Quick hits (part I)

1) Alexandra Petri on Trump’s respect for women.  Good, good stuff, “Trump respects women, you disgusting floozy.”

2) Seth Masket and Julia Azari with the talk of all the Political Parties scholars this week, “Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?”

Parties have something of a dual purpose — they need to win elections but also find a way to channel the different voices within their coalitions. Sometimes those goals mesh well and at other times they’re in tension.

The belief that parties should be internally democratic, which has gained wider acceptance over time and, with the reform commission, is likely accelerating, has altered the way parties balance those two objectives. Candidates who lose the nomination can protest on democratic grounds and gain traction in doing so.

But there’s a real danger in taking this path. It undermines both the nominee and the party, both immediately and in the long run. And it undermines one of the necessary, if difficult, aspects of democracy: conceding gracefully when you lose.

3) What bothers me most about this Drum post on whether Republicans believe their on lies (hard to say) is that when they lie blatantly to CNN, CNN doesn’t even bother to call them out on it with easily verifiable facts.  Ugh.  Some liberal media bias.  More like lazy media bias.

4) Nice piece from Mike Munger on why the Confederate statues should come down.

5) Upon paying close attention (yep, not the mainstream news media), it is actually quite apparent that the real scandal is not what a couple of FBI agents privately texted each other, but that DOJ released this texts for political purposes.

6) Michael Tomasky on how Republicans keep passing unpopular policies:

So there you have it. In 27 years, Republicans have passed one popular conservative law and spent most of that time voting against things that clear majorities of Americans wanted. If they weren’t serving Americans, whom were they serving? And how have they gotten away with it?

The answers to both questions, alas, are depressingly familiar. They are serving their megarich donors and the most extreme elements of their base. And they get away with it because of the way they’ve gerrymandered House districts, because of an ideological right-wing media that obfuscates facts and because the one thing they’ve done astonishingly well is to make a big chunk of the country hate liberals.

Well, the country doesn’t hate liberal policies, as Professor Warshaw’s research shows. But until something big changes, it can’t get them.

7) American sheriffs have too much power.

8) You literally cannot make this stuff up– Trump administration has banned the CDC from using terms such as “science-based” and “evidence-based.”

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

9) Not only is Susan Collins a fool, I’m so tired of her being called a “moderate.”  She’s simply “less extreme.”  If you football team’s average starting field position is your 10-yard line all game, that doesn’t make the 20 good starting field position.

10) Among the things clarified in the tax bill–how amazingly plutocratic Republicans are and how amazingly transparently false Rubio’s supposed attempts to help regular Americans are:

IN A tax-bill saga full of clarifying moments, there was one particularly eloquent expression of Republican priorities. First, Republicans refused to fund Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan to expand tax benefits for low-income families because he proposed paying for it by dropping the corporate tax rate to merely 21 percent rather than 20 percent. Then, in final negotiations on the bill, they adopted the 21 percent rate Mr. Rubio had sought, after all — and used the savings not to help needy families or to lessen the bill’s impact on the national debt but to lower the top income tax rate for the highest wage earners.

After some last-minute theatrics, a smaller version of Mr. Rubio’s plan was added to the final package. But it is telling how easy it was for Republicans to drop top income tax rates, how hard it has been for Mr. Rubio to secure even a limited victory for low-income people and how irrelevant concerns about ballooning the national debt have been for most in the GOP.

11) So cool– fighting antibiotic resistance in bacteria by harnessing natural competition between bacteria.

12) China wants a lot less of our recycling.  That’s not good.

13) Yeah, a $40 toll is going to draw a lot congestion pricing of negative publicity.  But, of course, it is far more complicated than that, and it actually shows working.

14) Here was a very interesting topic I never thought about– how our views of teenagers can be really distorted by the fact that they are typically played by mid-20’s performers in TV and film.  I feel like my view is pretty accurate, at least, since I’m around teenagers a lot.

15) Dahlia Lithwick’s account of her interpersonal dealings with sexually harrassing judge, Alex Kozinski, were really disturbing to read about.

16) Ever wondered why the flu virus is so damn good at mutating?  I have.  Loved this analogy for an explanation of how it works:

Like all viruses, the flu virus has one goal: replicate. And it can do that only by hijacking other cells. The virus enters a cell and takes over, shutting off the cell’s antiviral response and then using the cell’s machinery to make copies of itself. It’s like bootleggers sneaking booze into a coffee shop, turning off the burglar alarm and using the kitchen to make cocktails instead of cappuccinos.

Once the immune system learns what a flu virus looks like — whether from a vaccine or a past infection — it seeks out and destroys flu viruses before they enter more cells. (Soldiers are watching out for those bootleggers.) But the virus needs to replicate to keep surviving. If the parts the immune system recognizes change slightly, the immune system won’t see the virus. (If the antibody army identifies bootleggers only by their clothing, soldiers won’t stop bootleggers wearing brown trench coats if they’re looking for ones wearing black coats.)

And the flu virus gets lots of chances to change its wardrobe every time it replicates. Those wardrobe changes are mutations.

17) You want to fix American criminal justice?  Reforming prosecutors would not be a bad place to start.  And the utter lack of real accountability is certainly a major part of the problem.

18) NYT TV critic on Trump’s fixation on the worst kind of TV:

The problem is not how much TV Mr. Trump watches. It’s the kind of TV he watches.

As Mr. Trump’s associates report and his Twitter feed confirms, his video diet of choice is cable news, the most agitating, psychically toxic programming you can immerse yourself in, even if you don’t have possession of the nuclear codes.

19) A surprisingly thorough ranking of America’s popular chain sit-down restaurants.  Personally, I love IHOP pancakes as well as the Outback Steakhouse sirloin.

20) Watch a starfish take a stroll.

21) Loved this Guardian feature on Mark Hamill.  Having a tough time figuring out when to see the new Star Wars movie.  Too many moving parts in the family.



Quick hits (part II)

1) Given how subjective the experience of pain is, it should not be surprising that there seems to be quite a socio-cultural element.  The experience of pain varies dramatically around the world.  Drum.  Totally not surprised that Americans come out with the most pain.  What’s with the Czech’s?!

2) Hope I’m not giving away too much about the latest season of Curb your Enthusiasm to say that “Fatwa: the Musical” is about my favorite thing ever.  I would so pay big money if this were real.

3) Paul Waldman on the lessons of recent sex scandals:

And who survives this kind of scandal? The ones that are the least repentant — and often, the most guilty…

How do I know that Republicans will accommodate themselves to Moore’s presence? Because that’s exactly what they did with President Trump…

The depressing lesson is clear: If you don’t give any ground and don’t express contrition, you can turn your personal scandal into a partisan fight, which will rally your party to your side. And no matter what you did, there’s a good chance you’ll win. [emphasis mine]

4) As you know, I normally love Thomas Edsall, but in this column that argues liberals need to be less condescending and pay more attention to the realities of middle-American Trump supporters, he completely ignores the topic of race.  Edsall does raise some good points, but it is dramatically undermined by ignoring race.

5) On a somewhat similar note, I love this from Jennifer Rubin, “Journalists: Forget the Rust Belt diners. Head for the suburban yoga classes.”

6) Nice Vox summary of a recent Columbia Jouralism Review of the NYT’s email-obsessed 2016 coverage, “Study: Hillary Clinton’s emails got as much front-page coverage in 6 days as policy did in 69.”

And it’s not as if the Times, or any other media outlets, didn’t cover Trump’s scandals. They did. But there were so many, from relentless daily outrages to the dirt from Trump’s past, that it made it more likely, maybe even necessary, for journalists to move on to the next one thing.

But as Watts put it: “The monolithic story that’s constantly renewing itself seems to be disproportionately damaging compared to this kaleidoscope.”

7) In climate change research, “The most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences, study finds.”

8) Krugman on the Republicans’ war on children:

Meanwhile, here’s the funny thing: While there is zero evidence that tax cuts pay for themselves, there’s considerable evidence that aiding lower-income children actually saves money in the long run.

Think about it. Children who get adequate care are more likely to be healthier and more productive when they become adults, which means that they’ll earn more and pay more in taxes. They’re also less likely to become disabled and need government support. One recent study estimated that the government in fact earns a return of between 2 and 7 percent on the money it spends insuring children.

By the way, broadly similar results have been found for the food stamp program: Ensuring adequate nutrition for the young means healthier, more productive adults, so that in the long run this aid costs taxpayers little or nothing.

But such results, while interesting and important, aren’t the main reason we should be providing children with health care and enough to eat. Simple decency should be reason enough. And despite everything we’ve seen in U.S. politics, it’s still hard to believe that a whole political party would balk at doing the decent thing for millions of kids while rushing to further enrich a few thousand wealthy heirs.

That is, however, exactly what’s happening. And it’s as bad, in its own way, as that same party’s embrace of a child molester because they expect him to vote for tax cuts.

9) And Ronald Brownstein with a really nice piece going beyond his usual demographic analyses:

In that way, the tax debate offers the clearest measure of how powerfully the Republican Party in the Trump era is folding inward. Neither Trump nor GOP congressional leaders are even pretending to represent the entire country—or to consider perspectives beyond those of their core coalition. Instead the party has shown that as long as it can maintain internal unity over its direction, it will ignore objections from virtually any outside source—not just Democrats, but also independent experts, affected interest groups, and traditional allies abroad.

In a best-selling book published during the Reagan years, neoconservative cultural critic Allan Bloom lamented The Closing of the American Mind. The Trump era is crystallizing the closing of the Republican mind.

In several distinct ways, the party is now governing solely of, by, and for Red America…

10) Nice Mischiefs of Faction post on the conflicting rights in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

11) Michael Tomasky on Al Franken:

This is where I see some opportunism at work, in two ways. First, let’s cut to the chase: Do you think we’d have heard all these calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues if Minnesota had a Republican governor? No way. Maybe a couple senators would, but as a group they wouldn’t be nearly so cavalier about dumping him if they knew a Republican was going to replace him. And that’s fine; that’s politics. Newsflash: Politics is political. But it does make me take these high-moral-ground statements of his colleagues with a few grains of salt…

Second, obviously, the Democrats are hoping to present to America a contrast between them and the Republicans. And that contrast is real. But it, too, is not really about morality. It’s because rank-and-file Democrats take sexually inappropriate behavior a lot more seriously than rank-and-file Republicans do. This week, Quinnipiac polled about 1,700 people and asked them whether an elected official accused (and only accused) of sexual harassment or assault “by multiple people” should resign. Among Democrats it was 77 percent yes to 14 percent no. Among Republicans it was 51-37…

But there’s more. They’ve circumvented process and the principle of hearing from both sides. They’ve completely ignored the possibility that a person can reform himself. (Maybe Franken used to be a sexist jerk but has genuinely changed; aren’t liberals supposed to welcome that?) And they’ve blurred the line, which I think should exist, between different categories of sexual crimes, some of which are obviously worse than others. The day will almost surely come when they’ll regret having established these precedents.

12) Masha Gessen thinks we are going to far in “policing sex.”

13) Really like this piece about how so many men just don’t get enough touch in their lives.  Fortunately, for me, both my parents were huggers and physically affectionate.  I remember going off to college and missing the lack of physical contact.  Fortunately, I had a friend down the hall (who would become my best friend and roommate), who was always ready and unsparing with a good hug.

Touch is the first, and perhaps most profound, language we learn when we’re very young, says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Touch might have a more immediate impact than words, Dr. Field said in an email, “because it is physical and leads to a chain of bioelectric and chemical changes that basically relax the nervous system.”

The benefits of nonsexual touch read like a 19th-century tonic advertisement, except that the outcomes have been scientifically vetted. Touch has been found, among other things, to reduce stress, heart rate andblood pressure. Touch has even been found to lower the level of cortisol in the body (especially in women) which, when elevated, impedes our working memory and, most critically, the immune system’s resiliency…

The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.

The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”

14) Yeah, of course Roy Moore is lying and there’s increasing evidence to suggest that.

15) The marijuana as a gateway drug theory is making a bit of a comeback.  That said, the evidence for it is largely based on rats.  The human evidence still suggests the contrary.  Somehow, I had not heard of common liability theory.  Definitely going to educate myself more on this.

Today, health advocates tend to rally around a concept known as common liability theory, which states that certain people, by virtue of biology, environment or both, are simply more likely than others to become addicted to drugs. Part of the appeal of the theory is it explains why so many people can use so-called gateway drugs and never become addicted.

“Gateway theory only deals with the initiation of the use of various substances, and this order means exactly nothing,” said Michael M. Vanyukov, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of a 2012 paper comparing gateway and common liability theories. “What is important is why people start using drugs at all, and common liability accounts for that.”

16) Black women are far more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than white women.  And here’s one particularly heartbreaking tale of it.

17) Happy birthday to the #1 fan of quick hits, DJC.  This most eccentric of friends will be celebrating his 41st birthday by walking 41K today (I plan on joining him for a handful of those), so he might be behind in reading this.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good article in Chronicle of Higher Ed about the Canadian graduate student reprimanded for showing a video debate about gender neutral pronouns.

2) Check out America’s declining fertility rate.  You know how to maintain economic growth and a society that is not hopelessly old when this is below 2.0?  That’s right– immigration.

3) Washington State University campus Republicans re-elected their organization’s president even after he was shown to be a a white nationalist.

4) Yglesias on tax cuts and deficits

At some point Democrats will be in a position to govern again, and will likely want to roll back significant elements of this unpopular and regressive tax plan. At that point, they’ll have a choice between spending the money raised on deficit reduction (as the partial repeal of the Bush tax cuts did) or to help pay for worthwhile new programs. It’s true, of course, that Republican politicians will opportunistically flip and start condemning debt as the greatest evil of all.

More to the point, it’s true that the CEO class — currently hungry for tax cuts — will revert to “grand bargain” mode and insist that tax increases, if they must happen, should be paired with spending cuts. It’s true that much of the media will cover this hypocrisy in a clueless and irresponsible way. But the most important truth of all: Democrats will have the power to govern as they see fit, and the right choice will be to implement sound economic policy, not obsess about the deficit. So let’s not spend the Trump years in a senseless state of debt panic.

5) Very useful reminder from Chait that even the least conservative GOP Senator, Susan Collins, is still in conservative fantasyland on taxes.

6) Seth Masket on Trump facing consequences:

There are some important ways in which Trump is paying a price for his behavior, however, and these should not be ignored simply because they move slowly. For one, there’s a very serious criminal investigation of this administration moving ahead. Robert Mueller’s investigation has now produced four indictments this year, including that of the president’s former campaign manager and his choice for national security advisor. In the legal world, this is fast, and consequential, work, and could well end up as a case for impeachment and removal.

What’s more, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Trump is highly unpopular. His approval ratings seem mired in the 30s during a period of solid economic growth, low crime, low gas prices, low inflation, and a relatively peaceful international environment. This unpopularity is costly to him and his agenda and it could prove devastating for his party.

7) I love my Netflix.  Interesting Vox take on the future of streaming.

8) Ahhhh, McSweeney’s, “Things to do at work besides showing your penis to coworkers.”

9) Former child actress gets the best of FCC Chairman in battle over net neutrality.

10) Lemurs and gut microbiomes— two of my favorite topics together!  Also, I love that their is now a journal called “Gut Microbes.”

11) A good (and much shorter than Jesse Singal’s long, but excellent) article on the deep flaws of the widely-used Implicit Attitude Test to measure racism.  And a nice further (short) response from Jesse Singal.

12) In a similar vein, excellent Hidden Brain podcast on the heinous mis-use of super-flawed personality tests.

13) Nice Mea Culpa from Billy Bush.

14) Philip Bump, “Why aren’t you paying the estate tax? Maybe because you bought 311,000 bottles of whisky.”

15) What happens when cheerleaders in small-town NC take a knee for the anthem.

16) Really enjoyed this piece from Allison Benedikt (who married her former workplace supervisor) on the grey area of workplace romance:

If a younger woman asks an older and more professionally powerful man for job advice, and that man ends up hitting on the woman, is that on its own harassment? Is it always wrong when a man is attracted to a woman at work, and acts on that attraction? If that man tries to, say, kiss the woman he is attracted to, and she’s not into it, and they leave it at that, was that forcible kissing? If a woman is not attracted to a man who comes on to her, and that man is in a position of any sort of power, is that clearly a fireable offense? I don’t think the answer to these questions is definitively yes. And yet, these tales and others like them have been stitched into the narrative of behavior that’s truly beyond the pale, and at times punished accordingly…

But when John took me to a dark bar after we closed our first story together, or when he made his move on the steps of the subway station, in the romantic glow of the Duane Reade sign, why wasn’t that harassment? Though he wasn’t the editor of the magazine or anything close, he controlled which assignments I got, and which I didn’t, and would have been the person to write my evaluation, had we done those back then. There were the steps John took to evaluate my interest before leaning in for that kiss, like asking me out for drinks after work. But what if I had felt pressure to say yes to his  invite? Or what if, when he did kiss me, I had pulled away? At the time, our work and our social lives were all mixed up in wonderful, messy, risky ways. I know John wouldn’t have punished me at work had I not been interested in his advances; if he had, that would have been harassment, and not OK. Even so, life at the magazine might have become uncomfortable for me, or for him, if things hadn’t worked out. Maybe I would have wanted to find another job, or maybe he would have. Maybe, because I was younger and less established, it would have fallen on me to figure that out, which would have been hard, but no harder than needing to find a new job because I wasn’t advancing or because I hated my boss for nonkissing reasons. Maybe I wouldn’t have cared at all that this weird dude kissed me. Maybe I would have been flattered. Or maybe it would have really sucked. In none of those scenarios, though, would John have been a sexual harasser simply because he had more power in the office than I did and made a move. He took a risk. I was capable of evaluating his advances for myself. In my case, I welcomed them. If we had just met today, though, I fear there’s no way he would have even tried…

Of course not all workplaces are the same, and I have no interest in arguing that every office should be flirty and fun, or that all bosses should feel free to flirt with abandon. My point is not that I know where the line is. It’s that, even in the midst of the most public reckoning with atrocious and abusive male behavior of my lifetime, the line is not as clear as much of the dialogue would have you think. We spend a huge portion of our waking hours at work, and particularly when you are young and single or childless or divorced or simply working all the time, much of your social life revolves around your colleagues. We have work crushes and work wives and husbands, and sometimes we kiss our co-workers or sleep with them. Sometimes that turns into something real—my husband and I are not the only long-married couple to come out of that now-defunct magazine. But sometimes it turns into everyone at a bar, drinking a little too much, and a man touching a woman’s arm or leg or rubbing her shoulder, trying to make a move, and that woman not being into it. That’s an uncomfortable situation, but we all make each other uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when sex and attraction are involved. The goal should be for a person to say “no thanks, dude,” without consequences, not for rejection to never be necessary at all.

17) A nice, succinct summary of how CRISPR-CAS9 gene editing works.

18) History tells us that getting rid of net neutrality is a radically bad idea.

19) Was talking about people taking their kids to Disney World at way too young ages at lunch and I hit upon the term “performative parenting.”  Unsurprisingly, I’m not the first to coin it, but damn is it an apt term in our social media age.

20) Or not.

21) The best solution to obesity is actually bariactic surgery.  A huge part of its effectiveness is that it actually changes how the body produces hunger and satiety hormones.

22) Really interesting piece from Farhad Manjoo on how Amazon has led to a growth in surprisingly cheap– while still being good– consumer electronics.  I’ve definitely benefited from this headphones and very much recognize the attempts of these small companies to work rigorously for strong Amazon reviews.

23) Chait with the case for why the Steele dossier on Trump is likely mostly true.

24) And he points to this assessment from intelligence pros:

[Editor’s Note: In this special Just Security article, highly respected former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, John Sipher examines the Steele dossier using methods that an intelligence officer would to try to validate such information. Sipher concludes that the dossier’s information on campaign collusion is generally credible when measured against standard Russian intelligence practices, events subsequent to Steele’s reporting, and information that has become available in the nine months since Steele’s final report. The dossier, in Sipher’s view, is not without fault, including factual inaccuracies. Those errors, however, do not detract from an overarching framework that has proven to be ever more reliable as new revelations about potential Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin and its affiliates has come to light in the nine months since Steele submitted his final report.]


25) Christina Cauterruci argues the Democrats have successfully played the long game with Franken’s resignation:

I’d counter with an even longer game: Think about the Democrats with long, bright futures ahead of them, the rising stars, the next Obamas, the legislators who might pass universal Medicare or eliminate Medicaid abortion bans or become president someday. If Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, and Kamala Harris didn’t condemn Franken, they’d lose no small degree of faith among women currently feeling empowered by the #MeToo movement to root out abusers. If Franken was allowed to keep his seat while his party comrades twiddled their thumbs, young people who already think the Democratic Party is a corrupt instrument of the bourgeoisie would have one more reason to write it off for good. By sacrificing one senator, however popular he might be and whatever the perils of relinquishing his seat, Democrats were able to prevent irreparable damage to the party’s reputation among the people it should care about most: its base.

There’s another still longer game to think about, too. In the best-case scenario, the hurt caused by Franken’s resignation will be a memorable lesson to Democrats: Don’t mistreat women, or promote the candidacies of people who do—otherwise, your party might take a debilitating loss when it can least afford it, and the whole country will suffer. The moral high ground can be painful to walk, but at least there are fewer gropers there.


My sexist reference letters

A friend shared this on Facebook and I was a bit taken aback:

No automatic alt text available.

I get that there’s an innate bias where many might credit women with hard work while praising men for innate intelligence.  And I definitely get that we shouldn’t be labelling women as compassionate, warm, etc., but, seriously, cannot write that my students are conscientious and hard-working without being sexist?!  I write lots of references for grad school and based on my experience, I’d say success is far more dependent upon being conscientious, hard-working, and self-disciplined than being “knowledgeable” or “confident” or “insightful.”  Plenty of smart people go to grad school and law school– the most successful ones have the non-cognitive skills that would be seem to be off-limits.  I’m all for encouraging people to be aware of and avoid subtle bias in writing reference letters, but I refuse to give in to a world that says that hard work, dependability, and conscientiousness are not terrific personal characteristics that any male or female benefits from.

Quick hits (part II)

1) An interesting take that a focus on net neutrality distracts us from the real problem:

We have a perfectly good statute already, and the Obama-era FCC’s interpretation of that statute so as to ensure an open internet—including its labeling of these giant companies as common carriers, which was necessary in order for open internet rules to be enforceable—has already been found reasonable. On the Hill, the public will be out-lobbied at every turn by the essentially unlimited resources of Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T.

The real problem is a complete absence of leadership and policy aimed at making sure that low-priced, ubiquitous, world-class fiber optic services reach every home and business. Left to their own devices, the giant US companies Pai is determined to protect have every incentive to divide markets, avoid capital investments in upgrades to fiber that reach everyone, charge as much as they can get away with, and leave out poorer and rural people. That is in fact what has happened here.

In contrast, Wilson makes it easy for anyone to get fiber, whether they’re low-income or not. It’s providing the same symmetrical, high-capacity service to everyone, rich and poor. And it has every incentive to keep subscription prices as low as possible.

The differences between the way the unrestrained, profit-at-all-costs-driven operators run things and the way a public interest-driven operator acts are obvious. For a clear illustration, take a look at Wilson, North Carolina…

Finally, you might wonder why, if Wilson’s service is so successful, its neighbors in North Carolina haven’t noticed and started building similar systems of their own. The answer is that it’s illegal. Time Warner Cable (later Charter, later Spectrum) succeeded in getting the state legislature to pass legislation in 2011 aimed at never letting another city in the state follow Wilson’s lead.

3) The Supreme Court does not seem eager to expand gun rights (e.g., a “right” to own an assault rifle) beyond their earlier rulings creating an individual right to gun ownership.

4) The Supreme Court case involving cell phones and your right to privacy (can the government track you everywhere via your cellphone without a warrant?) is a pretty fascinating and important case.

5) Conor Friedersdorf with my favorite take on the latest James O’Keefe fiasco:

Project Veritas was operating on the premise that The Washington Post wouldn’t exercise due diligence in vetting a young woman accusing a Republican Senate candidate of sexual misconduct—that the paper would report the bogus story in the newspaper, enabling Project Veritas to expose them for spreading a false allegation.

The premise that the newspaper spreads “fake news” is widely held on the populist right. But the premise proved incorrect. Washington Post reporters did not reflexively or opportunistically believe a woman falsely accusing a prominent Republican. They assigned multiple staffers to help vet the story’s credibility. And they were skillful enough at doing so that they discovered their source’s lies.

If Project Veritas was operating in good faith—if it was really trying “to achieve a more moral and ethical society,” as it claims on its website—it would have acknowledged that its initial beliefs about The Washington Post were incorrect, and that the newspaper diligently pursued the truth when put to an undercover test. [emphasis mine]

Instead, even though the newspaper did the right thing, Project Veritas still cast it as an enemy.

6) Alcohol taxes save a ton of lives.  Seriously.  Lowering them, as the Republican tax bill does, is simply bad, and deadly, public policy.

7) Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern on why Trump is actually legally correct in his appointment to the CFPB.

8) Dexter Filkins on how Tillerson wrecked the State Department.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might not have his job for much longer, but his tenure may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history: not for what he built but for what he destroyed.

In only ten months, Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, has presided over the near-dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, chasing out hundreds of State Department employees and scaling back the country’s engagement with the world. Most alarming has been the departure of dozens of the foreign service’s most senior officials—men and women who had spent their careers living and working abroad, who speak several languages, and who are experts in their fields. As I detailed in my recent Profile of Tillerson, he came into the job proposing to cut the State Department’s budget by a third, with plans to eliminate more than a thousand jobs and dramatically scale back the already measly sums America spends on refugees, democracy promotion, women’s rights, and the prevention of H.I.V. At the same time, the Trump Administration was proposing to dramatically increase spending on defense—by fifty-eight billion dollars, an amount that is larger than the State Department’s entire budget.

9) Hell of a campaign ad from a Michigan woman, “Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting?”

10) Josh Marshall:

What it all boils down to is that racism – white racial grievance, immigration restriction, generalized bashing of basically any political or cultural assertion by African-Americans – is the only consistent and persistent line connecting the campaign to the presidency. This is not quite the same as saying that that’s the only real bottom line for his supporters – though there’s a lot of truth to that. But for Trump, that’s clearly the only thing that isn’t opportunistic and situational. Those all fall away. The only thing that doesn’t is the ethno-nationalism and racism. It’s the real him.

11) Excellent Chait post on how, for Republicans, tax cuts always create major economic growth.

12) Who could’ve known it’s a bad idea to get your eyeball tattooed?

13) The matching columns that would get their own post if I were not spending lots of time grading.  Thomas Edsall on “the self-destruction of American Democracy.”  And EJ Dionne, “Our political foundation is rotting away.”  And let’s be clear, this is not at all just about Trump, but the cowardly enabling of the Republican Party.



Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on ending net neutrality:

Because net neutrality shelters start-ups — which can’t easily pay for fast-line access — from internet giants that can pay, the rules are just about the last bulwark against the complete corporate takeover of much of online life. When the rules go, the internet will still work, but it will look like and feel like something else altogether — a network in which business development deals, rather than innovation, determine what you experience, a network that feels much more like cable TV than the technological Wild West that gave you Napster and Netflix.

If this sounds alarmist, consider that the state of digital competition is already pretty sorry. As I’ve argued regularly, much of the tech industry is at risk of getting swallowed by giants. Today’s internet is lousy with gatekeepers, tollbooths and monopolists.

2) The reasonable case for ending net neutrality.

3) Epigenetics for the win:

For the study, scientists at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute followed about 100 infants over four years. They asked parents of five-week-old babies to keep a journal of their child’s behavior — things like crying, sleeping, and feeding. They also asked parents to keep track of how long and how often they gave care to their child that involved physical contact, according to a press release.

When the children were about four and a half years old, the scientists swabbed the inside of their cheeks to take a DNA sample, and then checked to see if there were any differences between children who were touched often as infants and those who were touched less often.

4) One tiny but telling piece of the tax abomination is taking away the tax break for teachers who purchase their own school supplies.  And at the same time the richest 1% gets 62% of the benefit.  Unreal.

5) Great conversation with Stephanie Coontz on our current #metoo moment.

6) $1800 to get ears pierced at the hospital.  Oh, yeah, only in America.

7) Jesse Singal is right, companies should more often ignore on-line mobs.

8) Fred Kaplan on Tom Cotton to the CIA:

First, Cotton is an ideologue to an extent beyond any CIA director except possibly William Casey during the Reagan administration. Since his election to the House in 2012, and then to the Senate two years later, Cotton has taken outspoken stances far to the right on every issue domestic and foreign

The upshot is that the CIA, which is supposed to be an independent source of intelligence as far removed as possible from political pressures, should not be led by a partisan firebrand. Yet strict loyalty is precisely what Trump wants from a CIA director—and from his entire inner circle.

9) How BoredPanda has managed to thrive while upworthy, etc., have disappeared.

10) Really good piece on five ways to fix the use of statistics in science and social science research.

11) Intriguing idea on how to address inequality:

The solution is simpler than it seems. There’s a tried and tested way, within the system we have now, of giving everyone a share in the investment returns now hoarded by the wealthy. It’s called a social wealth fund, a pool of investment assets in some ways like the giant index or mutual funds already popular with retirement savings accounts or pension funds, but one owned collectively by society as a whole. One that paid dividends not to the few, or even just to the shrinking middle class lucky enough to have their savings invested, but to everyone…

Here’s how it could work. The federal government would create and run a new investment fund, and issue every adult citizen one share of ownership. The fund would gradually come to own a substantial and diverse portfolio of stocks, bonds and real estate. The investment return that the fund generates would be paid out to each citizen in the form of a universal basic dividend, and the shares would be nontransferable to preserve the institution’s egalitarian purpose.

The net result of such a system would be to gradually transform private wealth, which is very unevenly distributed, into public wealth that every person in society owns an equal part of. If, over time, the social wealth fund came to own one-third of the country’s wealth, that would allow it to distribute an annual dividend equivalent to about a third of the total returns on invested capital each year, which represents about a tenth of net national income. In 2016, based on the latest available census population figures, that would have meant around $6,400 paid to all adults or $8,000 paid to every person between the ages of 18 and 64.

12) First-person account from an admiral of how the opioid epidemic claimed his college-age son.

13) Now that they’ve got their deficit-busting tax bill, of course Republicans want to cut programs that help middle-class people.

14) “Lonely deaths” in aging Japan.

15) In addition to the utter absurdity of the content, the process by which Republicans passed their tax bill is an absolute embarrassment.  It’s an insult to banana republics to call this banana republic stuff.

The tax plan very nearly failed on a procedural vote Thursday, before leadership corralled its wayward members back into line. Over the past 24 hours, they have cut deals that would redirect half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, without so much as a single public hearing or one expert testimony.

16) Charles Blow:

That’s right: Not satisfied with his implicit (though obvious) endorsement of white supremacy here in America, Trump has now explicitly endorsed white supremacy in another country.

These are not mistakes. These are not coincidences. This is not mere bungling. These are revelations of the soul. This is who Trump is and who he has always been. This is who he was before he entered politics, and who he remains.

The Trump Doctrine is White Supremacy. Yes, he is also diplomatically inept, overwhelmed by avarice, thoroughly corrupt and a pathological liar, but it is to white supremacy and to hostility for everyone not white that he always returns.

When the political vise tightens on him, he just so happens to find a nonwhite target to attack.

When his tongue gets loose within him, he just so happens to find a nonwhite target to attack.

Anyone who doesn’t see this is choosing not to. [emphasis mine] They are clueless as an act of convenience, willfully blind and intentionally ignorant. Or conversely, they not only see it, but cheer it.

Either way, the people who elected Trump and those who continue to support him are to blame for what they have inflicted on this country.

17) Why a healthy dose of guilt is good for kids.  I need to step up my game.

18) Mike Pesca with the best take I’ve yet heard on the NYT nazi-next-door article.

19) Trump’s impact on the middle east:

In short, it appears that Mr. Trump and the Saudis have helped the government achieve what years of repression could never accomplish: widespread public support for the hard-line view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted and that Iran is now a strong and capable state capable of staring down its enemies.

20) An Op-Ed asks, “does religion make people moral?”  I think we all know the answer– hell no.  Okay, maybe sometimes, but the Roy Moore’s of the world are a plenty big counter-example:

My humble answer is: It depends. Religion can work in two fundamentally different ways: It can be a source of self-education, or it can be a source of self-glorification. Self-education can make people more moral, while self-glorification can make them considerably less moral.

Religion can be a source of self-education, because religious texts often have moral teachings with which people can question and instruct themselves. The Quran, just like the Bible, has such pearls of wisdom. It tells believers to “uphold justice” “even against yourselves or your parents and relatives.” It praises “those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind.” It counsels: “Repel evil with what is better so your enemy will become a bosom friend.” A person who follows such virtuous teachings will likely develop a moral character, just as a person who follows similar teachings in the Bible will.

But trying to nurture moral virtues is one thing; assuming that you are already moral and virtuous simply because you identify with a particular religion is another. The latter turns religion into a tool for self-glorification. A religion’s adherents assume themselves to be moral by default, and so they never bother to question themselves. At the same time, they look down on other people as misguided souls, if not wicked infidels. [emphasis mine]


You’re spending too much time with your kids

Maybe.  Especially if you are a college-educated American woman.  Pretty cool set of charts in the Economist:

Among the many notable features is the the increasing gap by education in every country.  Quantity of parental time does not necessarily equal quality.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s, my super-awesome mom just sent me out to play.  Lots less of that today.  That said, insofar as parental involvement helps kids (and this is presumably a rough metric of parental involvement), this suggests the rich (college-educated) getting richer.

Also, what is up with Denmark?!

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