Photo of the day

Great photos of the week gallery from In Focus:

The full moon rises over the illuminated Kazan Kremlin and Qol Sharif mosque in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, located in Russia’s Volga River area about 450 miles (700 kilometers) east of Moscow, on July 29, 2015.  Denis Tyrin / AP

Republicans against public education

Sure, it’s one thing for me to complain about how many Republicans in our NC legislature are actively against public education, but it’s nice to have confirmation from Republicans in this state who actually do care about public education.  And how incredibly sad to even have to right that sentence.  If there ever should be a bipartisan issue, it should be support for public education.  Sure, I can handle disagreements about how best to do it, but the fact that so many of our “leaders” don’t actually care about NC having good public education is beyond depressing.  Anyway, great article in the N&O on the war within the NC GOP:

About two years ago, the Republican-dominated southern suburbs of Mecklenburg County elected Paul Bailey to represent them on the school board. He was endorsed by a roster of GOP officials that included three state legislators.

That made Bailey’s comments on the Republican-dominated General Assembly this week all the more striking.

“I’m extremely concerned that we have a state that is dismantling our public school system,” he said. “This state is going in the wrong direction when it comes to public education.”…

“I’m a Republican,” Bailey told me after Tuesday’s board meeting. “But I’m just tired of this crap.” …

But the sharpest criticism of state leaders came from the board’s GOP members.

“This makes me laugh, it’s so ridiculous,” Rhonda Lennon said.

“We are getting ready to open our classroom doors. … And we don’t have a clue yet if we’re going to have to (lay off) 500 teacher assistants or try to hire almost 140 new teachers,” Tim Morgan said.

Larry Shaheen, a Republican political consultant from Charlotte, says the state’s Republicans are split between those who support public education and those who believe that private business can do better than government schools. [emphases mine] In a state that’s currently dominated by the GOP, he says, that struggle will shape the state’s future.

“Regardless of your political persuasion, North Carolina has a rich heritage of public education. You can’t just dismantle it because it happens to be built by Democrats,” said Shaheen, who worked on Morgan’s and Bailey’s campaigns and counts himself in the pro-public education camp.

Shaheen’s comments conclude:

Shaheen says national tensions, including teacher unions that demonize Republicans [ed: hmmm, I wonder why], fuel attitudes in Raleigh. But he says polls support his contention that in Mecklenburg and across North Carolina, belief in public schools crosses party lines.

“Republicans have got to get better on public education,” he said, “and if they don’t, the majority in Raleigh will be unsustainable.”

Alas, this is nothing new with the guys in Raleigh, but they still have solid majorities.  I think PT Barnum had something relevant to say that very much applies to this.

The dirty little secret of decreasing mass incarceration

We’re going to have to let a whole more violent felons out on the streets.  There  was an article in the Times that there finally seems to be some real bipartisan momentum for reforming our horribly inefficient and way over-punitive sentencing laws.  That said, the accompanying article and graphs make it quite clear that this is not at all about just releasing non-violent drug offenders.  This chart is really something:


A massive share in rising prison populations is violent offenders.  The simple truth is we cannot address the overall problem without addressing what we do with violent offenders.  There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit here.  The likelihood of re-offense falls dramatically for older offenders.  And there’s plenty of ways to use technology (GPS and location monitoring with enhanced drug testing, etc.) to keep track of offenders in much more cost-effective ways outside of prisons.  But, we’re not going to solve this problem by just letting a lot of marijuana smokers out of prison.

Rubio vs. Walker vs. Bush

Hans Noel (who is about as smart a guy as there is when it comes to primaries) analyzes the recent survey of party activists to come to some interesting conclusions:

As Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy reported last week, Walker and Rubio are runaway winners when you add their first- and second-choice votes. They also dominate when you ask if there are any candidates that you could not in any way support. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham all fall below 75 percent acceptable, as you can see in this figure. If you think (as I do) that Bush supporters are underrepresented in this ideological activist sample, you might conclude that this is mainly a contest between Bush, Walker and Rubio, with several others having some significant support.


I interpret these figures as suggesting:

1. Bush is the candidate of moderates and those who like established politicians. He draws from Kasich and Christie, as well as Rubio (more on him in a second). People who like Bush like a lot of different candidates second, but Rubio dominates.

2. Walker is the candidate of the ideological purists. He and Rubio have a lot of overlap, but he also draws from Cruz and Trump.

3. Rubio seems to bridge these two camps. He has more overlap with Bush, Kasich and Christie than Walker does, but he overlaps with Walker and Trump a lot too…

Established politicians will have more clout, and rank-and-file voters will make the actual decisions. But activists are where a lot of the action in the party is, and these activists tell a story of a factional fight between Bush and Walker, with Rubio possibly appealing to both sides.

There’s a lot still to happen, of course, but based on what we know at this point, this strikes me as a fairly probably scenario.  As of now, anybody who is not one of these three probably just does not have much of a chance.  Sure, some others will have some good runs with media coverage and the polls, but they are probably destined to just be the Cain or Santorum of 2016.

Growing out of Ayn Rand

Been too busy this week, so this post goes to my reader/student.  First, me.

I’ve always loved this Ayn Rand quote:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Which leads me to the student’s experience, which he shared via email:

I read the article you posted and I have been thinking about why ayn rand was so appealing to me. I think it is because she advocates a society that sounds very appealing.  It is almost like a libertarian utopia. When I was 17-20 it just seemed like the way that the world should be.  Or the way I wished the world was.  I went to prep school and was smarter than a lot of kids whose wealth and status opened doors for them I could only dream of.  In ayn rand world none of that would happen.

Then real life happened. I saw firsthand that I needed other people. I realized that not every problem an individual faces is due to their behavior or can be overcome with hard work.

I realized that I would be dead if I lived in ayn rand’s world.  People like me would never get any help because there aren’t enough of us to be profitable to a drug company.   The consequences of a society like that are unacceptable. When I realized that I was able to step back from ayn rand.  I still find some of her ideas appealing, and I tend to want to try libertarian solutions first.   However I have come to accept that the map is not the territory.  I don’t want to live my life beholden to any ideology because they are all imperfect and imaginary. I can be predisposed to like libertarian solutions but also accept that I don’t want a libertarian Healthcare system.

I think some people never learn that things like political  ideologies are not the immutable laws of the universe. If your ideologically correct way of handling something makes it worse than it isn’t useful or correct in that situation.  I think some people like the security that blind adherence to a rigid ideology gives them. It sure makes thinking easier.

Key sentence… “then real life happened.”  I still believe libertarianism has much to recommend it, but when it is not tempered by an understanding of and experience with the real world, it is a highly problematic ideology.

Yes, drink more diet soda

Yes, I am going to keep riding this one.  Aaron Carroll (already my favorite physician-cum-blogger) takes a nice, thorough look at the risks of added sugar versus added artificial sweeteners in the Upshot.  Given that I’m sharing it, you will not be surprised at to its conclusions:

A 1998 randomized controlled trial could detect no neuropsychologic, neurophysiologic or behavioral effects caused by aspartame. Even a dose at 10 times the normal consumption had no effect on children with attention deficit disorder. A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe. [emphases mine]

It is true that people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, need to limit their consumption of aspartame, since phenylalanine is one of its components. But for most people, aspartame isn’t a concern, even outside of cancer. It’s also true that some of the sugar alcohol sweeteners, like sorbitol or mannitol, can have a laxative effect or cause bloating when eaten in large amounts by some people. In normal use by most people, though, all of the approved artificial sweeteners are safe.

When I argue these facts with my friends, they want to know if I put my money where my mouth is. I do. My wife and I limit our children’s consumption of soda to around four to five times a week. When we let them have soda, it’s almost always caffeine-free, because we want them to sleep. It’s also almost always sugar-free. There’s a potential, and probably real, harm from consuming added sugars; there are most likely none from artificial sweeteners.

In fairness, I’m not actually trying to convert anybody to diet soda.  Drink water!  But I get so tired of people who are convinced about how bad diet soda is for you despite the lack of any strong evidence.

So, I was originally going to end the post there, but a friend shared on FB, and a reply came back with, “but aspartame is bad for your gut bacteria!”  Well, you know me, that had  to be investigated.  Well, on closer inspection, it appears it is only saccharin that is bad for your gut bacteria.  If you are a mouse.  Of course, mouse models are important and I very much believe we should pay attention to how various foods and additives affect our microbiome, but even with this study, it’s hard to make the case against aspartame.

Am I going to change the minds of any diet soda skeptics?  As Drum points out in his take… no.  Just ask yourself if you are motivated reasoning your way out of this one:

Anyway, that’s what science says. Unfortunately, science also says that presenting facts to people almost never changes their minds. In fact, it can do just the opposite as people respond defensively to the notion that they’ve been wrong for a long time. So I suppose no one reading this is actually going to switch to diet sodas. Instead they’ll cherry-pick studies that support their previous point of view. Or claim that all the studies exonerating artificial sweeteners are funded by big business and not to be trusted. Or perhaps make an outré claim about how aspartame interacts with gluten and animal fat to produce….something or other.

Of course, as somebody who drinks liters of diet soda per day, maybe this is all motivated reasoning on my part.  Maybe, but I still think its mostly just science.

Why do Republicans hate the Republican Party?

Okay, not hate, but not necessarily like so much.  Very interesting chart from a recent Pew survey:

Republicans Less Favorable Toward the GOP

I would love to see this measurement over longer time horizons.  Based on this, it looks like that 86 support around the turn of the year was the real outlier.  Are Republicans just generally more dissatisfied with their own party than Democrats?  And if so, is there something about one of the many asymmetry’s that explains this?  For example, we know that Republicans are much more compromise averse, but the nature of government (in America, at least) is compromise.  Or the nature of government is governing, and Republicans maybe aren’t big fans of that.  Anyway, this is interesting and definitely worth unpacking further.

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