Who can you trust

ABC, CBS, and NBC apparently.  Interesting survey from Morning Consult looking at trust in various news providers.

Also pretty interesting to see this broken down by partisanship:

Interesting, of course, that Fox News is uniquely credible among conservatives, but Democrats most credible sources– the mainstream TV networks– are in no way the mirror image of a truly partisan source like Fox.  Also, NPR deserves to be higher.

Photo of the day

So many great images in Part I of Atlantic’s photos of the year:

Firefighters work to douse the flames at the Portuguese Language Museum in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 21, 2015. According to the fire department, one firefighter died.

Andre Penner / AP

The one in trillions and trillions origin of complex life on earth

I’m reading, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong.  Really good stuff.  Early in the book I was intrigued by a footnote to Yong’s own earlier article on the hypothesized union of archaea and bacteria to create complex cellular life.  I went and found the Nautilus article.  Utterly fascinating.  Almost as amazing as the still unexplained origin of life on earth is the origin of complex life on earth.  The simple prokaryotes of bacteria and archaea coming together to create a complex eukaryotic cell appears to have been a one in trillions chance that only happened once in the history of the planet.  Mind-blowing.  You should totally read this.  That said, highlights:

The alternative—let’s call it the “sudden-origin” camp—is very different. It dispenses with slow, Darwinian progress and says that eukaryotes were born through the abrupt and dramatic union of two prokaryotes. One was a bacterium. The other was part of the other great lineage of prokaryotes: the archaea. (More about them later.) These two microbes look superficially alike, but they are as different in their biochemistry as PCs and Macs are in their operating systems. By merging, they created, in effect, the starting point for the first eukaryotes.

Bill Martin and Miklós Müller put forward one of the earliest versions of this idea in 1998. They called it the hydrogen hypothesis. It involved an ancient archaeon that, like many modern members, drew energy by bonding hydrogen and carbon dioxide to make methane. It partnered with a bacterium that produced hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which the archaeon could then use. Over time, they became inseparable, and the bacterium became a mitochondrion.

There are many variants of this hypothesis, which differ in the reasons for the merger and the exact identities of the archaeon and the bacterium that were involved. But they are all united by one critical feature setting them apart from the gradual-origin ideas: They all say that the host cell was still a bona fide prokaryote. It was an archaeon, through and through. It had not started to grow in size. It did not have a nucleus. It was not on the path to becoming a eukaryote; it set off down that path because it merged with a bacterium. As Martin puts it, “The inventions came later.”

This distinction could not be more important. According to the sudden-origin ideas, mitochondria were not just one of many innovations for the early eukaryotes. “The acquisition of mitochondria was the origin of eukaryotes,” says Lane. “They were one and the same event.” If that is right, the rise of the eukaryotes was a fundamentally different sort of evolutionary transition than the gradual changes that led to the eye, or photosynthesis, or the move from sea to land. It was a fluke event of incredible improbability—one that, as far as we know, only happened after a billion years of life on Earth and has not been repeated in the 2 billion years since. “It’s a fun and thrilling possibility,” says Lane. “It may not be true, but it’s beautiful.” [emphasis mine]

Lots more good stuff.  If you have any small interest in science and or biology (or just the origins of complex life), read it.

Now we know what’s the matter with Kansas

Thomas Frank’s What the Matter with Kansas captured the liberal imagination 12 years ago with its exploration of why downscale white voters were voting against their own economic self interest over cultural issues (i.e., guns and God, instead of taxes and health care).  Alas, as good as it sounded, political scientist extraordinaire, Larry Bartels, showed it to mostly be not true.  That was then.  As of 2016, Seth Masket argues, this is basically right:

Frank’s basic story was that the white working class was abandoning the Democratic Party. It was doing so, Frank argued, because Republicans had offered persuasive cultural arguments: They campaigned about abortion, guns, religion, same-sex marriage, and other cultural touchstones that worried conservative, poorer whites in rural states like Kansas. This convinced these white voters that culture was more important than their dire economic circumstances (on which Democrats offered more favorable policies), and so they voted Republican.

But then, Frank further argued, Republicans governed with a bait and switch. Though they’d offered culture, they delivered a conservative economic agenda, cutting taxes on the wealthy, undoing business regulations, and undermining the social safety net in ways that actually hurt these working-class white voters. The economic agenda always took precedence, and the culture war would have to wait for a more favorable time.

This was a popular and persuasive argument, backed up by a number of very entertaining anecdotes in Frank’s book, but it ran into some inconvenient facts. As Larry Bartels noted in his essay “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?” it was hard to justify Frank’s main premises…

Twelve years later, the facts seem to be moving more in the direction of Franks’ arguments. We don’t yet have National Election Studies data for 2016 to compare across a long timeline, but a variety of indicators suggest the white working class has sharply and truly moved out of the Democratic coalition, even in the non-South.

According to a Pew study, whites with no more than high school diplomas broke 45-44 in favor of Republicans in 2008 — basically a tie. By 2012, that division had split to 53-38, and this year it was 59-33, a 26-point Republican advantage. This, notably, did not start because of Donald Trump — there was a bigger jump between 2008 and 2012 than between 2012 and 2016 — although he may have magnified the trend.

Exit polls this year showed non-college-educated whites voting for Trump over Clinton by an astounding 66-29 margin — 37 points. And this difference was not limited to the South. This same demographic subgroup broke for Trump 63-33 in Ohio, 64-32 in Pennsylvania, and 58-34 in Colorado. The margin was bigger in the South, of course (non-college-educated whites broke 81-15 for Trump in Georgia), but the recent gains for Republicans outside the South are quite notable.

And if Republicans offered a bait and switch in 2004, it pales compared with what’s been going on just since the election this year. Trump didn’t offer “culture” in quite the same way Republicans did 12 years ago. Rolling back LGBTQ rights didn’t appear to be much of a priority for him, and his pro-life credentials have a pretty short history. But he undoubtedly offered identity, declaring common cause with working class whites and dubbing himself a “blue-collar billionaire.” His appeals were sometimes explicitly racist.

I was certainly among those who wanted “What’s the Matter with Kansas” to be true because it sounds so good.  But, hey, I’m an empiricist, so I went with Bartels.  But now it is looking pretty clear that there is something the matter with Kansas– and a lot of America.

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