Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much shamefully ignorant of politics in India.  But I’m so glad that I read this terrific New Yorker piece on the rise of Hindu nationalism, Modi, and the backslide of democracy.  Powerful stuff.

A feeling of despair has settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular, inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad, the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism. India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”

2) Good stuff in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline of reading.  As I was at it, I kicked my kids off the computer to tell them to read.  I need to do that more.

3) Finland has got this capitalism with robust social welfare protections thing very well figured out.  Nice Op-Ed in the NYT:

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism.The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.

Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic. Nevertheless, to many people in America, the Finnish system may still conjure impressions of dysfunction and authoritarianism. Yet Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked them highest in the world, followed by Norwegians, Danes, Swiss and Icelanders. This year, the World Happiness Report also announced Finland to be the happiest country on earth, for the second year in a row.

But surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. Yes, Finland faces its own economic challenges, and Finns are notorious complainers whenever anything goes wrong. But under its current system, Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest societies, and like the other Nordic countries, it is home to many hugely successful global companies…

In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. According to the World Bank, doing business in Denmark and Norway is actually easier overall than it is in the United States.

Short version: a way better/happier capitalism is not at all at odds with the social welfare spending that makes life better.  It is just at odds with a Republican ideology of tax cuts for rich people as the sine qua non.

4) Really interesting Columbia Journalism Review feature on how to think about political information.  It is far more like pollution that we need to address pervasively and systematically than by a just replying with facts and truth.

5) Great twitter thread from Michael Herriot in response to Nikki Haley’s absurd defense of the Confederate flag.

6) Really enjoyed this Vox interview with former GOP Congressman David Jolly about impeachment.  Very thoughtful guy– enjoyed meeting him at an NCSU event last year.

Sean Illing

It seems like the only way to flourish in a party defined by Trump, and propped up by conservative media, is to do what Jordan or Nunes or Stefanik are doing. And because of conservative media and what Trumpism has unleashed in the base, the dynamics won’t change that much after Trump leaves office.

David Jolly

I think this is what the party is. I don’t think we will see a reversal the day Trump leaves office. I’m curious who follows Trump because the politics aren’t going to change so dramatically. I don’t think it’s Mike Pence’s party when Trump’s gone. Anyone who wants to win in this party will have to appease the Trumpist base one way or the other.

And this whole impeachment saga is showing us that it’s not just Trump and Trumpism, it’s also Congress. I mean, Republicans in Congress right now are tearing at the fabric of the Constitution every bit as much as Donald Trump’s actions, because this is now their responsibility. It’s not their responsibility to defend Trump, but that’s what they’re prioritizing. And they’re undermining the institution of Congress every bit as much as Trump.

7) I was really intrigued to learn about how electric cars are much less efficient in cold weather.  Physics!

8) This was really cool (and fun to watch), “The ant-bite video that changed my approach to science communication.”

9) Been hearing multiple really good interviews with the Fusion GPS guys.  Good column from Michele Goldberg on how all roads lead to Russia, “Collusion wasn’t a hoax and Trump wasn’t exonerated.”

The second big lie is that Russia didn’t help elect Trump, and that the president has been absolved of collusion. It’s true that the report by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, did not find enough evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russian state actors. But the Mueller report found abundant evidence that the campaign sought Russian help, benefited from that help and obstructed the F.B.I. investigation into Russian actions. His investigation resulted in felony convictions for Trump’s former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, first national security adviser, and longtime political adviser, among others.

Had public life in America not been completely deformed by blizzards of official lies, right-wing propaganda and the immovable wall of Republican bad faith, the Mueller report would have ended Trump’s minoritarian presidency. Instead, something utterly perverse happened. Democrats, deflated by the Mueller report’s anticlimactic rollout, decided to move on rather than keep the focus on Trump’s world-historic treachery. Republicans, meanwhile, started screaming about a “Russia hoax” ostensibly perpetrated on their dear leader. Among them was the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who in 2016 was surreptitiously recorded telling his congressional colleagues that he thinks President Vladimir Putin of Russia pays Trump. “Swear to God,” he said at the time…

Because Republicans have been so successful in shrouding the origins of the Russia investigation in a miasma of misinformation, I hope some talented filmmaker makes a movie out of the new book by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.” Simpson and Fritsch are the co-founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that investigated Trump during the 2016 campaign, first for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, and then for a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was Fusion GPS that hired the British ex-spy Christopher Steele to look into Trump’s Russia connections, and it sits at the center of countless pro-Trump conspiracy theories. When Republicans controlled the House, Fritsch told me on Monday, “The only bank records that were subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee were ours.”

“Crime in Progress” is the best procedural yet written about the discovery of Trump’s Russia ties. It demolishes a number of right-wing talking points, including the claim that the Steele dossier formed the basis of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence inquiry into Trump. (The Justice Department inspector general’s report on the origins of the Russia investigation will reportedly disprove this canard once and for all.) But it also makes plain what many Republicans knew before the 2016 election, even if they’ve now pretended to forget it. For years, Trump was financially entangled with organized crime as well as with Kremlin-friendly oligarchs, and by keeping those entanglements secret, he gave Putin leverage over him from the moment he took office.

Write Simpson and Fritsch, “In the end, the Mueller probe sidestepped the question that so unnerved Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in the summer of 2016: Was the president of the United States under the influence of a foreign adversary?” Republicans have used all the power at their command to defame people who’ve asked this question. Perhaps that’s because otherwise they’d have to take seriously all the evidence that the answer is yes.

10) Our criminal “justice” system is so corrupted.  “Prison Guards Forced an 8-Year-Old Girl To Strip Before She Could Visit Her Father.”  Seriously, just how bad is the institutional rot for anybody to think this is okay.

11) And in depressing education news, the latest PISA scores,  “‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts: An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world.”

12) Pain, it’s all in your head.  Kind of.  “If ‘Pain Is an Opinion,’ There Are Ways to Change Your Mind
All pain is real, but it’s also true that it’s “made by the brain” and that we can exert some control over it.”  Austin Frakt:

One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists.

In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as the author and University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain…

ccording to his work and that of others, the degree of pain is not a reliable indicator of the severity of injury. And sometimes there is pain without any tissue damage at all.

An extreme example came from a 1995 report in the British Medical Journal. A builder jumped onto a nearly six-inch nail, which penetrated his boot’s sole, the tip visibly protruding from its top. To relieve his excruciating pain, doctors administered fentanyl and a sedative. But, when they removed the boot, the doctors discovered that the nail had passed between his toes, leaving his foot unharmed. There are many studies that find that the fear or catastrophizing of pain contributes to a greater feeling of pain.

13) I am totally for comprehensive sex education for teens that teaches extensively about contraception, consent, healthy sexual behaviors, etc., but I do think the California program may go too far.

14) You know I am fascinated by all things apple (the fruit, that is).  Lots of good stuff here about how changing farming practices and global warming are affecting apple harvests, but I was most intrigued about how apples are actually grown now:

Many modern commercial apple trees are planted in what’s called a high density trellis system. They top out at about six to eight feet and are narrow, like a sapling. Yet, fertilizers can push this waifish modern tree to grow about 50 full-size apples, compared to as many as 300 or so on the old-style trees. But instead of some 300 trees to an acre spaced about 10 feet apart, trees are planted 18 to 24 inches apart and there are 1,500 or so trees to an acre.

The trellis-style orchard increases product and profit. Many more premium apples are produced in the new-style orchard, some experts say. A few decades ago, apple growers harvested 200 to 300 bushels of apples to the acre and about 25 bushels were the highest grade. The goal now is 2,000 bushels an acre of premium apples, Dr. Cox said.

15) I did not know that about 700 million years ago, earth was basically a giant snowball.

An artist’s concept of the Earth frozen in snow, during one of the planet’s most severe ice ages.

Credit…Chris Butler/Science Source

16) Good work from Sides and Vavreck on the lack of ideological lanes among the primary electorate:

To many observers, the Democratic presidential primary has highlighted the “profound ideological divides between the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive wings,” as an Associated Press article put it — two wings locked in a bitter fight for control. The division supposedly shapes the race in profound ways. The New York Times has written that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg “are running in different ideological lanes,” for instance, and suggested that if voters sour on former vice president Joe Biden, they would mostly turn to Buttigieg, a fellow moderate.

Perhaps that’s how Democratic leaders and activists see the primary. But there’s just one problem: Someone forgot to tell Democratic voters.

In a large-scale project called Nationscape that we’re conducting with our colleague Chris Tausanovitch at the University of California at Los Angeles, we have queried more than 6,000 voters weekly since July. Using these data, we find a surprising amount of agreement among Democrats on major policy issues. Contradicting the conventional wisdom, clearly defined ideological “lanes” don’t seem to exist in the minds of most voters…

In general, voters appear to be focused not on “lanes” but on the candidates who are getting news coverage and who thus appear viable contenders for the nomination. So when asked their second choice, supporters of each front-runner — Biden, Warren or Sanders — default to other front-runners, ideology aside…

The tendency to overstate the ideological differences among supporters of Democratic candidates is not new. It happened in the 2016 Democratic primary — as we showed in our book “Identity Crisis.” Although Sanders supporters were more likely than Clinton supporters to describe themselves as liberal, the two groups didn’t differ that much on key issues, including raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy and whether the government should do more to provide health care and child care.

17) Police in Miami shoot a hostage and innocent bystander while using civilian automobiles for cover.  Some people shoot end up in prison for this.

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

2 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. BlythBros. says:

    Was at an electric vehicle thermal management conference on Friday where a researcher from Stefanopoulou’s team presented on “An Energy-Optimal Warm-Up Strategy for Li-Ion Batteries and Its Approximations”. Solid state electrolytes will be a huge improvement in the thermal performance of EVs, if they can get there.

    A side note: there wasn’t a lot of love for Tesla in the room, with the general impression that in an industry that shares the same fundamental technology from the same suppliers, Tesla maximizes advertised ratings (0-60, range) while not conceding as much to durability, safety, and end of life performance.

    I just made the jump from IC engine design to lead thermal engineer for a medium-sized EV start-up. Whereas I had 30-40% of the engine power rating (at rated speed) to work with for HVAC in IC engines, now I have to bet against the vehicle and scrounge around for waste heat from mechanical inefficiencies and internal resistance to avoid running a dedicated heater.

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