Quick hits (part I)

1) Very good Yglesias post on Trump the bullshitter:

Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true, often shamelessly so, and it’s tempting to call him a liar.

But that’s not quite right. As the Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt put it in a famous essay, to lie presumes a kind of awareness of and interest in the truth — and the goal is to convince the audience that the false thing you are saying is in fact true. Trump, more often than not, isn’t interested in convincing anyone of anything. He’s a bullshitter who simply doesn’t care…

He’s a man who doesn’t care much about the truth. He’s a man who cares deeply about loyalty. The two qualities merge in the way he wields bullshit. His flagrant lies serve as a loyalty test.

2) Nice blog post on Confirmation bias I came across.  I’m sure it will confirm what you know about confirmation bias ;-).

3) Nice NYT Op-Ed from libertarian Will Wilkinson on the welfare state:

Fortunately, defending a more freewheeling economy implies no hostility to the welfare state. On the contrary, a generous and effective safety net can be embraced as a tool to promote and sustain a culture of freedom, innovation and risk taking. Politically, repairing and improving the slipshod infrastructure of the safety net would liberate Republicans from the bad faith of attacking the welfare state in one breath, halfheartedly promising not to cut entitlements in the next and then breaking that promise once in power.

More important, grasping that government spending is compatible with high levels of freedom and economic vitality would give Republicans space actually to govern. The belief that it is necessary always and forever to reduce spending leads to the embarrassing spectacle of obstruction and paralysis unfolding on Capitol Hill.

A Republican Party that aimed instead to free markets and improve the effectiveness and composition of spending could govern, govern well and win elections doing it.

4) The misguided crackdown on fraud by the Army.  Pretty clearly a case of prosecutors who just can’t accept that there’s really a bunch of small fish when they thought they were going to reel in some giant ones.

5) This Economist/1843 piece on why the Mona Lisa is so popular (and what artworks in general, become popular) was terrific.  Not surprisingly, it has almost nothing to do with the quality of the art:

When Watts looked into the history of “the greatest painting of all time”, he discovered that, for most of its life, the “Mona Lisa” languished in relative obscurity. In the 1850s, Leonardo da Vinci was considered no match for giants of Renaissance art like Titian and Raphael, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the “Mona Lisa”. It was only in the 20th century that Leonardo’s portrait of his patron’s wife rocketed to the number-one spot. What propelled it there wasn’t a scholarly re-evaluation, but a burglary.

In 1911 a maintenance worker at the Louvre walked out of the museum with the “Mona Lisa” hidden under his smock. Parisians were aghast at the theft of a painting to which, until then, they had paid little attention. When the museum reopened, people queued to see the gap where the “Mona Lisa” had once hung in a way they had never done for the painting itself. The police were stumped. At one point, a terrified Pablo Picasso was called in for questioning. But the “Mona Lisa” wasn’t recovered until two years later when the thief, an Italian carpenter called Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The French public was electrified. The Italians hailed Peruggia as a patriot who wanted to return the painting home. Newspapers around the world repro­duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself.

6) Really compelling story of a former NC State assistant football coach (now deceased) and his struggles with CTE.

7) Very cool interactive graphic on the popularity of various Netflix shows.

8) Oh, man, this Post feature on “butterfly babies” who have a super-rare genetic skin disease was so fascinating and disturbing.  Read it.

9) Definitely agree with this Wired piece to not use social media about terrorist attacks.  That’s exactly what they want.  In short, I know it’s hard, but we should all pay less attention to terrorist attacks.

10) How to make a rocket with a 2-liter bottle.  Somebody get me some liquid butane!

11) Even the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care about its travel ban any more:

It’s a feedback loop: The media talks about what Trump is thinking about, and Trump thinks about what the media is talking about, and the two quickly converge on a single obsession. In the administration’s first months, the cycle was disrupted frequently enough by outside events — like the first rulings against the travel ban — that it wasn’t as immediately apparent to the naked eye.

But with the Comey/Russia scandal, the story of the Trump administration itself has become far more important than anything the administration can do or that can be done to it.

For all of Donald Trump’s griping about his communications staff, Trump himself appears to be fundamentally unable to direct even his own attention to the things his administration actually wants to do for America, much less the attention of anyone else. His obsession with the way his presidency is covered has deprived him of any chance to change it.

12) Really good National Review (!!) piece on the important implications of the decline of American retail:

And shops and jobs go together: One in ten employed Americans works in retail. Retail salesman is the single most common job in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while much has been made of the decline in old-line industrial jobs that carry a certain nostalgic charge, there are 17 times as many retail jobs as jobs in automobile manufacturing, 100 times as many retail jobs as steel jobs, and 210 times as many Americans working in retail as in coal mining — not just miners, but all coal-mining jobs, from CEO on down. Shop jobs mostly are not especially high-paying (though they sometimes are), and they tend to be held by workers who for various reasons — sometimes lack of skill and education, but also things such as the need for flexible scheduling or physical limitations — often do not have a great many desirable options. People sometimes scoff: “Yeah, creative destruction is great — we’ll just tell all those unemployed steelworkers to become software designers!” But the fact is that steel mills and mines and factories employ a great many highly educated and highly skilled people, from engineers to machinists, and they are a lot more likely to be able to find good new jobs than is the 48-year-old mother of three who works four days a week at the local Sears. That job may not provide enough to support a family of five, but it may very well pay enough to take care of the mortgage and the electricity bill — for two-income families, those modestly paid retail jobs aren’t about pin money.

13) Clearly, schools need to do a better job making sure inappropriate quotes don’t get into the yearbook.  That said, please stop over-reacting like it’s a scourge on the whole school.  And I will admit to laughing out loud upon reading this particularly inappropriate quote:

On Thursday, Dana King, principal of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, apologized for publishing a yearbook quote from a male senior who said “I like my women how I like my milk: white, rich and 2% fat.”

14) Obviously I could not resist this story about trying to hunt down forgotten apple cultivars.

Now, some old varieties have become available again, through small specialty nurseries like the co-op that Mr. Bunker helped start in Maine and through university agricultural programs. Commercial growers, however, said old apples had faded for a reason and were probably not coming back.

“They’re hard to grow,” said Mac Riggan, the director of marketing at Chelan Fresh, which has 26,000 acres of fruit trees, mostly apples, in central Washington.

Old varieties, Mr. Riggan said, either bruise easily, don’t store well or don’t produce enough apples per tree. And economic pressure is relentless. “Land costs money,” he said.

I’m sure there’s some great ones.  But, honestly, it’s hard to beat a good Braeburn and you can get those anywhere.

15) Aaron Carroll on science’s reproducibility problem:

 true success will require a change in the culture of science. As long as the academic environment has incentives for scientists to work in silos and hoard their data, transparency will be impossible. As long as the public demands a constant stream of significant results, researchers will consciously or subconsciously push their experiments to achieve those findings, valid or not. As long as the media hypes new findings instead of approaching them with the proper skepticism, placing them in context with what has come before, everyone will be nudged toward results that are not reproducible.

For years, financial conflicts of interest have been properly identified as biasing research in improper ways. Other conflicts of interest exist, though, and they are just as powerful — if not more so — in influencing the work of scientists across the country and around the globe. We are making progress in making science better, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

16) I don’t follow British politics all that closely, thus I learned a lot in a short piece via the Economist’s endorsement of the Liberal-Democrats for the upcoming UK election.

17) Revisiting the giant flop that was E.T. the video game.

 

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

One Response to Quick hits (part I)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    #12 Importance of retail jobs.
    The NC legislature apparently doesn’t think retail jobs are important at all. They have steadily weakened gun laws and now are trying to do away with background checks on the purchase of handguns. There’s a relationship between the increasing number of unvetted folks with guns in an area and the decrease in sales at local shops.
    Speaking for myself, I am much more likely to order items online in the relative safety of my home than going to a mall or any retail outlet when I know just anyone can buy a handgun, no questions asked, and carry them almost anywhere.
    Think I’ll buy some shares in Amazon.

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