Quick hits (part III)

Like I said, I had a lot of quick hits this week.  This finishes them off.

1) Should you just ignore your feelings?

2) I think the headline says it all, “Homeopathy successfully turns water into a placebo.”

3) Of course we should have college education for prisoners.  That is, unless of course, you are actually a fan of more recidivism.

But the most effective way to keep people out of prison once they leave is to give them jobs skills that make them marketable employees. That, in turn, means restarting prison education programs that were shuttered beginning in the 1990s, when federal and state legislators cut funding to show how tough they were on crime.

4) Just great, now we’ve got nutty and dangerous (anti Monsanto!) conspiracy theories about Zika.

5) The meaning of life without parole.

In his opinion on Montgomery v. Louisiana, Justice Kennedy wrote, “Prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.” The question is not if Mr. Montgomery, Neal, or others like them should be excused for the crimes they committed. The question is whether it makes good public policy—does it make us safer and align with our espoused notions of justice—to keep aging men and women in prison until the day they die?

6) Poor Jeb! even his tweets get mocked.

7) Really good piece by Connor Friedersdorf on public shaming and scapegoats in the culture war.

8) Roger Hartley says Republicans face a no-win situation over replacing Scalia.

It is this stark for the GOP. Some say it is a choice between the Supreme Court and the presidency, but I believe the strategy to battle Obama’s potential nominee is a no-win proposition. Holding the line for the Supreme Court will likely mean four-to-eight years of liberal justices under a Democratic President Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. True, the Supreme Court is a rallying cry for conservatives and will raise turnout among conservatives — but that will also remind Democratic voters of evangelicals’ vision for the court and likely raise turnout among them, as well.

The smart political move is to fight this battle a little, activate the GOP base, take a hard stance to force the president to nominate a more moderate candidate and then cut the losses — approve the nominee and move on to the general election. The problem is that what I saw on “Meet the Press” demonstrates that Republicans cannot; the far right of the party won’t let them. Antonin Scalia’s death, then, is likely a disaster for the GOP.

9) The parallels between Trump and Andrew Jackson.

10) Friedman on this election season:

I find this election bizarre for many reasons but none more than this: If I were given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, they would be “a culture of entrepreneurship,” “an ethic of pluralism” and the “quality of our governing institutions.” And yet I look at the campaign so far and I hear leading candidates trashing all of them.

Donald Trump is running against pluralism. Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud,” and Ted Cruz speaks of our government in the same way as the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who says we should shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” (Am I a bad person if I hope that when Norquist slips in that bathtub and has to call 911, no one answers?)

I don’t remember an election when the pillars of America’s strength were so under attack — and winning applause, often from young people!

Trump’s famous hat says “Make America great again.” You can’t do that if your message to Hispanics and Muslims is: Get out or stay away.

11) How could anybody who has ever watched a basketball game on TV possibly think it is a good idea to show an entire game from a floor level camera.  Seriously?!

12) Jeff Shesol on how to recognize a Constitutional crisis:

Whatever tack the Party takes, the fact remains that Republican revanchism has already created a constitutional crisis: we refer to it as “politics as usual.” If the Court fight of the nineteen-thirties was, for the body politic, an acute illness—life-threatening but reversible—we are afflicted, today, with something more chronic. The radicalism of the American right manifests itself in suicide-pact politics, from government shutdowns to flirtations with the “fiscal cliff”; in what Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their study of our American dysfunction, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”, call “the new nullification,” a strategy that starves federal agencies of funds and personnel; in the contempt not just for government but for governance; in the denial of an opponent’s legitimacy, humanity, and love of country. [emphasis mine]

None of this is unconstitutional, in the strictest sense, but it does offend a principle at the core of the Constitution, one that Justice Robert H. Jackson reaffirmed in the nineteen-forties. “The Constitution,” he wrote, “contemplated a really effective government.” To that end, we speak not only of constitutional rules and requirements but of norms and understandings. When the latter break down, as is happening now, we see just how tenuous the American experiment can be, how dependent on restraint and good faith.

13) I was really surprised to find out that many colleges keep charging more per credit hour after the “full time” of 12.  That makes it harder to graduate on time for many.  NC State has always been the same price for 12+

14) EJ Dionne (correctly) says Democrats need to sell the party’s positives better.

Democrats need to insist that while much work remains to be done, the United States is in far better shape economically than most other countries in the world. The nation is better off for the reforms in health care, financial regulation and environmental protection enacted during Obama’s term and should be proud of its energetic, entrepreneurial and diverse citizenry.

If Clinton, Sanders and their party don’t provide a forceful response to the wildly inaccurate and ridiculously bleak characterization of Obama’s presidency that the Republicans are offering, nobody will. And if this parody is allowed to stand as reality, the Democrats will lose.

15) Really cool graphic of the year in temperature and precipitation for your city.

16) On not telling your kids they can be anything they want to be:

Telling kids that they can do anything—whether fueled by imagination or hard work—obscures the critical role of chance in success. Not every child who wants to be a surgeon or sports star can become one, even if they work hard at it. At the same time, in every success story there is the grace of good fortune. As Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman puts it: “Success = Talent + Luck. Great success = A little more talent + A Lot of Luck.”

While Kahneman acknowledges that skill is a key part of success, his work emphasizes that chance plays a predominant role. This can be a bitter pill for those who want to believe that we control our own destiny, and that, therefore, our destiny reflects something about our internal qualities, such as ability, drive, or worth.  Implicit in this way of thinking is a different equation: Highly successful person = person with the right stuff. From here, it’s not a far leap to the notion that the haves have it because they are innately special, or because they worked hard and deserve it.

17) Been meaning to give this great Hans Noel post on “identity conservatives” versus “philosophical conservatives” it’s own post for far too long.  Just read it.

South Carolina and Nevada

Let’s start with South Carolina.  I do like Neil Irwin’s take in the Upshot:

The combination of Mr. Rubio’s strong showing and Mr. Bush’s exit could bring about a “party decides” moment — the rapid consolidation of the mainstream of the Republican Party. It could mean a flood of endorsements and donations to Mr. Rubio ahead of Super Tuesday on March 1.

The benefits to Mr. Rubio could be huge. He will have more endorsements, more money, and he will now be free of the attacks from the Jeb Bushsuper PAC Right to Rise and his other mainstream rivals. He will have more votes available as well.

All true.  I think it is quite likely we’ll have a “party decides” moment for Rubio.  I also think, this year, that might not actually be enough.  Yes, this could be the beginning of Rubio’s cruise to victory.  But, at this point I think you would be foolish to downplay the persistence of Donald Trump’s support (and it’s surprising depth).  We shall see.  That said, I think what we really see is Ted Cruz’s trouble going forward:

If Mr. Rubio and Mr. Trump have a real case for a victory, Mr. Cruz does not.

Mr. Cruz’s campaign has always argued that his path to victory hinged on uniting “very conservative” voters and the religious right. South Carolina was the opportunity to do it: Evangelicals represented more than two-thirds of the electorate.

Mr. Cruz, in fact, is not even doing better than past evangelical favorites like Mike Huckabee or Newt Gingrich. He currently trails Mr. Rubio, who has the burden of a divided field. [emphases mine]

Mr. Cruz is poised to struggle outside the South. His 12 percent share of the vote in New Hampshire was telling in that regard, and so was his weak showing in South Carolina’s moderate coastal enclaves (he’s currently trailing John Kasich in Hilton Head, for example).

If Mr. Cruz can’t win the South by a big margin, he’s not going to win the nomination. At the moment, he’s not winning at all.

Would not be surprised to see the campaign rapidly evolve to Trump vs. Rubio with Cruz hanging on longer than he should without a real chance.  And I don’t think it’s at all clear how that turns out.

Okay, Nevada.  I can’t but help be amused by the way media coverage works in this.  In an actual election for representation, 53-47 matters.  In a caucus to proportionately select delegates from a relatively small state to a national election, 53-47 is very much a tie.  But nobody likes to talk ties in American elections.  This is seen as a very big important victory for Clinton (and imagine the headlines for Sanders if this had gone the other way).  All for a few thousand votes in caucus in Nevada.  That’s nuts.  But that’s what we’ve got and it definitely worked to Clinton’s advantage yesterday.

Let’s go back to Irwin:

Nevada is fairly representative of the national electorate, and it’s a state where Bernie Sanders would be expected to fare slightly better than he would elsewhere. (The Nevada Democratic electorate is about as white as the national average, with a slightly smaller share of the black vote than the national average.)

Mr. Sanders’s supporters will undoubtedly protest this framing. Their candidate exceeded the expectations of a month ago, and he fared better among Hispanic voters than many would have guessed. Mrs. Clinton’s lead is only 5.5 percentage points with 95 percent of precincts reporting.

But judging Mr. Sanders merely by whether he makes life tough for Mrs. Clinton diminishes his candidacy. It assumes that he’s just a protest candidate who should be judged by a lower standard. If he is taken seriously, and judged by whether he’s on a path to the nomination, then his performance today fell short.

Short version: South Carolina may well put us on the path of a fascinating two-man race between Rubio and Trump.  Nevada re-affirms that it is unlikely Sanders will be able to overtake Clinton.

Coda: Liked this from Jon Cohn:

With former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropping out of the Republican presidential contest and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) finishing either second or a close third inSouth Carolina’s primary, you’re going to hear a lot about Rubio consolidating support among moderate Republicans.

And maybe that’s how it really will work out. In a three-way race against Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and real estate mogul Donald Trump, Rubio might be the most attractive alternative to the voters who were supporting Bush — and who can’t abide Cruz’s stridency or Trump’s explosiveness.

But don’t for a second believe that Rubio is a moderate. In fact, the real takeaway from South Carolina is that, with Bush exiting the race and Ohio Gov. John Kasich likely to follow sometime in the not-distant future, what was left of the GOP’s moderate wing is officially dead.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Apparently there is subtle sex discrimination against women sellers on ebay.  I’ve bought dozens of items on ebay and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever even known the gender of the seller.

2) Interesting take on the Apple cell phone security issue.  And Timothy Lee’s take in Vox.

3) I love the fact that color perception is amazingly arbitrary.  Nice, short, video on ROYGBIV.

4) Chait on why Bloomberg could actually win under the right circumstances:

One reason Bloomberg’s presidential ambitions have always been so comically detached from reality is that he fills a space on the political spectrum that is overserved (socially liberal, fiscally conservative) whereas the actual unmet political demand is just the opposite (socially conservative, fiscally liberal)…

But if Trump and Sanders win their nominations, then the opposite would suddenly hold true. Instead of the socially liberal–fiscally conservative set having too much representation, it would suddenly have too little. A candidate who is neither a socialist nor a racist would have a large niche.

5) Ezra on how replacing Scalia is a test of our political system.

6) Really enjoyed this post making the case for Hillary.  And a nice deconstruction of the Elizabeth Warren video that Bernie supporters so love.

7) This essay on the prosperity gospel was fabulous.  Please read all of it.

Blessed is a loaded term because it blurs the distinction between two very different categories: gift and reward. It can be a term of pure gratitude. “Thank you, God. I could not have secured this for myself.” But it can also imply that it was deserved. “Thank you, me. For being the kind of person who gets it right.” It is a perfect word for an American society that says it believes the American dream is based on hard work, not luck…

It is the reason a neighbor knocked on our door to tell my husband that everything happens for a reason.

“I’d love to hear it,” my husband said.

“Pardon?” she said, startled.

“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said, in that sweet and sour way he has.

My neighbor wasn’t trying to sell him a spiritual guarantee. But there was a reason she wanted to fill that silence around why some people die young and others grow old and fussy about their lawns. She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.

8) I enjoyed “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but damn could it have used some serious editing.  That said, DiCaprio’s performance was terrific.  Nice New Yorker video making the case for it.

9) Nice Politico piece with varying takes on Scalia’s lasting impact.  I enjoyed this negative one:

‘He helped play a role in the growing polarization of American public discourse’
Daniel Farber, professor constitutional and environmental law at the University of California, Berkeley

Scalia was far more intellectually formidable than Donald Trump—and, from everything I’ve heard, a far nicer person—but they did have something in common: a tendency to break existing conventions of decorum in order to mock and demean their opponents. Scalia called majority opinions “preposterous” and “so unsupported in reason and so absurd in application [as] unlikely to survive.” This wasn’t limited to high-profile political cases. In a significant but relatively arcane air pollution case, he went out of his way three times to compare the Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to a Marxist motto (“from each according to his abilities”). Like Trump, Scalia’s tone could be startlingly casual, always in the service of mocking and denigrating his opponents. Consider these phrases from the same air pollution case, all of them making fun of the majority’s opinion:

“Look Ma, no hands!”

“I am unimpressed, by the way, with the explanation . . . ”

“Wow, that’s a hard one—almost the equivalent of asking who is buried in Grant’s Tomb”

That’s unusual language to see in a judicial opinion, to say the least.

As with Trump, Scalia’s prose can make for entertaining and sometimes invigorating reading. But Scalia’s tone was always calculated to deny any legitimacy to the opposing side. The opposing side was always unprincipled and politicized; only he was ever faithful to constitutional principles and pure of any ideological influence. Often, his opinions seemed more addressed to his followers in the Federalist Society and other conservative circles than to his fellow judges. In the process, unfortunately, he helped play a role in the growing polarization of American public discourse. It is a pity that, with all his intellectual powers, he was unable to ever acknowledge that even people who disagreed with him might have something to contribute.

10) The pragmatic case for Bernie Sanders (not that I’m buying it, but worth thinking about).

11) As if I didn’t already hate tipping enough, how about its American origins in racism.

12) A week late now, but damn did I love this New Yorker humor piece of Valentine’s poems for married people:

We are in the bedroom in our underpants.
Let’s turn the lights down.
No, further.
“Off,” I guess, is the technical term.
Maybe try a towel under the door, where that sliver of light is coming in?
What if we just cuddle, and by cuddle I mean not actually touching—
Each of us at the far edge of our own side of the bed—
Then close our eyes for the next seven hours or so?
I like you.

13) And a nice anti-Valentine’s day post (that’s right– I’m not a fan).

14) Elizabeth Warren thinks legalizing marijuana could help with our opioid problem.  She’s almost surely right.

15) Not sure I will read the book, but I really enjoyed this article on Sue Klebold’s new memoir and loved her recent Fresh Air interview.   And a good time to mention that Dave Cullen’s Columbine is one of my favorite non-fiction books in recent years.


I need to get these queued up and go to bed.  Looks like there’s a part 3 coming.


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