Quick hits (part I)

So far been pretty lucky with the storm here.  Power was out for about three hours yesterday morning (during which my kids drove me crazy), but other than that, pretty good.  So, you’ll actually have your (rare, these day) on-time Saturday morning quick hits.

1) Oh, to be a pharmaceutical executive and justify price-gouging with your medicine:

In the category of saying the quiet parts out loud, consider this statement by Nirmal Mulye, the chief executive of drug company Nostrum Laboratories: “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.”

Mulye was responding to questions posed by the Financial Times about his quadrupling the price of an essential antibiotic to $2,392 per bottle. The drug, nitrofurantoin, is used to treat urinary tract infections. It has been on the market since 1953 and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine for “basic healthcare systems.”

In his interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday, Mulye defended Martin Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who became the face of the industry’s profiteering in 2015 when he jacked up the price of a generic anti-parasitic drug needed by HIV patients by more than 5,000%. “I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told the FT. (Shkreli is currently serving a prison term on fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.)

This is a capitalist economy….We have to make money when we can.

2) Vox’s Zack Beauchamp with a long and depressing tale about Hungary’s gradual move from democracy to authoritarianism.  And the out-group scapegoating behind so much of it.

3) David French on the need to end “qualified immunity” for police and others to violate constitutional rights with impunity.

I’m going to start with a story that will break your heart. In the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, a young man named Andrew Scott was up late, home with his girlfriend. They were playing video games when they heard a loud pounding on the door. Alarmed, Scott grabbed a pistol and opened the door. He saw a man crouching outside in the darkness. Scott retreated, gun still at his side, pointing down to the ground.

Almost instantly, the crouching figure fired his own weapon. The encounter was over in two seconds. Scott lay on the ground, dead. The man who fired? He was a police officer. He was at the wrong house. Andrew Scott was a completely innocent man who had done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

As for the officer? Well, not only was he at the wrong house, but he had no search warrant even for the correct house, he had not turned on his emergency lights, and he did not identify himself as police when he pounded on the door.

The officer was never prosecuted. The state ruled that the shooting was “justified” — in part because it said the police had no obligation to identify themselves. Then, when Scott’s estate sued the officer for money damages, the court threw out the lawsuit. A panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Then last year the entire court rejected en banc review.

A police officer killed a completely innocent man because of the officer’s inexcusable mistake. He escaped criminal prosecution. And then he even escaped civil liability — because of a little-known, judge-made legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Sadly, this was but one injustice caused by this misguided doctrine. It will not be the last. But there’s a solution. Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

4) It is misleading to judge hurricanes primarily by maximum sustained wind.  Something involving total energy or total potential destruction would be better.  That said, this stuff annoys me:

Most people know that the bigger the category, the scarier and more notable a storm.

That rule of thumb has the benefit of being true: It was legitimately worrying when, earlier this week, Hurricane Florence seemed like it might become the first Category 5 storm to strike the East Coast north of Florida. Only 33 Category 5 storms have ever been observed in the Atlantic Ocean, and as President Donald Trump exclaimed last year: “I never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

But this rule can also guide families to ruin, especially if they make a survival decision on the basis of category. A family might decide to ignore an evacuation order since it’s survived a Category 4 storm before. But a storm can be scary and notable without having a high category. That’s because only one trait determines a storm’s categorial intensity: its maximum sustained wind speed.

I don’t doubt we can have better measures.  But the fact is no matter what measures we use, some people are going to act stupidly.  We should not base our measures or media coverage(!!) on the fact that some people will always act stupidly.  Pretty clear that we do with the media coverage.

5) The state of New York is ridiculously bad when it comes to it’s arcane voting laws and the end result is less participation for New Yorkers.  That really needs to change.  On the bright side, an excellent example of how institutional factors affect turnout for my PS 302 students.

6) Generally a fan of Fareed, but this is among his weaker efforts, “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Leaving aside the wisdom of the New Yorker festival disinvite, this is a huge mis-reading on Zakaria’s part.  It’s not about suppressing his ideas, but making the statement that they are beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse, due to their white nationalist elements.  Its not fear of the ideas, but rather that there should be some clear lines and that white nationalism is one of them.

7) Relatedly, this essay in the Economist on whether political correctness has gone too far is top notch:

Regardless of how it is labelled, its underlying idea is the same: that measures to increase “tolerance” threaten the liberal, Enlightenment values that have forged the West. Self-styled opponents of political correctness and proponents of free speech may find themselves (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When framed like this, it seems utterly reasonable to think that political correctness has the potential to be a menace. Moreover, some aspects of tolerance culture, particularly the actions of students—who frequently draw the ire of such culture warriors—are, in many cases, cloying and precious…

However, some easily-dismissed examples aside, the notion that political correctness has gone too far is absurd. That a man who boasts gleefully about grabbing women by their genitals, mocks disabled reporters and stereotypes Muslims as “terrorists” and Mexicans as “rapists” was able to become the leader of the free world should disabuse anyone of that notion. Indeed those who invoke “political correctness” often use it for more cynical means. It is a smoke screen for regressivism…

These phenomena—invoking “political correctness” as a fig-leaf for naked prejudice, and in spite of evidence to the contrary—find their most troubling embodiment in political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. [emphases mine] Mr Trump once stated that “the problem [America] has is being politically correct,” and sees himself as a corrective to that. Mr Farage, too, sees himself as a crusader against political correctness.

Both consider themselves to be “taking back” their respective countries from a varied cast of bogeymen: among them elitists, social justice warriors, Muslims and immigrants. Both seem to want to undermine the very institutions that preserve our rights and liberties.

At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.

8) I’m a huge fan of “next generation” nuclear power.  Let’s make it happen.  Nice article in Wired.

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real…

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

9) Apple is just done with small (i.e., non-huge) Iphones.  I love my SE.  This makes me sad.  This is actually the one thing that might eventually move me to Android.

10) Watch this Super pod of dolphins.  So cool!

11) Can’t remember if I shared Wirecutter’s guide to adult board games.  Bought Dixit and played it twice already.  The whole family loves it.  Already fans of 7 Wonders and Ticket to Ride.

12) Speaking of playing games, can we play our way to a better democracy?  Yes?

But not all play is created equal. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist at Boston College, studies the effects of “free play,” which he defines as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Guitar lessons and soccer practice are not free play — they are supervised and directed by an adult. But when kids jam with friends or take part in a pickup soccer game, that’s free play.

The absence of adults forces children to practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes with no help from a referee, and then vary the rules or norms of play when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take small risks, rather than assuming that adults will always be there, like guard rails, telling them where the limits of safety lie. Outdoor free play, in mixed-age groups, is the most effective way for children to learn these essential life skills, Professor Gray says…

By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers. These large increases do not just reflect a greater willingness to seek help; there has been a corresponding rise in self-harm,suicidal thinking and suicide among American adolescents and college students.

The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.

It’s easy to see how overprotection harms individuals, but in a disturbing essay titled “Cooperation Over Coercion,” the economist Steven Horwitz made the case that play deprivation also harms liberal democracies. He noted that a defining feature of the liberal tradition is its desire to minimize coercion by the power of the state and maximize citizens’ freedom to create the lives they choose for themselves. He reviewed work by political scientists showing that self-governing communities and democracies rely heavily on conversation, informal norms and local conflict resolution procedures to manage their affairs with minimal appeal to higher authorities. He concluded that self-governance requires the very skills that Peter Gray finds are best developed in childhood free play. [emphasis mine]

13) Even though my daughter is a good reader, we’re having a rough time actually getting her to read every day.  Maybe I should be making her practice math instead:

A large body of research has revealed that boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing and are often relatively better at these than they are at math, even though their math skills are as good as the boys’. The consequence? A typical little boy can think he’s better at math than language arts. But a typical little girl can think she’s better at language arts than math. As a result, when she sits down to do math, she might be more likely to say, “I’m not that good at this!” She actually is just as good (on average) as a boy at the math — it’s just that she’s even better at language arts.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s taking place in the minds of babes. But studies revealing developmental differences between boys’ versus girls’ verbal abilities alongside developmental similarities in boys’ and girls’ math abilities — combined with studies that show that among girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance — seem to indicate that something like the above dynamic might be going on.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind, that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.

It’s important to realize that math is, to some extent, like playing a musical instrument. But the instrument you play is your own internal neural apparatus…

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Take it from someone who started out hating math and went on to become a professor of engineering: Do your daughter a favor — give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)

14) Meanwhile, Amanda Ripley looks at why girls in the Middle East outperform boys by so much:

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

15) Even liberal political science professors can be racist.  Though, I’m damn sure I’ve never mistaken a Black female political scientist for the hired help and damn sure I never would.

16) Originalism is such crap and pretty much always just a pretext for reaching conservative decisions that fit with a judge’s ideology.  Always happy to read something making this case.

The problem with these appeals to originalism, and the impartiality they connote, is that they have not held true in practice. Which is why to critics, and I’m one of them, the label of originalist strikes us as a cover for imposing conservative value judgments.

Consider that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Scalia, voted to strike down huge swaths of constitutional law without historical justification. Together they invalidated state and federal affirmative action laws, campaign finance legislation, federal laws directing the states to help implement national programs such as background checks for gun purchasers, and many other important pieces of legislation without relying on persuasive originalist evidence.

Justice Gorsuch has only been on the court for a term and a half, but he has already joined with Justice Thomas (and the other conservatives) several times to strike down state laws without relying on originalist sources…

All of which is to say that, for these originalists, originalism didn’t figure very importantly, if at all, in how they cast their votes on some of the court’s most consequential recent cases. Instead, they used, for their own ends, the same type of values-based living constitutionalism that they and other conservative jurists and politicians typically decry.

17) And an interesting take on the politicized Supreme Court, “What’s the Point of the Supreme Court? If you know beforehand how justices will vote based on which president appointed them, then what’s the point of having a court that, in theory, operates above politics?”

18) Jonathan Bernstein is right about the 25th amendment:

If those close to Trump really think he must be removed from office, impeachment and removal are a better tool. The case for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and generally violating the oath of office may still not be so obvious that it demands congressional action. But impeachment has always been political, and it’s reasonable for Congress to take into account Trump’s general unfitness for office when it decides whether to move ahead. Meanwhile, impeachment has a lower congressional threshold, making it (relatively) easier than relying on the 25th. And it is constitutionally swift and sure, leaving no ambiguity after it happens. 3 It’s true that the anonymous op-ed writer seems at least as concerned with Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, especially on trade, than he or she is with the general lawlessness of the administration. But perhaps that’s just a message for Republicans who refuse to accept what all the other anonymous leakers have told us. At any rate, there’s no reason it should guide anyone going forward.

The bottom line is that the 25th Amendment simply isn’t adequate to the task of removing a president who remains in good enough condition to contest it and wants to do so. Regardless of whether impeaching the president is a serious question, talk of invoking the 25th, even if well-intentioned, is just misguided and dangerous.

19) Discovered this super-cool interactive power outage map today.  You can see the effect of the hurricane in NC and that things get dramatically worse immediately to the southeast of my home, Wake County.

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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. R. Jenrette says:

    Just finished reading the first chapters of “Fear”, Bob Woodward’s new book. It is clear to me that Bannon’s influence and skill at political strategy was the main reason the Trump campaign turned from loser to winner. Trump seemed to be losing ground until Bannon came in three months before the election and showed him how he could win. And Trump did follow Bannon’s advice and won the Electoral College vote.

  2. jeffbc94 says:

    Re #11 you had shared wirecutter’s kid games list earlier this summer, but I stumbled on the adult list from there. Still an open tab on my phone!
    We’ve played a few games with friends that you might like, David would probably hang with most of them too:
    Spyfall
    One night ultimate werewolf
    Isle of Skye
    Agricola
    Terraforming Mars (didn’t play it, but heard about it while playing Agricola)
    Card games we love: five crowns, wizards, bohnanza
    There is a subset of the curling club membership that is very into board games, will share any new ones we get introduced to his season!

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