Quick hits (part II)

1) Dan Hopkins in 538 on how all politics became national.

2) The best way to have self-control?  Don’t test your self-control.  That’s not a zen thing.  Rather, don’t have brownies in your house and try to resist, just don’t have the brownies in your house.  Soooo true in my experience.

3) Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s husband wisely reflects a year after her death and amazing final NYT essay.

4) Perhaps the real problem with robots and jobs in the future, “Robots Might Not Take Your Job—But They Will Probably Make It Boring.”

5) On-line harassment is the worst and sometimes it is okay to kill birds for science.  What a beautiful bird.

The mustached kingfisher.CreditRobert Moyle

6) It would be great if “Making of a Murderer” led the Supreme Court to revisit false confessions, which it desperately needs to do:

After the Seventh Circuit’s ruling, Dassey’s attorneys filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. In some ways, the issues at stake in the case are overdue for review. The Court has not weighed in on the so-called voluntariness issue since DNA-based exonerations began to reveal just how common false confessions are in our justice system. According to attorneys from the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, more than a quarter of all exonerated people were originally convicted following false confessions. Juveniles are particularly susceptible to offering false confessions, as are people with intellectual disabilities.

Dassey’s case could provide some much needed attention to the subject of police interrogations. When interviewing a suspect, most police officers in the U.S. rely on some version of the Reid Technique—a method that has been denounced by many psychologists and jurists as outdated and coercive, as I detailed in this magazine, in 2013. And, even if the Reid Technique weren’t itself seen as a problem, much of the training that officers receive is informal, and happens on the job. The result is that the quality of interrogation in any given police department depends almost entirely on the individual police officers’ experience.

It’s a fundamental premise in American law that no one should be forced to confess to a crime that he or she didn’t commit. The Supreme Court took up the subject in earnest in the nineteen-thirties, after a federal commission found that police across the country commonly used torture to extract confessions; in 1936, the Court reversed the convictions of three African-American men from Mississippi who confessed to murder after all three were whipped and one hung by the neck from a tree. “The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote. That decision cemented the constitutional protection that only confessions given “voluntarily” could be accepted in court.

In the decades following, the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of voluntary confessions to exclude those made after threats or psychological pressure from interrogators. Yet this standard proved subjective.

7) Mantis shrimp are neither mantis nor shrimp, but fully awesome.

8) Dan Gillmor, “Dear Journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars,”  Hell, yeah!!

Your job is not to uncritically “report” — that is, do stenography and call it journalism — when the people you’re covering are deceiving the public. Your job is, in part, to help the public be informed about what powerful people and institutions are doing with our money and in our names.

But but but but, you say, we call them out on the lies. We let them lie and then we refute it.

Yes, sometimes you do that, but not consistently. And you almost always refuse to call the lies what they are, resorting instead to mushy words like “falsehood” in order to seem more “objective” even when it’s blatantly clear that the statement was a knowing lie.

But even if you did that every time, and in real time, which you absolutely do not, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Researchers have shown conclusively that repeating the lie tends to reinforce it. There’s some evidence that challenging lies can help in some circumstances, but most of what you’re doing is amplifying lies.

You need to face something squarely: You’re confronted with radical hacking of your own systems of operation. This requires radical rethinking of those systems.

So in a world where powerful people lie so brazenly, how can you stop letting them do it, while still fulfilling your essential role in our society? By hacking journalism to meet the challenge, starting with an announcement to the liars and the public that you’re no longer going to play along. Here are some of the ways you can make that stick:

Stop putting known liars on live TV and radio programs. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, et al, you know for certain that Kellyanne Conway will lie if you put her on TV. Just don’t do it anymore. (This means, of course, that you should never air White House briefings.)

9) Alexis Madrigal on how nobody actually talks on the phone anymore.  Amazing how our culture has changed on this.  I’m even amazed at how much my wife and I rely on texting each other.

10) About 10 years ago I really thought about getting Lasik, but decided that given my really bad vision, -10, the risks were too great even though I was nonetheless a candidate for the procedure.  I’m glad I decided that.

11) We need to find new ways to support local newspapers in the internet age.  They are too important to democracy to seem them wither and disappear:

When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally.

According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015.

12) Man, poor Venezuela is so screwed up.  It’s amazing how much awfulness a corrupt and incompetent government can accomplish in a pretty short amount of time.

13) Catherine Rampell rebuts the “just like other criminals” claim of Jeff Sessions and all those other xenophobic, Trump-loving, pseudo-Christians:

There are two enormous problems with this “it’s just like how we treat other criminals” claim.

First is that U.S. government is ripping immigrant children out of their parents’ arms even when the parents didn’t actually commit a crime (including the crime of crossing the border illegally).

Second, in some cases the government is refusing to return immigrant children to their parents even after the parents are released from jail.That is not something that happens when parents are released from prison for other, non-immigration-related crimes, unless those parents are otherwise accused of being unfit parents. Which is not happening here.

14) Found this NYT guide to a midlife tune-up full of interesting stuff.

15) Really interesting research on how exercise and standing may both benefit your physical health in very different ways.  Short version– do both.

Over all, the results suggest that exercise and standing up have distinct effects on the body, says Bernard Duvivier, a postdoctoral researcher at Maastricht University, who led the new study.

Moderate exercise seems to hone endothelial and cardiac health, he says, probably in large part by increasing the flow of blood through blood vessels.

Standing up, on the other hand, may have a more pronounced and positive impact on metabolism, he says, perhaps by increasing the number of muscular contractions that occur throughout the day. Busy muscles burn blood sugar for fuel, which helps to keep insulin levels steady, and release chemicals that can reduce bad cholesterol.

Of course, this study was small and quite short-term, with each session lasting only four days. Over a longer period of time, the biological impacts of both moderate exercise and less sitting would likely become broader and more encompassing.

But even so, the findings are compelling, Dr. Duvivier says, especially for those of us who often are deskbound.

“People should understand,” he says, “that only moderate exercise is not enough and it’s also necessary to reduce prolonged sitting.”

16) The science behind Improv.

17) Fascinating and disturbing maps of highly-localized areas where unsolved murders are particularly common.

18) Charles Blow on Trum’s will to hatred

But it is the language in the body of Trump’s 1989 death penalty ad [in response to the since-exonerrated “Central Park 5”] that sticks with me. Trump wrote:

“Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”

He continued:

“Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”

That to me is the thing with this man: He wants to hate. When Trump feels what he believes is a righteous indignation, his default position is hatred. Anyone who draws his ire, anyone whom he feels attacked by or offended by, anyone who has the nerve to stand up for himself or herself and tell him he’s wrong, he wants to hate, and does so.

This hateful spirit envelops him, consumes him and animates him.

He hates women who dare to stand up to him and push back against him, so he attacks them, not just on the issues but on the validity of their very womanhood.

He hates black people who dare to stand up — or kneel — for their dignity and against oppressive authority, so he attacks protesting professional athletes, Black Lives Matter and President Barack Obama himself as dangerous and divisive, unpatriotic and un-American.

He hates immigrants so he has set a tone of intolerance, boasted of building his wall (that Mexico will never pay for), swollen the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and attacks some as criminals and animals.

He hates Muslims, so he moves to institute his travel ban and attacks their religion with the incendiary comment that “I think Islam hates us.”

He always disguises his hatred, often as a veneration and defense of his base, the flag, law enforcement or the military. He hijacks their valor to advance his personal hatred.

So I remember that. I center that. I hear “I want to hate” every time I hear him speak. And I draw strength from the fact that I’m not fighting for or against a political party; I’m fighting hatred itself, as personified by the man who occupies the presidency. That is my spine stiffener.

19) Some fun nuggets in the latest PPP poll:

Associating themselves closely with Trump hasn’t done a lot for either Rudy Giuliani or Roseanne Barr’s image. Giuliani- once a well respected figure in American politics- is now seen positively by only 32% of voters to 48% who have a negative opinion of him. That puts him on only slightly better ground than Roseanne- not once a well respected figure in American politics- who has a 25/52 favorability spread.

-Americans are still pretty down with Canada. 66% of voters see the country favorably to 13% with a negative opinion of it. There is somewhat of a divide between Clinton voters (77/7) and Trump ones (54/19) when it comes to the country but at the end of the day they’re both pretty positive on Canada. Only 5% of voters think Canada should be punished for stuff that happened in the War of 1812 to 82% who are opposed.

-We polled on two great internet debates and settled one while another will rage on. When it comes to who the GOAT is there’s not a lot of division among Americans- 54% say it’s Michael Jordan to only 14% for LeBron James. Much divides us along party lines these days but the belief that Jordan is the greatest ever is one that brings us together as Democrats (60/17), Republicans (51/17), and independents (49/8) alike.

Polling on Laurel vs. Yanny brings no such clarity though. 21% say it’s Yanny, 20% say it’s Laurel…and 49% said they had no clue what we were asking about, perhaps a bit of a reality check on how tuned in most Americans are to the debates that consume people who spend all day on the internet.

20) It’s Yannny ;-).

21) Saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big screen today for the first time since 1981.  Great stuff.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) I thought this title from a John Cassidy post kind of answers itself, “Giuliani’s call for Mueller to be suspended is a moment of truth for the Republican Party.”  Maybe.  But we’ve already had a bunch of “moments of truth” and the Congressional GOP has failed them all.

2) So, this nice PS research on racial bias among Republican legislators was just published, though, it looks like it is four years old.  Either way, very good stuff that somehow I had missed:

Groundbreaking work by two USC researchers has shown that lawmakers who support voter ID laws are more likely to show racial bias against Latino constituents.

“We wanted to find out if we could detect bias among legislators toward certain groups of people affected by voter ID laws,” said doctoral candidate Matthew Mendez, who did the research with Christian Grose, associate professor of political science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Such laws require registered voters to show government-issued ID, such as a driving license, before they can vote…

To test bias among state legislators, Grose and Mendez developed a pioneering field experiment. In the two weeks leading to the Nov. 4, 2012 general election, they sent emails to 1,871 state legislators in 14 states with the largest Latino populations in the U.S. The emails read as follows:

Hello (Representative/Senator NAME),

My name is (voter NAME) and I have heard a lot in the news lately about identification being required at the polls. I do not have a driver’s license. Can I still vote in November? Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,
(voter NAME)

Grose and Mendez sent one group of legislators the email from a fictional voter they named Jacob Smith. The other group received it from fictional voter Santiago Rodriguez. In each group, half the legislators received emails written in Spanish, while half received emails in English…

The results showed that lawmakers who had supported voter ID requirements were much more likely to respond to Jacob Smith than to Santiago Rodriguez, thereby revealing a preference for responding to constituents with Anglophone names over constituents with Hispanic ones. They also showed legislators were more likely to respond to English than Spanish-language constituents.

Among voter ID supporters, the responsiveness to Latino constituents was dramatically lower than to Anglo constituents. Even within the Spanish-language constituents’ requests, the Spanish speaker with an Anglo name was responded to 9 percentage points more than a Spanish speaker with a Latino name. The latter received virtually no response from the voter ID supporters, with a response rate of just 1 percent.

3) The decision for the AP “World History” course to now focus on post 1450 only has been quite controversial, but, if colleges are only giving credit for college classes that cover that period, than that strikes me as the smart and reasonable approach for the college board.

4) More political science debate on whether Voter ID laws actually suppress turnout.  My take: even if they don’t they are still bad because that is so self-evidently their intent.

5) This American Life had a great story on an actual high school inside a New Orleans jail.  Here’s the Marshall Project version of it.

6) I hate that my wife relies on a lot Uline boxes for her store, because damn are the Uihleins some rich and influential conservatives.

7) Want your kids to eat almost anything?  Sure as hell don’t do what my wife and I have done, but take the advice from this NPR article.

8) Why soccer is the perfect cosmopolitan antidote to Trump (and, damn, hope you saw the Spain-Portugal game yesterday– so entertaining).

Social media, the wildly popular FIFA video game, the ubiquity of international soccer on TV and the marketing of large U.S. companies all increase soccer’s presence in mainstream culture. The degree to which your teenager’s youth soccer is turning him or her into a citizen of the world will vary according to region and other demographic factors (NBC Sports viewership of the English Premier League still skews toward bicoastal elites, for instance). But there’s no question that soccer’s rising popularity is a nationwide phenomenon, and that playing the game and following it represent a sea change in how people are connecting to place and one another through sports: Even casual players and fans are fully aware that the sport doesn’t revolve around the United States. We all know there are better players and better teams elsewhere; that the best a promising young American prospect like Christian Pulisic (a world-class talent) can aspire to isn’t some college scholarship, as it would be in our domestic sports, but to cross the Atlantic at an early age and attach himself to a club like Germany’s Borussia Dortmund — which he did.

America is becoming a soccer power, but we are far from dominant, and this year fans must experience the healthy heartache of the world’s most popular sporting event taking place without the United States, after our national team’s surprising failure to qualify last fall. It’s not always about us.

Think about how subversive all this is to traditional “We’re No. 1” American entitlement or to “America First” isolationism, and the historic suspicion of soccer in some quarters becomes more understandable. Better for Fortress America to play its own games and proclaim its winners “world champions,” lest we end up with a fifth column of rootless cosmopolitans.

9) Speaking of soccer, this is about the best goal I’ve seen in-person (and from pretty much just this angle).  A great goal in any league.

10) Nice Op-Ed on “misguided” legislation (over)protecting NC hog farmers.

11) I’m not too much of an NBA guy, but I did watch some of the finals.  Found this article pretty intriguing about how the under-performance of Kevin Love is actually why the Cavaliers are so much weaker than the Warriors.

12) Of course, NC Republicans did not get any actual input from elections officials or public input before making substantial changes to early-voting hours and requirements.

13) Back to the soccer theme, Man-in-Blazer, Roger Bennett, “Soccer in the U.S. doesn’t need a team in the World Cup. It’s already here to stay.”

14) My first-born (and reader of this blog) graduated from high school on Monday.  How much do I love that Seth Masket analyzed “Donna Martin graduates!” a chant I hear in my head at every graduation I attend, in Mischiefs of Faction.  And, as long as we’re at it, no protest needed for David Greene:

15) First-person account of pediatrician turned lead-poisoning detective in Flint.  So disconcerting how so many warning signs and concerns were ignored.

16) Saw “Incredibles 2” with the family yesterday.  Really, really liked it.  Nice NYT article on how far the animation has come in 14 years.  Also, really enjoyed the Pixar short before the film, Bao.  This led me to recall my favorite Pixar short ever, Knick Knack.

 

17) This was really interesting and surprising– less time for children in the sun may be leading to the world-wide increase in nearsightedness.  (Of course, given my -10 prescription, you’d think I was raised in a cave).

18) So loved the feel-good story of the week about the skyscraper-scaling raccoon in Minnesota.

The reality of mass incarceration

I’ve been meaning to read John Pfaff’s Locked In since it came out last year.  I assigned it for my PS 313 Criminal Justice Policy “book club” to make sure that I finally would.  It was excellent.  I read so much about politics and policy that it is a rare book that opens my eyes.  This one did.  That said, this German Lopez (of course) Vox article is a terrific summary of the key points.  If you think you know mass incarceration, read it.  Short version: mass incarceration is not about non-violent drug offenders.  It’s not about extremely long sentences (though we have too much of those).  It’s mostly about prosecutors becoming far more zealous in prosecuting people for violent felonies.  You want to deal with mass incarceration, you have to deal with 1) prosecutors, and 2) how we think about violent crime.  Some key highlights from Lopez:

There’s a “Standard Story” that many Americans, particularly on the left, believe about mass incarceration: During the 1970s and ’80s, the federal government dramatically escalated its war on drugs. This alone led to millions of people getting locked up for fairly low-level drug offenses, causing the US prison population to spike. This new prison population is predominantly black, leading to massive racial disparities in the criminal justice system. And all of this happened, not coincidentally, right after the civil rights movement — showing the rise in incarceration was a ploy to oppress black Americans just after they made huge gains.

But in a new book, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform, Fordham University criminal justice expert John Pfaff offers a trove of evidence that this narrative is by and large wrong or, at the very least, misses much of the real story.

The “Standard Story” of mass incarceration, as Pfaff calls it, was largely popularized by a 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Pfaff goes through many facts and statistics to show that this Standard Story gets a lot wrong about the causes and realities of mass incarceration, from the types of crime that people are locked up for (in reality, largely violent offenses) to the areas in which reform is truly needed (with a focus on state and local, not federal, reform).

“The core failing of the Standard Story is that it consistently puts the spotlight on statistics and events that are shocking but, in the grand scheme of things, not truly important for solving the problems we face,” he writes. “As a result, it gives too little attention to the more mundane-sounding yet far more influential causes of prison growth.”

The story that Pfaff carefully describes is different from the standard narrative: It’s not drug offenses that are driving mass incarceration, but violent ones. It’s not the federal government that’s behind mass incarceration, but a whole host of prison systems down to the local and state level. It’s not solely police and lawmakers leading to more incarceration and lengthy prison sentences, but prosecutors who are by and large out of the political spotlight.

And an excerpt from a Marshall project article:

Pfaff’s major data epiphany was that, during the 1990s and 2000s, as violent crime and arrests for violent crime both declined, the number of felony cases filed in state courts somehow went up. A lot. “In the end, the probability that a prosecutor would file felony charges against an arrestee basically doubled, and that change pushed prison populations up even as crime dropped,” he writes.

Pfaff suggests several explanations for this. There were tens of thousands more prosecutors hired across the country in the 1990s and aughts even after the rising crime of the 1980s had stalled out, and the position of district attorney simultaneously became a more politically powerful one. Prosecutors’ discretion, always great, was expanded by courts and legislatures. And public defenders, stuck at the same or lower levels of funding, have not kept up with the growing caseload.

Reformers have overlooked the role of prosecutors, Pfaff reasons, in part because there is no good data on how they use their discretion, and in part because they are simply less visible; about 95 percent of cases end in plea bargains worked out behind closed doors. “We see the police every day; no one is more high-profile in the criminal justice system,” he said in an interview. “Then we think of the judge imposing the sentence.” But prosecutors, and how they work, remain something of a mystery.

Pfaff’s plea, then, is for advocates of reform to look for ways to curb the aggressiveness of prosecutors. He offers a tentative menu of options: establish guidelines for charging and plea bargaining, which New Jersey has already done; make prosecutors pay from their county budgets for the bed space they use in state prisons; and provide more funding for public defenders. And, last but not least, attack public complacency. In 46 states, prosecutors are elected — and 85 percent of them run without opposition. But last year, with money from philanthropist George Soros and energy from Black Lives Matter, insurgent district attorney candidates touting reform prevailed in several cities. And the American Civil Liberties Union has mapped out a three-year plan to increase public scrutiny of prosecutors.

And, just because I’m at it, nice summaries in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, too.

I’ve learned a ton just from following Pfaff on twitter.  If you want to better understand criminal justice in the U.S., you should, too.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Wow.  Quite the takedown of Jordan Peterson from a former friend and mentor:

‘I thought long and hard before writing about Jordan, and I do not do this lightly. He has one of the most agile and creative minds I’ve ever known. He is a powerful orator. He is smart, passionate, engaging and compelling and can be thoughtful and kind.

I was once his strongest supporter.

That all changed with his rise to celebrity. I am alarmed by his now-questionable relationship to truth, intellectual integrity and common decency, which I had not seen before. His output is voluminous and filled with oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down. He can be very persuasive, and toys with facts and with people’s emotions. I believe he is a man with a mission. It is less clear what that mission is.

In the end, I am writing this because of his extraordinary rise in visibility, the nature of his growing following and a concern that his ambitions might venture from stardom back to his long-standing interest in politics. I am writing this from a place of sadness and from a sense of responsibility to the public good to tell what I know about who Jordan is, having seen him up close, as a colleague and friend, and having examined up close his political actions at the University of Toronto, allegedly in defence of free speech. When he soared into the stratosphere he became peculiarly unknowable. There is something about the dazzle of the limelight that makes it hard to see him clearly. But people continue to be who they are even in the blinding overexposure of success. I have known Jordan Peterson for 20 years, and people had better know more about who he is.

There is reason to be concerned.

2) Great NYT Editorial… “If Addiction Is a Disease, Why Is Relapsing a Crime?”  Hell, yeah!

When Julie Eldred tested positive for fentanyl in 2016, 11 days into her probation for a larceny charge, she was sent to jail. Such outcomes are typical in the American criminal justice system, even though, as Ms. Eldred’s lawyer has argued, ordering a drug addict to abstain from drug use is tantamount to mandating a medical outcome — because addiction is a brain disease, and relapsing is a symptom of it.

Ms. Eldred’s case, now before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, has the potential to usher in a welcome change to drug control policies across the country. The case challenges the practice of requiring people with substance use disorders to remain drug-free as a condition of probation for drug-related offenses, and of sending offenders to jail when they relapse.

The prosecution’s counterargument — that the disease model of addiction is far from settled science — is weak.

3) Ummm, so this is bizarre and true.  Medieval obsession with the holy foreskin of Jesus.

4) I was recently talking about the horrible, horrible case of race and the war-on-drugs-gone-really wrong in Tulia, Texas twenty years ago.  If you don’t know about this, you should.

5) Good to know that taxpayer dollars in NC are being used to subsidize religious schools that teach the 6000 year-old earth as science.  Ugh.

6) I like Drum on the gay wedding cake ruling:

Now, sure, the cake store was not a private club. It was a public place of business, and there’s jurisprudence on what kinds of places are covered by the Civil Rights Act and what kinds aren’t. And portraits aren’t cakes, which are merely being used at an event, not necessarily carrying a message of their own. Still, it should be pretty obvious that there are subtle issues here that are all but impossible to decide on a bright line basis. Can a Jewish baker be forced to supply a cake for a KKK rally? Can a Christian sandwich shop be forced to cater a Planned Parenthood fundraiser? Can a gay movie star be forced to sign an autograph for Richard Spencer?

There are rules that would cover all these cases that the Supreme Court could adopt. But why? For the most part they never come up, and when they do they’re generally just ignored because they’re so obviously heinous. So perhaps the better part of valor is just to tap dance for a while. Soon enough, refusing to serve a gay couple will be broadly viewed as equally heinous and the issue at stake will simply disappear. In the meantime, there’s no need to make a potentially disastrous ruling.

I think this is what happened, and even half the court’s liberals decided to go along. They figure it’s basically an ephemeral issue, and both liberals and conservatives have good reason to let it slide since any definitive new ruling would almost certainly hurt everyone in one way or another. Instead the court decided to muddle along until everyone forgets the whole thing, and that was likely a wise decision.

7) The stupidity of our drug and health care policies in one headline, “She paid nothing for opioid painkillers. Her addiction treatment costs more than $200 a month.”

8) This terrific graduation speech is even more reason to love the amazingly awesome Atul Gawande:

Insisting that people are equally worthy of respect is an especially challenging idea today. In medicine, you see people who are troublesome in every way: the complainer, the person with the unfriendly tone, the unwitting bigot, the guy who, as they say, makes “poor life choices.” People can be untrustworthy, even scary. When they’re an actual threat—as the inmate was for my chief resident—you have to walk away. But you will also see lots of people whom you might have written off prove generous, caring, resourceful, brilliant. You don’t have to like or trust everyone to believe their lives are worth preserving.

We’ve divided the world into us versus them—an ever-shrinking population of good people against bad ones. But it’s not a dichotomy. People can be doers of good in many circumstances. And they can be doers of bad in others. It’s true of all of us. We are not sufficiently described by the best thing we have ever done, nor are we sufficiently described by the worst thing we have ever done. We are all of it.

Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people—to insure, for instance, that you’ve given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone.

We are in a dangerous moment because every kind of curiosity is under attack—scientific curiosity, journalistic curiosity, artistic curiosity, cultural curiosity. This is what happens when the abiding emotions have become anger and fear. Underneath that anger and fear are often legitimate feelings of being ignored and unheard—a sense, for many, that others don’t care what it’s like in their shoes. So why offer curiosity to anyone else?

Once we lose the desire to understand—to be surprised, to listen and bear witness—we lose our humanity.

9) A prisoner-journalist on the mental health crisis in our prisons.  Yes, it is that bad.

10) Jonathan Bernstein on California’s misguided top-two primary system:

Even if the system avoided each of those problems, it would still be a bad idea because the fundamental concept is to disrupt the ability of parties to choose their own nominees. And that’s a mistake: Parties are necessary to all large democracies. Parties activate and accommodate participation from groups and individuals; they provide critical intermediation between political elites and voters, which in turn makes representation possible; they help organize government and opposition ideas about public policy; and they simplify the often-bewildering choices voters must make.

And what we’ve learned is that parties adapt, no matter how difficult government makes it for them to function. We’ve seen that in California this year, with both Democrats and Republicans finding all sorts of ways to try to get the candidates they want into the November election. However, not all ways of organizing parties are equally healthy or equally permeable, and I worry about the effects of all of this on California’s Democrats and Republicans. Nor does it really make sense to constantly force parties to re-invent the wheel.

It’s a lousy system. The sooner the state gets rid of it, the better.

11) In the latest version of NC Republican legislators know best, they are trying to pass a law that a drink can only be called milk if it comes from a “hoofed animal.”  Hmmm, tell that to babies ;-).  Anyway, supposedly a lot of people are confused that soy milk and almond milk come from cows.  Not sure I buy that.  While I’m at it, it always does mystify me that soy milk has a nutrient profile relatively similar to actual milk, but most of the others are sorely lacking in protein.

12) NYT on the Trump administration, “Grifters gonna grift.”  Forget draining “the swamp.”  How about filling it with pollution and dead bodies.

13) Found this New Yorker article on the science of baldness cures (and maybe some new hope on the horizon) really interesting.  I figure it’s too late for me, but hopefully some new innovations in time for my boys to benefit.  It has always bugged me that somehow baldness is about the one physical characteristic for which it is socially acceptable to make fun of people.

14) This is an encouraging headline, “Sucking carbon dioxide from air is cheaper than scientists thought.”

15) New Yorker post on Elizabeth Warren’s coming anti-corruption agenda (now that’s a damn good idea right now), but what I really loved was this from Warren:

The point seems obvious, but it bears repeating: while much of the press, and therefore the country, is preoccupied by the President’s daily outbursts on Twitter and by the leaks and twists of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have been aggressively rolling back regulations of all kinds. The effects of some of these changes may not be directly felt by the voting public for years, when a major health crisis, a financial collapse, or some other catastrophe suddenly arrives, but the risks are being created right now.

“Let’s talk about real freedom,” Warren said, during her speech. “Done right, strong, clear regulations protect the freedom of every American. How free would you be if companies were allowed to lie to you about their businesses in order to trick you into investing your life savings in their stock? How free would you be if no one had to wash their hands before they handled your hamburger? How free would you be if companies could pass off little white pills as antibiotics, even if they weren’t?” Finally, she said, “Don’t tell me that all rules do is restrict freedom. Good rules empower people to live, work, and do business freely and safely.” [emphasis mine]

16) Radley Balko taking down forensic “science” never gets old for me.  Alas, I wish our damn court system would start paying attention and stop allowing convictions on what might as well be astrology in some cases:

The most problematic fields of forensics are those known as the pattern matching fields. This includes any specialty that requires an analyst to look at one sample and “match” it to another. Think hair and carpet-fiber analysis, bite-mark analysis, shoe-print and tire-tread analysis, blood-spatter analysis and fingerprint matching. The degree to which these fields are problematic vary quite a bit (bite-mark matching is probably on the least reliable end of the spectrum, with fingerprint matching at the other end), but all at their core are subjective. (Fingerprint matching breaks down the moment you start looking at partial prints.) That means they cannot calculate a margin for error. It means analysts will often disagree about conclusions, sometimes in ways that directly contradict one another. And by definition, any method of analysis that results in experts coming to contradictory conclusions about the same piece of evidence can’t possibly be accurate (one of them is obviously wrong) or reliable.

This means that these fields aren’t science. That doesn’t mean they have no evidentiary value at all. But it does mean that analysts need to be extremely careful about how they present this sort of evidence to juries. The language they use needs to be standardized and then explained to juries, so that the amount of emphasis the jury puts on it is based on the evidence’s actual significance and not other factors, such as the charisma or persuasiveness of the analyst. This hasn’t been happening.

Recalling Judge Persky is horrible for criminal justice

Every criminal law and justice person I follow on twitter is in accord that recalling the California judge who sentenced Brock Turner is just plain horrible for our criminal justice system.  Public Defender, Rachel Marshall, with a great essay in Vox nicely explaining why:

Many people were outraged by the light sentence given to Brock Turner, the former Stanford swimmer, after his sexual assault conviction: a mere six months (of which he served three). The sentence inspired a national debate. On Tuesday, voters in Santa Clara County voted to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who imposed that sentence.

That is a terrible mistake, whether or not you agree with the sentence.

This was the first successful recall in California in almost 90 years. Though the recall only involved one judge, its impact will be felt nationwide.

It sends a dangerous message to judges everywhere: If we don’t like one decision you make, you’re out. That represents a terrible threat to judicial independence and highlights the problems with electing judges — or subjecting appointed judges to reelection. They need the protection to think independently, even if they sometimes make decisions we don’t like. [emphases mine]

I am not arguing that Turner’s sentence was the right one. Indeed, as a public defender, I am all too aware of the racial and class disparities in sentencing that redounded to Turner’s benefit. I have previously written about the ways privileged criminal defendants often are rewarded precisely because of their privileges. (One need look no further than Harvey Weinstein, who easily posted bail and did not spend a day in jail after his arrest.) But allowing an uninformed public to punish a judge for one unpopular decision jeopardizes the integrity of our entire system.

Long before this week’s vote, the recall campaign’s impact had been felt in courtrooms across the country, where judges became increasingly cautious about exercising discretion, worried that they might be punished for leniency. In my work as a public defender in Oakland, California, I have observed how the recall effort has changed judges, whether consciously or not, making them more timid about taking risks on defendants who deserve mercy…

I have also heard stories from other lawyers. One told me that after earning an acquittal for a young client with no criminal record, he was told by the judge how relieved he was by the decision, which meant the judge would not have to sentence him. The judge clearly felt the young man did not deserve a harsh sentence, had he been convicted, but he was worried about creating a “Brock Turner problem” for himself, he said.

Given that the criminal justice system disproportionately targets and prosecutes the poor and people of color, the ones who suffer from judges feeling pressured to sentence harshly are not people with privilege like Turner, but those without privilege.

Judges have always had more incentives to punish harshly than leniently, and elections only increase these pressures.Brennan Center for Justice study found that when judges are approaching reelection, they are more likely to impose harsher penalties. This is common sense, given that judges who have sentenced a defendant harshly rarely make the news.

That is no small thing; in this country, we have an epidemic of wrongful convictions, yet never have I heard of a public outcry to recall or vote against a judge who presided over a case in which an innocent client was convicted or sentenced. In contrast, as we have just seen, a sentence perceived as too light not only will make headlines but could cost a judge his job.

Damn it.  More reason to lament the failure of American criminal justice.

Reasonable gun control not quite as impossible as you think

Though the NRA is as radical as it gets and sees pretty much every fewer gun sold as an affront to humanity, your average gun owner (I know and like many) is far more reasonable.  Really like this Wonkblog post that shows pretty modest divides on a number of gun issues and that even a majority of gun owners support a variety of reforms:

The study found that more than 60 percent of gun owners said they supported licensing requirements for all gun purchases. Other research has shown that in tandem with universal background check policies, licensing requirements may lead to significant reductions in homicidesuicide and shootings of law enforcement officers.

Some of the strongest evidence pertains to child-access-prevention laws, which mandate safe-storage requirements for guns in homes with children. The survey found that nearly 60 percent of gun owners and nearly 80 percent of non-owners backed such laws.

Of course, 60% is not enough when you are dealing with an impassioned, irrational minority and a Republican party completely in their thrall.  But damn it, there is hope if we keep fighting on this.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Sarah Kliff had some great pieces on the insanity of ER bills a couple weeks ago.  You can make sure you actually go to an in-network ER when having an emergency only to be billed for out-of-network physicians in your in-network ER.  Only in America.  Her follow-up is called, “There are actually some great policy ideas to prevent surprise ER bills.”  But, of course, there are.  I don’t think policy to prevent this is actually all that complicated.  It’s political will, damnit.

2) Caitlyn Flanagan on Title IX and “mutually non-consensual sex.”

3) The famous marshmallow test of delayed gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be.  And, like so much in life, it’s really all about socio-economic background.

Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding. The original results were based on studies that included fewer than 90 children—all enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In restaging the experiment, Watts and his colleagues thus adjusted the experimental design in important ways: The researchers used a sample that was much larger—more than 900 children—and also more representative of the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and parents’ education. The researchers also, when analyzing their test’s results, controlled for certain factors—such as the income of a child’s household—that might explain children’s ability to delay gratification and their long-term success.

Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success…

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

4) Paul Waldman on the pardons:

On Thursday, President Trump announced that he is pardoning conservative pundit and author Dinesh D’Souza, who pled guilty in 2014 to violating campaign-finance laws. Unlike other presidents who used their pardon power to correct injustices, Trump has used it almost exclusively to dole out favors to the right wing.

That Trump decided to pardon D’Souza, one of the most despicable and poisonous figures in American public life, is further proof that this president spends a good deal of his time acting like a right-wing Internet troll whose greatest pleasure in life comes from finding ways to Trigger the Libs.

I suspect a lot of the coverage of this decision will be framed as “Trump Pardons Conservative Author,” which will inevitably soft-pedal the rancid bile D’Souza regularly spews into American debate. So we have to be clear about just who D’Souza is. He isn’t just a conservative or a provocateur. He’s a bigot, a liar, a criminal, and a peddler of insane and hateful conspiracy theories.

First, let’s put this in context. Trump’s previous pardons were granted to the authoritarian racist Joe Arpaio; Kristian Saucier, a sailor convicted in a case in which he photographed classified spaces on a submarine, who became a cause celebre on the right when conservatives tried to use him as an argument for why Hillary Clinton should be punished for having a private email server; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who revealed the name of a covert CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, a critic of the Bush administration; and the boxer Jack Johnson, whose case was championed by Sylvester Stallone.

In other words, with the exception of Johnson’s pardon — which Trump gave solely because a celebrity asked him to — all of his pardons were meant as favors to the right wing…

In other words, D’Souza is a conservative for the Trump era: bigoted, hateful, happy to spread lies, and consumed with bizarre theories about Democrats’ secret plans to destroy the country. In fairness, we should acknowledge that many conservatives find D’Souza an embarrassment, someone they wish would go away and not sully their ideological cause with his loathsome ideas.

5) Chait, “The Constitutional Crisis Is Already Underway.”

6) Alexis Madrigal on how Americans still watch a ton of TV:

Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television. In fact, television viewing didn’t peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the ’00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you’ll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.

Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things—Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix—have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.

7) When abortion is illegal but still common (which it would be in America) there are a host of new problems, as we can see in Latin America.

8) One of the most frustrating things about our criminal justice system is the utter lack of respect and concern for real science.  The idea that somebody would be put away for life based on dubious “blood splatter” analysis is so appalling.  Great summary of this problematic issue in an NYT editorial:

That unreliability is not unique to bloodstain-pattern analysis. As DNA testing has revolutionized forensic science and helped to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted people, it has also shined a light on the inadequacy of earlier methods. The National Academy of Sciences report found significant problems with the analysis of bite marks, tire treads, arson and hair samples. In 2015, the F.B.I. released an initial review of hundreds of convictions it had won and found that over two decades, the bureau’s “elite” forensic hair-sample analysts testified wrongly in favor of the prosecution 96 percent of the time. Thirty-two of the defendants in those cases were sentenced to death, and 14 of those were executed or died in prison.

The scientific analysis of forensic evidence can be essential to solving crimes, but as long as the process is controlled by the police and prosecutors, and not scientists, there will never be adequate oversight. Changing this was the goal of a national commission established in the wake of the 2009 report. Unfortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long sided with prosecutors and rejected efforts to look more critically at forensic sciences, let the commission expire last year.

 

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