Relax– eat more yogurt

So, I’ve mentioned before that I’m quite the lover of yogurt.  I’d be a fan even if not for all that healthy bacteria within, but there’s even more evidence now that the probiotics in yogurt may be helpful in ways we would not have anticipated.  Well, at least in rats, so far.  Via Jonah Lehrer:

The experiment, led by Javier Bravo at University College Cork in Ireland, was straightforward. First, he fed normal lab mice a diet full of probiotics. Then, Mr. Bravo’s team tested for behavioral changes, which were significant: When probiotic-fed animals were put in stressful conditions, such as being dropped into a pool of water, they were less anxious and released less stress hormone…

Though it might seem odd that a cup of yogurt can influence behavior, the phenomenon has been repeatedly confirmed, at least in rodents. Earlier this year, Swedish scientists showed that the presence of gut bacteria shapes the development of the mouse brain, while French researchers found that treating human subjects with large doses of probiotics for 30 days reduced levels of “psychological distress.” There’s nothing metaphorical about “gut feelings,” for what happens in the gut really does influence what we feel.

Pretty cool.  No wonder I feel such low levels of anxiety and stress despite the complete nuttiness that is life with my four children (then again, you should’ve seen me at 7am today).

Photo of the day

9th place, a marine copepod, in Nikon’s top 20 microscope photos of the year competition.  See them all at Wired.

9th Place

≠100-0 ≠ 50-50

What?  I was listening to the Diane Rehm weekly news roundup this morning and Chris Cillizza, who is useful for tracking polls and what’s going on in political races, but otherwise symbolizes what’s wrong with political journalism was on there with the perpetual trope of the unthinking journalist– they’re both wrong.  He said something along the lines of “rarely is one party 100% right and the other 0% right.”  I’ll agree with him 100% there.  What he does, though, is leap from that conclusion to a de facto conclusion that in our current difficulties the parties are each 50% responsible.  I don’t need to delineate for my readers how this is not so.  Rather, it just struck me as a sad commentary on the way so much political journalism works.  And of course, Diane Rehm and the other journalists being all about “balance,” would never think of calling Cillizza out on this.

Government is worth paying for

Yglesias makes a nice point today in a post about the Democrats “tax the rich” strategy.  By implying that middle-class Americans should never have to pay more taxes and ceding so much ground to Republican talking points, Democrats essentially do Republicans work for them on this.  Yglesias:

 The implicit message here is identical to the conservative message on taxes — public services aren’t worth paying for.

My view is that that’s mistaken. Or at least it ought to be mistaken. That having a police force is a good idea. That transportation infrastructure is broadly useful and beneficial. That a military that meets the country’s national security needs is essential to everyone’s wellbeing, and that one that goes beyond real security needs is a waste that should be curtailed. There’s nothing wrong with a little redistribution to enhance social welfare, and there’s nothing wrong with observing that you have to go for revenue to where the money is. But you can’t be making the case for an active public sector on the basis of a promise that nobody will ever be asked to pay for anything. You have to make the case that the public sector is going to do things that are important and valuable.  [emphasis mine]

Of course government is wasteful.  But so is any large-scale human endeavor (including private corporations).  But, if Democrats are not willing to make the case for Government as a force for good, than who will?

What to expect from President Romney?

No, I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen, but at this point you’ve got to say there’s quite a reasonable chance we’ll be looking at a President Romney in 15 months.  Kevin Drum and David Frum have two very different takes on what we might expect from that.  First Drum:

Romney is a shameless panderer. He’ll do whatever you want him to do as long as you’ll promise to vote for him.

It’s not a pretty sight. But it also makes him the perfect tea party candidate. Don’t they see this? With a guy like Rick Perry, you never know. The right person whispers in his ear and suddenly he decides that he hates cancer so much that he doesn’t care about conservative principles. Cancer is more important. Do you think Mitt Romney would ever do that? No siree. He’d run that baby dispassionately through the Computron 9000 that passes for a brain and then he’d do exactly what you want him to do. Because he wants you to vote for him. So as long as you keep the pressure on, Romney will never disappoint you.

Short version: whatever Romney’s core beliefs actually are they don’t really matter as his pursuit of power will always override them.  Since power in today’s GOP means that you’ve got to have the Tea Party like you, Romney’s the perfect Tea Party candidate.  Sounds pretty logical to me.  In contrast, Frum’s take:

Of all those candidates who have run for the 2012 GOP nomination or contemplated running, Mitt Romney is the only one who has shown any degree of skepticism about the profoundly and dangerously mistaken Republican consensus…

Am I satisfied with Romney’s position on these issues? No. Do I worry that he’ll fear to deviate from party orthodoxy even after he is elected? Yes.

But I put my hope in three things: (1) Romney is not only very intelligent, but he also has demonstrated through his career a devotion to facts over ideology. (2) Romney has visibly not been caught up in the panic and rage against President Obama that has done so much to distort Republican thinking since 2009. (3) Romney has not signed up for the kind of ultra-deluded tax-cutting as solution to all ills program advocated by Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman. His unwillingness to over-commit himself during the Republican primaries signals an openness to future contingencies should he be elected president.

Slender hopes? Yes. But no other Republican offers any hope at all.

Actually, I suppose those takes aren’t that different at all.  They both agree that Romney is a shameless panderer who will do/say whatever it takes to win.  The difference is that Frum hopes that Romney will actually govern a little more reasonably than he’s been forced to do in the campaign, Drum doesn’t see that happening.  It’s all about the optimism.

I think I’m actually a little closer to Frum’s view.  I don’t actually think a President Romney would be all that much different from a President Perry, as they would both essentially be beholden to the modern Republican party that had elected them.  That said, at the margins, I think Romney has some pretty good instincts that would soften some of the worst impulses of his party.  But as Frum says, that’s “slender hopes.”  That’s why I’m hoping Perry hangs on to win the GOP primaries and alienates the general electorate with his “Fed Up” ideology.

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