Photo of the day

Wow.  These photos from the Red Bull Illume photo contest are just mindblowing.  So many awesome photos.  Via Atlantic photo:

Overall Winner Lorenz Holder captured this image of BMX Pro Rider Senad Grosic on a bridge in Gablenz, Germany. Holder: “Senad and I were on the way to a different location early in the morning when we passed this scenic spot. We saw a sign from the street and I had some pictures in mind that I’d seen from this bridge on the internet. When we got there the sun was just above the trees and it was lighting up the full color-spectrum of the autumn leaves in a very soft way. I’d chosen a very low camera position to get an almost perfect mirrored scene on the water surface. The bridge looked like a perfect circle and the light was still very good. When Senad was on the bridge, it took us two or three tries to get the shot. There was also no more time for another try because the wind came up and the perfect reflection on the water was gone.”

© Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume
Advertisements

We’re not in the middle of a mass extinction

Hooray?

All is not great– obviously– but that doesn’t make for a mass extinction.  Really enjoyed this take from Peter Brannen in the Atlantic:

Given how severely humans have damaged the natural world over the millennia, it was an idea I found attractive, and it’s one even shared by many geologists and paleontologists. Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. [emphases mine] This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland…

Surely we’ve earned our place in the pantheon next to the greatest ecological catastrophes of all time: the so-called Big Five mass extinctions of earth history. Surely our Anthropocene extinction can confidently take its place next to the juggernauts of deep time—the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous extinctions.

Erwin says no. He thinks it’s junk science.

“Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don’t have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were,” he wrote me in an email. “It is absolutely critical to recognize that I am NOT claiming that humans haven’t done great damage to marine and terrestrial [ecosystems], nor that many extinctions have not occurred and more will certainly occur in the near future. But I do think that as scientists we have a responsibility to be accurate about such comparisons.” …

If we’re really in a mass extinction—if we’re in the [End- Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago]—go get a case of scotch,” he said.

If his power-grid analogy is correct, then trying to stop a mass extinction after it’s started would be a little like calling for a building’s preservation while it’s imploding.

“People who claim we’re in the sixth mass extinction don’t understand enough about mass extinctions to understand the logical flaw in their argument,” he said. “To a certain extent they’re claiming it as a way of frightening people into action, when in fact, if it’s actually true we’re in a sixth mass extinction, then there’s no point in conservation biology.”

This is because by the time a mass extinction starts, the world would already be over.

“So if we really are in the middle of a mass extinction,” I started, “it wouldn’t be a matter of saving tigers and elephants—” …

When mass extinctions hit, they don’t just take out big charismatic megafauna, like elephants, or niche ecosystems, like cloud forests. They take out hardy and ubiquitous organisms as well—things like clams and plants and insects. This is incredibly hard to do. But once you go over the edge and flip into mass extinction mode, nothing is safe. Mass extinctions kill almost everything on the planet.

So, good news, we’re not actually in the middle of a mass extinction.  Bad news– that doesn’t mean we’re not wreaking horrible damage on the planet.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The psychologists behind the CIA’s torture program.

2) How to manipulate teenage defiance for good.

3) Yet more evidence on the link between childhood lead exposure and crime.

4) Jonathan Rauch on why it will be so hard to impeach Trump:

In 1974, as today, Republican legislators were fearful of the political consequences of abandoning a Republican president who enjoyed Republican partisans’ support. That was one reason they protected him for so long. So a key question becomes: when did the Republican base sour on Nixon, making it safe for party leaders to eject him?

The answer, as shown in the second chart, is: never. To the bitter end, his Republican approval stayed at or above 50 percent (with only minor and temporary exceptions). In other words, Nixon divided Republicans but never lost them, despite his evident and gross malfeasance.

Because the Republican Party of 1974 was more moderate and heterogeneous than the Republican Party of today, we can expect today’s Republican base to be even more likely to protect Trump than yesterday’s Republican base was to protect Nixon.

5) Mark Joseph Stern on how the logic of two recent SC decisions on free speech may have an impact on the gerrymandering case.

6) Speaking of which, I find Charles Lane’s post arguing that we don’t want courts deciding how much partisan gerrymandering is too much to be remarkably unpersuasive.

7) Sticking with the Supreme Court, Garrett Epps argues recent rulings are far too trusting of the government on national security.

8) Why the health care industry is not doing more to stop the AHCA (short version: they have a lot of stuff they want from Republicans and don’t want to get on their bad side).

9) Unwritten rules of flying you are probably breaking.  I love this one:

10. Don’t recline in economy. No, listen to me, asshole: Don’t recline in economy. The amount of extra comfort you gain is nothing compared to the chain reaction of pain you have just set off behind you, in which every other passenger in your path is consigned to a modified form of the Trolley Problem, whereby they can either subject themselves and possibly the person next to them to hours of discomfort by doing nothing, or continue the chain reaction by reclining their own seat to gain a little room. If you have the world’s most specific back problem and must sit at precisely a 110-degree angle, then turn around, ask the person behind you if this is OK, and give them time to arrange their laptop, knees, and soul for what you are about to inflict, you heartless life-ruiner who should have taken the bus.

10) Mike Munger talks scholarly writing.  Ummm, no getting up at 4:30am for me to write; I’ll settle for less productivity.

11) The tick that gives people red meat allergies is spreading.  Please don’t bite me.  Please don’t bite me.

12) It’s all in the headline and I’m damn sure it’s not a coincidence, “Trump seeks sharp cuts to housing aid, except for program that brings him millions.”

13) Chris Fitzsimon on the NC budget.

14) Drum on Seattle’s experiment with $15 minimum wage.

The obvious conclusion is that raising its minimum wage hasn’t depressed employment in Seattle at all. DeLong comments:

Low-end labor markets simply do not appear to work like competitive markets.Rather, they work like markets in which employers have substantial market power—and thus minimum wage laws have the same efficiency benefits as does natural-monopoly rate regulation. Why low-end labor markets do not appear to work like competitive markets is a very interesting—and, I believe, unsolved—question. But it is in all likelihood a fact to deal with.

I’d add an obvious caveat to this: it’s possible that a modestly higher minimum wage has little effect when the economy is doing well. We don’t know yet how employment in Seattle will respond when the economy turns down.

15) Good story on the incredibly difficult call sailors had to make to seal watertight doors after a recent collision with Japanese freighter.

16) Is North Carolina the future of American politics?

Welcome to North Carolina circa 2017, where all the passions and pathologies of American politics writ large are played out writ small — and with even more intensity. Ever since 2010, when Republicans seized control of the General Assembly for the first time in a century, and especially since 2012, when they took the governor’s mansion, the state’s politics have been haywire. “There’s been a bigger and quicker shift to the right here than in any other state in the country,” says Rob Christensen, a longtime political writer for The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh.

In just a few years, North Carolina Republicans have not just run quickly through the conservative policy checklist; they’ve tried to permanently skew the balance of power in the state in their favor, passing some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country and drawing some of the most egregiously gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts in modern American politics (though their moves have repeatedly failed to pass muster with the courts). Cooper’s victory, and the blowback to H.B. 2 that preceded it, seemed to suggest a chastening of the party — until Republicans contested the election results with a series of baseless allegations of voter fraud and legal challenges that left the state in limbo for four weeks before McCrory finally conceded.

17) Chait argues the Conservative health care agenda is dead.  He’s right:

Why didn’t Republicans decide to write a conservative health-care bill? Because Americans don’t want one. Marketized health care with transparent pricing turns out to be literally the opposite of what the country prefers. Washington Post reporter James Hohmann travels to Georgia’s sixth district, the site of the contested special election, and finds through “dozens of interviews” that even the Republicans in this affluent district want a health-care plan that gives them less, not more, skin in the game. One representative right-wing voter hates Obamacare because, he tells Hohmann, “I have to pay a $40 co-pay just to see a doctor.” Any authentic conservative health-care program would increase, not decrease, that amount. “Their expectations might seem unreasonable to anyone who is closely following the debate or is steeped in the complexities of public policy,” reports Hohmann, “but they believe Donald Trump can and should enact a replacement plan that will both reduce their costs and improve their quality of care.” Why would they have these expectation? Because while Republican wonks have been advocating more skin in the game for consumers, Republican politicians have been promising the opposite. That is why Mitch McConnell denounced Obamacare for having the very features — high deductibles and co-pays — that conservative wonks would like to extend…

Rather than design a health-care bill that pursued conservative priorities, they have kept the structure of Obamacare and simply drained its resources in order to finance a large, regressive tax cut. It turns out you can work pretty quickly if you don’t care about substance. Whether or not they dismantle Obamacare, the Republicans have already given the conservative health-care agenda a permanent burial.

18) George Lakoff on Trump.

19) This Washington Post story will likely be the definitive story of Russia’s interference in the election.  Not only is it your must-read of the weekend, it’s surely the must-read of the month.  Just do it.

20) And, oh man does Charles Pierce let loose on the Obama administration for not taking much stronger action (I think he’s probably right).  Also, Mitch McConnell is truly, truly evil.

21) And while we’re on Trump and Russia, Bloomberg on yet more shadowy connections.  Don’t worry, though, just smoke, no fire.  I’m sure Democrats are just making this all up.

22) Though as Josh Marshall says,

The best analog to President Trump’s stance toward the Russia probe and his refusal to accept that Russian interference even happened is a husband who is suspected in his wife’s disappearance and repeatedly insists that she’s probably on a beach in Aruba having a good laugh at his expense.

In any normal circumstance, by any conventional standard, Trump’s attitude and actions are ones that are only consistent with guilt. He has not only repeatedly insisted on his innocence, which the innocent and guilty do in equal measure, but insisted that the crime itself never actually happened. On top of this, using his unique powers as President, he has repeatedly taken actions to end the investigation into his campaign. The most blatant example was firing the FBI Director with the stated goal of relieving the pressure of the Russia probe. But that’s just the most glaring example.

23) I was pretty disappointed in how this Freakonomics interview with Charles Koch let him so easily whitewash the reality of the extremity of his politics and his influence.

24) I did enjoy this Slate story on James McGill Buchanan, who has had a profound influence on the Koch’s.

25) I don’t care what Dean Heller is saying now, I do think the truth is, as Chait says, “GOP moderates always cave.”  They will just use some piddling little excuse to come through with the votes anyway,  just like Tom MacArthur in the House.

%d bloggers like this: