Reasons for optimism in chart form

Now this was a great idea– Drum has a chart of presidential approval over time for recent presidents among co-partisans only.  As I’ve often pointed out, one of our key problems is Trump’s ongoing support among Republicans despite his breathtakingly evident unfitness for the job.  As this chart makes clear, Trump’s support has dropped, not a ton, but definitely a noticeable amount, among Republicans.  And what’s especially noteworthy is that while it has dropped among all recent presidents, it has clearly done the most for Trump.  So, yeah, he still has a disturbingly high level of support given how awful he is, but I think Drum is right to argue that this is reason for optimism.



(Sorry, but I’m back) Quick Hits

So, vacation followed by a Political Science conference in New Orleans plus getting ready for the semester starting this week, put the blogging on the way back burner.  Should hopefully be getting back up to regular speed this week.  I did read plenty of good stuff this past week, though, and I’ve decided these are worth your time:

1) NYT editorial, “Capital Punishment Deserves a Quick Death.”

The death penalty is not and has never been about the severity of any given crime. Mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood abuse or neglect, abysmal lawyers, minimal judicial review, a white victim — these factors are far more closely associated with who ends up getting executed. Of the 23 people put to death in 2017, all but three had at least one of these factors, according to the report. Eight were younger than 21 at the time of their crime.

More troubling still are the wrongful convictions. In 2017, four more people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated, for a total of 160 since 1973 — a time during which 1,465 people were executed. In many of the exonerations, prosecutors won convictions and sentences despite questionable or nonexistent evidence, pervasive misconduct or a pattern of racial bias. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extrapolated from known cases of wrongful convictions to estimate that at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. Against this backdrop, it would take an enormous leap of faith to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed.

2) Can an algorithm better help social services protect endangered kids?

3) Very nice Jay Rosen post on how to create real transparency in journalism.

4) Gallup with America’s favorite spectator sports.  Pretty amazing to see the drop-off in baseball (of course, I used to be a big fan and now pay pretty much zero attention):

Americans' Favorite Spectator Sports, 1937-2017

5) This is so cool.  How artificial intelligence can create completely realistic-looking fake photos:

At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

6) Something we need to do to cut down on sexting– tell our teen sons not to ask for naked pictures.  Seriously.

7) Center for Science in the Public Interest strikes me as often going too far and often being needlessly hyperbolic, but the evidence is pretty clear that they have brought lots of important and needed attention to some off the worst abuses of Big Food.

8) Of course, one could do a whole quick hits just on Michael Wolff’s new book on Trump.  And how Trump is like really, really smart, and like totally a stable genius.  But, I’ll leave it to two things.  First, loved Dan Rather’s tweet for it’s obvious truth and broad applicability:

Also, Michele Goldberg with a nice column:

But most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail. As Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter essaybased on the book, over the past year, the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

And yet these people continue to either prop up or defend this sick travesty of a presidency. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve: The “mess that might do serious damage to the nation, and, by association, to your own brand, might be transcended if you were seen as the person, by dint of competence and professional behavior, taking control of it.”

This is a delusion as wild, in its own way, as Trump’s claim that the “Access Hollywood” tape was faked. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.

9) Loved this story of how the widowed spouses of two memoirists came together and found love.  Can’t speak for The Bright Hour, but When Breath Becomes Air was terrific.

10) Lee Drutman with the case for proportional voting.  I really like his historical explanation of the “big sort” (and the reason he argues we know need proportional voting).  This is a more succinct version of what I try and explain in a variety of my classes.  It’s important and under-appreciated.

And yet, many would argue, American politics once functioned quite well as a two-party system, with Democrats and Republicans working out plenty of historic bipartisan compromises to accomplish landmark legislation — particularly in the mid- to late-20th century. What’s wrong with the two-party system that can’t be restored by recovering the lost art of political compromise?

Such nostalgic arguments are quite common among elder statesmen in Washington, the kind who attend panels and write op-eds about the need for “political courage” and “regular order.” What they fail to understand is that the bipartisanship of yore was not just a matter of political character, but a matter of political incentives, party organization, and genuine common ground.

Bipartisanship flourished because voting coalitions split parties on an issue-by-issue basis. Liberal (Northern) Republicans and liberal (Northern) Democrats had many positions in common, as did conservative (Southern) Democrats and conservative (Western) Republicans. There were few permanent enemies and few permanent allies. Both parties also held a broadly shared consensus on American values, largely united against a shared enemy: the evil empire of the Soviet Union.

In retrospect, the pre-1980s era of American politics was not really a two-party system at all, but instead a four-party system within the broader container of a two-party system. Both party coalitions held together liberals and conservatives, who operated as independent factions within the parties. As a result, both parties looked modestly centrist as a whole, and could compete everywhere because their brands were capacious enough to take on different forms depending on local values.

Because partisan identities were less distinct, and complicated by other, cross-cutting regional and ethnic identities, politics lacked the militaristic us-versus-them dynamic it has now fallen into. It was perfectly reasonable for Democrats to sometimes vote Republican, or Republicans to sometimes vote Democrat, because they liked a particular candidate or liked the idea of parties checking each other. Though cross-partisan presidential-support scores have fallen into the single digits and split-ticket voting is a rare phenomenon, such things were common during the mid- to late-20th century.

This bipartisanship began to unravel as the parties realigned in the 1980s and 1990s. New cultural fissures that had emerged out of the ’60s and ’70s reshaped the dividing lines of American politics. And in an era of growing affluence, post-materialist “values voting” replaced pocketbook voting for many voters, and battles over abortion, religion, and social justice took center stage.

As a result, the culturally conservative South moved from solidly Democratic territory to predominantly Republican territory, turning the Republican Party into a much more culturally conservative coalition. Meanwhile, as Democrats gained dominance on the coasts and in the big cities and lost their Southern conservative “Blue Dogs,” the Democrats became much more uniformly culturally liberal. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats essentially went extinct. The overlapping ideologies and loyalties that used to cross-cut the parties realigned along party lines. Politics became regionalized, and without any cross-cutting dimension, partisanship became totalizing.

11) It’s almost like they designed this study to be maximally interesting to me– how does exercise affect your microbiome?  As with most microbiome stuff, it’s actually not all that clear, but there the answer is that there are clear effects and they are quite likely beneficial.

12) Is everything we know about depression wrong?  Maybe.  Given what a fabulous job Johann Hari did on explaining how everything we know about drug addiction is wrong, he’s well-worth hearing out.

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