We’ve got addiction all wrong

So, as mentioned, I’m reading a terrific book on the War on Drugs called Chasing the Scream by Johan Hari.  As evil and stupid as I already thought the war on drugs to be, I know realize it is even far more evil and stupid than I had already realized.  I truly think 100 years from now, society will look back on this with a “what the hell where people thinking?!”  Among the most compelling sections of the book is on the science of addiction and how our basic models of addiction seem to be largely wrong.  It’s not that drugs ruin lives (they do), but that people with ruined lives turn to drugs.  The vast majority of people who use most drugs– including opiates– never become addicted.  That should tell us something, but we cling to this model of purely physical addiction.  (Now, go and read that Rat Park comic I linked in quick hits).  Hari has a nice piece at HuffPo summarizing all the evidence on addiction.  Well worth your time to read:

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection…

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

Great stuff.  And huge implications for how we think about what we do with drugs.  Also, a nice TED talk on the matter if you are so inclined.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff.  Let’s go!

1) A friend with a nice piece on the true story behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

2) Bill Ayers on America’s fear problem:

I make this point because the gap between the macro-level facts and our fears is enormous and seems to be growing larger. Contrast this to past periods in history when people were legitimately frightened of important things. In the early 1800s, for example, there was a worldwide epidemic of crop failures and famines (caused, as it turns out, by amassive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific that was barely noticed at the time). Thousands died of starvation, millions became refugees, and the political and cultural landscape of much of the world was rewritten. In Europe, authoritarianism made a comeback against the early revolutionary gains of the Enlightenment as people decided that freedom could be sacrificed for food and safety.

Compare that world to our time – and then to the rhetoric we hear every day. Donald Trump and Daesh do share something in common – they have found ways to elevate people’s fears, to paint a picture of a world gone not just wrong but horribly wrong, so wrong that radical and formerly unthinkable action must be taken. These dystopian views are so far removed from reality that those of us who don’t share them are left shaking our heads at the insanity of it all.

3) Vox on how America’s lead problem is far more than Flint.

4) Why are humans the only animals with chins?  (Who knew?!)  Good question.

5) On Rubio’s blinders when it comes to Cuba policy.

6) Texas 8th grader suspended for helping classmate during a serious asthma attack.  The people who did the suspending and the teacher who wanted to wait for the school nurse to answer an email should be out of jobs.

7) I’ve probably linked this before, but I was reminded of it in a conversation with a student the other day.  I first came across it in an article proclaiming it the best TV ad ever.  It sure is damn good.

8) Nice Molly Ball piece on why so many in the Republican Party loathe Ted Cruz:

But a Republican policy expert close to a number of top GOP operatives and donors insisted it’s not about Cruz’s style or his positions. It’s his disingenuousness—and inability to produce results. “He knows his tactics are bound to fail, but pursues them to debase his Republican colleagues under false pretenses and endear himself to the base as the only authentic conservative,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he runs an organization that does not endorse candidates. But the effort doesn’t result in smaller government or the end of Obamacare—all it achieves is drawing attention to Cruz. “He is incapable of delivering anything but theater,” the expert added.

9) A Pennsylvania judge was sentencing teenagers to jail in a money-making scheme.  Seriously.  Now that he’s been caught, that judge should never leave prison again.  I’d let out several drug dealers to make room for him.

10) How Jimmy Carter made the Iowa Caucuses what they are today.

11) If only we could regulate guns for safety like we regulate cars for safety.  The absolute worst part is that when people try to make safe guns, they are little ostracized by the gun nuts.

 

Sixteen years ago, after Bill Clinton’s administration announced a partnershipwith gunmaker Smith & Wesson to improve firearm safety, the National Rifle Association led a boycott of the company. Smith & Wesson had agreed to a number of safety requirements, including making trigger-locks standard and adding a hidden set of serial numbers to new handguns to make it harder for anyone to scratch off identifying marks. Other gun manufacturers blasted the company as a sellout. (Part of why Smith & Wesson agreed to the deal in the first place was because the federal government agreed to drop a number of lawsuits against the company in exchange for its cooperation. This was, of course, before Congress agreed to give all gunmakers protection from various litigation.)

The backlash nearly ruined Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of handguns. And before long, it had retreated from key parts of the deal. One aspect of the agreement that never came to pass: a requirement that gunmakers move forward with developing authorized-user technology—the same kind of technology that President Barack Obama pushed for earlier this month, and that McNamara and others are trying to build.

12) Love this project that is provides data on how common particular books are across millions of college syllabi.

13) How the Koch brothers are using their money to try and influence students.

14) Loved this piece on the evolution of movie special effects in movies and how “practical” effects are all now the rage:

The rebooters would tell you those old feelings can’t be summoned with new tools. Trevorrow explained to Wired UK that his animatronic dinosaur “drew a beautiful performance out of the actors—we couldn’t have done it with a computer.” (The apatosaurus had been mortally wounded by a rampaging C.G.I. dino—a perfect metaphor for the state of the movies.) As the producer Patrick Crowley put it, “Colin said we needed to have a working animatronic in this movie because that’s how this series of movies was built.”

That’s the rub. We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, toldfxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total.

15) So, this is a few years old, but new to me.  Jesse Eisenberg and Marv Albert performing “Marv Albert is my therapist.”  A slam dunk.

 

16) The FEC does not properly regulate campaign finance because Republicans don’t want it to.

17) Yes, the system is set up to make it too easy for college students to go way too far into debt, but it still doesn’t seem right to blame the system to think it is a remotely reasonable idea to go $240,000 in debt for degrees in music performance and bioethics.

18) Young people are getting drivers licenses at much lower rates these days.  My 16 year old doesn’t even want to get one.  I made him go get a Learner’s Permit yesterday, in fact.

19) I actually totally agree with Radley Balko that we should not have mandatory seat belt laws as a primary offense (I still think it is a fine idea as a secondary offense):

But there’s another argument against seat-belt laws that’s much more pertinent to the policing issues now in the news: Seat-belt laws create an entirely new class of police-citizen interactions. They’re another excuse for pretext stops. Moreover, unless there’s clear dash-camera footage, whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time the police officer spotted you is basically your word against the officer’s. It’s another opportunity for police to look for probable cause for a search, or for behavior that could justify a forfeiture of your cash, your car or anything inside of it. And as we’ve seen inSouth Carolina, Indiana, California and elsewhere, they create more interactions that could potentially lead to escalation, violence and even death. (Note that the article in the last link is from Florida.) The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled that police can arrest you, handcuff you and jail you even if your only crime was to fail to buckle your seat belt. In 2012, the court ruled that you can be strip-searched, too

Our highways have gotten remarkably safer over the past 30 or so years. Fatalities have dropped dramatically. Even the most ardent libertarian can’t help but admit that federal efforts had something to do with it, though I tend to think public education and PR safety campaigns have been more effective than more punitive policies. But we should also be cognizant of unintended consequences, especially with laws that are more about protecting people from themselves than from other people. If a seat-belt violation causes a low-income man to be pulled over, searched, fined and fined again for nonpayment, then results in a suspended license, and then arrest and incarceration for driving on a suspended license, the state is no longer protecting him — it’s ruining him.

20) Important read from Nate Silver arguing that the Republican Party is failing.

21) I’m reading a fabulous book about the war on drugs.  More on that later.  For now, familiarize yourself with Rat Park, if you have not before.  And even if you know Rat Park, this comic version is pretty awesome.  Seriously.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Watched Aliens yesterday for the first time in 20+ years so my 16-year old son could see it (we watched Alien a few months ago).  He loved it.  And I still did.  Holds up great.  A terrific movie and we both marveled at how impressive the old-school special effects were.  Here’s a nice essay on it.

2) Smart James Surowiecki piece on what’s wrong with our corporate tax code and how to fix it.

3) Nate Silver on Trump’s unpopularity with general election voters.

4) Love this Drum piece on the problems with twitter:

This is the basic problem with Twitter: It’s too damn big and too damn easy to use. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, people had to do some work if they wanted to casually trash you. Maybe write a letter to the editor. Or dig up your home address and write a letter to you. On rare occasions, they might even call you on the phone.

Then email made the ALL CAPS insult genre a lot easier: just click a link, pound out a few sentences, and hit Send. Easy peasy. Still, no one saw your brilliance except the target, and you rarely got a response. It was progress, but still not very satisfying.

Then came Twitter. It was even easier than email. Just hit Reply or RT and do your thing. You’re limited to 140 characters, so it’s not very much work. Everyone who follows you gets to see it, and your target knows it—so they sort of feel obligated to defend themselves. And to make things even better, while the 140-character limit is great for random vituperation, it’s a tough limit for reasoned response. And to make things even more better, getting a mob of fellow outrage junkies to follow your lead isn’t just easy, it’s almost inevitable. It practically happens on its own…

Anyway, in the end this is a lesson about economics. What happens when you vastly reduce the cost of being an asshole? Answer: the supply of assholes goes up. That’s what Twitter has done for us.

5) Really nice Max Fisher post on how our debates about Iran are really about much bigger debates of how we conceive of our foreign policy.

6) Ross Douthat’s act of contrition for ever supporting Sarah Palin.

7) Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has forbidden chess as the work of the devil.  Good to know this country is our close ally.

8) A UNC Economist analyzes the Republican approach to unemployment policy in NC and finds it has come up short.

9) I had not heard about this first amendment case at the Supreme Court.  Potential implications are disturbing.

But Heffernan did allege expression protected by the First Amendment. He lost because two federal courts actually ruled that picking up a political campaign sign doesn’t count as speech under the First Amendment unless you really mean it. By playing along with the fiction that Heffernan didn’t exercise a First Amendment right, the Supreme Court may miss an opportunity to make sure that cases like his really are rare.

10) Interestingly, self-made billionaires seem to be much more generous than those who inherited their money.

11) Andrew Cohen on the Supreme Court’s (absurdly) strong recent death penalty stand.

12) Really liked this Frank Bruni column on re-thinking elite college admissions:

The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.

The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.

That’s a great thing to say to our children, and just as important a thing to say to ourselves.

13) Drum on the latest global temperature report.  Just maybe conservatives can stop trying to fool people based on the outlier year of 1998 now.

14) Somehow, I had never learned of the great famine of 1315.  Thanks to Amy Davidson’s recent New Yorker comment, now I have.  Good stuff.

15) Believe it or not, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into what I would say in my interview if I were ever a Jeopardy contestant.  And I can never come up with anything good!  I love that there is a twitter account that subtly mocks these interviews.

16) Vox on how dogs are smarter than we think.

17) I’ve never paid that much attention to deflategate, but was interested to learn that independent science strongly suggests the Patriots did not do anything wrong.

17) Listened to a great This American Life this week about a woman who made amazing discoveries about her genetic disease.  Here’s the written version (and with much-needed photos).  A worthy long-read for your Sunday.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Maybe we should be prescribing more medical marijuana and less opioids.  Seriously.

So the evidence suggests marijuana is good for treating chronic pain without any huge side effects.

What about opioids? While there is research that opioids effectively treat acute pain, there is no good evidence for their treatment of chronic pain.

2) I was annoyed at this piece arguing that there’s no such thing as a “healthy” food, only “nutritious” food where the author claimed this was not just a semantic distinction.  No, really it is.  In common usage, kale is healthy and sugar cookies are not and we all know what that means.  So, sure a zoologist might complain when you say that a snake is “poisonous”– it’s not, it’s venomous, but we all know to stay away from the bite.

3) A critic’s tour of David Bowie’s musical changes.  Yes, Bowie did some really good stuff, but from my FB feed, you would have thought all the Beatles and Rolling Stones died at one time.

4) Here’s actually my favorite David Bowie appearance ever.  From the much under-appreciated Extras.

5) Max Fisher on Bernie Sanders’ problems on foreign policy.

 

6) Drum argues that Republicans are going way too easy on Donald Trump.  He seems to have a point.

7) It’s become quite the truism that NFL coaches are way over-cautious.  Still, an enjoyable analysis looking at recent playoff games.  And the last minutes of the Green Bay game in regulation was amazing.

8) Carly Fiorina turns pre-school field trip into anti-abortion event.

9) There’s so many damn https://news.ncsu.edu/2016/01/bertone-home-arthropod-2016/ in your home (and probably even more in mine).  NC State behind this cool research.

10) Drum on Trump and “two Corinthians”

Now, nobody with a brain has ever believed that Donald Trump is a Christian in any serious sense. I don’t think he could pass a third-grade test of Bible knowledge. But today’s gaffe, as trivial as it seems, suggests more: that he literally has paid no attention to Christianity at all. In fact, given how hard that is in a country as awash in religious references as the United States, it suggests much more: Donald Trump has spent most of his life actively trying to avoid religion as completely as possible. And yet, apparently evangelicals love him anyway. Go figure.

11) And some first-rate Trump satire.

12) The myth of limited resources to support NC education.

13) Maybe Gillian Anderson getting offered less money than David Duchovny for the new X Files is sexism.  Maybe he’s a more bankable star because of work since the X Files first aired.  I’m not sure, but don’t assume the former without at least addressing the latter.

14) Loved this NYT feature on scientific research on the origins of dogs:

Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.

Wolves mate for the long haul and wolf dads help with the young, while dogs are completely promiscuous and the males pay no attention to their offspring. Still, dogs and wolves interbreed easily and some scientists are not convinced that the two are even different species, a skepticism that reflects broader debates in science about how to define a species, and how much the category is a fact of nature as opposed to an arbitrary line drawn by humans.

15a) A look at Jane Mayer’s new book on the Koch brothers.

15b) And Mayer’s piece on their re-branding in the latest New Yorker.  I actutally had thought they were sincere about criminal justice reform.  Now I’m not so sure.

16) Haven’t watch Making a Murderer yet, but I find the controversy fascinating.  I really liked this piece in Slate:

So, it’s not bias that unsettles me. Rather, it’s bias posing as impartiality that makes me uneasy. Because so much seems to have been left out, I now have lingering doubts that the directors of Making a Murderer ever gave the other side a genuinely fair hearing.

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the directors of the superb Paradise Lost trilogy, were consistently upfront about the injustices they felt were committed against the West Memphis Three, yet they were still able to secure interviews with the investigators who wanted to keep the three behind bars. It was largely because of the global attention the trilogy received that those injustices were (at least partially) corrected when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were released from prison in 2011. Sometimes, artistic advocacy is a very good thing, but only when it feels complete.

Whether or not you loved or hated the evidentiary back-and-forth of Serial, Sarah Koenig excelled as an investigative reporter when it came to putting all her cards on the table. The detectives and prosecutors involved in Adnan Syed’s conviction declined to speak with her, but Koenig still managed to give the prosecution’s theory of the crime real consideration, as the jury in his trial would had to have done. That added depth and dimension to her story.

17) Loved this three-way loser ending of Jeopardy.  Seriously, nobody thought to save at least $1?!

18) Seth Masket on how Republicans can stop Trump.

19) Such a good little idea on programming your phone.  I went right ahead and did this.

20) How Charlottesville, VA moms got Whole Foods to enforce their no guns policy.

21) Had an open tab on this one for too long.  How poor parents raise their kids differently than middle-class parents.

22) Can we cure unpleasant emotional memories (and PTSD, etc.) with a drug?  Maybe.

23) Great Tom Edsall piece on the nature of Republican orthodoxy today.

Quick hits (part II)

1) John Judis, who once argued for the “Emerging Democratic Majority” takes to Vox to caution that maybe changing demographics are not so beneficial to the Democrats.

2) Yglesias on the single-payer debate we are not, but should be having:

Medicare works because it pays providers less

Single-payer skeptics tend to be simply incredulous that government-run systems, both in the United States and abroad, are more cost-effective. Isn’t the government a legendary cesspool of waste and inefficiency? Why would a government-run system be more efficient?

Well, here’s the answer: Foreign single-payer systems pay doctors less. They also pay pharmaceutical companies less. They pay less for medical devices, too.

It turns out that Medicare uses this trick, too, offering doctors only about 80 percent of what private insurance plans pay them…

The problem, politically speaking, is that doctors and hospital administrators like money. When politicians try to take away their money, they complain and they lobby. And it turns out that most people have more confidence in doctors than they do in members of Congress, so not only does the lobbying cash count but the complaining is extremely effective.

3) And Harold Pollack on the incredibly difficult politics of creating a single payer system in America.  These two paragraphs are important:

As with ACA, the biggest winners would be relatively disorganized low-income people in greatest need of help. The potential losers would include some of the most powerful and organized constituencies in America: workers who now receive generous tax expenditures for good private coverage, and affluent people who would face large tax increases to finance a single-payer system. [emphasis mine] At least some of these constituencies would need to be accommodated in messy political bargaining to get single-payer enacted. And states would have a role to play, too, potentially replicating the messy patchwork we got with ACA reforms.

Single-payer would require a serious rewrite of state and federal relations in Medicaid and in many other matters. It would radically revise the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which strongly influences the benefit practices of large employers. Single-payer would require intricate negotiation to navigate the transition from employer-based coverage. The House and Senate would be in charge of this tension, and at risk of the negotiations among key legislators and committees who hold sway.

4) So, this is a somewhat old National Journal piece analyzing the states that will pick the president.  It’s still incredibly relevant, but I’ve had it in an open tab for far too long without ever writing a post.  So…

5) Maybe teenage marijuana use does not lead to lower IQ after all.  Maybe.

6) How will you die?  Who knows?  God?  But you can at least take a look at these cool statistics for the likeliest age and cause (short version: old from disease).

7) Tipping as we practice it is, of course, so stupid.  But as long as we’re going to continue with it, servers should definitely be pooling tips.

8) Great Dahlia Lithwick (and Sonya West) piece on Florida’s absurd law to prevent doctors from asking about guns in the home:

The result was the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act. The law provides that licensed health care practitioners and facilities: “may not intentionally enter” information concerning a patient’s ownership of firearms into the patient’s medical record that the practitioner knows is “not relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others,” and “shall respect a patient’s right to privacy and should refrain” from inquiring as to whether a patient or their family owns firearms, unless the practitioner or facility believes in good faith that the “information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others.” Violations of the act could lead to disciplinary action including fines and suspension, or revocation of a medical license. Proponents of such laws say these doctor-patient dialogues violate the patients’ Second Amendment rights.

If something seems amiss to you about this argument, you’re not alone. A group of three doctors, the Florida Pediatric Society, and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, joined by the Brady Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit, claiming that the gun-talk ban violates the physicians’ free speech rights. As their complaint points out, restrictions on speech (such as this one) that only apply to a particular subject matter are generally recognized as being the worst kind of First Amendment violation—a content-based regulation. In order for the government to enact a content-based regulation on speech, it must show that the law serves a “compelling” interest. The doctors explain, however, that in light of the connection between guns and injuries, accidents, and suicides, this law actually stops doctors from addressing an incredibly serious health-related topic.

9) Want to reduce political polarization?  Give to political parties, not candidates and groups.

 

10) Apparently, the state of Kansas considers using marijuana (even if clearly prescribed for medical purposes in a state where it’s legal) to be cause to take your kids away.  Yet, you can be a raging alcoholic.  Ugh.

11) Interesting take on our over-protectiveness as parents and what it says about us as a society:

In September, the journalist Selena Hoy tackled the unique independence of Japanese children for CityLab, noting that kids in that country often venture onto public transit by themselves at age 6 or 7. She found the big difference between Japan and the U.S. to be an “unspoken” sense of community. Hoy writes:

What accounts for this unusual degree of independence? Not self-sufficiency, in fact, but “group reliance,” according to Dwayne Dixon, a cultural anthropologist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Japanese youth. “[Japanese] kids learn early on that, ideally, any member of the community can be called on to serve or help others,” he says.

The path to giving American kids greater autonomy may have nothing to do with laws, but with parents putting trust—misplaced or no—in the kindness of strangers.

12) Way back when, I use to drive a Plymouth Sundance Turbo(!).  Sold it the week before I got married for a Geo Prizm because I wanted something more reliable.  Apparently turbo engines are way more advanced now and making a comeback.

13) Eric Holder takes a big step to limit the utter travesty that is Civil Asset Forfeiture.  Sadly little news coverage of this.  Thanks, Obama!!

14) Andrew Prokop on Trump and Cruz’s contrasting strategies for winning Iowa:

The upshot is clear: Cruz thinks he can win by mobilizing the traditional conservative base whose pulse he’s spent years taking. But Trump is hoping to win by using his star power and xenophobic rhetoric to transform the composition of the GOP caucus electorate. And the question of which of them succeeds will have major implications not just for the primaries but for just what the Republican Party actually is today.

 

15) On moms as the default parent.  I got an email the other day from an organization that does focus groups and they need kids.  “Moms, tell us what toys your child plays with…” began the email.  I was so pissed.  As if a typical dad could not even tell you his child liked legos or barbies or whatever.  I responded as I think Evan would love a lego focus group, but I let them have my $.02 on how the email was addressed.

16) I don’t recall super-highly recommending Frum’s Atlantic cover story analyzing the fractures within the contemporary Republican Party.  If I already did, it is certainly good enough to read again.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

And we’re off…

1) The conservative case for solar subsidies (hmmm, given that there’s a good conservative and a good liberal case, we really ought to have solar subsidies).

Of course, conservatives will respond that their core objection remains: Solar functions only because of government subsidies. But there are a couple of issues to consider…

For one thing, not all subsidies are created equal, and the government actually has a good track record in promoting new energy technologies. New developments often face two market gaps that can potentially delay or even kill them: the “technological valley of death,” in which promising advances hit a technical brick wall, and the “commercialization valley of death,” in which an effective technology can’t get to market. Government research labs and subsidies have supported a number of forms of energy — from nuclear energy, to hydraulic fracturing, to photovoltaic solar — through these troughs.

And there’s nothing unique about the government’s support for solar. According to the Congressional Research Service, total government support for the oil and gas sector over the years dwarfs the amount of support for the solar industry.

2) I didn’t watch Nikki Haley’s SOTU response originally, but I quickly learned her teeth were the talk of the internet.  A little googling and I ended up on this take complaining it’s all about sexism.  That’s too bad.  But, no, then I watched.  It’s like she’s talking with her jaw wired shut.  It was truly bizarre.  It would be weird not to comment about it.  Of course sexism is a problem, but damn I hate the damage people to do feminism when they reach the point that virtually any non-policy critique of a female politician is sexism.

3) Greater Chronicle of Higher Education article on The Monkey Cage blog and how it has become so influential.

4) Dahlia Lithwick on the Supreme Court and public sector unions.

5) Just one small bit of Trump’s inanity (and seemingly endless macho bs posturing), but I do get a kick out of him arguing that football players should cause themselves brain injuries for our entertainment:

What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on [tackle], a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they’d say he’s the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — itwas done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?

“Now they tackle. ‘Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.’ The whole game is all screwed up. You say, ‘Wow, what a tackle.’ Bing. Flag. Football has become soft. Football has become soft. Now, I’ll be criticized for that. They’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible.’ But football has become soft like our country has become soft. [Applause] It’s true. It’s true.

6) What can you learn about the history of liberalism in America from the recent problems of The New Republic?  So much in the capable hands of political scientist Jonathan Ladd.  This is really, really good.

7) I truly do recognize that college teaching evaluations are seriously flawed.  That said, I do get a kick out of seeing that my friends/colleagues who most zealously share the stories on the matter are those who might be somewhat suspect in the teaching department.  I’m guessing they are pretty sure the bias is against them.  One thing is for sure is the bias based on gender is, sadly, quite potent.  The authors of the latest research say there’s no way to correct for this?  Really?  How about just comparing faculty to each other within gender?  Not perfect, but that would go along way.

8) Oh, and how’s this, at least in the discipline of Economics, when men and women publish together, men get pretty much all the credit.  I really want to know how well this holds up across disciplines.  I particularly wonder how it may impact the work of Laurel and me, especially as our work is so focused on gender.

9) Shankar Vedantam on hierarchical versus egalitarian ideologies, inequality, and drunkenness.

10) Is this how multi-cellular life on earth got it’s start?  Maybe.  Cool stuff.

11) The Upshot with the case for why the Powerball winners should take the annuity.

12) James Downey on how the supposed mainstream GOP completely enables the fringe:

The difference is that now, between Cruz, Trump and Ben Carson, the “everything is awful” portion of the GOP is a clear majority, not limited to the fringe.

Frankly, though, Haley and company shouldn’t be surprised. Though her speech may not have been as hyperbolic, it still subtly fed the fears that sustain that “Make America Great Again” anger. There is “chaotic unrest in many of our cities,” she said.  America faces “the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it.” Democrats are “demonizing” American success. In short, Haley said, “we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory.”

If all of these things are true, and if as Haley said, the GOP must admit that it has “played a role in how and why our government is broken,” why should the conservative base trust the Republican establishment? Why shouldn’t they be fearful of where the United States is going? Isn’t anyone not standing firm against such “threats” endangering America?

13) Obviously our current drug policy is a disaster, but Drum on how the problems with opiates strongly suggests we exercise appropriate caution in thinking about how to decriminalize or legalize drugs.

14) A week late, but a really good piece to help understand what’s going on with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

15) Of course cops get held accountable for their misbehavior.  At least when that misbehavior is to properly apply the law and refuse to arrest somebody their superior tells them to.

16) Really enjoyed this Atlantic piece arguing that, not, consciousness really is not that mysterious:

The consciousness we describe is non-physical, confusing, irreducible, and unexplainable, because that packet of information in the brain is incoherent. It’s a quick sketch.

What’s it a sketch of? The brain processes information. It focuses its processing resources on this or that chunk of data. That’s the complex, mechanistic act of a massive computer. The brain also describes this act to itself. That description, shaped by millions of years of evolution, weird and quirky and stripped of details, depicts a “me” and a state of subjective consciousness.

This is why we can’t explain how the brain produces consciousness. It’s like explaining how white light gets purified of all colors. The answer is, it doesn’t. Let me be as clear as possible: Consciousness doesn’t happen. It’s a mistaken construct. The computer concludes that it has qualia because that serves as a useful, if simplified, self-model. What we can do as scientists is to explain how the brain constructs information, how it models the world in quirky ways, how it models itself, and how it uses those models to good advantage.

17) The ancient Romans really tried to make an effort with public hygiene.  Alas, their total misunderstanding of what actually caused disease meant that their efforts (public toilets, baths, etc.) did not make them any healthier .

18) Nate Silver on three theories of Trump’s rise.

19) Michael Cooper on how the Democratic party in the South has changed.

20) And finishing off with a longer Politico piece making the case for the importance of Obama’s domestic policy legacy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) On the overlooked importance of curriculum in K-12 education.

2) I’ve enjoyed people’s reactions the past couple weeks when telling them I’m reading a book about super-intelligent ants that take over the world through the use of highly-evolved/super-intelligent dogs and cats that they ants created through a chemical in the water.  It was really great stuff.  Mort(e) is a both a page-turner and a thought-provoking exploration about the nature of humanity, friendship, religion, and more .

3) I kind of feel like (but am unsure) I already posted this amazing essay by John McWhorter on why English is so unique.  But if I did, there’s a lot worse things I could post twice.

4) Nice Connor Friedersdorf post on the mis-guided local politics of housing in San Francisco.

5) Drum on Saudi Arabia.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is our great and good ally. They flog apostates. They export Sunni extremism. They treat women as chattel. They flog and imprison gays. They import slave labor from abroad. They have no truck with freedom of religion or freedom of speech. Their royal family is famously corrupt. And they really, really want to start up a whole bunch of wars that they would very much like America to fight for them.

6) The partisan politics driving the NC Supreme Court.

7) On bird-watching, public lands, and the Oregon stand-off.

8) Seth Masket on how campaign finance reform contributed to partisan polarization.

9) Really enjoyed this Vox post about reading books.  Had not thought of the idea that if a book gets translated to English, that’s a pretty damn indicator that it’s good.  And, of course, the idea that books only get so long to prove themselves.

Reading is amazing; it shouldn’t be a chore, and when it became one, I stopped doing it.  The few times this year that I felt my reading stall came after spending too long with a book that failed to move me. It’s important to recognize that not every book will be a page-turner from the start, but my benefit of the doubt rarely lasts more than 100 pages…

Last year, the BBC reported that translations comprise just 2 to 3 percent of English publishing, compared with 27 percent in France and up to 70 percent in Slovenia.

In my readings this year, I noticed the flip side of the 2 to 3 percent statistic, which is this: Books translated into English are almost guaranteed to be excellent.

10) A millionaire on how extreme wealth is over-rated (hedonic treadmill!)

11) Austan Goolsbee makes the case for a new Morrill Act.  Working at one Morrill Act institution, with a degree from another this strikes me as a particulary good idea.

12) Really like Joe Nocera’s plan for how to pay college athletes.

13) Yglesias makes the case for poor, forgotten Martin O’Malley.

14) Love Joseph Stiglitz’s ideas for addressing inequality:

Instead, he swings for the fences, suggesting a massive revision in the way the U.S. economy does business. First up is the attempt to tame what is called rent-seeking—the practice of increasing wealth by taking it from others rather than generating any actual economic activity. Lobbying, for example, allows large companies to spend money influencing laws and regulations in their favor, but lobbying itself isn’t helpful for the economy besides creating a small number of jobs in Washington; it produces nothing but helps an already rich and influential group grow more rich and more influential. Stiglitz suggests that reducing rent-seeking is critical to reining in inequality, especially when it comes to complex issues such as housing prices, patents, and the power that large corporations wield.

To overhaul these behaviors and the policies that support it, Stiglitz says that America should give up what he deems the “incorrect and outdated” belief in supply-side economics, which grows from the premise that regulation and taxes dampen business opportunities and economic growth. Instead, massive changes to tax laws, regulations, and the financial sector are needed, he says, in order to curb rent-seeking. For instance, increasing tax rates, ending preferential treatment for top earners, and refining the tax code would decrease incentives to amass extreme amounts of wealth, since it would be so heavily taxed, and that tax would be difficult to shirk. Stiglitz suggests a 5 percent increase to the tax rate of the top 1 percent of earners—a move that he says would raise as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years. He also calls for a “fair tax,” which would eliminate preferential tax treatment for money earned from capital gains and dividends—perks enjoyed primarily by people who can afford to own a lot of stock.

15) Greg Mankiw’s take on why college is so expensive.

16) Drum’s take on a little debate last week about the liberal-ness of college campuses.  From my perspective this is overwhelmingly self-selection and I’ll stick with that till I see data that suggests otherwise

17) Nice essay on the fact that we are far too ready to consider the other side in political debates to be just plain dumb.  (True, but when the leading contender on the other side is Donald Trump?  Just sayin…)

18) Loved this Linda Greenhouse column on the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to have the Constitution actually protect people:

All these years later, the decision continues to immunize government from the kind of accountability that common sense and justice would seem to require. A Colorado woman, Jessica Gonzales, tried to steer around the DeShaney obstacle in a case she brought against the town of Castle Rock after her estranged husband snatched their three children from her front lawn and murdered them. Ms. Gonzales had obtained a protective order against her husband, but even though she knew he had taken the children and knew where he had gone with them, the police ignored her repeated pleas to find and intercept him. The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that Ms. Gonzales had no constitutional claim against the police.

So Joshua DeShaney Braam leaves a haunting legacy. The court receives regular requests to revisit or modify the decision, and turns the cases down without comment. For several years after the decision, I kept track of each new appeal that invited the justices to change course, but eventually, I abandoned the project. I can’t imagine the Roberts court revisiting the case.

19) This song came up on my Satellite radio the other day.  I was fascinated to learn it’s called “Ah! Leah!” I had no idea that’s what Donnie Iris was saying!  (I haven’t heard the song for years, but I’m sure I did a bunch back in the day).  Promptly went and purchased from Itunes.

20) Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you are well aware how our prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill.  Still useful to read Dahlia Lithwick’s look at how serious the problem is.

21) Solid methodology (it’s really worth reading the link to see how a study like this is designed) comes to the disturbing conclusion that attractive female students get better grades due to their attractiveness.

And yet there’s more, but that’s enough for a weekend.  I’ll save the others for later.

 

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