Quick hits (part I)

Oh my, I have been a complete loser blogger this week.  Cannot believe I’ve gone quick hits to quick hits with nothing in between.  And late, too.  Forgive me.  I promise a better week next week.

1) I order a lot from Amazon and thus have a non-trivial amount of Amazon returns.  I was actually somewhat surprised recently when I got my refund as soon as UPS scanned the return package.  I presume Amazon has some algorithm that says I’m a good customer that does not abuse the return process.

2) I also wondered what would happen to the electric razor that I was unhappy with (for my oldest son– I’m all about the Mach 3 Turbo).  Enjoyed this story about trying to make money on bulk Amazon returns.  I imagine, alas, that used electric razors end up in the trash.

3) Stephen Moore is such an absurd hack that it is offensive to hacks to call him a hack.  It’s a very good thing he will not serve on the Federal Reserve.  And to the utter shame (as is so much) of today’s Republicans that they ignored his horrible qualifications and nutty economic ideas, but only gave up on him for his absurd sexist remarks.  Great take from Yglesias:

Stephen Moore is a charlatan who plays a policy expert on TV

If you consume a lot of conservative media, you could easily be under the impression that Moore is one of the top economic policy thinkers in the country.

He has written extensively over the years for the Weekly Standard and National Review, long the two leading intellectual magazines of the conservative movement. He’s a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He’s a contributor to CBN News and a former Fox News guy who jumped to CNN in 2017. But, again, even though Trump probably best knows him from television, he’s not just a television pundit. He published in the American Enterprise Institute’s in-house journal and was the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute for many years.

In short, the institutional conservative movement appears to regard him as a serious heavyweight thinker on economic policy…

Moore’s nomination deserved to sink because he’s a crank. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, he complained of imminent hyperinflation at the height of the Great Recession while now arguing that the economy faces deflation when there’s no evidence of this in economic data. He “advocates — at least when politically convenient — crank economic ideas, including returning to the gold standard.” Paul Krugman reminds us that in 2007-’08 when the country was tumbling into recession, he called for interest rate hikes that would have greatly exacerbated the problem.

4) The economics of creating new antibiotics are really not good in today’s big Pharma world.  The good news, is that there are some innovative policy ideas to encourage the creation of new antibiotics.  And we really need them.

5) A good friend of mine recently had to have his daughter treated with anti-venom for a copperhead snakebite.  Sounded like an all-around nightmare. Especially wondering if his insurance (same as mine!) was going to cover the $14,000 anti-venom.  Christopher Ingraham on why it costs so damn much (only in America, of course), “The crazy reason it costs $14,000 to treat a snakebite with $14 medicine”

Shockingly, the cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.

6) I finally watched John Oliver’s take on how prosecutors are the fundamental problem in our criminal justice system.  He’s right.  And, of course, it’s a really good segment.

7) I just came across this Conversation piece from a few years ago by an NC State professors on the genetics of Eastern Coyotes and how coywolfs are not a thing.  I had no idea that there was always a mix of dog in there:

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

8) Chait, “Trump Claims He Can Ignore Subpoenas Because Congress Is Mean”

This same argument runs nearly all of Trump’s refusals to abide congressional subpoenas. “These aren’t, like, impartial people,” the president declared of Congress. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

The first thing to understand about this legal theory is that it is not a legal theory. Congress is a coequal branch of government which has a legal right to conduct investigations, including of the Executive branch and its officials. There is a legal gray zone around “executive privilege,” which describes the right of officials in the Executive branch to have some confidentiality around their internal discussions.

But Trump is not articulating a theory of executive privilege here. Nor would such a privilege cover a president’s right to maintain a business empire that accepts payments that may or may not be bribes disguised as legitimate reimbursements in complete secrecy from Congress and the public.

Essentially Trump’s argument is that congressional oversight is simply “politics” and, therefore, somehow null and void. Trump’s Deutsche Bank lawsuit has a passage that could have been lifted from an op-ed written by a sophomore member of the College Republicans. It quotes Nancy Pelosi promising “checks and balances to the Trump administration,” then asserts she was “not referring to legislation.” It proceeds to quote a series of journalists describing Congress’s investigations as being unpleasant for Trump:

9) Can’t say I find this Jesse Singal headline all that surprising,”Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising.”

10) Here’s my tweet on the latest Game of Thrones episode:

That said, I loved this tactical analysis of the battle from Angry Staff Officer.

11) Given how much the abortion debate tends to focus on the much more complicated issue of later abortions, this chart from Drum is very useful:

12) I’ve often wondered why getting pictures framed is so damn expensive.  I really would like to framed art in my house, but, the framing always seems like such a rip-off.  Vox is on the case:

Higher pricing is the consequence of frame stores keeping options on hand

According to a 2018 IBISWorld report, there are 9,000 local frame shops in the United States, and if you’ve ever been to one, you know it to be a pretty intimidating experience. You go in knowing you only need one black frame, but are then bombarded with a host of options: There’s matting (a piece of paper or cardboard that goes inside the frame and mounts the print or photo), molding (decorative embellishments on the outside of the frame), glass (referred to as glazing, which can be made of glass or acrylic, and, depending on what you choose, can offer UV protection), and the frames themselves.

According to Mark Klostermeyer, a member of the Professional Picture Frames Association, it’s the sheer amount of mattings, moldings, glazings, and frames a shop provides that drives up prices. The fewer options a business offers, the more able they are to order in bulk, therefore cutting down costs.

Klostermeyer has owned Design Frames, a local custom frame shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for 50 years. “I’m a second generation framer,” he tells me. Klostermeyer offers 2,000 different frames at his shop, along with hundreds of mats and specialty fabric matting options. He also gets custom moldings from eight different vendors.

13) This account of a (non-tenure-track) Duke professor being fired because he may have offended some small percentage of students with just horrible due process is really depressing.

14) Really liked reading about the idea of “decoupling” in Jesse Singal’s article about erisology, the study of how to argue effectively:

The concept of decoupling is erisology at its best. Expanding on the writing of the mathematician and blogger Sarah Constantin, who was herself drawing on the work of the psychologist Keith Stanovich, Nerst describes decoupling as simply the idea of removing extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own, rather than the fog of associations, ideologies, and potentials swirling around it.

When I first heard of decoupling, I immediately thought about the nervous way in which liberals discuss intelligence research. There is overwhelming evidence that intelligence, as social scientists define and measure it, has a strong hereditary component; according to some estimates, genetic factors account for about half the variation in intelligence among individuals. None of that has anything to do with race, because races do not map neatly onto genetic difference. But because the link between intelligence and genetics is so steeped in oppression and ugly history—that is, because charlatans have so eagerly cited nonsense “research” purporting to demonstrate Europeans’ natural superiority—discussions even of well-founded studies about intelligence often end in acrimony over their potential misuse.

Once you know a term like decoupling, you can identify instances in which a disagreement isn’t really about X anymore, but about Y and Z. When some readers first raised doubts about a now-discredited Rolling Stone story describing a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, they noted inconsistencies in the narrative. Others insisted that such commentary fit into destructive tropes about women fabricating rape claims, and therefore should be rejected on its face. The two sides weren’t really talking; one was debating whether the story was a hoax, while the other was responding to the broader issue of whether rape allegations are taken seriously. Likewise, when scientists bring forth solid evidence that sexual orientation is innate, or close to it, conservatives have lashed out against findings that would “normalize” homosexuality. But the dispute over which sexual acts, if any, society should discourage is totally separate from the question of whether sexual orientation is, in fact, inborn. Because of a failure to decouple, people respond indignantly to factual claims when they’re actually upset about how those claims might be interpreted.

15) I really enjoyed telling my wife about the Vegetable Lamb this week:

It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.

According to 19th-century naturalist Henry Lee, who penned an exhaustive 60-page treatise on the history of the vegetable lamb, in Europe this legend “met with almost universal credence from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Its source, it seems, was the Middle Ages’ most famous traveler, Sir John Mandeville, whose fantastical accounts of his roamings abroad in the 1300s led to no small number of misconceptions back in England.

Mandeville writes in Middle English, so I’ll go ahead and just paraphrase for you: In Tartary (what is now Russia and Mongolia), there grows a plant that produces gourds, and from these issue forth tiny lambs, which men eat. Mandeville, who likely made up a good chunk of his travelsand pulled from reference material instead, wrote that in his experience, they are quite delicious. So based on vegetable lambs not actually existing, we can confirm that Mandeville was somewhat of a liar. (Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, refers to him hilariously as “the problematic Sir John Mandeville.”)

16) Aaron Rupar on the generally sad media coverage of Trump’s latest lie-fest rallies: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses
Lying is still being recast as ‘reviv[ing] an inaccurate refrain.'”

17) You’ve likely noticed that I like Wired and that it has a paywall.  I’m a subscriber to the print magazine (I love that my 13-year old devours it when it shows up every month), so I happily get the digital as part of that.  I enjoyed reading their lessons from a year behind the paywall:

But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattledindustry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.

First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent over the year before. We don’t know if they’ll resubscribe (please do); we don’t know if they’ll ultimately pay higher prices (please do); we don’t know if it’ll be as easy to get the next batch of people to join (please do). But the early signs are good, particularly for a year in which the bottom fell out from some traffic referrers that used to drive subscribers (hello, Facebook) and the greatest growth was on a platform (hello, Apple News) where getting direct subscribers in 2018 was as easy as hitting a bank shot 3-pointer, and getting subscribers in 2019 will now essentially require a half-court heave.

The second lesson: The stories that led people to subscribe were a little surprising. When we started this, we invested in three new kinds of pieces: longform reportingIdeas essays, and issue guides. All three types overindex in generating subscriptions.

18) Ken Tucker reviewed a new Lizzo album at the end of a Fresh Air episode this week.  I had never heard of her before.  Not my usual type of music, but damn is she good.  I’ve really been enjoying on Spotify this week.  In fact, I’m listening as I work on this post.

19) Black incarceration rates are down.  That’s good.  And we still need to do better.  The charts:

20) So many great takes this week on the amazing awfullness that is William Barr.  Kept meaning to write a post.  I still will,  But this is good.  “Mueller Spent Years Collecting Evidence. Barr Is Pretending It’s Not There.: The special counsel meticulously collected backup for his claims. Barr’s testimony Wednesday dismisses it.”

21) I really hate the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to overlook all sorts of evidence to pretend that Trump’s administration is acting in good faith when it is so transparently not.  Ugh.  Drum on the census case:

In oral hearings yesterday, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives made it pretty clear that they intend to allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers a pointed and largely correct explanation of why this is so bad:

Everyone knows that in the census case Ross “papered” a rationale to justify a decision made for other reasons. But the Court can overturn the decision without finding that he lied — simply by holding that it was arbitrary and capricious to sacrifice the accuracy of the count to obtain citizenship data that could be obtained (at least as accurately, and perhaps more accurately) through administrative records without adding a question to the census. That seems a pretty reasonable holding given that the Constitution itself focuses on an accurate count of the whole population.

But if the Court goes the other way, it is truly an “emperor has no clothes” opinion. The Court will uphold the reasonableness of Ross’s “determination” even though everyone knows those were not his real reasons — in other words, basing its ruling on what everyone knows to be a fictional story, concocted to pass judicial muster. If the Court is willing to tolerate that, what won’t it tolerate?

And then there are the plainly partisan consequences of the ruling. Combine it with the almost-certain rejection of constitutional challenges to gerrymandering, and other election-related decisions and everything points in the same direction — entrenchment of Republican power to resist the forces of demographic change.

Ross lied initially about the citizenship question, saying it had been requested by the Justice Department even though it hadn’t been. Then he badgered DOJ into requesting it. Then he finally asked his own census experts to weigh in, and they said pretty clearly that they could get better data and a more accurate count without the citizenship question. However, they couldn’t be absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of that, and that was enough for Ross to hang his hat on. If there was even a 1 percent chance of the citizenship question producing better data, then by God, the census would have a citizenship question…

Republicans know that they’re in a demographic death spiral, so they’ve been doing their best to nickel-and-dime additional votes over the past decade. They’ve tried voter ID laws, gerrymandering, targeting of black voters, and now the census. In every case, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has taken their side. It’s hard to think of a series of cases that could more clearly demonstrate that Republicans on the Supreme Court are naked partisans when it comes to voting issues, but they don’t seem to care. This is why Mitch McConnell broke the Senate in order to get another Republican on the court, and it looks likely to pay off yet again. [emphasis mine]

 

 

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

2 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    #6 This makes one wonder if a former prosecutor would be the best choice for President of the U.S.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    #13 If this type of behavior by a “prestige” university can happen, can you imagine the pressure on public school teachers to avoid controversial topics or to speak only in legislatively approved talking points?

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