Quick hits (part IB)

A few more I wanted to add in today:

1) Really enjoyed Drum’s take on Kavanaugh:

But there’s something else about the Kavanaugh hearing that struck me pretty hard, possibly because I’m 60 years old and I’ve watched it unfold.¹ For starters, it didn’t change my mind. Quite the opposite. I think it’s obvious that Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth and that Kavanaugh told a lot of lies. This almost certainly means he’s lying about the assault on Ford too. The funny thing is that I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about what really happened. Like a lot of people, I refer to his actions as “attempted rape,” but there’s a pretty good chance that this wasn’t his intent at all. At the time, he may well have thought of it as nothing more than horseplay, just a bit of fun and games with no intention of ever taking it past that. And intent matters. Being an infantile 17-year-old lout is way different than being a 17-year-old rapist.

But when he was first asked about all this, he panicked and denied everything. He didn’t have to: he could have admitted what happened, apologized, confessed that he never had any idea how badly it had scarred Ford, and then explained that he’d tried to make up for it by being especially sensitive in his hiring and treatment of women ever since. I’m pretty sure that this would have cooled things down pretty quickly. But once he denied the incident entirely, he had no choice but to stick to his story. Everything that’s happened since has hinged on that one rash mistake.

And this is what explains his almost comically angry testimony. He knew he was guilty and he also knew he couldn’t admit that he’d lied about it. But the Republican playbook has a page for this. Even before his appearance, there were news reports about the advice Kavanaugh was getting: he needed to be passionate, angry, and vengeful against the Democrats who plainly orchestrated this entire witch hunt.

2) And Trevor Noah’s take.

3) And I love this about people who think they will impress others with their fancy purchases:

One story that’s true: Acquiring something luxurious can temporarily increase one’s self-esteem. One story that’s not: Acquiring something luxurious can impress potential friends.

A recent study by Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan explores that second myth. He and his co-authors set up a variety of hypothetical scenarios and asked subjects what they’d choose to do in one of two roles—either as someone trying to make friends or as someone evaluating potential friends. They found that there’s an imbalance in how the people in the latter position perceive those in the former. “People think … that status is going to attract new friends,” he told me. “However, it actually has the opposite effect—that is, people would rather befriend, in a conversation or in an interaction, someone who doesn’t display [high-]status, but rather more neutral markers,” like a Timex instead of a Rolex…

In another experiment, college students were asked to pick who they’d like to have a conversation with after being presented with two profiles of imaginary participants that included their hobbies, their home state, the type of car they drive, and the brand of winter coat they wear. The fancier peer—the one who drove a 2017 BMW and wore a Canada Goose jacket—was picked less than a quarter of the time.

Garcia told me that one way to explain these findings is that people, when looking for friends, don’t like feeling inadequate; there’s research showing that people get uncomfortable when their friends outperform them and that they’re less okay with a friend’s success than with a stranger’s. (Another interpretation—and this one’s mine—is that people might mistrust rich people, or at least those who flaunt their wealth.)

4) It really is kind of crazy the way parents have turned a blind eye to the debauchery that is beach week for many east coast kids.  Even my friends who had relatively cautious parents let their kids go.  That said, from what I recall, the well-behaved kids with cautious parents generally did refrain from most of the debauchery.  (As did I, for what it’s worth, though I don’t think my non-cautious parents would have even cared that much).

5) Love this!  Dear Brett Kavanaugh– going to Yale is not a moral defense.  It just means you are smart and debauched.

At one point, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pursued a line of questioning about the “Beach Week Ralph Club,” a phrase that appeared in Kavanaugh’s yearbook next to his senior photo. Kavanaugh told Whitehouse that “Ralph” probably referred to vomiting, something that Kavanaugh attributed to his “weak stomach, whether it’s with beer or with spicy food or anything.” Whitehouse asked if the “Ralph Club” reference had to do specifically with alcohol, and Kavanaugh responded:

Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.

It was a deflection, but the particular shield he raised was telling. His response seems to suggest a belief that a prestigious education stands as evidence of moral rightness.

He offered the same defense when Senator Mazie Hirono brought up the fact that Kavanaugh’s freshman-year roommate recently remembered him as “a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time.” First, Kavanaugh questioned his former roommate’s motives for saying such a thing. But then he said, “Senator, you were asking about college. I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

In those two exchanges, Kavanaugh treated his education as a magic wand, something that could be waved to dispel questions of his conduct. Indeed, Americans have a particular fondness for meritocratic narratives, frequently conflating achievements and hard work with human worth. And as deserving as they tend to think the wealthy and accomplished are of their money and success, it’s likely that luck gets underrated as a cause of them, as the economist Robert Frank has argued. (The word meritocracy was actually coined satirically, in an attempt to show how cruel the world would be if the intelligent and accomplished received preferable treatment.)

6) Krugman on Republican hypocrisy on health care.

On graduation, most medical students swear some version of the ancient Hippocratic oath — a promise to act morally in their role as physicians. Human nature being what it is, some will break their promise. But we still expect those who provide health care to behave more ethically than the average member of society.

When it comes to how political figures deal with health care, however, we’ve come to expect the opposite, at least on one side of the aisle. It often seems as if Republican politicians have secretly sworn a Hypocrite’s oath — a promise to mislead voters to the best of their ability, to claim to support the very protections for the sick they’re actively working to undermine.

To see what I mean, consider the case of Josh Hawley of Missouri, who is running for the Senate against Claire McCaskill.

Hawley is one of 20 state attorneys general who have brought a lawsuit attempting to repeal a key provision of the Affordable Care Act — the provision that protects people with pre-existing medical conditions, by requiring that insurance companies cover everyone of similar age at the same rate regardless of medical history. Kill that provision, and millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their insurance.

But here’s the thing: Protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions is overwhelmingly popular, commanding majority support even among Republicans. And McCaskill has been hammering Hawley over his role in that lawsuit.

So Hawley has responded with ads claiming that he, too, wants to protect those with pre-existing conditions, as supposedly shown by his support for a bill that purports to provide such protection.

I have to say, you almost have to admire the sheer brazenness of the dishonesty here. For the bill Hawley touts is a fraud: It’s full of loopholes allowing insurers to discriminate in ways that would end up making essential health care unaffordable for those who need it most.

7) Why divorce rates are still declining– it’s about who gets married:

When I asked Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, how to make sense of this trend, he opened his explanation with something of a koan: “In order to get divorced,” he said, “you have to get married first.”

The point he was making was that people with college degrees are now more likely to get married than those who have no more than a high-school education. And the key to understanding the declining divorce rate, Cherlin says, is that it is “going down some for everybody,” but “the decline has been steepest for the college graduates.”

The reason that’s the case is that college graduates tend to wait longer to get married as they focus on their career. And they tend to have the financial independence to postpone marriage until they’re more confident it will work. This has translated to lower rates of divorce: “If you’re older, you’re more mature … you probably have a better job, and those things make it less likely that you’ll get into arguments with your spouse,” Cherlin says.

Divorce rates had been increasing since the mid-1800s, in part because of what Cherlin described as “a gradual growth in the sense that it was okay to end a marriage if you’re unhappy.” Divorces spiked after World War II, peaking in 1980.

Cherlin says that in the late 1970s, when he received his Ph.D., it was widely expected among researchers that the divorce rate would continue to rise. But it hasn’t, and what’s behind this unforeseen development is the decline of marriage—and the corresponding rise of cohabitation—among Americans with less education. As the sociologist Victor Chen wrote for The Atlantic last year, those without college degrees were a few decades ago significantly likelier to be married by age 30 than were those with college degrees. Now, Chen notes, “just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree.”

Chen connects this trend to the decline of well-paying jobs for those without college degrees, which, he argues, makes it harder to form more stable relationships. Indeed, Cohen writes in his paper that marriage is “an increasingly central component of the structure of social inequality.” The state of it today is both a reflection of the opportunities unlocked by a college degree and a force that, by allowing couples to pool their incomes, itself widens economic gaps.

So, looking at married couples alone doesn’t capture the true nature of American partnerships today. “If you were to include cohabiting relationships [in addition to marriages], the breakup rates for young adults have probably not been going down,” Cherlin says. In other words: Yes, divorce rates are declining. But that’s more a reflection of who’s getting married than of the stability of any given American couple.

8) Philip Bump documents all the places Kavanaugh’s testimony was either false or misleading.  It’s not a short article.

9) Great Fresh Air interview with a former White Nationalist who was basically born into it.  And a nice Post article on him from a couple years ago.

10) Can I tell you how little sympathy I have for folks upset that 12:00 football games don’t leave them enough time to get drunk beforehand?

Quick hits (part I)

So, running a little behind, so here’s a start for those of you counting on your early Saturday post.  And I’ll even start it off non-Kavanaugh.

1) It’s not a good idea for humans to eat their placentas.  Apparently, a lot of people need to be told this:

Why might a woman eat her placenta? I asked.

Mammals do it, I was told.


It’s true that many mammals eat their placenta. But there are a lot of differences between us and other mammals: Other mammals often have litters. Or differently shaped uteri with less invasive placentas. They also mostly have estrus — not menstrual — cycles, meaning they typically only have sex when in heat.

In short, most mammals have entirely different reproductive physiology. Not to mention entirely different behaviors.

When I was 5 years old, my gerbil became stressed and ate all her pups. These days, my cat eats grass. It makes her throw up because cats, being obligate carnivores, cannot digest grass.

I suspect she does this when she has an upset stomach, although it’s also possible she wants to release her artisanal cat food onto my shoes for some perceived slight. One never knows with cats.

Imagine if your gastroenterologist suggested eating grass for an upset stomach because cats do it?

I can think of no hypothesis in modern obstetrics — never mind modern medicine — that has been answered with, “Well, mammals do it!”

2) Chait on how Kavanaugh is the ultimate Trumpian Justice:

Kavanaugh’s speech was truly Trumpian, in a way that revealed how Trump tapped so deeply into the conservative soul. He dispensed with any pretense of law as a neutral value. Everything was reduced to power and motive. He invoked his own work to impeach Bill Clinton (on a sprawling investigation that began as a probe of an old land deal), and managed not to find any case for self-reflection in this episode at all. Instead he mentioned it to show that Democrats were vile liars bent on destroying their prey. And the notion that Democrats have hatched secret plots to undermine the legitimate government as revenge for the Clintons — a central theme of Trump’s rhetoric — formed the spine of Kavanaugh’s case.

Perhaps the most chilling line in Kavanaugh’s speech was, “what goes around, comes around.” He did not say it with any evident sadness, nor did he renounce it as a value. Here was a man apparently threatening revenge on his political enemies, and asking for a lifetime appointment with supreme power of judicial review with which to do it. Kavanaugh’s promise to conservatives vis-à-vis the law is Trump’s promise vis-à-vis the presidency: he will protect us against them. A vote for Kavanaugh is a vote to Trumpify the Supreme Court.

3) Leonhardt on a terrible day for the Supreme Court:

But the way that the Senate conducted the hearing — and the way Kavanaugh responded — created something close to a worst-case scenario for the Supreme Court.

First, the Republican senators in charge of the process have shown no interest in getting at the truth. They refuse to involve any neutral, nonpartisan investigator, as Kate Brannen of Just Security pointed out.They refuse to call witnesses whom Christine Blasey Ford said were present…

The second piece of potential damage to the court came from Kavanaugh himself. If he did not do any of the things that his accusers claim, his anger is completely understandable. To react any other way, in fact, would be surprising. But he did not merely display anger yesterday; he launched an extraordinary attack on Democratic senators and claimed they were behind the allegations in a nefarious plot.

There is no evidence for this. Yes, they have made mistakes during the process, allowing the allegations to become public only at the end. They deserve criticism for these mistakes. But they are not evidence of the plot Kavanaugh described. Remember: Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, honored Blasey’s request for confidentiality this summer, even when doing so helped Kavanaugh’s odds of confirmation.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will join the court looking not like an independent judge but like another partisan figure, doing the work of his party. That’s not how the Supreme Court likes to view itself. “Anger and partisan fury like this will be very hard for Judge Kavanaugh to overcome as Justice Kavanaugh,” Susan Glasser of The New Yorker wrote.

4) I feel like far more should be made of the fact that if this is just Democratic character assassination, how come nobody tried to assassinate Gorsuch’s character.  Hmmmm, could it maybe be something about Kavanaugh’s character?

5) Ross Douthat seems to think that an FBI investigation has the potential to uncover a lot about the party.  I totally disagree.  My guess is that I went to 1/3 – 1/2 as many parties in high school as Kavanaugh and I cannot definitively recall whose house or which friends I was with at any given party 30 years ago.  Of course, I suspect that would be different had I suffered a traumatic event at one of these parties.  Pretty sure we never played the devil’s triangle “drinking game” ;-).

6) I appreciate that Adam Liptak’s straight news article is pretty straight up about Kavanaugh’s intemperateness:

His performance on Thursday, responding to accusations of sexual misconduct at a hearing of the same Senate committee, sent a different message. Judge Kavanaugh was angry and emotional, embracing the language of slashing partisanship. His demeanor raised questions about his neutrality and temperament and whether the already fragile reputation of the Supreme Court as an institution devoted to law rather than politics would be threatened if he is confirmed

Just so we’re clear, even if Kavanaugh had never seen Blasey Ford till yesterday, he thoroughly disqualified himself for the court with his bald-faced lies.

8) James Comey

9) The moral and intellectual emptiness of Ayn Rand and laissez faire capitalism.

10) James Hamblin on retracted food science:

Taken individually, Wansink’s reported errors and misconduct are not novel or even especially rare. Scan sites like Retraction Watch and see all the bad science that’s happening all the time. We don’t hear about them because the fact of a study being found years later to be flawed is less interesting to most readers of newspapers and magazines than the fact that a study said one simple trick to slimming down your waistline is smaller plates. Even if science editors were interested in publishing stories that aren’t of much interest to their readers, the social-media distribution ecosystem adds an increasingly opaque layer in which those gatekeepers have less and less power to get eyes onto a problem. The people will share what the people will share.

The Wansink saga has forced reflection on my own lack of skepticism toward research that confirms what I already believe, [emphasis mine] in this case that food environments shape our eating behaviors. For example, among his other retracted studies are those finding that we buy more groceries when we shop hungry and order healthier food when we preorder lunch. All of this seems intuitive. I have used the phrase health halo in my own writing, and am still inclined to think it’s a valid idea.


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