Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff this week.  Let’s go!

1) The Economist on how libertarians hijacked liberal economics.

2) Daniel Craig on Hollywood’s sexist double-standard on aging.  And, he’s a great Bond.

3) Vox puts the shocking arrest of a SC student into the larger context of the policy of police in schools.  And some good Amy Davidson commentary on the matter.  And a good take on the racial component from Jamelle Bouie.

4) Nice NYT Editorial on the concealed carry fantasy.

5) This article about Jeb’s flailing campaign was even before his poor debate performance.  There’s just no way this guy is going to be president.

They didn’t have to look far for an explanation. All they had to do was listen to Jeb on Saturday in South Carolina.

“If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want any part of it,” the candidate said. “. . . I’ve got a lot of really cool things that I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

I don’t want any part of it? I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do? Elect Trump if you want? The self-described “joyful tortoise” may have just delivered the most petulant political speech since the future 37th president said “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Bush is correct that Trump’s campaign of insults has made the 2016 GOP primary race an ugly affair. But his response — suggesting he’d take his ball and go home rather than sully himself — is precisely what has sunk Bush’s candidacy so far. Angry voters want a fighter, and Bush, justifiably dubbed “low-energy” by Trump, doesn’t seem to have it in him. The way to combat Trump’s demagoguery and race-baiting is not to look down your nose at him and say “Tut-tut.” It’s to hit Trump back with as much force as he delivers.

6) Great interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter about her new book.  Short version: our society really needs to start truly valuing giving care to others.

7) It is interesting to learn that Florida and Texas are doing surprisingly well in teaching their students.  But damn it, it would be a lot more interesting if we actually knew why.

8) Leadership mistakes of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars.  Awesomeness.

9) Are we becoming inured to TV shows killing off main characters?

10) Really good piece from Fareed Zakaria admitting his mistake of supporting the Iraq War.  Definitely a good one to read the whole thing (it’s pretty short, too):

Consider this: The United States replaced the regime in Iraq and gave the new one massive assistance for a decade. The result? Chaos and humanitarian tragedy. Washington toppled Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya but chose not to attempt nation-building in that country. The result has been chaos and humanitarian tragedy. Washington supported a negotiated removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime in Yemen and the election that followed, but generally took a back seat. The result again was chaos and humanitarian tragedy.

The reality in that part of the world is that many of its regimes are fragile, presiding over weak institutions, little civil society, and often no sense of nationhood itself. In that situation, outside interventions, however well-meaning, might not make things better. Sometimes they can even make things worse.

11) Yes, LARC’s are awesome, but they are way under-used.

12) How the disappearance of large animals, and their poop can disrupt ecosystems.

13) Why is academic writing so bad?

14) I love candy corn.  And since Sarah does too, we even eat at not just at Halloween.  Really enjoyed this National Geographic story on the history of it.

15) The Memory Palace is one of my favorite podcasts and it definitely deserves more popularity.  This episode on lead and the wrongness of America may have been my favorite so far.

16) Enough with turning things pink and thinking you are actually doing something about women’s health.

17) REI is closing its stores on Black Friday and encouraging it’s employees and customers to get outside instead.  Not that I shop at REI, but I totally plan on taking them up on it (hope to do some hiking in the NC mountains that day).

18) Happy Halloween.

Who’s winning the GOP race? (Rubio)

Jennifer Victor with a really nice Mischiefs of Faction post looking at the different metrics with which to approach this question.  She suggests (And I strongly agree) that prediction markets are probably the best predictor at this point.  And what do we see there?

Market Trading Price GOP primary candidates (10/29/2015)

That looks about right to me.  It’s funny, though, Rubio has everything you need to win the nomination except strong popular support, good fundraising, and endorsements (as her other charts show).  But if you follow the logic (and the political science) of nominations, he just seems to be the most obvious choice and I think that is what these markets reflect.  I’d also suggest a few of these guys are way over-valued (yes, Huckabee at anything over 0.001% is over-valued).  Given how things have gone recently, it’s sure a good time to short Jeb.  I was trying to come up with a sports analogy for Rubio for my father-in-law and I struggled, but ended up with a team that’s stockpiled a bunch of high draft picks.  Not all that good, but Rubio seems to have all the qualities that make him the strongest contender, except for current polling, money, endorsements, etc., but it is quite easy to imagine a scenario where he makes rapid progress in all of these.

The war on drugs depends upon who is using the drugs

Really good article in NYT today:

When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

On the one hand, this is infuriating.  On the other, if it helps to change our country’s self-defeating approach to drug policy more broadly, I’ll take it.  Hopefully, it will.

Want to escape all accountability? Become a prosecutor

Prosecutors.  Almost anybody else in American society who screws up can expect some accountability.  Especially when those screw-ups unfairly ruin people’s lives.  Almost anybody, that is, except prosectuors.  Is it any wonder that with virtually no accountability that prosecutors keep wrongly ruining people’s lives through incompetence, malfeasance, or both.  This quote from a great Dahlia Lithwick piece on the horrible, horrible injustice of so many crime labs really captures the problem:

Laura Fernandez of Yale Law School studies prosecutorial misconduct. Asked about who should be repairing the damage from the two Massachusetts crime lab scandals, she observes that:

Everyone knows that if you make a mess, you have to pay for it or clean it up. Companies know this, drivers know this—even kids know it. What most people don’t realize is that even in cases where prosecutors’ misconduct or negligence results in gross violations of due process, colossal disruptions of the criminal justice system, or grave threats to public safety, prosecutors remain essentially immune from any real consequences. [emphasis mine] When the people who wield the most power in the criminal justice system are also the least accountable, constitutional crises like those unfolding in Orange County and Massachusetts are almost inevitable.

Over the past decade, crime lab scandals have plagued at least 20 states, as well as the FBI. We know that one of the unintended consequences of the war on drugs has been a rush to prosecute and convict and that crime labs have not operated with sufficient independence from prosecutors’ offices in many instances. Their mistakes ruin lives. Years of deliberate falsification have ruined thousands of lives. We also know that there remains almost no reason for a prosecutor’s office to admit error and that the cost of fixing those errors can become prohibitive. So what do we do when a scandal infects hundreds or thousands of prosecutions? If Massachusetts is any indication, even three years later, we still don’t do all that much.

Ugh.  There’s a lot that we need to do to reform our criminal justice system and I’m not quite sure how far up the list this should be, but damnit, doubtless a key principle of reform should be that prosecutors are accountable!  Pretty much everybody else in society is.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a hiker standing on the Ko'olau summit ridgeline in Hawaii

Taking a Peak

Photograph by Liz Barney

As beams of light from the setting sun burst through clouds, a triumphant hiker basks in their glow on a summit in Hawaii’s Ko’olau Range. The achievement, according to Liz Barney, who submitted this photo, was the culmination of rigorous preparation and effort. “It’s not a well-known trek … but for two women, it was their dream,” she says. “[The women] spent an entire year planning and training to cross the Ko’olau summit ridgeline in one self-sufficient thru-hike … They failed multiple times before they finally succeeded.”


We’re all going to die!

Thank God we don’t actually leave policy at all related to science up to ordinary Americans.  A recent Pew study found that a substantial majority of Americans believe that foods grown with pesticides are “unsafe to eat.”  Really?  In that case the average American should probably go ahead and throw out most of their food.  (Not to mention, of course, the non-scientific beliefs about GMO food also in this report, but I’ve covered that plenty).  For some reason, the Pew report was interested in this in a religious context, so the chart is broken down that way:

More Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics Say Foods Grown With Pesticides Are Unsafe

There’s lots more science policy-related questions (GMO, vaccinations, animal research, etc.) in there worth taking a look at, but I was most struck by the idea that Americans believe that foods they eat every single day are actually unsafe.  Now, of course, there’s actually plenty to be concerned about with pesticides and we should take these risks seriously, but if this is true (another reason to not quite trust public opinion) most Americans are either 1) comfortable eating food every day that they actually consider unsafe, or 2) think pesticides are unsafe,  but don’t actually care enough to be aware that much of the food they eat is grown with pesticides.  There are those, of course, who are rigorously organic, but that is obviously a very small portion of the population.

When in doubt, attack the liberal media

Ted Cruz had a super-popular line last night attacking the questioning at the Republican debate.  Ezra Klein with a great post that outrageous policy positions are going to lead to unpopular questions:

“The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” Ted Cruz said with considerable disgust. “This is not a cage match.”

Cruz ticked off the insults the CNBC moderators had lobbed Wednesday night at the assembled Republicans. “Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues?”

Cruz’s attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

The Republican primary has thus far been a festival of outlandish policy. [emphasis mine] The candidates seem to be competing to craft the tax plan that gives the largest tax cut to the rich while blowing the biggest hole in the deficit (a competition that, as of tonight, Ted Cruzappears to be winning). And the problem is when you ask about those plans, simply stating the facts of the policies sounds like you’re leveling a devastating attack.

Oh, sure you can find examples of unrealistic policy proposals from the Democratic debate, but that is mostly because they are politically unrealistic, not because the numbers are pure rainbows and unicorns fantasy.  Sadly, a man whose entire campaign is mostly vague unicorns, rainbows, absurd Nazi and slavery analogies, and brushing off anything pointing this out as “political correctness” (Carson, just to be clear) is doing as well as anybody.   That’s what our modern day GOP has come to.  Meanwhile, somebody I disagree with, but is at least serious (Kasich) languishes at under 5% in the polls.

Gender and toys

Interesting story in the NYT about gender and children’s toys.  Something I notice a lot about in my house filled with Star Wars legos, dinosaurs, My Little Pony, Barbie, etc.  Anyway:

Aliceana and her parents, Brittany and A.J. Belling, make up one of many families that are fed up with the strict princess dresses for girls, action figures for boys stereotyping that they say still pervades children’s toys, clothes, costumes and other merchandise.

Retailers and manufacturers in the $22 billion toy industry, along with media companies, are starting to heed these concerns. Not only are toymakers more wary of marketing some items only to boys or only to girls, they and major store chains are creating gender-neutral or androgynous labels and store aisles.

In August, Target announced that it would no longer use signs to label toys for girls and boys in their stores. For the first time this year, the Disney Store is banishing girl and boy designations from its children’s Halloween costumes, labeling all outfits “for kids.” It also has switched to generic tags on lunchboxes, backpacks and other accessories.

Amazon no longer uses gender-based categories for children’s toys. Next spring, Mattel is introducing a line of action figures based on a new franchise, DC Super Hero Girls. And on Monday , the TV series “Supergirl” debuted on CBS.

“The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to,” said Jim Silver, the editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review website. “The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play with Easy-Bake.”

That said, I suspect this is mostly about labeling.  I have no interesting in pushing my daughter towards pink, being a princess for Halloween (again), loving Barbie and My Little Pony, etc.  She’s all over that on her own.  She’s also never had much interest in Legos.  Until this:


Some toy makers have made some efforts to change that rigid assortment — but not without controversy. Lego’s “Friends” line, introduced in 2012 to appeal to girls, upset consumers because of its pink and purple blocks, curvy figurines and themes like hairdressing and horse riding.

But, most telling:

And despite the recent changes, a stroll through the toy section at a Target or a Toys “R” Us is still a gender-specific experience. At a Target store in Brooklyn, there were the “Frozen” princess dresses, My Little Pony figurines, and the convertible-driving, glitter-haired Barbie dolls in one half of the children’s section. Then there were the separate aisles of Roboraptor robot dinosaurs, Star Wars spaceships and Nerf guns.

I’m totally for kids playing with whatever toys they want.  And yes, I know that society encourages boys and girls in different directions.  That said, I still do think there’s something more to my boys’ love of dinosaurs (and Sarah’s total disinterest– other than the “How do dinosaurs…” books) and her total love of Barbies, etc.  Mostly, though, I wanted to write a post where I could include the adorable photo above.

Photo of the day

Telegraph’s pictures of the day have some nice wave/surfing shots from a giant swell hitting Portugal:

Surfer Sebastian Steudtner from Germany rides a big wave, while a crowd watches from the cliffs at Praia do Norte in Nazaré as the first big swell of the year arrives

Surfer Sebastian Steudtner from Germany rides a big wave as his tow-in jetski rides to safetyPicture: Pedro Miranda / Demotix

Kasich– too sane for the GOP?

I enjoyed John Kasich’s interview on NPR this morning while driving my oldest to school. He marked how much more sane and reasonable Kasich sounded than his other competitors.  Yes, I explained, that is why he is near the bottom of the polls.  The GOP primary electorate is many things.  Sane and reasonable are not near the top of that list.  From NPR:

“Look, we’re hearing all kinds of crazy things right now on the campaign trail,” Kasich added. “One of the guys wants to abolish Medicare and Medicaid. Another guy wants to deport 10 million people out of America.”

There, Kasich was referring to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who recently talked about replacing Medicare and medicaid with private health savings accounts, but later insisted he wasn’t proposing the elimination of the programs. Kasich also sounded like he was calling out Trump, who has repeatedly talked about deporting millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

But Kasich refused to attack them directly. When pressed on who he was referring to, Kasich said, “Everybody wants me to start attacking people by name. You all figure out who I’m talking about.” …

The battle for the Republican nomination is fought state-by-state. Kasich has not been investing much in Iowa, which is dominated by religious conservatives who would not be likely to support him. New Hampshire is friendlier territory for more mainstream, establishment Republicans like Kasich.

He has been clear that it’s an important state for his campaign. But even in New Hampshire, Kasich is stuck in the middle of the pack. Trump and Carson dominate there, too.

So, what gives?

“Well, I think the people are unsettled,” Kasich said of GOP voters’ reticence to support establishment candidates. “I think they’re saying, ‘Ok, we’ve tried these folks and it hasn’t worked. And so, therefore we ought to look somewhere else.'”

The problem is that Kasich’s candidacy is predicated on his long record in government. He talks up his experience in Washington during the 1990s, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee and the federal budget was balanced.

Of course, when you are looking to lead a party that has spent decades trying to make government not work and that is constantly telling us how horrible government is, perhaps it is not so surprising that this party’s activists don’t actually value successful government service.

Short version: you reap what you sow.

Men’s biological clock?

Interesting Wonkblog post on the issue.  I did find these two charts particularly interesting:

So, obviously, men don’t fact the same biological constraints as women do, but male fertility definitely decreases:


The science of the male ‘biological clock’

Studies indicate that a man’s age can affect his fertility in three main ways. The older the father, the harder it may be for a couple to conceive a baby. Older fathers are also more likely to see pregnancies result in miscarriages. And the older age of the father can potentially trigger health problems in a child, too.

Unlike women, who are born with a finite number of eggs, men continue to produce sperm throughout their life, and some can father children into their 60s and beyond — an age where women’s clocks have totally stopped ticking. George Lucas, Steve Martin and Rod Stewart all famously fathered children in their late 60s. But for most men, testosterone declines as they age, which can lead to decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. And as they get older, men also see a decline in the quantity and genetic quality of sperm.

“The aging male, at least from a reproductive perspective, is not as good when he’s older as when he’s younger,” says Alexander Pastuszak, an assistant professor of urology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a specialist in male fertility and reproductive problems.

Processed meat and cancer

I don’t think of myself as a big processed meat eater, but I imagine all those slices of pepperoni pizza add up.  That said, the latest research reporting that processed meat causes (not correlates with, causes) cancer is not about to have me give up my pepperoni pizza. Vox’s Brad Plumer puts it in proper context:

In the United States, a person’s lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is roughly 5 percent. The IARC says that eating 50 grams of processed meat per day (about one hot dog or two bacon strips) will boost that to around 6 percent, on average. If you chow down even larger helpings of processed meat, then your risk goes up even more. But that should provide some sense of scale here…

So keep this all in mind whenever you hear that the WHO has classified some new substance as “carcinogenic” or “probably carcinogenic.” It’s one thing to establish causality. It’s another thing entirely to tell us what the risks actually look like.

And Drum’s take:

In other words, the WHO took care to explicitly say that processed meat didn’t rank alongside smoking when it comes to cancer risk.

Colorectal cancer is fairly common as cancers go, but it still affects only about 4.5 percent of the population. What’s more, an increase of “18 percent” does not mean your cancer risk skyrockets from 4.5 percent to 22.5 percent. It means that if you eat a few ounces of processed meat—bacon, bratwurst, ballpark franks, spam1every day, your lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer goes up from 4.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

That’s not nothing. You’re probably better off taking it easy on the spam. Nevertheless, not everything in the category “causes cancer” is created equal. If you’re really worried about cancer, cut out the smoking, the drinking, the overeating, and the city living. Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to decide if you also want to skip the bacon.

So, yeah, you may not want to eat bacon every day, but the occasional amount– as I assume most people consume– certainly doesn’t seem worth worrying about.  And even the every day there’s probably a lot of other things to worry about more.

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