2020 Quick hits

Happy New Year.

1) Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic cover story on toxic masculinity was really good.  Enjoyed very much discussing this with my boys.  And, once again, made me super-grateful for my dad who was always a great role model of how to be a man without being a jerk.

2) As I like to say, capitalism is great… where it works.  Alas, increasingly an area where it does not work is in creating next-generation antibiotic drugs.  Time for governments to step in.

3) Adam Serwer with, naturally, a thoughtful take on the 1619 project controversy.  Though, in response to this:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

Does not the answer just have to be an emphatic, “both!”?

4) John McWhorter on why Latinx is not catching on:

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns…

The difference between African American and Latinx represents a pattern demonstrated endlessly in the past. Blackboard-grammar rules—fewer books rather than less books, when to use that instead of which, etc.—are imposed from on high.

5) I found this on hearing loss disturbing and fascinating:

While under normal circumstances, cognitive losses occur gradually as people age, the wisest course may well be to minimize and delay them as long as possible and in doing so, reduce the risk of dementia. Hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation, according to an international analysis published in The Lancet in 2017.

The analysis indicated that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it has to work to understand what it hears, depleting its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Information that is not heard clearly impairs the brain’s ability to remember it. An inadequately stimulated brain tends to atrophy.

6) I had no idea rare-earth magnets are a thing.  Now, I do– and they’re cool!  But, as very powerful magnets they are potentially dangerous.  Like if kids swallow them.  The latest, “Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself.”  But, sorry, lots of products are potentially dangerous (drain cleaner, anyone?) but we don’t think the government should entirely eliminate them from the marketplace (as, apparently, was once done with these magnets).

7) Even back when I was into cars (yes, yours truly had a subscription to “Road & Track” many, many years ago), I had an irrational bias against the Corvette.  But, damn, this new Corvette is really cool and hello of a deal.

8) Why is it so hard to get things right?  Apparently, cruise ships idling in port spew a ton of pollution needlessly, but even where they’ve added an electric power hook-up in Brooklyn, it hardly gets used.

9) The Navy Seal that Trump pardoned was a truly evil man by the accounts of the members of his own unit

They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

10) It’s crazy to me that Anna Maria College has revitalized itself behind an awful football team. Meanwhile, Northeastern has thrived after dropping its team.  Really interesting contrast.  NYT, “Adding Football Saved One College. Dumping It Boosted Another.Officials at tiny Anna Maria College say starting a football program was one of their best decisions. At Northeastern, it has been good riddance.”

11) Loved this Wired video on the science of color perception.  Of course there’s not even any red pixels in this image, but your brain just assumes that it’s red strawberries in blue light.

strawberries

PHOTOGRAPH: AKIYOSHI KITAOKA

Much more coolness at the link.

12) It’s great that some good guys with guns stopped a shooter in a church in Texas.  Sometimes, the good guy with a gun really does make a difference.  But it is absurdly clear that, on balance, a society awash in guns, as ours is, is simply much, much, much more dangerous.  Also, I read elsewhere that the good guy was a highly-trained, former FBI agent.  Not your usual concealed carry permit holder.

13) Yeah, so this is wrong:

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

“Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you’re like on an island,” says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin’s oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

“You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he adds.

But if Alexander and his more than 1,200 fellow prisoners are still incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution next Census Day — April 1 — the Census Bureau will officially consider them residents of Waupun, Wis., for the 2020 national head count.

That’s because, since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned. This technical detail of a little-known policy can have an outsized impact on prison towns across the U.S. for the next decade.

While serving time at Waupun Correctional Institution, Robert Alexander is working on a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned.

In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people.

In turn, states, which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote in almost all states. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.

Officials in some prison towns have come up with creative ways to avoid forming voting districts made up primarily of prisoners. But in many others, political lines are drawn around prisons in a way that critics deride as “prison gerrymandering.”

14) I did not know there was a worldwide “rule of law index” but discovered it when learning about Singapore on Wikipedia (my little sister just finished visiting there). Followed some links, and I love this report from the World Justice Project.  US ranks #20.  And, damn, Northern Europe kicks butt once again.  I like the comparisons controlling for income, like this one:

15) Great post from Jay Rosen on what Chuck Todd’s utter failure at MTP says about the broader failures of the media in the age of Trump:

A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.

So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on air to do just that? If so, then you break faith with the audience and create a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.

There is simply nothing in the playbook at Meet the Press that tells the producers what to do in this situation. As I have tried to show, they didn’t arrive here through acts of naiveté, but by willful blindness, malpractice among the experts in charge, an insider’s mentality, a listening breakdown, a failure of imagination, and sheer disbelief that the world could have changed so much upon people paid so well to understand it.

16) I just came across this from a few years ago. Anyway, kind of amazing to me that there were people with an academic background actually arguing that the Southern realignment was predominantly about matters other than race.  Uhhh, no. Anyway, this paper uses copious data to make clear– it’s race:

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats’ 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

17) Interesting article on just how hard it is to balance being a mom with being a surgeon.  Left almost entirely unaddressed in the article is that either A) there’s a lot of suffering dads as well, or B) a lot of surgeon dads just don’t really care that much about being a good dad.  Also, clearly, some changes need to happen so that this specialty is more compatible with a reasonable family life.

18) Unsurprisingly, the Ganges is brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Surprisingly, this is even the case near the headwaters:

High in the Himalayas, it’s easy to see why the Ganges River is considered sacred.

According to Hindu legend, the Milky Way became this earthly body of water to wash away humanity’s sins. As it drains out of a glacier here, rock silt dyes the ice-cold torrent an opaque gray, but biologically, the river is pristine — free of bacteria.

Then, long before it flows past any big cities, hospitals, factories or farms, its purity degrades. It becomes filled with a virulent type of bacteria, resistant to common antibiotics.

The Ganges is living proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are almost everywhere. The river offers powerful insight into the prevalence and spread of drug-resistant infections, one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Its waters provide clues to how these pathogens find their way into our ecosystem.

Winding over 1,500 miles to the Bay of Bengal, Ma Ganga — “Mother Ganges”— eventually becomes one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, a mélange of urban sewage, animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial metals and rivulets of ashes from cremated bodies.

But annual tests by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology show that antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear while the river is still flowing through the narrow gorges of the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of miles before it encounters any of the usual suspects that would pollute its waters with resistant germs.

The bacterial levels are “astronomically high,” said Shaikh Ziauddin Ahammad, a professor of biochemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. The only possible source is humans, specifically the throngs of ritual bathers who come to wash away their sins and immerse themselves in the waters…

But where exactly do these armies of drug-resistant germs come from? Are they already everywhere — in the soil beneath our feet, for example? Do they emerge in hospitals, where antibiotics are heavily used?

Are they bred in the intestines of livestock on factory farms? Do they arise in the fish, plants or plankton living in lakes downstream from pharmaceutical factories?

Or are the germs just sitting inside the patients themselves, waiting for their hosts to weaken enough for them to take over?

Research now being done in India and elsewhere suggests an answer to these questions: Yes, all of the above.

19) Good stuff in NYT about the lack of women’s coaches in college athletics:

Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing l.field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t…

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

20) I had actually forgotten that at the beginning of this decade, 3D television was supposed to be a big thing.

The technology had existed before; Samsung got there first, in 2007. But January 2010 presented a clear inflection point. In addition to the Cell TV there were 3D Blu-ray players, sets that could automatically give depth to flat images, and the promise of DirecTV networks that broadcast exclusively in three dimensions. The industry had lined up behind a vision of the future, marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. How could it not be? It was more.

Five years later, 3D TV was dead. You probably haven’t thought about it since then, if you even did before. But there’s maybe no better totem for the last decade of consumer technology. (The iPhone was more transformative, but is also singular, and besides that was born in the late aughts.) It’s what happens when smart people run out of ideas, the last gasp before aspiration gives way to commoditization. It was the dawn of all-internet everything, and all the privacy violations inherent in that. And it steadfastly ignored how human beings actually use technology, because doing so meant companies could charge more for it.

What I remember most from those press conferences in 2010 was the assuredness that millions of people somehow actively wanted to have to put glasses on their faces in order to watch television. Even then, it made no sense.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much shamefully ignorant of politics in India.  But I’m so glad that I read this terrific New Yorker piece on the rise of Hindu nationalism, Modi, and the backslide of democracy.  Powerful stuff.

A feeling of despair has settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular, inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad, the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism. India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”

2) Good stuff in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline of reading.  As I was at it, I kicked my kids off the computer to tell them to read.  I need to do that more.

3) Finland has got this capitalism with robust social welfare protections thing very well figured out.  Nice Op-Ed in the NYT:

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism.The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.

Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic. Nevertheless, to many people in America, the Finnish system may still conjure impressions of dysfunction and authoritarianism. Yet Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked them highest in the world, followed by Norwegians, Danes, Swiss and Icelanders. This year, the World Happiness Report also announced Finland to be the happiest country on earth, for the second year in a row.

But surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. Yes, Finland faces its own economic challenges, and Finns are notorious complainers whenever anything goes wrong. But under its current system, Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest societies, and like the other Nordic countries, it is home to many hugely successful global companies…

In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. According to the World Bank, doing business in Denmark and Norway is actually easier overall than it is in the United States.

Short version: a way better/happier capitalism is not at all at odds with the social welfare spending that makes life better.  It is just at odds with a Republican ideology of tax cuts for rich people as the sine qua non.

4) Really interesting Columbia Journalism Review feature on how to think about political information.  It is far more like pollution that we need to address pervasively and systematically than by a just replying with facts and truth.

5) Great twitter thread from Michael Herriot in response to Nikki Haley’s absurd defense of the Confederate flag.

6) Really enjoyed this Vox interview with former GOP Congressman David Jolly about impeachment.  Very thoughtful guy– enjoyed meeting him at an NCSU event last year.

Sean Illing

It seems like the only way to flourish in a party defined by Trump, and propped up by conservative media, is to do what Jordan or Nunes or Stefanik are doing. And because of conservative media and what Trumpism has unleashed in the base, the dynamics won’t change that much after Trump leaves office.

David Jolly

I think this is what the party is. I don’t think we will see a reversal the day Trump leaves office. I’m curious who follows Trump because the politics aren’t going to change so dramatically. I don’t think it’s Mike Pence’s party when Trump’s gone. Anyone who wants to win in this party will have to appease the Trumpist base one way or the other.

And this whole impeachment saga is showing us that it’s not just Trump and Trumpism, it’s also Congress. I mean, Republicans in Congress right now are tearing at the fabric of the Constitution every bit as much as Donald Trump’s actions, because this is now their responsibility. It’s not their responsibility to defend Trump, but that’s what they’re prioritizing. And they’re undermining the institution of Congress every bit as much as Trump.

7) I was really intrigued to learn about how electric cars are much less efficient in cold weather.  Physics!

8) This was really cool (and fun to watch), “The ant-bite video that changed my approach to science communication.”

9) Been hearing multiple really good interviews with the Fusion GPS guys.  Good column from Michele Goldberg on how all roads lead to Russia, “Collusion wasn’t a hoax and Trump wasn’t exonerated.”

The second big lie is that Russia didn’t help elect Trump, and that the president has been absolved of collusion. It’s true that the report by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, did not find enough evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russian state actors. But the Mueller report found abundant evidence that the campaign sought Russian help, benefited from that help and obstructed the F.B.I. investigation into Russian actions. His investigation resulted in felony convictions for Trump’s former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, first national security adviser, and longtime political adviser, among others.

Had public life in America not been completely deformed by blizzards of official lies, right-wing propaganda and the immovable wall of Republican bad faith, the Mueller report would have ended Trump’s minoritarian presidency. Instead, something utterly perverse happened. Democrats, deflated by the Mueller report’s anticlimactic rollout, decided to move on rather than keep the focus on Trump’s world-historic treachery. Republicans, meanwhile, started screaming about a “Russia hoax” ostensibly perpetrated on their dear leader. Among them was the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who in 2016 was surreptitiously recorded telling his congressional colleagues that he thinks President Vladimir Putin of Russia pays Trump. “Swear to God,” he said at the time…

Because Republicans have been so successful in shrouding the origins of the Russia investigation in a miasma of misinformation, I hope some talented filmmaker makes a movie out of the new book by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.” Simpson and Fritsch are the co-founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that investigated Trump during the 2016 campaign, first for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, and then for a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was Fusion GPS that hired the British ex-spy Christopher Steele to look into Trump’s Russia connections, and it sits at the center of countless pro-Trump conspiracy theories. When Republicans controlled the House, Fritsch told me on Monday, “The only bank records that were subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee were ours.”

“Crime in Progress” is the best procedural yet written about the discovery of Trump’s Russia ties. It demolishes a number of right-wing talking points, including the claim that the Steele dossier formed the basis of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence inquiry into Trump. (The Justice Department inspector general’s report on the origins of the Russia investigation will reportedly disprove this canard once and for all.) But it also makes plain what many Republicans knew before the 2016 election, even if they’ve now pretended to forget it. For years, Trump was financially entangled with organized crime as well as with Kremlin-friendly oligarchs, and by keeping those entanglements secret, he gave Putin leverage over him from the moment he took office.

Write Simpson and Fritsch, “In the end, the Mueller probe sidestepped the question that so unnerved Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in the summer of 2016: Was the president of the United States under the influence of a foreign adversary?” Republicans have used all the power at their command to defame people who’ve asked this question. Perhaps that’s because otherwise they’d have to take seriously all the evidence that the answer is yes.

10) Our criminal “justice” system is so corrupted.  “Prison Guards Forced an 8-Year-Old Girl To Strip Before She Could Visit Her Father.”  Seriously, just how bad is the institutional rot for anybody to think this is okay.

11) And in depressing education news, the latest PISA scores,  “‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts: An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world.”

12) Pain, it’s all in your head.  Kind of.  “If ‘Pain Is an Opinion,’ There Are Ways to Change Your Mind
All pain is real, but it’s also true that it’s “made by the brain” and that we can exert some control over it.”  Austin Frakt:

One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists.

In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as the author and University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain…

ccording to his work and that of others, the degree of pain is not a reliable indicator of the severity of injury. And sometimes there is pain without any tissue damage at all.

An extreme example came from a 1995 report in the British Medical Journal. A builder jumped onto a nearly six-inch nail, which penetrated his boot’s sole, the tip visibly protruding from its top. To relieve his excruciating pain, doctors administered fentanyl and a sedative. But, when they removed the boot, the doctors discovered that the nail had passed between his toes, leaving his foot unharmed. There are many studies that find that the fear or catastrophizing of pain contributes to a greater feeling of pain.

13) I am totally for comprehensive sex education for teens that teaches extensively about contraception, consent, healthy sexual behaviors, etc., but I do think the California program may go too far.

14) You know I am fascinated by all things apple (the fruit, that is).  Lots of good stuff here about how changing farming practices and global warming are affecting apple harvests, but I was most intrigued about how apples are actually grown now:

Many modern commercial apple trees are planted in what’s called a high density trellis system. They top out at about six to eight feet and are narrow, like a sapling. Yet, fertilizers can push this waifish modern tree to grow about 50 full-size apples, compared to as many as 300 or so on the old-style trees. But instead of some 300 trees to an acre spaced about 10 feet apart, trees are planted 18 to 24 inches apart and there are 1,500 or so trees to an acre.

The trellis-style orchard increases product and profit. Many more premium apples are produced in the new-style orchard, some experts say. A few decades ago, apple growers harvested 200 to 300 bushels of apples to the acre and about 25 bushels were the highest grade. The goal now is 2,000 bushels an acre of premium apples, Dr. Cox said.

15) I did not know that about 700 million years ago, earth was basically a giant snowball.

An artist’s concept of the Earth frozen in snow, during one of the planet’s most severe ice ages.

Credit…Chris Butler/Science Source

16) Good work from Sides and Vavreck on the lack of ideological lanes among the primary electorate:

To many observers, the Democratic presidential primary has highlighted the “profound ideological divides between the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive wings,” as an Associated Press article put it — two wings locked in a bitter fight for control. The division supposedly shapes the race in profound ways. The New York Times has written that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg “are running in different ideological lanes,” for instance, and suggested that if voters sour on former vice president Joe Biden, they would mostly turn to Buttigieg, a fellow moderate.

Perhaps that’s how Democratic leaders and activists see the primary. But there’s just one problem: Someone forgot to tell Democratic voters.

In a large-scale project called Nationscape that we’re conducting with our colleague Chris Tausanovitch at the University of California at Los Angeles, we have queried more than 6,000 voters weekly since July. Using these data, we find a surprising amount of agreement among Democrats on major policy issues. Contradicting the conventional wisdom, clearly defined ideological “lanes” don’t seem to exist in the minds of most voters…

In general, voters appear to be focused not on “lanes” but on the candidates who are getting news coverage and who thus appear viable contenders for the nomination. So when asked their second choice, supporters of each front-runner — Biden, Warren or Sanders — default to other front-runners, ideology aside…

The tendency to overstate the ideological differences among supporters of Democratic candidates is not new. It happened in the 2016 Democratic primary — as we showed in our book “Identity Crisis.” Although Sanders supporters were more likely than Clinton supporters to describe themselves as liberal, the two groups didn’t differ that much on key issues, including raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy and whether the government should do more to provide health care and child care.

17) Police in Miami shoot a hostage and innocent bystander while using civilian automobiles for cover.  Some people shoot end up in prison for this.

Quick hits

Didn’t really feel like working on this on Friday night.  But, damnit, today is DJC’s birthday celebration (not sure if it’s the actual day) and I know he’s depending on his quick hits bright and early.

1) I found this NYT Op-Ed about how Mississippi (of all places) has dramatically improved reading scores by focusing on phonics and making sure elementary teachers understand the science if firmly behind it.  I didn’t realize lots of places still are not fully on-board with it despite the clear scientific evidence.  I’m glad my kids have had Letterland.

To understand what the science says, a good place to start is with something called the “simple view of reading.” It’s a model that was first proposed by researchers in 1986 to clarify the role of decoding in reading comprehension. Everyone agrees the goal of reading is to comprehend text, but back in the 1980s there was a big fight going on over whether children should be taught how to decode words — in other words, phonics.

The simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of two things. One is your ability to decode words: Can you identify the word a string of letters represents? For example, you see the letter string “l-a-s-s” and you are able to sound it out and say the word.

You may have no idea what “lass” means. This is where language comprehension comes in. Language comprehension is your ability to understand spoken language. So, when someone says to you, “Let’s have all the lads and lasses line up at the door,” you know that’s what all the boys and girls are supposed to do.

The simple view is an equation that looks like this:

decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension

Notice that reading comprehension is the product of decoding ability and language comprehension; it’s not the sum. In other words, if you have good language comprehension skills but zero decoding skills, your reading comprehension will be zero, because zero times anything is zero. The simple view also says that if you have good decoding skills but poor language comprehension skills, your reading comprehension isn’t going to be very good either.

The simple view model was proposed more than 30 years ago and has been confirmed over and over again by research. But a study in Mississippi several years ago showed that teachers were not being trained to use this model and that many professors and deans in colleges of education had never even heard of it. Now, through workshops and coaching paid for by state taxpayers, teachers in Mississippi are learning about the simple view and other key takeaways from the science of reading.

Also, there’s a long piece by the same author that I found especially interesting because of the Education professors who are basically the equivalent of climate deniers on the matter.  Really interesting stuff.

2) Rachel Bitecofer makes a strong case that we are using polls wrong in thinking about electability:

The problem with this conclusion is that it’s based on “electability” polls that are unreliable, leading to erroneous narratives that can make or break campaigns, especially for lesser-known candidates who also seek to break through gender or racial glass ceilings like Warren and Harris.

Horserace polling is replete with electability polls because the electability question is central in voters’ minds and, as such, is the type of data heavily prioritized by media outlets. There are significant incentives to produce this type of polling but little scrutiny placed on the practice. Decades of political science scholarship shows that polling helps create narratives that can impact voter behavior, the ability of candidates to raise money, and electability, all of which tie to candidate poll performance in a positive feedback loop. Research shows that voters highly value candidate electability, defined as a candidate’s potential to compete against the opposition party’s nominee, as one of the most important factors driving their vote choice. Even in today’s hyper-ideological environment, two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey indicate they’d prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over one who aligns with them on the issues, even immediately following an ideology-priming event such as a debate.

The only candidates for whom head-to-head ballot tests are capable of reliably measuring “electability” are those who enjoy what I call “saturation” name recognition. The test only works when two or more equally well-known candidates are compared to each other. It is really important to illustrate how hard it is to reach saturation-level name recognition among the American electorate.

Even Biden, who served as vice president for eight years, is not universally known by voters. The most recent iteration of the Economist/YouGov tracking poll, which samples 1,500 American adults on a rolling basis, finds 15% of sampled adults unable to offer an opinion as to whether they approve or disapprove of Biden. The latest iteration of the Morning Consult Democratic primary tracking poll finds 8% of potential voters reporting they’ve “heard of, but can’t offer an opinion” on Biden and 1% have never heard of him, for a total of 9% in what I call the “unfamiliar with the candidate” category. However, it must be noted, we are now talking about a far more sophisticated population of voters: potential Democratic primary voters. Participants in presidential primaries are among the most engaged and informed voters in the country. Yet, 8% of these voters appear incapable of offering the most basic of opinions about a man who served as President Obama’s veep.

3) The headline about a once-a-month birth control pill is a little misleading (the technology still needs a lot of work), but it was fascinating indeed to learn about the work on a pill that basically slowly releases medication in your stomach for a month.

4) We’re going to run out of teachers because we don’t pay them enough.  We really need to remedy this.  If only rich people and corporations didn’t need their tax cuts so badly.

There are one-third less people enrolling in teacher training programs, which is part of the certification process to become an educator, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
In some states, such as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois, enrollment declined by more than 50%.
The drop in teacher training enrollment suggests that issues plaguing the profession — from low pay to dwindling school funding — has discouraged potential educators, exacerbating the nationwide teacher shortage…

Other data centers have similarly staggering estimates of the teacher shortage crisis. The independent research group Learning Policy Institute estimated a 112,000 teacher shortage in 2018.

Part of the reason many rejected the education field was due to low pay. Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2% less.

5) It’s ultimately super-small, but nonetheless encouraging to see some NC local elected officials giving up on the Republican Party for it giving up on the rule of law.

6) Interesting column from David Brooks where he, in theory, is taking on the left by taking on socialism, but ultimately holds up the same model as Bernie Sanders– Denmark.  Yes, Northern Europe does seem to have largely figured out how to balance relatively free markets with a robust public sector– I’m all for emulating it.

7) Sad story of rural, Southwestern Virginia town doing everything to hand on as the population just shrinks.  But, it is also a story of a hugely disproportionate transfer of wealth to one community where it is unlikely to save it:

This corner of southwestern Virginia has long sought alternatives to coal as a source of sustenance. The Appalachian School of Law, which opened in the 1990s in the shell of Grundy Junior High School, was heralded as a new economic engine, lubricated — of course — with taxpayer funds. So was the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, founded in 2003 some 20 minutes down the road in Oakwood. County officials considered a dental school, but figured it was too expensive. They still get grumpy about the optometry school, on which they spent $250,000 in feasibility studies only for it to open across the state line in Pikeville, Ky. Then there is downtown Grundy itself, much of which was moved up the hill to avoid periodic floodwaters from the Levisa Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River…

Virginia estimates that the relocation and flood-proofing projects, started almost 20 years ago, cost $170 million in federal and state funds, more than $170,000 for every woman, man and child living in town today. The Army Corps of Engineers shaved off the flank of a mountain across the river to create an elevated platform on which the new commercial district would sit. Virginia’s Department of Transportation bulldozed much of the old downtown and routed U.S. 460 through it, built on top of a levee protecting what was left of Grundy’s old center. Finally, in 2011, Walmart opened a superstore to anchor the new site, perched somewhat oddly above a two-story, publicly funded parking lot.

8) I really quite enjoyed and appreciated the NYC subway on my trip there this summer.  Most everyone on twitter was a big fan of this NYT interactive feature on the subway map.

9) Helaine Olen in polling and a winning message for Democrats in 2020.  Honestly, it does seem crazy to see far left and center-left tear each other apart when there’s a consensus agenda that all Democrats can embrace, Republican voters like, but is anathema to Republican politicians:

While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:

  • College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”
  • “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”
  • People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.
  • Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”
  • Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.

That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.

10) In a more sane world, we’d be talking more about trump’s military pardons, which really were appalling.  Thomas Edsall:

I asked Porch what the consequences might be of Trump’s war crimes pardons of former Army First Lt. Michael BehennaMaj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and his restoration of rank and service medals to Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

First, Porch wrote, “the treatment of POWs is based on reciprocity” and “thus, to pardon soldiers who allegedly carry out war crimes is to put you own soldiers at risk.”

Second, “it undermines the moral foundation of intervention — how can a cause be moral and acceptable internationally if those who carry it out do not behave within legal norms?”

Trump has taken the opposite stance. In a tweet on Oct. 12, the president declared: “We train our boys to be killing machines, and then prosecute them when they kill!”…

General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also disagreed. He told The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s intervention “betrays these ideals and undermines decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world.”

Scholars of the military generally took the side of Dempsey and Krulak in opposition to the pardons.

Mara Karlin, the director of the strategic studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development during the Obama administration, was incisive in her critique of the war crimes pardons. In an email, Karlin wrote:

While some in the military are surely enthusiastic that Trump did so because they support him or Gallagher, they may be underestimating the precedent now set. Of all the contemporary norms that Trump has violated vis-à-vis the military, this is among the most catastrophic because at the end of the day, a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military justice system is the sine qua non of a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military.

11) Should we trust the polls on ready the country is ready for a gay president?

As Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has surged to a top position in Iowa polls in the Democratic presidential primary, media reports have emerged warning that his sexuality may yet derail his White House bid. A recent national Politico/Morning Consult poll found that a plurality of voters, 45 percent, think the country is not ready for an openly gay president, with only 40 percent saying it’s ready. Consultants have chimed in to say the mayor may be less electable than coastal elites realize because he’s gay.

Ordinary voters are quoted saying they — or their “devout Christian” mother — “would never vote for a gay.” And the Buttigieg campaign’s own focus groups recently found that many undecided black voters in South Carolina regard the candidate’s sexual orientation as a “barrier” to winning their votes.

But the power of polls to predict behavior around social issues and disfavored groups has always been poor, and what we know about people’s attitudes and actions when it comes to L.G.B.T. concerns tells a cautionary tale about how to interpret claims by voters that they won’t support an openly gay candidate for president.

Pollsters have long known about the poor predictive power of asking respondents how they would treat members of an unfavored minority group, especially in politically polarized climates.

12) The Supreme Court heard a big gun control case this week.  What was notable was the way some of the conservatives were really eager to deny the mootness of the issue staring them in the face.  Now that’s judicial activism.

13) Super-edifying, but I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, when I write something and see that one of my favorites has already made the same point.  In this case, Drum on Barron Trump.

There is nothing wrong with saying this. Nonetheless, Republicans pretended to be outraged by it, and as near as I can tell there was no pushback. Not a single Republican stepped up to say “Give it a rest, guys.”

This kind of solidarity is a startlingly successful strategy. Reporters mostly bought into the Republican outrage, and even more tellingly, so did many Democrats, who suggested that Karlan really shouldn’t have “brought up the president’s son.” Eventually this forced Karlan to say sorry, which prompted yet another round of faux Republican outrage over her (of course) inadequate apology.

This was a minor affair, quickly forgotten. But it reminds me once again of the hack gap. Conservatives instinctively circled the wagons after the first person let loose on Karlan. Many joined in and none defended Karlan. Liberals, by contrast, were divided. Some were clear from the start that the whole thing was entirely fake, but others apparently felt like they had to demonstrate their reasonableness, which they did by saying that while it was no big deal, “still she really should have left Barron out of it.”

14) Paul Waldman on Biden’s “surprisingly liberal” tax plan:

Joe Biden is more liberal than he looks.

Let me qualify that: Biden is moderate in many ways, in vision and inclination. But the policy plans he has laid out as part of his campaign are much more progressive than most anyone seems to realize.

The latest evidence: the tax plan he just released. The coverage it’s receiving has tended toward “Biden releases tax plan much less ambitious than what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders propose.” In fact, it’s so liberal — in very good ways — that when he was vice president it would have been considered radical, certainly too much for Barack Obama to have signed into law, or in some cases even suggested.

This tells us a great deal about the state of the Democratic Party and how it has affected Biden, who is assumed to be the ideologically moderate choice for president (along with other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar).

15) Max Boot, “To GOP hypocrites: I never want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails again.”

If there were a global competition for insincerity, President Trump would have won the equivalent of an Oscar, a gold medal, a Ballon d’Or and a Vince Lombardi Trophy combined. You simply could not be more two-faced; it is not humanly possible. His picture belongs in the dictionary under the very word “hypocrisy.”

Trump, recall, spent much of 2016 leading chants of “Lock her up!” because Hillary Clinton made the mistake of employing a private server for some of her official emails as secretary of state. Trump still routinely refers to the former first lady and secretary of state as “Crooked Hillary” as if she had actually committed a crime. Never mind that the Justice Department decided not to prosecute and that a lengthy State Department investigation, completed during the Trump administrationfound “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

And yet, while castigating Clinton for supposedly mishandling classified information, Trump has been engaging in far more egregious examples of the very same sin…

But all these security breaches pale by comparison with Trump’s promiscuous use of a cellphone to conduct top-secret conversations. My Post colleagues Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that “Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”

And lets definitely not forget to blame the media for taking these bad faith arguments in good faith.

16) Call me transphobic, but, sorry, if you were born a male I don’t think you get to compete in athletic competitions as female.  Also, I honestly don’t know where the controversy falls on the terminology these days, but I’m totally comfortable with the author identifying as as “woman,” but I don’t know about the insistence upon “female.”

17) Okay, I don’t actually listen to the album anymore (though I hear plenty on 90’s at 9 on my satellite radio), but I still say Alanis‘ “Jagged Little Pill” was a great album.  Enjoyed this NYT magazine feature on her.

18) Speaking of music, I had not heard the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” in years and years, but heard it on the radio yesterday.  Used to listen to it all the time on the one Kinks album I owned.  Now that’s a rock ‘n roll Christmas song.

19) How exercise may make your muscles function like they are decades younger.

20) Planet Money on the Constitutional hurdles (with this Supreme Court… hell yeah!) of the wealth tax and an interesting alternative:

Recently, Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, proposed such a reform. He wants to get rid of the “two tax codes” for workers and investors. He proposes the government create “one tax code” by taxing investment income at the same rate as labor income and taxing investment gains annually whether or not they’re sold. Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker, each running for president, have proposed similar tax policies.

Wyden proposes an “anti-deferral” tax system in which people with over a million dollars in annual income or ten million in net worth over three consecutive years would lose the ability to defer tax payments on publicly listed assets, like stocks and bonds. Harder-to-value private assets, like artwork, real estate, and ownership shares of private businesses, would face a retroactive “deferral charge” when they’re sold. He estimates the tax would raise between $1.5 to $2 trillion over ten years, and he wants to use the money to strengthen the Social Security program.

Proposals for accrual taxes face similar criticisms to the wealth tax. The policy would require, for instance, significant resources to administer. It could distort saving and investment decisions and have unintended consequences for the broader economy. And while proposals on the table include measures to avoid such problems, it’s possible the tax could be hard on some taxpayers who look rich on paper but are in fact short on the cash needed to pay the tax.

A key question over an accrual tax is how it will deal with investor losses. If rich investors get hammered in a financial crash, for instance, will they be able to write off their paper losses? If they make a huge gain one year on Amazon stock and pay a lot in accrual tax, but then next year Amazon stock tanks, do they get to claw back those taxes previously paid? If so, how much? Wyden expresses support for allowing deductibility of losses from tax bills, but he doesn’t provide many specifics. As of September, when he released a white paper about the policy, he sought public comment.

Batchelder believes a wealth tax has a number of advantages over an accrual tax. For one, a wealth tax is easier to explain, which is an asset to politicians, who have to convert complicated policies into easy-to-digest talking points. An accrual tax, which necessitates more wonky details and dull explanations, just isn’t as sexy. “It hasn’t gotten, obviously, the media attention that a wealth tax has,” Batchelder says.

But Batchelder thinks an accrual tax could go a long way toward raising revenue and addressing inequality, and she suggests the policy could even be included as a “backup mechanism” in wealth tax legislation that could kick in if the Supreme Court knocks a wealth tax down.

 

 

Why you should major in Psychology

So, the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter I subscribe to recently featured the really cool work of Ben Schmidt, who looks at the impact of gender on class evaluations of professors via the words used at ratemyprofessor.com.  Unsurprisingly, some pretty significant biases

Here’s Becky Supiano’s excellent summary of the findings:

Student evaluations of teaching are both widely used and, as a host of studies have shown, deeply flawed. They don’t measure teaching quality particularly well. They also reflect students’ bias, in that women and minorities tend to receive more critical evaluations. The problem is significant enough that 18 scholarly associations signed onto a statement in September asking colleges to not rely on them heavily in determining teaching effectiveness.

Thanks to Ben Schmidt, a clinical associate professor of history and director of digital humanities at New York University, we also have an interesting way to visualize the differences in the ways that students evaluate male and female professors. And we can see how different disciplines are described.

A few years ago, Schmidt mined 14 million reviews on RateMyProfessors to create an interactive tool, Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews. Plug a term into the chart and you can see how many times per million words of text it is used, broken down by gender and discipline. It’s a fascinating — and highly addictive — look at the way in which students perceive their professors. At times the results can seem absurd.

Schmidt’s original plan was to write an article about the tool, which he created in 2015. But, he says, “I couldn’t quite figure out what that article would say, so I just put it online.”

The tool turned out to be quite popular: People have entered about 50,000 to 100,000 search terms every month. “It’s been interesting because I see a lot of people use it for a lot of different things,” Schmidt says, including introductory teaching workshops and diversity training programs. While data from RateMyProfessors obviously has limitations — the reviews are voluntary, for one — Schmidt says that a lot of his findings correlate with what the research shows about how students evaluate professors differently, based on gender.

So, how do students describe their male and female professors? Let’s take a look.

Who’s funnier? Men, apparently. Male psychology professors, it seems, are particularly hilarious. Men are so funny, in fact, that even the most somber among them — that would be engineering professors — are funnier than most women, scoring 797 references per million words of text, a higher number than women in 16 other disciplines.

But take heart, female psychology professors. Like your male counterparts, you’re also funnier than your female colleagues in every other discipline.

Here’s a look at who comes out on top based on other terms. Let’s start with a few used to describe intelligence:

Brilliant: That would be men, by a long shot. In every discipline students are more likely to call a male professor brilliant than a female one, with the biggest gap in English. There are also certain disciplines that attract that term more than others. Professors in philosophy hear that word the most, male and female. Accounting: not so much.

Intelligent: Men are given the edge here, too, in every discipline except criminal justice. Expert is also more likely used to describe men in most disciplines, although not many students use that label.

Then there’s a group of terms that describe personality.

Mean: Women are more likely, in every discipline, to be described as mean. The same holds true for rude, demanding, and crazy.

But there’s also this:

Nice: Women are described this way much more frequently in every discipline, and by a noticeable margin. Also, who is more likely to be caring and warm? Yup: women.

Schmidt says this seeming paradox can be explained by the fact that students often evaluate men and women using different criteria. Men are more likely to be evaluated on their intelligence, negatively or positively. Women are more likely to be evaluated on personality traits, like whether they are caring.

I also typed in a frequent complaint by students:

Boring: Men, you win this one. The most boring among you are anthropologists. Yet you are also the most interesting. Go figure.

And on a final note of confusion:

Unprepared and prepared: Women are more often described as one or the other, compared to men, although the term “prepared” is used more frequently, overall. So, chalk one up for women?

Schmidt says he hopes the tool “can take the sting out” of some negative evaluations by illustrating how gender bias plays a factor. “Evaluations are such a personal thing and when you read them you feel like these are really about me,” he says. “But there is this really strong structural thing about the way that language is used to describe people.”

Very interesting stuff.  Though, sadly, cannot say I found any of it particularly surprising.  So, that’ why the title of this post.  What I did learn is that Psychology professors are the funniest (both genders) which strikes me as a damn fine reason to major it in.

In all seriousness, for persons interested in social science, but not politics in particular, I think this is by far the best major.  I almost surely apply major findings from social psychology to my interpersonal interactions every single day– I cannot say the same for political science.  Plus, apparently you get the funniest professors.  Win-win.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Eating on an empty stomach may help you burn more fat.

2) It really is kind of amazing how we let narrow, organized interests ruin public policy in all sorts of ways that doesn’t seem to happen in Europe.  For example, the “great American eye exam scam.”  In Europe, you can simply purchase new glasses/contacts whether you’ve had an official prescription in the past year or not.  And if you need a simple vision exam you can get that free of charge where you buy your glasses.  Soo, not the case in America.

3) Really solid, thorough, historically-based rebuttal of most all the claims people make in favor of the electoral college.  Send this to anybody you know who makes a historical argument for the electoral college.  Really, it should be so, so gone.

4) Part of the real progress our society has made in pulling back on mass incarceration is electing a new generation of prosecutors who understand their role in a more fair and just system.  Alas, all the “tough on crime” (more commonly “needlessly harsh, inhumane, and inefficient on crime” types) are engaging in a major backlash.

5) Love this from John McWhorter on recent Buttigieg and race controversy.  As with so many things, this starts with someone looking for an excuse to take offense, rather than read  comments more charitably:

A beautiful illustration of the difference between Twitter and the real world is the viral status of Michael Harriot’s attack on Mayor Pete Buttigieg in The Root as a “lying MF.” [emphases mine]

Buttigieg’s sin was to state, in 2011, that inner-city black kids are hobbled from getting the education they need because they lack role models who attest to the benefits of education. “And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

Many will already wonder what was wrong here: After all, is it not a mantra of enlightened thought about race to bemoan the absence of role models for various beneficial behaviors? However, to Harriot, Buttigieg’s reference to this truism was “lying.” The nut of the issue is that there are other reasons inner-city kids fail to graduate or go to college, such as funding disparities, unequal curriculum resources, and violence.

All of those things are real. Unreal, however, is Harriot’s leap of logic: that in not mentioning those things, Buttigieg was inherently denying their existence, and that in noting the lack of role models, he was blaming black people for their own problems. Buttigieg’s transgression seems to have been that he did not mention all of the reasons black kids have trouble accessing education in underserved neighborhoods. A more elaborate answer would have been more sophisticated. But why would anyone read him as an “MF” for not ticking off the whole list?

Civil-rights leaders of the recent past would be baffled by the pique here, as, I’m sure, would Americans who don’t spend most of their waking hours on social media. It’s been widely noted of late that “woke” white people are “woker” than most black people. It is also true that “woke” black people in academia and media are “woker” than a great many black people who don’t have the privilege of a byline. Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors.

Harriot and those who agree with him are reading Buttigieg as having simply preached that black people don’t care about school. But sheer psychological plausibility rules out that this is what he meant. Let’s suppose that for some reason, this is what thoughtful, Millennial Buttigieg, who at the time was running for mayor of a mostly black town, actually thought. Let’s just suppose that. But: Would a sober, ambitious figure like Buttigieg sit in public casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids?

Buttigieg was speaking out of informed sympathy, as anyone familiar with American sociopolitical discussion should have noticed. Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained. We must heed our inner blip of confusion instead of suspending logic when we grapple with race issues.

6) The latest research to show that sugar-sweetened soda and diet soda will both kill you.   This strikes me as more of the same correlational evidence without sufficient controls which leaves me entirely unconvinced that I need to change my Diet Dr Pepper habit.

7) Love this story of how Martin O’Malley lit into horrible human being, certified xenophobe, and Trump administration lackey, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of their shared Jesuit education:

O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who was Maryland governor from 2007 to 2015, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He said that when he spotted Cuccinelli, he unloaded his frustration at the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents and detention of immigrants in chain-link enclosures at the southern U.S. border.

“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages — certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga,” O’Malley said in a text.

8) On our Thanksgiving road trip, I was amused to learn just how paranoid and ill-informed most of my family is about just how addictive most illegal drugs are.  The simple truth is that just one use of even the most addictive substances will not lead to addiction.  I told them I was quite confident I could take any drug once and not get addicted.  They were afraid I was going to head out on a binge of marijuana gummies and heroin.  Anyway, here’s the key chart and quote from an old post of mine.

drugs

Among other things in the chart, I found the concept of “capture” to be key in how we typically think about just how addictive a drug is.  That is, if you keep using a drug for a while, what is the likelihood you will develop a dependency.  As you see, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and meth are the highest for capture, with nicotine in a class by itself.   The relapse rate shows that nicotine and heroin are the hardest to kick.  As the authors point out, though, even drugs with a high capture rate grab only about 1/4 of continuing users.  Surely much lower than we’ve generally been led to believe.

9) From the annals of absurd over-reaction.  A local suburb has canceled their Christmas parade because people are objecting to the Confederate float:

The Town of Garner has canceled this year’s Christmas parade after online chatter about inclusion of a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans led town officials to conclude “the event could be targeted for disruption.”

The posts on Facebook and Twitter did not include any threats to disrupt the parade, nor did anyone directly contact the town other than through social media, said spokesman Rick Mercier. But given the protests around Confederate monuments and symbols in the Triangle in recent years, town officials decided to cancel the event, Mercier said.

“We just absolutely had to err on the side of public safety and what we thought was best and what we could realistically prepare for and not put the public and staff in any kind of a bad situation,” he said in an interview.

So, cancel a Christmas parade because some people will maybe non-violently protest.

10) This is one of those things that is kind of esoteric, but actually super-important.  The Supreme Court conservatives now seem poised to make it very difficult for federal bureaucracies to make policy (under Congressional statutory authority) and this is how a helluva lot of policy is made.  And Vox with the even scarier take on this.

11) I liked Drum’s “middle class agenda” for Democrats:

As progressives, we have a natural tendency to focus our policies on the poorest and weakest among us. This is, needless to say, admirable, but it’s also politically dangerous if it’s taken too far and leads the middle classes to believe they’ve been abandoned.

This is where we find ourselves today. We spend about a trillion dollars a year on social welfare programs for the poor, an expansion of 300 percent since 1980. In inflation-adjusted terms, this represents an increase from $3,000 per poor person to $12,000 per poor person. This chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows what this means:

Thanks to the demise of unions and the nature of our economy, the affluent have done very well. Thanks to the big increase in social welfare programs, the poor have done well too in relative terms. It’s the working and middle classes that have done the worst—and it’s not close. What’s more, the rate at which they’ve lost ground to the top and bottom has accelerated since 2000.

Is it any wonder they feel left behind even if they make more in absolute terms than the poor? The best example of this is the bitter observation from many of them that they wish they were poorer so they’d qualify for Medicaid instead of having to pay for an Obamacare policy with big deductibles and out-of-pocket maxes in the thousands of dollars.

So what if we decided to focus our attention tightly on the working and middle classes? What would a Democratic agenda look like? Something like this:

  • Instead of Medicare for All, double the subsidies for Obamacare and reduce the maximum allowable deductible and OOP expenses at the silver level. The new subsidy levels should be set so that families with incomes all the way up to the high double-figures would have to pay no more than about 5 percent of their income for premiums. This would cover virtually the entire middle class and would be affordable by nothing more complicated than repealing the Republican tax cut for the rich.
  • Propose a serious and aggressive pro-union plan. This would cost nothing, and it would primarily benefit the working class and the lower middle class. Figure out how to sell this in terms that make sense to ordinary workers, and if you don’t know how then ask Sherrod Brown.
  • Put forward a massive and detailed plan to build green infrastructure—solar, wind, grid upgrades, etc. This would address climate change and provide hundreds of thousands of middle-class construction jobs for every state in the country. Finance it with taxes on the rich.
  • Stay honest about hot-button social issues, but do your best not to talk about them a lot. In most cases it’s a lose-lose proposition.

You get the idea. These are things with limited costs that can be sold to the middle class as real, concrete benefits.

12) EJ Dionne, “What unites Trump’s apologists? Minority rule.”

Two questions are asked again and again: How can white evangelical Christians continue to support a man as manifestly immoral as President Trump? And how can congressional Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s thuggish effort to use taxpayer money to intimidate a foreign leader into helping his reelection campaign?

The answer to both relates to power — not just the power Trump now enjoys but also to the president’s faithfulness to a deal aimed at controlling American political life for a generation or more. Both evangelicals and Republican politicians want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them. As a party, the GOP now depends on empowering a minority over the nation’s majority.

This is reflected in its eagerness to enact laws restricting access to the ballot in states it controls. Rationalized as ways to fight mythical “voter fraud,” voter-ID statutes and the purging of voter rolls are designed to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. The new electorate is a lot less Republican than the old one. The GOP much prefers the old one…

Still, voter suppression and the electoral college (along with partisan gerrymandering) are not foolproof. There is, however, one part of government entirely immune from the results of any particular election: the lifetime appointees to federal judgeships, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. And here is where Trump has delivered big time for those willing to let him do just about anything else.

13) This was really interesting, “Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love: One researcher argues that a dog’s ability to bond has more to do with forming emotional attachments than being smart about what humans want.”

Dr. Wynne’s book runs counter to Dr. Hare’s when it comes to the importance of dog’s thinking ability, which Dr. Hare sees as central to their bond with humans. By using the L word, Dr. Wynne may well appeal to the many besotted dog owners. But he may also disappoint. The reason dogs are such “an amazing success story” is because of their ability to bond with other species, he said. Not just humans.

Raise a dog with sheep and it will love sheep. Raise a dog with goats and it will love goats. Raise a dog with people … you know the rest…

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

Interestingly, the experiment found no genetic absolutism about the connection between dogs and humans. Without contact with humans when they are young, dogs can become as wary of humans as wild animals. Wolves are not so easily socialized. They require 24-hour-a-day involvement with humans for many weeks when they are puppies to become more tolerant of human beings. They never turn into Xephos.

Admittedly, Xephos is at the tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling end of dog friendliness. Anyone who knows dogs can call to mind some that are not friendly at all, or are friendly to only one person. But in general there is no comparison in friendliness between dogs and wolves…

By looking at the lemon-sized dog brain, he has shown, for instance, that, based on how the reward center lights up, a dog likes praise as much as it likes hot dogs. In testing outside of the M.R.I., Dr. Berns has also found that, given a choice, some dogs prefer their owners to food.

He agreed that the hypersociality of dogs is what makes them special rather than particular cognitive abilities. “It’s hard to demonstrate any cognitive task that dogs are superior in,” he said. But he pointed out that “ultimately the difficulty is in saying what is a cognitive function and an emotional function.”

14) David Ignatius on the firing of the Navy Secretary:

President Trump’s attempt to manipulate military justice had a sorry outcome Sunday with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. For the past nine months, Spencer had tried to dissuade Trump from dictating special treatment for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — but in the end Spencer was sacked for his efforts to protect his service.

​With Spencer’s firing, Trump has recklessly crossed a line he had generally observed before, which had exempted the military from his belligerent, government-by-tweet interference. But the Gallagher case illustrates how an irascible, vengeful commander in chief is ready to override traditional limits to aid political allies in foreign policy, law enforcement and now military matters…

Spencer’s letter Sunday to Trump, acknowledging his “termination,” echoed that of former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December because of similar concerns about Trump’s unwise intervention in military and national-security decisions.

“As Secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline, throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business,” Spencer wrote. “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.” In a paraphrase of what Mattis wrote 11 months ago, Spencer wrote that Trump should have a Navy secretary “who is aligned with his vision.”

For Navy commanders who have worried about eroding discipline in a SEAL force that’s lionized in movies and television, and protected by presidential diktat, Spencer’s most ominous line was: “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.”

15) And how about some encouraging news…  An Israeli startup is having great success at turning ordinary trash into recyclable material:

KIBBUTZ TZE’ELIM, Israel — Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz — rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what’s next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

“The magic that we’re doing is we’re taking everything — the chicken bones, the banana peels,” says Jack “Tato” Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. “We take this waste, and we convert it.”

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

16) This is really good from David Farenthold, “Trump’s legal strategy: If you can’t beat the case, beat the system”

Donald Trump’s friend, lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn had an adage: “F— the law,” he liked to say, according to a new book by attorney James D. Zirin. “Who’s the judge?” He meant that, although idealists might imagine that the courts were august and impartial, the judiciary was in fact made up of people who could be bullied or bamboozled or bought off. To Cohn, politics was a brutal and unfair game, and the law was just an extension of politics, with extra paperwork. If you understood that, he believed, you could get a huge head start on the idealists.

For a young Trump, this was a foundational lesson, according to Zirin. In his book “Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits,” Zirin argues that Trump learned to see the law as Cohn did: “not as a system of rules to be obeyed . . . but as a potent weapon to be used against his adversaries.” Trump sued often but rarely won big. Winning in court wasn’t always the point: The lawsuit itself was the thing, a tool of intimidation cloaked in legalese, an outgoing missile that left your enemies buried in costs and hassle. That approach had costs for Trump, too. But he could bear them. He lost friends, wives, lawyers and business partners — but always found new ones, who thought their fate would be different.

Zirin has good timing: His book arrives as Trump faces the legal fight of his career, using all the tools he honed in a lifetime of lawsuits. So far this year, Trump has sued those investigating him, including House committees and the Manhattan district attorney, to stop them from obtaining his financial documents. He has also attacked those pursuers out of court, trying to tar his enemies as partisans seeking “a coup” to overturn the 2016 election. Instead of submitting to precedent, he has ignored it — and posited a theory that, in the eyes of the law, a president is like a temporary emperor. In a recent appeals court hearing, a judge asked Trump’s attorney what would happen if the president shot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?” Judge Denny Chin asked, adding, “Nothing could be done? That is your position?”

“That is correct,” said Trump’s private attorney.

17) My son recently asked me about how accurate the origin story of Thanksgiving is.  Without knowing much I told him I presumed that there was some kernel of truth, but it was likely far more of an origin myth created much later.  I was very much right.  Good NYT story about the reality and the mythology.

18) If you’ve had a kid in high school math, you know about “big calculator.”  Good piece on how TI’s dominance came to be.  Still don’t quite get why Walmart or somebody doesn’t sell a generic version for half-price and make a killing.

 

Quick hits

1) Great stuff from Adam Serwer:

All of these arguments, ranging from the weak to the false, obscure the core reason for the impeachment inquiry, which is that the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy against American democracy. [emphasis mine] Fearing that the 2016 election was a fluke in which Trump prevailed only because of a successful Russian hacking and disinformation campaign, and a last-minute intervention on Trump’s behalf by the very national-security state Trump defenders supposedly loathe, Trump and his advisers sought to rig the 2020 election by forcing a foreign country to implicate the then-Democratic front-runner in a crime that did not take place. If the American people could not be trusted to choose Trump on their own, Trump would use his official powers to make the choice for them.

It was, in short, a conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to keep themselves in power, the exact scenario for which the Framers of the Constitution devised the impeachment clause. This scheme was carried out by Trump-appointed officials, and by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running a corrupt back channel aimed at, in his words, “meddling in an investigation.” And it came very close to succeeding. As Brian Beutler writes, “Had the whole scheme not come to light in a whistleblower complaint, and Trump not released his hold on aid to Ukraine, we might have awaken [sic] one morning to a blaring CNN exclusive about international corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential frontrunner and his party.”

2) New Yorker’s Susan Glaser:

For hours afterward, Republicans on the panel dismissed Hill. Some of them yelled at her. Some of them refused to ask her any direct questions. Some made false equivalences between Russia’s massive state-sanctioned campaign in 2016 and Ukrainian expressions of dismay that Trump publicly backed the country with which they are at war and employed as his campaign chair a man who had worked for their ousted corrupt Russian-backed leader. Confronted after the hearing with Hill’s unequivocal statement that Ukraine had not interfered in the U.S. election, the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, a man who once mocked Trump for being in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, simply refused to accept it. “I think they did,” he told reporters. On Friday morning, Trump called into “Fox & Friends” and repeated the Russian conspiracy theory about Ukraine all over again on live TV.

The denial was telling. If Republicans were now willing to disavow a fact they had previously acknowledged, it seemed more and more apparent that they could not be swayed by any of the actual evidence against Trump. On Wednesday, Sondland told the committee that Trump had personally directed him to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to force Ukraine’s hand on the investigations, leveraging a White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s new President. “Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland testified. “The answer is yes.” But many committee Republicans simply twisted that statement around, repeating Trump’s misleading words to Sondland that there had been “no quid pro,” as if the President’s denial were the only proof needed of his innocence. As Thursday’s hearing wound down, Will Hurd, a retiring Texas representative who was once seen as a possible Republican vote for impeachment, used his questioning time not to engage with Hill but to announce that he saw “no evidence” of impeachable offenses. There was no one left to persuade, at least in the House of Representatives. It was a surprisingly definitive moment.

3) Had no idea college paper mills and plagiarism software were now in an odd symbiosis.

4) Great stuff from Norm Ornstein on the “fantasy world” of Democratic debates:

Yet while polls show that health care is a top priority for voters, and while the policy differences among the slew of Democratic presidential candidates are meaningful, the moderators posing highly specific questions about the issue at past debates have ignored something important: However coherent, complete, fiscally sustainable, or popular the positions the candidates are taking on health reform—and on other issues such as immigration, education, taxes, and more—presidents do not get to wave magic wands and make their policies happen. They are thrown into a governing process in which a president’s plan is almost never enacted into law fully, if it is enacted at all. The legislative process, in recent decades, has become even more toxic. But questions that press the candidates on how they would navigate through this environment—and what they would do to reduce its toxicity—have been conspicuously absent in every debate so far. [emphasis mine]

5) Terrific column from Krugman:

No, what we’re actually witnessing is a test of the depths to which the Republican Party will sink. How much corruption, how much collusion with foreign powers and betrayal of the national interest will that party’s elected representatives stand for?

And the result of that test seems increasingly clear: There is no bottom. The inquiry hasn’t found a smoking gun; it has found what amounts to a smoking battery of artillery. Yet almost no partisan Republicans have turned on Trump and his high-crimes-and-misdemeanors collaborators. Why not?

The answer gets to the heart of what’s wrong with modern American politics: The G.O.P. is now a thoroughly corrupt party. Trump is a symptom, not the disease, and our democracy will remain under dire threat even if and when he’s gone.

6) Really interesting stuff on male/female speech patterns and politics:

Women and men tend to have different speech patterns, linguists will tell you. Women, especially young women, tend to have more versatile intonation. They place more emphasis on certain words; they are playful with language and have shorter and thinner vocal cords, which produce a higher pitch. That isn’t absolute, nor is it necessarily a bad thing — unless, of course, you are a person with a higher pitch trying to present yourself with some kind of authority. This basic contradiction has kept speech coaches in business for decades…

In a course called “Sounding American,” at the University of California at Berkeley, Tom McEnaney, a professor of comparative literature and Portuguese and Spanish, teaches that there is in fact a sound that people associate with authority in this country — and, while it is constantly evolving, it has its roots in many things, one of which is early broadcast technology. Dating back to the phonograph, he said, engineers had created a device that was designed for the male voice — newscasters, presidents, public figures — to the extent that if a woman spoke into it, her voice would sound distorted, thin or scrambled.

“The mic wouldn’t pick up certain ranges of voice,” Professor McEnaney said. “If a woman wanted to speak and get her voice recorded, she had to produce more volume and more energy to make the same marks. She could try to speak lower, or she could shout. But she’d have to change her voice.”

Over time, that technology improved — but he thinks the deep-rooted association between female voices and sonic distortion leads to the seemingly strong (albeit frequently subconscious) reaction that many people have to the higher pitch.

“So there was a bias in the engineering. That bias in the engineering produced distortion, which was mistakenly associated with women’s voices, and then listeners, even after that correction, used that association as the justification for their ongoing prejudice against women’s voices,” Professor McEnaney said. “And those carry up to the present day.”

Indeed, a 2012 study published in PLoS ONE found that both men and women prefer male and female leaders who have lower-pitched voices, while a 2015 report in a journal called Political Psychology determined, in a sample of U.S. adults, that Americans prefer political candidates with lower voices as well.

7) Dana Milbank:

At its core, President Trump’s defense in these impeachment proceedings is not a dispute over the facts of the case, the credibility of the witnesses or the motives of Democrats.

It is a bid to discredit the truth itself.

The Ukraine escapade began, in large part, because Trump pursued a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election to bring about his defeat, a false notion spread by Vladimir ­Putin and ultimately — with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others — embraced by the president himself.

But to defend Trump, a number of Republicans have concluded that they must establish that he had good reason to believe Ukraine was, in fact, out to get him. They must defend the Putin-planted conspiracy theory.

8) Catherine Rampell, as usual, is right, “Democrats already have a popular, progressive agenda. They just need to amplify it.”

Americans who watched the presidential primary debate this week might have learned something surprising: Despite GOP accusations of Bolshevism, nearly all the Democratic contenders share a pretty mainstream policy platform.

 In fact, as exemplified on Wednesday night, most of their core policy principles are quite popular among voters who identify as Democrats and voters who identify as Republicans.

Consider a few issues that came up during the debate.

For instance, we heard about how the candidates broadly agree on the need for paid family leave. They differ on precisely how many months of leave should be offered and how such a program should be financed. But, according to a Post questionnaire recently sent to each candidate, every single politician still in the race supports some amount of guaranteed paid leave.

This view is squarely within the political mainstream, as you might expect from a policy that already exists in some form in nearly every other country on Earth. In fact, 90 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans support paid maternity leave, according to a Pew Research Center survey. For paid paternity leave, the shares are 79 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Democratic candidates also showed significant overlap on other popular policies as well, such as the need for a more progressive tax code.

Yes, they differ on exactly how to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but basically all propose doing so. In espousing those ideas, they contrast sharply with their Republican politician counterparts, who advocate flatter tax rates and more cuts specifically for the rich. But in espousing these ideas, the Democratic candidates find common ground with Americans writ large, most of whom believe that both high-income people and corporations have not been paying their fair share.

9) This in Wired is quite interesting, “The 8-Hour Workday Is a Counterproductive Lie: What was once a socialist dream has become every knowledge worker’s nightmare. It’s time to unmake the modern myth of productivity.”

10) So sad and so true, “How the Collapse of Local News Is Causing a ‘National Crisis’
The loss of local news coverage in much of the United States has frayed communities and left many Americans woefully uninformed, according to a new report.”  Subscribe to your local newspaper, damnit!  Yes, I mean you.

11) I never did quite figure why people thought Nikki Haley was anything other than a typical moral compass-less Republican opportunist.  John Cassidy: “Nikki Haley embodies what’s wrong with the Republican Party.”

12) Trump’s most recent pardons of American war criminals are pretty damn appalling.  But, that’s only the 10th worst thing about Trump this week.

13) Good stuff from Robert Griffin in the Monkey Cage, “Who’s most electable? Don’t trust polls that match Democratic candidates against Trump.  They’re measuring who’s most well known, not who’s most likely to win.”

14) I get that Democrats are going with “bribery”‘ because that’s the term in the constitution.  But, what’s going on here is obviously blackmail/extortion.  Thus I appreciated Benjamin Wittes piece that explains that, in legal parlance, blackmail is bribery.

That said, the bribery statute offers a reasonable working definition of what it means to bribe a public official: “Whoever … directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official … to influence any official act” has committed the offense.

What’s more, the statute also offers a reasonable working definition of what it means for a public official to demand a bribe: “Whoever … being a public official … directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally … in return for … being influenced in the performance of any official act” also has committed the offense.

15) More exercise ==> less depression.

16) A student informed this week that Joe Biden is the “architect of the war on drugs.”  Whoa.  Somehow I missed that.  No doubt, he was absolutely prominent among Democrats who pushed for and helped pass tougher drug policies.  But architect?  Please.  I guess if you consider, like this article I presume my student read, that even co-sponsoring a bill is being an “architect” than sure.

17) I really wish the ACLU would go back to ensuring free speech and fighting against unjust and unfair mass incarceration policies.

18) Really interesting idea for saving the rhino… flood the market for rhino horns with really good fake horns.  Probably wouldn’t work, but, lots of interesting stuff to think about here.

19) Given that Soledad O’Brien is about the best media critic this side of Jay Rosen, now, really enjoyed reading this, “How Soledad O’Brien Became CNN and the Mainstream Media’s Most Outspoken Critic.”

20) And, another way of re-thinking how we structure our time, “Our Schools Can’t Solve the Problems of Our Rigid Workweek: Parents need better options for after-school care, but longer school days may not be the answer.”

21) Novelty is over-rated.  Really, science says so.  And I agree when I am eating a lunch of pepperoni pizza and drinking Diet Dr Pepper for the 4th or 5th time in a given week.

Counter to previous research, Mr. O’Brien found that across the board, repeat experiences were far more enjoyable than participants predicted.

“Doing something once may engender an inflated sense that one has now seen ‘it,’ leaving people naïve to the missed nuances remaining to enjoy,” he wrote in the study.

In other words: You’re far more likely to enjoy something the second time around than you think.

Given that participants experienced the exact situation they imagined repeating, their predictions should’ve been relatively accurate, Mr. O’Brien explains. In reality, participants who repeated experiences found the second time around just as enjoyable as the first.

“Novel experiences are definitely great for enjoyment, and our studies don’t go against this idea,” he said. “In many cases, the novel option is better. But what our studies emphasize is that repeat options also might have high hedonic value and might also come with less costs to acquire than a purely novel option, and people might sometimes overlook this.”

22) Yes, recent gubernatorial elections can be somewhat telling.  But these elections really are different, “Why Governors Are the Only Candidates Voters Will Break Party Ranks to Support
Unlike other federal and state offices, there’s still ‘wiggle room’ for ticket-splitting in contests for governor. Tuesday’s result in Kentucky means there will be a dozen governors whose party lost the last presidential election in their state.”

23) Blues Clues is coming back!  This brings back very happy memories of early parenthood.  When my oldest (hi, David) was a toddler he was tough.  But the one thing that could get him to just be calm for a while?  Blues Clues.  Hooray for Steve.  Also, loved the chapter on it in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, way back when.

Quick Hits (part II)

1) Wake County schools are undertaking some smart activities to work on the socio-emotional skills and health of their students (so much value in this).  Alas, conservative parents are not happy:

Some Wake County parents are refusing to give permission for teachers to conduct surveys that rate and track the behavioral health of their students.

The Wake County school system will have teachers at around 40 schools rate their students on 34 questions, such as how often they’ve appeared angry, expressed thoughts of hurting themselves, expressed strange or bizarre thoughts, appeared depressed or engaged in risk-taking behavior…

School officials say the Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System, or BIMAS-2, will help them identify students who are at risk of future academic, behavior or emotional difficulties.

“This will help us to figure out how to support the academic and behavioral needs of our students,” Paul Koh, Wake’s assistant superintendent for student support, said in an interview…

A.P. Dillon, a conservative blogger and parent at Holly Ridge Middle, complained on her blog and on Twitter that the survey is an invasion of students’ privacy. She said Wake should have required parents to opt-in, instead of opting-out of the survey.

“These are minor children, and the district has no business evaluating them medically or psychologically without the express written permission of their parents or legal guardians,” Dillon said in an interview.

The survey is part of Wake’s social emotional learning, or SEL, curriculum. Schools are trying to help students manage their emotions so they can build positive relationships and make responsible decisions.

“Nurturing a student’s social emotional health really supports and improves academic pursuits for students and outcomes,” Edward McFarland, Wake’s chief academic advancement officer, told school board members on Monday. “We also know that strengthening a student’s self-esteem, their resilience, their ability to confront and deal with stress, their overall emotional well-being is not extra. That is in fact core instruction for all students.” …

School board members voiced their support for the circles on Oct. 28, saying they wished the program was used in more schools. School board chairman Jim Martin said it feels to him that critics don’t want their children to be taught empathy because it will be “harder (for them) to maintain a position of entitlement.”

“These are not therapy circles,” Martin said. “These are learn to listen, learn to engage, learn to address conflict. These are all those critical skills that our children need.

“It’s going to reduce bullying. It’s going to increase safety. It’s going to make better workers.”…

Some parents complained about how Wake has handled the notification process. They said they never received an opt-out letter.

“Unbelievable,” Brian Onorio, a Raleigh parent, tweeted Friday. “Are we to assume anything less than a sinister nature? With such opaqueness, we’re left to our own assumptions, driven by their own choices, as to what this is about. As taxpayers and parents, we have an unfettered right to review what is being done.”

2) Lots of countries with way better health care systems than us do it not through single-payer, but through heavily-regulated private insurance.  Upshot on this approach and Buttigieg’s proposal:

Mr. Buttigieg is different. In his written plan and his public statements about health reform, he takes aim at hospitals. (He would also seek to take a bite out of pharmaceutical prices, through taxes, penalties and the threat of patent revocations.)

His plan would cap medical costs in an indirect way. It would allow insurers and medical providers to agree on whatever prices they wish in a contract. But it would limit how much insurers have to pay when providers are “out of network.” The limit, double what Medicare pays them, would help patients who end up at a place that is not covered by their insurance. But it will also tend to influence the negotiations between hospitals and insurance companies, putting downward pressure on in-network prices. Medicare Advantage, the private option for older Americans, has a similar rule, and those plans tend to pay doctors and hospitals prices quite close to the cap.

Currently, most hospitals charge insurers around double the Medicare price, but some charge more. “You’re lopping off the top tail,” said Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has been studying similar pricing rules in other contexts. He said the strategy would be particularly useful for services related to medical emergencies…

Many other countries with private insurance regulate prices, either nationwide or with various regional adjustments. Maryland has been regulating hospital prices for decades under an unusual waiver from the federal government. But explicit price regulation has generally remained outside the mainstream of the political conversation in the United States. [emphasis mine]

3) Talk about a crazy bank-shot article from Vox.  The Democratic take-over of Virginia is going to lead to Virginia passing the ERA, which will preserve RBG’s legacy.  Ummm, okay.  Though, as the article points out, RBG was the key in making the ERA largely moot by actually taking what the 14th amendment says (“equal protection of the laws”) with regards to sex.  But, we don’t know that the five conservatives won’t vote together to undermine this.

4) And sometimes Vox is great.  Politico founder John Harris wrote a surprisingly honest and circuspect first-person piece on the media’s centrism bias and Zack Beauchamp did a great job of putting it in context of a larger understanding of media bias.  More of this.  Less of the previous.

On Thursday morning, Politico founder John Harris managed a genuinely interesting contribution to this conversation in a piece that takes aim not only at a relatively invisible source of bias in the Washington press but also a kind of introspection on Harris’s adherence to it. It’s a source of bias that’s not left- or right-leaning in partisan terms — it predisposes DC press and political figures to view both Trump and Warren-Sanders-style Democrats unfavorably — but fundamentally establishmentarian.

“A quarter-century covering national politics has convinced me that the more pervasive force shaping coverage of Washington and elections is what might be thought of as centrist bias, flowing from reporters and sources alike,” he writes. “This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.”…

The centrist ideology is essentially the slogan “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” come to life. It holds that the national debt is one of the greatest threats to the United States in the long term and that Social Security is unsustainable. It thinks there’s an obvious compromise solution on immigration and adheres to a kind of modest social liberalism on abortion and same-sex marriage, though it generally disdains “identity politics.” It reveres the troops and generally supports US military involvement in foreign wars, seeing criticism of America’s interventionist consensus as vaguely unpatriotic.

The influence of this version of centrist ideology should not be underestimated. It’s particularly popular among the very wealthy, who lavishly fund organizations like No Labels and Fix the Debt to promote it. It often crops up among “straight” or “objective” news reporters, who see it as entirely uncontroversial to say the national debt is a pressing policy problem (it isn’t) or to hold up the American military as a paragon of national virtue. It partly explains why Democratic presidential debates get so hung up on debating how to pay for Medicare-for-all: The underlying assumption is that debt financing is obviously unacceptable.

The centrist ideology is not mere institutionalism, though that’s part of it. It’s a very specific vision of how the world works, one that forms the background of a lot of Washington conversations and political debates — invisible until you notice it and then all of a sudden pervasive…

This imbalance stems from the fact that “centrist” ideas are the province of the educated, wealthy elite. Perhaps the single best predictor of social liberalism in America, aside from Democratic Party membership, is education: The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be open to things like marriage equality and immigration. At the same time, America’s elites are wealthy and thus more likely to be leery of significant tax hikes that would hurt their bottom line. Because elites tend to socialize with other elites, they can talk themselves into thinking that their ideas seem like common sense.

Harris is capturing not just an institutionalist bias but an ideological one, a political worldview based on dubious substantive arguments but with pervasive influence in the capital — owing in no small part to the class makeup of our political elite.

5) Changing the status quo, even clearly for the better, is hard.  In the Post, “These prosecutors won office vowing to fight the system. Now, the system is fighting back.”

6) This from a Finance professor was great, “The U.S. Only Pretends to Have Free Markets: From plane tickets to cellphone bills, monopoly power costs American consumers billions of dollars a year.”  And this is the reason why I like Elizabeth Warren is she realized that so much of American capitalism is a perversion of how free markets should actually work.

When I arrived in the United States from France in 1999, I felt like I was entering the land of free markets. Nearly everything—from laptops to internet service to plane tickets—was cheaper here than in Europe.

Twenty years later, this is no longer the case. Internet service, cellphone plans, and plane tickets are now much cheaper in Europe and Asia than in the United States, and the price differences are staggering. In 2018, according to data gathered by the comparison site Cable, the average monthly cost of a broadband internet connection was $29 in Italy, $31 in France, $32 in South Korea, and $37 in Germany and Japan. The same connection cost $68 in the United States, putting the country on par with Madagascar, Honduras, and Swaziland. American households spend about $100 a month on cellphone services, the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates. Households in France and Germany pay less than half of that, according to the economists Mara Faccio and Luigi Zingales.

None of this has happened by chance. In 1999, the United States had free and competitive markets in many industries that, in Europe, were dominated by oligopolies. Today the opposite is true. French households can typically choose among five or more internet-service providers; American households are lucky if they have a choice between two, and many have only one. The American airline industry has become fully oligopolistic; profits per passenger mile are now about twice as high as in Europe, where low-cost airlines compete aggressively with incumbents…

The irony is that the free-market ideas and business models that benefit European consumers today were inspired by American regulations circa 1990. Meanwhile, in industry after industry in the United States—the country that invented antitrust laws—incumbent companies have increased their market power by acquiring nascent competitors, heavily lobbying regulators, and lavishly spending on campaign contributions. Free markets are supposed to punish private companies that take their customers for granted, but today many American companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with offering bad service, charging high prices, and collecting, exploiting, and inadequately guarding their customers’ private data.

7) I loved this Vulture feature on every HBO show ranked.  Sopranos wins.  No argument there.  And, okay, okay, I really need to watch Deadwood.  Also, I find the Comeback a little low at 21.  That was a terrific and totally under-appreciated show.

8) How teenage girls dress is such a fraught issue.  Here’s hoping my daughter always makes perfect clothing choices as a teenager ;-).

9) Sean Trende’s election takeaways:

The suburban shift is real.  In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, David Byler and I wrote a series suggesting that the urban/suburban/rural divide was a fast-emerging, and understudied, cleavage in American politics.  This cleavage has widened into a chasm, with previously Republican suburbs swinging toward Democrats and throwing elections into disarray…

These outcomes are consistent with 2017. As a final thought, to the extent that there are any national implications to these races, it would be something like this: This outcome is roughly consistent with what we saw in 2017. In particular, the failure of the GOP in Virginia to wrest back any of the seats that it lost, even to seemingly accidental House of Delegates candidates, suggests that the environment hasn’t improved.  And even weak Republican candidates, such as Bevin, will win in red states in good GOP environments. These outcomes are local, but they do suggest that the GOP hasn’t yet turned a corner for 2020.

10) Political Scientist Jacob Hacker on Warren and Medicare for All:

In short, the Warren approach sacrifices some degree of rationality and equity to make the transition more politically realistic — which, given how far the system now is from rational or equitable, seems a reasonable trade-off. Further concessions will surely be needed, especially to address the concerns of those who have private insurance through their employer or Medicare (a third of beneficiaries, after all, are enrolled in private plans through Medicare Advantage).

But the message of Ms. Warren’s new plan is that American health care is so costly because it is so inefficient and because it is so lucrative for a narrow segment of American society. By showing how broad the benefits could be if costs were really tackled, she is also outlining a political approach fundamentally different from the strategy followed by President Barack Obama and his allies, who cut expensive deals with the medical-industrial complex and did all they could to minimize disruptions to the present system.

Ms. Warren instead is picking a fight with all the big interests that now depend on the system’s high prices and administrative overheads. As she sees it, the nation can’t afford to buy off the industry again to squeeze through legislation. It has to overcome resistance by promising something clear and simple that Americans can rally behind. Whether she’s right about that or not, her challenge to the narrow framing of the issue seems certain to shake up a familiar debate — and maybe even change it altogether.

11) David Leonhardt, “To Beat Trump, Focus on His Corruption”

Given the severity of Trump’s misbehavior — turning American foreign policy into an opposition-research arm of his campaign — Democrats had no choice but to start an impeachment inquiry. Yet they need to remember that impeachment is an inherently political process, not a technocratic legal matter. It will fail if it does not persuade more Americans of Trump’s unfitness for office. It will succeed only if he is not president on Jan. 21, 2021.

And it is far more likely to succeed if Democrats can connect it in voters’ minds to a larger argument about the substance of Trump’s presidency.

The most promising version of that argument revolves around corruption: The Ukraine quid pro quo matters because it shows how Trump has reneged on his promise to fight for ordinary Americans and is using the power of the presidency to benefit himself. As Leah Greenberg, a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, says: “This man is not working for you. He is working to put his own interests first. And he is endangering the country to do it.”

Corruption is one of the public’s top worries, surveys show. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last year, people ranked the economy as the country’s most important issue, and No. 2 was “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington.” It’s a cross-partisan concern too, spanning Democrats, Republicans and independents.

12) What Florida State could’ve done with the money it spent buying out it’s unsuccessful football coach:

Florida State University bought out its head football coach Willie Taggart’s contract on Sunday, leaving the institution on the hook for nearly $22 million. The former coach now makes that staggering sum to do nothing while the entire Florida State team is paid nothing to play football…

Regardless of the source, Florida State owes Taggart $22 million. If that money was applied to his players instead, it could:

  • Pay every starter on Florida State’s football team — and their backups — the National Football League minimum salary of $480,000.
  • Cover the remaining $20,000 of the Florida State basketball player Michael Cofer’s GoFundMe to pay for his late father’s medical expenses. And then it could pay every Florida State basketball player the National Basketball Association’s rookie minimum salary of $898,310.
  • Pay for the establishment of women’s rowing and lacrosse teams so that Florida State can meet the first prong of equal-opportunity-in-athletics compliance under Title IX …
    • … and fund full scholarships for all of those additional female athletes …
    • … and fund full scholarships for every current Florida State athlete without one.
  • Cover the construction of 22 lazy rivers for athletes to rest and relax in following practice.
  • Reimburse the Jacksonville Jaguars all of the money the team paid to Jalen Ramsey, a Florida State alum, before the cornerback demanded a trade last month.

Or if Florida State used the money it owes Taggart to support its educational efforts, it could:

  • Wipe away 636 Florida students’ debt.
  • Support 3,376 Bright Futures Scholarships, which cover the cost of tuition and fees for talented Florida high schoolers.
  • Fund the entire annual operating budget of the joint Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering and still have $7.5 million to provide modest scholarships to those students or offer bonuses to faculty members.

13) This was too long, but I did enjoy many a tidbit on how the Matrix movie came to be.  Time to watch this with my 13-year old.

14) Robinson Meyer on Trump and climate:

No, when Trump pulls America out of the Paris Agreement, he is responding to a different ideology: carbonism. For Trump, carbonism is a powerfully economic and cultural idea. Think of the carbon in carbonism as akin to the nation in nationalism: It implies a founding myth, a powerful worldview, a theory of value, and a prophecy. But it is, at heart, a simple idea. Carbonism is a belief that fossil fuels—which send carbon pollution spewing into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and ocean acidification—have inherent virtue. That they are better, in fact, than other energy sources.

When the Trump administration replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a new rule that may actually increase pollution, that’s carbonism. When Perry tried to get Americans to subsidize failing coal plants through their power bills, that’s carbonism. When the EPA fights to allow the free venting of methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that’s carbonism. When the EPA fights to let coal plants have an easier time spewing heavy metals and other neurotoxins into the atmosphere, that’s carbonism.

For the Trump administration, carbonism is more powerful than neoliberalism or any theory of free markets. How else to explain the White House’s proposed rollback of fuel-efficiency rules, which—in its hurry to freeze every possible legal restriction on carbon—actually mixed up the idea of supply and demand? And for Trump, too, carbonism is more powerful than any belief in federalism or states’ rights. How else to explain his years-long war on California’s statewide climate policy?

15) Love this New Yorker themed cartoons, “Existential Dread in the Animal Kingdom.”

 

16) If you’ve ever talked movies with me, you know I’m with Scorcese on the proliferation of comic-book movies.

When I was in England in early October, I gave an interview to Empire magazine. I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.

Some people seem to have seized on the last part of my answer as insulting, or as evidence of hatred for Marvel on my part. If anyone is intent on characterizing my words in that light, there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way.

Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

17) This was fascinating and disturbing, “Measles Makes Your Immune System’s Memory Forget Defenses Against Other Illnesses.”

18) Like Drum’s M4A take here:

Actual legislation depends mostly on the Senate, not on President Warren or Speaker Pelosi. This means that health care legislation can’t be more progressive than the 50th most liberal senator, which is likely to be someone like Joe Manchin or Doug Jones. So even in the best case we won’t get the M4A plan that Warren is campaigning on. Not even close.

What this means is that these M4A plans shouldn’t be treated like real legislation to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Rather, they should be treated like Republican tax cut proposals. Nobody bothers to analyze them (except for liberal think tanks, natch) because no one takes them seriously. They are meant merely as markers to show where your heart is. A weak plan shows that you’re a RINO. A big tax cut shows you’re a strong conservative. And a ridiculous plan shows that you’re a lunatic—which might or might not be a good thing depending on the mood of the electorate.

So forget the details. Warren and Sanders are deliberately selling themselves as lunatics. Their plans mean nothing except that they are true blue liberals. Don’t try to read any more than that into them. Biden and Buttigieg and Booker are demonstrating that they’re part of the mainstream Obama wing of the party. And Amy Klobuchar is . . . not trying to demonstrate her DINO credentials, but she’s close.

Bottom line: stop sweating the details. Candidate plans aren’t meant to pencil out with a lot of precision. They’re rough drafts designed to show where their hearts are at. Smart analysts will mostly take them that way.

19) Greg Sargent  “The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how.”

At this point, the broad contours of the Ukraine scandal are well understood. President Trump appears to have used hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money appropriated as military aid to extort a vulnerable ally into helping him rig the 2020 election on his behalf.

But there are two other aspects of this scandal that need elaboration. The first is the degree to which this whole scheme is corrupting multiple government agencies and effectively placing them at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort.

The second is that two of the scheme’s goals — getting Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory absolving Russia of 2016 sabotage, and to manufacture smears of one of Trump’s leading 2020 rivals — are really part of the same story. At the core of this narrative is Trump’s continuing reliance on foreign help in corrupting our democracy to his advantage, through two presidential elections, and the covering up of all of it.

20) Sean Trende again, “Why Low-Polling 2020 Democrats Still Have a Chance”

4. Big things happen late in the primary season.

If you’re tuned in enough to be reading this, the 2020 presidential election probably already seems interminable.  For most voters, however, it is only getting started.  This means that lots of minds will be changed, and big movements for candidates can occur.  At this point in 2015, Donald Trump’s main challenger in the polling was Ben Carson, who would actually eclipse Trump briefly in the national polls in early November. Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who would be the last two candidates standing, were in fourth and ninth place, respectively.  In 2011, on the Republican side, we had just witnessed Rick Perry’s poll collapse, and we were in the midst of Herman Cain’s rise.  Newt Gingrich was at 9% in the polls; by mid-December he would have a 13-point lead and have around a third of the Republican electorate in his camp. Rick Santorum was at 2% in the polls, and would not begin his surge until January.

What about 2007? The Republican poll leaders were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, neither of whom would win a primary. Eventual nominee John McCain was in third place with about 15% of the vote, while Mike Huckabee was at just 7%. In Iowa, which Huckabee would eventually win, the former Arkansas governor was only just starting his surge; at the beginning of the month he was in fifth place. Barack Obama trailed Hillary Clinton by over 20 points nationally at this point in 2007. In 2003, the race looked like a two-man race between Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean.  Eventual nominee John Kerry was in third place, albeit with only 9% of the vote.

To be sure, none of these candidates were at 2% of the vote.  But none of these candidates were in 16-person fields either.  It is perfectly reasonable for candidates to wait and see if they can catch fire; someone usually does at this point in the primaries.

21) On how Trump’s impeachment defense is basically all about lying:

Standing before a crowd of supporters this week in Lexington, Ky., President Trump repeated a false claim he has made more than 100 times in the past six weeks: that a whistleblower from the intelligence community misrepresented a presidential phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.

“The whistleblower said lots of things that weren’t so good, folks. You’re going to find out,” Trump said Monday at a campaign rally. “These are very dishonest people.”

Behind him were men and women in “Read the Transcript” T-shirts — echoing through their apparel Trump’s attempt to recast an incriminating summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president as a piece of exonerating evidence.

It’s a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet. But the approach is coming under increasing strain as congressional Democrats release transcripts and prepare to hold public hearings presenting evidence that directly undercuts Trump’s claims.

That the whistleblower report essentially mirrors the set of facts that have since been revealed by a stream of documented evidence and sworn testimony has not stopped Trump from repeatedly claiming otherwise. He has also pushed other specious arguments in his harried attempt to counter the growing evidence from witnesses implicating his administration in a quid pro quo scheme linking military aid to Ukrainian investigations targeting Democrats.

Without evidence, Trump has claimed that his own administration officials who have complied with congressional subpoenas are “Never Trumpers.” He has recounted conversations in which senators deemed him “innocent,” only to have the lawmakers deny making the statements. He has dismissed polls that show growing support for impeachment as “fake,” while repeatedly claiming levels of Republican support that exceed anything that exists in public polling.

22) The Politics behind Daylight Savings and changing it.

23) Paul Waldman on Warren and the plutocrats:

But it’s clear in the venomous reactions Warren produces from the plutocrat class that they want not only to be able to be taxed and regulated as lightly as possible, they want to be told they deserve every bit of wealth and power they have.

Warren does not offer that reassurance; quite the opposite. She says that the system has been shaped by the wealthy to advance their own interests, and if you’re one of them, you have an obligation to contribute more. And she’s happy to mock or insult the billionaire class along the way.

That is what differentiates her from many other Democrats. While Warren proposes some deeper changes to corporate structures than many other candidates do, when it comes to taxing the wealthy her positions are only a slightly more elevated version of what most Democrats stand for and have for some time. Every Democratic presidential candidate for years has suggested that the wealthy can afford to pay more, and the last two Democratic presidents both raised taxes on the rich. They do this because they think it’s right, and because the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy is hugely popular

From the perspective of Wall Street plutocrats, the real problem is not practical but spiritual. Warren not only wants to tax and regulate them more; she’s happy to vilify them, and they feel wounded. They expect to not only be able to hoard most of the country’s wealth, but to have the rest of us praise them for their brilliance, laud them for their industriousness, proclaim the splendor of their generous spirits and insist that they truly are the best of us…

If the plutocrats could think straight, they’d look back over history and understand that they’ll be fine almost no matter what. If a Democrat is elected, they may have to pay some more in taxes, but it’s not going to alter their lifestyles. Wall Street may get regulated more, but just as they’ve lived with the Dodd-Frank law that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis, they’ll learn to live with whatever comes next.

And if they’re feeling fearful about the future, they can turn on Fox and know that there are at least some people who will love them unconditionally. It works for the president.

24) Good Q&A with NYT polling guru Nate Cohn.

25) Apparently, the students at Oberlin aren’t as nuts as we were led to believe, but rather the media basically fabricated a narrative:

A Vietnamese student told Ferdinand Protzman, the lecturer teaching a news-writing course in the fall of 2015, that some international students had concerns about food in the cafeteria being passed off as authentic when it fell far short.

Protzman was pleased to see her take his advice to be observant around the campus, but his first response was dismissive. “Come on,” he told the student, “it’s just institutional food. It all sucks, right?”

But the more he learned, the more Protzman, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, thought his student might have a useful local story. The banh mi wasn’t just inauthentic — it didn’t even resemble banh mi. Instead of grilled pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork, and coleslaw, according to the student. And the “chicken sushi,” Protzman said, was just chicken loaf draped over a little mound of bad rice.

“I don’t know what culture it wouldn’t offend,” he says.

Protzman instructed the student to interview Campus Dining Services, where staff members told her they didn’t know about the concerns international students had about the banh mi, “chicken sushi,” and other ostensibly Asian dishes. She filed the story. Protzman’s teaching assistant, who was an editor at the student newspaper, The Oberlin Review, wanted to publish it. The author agreed.

“CDS Appropriates Asian Dishes, Students Say,” ran the headline. The article quoted some students who said the food was culturally appropriative and others who disagreed. After the story appeared, dining officials talked with students who had concerns, and agreed to “improve the naming process of meals by not associating excessively modified dishes with specific cultures” and working with students to make dishes “more culturally accurate,” according to a follow-up story in the campus newspaper on December 4. The international students said they felt as if their concerns had been heard.

“This was a great example of what journalists are supposed to do,” says Protzman, who in addition to teaching the journalism course was also the college’s assistant to the president for communications, and is now chief of staff. “She identified a news story that affects people’s lives in the community, and reported on it in a fair, balanced, and verifiable fashion.”…

Volk, the retired professor, summarized the frustration many supporters of the college have about how its students are characterized.

“An article written in a local campus newspaper,” he wrote on his blog, “reporting on complaints by three students (and balanced by the quite measured comments of three others), was picked up six weeks later, weaponized (add Lena Dunham and remove any reasonable comments), and sent out into the world by a right-wing tabloid where it was picked up by, seemingly, every media outlet on God’s green earth, only to return, time and again, as an example of Oberlin’s privileged, radical, preposterous students.”

And it kept returning.

Cultural appropriation in the cafeteria has become the shorthand national reporters often use to convey the excesses of Oberlin-student activism — and, by implication, the excesses of higher education more broadly.

26) This is awesome: “What U.S. Airports and International Flights Can Tell Us About the 2020 Election.”

America’s political divide is often characterized as urban versus rural. But truly rural areas are a relatively small slice of the electorate: in 2016, only 14 percent of all voters cast ballots in counties defined by the Census Bureau as non-metropolitan.

Instead, the most significant divide in 2020 could be between the large, diverse metro areas that make up the majority of vote on America’s coasts and the smaller, less diverse metro areas that are less likely to have reaped the benefits of a globalized economy. And Democrats’ ability to defeat Trump in the Electoral College depends on whether they can hold their ground in the metro areas served by airports that don’t have a lot of international flights — but had a runway long enough to land Trump’s Boeing 757 for a rally in 2016.

An analysis of flight schedules for U.S. primary commercial airports, Census data and election results yields a stark portrait of Democrats’ challenge in 2020. For a moment, let’s divide the country’s electorate into four geographic tiers:

  • Global Metros: Roughly 41 percent of the country’s electorate resides in large metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) served by airports with at least two regularly scheduled flights to destinations outside North America. Examples include Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis and Seattle.
  • International Metros: Another 14 percent of the country’s electorate resides in metropolitan areas served by airports with at least one regularly scheduled international flight but fewer than two intercontinental flights. Examples include Indianapolis, New Orleans, Nashville, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Raleigh and San Antonio.
  • Regional Metros: Another 31 percent of the country’s electorate resides in metro areas served by airports featuring service from at least one of America’s four largest domestic carriers – American, Delta, United or Southwest – but no international flights. Examples include Des Moines, Flint, Toledo, Buffalo, Pueblo, Erie, Little Rock and Spokane.
  • Non-metro areas: Finally, 14 percent of the country’s electorate resides in counties defined as non-metropolitan by the Census Bureau. Very few of these areas are directly served by major airlines, save for vacation destinations like ski resorts. These rural areas make up the majority of the population in states like the Dakotas, Vermont and West Virginia, but they comprise a much smaller share of the population in most larger states.
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