Quick hits (part II)

1) Love this feature on the technology beyond self-driving cars.  Especially Lidar, since it also finds lost cities in the jungle.

2) The physics of the fidget spinner.  My 17-year old soccer players think it’s hilarious that there coach has one, but ph0ysics is cool!

3) Jon Cohn on Republicans and the new AHCA CBO score:

Wednesday’s report from the Congressional Budget Office ought to erase any lingering doubt about how Republicans are trying to change American health care.

If they get their way, they will protect the strong at the expense of the weak ― rewarding the rich and the healthy in ways that punish the poor and the sick.

Republicans have tried mightily to deny this, and accused their critics of dishonesty. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― they and their allies have insisted over and over again that their proposals would improve access to health care and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions.

But it’s the Republicans who are lying about what their plan to repeal Obamacare would do.

They were lying back in March, when they introduced the initial version of the legislation ― a bill GOP leaders had to pull at the last minute because it didn’t have enough votes to pass. And they have been lying since early May, after they revised that proposal and rushed to vote on it before the CBO, Washington’s official scorekeeper, had time to evaluate it formally.

4) Kindergartens literally in the forest are all the rage in Germany.  Does sound pretty cool.

5) Great Paul Waldman column on the Trump budget and the simple-minded fallacy of deserving and undeserving recipients of government benefits.

6) Adam Davidson on pricing theory (I wish I knew more about this, I find the the idea of trying to find the right price to maximize profit an inherently fascinating problem), capitation fees, and how we pay too much for health care.

7) “How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe.”

8) Democratic norms are under attack, not just by Trump, but in many states as well.  Of course, those of us living in North Carolina are well aware.

9) Child development expert, Allison Gopnik, on how calling Trump a 4-year-old is unfair to 4-year-olds:

But the analogy is profoundly wrong, and it’s unfair to children. The scientific developmental research of the past 30 years shows that Mr. Trump is utterly unlike a 4-year-old.

Four-year-olds care deeply about the truth. They constantly try to seek out information and to figure out how the world works. Of course, 4-year-olds, as well as adults, occasionally lie. But Mr. Trump doesn’t just lie; he seems not even to care whether his statements are true.

Four-year-olds are insatiably curious. One study found that the average preschooler asks hundreds of questions per day. Just watch a toddler “getting into everything” — endangering his own safety to investigate interesting new objects like knives and toasters. Mr. Trump refuses to read and is bored by anything that doesn’t involve him personally.

Four-year-olds can pay attention. They do have difficulty changing the focus of their attention in response to arbitrary commands. But recent studies show that even babies systematically direct their focus to the events and objects that will teach them the most. They pay special attention to events that contradict what they already believe. Mr. Trump refuses to pay attention to anything that clashes with his preconceptions…

Four-year-olds have a “theory of mind,” an understanding of their own minds and those of others. In my lab we have found that 4-year-olds recognize that their own past beliefs might have been wrong. Mr. Trump contradicts himself without hesitation and doesn’t seem to recognize any conflict between his past and present beliefs.

Four-year-olds, contrary to popular belief, are not egocentric or self-centered. They understand and care about how other people feel and think, and recognize that other people can feel and think differently from them.

10) Enjoyed this piece on the now-forgotten “Handmaid’s Tale” movie filmed in Durham in 1989.  It was stilll the talk of campus when I came to Duke the next year.

11) Trump’s ongoing obsession with the (discredited with practically everybody but him and Jeff Sessions) War on Drugs, does not explain all his presidency, but it explains a lot.

12) Loved this piece on the role of Southern pastors in turning the South Republican:

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.

13) Happy 23 years of marriage to Kim and me.

 

 

 

Cowardice, American style

Oh man did I love this Adam Serwer piece comparing Greg Gianforte’s cowardice to that of Preston Brooks (the infamous 1856 Senate caner) and of slavery-supporting Southerners:

The impetus for Brooks’s attack on Sumner was that Sumner had mocked Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, for his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The law put the question of slavery in the territories to a popular vote, exacerbating the tensions between North and South that would eventually lead to the Civil War. Sumner gave a speech accusing Butler of having chosen “the harlot, slavery,” as his “mistress.” Brooks’s defense of Southern honor was to ambush an unarmed man reaching under his desk. As Sinha writes, Brooks later said that attacking Sumner with a cane, rather than challenging him to a duel, was an attempt to humiliate Sumner for his abolitionism by treating him like a slave. Brooks was re-elected after resigning in protest of being fined for the incident

The antebellum South was a society built on the violent exploitation of defenseless people; it is in no sense strange or odd that slaveholders would see no incompatibility between their concept of freedom and valor and ambushing and caning a man who said something that hurt their feelings. Brooks was a hopelessly craven bully who bludgeoned a man in ambush and then shrank from a fair duel with an equal once he realized he would lose.

I don’t mean to fetishize courage, which can be possessed by good and evil alike. I tell this story to show that in politics, one defends cruelty or cowardice by cloaking it in a delusion of valor…

While the reactions of Gianforte’s Republican colleagues in Congress ranged from condemnation to justification and even humor, many voices in the conservative media eagerly defended the assault (though there were notable exceptions). Pundits on Fox News explained that the California-born, Pennsylvania-raised Gianforte had merely given Jacobs a taste of “Montana justice.” Geraldo Rivera, of Brooklyn, New York, explained that Montanans “are no strangers to the more robust way of living.” The conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, who hails from the mean streets of Glastonbury, Connecticut, asked, “What would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?” …

Physically attacking journalists for asking questions is cowardly. Every single person who defends it is engaging in an act of cowardice. The notion that Gianforte was merely channeling the rugged frontier culture of Western mountain men when he attacked someone who asked him a question is laughable and patronizing.

It is not 1856, but these are the politics of a false valor forged by fear. It is the undercurrent of a politics that defends grown men who stalk black teenagers in the night and then gun them down when they raise their hands in their own defense; it is the politics that rationalizes Ohio police shooting a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun without so much as a chance to surrender; it is the politics of mass deportation and Muslim bans and Blue Lives Matter bills. It is the political logic of frightened people who need to tell themselves they are brave. This is not valor, it is the celebration of violence against those who cannot respond in kind. [emphasis mine]

Damn.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I actually think I’m pretty good at admitting I’m wrong.  It helps, of course, that it’s such a rare phenomenon ;-).  In all seriousness, my high self confidence does make it pretty easy.

 Traits like honesty and humility make you more human and therefore more relatable. On the flip side, if it is undeniably clear that you are in the wrong, refusing to apologize reveals low self-confidence.

“If it is clear to everybody that you made a mistake,” Mr. Okimoto said, “digging your heels in actually shows people your weakness of character rather than strength.”

2)  Political polarization is changing how we shop.

3) I’ve probably written about my oral allergy syndrome before.  Very cool to see a NPR story about it.  Thank God for Zyrtec because I sure love my apples.

4) Love this article about a Texas high school student who did not initially get into UT-Austin despite being first in her class because she was not in the top 7%.  You can’t be in the top 7% if your class is only 10.

5) Are women’s credentials more likely to be ignored than men’s.  I’d be really surprised if this wasn’t true.

6) This article is insane for the seeming hundreds of fruit recipes in the middle, but some very good science-based advice on happiness around all the fruit.

7) Diane Ravitch says blame Democrats for Betsy DeVos.

8) This speech by Mitch Landrieu!

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history; well, what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame—all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

9) Re-thinking how to best protect biodiversity:

Biodiversity is usually understood in simple numerical terms: more species means more biodiversity. In the United States and abroad, most conservation laws are designed to protect as many species as funding and politics allow. But just as diversity within a human population can be measured by more than skin color, diversity within animal and plant communities can be measured in a number of ways. Some species have a unique evolutionary lineage; others perform unusual or even irreplaceable functions in their ecosystems; and still others, such as the solenodons, are sui generis by almost any metric. Until recently, reconstructing a lineage required painstaking guesswork based on tiny variations in anatomy and appearance. The advent of cheap genetic sequencing, however, changed that. At the same time, the increasing prevalence of digital photography and remote-sensing technologies such as drones, along with the growing enthusiasm for citizen science, means that more humans are watching more species more closely than ever before. “We have this massive decline in biodiversity, but, at the same time, over the past decade, there’s been this explosion of all types of data—so now is really the time to use them,” Laura Pollock, a postdoctoral researcher at Grenoble Alpes University, in France, and the lead author of the Nature paper, told me.

10) We don’t need feminism anymore.  There’s clearly no more sex discrimination.

11) I love that they measure urine in swimming pools (really not so bad) by unmetabolized artificial sweeteners.

12) I love the circus.  This makes me so sad.

13) When pollen counts rise, test scores fall.

14) This is insane.  In NC, once you give consent to sex, you cannot revoke it.  Period.  Oh, and the effort to change this absurd and archaic law?  Going nowhere thanks to the Republicans in charge of the legislature.

15) Did being a woman mean HRC couldn’t run an angry campaign?

16) It’s long been thought marriage makes people healthier.  Maybe not.  Because divorce sucks.

The participants in the Swiss study reported their life satisfaction every year, and Professor Kalmijn found that people who married did become a little more satisfied. Over time, their satisfaction eroded, though much more slowly than in most previous studies of marriage. Dr. Kalmijn also examined the implications of divorce and found that people who divorced became significantly less satisfied with their lives. In fact, the negative implications of divorce for life satisfaction were more than three times greater than the positive implications of marrying.

That’s important. It helps explain why so many of us have been so sure for so long that marriage makes people happier and healthier. In the typical study, only people who are currently married are included in the married group. Then, if the currently married people do better than people who are not married, single people are told that if they get married, they will do better, too. But many people who marry — probably more than 40 percent — divorce and end up less happy than when they were single. A better way to assess the likely implications of marriage is to compare everyone who ever married to people who never married. Very few studies ever do that.

17) Covered the gender pay gap in class yesterday.  Timely piece from Claire Cain Miller.  It’s (almost) all about motherhood.

18) Yglesias makes the case that Montana’s result is further evidence Republicans are in trouble in 2018.  I think they probably are, but I’m still not sure how much any single special election tells us.

Our movie villain president

I love all the headlines along the lines of “Trump appears to push aside the Leader of Montenegro.”  No “appears” about it.  At least, not to those of us with, you know, vision.  Anyway, I was trying to think if I had ever seen anything quite like this before–especially Trump’s hilarious preening as he takes his place at the front.

In case you haven’t seen it, my favorite take is JK Rowling’s:

Anyway, I realized I’ve never actually seen anything quite like this in real life.  Seriously.  I have seen it portrayed, though– in movies where they have cartoonishly evil villains act like this.  This is seriously far more Dr. Evil than something you would expect from a world leader.

Image result

 

Rep Bodyslam

Yes, this really does say something about today’s Republican party.

Josh Barro:

Republicans used to claim to favor the rule of law.

Yet what happened when a Republican candidate for Congress in Montana was accused of body-slamming a reporter and cited for misdemeanor assault?

The conservative commentator Laura Ingraham wanted to know why he went crying to the police.

“Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?” she tweeted.

Of course, this is what the police are for: They investigate crimes and enforce laws, so we don’t have to get into physical altercations with Republican candidates who really don’t want to discuss the Congressional Budget Office’s score for the Republican healthcare bill.

Calling the police when a man grabs you by the throat and slams you to the floor, as witnesses have described — while you and he are both at work and he is a candidate for Congress — is what an adult does in a civilized society.

Yet, as Kevin Glass notes, “conservatives” in the Trump era tend to think not like adults, but high-school boys, vaunting the sort of ideal of masculinity that might be imagined by a socially maladjusted 15-year-old and tolerating in our political leaders the sort of behavior that a guidance counselor would never accept.

Republicans are a party that now celebrates the bully who steals lunch money because, hey, at least he’s not the nerd who gets his lunch money stolen.

A party for the sort of men who call themselves “alpha males” without irony or accuracy. A party for the sort of women who think it’s cool and strong when men get into bar fights.

A party that celebrates not just cruelty, but juvenile cruelty. [emphasis mine]

This is even worse than a regression to the old, sexist ways. There was a time when chauvinistic ideas about masculinity were, at least among adults, supposed to be paired with ideas about men’s duties and responsibilities.

Yet here we are, with a Republican president who calls himself “the most militaristic person”despite avoiding the Vietnam War on account of bone spurs. A Republican president who takes credit for others’ successes and no blame for his failures. A Republican president who fires the FBI director because of an investigation into any wrongdoing of his associates and then blames his press secretary for people getting mad about it.

Will Bunch:

To the contrary, a politician physically attacking a reporter asking him a tough question is the sadly predictable next step in an ongoing assault on press freedom that’s been slowly smoldering for nearly 50 years — one that has seen gasoline poured on its  flaming embers over the last two years…

And now this monstrosity in Montana. Not sweeping, Orwellian “Big Brother”-style censorship. But disgusting brownshirt-type stuff — cops, security guards, assorted goons and now a politician himself administering fascist-flavored beatdowns.

Hatred of journalists has become as much a part of the atmosphere for American conservatives as the toxic radio waves that bombard us daily with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. And now it’s sparking into actual violence. Why now? Some of it looks like old-fashioned intimidation tactics (although most journalists I know are not easily intimidated). More importantly, this push for a war footing between the political right and U.S. journalism is about the only thing left that’s sustaining modern conservatism during Trump’s disastrous reign.

Turn to any mainstream media source right now — TV news that isn’t Fox, or your hometown newspaper — and you’ll see stories about incompetencecorruptionscandal and out-and-out lying from the White House. To the conservative movement, that truth is so devastating that their reality just has to be something else:  A war between Team Trump and “incompetent, dishonest people.”

Distrust of the media has flowed through the bloodstream of conservatism since the early 1970s when a president named Nixon farmed out that task to his vice president Spiro Agnew, and it metastasized during the rise of an “alternative facts” culture on AM talk radio and the Fox News Channel. But Trump has taken this cancer on our political discourse to Stage IV, calling journalists “the enemy of the American people”and threatening to make it easier to sue the media and to investigate “leaks,” a coded threat to jail more journalists who dare to expose the things that our delusion strongman in the Oval Office doesn’t want people to know.

What is truly sad, scary, and pathetic is the number of Republicans explicitly and implicitly approving this behavior.  This is all good authoritarian regimes (Turkey, Russia, etc.), but, damn it this is not how a real democracy operates.  Shame, shame, shame on them for holding the value of political party above the actual values of democracy.

The scandal right in front of our eyes

Great take from Ezra:

Donald Trump’s budget, alongside the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the revised American Health Care Act, is a test of our capacity for outrage in American politics. Can we be as shocked about lies told in public, and revealed through appendix tables, as we are about lies told in private and revealed through shadowy leaks? Can we muster as much fury on behalf of the stark facts revealed by the Office of Management and Budget as for the titillating what-ifs being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee? Will we care as much about Trump’s betrayal of the poor and the sick and the disabled as we do about his betrayal of James Comey and the Israeli intelligence services?

Because make no mistake: Trump lied in public about the most consequential policy decisions he is now making as president. He lied on the trail, and he is lying again now from the Oval Office…

Trump promised he would make sure everyone had health insurance plans with “much lower deductibles.” The AHCA removes regulations stopping insurers from offering yet higher deductibles than they do now, and then it shrinks and redesigns its tax credits to push people into the new, cheaper, plans. The results are so dystopic, CBO writes, that it expects millions of people to end up in “policies that would not cover major medical risks.”

As recently as April 30, Trump told the country that “preexisting conditions are in the bill — I mandate it.” He said the AHCA has “a clause that guarantees” protection for anyone with preexisting conditions. In fact, the crucial provision that permitted it to clear the House allows states to waive the Affordable Care Act’s protections for preexisting conditions.

The CBO predicts that about a sixth of states would use those waivers, and in those states, “less healthy individuals (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would be unable to purchase comprehensive coverage with premiums close to those under current law and might not be able to purchase coverage at all.”

But it’s not just the health care bill. Trump’s budget also represents a breathtaking reversal on core campaign promises with the same result — harming vulnerable Americans.

“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump told the Daily Signal in May 2015. But his budget cuts Medicaid by $1.49 trillion — about half its expected budget — and slashes Social Security’s disability insurance program by $31.4 billion.

During the campaign, Trump said his tax plan was “going to cost me a fortune, which is actually true.” It is not actually true…

He lied. And yes, I use that word advisedly. While calling Trump a liar occasionally gives some in the media vapors, there’s no other word that fits. Trump is president now. His budget is a vetted document constructed by people appointed by Trump. The American Health Care Act and its likely effects have been exhaustively covered in the press. If at this point Trump doesn’t know that he’s breaking his promises, then it’s because he doesn’t want to know. If at this point Trump hasn’t bothered to discover he is betraying his supporters, and the people his policies will hurt, then that is the most damning fact of all.

Either way, this is a political scandal of massive proportions. Trump ran promising to protect the sick and the poor, and he is governing in ways that will grievously harm them. We should be outraged.

Alas, many of have long been and continue to be outraged by Trump.  As for his Republican supporters. they were all for screwing the poor and the sick all along anyway.  And we’ve clearly seen how amazingly little they care about the brazen lies of Trump.

And EJ Dionne hits a similar note:

Particularly astounding from a president who promised better health care for Americans who can’t afford it is the $1.85 trillion reduction over a decade from Medicaid and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. But didn’t Trump promise not to cut Medicaid? Never mind, budget director Mick Mulvaney told CNBC’s John Harwood. That pledge, Mulvaney explained, had been overridden by Trump’s promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Right, and my commitment to losing weight was overridden by my insistence on eating anything I wanted. We demean ourselves if we cynically normalize the reality that every Trump promise is meaningless claptrap aimed at closing a deal — and that the vows will be forgotten even before the ink on the agreement is dry. Many who did business with Trump learned the hard way not to trust anything he said. His supporters are being forced to learn the same dreary wisdom.

Trump lies so often that journalists tied themselves up in an extended discussion of when it was appropriate to use “lie” and when it was better to deploy such euphemisms as “misstatement” and “fabrication.” We should stick to the short and simple word. Allowing Trump any slack only encourages more lying.

Photo of the day

From Wired:

This galaxy is huge: Together with its halo, it contains four times the mass of the Milky Way and several hundred billion times the mass of the sun, rotating at speeds of up to 1.1 million miles per hour. ESA

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