Quick hits (part I)

1) This new biography of George Washington sounds really intriguing.

Male historians also emphasize that Washington never had children, and how this was integral to his elevation as the “Father of Our Nation.”

Coe shows that although Washington never had biological kids, he loved children and raised many, including stepchildren, step-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Domestic life was central to his being; he played with these kids, found them the best tutors and even dispensed love advice. When Washington’s stepson Jack Custis died of typhus during key negotiations after the Battle of Yorktown, the great general left for nearly a week to be with his family.

Coe is a trained historian, but she isn’t an academic. She spent her early career in public history exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society and the New York Public Library before focusing on writing. She’s also a consulting producer on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new George Washington series, which debuts on the History Channel on Sunday.

Coe’s book is peppered with BuzzFeed-like charts and listicles packed with information both humorous and profound. “If history is boring, it’s the historian’s fault,” she said. It has received mostly glowing reviews from readers and other historians, but on Saturday, a Daily Mail story inaccurately claimed Coe called Washington “an illiterate liar who cheated his way to top,” causing a wave of online harassment. Some early reviews have also described the book as “irreverent” — a characterization she takes issue with.

2) No, it’s not fair to call Bernie a Trump of the left.  But some similarities really bug me.  Like, sorry, but a 78-year old running for president needs to release health records:

Coming off victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is increasingly described as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Inevitably, questions will arise about the health of the 78-year-old senator as well as that of the 73-year-old incumbent, President Trump.

But the public reports on the two men’s recent health-related episodes, written by their primary-care military physicians, do not serve voters well. The fault, however, is not with the physicians but with the absence of explicit standards for disclosing health records of presidents and presidential candidates — an eminently rectifiable situation.

Both medical reports omit critically pertinent prognostic data that the physicians certainly know. Sanders had a heart attack in October, but his report is silent about the extent of disease in his coronary arteries, which is the most important factor in determining his risk for another heart attack. The report on Trump’s abrupt, unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in November listed several key cardiovascular symptoms the president did not have, but failed to say whether he was free from the sensations of chest squeezing and left arm discomfort that patients classically experience during heart attack and its precursors.

Voters need and deserve health information from candidates because a vote is fundamentally a bet on the future, reflecting the voter’s estimate of the candidate’s ability to lead the nation toward the voter’s desired endpoint. As Woodrow Wilson’s stroke-shattered presidency proves, sickness sidelines effectiveness. Prognostic medical information, unlike knowledge of tax returns or scandals, is directly relevant because illness physically impedes exercise of the office.

3) The compete lack of accountability for bad actions on the part of law enforcement officers (short of clear video of them shooting somebody in the back) is disgusting, disturbing, and appalling.  Something must be done.  Equally appalling is the courts that let them get away with this through ridiculous games.  Radley Balko with the story of a man brutally beaten by cops on a joint federal-state task force, which is particularly immune to justice.  This for me, was the key quote of the Kafka-esque system:

The federal agent escapes accountability because he’s treated like a state cop. And the state cop escapes because he’s assumed to be a federal cop.

4) Nate Silver assess where Bloomberg stands.  He notes, correctly, I think, that Bloomberg took a huge dive in the prediction markets after the debate, suggesting he was probably pretty over-priced before it:

  1. Bloomberg’s recent polling surge is at least partially driven by news coverage. That opens him up to a “discovery, scrutiny, decline” cycle.

Bloomberg had risen slowly but somewhat steadily in the polls since his campaign launch, climbing from 3.6 percent in our national polling average on Dec. 12 to 8.8 percent on Feb. 3. That isn’t bad — a 5.2 percentage-point gain in 64 days — although it was short of the pace he’d need to be seriously competitive on Super Tuesday. If you had extrapolated out Bloomberg’s rate of increase — decidedly not a safe assumption! (see point No. 3) — he would have reached 11.2 percent in the polls by Super Tuesday, short of the usually 15 percent threshold that Democrats require a candidate to clear in order to receive state or district delegates.

Instead, Bloomberg had an abrupt, nonlinear surge in our polling average, climbing from 8.8 percent on Feb. 3 to 15.4 percent on Feb. 13, just 10 days later. He has since somewhat stalled out, for what it’s worth, having risen only to 16.1 percent as of Thursday afternoon.

This increase also happened to coincide with a big spike in news coverage of Bloomberg. I looked at how often candidates’ names appeared3 in headlines at Memeorandum, a site that aggregates which political stories are gaining the most traction, and found that from the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 through Thursday afternoon (Feb. 20), Bloomberg was the subject of 80 headlines at Memorandum, slightly trailing Sanders (84) but well ahead of Biden (53), Buttigieg (32), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (19) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (15).

Now, not all of these headlines have been positive for Bloomberg, especially in recent days. But that’s sort of the point. It’s not uncommon for candidates to undergo what political scientists Lynn Vavreck and John Sides call a “discovery, scrutiny, decline” pattern in the polls, where an initial spark triggers a surge in media attention and a rise in the polls, but storylines turn more negative as the candidate gets more scrutiny and their actual performance doesn’t match the newfound hype. Candidates such as businessman Herman Cain and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich underwent this cycle in 2012. Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke did so this year.

5) NBC News,  “Texas man close to exoneration after computer algorithm leads to new suspect: Lydell Grant was supposed to be in prison for murder. But an emerging form of DNA technology, which has also come under scrutiny, is helping to free him in an unprecedented case.”

Pretty sure I wrote years ago that DNA analysis which is based on DNA from multiple sources is not nearly as reliable as DNA evidence from a single person.  Grant is quite surely not the only person in prison based on this flawed analysis.

6) You know I don’t post a lot of the crazy true-crime variety, but this one, wow.  “Former Colorado mayoral candidate drugged new mom with cupcake in scheme to steal her baby, police say”

7) This is from 6 years ago, but just showed up in my feed for some reason (also, I like Ortberg more as a satirist than a Slate advice columnist).  “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars. 

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

“Old Yeller”

A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. —Four stars.

8) Julia Azari with a good case for re-thinking our primary system:

One lesson from the 2020 and 2016 election cycles is that a lot of candidates, many of whom are highly qualified and attract substantial followings, will inevitably enter the race. The system as it works now — with a long informal primary, lots of attention to early contests and sequential primary season that unfolds over several months — is great at testing candidates to see whether they have the skills to run for president. What it’s not great at is choosing among the many candidates who clear that bar, or bringing their different ideological factions together, or reconciling competing priorities. A process in which intermediate representatives — elected delegates who understand the priorities of their constituents — can bargain without being bound to specific candidates might actually produce nominees that better reflect what voters want…

For decades, the conversation about nominations has been about the conflicts between party elites and everyone else. Today, that conversation is counterproductive. A better approach is to think about how voters and elites could best play their different roles: to make their political parties more representative while ultimately narrowing the nomination choice down to one person. And the best way to do that would be through preference primaries.

Preference primaries could allow voters to rank their choices among candidates, as well as to register opinions about their issue priorities — like an exit poll, but more formal and with all the voters. The results would be public but not binding; a way to inform elites about voter preferences.

9) This is a shorter quick hits.  So, spend the time reading all of Adam Serwer’s great essay, ”

Authoritarian nations come in many different stripes, but they all share a fundamental characteristic: The people who live in them are not allowed to freely choose their own leaders. This is why Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, in his speech announcing his vote to convict on the first article of impeachment, said that “corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Democracies are sustained through the formal process by which power is contested and exchanged. Once that process is corrupted, you have merely the trappings of democracy within an authoritarian regime. Such governments may retain elections and courts and legislatures, but those institutions have no power to enforce the rule of law. America is not there yet—but the acquittal vote was a fateful step in that direction.

 

 

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

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