Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on the legal marijuana economy:

That growth is driven, start-ups in the industry say, by a simple idea: The humble hand-rolled joint was holding marijuana back.

By breaking marijuana free from smoking and its paraphernalia, new delivery methods — especially portable vapes — are transforming the image and utility of cannabis, and helping it grab a mainstream audience. In the booming new market, the drug of lazy stoners is being rebranded by start-ups as the “wellness” drug of tomorrow. It’s a cure-all for an anxious, tech-addled society — a salve for every ailment, a balm for every mood, ibuprofen meets a glass of red wine cut with Prozac and a hint of Deepak Chopra, all delivered to your door.

2) Really interesting article about how little we still understand about colic.  Other than that it’s hell for new parents.  (Those were the days, 18 years ago).

3) Robots that use algorithms to shake cherry trees and the future of robots in agriculture.

4) I find the Mormon debate on whether the religion actually forbids all caffeinated drinks or just coffee and tea really fascinating.  I first learned about this from a Diet-Coke-loving LDS friend back in graduate school.

4) Tyler Cowen on how police unions work to undermine the rule of law.  Really pretty disgusting stuff:

Earlier I wrote about how police unions around the country give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.

In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.

The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.

By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.

Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?

How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?

5) CRISPR is definitely an awesome technology, but getting it to the point where it can cure genetic diseases in humans is no simple task.

6) Loved this two-minute Pew video on how random sampling works.  This will definitely be shown in future Intro classes.

7) Yglesias on how Trump isn’t really the president (or, as he admits on twitter, a very, very weak one):

The two big Republican policy pushes of 2018 — the failed drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the successful push to enact a large corporate tax cut — were led primarily by Congress rather than by the executive branch. That’s natural given Trump’s hazy level of interest in policy detail and the intense interest of the GOP caucus in these matters.

What’s become clear over the past few weeks as immigration has taken center stage, however, is that even in a process that is very much driven by the executive branch, it’s notdriven by Donald Trump. Trump has stronger feelings about immigration and a stronger political profile on it than either Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. But he simply lacks the disposition and intellectual capacity to do the job of president of the United States as it’s conventionally defined. He doesn’t have a handle on the contours of the NAFTA negotiations, the state of the economy, or even “his own” immigration policy.

He seems unaware of both the origins of the current standoff and the main subjects of disagreement between the parties. He’s the one who installed the team of anti-immigration hardliners — Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and senior adviser Stephen Miller — who appear to be actually driving the process, so he’s responsible for what’s going on. But he’s not actually doing the work and, indeed, seems to have much less familiarity with his own policies and negotiating stances than a typical journalist or member of Congress.

8) Nice interview with Bill Kristol (or “woke Bill Kristol” as liberal twitter likes to refer to him).

9) No fixing gerrymandering is hardly a panacea that would solve our political ills, but it is still very much worth doing.  Harry Enten pretty much admits as much while making the strong case that gerrymandering is as much a symptom than a cause.  This chart is really something else:

10) Interesting take on how McGahn’s refusal to fire Trump is the Republican establishment striking back:

Imagine trying to return to Jones Day—or some equivalent firm—after firing Robert Mueller. In the words of Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar, who has tussled with McGahn for many years, “He didn’t want that personal baggage. What’s he going to do for a living, go live in a frat house with Steve Bannon and Dr. Price and Sean Spicer and people that can’t get a job?”

McGahn may have genuinely believed firing Mueller was wrong. But people don’t always do the right thing because a small, still voice tells them to. Sometimes it’s the loud, collective voice of their community threatening them with excommunication.

It’s worth remembering that Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, were both deeply ensconced in the Washington establishments of their day. Richardson had already served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and under secretary of Defense. Ruckelshaus had been the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both men’s careers in government preceded the Nixon administration. By contrast, the third in command in Nixon’s Justice Department, Robert Bork, was more of an outsider. He had spent his career outside Washington, in academia, and reportedly fired Cox, in significant measure, because of his deep belief in the constitutionality of executive power.

It’s become commonplace to note that many establishment Republican politicians privately consider Trump unfit to be president but won’t challenge him publicly because he enjoys the support of their constituents. For McGahn, the calculation is different: The members of the Washington Republican establishment are his constituents. And they’ll be around long after Donald Trump is gone.

11) Why we forget most of what we read.  So true!!  I also find it interesting how much more I forget about what my son David and I read together, than he forgets.  That said, he’s horrible at remembering author’s names.

The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

12) Of course North Carolina’s inexperienced, 34-year old, new Superintendent of Public Instruction who earns $127,000/year thinks $35,000 is a great starting salary for NC teachers.

13) Unfortunately, nobody wants your used clothes anymore.  Or, at least the market for them in developing countries has largely collapsed.

14) Alas, it’s basically impossible to create a test for intoxication due to marijuana:

You see, different people handle marijuana differently. It depends on your genetics, for one. And how often you consume cannabis, because if you take it enough, you can develop a tolerance to it. A dose of cannabis that may knock amateurs on their butts could have zero effect on seasoned users—patients who use marijuana consistently to treat pain, for instance.

The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It’s a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.

 But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It’s 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that’s important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
15) Finally got around to reading Daniel Engber’s classic contrarian Slate take on the evidence for the backfire effect– the idea that exposure to information contrary to your beliefs makes those beliefs stronger.  Turns out, maybe not so much.  Good stuff.  And props to Brendan Nyhan for following the data instead of digging his heels in, like so many social scientists.

16) He links this pretty cool research, which I had not seen yet:

The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians’ perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents’ support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. [emphasis mine] Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.

17) So, I read about the “Butter chicken lady” in the New Yorker.  And my wife ordered her Instant Pot cookbook.  Damn, was that fortuitous.  Great butter chicken and so easy for Indian food.

18) I think both of my regular JP readers will enjoy this story on how craft beer is a great American economic success story.

19) Seth Masket on efforts to reshape the Democratic primary process:

Superdelegates are people who become national convention delegates not through primaries or caucuses but rather by virtue of their current role within the party. They are generally Democratic governors, members of Congress, and elected DNC members. Unlike those delegates picked through state primaries and caucuses, their votes are not automatically pledged; they can vote for whomever they want. The role of superdelegate was created in 1984 as a way for the party’s leaders to re-assert some control over the nomination process at a time when rank-and-file party voters were seen as too powerful.

Under the new reforms, elected DNC members would still get to be convention delegates, but their vote would be pledged to whichever candidate won their state’s primary or caucus. This would have the effect of reducing the number of unpledged votes by roughly 60 percent. (Superdelegates made up about 16 percent of delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.)…

Now, who benefits from these changes? From what I’ve been able to gather, these proposals are a compromise position for Commission members—Sanders people wanted a good deal more to change, while the Clinton folks were fairly content with the way things had previously been run. But these changes undoubtedly tilt party nomination procedures away from insider-favored candidates like Clinton and more toward outsider-favored candidates like Sanders. That is, they erode some of the advantages that Clinton had going into 2016 (the backing of superdelegates, big advantages among registered party voters, etc.) and make it easier for someone without a lot of support within the formal party to win a lot of delegates.

We shouldn’t overstate this impact, of course. The biggest advantage Clinton had—the enthusiastic backing of the vast majority of party leaders, donors, organizers, etc., long before any voting occurred, scaring off many strong Democratic opponents—would not have been affected by these reforms. An insider-favored candidate could still draw on such advantages in future races.

Nonetheless, the Democratic Party is conceding that its “establishment” has had too much power in recent elections. The next Democratic presidential nominee will not necessarily be Bernie Sanders, but whoever it is will have had to navigate a system that Sanders and his supporters, to a large extent, designed. And it will probably be someone whose campaign bears a stronger resemblance to Sanders’ than to Clinton’s.

As many political scientists pointed out discussing this on Facebook, the lesson from President Trump is not that parties should make it easier for outsiders to capture the nomination.

20) On the pretty heinous efforts of NC Republicans to remake the NC court system because those pesky judges don’t see everything their way.

21) Apparently now that you can learn anything about anybody on the internet, the on-line dating world lives largely in the world of first-name only.  Really like somebody?  Then it’s last name time.  Damn am I glad I just met my wife in our college dorm.

22) So, technology allows you to put one person’s face pretty effectively on somebody else’s body in a fake porn movie (or fake anything), but, disturbingly, this is a very grey area of the law where you don’t have much protection.

23) Totally loved this Atlantic story on the rise of German board games.  Think I’ll celebrate it by playing Ticket to Ride this weekend.

 

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

3 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Mika says:

    #4 “…and people who see only weaknesses in research pointing to the dangers of drugs such as caffeine…” Kunda 1990, 496.

    I mean like “The Case for Motivated Reasoning” is a helluva piece of work but caffeine is a drug?
    (I might have mentioned this before?)

  2. Jason says:

    I really shouldn’t read your quick hits Monday morning before my 9:30 class– now I have a million open tabs and have to force myself back to commerce clause cases!

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