Quick hits (part I)

1) Nice profile of Reverend William Barber in Esquire.  Love this part:

His policy positions fall far to the left on today’s political scale. But he sees most of them as coming from conservative traditions rooted in the Bible—traditions that don’t line up with conservative politics today.

People who focus their moral energy on gay marriage and prayer in schools, he says, are missing what Jesus cared about the most: justice and mercy. It’s a stock line in his sermons: “They are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.”

2) Ryan Lizza on Trump giving up on the border wall.  Love this take:

One reliable way to know that Donald Trump has reversed himself on an issue is if he denies having done any such thing. The pattern repeats itself: his Administration is dealt a major setback—the courts blocking his travel bans, the G.O.P. health-care bill dying in the House—and Trump responds by decreeing that “great progress” is being made and the media is neglecting to cover it. It’s easy to become inured to how bizarre this is: America has a President who denies observable reality and uses his social-media accounts to feed his supporters an alternate version of the truth. All politicians spin. Trump lies, regularly and brazenly.

It should have come as little surprise, therefore, when Trump tweeted the following on Tuesday morning: “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.” Of course, he did change his position. The tweet came just a day after the White House had retreated from its stance that funding for the wall had to be included in the spending bill that Congress must pass by Friday to keep the government open.

3) The New Orleans monument that conservatives are all upset that just came down was literally  a monument to white supremacy.  And the Minnesota native running as a Trumpist for Governor in Virginia who is all about protecting confederate memorials.

4) Frum says that Trump is showing that really turning up the heat on immigration enforcement is actually effective policy for cutting illegal immigration.

5) Pew on the changing fortunes of the middle class.

5) Drum on Comey:

Once again, the primary concern was protecting Comey and the FBI. Republicans had made it clear that their retribution against anyone who helped Clinton would be relentless, and that clearly had an impact on Comey. Steinbach’s suggestion that Republican vengeance would have destroyed the FBI is clearly nuts, but Comey was taking no chances. He didn’t want the grief.

Even after it was all over, Comey’s partisan influences continued to work on him:

Officials and others close to him also acknowledge that Mr. Comey has been changed by the tumultuous year.

Early on Saturday, March 4, the president accused Mr. Obama on Twitter of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan. Mr. Comey believed the government should forcefully denounce that claim. But this time he took a different approach. He asked the Justice Department to correct the record. When officials there refused, Mr. Comey followed orders and said nothing publicly.

Daniel Richman, a longtime friend of Comey’s, said this represented “a consistent pattern of someone trying to act with independence and integrity, but within established channels.”

The evidence does indeed show consistent behavior, but of a different kind. At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack. It was the perfect intersection of a Republican Party that had developed a reputation for conducting relentlessly vicious smear campaigns and a Republican FBI director who didn’t have the fortitude to stand up to it. Comey may genuinely believe that his decisions along the way were nonpartisan, but the evidence pretty strongly suggests otherwise.

6) And Tomasky on Comey:

And through it all, he was worried about what Republicans would do to him, but apparently never concerned about how Democrats would react to anything he did. In fact the only lengthy discussion of a Democrat in the piece involves Comey’s anger at Loretta Lynch for agreeing to meet with Bill Clinton on that tarmac; he had every right to be upset about that boneheaded move, but as the article shows—and as we already knew in real time—he didn’t care at all how Lynch and other Justice Department lawyers would react to his taking it upon himself to say the things he said about Clinton.

There are two morals to this story. The first is, well, good on the Democrats, I guess, for not playing politics (Lynch excepted) with such a sensitive matter. This is how things are supposed to work in this country.

But the second moral is that, regrettable as it may be, this isn’t how things work in this country anymore. Republicans were so ferociously partisan about everything having to do with Hillary Clinton—and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and fill in the blank—that they created a reality in which the nation’s top law enforcement official was thinking more or less constantly about how he could avoid incurring their wrath. Of course, he’s a Republican himself, and was involved in Clinton probes in the 1990s, so there’s also that. But how that factored in we can’t know.

7) Somehow I had never heard of the mass pet euthanization in Britain at the start of WWII.

8) We actually still need proof that reducing blue light in the evening helps with sleep (since it’s free, I’ll stick with Flux until evidence says otherwise):

Does blue light actually make you more alert? It sure does. But does removing it from your smartphone’s screen help you fall asleep? That, my friends, hasn’t actually been solidly proven—at least not yet…

The bottom line? “There’s actually no studies that have systematically seen if blue-depleted light at very dim intensities is effective in preventing or reducing the biological disruption caused by light exposure at night,” says Rahman. So that blue dimmer on your phone isn’t yet backed by solid science.

9) You’ll be shocked (shocked!) to learn that much of the legal representation of the folks Arkansas is trying to execute this week was piss-poor.  I’ve got to agree with this conclusion from a Harvard law researcher on the matter:

SHAPIRO: If we assume that the death penalty is not going away but that the process can be fixed, what will it take to fix it?

BRAND: Well, the first thing I would say is, I don’t think it can fix it. For 40 years in the modern era of the death penalty, the court has been trying to issue procedural fixes. It’s been trying to say intellectually disabled people can’t be executed. It’s tried to say juveniles can’t be executed. It said, you really need a lawyer. And as much as the Supreme Court has tried to fix it, it has completely failed. So I think rather than trying to fix it, it is time for the Supreme Court to recognize its sort of complicity in this system where people don’t get counsel is calling into doubt the whole integrity of our judicial system.

10) I’ve yet to come across a really good piece on the ideology of France’s Emmanual Macron.  Thus far, this Roger Cohen is the best I can do.  From what I have read, sounds like most center-left liberals in the U.S. (i.e., people like me) should be pretty happy with him and his ideas for France.

11) WRAL with a nice editorial on the NC legislatures Tax Cuts uber alles policy running our state into the ground.

12) Meanwhile, NC Republicans also want to basically create corporate schools funded by taxpayers.  I just cannot believe the people running my state.

13) Yes, the human brain is a time machine:

And there’s something distinctly human about this? Animals have the ability to look into the future and plan, but not to the extent that humans do.
Yeah, so whether it’s the brain of mammals or other humans, the brain is always attempting to predict the future. If you’re a herbivore or you’re looking for a mate, your brain is telling you to go one way or the other because it’s making its best estimates as to what will optimize its chances of achieving that goal.

But what seems to be distinctly human is certainly the extent that we can engage in what we call mental time travel — this idea that we can consciously project ourselves back into the past and relive experiences. And it’s the ability to see the long-term future that I think is distinctly human. It’s impossible to overestimate how important that is, how much of your life is future-oriented, from going to school — from getting a job to saving for retirement to exercising and going to the doctor. These are all things that would be very difficult for other animals to engage in because they’re for the short- and long-term future. And one of the most transformative inventions humans have ever engaged in was agriculture. The notion of planting a seed and coming back a year later is something we take for granted now, but it’s hard to think of anything more important than that ability.

14) Turns out all those mindless eating studies have not replicated so well.  That said, I literally have no doubt that keeping tempting food out of my sight and easy access makes it way easier for me to resist (unlike the lollipops that were left out in our kitchen tonight).

15) Love this idea of a metacookbook.

16) Salt is the bomb.  Only use it if you want your food to taste good.

17) Will a college tour lead prospective students to choose the wrong college?  Quite likely, says social science:

But insights from research in psychology and behavioral economics suggest a counterintuitive reason to skip them: College tours may hinder students’ ability to pick a college that will further their interests and goals.

This has to do with the difference between our present selves (the self making the decision — in this case, where to attend college) and our future selves (the self experiencing the outcome of this decision). As Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia have argued, our present selves believe we are good at making decisions for our future selves, but in fact we all do a relatively poor job of predicting what our future selves will actually value and enjoy…

So why isn’t there an epidemic of students who find themselves in the wrong place and either transfer or drop out? Maybe there is. The only way to know would be to compare transfer and dropout rates between incoming students who used imagination to inform their decision, and those who relied on experience surrogates instead. Such data is lacking.

That said, most students would probably say they feel good about their college choice (even if they could have done objectively better) because of our “psychological immune system,” which buffers us from the unpleasant effects of negative events, and helps us to find the good in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

18) Interesting discussion of the debate over homework in elementary school.  My take: a small amount of thoughtful homework> none > any amount of non-thoughtful homework > too much homework of any kind.  I will definitely err towards none over the last two options.

19) Can plastic-eating caterpillars save the earth?  Maybe.

20) Drum on Paul Ryan and health care:

It’s increasingly obvious that Republicans aren’t actually trying to pass a health care bill. They just want to be able to tell their base that they tried. And President Trump wants to erase the taste of defeat from the first health care bill.

If House Republicans were serious, they’d engage with the health care industry. They haven’t. If they were serious they’d care about the CBO score. They don’t. If they were serious they’d be crafting a bill that could pass Senate reconciliation rules. They aren’t even trying. If Senate Republicans were serious they’d be weighing in with a bill of their own. They aren’t wasting their time.

In the beginning, I think Paul Ryan really did want to pass something, mainly so that it would make his tax cut plan easier to pass. But he’s given up on that. At this point he just wants a piece of paper that gets 218 votes and demonstrates that the Republican caucus isn’t hopelessly inept. He knows it will be DOA in the Senate, but at least it will get health care off his plate once and for all. Then he can move on to cutting taxes on the rich, which is what he really cares about. And he’ll have no trouble rounding up votes for that.

21) Several of my students told me about “Adam Ruins Everything.”  If this excellent video on marijuana is representative, I’ll definitely have to check out more.  Watch it!

 

 

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

8 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Terrant says:

    (9) For the death penalty, I think that the system needs to be rethought because ultimately, it is using the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That standard is fine for convicting a person of a crime but when it comes to applying the death penalty, it is lacking. IMHO, we should not be executing people if there is any doubt that the person committed the crime. Unlike freedom, we cannot give their life back.

    Maybe the standard should be “without a doubt.” There are some other questions that should be asked. Should the same jury that rendered the verdict be the same to render the death penalty? Should the rules of evidence be relaxed to allow evidence excluded by the judge during the trial? Under what circumstances is the death penalty appropriate? Under what circumstances is it not appropriate? Should the death penalty be rendered at the same time as the verdict?

    (14) I’ve found that phentermine helps with the eating issue to a point. It makes it easier to make good choices (although it does not stop the making of bad choices). Of course, YMMV.

    (16) My weight loss doctor knows when I eat something with high salt (ham is my major sin) if that says anything. That article is pretty much what Alton Brown has been saying about salt. It works by enhancing the food’s natural flavor.

    (18) I have to say that most homework I was assigned in high school could have been considered busy work (I absolutely hate busy work which is part of the reason I got into programming). The homework that I remember the best is project that required me to research. Could replacing homework with something like weekly project have more benefit? I do have to wonder though if there would be benefit to homework that encourages parental involvement in the child’s education.

    (21) The “Adam ruins everything” series is pretty good. He does a good job explaining topics that people do not want to believe is true. Unfortunately, I have not found a good place to binge watch them.

    • R. Jenrette says:

      #18 Homework that encourages parental involvement in the child’s education.

      My experience has been that the school system shames parents if they don’t oversee homework. When I suggested to one relative that it might be better for the child if he did his own science or other project, I was told in no uncertain terms that the child wouldn’t get a good grade if they didn’t help a lot (translation: do it for him) because they could be sure that all the other parents were working just as hard on their children’s projects.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Death penalty– problem is when you read all these exonerations, it was never anywhere close to “beyond a reasonable doubt” in so many of these cases. It was more like, “somebody’s got to pay for this murder and this guy seems convenenient.” In theory, I like the idea of a higher standard; in practice, no confidence it would matter.

    • Jeremy Tarone says:

      When one considers the problems of being unable to prove anything to a certainty in science, or the problem of criminality by prosecutors, police and even lab employees, the reliance on eyewitnesses (and eyewitness unreliability) and highly motivated and unreliable jailhouse snitches, the standard of ‘without a doubt’ is almost impossible, if not impossible.
      The problem is we don’t know what we don’t know and that problem exists for the entire chain of the process. We have to rely that everyone, every step of the way did their job right and they aren’t on drugs, in a criminals pocket, ideology driven, just plain incompetent or trying to pad their career by framing innocent people.
      History shows us at their best humans make mistakes and are subject to cognitive biases, even when they try not to be.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        People on the right seem to be all right with a few innocents being killed in their name. They want the bad guys killed. They think even if a person is innocent of the particular crime that resulted in his death penalty, it is likely he committed plenty of other crimes which he got away with so deserves to die.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Exactly right. Public opinion data shows that a decent number of death penalty supporters do so despite believing innocents are executed.

  2. Nicole K says:

    14: When my narcolepsy was uncontrolled I got pretty fat. I was close to 300 lbs. One way I dropped 100 lbs in less than a year was by keeping absolutely no food at home. This controlled my calorie intake pretty effectively. I limited myself to 2 meals a day. I ate whatever I wanted but only at those meals. They weight dropped off, and I have maintained a without effort by continuing this system.

  3. R. Jenrette says:

    #7 Mass pet euthanasia World War II

    Hard to believe that so many animal loving Brits cooperated in this.
    Hopefully Trump won’t see this review and get any ideas. Doesn’t look like there are many animal lovers in this administration. No one’s promising Barron a puppy when he moves to the White House. And the Trumplets think it’s especially fun to kill rare species animals.

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