Quick hits (part II)

1) Oh damn did I love this from Paul Campos on under-appreciated it is that Trump really is just plain stupid:

In my view, the single most under-appreciated fact about Trump is that he’s a genuinely stupid person. (He does possess a combination of complete shamelessness and an animal instinct for grifting, which is not at all the same thing as actual intelligence). It’s extremely difficult to grasp the depth and breath of Trump’s stupidity, and its consequences — lack of the most basic knowledge, absence of any intellectual curiosity, failure to grasp anything about his own cognitive limitations, aka Dunning-Kruger syndrome — because Trump is a very high status, putatively very wealthy white person, which means he always gets the benefit of the doubt about everything. If Trump weren’t these things, the extremely obvious fact that he’s a very stupid person — and not in comparison to, say, Elizabeth Warren, but in comparison to the average college graduate — would be far more self-evident.

In the minds of the elites and their hangers-on — that is among all respectable people — it literally cannot be the case that Trump is just an extremely stupid person, because to recognize that would delegitimate too many hierarchical systems and institutions in our culture. So he’s “crazy like a fox,” or playing the role of a heel in a reality TV show, or playing a complex game in which he pretends to be incredibly ignorant just to pwn the libs. He may look dumb but that’s just a disguise!

No, no it isn’t. He’s really an idiot. Like your racist uncle who was never smart to begin with and whose brain has now been turned to mush by time and Fox News, he’s a complete dumbass, which probably isn’t a DSM-V category, but should be.

What’s particularly interesting is the extent to which his supporters recognize this. Many of them are of course idiots as well, and don’t recognize that about themselves, so naturally they don’t recognize the, to put it delicately, cognitive limitations of their leader.

But some of them aren’t stupid by any means. They’ve decided that having a stupid person (again: not hyperbole or a metaphor or oh he’s really not stupid although he’s no rocket surgeon — he’s literally quite stupid) is a price they’re more than willing to pay to get their tax cuts and judges and ethno-nationalism etc. (See for instance this interesting argument that Mitch McConnell is fully aware of how utterly unfit Trump is to hold office, but pretends otherwise because the prime directive is always to advance McConnell’s own career).

2) OMG this is awesome, “The Uncomfortable is a collection of deliberately inconvenient
everyday objects by Athens-based architect Katerina Kamprani”

3) This “Sexism Didn’t Kill the Warren Campaign. The Warren Campaign Killed the Warren Campaign” makes a number of good points.  Although, it’s annoying that it cannot admit that sexism likely nonetheless played a role:

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not? …

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not?

4) Zack Beauchamp, “Elizabeth Warren’s exit interview is a warning for the dirtbag left”

5) Adam Cohen has a new book on how the Supreme Court has abandoned the poor:

Instead, 50 years ago, the Court shifted rightward. Although it has long enjoyed a reputation as the defender of society’s most disadvantaged, the Supreme Court is now considered, on many issues, an enemy of poor Americans…

The Court has not only refused to extend new rights to poor people; it has also invoked dubious readings of the Constitution to take away rights that poor people have already won from Congress and the president…

If the Supreme Court had continued on the path laid out by the Warren Court, life for the poor would be far better today. One major setback: In 1973, the Court ruled 5–4, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, that states do not have to ensure that high- and low-income school districts have equal amounts of money to spend on students. If the case had come out the other way, millions of children in low-income districts nationwide would have greater educational opportunities and better life outcomes. They would be better off in another way: If the Court had held that the poor are a suspect class, or took a broader view of equal protection, they could challenge the glaringly unequal levels of welfare benefits across the country. Although benefits are not generous anywhere, in some states, like Wyoming and Mississippi, they are egregiously low, putting the poor in an untenable position.

6) These are good. “40 Comics Reveal What Animals Would Say If They Could Talk”

They Can Talk

7) Every time I teach Criminal Justice policy, one pretty much unanimous conclusion that the students come to is that we need dramatically better police training.  Nice to see conservatives recognize this in the National Review:

After a series of terrible incidents of police violence — think Botham Jean in Dallas, Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, and others — police are under a microscope. Why does it seem like some officers are on a hair trigger, ready to use deadly force with little provocation? Increasingly, critics of police point to what we call “the mindset”: people’s belief that police (despite low crime rates) think that American streets are a battlefield, that they are surrounded by potential enemies, and that every civilian encounter is a struggle to be won.

Not every police officer has the mindset; the best don’t. One of us is a former prosecutor, the other a former police officer who has studied policing for more than 20 years. We know that “the mindset” is real and the root cause of many of these tragedies. But it isn’t inevitable. Instead, police recruits are trained in that attitude and even incentivized to maintain such attitude. Can they be untrained, or trained differently? We think they can — and believe conservatives especially ought to support efforts to reform police training.

The mindset has roots in the drug war, where politicians of all stripes encouraged the militarization of police equipment, tactics, and attitudes. It starts in the police academies. Most use a “stress” model resembling military boot camps, emphasizing drills, intense physical demands, public discipline, and immediate reaction to infractions; substantively, academy training focuses on investigation skills, weapons training, and tactics. But there is little emphasis on the profession of policing, on how to relate to the public, or on developing emotional-intelligence skills. Meanwhile, the average recruit gets less than ten hours of training in de-escalation techniques; 34 states require no training in de-escalation.

As they have proliferated, SWAT teams are increasingly used in standard, on-duty policing activities. In a 2014 analysis, the ACLU, which has done excellent statistical work on this issue, found that 79 percent of the 50,000 annual SWAT callouts were for executing a search warrant, most commonly in drug investigations; only 7 percent were for hostage, barricade, or active-shooter scenarios. At least 60 percent of those operations featured the use of no-knock entries and/or (potentially deadly) flash-bang grenades. The Pentagon’s infamous 1033 Program — which distributes cast-off military equipment such as armored personnel carriers, weaponry, and helicopters to local police — has also helped to drive this phenomenon.

Changes in weapons, tactics, and training birthed the mindset. Reforming all three could help to combat it. To start, the dispersion of cheap military weaponry to police departments must stop. Police ought to be put to the discipline of deciding whether their local situation really justifies the cost of armored personnel carriers.

Finally, we need real, sustained de-escalation training in police academies and among active officers. Departments should accept that, within reason, the onus is on the officer to defuse potentially explosive incidents, slow the pace of police–civilian encounters, and take the time to resolve encounters before they turn violent.

8) Speaking of flaws in our criminal justice system, the way in which it still allows and rewards junk science is beyond appalling.  Maybe a small victory, though.  Radley Balko:

As I’ve written here ad nauseam, judges are entrusted to be the gatekeepers of good and bad science in the courtroom. By and large, they’ve performed poorly. Judges are trained to perform legal analysis, not scientific analysis, and law and science are two very different fields. Science is forward-looking, always changing and adapting to discoveries and new empirical evidence. The law, by contrast, puts a premium on consistency and predictability. It relies on precedent, so courts look to previous courts for guidance and are often bound by prior decisions.

By and large, judges have approached their task of scientific analysis just as we might expect them to: They have tried to apply it within a legal framework. This means when assessing whether a given field of forensics is scientifically reliable, judges tend to look to what previous courts have already determined. And when confronted with a new field, they tend to err on the side of relying on our adversarial system — they let the evidence in but also let the defense call its own experts to dispute the prosecution’s witness. The problem here is that by simply admitting the evidence, the courts lend it an air of legitimacy. Once the evidence is allowed in, whether jurors find it convincing tends to come down to which witness is most persuasive. State’s witnesses are often seen as unbiased and altruistic, while jurors tend to see defense witnesses as hired guns. And the set of skills it takes to persuade a jury isn’t necessarily the same skill set of a careful and cautious scientist. Indeed, the two are often in conflict.

This is why a field such as bite-mark analysis — which has been found to be unreliable by multiple scientific bodies — has yet to be disallowed by any courtroom in the country. Every time it has been challenged, the court has upheld its validity.

9) This is good, “Like the United States, Finland has a capitalist economy. Why are Finns so much happier than us?”  Also, all those awesome Northern European “Social Democracies” are pretty much based on capitalism, not socialism.  They just do capitalism way better than us through robust use of government policy to make capitalism serve the public interest.

10) Relatedly, Ezra Klein with a good discussion of Bernie Sanders and the underpinnings of “democratic socialism.”

11) This from the new NYT media reporter is really good, “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism”

And the story of consolidation in media is a story about The Times itself.

The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000…

Because The Times now overshadows so much of the industry, the cultural and ideological battles that used to break out between news organizations — like whether to say that President Trump lied — now play out inside The Times.

And The Times has swallowed so much of what was once called new media that the paper can read as an uneasy competition of dueling traditions: The Style section is a more polished Gawker, while the opinion pages reflect the best and worst of The Atlantic’s provocations. The magazine publishes bold arguments about race and American history, and the campaign coverage channels Politico’s scoopy aggression.

12) Good Yglesias piece on swing voters versus mobilizing the base:

Swing voters are extremely real

The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth.

The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study conducted a large-sample poll and found that 6.7 million Trump voters said they voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2.7 million Clinton voters said they voted for Mitt Romney in 2016. In other words, about 11 percent of Trump voters say they were Obama voters four years earlier, and about 4 percent of Clinton voters say they were Romney voters four years earlier.

Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has this useful table:

A chart showing Trump, Clinton, Obama, and Romney voters, and how they intersect.Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics

By the same token, Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.

On issue after issue, the voters who a “mobilization” strategy would target are more moderate than consistent Democrats not more left-wing than them. There are plenty of inconsistent voters in America, and it’s smart to try to get them to vote for Democrats. But the inconsistent voters aren’t some secret bloc of hard-core progressives. The most ideologically committed progressives you’re going to find are the people already consistently pulling the lever for Democrats. In other words, no matter what fraction of the electorate Democrats are aiming to target, there’s no real case for becoming more ideologically rigid or adopting policy views that swing voters reject…

But on the big ideological questions, there’s no mobilization loophole that will let progressives evade the problem that some progressive ideas are unpopular. Third-party voters and drop-off voters are more progressive than D-to-R swing voters, which makes them a promising constituency to target. One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…

Last but by no means least: While activists often paint a portrait of bold ideological positions firing up the party base, the available evidence suggests the opposite happens — bold ideological positions fire up the opposition partybase

Taking such positions might be a good idea anyway on the merits. Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.

13) Good stuff from Peter Wehner on Pete Buttigieg:

More impressive to me was the core theme of Buttigieg’s campaign, which he referred to as a “new kind of politics.” In the pre-Trump era, that may well have come across as an empty slogan; in the age of Trump, it captures an urgent national need.

During his campaign, Buttigieg spoke about what he called “rules of the road,” values that he wanted to make hallmarks of his candidacy and that included respect, responsibility, discipline, excellence, joy, and truth. This is what the Buttigieg campaign said about the latter:

Honesty is in our nature, and it is one of our greatest means of restoring faith in our democracy among everyday Americans and building a national movement rooted in trust and faith in our country and our beliefs. Internally and externally, our effort will be characterized by fidelity to the truth.

That is the kind of language and ethos that once would have appealed to Republicans, who now, under the spell of a president of corruptions without borders, have given up on virtue as a touchstone of political life. Politicians and presidents attempting to foster a climate of trust and mutual respect are snowflakes—or so many in the modern GOP and right-wing-media complex would have you think…

Here’s my hunch: Most Americans are bone-weary of Trump’s antics and aggression, his nonstop assault on reality and truth, his dishonoring of the office of the presidency, and his disordered personality. What Buttigieg understood is that the way to defeat Trump (and Trumpism) is to offer as an alternative seriousness to his unseriousness, grace to his gracelessness, equanimity to his instability.

Pete Buttigieg faced too many obstacles to win the Democratic nomination in his first national race, but his remarkable rise is an indication that he tapped into the longings of an exhausted country. Democrats, if they are wise, will nominate someone who does something similar, who shows he can calm the stormy seas rather than further roil them.

14) The federal judge in the following headline was a Bush appointee.  Barr is just the worst,  “Federal Judge Says He Needs to Review Every Mueller Report Redaction Because Barr Can’t Be Trusted”

15) I see Onion headlines most every day shared in social media, but I had not picked up on this, “How ‘The Onion’ Went Full-On Bernie Bro”

16) I keep meaning to say something about Ezra’s new book (got a couple others I want to finish first), but here’s a thoughtful review/analysis:

In Why We’re Polarized, his first book, policy, Klein’s stock-in-trade, recedes, and group psychology takes center stage. That wonk volte-face gives the book its charge. He presents polarization not as the creation of particular individuals but of interlocking systems. In fact, it is a book about two sets of systems. Concatenated personal and partisan identities confront a Madisonian constitution ill-suited to prolonged combat between two evenly matched, deeply divided parties. The results leave politically active individuals—“us”—enraged, and institutions teetering toward crisis. Klein takes up the same metaphor that journalists disillusioned with the party system adopted in the Gilded Age: a machine. But where they crusaded for reform, he concludes with caution…

Here Klein makes his most important move. Instead of highlighting one specific factor, he argues that they all feed on each other at once. Hairsplitting misses the point, which is interconnection across the polarization machine. In the words of the political scientist Lilliana Mason, “Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity, with all the psychological and behavioral magnifications that implies.” Klein takes that insight and runs with it, telling a mega-story about mega-polarization. “The more sorted we are in our differences, the more different we grow in our preferences.” Elite and mass polarization reinforce one another. Above all, as partisanship becomes central to the identities of ever more Americans, leaping beyond policy preferences to feed on our sense of self, its corrosive, zero-sum psychological dynamics accelerate. Personal decisions—where to live, whom to marry—roll up inside these mega-identities: “polarization begets polarization; it’s a flywheel, not a switch.”

17) I’m in the, “actually, Bloomberg’s $500 million sort of worked” camp.  The counter-factual where Biden finishes poorly in Nevada, continues to lose support in South Carolina, and then sees a lot of that “moderate lane” support go to Bloomberg on Super Tuesday strikes me as utterly plausible.  No, things didn’t turn out Bloomberg’s way, but the fact that some very conceivable scenarios might have led us that way should make us rethink what money on a massive scale in primaries can buy.

18) Some interesting theories on why SARS-CoV-2 seems to hardly effect children:

But in studies with mice, his lab discovered that as animals age, their lungs take on damage that leads to structural changes that make them more susceptible to coronavirus infections. With SARS in particular, the older the mice, the sicker they got. “We know the lung environment really matters with this class of respiratory viruses,” says Perlman. “As people age, that lung environment changes. It gets pelted with pollen and pollution and the body responds with inflammation. A history of inflammation may impact how well you do with coronaviruses.”

More research is needed, but it’s a plausible explanation for Covid-19’s mild symptoms in children, says Creech. “The non-inflamed lung is a much less hospitable place for any virus to land,” he says. The next step would be to look at how children with less pristine lungs are faring in the outbreak—like kids with a history of asthma or babies who are born prematurely and lack a substance that helps keep open the tiny sacs in the lungs that exchange oxygen. If these kids experience severe Covid-19 symptoms too, then the “pristine lung” hypothesis holds up.

Another (highly speculative) possibility, says Creech, is that somehow kids may be leveraging their previous immune responses to the cold-causing coronaviruses they’re constantly being assaulted with. “Each of us is a little different in how we can modify the tips of our antibodies to latch on to foreign invaders,” says Creech. “It’s possible that recent coronavirus exposure in kids has led to the emergence of antibodies that have some cross-reactivity with the virus that causes Covid-19.” But, he stresses, so far there’s no evidence that’s what’s going on.

Quick hits (part II)

1) How Tuesday’s became election day.

At the time, the U.S. was a largely agrarian society and many of the all-white, male voting population were farmers.

“Elections were usually held in the county seat,” said King. “And you have to remember that county seats were designed to be one day’s ride away by horseback.”

Americans were also generally a God-fearing Christian people and would not travel on Sundays, so Mondays were out.

“Agricultural fairs and market days were on Wednesdays,” said King.

A Tuesday election day meant farmers could travel on Mondays, vote Tuesday morning, then head back home in time for market on Wednesday.

2) OMG this is good, “I went to Hogwarts for seven years, did not learn math or spelling, and now I can’t get a job.”

Thanks to the Hogwarts curriculum, I can withstand mind control and even limited torture, but I cannot write a compelling cover letter without humiliating grammatical error’s. Why is literature not a course at your skool? I can enchant my quill to write my thoughts, but I never learned how to make my thoughts enchanting. I heard that Durmstrang students have a skool newspaper. You know what Hogwarts has? A three-headed dog lurking in the castle, with permission to kill whoever it finds. Indeedly, my life was constantly endangered while at Hogwarts, which was an academic distracshun.

3) The world is entirely unequipped for the current refugee crisis:

We are in an age of mass displacement. Yet the powerful and stable nations of the world have not figured out a humane way to handle the influx of people claiming persecution while balancing domestic concerns about security and cultural change. Instead, doors are simply closing, with asylum protections rolled back seemingly everywhere. In Italy, where the former interior minister denounced “fake refugees,” boats of Africans have been blocked from docking. The European Union pays handsomely to keep asylum seekers away, while Turkey considers sending Syrian refugees back to their homeland, which is still at war. In the U.S., the indefinite detention of asylum-seeking children prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to say she was appalled. Thousands of asylum seekers are sent from the U.S. to dangerous sections of Mexico and even to countries they’re not from.

The point is, Trump’s theory of executive power does real work and has had real consequences. The opening memorandum prepared by Trump’s defense team for his Senate impeachment trial, for example, served as an homage to the general concept of absolute rights and built from its vision of an unconstrained executive the startling argument that the president cannot be impeached for abuses of power. Trump’s coinage actually made a revealing, and legally mystifying, appearance in the brief: “It is well settled that the President has a virtually absolute right to maintain the confidentiality of his diplomatic communications with foreign leaders.” As support for this sweeping claim, Trump’s team cited the Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in United States v. Nixon. But that decision notes nothing more than the courts’ traditional deference to the president’s claims of executive privilege over communications bearing on sensitive foreign-policy and national-security matters—and ultimately determined President Richard Nixon must hand over tapes subpoenaed by the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
Where Trump derived the idea that as president he enjoys absolute rights is unclear. But his chosen phraseology is sticky and evocative. It carries a quasi-juridical ring that belies its conceptual incoherence. Closely examined, his incessant invocation of the phrase evokes the image not of the leader of the free world, but of a freeholder enjoying untrammeled and indefinite possession of his estate. Constitutionally baseless but rhetorically compelling, the whole concept of “absolute rights” is best described as a legal innovation by a real-estate mogul who understands power through the prism of private property rather than public obligation…“I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Trump crowed to a group of teenage conservatives at a Washington, D.C., summit in July, awkwardly waving his constitutional authority like a golden ticket entitling him to full possession of a chocolate factory. Conceived this way, as absolute title, Article II vests the president not with power sanctioned by and concomitant with his obligations to the people, but with rights enforceable against them.This is a profound misunderstanding of the American constitutional system. Within that system, rights protect individuals against incursions by the state. The assertion of “absolute rights” by the country’s chief executive stands this concept on its head by purporting to insulate state conduct, however arbitrary and transgressive, from review or even critique. The idea is incompatible with the design of Article II, which vests the president with conditional, circumscribed authority to ensure that the laws are “faithfully executed.” Some of that authority is his alone to exercise—for example, only the president can grant pardons, command the armed forces, and recognize foreign states. But to the extent he misunderstands or abuses that authority, the Constitution facilitates challenge by the other branches. In extreme cases, that challenge is supposed to take the form of impeachment and removal.

4) Really liked this on Pete’s gayness:

Really, though, they shoved the pill-the-gay-away comment into a preexisting narrative: the one that says Buttigieg is basically straight. There’s a hashtag going around, #PetesNotGay, that involves dissections of the mayor’s closed-mouthed kisses with his husband on the campaign trail. Onion articles have imagined Buttigieg revealing a wife and kids, or condemning his own sexualityThe New Republic last year published then retracted a scathing essay by Dale Peck that blasted Buttigieg as so buttoned-down and assimilated that he undermines a movement based in what is still often termed deviance. In a New Yorker piece titled “The Queer Backlash to Pete Buttigieg Explained,” Masha Gessen ends by calling Buttigieg “a straight politician in a gay man’s body.”

These arguments that present Buttigieg as not really gay so obviously flirt with the essentialism queer people fight against that it’s a bit shocking to see them get traction at all. Boring gays are still gay. Gays who love the Dave Matthews Band are still gay. Progressive gays who survey the current political landscape and bet that the way to successfully enact economic and social justice is by triangulating between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are—and this is the sticking point—still gay. That mantra of gay is good works as an anti-stigmatizing tool; it’s what, in fact, Buttigieg was invoking by saying he was glad he wasn’t able to medicalize himself straight. Conflating gayness with any particular moral, political, or aesthetic value the observer has deemed good, though, is an act of hijacking—one weirdly similar to the rhetorical move homophobes use when they say gay people are immoral.

5) OMG do media companies so need to stop giving into bad-faith complaints from the right.  Journalists are allowed to have personal opinions, just like all Americans.  Absent evidence of actual bias in news coverage, this is a non issue.

6) The fact that most Covid-19 cases are mild is good if you get it, but mostly means that this virus is just going to spread like hell.  Sorry, it’s coming to a neighborhood near you.

7) Some interesting new social science on how partisanship is transmitted (or, not transmitted) from parents to kids:

Most of what is known regarding political socialization treats parent–child concordance as evidence of transmission. This direct-transmission approach remains agnostic regarding how socialization occurs, whether traits have a role in a child’s ability to identify and understand their parent’s values or their motivation to adopt their parents’ values. This article advances a perception-adoption approach to unpack these microprocesses of socialization. The authors test their model using three independent studies in the United States that together comprise 4,852 parent–child dyads. They find that the transmission of partisan orientations from parent to child occurs less than half the time, which is qualitatively different from the generally held view. More importantly, the findings provide a greater understanding of how key predictors facilitate the political socialization process. Specifically, politicization improves child perception, but has no role in the child’s motivation to adopt parental values. Closeness and parental value strength influence children to want to be like their parents, but do nothing to improve children’s ability to recognize their parents’ values. And education, previously thought to have little role in transmission, does not influence a child’s ability to understand their parent’s affiliation, but appears to make children more likely to reject whatever they believe it to be.

8) This NYT feature on the shortage of forensic pathologists was really fascinating (and interesting, but not gruesome, photos, too).  Also, like most things where there’s a shortage– just pay more!

The most obvious cause of the forensic-pathologist shortage is the substantial pay gap between their field and other medical specialties. “Forensic pathologists are some of the lowest-paid physicians in the country,” said John Fudenberg, the coroner of Clark County, Nev., who is not himself a forensic pathologist but leads a team of them. “They go to more school than a lot of medical doctors, and they come out and a lot of them are starting at like $150,000 a year. They could go into clinical pathology and make nearly twice that!” Physicians often leave medical school hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, which makes it difficult to justify further training in exchange for a lifetime making a fraction of the average physician’s salary…

This work is unpleasant to think about for most people. But Americans’ unwillingness to devote time and money to studying the dead — our supposition that the story, or the parts of it that matter, stop with the heartbeat — absolutely fails to imagine the intimacy with which the living and the dead remain connected. The dead tell us how we’re dying, how we’re living, who among us gets a better shot at a whole and healthy life and the ways in which we remain vulnerable to one another and to the vicissitudes of an unpredictable world. Our epidemics, the commonality of our despair, our continual mistakes, the progress we have yet to make, the wrongs we have yet to correct — all these are mirrored back to us by the dead.

9) What Oregon Republicans are doing to democracy is truly horrible.  Really, that’s not hyperbole.  They have realized that the state’s constitution allows a minority to complete block the ability of the majority to govern, so they are.  David Roberts with an excellent piece:

In Oregon right now, a handful of white people from the far right are holding the state government hostage.

No, it’s not another armed occupation of government buildings, like in 2016. This time it’s a handful of Oregon lawmakers who refuse to enter government buildings, thereby holding the business of the legislature hostage.

It ought to be getting more national attention, if for no other reason than it perfectly encapsulates larger national political trends. It is like a snow globe, a perfect miniature representation of what the Republican Party is becoming.

In a nutshell, Oregon Republicans are exploiting an arcane constitutional provision in order to exert veto power over legislation developed by the Democratic majority, on behalf of an almost entirely white, rural minority. Five times in the past 10 months, they have simply refused to show up for work, preventing the legislature from passing bills on guns, forestry, health care, and budgeting. The fifth walkout, over a climate change bill, is ongoing.

It is an extraordinary escalation of anti-democratic behavior from the right, gone almost completely unnoticed by the national political media. Nevertheless, it is a big deal, worth pausing to consider, not only because it is preventing Oregon from addressing climate change, but because it shows in stark terms where the national GOP is headed…

Over and over again, a handful of Oregon Republicans have held the state hostage to their demands. Yet the national media seems incapable of calling it what it is.

For example, have a look at this story from the Associated Press. It is positively surreal in its devotion to the exhausted tropes of mainstream political coverage. The debate in Oregon has become “pitched” and the episode “reveals sharp divisions.” Republicans say this, Democrats say that, he says, she says, the end.

Nowhere in the story will the reader be told that Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature. Nowhere will they be told that a small, demographically homogeneous minority is using once-extraordinary measures to routinely thwart the will of the democratically elected majority. Nowhere will they be told that the white minority holding the state hostage has been backed in the past year by the threat of far-right militia violence.

Mainstream political coverage, as we’ve seen again and again in the Trump years, is simply incapable of communicating a sense of crisis. There is only one model of story — what each side says, in equal measure — and it only serves to blur and obscure a situation in which one party, not the other, has lurched in a radically anti-democratic direction. (The local coverage from outlets like OPB is much better.)

Meanwhile, Democrats in state government wring their hands and cave to Republican demands again and again, as though it is simply a matter of course that a large majority must bend the knee to a small minority.

10) Damn those Chapo Trap House people really are pretty horrible.  Yes, a Tea Party of the left.  I don’t blame Bernie that these people are supporters, but it does concern me that people like this are among his most ardent supporters.

Quick hits (part I)

Happy Leap Day.

1) I am so not getting a PSA screening until there are outcomes way better than this:

In the most definitive study done to date to assess the value of PSA screening, the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer concluded that 781 men aged 55 to 69 when they enrolled would have to be screened to prevent one man from dying of prostate cancer after 13 years. In this study, approximately one man in six who were screened was falsely identified as possibly having prostate cancer, and two-thirds of positive PSA results in the first round of screening were false-positives.

2) Loved this “Virtual imagery that would make me run faster on the elliptical”

My onscreen avatar is carrying a laptop and it is just beginning to rain. Also, she’s wearing suede…

I snatch a golden idol from a pedestal in an ancient temple, and, as I smirk, thinking how easy that was, rocks fall from the ceiling. The roof is going to collapse! I sprint down a corridor, idol in hand, while arrows shoot from the walls, each a near miss. My colleague’s there, waiting for me, telling me to give him the statue first and then he’ll help me across the pit that gapes between us—but he betrays me, stealing the statue and leaving me to die. I leap over the pit, slide under a closing stone door, and BAM, there’s my colleague, dead. Arrows got him. I recover the statue, pausing for a moment to catch my breath, maybe wipe the sweat off my brow with a lemongrass-scented towelette, but there’s no time! A massive boulder comes rolling down out of nowhere, and if I don’t keep running, I will be crushed!

3) David Roberts on how Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who understands the procedural reforms necessary to restore trust in American government.  But, sadly, that doesn’t exactly resonate with voters.

4) Wired, “Will Your Cat Eat Your Corpse? The short answer is maybe. The long answer won’t make you feel any better.”

5) Atlantic with good stuff from EJ Dionne’s new book:

The broad idea of dignity and its specific connection to work has been on my mind ever since. The idea appealed to me because it rang true to the core idea of Catholic social thought—“the equal dignity of every person”—that helped shape my own politics long ago. But to see it used so explicitly in a campaign was instructive. The idea finds its power from a deep intuition that the anger in our public life, across many of our lines of division, arises from a felt denial of dignity.

Blue-collar workers of all races—very much including the white working class, which has loomed so large in political analysis since 2016—have experienced this denial of dignity. But it is also experienced by African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants across classes. In the Trump Era, these workers confront a rise in racism and nativism championed by the president himself. Women who experience sexism, and young Americans who see themselves denied opportunities their parents enjoyed, feel it, too.

In my new book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country, I argue that dignity should be the central purpose of a new post-Reagan economics and a new post-Trump politics. Dignity binds together progressives and moderates opposed to Trump. It can also bring together constituencies who now find themselves opposed to each other. A focus on dignity may thus have immediate political power, but it also has a deep moral resonance.

Dignity is compelling because it is a value, not an ideology or a program. But neither is it an empty slogan. Dignity has strong implications for both policy and our culture. And it answers a moral yearning felt both individually and collectively. Lifting up dignity as a core national purpose is essential to renewing a society that has lost track of the powerful “We” that opens our Constitution. A commitment to equal dignity can play an important role in pulling together a nation that Trump has devoted himself to dividing.

6) On Adam Cohen’s new book on how the Supreme Court overwhelmingly has protected the rich over our history:

Many progressives hold these truths to be virtually self-evident. The United States Supreme Court has the hallowed role of protecting the most vulnerable in society. At a minimum, it does not engage in judicial activism to burden them further. And only now, when the court has shifted decisively to the right, is it in danger of relinquishing that function.

Adam Cohen’s “Supreme Inequality” shows that these beliefs utterly fail to capture the court’s treatment of the poor. For 50 years, he explains, it has exacerbated economic inequality through its aggressive jurisprudence…

Cohen’s insight that the court has been an activist for income inequality is important. Commentators have widely excoriated income inequality as the scourge of our time (Cohen quotes the hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s description of it as an “existential threat” to the nation). Yet many attribute income inequality to broad trends like advances in technology or globalization — and even commentators who point to the actions of governmental institutions rarely mention the court. After Cohen’s book, progressives should add the court’s jurisprudence to the list of causes for income inequality. What’s more, they should include income inequality on the list of negative consequences to be feared from future courts, especially now that Brett Kavanaugh has joined the court.

7) I haven’t yet read McKay Coppins big Atlantic cover story on the massive Republican disinformation campaign that’s coming, but it’s been the talk of the town and a must-read.  I did listen to his Fresh Air interview, though.  And, damn, it really is scary as hell.

8) Soft “g” for .gif, damnit!  If you were actually using the internet back in the 1990’s, like I was, there was no controversy, that was just how it was pronounced.

9) I think/fear Brian Beutler is spot-on about the media’s 2016 malpractice almost sure to be repeated if Bernie is the nominee:

Trump has only just begun treating Bernie Sanders as his likely 2020 opponent, but Sanders’ lengthy public career and progressive politics have already aroused the same professional habits that brought us the email craze four years ago.

Political journalists face strong incentives to portray the two major parties as roughly similar moral and ethical entities that happen to share different philosophical values. Reporters are often trained to approach their subjects this way, until the practice becomes so ingrained that the supposed equivalence between the parties becomes axiomatic to them. These incentives drove mainstream media outlets to amplify the email controversy and downplay Trump’s cascade of outrages until their coverage appeared balanced, but thus left consumers with wildly inaccurate perceptions of the candidates’ relative trustworthiness.

To allow moral and ethical distinctions between partisan agendas and tactics to seep into reporting would be extremely disruptive. One party’s conduct might be consistently less ethical and principled than the other’s, but acknowledging as much, and allowing it to shape coverage, would alienate sources in that party, and drive its followers to outlets willing to sanitize the truth. But if the background assumption of most news producers is that both parties engage in dirty tricks, politicians of all stripes lie, and the nature of empirical fact itself is contestable, it creates a huge loophole that allows unscrupulous, dishonest actors to game news coverage itself, until it no longer conveys reality. [emphasis mine]

Sanders’s candidacy comes as an enormous relief to practitioners of this kind of journalism. As the most left-wing member of the Senate, and perhaps of the whole Congress, he allows political journalists to fall back on platitudes about the parties catering to their extremes, without examining the content of their agendas or their political styles.

10) Linda Greenhouse, “The Supreme Court Nears the Moment of Truth on Religion: The majority’s view of the Constitution’s free-exercise clause poses a threat to civil society.”

The startling fact of the matter is that Judges Griffin, Stranch and Donald were applying the law as they found it — as the Supreme Court has handed it to them in a series of decisions instructing judges to accept almost any religious claim, no matter how preposterous, at face value and to put the government to an extremely tough test to justify any infringement on a “sincere” religious belief. In the Hobby Lobby case six years ago, the court gave dispositive legal weight to the claim by owners of two for-profit businesses that the legal requirement to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans would make them complicit in the sin of birth control.

“It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

Rather than looking at the Sixth Circuit prison decision, Fox v. Washington, as an outlier, we need to see it as a harbinger, a frightening one. I don’t know whether this particular case will end up at the Supreme Court. But there are plenty of cases like it, making claims that would have been dismissed out of hand not too many years ago and that now have to be taken seriously by those of us worried about the growing threat that an increasingly weaponized free-exercise clause poses to civil society, along with the statutes meant to extend its reach.

11) Lessons from a Buddhist monk on facing death.  Good stuff, but… We’ll see how I feel about this when I’m old, but what really scares me about dying at this point in my life is not actually dying, but the certainty of suffering for those I would leave behind.  Even if one is comfortable with their own death, you cannot get everybody who loves you thinking like a Buddhist monk.  And it’s a lot easier to deal with the death of a loved one at an older age than when you feel you’ve lost somebody way to early.

12) Well, of course Republicans want to make poor people freeze to help fund Corona virus response.  Yes, seriously.  These people are the worst:

It’s now looking like coronavirus is threatening a potential public health emergency. And a battle has broken out between the White House and Democrats over how much money to allocate to the crisis, with the White House pushing for less than Democrats think is called for.

But at the core of this dispute is something that’s hasn’t yet gotten public exposure — and is potentially very troubling.

House Democrats tell us they are outraged by one aspect of the White House response in particular: The White House appears to have informed Democrats that they want to fund the emergency response in part by taking money from a program that funds low-income home heating assistance.

A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families.

13) I actually quite like Turkish Delight (I used to have a colleague who would regularly return with it from Turkey), but I do so love this post, “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”

14) Yes, we totally should do toilets like the Japanese do.  To some degree, though, it would almost be worse to get used to a better toilet experience at home and then have to suffer in comparison when going anywhere else in America.  But, hey, if this actually starts taking off, I’m ready to be an early adopter.

15) Very good stuff here, “I was a juror in the Roger Stone trial. Attacking our foreperson undermines our service.”

These events raise serious concerns for me not merely as a juror in the trial but also for the threat to our bedrock principles.

Elected officials have no business attacking citizens for performing their civic duty. The jury system is rooted in English common law and enshrined in both Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; it is fundamental to the American system of justice. All of us need to be concerned when this process is attacked. More than 1.5 million Americans are impaneled on juries every year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal service is more rare than state-level service, but a 2007 center report found that more than a third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point in their lifetimes. Jurors are not merely expected but required to judge facts fairly. We are required to disclose any potential bias and are asked whether that potential bias would prevent us from rendering an impartial verdict.

16) Drum with a good take on the outrage machine (and, damnit, I did read this article before I saw Drum’s post):

Can someone please tell me why this tiny local story is on the front page of a national newspaper?

Oh, right: it “went viral.” Therefore it must be covered.

STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Everything is caught on camera these days. Everything is outrageous these days. Everything goes viral these days—if by “viral” you mean that a few thousand people took five seconds to retweet something.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we let local stories stay local unless they truly have some kind of national significance? Why do we insist on stoking outrage at every opportunity? It’s not as if we lack for plenty of genuine national-level outrages, after all.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) This new biography of George Washington sounds really intriguing.

Male historians also emphasize that Washington never had children, and how this was integral to his elevation as the “Father of Our Nation.”

Coe shows that although Washington never had biological kids, he loved children and raised many, including stepchildren, step-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Domestic life was central to his being; he played with these kids, found them the best tutors and even dispensed love advice. When Washington’s stepson Jack Custis died of typhus during key negotiations after the Battle of Yorktown, the great general left for nearly a week to be with his family.

Coe is a trained historian, but she isn’t an academic. She spent her early career in public history exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society and the New York Public Library before focusing on writing. She’s also a consulting producer on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new George Washington series, which debuts on the History Channel on Sunday.

Coe’s book is peppered with BuzzFeed-like charts and listicles packed with information both humorous and profound. “If history is boring, it’s the historian’s fault,” she said. It has received mostly glowing reviews from readers and other historians, but on Saturday, a Daily Mail story inaccurately claimed Coe called Washington “an illiterate liar who cheated his way to top,” causing a wave of online harassment. Some early reviews have also described the book as “irreverent” — a characterization she takes issue with.

2) No, it’s not fair to call Bernie a Trump of the left.  But some similarities really bug me.  Like, sorry, but a 78-year old running for president needs to release health records:

Coming off victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is increasingly described as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Inevitably, questions will arise about the health of the 78-year-old senator as well as that of the 73-year-old incumbent, President Trump.

But the public reports on the two men’s recent health-related episodes, written by their primary-care military physicians, do not serve voters well. The fault, however, is not with the physicians but with the absence of explicit standards for disclosing health records of presidents and presidential candidates — an eminently rectifiable situation.

Both medical reports omit critically pertinent prognostic data that the physicians certainly know. Sanders had a heart attack in October, but his report is silent about the extent of disease in his coronary arteries, which is the most important factor in determining his risk for another heart attack. The report on Trump’s abrupt, unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in November listed several key cardiovascular symptoms the president did not have, but failed to say whether he was free from the sensations of chest squeezing and left arm discomfort that patients classically experience during heart attack and its precursors.

Voters need and deserve health information from candidates because a vote is fundamentally a bet on the future, reflecting the voter’s estimate of the candidate’s ability to lead the nation toward the voter’s desired endpoint. As Woodrow Wilson’s stroke-shattered presidency proves, sickness sidelines effectiveness. Prognostic medical information, unlike knowledge of tax returns or scandals, is directly relevant because illness physically impedes exercise of the office.

3) The compete lack of accountability for bad actions on the part of law enforcement officers (short of clear video of them shooting somebody in the back) is disgusting, disturbing, and appalling.  Something must be done.  Equally appalling is the courts that let them get away with this through ridiculous games.  Radley Balko with the story of a man brutally beaten by cops on a joint federal-state task force, which is particularly immune to justice.  This for me, was the key quote of the Kafka-esque system:

The federal agent escapes accountability because he’s treated like a state cop. And the state cop escapes because he’s assumed to be a federal cop.

4) Nate Silver assess where Bloomberg stands.  He notes, correctly, I think, that Bloomberg took a huge dive in the prediction markets after the debate, suggesting he was probably pretty over-priced before it:

  1. Bloomberg’s recent polling surge is at least partially driven by news coverage. That opens him up to a “discovery, scrutiny, decline” cycle.

Bloomberg had risen slowly but somewhat steadily in the polls since his campaign launch, climbing from 3.6 percent in our national polling average on Dec. 12 to 8.8 percent on Feb. 3. That isn’t bad — a 5.2 percentage-point gain in 64 days — although it was short of the pace he’d need to be seriously competitive on Super Tuesday. If you had extrapolated out Bloomberg’s rate of increase — decidedly not a safe assumption! (see point No. 3) — he would have reached 11.2 percent in the polls by Super Tuesday, short of the usually 15 percent threshold that Democrats require a candidate to clear in order to receive state or district delegates.

Instead, Bloomberg had an abrupt, nonlinear surge in our polling average, climbing from 8.8 percent on Feb. 3 to 15.4 percent on Feb. 13, just 10 days later. He has since somewhat stalled out, for what it’s worth, having risen only to 16.1 percent as of Thursday afternoon.

This increase also happened to coincide with a big spike in news coverage of Bloomberg. I looked at how often candidates’ names appeared3 in headlines at Memeorandum, a site that aggregates which political stories are gaining the most traction, and found that from the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 through Thursday afternoon (Feb. 20), Bloomberg was the subject of 80 headlines at Memorandum, slightly trailing Sanders (84) but well ahead of Biden (53), Buttigieg (32), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (19) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (15).

Now, not all of these headlines have been positive for Bloomberg, especially in recent days. But that’s sort of the point. It’s not uncommon for candidates to undergo what political scientists Lynn Vavreck and John Sides call a “discovery, scrutiny, decline” pattern in the polls, where an initial spark triggers a surge in media attention and a rise in the polls, but storylines turn more negative as the candidate gets more scrutiny and their actual performance doesn’t match the newfound hype. Candidates such as businessman Herman Cain and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich underwent this cycle in 2012. Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke did so this year.

5) NBC News,  “Texas man close to exoneration after computer algorithm leads to new suspect: Lydell Grant was supposed to be in prison for murder. But an emerging form of DNA technology, which has also come under scrutiny, is helping to free him in an unprecedented case.”

Pretty sure I wrote years ago that DNA analysis which is based on DNA from multiple sources is not nearly as reliable as DNA evidence from a single person.  Grant is quite surely not the only person in prison based on this flawed analysis.

6) You know I don’t post a lot of the crazy true-crime variety, but this one, wow.  “Former Colorado mayoral candidate drugged new mom with cupcake in scheme to steal her baby, police say”

7) This is from 6 years ago, but just showed up in my feed for some reason (also, I like Ortberg more as a satirist than a Slate advice columnist).  “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars. 

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

“Old Yeller”

A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. —Four stars.

8) Julia Azari with a good case for re-thinking our primary system:

One lesson from the 2020 and 2016 election cycles is that a lot of candidates, many of whom are highly qualified and attract substantial followings, will inevitably enter the race. The system as it works now — with a long informal primary, lots of attention to early contests and sequential primary season that unfolds over several months — is great at testing candidates to see whether they have the skills to run for president. What it’s not great at is choosing among the many candidates who clear that bar, or bringing their different ideological factions together, or reconciling competing priorities. A process in which intermediate representatives — elected delegates who understand the priorities of their constituents — can bargain without being bound to specific candidates might actually produce nominees that better reflect what voters want…

For decades, the conversation about nominations has been about the conflicts between party elites and everyone else. Today, that conversation is counterproductive. A better approach is to think about how voters and elites could best play their different roles: to make their political parties more representative while ultimately narrowing the nomination choice down to one person. And the best way to do that would be through preference primaries.

Preference primaries could allow voters to rank their choices among candidates, as well as to register opinions about their issue priorities — like an exit poll, but more formal and with all the voters. The results would be public but not binding; a way to inform elites about voter preferences.

9) This is a shorter quick hits.  So, spend the time reading all of Adam Serwer’s great essay, ”

Authoritarian nations come in many different stripes, but they all share a fundamental characteristic: The people who live in them are not allowed to freely choose their own leaders. This is why Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, in his speech announcing his vote to convict on the first article of impeachment, said that “corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Democracies are sustained through the formal process by which power is contested and exchanged. Once that process is corrupted, you have merely the trappings of democracy within an authoritarian regime. Such governments may retain elections and courts and legislatures, but those institutions have no power to enforce the rule of law. America is not there yet—but the acquittal vote was a fateful step in that direction.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) An opportunity to put pangolins in my blog?  Hell, yes.

In the search for the animal source or sources of the coronavirus epidemic in China, the latest candidate is the pangolin, an endangered, scaly, ant-eating mammal that is imported in huge numbers to Chinese markets for food and medicine.

The market in pangolins is so large that they are said to be the most trafficked mammals on the planet. All four Asian species are critically endangered, and it is far from clear whether being identified as a viral host would be good or bad for pangolins. It could decrease the trade in the animals, or cause a backlash.

It is also far from clear whether the pangolin is the animal that passed the new virus to humans. Bats are still thought to be the original host of the virus. If pangolins are involved in disease transmission, they would act as an intermediate host. The science so far is suggestive rather than conclusive, and because of the intense interest in the virus, some claims have been made public before the traditional scientific review process.

2) David Brooks oversells it, but raises some worthwhile points in, “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake”

This is the story of our times—the story of the family, once a dense cluster of many siblings and extended kin, fragmenting into ever smaller and more fragile forms. The initial result of that fragmentation, the nuclear family, didn’t seem so bad. But then, because the nuclear family is so brittle, the fragmentation continued. In many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

My nuclear family of origin was very small and had no extended family really at all.  My current nuclear family has beloved extended family in state, but still a pretty good distance.  I’ll admit to being jealous of people of have adult siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, etc., all in the same area.

3) David Leonhardt, “The Question All Democrats Need to Ask Themselves: If your preferred candidate doesn’t win the nomination, will you still do everything you can to deny Trump a second term?”

Yes, the candidates have their differences. But they have much bigger similarities. If elected, every single Democratic presidential candidate would act to slow climate change, raise taxes on the rich, reduce gun deaths, expand voting rights, lower health care and education costs, protect abortion access, enforce civil-rights laws, appoint progressive judges, rebuild overseas alliances and stop treating the Justice Department as a personal enforcer. The moderates are running to the left of Barack Obama, and the progressives would be constrained by Congress.

The alternative, of course, is truly radical. Many Democrats know all this, yet they still get so caught up in the passions of the primary campaign that they risk helping Trump…

Today the Republican Party has become so radicalized that it opposes almost any government action to solve problems. Its domestic agenda consists largely of cutting taxes for the rich and freeing companies from oversight. The substantive part of many policy debates now happens within the Democratic Party — which means that tensions are only natural.

And yet progressives and moderate Democrats still agree on far more than they disagree. Each side would be more effective if it were open to learning from the other, Dionne writes, rather than lapsing into “an unseemly moralism that feeds political superiority complexes.”

My answer to that questsion is, hell, yes (yes, including for Bernie).  One of my problems with Sanders’ supporters is that I feel too many of them are so committed to Bernie that their answer to this question is too much… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4) I know EMG will enjoy this story on horse toes.  Really.  “A Horse Has 5 Toes, and Then It Doesn’t: As a horse’s hoof forms, scientists say something profound is occurring in its anatomical development.”  Featuring horse embryos from NC State!

The horse embryos were provided by C. Scott Bailey, a co-author and an expert on horse reproduction at North Carolina State University. They were all from mares that had been artificially inseminated on known dates, so the researchers knew with some precision how many days along they were.

The discovery implies something profound about how anatomical development works. As an embryo puts itself together, growing from a tiny wad of cells into multiple specialized tissues fed by blood vessels and linked by the winding threads of nerves, it is following a template. That template is subject to evolution, just like other things about the animal. But some moments in the process, or some routes that development takes, may not be easily altered…

Adult horses have no need of all five toes. But at a point long before the embryos have actual feet, the ancient programming still requires those five clusters to form. Does that mean that diverting development away from this digit-forming process would cause serious problems?

It’s possible, Dr. Kavanagh said. Other stages of development seem to be more flexible, generating new innovations that evolution can act on; it is probably not random chance that some stages are not malleable.

The study confirms an observation published in 2018 by another set of biologists that horses have many more blood vessels and nerves in their legs than required to feed a single toe, suggesting that they still have signs of an earlier, many-toed state.

5) Really good Political Science conversation, “If Moderates Are Electable, Why Are Ideologues Winning?”

Atop Democratic primary polls, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are re-igniting a debate about whether moderates are more electable. Are voters pushing the candidates to the extremes or just looking for moderate alternatives? Andrew Hall finds that moderate candidates are more likely to win general elections, but that they are running for office less often than extremists. The benefits of office are declining and the costs are increasing, especially for potential moderates. But Stephen Utych finds that moderates are far less advantaged in general elections over extremists than they used to be. Partisan polarization means voters increasingly treat politicians in each party as interchangeable, lowering the costs of nominating extremists. Either way, voters are not the main cause of polarization.

6) David Frum on the truly execrable William Barr:

At the law schools of the 1970s and ‘80s, a militant faction of professors taught a harsh lesson. Law, they argued, is a myth that property owners invoke to protect themselves and oppress those without property. The legal reasoning that we students were so frantically working to absorb was in fact a deception, an expensive drapery concealing the brute realties of political and class power.

Some students indignantly rejected this teaching. Others accepted that it contained some truth, mixed with much exaggeration and propaganda.

Adam Serwer: The dangerous ideas of Bill Barr

But young William Barr—George Washington University Law School, Class of 1977—seems to have absorbed the radical message with perverse enthusiasm: Alrighty then! Let’s do it!

As attorney general, Barr has focused on two missions: on the one hand, cracking down on crimes by the poor and the foreign-born; on the other, going easy on the crimes of President Trump’s associates. This administration likes to call itself “tough on crime” and to revile its Democratic opponents as “the party of crime.”

But toward its own many crimes, the Trump administration is genially indulgent. Like the gangsters around the table in the first Godfather movie, the Trump administration is able to convince itself that its victims are animals without souls—and that its own lawbreaking is a necessary, even honorable, accommodation to the facts of life. “The real crimes were on the other side!” Donald Trump tweeted after he heard the news of Roger Stone’s recommended sentence of seven to nine years—exactly in line with federal sentencing guidelines for Stone’s convicted offenses.

As attorney general, Barr has delivered a series of speeches about the importance of sternly enforcing the law against lower-class people…

The Trump administration rationalizes its treatment of Stone by endlessly fulminating and tweeting against prosecutors, judges, even jury forepersons. Barr’s warnings against inquiring into subjective motivations in the case of uniformed police dealing with street crime get forgotten when the police wear suits and ties and must deal with Trump crime. Then (and only then!) it matters whether the officer in question showed previous loyalty to President Trump. If not, then (and only then!) the officer’s possible motive matters more than anything, and certainly more than the proven evidence.

American criminal law is harsh; American prison sentences are severe. Most of the time, Trump and his attorney general relish this harshness.

There’s some argument as to who invented the phrase “To my friends, everything; to my enemies, the law.” Whoever said it first, it clearly impels the higher levels of the Trump Justice Department. But even the Trump Justice Department needs the expensive drapery of the pretense of legal reasoning. When the president insists on yanking that drapery aside day after day on Twitter and television, the reality of what is going on becomes too embarrassing even for Barr to endure. [emphasis mine]

7) Annie Lowery is exactly right about the fundamental irrationality of the Berniephobes (he’s far from my first choice, but not because I fear his policies being enacted):

A President Bernie Sanders would have about as much control over the economy as President Donald Trump: outside of a recession, not nearly as much as one might think, and particularly not in the short term. Political scientists and economists have demonstrated that how well the economy performs under different administrations mostly has to do with the fortuities of market timing. President Barack Obama inherited a catastrophe that had nowhere to go but up; Trump inherited a long boom that has just kept booming. Their policies have mattered but, outside the response to the Great Recession itself, mostly on the margin. The same would be true for Sanders or Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden or any of the other candidates. If the economy tanks on Sanders’s watch, what he does will be enormously important. If it does not, his policies would take years to change the shape of American growth.

Presidents are just not that powerful in the United States’s polarized, divided, and choke-point-choked political system. Sanders has put out a slate of transformative economic policies, but realistically, few of them are likely to be passed, and those probably in watered-down and compromised versions. As The American Prospect, the left-of-center magazine, has noted, Sanders or another progressive could do a considerable amount via executive action, including the instant forgiveness of student debt held on the federal books. But many of the biggest changes Sanders seeks—wealth taxes, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee—would have to wend their way through Congress.

There is no majority in Congress for any of those policies at the moment. Bodies that overrepresent old, white, and rural voters are unlikely to pass a new New Deal anytime soon. Bernie’s camp openly admits as much, as do elected progressives. Is Medicare for All achievable? “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this week. “Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so.” Wall Street knows it, too. In a recent note to clients, JPMorgan’s analysts argued that American “political institutions” would make dramatic policy changes highly unlikely. “We put the probability of major changes like Medicare-for-all or a wealth tax at less than 5 percent.”

Would the economy tank if Congress did pass Sanders’s chosen policy regime? That is questionable as well. Sanders’s economic plans are meant to bolster the earning and political power of low- and middle-income families, while forcing companies to compete with another, taming the power of the financial system, and greening the economy. They amount to a huge fiscal-stimulus program, which would be unlikely to ruin the economy any more than the Trump tax cuts, another big stimulus program, would. The country’s staggering levels of income and wealth inequality are distorting the very fabric of the economy: raising saving relative to consumption and investment, dampening GDP growth, impeding mobility, and fraying the political system. There’s a good argument that reducing inequality would boost the country’s long-term growth rate, not hurt it.

8) Tara Parker-Pope on how, maybe, Millennials slower approach to love and marriage is a good thing:

But what is particularly striking is how quickly the cohort has rewritten the rules for courtship, sex and marriage. In 2018, the median age of first marriage was approaching 30 (29.8 for men and 27.8 for women). That’s more than a five-year delay in marriage compared to 1980, when the median age was 24.7 for men and 22 for women.

A 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that many younger millennials in their early 20s aren’t having sex, and are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive than the previous generation. Another study found that American couples ages 25 to 34 spend an average of six and a half years together before marrying, compared with an average of five years for all other age groups…

Ask millennials and they will tell you that there is nothing casual about their approach to sex, dating and romance.

“Hooking up with someone doesn’t mean that millennials now don’t value marriage,” says Anne Kat Alexander, who at 23 is in the second wave of the millennial generation. “If anything, they value marriage more because they are putting a lot more forward thinking into that decision.”

Dr. Fisher says her research suggests today’s singles seek to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before they spend time, energy and money on courtship. As a result, the path to romance has changed significantly. Whereas a “first date” used to represent the getting-to-know-you phase of a courtship, now going on an official date with someone comes later in the relationship.

And for some singles, sex has become the getting-to-know you phase of courtship. In a study conducted for Match.com, Dr. Fisher found that among a representative sample, 34 percent of singles had sex with somebody before the first date. She calls it “the sex interview.”

First, do you really need six years to figure out if you should marry someone.  That’s serious overkill.  Secondly, yes, I guess I’m just old, but sex before dating??!!

9) And, yet, apparently when it comes to dating, there’s a lot of very traditional gender role stuff going on.  Sociology Professor, Ellen Lamont, “If You Want a Marriage of Equals, Then Date as Equals: Why are many dating practices a throwback to an earlier era?”

However, I noticed a glaring disconnect between the straight women’s views on marriage and their thoughts on dating. Once these women were married, it was difficult to right the ship, so to speak. The same gender stereotypes that they adopted while dating played out in their long-term partnerships.

Three-quarters of Millennials in America support gender equality at work and home and agree that the ideal marriage is an equitable one. Consequently, I expected the young women I interviewed to epitomize feminist liberation. Yet, when they thought of equality among men and women, they focused more on professional opportunities than interpersonal dynamics. Americans with a college education now get married in their early 30s on average, as young adults put their love life on hold while they invest in their education and establish a career. Given the significant time, money, and effort they put into building this career, the women I spoke with expected to partner with people who would support their ambitious professional goals. The men said they desired and respected these independent, high-achieving women and actually saw them as more compatible partners as a result.

And yet in a throwback to an earlier era, many women I spoke with enacted strict dating rules. “It’s a deal breaker if a man doesn’t pay for a date,” one woman, aged 29, told me. A 31-year-old said that if a man doesn’t pay, “they just probably don’t like you very much.” A lot of men, they assumed, were looking for nothing more than a quick hookup, so some of these dating rituals were tests to see whether the man was truly interested in a commitment. A third woman, also 31, told me, “I feel like men need to feel like they are in control, and if you ask them out, you end up looking desperate and it’s a turnoff to them.”

On dates, the women talked about acting demure, and allowing men to do more of the talking. Women, they said, were more attractive to men when they appeared unattainable, so women preferred for the men to follow up after a date. None of the women considered proposing marriage; that was the man’s job. “I know it feels counterintuitive … I’m a feminist,” the first woman said. “But I like to have a guy be chivalrous.”

On a related note, a female student who is a smart, ambitious, liberal feminist told me about a recent fraternity weekend event she attended (with a, supposedly, better kind of fraternity) that left me beyond appalled at the gender dynamics.

10) And, while we’re at it.  This from Stephanie Coontz is really good, “How to Make Your Marriage Gayer: Same-sex spouses feel more satisfied with their partners than heterosexual ones. What’s the secret?”

Once children come along, old marital traditions reassert themselves even more. A University of Texas researcher, Joanna Pepin, and her colleagues recently found that married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers. As Dr. Pepin told me, “The gender expectations traditionally associated with being a wife seemingly encourage married mothers to do more housework than their unmarried counterparts, and their husbands to accept that as normal.”

Here’s where same-sex couples can offer their different-sex counterparts useful tips. Since same-sex couples can’t use imputed male-female differences to sort out who does what, they rely less on stereotypes. Heterosexual parents tend to see tasks such as child care, laundry and dishes as part of a package that is handed to one partner. Same-sex couples are far more likely to each take on some traditionally “feminine” and some “masculine” chores.

They are also more likely to share the routine tasks. A 2015 survey found that almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples. And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.

11) I’m not a particular fan or detractor of Bloomberg, but what I don’t like is unfair attacks on anybody that get policy wrong.  Especially when they come from a college professor, like this tweet:

It may be wrong and dangerous, but the research is pretty clear that teacher quality is far more important than class size.  So, wait, neither wrong nor dangerous, but backed by empirical evidence.

12) I loved reading about what it’s like being a pizza consultant.

13) This is kind of amazing, “People Born Blind Are Mysteriously Protected From Schizophrenia”

But the whispered-about fact persists: Being born blind, and perhaps specific types of congenital blindness, shield from the very disorders vision loss can encourage later in life. A myriad of theories exist as to why—from the blind brain’s neuroplasticity to how vision plays an important role in building our model of the world (and what happens when that process goes wrong). Select researchers believe that the ties between vision and psychotic symptoms indicate there’s something new to learn here. Could it be that within this narrowly-defined phenomenon there are clues for what causes schizophrenia, how to predict who will develop it, and potentially how to treat it? …

This view of the brain argues that rather than perceiving the world around us in real time, our brains create a model of what’s out there, predict and simulate what we experience, and then compare our predictions to what’s actually happening—using any errors to update or change the model in our minds. The accuracy of your past predictions are crucial for the accuracy of your overall model—it’s what you’re comparing new inputs to, and how you’re making any adjustments.

This is where vision comes in. Vision gives us a lot of information about the world around us, and is an important sense that helps link together other sensory cues, like sound and touch, Pollak said. If the way a person sees the world is off, it can make it harder to predict, correct errors, and build a model of the world that makes sense. And when people have problems with their vision, the brain has to make more predictions to explain them. On the other hand, if you couldn’t see anything, you wouldn’t build up those false representations of the world around you—which could lead to problems in thinking later on.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Sam Vinograd on Trump’s firing of Vindland and Sondland:

And there is also little doubt that this move was intentional retribution — and designed to send a clear message to any other government official who dares to challenge the President. Speak out, and you risk compromising not just your own job, but that of your family’s.
Of course, the President’s surrogates will defend him and argue Trump has the full right to hire and fire staff as he sees fit. And while that may be true, it also ignores the sad reality hidden in that truth. The President only wants henchmen and yes-men who defer to his orders and actions, no matter how dangerous, inappropriate or potentially illegal they may be.
There have been earlier reports that Trump is downsizing the NSC and stacking it with more political appointees. By removing Vindman, and by moving forward with plans to cycle out career government officials, it appears that the President also does not want witnesses around to report, through legally protected channels, any future actions that may cross moral or legal lines.
But there is a great danger to removing individuals like Vindman from the NSC who have longstanding relationships. Trump appears intent on transforming the NSC — from a critical American policy-making apparatus that advances the rule of law to a political arm for his personal benefit — with little regard for rules or laws. [emphasis mine]

2) Honestly, one of the best things to happen to me this winter is that the newly-opened Lidl in my neighborhood (I love this store!) carries Crimson Crisp apples, my favorite apple heretofore only seen at the Farmer’s Market.  And only $.99/pound and I’d pay $4/pound; they’re that good.

3) Jamelle Bouie, “The Republican Party Has Embraced Its Worst Self”

Let’s return to those rival accounts of United States history. If the story of the American republic is the story of democratic decline as much as it is of democratic expansion — if backlash shapes our history as much as progress does — then the current moment is easy to understand. We are living through a period of democratic erosion, in which social and political reaction limits the reach and scope of past democratic victories. In this way of looking at the present, we’re living through a period of institutional deterioration, during which American government ceases to function in the face of polarization, zero-sum conflict and constitutional hardball.

Republican politicians have been the single most important force behind that erosion, breaking norms, backing suppression and welcoming an endless flood of money into our politics, all to protect themselves and their ideology from the will of the people. Viewed in that light, the acquittal of President Trump — the desperate cover-up in the face of damning evidence — is just another brick on a road Republicans have been paving for years.

It is what you would expect them to do, not because of any fear of the president or personal fealty to him, but because the party sees accountability, whether to voters or to the Constitution itself, as a threat to its interests. If the acquittal of Trump shows us anything, it’s a Republican Party free of pretense or artifice, ready to embrace its worst self without shame or embarrassment.

4) Dana Milbank, (who, by the way, used to be very much a “both sides,” all-about-the-game centrist before Trump) “This vulgar man has squandered our decency”

The president had broken the law, cheated in his reelection, abused a vulnerable ally by withholding military aid, emboldened a foe and concealed the facts — and there would be no consequences. His fellow Republicans rejected even the symbolic sanction of censure.

It didn’t take long to see the consequences of acquittal: Trump’s blasphemy at the National Prayer Breakfast, his obscene rant in the White House, his move to evict from the White House a decorated military officer who testified during impeachment, his attorney general’s edict that he alone would decide which presidential candidates to investigate and his Treasury Department’s release of sensitive records about the family of a Trump political opponent even as it refuses to release similar records about Trump.

This is a man of the lowest character — and his partisans cheer. The Post identified more than 30 distortions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, where he announced he would award the nation’s highest civilian honor to a man who joined Trump in spreading the “birther” libel and who popularized the tune “Barack the Magic Negro” for his millions of listeners.

And the Republicans on the House floor chanted: “Four more years!

Of this?

5) Dahlia Lithwick, “The Law Is for Suckers”

It is a paradox that the most litigious country in the world—a country whose founding documents were largely drafted by lawyers, and whose constitutional true north has long been the constraints afforded by the law—elected a man who has spent the bulk of his life creating a two-tiered system, in which some men are bound by law and others float away from it. We knew long before he was elected that Donald Trump would not be bound by the rule of law, or by the norms of a system dependent on checks and balances. He told us as much. During the campaign he floated the prospect of torturing the families of enemies, and rewriting libel laws, and banning travelers to the United States based on their religion. Sure, it maybe sounded like hyperbole, and it maybe sounded like campaign-speak, and even as some of those efforts were effectuated, including the Muslim ban and family separations, and even as the norms about nepotism and self-dealing and disclosure were brushed away, it still seemed as if a country founded on law would locate some guardrails.

It hasn’t. Just as Zirin promised us, Trump has deployed all of his Roy Cohn strategies to show us that the law is for suckers, and that for great men it serves as a nuisance at most, something to be gotten out of with a squadron of well-paid lawyers, by terrorizing opposing parties and witnesses, by lying fluently and repeatedly, and by declaring victory even when you lost. It should not surprise a soul that he would have brought those tactics to bear as a candidate, as president, and as the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The legal arguments he has deployed throughout this process—that he should have “absolute immunity” from investigation; that he could not be removed from office for crimes; and that he could only be impeached for literal crimes, not high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers intended—were vintage Roy Cohn. As was the argument, as proffered by Alan Dershowitz, that if the president believed his election interference was in the best interest of the republic, it was both not illegal and also not an impeachable offense. The fact that the Senate and the Justice Department helped him evade accountability, or that White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Dershowitz and Ken Starr served as Roy Cohn mini-me’s, should surprise nobody. Nor should the fact that the “trial” was not a trial and the jurors were not jurors or that a nontrivial number of the jurors voted to acquit him while still acknowledging that what he did was the thing he continues to deny having done.

Nobody should be surprised that in the wake of 3,500 lawsuits, Trump will conclude that he is indeed above the law, that the legal regime exists only for suckers, and also that he can repurpose the machinery of law to investigate, harass, and punish the whistleblowers and the witnesses and those who sought to constrain him. At which point the law won’t just be the thing that applies only to losers and suckers, but also the thing that can be used to put down those who sought justice in the first place. And nobody should be surprised that having invited foreign election interference and having been acquitted for doing so, this president will use the formidable power of his Justice Department to manipulate the 2020 election, and to call into question the results of that election in the courts.

6) Brian Klaas, “Senate Republicans just paved the road to American authoritarianism”

The Senate has neutered itself. That shift in power isn’t temporary — it sets a new orthodoxy of what presidents can get away with.

If Trump commits a crime (as he allegedly has, repeatedly), he cannot be indicted under guidelines from the Justice Department. And if he yet again abuses his power with corrupt intent, it’s up to his lackeys in the Senate to hold him accountable with an impeachment trial — and they just spectacularly failed to do so despite him committing the most egregious abuse of power in recent American history.

Perhaps most striking was the moment in which one of Trump’s defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, argued that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” That logic — that if the leader takes an action to win with corrupt intent but believes that his victory is ultimately good for the country, then it’s fine — is the logic of authoritarian despots. It is a logic that is poisonous to democracy. (Dershowitz has since tried to back away from his own words, but there’s no changing the fact he appears to have captured precisely the philosophy that currently informs thinking among Senate Republicans.)

All of this would be quite worrying indeed if the current president were someone who mimicked the behavior of autocrats. We would be right to panic if the man in the White House was someone who, for example, attacked the media with Stalinist rhetoricscapegoated minority groups, called for the jailing of his political rivalspoliticized the rule of lawhired cronies and family members for top jobs, called to ban an entire religion from entering the country, directly profited from his office, and had invited foreign adversaries to help him stay in power.

Okay, maybe it’s time to break the glass.

7) Okay, I’ll mix it up now.  Hooray for Finland and parental leave:

Parents in Finland will be given the same amount of parental leave, regardless of their gender or whether they are a child’s biological parents, the government announced.

The changes, which were announced Wednesday and could come into effect as early as 2021, are a bid to promote gender equality and inclusivity for same-sex couples and to encourage fathers to take as much time off work as mothers.

The measure is one of the latest reforms under Finland’s new government, led by Sanna Marin, a progressive prime minister who took up the post late last year. Ms. Marin made news when she took up the post late last year becoming the world’s youngest premier and heading a coalition government made up of all female leaders.

Under the new reforms, each parent will be allowed 164 days of paid parental leave, which increased the total allowance for a couple from 11.5 months to more than 14 months, the government said in a statement. Single parents will have the right to use the parental leave quotas of both parents.

The minister of social affairs and health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, said that the new policy shows the government’s “investment in the future of children” and in the well-being of families.

“The reform will be a major change in attitudes, as it will improve equality between parents and make the lives of diverse families easier,” she added.

8) Not everyday you find out a business a few hundred yards for your house is a front for prostitution.

Because of community concerns, Cary police said they conducted a “limited operation” involving massage businesses.

Late last week Jin Li, 42, was arrested at the Koko Spa on Southeast Maynard Road.

A mile away at Studio Salons on Northeast Maynard Road, police arrested 43-year-old Jin Hongmei.

Both women are charged with practicing massage without a license and prostitution.

Moana Anderson and her husband brought their four daughters to the indoor playground next door Monday.

“That’s kind of scary because we wanted our kids to be safe,” Anderson told ABC11.

Can, I tell you, though, how absolutely not scared I am for the kids.

9) John Sides (who, by the way, I’m very excited to be bringing to speak at NC State in a pre-Super Tuesday lecture on February 27) on the Democrats not in disarray:

But the disarray story line deserves some qualifications. A survey — conducted in November and December by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group — points to a more complex picture. The survey is unique because it includes 4,250 respondents who have been interviewed periodically since late 2011, as well as interviews with new respondents to ensure that the sample as a whole is nationally representative.

Twenty-five percent of likely Democratic primary voters say they plan to support former vice president Joe Biden, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) at 20 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 16 percent. November and December polling averages showed similar results, though Sanders has gained some ground and Warren has lost ground.

But you have to look beyond those top-line numbers to see the key takeaway: Despite the lack of consensus on a nominee, there are important signs of unity within the party right now. And history tells us that party unity is likely to grow as November approaches.

1. Most Democrats like most Democrats.

Overall, most Democrats feel favorably about the Democratic front-runners.

10) I’m pretty fascinated by the American Dirt controversy.  Though not as fascinated as Jesse Singal.  It occurred to me Arthur Golden could never write Memoirs of a Geisha today.  And, that’s a shame, because it’s a great book.  Singal on the controversy and the failure off journalism:

There were certain problems with how American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins that is currently one of the hottest-selling titles on Amazon, and which was chosen by Oprah for her super-famous book club, was written and publicized.

But how severe were those problems? And which of them were actual, you know, problems, rather than the inevitable outrage-overgrowth that instantly sprouts, kudzulike, during any sort of online pileon, suffocating reasoned conversation?

If you read most journalistic coverage of this controversy, you will not be informed. If anything, you will end up more misinformed than you were when you started. And that’s a useful problem to explore given where journalism is right now. I haven’t read American Dirt, so I can’t speak directly to the plot. But the book itself isn’t actually the point I’m interested in: Rather, I want to talk about the nature of how this controversy — and seemingly every controversy, these days — is being covered by mainstream media outlets…

So, anyway, I read some of the coverage of the American Dirt dustup, hoping to better understand what was happening, because my gut impulse was there was at least some there worth extracting and understanding, even if it was at the bottom of a large, stinky pile of internet bullshit. And almost as soon as I started, I realized I couldn’t really trust most of what I was reading, because all it was doing was presenting a too-lightly curated version of “people on the internet are saying…,” with the people in question often leveling critiques about as sophisticated and thoughtful as, well, “If a racist character expresses racist sentiments, that means the book is racist.” Or the author of a given piece him- or herself was making these sorts of arguments. In other words, these articles were contributing to and amplifying the bullshit, not joining me, hand in hand, facemasks snugly secured, to help me dig through it in search of something worthwhile — which is what journalism is supposed to do!

11) Bats are always the damn reservoir species for nasty zoonotic diseases.  Interesting new scientific theories on why.  In large part– flying:

In a 2018 paper in Cell Host and Microbe, scientists in China and Singapore reported their investigation of how bats handle something called DNA sensing. The energy demands of flight are so great that cells in the body break down and release bits of DNA that are then floating around where they shouldn’t be. Mammals, including bats, have ways to identify and respond to such bits of DNA, which might indicate an invasion of a disease-causing organism. But in bats, they found, evolution has weakened that system, which would normally cause inflammation as it fought the viruses.

Bats have lost some genes involved in that response, which makes sense because the inflammation itself can be very damaging to the body. They have a weakened response but it is still there. Thus, the researchers write, this weakened response may allow them to maintain a “balanced state of ‘effective response’ but not ‘over response’ against viruses.”

12) Thanks to a reader for this link about autism and brain myelination:

Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain’s information highways.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there’s an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin.

That’s a problem because myelin provides the “insulation” for brain circuits, allowing them to quickly and reliably carry electrical signals from one area to another. And having either too little or too much of this myelin coating can result in a wide range of neurological problems.

For example, multiple sclerosis occurs when the myelin around nerve fibers is damaged. The results, which vary from person to person, can affect not only the signals that control muscles, but also the ones involved in learning and thinking.

The finding could help explain why autism spectrum disorders include such a wide range of social and behavioral features, says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“Myelination could be a problem that ties all of these autism spectrum disorders together,” Maher says. And if that’s true, he says, it might be possible to prevent or even reverse the symptoms using drugs that affect myelination.

13) Good stuff from Planet Money, “The Limits Of Nudging: Why Can’t California Get People To Take Free Money?”

Quick hits

1) I saw this article on diamonds in the latest New Yorker and thought no way was I going to read something so long.  But so interesting on the geology, business, and history of diamond mining and production.

2) Big retail pharmacy chains are cutting back on staff and increasing medication errors, all in the name of greater profits.  I’m shocked.

3) The top leadership at Victoria’s Secret is disgusting, abusive, sexists.  I’m shocked.

4) I knew Inuit (maker of Turbo Tax) was an evil company.  I did not, realize, however, the depths of their moral depravity.  Great episode of “Reply All” on how they lie and mislead to stick it to poor people.  And shameful that our government is complicit in this.

5) I am such a corrupting influence on the youth, that my kids and their friends enjoy regularly singing the chorus of this song.

6) Tipping is a stupid, stupid way of doing things.  Just raise prices and pay workers an appropriate wage!  So much evidence that this is the way to go.  In the world we actually live in, I recognize the benefits of tipping hotel staff generously.  But don’t tell me there’s no downside to what is a stupid, unfair system, New York Times:

Many hotel staff earn the minimum wage, Ms. Cleveland said, and tips can add meaningful income. “There’s no downside in being generous in tipping.”

7) Love the premise here, “Kids Are Master Manipulators. So Use Game Theory Against Them.”  For the record, I’m already on it.  Number #1– do not make non-credible threats.

8)  Tamar Haspel, “Most dietary supplements don’t do anything. Why do we spend $35 billion a year on them?”   Because as a species we are proven morons when it comes to stuff like this.  Though, a few things actually have benefits:

How is it that perfectly respectable public-health initiatives, such as vaccines and water fluoridation, give rise to suspicion and conspiracy theories, while an entire industry that’s telling us out-and-out falsehoods in order to take our money gets a free pass?

Dietary supplements, people! Where is the outrage?

Every year, Americans spend something like $35 billion on vitamins, minerals, botanicals and various other substances that are touted as health-giving but mostly do nothing at all. Nothing at all!

Could the entire category really just be a rip-off? I turned to the National Institutes of Health. I spoke with Carol Haggans, a scientific and health communications consultant with the Office of Dietary Supplements, about vitamins and minerals, and to Craig Hopp, deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, about botanical and other kinds of supplements.

My question was the same: Which dietary supplements actually have well-established benefits?

“It’s a short list,” Hopp told me. “Ginger for nausea, peppermint for upset stomach, melatonin for sleep disruption. And fish oil does seem to show some promise for cardiovascular disease, although some of the data is conflicting.” He went on to list some of the supplements that haven’t shown benefits in trials: turmeric, St. John’s wort, ginkgo, echinacea.

On the vitamin and mineral side, Haggans pointed out a couple of wins. Folic acid reduces risk for fetal neural tube defects, and it is widely recommended for women who may become pregnant. Vitamin B12 in food is sometimes poorly absorbed, she told me, and supplements can help in people over 50 (and vegans, because B12 comes from animal products). Then there’s a combination supplement that may slow the progression of macular degeneration. It’s also possible a daily multivitamin may decrease some disease risk.

9) I actually never use Rotten Tomatoes (I’m more a Metacritic guy), but I found this “behind the scenes” take on how they work quite interesting.

10) Look at this, #10 before my first purely political post this week (maybe politics is just too damn depressing this week).  Very good stuff from Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch, “Are Democratic Voters Truly Divided by Ideology?  Survey results suggests their views and priorities are far more alike than different, despite labels like moderate or progressive, centrist or liberal.”

Of course, similarities across voters on policy preferences don’t imply similarities across candidates, and some voters will care about the distinctions even if, on average, everyone’s supporters want the same things. What’s clear is that policies aren’t driving division among most of the supporters of these candidates. If there is a fight for the future of the Democratic Party, it doesn’t appear to be playing out in terms of what voters want from their government. On that, no matter whom they may vote for in the primary, Democratic voters appear to be driving on a one-lane road. [emphasis mine]

11) I am so on this.  NYT, “Looking on the Bright Side May Be Good for Your Health: A number of recent long-term studies has linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments and to fostering ‘exceptional longevity.'”  Thing is, this seems so much more like just how I am naturally wired, than a conscious choice.  And, it is.  But everybody can do at least something:

Although the evidence indicates that a person’s outlook on life tends to stay stable over time, given the potential health benefits of optimism, I asked Dr. Rozanski if there might be a way to foster greater optimism in chronic pessimists.

He cited the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help people develop better coping skills and counter negative thoughts.

“Our thinking is habitual, not conscious, so the first step is to learn to catch yourself when thinking negatively and make a commitment to change how you look at things,” he advised. “Recognize that the way you’re thinking is not necessarily the only way to think about a situation. Just that thought alone can decrease the toxic effect of negativity. Step two is to substitute a better thought that is credible.”

Dr. Rozanski likened the practice to increasing muscle strength, “gradually building a ‘muscle’ of positive thinking, for example, by trying to feel more grateful.”

I also asked these experts whether there’s a downside to optimism. The answer: not if it’s realistic and fosters views and outcomes that are within the realm of possibility.

12) Dan Froomkin calls out NYT’s Peter Baker on absolutely egregious both-sidesim.  As much as I love the NYT I wish it was better than this.  But for it’s lead political reporters, it’s just not.

There is one principle that should guide every serious news organization’s coverage of the impeachment trial: That the full truth should come out.

But because that guiding principle might tend to be interpreted as biased in favor of the political party that currently subscribes to that same notion, it has been wholly abandoned by the leaders of our most elite newsrooms, and by the reporters who have risen to stardom by doing their bidding.

Instead, as they do with so many other political stories, these journalists approach the impeachment trial as a game, covering each side with as little show of favoritism as they can possibly muster. This often leads to false equivalence, one example of which is when “both sides” are equally blamed for something that only one side has actually done.

Sometimes, the conflict between that approach and the one in which getting at the truth matters is just too much to deal with, if you care at all about the latter.

Case in point: New York Times all-star Peter Baker’s infuriating article Wednesday about how Democrats and Republicans have turned themselves “upside-down” when it comes to their views of John Bolton.

Yes, there’s a legitimate story in how Republicans who once spoke adoringly about Bolton are now calling him a traitor.

But to my knowledge, no Democratic senators have changed their minds about Bolton. They still think he is, as Baker gently mocks them for saying so in his lede, “too extreme,” “aggressively and dangerously wrong”“downright dangerous,” “nutty,” “reckless” and “far outside the mainstream.”

What these Democrats do believe is that Bolton’s testimony could help arrive at the truth. And they want Republican senators to hear him out.

13) It’s not surprising that Trump’s latest, disgusting moves on immigration haven’t gotten more attention this particular week, but, damn they are still so wrong.  I really like the way Masha Gessen puts it in a larger context of how Americans think about personal responsibility.

The thinking that underpinned the anti-immigrant amendments was fundamentally indistinguishable from the thinking that drove welfare reform in general: that undeserving people would somehow take advantage of the system, getting something for nothing. The spectre of the “welfare queen” haunted America. Viewed through the prism of this fear, immigrants are the least deserving people of all, because they haven’t paid their imaginary dues.

One could point out that noncitizens pay taxes. (Notably, many noncitizens pay Social Security taxes even though they may never attain the status that would entitle them to benefits.) But arguing about taxes misses the point. The basic idea behind the welfare state is that it’s best for a society when all its members lead lives of dignity. Not only those who have paid taxes, not only those who have worked, want to work, or will work, not only those who were born here, but all people who inhabit this wealthy land ought to have a roof over their heads and food on the table, have basic medical care, and be free of fear that they will not have any of these things tomorrow. Precisely because this is the foundational principle of a welfare state, in most welfare states noncitizens are eligible for public assistance, and, indeed, public assistance is seen as an essential element of integrating immigrants into society.

14) Fun and interesting stuff from Marc Hetherington (honestly about the best combination of excellent political scientist and good person I know) and others about how Iowa voters are making their choices:

In considering whom to nominate to run against President Trump, Democrats in Iowa appear to be employing criteria they might use to choose a car to drive or music to listen to: whether they want to fit in with the crowd or stand out.

Former vice president Joe Biden — establishment candidate and front-runner — is losing potential supporters for a reason that has nothing to do with political views. Many Democratic voters have a strong “desire to be different” in their regular lives. That disposes them toward candidates with more niche views and backgrounds.

Like driving a Saab rather than a Honda or arguing that punk rock pioneers Iggy and the Stooges were superior to mainstream favorite Led Zeppelin, picking candidates who challenge the establishment allows people to advertise their distinctiveness and authenticity.

We used survey data collected in Iowa to find out how much individuals’ preferences for being unconventional influences their political choices…

Our new theory suggests people inform their political choices by drawing on the same habits of mind they use in their personal lives. The habits of mind that people call on most frequently will also be the ones they turn to most when they encounter new problems or need to make new choices.

That is why a general desire to be different is a compelling explanation for primary election voting behavior. Americans have countless opportunities to decide whether to conform or be different. Choosing a candidate in a primary might look like yet another opportunity for that desire to be different…

In the December survey, we offered people the following three statements, and asked whether they agreed, disagreed or neither:

  1. When it comes to things like which sports teams to root for, which styles of clothes to wear, which type of cars to drive, what kind of music to listen to, and so forth, I tend to choose things that are different from the choices most people make.
  2. I like ideas and activities that are unconventional.
  3. When something becomes popular with other people, I tend to become less interested in it.

To measure desire to be different, we summed up respondents’ answers to the three questions and took the average. We divided scores into three categories — low, medium, and high — to more easily compare the choices of people who do not want to stand out with those who like to be different…

While desire to be different devastates Biden’s support, it is a bulwark of Sanders’s support. The quirky Vermonter runs only third, with 23 percent, among those who score low in desire to be different — but he leads all his competitors, with 32 percent, among those who like to stand out.

Warren also benefits from people who prefer the less conventional. She receives only 18 percent support from those scoring low in desire to be different, placing her last among the top four. But among those who score medium or high, she is nine and six points more popular.

15) Chait, “The Republican Cover-up Will Backfire. The House Can Keep Investigating Trump.”

16) Important twitter thread from Ezra:

 

 

 

 

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