I don’t know the name of the Toronto killer; and neither should you

For a while, I’ve been writing on the need to not reveal the names of mass killers and not obsess on their possible “motives” (they are all totally crazy in the colloquial sense– there is no truly understanding why a human being kills a bunch of innocent strangers).  But my blog and complaints to my students do not actually change common journalistic practices.  These concerns expressed by an esteemed Washington Post journalist, however, might actually help get the ball rolling in the direction it so needs to go.  Thus, I love this column from David von Drehle:

His motives are unknown. So we must hear the killer’s name over and over again. We must view the same mug shot or driver’s license photo with every update of the day’s headlines. (Maybe someone will find the motives in those blank, dull eyes.) The mass murderer’s unknown motives compel us to document his last weeks, last days, last hours, as if following his footsteps might lead us, like pirates with a treasure map, to a buried trunk full of why.

I suppose there is nothing new in this pursuit. The murderer’s mind is magnetic; drawing in Dostoevsky and Dreiser, captivating Capote, mesmerizing Mailer. Last week, the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing was awarded to Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for her powerful magazine essay in search of the motives behind the Charleston, S.C., church massacre…

But it’s such an unsatisfying concoction. Our hunger for reason isn’t satisfied by a stew of irrational and non-rational factors. Mental distress is a what, not a why — or so it seems in the onward pursuit of the elusive motives…

Yet it’s never quite explanation enough, because no motive ever matches the awful weight and finality of the crime. [emphases mine] We want something commensurate, something symmetrical, an injury or crusade equal to all the blood shed by innocent strangers. Instead we have only these small men with their lethal inadequacies.

And so it continues, new sickos stimulated by the images of the ones before, staking their own claims to a news cycle or two, their own faces flashed repeatedly on the screen, and their motives pronounced unknown. On the car radio this morning, there it was again: The reporter said the man in Toronto was a fan of the mass killer in Santa Barbara, Calif., who summed it up this way: “Infamy is better than total obscurity.”

So I ask my fellow journalists: When the killers themselves are telling us they draw inspiration from the prospect of our coverage, why do we continue to say their names and show their pictures? Nothing is ever learned by doing this. No explanation requites the deadly facts. If nothing’s gained, what could be our motive — especially knowing that we might be supplying theirs?

I really, really hope this is the beginning of something.  If even just one spree killing doesn’t happen (though I strongly suspect it would be more) because journalists acted more responsibly in this regard that would be a huge gain at only the cost of not having our salacious curiosity satisfied.

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Identity politics and the politics of resentment

Political Scientist Eric Shickler has a nice piece in Vox arguing, “Debunking the myth that “identity politics” is bad for the Democratic Party: Racial justice energized the party in the past. It can today too.”

He makes a lot of good points about how a commitment to racial justice is plenty compatible with broad, multi-racial electoral coalition:

Traub makes the case that the Democrats’ decline can be traced all the way back to 1948, when Hubert Humphrey persuaded the Democratic National Convention to endorse a platform in favor of civil rights, over the objection of Southern conservatives and risk-averse Northerners.

By morally committing the Democrats to racial equality, Humphrey set the party and the country on the path that led to desegregation, LBJ, the Great Society, mandatory busing — and, finally, white “backlash.”

“Did the commitment of 1948 lead inevitably to the electoral calamity of 1968 and beyond?” Traub asks. “That is, did the Democrats doom themselves to lose much of the white middle class simply by demanding equal rights for black people?”

The defection of white Southerners, the loss of support among white working- and middle-class voters in the North, the rise of George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, and now Donald Trump — each might have been avoided but for this commitment to racial equality. In Traub’s words: “Thanks to Humphrey and the ADA [Americans for Democratic Action], the Democrats had done something even more dangerous than they understood: They had exchanged a politics of self-interest for a politics of moral commitment.”

It has now become common to argue that the downfall of the New Deal can be attributed to the belated addition of “identity-based” claims — namely, claims to racial equality — to what had been a broad-based coalition rooted in the economic interests of workers, albeit one focused at first mainly on whites. The universal — or at least, seemingly universal — appeal of the New Deal was lost as the particular interests of African Americans and other minorities came to the fore…

But this argument misses something New Deal liberals recognized early on: By the late 1930s, without racial justice, there would be no program of economic equality. It is New Deal liberalism itself that upended the supposed distinction between identity politics and class politics.

Rejecting the choice between “self-interest” and “moral commitment,” liberal New Dealers drew on a moral vision that linked fighting the gross injustices facing African Americans and other minorities to the shared interest of all workers. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the core constituencies backing the New Deal were groups that supported civil rights: industrial labor unions, African Americans, and urban liberals.

Conversely, it was Southern white Democrats who not only opposed civil rights but also adopted a virulently anti-union stance…

But Traub misses the extent to which, from an early moment, the New Deal set in motion changes on the ground that linked racial and economic concerns. The Democrats’ ultimate, if incomplete, embrace of racial liberalism was not the top-down creation of Humphrey in 1948 or Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Instead, the core groups behind the New Deal — industrial unions, African Americans, and urban liberals — transformed the party from below. Claims for racial justice were a key part of the liberal program, as understood by New Dealers themselves in the late 1930s and early 1940s…

The “identity politics” argument assumes that racial justice ultimately brought down the liberal project. But this gets the history almost backward. Indeed, much of the moral fervor that fed the liberal project in the 1940s came precisely from its linkage to the cause of racial justice.

The bitter response to this program forged a clear division in which Southern conservatives were identified on one side and African Americans, unions, Jews, and other urban liberals on the other. Where Traub and others think this division was the product of liberals’ shift in focus from white workers to African Americans, racial backlash was sown into the attack on the New Deal almost from the beginning (just as cross-racial solidary was assumed by many of its supporters). [emphasis mine]

Lots of good stuff in there (and he goes a lot more into history and the role of unions in the parts I didn’t excerpt).  But, I just don’t think this is quite as true as I wish it were.  I absolutely think that there can be a successful Democratic party that embraces racial justice and economic justice (among other things, they are more than just a little related in this country).  I think there are many, many white Americans who truly believe in this.  We call them “liberals.”  And they are more likely to be well-educated and more urban.  Alas, I do think that a big problem is that for many white Americans, especially the less well-educated and less well-off, they inherently see politics as zero-sum group conflict.  I.e., what are you doing worrying about how policing affects Black people, or how “papers, please” policies discriminate against Hispanics when you should be worrying about me having better job opportunities.

In short, they are resentful of political attention explicitly focused on the basis of race, ethnic, and gender concerns.  Now, I would argue that this resentment is extremely mis-placed.  Especially because policies that see to it that everybody is treated better and more fairly in society and the workplace  ultimately benefit, you know, everybody.  But then again, the reality is that you’ve got a political party and it’s media partners selling a narrative that “the Democrats want to help others, not you.”  And that clearly works.  And, among non-college whites, it clearly works a lot better than “Democrats want to help all of us.”  Somehow, Democrats need to convince more non-college whites of this latter story without reducing commitment to racial, gender equality, etc.  Of course, if I knew what that “somehow” was, I suppose I’d be a rich political consultant, or at least have Op-Eds in the NYT, rather than this humble blog.

 

How worried should you be about November

That is, presuming you believe in accountability and democracy and therefore understand just how important it is for Democrats to take back a majority in the House.  Donald Trump’s approval is still extremely low for a president with low unemployment and decent economic growth, but it’s come back up a bit to average around 40%.  And the Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot has been shrinking.  Harry Enten analyzed all this last week:

Everything seems to be going the Democrats’ way on their march for House control in November. Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, are retiring left and right. Democrats continue to overperform in special elections. Nonpartisan handicappers, including CNN, continue to move more races in the Democrats’ direction.

And yet, the Democrats’ position on the generic congressional ballot seems to have worsened since the beginning of the year. Just this month, four “gold standard” pollsters (i.e., live interview surveys that call cell-phones and are transparent about their data) show an average lead for the Democrats of just five percentage points on the generic congressional ballot. That’s down considerably from 14 points in December among gold standard polls.

So what is going on, and should Democrats be worried?…

Perhaps an even bigger reason not to make too much of a change on the generic ballot is history tells us that sizable shifts at this point may not mean that much come November. I collected generic ballot data from the last 20 midterms (since 1938) at this point in the cycle. Polling at this time in the campaign is telling of the November result, but only to a point.

We expect two trends to occur in voter behavior between now and November based upon previous campaigns. The first is that there is a reversion towards a tied result. That is, big leads tend to become smaller. The second is that the president’s party tends to do worse in the actual result than the generic ballot suggests at this point. These two forces sometimes compete against each other, such as this year, given Democrats held a big lead but are also the opposition party.

Past campaigns suggest that a 14 point lead on the generic ballot at this point for the opposition party like the Democrats held in December forecasts about a 9.8 point win in November. A five point lead, however, translates to a 6.4 win for the opposition in November. That’s a difference of just a little over 3.4 points in the forecast final result, even though the polls differed by nine points.

Forecasting the Democrats to win by 6.4 points versus 9.8 points is an important difference if those were the final results. Projecting a November result from polling at this point, however, has a wide margin of error associated with it. A 6.4 point margin forecast versus a 9.8 point margin forecast based off the generic ballot are not significantly different projections statistically at this time.

The generic ballot still points to a national environment that is going to be strongly Democratic in November. That’s in line with the special elections and individual House race ratings. Whether that translates into Democrats falling just short or exceeding the bar necessary to gain control of the House is simply unknowable at this time.

So, don’t be worried.  No worry.  This election is too important not to worry.  Just don’t be disheartened.  And, also, I would suggest that there are far greater known unknowns about this midterm election than most.  We know that Trump will say/do more stupid things before November– just now what and what their impact will be.  And, we have a pretty good idea some substantially negative news– whether from Mueller or the Southern District of NY– are going to come out about Trump and his key associates.  That’s going to hurt Republicans.  But, maybe a little and maybe a lot and that is the all-important difference between Democrats taking back the House or not.

It’s Trump’s party now

Paul Waldman today is depressing:

Around the country, Republicans embroiled in tough primaries are increasingly emulating President Trump — by echoing his xenophobia, his veiled racist appeals, his attacks on the news media, and even occasionally his calls for imprisoning his political opponents. [emphases mine]

Meanwhile, all indications are that Trump is heading for a serious confrontation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein over the Russia investigation.

So how long until multiple GOP primary candidates begin seriously running on the message that the Mueller probe is part of an illegitimate Deep State coup that justifies Trump shutting it down by any means necessary — that is, on a message of unabashed authoritarianism?

Two new articles — one in the New York Timesthe other in National Journal — illustrate what’s happening in many of these GOP primaries. The Times piece, by Jeremy Peters, reports that in West Virginia, GOP Senate primary candidate Don Blankenship is running an ad that says: “We don’t need to investigate our president. We need to arrest Hillary … Lock her up!”

In multiple GOP races across the country, the Times piece reports, candidates are employing phrases such as “drain the swamp,” “build the wall,” “rigged system” and even “fake news.” The GOP Senate candidate in Tennessee ran an ad that promises to stand with Trump “every step of the way to build that wall,” and even echoes Trump’s attacks on African American football players protesting systemic racism and police brutality:  “I stand when the president walks in the room. And yes, I stand when I hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

Meanwhile, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar reports that in the Indiana Senate GOP primary, Mike Braun, the candidate who is most vocally emphasizing Trump’s messages — on trade, the Washington “swamp” and “amnesty” — appears to be gaining the advantage. Braun’s ads basically recast true conservatism as Trumpism in its incarnation as populist anti-establishment ethno-nationalism.

It gets worse. As the Indianapolis Star recently reported, one of the Indiana GOP Senate candidates has bashed “Crooked Hillary Clinton,” and all three have cast aspersions on the Mueller probe. One called it a “fishing expedition,” and another claimed: “Nothing’s been turned up except that Hillary Clinton is the real guilty party here.”

The question all this raises is whether there is a large swath of GOP primary voters who are fully prepared to march behind Trump into full-blown authoritarianism. The original plan was for Republicans to make tax cuts the centerpiece of their midterm campaign agenda. But in the Virginia gubernatorial race, the Republican candidate resorted to Trumpian xenophobia and a defense of Confederate statues to activate the GOP base, and in the Pennsylvania House special election, Republicans cycled the tax cuts out of their messaging. There just doesn’t appear to be much of a constituency for Paul Ryan Republicanism among today’s GOP voters.

There’s been lots of good Political Science research in the past decade that shows that Republicans are now more far more likely than Democrats to have personal characteristics that embrace authoritarianism.  And, I think that means they are far more likely to embrace an authoritarian, strongman-type leader, democratic principles be damned.

This reminded me of a great Thomas Edsall piece from a couple weeks ago on Republicans’ “contract with authoritarianism:”

The election of Donald Trump — built as it was on several long-term trends that converged in 2016 — has created an authoritarian moment. This somewhat surprising development is the subject of “Remaking Partisan Politics through Authoritarian Sorting,” a forthcoming book by the political scientists Christopher FedericoStanley Feldman and Christopher Weber, who argue that

Three trends — polarization, media change, and the rise of what many people see as threats to the traditional social order — have contributed to a growing divide within American politics. It is a divide between those who place heavy value on social order and cohesion relative to those who value personal autonomy and independence.

The three authors use a long-established authoritarian scale — based on four survey questions about which childhood traits parents would like to see in their offspring — that asks voters to choose between independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or well-behaved. Those respondents who choose respect for elders, good manners, obedience and being well-behaved are rated more authoritarian.

The authors found that in 1992, 62 percent of white voters who ranked highest on the authoritarian scale supported George H.W. Bush. In 2016, 86 percent of the most authoritarian white voters backed Trump, an increase of 24 percentage points.

Federico, Feldman and Weber conclude that

Authoritarianism is now more deeply bound up with partisan identities. It has become part and parcel of Republican identity among non-Hispanic white Americans...

In an email, Johnston summarized some of their findings:

Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call “openness.” Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction, and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms.

Johnston notes that personality traits like closed mindedness, along with aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism..

In an email to me, Hetherington said that in their book he and Weiler will describe “people on opposite sides of the divide as having a fixed or fluid worldview:”

Those with a fixed worldview tend to see “American Carnage,” while those with fluid worldviews see the world as a big, beautiful place that is safe to explore. The fixed tend to be wary of what they perceive as constant threats to their physical security specifically and of social change in general. The fluid are much more open to change and, indeed, see it as a strength. For them, anger lies in holding on to old ideas and rejecting diversity.

Hetherington and Weiler argue that the answers to questions about the four childhood traits reveal “how worldview guides a person in navigating the world,” as Hetherington put it in his email:

Not only do the answers to these questions explain preferences about race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender attitudes, the projection of military force, gun control, and just about every “culture war” issue, people’s worldviews also undergird people’s life choices. Because ‘the fixed’ are wary about the dangers around them, they prefer the country over the city. ‘The fluid’ prefer the reverse.

As Edsall’s nice summary of the evidence makes clear, these trends among the GOP well pre-date Trump.  But he is just the man to bring them to their apotheosis.  As many others have noted, Thank God he’s not actually a more skilled demagogue.

Finally, EJ Dionne ties this to the behavior of Congressional Republicans on the Comey memos:

Any doubts that Republicanism and conservatism have given themselves over to one man, his whims and his survival were dispelled by the GOP’s use of the congressional oversight process to undermine a legitimate probe into a hostile power’s interference in our elections.

As it happens, the actual memos are embarrassing to Trump and support Comey’s veracity. And if the Republicans’ obstructionist triumvirate of Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina had hoped to prove that Comey leaked classified information, the memos reveal exactly the opposite.

It should be stunning that the chairs of the Intelligence, Judiciary and Oversight committees are more interested in doing Trump’s bidding than in figuring out how Vladimir Putin may have helped to elect our current president. It’s possible to imagine that, somewhere, Ronald Reagan is weeping.

This episode speaks to a larger question: that the corruption of American conservatism is the primary cause of our inability to have constructive debates that move us to resolve issues rather than ignore them.

Save lives; limit magazine sizes

Gotta love the story of the guy who saved the day with the Waffle House shooting:

Mr. Shaw and Mr. McMurry had just sat down in the restaurant early Sunday when a loud crashing sound rang out. At first, Mr. Shaw said Monday, he thought a dishwasher had knocked over some plates.

It quickly became clear what was happening. Bullets pierced the restaurant’s windows. A man collapsed onto the floor. Waiters ran.

Mr. Shaw and Mr. McMurry raced to the hallway outside the restrooms, taking cover behind a swinging door. As the gunman entered the Waffle House to continue shooting, Mr. Shaw recounted in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he looked for a moment to fight back.

“There is kind of no running from this,” Mr. Shaw said. He recalled thinking to himself, “I’m going to have to try to find some kind of flaw or a point in time where I could make it work for myself.”

During a sudden break in the firing, Mr. Shaw sprinted through the door as fast as he could, slamming into the gunman and knocking him to the ground. He grabbed the rifle and tossed it over the restaurant counter…

Mr. Shaw said Sunday that he eventually learned that the pause in the gunman’s firing came when he was trying to reload the rifle. It was a brief enough break, Mr. Shaw said, for him to make a move. [emphasis mine]

Now, if you are foolish enough to try and debate this on-line with gun-lovers you will hear all about how an expert can reload in 1/2 a second, etc.  Of course, most mass shooters are not actually fast re-loading experts.  The Gabby Giffords shooter was also stopped when he reloaded.  Now, of course it’s not always going to work, but every time a shooter has to break to reload, you dramatically increase the chances that he can be stopped.  There are literally people alive today who would not be if the Waffle House shooter or the Tuscon shooter had magazines with more ammunition in them.  I’m sure it’s nice when target shooting to not have to reload for a good 30 rounds, or whatever.  But what’s even nicer is limiting the devastation of mass shootings.  Obviously, there’s so much more that we can do, but this seems like suck obvious low-hanging fruit.

Quick hits (part II)

Better late than never edition.

1) Jennifer Rubin on the cowardly, underminer of the rule of law, Mitch McConnell:

Let’s cut through all this: Republicans are petrified of provoking Trump (“the bear”), whom they treat as their supervisor and not as an equal branch of government. The notion that Congress should not take out an insurance policy to head off a potential constitutional crisis when the president has repeatedly considered firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein defies logic. By speaking up in such fashion, McConnell is effectively tempting Trump to fire one or both of them. That will set off a firestorm and bring calls for the president’s impeachment.

“There is evidently no limit on the complicity [McConnell] is willing to shoulder,” argued Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics counsel during the Obama administration. “Even as bipartisan support for the legislation is emerging in both houses of Congress — or perhaps because it is emerging — he stands in the way.” He added: “It is a betrayal of the rule of law for McConnell to take this position when the president has reportedly tried twice to fire Mueller, and discussed it frequently, and is now agitated over the Michael Cohen developments. McConnell will be fully as responsible as Trump if the special counsel is fired.”

2) Good for NC taxpayers that 600 people who don’t actually qualify are no longer getting taxpayer subsidized NC Employee health insurance.  What the article totally fails to address, though, is the costs involved– not at all inconsiderable based on my experiences– of auditing every single policy.

3) Someone sharing this “Chick-Fil-A invades NYC with it’s blatant Christianity” take referred to this– tongue half in cheek, I think– as “why Trump won.”  Not all that far off.  I eat at Chick-Fil-A all the time.  Great fast food and the best service by far in fast food.  And Jesus never comes up at all.

4) How can you not love a story of escaped baboons.

5) Amazingly this headline is not an exaggeration, “Homework assignment asks students to list positive aspects of slavery.”  Un-amazingly, it’s in Texas.

6) NYT re-emphasizing the point that conservative political parties the whole world over except climate change.  Except our very own Republican Party.

7) How Trump lied to get in the Forbes 400.

8) Yglesias with an interesting case for Comey:

The greatest safeguard we have against the dangers of Trump’s highly personalized style of leadership and frequently expressed desire to reshape all institutions to serve his personal goal is that officials and bureaucrats have the power to say no. Comey, whatever else he did, said no to his boss and was fired for his trouble. America needs more government officials who are willing to take that stand. In many ways, Comey is not the hero the United States deserves. But in a critical moment, he may be the hero we need. [emphasis mine]

9) Trey Gowdy is a dishonest partisan hack who is pretty good at convincing journalists he’s not.  The truth will out, though.  To wit, the GOP statement on the Comey memos.

10) And Brian Beutler on Comey:

NPR’s Carrie Johnson pressed Comey on this point, asking “[W]as that your job? Was it your job to worry about those things?”

“I think so,” Comey responded. “As the director of the FBI I think my job is to worry about how—despite what your mother told you about not caring what other people think—as the director of the FBI, the public trust is all you have in that institution. And so yes, worrying about that had to be part of the job description of the Department of Justice—I mean, of the leader of the FBI.”

This would be a powerful argument in a political climate where both major ideological factions felt equally committed to a kind of factual politics. That Comey describes the conspiracy theories Republicans propounded about the email investigation as “politics [as] there always have been,” suggests he suffers from a continued blindness to asymmetries in American political life that allowed him to be bamboozled.

Comey reveals here, as the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent noted, that he left the institutions of justice vulnerable to bad faith actors angling to manipulate him. Like many journalists, Comey succumbed to a false assumption of balance—that all politics is just politics. He couldn’t and can’t grapple with the idea that one party is less beholden to empiricism and truth than the other, and uses that leeway to undermine neutral institutions unless those institutions do the bidding of the GOP. [emphasis mine]

Honestly, I’m increasingly seeing the bad faith of the Republican Party as the key defining political feature of our time.  And while Democrats have their own occasional foibles, this is so not a “both sides!” issue.

11) Oh man you’ve gotta love NC social conservatives:

The N.C. Values Coalition is urging North Carolina parents to keep their children home on Monday to protest what it calls “graphic, gender-bending, promiscuity-promoting sex education” being taught in public schools.

Conservative activists are upset about what’s taught both in sex education and in programs meant to build acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender students. They want parents to respond by keeping children home from school as part of Monday’s nationwide “Sex Ed Sit Out” campaign and to vote for candidates who support their views.

In North Carolina, the N.C. Values Coalition wants parents to both keep their children home Monday and to write a letter to their principal explaining their decision.

“This is a national movement to encourage schools to stop using taxpayer dollars to teach programs which are intended to encourage early sexualization of children, causing them to question their own gender and to normalize sexual behaviors that most parents don’t agree with,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition.

Suffice it to say my kids will be in school tomorrow ;-).

12) Teaching a big Intro to American Government class is a very different experience than teaching my upper-level classes.  But I really do value doing it.  Nice piece in Chronicle of Higher Ed on the value of having high-quality, tenure-track professor teaching intro courses:

To a student who has never encountered a discipline before, the professor teaching the introductory course is the discipline, Chambliss said. “If the physics professor is cool, then physics is cool.” If the professor is dull, the student will think the same of the discipline. If the professor is so dull that the student never takes another physics course, well, that impression could hold for the rest of her life.

That’s one reason Chambliss advocates that colleges put their very best professors in front of as many students as possible, as early as possible. That doesn’t mean every senior professor needs to teach introductory courses, he said — it’s a matter of departments moving a few people around, and rewarding them for their efforts.

Professors and administrators often see a major as a coherent whole, he said. But to students, what matters is the particular course they’re taking this term. If they have a bad first experience, they’re unlikely to stick around for a second one.

13) There’s been a huge row about race and IQ of late involving Ezra Klein and Sam Harris.  That said, easily the best thing I’ve read to come out of this has been Yglesias‘ terrific piece about how Charles Murray (author of the infamous The Bell Curve, and the genesis of the current contretemps) is really all about very conservative public policy, not science at all:

The actual conclusion of The Bell Curve is that America should stop trying to improve poor kids’ material living standards because doing so encourages poor, low-IQ women to have more children — you read that correctly. It also concludes that the United States should substantially curtail immigration from Latin America and Africa. These are controversial policy recommendations, not banal observations about psychometrics…

These claims about the baleful impact of social assistance spending are not uncontroversial claims about science. Indeed, they are not claims about science at all. And since they constitute what Murray himself views as the upshot of his book, and because Murray is a policy writer rather than a scientist, it is correct and proper for fair-minded people to read the book for what it actually is: a tract proposing the comprehensive revision of the American welfare state along eugenicist lines.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1a) The loss of so many newspaper reporters is not just bad for the newspaper, it is bad for those of us who believe in democracy and accountable government.  Subscribe to your local newspaper, damnit!  I mean it.  Here’s the sad take on the loss of journalism in California:

The body count is staggering.

In my 43 years as a journalist, armies of trained bloodhounds have been run out of newsrooms where I’ve worked, victims of layoffs, and buyouts, and battle fatigue. I’ve lost so many hundreds of colleagues, I can’t keep track of where they ended up.

These were smart, curious reporters, photographers and editors who told stories that defined place and time and made us all know each other a little better. They covered the arts and the local sports teams. They bird-dogged city councils, courts, law enforcement, school districts and other agencies that spend our tax dollars, bearing witness, asking questions and rooting out corruption.

There is less watching today, even though California’s population has nearly doubled since I began my career, and we are all poorer for it.

It might seem like the opposite is true — that there’s more information available than ever, because of incessant chirping on cable news, nightly car chases on local outlets, digital news sites and social media news feeds.

What’s lost when the reporters go

But what’s vanished or been greatly diminished in far too many places is good, solid reporting on local and state affairs, and we don’t even know what that has cost us through mismanagement, misuse of funds and outright corruption.

1b) Some small hope…Report for America modeled after AmeriCorps.

2) Krugman on the advances in renewable energy technology and how our problems going forward are more political than technological.

3) The NYT Magazine story of Liberty University’s on-line education empire is something else.  Their business model is to provide the crappiest possible education with less oversight than for-profit on-line universities get.

4) It’s kind of crazy that in 2018 SNL is doing a send-up of Les Miserables about ordering lobster.  But I loved Les Mis and I loved this.

5) Spend money on paying other people to do housework (if you can, obviously) for the good of your marriage.  This one definitely reduces friction in the Greene household:

Many of us are busy at work, but even at home, there is a lot of work to do. Meal preparation, cleaning, yard work, home maintenance and child care consume considerable time for the typical American.

Much of it isn’t fun, contributing to friction in relationships and taking time away from more pleasant activities that increase happiness. Instead of bickering over who will do the vacuuming, would family life be better if we just outsourced the job?

One survey found that 25 percent of people who were divorced named “disagreements about housework” as the top reason for getting a divorce.

In a working paper that cited that survey, scholars at the Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia examined whether buying timesaving services could improve relationships. The study, which involved over 3,000 people in committed relationships across a variety of tests, revealed that those who spent more money on timesaving services were more satisfied with their relationships, in part because they spent more quality time with their partners.

6)  NYT Op-ed: “The Ethical Case for Having a Baby With Down Syndrome”

7) How often do people use guns in self defense?  Way less than the gun rights crowd says:

The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

It’s a common refrain touted by gun rights advocates, who argue that using guns in self-defense can help save lives. But what is the actual number of defensive gun uses?

According to the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of gun owners say they own a gun mainly for protection. But for years, experts have been divided over how often people actually use guns in self-defense. The numbers range from the millions to hundreds of thousands, depending on whom you ask.

The latest data show that people use guns for self-defense only rarely. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.

David Hemenway, who led the Harvard research, argues that the risks of owning a gun outweigh the benefits of having one in the rare case where you might need to defend yourself.

“The average person … has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense,” he tellsHere & Now‘s Robin Young. “But … every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared.”

But the research spread by the gun lobby paints a drastically different picture of self-defense gun uses. One of the most commonly cited estimates of defensive gun uses, published in 1995 by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually..

“The researchers who look at [Kleck’s study] say this is just bad science,” Hemenway says. “It’s a well-known problem in epidemiology that if something’s a rare event, and you just try to ask how many people have done this, you will get incredible overestimates.”

In fact, Cook toldThe Washington Post that the percentage of people who told Kleck they used a gun in self-defense is similar to the percentage of Americans who said they were abducted by aliensThe Post notes that “a more reasonable estimate” of self-defense gun uses equals about 100,000 annually, according to the NCVS data.

8) Our Lieutenant Governor is an embarrassing, far-right loon.  Hopefully, he’ll be trounced when he runs for governor in 2020.

9) California billionaire Tom Steyer has been wasting a ton of his money on a quixotic quest for impeachment.  If he really wants to impeach Trump, he’s definitely wise to direct more of his money to encouraging youth turn-out in 2020 in swing states like NC.  Now that’s how to spend your political money.

10) Pretty cool example of what you can now do to create totally fake video.  I’m not as worried as many because if this stuff really becomes pervasive, the only people who believe it will be the ones already believing the Pizzagate stuff anyway.

11) So a couple weeks ago, I linked to a Rolling Stone story about the environmental degradation caused by the pork industry in North Carolina (actually, I forgot the link, but had an extensive quote).  Much to my surprise (I’m not exactly Kevin Drum in my readership numbers), the CEO of the NC Pork Council emailed me to stop spreading mis-information.  You can decide whether you want to believe Rolling Stone or the NC Pork Council.

12) There’s a huge gender disparity (way too many men largely due to selective abortions) in India and China.  This is very, very not good for society:

othing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.

The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: Beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labor markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values, and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.

Those consequences are not confined to China and India, but reach deep into their Asian neighbors and distort the economies of Europe and the Americas, as well. Barely recognized, the ramifications of too many men are only starting to come into sight.

“In the future, there will be millions of men who can’t marry, and that could pose a very big risk to society,” warns Li Shuzhuo, a leading demographer at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.

India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous. The imbalance creates a surplus of bachelors and exacerbates human trafficking, both for brides and, possibly, prostitution. Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice.

13) Can you imagine your kids’ school becoming the nipple police against a 15-year old girl?  Ugh.

Meredith Harbach, a University of Richmond law professor whose 2016 paper explored sexualization and public school dress codes, said the problem arises when schools impose gender-specific requirements based on sex stereotypes.

In the case of Lizzy, for example, the school is “foisting this notion that unrestrained breasts are sexual and likely to cause disruption and distract other students,” Ms. Harbach said. But this kind of messaging that targets young women — your skirt is too short, you look too sexy, you’re distracting the boys — “deflects any and all conversation about appropriate mutually respectful behavior in schools between boys and girls,” she said.

“Who is disrupted actually? It’s Lizzy. Whose learning experience is impacted?” Ms. Harbach said. “It doesn’t sound like other kids had a major disruption, but she sure did.”

14) The editor of the 2nd most prestigious journal in political science (and one I interned for wayhe took the journal’s website to defend himself back when) is embroiled in a sexual harassment controversy.  And it went to quite a new level this week, when .

15) I used to joke that Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block was one of two books that changed my life.  Actually, it really did make as much positive impact as any book I’ve read (barely beating out, Healthy Sleep, Happy Child).  Really enjoyed this NYT profile of Karp.  My greatest regret is that the book came out in 2002, two years too late for our first and most difficult baby.  It would’ve helped with David soooo much.

16) Nice take via a James Fallows correspondent, on what Comey did wrong vis-a-vis Trump and Clinton.

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