Quick hits (part I)

1) Eating on an empty stomach may help you burn more fat.

2) It really is kind of amazing how we let narrow, organized interests ruin public policy in all sorts of ways that doesn’t seem to happen in Europe.  For example, the “great American eye exam scam.”  In Europe, you can simply purchase new glasses/contacts whether you’ve had an official prescription in the past year or not.  And if you need a simple vision exam you can get that free of charge where you buy your glasses.  Soo, not the case in America.

3) Really solid, thorough, historically-based rebuttal of most all the claims people make in favor of the electoral college.  Send this to anybody you know who makes a historical argument for the electoral college.  Really, it should be so, so gone.

4) Part of the real progress our society has made in pulling back on mass incarceration is electing a new generation of prosecutors who understand their role in a more fair and just system.  Alas, all the “tough on crime” (more commonly “needlessly harsh, inhumane, and inefficient on crime” types) are engaging in a major backlash.

5) Love this from John McWhorter on recent Buttigieg and race controversy.  As with so many things, this starts with someone looking for an excuse to take offense, rather than read  comments more charitably:

A beautiful illustration of the difference between Twitter and the real world is the viral status of Michael Harriot’s attack on Mayor Pete Buttigieg in The Root as a “lying MF.” [emphases mine]

Buttigieg’s sin was to state, in 2011, that inner-city black kids are hobbled from getting the education they need because they lack role models who attest to the benefits of education. “And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

Many will already wonder what was wrong here: After all, is it not a mantra of enlightened thought about race to bemoan the absence of role models for various beneficial behaviors? However, to Harriot, Buttigieg’s reference to this truism was “lying.” The nut of the issue is that there are other reasons inner-city kids fail to graduate or go to college, such as funding disparities, unequal curriculum resources, and violence.

All of those things are real. Unreal, however, is Harriot’s leap of logic: that in not mentioning those things, Buttigieg was inherently denying their existence, and that in noting the lack of role models, he was blaming black people for their own problems. Buttigieg’s transgression seems to have been that he did not mention all of the reasons black kids have trouble accessing education in underserved neighborhoods. A more elaborate answer would have been more sophisticated. But why would anyone read him as an “MF” for not ticking off the whole list?

Civil-rights leaders of the recent past would be baffled by the pique here, as, I’m sure, would Americans who don’t spend most of their waking hours on social media. It’s been widely noted of late that “woke” white people are “woker” than most black people. It is also true that “woke” black people in academia and media are “woker” than a great many black people who don’t have the privilege of a byline. Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors.

Harriot and those who agree with him are reading Buttigieg as having simply preached that black people don’t care about school. But sheer psychological plausibility rules out that this is what he meant. Let’s suppose that for some reason, this is what thoughtful, Millennial Buttigieg, who at the time was running for mayor of a mostly black town, actually thought. Let’s just suppose that. But: Would a sober, ambitious figure like Buttigieg sit in public casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids?

Buttigieg was speaking out of informed sympathy, as anyone familiar with American sociopolitical discussion should have noticed. Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained. We must heed our inner blip of confusion instead of suspending logic when we grapple with race issues.

6) The latest research to show that sugar-sweetened soda and diet soda will both kill you.   This strikes me as more of the same correlational evidence without sufficient controls which leaves me entirely unconvinced that I need to change my Diet Dr Pepper habit.

7) Love this story of how Martin O’Malley lit into horrible human being, certified xenophobe, and Trump administration lackey, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of their shared Jesuit education:

O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who was Maryland governor from 2007 to 2015, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He said that when he spotted Cuccinelli, he unloaded his frustration at the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents and detention of immigrants in chain-link enclosures at the southern U.S. border.

“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages — certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga,” O’Malley said in a text.

8) On our Thanksgiving road trip, I was amused to learn just how paranoid and ill-informed most of my family is about just how addictive most illegal drugs are.  The simple truth is that just one use of even the most addictive substances will not lead to addiction.  I told them I was quite confident I could take any drug once and not get addicted.  They were afraid I was going to head out on a binge of marijuana gummies and heroin.  Anyway, here’s the key chart and quote from an old post of mine.

drugs

Among other things in the chart, I found the concept of “capture” to be key in how we typically think about just how addictive a drug is.  That is, if you keep using a drug for a while, what is the likelihood you will develop a dependency.  As you see, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and meth are the highest for capture, with nicotine in a class by itself.   The relapse rate shows that nicotine and heroin are the hardest to kick.  As the authors point out, though, even drugs with a high capture rate grab only about 1/4 of continuing users.  Surely much lower than we’ve generally been led to believe.

9) From the annals of absurd over-reaction.  A local suburb has canceled their Christmas parade because people are objecting to the Confederate float:

The Town of Garner has canceled this year’s Christmas parade after online chatter about inclusion of a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans led town officials to conclude “the event could be targeted for disruption.”

The posts on Facebook and Twitter did not include any threats to disrupt the parade, nor did anyone directly contact the town other than through social media, said spokesman Rick Mercier. But given the protests around Confederate monuments and symbols in the Triangle in recent years, town officials decided to cancel the event, Mercier said.

“We just absolutely had to err on the side of public safety and what we thought was best and what we could realistically prepare for and not put the public and staff in any kind of a bad situation,” he said in an interview.

So, cancel a Christmas parade because some people will maybe non-violently protest.

10) This is one of those things that is kind of esoteric, but actually super-important.  The Supreme Court conservatives now seem poised to make it very difficult for federal bureaucracies to make policy (under Congressional statutory authority) and this is how a helluva lot of policy is made.  And Vox with the even scarier take on this.

11) I liked Drum’s “middle class agenda” for Democrats:

As progressives, we have a natural tendency to focus our policies on the poorest and weakest among us. This is, needless to say, admirable, but it’s also politically dangerous if it’s taken too far and leads the middle classes to believe they’ve been abandoned.

This is where we find ourselves today. We spend about a trillion dollars a year on social welfare programs for the poor, an expansion of 300 percent since 1980. In inflation-adjusted terms, this represents an increase from $3,000 per poor person to $12,000 per poor person. This chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows what this means:

Thanks to the demise of unions and the nature of our economy, the affluent have done very well. Thanks to the big increase in social welfare programs, the poor have done well too in relative terms. It’s the working and middle classes that have done the worst—and it’s not close. What’s more, the rate at which they’ve lost ground to the top and bottom has accelerated since 2000.

Is it any wonder they feel left behind even if they make more in absolute terms than the poor? The best example of this is the bitter observation from many of them that they wish they were poorer so they’d qualify for Medicaid instead of having to pay for an Obamacare policy with big deductibles and out-of-pocket maxes in the thousands of dollars.

So what if we decided to focus our attention tightly on the working and middle classes? What would a Democratic agenda look like? Something like this:

  • Instead of Medicare for All, double the subsidies for Obamacare and reduce the maximum allowable deductible and OOP expenses at the silver level. The new subsidy levels should be set so that families with incomes all the way up to the high double-figures would have to pay no more than about 5 percent of their income for premiums. This would cover virtually the entire middle class and would be affordable by nothing more complicated than repealing the Republican tax cut for the rich.
  • Propose a serious and aggressive pro-union plan. This would cost nothing, and it would primarily benefit the working class and the lower middle class. Figure out how to sell this in terms that make sense to ordinary workers, and if you don’t know how then ask Sherrod Brown.
  • Put forward a massive and detailed plan to build green infrastructure—solar, wind, grid upgrades, etc. This would address climate change and provide hundreds of thousands of middle-class construction jobs for every state in the country. Finance it with taxes on the rich.
  • Stay honest about hot-button social issues, but do your best not to talk about them a lot. In most cases it’s a lose-lose proposition.

You get the idea. These are things with limited costs that can be sold to the middle class as real, concrete benefits.

12) EJ Dionne, “What unites Trump’s apologists? Minority rule.”

Two questions are asked again and again: How can white evangelical Christians continue to support a man as manifestly immoral as President Trump? And how can congressional Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s thuggish effort to use taxpayer money to intimidate a foreign leader into helping his reelection campaign?

The answer to both relates to power — not just the power Trump now enjoys but also to the president’s faithfulness to a deal aimed at controlling American political life for a generation or more. Both evangelicals and Republican politicians want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them. As a party, the GOP now depends on empowering a minority over the nation’s majority.

This is reflected in its eagerness to enact laws restricting access to the ballot in states it controls. Rationalized as ways to fight mythical “voter fraud,” voter-ID statutes and the purging of voter rolls are designed to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. The new electorate is a lot less Republican than the old one. The GOP much prefers the old one…

Still, voter suppression and the electoral college (along with partisan gerrymandering) are not foolproof. There is, however, one part of government entirely immune from the results of any particular election: the lifetime appointees to federal judgeships, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. And here is where Trump has delivered big time for those willing to let him do just about anything else.

13) This was really interesting, “Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love: One researcher argues that a dog’s ability to bond has more to do with forming emotional attachments than being smart about what humans want.”

Dr. Wynne’s book runs counter to Dr. Hare’s when it comes to the importance of dog’s thinking ability, which Dr. Hare sees as central to their bond with humans. By using the L word, Dr. Wynne may well appeal to the many besotted dog owners. But he may also disappoint. The reason dogs are such “an amazing success story” is because of their ability to bond with other species, he said. Not just humans.

Raise a dog with sheep and it will love sheep. Raise a dog with goats and it will love goats. Raise a dog with people … you know the rest…

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

Interestingly, the experiment found no genetic absolutism about the connection between dogs and humans. Without contact with humans when they are young, dogs can become as wary of humans as wild animals. Wolves are not so easily socialized. They require 24-hour-a-day involvement with humans for many weeks when they are puppies to become more tolerant of human beings. They never turn into Xephos.

Admittedly, Xephos is at the tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling end of dog friendliness. Anyone who knows dogs can call to mind some that are not friendly at all, or are friendly to only one person. But in general there is no comparison in friendliness between dogs and wolves…

By looking at the lemon-sized dog brain, he has shown, for instance, that, based on how the reward center lights up, a dog likes praise as much as it likes hot dogs. In testing outside of the M.R.I., Dr. Berns has also found that, given a choice, some dogs prefer their owners to food.

He agreed that the hypersociality of dogs is what makes them special rather than particular cognitive abilities. “It’s hard to demonstrate any cognitive task that dogs are superior in,” he said. But he pointed out that “ultimately the difficulty is in saying what is a cognitive function and an emotional function.”

14) David Ignatius on the firing of the Navy Secretary:

President Trump’s attempt to manipulate military justice had a sorry outcome Sunday with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. For the past nine months, Spencer had tried to dissuade Trump from dictating special treatment for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — but in the end Spencer was sacked for his efforts to protect his service.

​With Spencer’s firing, Trump has recklessly crossed a line he had generally observed before, which had exempted the military from his belligerent, government-by-tweet interference. But the Gallagher case illustrates how an irascible, vengeful commander in chief is ready to override traditional limits to aid political allies in foreign policy, law enforcement and now military matters…

Spencer’s letter Sunday to Trump, acknowledging his “termination,” echoed that of former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December because of similar concerns about Trump’s unwise intervention in military and national-security decisions.

“As Secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline, throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business,” Spencer wrote. “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.” In a paraphrase of what Mattis wrote 11 months ago, Spencer wrote that Trump should have a Navy secretary “who is aligned with his vision.”

For Navy commanders who have worried about eroding discipline in a SEAL force that’s lionized in movies and television, and protected by presidential diktat, Spencer’s most ominous line was: “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.”

15) And how about some encouraging news…  An Israeli startup is having great success at turning ordinary trash into recyclable material:

KIBBUTZ TZE’ELIM, Israel — Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz — rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what’s next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

“The magic that we’re doing is we’re taking everything — the chicken bones, the banana peels,” says Jack “Tato” Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. “We take this waste, and we convert it.”

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

16) This is really good from David Farenthold, “Trump’s legal strategy: If you can’t beat the case, beat the system”

Donald Trump’s friend, lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn had an adage: “F— the law,” he liked to say, according to a new book by attorney James D. Zirin. “Who’s the judge?” He meant that, although idealists might imagine that the courts were august and impartial, the judiciary was in fact made up of people who could be bullied or bamboozled or bought off. To Cohn, politics was a brutal and unfair game, and the law was just an extension of politics, with extra paperwork. If you understood that, he believed, you could get a huge head start on the idealists.

For a young Trump, this was a foundational lesson, according to Zirin. In his book “Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits,” Zirin argues that Trump learned to see the law as Cohn did: “not as a system of rules to be obeyed . . . but as a potent weapon to be used against his adversaries.” Trump sued often but rarely won big. Winning in court wasn’t always the point: The lawsuit itself was the thing, a tool of intimidation cloaked in legalese, an outgoing missile that left your enemies buried in costs and hassle. That approach had costs for Trump, too. But he could bear them. He lost friends, wives, lawyers and business partners — but always found new ones, who thought their fate would be different.

Zirin has good timing: His book arrives as Trump faces the legal fight of his career, using all the tools he honed in a lifetime of lawsuits. So far this year, Trump has sued those investigating him, including House committees and the Manhattan district attorney, to stop them from obtaining his financial documents. He has also attacked those pursuers out of court, trying to tar his enemies as partisans seeking “a coup” to overturn the 2016 election. Instead of submitting to precedent, he has ignored it — and posited a theory that, in the eyes of the law, a president is like a temporary emperor. In a recent appeals court hearing, a judge asked Trump’s attorney what would happen if the president shot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?” Judge Denny Chin asked, adding, “Nothing could be done? That is your position?”

“That is correct,” said Trump’s private attorney.

17) My son recently asked me about how accurate the origin story of Thanksgiving is.  Without knowing much I told him I presumed that there was some kernel of truth, but it was likely far more of an origin myth created much later.  I was very much right.  Good NYT story about the reality and the mythology.

18) If you’ve had a kid in high school math, you know about “big calculator.”  Good piece on how TI’s dominance came to be.  Still don’t quite get why Walmart or somebody doesn’t sell a generic version for half-price and make a killing.

 

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:

    #16 When we lift the curtain to expose the true President, will we find Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch?

  2. samuel h brewer says:

    Although it does not include the thanksgiving story to my recollection, Sleuthing the Alamo is a really fantastic book about historical myth-making by NCSU history professor James Crisp. Additional plus factor: quite short.

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