Quick hits (part I)

1) “Drain the swamp” makes a good sound-bite, but if you are going to go into a swamp, you want a guide who knows their way around it.  Lee Drutman:

But the reality of democracy in the world’s largest economy and third most-populous country is that national policymaking is complicated. It requires considerable knowledge and experience to understand the rules and resolve trade-offs. If you get rid of experienced policymakers and bureaucrats who understand these rules and trade-offs, it’s not as if the problems of modern governance go away. Decision-makers simply rely more on private lobbyists, who are only too happy to fill the void by supplying decision-makers with expertise and know-how.

This is a harder story to tell, because it lacks a three-syllable chant. But democracy is a system for making hard trade-offs among competing interests. And to make those trade-offs fairly and intelligently requires knowledge and experience. The surest way to empower special interests is to make government dumber. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Trump has proposed to do.

2) David Leonhardt on the disappearing American dream.

3) Great tweetstorm from Jay Rosen on the media under Trump.  Ominously titled, “Winter is Coming.”

4) Really interesting new research on the evolution of whales.  It seems that in addition to the question of “why did whales get so big?” is “why did smaller whales go extinct?”

5) Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen argue it’s time for Democrats to fight like Republicans.  There’s something to be said for fighting harder, but it’s not too much of a democracy when both sides decide to ignore the norms of democracy.  That’s a quandary.

6) NC is one of only two states in the country that automatically charges 16 and 17-year olds as adults.  My representative and friend, Duane Hall, is fighting to change this.  He’s got the support of police and the Republican NC Chief Justice.  Hopefully, the Republicans in the legislature will go along in a rare burst of common sense.

7) Westworld was a really imperfect show, but I mostly enjoyed it.  Very much enjoyed this discussion with the creators about how video games influenced the intellectual design of the show.

8) NPR’s Kat Chow on all the meanings of “politically incorrect.”

9) Now that Star Wars is expanding it’s stories, like Rogue One, some additional story ideas.

10) Really interesting NYT magazine piece on the various efforts, via genetic engineering and other means, to make peanuts less allergenic:

But an unresolved question is how many of the 17 known allergenic proteins scientists can actually edit out of the peanut. Ara h 1 helps the seed store energy for growth, for example, while Ara h 13 helps fight off fungi. Researchers may discover that removing every allergy-causing protein may have the unintended consequence of destroying the viability of the plant itself.

11) Zack Beauchamp with how we would cover Russia’s election hack if it happened in another country.

12) In case you missed SNL’s Walter White to head DEA.

13a) Shocking, I know, but some on-line “bargains” really aren’t such bargains.

13b) And a related piece on how list prices lost their meaning.

If some Internet retailers have an expansive definition of list price, the Federal Trade Commission does not.

“To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer,” the Code of Federal Regulations states. The F.T.C. declined to comment.

“If you’re selling $15 pens for $7.50, but just about everybody else is also selling the pens for $7.50, then saying the list price is $15 is a lie,” said David C. Vladeck, the former director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And if you’re doing this frequently, it’s a serious problem.”

Hey, that’s government regulation.  Bad!  Businesses should obviously be allowed to lie all they want.  That’s capitalism, baby!

14) We should probably think of obesity like cancer– a constellation of related diseases:

Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, likes to challenge his audience when he gives lectures on obesity.

“If you want to make a great discovery,” he tells them, figure out this: Why do some people lose 50 pounds on a diet while others on the same diet gain a few pounds?

Then he shows them data from a study he did that found exactly that effect.

Dr. Sacks’s challenge is a question at the center of obesity research today. Two people can have the same amount of excess weight, they can be the same age, the same socioeconomic class, the same race, the same gender. And yet a treatment that works for one will do nothing for the other.

The problem, researchers say, is that obesity and its precursor — being overweight — are not one disease but instead, like cancer, they are many. “You can look at two people with the same amount of excess body weight and they put on the weight for very different reasons,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, medical director of the obesity program at the University of Alberta…

If obesity is many diseases, said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the obesity, metabolism and nutrition institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, there can be many paths to the same outcome. It makes as much sense to insist there is one way to prevent all types of obesity — get rid of sugary sodas, clear the stores of junk foods, shun carbohydrates, eat breakfast, get more sleep — as it does to say you can avoid lung cancer by staying out of the sun, a strategy specific to skin cancer.

One focus of research is to figure out how many types of obesity there are — Dr. Kaplan counts 59 so far — and how many genes can contribute.

15) If Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein say we should take trade deficits seriously, we probably should.

16) Paul Blest on how the NC legislative Democrats need to fight back.  I think he’s right:

So for Democrats, now is the time to stop being complicit in their own humiliation. Their votes don’t matter, so the best way to make their voices heard is to show solidarity with people who care deeply about changing this state’s reputation as a “testing ground for alt-right and ultra-conservative ideas” and protest alongside the

m.Legislators using protest as a tool would be nothing new this year. In March, North Carolina Senate Democrats walked out on the HB 2 vote, and in June, Democrats in the U.S. House staged a sit-in to force a vote on a (bad) gun control bill. For minority caucuses that are being bowled over by the majority, it’s a great strategy in that it garners media attention, which in turn helps North Carolinians who might not be totally aware of what’s going on. Maybe a few of them could risk arrest; after all, the sight of a few Democratic lawmakers getting hauled down to the police station would almost assuredly wake people up.

Would Moore be pissed? Sure, but who cares? The country is already watching, so let Moore ram his bills through a half-empty chamber, let Representative Paul Stam go on tangents about the seventeenth century to half-asleep Republicans, and—most important—let the entire country see how authoritarian North Carolina has become.

18) Drew Magary is back with his annual profane and hilarious hater’s guide to Williams Sonoma.

19) Excellent piece from Sarah Kliff who interviews a bunch of Trump voters in Kentucky who are oh-so-sure Trump would never actually take away their ACA health insurance.  Maybe they should have taken him seriously and literally.

20) I think I might have mentioned that I loved the movie “The Arrival.”  So good.  Read the short story upon which it is based, “Stories of your Life” with my son, David, this week.  As we all know, the book is usually better than the movie, but David and I both strongly agreed that in this case, the movie was better.  The short story was quite good, but that was really a hell of a screenplay by Eric Heisserer.

 

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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