that much visible light I’m going to assume they are blocking out the UV as well.

5) How the alt-right’s rebranding has failed.

6) You should take a look at the really disturbing Vice documentary of Charlottesville.

7) I had no idea about “crown shyness” in trees.  Very cool.

8) Enough with the constant password changing and the insistence on special characters.  What you need is a long password.

9) We really don’t have a very good sense of just how bad being “overweight” is for your health.

Most researchers agree that it’s unhealthy for the average person to be, say, 300 pounds. They don’t really know why being very overweight is bad for you, but the thinking is that all those fat cells disrupt how the body produces and uses insulin, leading to elevated glucose in the blood and, eventually, diabetes. Extra weight also increases blood pressure, which can ultimately damage the heart.

But whether just a few extra pounds raise the risk of death is a surprisingly controversial and polarizing issue. Usually, nutrition scientists tell journalists hedgy things like, “this is just what my study shows,” followed by the dreaded disclaimer: “Further research is needed.” But on this question, the researchers involved are entrenched, having reached opposite conclusions and not budging an inch. Like many internecine wars, the dispute mostly comes down to one small thing: how you define the “overweight” population in the study.

10) What Sinclair Broadcasting is doing is very bad and very scary and very under-the-radar.  Not good.

11) The open carry laws in Virginia sure don’t help the situation.

12) NC Governor Roy Cooper makes the strong case for removing the confederate monuments in NC.  Not while the Republicans run the legislature, but he’s right.

13) It is just so obvious that kids need to move to keep their brains working best (heck, adults, too) and just keeping that at their desks all day with minimal breaks is counter-productive.  And, not just obvious, plenty of studies backing them up.  At least some schools are catching on.  Alas, depressing that some educators still can’t get past this mindset:

But not all districts are embracing the trend of movement breaks.

“The bottom line is that with only six and a half hours during the day, our priority is academics,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the Plainfield School District in Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He said that under state law, the schools provide daily physical education classes and that teachers in the district find ways to give students time during the day to refresh and recharge.

I think I’m going to send the article to my kids’ elementary principal next week.  I’ll be curious as to her response.

14) Jonathan Bernstein on how a classic of political science (I read it in grad school) very much explains Trump’s weakness as a president:

What Neustadt taught was that the constitutional office of President of the United States is an inherently weak one, but that skilled presidents can nevertheless become enormously influential. The flip side of this, however, is that an amateurish president can barely even exercise the constitutional and statutory authority of the office…

Without a more direct way to control the government, Neustadt argues that presidents must depend on what he calls “persuasion” — better referred to as the skilled use of leverage and bargaining power. Not just with Congress, or within the executive branch, but across the board. This “persuasion” doesn’t necessarily mean changing anyone’s mind. It may just mean convincing someone in a position of power to do nothing rather than something.

Resignations from the president’s American Manufacturing Council are a classic case of failed persuasion. The businesspeople who quit — at least six since the president’s poorly reviewed comments on Charlottesville — were private citizens, not government officials. And all Trump wanted from them, to put it plainly, was for them to do nothing while lending their credibility to his agenda. That’s not necessarily a huge ask in the current situation, which didn’t directly put the interests of Merck or Under Armour at risk. Yet persuading them to stay put was something apparently beyond the very limited abilities of the president at this point. It didn’t help, of course, that Trump reinforced his reputation as a paper tiger by attacking Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier only to have Merck’s share prices spike. As my View colleague Joe Nocera pointed out, “there’s nothing to be scared of” from Trump’s tweets. Skilled presidents, however, rely on more than just threats. They work hard to build strong relationships, and know when to dangle carrots to loosely affiliated supporters, too.

Or perhaps an even better illustration of how weak Trump has become is that he’s even lost, in at least one case, the ability to supply the words coming out of the presidential mouth. Trump resisted the statement originally drafted for him about Charlottesville on Saturday, adding squish words about “many sides” to a statement that would have condemned neo-Nazis. But that didn’t stand; by Monday, over his own personal objections, Trump wound up giving the statement he was supposed to have given in the first place. And after kicking up a firestorm in an ugly appearance on Tuesday in which he went back to blaming both sides, it wouldn’t be surprising if he winds up backing down again — or suffering a real price for saying what he wanted to say.

So Trump is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a historically weak president. His professional reputation is in tatters, he’s unusually unpopular, and he doesn’t appear to come close to having the skills to do anything about it. Exactly the conditions under which Neustadt predicted presidents would lose influence. [emphasis mine]

15) Been hearing a lot about Antifa lately.  Nice take on it from Peter Beinart.

16) TV is getting more confusing and it’s only going to get worse.

17) Do not use hair conditioner in the case of a nuclear explosion near by.

18) Watched Bill and Ted’s (on Amazon prime this month) with the boys this week.  Holds up in my book.  David loved it just as much as I did at his age.

The best value in higher education

So, lots of people around here sharing a recent Money ranking that put NC State as the “best value” for higher ed in NC.  What bothered me was one particular statistic that really helped NCSU:

It looked at cost of attendance, including tuition, fees, housing and food, and took into account average financial aid for students.

UNC had a lower estimated price after grants than N.C. State, but Money gave the overall edge to NCSU based on other factors, including the percentage of students receiving financial aid and early career earnings of alumni. Based on alumni reports to PayScale.com, early career earnings averaged $52,500 for NCSU graduates, $46,800 for UNC graduates and $62,000 for Duke graduates.

State graduates a ton of engineers every year.  That’s a great way to have a nice salary in your “early career.”  UNC graduates exactly 0 engineers every year.  I know these are blunt measures, but if this is going to be such a key component I strongly suspect that NCSU is not the best value if you are not an engineering major.  Not that I don’t love our Political Science degree :-).

The statues

Great piece at NPR.  First, it takes on Trump’s Russian-inspired “whataboutism.”  (If you are not familiar with this Soviet propaganda technique, read this).  And, then, it looks at what people are looking for in their RE Lee statues:

So “whatabout” them? [Washington, Jefferson, etc.] Must they all go if Robert E. Lee goes?

Not necessarily, because they are not all the same.

Some figures stood for something larger. Washington guided the foundation of a country that eventually preserved freedom for all. Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, in which a single phrase — “that all men are created equal” — became a hammer that later generations would use to help smash the chains of slavery.

It’s possible to make a case for honoring such men, so long as we are also honest about their flaws. They were participants in a great experiment in self-government, which has expanded over time to embrace more and more people of all races, not to mention women, too.

So “whatabout” Lee? What did he stand for?

Lee, who is connected by marriage to the family of Washington, resigned from the Army to fight against his country, on the Confederate side in the Civil War…

There is still a case to be made for Lee as a brilliant general, who won battle after battle and kept his army together for years, even though it was massively outnumbered and undersupplied. He is a significant figure in the American story.

Ulysses S. Grant, the general who defeated him, gave the best epitaph of Lee, saying the Confederate general “had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.” …

Is it remotely possible that Spencer and Identity Evropa and the driver of a Dodge Challenger came to defend the statue of Lee because of his skill in military tactics and strategy? [italics in original; bold is mine]

To have such defenders says a lot about the cause that Lee represented. To have the president of the United States compare Lee to Washington is simply, factually wrong.

Meanwhile, terrific essay from Stonewall Jackson’s great-great-grandsons in Slate:

Last weekend, Charlottesville showed us unequivocally that Confederate statues offer pre-existing iconography for racists. The people who descended on Charlottesville last weekend were there to make a naked show of force for white supremacy. To them, the Robert E. Lee statue is a clear symbol of their hateful ideology. The Confederate statues on Monument Avenue are, too—especially Jackson, who faces north, supposedly as if to continue the fight.

We are writing to say that we understand justice very differently from our grandfather’s grandfather, and we wish to make it clear his statue does not represent us…

While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer. We are ashamed of the monument.

In fact, instead of lauding Jackson’s violence, we choose to celebrate Stonewall’s sister—our great-great-grandaunt—Laura Jackson Arnold. As an adult Laura became a staunch Unionist and abolitionist. Though she and Stonewall were incredibly close through childhood, she never spoke to Stonewall after his decision to support the Confederacy. We choose to stand on the right side of history with Laura Jackson Arnold.

Confederate monuments like the Jackson statue were never intended as benign symbols. Rather, they were the clearly articulated artwork of white supremacy. Among many examples, we can see this plainly if we look at the dedication of a Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina, in which a speaker proclaimed that the Confederate soldier “saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.” Disturbingly, he went on to recount a tale of performing the “pleasing duty” of “horse whipping” a black woman in front of federal soldiers. All over the South, this grotesque message is conveyed by similar monuments. As importantly, this message is clear to today’s avowed white supremacists.

And this nice chart, via Drum, reinforces the point:

Photo of the day

From a recent photos of the week gallery in the Atlantic:

A surfer catches a wave as the sun sets at the end of the first day of the annual Boardmasters festival held on Fistral beach in Newquay on August 9, 2017 in Cornwall, England. Since 1981, the Boardmasters surfing competition has been held in Newquay and is now part of a larger five-day surf, skate and music festival. 

Matt Cardy / Getty

Looking good for 2018

Seth Masket takes to 538 to explain why all the Democratic Congressional candidates for 2018 is a good sign.  I love that this nicely explains some of my favorite PS research ever (reading Gary Jacobson’s work on strategic challengers and Congressional elections as much as anything inspired me to be a political scientist).  Anyway, Masket:

Ed Kilgore ran a similar analysis recently at New York Magazine, drawing from a longer time series made available by the Campaign Finance Institute. The main finding was that Democrats hold an enormous advantage in early candidate filings for the 2018 midterm elections. In particular, if we limit the analysis to the number of challengers to House incumbents who have filed for next year and have raised at least $5,000 — in an effort to narrow our sample to truly viable candidates — we see a record advantage for Democrats right now…

In the chart below, I have plotted the Democratic advantage in early House challengers against the number of House seats won by Democrats since 2004. As the chart suggests, while there is a pretty small number of data points, this is a very strong relationship. Each additional percentage advantage in early candidates yields about 2.5 additional House members in the election…

Political science research suggests that the recruitment of high-quality candidates explains a good deal of election outcomes — if a party can convince a large number of skilled and experienced candidates to run for office, those candidates tend to do better and the party tends to win more seats. Indeed, the recruitment of quality candidates helps explain the development of the incumbency advantage in 20th century American politics. Finding strong candidates was Newt Gingrich’s approach prior to the 1994 Republican landslide, just as it was Rahm Emanuel’s strategy for 2006.

Other factors will affect just how successful those recruitment efforts will be, of course. If a House member looks safe and the political fundamentals (including the state of the economy and the president’s popularity) don’t look like they’re going to make incumbents unpopular, it will be hard to convince, say, a state legislator in a safe district to jump into a difficult and expensive congressional race.

But the environment right now suggests that Republican incumbents are vulnerable. President Trump’s approval ratings are in the mid-30s, even amid a strong economy, and it’s hard to see how the environment will improve much for the GOP by next year. And one way Democrats have been responding to Trump’s various norm violations is by running for office. [emphases mine]

Will the Democrats get a House majority in 2018?  Maybe, maybe not.  The thing to note now is that all the key factors seem to be in place to make this a very real possibility.  And if it does happen, a very-well-deserved impeachment.

Trump’s triggers

Apparently, the presidency needed a trigger warning to keep Trump away.  Too late now.  From Politico:

“In some ways, Trump would rather have people calling him racist than say he backed down the minute he was wrong,”[emphasis mine] one adviser to the White House said on Wednesday about Charlottesville. “This may turn into the biggest mess of his presidency because he is stubborn and doesn’t realize how bad this is getting.”

For Trump, anger serves as a way to manage staff, express his displeasure or simply as an outlet that soothes him. Often, aides and advisers say, he’ll get mad at a specific staffer or broader situation, unload from the Oval Office and then three hours later act as if nothing ever occurred even if others still feel rattled by it. Negative television coverage and lawyers earn particular ire from him.

White House officials and informal advisers say the triggers for his temper are if he thinks someone is lying to him, if he’s caught by surprise, if someone criticizes him, or if someone stops him from trying to do something or seeks to control him.

To paraphrase a friend who shared this on FB… well it’s not like the president ever faces these things.

Many sides. Many sides.

Love this from Margaret Sullivan on Trump’s “False equivalency presidency.”

He’s the false-equivalency president.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the national news media’s misguided sense of fairness helped equate the serious flaws of Hillary Clinton with the disqualifying evils of Donald Trump.

“But her emails . . .” goes the ironic line that aptly summarizes too much of the media’s coverage of the candidates. In short: Clinton’s misuse of a private email server was inflated to keep up with Trump’s racism, sexism and unbalanced narcissism — all in the name of seeming evenhanded.

In a devastating post-election report, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center concluded that media treatment was rife with false equivalency: “On topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone.”

That was a factor — one of many — that helped to put Trump in the Oval Office.

Elected with the help of false equivalency, Trump is now creating some of his own…

With the issue of false equivalency front and center once again, a profound question arises for journalists: What does true fairness look like in covering this president?

We’re starting to see some answers…

On CNN, Jake Tapper’s commentary was blunt: “To anybody out there [thinking]: ‘I thought that the Klan and neo-Nazis and white supremacists, I thought there was no debate about this among civilized people?’ There isn’t a debate about it.”

And a Washington Post analysis by Philip Bump dispassionately observed that Trump had doubled down on what he originally said: “He’s sympathetic to the goals of the men who marched Saturday night carrying Confederate and Nazi flags — and even to the ‘peaceful’ torchlight protest on Friday in which marchers chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans.”…

“The whole doctrine of objectivity in journalism has become part of the [media’s] problem,” Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said this week in a talk at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. He believes that journalists must state their biases up front and not pretend to be magically free of the beliefs or assumptions that everyone has…

In dealing with the false-equivalency president they helped to get elected, the news media may have learned something.

The best way to be fair is not to be falsely evenhanded, giving equal weight to unequal sides. It’s to push for the truth, and tell it both accurately and powerfully.

Yep.  Of course, in this case, Trump made it so easy.  Not many people want to do “both sides!” when one side is Neo-Nazis.  It’s a greater challenge for the media to resist false equivalency in the less easy cases.

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