Quick hits (part I)

1) I think I shared this once already, but I went back and read it more closely.  This idea of moral re-framing is really important, I think.

2) Twelve bacteria to be afraid of.

3) Thanks to computers, we can be very clear on whether there’s gerrymandering.  Here’s hoping the Supreme Court accepts the inescapable logic.  Monkey Cage:

There is a perfectly good scientific standard for determining whether there is partisan gerrymandering. This is the “partisan symmetry” measuredeveloped by Andrew Gelman and Gary King. Essentially, symmetry requires that a specific share of the popular vote (say, 60 percent) would translate into the same number of congressional seats, regardless of which party won that share of the vote. For instance, if winning 60 percent of the popular vote in a state gives the Republican Party 65 percent of the congressional seats, then the Democratic Party should also win 65 percent of the seats if it wins 60 percent of the vote.

….But as Justice Scalia pointed out in his Vieth opinion, parties do not have a right to equal representation, any more than any other social group. It is only individual voters who have a right to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment and Article 1 of the Constitution….In our book, we show that the partisan symmetry standard can be logically derived from the equal treatment of individual voters, based on recent results in social choice theory. In partisan elections, you cannot treat all individual voters equally without treating all parties equally. This means that the party that gets more votes must get more seats. This sounds obvious, but it is precisely what the Supreme Court did not accept in the Vieth case. We show — line by mathematical line — that this logic is inescapable.

4) What’s the deal with Japan’s problematic economy you are always hearing about?  Not much– they’re just getting older.  Oh, and a great way to counter-act that (and one of our keys to success)– immigration.

5) Emily Bazelon looks at how Bannon and Sessions could reshape federal law enforcement (not for the better, mind you).

6) Love this Hidden Brain podcast on the tremendous benefits of using therapy for Chicago teens at high risk for violence.

7) After DeVos hailed HBCU’s as “school choice” Yglesias with a nice piece on just how dumb the selection and confirmation of DeVos was:

the Republican Party only sabotaged itself by confirming weak nominees like DeVos. Her confirmation hearing was a gaffe-tastic disaster, and her tenure in office is shaping up to be much the same. It would not have been difficult to find someone with similar policy views to DeVos but a somewhat deeper understanding of them and some actual experience in a job that involves a heavy public communications element. Republicans count DeVos’s confirmation as a “win.” But your Cabinet is supposed to be a portfolio of assets, and she’s a huge liability.

8) Nice to see the book thrown at these white supremacists using racism as terrorism.  That says, 13 years in prison seems awfully harsh.

9) I, too, am all for more reasonable alcohol policies in North Carolina.  And as for the drinking age, I think it is ridiculous that at 18 you can go to war, be sentenced to death for a crime, and vote for president, but not buy a beer.

10) It is truly amazing and appalling the degree to which our “justice” system will forgive bad forensic “science” if it has already led to a conviction.  In this case, the absurd non-science of the “death mask.”  Radley Balko on it, as always.  This quote is the key:

As I wrote here in 2014, the main problem is that both federal court precedent and the federal code value the finality of verdicts more than justice.

11) The headline says it all, “What Trump’s travel ban ignores: Radicalized U.S. citizens pose the greatest threat.”

12) This NPR story about the problem of replacement music in streaming TV shows was really interesting.  I hate that the rights owners are so petty on this.  I also assume that at this point when TV shows buy the rights to music they also buy the rights for future digital broadcast.

13) Fred Kaplan on the absurdity of Trump’s proposed Defense increase:

Many Republicans, including Trump, like to say that the nation has fewer planes and ships than at any time since the end of World War II or since some other signpost from the distant past. Assuming the numbers are accurate, they’re irrelevant. The firepower of a single aircraft carrier dwarfs the entire fleet of any nation from earlier eras. No generals or admirals would say they’d trade the force of today with that of any yesteryear.

One might argue that the military needs more weapons of specific types to meet rising threats of a certain sort. If so, the question isn’t how much to spend but what to buy. Trump’s directive spells out no such details. Those will be filled in and hammered out later by the Office of Management and Budget, the comptrollers of the various departments, and the relevant committees in Congress. Meanwhile, simply throwing money at the Pentagon won’t necessarily solve the problems, especially if it means taking money away from other buildings in town.

14) Amanda Marcotte on the rule of not abortion, but race and segregation, in the founding of the religious right.

15) Jamelle Bouie on Trump’s deafening silence on the Kansas shootings:

Trump’s selective outrage is more than just a double standard. Like his early blitz of executive orders, it’s an important symbolic gesture. Proclaiming new draconian measures to protect police officers is explicitly siding with “Blue Lives Matter” against protesters and reformers. Likewise, elevating one kind of attack as worthy of condemnation and ignoring another is to implicitly say that one kind of assailant is more dangerous than another—and for that matter, the life of one kind of victim is more valuable than another. For Trump, “radical Islamic terrorism”—which in practice just means Islam—is the principal threat to the United States. And so any attack on a Western target (Trump is also seemingly indifferent to terrorist violence against Muslim targets) from anyone who fits that description, or who can be linked to refugees or immigration, becomes a cause for focus and attention from the White House.

The opposite is true for anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant hate crimes, or acts of terror planned or committed by white supremacists. Despite the real toll they take on communities, those attacks are of little interest to the administration. Indeed, in another largely symbolic move announced at the beginning of this month, Trump said he would revamp and rename a program designed to counter all violent extremism so that it focused on “radical Islamic extremism.” It will no longer target white supremacist groups and other racist extremists. Again, it’s a symbol and a signal: Islam is the threat, not racism or weaponized hate toward nonwhites and immigrants.

16) The “Real men provide. Real women appreciate it” billboard conflict in NC.

17) On insane prescription drug prices and how pharmaceutical companies give away free drugs to deflect attention from the problem.  Don’t tell me we need more capitalism in health care.  $4500 for a $1 drug is not working.

Patient-assistance programs like Kaleo’s have historically been used to justify exorbitant price hikes, while undercutting the political case for pricing regulation. “That has been an effective P.R. tactic that has helped to forestall regulation for half a century,” said Jeremy Greene, a medical historian and the author of the book, “Generic: The Unbranding of Modern Medicine.” Philanthropy programs, in other words, are used to inoculate the company against complaints that the full prices of their drugs are too high. “The patient-assistance programs are ways to charge much higher prices to people in insured populations,” Geoffrey Joyce, a health economist at the University of Southern California, said. “But that money gets paid by someone, generally by ending up in premiums or by being born by taxpayers.”

18) Trump’s crazy adviser, Sebastian Gorka, will literally not even admit that Islam is a religion.  Ugh.

19) This story about an Idaho teen who got a slap on the wrist for sodomizing a mentally disabled teammate with a coat hanger has one breathtakingly awful quote from the judge:

Stoker, as he sentenced Howard to community service and probation, was emphatic that the assault did not constitute a rape, the British newspaper reports.

“Whatever happened in that locker room was not sexual,” he said. “In my view, this is not a case about racial bias,” he also said.

“People from the east coast have no idea what this case is about,” he said, according to the Guardian. “But I’m not going to impose a sentence that is not supported by the law.”

Idaho values.

20) In defense of the college lecture:

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

21) I really love this on how good typography could have prevented the Oscars fiasco.  So very true.

22) Should we move to open peer review?  One neuroscientist strongly thinks so.

23) Apparently a bunch of idiots at Middlebury College shouted down Charles Murray’s lecture and then attacked his car when he was leaving.  There’s some open dialogue for you.  Damn, do I hate, hate, hate, that it is liberals that act this way.  Bill Ayres‘ take:

That said: this behavior reported here by a group of Middlebury students is appalling. If free speech on a campus means anything, it means that people who are invited by members of the community – people who apparently thought he had something worth listening to – be allowed to share their views with decorum and civility. Shouting a speaker down, and then jumping on his car as he attempts to leave, are inconsistent with this notion.

The open letter referred to in the article linked above tries to square this circle by arguing, essentially, that there are certain views that are outside the boundaries of free speech protection and which therefore can and should be censured. It also argues that the airing of those views in and of itself constitutes a threat to other members of the community, a form of (their word) intimidation…

The students in question (on both sides) probably don’t see it this way, but this is a politics of force. It is a politics that says, I am right and you are wrong and I am going to use all of the power at my disposal to impose my will on you. It is as anti-democratic as anything they are protesting against. I do not envy my colleagues in the Middlebury administration as they try to untangle this mess.

24) Really interesting interview on the roots of the opioid epidemic:

At the end of the day, opioids were the solution not for patients’ problems but for doctors’ problems.

There has been a huge transformation in the past 30 years in health care delivery, beginning with a migration out of private practice into large integrated health care centers. That’s something that I call the Toyotazation of medicine — tremendous pressure on doctors within these large integrated health care centers to practice medicine in a certain way and get patients out in a timely fashion to be able to bill insurers at the highest possible level and to make sure that their patients were satisfied customers.

This was a huge contributing factor to the opioid epidemic — by giving doctors a way to just give a pill to patients to get them out the door, while also feeling like they were doing something to help patients, at least in the short term. Opioids became the proxy for a doctor-patient relationship.

The other underrecognized piece of this is what I call the medicalization of poverty. Opioids have become a proxy for a social safety net. So we have doctors routinely confronted with patients who not only have multiple medical problems — from diabetes to hypertension to asthma to cardiac disease — but also very significant psychological, social, and economic problems. Many of them are undereducated. Many of them are underemployed. Many of them are homeless. Many of them are struggling with multigenerational trauma.

Because we lack a social safety net to take care of these people, we are now medicalizing their problems, and telling doctors that they have to take care of their problems. Doctors are feeling incredibly overwhelmed in this space with this growing population of individuals with very complex biological and psychosocial problems. In the face of that, they’re prescribing opioids — because opioids work quickly, patients are grateful, and it seems to be something they can do in the face of overwhelming problems.

The other piece of it are new illness narratives that have now become commonplace. Everything from “pain is dangerous” to “people are fragile” to “the body can’t heal itself” and “doctors have superhuman abilities to heal” and “illness is an identity” and “victimhood gives you a right to be compensated.” These are illness narratives that I think create a culture in our society, which we’re not even aware of, that’s contributed to the opioid epidemic.

25) Happy Birthday to my lovely wife, Kim.  I think she reads my blog from time to time, but I doubt ever makes it to the bottom of quick hits :-).


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

One Response to Quick hits (part I)

  1. itchy says:

    1. Yes, you shared this, but it’s worth a second read. On the topics of climate change, government regulations and “elite” universities (and others), I’ve always thought it’s better to go with the “competition” arguments when trying to convince a conservative. If we don’t do the right (patriotic) thing, we’ll fall behind other nations. We will have failed our mission. What would previous generations think?

    Eventually, renewable energy sources are going to dominate. If we’re not leading the way, another country will. It used to be that conservatives stood for hard work, creativity and innovation, that they pushed for America to lead the way into the future. Sometimes that meant short-term economic sacrifice, sometimes it meant taking risks.

    Same thing for our university system, which is the envy of the world. Innovative research will not stop. It may just move elsewhere. A few decades from now, Americans may be the immigrants seeking to get into elite universities elsewhere, because ours are no longer the best.

    Even government regulations — the easiest, most maligned target — should be recast as “protections”: We’re the world’s most advanced economy precisely because we value our workers, our citizens. We have a strong middle class with potential for economic mobility. We’re the healthiest, wealthiest, happiest, most secure nation … the envy of every other economy. (I’m sure this isn’t all true.) If we allow these protections to erode, we’re just like every other middle-of-the-road nation. We’ll fall behind.

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