Quick hits (part II)

So much good World Cup to watch this weekend had me behind.  Here you go…

1) Ed Yong on how we are not ready for the next plague.

2) Vann Newkirk, “Beneath the constant contradictions and reversals, the administration has a single through line: Its policies always serve to dehumanize those deemed not to belong.”

The United States has a well-documented history of abuses at the border and child-snatching from minority families, one that stretches across administrations past and present. Racism has for centuries set the parameters of who belongs in America and who doesn’t, and has at the whims of its champions created penalties to enforce its borders, whether at a fence in Texas or discriminatory housing covenants in suburbia. The statements from Trump officials in the current saga help illuminate this logic of immigration and citizenship in America. Whether it decides to keep families together or not, and regardless of what it intended to do in the first place, the administration has one consistent through line: Its policies always serve to dehumanize those deemed not to belong.

3) Plastic, plastic everywhere!  (But I’m not giving up my straws).

4) I gave up on Westworld a few episodes into season two because top-notch production values and a great cast cannot make up for writing that is far more interested in puzzles than character development and compelling stories.  Todd VanDerWerff on how Westworld is ultimately like a video game.

5) It increasingly seems like the calls for “disband ICE” make a lot of sense.  Here’s the case of a Canadian jogger detained for two weeks for accidentally jogging across an unmarked border.

6) A new book takes a fascinating look at the demise of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi’s rise to power.

It did not occur to the president’s camp that the Nazis would do as well as they did, or that their leader would escape their control. And so the feckless schemes of the conservatives realized the violent dreams of the Nazis. The Nazis won 37 percent of the vote in July, 33 percent in a November election, and Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. A few weeks later, he used the pretext of the arson of the Reichstag to pass an enabling act that in effect replaced the constitution.

Hindenburg died in 1934 believing that he had saved Germany and his own reputation. In fact, he had created the conditions for the great horror of modern times. Hett’s book is implicitly addressed to conservatives. Rather than asking how the left could have acted to stop Hitler, he closes his book by considering the German conservatives who aided Hitler’s rise, then changed their minds and plotted against him. Following the recent work of Rainer Orth, Hett says that the Night of the Long Knives, the blood purge of June 1934, was directed mainly against these right-wing opponents.

The conclusions for conservatives of today emerge clearly: Do not break the rules that hold a republic together, because one day you will need order. And do not destroy the opponents who respect those rules, because one day you will miss them.

7) Hugely under-reported… FBI conspiracy the (New York office) to defeat Hillary Clinton.

8) Koch brothers really are evil.  They are spending their money to thwart public transit around the country.  Because, you know, poor people should have to buy a car damnit.

9) Dave Leonhardt on the two big problems in higher education:

American higher-education policy has two overarching problems. We don’t spend enough money on college education for middle-class and poor students. And we don’t demand enough accountability from colleges.

The two problems feed off each other, leading to miserably low graduation rates — often below 50 percent — at many colleges. The colleges that have figured out how to do better aren’t rewarded with more resources. The colleges with weak results face few consequences. All the while, lower-income students suffer.

Fortunately, the problem of college performance is starting to get more attention — from colleges themselves, state officials and others. But there is still a huge missing piece: the federal government. Washington has the potential to influence higher education, via both money and oversight, more powerfully than any state or college consortium…

The second part of the new proposal would require colleges to meet performance benchmarks in exchange for the infusion of new federal spending. These benchmarks would include graduation rates and post-college employment and would vary based on “degree of difficulty.” A college that enrolled mostly low-income students wouldn’t be expected to have the same results as an elite college. Over the long term, colleges that failed to meet the benchmarks could lose funding, as is already the case in some states, including Florida and Indiana.

10) Hard to know what age is best to start allowing kids to head the soccer ball.  Clearly, when in doubt, older is better.  I’ll admit to wincing a few times at seeing how hard the balls were that my U18 players headed.  Fortunately, the most frequent headers seemed to have solid technique.

11) I really like Drum’s take on the cell phone Supreme Court case:

Like the Obamacare decision, this one is Roberts plus the liberals, with all the other conservatives dissenting. It’s yet another reason for conservatives to think they’ve been betrayed by a Supreme Court nominee. But Roberts wrote the decision and specifically said that his opinion was “informed by historical understandings ‘of what was deemed an unreasonable search and seizure when [the Fourth Amendment] was adopted.’ ” And let’s face it, if you could travel back in time and ask James Madison if he thought it would be OK for the government to use a magic device that tracked the precise movements of virtually every human being in the country, what do you think he’d say? That is, what do you think he’d say before he dropped dead of apoplexy?

Live by originalism, die by originalism. The fact is that it really ought to be the “living Constitution” liberals who have a tough time with a case like this, while the conservatives should be diehard Fourth Amendment purists. But conservatives today are all believers in extreme police power, and that overrides their originalist tendencies. A lot of other things override their originalist tendencies too. This is what makes me so suspicious of originalism to begin with. If you only use it when it produces a result you agree with, what use is it?

12) I refuse to accept cultural relativism.  A culture that calls for women to become complete outcasts– to the point of sometimes dying– while they are menstruating is a culture that is wrong and needs to change.

13) Well, damn, sure does seem like this NIH study was set up to find that drinking alcohol is good for you.  And yet, it didn’t.

A 165-page internal investigation prepared for Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that Kenneth J. Mukamal, the lead investigator of the trial, was in close, frequent contact with beer and liquor executives while designing the study.

Buried in that document are disturbing examples of the coziness between the scientists and their industry patrons. Dr. Mukamal was eager to allay their concerns, respond to their questions and suggestions, and secure the industry’s buy-in…

The study was intended to test the hypothesis that one drink a day is better for one’s heart than none, among other benefits of moderate drinking. But its design was such that it would not pick up harms, such as an increase in cancers or heart failure associated with alcohol, the investigation found.

Scientists who designed the trial were aware it was not large enough to detect a rise in breast cancer, and acknowledged to grant reviewers in 2016 that the study was focused on benefits and “not powered to identify negative health effects.”

“Clearly, there was a sense that this trial was being set up in a way that would maximize the chances of showing a positive effect of alcohol,” Dr. Collins said last week as he accepted his advisers’ recommendation to terminate the trial.

14) I think it might me a little premature to consider this particular interventions hopeless, but, alas, a comprehensive study funded by the Gates foundation found that rewarding good teachers and firing bad ones did not improve student performance. Drum summarizes.  Since we know that countries that out-perform us take good teaching way more seriously, I’m not willing to give up on that yet.

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