Quick hits (part I)

1) Really loved this on how police need to rethink going to their gun as a first reaction when confronted with a knife.  Shared it with a former student currently in a police academy and he really liked it, too.

Few things are more harrowing than watching a video of a police officer confront a person in emotional crisis armed with a knife or other similar object. The officer almost always points a gun at that person and yells, “Drop it!” If staring down the barrel of a gun isn’t enough to give a person pause, yelling at him or her is unlikely to make a difference.

If that person advances on the police officer, gunfire often results. Each year, American police officers shoot and kill well over 125 people armed with knives, many of them in this manner.

The public has grown impatient with seeing the same approach produce a predictably tragic result. In response, Chuck Wexler, the director of the Police Executive Research Forum, has released a guide to reducing the frequency of such incidents. At a national conference for chiefs of police in Chicago recently, he showed three videos to drive the point home: desperate people with knives met by officers who pointed guns and yelled in return.

In each case, the person grew more distressed, advanced out of a desire to be shot and was shot. Everyone suffers when this happens: the person in crisis who gets shot and may well die; the officer who will experience lifelong trauma and doubt, and his or her family and loved ones; and a community that feels it failed to help a person in need.

One of the problems is that we teach our police officers to lead with the gun. We tell officers that a knife or a shard of glass is always a lethal threat and that they should aggressively meet it with a lethal threat in return. But doing so forecloses all of the better ways to communicate with a person in crisis. There are alternatives.

2) More great stuff from Frank Bruni:

The impeachment inquiry and the events that led to it tell many stories. One, obviously, is about the abuse of power. Another illuminates the foul mash of mendacity and paranoia at the core of Donald Trump.

But this week, as several longtime civil servants testify at the inquiry’s first public hearings, a third narrative demands notice, because it explains the entire tragedy of the Trump administration: the larger scandals, the lesser disgraces and the current moment of reckoning.

That story is the collision of a president who has absolutely no regard for professionalism and those who try to embody it, the battle between an arrogant, unscrupulous yahoo and his humble, principled opposites.

Right now the opposites have the microphone.

I mean William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, who is, tellingly, the first impeachment witness to testify on live television. Stephanie Grisham, the White House’s peerlessly nasty press secretary, has sought to discredit Taylor’s account of the pressure on Ukraine’s new president by saying that he belonged to a cabal of “radical unelected bureaucrats.”…

Trump’s disregard — no, contempt — for professionalism is in some ways an anagram of his aversion to norms, to tradition, to simple courtesy. Or at least these attitudes exist as a Venn diagram with enormous overlap. They’re hostile to any set of values that places personal glory below other ideals.

But Trump’s war on professionalism and professionals is also its own distinct theme in his business career, which is rife with cheating, and his political life, which is greased with lies.

3) Margaret Sullivan, “Media beware: Impeachment hearings will be the trickiest test of covering Trump”

4) My daughter is 8 so it won’t be that long until inevitable issues over how she dresses as a teenager.  Enjoyed this NYT Q&A on the matter:

So how do parents alert our daughter that her outfit might invite a response that she may not see coming and may not want? First, let’s pause for a moment over a common misstep: blurting out, “I can’t let you leave this house looking like a tramp.” Unable to fully understand what’s driving such comments, girls often take remarks like this personally and feel deeply hurt by the perceived critique of their developing body, emerging sexuality or effort to look sophisticated. Indeed, your uncertainty comes from the best possible place: empathic awareness of how an unguarded reaction to her outfit might leave her feeling self-conscious or ashamed.

The same reflex can be channeled more usefully by saying, “I know that you’re wearing what a lot of girls wear these days, but I’m struggling a bit. This style that looks cute to you and your friends can have a pretty sexualized meaning to others. Clothing sends a message and you want to be aware of the messages you’re sending.”

4) Love this headline (and great story on changing cultural conceptions of motherhood, “Early Motherhood Has Always Been Miserable”

5) Really good stuff from Yglesias on the importance of weighting for education in state polls.  See a state poll that looks really good for Democrats?  They probably didn’t weight for education:

There’s nothing wrong with weighting your sample based on race, age, and sex to match the demographics of the state. That’s standard practice in the industry. The problem is what the poll didn’t weight on — educational attainment. Many state-level polls omitted this factor in 2016, leading them to underestimate Trump’s strength in key swing states. The most responsible pollsters responded to 2016 by making sure to improve their weighting. But many pollsters — especially those doing state-level polling — continue not to weight by education.

This failure to weight not only leads to errors (which could be compensated for by averaging), it leads to systematic bias against Trump and the GOP, meaning everyone who publishes or disseminates unweighted polls ends up contributing to misinformation about the real state of American politics…

For somewhat mysterious reasons, a huge gap has opened up in the demographics of who is willing to answer pollsters’ questions with better-educated people much more likely to take surveys. At the same time, the partisan affiliation of white voters has come to be sharply stratified along the lines of educational attainment. These two facts in combination mean that any state poll that does not explicitly weight by education ends up over-counting college graduates and thus over-counting Democrats…

Given that failure to weight by education leads to very predictable problems, it’s unfortunate that so many outlets don’t do it.

One reason may simply be apathy — all else being equal, it’s easier not to change procedures. Another reason is that precisely because non-college people are less likely to answer pollsters, it’s annoying and expensive to get enough of them in your sample to have a reliable survey. Since response rates are falling in general, thus bringing up costs, there’s an understandable reluctance to change methodologies in ways that raise costs even more.

Last but by no means least, the reality is that the people doing this kind of polling have only weak incentives to actually get things right. Unfortunately, bad polling can have a significant impact on the real world.

6) A Vox cartoon to summarize the relationship between empathy and politics.  The key is not having or lacking empathy, but in who we think deserves our empathy.

7) Chait on how Repubicans have embraced the Sideshow Bob defense.  I haven’t watched the Simpsons in literally decades, but the Sideshow Bob episodes in the earlier days were great stuff. Chait:

The Wall Street Journal editorial page seizes on Trump’s inability to fully carry off his extortion scheme as reason to let him off. “Many people in the Administration opposed the Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” it argues. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it. Impeachment for incompetence would disqualify most of the government, and most Presidents at some point or another in office.”

Some Republican officials have echoed this defense. “Name me one thing that Ukraine did to release the money. Nothing,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “To have a quid pro quo, you have to exchange, both sides, for another thing.” Representative John Ratcliffe says, “You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.”

This is the defense originally made famous by Sideshow Bob: “Attempted murder,” now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for “attempted chemistry”?

There are two problems here. First, Trump used not one but two points of diplomatic leverage: He withheld both military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, which the latter hoped would serve as a signal of support to Russia. The meeting still has not taken place.

It is true that, after Trump’s extortion scheme was exposed, despite his attempt to cover it up, he had to release the aid. But contrary to Sideshow Bob, attempting to commit a crime — whether murder, bribery, or other things — is still very much a crime.

8) I’m super-intrigued by this Economist article, but now they don’t let you read their articles in Incognito mode anymore.  “Why Obama-Trump swing voters like heavy metal: Americans’ musical tastes mirror their political divides.”

9) As scientific concepts go, I do find the idea of ultra-black, really cool:

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — On a laboratory bench at the National Institute of Standards and Technology was a square tray with two black disks inside, each about the width of the top of a Dixie cup. Both disks were undeniably black, yet they didn’t look quite the same.

Solomon Woods, 49, a trim, dark-haired, soft-spoken physicist, was about to demonstrate how different they were, and how serenely voracious a black could be.

“The human eye is extraordinarily sensitive to light,” Dr. Woods said. Throw a few dozen photons its way, a few dozen quantum-sized packets of light, and the eye can readily track them.

Dr. Woods pulled a laser pointer from his pocket. “This pointer,” he said, “puts out 100 trillion photons per second.” He switched on the laser and began slowly sweeping its bright beam across the surface of the tray.

On hitting the white background, the light bounced back almost unimpeded, as rude as a glaring headlight in a rearview mirror.

The beam moved to the first black disk, a rondel of engineered carbon now more than a decade old. The light dimmed significantly, as a sizable tranche of the incident photons were absorbed by the black pigment, yet the glow remained surprisingly strong.

Finally Dr. Woods trained his pointer on the second black disk, and suddenly the laser’s brilliant beam, its brash photonic probe, simply — disappeared. Trillions of light particles were striking the black disk, and virtually none were winking back up again. It was like watching a circus performer swallow a sword, or a husband “share” your plate of French fries: Hey, where did it all go?

N.I.S.T. disk number two was an example of advanced ultra-black technology: elaborately engineered arrays of tiny carbon cylinders, or nanotubes, designed to capture and muzzle any light they encounter. Blacker is the new black, and researchers here and abroad are working to create ever more efficient light traps, which means fabricating materials that look ever darker, ever flatter, ever more ripped from the void.

The N.I.S.T. ultra-black absorbs at least 99.99 percent of the light that stumbles into its nanotube forest. But scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported in September the creation of a carbon nanotube coating that they claim captures better than 99.995 of the incident light.

10) This is really good from Nate Cohn, “Five Polling Results That May Change the Way You Think About Electability.”  A few of them include:

11) Interesting take from Peter Beinart, “When the Staff Can’t Tell the Candidate What’s Wrong: Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton differ in many ways. But beneath each candidate’s marquee scandal lies the same core defect: insularity.”

The reasons Clinton’s aides didn’t challenge her private-email use may not be the same as the reasons Biden’s aides didn’t challenge him over Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma. There’s no suggestion in the reporting that Clinton’s staff feared her anger or viewed her as too brittle to hear upsetting news. But Clinton watchers have long noted her habit of walling herself off from contrary points of view. In his 2007 biography, A Woman in Charge, Carl Bernstein quotes Mark Fabiani, who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, as suggesting that “the kind of people that were around her were yes people. She had never surrounded herself with people who could stand up to her, who were of a different mind.” In her 2007 book, For Love of Politics: Inside the Clinton White House, Sally Bedell Smith notes, “Her subordinates were all true believers, so she seldom heard a dissenting view.”

One possibility is that Biden’s and Clinton’s stature—as older, long-serving, world-famous politicians—left their younger aides too intimidated to challenge them on sensitive topics. In June, an unnamed Biden campaign staffer complained to the Washington Examiner that, as the publication put it, the former vice president “lacks senior figures inside his campaign who have the authority to tell him what to do.”

This insularity doesn’t make Biden and Clinton corrupt or criminal. But each has paid a heavy political price for failing to create a culture where aides could challenge their blind spots. And while Republicans have inflated that price by exaggerating how dastardly the email and Burisma scandals are, nonpartisan career government officials found them disturbing enough.

Biden’s staffers have spent recent months berating journalists for digging into the Burisma story. That’s a mistake. His aides don’t need to prove that they can stand up to the press. They need to prove that they can stand up to their boss.

12) NYT Editorial gets it right, “Banning E-Cigarettes Could Do More Harm Than Good.”

Because these black market products are a leading suspect in the lung-injury outbreak, product bans are more likely to exacerbate this crisis than to mitigate it.

The better, if more complicated, option would be to build a public health system that’s strong enough to combat all nicotine addiction in the long term. That, in turn, could help drive a cultural shift for e-cigarettes akin to the shift that took place for traditional cigarettes. Policy changes and growing public awareness — not product bans — helped turn what was considered a chic, stress-relieving diet tool into what is now more commonly viewed as a smelly, overpriced cancer stick.

With sustained and careful investment, e-cigarettes might become nothing more than a harm-reduction option for adult smokers — no more appealing to teenagers than a nicotine patch or a piece of nicotine gum. Here are some ideas for making that vision a reality…

Learn from Britain. So far, the country has managed to make e-cigarettes available for adults who want to quit using regular cigarettes without triggering an epidemic of nicotine dependence among its youth. Public health experts say at least part of that success is due to the way these products are regulated in Britain. Packaging and advertising are tightly restricted — no bright, colorful labels or kid-friendly media campaigns allowed. And the nicotine content is capped. In America, where there are no such limits, e-cigarettes often contain more than twice as much nicotine as they do in Britain and are still being sold in ways designed to appeal to young children.

13) Pretty sure I’ve been ranting about the stupidity of the extreme focus on the Iowa Caucus for as long as I’ve been teaching.  Just maybe Democrats will change that, “Why Almost Nobody Will Defend the Iowa Caucuses: As leading Democrats fight for ballot access, voting rights and diverse representation, their marquee presidential contest is hard to participate in and takes place in a state that is 90 percent white.”

After touching off the latest round of Iowa pearl-clutching with a vigorous denunciation, Mr. Castro has continued to speak out against the primary schedule. It has become one of the few avenues for his struggling campaign to receive attention.

“We can’t as a Democratic Party continually and justifiably complain about Republicans who suppress the votes of people of color and then turn around and start our nominating contest in two states that, even though they take their role seriously, hardly have any people of color,” he said.

14) Drum, “What Happens When the Republican Bubble Bursts?”

I think this [the inevitable demographic tide against the Republicans and their fear of losing power] is pretty much true, and that it explains the seeming terror that has taken hold of so many conservatives. It explains why Mitch McConnell doesn’t care much about legislation of any kind but grimly continues to confirm federal judges: it’s his only bulwark against a future in which Republicans lose power completely for a decade or two. It explains why a formerly mainstream party not only voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, but voted overwhelmingly for him even though they had a perfectly normal field of competitors to choose from. It explains a multi-decade effort at voter suppression that has consumed the party even though it’s unlikely to put off the inevitable by more than a year or three.

In 2012 I thought that the Republican Party had gone as far as it could to get votes from the white working class. There was just no more blood to be squeezed from that particular turnip. But I was wrong—barely. In 2016 they did what no one could have predicted by nominating a guy who was an all but open racist. And it worked, buying them just a few more votes than it lost them. Once again, they gained a few years.

But it can’t last forever. The Republican Party has already gone much further down the road of lashing itself to the cause of white racial resentment than I would have guessed possible. How much longer can it last? Like most bubbles, longer than you think. But someday the bubble will burst. The big question is, what will happen next?

15) Nothing says America like a plane crash during a gender reveal.

16) One of my socialist students was disappointed in me for sharing “propaganda” about Bolivia, but I always enjoy reading Yashca Mounk on democracy.

17) I also learned from my students this week that reference to “spirit animals” is culture appropriation (and “extremely harmful“).  Apparently I would’ve known that if I spent time on the right parts of woke twitter.

18) And, on a happy note, by kids introduced me to this video last night.  I love it!

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

7 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Mika says:

    #8 I read some twitter comments about that article and I got mad. Those economistnerds know nothing about metal. As a metalhead I was very offended 🙂

    If “nihilistic “burn-it-all-down” music” does this to people I’d suggest people should listen more of that stuff.

    “Even when heavy metal is blasting, beer is flowing, and the crowd is thick, disturbances aren’t a problem at Tuska. The festival has a good reputation among the police. “I bet that the festival was again quite dull for the police this year, since there are no mentions about it in our reports. The tradition goes on. And that’s a good thing,” states inspector Arto Laitinen from the Helsinki Police Department, who was interviewed by Iltalehti.

    While the organisers set the tone for a safe event, it’s the strong community spirit that makes it happen. Workers, volunteers, and visitors all work toward a common goal, which is to have a fun and safe event.

    The sense of community was seen firsthand by our Brazilian Lead Designer Lucas, who has attended the festival. “Last year in Tuska, I participated in a mosh pit, when suddenly I noticed that my wallet was gone. A moment later, a stranger walked to me and handed my wallet back, because I had dropped it. Nothing was taken from the wallet. I don’t believe that I could encounter this kind of behaviour at many other events.””

    https://blog.planbrothers.io/en/tuska-safety-management

  2. samhbrewer says:

    I like Yascha Mounk. I am not a socialist. In this Bolivia op-ed, he is way off the mark. don’t understand how he can decide that an opposition party losing the latest election by double digits following similar consistent losses over more than a decade can amount to “arbitrary rule” which justifies the overthrow of a government. the amount of information about the situation which isn’t included in Mounk’s account of the “inspiring victory of the Bolivian people” is concerning. Where is his empathy for those who won the election but are now being exiled, pursued , and arrested by those who lost? I hope that either me or Mounk doesn’t understand the reality of what is happening there, otherwise he is not what I thought he was. Please listen to this more fully reported journalism on the situation

    https://theintercept.com/2019/11/13/bolivia-and-brazil-at-the-crossroads/

    • Steve Greene says:

      I literally have no interest in becoming an expert on Bolivia. Mounk may well have gotten some stuff wrong and been narrow-minded in some observations. That makes it flawed, but well-intentioned analysis. Not propaganda.

  3. samhbrewer says:

    I wasn’t agreeing that it was propaganda. Hopefully just horribly misinformed. I also am not recommending specializing in Bolivia. However I think we cant afford to be unaware of our own political and media institutions failure to recognize the overthrow of a democratic country and calling it freedom. Beauchamp/Harris establishment horse blinders in full affect here I think.

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