Quick hits (part II)

1) This is good (thanks JDW), “Togo national football team attack: Survivors remember machine gun ambush, 10 years on”

2) Important analysis of Black voters’ substantial and enduring support for Biden, plus his white support, in the Monkey Cage, “Biden appeals both to black voters — and to white voters suspicious of Black Lives Matter”

3) As a huge podcast fan, I loved this tweet.

4) Pretty much every state requires just one U.S. History class, so I’m okay with NC falling in line with that.  That said, while I think it’s great to teach personal financial literacy to HS kids, a whole class seems like overkill to me. But, I did have to address this one quote in the article that is emblematic of comments that drive me crazy, “State education officials said the change won’t result in students having less knowledge of American history. They said North Carolina students will still learn about U.S. history in elementary and middle school and that the revamped civics class will also include content on U.S. history.”  Really?!  One less history class, but not “less knowledge” of history.  Give me a break!  And just admit that they’ll have less history, but still a sufficient amount.

5) So, a non-vegan, “vegan” relative of mine led to some interesting conversations between my wife and myself about what’s really a vegan.  I had not heard of, and do really like, the idea of “plant-based eating.”

The terms “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a growing effort to define just what it means to follow a plant-based lifestyle.

According to Brian Wendel, the founder of the “plant-based living” website Forks Over Knives, going plant-based is often “for people who are very enthusiastic about the health angle” of eating mainly whole plant foods.

Reynolde Jordan, who runs a food blog called Plant-Based Vibe in Memphis, said it’s also a way to distance oneself from the rigid ideology of veganism, which calls for abstaining from animal products of all kinds.

“When you classify yourself as vegan, you’re now being watched,” said Mr. Jordan, who posts vegan recipes for dishes such as Cajun seaweed gumbo and raw beet balls along with photos of the vegetarian meals he orders on trips. “In my DMs, I’d get all these messages from activists for protests. I’m just not that guy — I did this for the purpose of eating better.”

6) Tom Jensen with his 2020 analysis based on PPP recent polling, “Democratic Unity Will Determine Trump’s Fate”

Over the last couple weeks PPP did polls testing the leading Democratic contenders for President against Donald Trump in both Arizona and Iowa.

On the surface the numbers are decent but not amazing for Democrats. Donald Trump won Arizona by 4 points in 2016. Currently he ties Joe Biden, leads Bernie Sanders by 1, leads Elizabeth Warren by 2, and leads Pete Buttigieg by 3. Trump won Iowa by 9 points in 2016. Currently he leads Pete Buttigieg by 1, Joe Biden by 3, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by 5.

When you dig further into the numbers though a clear picture emerges- Trump’s position would be much, much worse if voters who don’t like him- or even just those voters who voted against him in 2016- end up unifying around the eventual Democratic nominee…

He appears to have very little room to grow among undecideds. These numbers suggest that the fate of the 2020 election really stands in the hands of the voters who don’t like Trump. Trump does not have enough people who like him to get reelected- the only way he does is if the voters who don’t like him refuse to get on the same page after the Democratic primary is over. Right now we see a lot of people saying they will vote for Biden but not Bernie or will vote for Bernie but not Biden- if those people get on the same page once the nominee is chosen, Trump will lose. If they don’t, it will be close.

7) I think it was Ezra Klein who shared this link on the “selection bias” of how we think about kids before we actually have them:

For example, there was a huge amount of selection bias in my observations of parents and children. Some parents may have noticed that I wrote “Whenever I’d noticed parents with kids.” Of course the times I noticed kids were when things were going wrong. I only noticed them when they made noise. And where was I when I noticed them? Ordinarily I never went to places with kids, so the only times I encountered them were in shared bottlenecks like airplanes. Which is not exactly a representative sample. Flying with a toddler is something very few parents enjoy.

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing. You don’t have to be doing anything special. You could just be going somewhere together, or putting them to bed, or pushing them on the swings at the park. But you wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. One doesn’t tend to associate kids with peace, but that’s what you feel. You don’t need to look any further than where you are right now.

Before I had kids, I had moments of this kind of peace, but they were rarer. With kids it can happen several times a day.

My other source of data about kids was my own childhood, and that was similarly misleading. I was pretty bad, and was always in trouble for something or other. So it seemed to me that parenthood was essentially law enforcement. I didn’t realize there were good times too.

8) And this was really interesting on marriage.  The key to long-term success may largely be avoiding negativity:

We have some answers, thanks to psychologists who have been tracking couples’ happiness. They’ve found, based on the couples’ ratings of their own satisfaction, that marriages usually don’t get better. The ratings typically go downhill over time. The successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline. That doesn’t mean marriage is a misery. The thrill of infatuation fades, so the euphoria that initially bonded a couple cannot sustain them over the decades, but most couples find other sources of contentment and remain satisfied overall (just not as satisfied as at the beginning). Sometimes, though, the decline in satisfaction is so steep that it dooms a marriage. By monitoring couples’ interactions and tracking them over time, researchers have developed a surprising theory for the breakdown of relationships.

What mattered was the bad stuff, as the psychologists concluded: “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship ‘works’ as it is the destructive things that they do or do not do in reaction to the problems.” When you quietly hang in there for your partner, your loyalty often isn’t even noticed. But when you silently withdraw from your partner or issue angry threats, you can start a disastrous spiral of retaliation.

“The reason long‑term relationships are so difficult,” says Caryl Rusbult, who led the couples study, “is that sooner or later one person is liable to be negative for so long that the other one starts to respond negatively too. When that happens, it’s hard to save the relationship.” Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious. Other researchers have found that when partners are separately asked to ponder aspects of their relationship, they spend much more time contemplating the bad than the good. To get through the bad stuff, you need to stop the negative spiral before it begins.

9) Love this on the need for higher middle-class taxes:

But on the question of raising taxes, and for whom, most Democratic candidates have hedged toward an all-too-familiar position. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, they’ve asserted their opposition to tax increases on anyone but the very rich — even if those tax hikes are offset by household savings on priorities like child care, health care and college education…

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge may help fend off misleading questions from reporters and disingenuous attacks from primary opponents, but it is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework that benefits low- and middle-income people most. [emphases mine] When redistributed through universal programs like Medicare-for-all (or free child care, free college, paid family leave, etc.), broad taxes provide stable funding and a sizable return on investment. Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them.

Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

10) I just really love advanced hockey stats.  So much so that I actually check in on them here during the game while watching Carolina Hurricanes games.  Thus, I really appreciate this analysis here which basically concludes it makes sense to focus most on scoring chances over Corsi, and definitely more so than high-danger chances.

11) Love this NYT feature from Dana Goldstein on how otherwise identical HS History textbooks have minor re-writes for partisan state review boards.  Most egregrious, of course, Texas.  Especially when it comes to race:

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

12) Basically, it’s hell to own a convenience store in Japan, and one owner is fighting back.

13) Honestly, I think it makes us feel better to make claims along the lines that those who commit suicide are cowards.  Ken White, with some great pushback on this:

Every time there’s a suicide in the news, the Courage Experts appear, explaining that taking your own life—especially if you have a family—is cowardly.  The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and many others all inspired such judgments from people lacking either insight or human empathy. These people have something in common: They haven’t experienced major depression, and don’t care to make the effort to grasp what it’s like.  Like Ziegler, they see suicide as “selfish,” a decision reached through a self-interested calculus of pleasure and pain, with no consideration given to loved ones left behind.

But that’s not what depression is like at all.  Wallace understood it, even though his understanding wasn’t enough to save him.  In the novel Infinite Jest, he wrote this remarkably evocative and accurate description:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Depression lies. It lies relentlessly and seductively and convincingly. The lies, like the fire of Wallace’s parable, separate you from hope, from faith, from your loved ones.  Imagine the worst day of your life. Maybe someone you loved died, or betrayed you. Maybe you lost a job you loved or were publicly humiliated or failed some essential obligation. Remember how it felt? Imagine, for a moment, feeling that way almost all of the time. Imagine it’s always there, a hard angry fist in the pit of your stomach, from when you wake to when you sleep. Imagine that the few moments when you forget and don’t feel that way offer little solace, because suddenly you remember, and the pain and hopelessness surge back like a tsunami. Imagine hearing inexorable lies in your own voice, telling you that you’ll never feel better, that you deserve no better, that if there are people who love you, it’s only because they don’t see how worthless you are, and that they would all be better off without you. Imagine that you can’t conceive of any way that the pain can end unless you die. It’s not cowardly to fall prey to that. It’s human. Resisting that, persevering, excelling, creating art when you feel that way, like Wallace did? That’s goddamned epic. Wallace isn’t a coward for falling; he’s a hero for standing as long as he did.

14) Just got back from “1917.”  Damn was that good.

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

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