Quick hits (part I)

1) Haven’t read all of it yet, but Emma Green on the future of Christianity in the Middle East is really good:

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

2) Among things I’ve seen all over twitter this week, but not so much news coverage, is the fact that Donald Trump is a big an of psychopathic mass murderers.  As long as they are in the U.S. Military.  Seriously.  The details about these war criminals he wants to pardon are just abhorrent.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular…

The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others. [emphasis mine]

3) Emily Oster on what evidence-based parenting reveals.  This is really good, “There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot.”

Except, it turns out that a lot of the things that get attention in these “optimize your baby” strategies do not actually seem to boost child outcomes. I’ve done a lot of research on this recently, and the overwhelming sense you get is that much of these investments do not matter…

How do we understand these contrasts — where, on the one hand, the first few years are the crucible of success and, on the other, the kind of investments that many of us obsess about do not seem to matter much?

The answer is that we tend to ignore the big picture. The differences we see by demographic groups in the United States — the inequality of outcomes for children from poor and rich backgrounds — are driven by a combination of vast differences in experiences.

Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter. [emphasis mine]

4) I wanted to find something good on regulatory capture for my public policy class in light of the Boeing 737 Max issue.  This is really good.

Last year, before Democrats took control of the House, Trump signed a Republican bill that began rolling back regulations on banks that had been put in place after the abuses that caused the Great Recession. He said the big banks deserve even more “relief” from regulators.

The administration has worked hard to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to police scams that were rampant before the 2008 banking crisis. As a result, enforcement activity has fallen dramatically.

This is happening across the intersection of big business and government, where risk of “regulatory capture” is always high. That’s when the regulated industries use their lobbying power to defang the agencies intended to protect the public. Sometimes it happens because the industry itself has the most expertise compared to the staff of the underfunded regulator.

Over the past two years, the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters have taken over the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dropped. This change includes fewer workplace-safety inspectors. Dozens of regulations in areas ranging from net neutrality to education have been rolled back or are headed that way.

Trump also rescinded an Obama administration rule that generally banned lobbyists for two years from going to work for regulators they had sought to influence. The potential conflicts of interest now are enormous.

5) It is actually kind of mind-boggling how rapidly major league breaking ball pitches have improved.

6) I knew North Carolina Republicans wanted to pass a bill for the fantastical situation of the attempted abortion born-alive.  But it’s ridiculous that they are making members– including sick ones– show up every day hoping to sneak it through because they don’t actually have enough votes.

7) Enjoyed this on how Raj Chetty has Harvard re-thinking it’s introduction to Economics course.  It does strike me that Chetty’s approach is far more valuable to the typical non-Economics major graduate than knowing how to plot supply and demand curves, etc.  And here’s where I call for my son who just finished his Econ course based on the mentioned Mankiw text to read this and weigh in in the comments.

8) Is the ability to have vegan foods available when you are doing your job fighting fires a human right?  Yes, says a Canadian firefighter.

9) I liked this– “What Game of Thrones Could have taught us about electoral politics.”

These are hard issues—legitimacy, counterinsurgency, propaganda, what wars do to civilians and combatants—in which “Game of Thrones” has been immersed. Robert’s Rebellion, which brought down the Mad King, was, we were told, based on a lie about the king’s son having kidnapped and raped a Stark. (The two were Jon’s parents, and secretly married.) The mere giving of credibility to the rumor that Cersei Lannister’s children with King Robert Baratheon were not legitimate set off the War of the Five Kings. Two of those kings were brothers, one of whom, Stannis Baratheon, tried for quick-kill fixes by murdering first his brother Renly and then his daughter, Shireen; the latter act caused the bulk of his troops to abandon him in horror—a reminder that the appearance of what might be called majesty is not irrelevant, even in a feudal system. Nor is the function of consent. (The power of the later-season High Sparrow and his religious followers provided another such reminder—before Cersei immolated them, anyway.) Power vacuums, in Westeros, tend to lead to a surfeit of competing claims. In the final episode, it produced a row of chairs, haphazardly inhabited, at the council where Ser Davos thinks it’s at least possible he’ll get a vote. Meanwhile, Grey Worm, who has real power, in the form of an army, seems to assume that he is disenfranchised, telling the others, “Choose, then.”

The solution that Tyrion comes up with represents a deep misunderstanding of the role of narrative in establishing legitimacy. The king, he says, should be Bran Stark—“Bran the Broken”—because he has the best story. He was pushed out of a window by Jaime Lannister, and survived, and can “warg” into—basically, psychically inhabit—birds, and thus fly. Indeed, Bran has, in his possession, all the stories, because he has become the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning that he can see into the past and also have visions. And what in the world, Tyrion asks, is more powerful than a good story?

That narrative power is real, as in the case of Shireen, but it came not from having a story but from telling it and persuading others of its truth. And we didn’t see a trace of that in Bran’s ascension.

10) The willingness of local governments to waste public money on millionaire sports owners is endlessly frustrating.  And endless.  Carolina Panthers edition.

11) Drum is right, “Donald Trump Admits He Doesn’t Really Want to Stop Illegal Immigration”

12) How the hell that humans ever get to Polynesia thousands of years ago anyway?  I’m not going to read either of these two books on the matter, but I really did enjoy learning more by reading this NYT review.

13) Having recently completed Frans de Waal’s Mama’s Last Hug, I especially enjoyed reading Ed Yong on how bonobo mothers intervene to improve their sons’ sex lives.

Bonobos live in mostly matriarchal societies, where females both occupy the highest ranks and form the core of social groups. If sons stick close to their mother, they’re more likely to end up at the center of a community, where more females sit. “That creates more mating opportunities,” Surbeck says. “It’s not that the moms physically drag their sons over. It’s more like a social passport.”

But mothers frequently took matters into their own hands, too. As Hanna did, they would stop unrelated males from interfering with their sons’ sexual encounters. They’d interfere themselves, stopping unrelated males from mating with other females. They’d gang up with their sons to evict other males from trees with lots of females.

Surbeck thinks that the mothers use these strategies as a way of furthering their own genetic legacy. They can do this by having more children of their own, or by ensuring that their children give them more grandchildren. They have little influence over their daughters, because bonobo females tend to leave home to find their own communities. Males, however, stay with their birth group, and especially near their mother. Even in the best-case scenario, a male bonobo can easily go through life without reproducing, and without a mother’s presence, the odds of his having a kid are about one in 14. To increase the size of her own dynasty, a mother needs to ensure that her sons have the best sexual opportunities.

And that’s exactly what the team has now found: Males who still live with their mother were three times more likely to sire their own children than those whose mothers had gone.

14) I consider it a personal failing that I still have not watched “Deadwood.”  It was really sad to read about David Milch dealing with Alzheimer’s.

15) Really interesting piece from an obstetrician on the reality of the “threat to mother’s life/health” exceptions on abortion:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”

My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.

16) I suppose I’ll give Netflix’s “Rim of the World” a try pretty soon (though, right now, spending my time catching up on “Chernobyl” and loving “Fleabag,” but really enjoyed reading about it’s place in the changed movie ecosystem:

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time, but now isn’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t

17) I had already queued this up as literally the dumbest electoral college take I had ever seen, “Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College” when I saw Smotus‘ succinct take, “The argument here is yes the Electoral College gives our minority group an outsized voice in presidential elections, but we deserve it because we grow food.”

18) This NYT magazine article “How Data (and Some Breathtaking Soccer) Brought Liverpool to the Cusp of Glory” was terrific.  A true must-read for my fellow fans of both soccer and data.  Also, interesting that even with a ton of data, it seems that far-and-away the greatest utility is simply in player personnel decisions and is not meaningfully changing the way the game is played (unlike, say, the NBA).

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Quick hits (part II)

Sorry– busy weekend with a super-fun soccer tournament with my daughter.  Onward…

1) Isaac Chotiner interviews Linda Greenhouse about the Supreme Court and abortion:

When you look at the history of abortion law in the United States, is there anything about this law in Georgia or the proposal in Alabama that you find interesting, or new, or different?

Well, they’re shockingly aggressive. They purport to take us back to the pre-Roe regime, where abortion was criminal until the mid-sixties in all fifty states—despite the fact that, by the time the Court decided Roe, Gallup and other polls showed that a strong majority of the public believed that abortion should be left as a matter between a woman and her doctor. And the pro-choice majority held throughout all demographics: men, women, Catholics, Republicans. Republicans were the pro-choice party at that time. So what’s happening today is pretty breathtaking, actually.

What specifically in these laws do you see as the biggest challenge to Roe?

I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme even though these laws can have the extreme effect of destroying the abortion infrastructure and cutting off access for most women. I’m referring to, for instance, the laws that Louisiana passed to require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A challenge to that law is right now pending before the Supreme Court, and it is a complete twin to the Texas law that the Court overturned in 2016, before Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court. The vote in that case was 5–3, Justice [Antonin] Scalia having died.

2) Believe it or not, the generic drug industry just might be the most evil industry out there.  Also FDA inspections of foreign drug production facilities are, sadly, a complete joke.

3) And a great Fresh Air interview on all this.

4) Making playgrounds a little more dangerous.  Sounds good to me.

5) Joan Walsh, “Yesterday Was a Dark Day for the Rule of Law: When Lindsey Graham told Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena from Senate Intelligence, he told him to commit a crime. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

6) Really interesting Op-Ed at the various legal reasonings behind attacking abortion laws and the potential for unintended consequences if the anti-abortion folks get their way:

Natural law-based arguments for fetal personhood were pursued by anti-abortion scholars and jurists for much of the 1960s and 1970s to little avail. These anti-abortion scholars avoided originalism, the prevailing conservative approach to constitutional interpretation, and instead focused on rebuking the Supreme Court for not recognizing the fundamental right to life that would have made all abortions illegal, including in the Roe case.

By the early 1980s, abortion foes generally gave up on this strategy. That’s because neither judges nor many other conservative lawyers, it seems, felt fully comfortable with recognizing rights not detailed in the text or history of the Constitution. After all, conservatives had long invoked the specter of judicial activism in criticizing their liberal colleagues, including those who issued the Roe decision.

And, as abortion opponents grudgingly recognized, natural law could open a Pandora’s box. If the Supreme Court recognized fetal personhood, the justices would probably subsequently confront claims about fetal rights in a variety of contexts, from Social Security benefits to tax law. Very early on, conservative originalist jurists like Justice Antonin Scalia called on the court to “get out of this area.” It was hard to imagine judges wanting to take on the even messier project of developing a fetal personhood jurisprudence.

And so abortion foes turned to originalism-based arguments that stressed that the law did not recognize a right to abortion at the time the 14th Amendment — whose due process clause was the basis of Roe’s privacy right — was ratified. These promised a constrained court, one that was above politics. But these aren’t the arguments that lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are making.

What’s more, Alabama’s law, rather than claiming to protect both women and fetal life, instead casts abortion as a zero-sum game, chastising “abortion opponents” as those who would “speak to women’s rights,” but “ignore the unborn child.” Many of the other “heartbeat” laws around the country similarly focus almost exclusively on fetal rights.

This approach ignores what many anti-abortion lawyers believed to be the lesson of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision preserving RoeAt the time that Casey was being decided, many expected the justices to reverse RoeIn earlier decisions, the court had upheld abortion restrictions and suggested that Roe was incoherent and potentially unworkable and that the reasoning underlying it was unpersuasive.

7) I used to spend a fair amount of time on the history of abortion in my lectures, but in recent years I have cut back somewhat to allow more time to cover contemporary controversies.  But the history is really important and most people are utterly ignorant of it.  Great Atlantic piece from 1997 on the matter:

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening” (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism (“taking the trade”). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business—including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press—was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her “Female Monthly Pills.”

In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians. The American Medical Association’s crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of “regular” physicians over midwives and homeopaths. More broadly, anti-abortion sentiment was connected to nativism, anti-Catholicism, and, as it is today, anti-feminism. Immigration, especially by Catholics and nonwhites, was increasing, while birth rates among white native-born Protestants were declining. (Unlike the typical abortion patient of today, that of the nineteenth century was a middle- or upper-class white married woman.) Would the West “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens?” the physician and anti-abortion leader Horatio R. Storer asked in 1868. “This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” (It should be mentioned that the nineteenth-century women’s movement also opposed abortion, having pinned its hopes on “voluntary motherhood”—the right of wives to control the frequency and timing of sex with their husbands.)

8) My 7th grade son recently watched/discussed a Twilight Zone for his English class.  So, we’ve started watching some.  A whole bunch of lists recommended “The Invaders.”  I did not recall it, so we watched.  The lists were wrong– it was tedious and absurdly over-acted.  But I like the approach of this list— the episodes that have aged the best.  Just watched “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” tonight, which I’ve already seen multiple times.  Now that holds up.

9) Is Game of Thrones are last great watercooler show?  I sure hope not.

10) This from Ed Yong is really good and disturbing, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers: Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?”

11) Jon Cohn on politics of a much needed tax hike to pay for decent roads in Michigan.

As a candidate last year, Whitmer tapped into frustration over those conditions, promising in every speech and media appearance to “fix the damn roads.” It was more than a specific policy pledge. It was a signal about the kind of governor she would be: a savvy, pragmatic leader who would get things done.

Now Whitmer has her chance to make good on her promise, and she has put forward a plan to increase annual road funding by more than $2 billion. But less than a year after literally mocking suggestions that such an initiative would require a big tax hike, she is calling for precisely that ― specifically, a three-stage increase in the gas levy that would raise it by 45 cents a gallon

Pretty much everything Democrats talk about doing nowadays, from simple, relatively uncontroversial increases in school funding to sweeping, polarizing plans for single-payer health insurance, would require raising new revenue. The essential argument on behalf of these ideas is the same as Whitmer’s pitch on the roads: that the benefits people would see are worth the higher taxes they would pay.

There was a time in American history when this case wasn’t so difficult to make, because voters had more faith in government and Republicans were more open to taxes. But that was long ago. The country now seems stuck in a self-destructive cycle ― one in which funding shortfalls make public goods and services inadequate, fueling yet more cynicism about government’s ability to solve problems and making it harder to get the funding that these programs need.

It’s a cycle that has plagued Democrats for decades, especially in states like Michigan that frequently hold the key in national elections. Can Whitmer break it? [emphasis mine]

12) I found this to be a really interesting take in thinking about fiction writing more broadly and how the GOT writing has really suffered since the end of the books:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written.

George R.R. Martin describes this distinction in terms of architects and gardeners. He’s firmly among the latter. He plants character seeds and carefully guides their growth, and when the show was directly adapting his A Song of Ice and Fire series, the approach paid off. It’s why every emotional beat and fair-in-hindsight surprise landed with such devastating weight: The terrible things that happened to these characters happened because of earlier choices they’d made. Those ever-blooming stories were a boon to the showrunners, who had their pick, but they’re also the reason the narrative momentum of the books slowed over time.

13) Some really interesting PS research on how much all that campaigning in swing states mobilized voters:

Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate. [emphasis mine]

14) John Pfaff with five myths about prisons.  #1 and #2 are especially widely believed:

MYTH NO. 1
U.S. prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders.

Asked recently about voting rights for felons, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of the Democratic presidential candidates, claimed that “we locked up more people for marijuana in 2017 than all the violent crimes combined.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has echoed that view, suggesting on Twitter that the prison system is defined by nonviolent people “stopped w/ a dime bag.”

But the simple truth is that, at a minimum, 55 percent of those in state prison have been convicted of a violent crime — and more than half of these people, or nearly 30 percent of the total prison population, have been found guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Slightly less than 15 percent are incarcerated for drug crimes, even though most Americans believe the figure to be about 50 percent. (Drugs play a bigger role in the federal prison system, but that holds only about 10 percent of all prisoners; most incarcerated people are in state prison.)…

MYTH NO. 2
Private prisons drive
mass incarceration.

When people try to explain how the United States ended up with nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, they often point to firms that directly profit from incarceration by running prisons or by providing services to public facilities. At a recent presidential campaign event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blamed private prisons for mass incarceration (“We need to get rid of for-profit, private prisons”). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused on private prisons in his 2016 presidential bid and is doing so again (“The private prison racket has got to end”).

There are two central flaws in this claim. First, only about 8 percent of all state and federal prisoners are held in private facilities . Most of those in private prisons are held in just five states, and there is no real evidence that prison populations have grown faster in those states than elsewhere.

Second, of the roughly $50 billion we spend on prisons, about two-thirds , or $30 billion, is spent on wages and benefits for public-sector employees. In comparison, private prison firms collectively earn a few billion in revenue and (more important for their incentives to lobby) about $300 million in profits — just 1 percent of the public-sector wage bill. So public-sector correctional officer unions have a reason to lobby against reforms that would reduce inmate populations, especially since prisons often provide some of the only well-paying jobs in the rural communities where they are located.

15) Wonkette on how all the most “pro-life” states don’t seem to care for baby’s lives so much once they are, you know, actually born.

16) Loved this Planet Money episode on Jeopardy phenomenon, James Holhauser.  Planet Money reporter Kenny Malone’s sister is married to Holhauser’s brother, so they share nieces and nephews.  Malone is definitely not the coolest uncle any more.

17) Short-term rental electric scooters briefly took over Raleigh and the NC State campus area this past year.  Seems like the business model, though, is set up for a crash.

18) I really liked Conor Friedersdorf on Harvard’s cowardly actions on Ronald Sullivan:

The vital work of criminal defense has managed to endure in spite of such attacks, thanks to a core of sober-minded citizens in each generation who know better than to pile on. They understand that to defend an accused criminal is not to defend his or her alleged crime—and that conflating the two by imposing social sanctions on attorneys would make criminal trials more like popularity contests.

Educational institutions ought to teach young adults this justice-enhancing logic. Harvard is now teaching its undergraduates how to undermine it.

Its shameful capitulation to popular passions began earlier this year when Ronald Sullivan, an African American law professor and faculty dean with a long history of freeing marginalized innocents from prison, announced that he would be working as a defense attorney for the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students,” The New York Timesreported

Either way, Harvard administrators were warned about the unavoidable conflict between upholding an important civic norm––that legal representation for even the most reviled is a service to the community, not a transgression against it—and giving in to the demands of the undergraduates most aggrieved by their faculty dean’s choice of clients. And rather than infer a responsibility of the extremely privileged to uphold civic norms for the benefit of those in society who most need them, this institution, which purports to educate future leaders, chose to prioritize transient discomfort felt by its most aggrieved students. [emphasis mine]

19) I would like to live in a world where policy did not have absurdly over-militarized drug raids and where they were held accountable if they got these raids lethally wrong.  That world does not yet exist.  Radley Balko:

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. …

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This from Jennifer Reich was really interesting, “How modern parenting culture is driving the anti-vaccination movement.”

But the larger and more interesting group to discuss is the significant portion of American parents who say they believe in vaccines but just don’t want them for their children — or don’t want all the vaccines that experts insist are safest and most efficacious. As much as 20 to 25 percent of American parents fall into this latter group, and they arguably pose the greatest threat to herd immunity. They are also the most likely to be persuaded as long as we don’t call them ignorant and selfish.

Finally, parents who refuse vaccines are most likely to be white and college-educated, and to have a higher-than-average family income. I believe their decisions are less about how informed they are and more about the culture of what I term individualist parenting — one that insists parents are personally responsible for their own children, but not other children. Individualist parenting has encouraged mothers to trust their own judgment more than that of experts and believe they can manage their way out of disease risk, even as their choices present risk to others.

2) Greg Sargent, “Only one 2020 Democrat fully grasps the threat Trump poses.”  It’s Warren.

Warren is comprehensively treating Trump both as a severe threat to the rule of law in his own right, and as inextricably linked to a deeper pathology — the GOP’s drift into comfort with authoritarianism.

Trump’s authoritarianism and his corruption are two sides of the same coin. Trump’s tax returns, which he rebuffed a House request for — something his government participated in, with dubious legality — may conceal untold levels of corruption, from possible emoluments-clause violations to financial conflicts to compromising foreign financial entanglements.

3) I wish the WSJ would at least give me a few free articles per month so I could read this without reading the ugly database version for the NCSU library website, “In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between Haves and Have-Nots: Local newspapers are failing to make the digital transition larger players did — and are in danger of vanishing.”

4) This is from a bit ago, but just discovered it.  I have a new non-Hurricanes favorite NHL player: Braden Holtby:

Canadian goaltender Braden Holtby said he will not visit the White House with his Washington Capitals teammates, joining forwards Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly as players who have declined the invitation to honor the team’s Stanley Cup victory Monday.

“I’ve got to stay true to my values, and I’m going to respectfully decline the offer,” Holtby said Friday morning. “In saying that, it’s a tough situation for everyone to be in, to be forced to make a decision of that standing. You’re a team and you want to stick together no matter what, so I hope everyone kind of blows it away and that we don’t worry about who goes and who doesn’t.

“For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in, and in order to stick to those values, I think I have to do what I feel is right, but that doesn’t make a difference on everyone else’s decision. We stick by every single teammate we have and their decision. That’s about it.”

5) I’ve only marginally followed the NYC high school admissions test controversy.  But John McWhorter’s take seems to make a lot of sense, “Don’t Scrap the Test, Help Black Kids Ace It”

6) Jordan Weissman on Trump’s huge business losses:

Somebody seems to have slipped the New York Timesa decade’s worth of Donald Trump’s tax information, and as a result, we now know that our president claimed losses from his businesses every single year between 1985 and 1994, totaling more than $1 billion.

If it turns out that those losses were real, it would be devastating for Trump’s personal mythology. The story suggests his image as a successful business mogul was a mirage virtually from the start—that his empire was in deep trouble well before the early ’90s real estate bust or his casino bankruptcies nearly brought him to the brink of a public downfall. “He’s got to be, quite literally, the most successful con artist of all time, right?” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wondered after the story published. “Who comes close?”

The president, however, claims that his only illusion was the red ink. On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump explained that the losses were just the result of tax games, which he called a “sport.”

Whichever story is closer to the truth, the Times’ revelations should be politically damaging for Trump, and any Democrat who runs against him in 2020 ought to throw it in his face whenever they’re on a debate stage together.

To people who follow politics, the idea that Donald Trump is a self-promoting fraud who was born into a wealthy real estate family and ran various businesses into the ground before reinventing himself as a branding guru and reality TV star is basically old hat. This is part of the reason that the Times’ big scoop last October showing that Trump received some $413 millionover the years from his real estate developer father was greeted with a bit of a shrug in media circles, even though it made a mockery of Trump’s old line about how he started in business with no more than a $1 million loan from his dad.

As Matt Yglesias notes, however, many Americans do not actually know the president’s life story. Instead, they believe Trump was the self-made entrepreneur he played on TV—and that shapes their opinion about him.

7) And Alexandra Petri with some Trump math problems:

Here are some Trump math problems:

Q: If you have $1 million and then you lose $55, how many dollars do you have to live on?

A: Whatever my father, Fred Trump, has.

Q: If you are $418 million in the red, do you have more money or less money than someone who has zero dollars?

A: More, $418 million more!

Q: If you have $5 of debt and someone else has zero dollars, who has more money?

A: I definitely have more money than the loser with zero dollars.

Q: It costs $0.08 to buy a banana. You have -$0.05. Can you afford to buy a banana?

A: I don’t know, let me ask Deutsche Bank.

8) Really enjoyed this in 538, “How Mapping Shots In The NBA Changed It Forever.”  And the one chart to rule them all:

9) I had no idea the NHL kept emergency backup goalkeepers on-hand.  Definitely a unique situation in professional sports.

10) How should the courts handle the Trump administration’s pervasive lawless defiance?  With speed!  “The Court Handling Trump’s Lawsuit Must Move at Breakneck Speed: The president deserves his day in court. But the American people deserve that day to come quickly.”

11) This was actually my favorite negative take (i.e., it actually got me thinking) of anything I read on last week’s GOT episode.

12) I like this from Tayari Jones, “There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground.”  I’d change that to “there’s not always something virtuous in finding common ground,” though.  But, good stuff:

I recall this experience now, over 40 years later, as we are in a political moment where we find ourselves on opposite sides of what feels like an unbreachable gulf. I find myself annoyed by the hand-wringing about how we need to find common ground. People ask how might we “meet in the middle,” as though this represents a safe, neutral and civilized space. This American fetishization of the moral middle is a misguided and dangerous cultural impulse.

The middle is a point equidistant from two poles. That’s it. There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there. Buried in this is a false equivalency of ideas, what you might call the “good people on both sides” phenomenon. When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? Rather than chattel slavery, perhaps we could agree on a nice program of indentured servitude? Instead of subjecting Japanese-American citizens to indefinite detention during WW II, what if we had agreed to give them actual sentences and perhaps provided a receipt for them to reclaim their things when they were released? What is halfway between moral and immoral?

When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle?

The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial. For many Americans it is painful to understand that there are citizens of our community who are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic. Certainly, they reason, this current moment is somehow a complicated misunderstanding. Perhaps there is some way to look at this–a view from the middle–that would allow us to communicate and realize that our national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably, and with a bow. The headlines that lament a “divided” America suggest that the fact that we can’t all get along is more significant than the issues over which we are sparring.

13) The NYT take a look at the process of gentrification in a Raleigh, NC neighborhood.  The Upshot?  It’s complicated.

14) I quite liked David Brooks on the difference between happiness and joy:

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. It’s smart to enjoy happiness, but it’s smarter still to put yourself in situations where you might experience joy.

15) Successful people avoid the sunk cost trap.  “Sometimes You Have to Quit to Get Ahead: Winners are just people who know when to quit — and do it often.”  Heck, I may have over-learned the lesson; I’m an unapologetic quitter.

We’ve all heard the saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

But what if we’ve been looking at quitting all wrong? What if, rather than a step backward, quitting with intention can be a way to leap toward your goals?

Enter “strategic quitting,” a seemingly counterintuitive approach to helping you free up moretime, money and energy for the things that matter. (Another way to look at this: learning the power of “no.”)

Let’s say you want to write a book. That’s a monstrous, energy-consuming undertaking that, in all likelihood, will require you to “quit” your other creative pursuits or hobbies, according to Mark Manson, author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a —-.”

“What I give up when I’m writing a book is creativity in other arenas,” Mr. Manson said. “I have a limited amount of creative juice to use each day,” so writing a book gets the majority of that creativity quota…

In other words, trying to do and cling to too many things cannibalizes our precious limited resources that might be better spent elsewhere — but we’d never know.

That’s where strategic quitting — and understanding opportunity costs — comes in. Simply put, this is the idea that in order to pursue one option, we must forgo certain others, Mr. Godin said. This means choosing between four hours of “The Office” on Netflix, or working on your masterpiece or studying a new skill.

“That’s really expensive,” Mr. Godin said, “because all these hours you could have spent reading a book, coaching the local handball team, or giving back to the community, you chose to be watching television.” At that point, the monetary cost of Netflix is far surpassed by the opportunity cost it represents, he said.

Quick hits (part I)

Oh my, I have been a complete loser blogger this week.  Cannot believe I’ve gone quick hits to quick hits with nothing in between.  And late, too.  Forgive me.  I promise a better week next week.

1) I order a lot from Amazon and thus have a non-trivial amount of Amazon returns.  I was actually somewhat surprised recently when I got my refund as soon as UPS scanned the return package.  I presume Amazon has some algorithm that says I’m a good customer that does not abuse the return process.

2) I also wondered what would happen to the electric razor that I was unhappy with (for my oldest son– I’m all about the Mach 3 Turbo).  Enjoyed this story about trying to make money on bulk Amazon returns.  I imagine, alas, that used electric razors end up in the trash.

3) Stephen Moore is such an absurd hack that it is offensive to hacks to call him a hack.  It’s a very good thing he will not serve on the Federal Reserve.  And to the utter shame (as is so much) of today’s Republicans that they ignored his horrible qualifications and nutty economic ideas, but only gave up on him for his absurd sexist remarks.  Great take from Yglesias:

Stephen Moore is a charlatan who plays a policy expert on TV

If you consume a lot of conservative media, you could easily be under the impression that Moore is one of the top economic policy thinkers in the country.

He has written extensively over the years for the Weekly Standard and National Review, long the two leading intellectual magazines of the conservative movement. He’s a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He’s a contributor to CBN News and a former Fox News guy who jumped to CNN in 2017. But, again, even though Trump probably best knows him from television, he’s not just a television pundit. He published in the American Enterprise Institute’s in-house journal and was the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute for many years.

In short, the institutional conservative movement appears to regard him as a serious heavyweight thinker on economic policy…

Moore’s nomination deserved to sink because he’s a crank. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, he complained of imminent hyperinflation at the height of the Great Recession while now arguing that the economy faces deflation when there’s no evidence of this in economic data. He “advocates — at least when politically convenient — crank economic ideas, including returning to the gold standard.” Paul Krugman reminds us that in 2007-’08 when the country was tumbling into recession, he called for interest rate hikes that would have greatly exacerbated the problem.

4) The economics of creating new antibiotics are really not good in today’s big Pharma world.  The good news, is that there are some innovative policy ideas to encourage the creation of new antibiotics.  And we really need them.

5) A good friend of mine recently had to have his daughter treated with anti-venom for a copperhead snakebite.  Sounded like an all-around nightmare. Especially wondering if his insurance (same as mine!) was going to cover the $14,000 anti-venom.  Christopher Ingraham on why it costs so damn much (only in America, of course), “The crazy reason it costs $14,000 to treat a snakebite with $14 medicine”

Shockingly, the cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.

6) I finally watched John Oliver’s take on how prosecutors are the fundamental problem in our criminal justice system.  He’s right.  And, of course, it’s a really good segment.

7) I just came across this Conversation piece from a few years ago by an NC State professors on the genetics of Eastern Coyotes and how coywolfs are not a thing.  I had no idea that there was always a mix of dog in there:

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

8) Chait, “Trump Claims He Can Ignore Subpoenas Because Congress Is Mean”

This same argument runs nearly all of Trump’s refusals to abide congressional subpoenas. “These aren’t, like, impartial people,” the president declared of Congress. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

The first thing to understand about this legal theory is that it is not a legal theory. Congress is a coequal branch of government which has a legal right to conduct investigations, including of the Executive branch and its officials. There is a legal gray zone around “executive privilege,” which describes the right of officials in the Executive branch to have some confidentiality around their internal discussions.

But Trump is not articulating a theory of executive privilege here. Nor would such a privilege cover a president’s right to maintain a business empire that accepts payments that may or may not be bribes disguised as legitimate reimbursements in complete secrecy from Congress and the public.

Essentially Trump’s argument is that congressional oversight is simply “politics” and, therefore, somehow null and void. Trump’s Deutsche Bank lawsuit has a passage that could have been lifted from an op-ed written by a sophomore member of the College Republicans. It quotes Nancy Pelosi promising “checks and balances to the Trump administration,” then asserts she was “not referring to legislation.” It proceeds to quote a series of journalists describing Congress’s investigations as being unpleasant for Trump:

9) Can’t say I find this Jesse Singal headline all that surprising,”Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising.”

10) Here’s my tweet on the latest Game of Thrones episode:

That said, I loved this tactical analysis of the battle from Angry Staff Officer.

11) Given how much the abortion debate tends to focus on the much more complicated issue of later abortions, this chart from Drum is very useful:

12) I’ve often wondered why getting pictures framed is so damn expensive.  I really would like to framed art in my house, but, the framing always seems like such a rip-off.  Vox is on the case:

Higher pricing is the consequence of frame stores keeping options on hand

According to a 2018 IBISWorld report, there are 9,000 local frame shops in the United States, and if you’ve ever been to one, you know it to be a pretty intimidating experience. You go in knowing you only need one black frame, but are then bombarded with a host of options: There’s matting (a piece of paper or cardboard that goes inside the frame and mounts the print or photo), molding (decorative embellishments on the outside of the frame), glass (referred to as glazing, which can be made of glass or acrylic, and, depending on what you choose, can offer UV protection), and the frames themselves.

According to Mark Klostermeyer, a member of the Professional Picture Frames Association, it’s the sheer amount of mattings, moldings, glazings, and frames a shop provides that drives up prices. The fewer options a business offers, the more able they are to order in bulk, therefore cutting down costs.

Klostermeyer has owned Design Frames, a local custom frame shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for 50 years. “I’m a second generation framer,” he tells me. Klostermeyer offers 2,000 different frames at his shop, along with hundreds of mats and specialty fabric matting options. He also gets custom moldings from eight different vendors.

13) This account of a (non-tenure-track) Duke professor being fired because he may have offended some small percentage of students with just horrible due process is really depressing.

14) Really liked reading about the idea of “decoupling” in Jesse Singal’s article about erisology, the study of how to argue effectively:

The concept of decoupling is erisology at its best. Expanding on the writing of the mathematician and blogger Sarah Constantin, who was herself drawing on the work of the psychologist Keith Stanovich, Nerst describes decoupling as simply the idea of removing extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own, rather than the fog of associations, ideologies, and potentials swirling around it.

When I first heard of decoupling, I immediately thought about the nervous way in which liberals discuss intelligence research. There is overwhelming evidence that intelligence, as social scientists define and measure it, has a strong hereditary component; according to some estimates, genetic factors account for about half the variation in intelligence among individuals. None of that has anything to do with race, because races do not map neatly onto genetic difference. But because the link between intelligence and genetics is so steeped in oppression and ugly history—that is, because charlatans have so eagerly cited nonsense “research” purporting to demonstrate Europeans’ natural superiority—discussions even of well-founded studies about intelligence often end in acrimony over their potential misuse.

Once you know a term like decoupling, you can identify instances in which a disagreement isn’t really about X anymore, but about Y and Z. When some readers first raised doubts about a now-discredited Rolling Stone story describing a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, they noted inconsistencies in the narrative. Others insisted that such commentary fit into destructive tropes about women fabricating rape claims, and therefore should be rejected on its face. The two sides weren’t really talking; one was debating whether the story was a hoax, while the other was responding to the broader issue of whether rape allegations are taken seriously. Likewise, when scientists bring forth solid evidence that sexual orientation is innate, or close to it, conservatives have lashed out against findings that would “normalize” homosexuality. But the dispute over which sexual acts, if any, society should discourage is totally separate from the question of whether sexual orientation is, in fact, inborn. Because of a failure to decouple, people respond indignantly to factual claims when they’re actually upset about how those claims might be interpreted.

15) I really enjoyed telling my wife about the Vegetable Lamb this week:

It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.

According to 19th-century naturalist Henry Lee, who penned an exhaustive 60-page treatise on the history of the vegetable lamb, in Europe this legend “met with almost universal credence from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Its source, it seems, was the Middle Ages’ most famous traveler, Sir John Mandeville, whose fantastical accounts of his roamings abroad in the 1300s led to no small number of misconceptions back in England.

Mandeville writes in Middle English, so I’ll go ahead and just paraphrase for you: In Tartary (what is now Russia and Mongolia), there grows a plant that produces gourds, and from these issue forth tiny lambs, which men eat. Mandeville, who likely made up a good chunk of his travelsand pulled from reference material instead, wrote that in his experience, they are quite delicious. So based on vegetable lambs not actually existing, we can confirm that Mandeville was somewhat of a liar. (Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, refers to him hilariously as “the problematic Sir John Mandeville.”)

16) Aaron Rupar on the generally sad media coverage of Trump’s latest lie-fest rallies: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses
Lying is still being recast as ‘reviv[ing] an inaccurate refrain.'”

17) You’ve likely noticed that I like Wired and that it has a paywall.  I’m a subscriber to the print magazine (I love that my 13-year old devours it when it shows up every month), so I happily get the digital as part of that.  I enjoyed reading their lessons from a year behind the paywall:

But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattledindustry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.

First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent over the year before. We don’t know if they’ll resubscribe (please do); we don’t know if they’ll ultimately pay higher prices (please do); we don’t know if it’ll be as easy to get the next batch of people to join (please do). But the early signs are good, particularly for a year in which the bottom fell out from some traffic referrers that used to drive subscribers (hello, Facebook) and the greatest growth was on a platform (hello, Apple News) where getting direct subscribers in 2018 was as easy as hitting a bank shot 3-pointer, and getting subscribers in 2019 will now essentially require a half-court heave.

The second lesson: The stories that led people to subscribe were a little surprising. When we started this, we invested in three new kinds of pieces: longform reportingIdeas essays, and issue guides. All three types overindex in generating subscriptions.

18) Ken Tucker reviewed a new Lizzo album at the end of a Fresh Air episode this week.  I had never heard of her before.  Not my usual type of music, but damn is she good.  I’ve really been enjoying on Spotify this week.  In fact, I’m listening as I work on this post.

19) Black incarceration rates are down.  That’s good.  And we still need to do better.  The charts:

20) So many great takes this week on the amazing awfullness that is William Barr.  Kept meaning to write a post.  I still will,  But this is good.  “Mueller Spent Years Collecting Evidence. Barr Is Pretending It’s Not There.: The special counsel meticulously collected backup for his claims. Barr’s testimony Wednesday dismisses it.”

21) I really hate the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to overlook all sorts of evidence to pretend that Trump’s administration is acting in good faith when it is so transparently not.  Ugh.  Drum on the census case:

In oral hearings yesterday, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives made it pretty clear that they intend to allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers a pointed and largely correct explanation of why this is so bad:

Everyone knows that in the census case Ross “papered” a rationale to justify a decision made for other reasons. But the Court can overturn the decision without finding that he lied — simply by holding that it was arbitrary and capricious to sacrifice the accuracy of the count to obtain citizenship data that could be obtained (at least as accurately, and perhaps more accurately) through administrative records without adding a question to the census. That seems a pretty reasonable holding given that the Constitution itself focuses on an accurate count of the whole population.

But if the Court goes the other way, it is truly an “emperor has no clothes” opinion. The Court will uphold the reasonableness of Ross’s “determination” even though everyone knows those were not his real reasons — in other words, basing its ruling on what everyone knows to be a fictional story, concocted to pass judicial muster. If the Court is willing to tolerate that, what won’t it tolerate?

And then there are the plainly partisan consequences of the ruling. Combine it with the almost-certain rejection of constitutional challenges to gerrymandering, and other election-related decisions and everything points in the same direction — entrenchment of Republican power to resist the forces of demographic change.

Ross lied initially about the citizenship question, saying it had been requested by the Justice Department even though it hadn’t been. Then he badgered DOJ into requesting it. Then he finally asked his own census experts to weigh in, and they said pretty clearly that they could get better data and a more accurate count without the citizenship question. However, they couldn’t be absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of that, and that was enough for Ross to hang his hat on. If there was even a 1 percent chance of the citizenship question producing better data, then by God, the census would have a citizenship question…

Republicans know that they’re in a demographic death spiral, so they’ve been doing their best to nickel-and-dime additional votes over the past decade. They’ve tried voter ID laws, gerrymandering, targeting of black voters, and now the census. In every case, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has taken their side. It’s hard to think of a series of cases that could more clearly demonstrate that Republicans on the Supreme Court are naked partisans when it comes to voting issues, but they don’t seem to care. This is why Mitch McConnell broke the Senate in order to get another Republican on the court, and it looks likely to pay off yet again. [emphasis mine]

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Though I only dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager, fair to say it has changed by firstborn’s life and I enjoy learning about it vicariously through him.  The Post with an article on how the game is really booming these days.  It only gets a sentence or so in the article, but I think it is quite interesting the degree to which the boom is substantially due to some really smart revisions with the latest (5th) edition of the game, in contrast to the very-much-panned 4th edition.

2) Given the chance, the dingo really will eat your baby.  Harrowing tale of parents saving their toddler from dingos.  And, no way can I resist including this:

3) Interestingly, Mr. “I have the best memory” doesn’t seem to have such a great one when he’s in legal jeopardy:

Mr. Trump rarely lacks for certainty in his public statements on camera, but has shown more caution when under oath.

He said, “I don’t remember” 24 times during a 2012 deposition in a lawsuit involving his now-defunct Trump University and 35 times during another deposition related to the university suit three years later, not counting 10 more times in the two interviews that he said, “I don’t recall” or “Can’t remember.” (He eventually settled the legal claims for $25 million.)

Prosecutors said such selective memory tended to make them suspicious.

“It’s always a red flag when a witness appears to selectively forget the events most likely to be damning,” said Dwight C. Holton, who spent 14 years as a prosecutor, most recently as United States attorney in Oregon.

“And when you have a witness who repeatedly and publicly thumps his chest about how great his memory is, then all of a sudden he has sudden massive memory loss — well, let’s just say that’s a target I’d like to cross-examine in front of a jury.”

4) Sarah Sanders is almost as odious a figure as her boss.

After admitting to investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that she delivered a false statement from the White House podium, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, defended herself in Trumpian fashion on Friday morning. She counterattacked.

The Mueller report revealed that Ms. Sanders had acknowledged that her repeated claim in 2017 that she had personally communicated with “countless” F.B.I. officials who told her they were happy with President Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey as the agency’s director was a “slip of the tongue” and not founded on any facts.

Asked on “Good Morning America” if the report had damaged her credibility, Ms. Sanders responded that she had made the statement in the heat of the moment, and that it was not “a scripted talking point.”

But then she added, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and repeated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign.”

Apparently complete and total fabrications are just fine in the heat of the moment.  Good to know.

4) I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to deem it evil, what Mick Mulvaney has done in undermining the CFPB’s ability to help Americans who have been cheated by the financial industry.

5) Asha Rangappa is great on the Mueller report, “How Barr and Trump Use a Russian Disinformation Tactic: They were able to define “collusion” to benefit themselves.  Don’t let them twist meanings again with their “spying” investigation.”

The Trump administration seized on this legal ambiguity early on, with the refrain that “collusion is not a crime.” The standard set here is that anything falling below criminally chargeable behavior is acceptable. When it comes to the presidency, this is not true. The Constitution lays out the procedure for removing an unfit president from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Nevertheless, we took the bait: Collusion may not be a crime, lawyers and pundits responded, but conspiracy is. This “reflexive” response adopted criminality as the bar to be met.

But as we found in the report, conspiracy is very narrowly defined: It requires proof of an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, and an “overt act” in furtherance of that agreement. Unlike collusion, moreover, conspiracy requires that a party have a specific state of mind — knowledge — of the criminal nature of his or her actions. As a former F.B.I. special agent who conducted counterintelligence investigations, I can attest that foreign intelligence services do not operate on the basis of explicit agreements or even actions that, standing alone, constitute criminal activity.

Foreign intelligence services rely on manipulating vulnerabilities over time — like greed, or fear of exposure of a secret — to puppeteer those under their influence into acting in their interests without saying a word. Our adversaries also want to make sure they have plausible deniability, so it would be impossible to uncover an agreement made directly with a foreign government itself: As detailed in Mr. Mueller’s report, most of Russia’s overtures were made through cutouts and intermediaries, seeking to capitalize on the ambition of members of the Trump campaign to push along their efforts. Counterintelligence is, in effect, chasing ghosts, which is why the tools used to investigate foreign intelligence activity are secret, like human sources or electronic surveillance. It is not the stuff of which criminal prosecutions are made, and it is partly for this reason that operativesrarely see the inside of a courtroom.

Nevertheless, we reached an informal agreement with the White House over the last two years: The test of Mr. Trump’s fitness for office rested on Mr. Mueller’s findings that the president committed a crime, namely, conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the election.

6) Joseph Stiglitz on progressive capitalism:

America arrived at this sorry state of affairs because we forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people. One can get rich either by adding to the nation’s economic pie or by grabbing a larger share of the pie by exploiting others — abusing, for instance, market power or informational advantages. We confused the hard work of wealth creation with wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking), and too many of our talented young people followed the siren call of getting rich quickly.

Beginning with the Reagan era, economic policy played a key role in this dystopia: Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities. Even as economic theories like information economics (dealing with the ever-present situation where information is imperfect), behavioral economics and game theory arose to explain why markets on their own are often not efficient, fair, stable or seemingly rational, we relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.

The result is an economy with more exploitation — whether it’s abusive practices in the financial sector or the technology sector using our own data to take advantage of us at the cost of our privacy. The weakening of antitrust enforcement, and the failure of regulation to keep up with changes in our economy and the innovations in creating and leveraging market power, meant that markets became more concentrated and less competitive.

Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to be structured by rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations must be enforced. Deregulation of the financial sector allowed bankers to engage in both excessively risky activities and more exploitive ones. Many economists understood that trade with developing countries would drive down American wages, especially for those with limited skills, and destroy jobs. We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad.

We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.

7) I’ve got a student doing an honor’s thesis on felon enfranchisement.  Jamelle Bouie on an idea, apparently, gaining some momentum:

But the growing tide against felon disenfranchisement raises a related question: Why disenfranchise felons at all? Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?

There is precedent for this idea. California allows voting for those in county jails (with limited exceptions). Colorado does too. New York recently allowed those on parole or probation to vote. And two states, Maine and Vermont, already let prisoners vote. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont affirmed his support for voting rights in prison the same week Warren backed automatic enfranchisement for former felons.

“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders said, responding to a question at a town hall. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”…

We ought to have that conversation now. Americans may see it as common sense that you lose your right to vote when you’re imprisoned, but in many democracies prisoners retain the right to vote. When that right is revoked, it’s only for particular crimes (in Germany, it’s for “targeting” the “democratic order”), and often there is a good deal of judicial discretion. Mandatory disenfranchisement is unusual, and permanent disenfranchisement is even rarer.

7) I have noticed that the plethora of new apartment buildings near NC State campus look similar.  Apparently, it’s not restricted to Raleigh and there’s a reason for this.  “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same: Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.”

8) Enjoyed this shared by a female reporter friend, “Journalist Jana Shortal is breaking the unspoken dress code for on-air reporters.”

9) Some groundbreaking new research on all the world’s “missing” women.

And yet, for as long as people have been keeping records, nature shows a different, dependable pattern: For every 100 babies born biologically female, 105 come out biologically male. Scientists have speculated this mysteriously male-biased sex ratio is evolution’s way of evening things out, since females consistently outlive their XY-counterparts—for every man that reaches the age of 100, four women have also joined the Century Club.

This biological maxim has been so drilled into the heads of demographers—the researchers responsible for keeping tabs on how many people there are on the planet—that most don’t think twice before plugging it into any projections they’re making about how populations will change in the future. But a massive effort to catalog the sex ratios at birth, for the first time, for every country, shows that’s not such a smart strategy after all.

“For so long people just took that number for granted,” says Fengqing Chao, a public health researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. “But no one had ever gone to the trouble of pulling all this information together to get accurate estimates of this fundamental metric.” Chao led the five-year project, combing through decades of census data, national survey responses, and birth records to build models that could estimate national sex ratios across time. In doing so, she and her collaborators at the United Nations discovered that in most regions of the world, sex ratios diverge significantly from the historical norm. Across a dozen countries, the chasm amounts to 23.1 million missing female births since 1970. The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide an unprecedented look at how societal values can skew the laws of nature.

“It’s an incredibly important contribution,” says Darrell Bricker, a Canadian political scientist. “If the only part of the population who can produce new kids are women under the age of 45, and a whole bunch of them are missing, it’s going to have an obvious impact on the fertility of a population.” In his recently published book, Empty Planet, Bricker proposes the radical idea that contrary to a population explosion apocalypse scenario, the data suggests the world is actually more likely to run out of people. If current models are mistakenly counting women that aren’t there, that only makes his predictions that much more plausible, he adds.

10) We need to be so much tougher, policy-wise, on the anti-vaxxers.  You don’t want to vaccinate for vague, anti-scientific reasons.  Fine, lose your rights to schools, malls, public places, etc.  Our current exemption policies are way too lax in many states:

But over the last 10 years, many states have made it easier for parents to get personal exemptions for vaccinations. Recent analyses have shown that since 2009, the number of nonmedical exemptions rose in 12 of the 17 states that relaxed their laws to allow for philosophical objections as well as religious ones. In some anti-vaccine hot spots, exemption rates are nearing double digits. “It’s been a pretty recent phenomenon that people are now saying their concerns about vaccination outweigh their concerns about infectious diseases,” Silverman says. “And it’s starting to test the balancing act most states are trying to pull off.”

At least in some places, the threat of bigger outbreaks appears to be tipping the scales toward more restrictive policies. At least eight states, including some that experienced measles spikes this year, are now taking a harder look at their lax personal-exemption laws. When you add up the costs of an outbreak, it’s not hard to see why. A single five-month outbreak in Minnesota in 2017 that infected 79 people ran the state a tab of $2.3 million.

Stricter laws should help boost vaccine rates, but it’s not always enough. In 2015, California ditched its personal-belief exemptions, making it only the third state—along with West Virginia and Mississippi—to have such rigid requirements. As a result, fewer students skipped shots, and by 2018 immunization rates statewide were once again above the 94 percent threshold. But researchers discovered that over the same time period, medical exemptions grew. It turned out that many parents were getting around the new law by convincing doctors to grant them medical exemptions. That’s why California is now considering a bill that would crack down on the medical exempting process, to ensure they’re reserved only for people who really need them—kids who’ve 1undergone chemotherapy or organ transplants or who suffer from immune disorders.

11) Somehow, just yesterday discovered this Bad Lip Reading “Empire Strikes Back” edition.  Oh man did my kids and I love this

12) Honestly, probably better if Netflix had never made any new “Arrested Development” episodes, but it’s still got a great legacy:

Depressing is a word fans who fell in love with Arrested Development in its original form might call its current state: now that the show’s conclusion to season five has landed, it’s doubtful many will be praying for another renewal. It’s worth remembering though, if this is indeed its last hurrah, how good the show once was. That once there was no touching its hurricane-of-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags, surprises and syrupy moments of heartwarming family drama. Our pop culture landscape today would be drastically different without it: TV comedy in 2019 owes a godzilla-sized debt to the show. There may never have been BoJack Horseman or Archer, both of which feature stars from Arrested Development as well as generous servings of its manic, wild-eyed humour. It kicked open the door for the black comic barrage and selfish, shouting protagonists of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and blazed a trail for single cam successes like The OfficeParks and Recreation and Modern Family.

13) Happy Easter!

Quick hits (part I)

1) What to make of Mueller report being submitted even though we don’t know what’s in it?  Just ask Benjamin Wittes.

2) Krugman on the importance of not using “Medicare for all” as a Democratic purity test.  He’s also a fan of Medicare for America:

But even if optimistic claims about Medicare for All are true, will people believe them? And even if most people do, if a significant minority of voters doesn’t trust the promises of single-payer advocates, that could easily either doom Democrats in the general election or at least make it impossible to get their plan through Congress.

To me, then, Medicare for America — which lets people keep employment-based insurance — looks like a much better bet for actually getting universal coverage than Medicare for All. But I could be wrong! And it’s fine to spend the next few months arguing the issue.

3) Yglesias makes the case for 2020 as the year of the woman:

Regardless of what exact role you think misogyny played in the coverage Clinton received and the reactions people had to her, the outcome of the 2016 campaign should not make you think a woman can’t beat Trump. Clinton would’ve won if she’d had slightly better luck. She would’ve won if the state boundaries were drawn slightly differently. She would’ve won if she’d made a couple of smarter decisions in the past. And most important, she would’ve won if the underlying fundamentals were narrowly in her favor rather than narrowly against her.

Nobody knows how promising the fundamentals will be for Democrats in 2020. But if they’re favorable, there’s every reason to think a woman nominee will win, and if they’re not, there’s every reason to think a man will lose.

Women have a good track-record overall

Only one woman has ever been a major-party nominee for president, and that exact same woman is also the only one who (back in 2008) managed to come close to the nomination before falling short. Consequently, it’s inherently difficult to distinguish the misfortunes Hillary Clinton has faced in presidential politics from the misfortunes women have faced.

What we do know from Jennifer Lawless’s 2016 book surveying women who run for Congress is that on average they do just fine. People who run for office get attacked, of course. And when women get attacked, they tend to get attacked in misogynist terms. But on average, women who obtain major-party nominations for Congress do just as well as men. Women were badly outnumbered in Congress itself not because they performed poorly in elections, but because they were much less likely to run in the first place.

4) Max Boot is so fun to read now:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left.

5) David Leonhardt, “It Isn’t Complicated: Trump Encourages Violence: He doesn’t deserve blame for any specific attack. He does deserve blame for the increase in white-nationalist violence.

To Trump, the incident was part of a larger problem: “You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

This wasn’t the first time Trump had mused about violence, of course. He has talked about “Second Amendment people” preventing the appointment of liberal judges. He’s encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs. He has suggested his supporters “knock the hell” out of hecklers. At a rally shortly before 2018 Election Day, he went on a similar riff about Bikers for Trump and the military.

I’m well aware of the various see-no-evil attempts to excuse this behavior: That’s just how he talks. Don’t take him literally. Other Republicans are keeping him in check. His speeches and tweets don’t really matter.

But they do matter. The president’s continued encouragement of violence — and of white nationalism — is part of the reason that white-nationalist violence is increasing. Funny how that works.

After Trump’s latest threat, I reached out to several experts in democracy and authoritarianism to ask what they made of it. Their answers were consistent: No, the United States does not appear at risk of widespread political violence anytime soon. But Trump’s words are still corroding democracy and public safety.

6) I love that New Zealand is making an effort not to use the name of the mass shooter.  Of course, this NYT story about that names him, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

7) Really enjoyed the Theranos/Elizabeth Holmes documentary on HBO.  I really could not get past her absurdly fake deep voice.  I honestly found myself wondering how so many people were taken in by her.

8) The over-priced insulin so wonderfully/awfully symbolizes the rot in health care policy in America:

This month, Eli Lilly and Company announced with some fanfare that it was manufacturing a generic version of its own best-selling insulin brand, Humalog, which it would sell for half off — $137.35 versus about $275.

David Ricks, the chief executive of Lilly, said the company was making this seemingly beneficent gesture because “many patients are struggling to afford their insulin.”

But they’re struggling, in large part, because since 2001 Lilly has raised the price of a vial of Humalog to about $275, from $35. Other insulin makers have raised prices similarly.

In Germany, the list price of a vial of Humalog is about $55 — or $45 if you buy five at a time — and that includes some taxes and markup fees. Why not just reduce the price in the United States to address said suffering?…

Instead, Lilly decided to come out with a new offering, a so-called authorized generic. This type of product is made by or under an agreement from the brand manufacturer. The medicines are exactly the same as the brand-name drug — often made in the same factory with the same equipment to the same formula. Only the name and the packaging are different.

It is perhaps, a sign of how desperate Americans are for something — anything — to counteract the escalating price of drugs that Lilly’s move was greeted with praise rather than a collective “Huh?”

Imagine if Apple sold a $500 iPhone for $250 if it was called, say, a yPhone, and simply lacked the elaborate white box and the little Apple on back. That would be patently absurd. An iPhone in a brown paper bag is still an iPhone. And Humalog with a new name isn’t a generic — except according to the bizarre logic of the pharmaceutical industry. Like so many parts of our health care system, its existence has more to do with convoluted business arrangements than health.

9) Enterprise Rental Car’s take on a college degree is interesting.  Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Why Thousands of College Grads Start Their Careers at a Rental-Car Company.”

To the company, a college degree matters mostly because it suggests that a candidate has acquired the right mix of skills to succeed in an entry-level job — and to move up the ladder from there. Its hiring philosophy and practices — which have been in place for decades — can tell us something important about what a B.A. truly signals.

But the company doesn’t see higher education the way higher education sees itself. Enterprise doesn’t pay much attention to where prospective trainees went to college, what they studied, or their grades. The company does care, though, that they finished college: Trainees are required to have a bachelor’s degree.

Why? The big benefit of a bachelor’s degree is soft skills, says Marie Artim, Enterprise’s vice president for talent acquisition. She ticks off some of the ones that employers often mention: critical thinking, communication, problem-solving. By earning a degree, she says, college graduates have shown that they can juggle different responsibilities by, say, holding down a job or playing a sport while keeping up with their classes.

Graduates have also demonstrated “cognitive ability,” Artim adds: “the ability to learn, and to take on more responsibility, and to lead or manage others.”

To a critic, the idea that a bachelor’s degree is needed to work the front desk of a car-rental office may sound like credential creep. But Enterprise overwhelmingly promotes from within. Its managers and even executives almost always get their start as trainees. Hiring happens at the entry level, and getting it right is really important.

10) The recycling situation in this country is so depressing now.  I’m still recycling everything at home, but sometimes when I’m out and it would be less convenient to recycle, I think “pretty sure this plastic is ending up in a landfill wherever I put it.” Also, the situation is so bad because Americans are pathetic at properly separating their recycling.

11) I loved Netflix’s “Russian Doll.  Binge it!  But, stuff like this in Todd VanDerwerff’s otherwise vary positive review, get me so frustrated with Vox:

A necessary caveat: One of Russian Doll’s executive producers — the fourth name listed in the closing credits, even — is Dave Becky, who used to be Louis C.K.’s manager and who has apologized for his role in the comedian’s cover-up of his sexual misconduct. Becky is still Poehler’s manager and one of Lyonne’s managers, and his company, 3 Arts Entertainment, is still a major force in TV comedy. This does not dampen my enthusiasm for Russian Doll or Lyonne’s performance in it, and I know Becky’s name appearing in the credits is almost certainly the result of some sort of contractual obligation. (That said, his name has been erased from the fifth and final season of Broad City.) But seeing his name did make my gut churn a bit at the end of every episode. You may feel differently!

No, not a necessary caveat!!  This is a terrific show.  The fact that one of four producers used to be Louis CK’s manager?!  Please.  Also, I still listen to Michael Jackson.  It’s really not complicated art ≠ the artist.

12) I could go for this insect bread in Finland.  Probably a little expensive to have Mika send me some, though :-).

13) Like any good Republican, Nikki Haley is pretty clueless on health care.  When she argued that Americans would not like health care in Finland, damn did she get dunked on by all quarters.

14) I love linguistics.  I had one class in college and this is a subject I always enjoy learning about.  This is pretty wild, “How ‘F’ Sounds Might Break a Fundamental Rule of Linguistics: If farming helped introduce f’s and v’s 12,000 years ago, it would challenge the principle that humans’ language abilities haven’t significantly changed since we first learned to speak.”

At least, that’s according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. The authors argue that sounds like f and v weren’t part of human language until farming appeared during the Neolithic age. Agriculture, they say, allowed humans to eat soft foods, which changed the way their jaws developed throughout life, which shaped the kinds of sounds their mouths were capable of making.

This shift would be an exception to a core rule of linguistics, called the uniformitarian principle, which posits that humans’ ability to use language has not significantly changed since language itself first appeared. “Basically, the uniformitarian principle is necessary to do historical linguistics,” Anthony Yates, a linguist at UCLA, told me. It’s hard to say when exactly humans started speaking, but most estimates place the date at least 50,000 years ago. Agriculture, meanwhile, sprung up during the Neolithic, some 12,000 years ago. The idea that humans weren’t using f’s and v’s for the first 38,000 years of our linguistic history is a striking rebuke to uniformitarianism.

14) Are we in a podcast bubble?  Maybe.  But so many good podcasts out there.

15) This is a great story about the coaches and players trying to make the most of their opportunities playing basketball at my son’s community college, Wake Tech.

16) Pretty sure Zion Williamson is my favorite college basketball player since I was in college.  Watching Duke play last night, I was thinking more than anything I want Duke to go to the final so I can see Zion play in college five more times.  And, of course, like all great players in any sport, it’s not just physical ability, but the mental ability to read the game at a different level:

A screwy thing to consider is that Zion Williamson might be underrated. He might just be a victim of his own clamorous dunks. His appeal to a thrill-seeking general public might have smothered his appeal to hopeless basketball geeks.

“How he reads the game,” his teammate, Duke junior Jack White, said last weekend during the ACC tournament in Charlotte, when Williamson’s reading stood out. In addition to all the things that caused the points to amass, the rebounds to mount and the highlight editors to coo, Williamson left strewn across the floor what people sometimes call “basketball plays.”

In addition to dunks and rebound-dunks and other dunks, Williamson seems to fill the game with little things that alter its course, with taps and alterations and bright ideas about where to turn up. The least he could do for opponents is care a tad less, yet his care seems also outsized, turning up in all the otherworldly ways but also in those both pedestrian and crucial.

17) Nice piece in the NYT on how our clean environments are not so great for our immune systems and the history of the “hygiene hypothesis”:

Our ancestors evolved over millions of years to survive in their environments. For most of human existence, that environment was characterized by extreme challenges, like scarcity of food, or food that could carry disease, as well as unsanitary conditions and unclean water, withering weather, and so on. It was a dangerous environment, a heck of a thing to survive.

At the center of our defenses was our immune system, our most elegant defense. The system is the product of centuries of evolution, as a river stone is shaped by water rushing over it and the tumbles it experiences on its journey downstream.

Late in the process, humans learned to take steps to bolster our defenses, developing all manner of customs and habits to support our survival. In this way, think of the brain — the organ that helps us develop habits and customs — as another facet of the immune system.

We used our collective brains to figure out effective behaviors. We started washing our hands and took care to avoid certain foods that experience showed could be dangerous or deadly. In some cultures, people came to avoid pork, which we now know is highly susceptible to trichinosis; in others, people banned meats, which we later learned may carry toxic loads of E. coli and other bacteria.

Ritual washing is mentioned in Exodus, one of the earliest books in the Bible: “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not.”

Our ideas evolved, but for the most part, the immune system did not. This is not to say that it didn’t change. The immune system responds to our environment. When we encounter various threats, our defenses learn and then are much more able to deal with that threat in the future. In that way, we adapt to our environment.

We survived over tens of thousands of years. Eventually, we washed our hands, swept our floors, cooked our food, avoided certain foods altogether. We improved the hygiene of the animals we raised and slaughtered for food.

Particularly in the wealthier areas of the world, we purified our water, and developed plumbing and waste treatment plants; we isolated and killed bacteria and other germs.

The immune system’s enemies list was attenuated, largely for the good. Now, though, our bodies are proving that they cannot keep up with this change. We have created a mismatch between the immune system — one of the longest surviving and most refined balancing acts in the world — and our environment.

Thanks to all the powerful learning we’ve done as a species, we have minimized the regular interaction not just with parasites but even with friendly bacteria and parasites that helped to teach and hone the immune system — that “trained” it. It doesn’t encounter as many bugs when we are babies. This is not just because our homes are cleaner, but also because our families are smaller (fewer older children are bringing home the germs), our foods and water cleaner, our milk sterilized. Some refer to the lack of interaction with all kinds of microbes we used to meet in nature as the “old friends mechanism.”

What does the immune system do when it’s not properly trained?

It can overreact. It becomes aggrieved by things like dust mites or pollen. It develops what we called allergies, chronic immune system attacks — inflammation — in a way that is counterproductive, irritating, even dangerous.

18) Doris Meissner in the Post, “The real border problem is the U.S. is trying to stop the wrong kind of migrants.”

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens…

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens.

Quick hits (part I)

1) David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht on how Trump appears to have politically energized girls:

While it is too early to tell, we may be witnessing an emerging generation who are primed for political engagement. Just like baby boomers who came of age during the protests of the 1960s and then remained engaged over their lifetimes, today’s Democratic girls may be launched on a lifelong trajectory of political activism.

In short, one lasting consequence of the Trump era may be a cohort of politically active women — not just in Congress but in our communities — whose entree into politics can be attributed not only to inspiration but also to indignation.

2) Great piece from Jon Bernstein, “Talented Democrats Are All Running for President. It’s a Problem.: Beto O’Rourke’s run for the White House could cost Democrats a Senate seat. That wouldn’t happen in other democracies.”

New polls are showing that Democrats might have a real shot at defeating Texas Senator John Cornyn’s reelection bid next year. The problem? They basically have two appealing candidates for the seat – former Representative Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro – and they’re both running for president…

Both Castro and O’Rourke may have calculated that (good polling notwithstanding) they actually have a better shot at the White House than the Senate. After all, the last time a Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican senator in Texas was never. Meanwhile, there’s no powerhouse in the presidential race so far, and both Castro and O’Rourke have plausible cases for the nomination. So while the party would be better off if one of them switched to the Senate race, individually the incentives differ.

More broadly, though, this situation shows what U.S. political parties are up against. It wouldn’t happen in most other democracies. In parliamentary systems, running for the legislature is a precondition to running for prime minister, not an alternative to it. And in most countries, having a talented politician stuck in the wrong constituency isn’t a thing. In legislatures with proportional representation, the best politicians can be placed at the top of the party list and would get seated as long as the party isn’t shut out (it’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the general idea). In some first-past-the-post systems, there’s a much weaker link between residency and constituency (or no link at all). Under British rules and customs, O’Rourke could just run for the far more Democrat-friendly Colorado Senate seat instead of being stuck in his Republican-leaning home state.

3) My daughter’s overly-dramatic best friend (2nd grade) told me all about how scary this Momo thing is.  Scary, that is, to parents who freak out over viral nothingness.

4) Brendan Nyhan: “A Weak President Can Still Be a Dangerous One”

As he has shown, weak presidents can still inflict damage on democracy while in office. In fact, the slow erosion of democratic norms and institutions — not coups or revolutions — is the most common threat to democratic stability in recent decades. (Think of the recent slide toward authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, not the fascism of mid-20th century Europe.) While our institutions have limited the damage Trump has been able to inflict so far, there is strong expert consensus that U.S. democracy has degraded since he took office.

For instance, Trump’s weakness may frustrate his ambitions in the legislative sphere, but he can still erode protections against executive overreach in his use of national emergency powers to try to fund a border wall or undermine government efforts to punish and prevent foreign influence in elections. The powers of the presidency are potentially expansive even in the hands of a weak president, as Daniel Drezner emphasized in the Washington Post.

Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric can still be dangerous even if his worst impulses are checked on policy. Trump has endorsed a long list of authoritarian actions ranging from law enforcement investigations of his political opponents to criminal assault against a journalist. He echoes Stalinist rhetoric in calling the media the “enemy of the people” and spoke favorably of white nationalist protesters. These statements risk normalizing hatred and violence and undermining democratic norms, particularly within Trump’s party, where his influence is greatest. Robin suggests that critics of the authoritarian threat have reversed themselves on the power of presidential words, but as political scientist Emily Thorson points out, the articles he cites actually focus on how Trump could change Republican politics — a threat even if his words fail to produce immediate anti-democratic actions.

5) This NYT science article is really, really interesting, “Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think: From butterflies to chickens to lobsters, mixed male-female bodies offer clues as to why certain diseases strike one sex more often than the other.”

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Scientists say these instances of split-sex animals and insects could offer clues to why some human diseases strike one sex more than the other.

Researchers thought they had figured out the genetics of birds and bees, but gynandromorphs suggest that there is more to learn

6) I find the analytical difficulty in drafting NFL quarterbacks a fascinating subject.  Do does 538, “The NFL Is Drafting Quarterbacks All Wrong.”

7) I like Drum’s “super-abridged Green New Deal”

Outside of war, I can’t think of an example in all of human history where a large polity—let alone the entire world—willingly made significant sacrifices in service of a fuzzy, uncertain hazard that’s decades away. We are overclocked hairless apes who are simply not designed to think that way. Why would anyone deny this?

This, then, circles back to what I was saying a couple of days ago: A climate plan that requires significant sacrifice might work on planet Vulcan, but not on planet Earth. Assuming otherwise is nonserious. We need a plan that will work with only homo sapiens to carry it out, and that means a plan that takes into account human selfishness and shortsightedness. It means a plan that will appeal to China and India and Brazil and the rest of the world. It means a plan that will somehow reduce atmospheric carbon a lot even while most of us sit around fat, dumb, and happy.

The only such plan I can think of is one that increases global R&D spending on climate mitigation by, oh, 10x or so. Maybe 20x if it’s feasible. This money would be spent on developing new sources of clean energy and energy storage; reducing the price of current sources of clean energy; figuring out ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere; and pretty much anything else that seems remotely useful. The fruits of this research would be turned over to the private sector for free, and they would then compete to sell it all over the globe. This would harness human selfishness instead of fighting it. It’s not guaranteed to work, but unlike the GND and similar manifestos, at least it’s not guaranteed to fail.

8) Long-time Democratic politicians could learn a lot from AOC when it comes to how to question a witness at a Congressional hearing.

9) Watched “A Quiet Place” this week.  Really, really enjoyed it.

10) A nice review of the political science on the role of sexism in elections:

How much sexism ultimately influences votes is a matter of debate. In general elections, partisanship beats everything else, said Kathleen Dolan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whose research shows that most voters stick with their party’s candidate regardless of gender.

But there has been little comparable research on primaries, where partisanship isn’t in the equation. And the Democrats will have a wide-open presidential primary in 2020 with multiple leading female candidates.

What is not a matter of debate is the array of ways that sexism can manifest on the campaign trail, affecting not only how voters perceive candidates but how candidates present themselves to voters…

One of the most amorphous qualities candidates are judged on, likability is also deeply influenced by gender bias, researchers say. Voters look for it in men, too — consider the “who would you rather have a beer with” question in campaigns — but only in women, research shows, do they consider it nonnegotiable.

“We know that voters will not support a woman that they do not like, even if they believe that she is qualified,” Ms. Hunter said. “But they will vote for a man that they do not like if they believe he is qualified.”

In 2016, for instance, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump had poor favorability ratings; among voters who said they viewed both candidates negatively, Mr. Trump won by roughly 20 percentage points.

Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded “power-seeking” women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as “ambitious” — an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men. Within 24 hours of Ms. Harris’s campaign kickoff, some critics were bringing up her onetime relationship with a powerful California politician, Willie Brown — a common tactic faced by women that sexualizes them and reduces their successes to a relationship with a man.

And if a narrative of unlikability takes hold, it can influence voters without their even realizing it.

11) Loved this NYT Magazine feature on Michael J. Fox and how he is coping with the increasing challenges of his Parkinson’s.  I had never really thought about before just how young he was when first stricken by the disease.

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