Quick hits (part II)

1) Science-based advice on how to up your selfie game.

2) Really enjoyed this account of Sweden’s gender-neutral pre-schools from some American friends who are over there for the year.

3) I love window seats on planes because… you’re flying!  Turns out, it also minimized your likelihood of getting sick from a fellow passenger.

3) Chait on replacing McMaster with Bolton:

The foreign policy apparatus really has been engaged in an unprecedented campaign of leaking, the only possible motivation for which is its white-knuckled terror of a president who clearly lacks the mental capacity to handle the awesome power he has gained.

Every account of Trump’s decision to replace H.R. McMaster with John Bolton reinforces this narrative. Trump’s main problem with McMaster was that his briefings were not dumbed-down to a low enough level. McMaster “is an intensely focused intellectual whose detailed briefings, by all accounts, drove the president crazy,” reports Politico. “Trump took to mocking him openly in the Oval Office, asking other White House aides why McMaster was so serious.”

The Post has previously reported that Trump had registered a somewhat similar complaint with his now-fired secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. (“The president has long clashed with Tillerson, who he believes is too ‘establishment’ in his thinking.”) One might think “establishment” would be a positive association for a job like secretary of State. It makes sense to want somebody who’s lax and easygoing to handle jobs like, say, arranging hotel-room dates with porn stars you meet on the golf course, but “establishment” would convey the proper set of attributes for a job involving complex international diplomacy.

But Trump seems to find normal foreign policy boring, and craves the kind of narrative drama found in the manufactured cartoon moralism found on Fox News, where evil abounds, and the only question is whether it will be faced down by tough guys or by sniveling wimps.

Bolton was constantly appearing on Trump’s television screen delivering thrilling vows to take on evildoers. Meanwhile, McMaster was in his office every day giving boring lectures.

4) The hardest course in the Humanities?  Damn, and I thought my undergrad classes at Duke were demanding.

5) Michele Goldberg’s take on the conservative columnist controversy.

6) Ralph Peters’ first-person take on why he left Fox:

My error was waiting so long to walk away. The chance to speak to millions of Americans is seductive, and, with the infinite human capacity for self-delusion, I rationalized that I could make a difference by remaining at Fox and speaking honestly.

I was wrong.

As early as the fall of 2016, and especially as doubts mounted about the new Trump administration’s national security vulnerabilities, I increasingly was blocked from speaking on the issues about which I could offer real expertise: Russian affairs and our intelligence community. I did not hide my views at Fox and, as word spread that I would not unswervingly support President Trump and, worse, that I believed an investigation into Russian interference was essential to our national security, I was excluded from segments that touched on Vladimir Putin’s possible influence on an American president, his campaign or his administration.

I was the one person on the Fox payroll who, trained in Russian studies and the Russian language, had been face to face with Russian intelligence officers in the Kremlin and in far-flung provinces. I have traveled widely in and written extensively about the region. Yet I could only rarely and briefly comment on the paramount security question of our time: whether Putin and his security services ensnared the man who would become our president. Trump’s behavior patterns and evident weaknesses (financial entanglements, lack of self-control and sense of sexual entitlement) would have made him an ideal blackmail target — and the Russian security apparatus plays a long game.

7) Could science really make infertility a thing of the past?  Maybe and here’s how.

8) Spent some time in Duplin County, NC recently learning about responses to the opioid epidemic.  I learned that it is a huge hog-producing area.  I had no idea.  Pretty disturbing Rolling Stone story on how China is basically treating NC as the developing world:

Today, Smithfield sends more than a quarter of its pork abroad, especially to China, which received nearly 300,000 tons in 2016. Part of what made the company such an attractive target is that it’s about 50 percent cheaper to raise hogs in North Carolina than in China. This is due to less-expensive pig-feed prices and larger farms, but it’s also because of loose business and environmental regulations, especially in red states, which have made the U.S. an increasingly attractive place for foreign companies to offshore costly and harmful business practices. [emphases mine]

America’s top hog-producing county is Duplin County, North Carolina, where future hams outnumber humans about 30 to 1. In this rural expanse of sandy fields and loblolly pines, about 2 million pigs are warehoused in hundreds of football-field-size metal barns – about 2,450 pigs per square mile. All those pigs produce a tremendous amount of waste. A mature hog, whose only activity is to eat, excretes about 14 pounds of manure a day, which means Duplin’s hogs generate about 15,700 tons of waste daily – twice as much poop as the human population of the city of New York, according to Food and Water Watch.

Behind each barn, millions of gallons of liquid hog waste are kept in colossal open-air lagoons – essentially pits dug into the clay, many without a concrete or plastic liner. To prevent overflowing, farms spray it out as fertilizer on crops, which can create a mist that drifts onto nearby homes and into their inhabitants’ lungs, causing all manner of respiratory and health problems. The waste can also leak through the clay pits into the water table, or flood the whole region, as happened in 1996 and 1998 when hurricanes inundated the area. Eastern North Carolina is packed with more than 9 million pigs; the state’s top five hog-producing counties alone produce 15.5 million tons of manure annually. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group found that 160,000 people living in the region may be harmed by pig waste. And those victims are disproportionately minorities, according to studies conducted by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. As Naeema Muhammad, co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, says, “What’s happening in eastern North Carolina is that poor people are literally getting shit on.”

Globalization has allowed rich countries like America to outsource polluting industrial processes to poorer nations. But as China becomes increasingly wealthy and assertive, says Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, “it is outsourcing a dirty industry to the United States so they don’t have to bear its pollution and they can just send the finished product back home.” More than just America’s environment and human health is at stake. “Low-paying jobs, like hog slaughtering and breeding, will remain in places like Duplin County, but the higher-paid executive and marketing jobs will be lost,” says Usha Haley, a professor at West Virginia University who has studied the Chinese takeover of American agricultural assets for a decade. “China will not care about the health of people living beside the hog farms. China will act in its own self-interest to leave the pollution here, but take the valuable clean pork back to China.”

9) Great Christopher Frederico thread on the conservative columnist issue:


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