Photo of the day

Seems like I would be remiss not to include a photo from Cassini.  Nice gallery in Vox

Here’s Titan in orbit around Saturn.  NASA/ JPL

 

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Why I never give up the internet

I was going to put this in quick hits, but I loved this New Yorker essay from Matthew J. X. Malady to make it share.  He “unplugged” for 72 hours and I totally love his response to it:

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing. I still read deeply, and study things closely, and get lost for hours at a time in sprawling, complicated pieces of literature. Since moving to California from Manhattan a couple of years ago, I’m almost certain I’ve paid attention to more sunsets and cloud configurations and blooming flowers than I had in the previous decade. But I also enjoy being able to find out what year Chinua Achebe published “Things Fall Apart” in roughly three seconds. And, while it is true that, as Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, and others have pointed out, my desire to learn in this manner means that I am opening myself up more completely to advertising saturation and affronts to personal privacy, I’ve made the choice to live with and combat such vexations rather than proceed through life overrun with stagnating curiosity.

Yes, yes, yes!  My favorite thing about the internet.  I am always, always learning.  No way would I voluntarily give that up.  A couple times a year when we visit my grandmother-in-law I am without any internet for most of a day.  And it’s usually a lovely day, but I feel absolutely no need to voluntarily untether.  There’s too damn much to learn.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting interview with Judge Richard Posner, who, better-late-than-never, recognizes that our justice system is not exactly fair to poor people.

2) So, we’re actually having an interesting debate on whether we need to have reporters out there standing in 150mph winds during a hurricane.

3) The guy who invented the stupid password rules (one uppercase, one special character, etc.) totally regrets it.  What we really need– long, easy to remember passwords.  Thisisareallylongpassword is way better than Ttg9!yt6.

4) Enjoyed this explanation on all the stuff that went right to keep Irma from being an epic catastrophe.

5) Also, we need to do a better job communicating to the public what hurricane forecasts really mean.

6) Equifax and the whole credit reporting industry is so evil and so insulated.  Farhad Manjoo is right that they should not get away with it (they will).  I also love Drum’s simple solution:

The time for small-bore proposals is over. It’s time to make the credit agencies—and others—pay for their flagrantly careless behavior. When they allow someone to steal your identity, they’re the ones who should pay the price, not you.

7) Pretty good satirical video of helping with homework that I love, because Toto’s Africa.

 

 

8) Olympic-sized events rarely work out for the host city.

9) Love this Vox appreciation of the humor in “Bojack Horseman.”  So, dark, yet so much brilliant comedy.

10) David Roberts on how the mainstream media turned HRC’s “gaffes” into scandals based on pretty much nothing is terrific:

If you put these two together — an intensely hostile and dishonest conservative movement combing every word and act for anything that can be distorted, plus a mainstream press endlessly credulous toward each new faux scandal — and then add, in 2015, an intensely hostile and only moderately more informed Bernie Sanders coalition feeding in their own faux scandals from the left, you have, to put it mildly, a inclement information environment for Clinton.

So sure, it makes sense, in isolation, to say that she shouldn’t have bungled that sentence about coal workers. She shouldn’t have used that email server her husband had in the basement. She shouldn’t have given speeches to banks. All of that is true enough.

But note that when mainstream critics talk about these things, it’s never the things themselves that are the problem. It’s always the optics: “how it sounded” or “how it looked.” If you unpack that a little — “she should have known how it would look” — here’s what it means: She should have known that anything she does or says that can be spun to look bad will be spun to look bad, and the MSM will pass along the spin uncritically, so she shouldn’t have done or said anything that can be spun to look bad.

11) The Amish use smartphones?!

12) I’ve never actually seen discrimination against politically conservative professors in my 17 years as a tenure-track professor.  The problem Arthur Brooks overlooks, is massive selection bias.

13) I’ve been meaning to do a post on single-payer, but for now, Drum reminds us that hospitals (and hospital systems) are the costs villain in American medicine, not insurance companies.  I actually feel like the understanding of this fact is something that separates those who understand health care policy from those that think they understand health care policy.

This is the not-so-hidden story of exploding medical costs. We’ve become so accustomed to hating on insurers that we hardly notice that hospital consolidation is a much bigger villain. When a big insurer has a local monopoly, it can usually negotiate lower prices from hospitals because the hospitals have nowhere else to go. But when there are lots of insurers and only one or two local hospitals, it’s the hospitals that have the upper hand. They can charge high prices because the insurers have no choice except to do business with them. As hospital systems get steadily larger and rope in more and more physicians, their effective competition decreases and they have the ability to demand ever higher prices.

Insurance companies are hardly innocent bystanders in the health care system, but if you want to really target the drivers of higher costs, look to the source: the actual providers of medical services. That means doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers. That’s where the real money is.

14) My kind of Christian.  John Pavlovitz on Jemelle Hill.

The White House joined in the caucasian outrage, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s comments constituted a “fireable offense.” Maybe it’s me, but if calling the President a white supremacist is a fireable offense—then him actually being one sure as heck should be.

This is the heart of the hypocrisy on display here, and the reason Hill isn’t wrong, even if you disagree with her conclusions or her methods.

You don’t get to hire Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Jeff Sessions—and simultaneously mount a high horse of righteous indignation at the suggestion that you’re probably a bigot.

You don’t get to spend a lifetime exemplifying the absolute insulation from accountability that is white privilege—and get to play the victim card when a black woman asks why that is.

15) Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court has based ruling on sex offenders on junk science.  Rulings based on junk science are still rife through our criminal justice system.

16) From prison to a PhD program at NYU.  But not Harvard.

17) Great article on sexism and politics in Germany and the fascinating historical role of Communist progressivism on gender under East Germany.

18) Some interesting new political science research.  More asymmetry!

Recent studies indicate that the wealthy receive more representation from their members of Congress, though this relationship may be more pronounced in Republican compared to Democratic districts. However, drawbacks in existing survey data hamper efforts to delineate the relationship between income and representation with precision, especially at the highest income levels. In this paper we use new data to explore the relationship between wealth, the party identity of elected officials, and representation in greater depth. We develop several alternative models of the relationship between income and representation, and compare them with models employed in previous empirical research. We test each of these models, using two different data sets containing large numbers of wealthy individuals and very granular measures of income. Our results suggest that individuals with Democratic congressional representatives experience a fundamentally different type of representation than do individuals with Republican representatives. Individuals with Democratic representatives encounter a mode of representation best described as “populist,” in which the relationship between income and representation is flat (if not negative). However, individuals with Republican representatives experience an “oligarchic” mode of representation, in which wealthy individuals receive much more representation than those lower on the economic ladder.

19a) So, remember Drutman on the doom-loop.  Chait says just blame Republicans.  And he makes a damn good point.

Whether or not the Times was correct to use this research, and whether or not it treated Clinton fairly overall, is not the point. What matters is that Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times’ disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party’s interests — its errors all run in the same direction.

Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don’t dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.

19b) Drum, largely agrees, but argues the Republican Party is not the root of the problem:

There’s much more at the link, where Chait describes the asymmetry between the parties well. I don’t disagree with a word he says. However, I want to stress one small qualification. America is a democracy, and parties survive only if they gain popular support. Over the past couple of decades, we liberals have marveled at the steadily increasing lunacy of the Republican Party, confidently predicting at every turn that eventually the fever has to break. But it hasn’t. Republicans have won the presidency at the same rate as usual. They have won the House. They have won the Senate. They control state governments. They control county governments. There are still a few blue enclaves like California where Democrats truly control things, but not many. Generally speaking, the only thing Democrats truly control in America is its big cities. Urban mayors are almost uniformly Democratic.

In other words, the problem is not the Republican Party. The problem is that lots of people vote for the Republican Party. The lunacy will stop when that does. [emphasis mine]

20) Lastly, here’s your must-read of the week (from Politico!) on how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is making our plants less healthy.  Seriously.

In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

 

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