Quick hits (part II)

1) Hillary Clinton’s approach on capital gains is smart policy.  But, it disproportionately affects the richest Americans.  Of course Republicans hate it.  Drum’s take and Jordan Weissmann’s.

2) Speaking of Hillary and taxes, she’s also speaking out on the “hair and makeup tax” faced by women.  Enjoyed the emphatic “amen” on this from a female reporter friend.

3) Dahlia Lithwick on a the recent 8th Circuit abortion decision:

What the 8th Circuit panel did yesterday goes far beyond admitting evidence from a discredited “expert” or two, willing to testify to conclusions that have been long debunked by serious scientific and medical organizations. This court actually usedthat faux science—without testing or weighing it or even allowing it to be evaluated at trial—to advance their argument that Roe and Casey are bad law because they just don’t like them. They would just take the assertions of “one doctor” and “one woman” as proof that abortions are bad and states should regulate them however and whenever they see fit. For all their alleged faults, Roe and Casey represented judicial attempts to calibrate the complex and competing interests of medical science, state interests, pregnant women, and the unborn fetuses they carried. They were not a series of Post-it notes from one side of the abortion debate.

4) Some research a while back suggested that most campus rapes are committed by serial rapists.  The latest research?  Maybe not so much.

5) Fascinating piece in the Economist on how the ubiquitousness of English is seemingly affecting commonly-used grammar in other languages.

6) Drum on how the new EPA power plant rules that conservatives said would destroy America are (surprise!) not going to destroy America.

7) What 10 Republicans will get to participate in the first GOP debate?  Given the low polling averages at the bottom, there will probably be an element of chance in who is included.

8) Great Pew feature on the changing demographics of America.

9) Love this Jordan Weissman on Jeb’s economic proposals:

So Bush has managed to clear the ankle-high bar of looking relatively adult in the quadrennial freak show known as the Republican primary. This is not the same, however, as demonstrating that his ideas are particularly thoughtful or moderate. [emphasis mine] While he breaks with his party’s rabid base on immigration and education, when it comes to the all-important issues regarding the size and role of government, his positions seem to be GOP boilerplate mixed with a dash of hardcore conservative fantasy, all dressed up with some rhetorical gimmicks. Bush might be the grown-up in the room. But you have to consider the room.

10) A prostitute acting in self defense may have just killed a serial killer (and surely saved future lives in the process).

11) One thing NCLB has done well?  Helping Special Education students.  (Though I still strongly question the wisdom of standardized tests for children– such as my own– who are not even on a Kindergarten academic level).

12) And on a related subject, students with disabilities are being punished at disproportionate rates as the same rules do not always make sense for them (I’ll never forget the absurdity of Alex being sent “to the principal” for what amounted to the type of tantrum a three-year old would have).

13) Say what you will about Millennials, but I do appreciate the fact that they would much rather work in a vibrant downtown than a suburban office park.  This, of course, is bad news for office parks.

14) Daniel Kahneman thinks we all need to be less confident.  I’m quite confident that he is right about this:

What’s fascinating is that Kahneman’s work explicitly swims against the current of human thought. Not even he believes that the various flaws that bedevil decision-making can be successfully corrected. The most damaging of these is overconfidence: the kind of optimism that leads governments to believe that wars are quickly winnable and capital projects will come in on budget despite statistics predicting exactly the opposite. It is the bias he says he would most like to eliminate if he had a magic wand. But it “is built so deeply into the structure of the mind that you couldn’t change it without changing many other things”.

15) So, those cool kids at 13?  Not so great at 23.

16) I must admit I’m quite partial to this theory for why social psychologists are liberal.  But given all the social-psychology I know, I think it may be just motivated reasoning (though, there’s probably some there there).

17) Just so we’re clear, you have the right to be rude to police officers.  Of course, just because you have the right to mouth off, doesn’t mean its a good idea as there’s little to stop them from escalating a situation and arresting you even if they should not have done so.

18) Back in 5th grade I was the Rubik’s Cube champ of West Springfield Elementary.  It took me several minutes on average.  I am in awe of the fact that people today can do it in under 10 seconds.

That’s me wearing my “I solved the Rubik’s Cube” t-shirt while hitting the mini-links in Ocean City, Maryland, circa 1982.


Which America do you want to live in?

Jamelle Bouie on the Sandra Bland arrest:

Yes, Bland could have been less irritated, and she could have obeyed the command to put out her cigarette. But it’s not illegal to be frustrated with the police, and it’s not a crime to smoke. Moreover, it’s an officer’s job to remain calm and resolve situations without additional conflict. It’s not an imposition to expect as much from men and women entrusted with the right to detain and to use lethal force.

Think of it this way: If you are inclined to blame Bland for her arrest (and by extension her death), then you’re sanctioning an America where police command total deference, where you have to obey regardless of what you’ve done or what’s the law. You might want to live in that America. I don’t. [emphases mine]

I also love this take from the Atlantic’s David Graham on how many Sandra Bland arrests happen that we never know about:

Bland’s arrest fits into the category of police overreacting to perceived challenges to their authority, even provocations as minor as an individual asking why he or she is being arrested. A prosecutor charges that Freddie Gray was given a “rough ride” in a police van as punishment for running away from police and making a scene when he was arrested (an arrest that the prosecutor further charges was unlawful). If Bland had not died—authorities called it a suicide, though they’re now also investigating it as a murder—it’s unlikely that the video would have seen the light of day. It certainly would not have received widespread-media attention.

As my colleague Rebecca Rosen notes, one of the biggest revelations in theJustice Department’s report on policing in Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death was how many egregious examples of police misconduct went essentially unremarked upon and unpunished, simply because they didn’t end with anyone dead. Yet each of those incidents did have a cost: a loss of dignity, dehumanization, a gulf between police and citizens, and often a violation of civil rights. How many cases like Sandra Bland’s are there? It shouldn’t take a tragedy for police to be called to account for abusing their authority.

Short version: We need to do a way better job in this country holding police accountable.  When we entrust a segment of the population to use lethal force in the name of the government, we need to hold them to the highest possible standards.  Alas, far too often it’s the lowest and far too many Americans seem comfortable with that just because they love their ideas of “law and order” too much.

When judges kill people

No, not the death penalty, but by ordering stupid, anti-science conditions for heroin addicts.  I’d actually been meaning to write just how dumb we are about opiate addiction (again) in this country after reading recently about how an increasing number of people are being honest about the nature of opiate addiction and death in obituaries for family members.

The worst shame of it is that people are dying needlessly as we actually know how to treat heroin addiction reasonably well (opiate substitution with methadone or suboxone), but fail to do so for cultural and political reasons.  this is not some idle debate– people die as a direct result.

Anyway, here’s Vox’s story on a recent case:

Robert Lepolszki had kicked his heroin addiction. In 2014, the 28-year-old from Long Island was in a methadone treatment program — which lets addicts replace heroin, a very deadly opioid, with methadone, a safer opioid that doesn’t produce a euphoric high like heroin, to suppress withdrawal symptoms. For him, methadone acted like medicine for heroin addiction.

But then Lepolszki was arrested for an old drug sale and placed in front of a drug court, which push addicts to treatment instead of jail. These courts tend to take a hard line on addiction, and this court was no different. Judge Frank Gulotta Jr. said Lepolszki could only avoid incarceration if he quit all drugs — including methadone, the one drug keeping him off heroin.

Methadone treatment programs “are crutches — they are substitutes for drugs and drug cravings without enabling the participant to actually rid him or herself of the addiction,” Gulotta wrote, NBC 4’s Ann Givens and Chris Glorioso reported. “It must be remembered, the purpose of this program is to rid the participant of all addictions.”

Lepolszki died of a heroin overdose six months later…

Gulotta, like other critics of methadone treatments, was repeating a common refrain: Using methadone to quit heroin only replaces one drug with another.

But as drug and science journalist Maia Szalavitz explained in the New York Times, this line of thought fundamentally misunderstands drug addiction and why it’s a problem…

Under this view, methadone isn’t an addiction. The drug is not anywhere as deadly as heroin if used as advised. And since it doesn’t produce a euphoric high like heroin, it doesn’t lead to addicts looking for more and more as their tolerance increases, which raises their chances of overdose. It is, simply, a medication for opioid addiction.

There’s solid science behind the safety and efficacy of methadone and Suboxone, another drug with similar benefits. Decades of research have deemed them effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and World Health Organization acknowledge their medical value. [emphasis mine]

Hey, but why go with solid science when you are a judge and know that these other drugs are just a cheat for drug addicts.  Here’s a reason– people will die.  But, hey, what’s a few tens of thousands of opiate overdose deaths a year– surely they deserve their fate, their drug addicts.

Quick hits (part II)

1) We could use a solitary confinement case at the Supreme Court.  Maybe we’ll get one.  And Dahlia Lithwick on how Anthony Kennedy’s writing on solitary could (and should) be applied to the death penalty.

2) For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that the best evidence says we are way over-using statins.  Well, if I’m going to follow the science, maybe time to reconsider.

Two studies published Tuesday lend support to controversial new cholesterol guidelines that could vastly increase the number of Americans advised to takecholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.

One study suggests that the new guidelines are better at identifying who is truly at risk of a heart attack and should be given statins than the older guidelines are. The other suggests that treating people based on the new guidelines would be cost-effective, even with the tremendously increased use of statins.

Still not going to catch me on Lipitor anytime soon.

3) Really enjoyed this discussion of the Iran deal in the Atlantic.  The quote below is from Jeffrey Goldberg:

But on the matter at hand, the putative weakness of the current deal, well, I’m not so sure. No arms-control agreement is perfect—no arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union was perfect—but if this deal is properly implemented, it should keep Iran from reaching the nuclear threshold for at least 10, if not 20 years. I’m aware of the flaws, and I hope they get fixed. The lifting of the international arms embargo is a particularly unpleasant aspect of this deal. But I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold. My main concern, throughout this long process, is that a formula be found that keeps nuclear weapons out of the hands of the mullahs without having to engage them in perpetual warfare—which, by the way, would not serve to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the mullahs. War against Iran over its nuclear program would not guarantee that Iran is kept forever away from a bomb; it would pretty much guarantee that Iran unleashes its terrorist armies against American targets, however.

4) Surely you’ve read about Trump’s asinine comments about McCain’s war records.  What most struck me though about this article is how totally clueless he is in talking about religion.  Never going to work for a GOP candidate.

“I’m a religious person,” Mr. Trump told an audience of nearly 3,000 conservative Christian activists. “I pray, I go to church. Do I do things that are wrong? I guess so.”

Mr. Trump also struggled to answer if he had ever sought forgiveness from God, before reluctantly acknowledging that he had not.

“If I do something wrong, I try to do something right,” he said. “I don’t bring God into that picture.”

And Mr. Trump raised eyebrows with language rarely heard before an evangelical audience — saying “damn” and “hell” when discussing education and the economy — while also describing the taking of communion in glib terms.

“When we go in church and I drink the little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and I eat the little cracker — I guess that’s a form of asking forgiveness,” Mr. Trump said.

Just wow.

5) A former Marine on the real barriers facing women marines.

6) Seattle is trying to aggressively enforce its recycling rules.  That means looking into people’s trash cans.  That’s where things get messy.

7) The best age to get married and avoid divorce follows a U-shaped curve.  Sweet spot is in the mid-to-late 20’s.  I’ve done well for getting married at 22.

8) Sure Trump is a joke and a clown, but Josh Vorhees makes an important point on why he does deserve substantial political coverage:

Trump’s candidacy is destined to fade away just as countless other novelty candidates have in primaries past.

None of that, however, is any reason for the media not to seriously cover Trump’s campaign today. The Donald may be a Twitter troll in a $5,000 Brioni suit, but he’s also the avatar of choice for a significant subset of the American electorate who sees themselves in his particular brand of belligerence. That view and those voters won’t disappear when Trump does. The press ignores that fact at its own peril—and at the public’s own loss.

9) Surfing as an Olympic sport?  What think you surfer friends?

10) I never eat raw tomatoes (part of my picky eating), but I certainly appreciate the dilemma that growers and supermarkets seem entirely uninterested in growing tomatoes that actually taste good.  The author doesn’t mention it, but when you look at how the Red Delicious apple has become completely overtaken by apples that taste good, I think that gives some hope for tomato lovers (the tomatoes are now out there– the trouble is getting the big growers and supermarkets to buy them).

11) And the long one… multimedia NYT feature on the lawlessness faces by stowaways on the high seas.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian this week.  Soooo good.  If you love science (and I know many of you do), this book is an absolute must-read.  I also love the story of how this started as a book he gave away for free, than a $.99 ebook but became so popular that Random House and a movie studio came calling the same week.

2) This article argues that universities should ban powerpoints because they make students stupid and professors boring.  Of course, I actually figured out all these problems during my first two semesters of teaching.  If you use powerpoints right— and honestly, most people that I know that use powerpoint, do use it right– than it is an effective tool

3) All that stuff about how much your birth order matters.  The latest research says… maybe not so much after all.

4) John Oliver on the absurdity of public funding of sports stadiums.  Brilliant, of course.  And, as long as we’ve got videos with strong references to Friday Night Lights, this Amy Schumer video on football and rape is kinda awesome. Hadn’t seen that video, but found out about it via this really fun Fresh Air interview with Schumer.

5) Time to cut back on NSAID (i.e., ibuprofen, etc.) use?  Maybe.  Though, some much more explicit guidelines would sure be helpful.

6) Nice Op-Ed from Erwin Chermerinksy on how Scalia’s opinions set a really bad example for young lawyers.

7) Okay, sometimes I actually let my phone make noise in public, but in some pants/shorts I don’t hear the vibrations and my wife gets pissed when she knows I’m not busy and don’t answer.

8) Not surprised to learn that living near trees is good for your health.  One of the reasons I’m in my current home is that there are way more trees in my yard and neighborhood than most other homes I looked at (though it’s damn hard to have a decent lawn as a result).

9) The robots are winning.

10) Sure, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few assigned high school books that I actually enjoyed reading, but all the hullabaloo over Go Set a Watchman seems a little nuts.  I’ve actually ignored most of the coverage, but I found this TNR piece on why this “new” book should have never been published pretty compelling.

11) And your long-read from the NYT Magazine.  You just got out of prison— now what.


Incarceration nation

Vox with a great series of charts that summarize the state of mass incarcerration in America.  This one is my favorite, but there’s plenty more really good ones.

less prison no more crime

Another way to gauge the diminishing benefits of prison is by looking at what’s happened in states after they reduced their prison populations in recent years. The data in the chart above, taken from the Pew Charitable Trusts, shows that there’s no correlation between imprisonment rates and crime — suggesting that states can bring down their prison populations without risking public safety in a significant way.

Yup.  So maybe we should do that.  And a whole lot of other stuff.  We do criminal justice policy just so stupidly and ruin so many lives in the process.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Bill Ayers on Greece:

I don’t see a similar discussion with regard to Greece. There is plenty of agreement that the Greeks have borrowed way too much money, and plenty of finger-pointing at them for having done so. But who lent them that money? At what point did those lenders cross the line between responsible and irresponsible lending? The IMF apparently figured out that Greece will never be able to repay all of its debts; where were the other lenders when that calculation should have been done? It’s easy to point fingers as the “lazy” Greeks, but somebody (mostly Germany, by most accounts) lent them the money. What responsibility do lenders have to do their homework and lend responsibly?

2) John Oliver talks and New York listens.  Okay, not really the causal chain, but great to see NY embracing much-needed bail reform.

3) Jimmy Carter is done with oppressing women in the name of Christianity.

4) There’s been a lot of attention in NC to whether magistrates would have to marry same-sex couples.  According to Republicans, to do so would violate their religious freedom.  Now that they can opt out, only 14 of nearly 700 have done so.

5) Not that they can do much but complain, but the Louisiana Supreme Court is not happy about same sex marriage.

6) Seth Masket on why Bernie-mentum is not all its cracked up to be:

This doesn’t mean that Sanders can’t actually make a difference in this contest. He may well win a few important primaries and caucuses, and he may play an important role in the nominating convention next summer. But everything we know about the way presidential nominations work says that Hillary Clinton has a bigger advantage than anyone ever has who wasn’t an incumbent president.

7) Drum points out that not only are we willfully ignorant as a society about GMO food; the same goes for irradiated food.  This could do wonders to reduce food-borne pathogens, but everybody is too freaked out about “radiation!”

8) Baltimore police– not so great even if you are a white Baltimore resident. These guys need to try harder.

9) This is not anything new for the Catholic Church, but it is nice to see Pope Francis state it so plainly:

Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

10) Really interesting piece on the rising concern over “micro-aggressions” and how this reflects differing views of “moral culture.”

We can better understand complaints about microaggression and the reactions to them if we understand that each side of the debate draws from a different moral culture. Those calling attention to microaggressions have rejected the morality dominant among middle-class Americans during the 20th century — what sociologists and historians have sometimes called a dignity culture, which abhors private vengeance and encourages people to go to the police or use the courts when they are seriously harmed. Less serious offenses might be ignored, and certainly any merely verbal offense should be. Parents thus teach their children to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Microaggression complaints make clear that this is no longer settled morality. Those who see microaggressions as a serious problem and who bring up minor and unintentional slights reject the idea that words can’t hurt, that slights should be brushed off, that even overt insults should be ignored. This attitude reveals the emergence of a new moral culture, one we call victimhood culture, since it valorizes victimhood.

Put me on the side of dominant middle-class culture.

11) Can’t say I was really all that surprised on the massive failure of American efforts to build schools in Afghanistan, but it is depressing.  And some surprisingly strong reporting in Buzzfeed, of all places.

12) Onion on the pros and cons of flying the confederate flag– pure awesomeness.

13) Just in case you didn’t know, that whole crack babies thing is a myth.  A great example of spurious correlation.

14) Paul Krugman on how Republicans want to bring all the policies of the Greek disaster to America.

15) The piece on autism in the last quick hits led me to this older, but better, look at understanding the rising prevalence of autism (short version: whatever environmental factors contribute, they are a small part).

16) I loved this eulogy for the epistolary email, as it so reflects my own personal experience.

17) New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe on El Chapo’s latest escape.

18) If somebody suggested a story about two sets of identical twins that were switched at birth and raised as two sets of fraternal twins, chances are you would say it is too outlandish to be believed.  But it happened and it’s an amazing story.  It’s long, but I guarantee you won’t regret reading it.


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