Quick hits (part II)

1) Would really like to see some rigorous studies of microdosing with LSD.  I think there is some real potential there.  Alas, all we are left with is lots of anecdotes– like Ayelet Waldman’s— thanks to good old schedule I.

2) Not all that surprisingly, if you want your kids to have safer sexual practices you should, you know, talk to them about sex.  Also, boys get left out of this a lot.

3) Farhad Manjoo on how Netflix is deepening our cultural divide:

Yet for a brief while, from the 1950s to the late 1980s, broadcast television served cultural, social and political roles far greater than the banality of its content would suggest. Because it featured little choice, TV offered something else: the raw material for a shared culture. Television was the thing just about everyone else was watching at the same time as you. In its enforced similitude, it became a kind of social glue, stitching together a new national identity across a vast, growing and otherwise diverse nation.

“What we gained was a shared identity and shared experience,” Mr. Strate said. “The famous example was Kennedy’s funeral, where the nation mourned together in a way that had never happened before. But it was also our experience watching ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘All in the Family’ that created a shared set of references that everyone knew.”

As the broadcast era changed into one of cable and then streaming, TV was transformed from a wasteland into a bubbling sea of creativity. But it has become a sea in which everyone swims in smaller schools.

4) Republican legislators in two states looking to abolish tenure at public universities.  Presumably, only a matter of time before NC legislators get this idea.

5) I saw “Silence” with David yesterday and we both really, really liked it.  Powerful and thought-provoking.  It certainly took it’s time, but I was never bored.

6) The real problem for teacher in NC says an NC teacher?  Not enough time.  I will totally buy that.

7) It’s Girl Scout Cookie time.  Loved this feature in the LA Times that lays out the differences in the cookies between the two bakeries.  I grew up loving “Samoas” and my wife grew up loving “Carmel Delites.”  This graphic shows that, clearly, Samoas are superior.

8) On Ivanka Trump’s fake feminism.

9) Loved this James Kwak piece on “economism” as applied to the minimum wage:

The argument against increasing the minimum wage often relies on what I call “economism”—the misleading application of basic lessons from Economics 101 to real-world problems, creating the illusion of consensus and reducing a complex topic to a simple, open-and-shut case. According to economism, a pair of supply and demand curves proves that a minimum wage increases unemployment and hurts exactly the low-wage workers it is supposed to help…

The real impact of the minimum wage, however, is much less clear than these talking points might indicate. Looking at historical experience, there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4 percent—a historically low level. When economists try to tackle this question, they come up with all sorts of results. In 1994, David Card and Alan Krueger evaluated an increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage by comparing fast-food restaurants on both sides of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. They concluded, “Contrary to the central prediction of the textbook model … we find no evidence that the rise in New Jersey’s minimum wage reduced employment at fast-food restaurants in the state.”

10) Seven hard questions about health care reform that Democrats need to hold Republicans feet to the fire on.

11) The areas where both experts and the public agrees on effective gun control.  Hey, maybe give these a try!  Oh, right, Republican politicians are not in these charts.

12) Neither GRE’s nor undergraduate GPA appear to be particularly good measures of graduate school success.  Well, that makes things difficult.

13) The latest PS research on Voter ID and vote suppression.  This is important:

The proliferation of increasingly strict voter identification laws around the country has raised concerns about voter suppression. Although there are many reasons to suspect that these laws could harm groups like racial minorities and the poor, existing studies have been limited, with most occurring before states enacted strict identification requirements, and they have uncovered few effects. By using validated voting data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study for several recent elections, we are able to offer a more definitive test. The analysis shows that strict identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections. We also find that voter ID laws skew democracy toward those on the political right.

14) Saw some pretty strong liberal pushback against this NYT piece, but I think it is worth having a reasonable discussion over whether we should be subsidizing the purchasing of sugar soda through food stamps.  Maybe that opens a Pandora’s box, but it seems that we could probably all agree this is not something the government should be subsidizing.

15) Quirks and Quarks just did a whole show on mindfulness meditation.  This segment was the best explanation I’ve yet heard.

 

16) Good stuff from Roger Cohen:

Trump’s psyche is no great riddle. He’s a study in neediness. Adulation is what he craves; admonishment he cannot abide. Trafficking in untruths and conspiracies, he calls the press that he secretly venerates dishonest for pointing this out. That’s called transference. Soon he will have at his disposal far more potent weapons than Twitter to assuage his irascibility and channel his cruelty. It is doubtful that he will resist them over time. There is rational cause for serious alarm. If the world was anchored by America, it is about to be unmoored.

17) Gender bias in health care is a real problem.  How checklists can fix it.

18) Evan Osnos on the Senate confirmation process:

Trump is making an astonishing bet that he will be the first President in a quarter century to manage not to have a single nominee disqualified. And he is betting that the American people, having just elected the first modern President to refuse to release his tax returns, are, in effect, done with ethics. He is betting that, like his oft-cited prediction that he could shoot someone and not lose votes, virtually nothing that could come out after a nominee is confirmed will undermine his Presidency. He is betting, in effect, that we’re too dumb or too demoralized to care.

19) These fake books are so hilarious.

20) I may have posted this before, but if so, I just re-came across it.  I’ve been saying for years that free, widespread, encouraged IUD use is the best anti-poverty program we could have.  Jordan Weissman explains.

 

 

Improving policing in two basic concepts

The DOJ just released a report on policing in Chicago.  It’s not good:

The Justice Department released a scathing 161-page report elaborating on how police officers in the country’s third-biggest city use force, “including deadly force, that is unreasonable” as well as unconstitutional.

This report is the culmination of a 13-month investigation into the Chicago Police Department, one launched amid a firestorm prompted by video footage of a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager.

Federal investigators excoriated the department and city officials alike for what they called “systemic deficiencies.” They said their inquiry found that the Chicago police force did not provide officers with proper guidance for using force, did not properly investigate improper uses of force and did not hold officers accountable for such incidents. Investigators also faulted the city’s methods of handling officer discipline, saying that process “lacks integrity.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said that Chicago officers were found to have shot people who posed no immediate threat and shocked people with Tasers simply for not following verbal commands…

Gupta faulted the department for inadequate training, saying it used decades-old videos that provided guidance inconsistent with current law and even the department’s own policies. She also described Chicago’s accountability system as “broken,” with officers rarely being held accountable for their misdeeds. [emphases mine]

There you go.  Want better policing?  We need to train our officers better and we need to hold them accountable?  Alright, not exactly simple to implement, but what we actually need to do is pretty clear.

Our marijuana policy stupidity

Great essay in the Post from Marie Myung-Ok Lee who writes of the wonderful benefits marijuana provides for her son’s severe autism– and the absurd difficulty of obtaining it for medical use in New York (and many other states).  The idea that this drug is still Schedule I is so, so appalling.  From the essay:

It took me awhile to perfect the cookie recipe. I experimented with ingredients: Blueberry, Strawberry, Sour Diesel, White Widow, Bubba Kush, AK-47 — all strains of cannabis, which I stored, mixed with glycerin, in meticulously labeled jars on a kitchen shelf. After the cookies finished baking, I’d taste a few crumbs and annotate the effects in a notebook. Often, I felt woozy. One variation put me to sleep. When I had convinced myself that a batch was okay, I’d give a cookie to my 9-year-old son.

At the time he was consumed by violent rages. He would bang his head, scream for hours and literally eat his shirts. At dinnertime, he threw his plates so forcefully that there was food stuck on the ceiling. He would punch and scratch himself and others, such that people would look at the red streaks on our bodies and ask us, gingerly, if we had cats.

But when I got the cookies right, he calmed down. His aggressions became less ferocious and less frequent. Mealtimes became less fraught. He was able to maintain enough self-composure that he even learned to ride a bike — despite every expert telling us it would never happen…

We tried all kinds of treatments, including applied behavior analysis (the supposed gold standard in autism therapy), occupational therapy, horse therapy and auditory integration. We even got him a session with Soma Mukhopadhyay, a celebrity in the autism world, whose Rapid Prompting Method has helped some people learn how to communicate by pointing instead of vocalizing. By the time he was 5, our son was in a special school and on a hypoallergenic diet. His gastroenterologist prescribed powerful anti-inflammatories, which left him vulnerable to violent episodes triggered by, say, hearing a dog bark 100 feet away, but stopped the worst head-banging: on our cast-iron tub…

Then, a couple of years later, the medication stopped working. And his aggressions exploded.

His school insisted he see a psychiatrist, who recommended the drug Risperdal to treat his “autistic irritability.” I was reluctant. Adults taking Risperdal often refer to it as a “chemical lobotomy.” In kids, there are also reports of alarming weight gain and sleepiness. Additionally, back then I could find only one studyon the medication’s use in children with autism. It tracked 49 children who took the drug for eight weeks to six months — hardly long term — and showed uneven results on behavior, with side effects including an average weight gain of six pounds in the eight-week period, elevated insulin levels and tremors. My husband said he’d rather our son attack us every day than suffer through that. But the school was calling us weekly, demanding that something change.

I was desperate and frantic. It seemed like we’d run out of options. Then I happened upon a paragraph in Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire.” Pollan argued that cannabis is great for pain relief and can slow short-term memory formation. Might this, I wondered, help mitigate my son’s pain and the onslaught of sensory input that he struggled to process? …

For my son, not every strain of cannabis helped. When we did see positive effects, they were often accompanied by red eyes or an unwillingness to do anything (“couch lock,” it’s casually called). But eventually, we settled on White Russian, a favorite of cancer patients in pain, and we transitioned from cookies to an oil tincture that my son received orally every few hours with a dropper. (That allowed us to titrate the dosage and made it easier for the nurse to administer at school.) It left him clear-eyed and alert, without the constant pain-furrow in his brow or the off-the-wall rages.

It seemed like a miracle. And seven years later, it’s still working. But unlike with other wonder drugs, we can’t just pop into the pharmacy for refills.

Lee goes onto detail the incredible difficulty of obtaining the medicine her son so clearly benefits from.  Now, you know me, I like science and data over anecdotes.  But when we are talking about people’s lives, you sure want to at least let them try a substance that plenty of evidence– if not yet scientifically conclusive– will help.  It’s so hard to get decent studies with marijuana, though, because it is schedule I.  And it is hard to deny that the preponderance of evidence suggests that it really does help with certain medical conditions.  It may not be the panacea that some chalk it up to being, but it is insane that it so much more regulated than the literally poisonous alcohol or the literally destructive cocaine and opioids.

Oh, for some sanity here.  And, yes, it is an absurd, absurd waste of our criminal justice resources that this is illegal, but it is also an absurd, absurd shame that many people suffer who’d conditions could likely be alleviated by marijuana.

And, honestly, all the more upsetting when you realize the whole reason marijuana was criminalized in the first place was due to racism.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Not responding to your exercise regimen?  You will probably respond better to a different one.

2) I think it is the NYT pushing it so much that finally got me into Mindfulness meditation (4 months in and going strong).  This page is a great explanation of what it’s really all about and how to get started, if you so inclined:

Basic mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an accepting, nonjudgmental disposition. The goal isn’t to stop thinking, or to empty the mind. Rather, the point is to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts and emotions in order to see them more clearly, without making so many assumptions, or making up stories.

It’s a deceptively simple exercise — just be right here, right now, without daydreaming. But with practice it can yield profound results, giving us greater control of our actions, and making room for more kindness and equanimity, even in difficult situations. With time, mindfulness meditation can even help us better understand what causes us stress, and what we can do to relieve it.

Though mindfulness meditation was inspired by Buddhist practices, today it is available as a wholly secular practice that emphasizes stress reduction, the cultivation of focus and the development of tranquility.

“There’s a misconception that mindfulness is religious,” said Mr. Smith. “What we have to explain is that it’s a stress reduction technique and a way to get yourself stronger mentally. It’s a self-care practice.”

3a) Theda Skocpol on the need to rebuild the Democratic party from the ground up

3b) And Emma Green on the ideological reasons Democrats have neglected state and local politics:

The unevenness is partly a reflection of progressives’ reluctance to push their policy agendas through states. Historically, arguments against federalism—or the principle that power should be robustly shared between state and national governments—have centered on race. “Progressives are deeply skeptical of federalism, and with good reason,” Gerken wrote in a 2012 essay in Democracy. “States’ rights have been invoked to defend some of the most despicable institutions in American history, most notably slavery and Jim Crow.” Others see the decentralization of governing power as a way of stifling dissent, she argued.

This is one reason why the national Democratic Party has often looked to Washington to make and enforce policy. But there’s another ideological explanation, argued Ernest Young, a professor of law at Duke University, in an interview: The progressive project is ultimately about working toward a society built on one unified vision of policy and culture, rather than a diverse array of policies and cultures. “If you’re confident that you can get the right answer to something, like health-care policy, or welfare, or any number of very difficult social problems, it’s hard not to say that right answer should be equally available to everyone,” Young said, meaning that progressives believe their “right answers” should be legislated through federal policy. “If you’re a more Burkean type of conservative, and you’re skeptical that we’re ever going to find out right answers to these questions, you might favor different solutions in different jurisdictions, and see from experience what works out. That tends to lend itself to a commitment to federalism, and local governments, too,” he said.

4) Very depressing that even Obama and Democrats are refusing to take science seriously when it comes to “forensic science” (which, DNA aside, is rarely actual science).  Surely, thousands of people will continue to be falsely convicted due to this scientific and moral failing.  Radley Balko:

In September, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a scathing report on the use of forensic analysis and expertise in the criminal-justice system. The report, “Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods,” looked at pattern matching forensic disciplines such as bite mark matching, shoe print matching, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint matching and hair fiber analysis. It also looked at DNA testing when investigators find biological material from multiple sources, a scenario that can bring human subjectivity into the testing. With the exception of single-source DNA testing, the report found serious deficiencies in all areas of forensics it studied.

The PCAST report was damning, but if you’ve been following these issues with any regularity, it wasn’t at all surprising. That was in September. It’s now January. And not only has the Obama administration done nothing about the report, the Justice Department has publicly denounced it. That report, along with others and an administration that seemed unusually equipped to take it seriously, presented a small window in which to reform a system. That window is about slam shut. And we’re about to be governed by a new administration that seems likely to board it up, wallpaper it and overlay it with brick. This wasn’t just a missed opportunity; it was a catastrophe. And it’s difficult to overstate the consequences.

5) I’m sure you are as shocked as I am that credit reporting agencies have been lying to consumers.

6a) What’s up with the disk storage in the Star Wars movies?  And the retro technology in general?

6b) And really enjoyed this essay on the nature of “The Force” and the return of “reverence” in Star Wars films.

6c) And this is too good, “Did Inadequate Women’s Healthcare Destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?

7) Trump appoints Wall Street lawyer to regulate Wall Street.  Chait’s summation, “‘“Drain the swamp’ continues to be one of the greatest cons in the history of presidential campaigns.”

8) Kevin Drum argues that people should understand gravity better and that his explanation is more intuitive than warped space-time.  I’m not so sure.

9) How religion can (indirectly) help influence the gender wage gap:

Wiseman and Dutta looked at how two different measurements of religiosity among residents of different states — belief in God and participation in religious activity — correlated with the gender wage-gap in those states. Even after controlling for age, education, marital status, occupation, time in the workforce, and other factors, they found that this correlation was rather significant: specifically, the that a three percent increase in a state’s religiosity related to a one percent increase in its gender wage-gap.

These findings are consistent with the idea that religious beliefs and institutions, even informal ones, can shape social interactions and thus economic behavior. Women’s roles as mothers and workers are shaped by religious norms and customs, even when those norms aren’t directly dictated by religious dogma.

Traditional religious attitudes might also affect employer behavior, shaping managers’ decisions about whom to hire or lay off, or a family’s decision about who should be the primary breadwinner. Zooming out, the state government’s distribution of resources — like education, health care, and parental leave — can also be shaped by prevailing cultural norms that are shaped by religious attitudes. It stands to reason that policies that have been shown to promote gender parity, like pay-transparency legislation or investments in high-quality child care, might face heavier opposition in those states where religious institutions exert more influence. (That said, the working paper didn’t make any of these claims directly — rather, it provided a jumping-off point for some informed speculation.)

10) Important changes in how Obamacare has changed the practice of medicine for the better will outlast any changes/repeal Republicans make to the ACA.

11) I’m a big fan of art and advertising paintings on the sides of buildings.  So is Atlas Obscura.  I like driving by this one on my way to work.

Image result for raleigh nehi bottling company

12) Norm Ornstein on the GOP’s ethics “disaster” (worthwhile read even with the House GOP backing off):

I have rarely been more angry or dismayed at the conduct of Congress than I was Monday night with the unconscionable, deplorable, underhanded move by Representative Bob Goodlatte to eviscerate and undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics. When House Speaker Paul Ryan and his counterpart Nancy Pelosi indicated weeks ago that they would continue OCE, the reform community—left and right—breathed a sigh of relief. Ryan, like his predecessor John Boehner, had seen the value to the integrity of the House of the office, which has been a stalwart of bipartisan and nonpartisan comity and independence. That makes this bait-and-switch action even more outrageous…

Given Ryan’s solidarity with President-elect Trump on Russian hacking—preceded by his deep-sixing any bipartisan statement during the campaign warning against foreign attempts to influence our elections—along with Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz’s indifference to any investigation of conflicts of interest or ethical problems with the president-elect and his cronies, this is chilling evidence that we are headed for a new age of official embrace or at least acceptance of unethical and illegal behavior. The core of America’s political system depends on real checks and balances, on a Congress that puts country ahead of party. The House leadership showed this week that party comes first. [emphasis mine]

13) Life in Elkhart, Indiana has improved considerably under President Obama.  In this partisan era, though, not even that penetrates partisan biases:

Democrats and Republicans, though, appear to be equally guilty of viewing objective facts through partisan filters–Nyhan said that there’s no conclusive evidence to suggest that one party is more susceptible than the other. Though some research has indicated that even strongly partisan people are more likely to answer questions about politics correctly if they are getting paid to do so, paying Americans to listen to facts doesn’t seem a particularly realistic solution. Little will change, Nyhan said, if the environment in which political leaders and the media promote incorrect information doesn’t change.

There is, however, one way to pierce partisan biases, Nyhan said. If reality intrudes, people may be more willing to accept it. Someone can debate climate change for years, but if his house is threatened by a tide that rises every year as the planet warms, he may be more likely to accept that climate change exists.

But in Elkhart, people have jobs they didn’t have six years ago, and they’re working more hours. Their homes are worth more than they were before Obama took office, on average, and their paychecks are fatter than they used to be. Yet Obama is, and will likely remain, the president who didn’t do anything right.

14) Greg Sargent’s headline gets it (in response to some pretty deplorable comments from the WSJ Editor), “Yes, Donald Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so.”  And Media Matters with Dan Rather’s response, beginning, “a lie, is a lie, is a lie.”

15) Fascinating tweetstorm on the Podesta hack.  But seriously, just write a blog post!!

16) Seth Masket with a good piece on the 20th century model of journalism in the 21st century:

As Jonathan Ladd has written, this conception of the news is tied to a rather narrow and recent time period and may simply no longer apply. Ladd writes here:

American journalism became largely nonpartisan in the mid-twentieth century after calls for reform by Progressive Era figures like Walter Lippmann. But… these few decades were an historical aberration made possible by the lack of party polarization and a legal and technological landscape that artificially restricted media industry competition. Beyond these few decades, partisan media are the historical norm in the United States.

We hear many complaints today about the rise of fake news, false equivalencies, deeply partisan news sources, etc., but that’s actually how the political media have typically behaved. Newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries were often publicly affiliated with a political party and saw their role as backing that party’s candidates. We seem to be moving back to that model today.

But even if we expect a mid-20th century non-partisan model of media behavior, it’s difficult to pinpoint just where we believe the media went wrong in 2016. Did it ignore Trump’s bigotry, conflicts of interest, sexual predation, and basic ignorance on many public policy issues? Hardly. It reported on these extensively. That’s a large part of the reason Trump had historically high unfavorability ratings throughout the election year. Voters knew who he was. Many were deeply uncomfortable with him. Many of those same people voted for him anyway. According to exit polls, two-thirds of voters felt that Trump lacked the temperament to be president. Among that two-thirds, one in five still voted for him…

One area where the media really did seem flummoxed was in false equivalency. Stories about Clinton’s emails dominated news coverage despite a lack of any evidence of actual wrongdoing, and this may have hurt Clinton significantly.

In part, this is a result of the persistence of the 20th-century non-partisan model of journalism. If you’re covering scandals in one campaign, you’re supposed to cover scandals in the other. Even if the race is between Josef Stalin and Mother Teresa (this one wasn’t), coverage should approach something like balance. Indeed, it may be appropriate for the media to provide more scrutiny of the candidate it thinks is going to win in this model.

17) Nice piece on the real differences between fascism (which does not really fit Trump) and right-wing populism (which does).

18) Of course liberals need to talk about economics and race.

Understanding how Trump and the GOP effectively use race requires seeing that the right is “waging a culture war around gender, elitism, and especially race, using coded and not so coded terms to trigger strong resentments.” This is specifically designed to persuade white voters to cast ballots that are not only against their interests but suicidal for the middle class.

Yes, the economic anxiety many Trump voters felt is real and must be addressed. But addressing that anxiety exclusively would be a big mistake, according to Haney-López, because “it assumes that economic pain comes first, and so, it implies that finances are more fundamental than scapegoating.”

Racial resentment has made the rigged economy we all live in now possible.

The parties have not switched their polarities from the North to the South, and the GOP didn’t become a party that is 90 percent white with 98 percent white elected officials by accident, Haney-López notes.

19) NYT Editorial on the “stolen Supreme Court seat.”  And, yes, “stolen” is about right.

20 Nice essay in Vox on the genuine free speech problem on America’s college campus.

New Year’s Eve quick hits

1) Eric Schlosser (who wrote a terrific book about the history of our nuclear arsenal) on the risks of global catastrophe by mistake.

2) Life remains tough for an Oklahoma newspaper that had the temerity to endorse Hillary Clinton.

3) All earth’s species mapped into a single circle of life.  So cool.

4) Really interesting piece on how Rogue One brought back deceased actors to reprise their roles (no, not Weekend at Bernie’s style).

5) In this post-fact world, snopes.com has become more important than ever.  Apparently, now it is the target of those who would prefer we do not traffic in facts.

6) Time to admit email will never be 100% secure:

Dear reader: It’s time to admit it. We’ve lost this battle. We should accept that data breaches aren’t shocking aberrations anymore—they’re the new normal. The age of reliable security is gone. We need to adjust our thinking. E-mail will never be completely secure for everybody. Go ahead, get started on the stages of grasping this new reality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Actually e-mail was never intended to be secure. Most messages are sent as plain, easily readable, unencrypted text from your sending device to your e-mail service (Gmail or whatever), to your recipients’ e-mail services, and from there to their devices. Encryption is a rare, partial and inconvenient solution.

7) Pretty cool set of maps of where tv shows are most and least popular.

8) Things are looking up financially for the Washington Post.  That’s great news.  Of course, plenty of local papers are still hemorrhaging money.

9) Bob Hall with an Op-Ed about a point I must have made in at least a half-dozen HB2 interviews– this really does have it’s roots in gerrymandering:

The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering.

When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters.

Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.

Lawmakers from these heavily gerrymandered districts are far more concerned with fending off potential primary opponents than facing a substantial general election challenge. As such, they arrive in Raleigh with no incentive to ever reach across the aisle and compromise.

That inability to conduct a civil discussion and reach an overall agreement was on full display in the special session called to repeal HB2, but failed to do just that.

10) The biggest reason I tell my students not to watch Fox News is not the ideology, but the lies and the stupidity.  Kevin Drum with a great case-in-point on how they get it totally wrong on Food Stamp fraud.

11) Using IBM’s Watson not just to win Jeopardy, but to fight cybercrime.

12) Personally, I don’t think Steve Martin’s Carrie Fisher tweet was sexist.  Is it sexist to admit you were first attracted to them for physical appearance, but then realized they were so much more?  Enough with the social justice warriors.

13) Can’t say I find it surprising, but it is oh so depressing to read of the racist, rogue, police in Louisiana.  This was stopped by Obama’s DOJ.  Any confidence that would happen under Trump.  Racist local cops must be ecstatic.

For a shocking glimpse of what’s been happening in the name of criminal justice in America, look no further than a Justice Department report last week on police behavior in Louisiana. Officers there have routinely arrested hundreds of citizens annually without probable cause, strip-searching them and denying them contact with their family and lawyers for days — all in an unconstitutional attempt to force cooperation with detectives who finally admitted they were operating on a mere “hunch” or “feeling.”

This wholesale violation of the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizure by the police in Evangeline Parish, including in its largest city, Ville Platte, was standard procedure for putting pressure on citizens who the police thought might have information about crimes, according to the findings of a 20-month federal investigation. The report described as “staggering” the number of people who were “commonly detained for 72 hours or more” with no opportunity to contest their arrest, in what the police euphemistically termed “investigative holds.” …

Reforms have since begun, a tribute to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, which carried out the investigation and demanded wholesale changes. This bureau has done notable work during the Obama administration, investigating 25 law enforcement agencies and requiring and overseeing major reforms. To fully secure national justice, its work must continue. One big question in Washington now is whether President-elect Donald Trump and his choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, might ever commit themselves to this cause.

14) More TV shows should just say no to season 2.

15) I never did a post on the latest important work on inequality.  I really should have.  But, it’s the end of the year and time to clear out tabs.  Yglesias with a really good summary of the work:

A child born in 1940 had an extremely good chance of growing up to earn more money than his parents did. Due to regression to the mean, children of the very, very wealthy were somewhat less likely to out-earn their parents (if your dad is Jeff Bezos, it’s hard to beat that no matter how many advantages you have in life). But from the bottom of the income distribution all the way up to the 95th percentile or so, families were extremely likely to experience upward mobility.

For kids born in 1980, that’s much less true. The very most disadvantaged kids are, fortunately, pretty likely to grow up to be somewhat less disadvantaged than their parents. But for people born into the broad middle 60 percent or so of the income distribution, experiencing upward mobility relative to your parents has become a crapshoot.

Raj Chetty et. al.

16) Speaking of clearing out tabs, I still haven’t read this NYT Magazine piece on “The Great AI Awakening.”  It looks good, but, I just haven’t.  Please tell me if I need to.

16) Frum on how Trump made Russia’s hacking more effective:

The content of the Russian-hacked emails was actually remarkably unexplosive. Probably the biggest news was that Hillary Clinton had expressed herself in favor of a hemispheric common market in speeches to Wall Street executives. Otherwise, we learned from them that some people at the Democratic National Committee favored a lifelong Democrat for their party’s nomination over a socialist interloper who had joined the party for his own convenience. We learned that many Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, disapproved of the ethical shortcomings of some of the people in Bill Clinton’s inner circle. We learned that Hillary Clinton acknowledged differences between her “public and private” positions on some issues. None of this even remotely corroborated Donald Trump’s wild characterizations of the Russian-hacked, Wikileaks-published material.

These Wikileaks emails confirm what those of us here today have known all along: Hillary Clinton is the vessel for a corrupt global establishment that is raiding our country and surrendering our sovereignty. This criminal government cartel doesn’t recognize borders, but believes in global governance, unlimited immigration, and rule by corporations.

Or:

The more emails WikiLeaks releases, the more lines between the Clinton Foundation, the secretary of state’s office and the Clintons’ personal finances—they all get blurred … I mean, at what point—at what point do we say it? Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of the presidency.

Without Trump’s own willingness to make false claims and misuse Russian-provided information, the Wikileaks material would have deflated of its own boringness. The Russian-hacked material did damage because, and only because, Russia found a willing accomplice in the person of Donald J. Trump.

17) Time for my annual last-day-of-the-year large-scale charitable giving.  I’ll be using Givewell.org as my guide.

Super-late quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff from Bill Ayers on the stupidity on business as a metaphor for government:

I think I’ll take my Prius drag racing.

It makes perfect sense, right? After all, a Prius is just like those cars you see tearing down the track at drag races. It has four wheels, each with an inflated rubber tire. It has an engine powered by oil-based fuel. It’s got a seat for a driver, with a steering wheel. It’s got a transmission system, and a bunch of electrical support stuff. I mean, they’re practically the same thing.

Of course, this is crazy. A Prius, despite some superficial similarities, is not a drag racer. Attempting to run mine on a drag strip is likely to fail, and cause a fair amount of damage in the process. A drag racer is built for speed. A Prius (unless you heavily modify it!) is built for gas mileage.

Along similar lines, why do so many people insist on arguing that “government should be run like a business”? …

The fact that “business” and “government” both belong to the broader category called “human organization” tells you very little about how to run the latter. The differences between them are far more important than the similarities. And like the comparison between Prius and drag racer, what is most important is the purpose for which each was built.

A business is an organization designed to produce some product or service for the wider world, usually (though not always) at a profit. A business creates what it creates. It is primarily concerned with two groups of people: the owners (who control the business, and in whose interest it presumably operates) and the customers. A business can define its own customer base, to a substantial degree, and doesn’t need to concern itself with anybody else in society. Businesses don’t even have to be all that concerned about their employees, except as these are necessary to produce the product or service.

Governments look nothing like this. They are not meant to operate at a profit, and those that do are generally regarded as corrupt and illegitimate. Governments do not produce individual goods or services, but provide public goods to a broad group of people known as citizens. Except at the margins, governments have very little ability to define who they serve, and governments that decide to serve only one segment of the population usually find themselves losing legitimacy. Legitimate governments can’t pick their “customer base”…

But the chief purpose of the government is not to be a business, but to provide a safe, secure, and fair environment in which everybody can pursue their own individual business. If businesses are like sports teams competing, government is like the referee enforcing the rules of the game.

Ultimately, the purpose of a business is to advance the interests of its owners, usually a small group of people. The purpose of a government is to advance the interests of everybody. A business is partial to itself. A good government is impartial towards all.

2) Trump’s OMB pick Mick Mulvaney thinks it’s a good idea to blow up the debt ceiling.  Ugh.  And he doesn’t think the government should fund scientific research.  Double-ugh.  And he’s part of a larger trend of Trump surrounding himself with Tea Partiers.  Triple-ugh.

3) Recently finished Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot to my 10-year old.  Perhaps the favorite book I have read my kids not written by EB White or Roald Dahl.  So good.

4) The Republican approach to health care policy?  Maybe wait before going to the ER when your kid breaks his arm.  Seriously.

5) Bipartisan Op-Ed arguing that we need nuclear power to slow global warming.  I firmly agree.  And there’s amazing technological advances in contemporary reactors.

6) Also, global warming really sucks for polar bears.  Great photo essay in the NYT.

7) So clear that we all benefit by waiting longer to merge with a lane closure and do a zipper merge.  The problem is that so many drivers are not aware and act counter-productively.  Doesn’t seem that a public service campaign on the matter would be all that hard.

8) A review of the year in cool quantum physics stuff.

9) Nicholas Kristof has a conversation with an Evangelical pastor on whether you can be Christian without believing in the virgin birth or the Resurrection.  Whether those beliefs make you a “Christian” or not, you could do a lot worse than following Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, regardless of whether you believe the other stuff.

10) John Cassidy on Trump’s challenge to democracy:

The big unknown isn’t what Trump will do: his pattern of behavior is clear. It is whether the American political system will be able to deal with the unprecedented challenge his election presents, and rein him in. Especially with a single party controlling the executive and the legislative branches, there is no immediately reassuring answer to this question.

11) I never did watch “Making of a Murderer” (mostly because it struck me as way too much of a time investment), but this really interesting New Yorker article on true-crime as entertainment from back in January (just came across it as promoted as among their most popular articles of the year) makes me glad I did not invest the time.

12) Studies less unfavorable to sugar that are funded by the sugar industry should undoubtedly draw great scrutiny.  That said, these conclusions seem reasonable:

But the scientists behind the paper said more scrutiny of sugar guidelines was needed. The researchers reviewed guidelines issued by the W.H.O. and eight other agencies around the world and said the case against sugar was based on “low-quality” evidence.

“The conclusion of our paper is a very simple one,” said Bradley C. Johnston, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Toronto and McMaster University and the lead author of the new paper. “We hope that the results from this review can be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”

Dr. Johnston said he recognized that his paper would be criticized because of its ties to industry funding. But he said he hoped people would not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by dismissing the conclusion that sugar guidelines should be developed with greater rigor. He also emphasized that he was not suggesting that people eat more sugar. The review article, he said, questions specific recommendations about sugar but “should not be used to justify higher intake of sugary foods and beverages.”

13) Excellent, thorough, Nate Cohn piece looking at how the Obama coalition fell apart for HRC.  Make sure you read this one.

14) Not surprisingly, the relationship between the political attitudes of elite donors and the Democratic party is far more complex than the simplistic portrayals we commonly get.

15) The way in which we basically let police departments steal money from people in this country is just disgusting.  Drum is not having it and either am I.

16) Greg Sargent on why we should be terrified of Trump’s decision-making process.

17) Ezra Klein asks whether Republicans are more addicted to power or ideas.  It’s cute that he even pretends it’s a question:

We are about to learn whether Republicans are more addicted to power or to ideas. This is, it’s worth noting, a live debate. In the Bush years, the GOP cut taxes, expanded Medicare, and started two wars without paying for a dime of it. Then after Barack Obama took office, Republicans became very worried about budget discipline.

 Fiscal conservatism, liberals complained, seemed to mean Republicans could rack up debt for any reason while Democrats couldn’t even borrow to save the economy during a financial collapse (which is, for the record, exactly the time you would want to debt finance).

But the GOP swore otherwise. The Tea Party, they said, was a correction to the regrettable excesses of the aughts. Bush-era Republicans had gone Washington and become addicted to power rather than conservatism. They had betrayed their own ideas and were now being punished by their own voters. It wouldn’t happen again. The opposition to Obama’s debt financing was the principled stand of a chastened GOP, not a cynical ploy to trip up a Democratic president.

If House Republicans — and particularly the House Freedom Caucus, the most debt-obsessed of all House Republicans — decide that Trump only needs to pay half the cost of his plans, then there’ll be no more mystery. Partisanship and power, not ideas and ideology, will have proven the GOP’s real addiction.

18) Poland for a very, very disturbing case study of what can happen when populists come to power in a democracy:

The Law and Justice Party rode to power on a pledge to drain the swamp of Polish politics and roll back the legacy of the previous administration. One year later, its patriotic revolution, the party proclaims, has cleaned house and brought God and country back to Poland.

Opponents, however, see the birth of a neo-Dark Age — one that, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, is a harbinger of the power of populism to upend a Western society. In merely a year, critics say, the nationalists have transformed Poland into a surreal and insular place — one where state-sponsored conspiracy theories and de facto propaganda distract the public as democracy erodes.

In the land of Law and Justice, anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles.

Over the weekend, Warsaw convulsed in street protests amid allegations that the Law and Justice party had illegally forced through a budget bill even as it sought to restrict media access to Parliament.

 

18) David Leonhardt suggests maybe Democrats have been bringing knives to a gun fight.  I think he might be right, but it’ll be a helluva mess if bullets just start flying everywhere.

If he were merely a rogue politician, this story would be a local one. But too many Republicans elsewhere have begun to ignore political traditions, and even laws, to exert power. While Democrats continue to play by more genteel rules, Republicans have subscribed to the Capone school of politics (as Sean Connery fans can recite): “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

 

19) Must-read NYT piece on Steve Kerr and how we was shaped by his father, who was assassinated as president of American University in Beirut in 1984.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Chait on the nightmare that is Trump’s National Security team:

But it is the specific, mutually reinforcing characteristics of Flynn and his staff that invite the most alarm. He is a conspiracy theorist averse to any challenge to his suspicions, surrounding himself with a staff of fellow conspiracy theorists seemingly designed to shut out any challenge to his biases, providing advice to a novice president who is himself a conspiracy theorist. It’s under-informed, overconfident crackpots all the way down. As a comedic script, it would defy plausibility. Except there’s a terrifying chance that a lot of innocent people will die as a result.

2) I love this idea– an affirmative liberal agenda to protect voting rights in the states.  Let’s go liberals.

3) Like me, I’m sure you are totally shocked at the very solid evidence for racial bias against Black convicts in Florida.  But Fox News says the real racism problem now is racism against white people.  What to believe?

4) Laser Christmas lights are totally catching on.  Me and my kids totally want these because I’m way too lazy to put up real lights.  My wife doesn’t think we should advertise our laziness to the neighborhood.  I actually think they look pretty cool, too.

5) I’ve been meaning to do a post on Comey, but, ahhhh, quick hits it is.  Excellent post from Brian Beutler on how Democrats need to not cede the security state to Republicans.  And excellent Vanity Fair profile of Comey and recent FBI directors.  And Drum argues that, regardless of Comey’s intent, everything he did sure came out very partisan:

Any one of these things could be just an accident. Put them all together, and you need to be pretty obtuse not to see the partisan pattern. In every single case, Comey and the FBI did what was best for Republicans and worst for Democrats. In. Every. Single. Case.

If you want to believe this is just a coincidence, go ahead. But nobody with a room temperature IQ credits that. The FBI has spent the entire past year doing everything it could to favor one party over the other in a presidential campaign. Democrats ought to be in a seething fury about this. Instead, they’re arguing about a few thousand white rural voters in Wisconsin and whether Hillary Clinton should have visited Michigan a few more times in October.

6) Vox piece on the reality of the infamous hot McDonald’s coffee lawsuit.  Actually saw a great documentary on this a few years ago.

7) Josh Marshall on the Russia hacks and what we knew when:

The administration did a huge amount over the course of the fall to alert the public, alert the world was happening. They finally went so far as to issue a public consensus judgment of the entire US intelligence community about Russian tampering in the election.

This was loud. Everybody heard about it. It was widely reported. It certainly didn’t get the same volume or intensity of attention as Hillary Clinton’s emails. But the President can’t control press coverage. The key issue was that political partisanship by and large kept Republicans from caring. The dynamics of the presidential contest were more important than foreign meddling or sabotage.

 This may sound like a harsh judgment but it is demonstrably true. Not only did President-Elect Trump know about the charges. (Indeed, it is very likely his intelligence briefings included more detailed information than we in the public have even today.) He frequently discussed them and encouraged the tampering
Perhaps you have doubts about whether Russia was really behind the hacks. But the US government made abundantly clear who it believed was behind them. The notifications went far beyond leaks or interviews. They did a public and formal pronouncement! That almost never happens. The simple matter is this: Everybody knew this. But there was no making Trump, his supporters or most critically establishment Republicans or elected officials care.  [italics Marshall; bold is me]

8) This headline in Salon piece summarizing some new research pretty much gets it, ” Big Republican donors are even more extreme than their party — and they drive its agenda.”

Why does this matter? There is increasing evidence that politicians are more responsive to donors than to voters or party members in general. The push for austerity does not come from average Americans, but from powerful donors. Economic and political inequality are self-reinforcing trends: The rich use their increasing wealth to influence the political system, and they overwhelmingly prefer policies that limit the influence of government in society. Though the voice of the donor class is disparate, it speaks with an accent — and prefers policies that will further increase economic inequality.

9) Tom Wheeler on why it was easier being a lobbyist than heading the FCC:

Looking back, Wheeler says it was easier being a lobbyist.

“To make decisions that are in the common good is tough,” Wheeler said at a press conference today. “Remember: I have been on the other side. Making demands that benefit a specific constituency is easy, as is attacking the decision-makers when you don’t like that decision.”

10) How the rise in Cesarean sections may actually be affecting human evolution– bigger heads.

11) I think Chait is right that Schumer is operating off the wrong mental model on how to deal with Trump.

12) Love the technology behind these proposed check-out free Amazon stores.

13) Criminal justice in Alabama— surprise again– racist and vindictive.

14) Paul Waldman on Congressional Republicans looking the other way on so much bad stuff.  Tax cuts!!

But in the specific areas above, we’re seeing something new and different. We’re looking at the possibility of an unprecedented undermining of the integrity of our democracy; of mind-blowingly extensive corruption; and of a massive erosion of the very possibility of agreement on basic facts about our political outcomes. This goes well beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history, not only in the specifics, but even more so in the aggregate. And, presuming this will continue, the behavior of congressional Republicans in response to it should be seen as an integral part of that story.

15) Dana Goldstein assesses Obama’s legacy on education.

16) Speaking of education, new evidence that, yes, school spending does matter.  Of course, it matters where you spend it:

For many years, research on the relationship between spending and student learning has been surprisingly inconclusive. Many other factors, including student poverty, parental education and the way schools are organized, contribute to educational results.

Teasing out the specific effect of money spent is methodologically difficult. Opponents of increased school funding have seized on that ambiguity to argue that, for schools, money doesn’t matter — and, therefore, more money isn’t needed.

But new, first-of-its-kind research suggests that conclusion is mistaken. Money really does matter in education, which could provide fresh momentum for more lawsuits and judgments like the Connecticut decision…

They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades. [emphasis mine]

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