Quick hits (part II)

1) There have to be so many screw-ups for Jeffrey Epstein to have killed himself:

For anyone familiar with Bureau of Prisons standard operating procedures, Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide is more than mysterious; it is unfathomable.

The 66-year-old accused sex trafficker was found dead in his prison cell at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) Saturday morning, apparently after having hanged himself.

The Bureau of Prisons, the federal agency that runs the MCC, has said the FBI will investigate.

It had better.

Epstein’s death almost certainly means that astounding blunders occurred, perhaps by multiple personnel at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

If any prisoner in the federal system should have been a candidate for suspicion of suicide, it was the high-profile and disgraced Epstein. All administrative and structural measures should have been in place to ensure it could not happen. And yet it apparently did.

2) I enjoyed this on the idea of “hate-reading” but no-way will I spend a whole book on it.  Definitely worth it for an article, though:

This is not about reading a book you know is bad, a pleasure in its own right, like an exceptionally dashing villain. It’s about finding a book that affronts you, and staring it down to the last word.

At a time when people are siloed into narrow sources of information according to their particular tinted worldview — those they follow on Twitter, the evening shoutfest they choose, AM talk radio or NPR — it’s no surprise most of us also read books we’re inclined to favor. Reading is a pleasure and a time-consuming one. Why bother reading something you dislike?

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

3) Meanwhile, I sure hope this guy can save Barnes & Noble for my love-reading.

4) I found this personal essay on spending 12 hours in BWI airport a delightful read.

5) Dana Milbank en fuego:

After two horrific mass shootings, we come together as a nation to confront an urgent question: How are we going to keep Wayne LaPierre safe?

The longtime head of the National Rifle Association, it turns out, is worried sick about his personal safety in this gun culture.

After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, he and his wife bravely waited out the uproar on the pink-sand beaches of the Bahamas, part of $542,000 in private jet trips and personal items the NRA bought for him. And now, thanks to some delightful reporting by my Post colleagues Carol D. Leonnig and Beth Reinhard, we know that last year’s Parkland massacre left LaPierre so fearful for his personal safety that he tried to have the NRA buy him a $6 million French-chateau-style mansion with nine bathrooms in a gated Dallas-area golf course community.

He told associates he was worried about his safety and thought his Virginia home was too easy for potential attackers to find.

Ultimately, the financially stressed NRA didn’t buy LaPierre the mansion. That’s too bad, because, as the saying goes: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a French chateau.”

6) Even without knowing the exact details of who’s “right” and “wrong” here, this is a great example of why meaningful health care reform will be so hard.  Hospitals and doctors will get less money and they really don’t like it.  And they win politically.  

7) Good stuff from Yglesias on what the SoulCycle controversy tells us about Republican politics:

It’s interesting that though Ross is willing to support Trump’s reelection bid in material ways, he doesn’t seem particularly inclined to tell us what the issues are on which he agrees with the president.

Instead, he gave a laundry list of progressive-friendly policy stances that he wants to be seen as holding. It’s pretty clear, however, that Trump is not a big champion of environmental sustainability. Not only does the president mock climate change as a conspiracy theory and tell people that windmills cause cancer, he’s also overseen an unprecedented reversal of decades of progress against non-climate air pollution even as scientific evidence mounts that smog is killing tens of thousands of Americans a year

The issue on which Ross agrees with Trump is likely taxes. Ross has an estimated net worth of $7.7 billion. And while you might think that part of the pleasure of having $7.7 billion is that you don’t need to sweat the small stuff, the fact of the matter is that Trump’s changes to the estate tax alone are worth $4.4 million to a guy like Ross. The median American’s net worth is about $97,000, meaning that Trump and congressional Republicans handed Ross a chunk of change that’s more than 40 times as large as the typical American’s total wealth. That’s a pretty good reason to care passionately about the 2020 election.

But of course Trump’s tax cuts didn’t stop there. Ross is getting thousands of dollars a year in basic rate cuts. And while he is best known for his fitness-related consumer brands, he’s also a major commercial real estate developer, and since Trump is also in this line of business, his tax law is loaded with special provisions to specifically help that genre of rich person.

It’s quite plausible that Ross is telling the truth and he legitimately does have profound disagreements with Trump over certain culture war issues. It’s just that the amount of money at stake for Ross, personally, in the question of Trump’s political success is mind-boggling — far more than the typical person deals with in their lifetime or can even really conceive of…

This stuff is not the foundation of Trump’s popularity, but it very much is the foundation of his political impunity. Impeachment, meaningful congressional oversight, and everything else is on hold because Trump’s presence in office serves the interests of the billionaire class…

All of which is to say that regardless of Ross’s personal views on racial equality, it’s not just that he’s willing to overlook Trump’s retrograde attitudes on these issues for the sake of tax cuts. The political focus on racial conflict is integral to the political viability of the tax cut program. A national debate that focused primarily on whether 20 million people should lose their insurance so that Ross can get a tax cut would be a disaster for Ross’s personal financial interests. To get what he wants, he needs a big national argument about race even while he’d like his more culturally progressive customers to believe he’s secretly on their side.

8) Popehat’s twitter thread on Epstein is a must-read:

9) Conor Friedersdorf on Tucker Carlson:

And apart from the omissions, the segment was riddled with reasoning so inane, one wondered if stupidity or sophistry was the more charitable explanation. White supremacy is “not a real problem in America,” Carlson said, arguing that “the combined membership of every white-supremacist organization in this country, would they be able to fit inside a college football stadium?”
The 9/11 terrorists would fit in a locker room. Every MS-13 gang member in America would fit in the Great Western Forum. The worldwide membership of ISIS might well fit in Michigan Stadium. “Fits in a football stadium” is an idiotic proxy for “a real problem,” especially when only official “members” are counted as part of that problem.

I happen to think that the term white supremacy is now used too promiscuously by some intellectuals. It obviously does not follow that white supremacists don’t exist, or that they aren’t a threat worth taking seriously

Dismissing white supremacy as a concern, Carlson reasoned, “I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never met anybody, not one person, who ascribes to white supremacy.” While I doubt that, it would be a dumb argument even if it were true. As far as I know, I’ve never met a murderer or a child molester or a perpetrator of elder abuse. Yet I am certain that all three crimes are still problems.

“The whole thing is a lie,” Carlson insisted. “If you were to assemble a list, a hierarchy of concerns or problems this country faces, where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia, probably.”

Russia is a nuclear-armed autocracy that remains the most significant reason for the continued existence of NATO. The country actively works to undermine U.S. interests around the globe. It pays a troll army to sow discord among American citizens, and successfully stole emails from the Democratic Party to influence the last presidential election. I happen to think that some people overstate its influence. That does not mean Russia doesn’t pose real challenges to the country.

10) Good stuff on end-of-life cancer treatment:

Although slightly more than two-thirds of cancer patients treated in the United States are cured, this is mostly the result of early detection and combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments developed decades ago, Dr. Azra Raza, director of the Myelodysplastic Syndrome Center at Columbia University, wrote in her forthcoming book “The First Cell, and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.” In fact, experts suspect that some cancers discovered through early detection would never have become fatal even if they had not been treated.

But once solid tumors like cancers of the breast, colon, lung and prostate have spread well beyond the organs where they began — so-called Stage 4 cancers — cure is rarely, if ever, possible, although treatments with immunotherapy, for example, can sometimes prolong lives for months or longer.

(Prospects are far better for body-wide cancers of the blood and lymph systems.) At best, the often very costly treatments available today to treat patients with far advanced Stage 4 tumors do little more than postpone the inevitable and can make patients even more debilitated. When chemotherapy is used palliatively to shrink painful tumors, it is important to know when to stop because it is no longer helping.

11) I got a call for a reporter to comment on Cooper’s new appointment to the NC State Elections Board this week, but I called him back too late to be interviewed.  Didn’t even bother to find out who the new appointment was without the impending interview.  Probably for the best that he didn’t show up at my office and tell me it’s Damon Circosta.  I like to think that I’m always fair and objective, but it would be hard for me to not be unfairly positive.  Also, did not care for the Republicans complaining about him in this article, as if the previous appointment of a registered Independent would somehow get a person without any partisan leanings.  What you really want is somebody who will absolutely be fair and not a partisan hack, and any fair-minded Republican knows that’s Damon Circosta:

Damon Circosta will replace Robert Cordle, who resigned from the board late last month after telling a crude joke to room full of election officials. This will bring the board back up to five members – two Republicans and three Democrats – and they’ll name their own chair.

That person will be the board’s fourth chair since early December, when another Cooper appointee resigned the job.

“Every election is important, but there has never been a better time in our state to put voters first,” Circosta said in a press release Wednesday. “I appreciate the faith Governor Cooper has put in me to carry out this important role. I look forward to working with the State and County Boards of Elections to ensure elections are secure and that voters have confidence in the process.”

Circosta was on a previous iteration of the board in 2018, but that body dissolved as part of a long-running legal battle between Cooper and the General Assembly’s Republican majority over board appointments. Republicans bashed the choice Wednesday night, noting Circosta was the board’s required unaffiliated voter under it’s last iteration. He’s a registered Democrat now.

“Gov. Cooper isn’t even pretending that he cares about good government,” state Sen.

Ralph Hise , who co-chairs the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, said in an emailed statement. “By appointing Damon Circosta to the Board today as the tie-breaking Democrat, he’s admitting that his previous appointment of Circosta as an ‘unaffiliated’ member was a sham.”

Demographically, I am so  Republican

That is often the thought I have when I am sitting in church.  Which, is in fact, where I will be when this post goes live.  There I am in the pew as a married, white, male, father of four and laughing to myself at how Republican that makes me.  Of course, when I’m sitting in my office as a social science professor at a university, that sure pegs me as a Democrat.  And I do spend a lot more time there :-).

Anyway, I bring this up because there’s a really cool NYT “quiz” that places your likelihood of being D or R based on a series of demographic questions.  It’s really cool to see the interactive graphic swing left or right depending on the answers.  And to see the relative influence of various answers.  In my case, answering that religion is “important” made me dramatically more Republican.  Once the quiz asks that, they don’t even bother with college education (obviously, far less predictive once you have already established religion).  Being, Catholic, though shifted be back some left.  Anyway, here’s my results, +46R

I took the quiz a second time, because, I would probably say religion is “somewhat important” which was not an option, so I started, in this case, with the “not important answer.  In this case, I ended up +2 D.

I was looking pretty D, but in this case, that Catholic identity shifted me back right.

Obviously, demographics are not destiny, but there are very strong statistical relationships and it interesting to see the relative impact and how likely people who share you characteristics are to be R or D.  And the accompanying article does a great job explaining this and looking at interesting recent shifts in these relationships, e.g., how college graduates have shifted left.

And, one addendum I just have to add.  A similarly liberal friend of similar demographics shared his same +46R results on FB.  One of the responses was from a very accomplished science journalist about what a waste of time those “on-line quizzes” are as if this was a Buzzfeed “which Kardashian are you?” quiz.  I replied that this was based on solid data and social science and that he might want to actually read the article.  Nope “I’ll pass.”  Yowza.  I don’t know if this “science” journalist thinks he’s too good for social science or what, but that was disturbing.

Anyway, try it out yourself and please consider sharing results/thoughts in comments.

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