Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good piece in the Times about how the streaming revolution really is fundamentally changing both TV and movies now.

Streaming services, of course, have been challenging the Hollywood status quo for years. Netflix began streaming movies and television shows in 2007 and has grown into a giant, spending $12 billion on programming this year to entertain more than 158 million subscribers worldwide. There are 271 online video services available in the United States, according to the research firm Parks Associates, one for seemingly every predilection — Pongalo for telenovelas, AeroCinema for aviation documentaries, Shudder for horror movies, Horse Lifestyle for equine-themed content. (Offerings include a series called “Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse.”)

While all this was happening, however, the three biggest old-line media companies — Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia — largely stayed on the sidelines. Charging into the streaming fray would mean putting billions of dollars in profit from existing cable networks like USA, Disney Channel and TBS at risk. Building video platforms of the size needed to compete with Netflix and Amazon would be frightfully expensive. And mastering the underlying technology would require a sharp learning curve. Better to bide their time. When it became clear that protecting their existing business model was more perilous than embracing the future, no matter now disruptive in the near term, they would act.

That time is now. And everything is changing.

“I get asked all the time, ‘Where does this stop? When does it stop?’” said Brett Sappington, a senior Parks Associates analyst and researcher. “The truth is that it is only getting started.”

2) I found Frozen 2 enjoyable enough yesterday.  Probably would have enjoyed more without too many overactive 3rd graders there for my daughter’s birthday party.  But, I mostly agree with this review, mostly, because the plot was really not great.

3) I was especially intrigued by this story of U of Florida way over-paying Donald Trump Jr because I do know how crazy speaker fees at universities can be.  It’s kind of like an arms race and the rich universities need to stop absurdly over-paying (not that that is the point of the article at all).

4) I might have mentioned that I’m pretty much done with baseball and I have not attended a game of any sort in years, but I still have very, very fond memories of attending minor league games and agree that MLB’s abandonment of many minor league teams seems really bad.

5) This is interesting from Rolling Stone, “The Unsolved Case of the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet”

Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

6) Seems to be the evidence is pretty clear that apes do have a theory of mind and those arguing that the evidence does not lead to this conclusion are really being quite tendentious.

7) Really liked this from Leonhardt, “Mueller and Comey Failed Their Tests. She Passed Hers.”

Three years later, Robert Mueller faced his own uncomfortable choice. As special counsel, he helped uncover evidence that President Trump had repeatedly broken the law, including paying hush money to two women and interfering in the Russia investigation. But Mueller understood that clearly laying out his conclusions would subject him to vicious criticism as a partisan. Like Comey, he prized his reputation for floating above partisan politics. [emphases mine]

Conveniently, he found a solution that protected his reputation. Mueller’s final report included a detailed recitation of facts, but its conclusions were deliberately obtuse, which meant they changed almost nobody’s mind. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller cryptically said. Making matters worse, he then allowed the Trump administration to control — and spin — the report’s release.

Mueller, to be fair, has a stronger defense than Comey. Throughout, Mueller interpreted Justice Department guidelines in narrow ways: Those guidelines didn’t compel him to present clear conclusions — as Kenneth Starr had two decades earlier — and so Mueller didn’t do so. It’s possible that Mueller’s mistakes had more to do with naïveté than pride.

Yet the outcome was the same. Both Mueller and Comey preserved their nonpartisan images (only temporarily in Comey’s case, because he later engaged in a full-on fight with Trump), while the country suffered.

Comey’s unprecedented insertion of the F.B.I. into the final stages of a presidential campaign may have decided the outcome. And Mueller’s convoluted report was a gift to Trump. Mueller’s long investigation uncovered extensive evidence of a president who had broken the law and abused his power, but Mueller did almost nothing to hold the president accountable.

8) William Barr is definitely the worst.  But I think Mike Pompeo might be a close second.  Thomas Friedman, “Mike Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity: The secretary of state’s behavior has been cowardly and self-serving.”

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t.

9) This piece on how Quakers shifted our pronouns is really fascinating.  You know how it’s annoying that we have the same word for 2nd person singular and plural, i.e., “you.”  Wasn’t always that way.  We also, like many other languages, used to have formal and informal versions.  The Quakers changed that.

10) This, I had no idea about, “Replacing Coal with Gas or Renewables Saves Billions of Gallons of Water. The ongoing transition from coal to natural gas and renewables in the U.S. electricity sector is dramatically reducing the industry’s water use, a new Duke University study finds”

11) Charles Pierce on Barr and the GOP:

If this really is Attorney General William Barr’s final go-round as a servant to radical conservative power, and we can only pray to god that it is, he’s certainly going out with a bang. In the past two weeks, he’s given two speeches that are so stunningly detached from political reality, and so basically and fundamentally un-American, that they were probably best given from atop a milk crate in Washington Square, and not from respectable rostrums provided by powerful and influential institutions. In short, Barr has become something of a raving maniac…

Again, two specific points: one, this is being done in defense of the most lawless president* in American history and, two, and much more important, these are theories of government that Barr developed while working for Republican presidents since 1989. They are the theories by which he helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal. They are the theories that underpinned what Dick Cheney did in making this country a country that tortured, and what he did to lie this country into a catastrophic war. (Barr even cited the Cheney and the “unitary executive” theory in his speech, ridiculing the notion that the unitary executive posed any threat to the balance of power.) In both speeches we see not Trumpism, but modern conservative Republicanism in its clearest and most extreme form.

It didn’t start with this president*. And my money’s on the proposition that, sadly, it won’t end with him, either.

12) I really liked this NYT Op-Ed on if we are going to kill animals, we should at least do it far more humanely.

NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.

Trappers still use leg-hold traps illegally in states where they have been banned, but the problem isn’t generally a matter of legality. The problem is that these traps, and every other kind of trap on the market, are indiscriminate. They mangle pets and people. They mutilate “trash animals” whose pelts are worth nothing to the fur industry. They destroy songbirds and raptors, all of whom are federally protected. And in every one of those creatures, they cause unimaginable suffering…

The word “humane” refers to qualities we believe are part of human nature: tenderness, compassion, mercy. We rarely live up to our own etymology, but in this matter it poses no great trouble for us to do so. We don’t need to agree on whether it’s morally permissible to kill animals to agree that this is not the way to do it. It’s time to ban glue strips. It’s time to ban rat poison. It’s time to ban lead ammunition. It’s time to ban traps that injure but do not kill. There is no good reason not to. [emphasis mine]

13) I saw a comedian live last night for the first time since I saw Jerry Seinfeld in 2002.  I really enjoyed HBO’s Crashing and Pete Holmes was in Cary, so I went.  Good stuff.  I was explaining to my son just how much care and craft goes into a comedy routine and found this great article about Holmes‘ craft.

14) Really interesting essay, “I was an astrologer – here’s how it really works, and why I had to stop”

15) This comic on motivated reasoning and identity-protective cognition is pretty good.  Also, I just really don’t get emotional when learning a fact that goes against my identity, because my identity is as a person who always wants to learn new things.

16) This was interesting and disturbing, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb
While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited.”

 

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

2 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Dr. Greene, this blog was one of the most interesting I’ve seen. Thank you for finding so many topics with such variety. I never would have known about most of them without you. . Such diversity of topics surely stretches the mind. That’s a very good thing.

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