Quick hits

1) I saw this article on diamonds in the latest New Yorker and thought no way was I going to read something so long.  But so interesting on the geology, business, and history of diamond mining and production.

2) Big retail pharmacy chains are cutting back on staff and increasing medication errors, all in the name of greater profits.  I’m shocked.

3) The top leadership at Victoria’s Secret is disgusting, abusive, sexists.  I’m shocked.

4) I knew Inuit (maker of Turbo Tax) was an evil company.  I did not, realize, however, the depths of their moral depravity.  Great episode of “Reply All” on how they lie and mislead to stick it to poor people.  And shameful that our government is complicit in this.

5) I am such a corrupting influence on the youth, that my kids and their friends enjoy regularly singing the chorus of this song.

6) Tipping is a stupid, stupid way of doing things.  Just raise prices and pay workers an appropriate wage!  So much evidence that this is the way to go.  In the world we actually live in, I recognize the benefits of tipping hotel staff generously.  But don’t tell me there’s no downside to what is a stupid, unfair system, New York Times:

Many hotel staff earn the minimum wage, Ms. Cleveland said, and tips can add meaningful income. “There’s no downside in being generous in tipping.”

7) Love the premise here, “Kids Are Master Manipulators. So Use Game Theory Against Them.”  For the record, I’m already on it.  Number #1– do not make non-credible threats.

8)  Tamar Haspel, “Most dietary supplements don’t do anything. Why do we spend $35 billion a year on them?”   Because as a species we are proven morons when it comes to stuff like this.  Though, a few things actually have benefits:

How is it that perfectly respectable public-health initiatives, such as vaccines and water fluoridation, give rise to suspicion and conspiracy theories, while an entire industry that’s telling us out-and-out falsehoods in order to take our money gets a free pass?

Dietary supplements, people! Where is the outrage?

Every year, Americans spend something like $35 billion on vitamins, minerals, botanicals and various other substances that are touted as health-giving but mostly do nothing at all. Nothing at all!

Could the entire category really just be a rip-off? I turned to the National Institutes of Health. I spoke with Carol Haggans, a scientific and health communications consultant with the Office of Dietary Supplements, about vitamins and minerals, and to Craig Hopp, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, about botanical and other kinds of supplements.

My question was the same: Which dietary supplements actually have well-established benefits?

“It’s a short list,” Hopp told me. “Ginger for nausea, peppermint for upset stomach, melatonin for sleep disruption. And fish oil does seem to show some promise for cardiovascular disease, although some of the data is conflicting.” He went on to list some of the supplements that haven’t shown benefits in trials: turmeric, St. John’s wort, ginkgo, echinacea.

On the vitamin and mineral side, Haggans pointed out a couple of wins. Folic acid reduces risk for fetal neural tube defects, and it is widely recommended for women who may become pregnant. Vitamin B12 in food is sometimes poorly absorbed, she told me, and supplements can help in people over 50 (and vegans, because B12 comes from animal products). Then there’s a combination supplement that may slow the progression of macular degeneration. It’s also possible a daily multivitamin may decrease some disease risk.

9) I actually never use Rotten Tomatoes (I’m more a Metacritic guy), but I found this “behind the scenes” take on how they work quite interesting.

10) Look at this, #10 before my first purely political post this week (maybe politics is just too damn depressing this week).  Very good stuff from Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch, “Are Democratic Voters Truly Divided by Ideology?  Survey results suggests their views and priorities are far more alike than different, despite labels like moderate or progressive, centrist or liberal.”

Of course, similarities across voters on policy preferences don’t imply similarities across candidates, and some voters will care about the distinctions even if, on average, everyone’s supporters want the same things. What’s clear is that policies aren’t driving division among most of the supporters of these candidates. If there is a fight for the future of the Democratic Party, it doesn’t appear to be playing out in terms of what voters want from their government. On that, no matter whom they may vote for in the primary, Democratic voters appear to be driving on a one-lane road. [emphasis mine]

11) I am so on this.  NYT, “Looking on the Bright Side May Be Good for Your Health: A number of recent long-term studies has linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments and to fostering ‘exceptional longevity.'”  Thing is, this seems so much more like just how I am naturally wired, than a conscious choice.  And, it is.  But everybody can do at least something:

Although the evidence indicates that a person’s outlook on life tends to stay stable over time, given the potential health benefits of optimism, I asked Dr. Rozanski if there might be a way to foster greater optimism in chronic pessimists.

He cited the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help people develop better coping skills and counter negative thoughts.

“Our thinking is habitual, not conscious, so the first step is to learn to catch yourself when thinking negatively and make a commitment to change how you look at things,” he advised. “Recognize that the way you’re thinking is not necessarily the only way to think about a situation. Just that thought alone can decrease the toxic effect of negativity. Step two is to substitute a better thought that is credible.”

Dr. Rozanski likened the practice to increasing muscle strength, “gradually building a ‘muscle’ of positive thinking, for example, by trying to feel more grateful.”

I also asked these experts whether there’s a downside to optimism. The answer: not if it’s realistic and fosters views and outcomes that are within the realm of possibility.

12) Dan Froomkin calls out NYT’s Peter Baker on absolutely egregious both-sidesim.  As much as I love the NYT I wish it was better than this.  But for it’s lead political reporters, it’s just not.

There is one principle that should guide every serious news organization’s coverage of the impeachment trial: That the full truth should come out.

But because that guiding principle might tend to be interpreted as biased in favor of the political party that currently subscribes to that same notion, it has been wholly abandoned by the leaders of our most elite newsrooms, and by the reporters who have risen to stardom by doing their bidding.

Instead, as they do with so many other political stories, these journalists approach the impeachment trial as a game, covering each side with as little show of favoritism as they can possibly muster. This often leads to false equivalence, one example of which is when “both sides” are equally blamed for something that only one side has actually done.

Sometimes, the conflict between that approach and the one in which getting at the truth matters is just too much to deal with, if you care at all about the latter.

Case in point: New York Times all-star Peter Baker’s infuriating article Wednesday about how Democrats and Republicans have turned themselves “upside-down” when it comes to their views of John Bolton.

Yes, there’s a legitimate story in how Republicans who once spoke adoringly about Bolton are now calling him a traitor.

But to my knowledge, no Democratic senators have changed their minds about Bolton. They still think he is, as Baker gently mocks them for saying so in his lede, “too extreme,” “aggressively and dangerously wrong”“downright dangerous,” “nutty,” “reckless” and “far outside the mainstream.”

What these Democrats do believe is that Bolton’s testimony could help arrive at the truth. And they want Republican senators to hear him out.

13) It’s not surprising that Trump’s latest, disgusting moves on immigration haven’t gotten more attention this particular week, but, damn they are still so wrong.  I really like the way Masha Gessen puts it in a larger context of how Americans think about personal responsibility.

The thinking that underpinned the anti-immigrant amendments was fundamentally indistinguishable from the thinking that drove welfare reform in general: that undeserving people would somehow take advantage of the system, getting something for nothing. The spectre of the “welfare queen” haunted America. Viewed through the prism of this fear, immigrants are the least deserving people of all, because they haven’t paid their imaginary dues.

One could point out that noncitizens pay taxes. (Notably, many noncitizens pay Social Security taxes even though they may never attain the status that would entitle them to benefits.) But arguing about taxes misses the point. The basic idea behind the welfare state is that it’s best for a society when all its members lead lives of dignity. Not only those who have paid taxes, not only those who have worked, want to work, or will work, not only those who were born here, but all people who inhabit this wealthy land ought to have a roof over their heads and food on the table, have basic medical care, and be free of fear that they will not have any of these things tomorrow. Precisely because this is the foundational principle of a welfare state, in most welfare states noncitizens are eligible for public assistance, and, indeed, public assistance is seen as an essential element of integrating immigrants into society.

14) Fun and interesting stuff from Marc Hetherington (honestly about the best combination of excellent political scientist and good person I know) and others about how Iowa voters are making their choices:

In considering whom to nominate to run against President Trump, Democrats in Iowa appear to be employing criteria they might use to choose a car to drive or music to listen to: whether they want to fit in with the crowd or stand out.

Former vice president Joe Biden — establishment candidate and front-runner — is losing potential supporters for a reason that has nothing to do with political views. Many Democratic voters have a strong “desire to be different” in their regular lives. That disposes them toward candidates with more niche views and backgrounds.

Like driving a Saab rather than a Honda or arguing that punk rock pioneers Iggy and the Stooges were superior to mainstream favorite Led Zeppelin, picking candidates who challenge the establishment allows people to advertise their distinctiveness and authenticity.

We used survey data collected in Iowa to find out how much individuals’ preferences for being unconventional influences their political choices…

Our new theory suggests people inform their political choices by drawing on the same habits of mind they use in their personal lives. The habits of mind that people call on most frequently will also be the ones they turn to most when they encounter new problems or need to make new choices.

That is why a general desire to be different is a compelling explanation for primary election voting behavior. Americans have countless opportunities to decide whether to conform or be different. Choosing a candidate in a primary might look like yet another opportunity for that desire to be different…

In the December survey, we offered people the following three statements, and asked whether they agreed, disagreed or neither:

  1. When it comes to things like which sports teams to root for, which styles of clothes to wear, which type of cars to drive, what kind of music to listen to, and so forth, I tend to choose things that are different from the choices most people make.
  2. I like ideas and activities that are unconventional.
  3. When something becomes popular with other people, I tend to become less interested in it.

To measure desire to be different, we summed up respondents’ answers to the three questions and took the average. We divided scores into three categories — low, medium, and high — to more easily compare the choices of people who do not want to stand out with those who like to be different…

While desire to be different devastates Biden’s support, it is a bulwark of Sanders’s support. The quirky Vermonter runs only third, with 23 percent, among those who score low in desire to be different — but he leads all his competitors, with 32 percent, among those who like to stand out.

Warren also benefits from people who prefer the less conventional. She receives only 18 percent support from those scoring low in desire to be different, placing her last among the top four. But among those who score medium or high, she is nine and six points more popular.

15) Chait, “The Republican Cover-up Will Backfire. The House Can Keep Investigating Trump.”

16) Important twitter thread from Ezra:





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