Quick hits

Sorry this is really late and that I’ve been such a bad blogger, but somebody has got to make sure that the AP American Government test scores reflect college-level learning.

1) Sure I’m a feminist, but I also believe in (appropriately-regulated) markets and markets simply value mediocre male athletes (the US Men’s soccer team) more than amazing female athletes (the US Women’s soccer team).  So, I’m not a big fan of the pay equity campaign (the men’s poor international performance brings in way more dollars to US Soccer than the women’s terrific international performance.  But Sally Jenkins raises some good economic arguments (though I’m not entirely convinced):

I also don’t want to hear another word about the bigger size of revenue in the men’s World Cup. You think American networks and corporations are paying large rights fees and sponsorship deals for a USA men’s team that couldn’t even qualify for the World Cup field and hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1904? You think Fox and ESPN got into a bidding war for the English language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups all for a men’s squad that gets whipped by Venezuela?…

You think Nike committed $120 million to U.S. Soccer back in 1997 because of a men’s team that finished 10th in the Atlanta Olympics with a 1-1-1 record? Or do you think the company’s interest had something to do, just maybe, with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers commanding an audience of 90,000 at the Rose Bowl and 40 million on TV?

2) A lot more research needs to be done, but pretty interesting that the negative health consequences of ultra-processed foods may be through the impact on the microbiome.

3) Really enjoyed Hans Noel’s book review essay on making sense of all the recent, excellent, research on partisanship and ideology.

Recent debates over partisan polarization in the mass public have foundered on differing conceptions not only of ideology but of polarization. There are at least five things that could be thought of as polarization on a variable like ideology. People could be (1) further apart on some continuum or (2) more likely to be at the extremes of that continuum. (3) That continuum might more accurately separate people of different groups, say party identifiers. (4) There might be increased constraint across many items.1 (5) And people on either half of the continuum might be more likely to dislike the people on the other half.

Kinder and Kalmoe test for the first two conceptions in the ideological identity variable. Like with most work on this subject, they do not find much. But it is types 3, 4, and especially 5 that the other three books highlight. This last, affective polarization, or increased tribalism, is really central to the insights of all three arguments.

Once we start to distinguish operational from symbolic ideology, the meanings of these notions of polarization change. On an operational measure, being further apart implies more extreme policy positions, and increased constraint implies a more meaningful ideological measure. But symbolically, increased distance means at most that more people are embracing the terms.

Meanwhile, for the operational measure, it might be interesting to find affective polarization. That would imply an increased intolerance of those who simply disagree with us. But that is not what these books find. They find that it is identity and worldviews and ways of thinking that drive intolerance, not mere disagreement.

4) OMG these incels are nuts.  The really disturbing story of one who shot up a Florida yoga studio.  Of course, only in America do these people have such easy access to guns.

5) There’s lots of good reasons that electric buses have not taken over the world:

If you want to buy an electric bus, you need to buy into an entire electric bus system. The vehicle is just the start.

The number one thing people seem to forget about electric buses is that they need to get charged. “We talk to many different organizations that get so fixated on the vehicles,” says Camron Gorguinpour, the global senior manager for the electric vehicles at the World Resources Institute, a research organization, which last month released twin reports on electric bus adoption. “The actual charging stations get lost in the mix.”

But charging stations are expensive—about $50,000 for your standard depot-based one. On-route charging stations, an appealing option for longer bus routes, can be two or three times that. And that’s not even counting construction costs. Or the cost of new land: In densely packed urban centers, movements inside bus depots can be tightly orchestrated to accommodate parking and fueling. New electric bus infrastructure means rethinking limited space. And it’s a particular pain when agencies are transitioning between diesel and electric buses. “The big issue is just maintaining two sets of fueling infrastructure,” says Hanjiro Ambrose, a doctoral student at UC Davis who studies transportation technology and policy.

6) Always had a particular fascination with pro-life Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, as I knew him back when he was a political science graduate student.

Her congressman is Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in the House. He has voted to defund health clinics that offer abortion services, and to ban abortions at 20 weeks. He opposed the Affordable Care Act and its mandate that employers cover birth control. He speaks at the annual March for Life and attends fundraisers for anti-abortion groups

This will be one of the most competitive Democratic primaries in 2020. And already, Newman is encountering some roadblocks. Though the district leans heavily Democratic, the national party has erected rules to protect incumbents like Lipinski. Newman says she can’t find a pollster who will work for her. Four political consultants have left her campaign because of a policy, made public in April, that the official campaign arm for House Democrats won’t do business with political vendors — like direct mail companies or political consultants — that also work for candidates challenging incumbent Democrats. Party superstars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez oppose the rule; she also managed to topple an incumbent in a primary challenge. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee isn’t budging.

7) Seem crazy that there are still people out there who would argue that IQ is actually tied to melanin levels in skin rather than the dramatic environmental differences in the lives of white and Black people.  But, Drum is on the case.  Here’s his summary:

I hope this makes sense. You can draw your own conclusions, but my take from all this is that (a) the short time since humans migrated to Europe doesn’t allow much scope for big genetic changes between Africans and Europeans, (b) it’s clear that environment can have a very large effect on IQ scores, and (c) anyone who thinks the marginalization of African Americans isn’t a big enough effect to account for 10-15 points of IQ is crazy. There are counterarguments to all my points, and none of this “proves” that there can’t possibly be genetic differences between blacks and whites that express themselves in noticeable differences in cognitive abilities. But I sure think it’s very unlikely.

8) Brendan Nyhan on some new research.  Kind of like that whole “A million dead Russians…”

9) When you look at the big picture of how our world spends our resources while kids are starving and malnourished, it really is unconscionable and indefensible.  Kristof:

Nutrition programs are extremely cheap. often among the most cost-effective ways to fight global poverty.

School feeding programs promote education as well as nutrition, and cost just 25 cents per child per meal. Deworming costs about 50 cents per child per year to improve both nutrition and health, yet pets in the U.S. are more likely to be dewormed than children in many other places.

As Mia noted in a separate article, one nutrition initiative could save up to 800,000 lives a year and requires no electricity, refrigeration or high technology. It’s simply support for breast-feeding.

Fortifying foods with iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A is transformative. Ensuring that children are screened for malnutrition and promptly helped with supplements that are similar to peanut butter is fairly straightforward. Yet malnourished children aren’t a priority, so kids are stunted in ways that will hold back our world for many decades to come.

If some distant planet sends foreign correspondents to Earth, they will be baffled that we allow almost one child in four to be stunted, even as we indulge in gold leaf cupcakes, $1,000 sundaes and half-million-dollar bottles of wine.

10) This was a really interesting article on Achilles Tendon injuries.  And Kevin Durant’s in particular.

11) Oh man was this a depressing article. South Korea’s got some work to do.  “An Overloaded Ferry Flipped and Drowned Hundreds of Schoolchildren. Could It Happen Again? South Korea promised to root out a culture that put profit ahead of safety. But cheating and corruption continue to endanger travelers.”

12) Of course Trump has a third-grade level response to flag burning.

President Trump is “all in” for a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag, he said in an early-morning tweet Saturday, backing an effort by two Republican senators.

To commemorate Flag Day — which also happens to be Trump’s birthday — Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Kevin Cramer (N.D.) introduced the amendment Friday.

“All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!” Trump tweeted.

This isn’t a new position for the president, who a few weeks after the 2016 election tweeted: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was protected by the First Amendment after a protester was convicted of burning an American flag outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. The following year, the nation’s highest court reaffirmed its ruling when it struck down legislation passed by Congress to make flag burning illegal.

13) I took a little too much pleasure in the fact that I already knew about Chronic Wasting Disease which is a prion disease (like “Mad Cow”) that affects deer.  I take no pleasure in learning about it’s scary spread and really scary potential to infect new species.

14) This was a really, really interesting way of looking at the work of doctors and nurses, “The Business of Health Care Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses: One resource seems infinite and free: the professionalism of caregivers.”

Increasingly, though, I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that this ethic that I hold so dear is being cynically manipulated. By now, corporate medicine has milked just about all the “efficiency” it can out of the system. With mergers and streamlining, it has pushed the productivity numbers about as far as they can go. But one resource that seems endless — and free — is the professional ethic of medical staff members.

This ethic holds the entire enterprise together. If doctors and nurses clocked out when their paid hours were finished, the effect on patients would be calamitous. Doctors and nurses know this, which is why they don’t shirk. The system knows it, too, and takes advantage.

The demands on medical professionals have escalated relentlessly in the past few decades, without a commensurate expansion of time and resources. For starters, patients are sicker these days. The medical complexity per patient — the number and severity of chronic conditions — has steadily increased, meaning that medical encounters are becoming ever more involved. They typically include more illnesses to treat, more medications to administer, more complications to handle — all in the same-length office or hospital visit.

15) Pretty cool interactive quiz on the most effective steps for reducing carbon emissions.  Some of the answers might really surprise you.

16) Not at all surprising that the world works this way, “Unattractive people are less likely to get into medical school, Duke study says”

The study found that people who were obese or facially unattractive were discriminated against in the application process, according to Duke Health.

Researchers randomly assigned names and demographic information to 76 photos selected to represent different levels of facial attractiveness and obesity.

They then randomized other factors such as test scores, grades and class rank to each photo so that each application reviewer had a different combination of academic factors with every photo, Duke Health said.

They gave the fake residency applications to 74 faculty members at five different radiology departments to score the applicants, according to the study.

The reviewers were unaware they weren’t real applicants, Duke Health said.

Researchers found that applicants who appeared obese or unattractive in the photos were clearly discriminated against, according to the study.

17) Interesting essay on how charter schools have failed to live up their promise (though, obviously, some individual charter schools and networks are amazing).

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters. Theoretically, the introduction of charters and choice would force all schools to get better to maintain enrollment. But schools can attract students for reasons other than superior quality, and the obsession with securing per-pupil funding has in many cases been a distraction from the work of educating students. As a senior official for the pro-charter Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce recently observed: “We’ve turned education into a commodity — if that kid walks across the street, you’re chasing after him for the money attached to his seat. That’s ridiculous if you think about the long term.”

Meanwhile, as the big promises about charters have remained unfulfilled, real costs have been accruing. According to school finance expert Bruce Baker, the expansion of charters has weakened traditional public schools and created inefficiencies like duplicative administrative costs. Increased competition has led to many schools, charter and otherwise, closing down — an outcome that Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University has called “very damaging to kids.” And in places like New Orleans, where traditional public schools have been almost entirely replaced by charters, residents have expressed frustration with unelected and unrepresentative governing boards that routinely violate state transparency laws.

In light of these shortcomings, the long-running consensus that has sustained the charter movement has begun to unravel. That isn’t because charter schools have suddenly gotten worse. If anything, leaders in the sector have learned something over the past 25 years, and standardized scores have improved over time. Instead, it’s because the promised future has failed to materialize.

18) Of course, if we did more to help people create sustainable lives in Central America, they’d have far less incentive to try and migrate here.  Of course, just try telling Donald Trump we want to spend money to help foreigners.

19) Really quite enjoyed Netflix’s “I am Mother.”

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Quick hits (part I)

So, this is from a couple weeks ago, mostly, and I somehow forgot to publish.  And then I added a couple.

1) I swear at this part, it hard to distinguish Mitch McConnell from a Russian pawn.  NYT on election security:

A raft of legislation intended to better secure United States election systems after what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, called a “sweeping and systematic” Russian attack in 2016 is running into a one-man roadblock in the form of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.” A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

But even bipartisan coalitions have begun to crumble in the face of the majority leader’s blockade. Mr. McConnell, long the Senate’s leading ideological opponent to federal regulation of elections, has told colleagues in recent months that he has no plans to consider stand-alone legislation on the matter this term, despite clamoring from members of his own conference and the growing pressure from Democrats who also sense a political advantage in trying to make the Republican response to Russia’s election attack look anemic.

2) New Yorker’s realistic birth announcements are so good:

Jack and Nikki welcomed little Nathaniel into their family late Friday evening. Nathaniel has his grandfather’s eyes but hopefully none of his racism.

After a difficult forty-eight hours of labor, I am now the proud mama to little Jeremiah. If anyone has seen my husband, Dave, please tell him that I’m so sorry but I can never take those noises back.

Our little bundle of joy arrived last week, and my first experience pumping has successfully done what twelve Netflix documentaries couldn’t: turned me off of the dairy industry.

I am so proud to announce that, early this morning, Jada gave birth to a healthy little boy. And we know that every new parent thinks this, but we honestly believed he would be cuter.

3) A professor gives his students an assignment to read an actual physical book with interesting results.  Scary part is how amazingly addicted so many of his students are to their phones.

4) Who cares about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy?  I do.  I hope the court’s conservatives do too, but other than Roberts… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Linda Greenhouse:

In a rational world, the Supreme Court would hit the pause button on the pending census case to take account of new evidence that the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question was a fiction that masked its flagrantly partisan motive. True, the case is to be decided within weeks, to meet what the Commerce Department says is the deadline for preparing the 2020 census, but the country will live for years with the impact of the census on political redistricting and the allocation of federal money.

Unfortunately, given the presidency of Donald Trump and the partisan polarization that has all but overtaken the Supreme Court, it’s hard these days to argue from rationality. And as I suggested last month in describing how, during oral argument, the conservative justices pretended not to understand the fraud that the administration was trying to perpetrate, it’s also hard to argue from shame. Those justices who seemed unable to accept the experts’ conclusions that a citizenship question would distort the census by undercounting immigrant communities seemed beyond embarrassment. It’s highly likely that with the opinion already assigned and presumably circulating in draft, the justices will plow ahead and do what some of them set out to accomplish…

In a rational world, the Supreme Court would hit the pause button on the pending census case to take account of new evidence that the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding a citizenship question was a fiction that masked its flagrantly partisan motive. True, the case is to be decided within weeks, to meet what the Commerce Department says is the deadline for preparing the 2020 census, but the country will live for years with the impact of the census on political redistricting and the allocation of federal money.

Unfortunately, given the presidency of Donald Trump and the partisan polarization that has all but overtaken the Supreme Court, it’s hard these days to argue from rationality. And as I suggested last month in describing how, during oral argument, the conservative justices pretended not to understand the fraud that the administration was trying to perpetrate, it’s also hard to argue from shame. Those justices who seemed unable to accept the experts’ conclusions that a citizenship question would distort the census by undercounting immigrant communities seemed beyond embarrassment. It’s highly likely that with the opinion already assigned and presumably circulating in draft, the justices will plow ahead and do what some of them set out to accomplish.

5) For some reason, I was recently reminded of (and telling the story of) the time Princess Diana and Prince Charles came to my hometown shopping mall.  And thanks to the internet, I could find the story.

6) This was really interesting (and sad to think of all the unnecessary cesareans), “One Hospital’s Plan to Reduce C-sections: Communicate: There might be fewer unneeded cesarean sections if doctors learned to keep mothers informed at every stage of labor.”

Cesarean technology is lifesaving for rare conditions, and for some high-risk women. For most births, the decision whether to perform a cesarean is up to doctors and hospitals. So they are rightly to blame for the crisis of over-operating. But that also explains why doctors and hospitals are now spearheading promising solutions. Dr. Neel Shah, an obstetrician and leader of one C-section reduction effort, said: “Women have goals in labor other than coming out unscathed. Survival, and not being cut open, should be the floor.”

Also, what’s really disturbing/amazing is how many cesareans have been needlessly performed due to very-flawed 1950’s research.

7) Oh my.  Texas teacher, “A teacher asked Trump to round up ‘illegal students’ — in tweets she says she thought were private.”

8) Farhad Manjoo, “I Want to Live in Elizabeth Warren’s America: The Massachusetts senator is proposing something radical: a country in which adults discuss serious ideas seriously”

There’s a good chance you’ll disagree with some or all of these ideas. Three months ago, when Warren outlined her plan for cleaving the economic dominance of large technology companies, I spent a few days quizzing her staff on what I considered to be flaws in her approach. I planned to write about them, but I was beaten by a wave of other tech pundits with similar reservations.

But then, in the discussion that followed, I realized what a service Warren had done, even if I disagreed with her precise approach. For months, commentators had been debating the generalities of policing tech. Now a politician had put forward a detailed plan for how to do so, sparking an intense policy discussion that was breaking new analytical ground. For a moment, it almost felt like I was living in a country where adults discuss important issues seriously. Wouldn’t that be a nice country to live in?

9) I have sympathy for over-worked adjunct faculty.  Really, I do.  I know some good ones.  But I’m really tired of hearing the “how could I have known…” variety of complaints.  Everybody knows.  It’s willful denial of reality to follow a dream.  It’s a great dream, but the numbers are against you.  This in the New Yorker got me going:

People usually try to become professors because they are passionately curious about a particular subject, and the academic system encourages them to believe that this is all that matters. Prospective graduate students are rarely told by department heads or other administrators that they are entering a system that relies on contingent labor to survive. “I went into higher ed because I was selfish, because I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, because those things mattered to me,” Childress writes. The subsequent realization that academia preys on these dreams devastates him. A string of adjunct positions gets him no closer to joining the tenure track; it is “morally indefensible,” he writes, to lure adjuncts to work by dangling a “vague hope” that they may one day be welcome as a permanent faculty member. For people stuck in this permanent holding pattern, that hope of being selected is the contemporary academic version of the larger American dream, and it feels, at this point, no less dubious.

Also, never have I seen dangling vague hope of the tenure track to adjuncts.  The reality is we wouldn’t pay $4000 to teach an NC State class if there weren’t more than enough qualified people out there willing to teach a class for $4000.  And people want to do that, obviously, because teaching a college class is also it’s own non-monetary reward.  But, my entire adult life in academia has never given me the idea that you can adjunct your way onto the tenure track.

10) How the slaughter of America’s wolves paved the way for coyotes to take over the whole country.  Ecosystems are complex.

Like every state east of the Mississippi, Illinois is worried about its growing population of city-slicker coyotes. The animals surged from their original habitat in the West after what many now consider a colossal mistake — government-sanctioned predator removal programs that virtually wiped out red and gray wolves.

Coyotes have been taking over the territory of wolves, their mortal enemies, ever since. It is a textbook example of what the recent United Nations biodiversity report said: Humans are creating chaos for wildlife, placing a million species in danger of extinction.

The report warned that mismanaging nature would come back to haunt humans in a variety of ways, including food and water shortages, and disruptions by invasive species.

As the Trump administration seeks to strip away legal protections for the last remaining wolves, state officials are contending with the consequences of a massacre carried out without regard to science.

11) This is kind of amazing— researcher totally confuses meaning of pretty straightforward variable and gets major conclusions of whole book wrong as a result.  The fact that this came from a purported social scientist is kind of mind-boggling.  This strikes me as the kind of mistake an undergraduate would make.

12) Personally, I’m loving the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.  Jill Lepore on some new books on the subject.  Very much enjoying the “13 Minutes to the Moon” podcast.  And a nice Wired feature, “The Beauty and Madness of Sending a Man to the Moon.

13) I had no idea there was a particular variant of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy designed specifically for insomnia.  And it works!  I’ve got a couple of kids I need to investigate this further with.  Personally, I have always been grateful for the ease with which I fall asleep 95% of the time.

14) This was really, really interesting, ” A Breakthrough in the Mystery of Why Women Get So Many Autoimmune Diseases: Evolution might have played a trick on women’s immune systems.”  Still an unproven theory, but very intriguing.

Though bearing so many babies might sound grueling, women’s bodies evolved to cope. When the placenta grows during pregnancy, the organ sends signals to the mother’s immune system to change its activity so that the mother’s body doesn’t eject the placenta and the fetus. This might even mean turning down the immune system in some ways, or for some periods of time. Turning down the immune system too much, though, risks leaving women sensitive to pathogens, which would also be bad for the fetus. So instead the mother’s immune system ramps up in other ways throughout adulthood, Wilson and her colleagues think, so as to remain vigilant against germs even when some of its parts become dormant during pregnancies.

Things get complicated, however, when those pregnancies don’t actually occur. Women today tend to have far fewer children—fewer than two on average in the United States, according to the CDC. Wilson reasons that without a more or less constant pushback from placentas during pregnancies—the pushback that women’s immune systems have evolved to anticipate—the immune system can get too aggressive, too ramped up. It starts looking for things to attack that aren’t dangerous, which is how autoimmune diseases set in.

For millions of years, minus the past 100, “the immune system was expecting to have exposure to a placenta,” Wilson says. Imagine if you’re pulling on something heavy, and then the rope snaps. “If you suddenly don’t have that heavy thing anymore,” she says, “you’re gonna go off the moon.”

15) This will be fun to discuss when I teach Gender & Politics in the fall, “Gender Stereotypes Banned in British Advertising: No more commercials showing men struggling to do a load of laundry, or asking women if they are “beach body ready.””

Quick hits (part I)

1) Just another day in American-style corporate health care:

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals announced today that the company expects to pay $15.4 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department after allegations that Questcor Pharmaceuticals, which Mallinckrodt acquired in 2014, had bribed doctors and their staff to prescribe an incredibly expensive drug.

Two whistleblowers came forward in April to accuse Questcor of trying to boost profits for Acthar, a medication primarily for infants with seizures. Questcor raised the price of the medication by almost 100,000 percent (not a typo) from just $40 in 2000 to $38,892 today, despite the fact that Acthar has been on the market since 1952. Mallinckrodt currently rakes in about $1 billion per year from Acthar, according to CNN. [emphases mine]

“Mallinckrodt denies any wrongdoing on the part of Questcor during the relevant period, and intends to vigorously defend the company in this matter,” the company said in a press release.

Mallinckrodt has previously pointed out that the drug price of Acthar was raised by Questcor before Mallinckrodt bought it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Questcor appears to have been purchased by Mallinckrodt precisely because it was making money hand over fist.

Nor does it change the fact that about $8,000 of the price hikes on Athcar have reportedly occurred since Mallinckrodt bought Questcor. And the $15.4 million fine, which has yet to be finalized with the DOJ, pales in comparison to how much money the company is currently taking in on the drug.

While the company denies wrongdoing, the whistleblower lawsuit alleges that the “illegal practices that Questcor had been engaging in since 2007 have knowingly been continued since the merger and acquisition of Questcor by Mallinckrodt.”

Acthar is used for infantile spasms, which afflict roughly 2,000 babies in the U.S. each year, but Mallinckrodt has expanded the use of Acthar for other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis. A 60 Minutes report from May of 2018 raised serious questions about how well the drug actually works for arthritis in seniors, and an expert who spoke with 60 Minutes said that there’s “no evidence” Acthar works for rheumatoid arthritis despite the fact that Mallinckrodt reportedly makes about $500,000 each year for prescriptions treating the condition.

Curiously, there’s a drug called Synacthen that’s identical to Acthar and sells for just $33 in Canada. So why isn’t Synacthen available in the U.S.? Because Mallinckrodt bought the U.S. rights to Synacthen and simply doesn’t make it available to American consumers.

Ugh.  Also, Infantile Spasms are a particularly serious type of seizure.  So wrong.

2) Roxanne Gay says freak out.  Drum says, maybe not so much:

And there’s more. The headline unemployment rate is at its lowest rate in half a century and the long-term unemployment rate is lower than it was at the height of the housing bubble. Household earnings are up about $8,000 over the past five years. Blue-collar wages have increased by more than $1 per hour. The poverty rate has dropped for three straight years and is now lower than at any time aside from the peak of the dotcom boom. Despite the best efforts of Republicans, Obamacare continues to provide health coverage for nearly 20 million additional people compared to a decade ago. Among teens, cigarette smoking is down; alcohol use is down; other drug use is down; teen pregnancy is down; and arrests are down. The US economy is the most robust in the world. About 700,000 new citizens are naturalized every year, up from 100,000 in 1980. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. And on a personal note, there’s been a huge surge in new treatments for multiple myeloma, which means that I will probably be blathering on your computer for many years to come.

My message here is simple. If you cherry pick all the bad stuff that’s happened in the past few years, you can make a case for being pretty discouraged. If you cherry pick all the good stuff, you can make a case that everything is fine. The real reality is somewhere in-between. So if you feel like being discouraged, don’t let me get in your way. But there’s always good and bad in the world, and there’s no reason to insist otherwise.

Except for climate change, where we’re still on track to commit planetary suicide and no one is truly taking it seriously. That’s just a pure nightmare.

Oh, yeah, except climate change.

3) My colleague, Andrew Taylor, makes a pretty interesting argument about liberal bias among political science professors using social science.  Though, this liberal is no big fan of implicit bias (heck, among other things, we’ve got enough explicit bias these days):

Yet, although academic political scientists consider themselves experts who have built robust models validated by all sorts of empirical studies, they seem to believe the kinds of misinformed and prejudicial attitudes and anti-social and harmful behavior they attribute to just about everyone else have somehow evaded them.

That is odd. The last time I checked, political science professors were human beings. They are surely not immune from theories of human behavior they hold and have validated under scientific conditions.

One such in-vogue theory is unconscious or implicit bias. This is the idea that individuals are inherently prejudiced against others from certain groups. Social scientists use the theory to explain pervasive racism and prejudice against out or minority groups in all walks of life. The idea is that although a person may feel they judge others neutrally or on merits unrelated to group membership, they hold biases, admittedly often small, that they are incapable of correcting.

These attitudes adversely affect the individuals who constitute their object. Compounded, they can have material effects on public policy and social outcomes.

Although the theory has vocal critics and some proponents recognize its limited capacity to predict the behavior of individuals, the academy has produced a great deal of confirmatory published experimental and survey research.

Academics consider bias particularly pervasive in homogenous populations. Political science is certainly homogenous. A number of studies show the discipline’s professors are overwhelmingly liberal and largely identify as Democrats—by about 10 to 1 according to a study of North Carolina and Florida faculty I recently co-authored and that is forthcoming in a flagship journalof the American Political Science Association.

Actually, I’m not sure of the research on this (and, sorry, not going to check right now), but in my experience (okay, with myself and other informed PS professors) being aware of various cognitive biases actually really does make us less susceptible to them.  How many other people discuss the “sunk cost trap” while in line with friends at lunch?

4) Dana Milbank on how for Trump, D-Day was all about… Donald Trump.

5) It’s bad enough to have really bad people among Catholic priests.  Even worse when they are Catholic bishops:

During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to the report. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all.

Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.

“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.

6) I read $2 a Day about poverty in America as NC State incoming Freshman reading a couple years ago.  It was really good.  And I assign this summary to my Public Policy class.  Turns out, new research strongly suggests that it significantly overstates extreme poverty in America.  That said, there still is too much extreme poverty in America.

7) Really excited to see the updated Hall of Fossils next time I visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  I also like that they reference the last major renovation in the early 1980’s.  I still have very fond memories of my dad taking me to a members only reception for the re-opening featuring dinosaur cookies.

8) Dara Lind with a terrific article on how the border crisis really is a crisis now.  And why.  A must-read.  I added this to my Public Policy syllabus for next semester.

9) Meanwhile a harrowing Politico article on life for poor women in Honduras:

What do you do when you fear for your life and the state won’t protect you? Or if the state might make your already tenuous situation worse? The fraught calculations that face Sofia and her mom are endemic across Honduras, a country that remains in the grip of a rash of violence against women and girls. For some, the answer is simple and disruptive: They have to leave. When exhausted families, mothers toting babies and young women traveling alone arrive at the southern border of the United States, it’s not just gang violence or criminality in general that they’re fleeing. It’s also what Sofia whispers about to her bunny: men who beat, assault, rape and sometimes kill women and girls; law enforcement that does little to curtail them; and laws that deny many women who do survive the chance to retake control and steer their own lives.

As of 2015, Honduras ranked among a tiny group of nations, including war-racked Syria and Afghanistan, with the highest rates of violent deaths of women. Although Honduras’ overall murder rate has decreased in recent years, it remains one of the deadliest countries in the world, and the murder rate has been declining more slowly for female victims. Murder remains the second-leading cause of death for women of childbearing age.

10) Terrific interview with the creator of HBO’s “Chernobyl” on the nature of truth and stories and the show.

11) This Reason satirical campaign video meets used car ads is really, really good:

12) Seth Masket on the potential costs of not impeaching:

But even if we assume there would be a political price for impeachment, that does not mean that declining to impeach would be without consequence. For one thing, if there are voters who would be bothered by impeachment, there are quite a few others who would be bothered by the lack of it. The idea that Trump has clearly committed impeachable acts but Democrats in the House of Representatives won’t punish him because they think it will hurt them in the next election is not a particularly inspiring message, especially for a party that keeps urging people to put country before party.

On top of that calculus, it’s entirely possible Trump wins re-election whether Democrats pursue impeachment or not. He’s won before, incumbents usually win re-election, and they almost always do during a growing economy. What’s the lesson coming out of that election? “We might have removed him but failed to so here he is for another four years”?

It’s important to consider just what the lessons of this presidency will be for subsequent administrations and congressional parties. If Democrats decide that, despite widespread lawbreaking, impeachment just isn’t on the table because conviction is unlikely and there may be political costs, then it would effectively remove impeachment as a serious constraint on presidential actions. And given that the Department of Justice has also removed itself from control of the president, that would basically mean that presidents truly are above the law as long as they serve…

But fairly or not, Democrats have been placed in the position of determining whether to prosecute presidential lawbreaking. Either choice may have negative consequences, but the decision should be evaluated not just in terms of what will happen this year or next, but for the decades to come.

12) I’m sorry, but I’m so not impressed by arbitrary feats such as climbing Everest and returning home all within 14 days.  The key is living in a hypoxia chamber rather than actually acclimating at the mountain.

13) Endorse: Students should stop treating faculty as expendable.  That said, as a middle-aged white male, I hardly ever run into this anymore.

14) Damn, the willful ignorance of Republicans on climate is just breathtaking.  And, I’m not going to just blame Trump– he’s, symptom, not cause here:

Fifty or 100 years from now, we may well say that President Trump’s concerted effort to exacerbate climate change — and that’s precisely what it is — was the single worst thing he did in a presidency full of horrors. A new report from the New York Times gives new details about just how diabolical his administration’s actions have been:

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.

The goal appears to be to keep the government from ever confirming that climate change exists and, failing that, to do everything it can to make it look less serious than it is. The administration also plans to create a new panel to downplay climate change and discredit legitimate science on the topic, led by National Security Council senior director William Happer, who once said, “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

15) And you can very much appreciate Tom Nichols’ take on “Chernobyl” without watching the show.

16) Catherine Rampell with a good take (and I’m disappointed in Warren here), “Everyone’s got a climate plan. So where’s the carbon tax?”

To be clear, the candidates’ proposals include many other good ideas. They all say we should eliminate subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. They all boost federal investment in and incentives for R&D in clean technology. This is critically necessary, especially for basic research, which private companies might not be sufficiently incentivized to undertake on their own.

But then things go off the rails.

The plans devote a lot of verbiage to talking about the magical properties of government procurement — that is, using the deep pockets of the government to purchase more energy-efficient products. Warren, for instance, analogizes her own plan, which includes a $1.5 trillion federal procurement commitment, to the industrial policy America previously undertook for the space race and our mobilization against Nazi aggression.

But in both of those historical comparisons, “The goal wasn’t to create a commercial product,” points out David Popp, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in environmental economics. “The government was the consumer.”

Just because the public sector buys more energy-efficient lightbulbs, electric cars or solar panels doesn’t mean the (much larger) private sector will, absent price incentives. Especially if we add conditions to the production of those green goods that actually increase their costs to consumers, as some of these plans do.

17) Greg Sargent:

Amazingly, after all we’ve seen, there’s still a tendency in some quarters to treat the falsehoods regularly told by President Trump, and echoed by his media allies, as a somewhat exaggerated but basically conventional form of political dishonesty.

But Trump and certain of his media partisans have long been engaged in something altogether different — something that can only be described as concerted and deliberate disinformation…

It’s the disinformation, stupid

It should be impossible to watch these diatribes in full without quickly realizing that this isn’t ordinary political dishonesty — some level of artifice is an inevitable feature of politics — but rather is something much more insidious. What’s notable is the sheer comprehensiveness of the effort to create an alternate set of realities whose departure from the known facts seemingly aims to be absolute and unbridgeable…

Disinformation and ‘constitutional rot’

Don’t take my word for it. With Trump’s lies and distortions now numbering over 10,000, serious political theorists have noted this aspect of Trumpian disinformation. See this Jacob Levy essay, which argues that Trump’s autocratic reshaping of reality on multiple fronts depends on the delegitimization of other institutional authority.

Or see this Jack Balkin essay on “constitutional rot.” One key sign of our breakdown, Balkin argues, is the fact that Trump has the backing of what can only be understood as “domestic propaganda machines.”

Such propaganda, Balkin notes, “undermines the crucial role of deliberation and the search for truth in a democracy. Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute, so that nothing can be established as true.” It “undermines shared criteria of reasoning, good faith attempts at deliberation, and mutual accommodation between political opponents in democracies.”

17) Smoking gun evidence that NC Republicans lied to the courts for political gain.  I’m sure Democratically-appointed judges will care.  Would be nice if Republican-appointed ones would, too.  You know, rule of law and all that.

How much should we pay teachers

Really nice look at the issue from Planet Money.  Whereas a decade ago there was a lot of bipartian agreement that we should pay the best teachers more, now there’s a lot more skepticism from Democrats.  Largely, because determining the “best teachers” by standardized test scores is highly fraught.  So, Democrats largely want to pay all teachers more.  I’m pretty sympathetic with that approach as the top-performing nations don’t pay their teachers differentially based on student test scores, but across the board make teaching a far more desirable profession– and in large part by paying them a lot more relative to other white collar jobs.  Planet Money:

How does teacher pay stack up domestically? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average K-12 teacher makes above $62,000, which is $10,000 more per year than the average of all occupations ($51,960). The benefits are usually better than average, too.

But maybe those aren’t the right comparisons. When we ask, “How much should a teacher be paid?” what we’re really asking is “How do we get great teachers to choose to be a teacher and not, say, a lawyer ($144,230) or an engineer ($99,230) or something else?” Teaching generally requires a college degree, sometimes more. That comes with debt. And there’s a growing pay gap between teachers and other similarly educated professionals. Last year that gap hit a record... [emphasis mine]

The economists we spoke to generally believed that we should tie teacher pay to classroom performance and not simply implement across-the-board pay increases like a $60,000 minimum salary. This is the consensus position for economists. And there was a time, about a decade ago, when it looked to be the consensus of leading Democrats and Republicans as well. Not anymore. The proposals floated by Democrats on the campaign trail don’t mention pay-for-performance.

The schoolyard fight over teacher pay

A decade ago, it was increasingly accepted that one of the ways to improve our educational system was to tie teacher pay to performance and make it easier to fire bad teachers. The die-hard reformer and union antagonist Michelle Rhee, then the chancellor of the D.C. public schools, was appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The documentary “Waiting For ‘Superman‘” was making waves. The Obama administration was challenging teachers unions to drop their opposition to merit pay and using its Race To The Top program to encourage states to adopt innovative ed policies loved and championed by economists. Not now.

“There’s definitely been a turn against a set of ideas in education that we’ve been championing as effective,” says economist John Friedman.

One problem with tying teacher pay to student performance is that performance is hard to measure…

Weingarten, who has worked closely with Sen. Sanders, likes the idea of a $60,000 minimum teacher salary. “Making a middle class salary matters,” she says. “It starts people thinking, ‘I can go into teaching and pay my student loans. I can go into teaching and raise a family.’ ”

recent working paper finds that during recessions, when private-sector jobs shrivel up, more talented candidates get into the teaching profession and make a significant improvement in student test scores. While it might not be the most targeted way to improve education, raising the floor of teacher pay could do the same thing in good times.

I actually think there is some value to standardized testing, but it needs to be used far more carefully and cautiously then all the economists want to.  There’s lots of lessons (my oft-repeated round-up here) from other countries and “pay teachers differentially based on student test scores” is definitely not one of them.  Pay teachers as high-compensated professionals definitely is.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Yes, we do need to see more bloody images from mass shootings.

Yet there is something undeniably startling about the photo that Andrews took. For all the images that have been broadcast from mass shootings—scenes of children scurrying from their schools in single file, with their hands in the air, of heavily armored police with assault weapons stalking buildings, of long trains of ambulances queuing up to take victims away—it is unusual to actually see blood. We are more accustomed to seeing these kinds of images from war zones, where news photographers are often able to witness the carnage of combat up close. By contrast, the setting of Andrews’s photograph is visibly suburban. A sidewalk stretches behind the injured man. On the car next to the officer is a barely legible sticker of a ball, with the word “Fastpitch.” A no-parking sign is prominent on the right. It makes for a jarring composition…

There is a case to be made, however, that the country needs to be exposed to these kinds of images, if we have any hope of being jolted from our collective inurement to the ravages of gun violence. I am guessing the details of Virginia Beach will soon blur in my memory, alongside the litany of other mass shootings that have dominated cable news and quickly receded. But my memory of the man in the green shirt will endure.

2) Are surgeons really worse today because kids develop less fine motor skill?  Some medical school faculty think so:

Could you tie a series of square knots around the neck of a teaspoon without, even slightly, moving the teaspoon? How about using tweezers to extract a grape from inside a roll of toilet paper, without piercing the grape’s skin or touching the sides of the roll? Aspiring surgeons should have the dexterity to accomplish such tasks. But increasingly, they don’t.

Faculty members at medical schools in the United States and Britain have noticed a marked decline in the manual dexterity of students and residents. Some say it’s because of fewer hands-on courses in primary and secondary schools — shop class, home economics, drawing, painting and music. Others blame too much time spent tapping and swiping screens rather than doing things that develop fine motor control like woodworking, model building and needlework. While clumsiness is a growing concern in medical schools, the extent and permanence of the problem are unclear.

“There is a language of touch that is easy to overlook or ignore,” said Dr. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London. “You know if someone has learned French or Chinese because it’s very obvious, but the language of touch is harder to recognize.” And just like verbal language, he thinks it’s easier to acquire when you’re young: “It’s much more difficult to get it when you’re 24, 25 or 26 than when you’re 4, 5 or 6.”

Dr. Robert Spetzler, former president and chief executive of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, agreed. “Think about the difference between someone who has learned to ski when they were a little kid and someone who spent a long time, perhaps even the same amount of time, skiing as an adult,” he said. “That elegance that you learn when very young, doing that sport, can never be equaled by an adult learning how to ski.”

3) NYT with brief vignettes from college students around the world on students in various countries pay for college (the big takeaway– mostly a lot less of their own money than in the U.S.).

4) The more we learn about the Boeing 737 Max the more we learn Boeing really screwed up:

The fatal flaws with Boeing’s 737 Max can be traced to a breakdown late in the plane’s development, when test pilots, engineers and regulators were left in the dark about a fundamental overhaul to an automated system that would ultimately play a role in two crashes.

A year before the plane was finished, Boeing made the system more aggressive and riskier. While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the ultimate used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max.

But many people involved in building, testing and approving the system, known as MCAS, said they hadn’t fully understood the changes. Current and former employees at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration who spoke with The New York Times said they had assumed the system relied on more sensors and would rarely, if ever, activate. Based on those misguided assumptions, many made critical decisions, affecting design, certification and training.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said a former test pilot who worked on the Max. “I wish I had the full story.”

While prosecutors and lawmakers try to piece together what went wrong, the current and former employees point to the single, fateful decision to change the system, which led to a series of design mistakes and regulatory oversights. As Boeing rushed to get the plane done, many of the employees say, they didn’t recognize the importance of the decision. They described a compartmentalized approach, each of them focusing on a small part of the plane. The process left them without a complete view of a critical and ultimately dangerous system.

The company also played down the scope of the system to regulators. Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.

5) Seth Masket on what’s behind Democrats’ 2020 debate rules:

Based on research and interviews I’ve been conducting, these debate rules appear to signal a party adapting to what are generally seen as three main lessons from the 2016 election. Those lessons are:

  1. Anyone is electable: Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 general election, despite his association with many damning scandals and his determination to alienate huge segments of the electorate, suggested to candidates and donors that pretty much anyone with a major party’s label next to his or her name can win. This has been a huge motivator for Democratic candidates, encouraging quite a few to run who might have otherwise sat the race out or focused on more winnable races like Senate seats. This is a major contributor to the fact that roughly two dozen people have now declared for president.
  2. Large fields of candidates are unpredictable and dangerous: Donald Trump received the 2016 GOP nomination even while many Republican leaders were clearly uncomfortable with or even hostile to him. He did so in part because the field of candidates was so large; this made it harder for party elites to coordinate their support on an alternative to Trump. Democratic leaders are probably less concerned that a failure to coordinate will result in someone like Trump as their nominee (there’s not really anyone quite like that in the running this year), but they do wish to maintain some control.
  3. Party preference for some candidates over others is perceived as illegitimate: The DNC was widely derided for appearing to be biased in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and suspicion of insiders influencing the party demobilized supporters of Bernie Sanders in the general election. While the DNC actually did little of any real substance to enable Clinton’s nomination, it has gone out of its way to appear neutral in the 2020 nomination contest. This was what motivated the reforms last summer that reduced the power of “superdelegates” in the Democratic National Convention by stripping them of their first ballot vote.

So the party is attempting to satisfy several (contradictory!) goals at once. It seeks to cull an oversized field but in a way that does not appear systematically biased against any particular set of candidates. Well, it’s apparently okay to be biased against one set of candidates — the unpopular. Those who have been less successful in introducing themselves to primary voters have also been less successful in raising money.

6) A former mayor of Tehran has apparently murdered his wife with impunity, “Everything that’s wrong with Iran in one grotesque televised scandal.”

7) There are so many worse ways kids can be spending their time and exercising their brains than endlessly memorizing how to spell words.  And, yet, I’m still with the critics.  There’s so many better ways.  If you are going to devote all that time and energy to something, I feel like memorizing words is a pretty poor choice.  Mastering an athletic activity brings exercise, coordination, (usually) teamwork and camaraderie, etc.  And mastering a different mental challenge likely brings far more real-world rewards.

8) Well, this is interesting, “Tech giant brings software to a gun fight: Business-software giant Salesforce instituted a new policy barring retail customers from using its technology to sell semiautomatic weapons and some other firearms.”

9) The built-in biases of dating algorithms are hugely problematic, as exposed through a game.

10) I love the original “Aladdin” movie.  I do get how it’s portrayal of a fantasatical Middle-East if problematic, but I also still believe that blithely throwing around “racist” about everything the movie does wrong is exactly the sort of over-wokeness that hurts liberals.

11) Shockingly, a CRS analysis shows that Trump’s tax cuts had very little benefit to the economy:

You may remember all the glowing predictions made for the December 2017 tax cuts by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration: Wages would soar for the rank-and-file, corporate investments would surge, and the cuts would pay for themselves.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has just published a deep dive into the economic impact of the cuts in their first year, and emerges from the water with a different picture. The CRS finds that the cuts have had virtually no effect on wages, haven’t contributed to a surge in investment, and haven’t come close to paying for themselves. Nor have they delivered a cut to the average taxpayer. [emphasis mine]

12) Sad, but true, “The Most Unrealistic Proposal in the Democratic Presidential Primary: Michael Bennet and Elizabeth Warren want members of Congress to ban themselves from ever lobbying after they leave office. Here’s why it’ll never happen.”

The unlikeliest 2020 promise isn’t a big-spending plan like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or Andrew Yang’s universal basic income—it’s an anti-corruption proposal that would apply to just 535 Americans and cost taxpayers nothing.

This pipe dream is coming from the decidedly unflashy Senator Michael Bennet, a self-proclaimed pragmatist who has chided his rivals for their unrealistic visions of a progressive future. Bennet has pooh-poohed the idea of “free college” and actively opposes Medicare for All as too costly and too disruptive to the U.S. health-care system. “You can’t fix a broken Washington if you don’t level with the American people,” the Colorado Democrat told potential voters in a video announcing his candidacy earlier this month.

Yet one of Bennet’s signature proposals for repairing American democracy might, in its own way, be the most radical of all: a lifetime ban on members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after they leave office.

Good luck with that…

But she and Bennet may find that convincing Congress to appropriate trillions of dollars for new social programs is an easier lift than persuading lawmakers to permanently cut off a lucrative source of their own retirement income. That idea goes too far even for the purest good-government advocates, who say it’s not only wildly unrealistic but possibly unconstitutional.

13) We absolutely have too much choice at major retailers and it, indeed, very frustrating.  When I can decide on a product about which I have no priors on Amazon in less than 5-10 minutes, I’m pretty happy about it.

In theory, Amazon is a site meant to serve the needs of humans. The mega-retailer’s boundless inventory gives people easy access to household supplies and other everyday products that are rarely fun to shop for. Most people probably aren’t eager to buy clothes hangers, for instance. They just want to have hangers when they need them.

But when you type hangers into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options. On the first page of results, half are nearly identical velvet hangers, and most of the rest are nearly identical plastic. They don’t vary much by price, and almost all of the listings in the first few pages of results have hundreds or thousands of reviews that average out to ratings between four and five stars. Even if you have very specific hanger needs and preferences, there’s no obvious choice. There are just choices.

The phenomenon repeats for almost all of the everyday objects Amazon carries: phone chargers, water bottles, flat-panel televisions. And it’s not just Amazon. The global-manufacturing apparatus now has the capacity to churn out near-endless stuff. The industry’s output has ballooned 75 percent since 2007 to $35 trillion, according to one analysis, and millions of livelihoods depend on its continued growth…

But in the arms race to sell as many sandwich bags or beach towels as possible, a problem has become clear: Variety isn’t infinitely valuable.

Contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety. Research has consistently held that people who are presented with a few options make better, easier decisions than those presented with many. It has also shown that having many options is particularly confounding when the information available on them is limited or confusing—as with an endless list of virtually identical hangers. To be fair, it’s not entirely clear what information would even be helpful for efficiently evaluating dozens of similar hangers. The 32 velvet options on the first page of results probably aren’t distinct from one another in any significant way, except for color and how many hangers come in a package…

Those infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state. After shopping online, I often don’t remember days later whether I actually made a decision, and I regularly pause at the mountain of Amazon boxes next to my apartment building’s elevators to glance at the names on the labels, just to see if I forgot to expect something. Often, one of my neighbors is there doing it with me. Usually, both of us get on the elevator without boxes.

14) Randomly came across this video on youtube, “The TRUTH Why Modern Music Is Awful” and it makes me feel like a middle-aged curmudgeon.  But I also have the sneaking suspicion that it’s right.

15) I meant it about Fleabag.  You need to watch this show.

Making the most of college

Had a fun conversation at lunch with colleagues about how the craziness of college admissions hasn’t really changed all that much from our day.  A huge difference is that kids apply to so many more college due to the low barriers from the common application and on-line applications.  Back in our day, we had to use the mail!  And, sometimes even type things!  Anyway, I did really enjoy this recent piece from the CEO of the College Board about making the most of college.  One of the big lessons is that college is what you make of it– and that’s about you, not where you go to college.  Anyway…

The 3 percent of students whose lives changed for the better—who, according to Gallup, had the types of experiences that “strongly relate to great jobs and great lives afterward”—had three features in common: a great teacher and mentor, intensive engagement in activities outside class, and in-depth study and application of ideas.

These three shared features are all about intensity—not just participation in college life, but active engagement. They require students to move beyond merely doing something and toward becoming devoted to something. They require a depth of commitment that will serve students well throughout their lives. And yet nearly nothing in the admissions process tells students that these are the keys to their success…

1. Find great teachers.

At the College Board, we regularly convene first-generation students on the threshold of college to help them plan their future. These students have been remarkably resourceful in navigating their path to college, yet they have much less to say about how they will succeed once there. I have asked hundreds of high-school students what choices they will make in college that will most shape their success. Students talk about which major they will choose, who their friends will be, or which clubs they’ll join. They never say that their most important decision will be who their professors are. In general, students are extremely passive about seeking out great teaching…

Finding great teachers and insisting on learning from them is a form of resistance. You must push the rules and the system. One of the most misleading things we say in education is that a good school will “give you an excellent education.” A great education is never given—it is taken. The ancient myth of Prometheus is more honest; the gods do not give Prometheus the flame—he steals it.

Ummm, I do like to think I am one of these teachers that make a lasting difference.  I certainly strive to be.

2. Pick an activity (or maybe two).

Religious tradition testifies that immersion changes lives. Research agrees; the College Board reviewed dozens of studies to find the factors that most predict success. After grades and test scores, the factor that most predicts college success is follow-through—that is, students’ sustained effort and growth in one or two extracurricular activities while in high school. Students who devote themselves to an activity are more likely to succeed later in areas such as campus leadership and independent accomplishment.

Devotion to one or two activities—not several—advances you. Competition to get into college has metastasized into a race where more is better. We have sacrificed the productive ideal of nurturing excellence in one thing for the mad rush to submit a résumé of too many things…

3. Learn to love ideas, even when it hurts.

The luckiest people in life develop enduring fascinations and spend time honing their skills and learning new ones. They experience regularly the internal satisfaction that arises from encountering new ideas. With its focus on external measures of success, such as grades and test scores, the college-admissions scramble does little to communicate the importance of growth and exploration. For young people to be happy in college—and to excel there and the rest of their lives—they need to open themselves to new subjects and ideas that can captivate and motivate them. That process necessarily includes doing things they might not immediately like.

On a related note, I’m not letting my younger kids overwork themselves in high school (still 1+ and 7+ years off) with too many AP classes:

Even without federal indictments of parents who sought an unfair advantage, it’s clear that the American college-admissions system has created unproductive anxiety among families while doing little to foster the kind of devotion to learning that makes an education meaningful. All of us who are involved in this system—including the College Board—should reconsider what we can do to stop the madness.

Advanced Placement can help students discover and pursue a passion, but not if too many courses suffocate their time. Some students cram their schedules with AP courses to burnish their applications. While data show that taking up to five AP classes over the course of high school helps students succeed in college, there is no evidence that more than that is better. We therefore recently announced that taking more than five AP courses should provide no advantage in admissions. Students can take more AP if they want, but not to get into college.

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.

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