Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting interview with Judge Richard Posner, who, better-late-than-never, recognizes that our justice system is not exactly fair to poor people.

2) So, we’re actually having an interesting debate on whether we need to have reporters out there standing in 150mph winds during a hurricane.

3) The guy who invented the stupid password rules (one uppercase, one special character, etc.) totally regrets it.  What we really need– long, easy to remember passwords.  Thisisareallylongpassword is way better than Ttg9!yt6.

4) Enjoyed this explanation on all the stuff that went right to keep Irma from being an epic catastrophe.

5) Also, we need to do a better job communicating to the public what hurricane forecasts really mean.

6) Equifax and the whole credit reporting industry is so evil and so insulated.  Farhad Manjoo is right that they should not get away with it (they will).  I also love Drum’s simple solution:

The time for small-bore proposals is over. It’s time to make the credit agencies—and others—pay for their flagrantly careless behavior. When they allow someone to steal your identity, they’re the ones who should pay the price, not you.

7) Pretty good satirical video of helping with homework that I love, because Toto’s Africa.



8) Olympic-sized events rarely work out for the host city.

9) Love this Vox appreciation of the humor in “Bojack Horseman.”  So, dark, yet so much brilliant comedy.

10) David Roberts on how the mainstream media turned HRC’s “gaffes” into scandals based on pretty much nothing is terrific:

If you put these two together — an intensely hostile and dishonest conservative movement combing every word and act for anything that can be distorted, plus a mainstream press endlessly credulous toward each new faux scandal — and then add, in 2015, an intensely hostile and only moderately more informed Bernie Sanders coalition feeding in their own faux scandals from the left, you have, to put it mildly, a inclement information environment for Clinton.

So sure, it makes sense, in isolation, to say that she shouldn’t have bungled that sentence about coal workers. She shouldn’t have used that email server her husband had in the basement. She shouldn’t have given speeches to banks. All of that is true enough.

But note that when mainstream critics talk about these things, it’s never the things themselves that are the problem. It’s always the optics: “how it sounded” or “how it looked.” If you unpack that a little — “she should have known how it would look” — here’s what it means: She should have known that anything she does or says that can be spun to look bad will be spun to look bad, and the MSM will pass along the spin uncritically, so she shouldn’t have done or said anything that can be spun to look bad.

11) The Amish use smartphones?!

12) I’ve never actually seen discrimination against politically conservative professors in my 17 years as a tenure-track professor.  The problem Arthur Brooks overlooks, is massive selection bias.

13) I’ve been meaning to do a post on single-payer, but for now, Drum reminds us that hospitals (and hospital systems) are the costs villain in American medicine, not insurance companies.  I actually feel like the understanding of this fact is something that separates those who understand health care policy from those that think they understand health care policy.

This is the not-so-hidden story of exploding medical costs. We’ve become so accustomed to hating on insurers that we hardly notice that hospital consolidation is a much bigger villain. When a big insurer has a local monopoly, it can usually negotiate lower prices from hospitals because the hospitals have nowhere else to go. But when there are lots of insurers and only one or two local hospitals, it’s the hospitals that have the upper hand. They can charge high prices because the insurers have no choice except to do business with them. As hospital systems get steadily larger and rope in more and more physicians, their effective competition decreases and they have the ability to demand ever higher prices.

Insurance companies are hardly innocent bystanders in the health care system, but if you want to really target the drivers of higher costs, look to the source: the actual providers of medical services. That means doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers. That’s where the real money is.

14) My kind of Christian.  John Pavlovitz on Jemelle Hill.

The White House joined in the caucasian outrage, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s comments constituted a “fireable offense.” Maybe it’s me, but if calling the President a white supremacist is a fireable offense—then him actually being one sure as heck should be.

This is the heart of the hypocrisy on display here, and the reason Hill isn’t wrong, even if you disagree with her conclusions or her methods.

You don’t get to hire Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Jeff Sessions—and simultaneously mount a high horse of righteous indignation at the suggestion that you’re probably a bigot.

You don’t get to spend a lifetime exemplifying the absolute insulation from accountability that is white privilege—and get to play the victim card when a black woman asks why that is.

15) Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court has based ruling on sex offenders on junk science.  Rulings based on junk science are still rife through our criminal justice system.

16) From prison to a PhD program at NYU.  But not Harvard.

17) Great article on sexism and politics in Germany and the fascinating historical role of Communist progressivism on gender under East Germany.

18) Some interesting new political science research.  More asymmetry!

Recent studies indicate that the wealthy receive more representation from their members of Congress, though this relationship may be more pronounced in Republican compared to Democratic districts. However, drawbacks in existing survey data hamper efforts to delineate the relationship between income and representation with precision, especially at the highest income levels. In this paper we use new data to explore the relationship between wealth, the party identity of elected officials, and representation in greater depth. We develop several alternative models of the relationship between income and representation, and compare them with models employed in previous empirical research. We test each of these models, using two different data sets containing large numbers of wealthy individuals and very granular measures of income. Our results suggest that individuals with Democratic congressional representatives experience a fundamentally different type of representation than do individuals with Republican representatives. Individuals with Democratic representatives encounter a mode of representation best described as “populist,” in which the relationship between income and representation is flat (if not negative). However, individuals with Republican representatives experience an “oligarchic” mode of representation, in which wealthy individuals receive much more representation than those lower on the economic ladder.

19a) So, remember Drutman on the doom-loop.  Chait says just blame Republicans.  And he makes a damn good point.

Whether or not the Times was correct to use this research, and whether or not it treated Clinton fairly overall, is not the point. What matters is that Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times’ disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party’s interests — its errors all run in the same direction.

Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don’t dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.

19b) Drum, largely agrees, but argues the Republican Party is not the root of the problem:

There’s much more at the link, where Chait describes the asymmetry between the parties well. I don’t disagree with a word he says. However, I want to stress one small qualification. America is a democracy, and parties survive only if they gain popular support. Over the past couple of decades, we liberals have marveled at the steadily increasing lunacy of the Republican Party, confidently predicting at every turn that eventually the fever has to break. But it hasn’t. Republicans have won the presidency at the same rate as usual. They have won the House. They have won the Senate. They control state governments. They control county governments. There are still a few blue enclaves like California where Democrats truly control things, but not many. Generally speaking, the only thing Democrats truly control in America is its big cities. Urban mayors are almost uniformly Democratic.

In other words, the problem is not the Republican Party. The problem is that lots of people vote for the Republican Party. The lunacy will stop when that does. [emphasis mine]

20) Lastly, here’s your must-read of the week (from Politico!) on how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is making our plants less healthy.  Seriously.

In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”



Quick hits (part II)

1) This Vox interview with social-psychologist extraordinaire, Paul Slovic, on “psychic numbing” is terrific.  Read all of it:

Paul Slovic

I’ve been doing research on risk for close to 60 years now. [In the 1970s] I was struck withDaniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s work on prospect theory. It had something called a value function in it, which indicated how people value things as the amounts increased. Changes at small levels had a big impact, and then as the magnitudes got larger, it took more and more of a difference to be noticeable.

The difference between, say, $0 and $100 feels greater than the difference between $100 and $200. If you’re talking about $5,800 or $5,900 — [both] seem the same, even though it’s still $100 difference.

I talked with Tversky about that, and [wondered] if that applied to lives. We both figured it would — and that this is really a pretty scary kind of thing.

It means that there is no constant value for a human life, that the value of a single life diminishes against the backdrop of a larger tragedy.

Brian Resnick

Is this what you call psychic numbing? The larger number of people, the more apathy.

Paul Slovic

Yes. And the opposite side of that is something we call the singularity effect, which is an individual life is very valued. We all go to great lengths to protect a single individual or to rescue someone in distress, but then as the numbers increase, we don’t respond proportionally to that.

People care about individuals. We see it over and over again: There’s a child who needs an operation, his parents can’t afford to pay for this operation, and there’s a story in the newspaper. An outpouring of money donations and support is often tremendous. We do care a lot about individuals. We don’t scale that up, even when we’re capable.

2) For Trump’s EPA head, it’s neverclimate change. the right time to talk about

3) The purpose of sleep?  To forget:

A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day.

In order to learn, we have to grow connections, or synapses, between the neurons in our brains. These connections enable neurons to send signals to one another quickly and efficiently. We store new memories in these networks.

In 2003, Giulio Tononi and Chiara Cirelli, biologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proposed that synapses grew so exuberantly during the day that our brain circuits got “noisy.” When we sleep, the scientists argued, our brains pare back the connections to lift the signal over the noise.

4) Among other things, I’m a bit of a hurricane science nerd.  Thus, this Nate Cohn piece on how to follow and understand hurricane science (and apply it to Irma) is one of my favorite Upshot pieces ever.

5) Adult marijuana use is rising; teen marijuana use is falling.  That sounds fine to me– especially if the adult use is displacing alcohol use.

Public health experts tend to worry more about adolescent than adult drug use because adolescent brains are still developing. Teen drug use is linked to a host of health problems later in life, including addiction, criminal behavior and cognitive deficits.

The marijuana trend defies the warnings of those who oppose its legalization, who have long predicted that loosening restrictions on marijuana would “send the wrong message” to teens and increase teen drug use.

6) A new front in GMO wars?  GMO moths being used to control agricultural pests.  As you might expect, sounds good to me.

7) Interesting take about why China does not do more about North Korea:

Flash forward to 2003, when China, at the behest of the United States, set up the six-party talks to try to deal with North Korea after it withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This move, too, had a key domestic component: to show China’s people how important China — and thus the Chinese Communist Party — had become. The idea, according to exiled Chinese writer Chang Ping, was not actually to solve the problem, but to maintain a situation in which as China “secretly aids the kidnappers, as middleman, it also helps negotiate the ransom.”

Why does China continue to aid “the kidnappers”? For one, despite the increased criticism of North Korea permitted in the state-run press, a significant faction within the Communist Party continues to believe that China’s support of North Korea chips away at American strength and prestige. Undermining the United States within China and around Asia remains a central goal of the party, which sees itself as embattled by what it calls “hostile Western forces” — in other words, the United States.

Second and possibly even more important, Chinese Communist officials have to be concerned about the ramifications inside China of a more aggressive stance on North Korea. If Beijing steps in and installs a more malleable leader to replace Kim, who is to say North Koreans would not revolt and turn their country into an Iraq or, perhaps even worse, a democracy?

8) Went to a birdwatching class with Sarah to come back and unintentionally come across this Wirecutter article on the best binoculars.  Apparently, there’s been a revolution in low-cost optical technology making good binoculars way more affordable.  I paid about $200 for a pair around 12 years ago, but if this article is right, I’d be much better off with a new set of $150 binoculars.

9) Blatant sexual harassment in the Texas Tech Biology department?  A-Ok.  “Big” Steve Saideman used to always tell me of pretty horrendous tales in the TTU PS department before I arrived.

10) How Donald Trump’s FCC may ruin the internet.

11) This NYT “How to be a modern parent” guide seems to have a lot of useful information.

12) I’ve been loving the “Manhunt: Unabomber” show on Discovery.  I half remembered the basic details, but this is really fascinating and really entertaining television.

13) Pretty cool moving images of cargo ships avoiding hurricane Irma.

14) Dispiriting, but I think accurate, take on the horrendous Equifax breach:

In the end, the truth of the Equifax breach—who was affected, and how, and what the company will do to help, and what the terms of such assistance entail—might not be the most important lesson from this incident. More than anything, it suggests that a corner has been turned in corporate consumer data responsibility. Like severe weather, breaches have become so frequent and severe that they can begin receding from prominence. No matter their grievous effects, Equifax’s response suggests that fatalism might replace responsibility, planning, and foresight. This is just what happens now.

15) David Graham on Trump’s shrinking, but absurdly passionate, base.

16) Got to love this (since deleted) FB post from a Republican mayoral candidate in Charlotte, NC, “REPUBLICAN & SMART, WHITE, TRADITIONAL.”

17) I missed this David Hopkins post from last December about the massive generation gap and it’s potential long-term consequences.  It’s good.

18) Open tab for too long– the changing racial gaps at universities throughout the U.S.  Lots of fascinating graphics.  For example, Duke went from 80% white the year I started (1990) to 52% white now (mostly from dramatic increase in the Asian population).

19) Very relevant at this time of horrific hurricanes– why people value their pets over other humans.

20) Interesting essay on the ambivalence of the obscenely wealthy.

21) Trying to get to the bottom of all the counterfeit solar eclipse glasses.

22) Trump lawyer refers to himself and chief of staff John Kelly as “the adults in the room.”  As Dan Drezner regularly puts it, “I’ll believe that Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler.”

23) Loved Derek Thompson’s take on Hollywood’s bad summer:

To explain the bad news, movie executives are trying out fresh excuses (blame … Rotten Tomatoes?), while journalists are rehashing familiar criticisms (people are bored with sequels!).

Both of these explanations are wrong. The subtler truth is that the domestic movie market is in a slow, decades-long structural decline. To lasso millions of busy and distracted people into movie theaters, the major studios are spending more money on fewer films. This has led, predictably, to spiky returns—huge hits, huge flops, and less in between. As a result, entire quarters can hinge on the success of one or two movies. Rather than react hysterically to every single bad month or weekend, it’s more useful to consider the bigger picture…

What really happened this summer? It might be as simple as bad timing. The box-office champion of 2016, Finding Dory, came out in July, so its revenue fully counted toward the summer box office. But the biggest film of 2017 so far, the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, came out in March. If Finding Dory is subtracted from 2016’s summer box office—or if Beauty and the Beast is added to the 2017 summer box office—there is very little difference between the summers of 2016 and 2017. Once again, this is predictable: Entire seasons hinging on the success of one or two blockbusters is exactly what one should expect from the franchise-blockbuster strategy currently en vogue in Hollywood.

And what about that strategy? Variety is the latest to claim that people are “tired” of sequels and reboots. The claim is either vapid or wrong. First, “sequels” is not a movie, and no first date has ever said, “Would you like to see a reboot with me this weekend?” Audiences aren’t tired of sequels. They’re indifferent toward bad films. The entire concept of video entertainment that extends or updates a familiar character or story is not invalidated by the ostensible failure of one Transformers movie. In fact, episodic video entertainment that recycles or develops characters and stories across many, many hours is the definition of a television show. And nobody seems to be making the argument that audiences have had it with TV.

Second, to the extent that one can make any hard claims about the economic value of sequels as a business strategy, it’s awfully difficult to quantitatively prove that audiences don’t want to see them. The seven highest-grossing films of 2017—Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3, Logan, and The Fate of the Furious—are all sequels, reboots, and franchise extensions. In a year when The Lego Batman Movie out-earned a historic indie hit like Get Out, it’s hard to argue that American audiences are desperate for entirely original stories.

As I’ve written, the problem for Hollywood isn’t that audiences are ignoring sequels, adaptations, and reboots. The problem is that audiences are ignoring everything else. [emphasis mine]

24) Everybody is talking about Ta-Nahesi Coates‘ “The first white president.”  Sounds great– I’ll be reading it when I get my hardcopy Atlantic in the mail.

25) This Lee Drutman essay on the “doom loop” in American politics is fabulous.  You really, really should read it:

f polarization were simply a matter of parties negotiating on behalf of competing economic interest groups and allocating federal dollars, it follows that there are deals to be made (and plenty of earmarks!). Under such a politics, political leaders of both parties can trade roads and bridges over whisky cocktails at after-hours parties. Different sides might offer different perspectives, creating contrasts for voters. But at the end of the day, everyone understands that there are no permanent winners or losers — just temporary electoral swings. This is normal “interest-group politics,” in the jargon of political scientists.

When division involves purity and impurity, when it devolves into a pure contest between “us” and “them” — then there is no bargaining, because there are no negotiable principles, just team loyalties. “We” are good and pure, while “they” are evil and corrupt. And, of course, you cannot compromise with evil and corrupt. The preferred cocktails of such a politics are of the Molotov variety, and the roads and bridges are not to be traded, but to be burned.

This is doom-loop partisanship, because it contains many reinforcing dynamics that can quickly spiral out of control.

American politics has been transitioning from interest-group politics to doom-loop politics for decades, and we are now deep into a crisis.

Quick hits (part I)

1) An infant’s cry is a hugely powerful signal not just for humans, but many other mammals.

2) In our zeal to convict based on DNA evidence, we’ve taken a great tool and pushed it to the point where we are railroading innocent people (like with so much else of the criminal justice system.  Ugh.

For three decades, forensic DNA evidence has been a valuable tool in criminal investigations, incriminating or exonerating suspects. Matching a defendant’s genetic material with a sample found on a weapon or at a crime scene has proved extremely persuasive with judges and juries.

But not all DNA evidence is equal. Sometimes it’s clear: blood or semen identifies a single person. If it’s just a few skin cells left on an object, or if it contains more than one person’s genetic material, it can be more ambiguous. In such situations, labs used to report that the results were inconclusive, or the defendant could not be excluded from the mix.

New types of DNA analysis have been introduced in recent years to interpret trace amounts or complex mixtures, spawning an industry of testing tools, chemical kits and software. As analysis has become more complex, the techniques and results are coming under fire nationwide.

In the past three years, flaws in DNA methods have temporarily shut down testing in public crime labs in Austin, Tex., and Washington. Lab analysts “make it seem like it’s a completely objective process,” said Bicka Barlow, a lawyer in California with a master’s degree in genetics and molecular biology. “But I’m 100 percent convinced that there are many people who are incarcerated who were convicted with DNA evidence who are innocent.”

3) Dave Leonhardt on the rich getting richer.  It’s a policy choice.

4) Trump giving us “the best people.”  USDA chief scientist, not actually a scientist.  Just a racist.

5) Just another day in American criminal justice.  Headline and subhead, “ICE Wrongly Imprisoned an American Citizen for 1,273 Days. Judges Say He’s Owed $0.
An ICE agent sent through—and his supervisors approved—mistaken paperwork ‘proving’ Davino Watson wasn’t a citizen. And no one’s been held to account for the catastrophic screw-up.”

A not so fun fact about what Donald Rumsfeld once called “known unknowns”: ICE doesn’t know or won’t say how many American citizens have been arrested and imprisoned by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. It’s illegal for ICE to imprison Americans, but so long as its agents don’t believe you are one, the burden is on you to prove it—without being entitled to a lawyer, since most deportation hearings are civil proceedings.

An NPR analysis this year found 693 citizens have been held in local jails on federal detainer requests since 2007 and 818 more have been imprisoned directly by ICE.

Even that’s just a fraction of the 3,600 American citizens a 2011 Berkeley study found were detained by ICE under the “secure communities” program started by President Bush, dramatically expanded and later suspended by President Obama, and now revived by President Trump, who’s threatening to withhold federal funds from localities that don’t sign up. Basically, the program crosschecks local and state fingerprints against federal immigration and criminal records, so that the feds can pick up “illegal immigrants” straight from jails or prisons when their term is up.

6) Really interesting political survey of wealthy Silicon Valley types.  Basically, they are very liberal except for hating regulation.  Farhad Manjoo with a nice summary.

7) North Carolina pastor and Robert E. Lee descendant rejected by his parishioners due to his support for Black Lives Matter.

8) Damn that motivated reasoning is strong stuff.  From some new research:

Ever-growing empirical evidence documents a gender bias against women and their research—and favoring men—in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Our research examined how receptive the scientific and public communities are to experimental evidence demonstrating this gender bias, which may contribute to women’s underrepresentation within STEM. Results from our three experiments, using general-public and university faculty samples, demonstrated that men evaluate the quality of research unveiling this bias as less meritorious than do women. These findings may inform and fuel self-correction efforts within STEM to reduce gender bias, bolster objectivity and diversity in STEM workforces, and enhance discovery, education, and achievement.

9) Really interesting article about the ketogenic diet (super high in fat; zero carb).  We looked into this for Alex’s epilepsy way back when, but fortunately never had to go down that road.

10) Love this– “no, your ancestors didn’t come here legally.”

Prior to 1875’s Page Act and 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, there were no national immigration laws. None. There were laws related to naturalization and citizenship, to how vessels reported their passengers, to banning the slave trade. Once New York’s Castle Garden Immigration Station opened in 1855, arrivals there reported names and origins before entering the U.S. But for all pre-1875 immigrants, no laws applied to their arrival. They weren’t legal or illegal; they were just immigrants. [emphasis mine]

11) Totally with Drum on this one– racism is not the explanation for everything Republicans do.  And to make everything we don’t like be about racism is to diminish the actual impact of racism (also, a reminder that I’ve never been a fan of Amanda Marcotte).

12) Coolest animated gif (soft-g, damnit!) ever?  What increasing hurricane winds do.

13) Max Boot has about had it with Trump’s America.

14) Damn– Lindy West on Ivanka is so good:

Ivanka Trump, first daughter, strode into Washington back in January with big promises: She was passionate about helping “working women,” she said, and she was going to close the gender wage gap even if it killed her.

Well, not if it killed her, not literally, but even if it mildly inconvenienced her, she was on it 110 percent, for the women. Well, not if it mildly inconvenienced her, she’s very busy, but definitely if there was a wage transparency policy already in place, she would not openly and glowingly support overturning it.

Well, unless her dad wanted to overturn it because doing so satisfied two of his top 10 vindictive fixations (constraining women’s independence and destroying the legacy of America’s first black president), but Ms. Trump would absolutely offer a better replacement solution, such as saying the words “child care credit” and “female entrepreneurs” repeatedly near a camera while wearing a blush-pink toggle coat. That, ladies, is the Ivanka Guarantee. Enjoy your money!

Ms. Trump’s self-professed commitment to corporate gender parity (about as milquetoast as feminism gets, but in Trump’s America, radicalism is relative) was trotted out incessantly during the campaign, especially as an antidote to her father’s self-professed commitment to nonconsensually sticking his hands on women’s genitals…

You’d think that a passionate anti-wage-gap crusader like Ms. Trump would relish a broad, ever-expanding data set illuminating her pet issue so that she could go after it with laser focus, but no. She is even more devoted than that. She hates the gender wage gap so much, she can’t even stand to know anything about it. Some heroes wear capelets.

15) Florida’s lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew.  And looks like these lessons will be put to the test.

16) This is pretty cool– how Apple is making Siri sound more human.

17) We’ve got a shortage of bus drivers in Wake County.  For some reason, the Kingswood Orange route consistently bears the brunt of it.  So far this year, my daughter’s bus typically does not leave the school until 45 minutes after school is actually over.  Ugh.  At least, the county just hit upon the solution to a labor shortage– raise wages.  Hmmm, maybe somebody should have thought of that sooner.

18) Chait on Trump, the American oligarchy, and regulatory capture.  It’s really horrible and depressing, but just so buried under the avalanche of wrongness that is the Trump presidency.


Some of the most astonishing regulatory capture is under way at the Department of Education. The appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provoked frenzied opposition, on the basis of her lack of experience and ideological fascination with vouchers. But the focus on DeVos’s beliefs about primary education was always misplaced, for the simple reason that primary education is financed overwhelmingly at the state and local level, so DeVos could not ruin public schools even if she tried.

Where DeVos has had a massive impact is in higher education. The federal government has much higher leverage over post-secondary education due to its involvement with student loans. These loans have often subsidized for-profit colleges, which lure customers using federally backed student loans, and furnish them with substandard or useless education. The Obama administration began cracking down on the for-profit industry in a variety of ways: imposing standards and conditions for its loans, rather than spraying them out indiscriminately to whichever college could vacuum them up. DeVos has turned her department over to the for-profit college industry, which has used its power to protect its own rackets.

19) Really enjoyed this essay on the growth of plot-driven TV comedy and how it shapes the nature of shows.  A lot of good points about Veep.



Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the big delay.  Busy weekend.  Had an amazing time seeing Green Day Friday night (when I’m usually finishing off quick hits) and now visiting with family.  Here goes:

1) Interesting essay on modern television and Netflix’s lack of any kind of brand identity for it’s original programming.

2) Where did the Zika virus go and is it coming back?

3) In a saner world, I’d have more time to get mad about Trump’s horrible idea of getting more military weapons back in the hands of police.

4) What hybrid animals can teach us about evolution.

5) Our current system for organ transplants is way too arbitrary depending upon what state you live in.  Fortunately, people are working to change that.

6) The real scourge on college campuses– loneliness.

7) Jennifer Victor on teaching in the age of Trump.  Definitely thinking a lot about these issues in my first Intro course since his election:

However, the challenge of getting students to take a detached, nonjudgmental viewpoint on current events is maximized in the Trump administration. How can one be dispassionate in the face of a leader who aligns himself with white supremacists? While commitment to scientific principles remains priority, it would be unethical and morally irresponsible not to express judgment against repugnant behavior that is baldly bigoted. As a social scientist, I can talk about the president breaking with democratic norms and precedent, but as a human being, I also want to expose the dehumanizing effects of vitriolic language and the violence it encourages…

My strategy in class this semester is to be both scientific and human. We can retain a commitment to social science by analyzing behaviors in the context of strategic behavior, institutional incentives, social influences, individual psychology, or any other typical and academic way of examining politics. We can respond as humans by openly noting when behavior is inhumane, immoral, unethical, or racist. American political scholars may be less accustomed to doing the latter when discussing current events and the US president, and instructors may feel like they are breaking scientific practice to do so, but we need only look to our colleagues in other subfields for guidance.

Comparativists do not wince at describing despotic regimes. They do just fine objectively identifying authoritarian, tyrannical, or violent leadership. No one accuses scholars in international relations as being ideologically motivated for observing warmongering or international exchanges that threaten American security. Americanists simply need to do what comparativists have been saying for years: treat the US as a single case, not a special one.

8) The decline of midwestern public research universities.

9) What’s up with those fire ant balls in Texas.

10) Unsurprisingly, the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings was more more complicated than either side would like to admit and cannot be easily summarized in terms of “property” or “mistress.”

11) Loved this story on how Driscoll’s re-invented the strawberry.  Apparently, they are changing cultivars on us all the time without our even knowing.  I love fresh local strawberries from the NC farmer’s market every April, but I don’t find the mass-produced strawberries in the grocery store even worth eating.

12) I don’t think a new book lamenting the lack of emphasis on teaching in universities will surprise many (though, like many, I wish it were otherwise).  I totally agree with this part of the review:

What does seem to have shifted in recent years is the wholesale acceptance of business norms by many academic institutions, which have adopted a strategy focused on the bottom line despite their nonprofit status. This has resulted, among other things, in the willingness to charge students ever-higher tuitions while driving labor costs down, and in the adoption of a star system that resembles the tournament structure of our whole society.

13) Pro Publica’s March 2016 feature on how Houston and Texas are not ready for a major hurricane.

14) David Brooks recent column has been widely and appropriately derided for arguing that white identity politics have only infected the GOP since 2005.

15) We really do need to invest more in high-quality vocational training.

16) I didn’t realize just how toxic Silicon Valley’s work-all-the-time culture had become.  Really interesting essay on the matter.  I guess I’m a loser for valuing time with my family.  Oh, also, not surprisingly, it’s not great for productivity:

The truth is that much of the extra effort these entrepreneurs and their employees are putting in is pointless anyway. Working beyond 56 hours in a week adds little productivity, according to a 2014 report by the Stanford economist John Pencavel. But the point may be less about productivity than about demonstrating commitment and team spirit.

“Everyone wants to be a model employee,” said Anim Aweh, a clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed-out tech workers. “One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’ ” [emphasis mine]

Seriously?  Working smart is a bad thing.  Ugh.  Also, if this is the culture, it ends up invariably having a disproportionately negative impact on women.

17) German Lopez on how to fix America’s broken policing.  Excellent stuff.  Right onto the next PS 313 syllabus.  Also, this chart:

18) Rebuilding quantum theory from the ground up.

19) Charles Pierce on Houston and Texas’ regulatory environment:

So, conservative ideas have triumphed in Texas. A business-friendly environment has been created, based on free-market principles, deregulation, and a return to 10th amendment freedoms just as the Founders designed them, because the best government is the one that is closest to the people.

Basic chemistry doesn’t care, via NBC News:

A flooded chemical plant near Houston exploded twice early Thursday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and triggering a fire that the firm plans to let “burn itself out.” Arkema Group, which is one of the world’s largest chemical companies, had warned Wednesday that the plant would catch fire and explode at some point — adding there was nothing that could be done about it.

 Awfully blithe for a company whose massive chemical plant just exploded because the company was unprepared for a completely predictable meteorological catastrophe, I’d say. Of course, over the past two days, the Arkema people have given us a master class in Not Giving A Damn. Anyone who saw the essential Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle on the electric teevee machine with Kindly Doc Maddow on Wednesday night knows exactly what I’m talking about. (And, if you’re not following him on the electric Twitter machine—@mizzousundevil—you should be.) They played a tape of a conference call on which Dempsey pressed the CEO of Arkema, Rich Rowe, about what substances were in the company’s plant that would be released if the plant blew, as it apparently did Thursday morning. Rowe refused to answer, which was his perfect right within Texas’ business-friendly environment. They could be hoarding nerve gas in that place, and be perfectly within the law not to tell anybody about it.

In fact, and this is the delectable part of the entire farce, there apparently is a law in Texas that specifically forbids many cities and towns from designing their own fire codes. Hell, the state even passed a law forbidding cities and towns from requiring fire sprinklers in new construction. Freedom!

20) A defense of the de rigueur standing ovation on broadway.  I still like the idea of saving it, but I think this captures why:

The reason, I’d conjecture, is the soaring price of theatre tickets. The average Broadway ticket now costs a hundred and nine dollars, and the highest-priced seats for megahits like “Hamilton” and “Hello, Dolly!” can reach the eight-hundred-dollar range—not to mention that resellers sometimes charge more than a thousand. Long-running shows rely ever more on out-of-towners willing to spend big on a Broadway show. After investing that kind of cash, perhaps theatregoers are quicker to leap to their feet as a form of self-justification: for these prices, I’d better have had a “superlative experience.”




Quick hits (part I)

1) Some of the last victims (i.e., the heinously, wrongly accused) of the Satanic day care scare of the 80’s and 90’s are finally exonerated and getting paid millions.  Not enough. I’d be far happier with some of the legal professionals responsible for this travesty facing some accountability.

2) On a related note, I just finished reading Dan Chaon’s terrific novel, Ill Will, in which a false accusation of a ritual Satanic murder plays a central role.  It was excellent, but Chaon’s Await Your Reply was even better.

3) A woman was awarded over $400 million by a jury that agreed talcum powder caused her ovarian cancer.  This, despite the fact that the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute believe that any link ranges from non-existent to small.   Who needs science?  Not our legal system.

4) Loved this article on all the ways Indiana Jones would actually have died were he in a nearby refrigerator for a nuclear blast.

5) I had not really appreciated just how remarkable Roger Federer’s career resurgence had been till I read this great feature.

6) You will not be surprised to learn I score low on Social Dominance Orientation.  Trump and Neo-Nazis, on the other hand…

7) Haven’t had time to fully digest the utterly deplorable Arpaio pardon yet, but the NYT Editorial is a good start:

The Constitution gives the president nearly unlimited power to grant clemency to people convicted of federal offenses, so Mr. Trump can pardon Mr. Arpaio. But Mr. Arpaio was an elected official who defied a federal court’s order that he stop violating people’s constitutional rights. He was found in contempt of that court. By pardoning him, Mr. Trump would show his contempt for the American court system and its only means of enforcing the law, since he would be sending a message to other officials that they may flout court orders also.

Mr. Arpaio could not be less deserving of mercy. In addition to the dragnets of Hispanic-looking people that ultimately led to his contempt conviction, he racked up a record of harassment, neglect, mistreatment and other flagrant abuses of office that should have ended his career years ago.

8) On the “last great newspaper war” between the Post and the Times.  Winner?  All of us.

9) Drum on statue creep:

This is a quick note to New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio and everyone else: don’t tear down any statues of Christopher Columbus. Ditto for George Washington, the Puritans, George Custer, or anyone else you can think of who might be problematic. Just don’t.

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, this stuff plays into the hands of the Trumpies. The whole “Who’s next?” meme is an almost childishly transparent attempt to distract attention from Confederate statues; build support among moderates; and sow division among liberals. Don’t play the game. The answer to every question about statues is: I don’t know. Let’s tear down the memorials to Confederates who fought a war in defense of slavery, and then we can decide later if we ought to do anything more. OK?

That’s it. Easy peasy. We have a moment right now when we might be able to get some low-hanging fruit and make a difference. Let’s not screw it up by thinking it’s also a chance to redress every historical offense that Howard Zinn ever taught us.

9) Likewise, I entirely endorse MB’s sentiments on the idea of removing a Columbus status in Buffalo:

Is there any political/ideological group that is better at winning a battle but losing the war? Do these do-gooder, hyper-sensitive, ahistorical, and politically tone-deaf uber-liberals have any judgment whatsoever? Why not remove every statue or memorial that depicts a man since they all represent patriarchal societies that oppressed women? The impact of this type of petition is to make people like me angry about being lumped together with Nazi/racist/white supremacists because I am not sufficiently offended by a statue of Columbus to demand its removal. And people wonder how “political correctness” gets such as bad reputation.

10) Mike Pesca was also great on the statue issue in his “spiel” during his Gist podcast.  (The sexual assault conversation that was the main feature of the podcast is also worth a hearty recommendation).

11) I like to think I’m a good feminist and fully embrace women’s equality.  But is it so wrong to have different pronouns for males and females?  We really are different in some ways.  In Sweden, the answer to that question is, increasingly, “yes.”

12) A study from Texas suggests that ballot order matters to a disturbing degree.  It is, of course, so easy to rotate the order of names– nothing else should be acceptable.

13) Okay, back to the “how extreme liberals ruin it for everybody” theme.  ACLU tweets out a photo of an adorable toddler wearing an ACLU onesie and holding a flag and gets raked over the coals on twitter.  Well, the toddler was white and blonde, so clearly an act of white supremacy.  Yes, seriously.  Just sad reading the comments.  A lot of people thought this was in poor taste because the ACLU is all about defending neo-nazis these days.  They are not!  The ACLU is about defending free speech damn it.  The whole point is that you don’t get to pick and choose whose speech we can hear and whose we cannot (the damn neo nazis make it more complicated with Virginia’s open carry, etc., but that’s a different, yet related, issue).  Alas, many on the left increasingly think that the ACLU should only defend free speech for some.

14) The rather copious evidence that Exxon quite intentionally tried to mislead the public on climate change.

15) I really enjoyed this effort to follow-up on just how much the eclipse affected tourism in cities within the zone of totality.



Game of Thrones = Lost?

No, it doesn’t.  But this past week’s episode was absurd in so many ways (here’s 27 of them in a nice Vox piece).  What I especially hate is that the “plan” is so dumb and so transparently an ill-conceived excuse for more North of the Wall, undead conflict stuff (which I find utterly boring, but which many seem to love).  Vox:

Who truly believes that seeing a wight will actually convince Cersei to join Jon and Daenerys in battling the White Walkers?…

And last but definitely not least: Why did no one, out of everyone in this entire all-star war council, realize how dumb the whole “capture a wight” plan was from the start?

And Megan Garber brings in some disturbing Lost (a show I totally loved and also felt very much let down by, in the end) in a nice Atlantic post:

As my colleague Spencer Kornhaber put it, “The fuzziness with time just adds to the impression that this is a story driven by coincidence and expedience rather than logic.” And it suggests a certain sloppiness in a show that has otherwise been so precise in its world-building—a sloppiness that asks other questions: Will Game of Thrones keep jumping sharks? Will it nuke fridges? Will it take the good faith it has built up over nearly seven seasons and squander it? Could it, in the end, go the way of Lost, its myths busted, its key questions unresolved?

Also, I’ll go back to one of my themes I first hit years ago.  The Lord of Light is awesome!  Why would anybody stick with the old gods when the Lord of Light can slay your enemies, resurrect you, and give you awesome fire swords?!

As I said to my wife, “bad Game of Thrones is still better than most other TV,” but I’d strongly prefer a return to good Game of Thrones.  And, sure, it’s fantasy, some suspension of disbelief is okay, but in expecting such a ridiculous amount of suspension of disbelief it really is an insult to viewers.

Quick hits (part II)

1) So, I still think my plan of leaving the Raleigh area at 11am on Monday to get into the zone of totality in SC by 1:30 or 2:00 would work (total eclipse about 2:45).  But enough people have told me “are you crazy?!” that I decided to book a hotel room in South Carolina.  A week ago you could still get totally cheap rooms 30 miles north of the zone.  By this weekend, they were jacked-up.  Ended up getting a room right on the NC/SC border leaving us an hour to drive that day.  My current plan is to try and watch in a public park in Sumter, SC.  That way, kids can play some and we should be able to have some shade.  Also, Sumter is supposed to get almost 2 minute of totality (as opposed to my minimalist plan of 1 minute of totality in Turbeville, SC).  Alas, I’m somewhat concerned by the 60-70% cloud cover in the forecast.

2) EJ Dionne calls out the Republicans sticking by Trump:

We are past the time when mournful comments about President Trump’s disgraceful behavior are sufficient. It is no longer defensible for his lieutenants or Republicans in Congress to tell themselves that they’re staying close to Trump to contain the damage he could cause our country.

If their actual goal was to prevent damage, they have failed. True, we have not had a nuclear war and Trump hasn’t shut down our democracy. But if this is the standard, if these are genuine fears, then Trump should have been gone long ago. A man this unstable, self-involved, uninformed, divisive and amoral — a polite word in his case — should be nowhere near the levers of power.

It should embarrass all who work in the White House (except for the genuine extremists) that after Trump’s unhinged news conference Tuesday, they were reduced to insisting, on background, that everything the president said was unplanned, off-script and shocking to them…Every new Trump outrage seems to invite bold declarations that this time will be the end of the line. If this week’s spectacle of moral obtuseness isn’t the breaking point, may God save our republic.

3) Campus sexual assault is a genuine problem.  Those accused of campus assault are too often denied basic rights of due process.  It shouldn’t be so hard to accept that both these things are true.

4) Bill Ayers‘ with the optimistic post-Charlottesville take:

Finally, this is the really key thing that these White Supremacists, neo-Nazis, and various KKK hangers-on don’t yet realize. They’ve already lost. The vast majority of American society – including whites – rejects them, rejects their ideas, and most especially rejects their murderous attachment to violence. To borrow Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase, they are already consigned to the Ash Heap of History.

They just aren’t smart enough to know it yet.

Let us not forget that it was the forebears of these rampaging rage-monsters that slaughtered 168 Americans, including 19 preschool children, twenty-two years ago in Oklahoma City. The mix of rage, incoherent fear for their white identity, and rejection of government authority has killed before.

I hope that the death of Heather Heyer will serve the same purpose as the deaths of those many innocent victims in 1995: a wake-up call to the nation and the start of another effort to drive this kind of violent hatred back underground. Given the current occupant in the White House, I’m not holding my breath, but I hope at least that his fellow Republicans will see the Faustian bargain they have struck and repent.

Many people have been quoting MLK’s “arc of history” line. In this case, he is absolutely correct. The men (and yes, they are mostly men) who have bought into this violent insanity have been brought out into the light. But they have already lost. The nation unites in horror against their dystopian rage. They cannot win, not even a little bit, anything that they hope to achieve. They can’t even keep the statues they are so keen to protect standing in the public square. All they can do is shriek helplessly as the arc of history leaves them behind.

5) Charles Blow on how the modern GOP has exploited racism:

The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold.

The party itself has dispensed with public confessions of this inclination — at least until Trump — but the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.

If you advance policies like a return to more aggressive drug policies and voter suppression — things that you know without question will have a disproportionate and negative impact on people of color, what does that say about you?

It says that you want the policies without the poison, but they can’t be made separate: The policies are the poison.

6) McSweeney’s on statue removal.  Good stuff:

Thank you very much for coming in today to discuss the tumor currently growing inside your body. Luckily, we caught this fairly early on, so we have a few treatment options available to us. As you can see on this X-ray, the tumor is currently about the size of a baseball in an all-white baseball league. I could surgically remove it as soon as tomorrow afternoon. However, I will not be doing that.

I understand why you’d want to remove the tumor. By removing it, we would stop the cancer from spreading to other parts of your body and you’d be on your way to recovery. Don’t you think, though, that your body’s fight against cancer should be commemorated in some way? What better way than by leaving the tumor completely intact? Medical Justice Warriors all want to dismantle the very fabric of everyone’s medical history and remove important memorials such as tumors, goiters, and gallstones. I want to celebrate that history and leave a monument to those awful memories inside your body forever.

7) Love this– “Why Are Police Officers More Dangerous Than Airplanes?”

This investigative method is standard in aviation. When a plane crashes, experts pick through the wreckage to determine the cause and make recommendations to prevent the next accident. The process is so effective that for the last several years, the death rate from crashes of American commercial planes has been zero. But no comparable system exists in policing — and that may help explain why you are far more likely to die at the hands of a cop than to perish in an plane crash. Police officers in the United States now kill about 1,000 people and wound more than 50,000every year…

Police violence is tangled up with racism and systemic injustice. We desperately need to do more to address that, foremost by shoring up the criminal-justice system so that it holds police officers accountable when they kill. But it’s also true that deadly mistakes are going to happen when police officers engage in millions of potentially dangerous procedures a year. What aviation teaches us is that it should be possible to “accident proof” police work, if only we are willing to admit when mistakes are made.

8) Lee Drutman on how “Republican leaders continue to let Trump turn the GOP into the white supremacist party.”

9) As much as I would love to believe I can eat walnuts to suppress my appetite, it is nuts for the NY Times to publish a study based solely on 9 individuals and funded by the walnut industry (I’m far more concerned by the former).  Seriously?!  I love how NYT readers call them out on such matter in the comments.

10) When was America great?  When you were between 10 and 30.

11) I recently ended up explaining Sigmund Freud to my son David due to Freud’s role in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (watched Bogus Journey yesterday– good stuff, but not as good), thus enjoyed reading this review of a new Freud biography as I really don’t know that much about Freud.

12) Really don’t think it will change much of anything that Trump fired Bannon (damn is loyalty a one-way street for Trump).  Trump remains white-supremacist-in-chief.  Jordan Weissman with a nice piece on how there are plenty of other people left at the White House– including Trump– to carry out Bannon’s ideas.  And Peter Beinart:

It would be nice to believe that Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House will end, or least diminish, Donald Trump’s flirtations with bigotry. Alas, that’s almost certainly not the case.

As Trump himself likes to note, Bannon joined his campaign late, in August 2016. By that time, Trump had already called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” falsely accused American Muslims in New Jersey of celebrating the 9/11 attacks, said “Islam hates us,” and declaredthat Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly judge the case against Trump University because was Mexican American. Bannon’s hiring was not a cause of the Trump campaign’s dalliance with Islamophobia, nativism, and white nationalism. It was a result. [emphasis mine]

In fact, Trump has been exploiting bigotry since before he hired Bannon, before he ran for President, before he even entered public life. In 1973, at the age of 27, Donald Trump—then President of Trump Management—was sued along with his father for discrimination against African Americans by the Justice Department. In 1989, when four African American and one Hispanic teenagers (the “Central Park Five”) were arrested for rape, Trump took out newspaper ads declaring that the accused should be executed and “forced to suffer.” When DNA evidence exonerated the young men in 2012, Trump denounced New York City’s decision to compensate them, saying “I think people are tired of politically correct.” As late as 2013, he still tweeted, “Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?” …

Perhaps, on issues on which Trump has no strong beliefs, Bannon’s departure could make a difference. But Steve Bannon did not teach Trump what to think about Muslims, blacks, women, and Jews. When it comes to religion, gender, and race, Trump developed his views long ago. The only way he might change them would be if he grew convinced that they are hurting him politically. And probably not even then.

13) Tom Wheeler’s take on the statues is really, really good:

The statues at the center of today’s debate were erected not to celebrate the loss, but to perpetuate the myth of the so-called Lost Cause. A few decades after the end of the war, as incremental progress towards racial equality was being eked out, some Southerners sought to recast the war of secession as not about slavery, but about protecting a way of life. The fact that life revolved around slavery was conveniently obfuscated, but well understood. Statues to the leaders of the rebellion became a means of keeping its emotions alive…

Six hundred thousand lives later, the war ended. But it did not end the emotion around the war’s root issue. The Lost Cause crusade—including its statue-building efforts—kept that emotion alive, but cloaked it in the garb of historical reverence. There was a simple message to General Lee from a member of Union general Grant’s staff (and a Native American) at the Appomattox surrender: “We are all Americans.” That message, however, was superseded by an organized effort to keep alive in bronze and marble that which had divided the nation.

You’re changing history,” Donald Trump said. No sir, no one is changing history. The South lost; oppression was repudiated. The nation as a whole has tried to move on. The Lost Cause is a myth.

“You’re changing culture,” Mr. Trump went on to say. No again. The culture that motivated the war may continue in the hearts of a few who converged at Charlottesville, but collectively, our nation is better than that. Our culture is one of opposing hate and oppression and our leaders speaking out forcefully against such darkness.

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