Quick hits

Ummmm, so, if you are not interested in Covid-19 and the political responses, this post just may not be for you.

1) Pretty much every “how we get back to some semblance of normal” relies on very extensive testing.  Alas, this Op-Ed by a respected infectious disease expert throws sand in the gears by saying we’re simply not going to have the amount of necessary reagents to pull that off.  Yet none of the other stuff I read seems to acknowledge this problem.  Don’t know what to think.

2) So, this article on Covid and food safety, by a chef, is honestly pretty much the best thing I’ve read on the disease, period.  Covers food safety wonderfully, but so much more.

3) Wired, “It’s Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work”

4) And this is one of the best articles I’ve read on disease transmission because it looks at studies of how diseases survive out there in the real world, not the lab.

5) Really loved this from Francis Fukuyama on how democracies versus autocracies and trust in the system and response to pandemic.

In the end, I don’t believe that we will be able to reach broad conclusions about whether dictatorships or democracies are better able to survive a pandemic. Democracies such as South Korea and Germany have been relatively successful so far in dealing with the crisis, even if the U.S. is doing less well. What matters in the end is not regime type, but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state. And on this score, America’s deepening tribalism leaves few reasons for optimism.

6) Enough with his “narrow path.”  Bernie still campaigning is not what America needs right now.  Time to face reality, end his campaign, and focus all his energy on helping the fight to get Trump out of office.

7) Meanwhile, the EU and NATO both absolutely, positively need to kick Hungary out.  And, of course, it is absolutely shameful, not surprisingly, that there’s been no condemnation from the Trump administration (surely, Trump is jealous of Orban).

8) I’ve made a few really good investments this year.  A new router, a mesh network extender for said router, and a soundbar for my TV.  And damn I should have done that sooner.

9) Great Wired article on the tremendous progress of Solar power.  We can do this!

GOOD NEWS HAS been rare this past decade, so here’s some: Since 2010, the cost of generating solar electric power has dropped by 80 percent, and gigantic photovoltaic plants, some spanning thousands of acres, are transforming the economics of green energy. “Even from five years ago, it’s a really different story than today,” says Gregory Nemet, an academic who last year published a book called How Solar Energy Became Cheap. “This isn’t just cheap. It’s dirt cheap. In sunny places, it’s the cheapest way humans have ever invented to make electricity.”

If this cost collapse had occurred in a single year, it might have been hailed as the breakthrough of the century. But it happened gradually, and incremental improvements in crystalline silicon manufacturing don’t generate buzz. At the beginning of the 2010s, solar was a science project, accounting for less than 1 percent of the world’s installed power capacity. Now that number is 9 percent and growing fast. More than $1 trillion has been invested in new solar installations in that time. Solar power routinely wins competitive power auctions, with bids as low as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. At that price, a solar plant isn’t just cheaper than a coal plant; it’s cheaper than coal itself. “We’re reaching a phase where it’s cheaper to build a new solar power plant than it is to operate an existing coal one,” says energy investor Ramez Naam.

10) Interactive charts so you can see how your country or state (pretty good, NC) are doing on their Covid curves.

11) I don’t know about only in America under Trump, but, damn if this isn’t just sadly, sadly typical, “Taxpayers Paid Millions to Design a Low-Cost Ventilator for a Pandemic. Instead, the Company Is Selling Versions of It Overseas.”

12) This Ed Yong piece about just how much scientific uncertainty there is on many aspects of Covid transmission is a must-must-read, “Everyone Thinks They’re Right About Masks: How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.”

13) Meanwhile, largely due to the evidence for asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, I’m very inclined to agree with this Op-Ed, “Wearing Masks Must Be a National Policy.”  Also, we need a rapid cultural shift to make that happen.  Scientists at Trump news conferences wearing masks.  PSA’s on proper mask use.  This cannot happen without the proper signals. .

14) Since they are all out, Vox on how to make your own.  And I loved this analysis on which materials make the best homemade masks not just for stopping germs, but for actually letting you breathe while you’re at it.  And Stanford’s mask material analysis if you are into this (obviously, I am).

15) Jamelle Bouie, “The Coronavirus Test Is Too Hard for Trump: The president joins Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan as a leader who failed when it mattered most.”

The list of presidential failures is long and varied. But when it comes to failure in the face of an external force — a natural disaster or an economic meltdown — it is difficult to find anything as catastrophic as President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, even at this early stage of the crisis.

There are moments that come close. There was President James Buchanan’s indifference to the secession crisis of 1860. Other than to give a speech — clarifying his view that secession was an extra-constitutional action — the outgoing president did little but watch as most of the South left the Union in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election.

There was President Herbert Hoover’s response to the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression. He urged calm — “The fundamental business of the country, that is production and distribution of commodities is on a sound and prosperous basis” — encouraged volunteer action and pressured employers to keep wages up. But he wasn’t intellectually or politically equipped to go further — “We cannot legislate ourselves out of a world economic depression, we can and will work ourselves out” — and the country suffered as a result.

I would also include President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina and his handling of the subsequent crisis in New Orleans. His management of the situation — from his initial lack of interest to the abject failure of his disaster response team — produced devastation for thousands of people and marked the effective end of his presidency.

Trump hasn’t just failed to anticipate the way Buchanan did or failed to respond like Hoover or failed to prepare like Bush — he’s done all three. He inherited everything he needed to respond to a pandemic: explicit guidance from the previous administration and a team of experienced experts and intelligence agencies attuned to the threat posed by the quick spread of deadly disease. He even had some sensible advisers who, far from ignoring or making light of the virus, urged him to take it seriously.

The federal government may not have been able to stop coronavirus from reaching the United States — that was impossible to avoid in a globalized, highly-mobile world — but it was well equipped to deal with the problem once it reached our shores.

But as the world knows, Trump ignored, downplayed and dismissed the problem until it became one of the worst crises in our nation’s history.[emphasis mine]

16) Navy Seal convicted of war crimes?  Trump pardons.  Navy captain speaks up to get urgently needed medical care for his crew?  Relieved of command.  Just another day in Trump’s America.

On Monday, Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, sent a letter to the Navy pleading for permission to unload his crew, including scores of sailors sickened with Covid-19, in Guam, where it was docked. The Pentagon had been dragging its feet, and the situation on the ship was growing dire.

“We are not at war,” he wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

After the letter was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Navy relented. But on Thursday, it relieved Captain Crozier of his command.

Captain Crozier joins a growing list of heroic men and women who have risked their careers over the last few weeks to speak out about life-threatening failures to treat the victims of this terrible pandemic. Many of them are doctors and nurses, and many of them, like Captain Crozier, have been punished. All of them deserve our deepest gratitude.

17) CAP with a Covid plan.  This sounds sensible and doable:

Using the Susceptible, Exposed, Infected and Resistant model developed by the University of Toronto, it is possible to project the impact of physical distancing on transmission. If restrictions are lifted on April 30, as proposed by President Trump, the model projects that 41.1 million Americans would become infected by late October, with 4.9 million infected at the peak in mid-July. An estimated 334,500 people would die. It is important to note that this projection assumes aggressive physical distancing—closure of businesses and transportation—which has not been implemented throughout the United States to date.

In order to break transmission through October—new cases would still occur, but at a flat rate—aggressive physical distancing would need to be in place for 45 days starting April 5, according to the model. In this scenario, the model projects that 15.7 million Americans would become infected by late October, with 5.2 million infected at the peak in mid-April. An estimated 139,600 people would die. After the peak in April, the number of new cases would decline and stabilize this summer. In October, transmission would begin to slowly grow again, absent other measures. According to the model, aggressive physical distancing for 60 days would almost completely suppress transmission through November.

18) Putting Jared Kushner in charge of Covid response is just an amazing case of adding insult to injury in Trump’s gross mishandling of everything Covid.  Instead of pouring salt in wounds, it’s like chopping off your leg and throwing it in a salt flat.  Michelle Goldberg:

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

And Paul Waldman, “Trump’s ignorant son-in-law is running the coronavirus response. That’s unacceptable.”

So many awful things have happened over the past three years that we’ve become almost numb to them. But this a moment when our voices should be rising in anger. As if it weren’t bad enough that the president is messing this up so badly himself, he has outsourced management of one of the most deadly challenges the United States has ever faced to his ignorant son-in-law.

Perhaps there is an individual somewhere who is so brilliant, so deeply informed, so experienced, so persuasive, and possessed of such remarkable judgment that he or she would have been capable of solving all those problems Kushner has been assigned. Perhaps there is someone who with zero knowledge of public health or pandemics or government logistics could swoop in and successfully manage this kind of crisis.

It’s at least possible that such a person exists. But Kushner is not that person.

In fact, just like his father-in-law, Kushner is a walking case study in the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people of low ability drastically overestimate their own abilities, in large part because they are incapable of understanding what they don’t know.

Join that with a lifetime of unearned wealth and privilege (Kushner, a mediocre high school student, was accepted to Harvard after his father pledged to the university a well-timed $2.5 million donation), and you wind up with someone who is supremely and unjustifiably confident, moving through a world in which nobody ever tells them how badly they’ve messed up or how incompetent they are.

19) Nancy LeTourneau asks, “Is It Possible to Overstate Trump’s Depravity?”  Obviously, you know the answer to that.

It is infuriating to watch political reporters get sucked into the nonsense delivered by this president over and over again. But David Roberts recently described why that happens.

Ask someone who’s been in an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist. One reason they’re able to maintain appearances/jobs/etc. is that they are relatively rare & unusual & the normal people around them simply can’t absorb that they are what they are…They try again and again, thinking there must be normal human intentions & emotions in there somewhere. It’s just remarkable how far someone w/out shame or conscience can get by exploiting this cognitive/emotional blindspot.

When Roberts writes about how we keep trying to see normal human intentions and emotions in someone who has never exhibited them before, it is because projection isn’t merely a matter of assuming that others are capable of our worst instincts. In general, we tend to project all of our responses onto others in an attempt to understand their actions. Since most of us aren’t malignant narcissists, it is difficult for us to grasp the levels of depravity exhibited by those who are. Normalizing Trump’s behavior is simply another form of projection.

Over the last three years I have consistently questioned whether I have gone overboard in assuming the worst about Donald Trump. But while it is never a good idea to lock oneself into any line of thinking, I doubt that it is possible to overstate this president’s depravity.

20) New Yorker’s Susan Glasser with a great take:

When you are done being angry about all the crazy, nasty, inconsistent, and untrue things that Donald Trump says each day about the coronavirus and other matters, remember that the flood of words is cover for an Administration that in some ways barely exists relative to its predecessors, especially when it comes to crucial areas of domestic, economic, and international security—or even straightforward crisis management. Turnover at the upper levels of Trump’s White House stands at eighty-three per cent, according to a Brookings Institution tracker. In his Cabinet, Trump has had far more turnover than Presidents Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and both George Bushes. The capacity of the federal government to respond to this catastrophe—even if Trump had been so inclined—has never been weaker. The virus was not of Trump’s making, but his government’s incoherent, disorganized response to it was utterly predictable.

On March 6th, Trump fired his acting White House chief of staff. Amid the extraordinary headlines of the world’s largest economy shutting down and the mass closure of U.S. schools and businesses, little attention was paid to the ouster of Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s appointment of a combative North Carolina congressman, the Republican Mark Meadows, as his successor. Even more remarkably, it was only this week, nearly a month later, that Meadows officially resigned from Congress and started in the White House, which he was required to do in order to avoid the constitutional prohibition on serving simultaneously in the executive and legislative branches. Trump, facing the gravest test a President can face, was literally without anyone to run his perpetually dysfunctional and faction-ridden White House.

Meadows is just the sort of political opportunist and cable-TV talking head to have been pulled into the President’s gravitational orbit—a former small-time real-estate developer in North Carolina’s Highlands with none of the executive experience or leadership credentials needed in this sort of crisis…

This is the case across the government. Amid the pandemic upending the world, Trump has no Senate-confirmed director of National Intelligence, having pushed aside both the director and the subsequent acting director for perceived disloyalty. After the captain of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, sent a memo pleading for relief for the hundreds of sailors facing a spreading covid-19 outbreak on his ship, he was relieved of his command by the acting secretary of the Navy. The previous Navy secretary had been pushed out by Trump in November, after he objected when the President intervened in a war-crimes case involving a Navy seal and two other service members. Elsewhere at the Pentagon, the undersecretary in charge of policy planning for the military was recently fired, with no replacement in sight—a key vacancy at a moment when the global health crisis seems to suggest an urgent rethinking of America’s entire national-security strategy.

As far as the White House staff, much has already been made of Trump’s downgrading of the pandemic-response team at the National Security Council. But even where positions are filled, as in many of the top government jobs related to health, the problem is not so much endemic vacancy but “feebleness, cluelessness, disempowerment,” as Stephen Morrison, the head of global health programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, put it to me.

If you had literally created a plan to hollow out government so that it would fail us in a crisis, you could hardly have done much better than Trump.  And thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans will die and suffer in many, many other ways because Americans elected this grossly incompetent, malignant narcissist.  And because the Republican party failed to stand up to him and remove him for the obvious good of the country when they had the chance.  

Okay, on that happy note…

Quick hits (part I)

The world is falling apart and here I am writing a blog post edition.  Also, taking time out of my 6 hours a day of obsessively reading about Covid-19 to write a post.

1) Julia Belluz wrote this two years ago, “Trump vs. “disease X”
The administration is setting up the US to botch a pandemic response.”

2) Michael Tesler, “3 ways the coronavirus could end Trump’s presidency.”  The economy, the incompetence, the focus on health care.  I suspect all three will play a role.

3) Really good discussion on closing schools and public health.  The balance of evidence suggests its the right call.  But there are some reasonable dissenting voices.  Meanwhile, my school system which has been known to shut down (on multiple occassions) for 30mph wind is choosing not to.  Surprising.  Interesting explanation (their take is that unless you are willing to commit to 8 weeks–yikes!!– it’s not worth doing).

4) Jedidiah Purdy on social solidarity:

pandemic makes the slogan of solidarity literal: an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s why a pandemic also heightens the frantic wish to withdraw oneself from the web of interdependence and ride it out alone.

The new coronavirus makes vivid the logic of a world that combines a material reality of intense interdependence with moral and political systems that leave people to look out for themselves. Because we are linked — at work, on the bus and subway, at school, at the grocery store, with the Fresh Direct delivery system — we are contagious, and vulnerable. Because we are morally isolated, told to look out for ourselves and our own, we are becoming survivalists house by house, apartment by apartment, stocking enough that’s canned and frozen, grabbing enough cold meds and disinfectant, to cut ties and go out on our own.

The scramble reveals a class system in which a mark of relative status is the power to withdraw. If you have wealth or a salary from an institution that values you, and enough space at home, you might be able to pull off the essentially absurd trick of isolating yourself for a few months by drawing down the global web of commodities on display at Costco and Trader Joe’s. But for the 50 percent of the country that has no savings and lives paycheck to paycheck, or in small apartments with little food storage, or has to hustle every day to find work, this is simply impossible. People will be out every day, on the subways, at the gas stations, choosing between epidemiological prudence and economic survival, because they have no choice but to make that choice.

And as long as this is true — as long as many of us are out there every day, mixing it up to get by — there is reason to think very few of us will be safe. Extrapolating from the little we know about the virus, the number of carriers will continue to grow. As long as our moral and political isolation drives us back into the marketplace, our material interdependence makes nearly everyone vulnerable.

“Wash your hands” is good advice but also a poignant reminder that this is not the sort of problem that personal responsibility can solve. Epidemiology is a political problem. It’s not hard to sketch the steps that would ease our cruel situation: a work stoppage, massive income support (unemployment payments with some universal basic income in the mix), a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions. Treatment for coronavirus and potentially related symptoms should be free and comprehensive, no questions asked (about immigration status, for instance), so that no one goes untreated because of fear or poverty. This is all, in the most straightforward sense, good for everyone. It is also how people look out for one another’s vulnerability and need when they see one another’s problems as their own.

5) Georgia’s oh-so-wrong efforts to remove eligible voters from their rolls.  I’m sure this was not at all intended for partisan political gain ;-).

6) Josh Barro with a succinct, yet comprehensive look at how the pandemic in America is likely to get worse.

7) Good and important stuff from Catherine Rampell, “Officials have spent the last few years dismantling anti-recession measures”

8) And, oh yeah, there’s still regular electoral politics.  David Leonhardt,

The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.

It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.

You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.

Immigration? Most Americans want more of it. Abortion? This is a pro-choice country. Fracking? People now understand its downsides. Strict gun control? Affirmative action? A wealth tax? Free college? Medicare for all? Widely available marijuana? Americans want it all, activists claim.

This belief helps explain why so many 2020 candidates hoping to win the progressive vote — including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — embraced ideas like a ban on fracking and the decriminalization of the border. The left persuaded itself that those policies were both morally righteous and politically savvy. To reject any one of them was to risk being labeled a neoliberal sellout.

The thing is, progressive activists are right about public opinion on some of these issues. Most Americans do favor higher taxes on the rich, marijuana legalization and additional gun control. But too many progressives aren’t doing an honest analysis of the politics. They are instead committing what the journalist Matthew Yglesias has called “the pundit fallacy.” They are conflating their own opinions with smart political advice. They are choosing to believe what they want to believe.

They often do so by pointing to polls with favorably worded, intricate questions — and by ignoring evidence to the contrary. Affirmative action, for example, typically loses ballot initiatives. Polls show that most Americans favor some abortion restrictions and oppose the elimination of private health insurance.

By designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists, progressives have done a favor to their political opponents. They have refused to make tactical retreats, which is why they keep losing.

9) I loved this cartoon.  That is all.Image may contain Advertisement Poster Brochure Paper and Flyer

10) Even after researching it, it still seems crazy to me that, even in a pandemic, we have to wait a year for a vaccine.  I get that testing is important, and time-consuming, but can’t it be expedited more during a crisis?  Do people actually suffer serious harm from ineffective vaccines?

11) So loved the final season of Bojack Horseman.  Really liked this take that doesn’t give away too much.

How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? You stay true to your core cast of characters, treating them like flesh-and-blood (horse)people who just happened to live in a heightened world. You follow their stories so far to their logical conclusions, with no more hyperbole than can be found in the real world and without giving into either sympathetic schmaltz or nihilistic cynicism. You find a middle ground, a milestone that ties off the story and acts as a pause before it carries itself forward on its own momentum somewhere off the screen. That is the only way BoJack Horseman–perhaps the greatest animated drama series ever created–could have ended, and that’s exactly the way it does.

12) “GPS Tracking Shows How Much Wolf Packs Avoid Each Other’s Range” (thanks EMG)

wolf pack ranges

13) Well, this may be my last sports link for a while 😦  Very cool analytical analysis of what it takes to score goals at the highest level of soccer.  (Probably not a lot of lessons for my 9-year old girls Rec team).  “Be Quick, Press High, Cut Back: How to Score in the Champions League”

14) Seems that “stand your ground” laws are designed for white men to shoot non-white guys.  Okay, that’s probably not quite fair.  But for women suffering abuse– maybe not so much.  Really disturbing story in the New Yorker earlier this year.  And the follow-up is not encouraging.

Quick hits (part I)

Happy Leap Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) We have a monopoly problem in this country.  Capitalism only works right when government properly sets the rules off the game.  That ain’t happening.  Vox, “America’s monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill”

There’s little denying that since the 1970s, the way antitrust has been approached in the United States has led to a landscape where a smaller number of big players dominate the economy. Incumbents — companies that already exist — are growing their market shares and becoming more stable, and they’re getting harder and harder to compete with. That has affected consumers, communities, competitors, and workers in a variety of ways.

Proponents of the laissez-faire, free market thinking of recent decades will say that the markets have basically worked themselves out — if an entity grows big enough to be a mega-corporation, it deserves its status, and just a handful of players in a given space is enough to keep prices down and everyone happy. A growing group of vocal critics of various political stripes, however, are increasingly warning that we’ve gone too far. Growth and success at the top often doesn’t translate to success for everyone, and there’s an argument to be made that strong antitrust policies and other measures that curb concentration, combined with government investments that target job-creating technology, could spur redistribution and potentially boost the economy for more people overall.

If two pharmaceutical companies make a patent-protected drug and then raise their prices in tandem, what does that mean for patients? When two cellphone companies talk about efficiencies in their merger, what does that mean for their workers, and how long does their subsequent promise not to raise prices for consumers actually last? And honestly, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to delete Facebook if there was another, equally attractive social media platform out there besides Facebook-owned Instagram?

We should be asking the government and corporate America how we got here. Instead, we just keep handing over our money.

2) Gotta say I’m getting pretty damn intrigued by the 16-hour intermittent fasting.  Should not be that hard for me to give up breakfast and eat between 11:30a, and 7:30pm.  But, I love my breakfast and it’s so healthy (Go Lean cereal, fresh raspberries, fresh blueberries, a little soymilk).

3) How is Charles Murray writing pseudo-intellectual stuff about race still a thing?!  Oh, this is how:

Outrage has been good to Charles Murray. Far from being the victim of “a modern witch burning,” as the neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has described him, Murray has been able to cloak himself in the mantle of the embattled intellectual, the purveyor of forbidden knowledge, while comfortably ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential think tank, for three decades. His previous book, “Coming Apart,” which examined a balkanized America through the lens not of I.Q. but “cultural differences” between wealthy and poor white Americans, was warmly received. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important,” David Brooks wrote in his column in this newspaper. The violent actions of protesters when Murray appeared at Middlebury College in 2017 were widely deplored.

With “Human Diversity,” Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered “The Bell Curve” — which sold 400,000 copies in its first two months after publication — although more cautiously; “Human Diversity” is thick with reassurances to the reader, and caveats that individuals ought to be judged on their own merits. “I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia,” he writes, hastening to add that “the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down.”

4) No, I don’t tire of pieces on William Barr’s awfulness:

This entire weaponization of DOJ investigations, prosecutions, and sentences to punish perceived enemies and to reward loyal factotums is a threat to the rule of law in America. Every judge and every lawyer in the country understands this intuitively. Despite Barr’s insistence, the ominous fault line isn’t between the president’s tweeted threats at the sentencing judge in the Stone trial and his silence. The real fault line is between what has happened, in the aggregate, on Barr’s cheerful watch—the Department of Justice has become another corner of the government that protects not the rule of law but this president, and not just this specific president, but this specific kind of president, the kind who believes himself immune to legal accountability…

The only remaining question is what to do about it, and specifically what lawyers, judges, and law students, all of whom know in their bones what is happening, should do about it. If ever there were a time for the American legal profession to put down its yellow pads and stand up for the rule of law, it’s today, en masse, and without waiting for someone, more senior, somewhere, to lead the way. The catastrophe unfolding at the DOJ transcends Barr and his TV spat with Trump. We are watching what happens when the law is warped to please a man who believes himself to actually be the law, and what happens when his enabler agrees with that project, and disagrees only on appearances.

5) The gender pronoun controversy on the Harvard campus.  One of those interesting areas where the reliably liberal readership of the NYT lets you know in comments that it’s not that liberal (and, yes, I’m a typical NYT reader in that regard).

6) Speaking of which, I’m totally good with NCSU having women’s history month.  As for womxn’s herstory month— oh please!!  This so does not help the cause of women’s rights.

7) Yes, hospital patients would be so much happier if we didn’t make all patients wear the hospital gown even in the cases where it clearly is not needed.

8) How “left digit bias” causes medical errors:

In a new study of physician treatment decisions, published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, we document signs of left-digit bias. This is the bias that explains why many goods are priced at $4.99 instead of $5, as consumers’ minds round down to the left-most digit of $4.

We hypothesized that doctors may be overly sensitive to the left-most digit of a patient’s age when recommending treatment, and indeed, in cardiac surgery they appear to be. When comparing patients who had a heart attack in the weeks leading up to their 80th birthdays with those who’d recently had an 80th birthday, we found that physicians were significantly less likely to perform a coronary artery bypass surgery for the “older” patients. The doctors might have perceived them to be “in their 80s” rather than “in their 70s.” This behavior seems to have translated into meaningful differences for patients. The slightly younger patients, more likely to undergo surgery, were less likely to die within 30 days.

Our study confirms previous work that found doctors are overly responsive to patient age when diagnosing illness, and that showed how seemingly irrelevant factors‚ such as the difference of a few weeks of age, could govern physicians’ decisions about treatment, with potentially life-altering consequences for patients.

Left-digit bias could affect many clinical decisions. For example, patients with hemoglobin levels of 9.9 grams per deciliter may be perceived as being substantially more anemic than patients with hemoglobin levels of 10.0 grams per deciliter (the difference in the two values has no clinical significance).

9) So many prosecutors are just the worst.  The idea that we can prosecute ourselves out of the opioid crisis is not only wrong, but morally disgusting.  The latest, “Naloxone Now Used as Evidence to Prosecute Indiana OD Victims”

10) There’s just so much damn awfulness every week that we are absolutely inured to it.  Any other president, the pardons would be an ongoing scandal.  Alas, now they’re just Tuesday.  NYT, “The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections: The process bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution.”

11) This interactive graphic on how various diseases, including COVID-19 spread, is very, very cool.

12) Austan Goolsbee with the case that it’s not just the internet killing shopping malls:

Collectively, three major economic forces have had an even bigger impact on brick-and-mortar retail than the internet has.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Big Box Stores: In the United States and elsewhere, we have changed where we shop — away from smaller stores like those in malls and toward stand-alone “Big Box” stores. Four years ago, the economists Chad Syverson and Ali Hortacsu at the University of Chicago analyzed the recent history of retail and found that the rise of warehouse clubs and supercenters was bigger than the rise of online commerce.

    They gave this telling example: Over the 14 years through 2013, Amazon added $38 billion in sales while Costco added $50 billion and the Sam’s Club division of Walmart $32 billion. Amazon had the higher growth rate, but the bigger problem for most brick-and-mortar stores was other, largerbrick-and-mortarstores. This continued in 2019.

  • Income Inequality: Rising income inequality has left less of the nation’s money in the hands of the middle class, and the traditional retail stores that cater to them have suffered. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 1970, the share of the nation’s income earned by families in the middle class has fallen from almost two-thirds to around 40 percent. Small wonder, then, that retailers aiming at the ends of the income distribution — high-income people and lower-income people — have accounted for virtually all the revenue growth in retail while stores aimed at the middle have barely grown at all, according to a report by Deloitte.

    As the concentration of income at the top rises, overall retail suffers simply because high-income people save a much larger share of their money. The government reports spending for different income levels in the official Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the latest data, people in the top 10 percent of income saved almost a third of their income after taxes. People in the middle of the income distribution spent 100 percent of their income. So as the middle class has been squeezed and more has gone to the top, it has meant higher saving rates overall.

  • Services Instead of Things: With every passing decade, Americans have spent proportionately less of income on things and more on services. Stores, malls, and even the mightiest online merchants remain the great sellers of things. Since 1960, we went from spending 5 percent of our income on health to almost 18 percent, government statistics show. We spend more on education, entertainment, business services and all sorts of other products that aren’t sold in traditional retail stores.

    That trend has continued for a long time. The federal government’s Current Expenditure Survey goes back more than a century. In 1920, Americans spent more than half their income on food (38 percent) and clothing (17 percent) and almost all of that was through traditional retail stores. Today, food eaten outside the home and in it accounts for 10 percent of spending and clothing just 2.4 percent.

    Economists debate theories of why we have shifted to services and away from goods but no one questions that it has happened. It means that over time, retailers selling things will have to run harder and harder just to stay in place.

In short, the broad forces hitting retail are more a lesson in economics than in the power of disruptive technology. It’s a lesson all retailers will have to learn someday — even the mighty Amazon.

13) How in the world in 2020 America are we still allowing pelvic exams on unconscious, non-consenting patients in the name of medical training?!

14) Speaking of dumb and evil prosecutors (and, yes, there’s plenty of good ones, but the bad ones do so much harm), this kind of thing is just evil and infuriating:

In October, he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder. He’d maintained his innocence from the start, and his departure should have been a joyous moment. Lawyers working on his case had discovered fingerprint evidence previously concealed by prosecutors that pointed to a wrongful conviction.

Yet Brooks, now 62, didn’t walk out of Angola an innocent man. To secure his freedom, he had to “make a deal with the devil.” Rather than languish even longer as he tried to clear his name, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, forfeiting his right to sue, in exchange for immediate release.

“I cried at night in Angola,” confesses Brooks, sitting on his couch next to a pillow with “Blessed” stitched on its front. “I ain’t never thought I was going to get out. So I took the deal. It ain’t right, but that’s the way of the world. It’s a crooked world like that.”

Across the country, the number of exonerations has risen sharply since 2000, especially for homicide cases. The increase is partly attributed to a shift in attitude among some local prosecutors, who have created specialized divisions to review questionable convictions. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner freed 12 wrongfully imprisoned people in his first two years in office. In Baltimore, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the state’s attorney’s office pursued a decades-old case that last November resulted in the exoneration of three men. Each was a teenager when he went to prison.

Other prosecutors still push back, however, even when evidence overwhelmingly supports exoneration. According to Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University, money is the most common reason. Wrongful convictions, especially those involving prosecutorial misconduct, often lead to multimillion-dollar lawsuits. If a prosecutor can persuade the incarcerated person to plead guilty in exchange for freedom, the risk of a costly settlement goes away.

15) How are we still fighting about phonics?!  It just works better than anything else for most kids.

16) Drum on Bloomberg and NYC crime:

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:

This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:

  1. Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
  2. Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
  3. Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
  4. Did Bill de Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?

Here are the answers:

  1. Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
  2. No. Nothing special happened to the crime rate when Giuliani took over. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he became mayor and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
  3. No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
  4. No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.

17) Really like this on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to capitalism.  Sounds pretty much like I’ve long thought about it without realizing it had a nice theory behind it.  Damn, I wish she were going to be the nominee: “Socialists Will Never Understand Elizabeth Warren: The Democratic candidate is part of a long intellectual tradition that’s gone forgotten in the West: pro-market leftism.”

Warren’s politics are so confusing because we have forgotten that a pro-capitalist left is even possible. For a long time, political debate in the United States has been a fight between conservatives and libertarians on the right, who favored the market, and socialists and liberals on the left, who favored the government…

Warren is reviving a pro-market left that has been neglected for decades, by drawing on a surprising resource: public choice economics. This economic theory is reviled by many on the left, who have claimed that it is a Koch-funded intellectual conspiracy designed to destroy democracy. Yet there is a left version of public choice economics too, associated with thinkers such as the late Mancur Olson. Like Olson, Warren is not a socialist but a left-wing capitalist, who wants to use public choice ideas to cleanse both markets and the state of their corruption…

Now, Warren wants to to wash away the filth that has built up over decades to clog the workings of American capitalism. Financial rules that have been designed by lobbyists need to be torn up. Vast inequalities of wealth, which provide the rich with disproportionate political and economic power, need to be reversed. Intellectual property rules, which make it so that farmers no longer really own the seeds they sow or the machinery they use to plant them, need to be abolished. For Warren, the problem with modern American capitalism is that it is not nearly capitalist enough. It has been captured by special interests, which are strangling competition…

Yet this is a distinctly capitalist variety of radicalism. Socialists will inevitably be disappointed in the limits to her arguments. Warren’s ideal is markets that work as they should, in contrast to the socialist belief that some forms of power are inherent within markets themselves. Not only Marxists, but economists such as Thomas Piketty, have suggested that the market system is rigged in ways that will inevitably favor capital over the long run. The fixes that Warren proposes will at most dampen down these tendencies rather than remove them.

 

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) David Frum on the truly execrable William Barr:

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

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

Adam Serwer: The dangerous ideas of Bill Barr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you should crush your child’s college dreams

I’ve been meaning to reference this great Slate article, “I Killed My Teenager’s Fancy College Dreams. You Should, Too” for a while, but since my oldest submitted his transfer application to NC State today, this seemed like the right time :-).  Melody Warnick:

According to a Sallie Mae survey, 70 percent of parents say that, even though they’re worried about paying for their kids’ college, they’re not limiting their children’s college choices based on price. One friend recently told me that her son has his heart set on a pricey out-of-state engineering program, despite the fact that a fantastic engineering program exists at the public university in our town. “It’s a reach school, but if he gets in he’ll probably go there—and I guess deal with a lot of student loan debt afterward,” she said with a laugh.

Why are we parents so loath to set financial limits on our kids’ college ambitions? Maybe because it seems crass to bring money into their reach-for-the-stars dreams. Maybe because we cling to the hope of generous scholarships and lavish financial aid packages that will make our money worries moot. Maybe because we deeply believe the destiny of smart teenagers is to attend their dream school, and ours is to finance it. To do otherwise is to fail at middle-class parenting…

I’ve continued my scared-straight campaign ever since, periodically texting Ella links to articles about twentysomethings with $100,000 in debt, describing how massive student loans would hamstring her future. While there may be a few good reasons to opt for a fancy college and suck up the student loan debt (you need a really specific program, for instance, or statistics show you’ll earn far more money after you graduate), those didn’t apply to Ella’s situation. “If you want to be an artist and you graduate with a ton of student loan debt, you can’t afford to be an artist, anymore,” I told her, explaining that you become a creatively stymied wage slave instead.

To give my daughter a hard no on something she really, really wants—and that I in theory want for her!—makes me feel like a monster. While other parents cheerfully promise that “if you get in, we’ll figure out the money part,” I’m over here sounding a Greek chorus of caution and lament. Sometimes I long to just say yes. Saying yes feels good. Yes makes people happy.

On the other hand, saying no is part of my job as a parent. Hasn’t it been my role all along to steer my kid toward smarter but seemingly less desirable choices? Carrots instead of Kit Kats, an early bedtime instead of an all-night YouTube binge? Children naturally hate those kinds of limits. They may temporarily hate us. But they’re too young and myopic to see how this one decision could make their lives harder for a long, long time…

I’ve continued my scared-straight campaign ever since, periodically texting Ella links to articles about twentysomethings with $100,000 in debt, describing how massive student loans would hamstring her future…

Her applications are in, and she won’t know what happens for a while. Just one thing is certain: When Ella graduates, her future will be her own. For that, it’s worth keeping a short leash on her present.

It’s not for everybody, but damn have we saved a ton by my son getting his first two years at community college.  And, since I talk extensively with him about his courses, I know that he’s generally getting a quality education for a fraction of the cost of two years of an in-state, four-year college.  But, even if he had wanted to spend all four years at State (or another in-state school), I strongly believe this is the way to go.

Having been educated at Duke, I can say it was an amazing education.  But is it really worth almost four times as much (total cost of attendance) as NC State?  Hell, no.  My take has long been that an “elite” education may be worthy, maybe 1.5-2.0 times as much (in some vague, “worth” metric), but the actual costs tend to be at least 3x-4x of a good state school, and no way is it that much a more valuable education.  And, you can get an amazing education at a good state school, you just need to be more proactive about it than you are at an elite university.  And, while so many people think there’s a big financial boost from attending an elite university, if your kid is white and middle class, that’s just not the case.

As a parent, this is easy for me with no dream-crushing.  My son’s highest ambition has always been NC State.  And it’s early for my youngest, two, but they are both convinced they want to go to State and enjoy riling their parents by being vocally anti-Duke.  But, if one of them changes their mind and wants that elite, super-expensive college education, some dreams are going to be crushed.

Should we cancel student debt?

No.

Elizabeth Warren was in the news this week saying not only should we cancel student debt, we should do it by executive fiat.  Hmmmm.

First, as to cancelling student debt.  Not-exactly-the-Heritage-Foundation, but Brookings’ Adam Looney released an analysis on this last year on why this should be  problem for liberals:

Despite her best intentions and her description of the plan as progressive, a quick analysis finds the Warren proposal to be regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties. As I show below, the top 20 percent of households receive about 27 percent of all annual savings, and the top 40 percent about 66 percent. The bottom 20 percent of borrowers by income get only 4 percent of the savings. Borrowers with advanced degrees represent 27 percent of borrowers, but would claim 37 percent of the annual benefit. [emphases mine]

It’s unclear in the proposal where our education system would go next if this proposal were adopted. While Senator Warren’s proposal offers “free college” at public institutions (another regressive element given 35 percent of public college students are from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution), millions of students will continue to borrow to attend private institutions, graduate and professional schools, and to cover living expenses while enrolled.[1] How can we sustain a system with open-ended borrowing and broadly available loan forgiveness?

The simple fact is that it’s hard to design a progressive and coherent loan relief policy. In one way, it’s like the subprime crisis: too many borrowers were fooled (or fooled themselves) into taking out speculative loans that were impossible to repay. But the vast majority of prime borrowers were responsible, made conservative choices, and continued to pay their loan obligations. We struggled then to differentiate the deserving from undeserving, responsible from irresponsible, and with the potential costs of widespread write-downs.

Debt relief for student loan borrowers, of course, only benefits those who have gone to college, and those who have gone to college generally fare much better in our economy than those who don’t. So any student-loan debt relief proposal needs first to confront a simple question: Why are those who went to college more deserving of aid than those who didn’t? More than 90 percent of children from the highest-income families have attended college by age 22 versus 35 percent from the lowest-income families.

As for the executive fiat part, Drum:

This is getting out of hand. When President Obama signed the DACA executive order, which defers deportation for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, he did so under the theory that immigration law gave an unusual amount of latitude to the executive branch. That was questionable, and it will eventually be decided by the courts, but at least it was a theory. Conversely, the notion that the executive can simply choose not to collect debt seems no more plausible than Donald Trump’s notion that he can withhold aid to Ukraine just because he feels like it.

For starters, no, this isn’t “just the same thing” as prosecutorial discretion. That’s a longstanding prerogative at all levels of government. Unilaterally canceling debt isn’t.

And while the power to create debt may include the power to cancel it, that’s not at issue here. The question is who gets to cancel it. Congress certainly can, but there’s no reason to think that the president can do it without clear statutory authority.

Finally, how far do we want to take this? Can President Trump eliminate the corporate income tax by simply directing the IRS not to collect it? Could President Sanders hand out loans to renewable energy companies and then turn them into outright grants by deciding not to collect them? Once we go down this road, there’s no telling where it stops.

Congress has the power to delegate broad authority to executive branch agencies, but while that power may be broad, it’s not infinite. It depends largely on the wording of the enabling statute. So the key question is the one at the end of the excerpt above: did Congress intend to give the education secretary power to cancel vast swaths of student debt unilaterally? I think we all know the answer to that.

Ugh.  As you know, I like Warren.  In large part because she is typically so thoughtful about public policy.  In a great Gist segment, I think Mike Pesca got to what really bothered me:

Elizabeth Warren’s brand has been I have a plan for that, but I always took the unstated premise to be I have a researched, considered, possibly tried and tested plan for that. This plan is not any of those things, not even much of a plan. It’s a salvo in a seemingly desperate one at that.

As for what policy steps to actually take?  Adam Looney is on that, too.

What really frustrates me as that I know Elizabeth Warren is too smart to truly think this is a good idea.  Or, if she has somehow motivated reasoned herself into thinking it is, I’ve got to question her judgment.  Now, I still think there’s an excellent case to be made for Warren as president and I would enthusiastically support her in the general election.  But, as for the best choice among the Democratic contenders, I really don’t know.  I want Booker back!

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