Quick hits (part II)

1) In theory, the idea of a semi-automatic transmission where you can shift gears without worrying about a clutch is pretty cool.  In practice, the majority of drivers pretty much completely ignore this feature on their cars.  Me, too.  I will admit, though, to enjoying shifting into Sport mode some of the time.

2) Honestly, I don’t even get the point of pretending that a study of a scant 49 Facebook users is real social science.  That said, the typology seems to comport with reality and I especially like this description as I’ve used almost these exact words myself:

Relationship builders

This cohort uses Facebook much the way humans once used actual mail and landline telephones: to strengthen existing relationships with friends and family. In fact, Facebook is an extension of their offline life, according to Tom Robinson, associate director of BYU’s Graduate School of Communication and a professor of advertising.

3) Vox with an ex-CIA officer on Trump Jr, “An ex-CIA officer: the Trump Jr. meeting shows how the Russians exploit intelligence targets.  “This is how it’s done.” —Glenn Carle

4) Yale law school dean on free speech on campus.

5) Yglesias on why Trump JR has no credibility:

But as the old saying says, fool me twice, shame on me. Trump Jr. has already tried to fool us four or five times about this meeting, and there’s absolutely no reason we should trust him. Fox News, tellingly, has in part already moved on to justifying collusion, showing little faith from Trumpworld that the denials of collusion will hold up over the long run. Those of us who aren’t in the tank ought to muster at least the same level of skepticism.

6) This is from two years ago, but I found it utterly fascinating the level of engineering and design that goes into canned beverages and foods.  Why hasn’t there been a 99% Invisible on this?!

7) Enjoyed this complete guide to the religions on Game of Thrones.  That said, I have strong opinions on the matter and feel like far more people should have converted to the Lord of Light (he actually gets stuff done!).

8) OMG, sure there’s some imbalance in who’s doing what’s “cool” and “not cool” in this poster, but taken it it’s totality, it strikes me as a long way from “racist” (especially since most of the non-white kids in the poster, including the lifeguard, are perfectly well-behaved.  Mostly, it strikes me as an effort at inclusive racial harmony in a swimming pool, where some kids need to be better at following the rules.

9) Say it with me, “the dose makes the poison.”  Ignoring this fact is fearmongering.  NYT should know better.

10) Nice review/summary of Dan Drezner’s new book on public intellectuals.

11) Jon Cohn on why a bipartisan health care bill might make sense for Republicans.

12) And on how health insurance companies are unloading on the “unworkable” idea Ted Cruz is pushing to undermine pre-existing conditions protections.

13) The Breitbartification of right-wing media:

As recently as five or 10 years ago, every major news outlet would have treated this set of facts [the Russia story] as front-page news and a dire threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency. The conservative press and Republican voters might disagree on certain particulars or points of emphasis. But their view of reality — of what happened and its significance — would have largely comported with that of the mainstream. You’d have had to travel to the political fringe of right-wing talk radio, the Drudge Report and dissident publications like Breitbart News to find an alternative viewpoint that rejected this basic story line.

Not anymore. Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics.

14) Nice piece in TNR on how to best make the case for “Medicare for all.”  Surely, if we are going to get a policy like this, it needs to be framed and sold to the public as effectively as possible.

15) Nice column from Jamelle Bouie asks, “How long can Republicans risk everything to pretend Russia is no big deal?”  I know!  Until they get their tax cuts for rich people.  Bouie’s damning conclusion:

If nothing else, Republican behavior—the extent to which the party is still powering through a hyper-partisan agenda, even as evidence of something untoward mounts—is an implicit statement that foreign interference is an acceptable path to partisan gain. At the risk of cliché, it normalizes outside meddling in American democracy. And the 2016 election won’t even be the end of Russian interference in our elections. There is real potential for further, more damaging hacking aimed at often-obsolete local election infrastructure. Preventing this is of national concern and requires cooperation from both sides at all levels of government. It requires both parties to show a commitment to the ideals of American democracy.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that both parties have that commitment. The GOP’s recent enthusiasm for voter ID laws (and the voter suppression they cause) has long since thrown that issue of commitment into question. But the institutional indifference to foreign intervention is something different. It signals a dangerously zero-sum attitude, where any price—including subversion from outside forces—is worth paying if it clears a path to partisan and ideological victory. Perhaps the worm will turn and Republicans will join Democrats in demanding real answers from President Trump and his associates. For now, at least, we have a Republican Party that values its success above the integrity of our system.

16) Former Trump employee on the disastrous consequence of Trump putting family first in his business endeavors.

17) So, basically, a lot of favorite breakfast items are pretty much dessert.   I did discover that my go-to cereal, Kashi Go Lean fares quite well, though (of course, I used to claim that it “tastes like twigs.” I’m use to the lower sweetness now).

18) Long time conservative columnist Mona Charen is not exactly persuaded by the Trump line on Russian collusion.

19) It’s amazing how much genetics seems to explain how our brains process looking at faces.  And this can help us understand autism better, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) In light of the recent Pew findings on Republicans and higher education, Dan Drezner with a nice post on the GOP’s “war on college.”

2) Personally, I’m all for using genetically-modified mice to try and save endangered bird populations (it’s pretty cool how this would work).  NCSU scientists are working to make this happen, but probably not anytime soon.

3) Much talked about article this week painting a doomsday picture of climate change.  Interesting discussion as to whether this is an effective approach.

4) Speaking of climate change, I was a little abashed that I did not get this key driver of climate change right in this quiz.  And excellent article on abating the issue.

5) David Brooks on Trump family morals:

The Donald Trump Jr. we see through the Russia scandal story is not malevolent: He seems to be simply oblivious to the idea that ethical concerns could possibly play a role in everyday life. When the Russian government offer came across his email, there doesn’t seem to have been a flicker of concern. Instead, he replied with that tone of simple bro glee that we remember from other scandals.

“Can you smell money?!?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff emailed a co-conspirator during his lobbying and casino fraud shenanigans. That’s the same tone as Don Jr.’s “I love it” when offered a chance to conspire with a hostile power. A person capable of this instant joy and enthusiasm isn’t overcoming any internal ethical hurdles. It’s just a greedy boy grabbing sweets.

Once the scandal broke you would think Don Jr. would have some awareness that there were ethical stakes involved. You’d think there would be some sense of embarrassment at having been caught lying so blatantly.

But in his interview with Sean Hannity he appeared incapable of even entertaining any moral consideration. “That’s what we do in business,” the younger Trump said. “If there’s information out there, you want it.” As William Saletan pointed out in Slate, Don Jr. doesn’t seem to possess the internal qualities necessary to consider the possibility that he could have done anything wrong.

That to me is the central takeaway of this week’s revelations. It’s not that the Russia scandal may bring down the administration. It’s that over the past few generations the Trump family has built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.

The Trumps have an ethic of loyalty to one another. “They can’t stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other,” Eric Trump tweeted this week. But beyond that there is no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.

Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive. The House of Trump has sprayed an insecticide on any possible complementary code, and so they are continually trampling basic decency. Their scandals may not build to anything impeachable, but the scandals will never end.

6) Honestly, bashing Evangelical Christians for their love of Trump just never gets old for me.

7) Pretty cool story on how the mis-use of the Calibri font helped catch a forgery.  Also, I didn’t even realize that I use it all the time in various Office documents.

8) Catherine Rampell, “Everything is a distraction from something much, much worse.”

9) Jennifer Rubin on Trump and the GOP’s “moral rot.”  She might as well become a Democrat already:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America…

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.” [emphasis mine]

10) Love this from political scientist David Hopkins, “Want to Influence the Democratic Party? Try Joining the Democratic Party.”

11) Thanks to Mika for enlightening me about cloudberries (and telling me of his unpleasant childhood cloudberry picking trips).  I shall be sticking with blueberries.

12) Loved this story about how “South of the Border” on I-95 in SC keeps it going after all these years.

13) In a different administration, we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by wrongdoing that stuff like this simply flies under the radar, “State Department spent more than $15,000 for rooms at new Trump hotel in Vancouver.”

14) Big Steve went to town coming up with D&D stats for various Trump folks.  Big Steve is rusty on the D&D side, I wonder what my 5th-edition-conversant son would come up with.

15) Apparently “Baby Driver” is creating Ipod nostalgia.  I still love my 6th generation Ipod Nano (so compact and easy to use with a built in clip).  Still use it for all my workouts.  I have no interest in having a smartphone with me when I’m exercising.

16) So, I know Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” became a giant controversy.  As for me, I simply really enjoyed the movie.  Pretty much agree with this review.

17) Bloomberg thinks plug-in electric cars are going to start making dramatic inroads within the next 10-15 years:

The Bloomberg forecast is far more aggressive, projecting that plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles will make up 54 percent of new light-duty sales globally by 2040, outselling their combustion engine counterparts.

The reason? Batteries. Since 2010, the average cost of lithium-ion battery packs has plunged by two-thirds, to around $300 per kilowatt-hour. The Bloomberg report sees that falling to $73 by 2030, without any significant technological breakthroughs, as companies like Tesla increase battery production in massive factories, optimize the design of battery packs and improve chemistries.

18) Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley is bullish on renewable energy:

Research analysts at Morgan Stanley believe that renewable energy like solar and wind power are hurtling towards a level of ubiquity where not even politics can hinder them. Renewable energy is simply becoming the cheapest option, fast. Basic economics, the analysts say, suggest that the US will exceed its commitments in the Paris agreement regardless of whether or not president Donald Trump withdraws, as he’s stated he will.

“We project that by 2020, renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe,” with the exception of a few countries in Southeast Asia, the Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report published Thursday.

19) Really enjoyed this story about mass-producing GM mosquitoes to help fight mosquito-borne disease.  The key is separating the males from females (sterile males are released) and now robots and software can do that really well.

20) I was particularly interested in this article about dentists looking to prescribe less opioids after wisdom teeth extraction.  I remember the huge benefit I got from my opioids many years ago.  And just this past December, the Vicodin my son got seemed dramatically more effective for his pain relief than high dose ibuprofen (and I love ibuprofen).  Interestingly, though, the latest research suggests nsaid/acetaminophen combinations may actually be the most effective for pain after wisdom teeth extraction.  But the doctors don’t care.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Greg Sargent on the hidden health care consensus:

Yet in a strange twist, the GOP debate over repeal has actually revealed that there is a surprising amount of hidden consensus on health care.

In a nutshell, what the debate has really shown is that the passage and implementation of the ACA has given rise to a latent majority in Congress — or at least one in the Senate — that has more or less made peace with the ACA’s spending and regulatory architecture and its fundamental ideological goals, either for political or principled reasons, or for some combination of the two. The debate has forced this basic reality out into the open. And this, I think, is one key reason it is proving so hard for the GOP to repeal it.

2) Is Connecticut an example of failed liberal policies?  Or something else?

3) Of all the dumbness from our NC Republicans, it seems like they are against renewable energy— in this case wind– just on principle.  Ugh.

4) Kris Kobach is clearly evil and clearly intelligent (and far more personable than Ted Cruz).  That’s a nasty and scary combination.

5) One Ohio sheriff would just prefer addicts die from overdose rather than get Narcan to save their lives.

6) Pretty fascinating story about a convicted murderer (still in prison) and his new novel.

7) Really interesting look at how society thinks about the roles of men and women (adding this to the next Gender & Politics syllabus):

Women may not be moving as fast into male-dominated worlds as feminists would like, but they have moved much faster than men have into female-dominated ones. To understand better this asymmetry, we need to look more closely at the relative value we place on masculinity and femininity.

Most people assume that gender is simply a scheme for classifying differences or a template for guiding the behaviour of children. The reality is more pernicious. We typically prize the attributes we associate with men, such as competence, strength, virility and stoicism, and underestimate the qualities we associate with women, like warmth, tenderness and compassion. We usually see masculinity in terms of power and dominance and femininity in terms of softness and subservience. We defer to men and indulge women. In other words, gender is not merely a bunch of traits embodied by individuals, but a subtle stratification system that often advantages men and disadvantages women. [emphasis mine]

All of this means there are far more incentives for women to act masculine than there are for men to act feminine. Women who behave like their male colleagues may be disliked for being “pushy” or “bitchy”, but these penalties are offset by the fact that they are also likely to enjoy more power and greater financial rewards. When men adopt the jobs and behaviours associated with women, however, they typically experience a loss of status with fewer perks and more social sanctions, especially from other men. “It’s seen as an unknowable crisis if men want to step down,” explains Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “It’s not just being more like women, it’s seen as being less than men. Because women are seen as less than men.”

8) Which I had seen this before my recent post.  Robert Frank with a nice explanation of why Single Payer saves money.

9) Personally, I’m happy to call myself “liberal.”  I didn’t realize it was now also a bad word among those on the far left:

Over the last few years, though — and especially 2016 — there has been a surge of the opposite phenomenon: Now the political left is expressing its hatred of liberals, too. For the committed leftist, the ‘‘liberal’’ is a weak-minded, market-friendly centrist, wonky and technocratic and condescending to the working class. The liberal is pious about diversity but ready to abandon any belief at the slightest drop in poll numbers — a person who is, as the folk singer Phil Ochs once said, ‘‘10 degrees to the left of center in good times, 10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.’’ The anonymous Twitter account ‘‘liberalism.txt’’ is a relentless stream of images and retweets that supposedly illustrate this liberal vacuousness: say, the chief executive of Patagonia’s being hailed as a leader of ‘‘corporate resistance to Trump,’’ or Chelsea Clinton’s accusing Steve Bannon of ‘‘fat shaming’’ Sean Spicer.

10) How do you know when your knee doctor is either 1) a glorified con-man, or 2) essentially incompetent?  Whey they recommend arthroscopic surgery for regular wear-and-tear on the knee:

Serious questions are now being raised about the benefits of the arthroscopic procedures that millions of people endure in hopes of delaying, if not avoiding, total knee replacements.

The latest challenge, published in May in BMJ by an expert panel that systematically reviewed 12 well-designed trials and 13 observational studies, concluded that arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee arthritis and meniscal tears resulted in no lasting pain relief or improved function.

Three months after the procedure, fewer than 15 percent of patients experienced at best “a small or very small improvement in pain and function,” effects that disappeared completely within a year.

As with all invasive procedures, the surgery is not without risks, infection being the most common, though not the only, complication…“Arthroscopic surgery has a role, but not for arthritis and meniscal tears,” Dr. Reed A.C. Siemieniuk, a methodologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and chairman of the panel, said in an interview. “It became popular before there were studies to show that it works, and we now have high-quality evidence showing that it doesn’t work.”

11) Trump supporters just don’t care that he’s lying.

12) The problem with self-driving cars is not just the cars, but really the technology-human interface.  Trying to decide how much– if any at all– controls humans should have is key.  Nice story in Vox.  Also reminded me of this terrific 99% Invisible episode from last year on how automation can make humans less safe.

13) Excellent summary of the placebo effect from Vox’s Brian Resnick:

A 2010 systematic review looked at 202 drug trials where a placebo group was compared to patients who received neither placebo nor active drug. And it found that placebos seem to move the needle on pain, nausea, asthma, and phobias, with more inconsistent results for outcomes like smoking, dementia, depression*, obesity, hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety. (*Separate literature review on depression meds does find an effect of placebo compared with no treatment.)

“It seems like placebo taps into a family of psychological and brain processes that’s very much something we evolved for,” says Tor Wager, a University of Colorado Boulder neuroscientist who has co-authored many of the key papers on the neuroscience of placebo. “Take pain as an example. If you step on something sharp, there’s pain in your foot. Now, how should you respond to it? Well, if you are running from an attack, you don’t even want to feel that. You keep going.”

Another way to think about it: Placebos tweak our experience of symptoms, not their underlying causes.

14) New book explores why today’s high-powered white-collar criminals seem to so easily get away with their crimes.

15) Had a blast setting off fireworks this past week, as always.  You will not be surprised to learn I did a ton of this– and far less safely– as a teenager.  The headline for this Vox chart is, “The people going to the hospital for fireworks injuries are exactly who you think.”

 

16) I did very much enjoy watching Okja on Netflix last week (though, I would not go so far as to call it “fantastic” as this review does).

17) More Chait on Republicans and health care:

Conservatives cannot point to any real-world examples of a country or even a state that has successfully implemented the sort of health-care system they desire. (Some of them mistakenly cite Singapore, whose health-care system relies on massive state intervention American conservatives could never accept.) That’s because there’s no electorate in any industrialized country that would tolerate it.

Is that because a conservative health-care plan with catastrophic coverage and high deductibles is technically impossible to design? No, it’s because such a plan is politically impossible to sustain. People don’t want insurance coverage that only protects them against rare disasters. They want to be able to go to the doctor and get treated. In the English vernacular, comprehensive coverage is called “good insurance” and high-deductible insurance is called “bad insurance.”

18) And Ezra, “The Republican health bill is stuck in a valley of incoherence” and that’s putting it generously:

Political parties tend to agree on the goals of their major legislative efforts even if they disagree on means. The GOP’s various tax reform efforts begin from the premise that taxes should be lower. The Democratic Party’s health care push began with the premise that there should be fewer uninsured people. The fight over how best to achieve those goals was fierce, but everyone was clear about what they were trying to achieve, and so it was clear how to evaluate different policies.

That’s not the case here. The GOP’s health care effort began with the premise that Obamacare is bad and must be repealed and replaced. But repeal and replace is a means to an end, not an end itself. The end, in theory, is the post-replacement health care system — a system that aligns with the GOP’s vision of how health care should work. But that vision is absent. When we asked eight Republican senators to tell us what the health bill was meant to achieve, we got eight different answers, and most of them were incoherent…

Now, however, a Republican Party that only knows what it is against has to decide what it’s for — and it’s failing. The result is a chaotic legislative process wherein no one knows how to evaluate the proposed policies except on the crudest tactical dimension. Bills are unveiled and amendments offered wherein the only evident goal is getting something passed. At times, Republicans have been shockingly honest about this. Asked what problems the bill was meant to solve, Sen. John McCain replied, “They’re trying to get to 51 votes.” …

McConnell is trying to find a compromise between the wing of his party that wants to cover the poor and the wing of his party that doesn’t; between Republicans who think a 22 million increase in the number of uninsured Americans is a moral blight and those who think it’s a win for freedom. There is no sensible policy that splits the difference between perfectly opposed goals. And so the Kentucky Republican, in his purely tactical way, has found a compromise: a bill that could cover the poor, but won’t.

This is what happens when you make policy from deep inside a valley of incoherence. You mistake means for ends, you find yourself crafting policies with no clear sense of what they’re meant to achieve, you mistake something that might pass for something that will work. Aside from being able to say they repealed and replaced Obamacare, Republicans don’t know what they want their bill to achieve, and so at this point, it doesn’t achieve anything, save cutting taxes. [emphasis mine]

 

19) The horror that is Jeff Sessions as Attorney General pretty much knows no limits.  Anybody who pays the slightest attention knows that much “forensic science” is deeply, deeply flawed and not actually science at all.  That’s a huge Sessions problem if one is concerned about minor things like, you know, fairness, accuracy, and justice in our criminal justice system.  Alas, it’s not really clear at all that cares about any of these things.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Garrett Epps with an interesting take on the church/state issues in the SC’s recent decision.

2) Love this take on insurance from Adrienne LaFrance— “good health never lasts.”

Good morning, fellow mortals!

At this pivotal moment in American policymaking, I’m here to remind you of our individual and collective doom. Wellness, like youth, is temporary. In the end, you either get sick, then die—or you die before you can get sick in the first place. It bears repeating, apparently, at a time when the health-care debate in the United States has become so partisan as to imply the population of sick people and well people is just as cleanly divided as Americans are politically split. But this isn’t the case.

You can’t choose to be healthy or ill the way you can choose to be a Republican or a Democrat. You can’t choose for your babies not to be born with medical problems.

You can do everything right to stay in good health. You can be one of “those people who lead good lives,” as the Alabama Republican Representative Mo Brooks put it in a television interview, explaining why healthy people should get to pay less for insurance than sick people. And you’re still likely to find yourself facing unexpected medical costs at one point or another.

3) Tennessee legislature condemns porn as a public health crisis leading to a decline in marriage.

4) Gorsuch’s anti-gay dissent is really pretty pathetic.

5) Yglesias on the conservative health care vision:

Having worked out a few of the rough kinks in the House plan, conservative wonks are in fact on board for a program that reduces taxes on high-income households by hundreds of billions of dollars and pays for it with hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to health care for lower-income households. The bill leaves Medicare unchanged (indeed, it keeps in place Obama-era reforms that Republicans opportunistically denounced) and it leaves in place the employer-based framework that serves the majority of middle-class Americans.

But it cuts taxes for the rich, cuts taxes for insurance industry players, cuts taxes for some employers of low-wage workers, and it pays for it all by stripping low income people of their coverage without thinking too hard about what happens next. That’s not an absence of vision for what the country should look like, it’s what the vision is.

6) The Art Pope-funded John Locke foundation has this handy “analysis” titled, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on Benefit Mandates.”  Of course, a more apt title might be, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on requiring insurance benefits that people actually need to be healthy.”

7) Love this take from Bill Ayers on the nature of expertise:

But there’s another aspect to expertise that actually contributes to its widespread rejection. The nature of expertise is that people who are experts see things that non-experts can’t see. They perceive things in the universe that are, quite literally, invisible to the rest of us.

This phenomenon has been well-documented in all sorts of arenas. Elite athletes, for example, have been studied extensively. It turns out that, while they tend to be in excellent health and have certain physical gifts, they’re not especially more physically gifted in general than the rest of us. It’s that the tens of thousands of hours of practice they put in have rewired their brains so they can perceive things other’s can’t. That’s why the best hitters in professional baseball actually stand a good chance of hitting a baseball thrown by a professional pitcher, traveling at more than 95 miles per hour. He can see things about that ball that are invisible to the rest of us.

The same is true in medicine. An experienced doctor will see in a list of symptoms, or the way a patient answers a question, possible diagnoses that we know nothing about. Nor can we understand the connections between those little bits of information and the much larger issue. Doctors carry around a whole world of knowledge in their heads that is inaccessible to non-experts.

So it goes for nearly every field of human endeavor. Architects see things in buildings that the rest of us miss. Musicians hear things in music we can’t hear. Engineers, lawyers, designers, auto mechanics – in almost any human endeavor involving expertise, experts are privy to a world out of reach of the rest of us…

I encounter this all the time in my own area of expertise – politics – because, as John Stewart Mill put it over 100 years ago, politics “is a subject which no one, however ignorant, thinks himself incompetent to discuss”. In the political realm, we all think that we can see everything there is to see. And when “experts” come along and try to point out what we can’t see, we often dismiss them because, well, we can’t see what they’re pointing at. We think they’re just making it up.

8) Meant to have this last week.  Trevor Noah on Philandro Castille.  Good stuff.

9) NC State doing its part for breeding better blueberries.  It turns out the real trick is finding tasty blueberries that hold up to machine-picking.

“Right now, 20 percent of blueberries are harvested mechanically, while 80 percent is handpicked,” he said. Because handpicking is expensive, he said, “We want to reverse that – we want 80 percent to be mechanically harvested and 20 percent handpicked.”

I’m all for more affordable blueberries.

10) Kevin Williamson post in National Review about Trump is so good.  Read it.

Trump may have his problems with women, but it is his unrequited love of the media that is undoing him.

“I always tell the president, ‘You don’t need them,’” says Sean Hannity, the self-abasing monkey-butler of the Trump regime. The president, Hannity says, can reach more Americans via Twitter than he could through the conventional media. That isn’t true, of course: Only about one in five Americans uses Twitter. Hannity might be forgiven for not knowing this, a consequence of his much more general habit of not knowing things. But he actually does know the president. How could he possibly believe that this man — this man — does not need them?

He needs them the way a junkie needs his junk.

Donald Trump cares more about how he is perceived in the media than he cares about anything else in the world, including money. Trump is a true discipline of Bishop Berkeley, professing the creed of the social-media age: Esse eat percipi— “To be is to be seen.” Trump is incapable of enjoying anything — money, success, sex — without being perceived enjoying it.

11) How forgetting is the key to learning.

12) Good Jelani Cobb piece on militarizing the minds of police officers:

For the past two decades, David Grossman, a former Army Ranger and self-described product of a law-enforcement family, has been conducting police-training seminars on the use of deadly force. Policing is a complex job that at times requires split-second decision-making. More often, though, it requires a reservoir of knowledge about social interaction and human behavior, and the ability to read situations that may become violent. Officers are granted a great degree of latitude in their work, partly because interacting with the public requires more nuance than any rigorous set of codes could possibly hope to encompass. Grossman’s “Bulletproof Warrior” philosophy, however, dispenses with these gray areas. Here the war on crime is not metaphorical; police are a kind of domestic militia tasked with subduing a potentially lethal enemy. Danger is ambient, ever present, and unpredictable. (Grossman did not respond to a request for an interview.) Grossman’s seminar exists at the opposite pole of the current drive for criminal-justice reform. While progressives emphasize police training to de-escalate conflict, Grossman’s seminar pushes officers to become more comfortable with the use of deadly force. As Grossman informs one group of attendees, “only a killer can hunt a killer.” Killing is a central theme of Grossman’s seminars but is only a fractional portion of law enforcement’s responsibilities. The vast majority of police in this country never use deadly force in the course of their careers. [emphasis mine]

Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, in Minnesota, last year, belongs not only to the small percentage of officers who have killed civilians but also to the much larger group of officers who have attended Grossman’s seminars. He reacted quickly, interpreted an otherwise calm moment as the paramount danger, and fired seven times into a vehicle with a four-year-old girl in the back seat. A jury determined that Yanez had not committed any crime, but, at the very least, no reasonable person would understand his handling of the situation as good policing.

13) Richard Hasen on the absurd fraud that is Trump’s voting fraud commission.

14) How Netflix is trying to be the new HBO.

15) Headline says it all category, “Syrian doctor caught in travel ban gives up, moves to Canada.”  I’m sure he was, in actuality, a potential terrorist wanting to destroy America.

16) It’s nice to be reminded that Harry Potter books were not always a phenomenon.

17) Good piece on the Republicans’ “uncertainty strategy” on Obamacare.

18) How Illinois became a poster child for fiscal mismanagement.

19) I think you know the answer to the question in this Guardian headline, “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?”

The core of Elsevier’s operation is in scientific journals, the weekly or monthly publications in which scientists share their results. Despite the narrow audience, scientific publishing is a remarkably big business. With total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable. In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.

But Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.

20) Some places in America have too many jobs and not enough workers.

21) Another great take on Republican Medicaid cuts, “Plan on Growing Old? Then the Medicaid Debate Affects You.”

These are the stories we tell ourselves: I will never be poor. I will never be disabled. My child will develop normally. They stand a decent chance of being true, even.

There is one tall tale, however, that ought to inspire a great deal of skepticism: I will be able to pay for myself in my old age.

In fact, a majority of people cannot and do not. One in three people who turn 65 end up in a nursing home at some point. Among the people living in one today, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 62 percent cannot pay the bill on their own.

And when that happens, Medicaid pays. The very Medicaid program that stands to have hundreds of billions of dollars less to spend if anything like the health care bills on the table in Washington come to pass.

Musings on security theater

I’m pretty sure at some point here I’ve mentioned how much I hate security theater.  The supposed security they do at music venues is truly the worst.  I went to see Muse with my son David at PNC Pavillion in Charlotte (your typical outdoor concert venue) last night.  Great show.  I love Muse.  David loves Muse, so it was awesome to be able to share that with him.

Anyway, we were a little late getting into the show (would have liked to have seen unannounced opener, MISSIO) because of absurdly long security lines while they ran metal-detecting wands over every body and even did a little light frisking while you held your phone, keys, etc., in your hand.  This is so dumb.  I swear, you could easily hide a 6″ blade behind plenty of today’s larger cell phones and they’d never notice.  Also, just feeling under arm pits will never catch something in the small of the back or the groin area.  It’s all for pretend.  I suppose, some lawyers somewhere have determined that this is due diligence in security to avoid potential lawsuits.  Also, when some supervisor decided the lines were just too long, they stopped the frisking and were even more perfunctory with the wands.

So, either we need that stuff to be safe, or we don’t.  Hint: we don’t.  Anyway, the total lie that was the concert security theater was revealed after a lightning delay.  All those in lawn seats were told to return to their cars after the opening act.  After a 80 minute or so delay (actually kind of a fun communal experience being packed under the covered area of the pavilion while a storm blew 30 mph rain sideways over us), the arena announced that Muse would be coming on in 15 minutes.

How to let thousands of lawn seats holders back into the venue in just 15 minutes?  Easy.  Totally drop the pretense of security theater. I’m dead serious, if I lived near this venue, I’m pretty sure I would just follow this twitter account and waltz right into concerts (would have taken to long to re-check all the tickets and they could only be scanned once anyway) for free after storm delays.  Anyway, point is, apparently, after a thunderstorm, security doesn’t really matter.  You could have walked back in with a sawed-off shotgun and a ninja sword.  So, there’s two options here… 1) the pre-show security is truly just security theater and there’s actually absurdly low risk for letting people in with only the most perfunctory metal screening, or 2) thunderstorms magically remove security threats.

And, just because I’m writing about the show, I’ll mention that opening act, Thirty Seconds to Mars, features former actor Jared Leto and damn does he love to perform.  We were right behind the handicapped row and he came and sang to this teenage boy with cerebral palsy, who clearly loved it.

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people on stage and crowd

Sorry, no good Muse photos.  But it was pretty much like this.  Nobody comes close to Muse for opening guitar riffs.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) The Deepwater Horizon movie was really good.  Seems like it barely made a ripple.  Deserved more.  Also, rarely do you see a movie credited as being based on a newspaper article.  Of course, this is one hell of a NYT article.

2) A variety of scientific explanations for why some dogs like to roll around in poop (I remember some very unpleasant experiences with our dog Lira and cow manure when visiting a relative’s farm).

3) On a not at all unrelated note, how dogs are like probiotics:

So there is growing concern that, in our anxiety to banish bacteria from our indoor world, we have become too clean for our own good. We run the risk of scrubbing, disinfecting, vacuuming and filtering out the fortifying mix of microscopic creatures that our immune system needs to develop properly.

Enter the dog.

Dogs roll in the mud. They sniff feces and other questionable substances. Then they track countless germs into our homes on their paws, snouts and fur.

And if the latest research on pets and human health is correct, that cloud of dog-borne microbes may be working to keep us healthy. Epidemiological studies show that children who grow up in households with dogs have a lower risk for developing autoimmune illnesses like asthma and allergies — and it may be a result of the diversity of microbes that these animals bring inside our homes.

4) As you know, I think I’m a pretty good dad.  But apparently I need to up my game and talk to my kids about pornography.

5) How tech billionaires are trying to remake America’s schools.

6) I learned a lot from the Economist’s take on the British election.

7) This Jonathan Ladd piece on the extreme negative partisanship that characterizes our present political era, is excellent.  You should read all of it:

The typical political science answer five years ago was that a democracy could accommodate extremely polarized parties as long as it had the right institutions. Polarization may be causing problems in the US, but that is only because we have a Madisonian system that only works when politicians are willing to work together. Power is divided between Congress, the presidency, and the courts, which are often controlled by different parties. Supermajority rules in the Senate increase the need for the parties to work together if they hope to get anything done.

By this logic, our problems are caused by presidentialism, the Senate’s rules, and perhaps too strong judicial review. We could accommodate more polarized parties if we had a unicameral parliamentary system, in which the parliament elected a prime minister and Cabinet to rule until the next election. (This would presumably solve our problems, whether legislators continued to be selected in single-member districts, as in the UK, Canada and Australia, or by voters choosing among party lists, as in Italy or Israel.)..

My views have changed. I still think that presidential systems produce their own “perils,” but I no longer think a system with fewer veto points can solve our problems. Specifically, the election of Donald Trump has led me to conclude that, regardless of our political rules, negative partisanship among politicians and the mass public is a serious danger…

Negative partisanship swayed Republicans at the mass and elite level. Many Republicans voted for their party’s nominee primarily in order to avoid a Clinton presidency. Clinton, with her high visibility and close connection with liberalism, is almost ideally suited to activating Republicans’ traditional partisan and ideological loyalties.

The country would be substantially better off if the electorate penalized parties for nominating inexperienced, uniformed, impulsive, corrupt candidates for president. Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, you would be better off if the Republicans in 2016 had nominated and elected Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or even Mike Pence. One of them would implement many of the same policies, but without the massive corruption, the degradation of American political institutions, the danger of starting a major military conflict by accident or incompetence rather than ideology, or the many other Trump specific pathologies.  [emphases mine]

8) My wife and I spent about an hour last week proving to the State Health Plan and the new Republican State Treasurer that she is my wife and our kids are our kids.  Otherwise, we’d lose our insurance.  As my wife pointed out, you’d think the fact that the state health plan actually paid for the births of the younger two ought to be enough for them.  We got it done and our insurance will continue.  But, we could not think about the problems (and time wasted) for those less computer savvy and who may just not be on top of things.  This is a classic example of only considering one side of the cost/benefit– the potential cases of fraud (which, I’m sure are small in number) as opposed to the huge cost spread across all the plan members in terms of time and anxiety, and in some cases, temporary loss of needed insurance.

9) When high school teachers are faced with otherwise intelligent students who think believing climate scientists versus Rush Limbaugh is “just your opinion.”  The teachers in the Times story, need to meet this science teacher in Idaho, who’s got it all figured out.

10) Sorry, that’s it.  Short part II today.  I’m exhausted after a day of celebrating Alex’s birthday plus hosting family plus a dance recital.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Very good Yglesias post on Trump the bullshitter:

Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true, often shamelessly so, and it’s tempting to call him a liar.

But that’s not quite right. As the Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt put it in a famous essay, to lie presumes a kind of awareness of and interest in the truth — and the goal is to convince the audience that the false thing you are saying is in fact true. Trump, more often than not, isn’t interested in convincing anyone of anything. He’s a bullshitter who simply doesn’t care…

He’s a man who doesn’t care much about the truth. He’s a man who cares deeply about loyalty. The two qualities merge in the way he wields bullshit. His flagrant lies serve as a loyalty test.

2) Nice blog post on Confirmation bias I came across.  I’m sure it will confirm what you know about confirmation bias ;-).

3) Nice NYT Op-Ed from libertarian Will Wilkinson on the welfare state:

Fortunately, defending a more freewheeling economy implies no hostility to the welfare state. On the contrary, a generous and effective safety net can be embraced as a tool to promote and sustain a culture of freedom, innovation and risk taking. Politically, repairing and improving the slipshod infrastructure of the safety net would liberate Republicans from the bad faith of attacking the welfare state in one breath, halfheartedly promising not to cut entitlements in the next and then breaking that promise once in power.

More important, grasping that government spending is compatible with high levels of freedom and economic vitality would give Republicans space actually to govern. The belief that it is necessary always and forever to reduce spending leads to the embarrassing spectacle of obstruction and paralysis unfolding on Capitol Hill.

A Republican Party that aimed instead to free markets and improve the effectiveness and composition of spending could govern, govern well and win elections doing it.

4) The misguided crackdown on fraud by the Army.  Pretty clearly a case of prosecutors who just can’t accept that there’s really a bunch of small fish when they thought they were going to reel in some giant ones.

5) This Economist/1843 piece on why the Mona Lisa is so popular (and what artworks in general, become popular) was terrific.  Not surprisingly, it has almost nothing to do with the quality of the art:

When Watts looked into the history of “the greatest painting of all time”, he discovered that, for most of its life, the “Mona Lisa” languished in relative obscurity. In the 1850s, Leonardo da Vinci was considered no match for giants of Renaissance art like Titian and Raphael, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the “Mona Lisa”. It was only in the 20th century that Leonardo’s portrait of his patron’s wife rocketed to the number-one spot. What propelled it there wasn’t a scholarly re-evaluation, but a burglary.

In 1911 a maintenance worker at the Louvre walked out of the museum with the “Mona Lisa” hidden under his smock. Parisians were aghast at the theft of a painting to which, until then, they had paid little attention. When the museum reopened, people queued to see the gap where the “Mona Lisa” had once hung in a way they had never done for the painting itself. The police were stumped. At one point, a terrified Pablo Picasso was called in for questioning. But the “Mona Lisa” wasn’t recovered until two years later when the thief, an Italian carpenter called Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The French public was electrified. The Italians hailed Peruggia as a patriot who wanted to return the painting home. Newspapers around the world repro­duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself.

6) Really compelling story of a former NC State assistant football coach (now deceased) and his struggles with CTE.

7) Very cool interactive graphic on the popularity of various Netflix shows.

8) Oh, man, this Post feature on “butterfly babies” who have a super-rare genetic skin disease was so fascinating and disturbing.  Read it.

9) Definitely agree with this Wired piece to not use social media about terrorist attacks.  That’s exactly what they want.  In short, I know it’s hard, but we should all pay less attention to terrorist attacks.

10) How to make a rocket with a 2-liter bottle.  Somebody get me some liquid butane!

11) Even the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care about its travel ban any more:

It’s a feedback loop: The media talks about what Trump is thinking about, and Trump thinks about what the media is talking about, and the two quickly converge on a single obsession. In the administration’s first months, the cycle was disrupted frequently enough by outside events — like the first rulings against the travel ban — that it wasn’t as immediately apparent to the naked eye.

But with the Comey/Russia scandal, the story of the Trump administration itself has become far more important than anything the administration can do or that can be done to it.

For all of Donald Trump’s griping about his communications staff, Trump himself appears to be fundamentally unable to direct even his own attention to the things his administration actually wants to do for America, much less the attention of anyone else. His obsession with the way his presidency is covered has deprived him of any chance to change it.

12) Really good National Review (!!) piece on the important implications of the decline of American retail:

And shops and jobs go together: One in ten employed Americans works in retail. Retail salesman is the single most common job in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while much has been made of the decline in old-line industrial jobs that carry a certain nostalgic charge, there are 17 times as many retail jobs as jobs in automobile manufacturing, 100 times as many retail jobs as steel jobs, and 210 times as many Americans working in retail as in coal mining — not just miners, but all coal-mining jobs, from CEO on down. Shop jobs mostly are not especially high-paying (though they sometimes are), and they tend to be held by workers who for various reasons — sometimes lack of skill and education, but also things such as the need for flexible scheduling or physical limitations — often do not have a great many desirable options. People sometimes scoff: “Yeah, creative destruction is great — we’ll just tell all those unemployed steelworkers to become software designers!” But the fact is that steel mills and mines and factories employ a great many highly educated and highly skilled people, from engineers to machinists, and they are a lot more likely to be able to find good new jobs than is the 48-year-old mother of three who works four days a week at the local Sears. That job may not provide enough to support a family of five, but it may very well pay enough to take care of the mortgage and the electricity bill — for two-income families, those modestly paid retail jobs aren’t about pin money.

13) Clearly, schools need to do a better job making sure inappropriate quotes don’t get into the yearbook.  That said, please stop over-reacting like it’s a scourge on the whole school.  And I will admit to laughing out loud upon reading this particularly inappropriate quote:

On Thursday, Dana King, principal of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, apologized for publishing a yearbook quote from a male senior who said “I like my women how I like my milk: white, rich and 2% fat.”

14) Obviously I could not resist this story about trying to hunt down forgotten apple cultivars.

Now, some old varieties have become available again, through small specialty nurseries like the co-op that Mr. Bunker helped start in Maine and through university agricultural programs. Commercial growers, however, said old apples had faded for a reason and were probably not coming back.

“They’re hard to grow,” said Mac Riggan, the director of marketing at Chelan Fresh, which has 26,000 acres of fruit trees, mostly apples, in central Washington.

Old varieties, Mr. Riggan said, either bruise easily, don’t store well or don’t produce enough apples per tree. And economic pressure is relentless. “Land costs money,” he said.

I’m sure there’s some great ones.  But, honestly, it’s hard to beat a good Braeburn and you can get those anywhere.

15) Aaron Carroll on science’s reproducibility problem:

 true success will require a change in the culture of science. As long as the academic environment has incentives for scientists to work in silos and hoard their data, transparency will be impossible. As long as the public demands a constant stream of significant results, researchers will consciously or subconsciously push their experiments to achieve those findings, valid or not. As long as the media hypes new findings instead of approaching them with the proper skepticism, placing them in context with what has come before, everyone will be nudged toward results that are not reproducible.

For years, financial conflicts of interest have been properly identified as biasing research in improper ways. Other conflicts of interest exist, though, and they are just as powerful — if not more so — in influencing the work of scientists across the country and around the globe. We are making progress in making science better, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

16) I don’t follow British politics all that closely, thus I learned a lot in a short piece via the Economist’s endorsement of the Liberal-Democrats for the upcoming UK election.

17) Revisiting the giant flop that was E.T. the video game.

 

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