Quick hits (part I)

1) Talk about policy disaster and unintended consequences.  A very ill-considered U.S biofuel law has proved disastrous for the rainforests of Borneo.  And made climate change worse.

2) My oldest has been watching Breaking Bad and is about half-way through Season 2.  I wish I could just watch them all with him, but I really shouldn’t take the time, so I’m just watching here and now when I can.  I think I appreciate it even more now.  So well-written.  And so funny.  Oh man did I love watching this scene yesterday.

3) As we know, Republicans are obsessed with virtually non-existent in-person voter fraud.  Meanwhile absentee voter fraud is way easier.  And now there’s very serious evidence that there was serious and widespread actual fraud in the NC 9th district.  Meanwhile the director of the NC Republican Party, Dallas Woodhouse, provides the best evidence yet for what a scurrilous character he is in the face of a unanimous decision.

The head of the state GOP, Dallas Woodhouse, has gone further, accusing the board of a partisan campaign. The nine-member board, with four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated voter, agreed unanimously to delay certification.

4) What Payless did with their fake Palessi shoe store is so awesome.

5) How restaurants got to be so loud:

That’s not dangerous—noise levels become harmful to human hearing above 85 decibels—but it is certainly not quiet. Other sounds that reach 70 decibels include freeway noise, an alarm clock, and a sewing machine. But it’s still quiet for a restaurant. Others I visited in Baltimore and New York City while researching this story were even louder: 80 decibels in a dimly lit wine bar at dinnertime; 86 decibels at a high-end food court during brunch; 90 decibels at a brewpub in a rehabbed fire station during Friday happy hour.

Restaurants are so loud because architects don’t design them to be quiet. Much of this shift in design boils down to changing conceptions of what makes a space seem upscale or luxurious, as well as evolving trends in food service. Right now, high-end surfaces connote luxury, such as the slate and wood of restaurants including The Osprey in Brooklyn or Atomix in Manhattan.

This trend is not limited to New York. According to Architectural Digestmid-century modern and minimalism are both here to stay. That means sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; and almost no soft goods, such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears. No soft goods and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room.

The result is a loud space that renders speech unintelligible. Now that it’s so commonplace, the din of a loud restaurant is unavoidable. That’s bad for your health—and worse for the staff who works there. But it also degrades the thing that eating out is meant to culture: a shared social experience that rejuvenates, rather than harms, its participants.

On the bright side for me, most of my restaurant meals are at the campus pizza joint, Wendy’s, and Bojangles, so I don’t run into this problem very often.

6a) It’s just a real shame that Chevy is going to stop making the Volt.  We need to price carbon, damnit:

This is where government policy becomes part of the story.

Gas is cheap and has been for a while. But that is only because its price is mostly a function of what it costs to drill, refine, and distribute petroleum. It doesn’t account for the long-term costs of spewing all that extra carbon into the air ― costs that, as last week’s national report on climate showed yet again, society is already bearing in some very painful ways.

The most direct way to address this would be to tax carbon, ideally in a way that simultaneously protects lower-income people and those who depend on transportation for a living from financial harm. This is what European nations do with their high gas taxes and it’s one reason consumers there opt for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars ― and are likely to embrace electric vehicles more quickly than American consumers will.

6b) GM’s shift away from cars is bad for the planet.

7) Yglesias on Paul Ryan leaving Congress:

Paul Ryan is heading out of Congress the way he served: with a blizzard of false statements about substantive matters of public policy.

That started with Thursday’s bizarre exit interview with the Washington Post’s Paul Kane, in which Ryan claimed to regret congressional inaction on debt and immigration when he was, in fact, personally responsible for congressional inaction on debt and immigration.

8) Another great piece in the NYT’s series on China, “How China’s Rulers Control Society: Opportunity, Nationalism, Fear.”

9) Obviously I loved this in the Post, “A guide to picking the right apple for the right recipe.”  Braeburn, baby.

10) This was kind of awesome, “People Getting Stabbed In Medieval Art Who Just Don’t Give a Damn.”

11) I never eat at Panera, but it’s founder has a sharp critique of American capitalism:

Last year, when Shaich took Panera private, he also stepped down as the C.E.O. (he is still the chairman of the board), to focus on a pet cause: warning the world about the dangers of short-term thinking. He has been travelling the country, giving speeches and talking to business leaders and policymakers about the urgent need to return to the tradition of investing for the future. Some people are starting to listen. Tech titans including Reid Hoffman and Marc Andreessen have financially backed the creation of a new investment framework called the Long-Term Stock Exchange, which would give shareholders greater influence over a company the longer they hold shares. “We all believe the system is bigger than us, and we can’t fix it,” Shaich said. “But, if we don’t take control of that system, it’s misserving us in powerful ways.” He also founded an investment fund called Act III Holdings, which offers capital, with fewer time constraints, to entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry. (The Mediterranean chain cava is one of his investments.) “We’ve ended up in a situation, to the detriment of all of us, where our public companies are not able to do the things we want in the economy,” he said. “We say we want G.D.P. growth, but G.D.P. doesn’t come simply from a sugar high of tax cuts. G.D.P. growth only comes from innovation and productivity increases. And innovation and productivity increases occur because people make commitments and they make transformative events.” He added, “This system doesn’t serve the American people. There is an opportunity to ask ourselves, is this what we want?”

12) This “how to help someone who is suicidal” is really interesting, but, given the stakes, really needs a nice TLDR summary.  It’s sort of– keep in contact and show them you care.

13) Drum nicely defends Hillary Clinton from the left-wing rage at her suggestion that Europe may need to re-think it’s refugee policies.

14) The WiredGuide to online shopping” is actually not so much a guide, but a great history of online shopping.

15) Speaking of guide’s the NYT’s Thanksgiving-themed guide to gratitude had a lot of useful ideas.  Seriously– you cannot go wrong with more gratitude in your life.  I’m grateful you are reading this :-).

16) America’s churches are emptying out:

Many of our nation’s churches can no longer afford to maintain their structures—6,000 to 10,000 churches die each year in America—and that number will likely grow. Though more than 70 percent of our citizens still claim to be Christian, congregational participation is less central to many Americans’ faith than it once was. Most denominations are declining as a share of the overall population, and donations to congregations have been falling for decades. Meanwhile, religiously unaffiliated Americans, nicknamed the “nones,” are growing as a share of the U.S. population.

Any minister can tell you that the two best predictors of a congregation’s survival are “budgets and butts,” and American churches are struggling by both metrics. As donations and attendance decrease, the cost of maintaining large physical structures that are in use only a few hours a week by a handful of worshippers becomes prohibitive. None of these trends shows signs of slowing, so the United States’ struggling congregations face a choice: Start packing or find a creative way to stay afloat.

17) NC State undertook a look at faculty salaries to make sure we are paying women and minorities.  Best evidence suggests that we are.  Hooray.

18) Enjoyed Jamelle Bouie on Mississippi:

Mississippi isn’t just a deep-red state—Donald Trump won nearly 58 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent—it’s also a largely rural one defined by stark racial polarization. Black residents almost uniformly support Democratic candidates and white residents almost uniformly support Republicans, which makes Mississippi electorally “inelastic.” There’s a narrow band of outcomes and an almost unshakable GOP advantage.

This political divide is a direct holdover from the state’s past, a product of its deep entanglement with slavery and its culture of exclusion and hierarchy. Just two facts show the extent of Mississippi’s reliance on slave labor: On the eve of the Civil War, 55 percent of people living in the state were enslaved, and at the height of the domestic slave trade, Natchez, which sits on the bank of the Mississippi River, was one of the richest cities in the United States, with half the nation’s millionaires.

Mississippi whites are still among the most conservative in the nation, a direct consequence of the state’s experience with slavery, emancipation, and its aftermath. “These attitudes grew out of the historical incentives to subjugate African Americans—incentives that strengthened through the antebellum period and morphed in the postbellum period into significant institutional and social customs designed to keep blacks in socially, politically, and economically marginalized positions,” Acharya, Blackwell and Sen write.

These attitudes are so ingrained, so tied to the particular history and culture of the Deep South, that it continues to weigh on the politics of the region, well after the civil rights era and the death of Jim Crow. We can feel some of this weight in the context of Tuesday’s runoff election for Senate in Mississippi.

19) Interestingly, college students are abandoning the History major much faster than they are other Humanities majors.

If the decline of the humanities already keeps you up at night, a new article, published by the American Historical Association, won’t help much.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, writes Benjamin M. Schmidt in Perspectives on History,undergraduate majors have been shifting away from the humanities. And of all the disciplines, history has fared the worst, even as college and university enrollments have grown.

Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, looked at the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2008 there were 34,642 degrees awarded to history majors. In 2017 that number was 24,255, a 30-percent drop. And there’s been about a 33-percent decline in history majors since 2011, the first year in which students who watched the financial crisis unfold could easily change their majors, Schmidt found.

Because the drop has been so intense, it’s no longer possible that the history major and other humanities majors are just weathering a low point in a long-term average. No, this is a certifiable crisis.

As you know, I generally strongly prefer social sciences to humanities, but I’ll definitely take History over all the others (and I did).

20) If you find Evolution interesting (and you should!) this is a great Wired article on scientific controversy over how much evolution is adaption versus genetic drift.

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

4 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    #3 When my mother, now deceased, was in a local nursing home, she voted by absentee ballot. I saw many elderly people signing absentee ballots put in front of them. Many did not seem competent to make decisions and many of the ballots had already been filled out.
    My mother was one of the lucky ones who remained competent until close to the last week of her life.

  2. Jim Nickelson says:

    11) Long term stock investing. While I am a long term stock investor I wonder if a “long term stock exchange” will be viable considering institutional investors drive the market. Institutional investors pretty much roll over any smaller groups. 83% of the market is made up of institutional investors. 18% is made up of index investors.

    On a side note, I’ve been a big fan of McDonalds as a stock but they are rewarding short term investors by using borrowed money to buy back shares with no requirement to pay off the debt. This has the effect of forcing long term stock holders to fund those stock buy backs by paying the interest on the debt, either through lower dividends, lower stock prices or lost opportunity costs.

    I look at it this way, would make sense for a company to borrow money to pay stock holders an extraordinary dividend? No, of course not. A stock buy back via borrowed money is not much different, except only those who sell their stock reap the reward – almost entirely short term investors who are focused on quarterly reports, and the executives who get stock options and bonuses for meeting stock prices. Executives are giving some stock holders cash and forcing current stock holders to pay the interest on the loan. Stock buybacks funded through debt is becoming widespread. It’s making executives rich while piling debt onto companies.

    I have been moving more and more of my stocks into broadly diversified index funds.
    I purchase whole market index funds for the US, Canada, world (ex USA), Europe and developing nations.

    That said, I’m going to investigate the long term stock exchange and the companies in it. I’m becoming more and more concerned with the short term incentives that are driving many companies.

  3. R. Jenrette says:

    #11 There would be little need for a long term stock exchange if a very teeny-tiny tax were put on every internet stock trade. It would even the playing field for small time investors by restraining volitivity, cut some power from corporations and pay for updating the infrastructure of the country or other national needs. It’s a tax that the 98% would support.

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