Quick hits (part I)

1) Pretty intrigued by how amazingly gigantic windmills are manufactured and used to generate power.

2) Helaine Olen on how Ronny Jackson sums up the Trump presidency:

Actually, the Ronny Jackson mess is entirely Trump’s fault. And it’s basic to his way of doing business. In fact, it represents a great deal of what we’ve come to expect from this presidency.

If it turns out the Trump administration did conduct due diligence on the appointment, it won’t matter. Because Jackson should never have been nominated for this position in the first place — which highlights how often Trump attempts to appoint people to positions they have no business being in.

Remember Andy Puzder, the former CEO of CKE Restaurants, the would-be secretary of labor whose fast food outlets were a mess of labor-law violations but who was undone by allegations he abused his first wife? Or Betsy DeVos, who couldn’t answer basic questions about education policy at either her confirmation hearing or on “60 Minutes“?

Jackson, who is Trump’s personal physician, almost certainly received the nod only because he gave Trump what he wanted — obeisance…

That brings us to another less than savory part of Trump’s presidency: He presides over Cabinet and staff meetings where courtiers — oops, I mean Cabinet secretaries and other appointees — regularly describe serving him in cloyingly obsequious terms (a “blessing”) and ooze praise for the successes of his presidency.

So Trump picked Jackson despite his lack of significant administrative experience, something one might think necessary to successfully run an agency such as the VA, which has more than 375,000 employees. It appears no one bothered to run anything more than a cursory background check, so they missed the allegations that started surfacing over the past couple of days, such as creating a hostile work environment, overprescribing of medication and on-the-job boozing…

Complaining, as some pundits are doing, that the White House didn’t conduct proper vetting is to miss the point. The real problem is that his requirements for service are the opposite of good governance. We don’t know who Trump will nominate to replace Jackson if and when he drops out. But here’s one thing I can promise. Competence won’t even be on the list of requirements for getting the job.

3) I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m really not much of a drinker.  And I’ve been perfectly willing to forego whatever health benefits moderate alcohol consumption may bring.  It now looks, though, that whatever those health benefits are, they have probably been overstated.

4) In a more normal political world, Mick Mulvaney’s shocking/not-shocking confession would be getting a lot more play:

THE BIG IDEA: Mick Mulvaney said the quiet part out loud.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Tuesday at the American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” [emphases in original]

Mulvaney, who represented South Carolina in the House from 2011 until President Trump appointed him as director of the Office of Management and Budget in 2017, told the 1,300 industry executives and lobbyists that they should push lawmakers hard to pursue their shared agenda.

5) So, I don’t think the Fresno State professor who had the extremely nasty and disrespectful comments about Barbara Bush should have any official punishment from her university, but certainly seems like her opprobrium is deserved.  We may take our “don’t speak ill of the dead” taboo too far sometimes, but this is just so uncivil and mean-spirited.

6) Maybe these Republican teachers in Arizona who want to raise taxes to fund teacher salaries need to re-think their partisanship given that the sine qua non of the Republican Party is tax cuts.

7) Speaking of which, David Roberts lays out the case for why Republican never-Trumpers need to vote Democratic:

All the momentum on the right is in the same direction, toward white grievance and lawlessness — in other words, in precisely the direction Taylor identifies as an existential threat to American democracy. The party has been beaten along the way (2006, 2008, 2012), but it has not flinched. Conservative elites wrote a whole elaborate plan for reformafter the 2012 election, counseling a softening on immigration (ha ha). The party utterly ignored and repudiated it.

I know it is difficult for principled conservatives to see it like this, but the GOP’s devolution toward ethnonationalist populism can be traced all the way back to President Ronald Reagan, or earlier. And though it has zigged and zagged, occasionally paused, it has generally accelerated in the direction of radicalism…

Like it or not, there are only two parties that matter in the US. For a Trumpist GOP to lose, the Democratic Party must win. ‘Tis math.

So Taylor should suck it up and vote for Democrats — not because he likes their policies, but because the alternative is an existential threat.

8) The Greene family loves BattleBots.  So excited for a new season in a couple weeks.  And love this Wired article on the physics of different types of battlebots.

9) Really, really liked Saletan speaking from experience on the race and IQ debate:

I’ve watched this debate for more than a decade. It’s the same wreck, over and over. A person with a taste for puncturing taboos learns about racial gaps in IQ scores and the idea that they might be genetic. He writes or speaks about it, credulously or unreflectively. Every part of his argument is attacked: the validity of IQ, the claim that it’s substantially heritable, and the idea that races can be biologically distinguished. The offender is denounced as racist when he thinks he’s just defending science against political correctness.

I know what it’s like to be this person because, 11 years ago, I was that person. I saw a comment from Nobel laureate James Watson about the black-white IQ gap, read some journal articles about it, and bought in. That was a mistake. Having made that mistake, I’m in no position to throw stones at Sullivan, Harris, or anyone else. But I am in a position to speak to these people as someone who understands where they’re coming from. I believe I can change their thinking, because I’ve changed mine, and I’m here to make that case to them. And I hope those of you who find this whole subject vile will bear with me as I do.

Here’s my advice: You can talk about the genetics of race. You can talk about the genetics of intelligence. But stop implying they’re the same thing. Connecting intelligence to race adds nothing useful. It overextends the science you’re defending, and it engulfs the whole debate in moral flames.

I’m not asking anyone to deny science. What I’m asking for is clarity. The genetics of race and the genetics of intelligence are two different fields of research…

It’s one thing to theorize about race and genes to assist in disease prevention, diagnosis, or treatment, as Reich has done. But before you seize on his essay to explain racial gaps in employment, ask yourself: Given the dubiousness of linking racial genetics to IQ, what would my words accomplish? Would they contribute to prejudice? Would they be used to blame communities for their own poverty? Would I be provoking thought, or would I be offering whites an excuse not to think about the social and economic causes of inequality?…

No, data aren’t racist. But using racial data to make genetic arguments isn’t scientific. The world isn’t better off if you run ahead of science, waving the flag of innate group differences. And if everyone is misunderstanding your attempts to simultaneously link and distinguish race and IQ, perhaps you should take the hint. The problem isn’t that people are too dumb to understand you. It’s that you’re not understanding the social consequences of your words. When you drag race into the IQ conversation, you bring heat, not light. Your arguments for scientific candor will be more sound and more persuasive in a race-neutral discussion.

10) Pretty fascinating how a genealogy DNA database led to catching the Golden State Killer.

11) I enjoyed Julia Azari’s 538 piece on how Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are more alike then people give them credit for.  I also really liked this Sides, Tesler, Vacreck piece I had somehow not seen before:

Ingroup identification is generally less prevalent and politically potent for white Americans than it is for other racial groups. We argue, however, that presidential candidates who appeal to racial threats posed to whites from non-whites, such as Donald Trump in 2016, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and George Wallace in 1968, should activate the dormant political power of white consciousness. We show that white consciousness had a significantly stronger impact on evaluations of Trump than on evaluations of eighteen other political figures in two different 2016 surveys. Furthermore, white consciousness was powerfully associated with support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries—much more so than it was for Mitt Romney in 2012. We also show that white consciousness was more strongly associated with vote choice in the 2016 general election than in prior elections and more strongly associated with support for Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton than it was when other Republican candidates were pitted against Clinton in trial heats. Finally, we show that George Wallace’s and Pat
Buchanan’s prior presidential campaigns also activated white identity. These results suggest that white consciousness can be a potent force in mass political behavior, and could foreshadow a rising white identity politics in the Age of Trump.

12) I’m sticking with Westworld for season 2, but I really wish the writers were as interested in character and story as they were in puzzles.

13) Loved this about what the Terminator gets right and Back to the Future gets wrong about time travel.  Love both movies.

14) I love reading aloud to my kids (really enjoying reading the Hobbit aloud once again, currently).  Plus, science says it’s good:

It’s a truism in child development that the very young learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when parents read to their children. A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.

15) Like this from Chait about how Democratic female politicians should avoid the “victim trap”

Last June, Senator Kamala Harris used a televised hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee to mercilessly dismantle Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. Sessions told the committee he could not answer any questions about President Trump, citing a vague “policy.” Using the rapid-fire questioning method she had honed as a prosecutor, Harris forced Sessions to admit he could not describe the policy in any specificity and didn’t even know if it was written down. At several points, Harris so flustered her prey that his former Republican Senate colleagues came to his defense, asking that he be given more time to answer her chain of queries.

I found Harris’s performance highly compelling, not only as a demonstration of effective legislative oversight, but also as a set piece of political theater for a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or beyond. Many liberals took away from the episode something different. The dominant focus of their commentary was the fact that Republican senators interrupted her in order to give Sessions more time to answer her questions. The men-interrupting-women theme fell into a familiar source of social media umbrage. And those reactions, initially registered on social media, formed the basis for much of the coverage that followed. News reports of the hearing produced headlines like “Once Again, Kamala Harris Is Interrupted at a Senate Hearing” (Huffington Post) and “Kamala Harris Is (Again) Interrupted While Pressing a Senate Witness” (New York Times.)

These headlines are not descriptions of Harris’s commanding testimony, or anything she did. They are descriptions of things that were done to her. And while the intent of the people expressing outrage at the interruptions was sympathetic, it probably was not helpful to Harris, or to her political goals. It removed Harris of her agency, and reduced her to the status of victim. This illustrates the degree to which left-wing political discourse can paradoxically have a harmful effect on women who are trying to break political barriers.

16) Wisconsin’s welfare “reform” is just mean.  And not good policy.

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

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