Quick hits

Sorry to be so late.  Had a great time visiting DC on a “learning lab” with NC State’s Park Scholars.  Learned a lot and had so much fun.

Anyway…

1) I loved Stephen Pinker’s “Linguist’s guide to quid pro quo” (I think my son, David, really appreciate this one– read it!)

It’s true that the transcript of the reconstructed conversation does not reveal a smoking sentence with an “if” and a “then.” But to most readers, Mr. Trump’s claim that he was merely musing about his druthers does not pass the giggle test. That is because people in a social relationship rarely hammer out a deal in so many words but veil their offers in politeness and innuendo, counting on their hearers to listen between the lines.

People can certainly issue naked offers and threats. But the clarity of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” or “Your money or your life” comes with costs. The exchange may be taboo, as in prostitution, bribery or extortion, and even when it is legitimate, overt deal-making can be disagreeable. Each side must hold the other to the terms of a hard bargain, sacrificing flexibility and making the relationship feel cold and transactional.

For these reasons people often cloak their exchanges in the trappings of a communal relationship, in which friends, relatives or comrades share goods unstintingly, with no one keeping track. Deals that are struck under the charade of a fictive friendship may have more forgiving terms, and the parties may throw in sweeteners to secure the other’s loyalty and cement the relationship.

Thus, businesspeople may treat their customers as faux friends. Conversely, casual companions (who often do have to exchange favors) take pains to avoid any impression that they are dickering for goodies or bossing each other around. They soften each other up with sympathetic banter and pleasantries. And they couch any request as an idle observation, such as “I was wondering if you could pass the salt,” knowing that the hearer will mentally fill in the premise that turns the non sequitur into a sequitur.

Often the genteel hint consists of a prerequisite to the favor. It makes no sense to ask someone to pass the salt if you already have the salt, if you don’t like salt or if the hearer is incapable of passing the salt. So by airing a thought like “There isn’t any salt down here,” “I could use some salt” or “Can you pass the salt?” a polite diner can plant the desired next step into the head of his tablemate and get what he wants without seeming to treat her like a flunky.

2) Good stuff from Seth Masket in LA Times, “Opinion: The trouble with Democrats who are still reliving 2016”

I’ve been interviewing political activists in the early primary and caucus states as part of my research project on how party insiders decide on the best direction for their party in the current political environment and settle on a nominee for the next presidential election. In some ways, those activists and party leaders are doing what they usually do — weighing the strengths of the candidates on the issues and trying to figure out who has the best shot of getting elected.

But what’s unusual is how these people who, in many cases, have been volunteering and working in politics for decades, still talk about being traumatized by the 2016 presidential election and how it changed their understanding of politics. That disorientation is playing a central role in whom they’ll choose for 2020.

One Iowa activist, who has been working on presidential campaigns since the 1980s, said fears of tearing the party apart continue to haunt her and her colleagues. “One of the most negative things out of 2015 and ’16 was the animosity between many of Hillary supporters and many Bernie supporters. People don’t want to pick too early because they don’t want to get sucked into the internecine conflict.”

The other trauma was Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump despite her consistent polling lead and her strong performances in the debates. The outcome undermined many activists’ longstanding beliefs about just what sorts of candidates are electable.

3) Of course the Ukraine scandal has it’s roots in Russia.  Jeffrey Toobin is on it.

But the Russia and Ukraine scandals are, in fact, one story. Indeed, the President’s false denials in both of them capture the common themes: soliciting help from foreign interests for partisan gain, followed by obstruction of efforts to uncover what happened. Both, too, share roots in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Mueller’s two indictments of Russian interests—the first involving the use of social media and the second the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails—are perhaps the most detailed chronicle ever published of foreign interference in a U.S. political campaign. Trump’s team was appreciative. When a public-relations adviser to a Russian oligarch’s family e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering dirt on Hillary Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the candidate’s son gave a straightforward reply: “If it’s what you say I love it.”…

Mueller famously closed his investigation without rendering a judgment on whether the President committed crimes. “We did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct,” he wrote. The time, though, for ultimate conclusions is approaching. One way of looking at Trump’s evolution from candidate to President, from Mueller’s time to Schiff’s, is that his abuses are accelerating, with each unpunished act serving as a license for more. The Constitution gives Congress the tools to halt this cycle in Trump’s out-of-control Presidency. The question now is whether the people’s representatives will use them.

4) This is good from Robinson Meyer, “Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like.”

5) Vox on the backlash against meatless meat

But if the emergence of meatless meat a few years ago was hailed unanimously as a good thing, the response to its mainstreaming has been tinged with skepticism. The adoption of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products by fast-food chains hasn’t exactly been welcomed in some quarters, even among those you would think would be more supportive of this development.

Call it the backlash against the fast rise of meatless meat.

For instance, the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle both criticized Beyond and Impossible products, calling themtoo highly processed. Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long called on Americans to eat less meat, criticized “the new higher-tech vegan meats” for not addressing “resource use and hyperprocessing” (though he has hailed them in the past). His website, Heated, has also given plant-based meats some favorable coverage, but recently wrote nostalgically that “not so long ago … Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.” Meanwhile, numerous articles have questioned the health impacts of the products.

There’s certainly some truth to the critiques. The Beyond and Impossible burgers aren’t exactlyhealth food (something I’ve written about previously), though they’re not more unhealthy than the meat products they’re displacing. The Impossible Whopper might help save the planet, but it’s still high calorie, greasy, and probably not a good idea to eat everyday.

But the critiques go further than just observing that fast food isn’t health food. Often, critics end up voicing disdain for the whole process of producing food at scale in the way it has to be produced to feed hundreds of millions of people. In that way, as the Breakthrough Institute’s Alex Trembath has argued,the plant-based meat backlash reflects how much classism and elitism creep into our national conversations about our food system — and how they might stand in the way of fixing it.

6) I love Sandra Boyton so much.  I can still recite all of Hippos Go Beserk by heart.  I had no idea it was her first book. Loved this short profile of her in the Atlantic.

7a) NPR asks, “Did Secretary Pompeo Forget His West Point Pledge?”  Ummm, I think you know the answer to that.

7b) Dan Drezner, “Why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should resign: He’s been an unmitigated disaster at everything except catering to President Trump.”

8) Sad, but true, “Don’t be mad at the NBA. Hundreds of U.S. companies have sold out to China’s regime.”

9) Great stuff from Annie Lowery on the political and social failure that billionaires represent:

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Dramatic inequality in wealth means dramatic inequality in terms of political power means a political system unresponsive to what most people want. Wealth inequality, in other words, is an anti-democratic force. [emphases mine] A remarkable study by Lee Drutman found that just 31,385 people—one ten-thousandth of the population—accounted for more than a quarter of all political donations in the 2012 campaign cycle, with politicians getting more money from fewer people than in any other year analyzed. No wonder low-income households’ policy preferences have little effect on political outcomes in the United States, whereas high-income households’ policy preferences do, as research by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern forcefully shows. One of those political outcomes? Inequality itself: Unequal societies tend not to correct their own inequality, because of the political influence of the rich.

The country’s inequality is also stifling mobility and damaging the country’s human capital. As the country has become more unequal, it has also become more sclerotic and class-dominated. Despite all the money the government spends on public education, private education, health, and welfare, rich kids are likely to stay rich and poor kids are likely to stay poor. Measures of absolute mobility have fallen: Children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of doing better than their parents did, whereas children born in the 1980s had just a 50 percent chance of the same. The steps of the income ladder are too far apart for kids to climb them, in other words…

Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.

10) This was interesting from law professor Ilya Somin, “Immigration Law Defies the American Constitution: Immigration restrictions have been held to a far lower constitutional standard compared with almost any other exercise of government power.”

11) As always, there’s a lot of Atlantic stories.  The difference is that if you want to read them, now, you have to pay for it.  It’s worth it.  Then again, I just looked and they more than doubled the price I paid last year– wow!  Still, I shall re-up.

12) Nice NYT magazine feature, “The W.N.B.A. Is Putting On Some of the Best Pro Basketball in America” and nobody cares.

13) Kevin Kruse with a useful history of presidents and candidate supplying their tax returns.

14) How repeated exposure to falsehoods leads us to believe them:

Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the Nazi German government of the Third Reich, understood the power of repeating falsehoods. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” he asserted, “people will eventually come to believe it.” This phenomenon, pervasive in contemporary politics, advertising, and social media, is known in cognitive psychology as the “illusory truth effect.”

Though multiple studies have found that repeated statements seem more truthful than novel ones, the illusion was thought to be limited to uncertain statements, or those in which people had no other information available, such as prior knowledge.

A recent study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review indicates that, contrary to accepted knowledge, belief in all statements, be they plausible or implausible, increases with repetition…

The implications for daily life, where consumers of news and products are often repeatedly exposed to both plausible and implausible falsehoods, is that even patent lies may slowly become more credible, provided enough repetition. Considering this vulnerability, it becomes critically important to not repeat falsehoods, even while we attempt to debunk them—lest we legitimize lies by reiteration itself.

15) Historian Jordan Taylor on the Founders efforts to protect us from foreign interference.

16) William Barr is awful.  Supposedly, he wasn’t always this way.

17) Watched the new Netflix Breaking Bad movie with my aforementioned firstborn today.  It was really, really good.  If you were a fan of the show, definitely worth your time.  And if you’ve never watched the show, what are you waiting for?!

 

 

 

 

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