Nature or nurture

There’s a good blog post to be written about this fascinating Pew study that looks at our perceptions of gender differences.  Alas, this is not that post.  I did, however, want to at least share a few cool charts instead of relegating it to quick hits:

And, here’s the partisanship breakdown:

And check out this partisan gap on child-rearing.  I think I see a future political science article in this once the Pew data becomes available:

Quick hits (part II)

1) EJ Dionne on tax law, “Republicans are joining a festival of corruption.”

2) Greg Sargent on Trump’s advantages over Nixon:

Yet Trump will be benefiting from a very powerful and far-reaching network of media propaganda on his behalf — one that casts all these ongoing efforts to subject Trump to basic accountability as fundamentally illegitimate — that is nothing like anything Nixon had at his disposal. And the ramifications of that for our country are, at present, a big unknown.

I ran this idea by Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton who specializes in the political history of the 1960s and 1970s. Zelizer agreed that Trump is set to benefit from a “massive propaganda” effort, “via cable television, via websites, and via Twitter,” that didn’t exist when Nixon targeted the Watergate special prosecutor during his Saturday Night Massacre.

“Whatever Mueller does, Trump’s allies have a huge bully pulpit, where the message from his perspective is constantly circulating, regardless of what the investigators do,” Zelizer told me. “Nixon never had anything comparable to that.”

Zelizer noted that at the time, the media was already in full investigative mode due to the Vietnam War. “It was a media controlled by three networks and a handful of major city papers,” Zelizer said. “The state of the media was adversarial.” The result, Zelizer said, was that once the Saturday Night Massacre came down, “there weren’t many people who wanted to cover it from Nixon’s perspective,” and the story was covered as a “constitutional crisis” brought about by Nixon’s conduct.

This is decidedly different from the current landscape, in which huge numbers of Americans are being fed a dramatically different tale about Trump and the Mueller investigation from the one unfolding in the real world.

3) This is actually a really interesting take on what is dividing America from Jonathan Haidt, as he focuses on centripetal and centrifugal forces.  That said, as far as the forces dividing America, as many have pointed out, it’s kind of insane that he spends just an obligatory paragraph on Republican extremism before going on and on about the campus left.  I think he makes a number of legitimate arguments about the campus left, but he so needs to place this in a more realistic context and perspective, rather than making it seem that campus liberals are the greatest threat to America.

4) David Frum on conservatism’s response to Trump:

The core of [National Review’s Charles] Cooke’s indictment is this: [Jennifer] Rubin’s universal distrust of Trump should be seen as the inverse of the mindless praise for Trump’s vagaries elsewhere in the conservative world…

Rubin’s crime is that rather than waking up every morning fresh for each day’s calling of balls and strikes, she carries into her work the memory of the day before. She sees patterns where Cooke sees only incidents. She speaks out even when Cooke deems it prudent to hold his tongue.

In this course, Cooke is following the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and the more presentable of the conservative commentariat: Hope for the best. Make excuses where you can. When you can’t make an excuse, keep as quiet as you can. Attack Trump’s critics in the media and Hollywood when all else fails. That has also become the working position of many conservatives who in 2015 and 2016 called themselves “Never Trump.”…

The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson…

Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.

The Trump presidency is a huge political fact. Donald Trump may not be the leader of American conservatism, but he is its most spectacular and vulnerable asset. The project of defending him against his coming political travails—or at least of assailing those who doubt and oppose him—is already changing what it means to be a conservative. The word conservative will of course continue in use. But its meaning is being rewritten each day by the actions of those who lay claim to the word. It is their commitment to Trump that etches Trumpism into them. And while Trump may indeed pass, that self-etching will not soon be effaced.


6) Didn’t quite agree with Alyssa Rosenberg, but her take that “it’s time to stop grading Star Wars movies on a curve” was really interesting.

7) I hadn’t before really thought about the fact that Lawrence Kasdan was the screenwriter for two of my very favorite movies– Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Really enjoyed this interview with him upon his work on The Force Awakens.

8) I don’t think HQ Trivia is leading us to a dystopia, but since I’ve really enjoyed playing it since learning of it in the NYT, I’m linking this anyway.

9) Now, this was really interesting… how the climategate email hack presaged the work of the Russians on the DNC.

Podesta, a leading advocate of climate action during the Obama years, describes Climategate as an early example of hackers conspiring “to take the fruits of illegal behavior, weaponize them, then use them in a political context.” And though the emails contained no evidence of scientific misconduct, Podesta notes, climate change deniers successfully used them to “change public perception and increase skepticism about the need for action at a pivotal moment.”…

On November 20, a New York Times front-page story opened by noting that skeptics “say [the emails] show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.” The Washington Post quoted climate skeptic Myron Ebell—who would later run Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—as saying the emails exposed an “alarmist political agenda.” The Post even ran an op-ed by Sarah Palin, who claimed that scientists had “manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures.”

Television coverage was even worse. NBC told viewers that “those who doubt that man-made greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these emails…show climate scientists massaging data.” ABC inaccurately claimed that “one of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a trick to hide the decline in temperatures.”

10) So jealous of my colleague Mark Nance.  Not for getting into the Nobel Prize awards ceremony, but for getting his Op-Ed about it (with wife Sarah Bowen) in the NYT.

11) Cops act egregiously horribly (that was tea, not marijuana!), but vindicated by Appeals Court.  Because… America.  Radley Balko:

So I actually agree with the attorney for the sheriff’s office. When its own actors are accused of wrongdoing, the justice system has been designed not to dispense justice, but to put a priority on protecting police, public officials and government entities from accountability.

So, yes. The system did work. It did just what it was designed to do. And that makes these stories all the more worrying.

12) Really enjoyed this interview in Vox about Baby Boomers:

Sean Illing

So what’s your explanation for the awfulness of the boomers? What made them this way?

Bruce Gibney

I think there were a number of unusual influences, some of which won’t be repeated, and some of which may have mutated over the years. I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted. They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be a good job for everyone who wanted it.

This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in order to preserve prosperity for future generations.

Sean Illing

I’ve always seen the boomers as a generational trust-fund baby: They inherited a country they had no part in building, failed to appreciate it, and seized on all the benefits while leaving nothing behind.

Bruce Gibney

I think that’s exactly right. They were born into great fortune and had a blast while they were on top. But what have they left behind?

13) I went down a bit of a “neoliberalism” rabbit whole this week thanks to Cornell West’s attack on Ta-Nahesi Coates.  This was one of the better essays I read on the matter of neoliberalism.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Unsurprisingly, Congressional Republicans’ ideas on “reforming” higher education are horrible.  Pretty sure this would take 60 votes in the Senate, but in some bad reporting from the NYT, that isn’t even mentioned.

2) Really, really, really good article on problems of over-treatment in modern medicine.  It’s one thing to treat when physicians are unsure, what’s really dispiriting is the interventions that continue even with solid evidence against them.  Also, a great discussion of the misleading “relative risk” versus the infinitely more useful, “number needed to treat.”

3) Who even knew there was so much that could be written about electric razors.  I actually found this quite interesting.  I swear by the Mach 3 Turbo blade myself, but my blade-phobic firstborn uses a rotary electric.

4a) Really enjoyed this take on Mark Hamill and his role in Last Jedi.  Easily the best thing about the movie for me.

4b) And a very interesting take that Last Jedi “redeems the prequels.

5) Why we’re at it, the cognoscenti are always hating on Return of the Jedi, as they always do when a new Star Wars movie comes out.  Empire will always be my favorite, but I quite like this defense of Jedi from Drum.

6) Yglesias on the tax bill, “We’re witnessing the wholesale looting of America: Unchecked by norms or political prudence, it’s smash-and-grab time for the GOP.”

7) Tomasky on the dangerous differences between Nixon and Trump:

Donald Trump is a lawless president. It’s obvious to anyone who’s watching and isn’t in a state of contemptible denial that he feels constrained by no law. He cares nothing about the Constitution and he’ll lie about anything to anyone at anytime. That’s difference one.

Difference two: Nixon had no “news” channel defending and egging on his every lawless act. Trump, of course, does. That Fox chyron over the weekend, “A Coup in America?”, was shocking even for Fox. Referring to law enforcement agencies, to the FBI, as carrying out a coup? Because they have the audacity to investigate Dear Leader?

Difference three: Nixon also didn’t have a lawless Republican Party defending his moves and attacking his critics and trying to shut down an obviously legitimate investigation, but that is what we have now.

8) In a surprise to nobody who’s been through it, traditional workplace sexual harassment training doesn’t work.  On the bright side, some better approaches do work.

9) Aarron Carroll on the problematic new blood pressure guidelines:

The Sprint study essentially showed that people truly at high risk should have their blood pressure managed more aggressively than we thought. But that has not been the message of news on the new guidelines. That has focused far more often on the many newly reclassified people with mild blood pressure, who were not the focus of the Sprint intervention.

In fact, almost none of the newly labeled hypertensive people (those with systolic blood pressure between 130 and 140) should be placed on medications. These people should be advised to eat right, exercise, drink responsibly, and not smoke.

That’s exactly what physicians would have been advising people before these changes. Is there anyone left who doesn’t know those things are important for good health?

10) Pretty awesome McSweeney’s guide to asking questions at public events.

11) Excellent NYT editorial on the awfulness of the tax bill and how it exacerbates our huge inequality problem.  Was going to give it it’s own post, but now seems like a good time to mention that I hate the way NYT using a funny format for it’s charts that prevents easy copy/paste.  But you should click through and check out the charts.

12) This is why I so hate so much of what Evangelical Christianity has come to represent today.

13) Dan Harris (my original mindfulness guru– I’ve switched over to Headspace because I love that I can always keep it to 10 minutes) on meditation and rushing his 2-year old to the ER.

14) John Williams score for the Star Wars films is some of the best music there is.  Period. And it does so much to enhance the films.  More than worthy as a subject of academic study.

15) Frum on the tax bill awfulness:

If the idea behind tax reform is to eliminate favoritism from the tax code, then the tax law of 2017 is anti-reform: an aggressive loading of the costs of the state upon disfavored persons, groups, and regions. It leaves behind an unstable legacy, both economic and political. Economically, the system invites gaming. Politically, it accelerates the exodus of college-educated professionals out of the Republican Party. It will tint the blue states ever bluer, up and down the income scale.

States like California and New York desperately need a competitive Republican Party—especially at the state level—to challenge the lazy and often corrupt practices of local Democratic machines. This new tax law will have the opposite effect, wrecking whatever little remains of GOP strength in the states that motor American innovation and growth. It threatens to push New Jersey, Colorado, and Virginia into single-party blue rule as well, by painfully demonstrating that the party of Trump is not only obnoxious to their values but implacably hostile to their welfare.

16) I’ve been meaning to do a post on the Economist’s “The State of Marriage.”  I’ve failed long enough.


Just watch this. Seriously.

Jaguar dragging caiman out of a river.  Unreal.  Full money back guarantee if you are not impressed.

Why the tax bill really is a loser for Republicans

Great piece in Politico from Chris Federico that really works in some nice political science and psychology to make a strong case that this tax bill will be an electoral albatross for Republicans.  Basically, even if you get something, you will be resentful if somebody else got something more.  Pretty much anybody who has ever been a sibling or raised multiple children is very aware of the pervasive truth of this.

I especially love the experiments that show how deep in our evolutionary history goes.  Give one chimpanzee a cucumber (which they like) and all is good.  Give that chimp a cucumber while you give its neighbor m&m’s and you’ll get it thrown back at you.

As the vast majority of the American public seems to realize, we are getting cucumber slices while the richest are getting m&m’s.  Anyway, Federico:

But there may be another factor behind the lack of public support for the tax overhaul: the public’s perception that some people are more likely to cash in than others. Though the bill will offer most taxpayers some relief in the near term, analysts believe that the benefits to corporations and relatively wealthy taxpayers will be much greater—especially over the long haul. Importantly, the public seems to see this: Recent polling suggests that most people see the bill as a boon to the wealthy above all.

Still, even if the rich are likely to benefit the most from the new tax cuts, shouldn’t the promise of some tax relief generate at least some enthusiasm for the bill in the broader public? As it turns out, many years of research in both psychology and political science suggest not. For the most part, studies indicate that self-interest in the pocketbook sense matters a lot less than we assume: Citizens are not moved to political action by perceived shifts in how they are doing as isolated individuals. They can, however, be roused to political anger when they think others will end up doing better in comparison to people like them—that is, when they experience what social scientists refer to as “relative deprivation.” Thus, even the promise of a few more dollars in one’s wallet might be dissatisfying if other folks end up with thousands more.

Relative deprivation can produce an especially strong reaction when a policy seems to make one’s own group worse off compared with some other group of people. This group element seems to be present in people’s thinking about the GOP tax bill. Since most people tell pollsters that the wealthy and large corporations will benefit disproportionately from the tax rewrite, it’s quite likely that many citizens have concluded that this round of tax relief will benefit “them” (the wealthy and large corporations) more than “us” (average Americans).

Psychologists also find that relative deprivation can be especially powerful when it appears to violate some standard of fairness. So, if a citizen thinks that tax reform will benefit the wealthy more than the average person andthat the wealthy already fail to pay their fair share, her anger might be stronger.

Although citizens’ perceptions about what makes taxes “fair” are complex, polls suggest that most Americans do not believe that upper-income people and corporations pay enough in federal taxes.

So, it’s not just a matter of people seeing less withholding in their paychecks (as Paul Ryan unconvincingly argues will solve everything) it’s a matter of convincing average Americans that they are actually getting a fair shake from Republicans– and that’s a much heavier lift.  Of course, the biggest reason that’s so hard is because objective reality makes this pretty clear to everybody who is not hopelessly in a Fox News cocoon.

The war on Christmas has been won… in Sweden

So my friend and colleague, Mark Nance, is spending the year in Sweden– along with his Sociologist wife, Sarah Bowen, who made the whole thing happen.  And they are both sharing all kinds of fascinating cross-cultural observations via their blog.  Really, really liked this post from Mark on how basically everything in Sweden right now is “Jul” this and “Jul” that (“Jul” being Christmas) and what this really means.

Being in Sweden for this holiday season sheds new light on it for me. Swedes says “Merry Christmas” all the time! “God Jul” (rough pronunciation, Goode Yule) is everywhere. As Sarah says, they just slap Jul on everything: Jul ost (cheese), Jul skinka (ham), Jul chips (chips), Jul öl (beer), or my favorite, Jul potatis (potatoes). Want to make your own at home? 1) Take regular potatoes. 2) Put in bag with some Christmas related pictures. 3) Label accordingly. Voila! …

It’s true that church membership in Sweden is north of 60% right now. But that’s because until 2000, every person born in Sweden was automatically registered as a member of the official state church: The Church of Sweden, an evangelical Lutheran church. The number has been dropping since the practice of automatic registration has stopped. Some surveys estimate that roughly 8% of Swedes attend church regularly.  Swedes are, all told, rather secular.

So what to make of that? Well, we know that “allowing” people to say Merry Christmas won’t make them religious. In fact, I’d say what’s happened in Sweden is the opposite. There are lots of signs of religion in Sweden: St. Lucia, Christmas, and other holidays we’ll talk about here. But for the most part they have been secularized. And that’s why the separation of Church and State has always been strong in the US: it was about protecting the church from the state, not the other way around. Anecdotally, I’ve heard conservative Christians argue that we need to do away with it: that we somehow need to affirm that the US is a Christian nation. [emphases mine] It’s not true, to begin with. There are millions and millions of Americans who aren’t Christian. And that’s their right: one that was a founding principle (if not necessarily a practice) of the United States, no less.

But also, it won’t work. It won’t ensure that everyone who celebrates Christmas does it in the spirit that you want them to. Nor does it ensure that those demanding to say Merry Christmas to every single person will themselves celebrate “the true meaning of Christmas.” Put more bluntly, we go to church to be reminded of our religious beliefs. So if we expect Target and Wal-Mart employees to remind us of our religious beliefs, maybe that’s a sign we’ve made those shrines to consumption our true places of worship. In which case, we need to worry less about what others are saying and more about what we are doing.

Amen!  And God Jul :-).

Republican’s misguided philosophy

Damn did I love this column from reasonable libertarian Will Wilkinson on the unreasonable strain of libertarianism that has ruined the Republican party.  So much good stuff in here.  But the key, is that Paul Ryan and friends truly see tax cuts for rich people as a great moral good to be achieved at almost any cost:

The link between the heedlessly negligent style and anti-redistributive substance of recent Republican lawmaking is easy to overlook. The key is the libertarian idea, woven into the right’s ideological DNA, that redistribution is the exploitation of the “makers” by the “takers.” It immediately follows that democracy, which enables and legitimizes this exploitation, is itself an engine of injustice. As the novelist Ayn Rand put it, under democracy “one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life are at the mercy of any gang that may muster the vote of a majority.”  [emphases mine]

On the campaign trail in 2015, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, conceded that government is a “necessary evil” requiring some tax revenue. “But if we tax you at 100 percent, then you’ve got 0 percent liberty,” Mr. Paul continued. “If we tax you at 50 percent, you are half-slave, half-free.” The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, shares Mr. Paul’s sense of the injustice of redistribution. He’s also a big fan of Ayn Rand. “I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it,” Mr. Ryan has said. If the big-spending, democratic welfare state is really a system of part-time slavery, as Ayn Rand and Senator Paul contend, then beating it back is a moral imperative of the first order...

The hostility to redistributive democracy at the ideological center of the American right has made standard policies of successful modern welfare states, happily embraced by Europe’s conservative parties, seem beyond the moral pale for many Republicans. The outsize stakes seem to justify dubious tactics — bunking down with racists, aggressive gerrymandering, inventing paper-thin pretexts for voting rules that disproportionately hurt Democrats — to prevent majorities from voting themselves a bigger slice of the pie…

At a time when America’s faith in democracy is flagging, the Republicans elected to treat the United States Senate, and the citizens it represents, with all the respect college guys accord public restrooms. It’s easier to reverse a bad piece of legislation than the bad reputation of our representative institutions, which is why the way the tax bill was passed is probably worse than what’s in it. Ultimately, it’s the integrity of democratic institutions and the rule of law that gives ordinary people the power to protect themselves against elite exploitation. But the Republican majority is bulldozing through basic democratic norms as though freedom has everything to do with the tax code and democracy just gets in the way.



The fleecing of the American people

So much good stuff written about this horrible tax bill, but I’ll just go with EJ Dionne on top of his game:

Dec. 20, 2017, will live on as a day of disgrace and dishonor.

It will be remembered as the day when a government of, by and for the people became a government of, by and for wealthy campaign donors — and of, by and for wealthy Republican politicians themselves.

We thought the corruption, self-dealing and social indifference of the Gilded Age were long behind us. But we underestimated the raw nerve of President Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

This Triumvirate of Privilege has returned us to the “age of betrayal,” as writer Jack Beatty called the years of the robber barons. The goal has always been to roll back the social advances that the country has made since the Progressive Era. On Wednesday, the demolition crews in the House and Senate struck a devastating blow.

The tax law loots the federal treasury on behalf of major corporations and the richest people in America. It sharply shifts the nation’s tax burden onto wage and salary earners whom Trump, Ryan and McConnell treat as serfs expected to bow before the wielders of capital, including real estate titans such as the president himself. It also creates an utterly unstable tax code. So many new opportunities for evasion were stuffed into this monstrosity that not a single person who voted for it can fully know what its effects will be.

This lobbyists’ wish list was passed with unconscionably reckless haste because those who confected it didn’t want mere citizens to grasp what they were doing…

All except the willfully blind must now acknowledge that, sadly, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is dead. Friends of sane budgeting and compassionate health-care coverage placed their hopes in three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine. Each expressed grave doubts about this bill — and then folded.

Chart of the day

A student shared this interesting chart at me which uses data to look at gender by occupation.  Here it is boiled down to ratios:


Photo of the day

Loved this gallery of the “most 2017 photos ever.”  So many good ones.  But in honor of my firstborn’s love of fidget spinners, I present Barron Trump with his:

Barron Trump (top right), son of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, uses a fidget spinner while stepping off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on June 11, 2017. 

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty

Taking offense at Christmas time

First, the latest from PPP (including a little snark at the end from Tom Jensen):

PPP’s annual holidays poll finds that it’s really only Trump voters who get offended about the ‘Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays’ debate. 23% of Trump voters say they’re offended by the phrase ‘Happy Holidays,’ while only 3% of Clinton voters say they’re offended by the phrase ‘Merry Christmas.’ In fact there are actually slightly more Trump voters- 6%- who say they’re offended by ‘Merry Christmas.’ Overall just 13% of voters are offended by ‘Happy Holidays’ and just 4% are offended by ‘Merry Christmas,’ suggesting this issue perhaps gets a little bit more attention than it deserves.

70% of Clinton voters say they don’t care whether people say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays,’ and among those who do care they actually choose ‘Merry Christmas’ 23-7. On the other hand only 25% of Trump voters say they don’t care about this issue- 66% prefer ‘Merry Christmas’ to 9% for ‘Happy Holidays.’

All this data suggests that Trump voters are the real snowflakes on the ultra important holiday nomenclature issues.

And if you’d like to explore the matter further, Pew did some fairly extensive polling on religion and the holidays:

Note again, how it is Republicans far more like to be bothered by the “wrong” Christmas greeting.

Also interesting to see that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, and for quite a few, simply as a cultural holiday.


Chart of the day: expertise version

Via John Pfaff (a genuine expert on criminal justice):

Hmmm, I think I’m not an hazard, because I’m pretty sure I do know some things.  That said, I am very much aware of how much I don’t know.

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