Quick hits (part I)

1) It’s very early yet, but really promising stuff coming out of the LeBron James-sponsored public school in Akron:

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

The school opened with some skepticism — not only for its high-profile founder, considered by some to be the best basketball player ever, but also for an academic model aimed at students who were, by many accounts, considered unredeemable…

The scores reflect students’ performance on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, a nationally recognized test administered by NWEA, an evaluation association. In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th.

The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

The students have a long way to go to even join the middle of the pack. And time will tell whether the gains are sustainable and how they stack up against rigorous state standardized tests at the end of the year. To some extent, the excitement surrounding the students’ progress illustrates a somber reality in urban education, where big hopes hinge on small victories.

2) Even if airlines don’t want to keep buying the 737 Max, they’ve got little choice:

Yet for all the uncertainty facing Boeing today, analysts believe there is little long-term risk to the company. Boeing and its European rival Airbus are the only significant manufacturers of commercial aircraft. And the 737 Max, for all its problems, remains one of two midsize fuel-efficient passenger jets on the market, along with the Airbus A320neo.

“Boeing’s best protection is that this is a supply-constrained industry,” Mr. Aboulafia said. “There are only two modern airplanes that offer fuel savings. The risk of defection is minimal because of that.”

Nor is there much risk that airlines that have already placed orders with Boeing will walk away, analysts said. With Airbus also backlogged, airlines looking for new planes have no real alternatives.

“Boeing’s ability to modify the aircraft effectively, the duopoly structure of the aircraft market, the large installed base of 737s, and Boeing’s deep and long-term relationships with its customers mean that demand for the Max will not change dramatically,” Mr. Seifman wrote.

3) Chait with an update on Trump’s “war on democracy.”

In recent days, the warning lights have flashed as bright as ever. Trump has ramped up the volume of his authoritarian rhetoric. This week alone, Trump has used “treasonous” as a description for both Democratic immigration policy (“I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS. Their Open Border mindset is putting our Country at risk”) and the Mueller investigation (“In fact, it was an illegal investigation that should never have been allowed to start. I fought back hard against this Phony & Treasonous Hoax!”).

Meanwhile, he is energetically subverting the independence of the Federal Reserve. The country’s economic health and the president’s standing are generally in alignment, but to the extent that they diverge, Trump wants to ensure that the Fed will prioritize the latter over the former. He has appointed a pair of flagrantly unqualified hacks to the board. “He wants guys he can call at home at night and tell them what he wants done,” a former administration official tells The Wall Street Journal

The Republican Senate recently mounted faint, ineffectual resistance to Trump’s plan to unilaterally redirect federal funds for a purpose Congress has rejected. And it has formed a solid wall of support behind Trump’s refusal to hand over his tax returns to Congress, despite both deep-rooted norms and law supporting the demand that he do so. This is in keeping with a broad Republican decision that Trump is entitled to run a personal business empire while holding office without disclosing the numerous avenues for corruption this arrangement opens up.

Also this week, Attorney General William Barr supplied fresh evidence he is carrying out the job the way Trump has always demanded: as a Roy Cohn figure committed to ignoring Trump’s misconduct while hounding his enemies. Barr announced he is investigating the possibility that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign. The most likely explanation for what went on, and the one supported by all the known evidence, is that the FBI merely investigated figures associated with the Trump campaign who were connected with Russian intelligence, not the campaign itself. But Barr instead teased more nefarious explanations, even prejudging the outcome of his investigation. (“I think there was a failure among a group of leaders [at the FBI] at the upper echelon.”) And he attacked the FBI for allegedly failingto inform the Trump campaign of Russian infiltration, when in fact it did exactly that

The most dire outcomes do not have to be the most probable outcomes in order to legitimately command our attention. We know for sure that whatever Trump’s capabilities, the malevolence of his intentions lies beyond dispute. If Trump does win reelection — a prospect that is close to a coin-flip proposition under current economic conditions — that would place us now barely more than a quarter of the way through his presidency.

4) Good stuff from Paul Waldman:

Congratulations are in order to JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States. It just reported that in the first quarter of 2019 it made a record profit of $9.18 billion on $29.9 billion in revenue. Truly, we are living in an age of boundless prosperity.

Well, some of us are. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made $31 million last year. Which led to an interesting exchange between him and first-term Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) this week in a Capitol Hill hearing, when Porter asked Dimon to consider the financial situation of a teller working at Dimon’s bank in Irvine, Calif., the location of her district.

A video of Porter questioning Dimon is spreading, and it’s an excellent reminder of something with profound implications for next year’s presidential campaign…

Porter is uniquely situated to do this kind of questioning. A law professor with deep expertise in topics such as bankruptcy, she is quickly becoming one of the financial services industry’s most formidable critics on Capitol Hill. And she was doing more than making Dimon uncomfortable. She was obviously trying to make a larger point not just about JPMorgan Chase or even just about the banking industry, but about the American economy in general.

That point is this: If you have a bank that’s making $9 billion in profit in a single quarter, with a CEO who makes $31 million a year, and yet people who work for that bank can’t possibly make ends meet, something is very, very wrong. And that should be at the center of the campaign of every Democrat running for president.

5) Nice analysis from Pew, “State Drug Imprisonment Not Correlated With Drug Use, Arrests, or Overdose Deaths.”

6) Nice summary of what science has found a year in space did to Scott Kelly, relative to his identical twin, Mark.  Though, this Wired story is actually way more interesting and more fun.

7) The current Jeopardy! champion is a professional gambler and, damn, is he just kicking butt.

8) Okay, so the woman who opened up this “clean” Chinese food restaurant is a total idiot (it’s clean, in the sense of organic, gluten-free, etc.), but damn is the whole culture of ready-offense-taking and cultural appropriation so tiresome.

9) The anti-climate-change right is pushing its message in Finland(!).

HELSINKI, Finland — When they really wanted to rile up conservative voters this spring, the politicians from Finland’s nationalist party made a beeline for the rawest subject in this year’s general election.

No, not immigration. Climate.

As Finland’s other parties competed with each other to offer ambitious climate goals ahead of Sunday’s general election, the Finns Party has seized on climate as a new front in the culture wars, warning its conservative, working-class supporters that they are being betrayed by urban elites.

Aggressive environmental measures will “take the sausage from the mouths of laborers,” warned a Finns Party politician, Matti Putkonen, in a recent televised debate. And, more important, from dogs and cats, whose food, he said, would increase in price by 20 to 40 percent.

“What are you going to say to the little girl or boy who cries when Mom and Dad say that they can’t afford it any longer?” he said. “And take the lovable pet to be put down?”

10) Pew with an early look at the 2020 electorate.

In 2020, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z

11) Jonathan Bernstein on the Republic vs. Democracy foolishness and some nice points about the nature of democracy:

I don’t really know whether the “republic-not-a-democracy” folks are sincerely just misguided pedants or if they are actively trying to use a confusion in the language to place restrictions on voting rights. Either way, they’re just plain wrong. In 21st century America, democracy and republic should be used interchangeably.

12) Love this ruling on needlessly mandatory skirts for girls’ school uniforms:

Three girls in North Carolina were fed up with a school policy prohibiting female students from wearing pants. Skirts, they said, were uncomfortable and restrictive. They wanted to be free to play at recess, do cartwheels with the boys and focus on learning in the classroom — not the position of their legs.

So the girls, then ages 5, 10 and 14, decided to do something about it.

What began with a school petition by one of the students seeking to allow girls to wear pants to school stretched into a yearslong battle that culminated last week when a federal judge struck down the school’s uniform policy as unconstitutional.

“The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” the judge, Malcolm J. Howard, wrote in the ruling, filed on Thursday.

The ruling landed amid a larger discussion about how female students of all ages are viewed, after recent episodes at other schools.

13) Enjoyed this from Scott Alexander.  Here’s just a sampling:

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. “Mutton” takes the popular vote, but “grass” wins in the Electoral College. The wolves wish they hadn’t all moved into the same few trendy coastal cities.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The Timber Wolf Party and the Gray Wolf Party spend most of their energy pandering shamelessly to the tiebreaking vote.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Everyone agrees to borrow money, go to a fancy French restaurant, and leave the debt to the next generation.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The sheep votes for the Wolf Party, because he agrees with them on social issues.

14) Interesting idea.  Actually, I spend a lot of time with kids and pretty much never ask them this question, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up: The question forces children to define themselves in terms of work.”

15) Why are walruses plunging to their deaths en masse in a new nature documentary (that my family so needs to watch)?  Climate change.

16) James Hamblin on the health importance of human touch and the changing ground rules of how we think about it.

17) Michael Lewis has a new podcast on the podcast network co-founded by Malcolm Gladwell.  Podcast nirvana.  And, yes, it is great.

18) I read this article title to my wife this week, “How to Stop Thinking Your Teen Is ‘Pushing Your Buttons’ Do clothes on the floor make you crazy? Experts say that the tension is often about the way the parent responds.”  She responded, “uhhh, yeah, tell them to spend time with Evan at 6:30am or right when he gets home from school.”

19) How insane is it to try and make meaningful conclusions about human health from a group of 10(!!) college students.  Pretty insane.  The NYT should no better, as most of the commenters mentioned.  We need good research on sitting and exercise.  This isn’t it.

 

 

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Lee Drutman makes a compelling case that we should make more predictions.

Most scholars and commentators these days are overly cautious about venturing predictions. It’s understandable: After so many got so much wrong in 2016, the natural response is to step back and “get out of the prediction business.”

This is too bad. If anything, we should make more predictions — if so many once-reliable theories crumbled in 2016, there’s all the more need to come up with new ones. And making predictions is the best way to test our theories and assumptions, and therefore an excellent way to learn. Yes, it means sticking your neck out and maybe being wrong. The safest way to always be right is to never make any predictions. But without venturing testable hypotheses about the future, it’s harder to distinguish rival theories.

Like it or not, the demand for predictions exists. Our minds are wired to hate uncertainty, to know the next turn in the story. Predictions fill a deep need.

Without scholars and commentators making informed predictions in the accountable spirit of the scientific method, the market is left to those who care less whether they are right — they just want to be interesting. This reduces the quality of predictions — more vague and wild predictions, fewer ones resting on specified theories. The result: We understand less about the world…

Now, you might say: Why make predictions when we can just wait for the outcome, and thenmake a post-hoc judgment call? But once we know the outcome, post-hoc rationalization sets in. Hindsight is always 20/20 (and not just in 2020).

If you have a new theory, there’s only one way to know whether it might be any good: make predictions and see how well you do.

Drutman predicts Beto.

Here’s my theory, informed by what we’ve seen from recent elections: The candidate who is best able to get by on “authenticity” and charisma and can keep from getting mired in policy specifics has the best chance of winning. The current era of social media- and internet-driven small-donor financing has made politics more unmediated, more direct-to-voter than ever.

I don’t have much of a theory, but to the extent I do, I’ll predict Kamala.  I think the fact that she is a Black woman is a huge plus in an identity-politics on the left age and I think she has the skills to do really well in debates, which will help set her apart from a large field.  So, there you go.

2) Speaking of identity politics, Jesse Singal is really good on this:

Identity politics is really just any instance of a group advocating for its own interests, often by arguing it hasn’t been treated fairly or is being screwed over by some other group or some bigger force. The civil rights and women’s suffrage movements were instances of effective identity politics.

‘Identitarianism’ is a bit better. In poking around online, I came across the blog of Matt Drabek, a philosopher and the author of the very interesting-looking Classify and Label: The Unintended Marginalization of Social Groups. Drabek argues against identitarianism on the left, from the left, laying out the identity politics/identitarianism distinction as follows in a post from last June:

-‘Identity politics’ picks out any politics aimed at advancing the interests of a discernible identity group or groups.

-‘Identitarianism’ picks out any politics or movement that reduces political issues entirely or almost entirely to issues of identity.

That seems about right to me. And it captures what feels like a burgeoning tendency in certain left-of-center spaces, particularly elite ones. Since it has certain characteristics unique to it and not held by right-wing forms of identitarianism, let’s call it left-wing identitarianism, or LWI, for short. This is somewhat blunt phrasing, since there are far-left socialist identitarians and center-left Hillary-Clinton-supporting identitarians, but it gets the point across well enough.

LWI has certain defining features that pop up endlessly. One is that it makes strong causal claims about the connection between race and behavior or belief…

This is a really good example of the miles-wide gap between how traditional progressivism and LWI handle the question of race and crime.

Traditional progressivism: If there’s a link between race and crime, it isn’t about race itself — being one race or another, doesn’t, on its own, cause someone to be more criminal via properties essential to that racial group. Rather, the race-crime link is mediated by all sorts of other variables, like poverty and lack of access to opportunity.

Left-wing identitarianism: There is a causal link between race and crime when it comes to white crime, because of the essential qualities of whiteness.

In fact, LWI has a tendency to reduce all sorts of complicated stuff to whether or not the person doing that stuff is a member of majority or minority groups. Among the most ardent left-wing identitarians, the first step toward explaining anything is identity groups.

3) I do plan on reading this big NYT magazine feature on Rupert Murdoch.  Everybody tells me I should.

4) My wife thinks I’m too old for this.  I disagree.

5) I subscribed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1998-99.  It was a great paper.  So sad to see it’s dramatic decline, as with so many high-quality local newspapers.

6) Everybody also said this Caitlyn Flanagan piece on the college admissions scandal is a must-read. It’s really good, but I didn’t think quite up to the hype.  But, yes, read it.

These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone. They can’t believe it—they truly can’t believe it—when they realize that even the colleges they had assumed would be their child’s back-up, emergency plan probably won’t accept them. They pay thousands and thousands of dollars for untimed testing and private counselors; they scour lists of board members at colleges, looking for any possible connections; they pay for enhancing summer programs that only underscore their children’s privilege. And—as poor whites did in the years leading up to 2016—they complain about it endlessly. At every parent coffee, silent auction, dinner party, Clippers game, book club, and wine tasting, someone is bitching about admissions. And some of these parents, it turns out, haven’t just been bitching; some of them decided to go MAGA.

Also, I have seen so many non-elite state-school graduates go on to great things that the obsession with elite undergraduate institutions grows ever more tiresome to me.

7) There’s just so much horror committed by our government in the name of “protecting our borders” that it’s hard to keep up.  And it is a moral stain on our country.  Especially those responsible.

8) Good stuff in Wired on they physics and reality of free-throw shooting.  I love that the best research on this is from an NC State professor (see, who needs the Ivies).

9) And as long as we’re talking basketball… Zion has led me to enjoy college basketball more than I have in many years.  I hate that I only got one season of him and that I’ll never see him in a Duke jersey again.  But this Ringer article on how the whole one-and-done thing has been Coach K’s downfall is terrific.

10) And to stick with a theme, Notre Dame women’s college basketball coach will not be hiring any men again.  Ever.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw has been on the Final Four stage nine times in her career. She has answered hundreds of questions about her team, about her rivalry with Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, about the state of women’s basketball. But her news conference on Thursday was different. It was passionate, and it was personal.

Muffet McGraw has had enough.

Enough of the declining percentage of women coaching women’s basketball teams. Enough of the limited female representation in Congress. Enough of confining gender roles. Enough of the gender pay gap.

“Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one,” McGraw said, her voice rising in response to a question about saying in a recent ThinkProgress article that she would not hire another man for her coaching staff.

11) This seems like a really important piece of social science to me.  Not only can we p-hack more publishable results, we can null-hack them.  And, of course, any “hacking” of results is not good.  But, for now, rewarded.

Replication and transparency are increasingly important in bolstering the credibility of political science research, yet open science tools are typically designed for experiments. For observational studies, current replication practice suffers from an important pathology: just as researchers can often “p-hack” their way to initial findings, it is often possible to “null hack” findings away through specification and case search. We propose an observational open science framework that consists of extending the original time series, independent data collection, pre-registration, multiple simultaneous replications, and collaborators with mixed incentives. We apply the approach to three studies on “irrelevant” events and voting behavior. Each study replicates well in some areas and poorly in others. Had we sought to debunk any of the three with ex post specification search, we could have done so. However, our approach required us to see the full, complicated picture. We conclude with suggestions for future refinements to our approach.

12) This Vox piece on the scientific value of recovering 50-year astronaut poop on the moon was fascinating.  I also loved that my 13-year old son had already read it when I brought up the subject to him.

13) A female teacher lost her job over a topless selfie that she shared with a male co-worker she had been dating (and, alas, somehow made it’s way into the phone of a student).  She is suing based on the gender discrimination of toplessness.  How about the fact that you should not be fired because sexual photos of you exist.

(Super late) Quick hits

Sorry to be late.  I spent Friday and Saturday in (mostly) Wilmington, NC area learning about leadership and disaster response with NCSU Park Scholars.  It was good stuff.   And, then I had a horrible headache much of Sunday.   Anyway, here you go:

1) Let’s start with a slightly older, but really good one.  Nicholas Stephanopolous nicely explains the legal case against gerrymandering.

2) Ezekiel Emmanuel knows his health care policy, “Bernie Sanders Thinks He Can Vanquish Health Insurers. He’s Wrong.: His “Medicare for all” plan is the best known—and the most politically impractical.”

The real obstacle to Sanders’s plan is the public’s expectations. As much as Americans hate insurance companies in general, they want the right to have a love-hate relationship with their own insurer. During the battle over the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama promised, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” When a handful of Americans lost their plans, the backlash was tremendous—even when the cancellations had nothing to do with the new law. The polling data today are clear: When Americans are told they might have to give up their current insurer, fewer than 40 percent support Medicare for all. That’s nowhere near enough to override the entrenched interests in health care.

More important, Sanders’s Medicare for all would put almost all private insurance companies out of business—or diminish them to runts. These companies manage more than $1 trillion in revenue per year and cover more than 175 million Americans. For Sanders and his supporters, the prospect of putting nearly all those companies out of business is a major attraction of Medicare for all. But no trillion-dollar industry has ever just rolled over and died. Insurers have experience fighting far less ambitious health reforms—and winning…

Emmanuel continues with his favored Medicare for America approach:

By allowing businesses to continue to offer private insurance and allowing insurers to compete in Medicare Part C, these proposals expand coverage—and the government’s role in health insurance—without threatening private insurance companies with extinction. In fact, a number of insurers might see an opportunity under Medicare Advantage for all to enroll new customers.

There are also good policy rationales to preserve a role for private insurers. While progressives often claim these companies do nothing for the health-care system but add paperwork and extract profits, this view is anything but universal. Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurers currently enroll about a third of seniors and are the fastest-growing part of Medicare. The evidence—only 2 percent switch back to regular Medicare— suggests that seniors like these plans and, by implication, the private insurers that offer them. In addition, having multiple payers adds competition, which can improve performance and prevent the government’s health plan from ossifying. The health systems of the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland all include multiple competing private insurers and sickness funds.

3) Rethink laptops in the classroom yet again?  Maybe.  Interesting evidence, but for now I am going to continue to disallow them.

4) Local news is dying and that is genuinely horrible for American democracy:

The newspaper industry has been in a tailspin since internet companies ate the $5 billion in classified advertising they’d been raking in, and social media became an alternative entry point to the day’s news. Worse, the solution that saved the The New York Timeshigh-margin digital subscriptions—has not yet proved itself for smaller papers. Just 14 percent of Pew’s survey respondents said they had paid for local news in some way in the past year. Forty-nine percent of the people who didn’t pay cited the “widespread availability of free content” as their reason why, according to Pew…

Local television has proved a more resilient business. Despite viewership declines and the loss of deeper forms of reporting, the industry has only been very, very mildly contracting.

But newspaper reporters used to be the backbone of every local journalism ecosystem. Medium- and large-sized cities sometimes had hundreds of them, and their publications’ formats allowed for the day-to-day coverage and investigative explorations that make civic journalism valuable to communities.

5) Pete Buttigieg with some pretty damn smart observations on democracy and capitalism:

Pete Buttigieg

I think the word “socialism” has largely lost its meaning in American politics because it has been used by the right to describe pretty much anything they disagree with. To the extent there’s a conversation around democratic socialism — even that seems to be a little squishy in terms of what it actually means.

I think of myself as progressive. But I also believe in capitalism, but it has to be democratic capitalism.

Part of the problem here is that you have one generation that grew up associating socialism with communism like they’re the same thing, and therefore also assuming that capitalism and democracy were inseparable. I’ve grown up in a time when you can pretty much tell that there’s tension between capitalism and democracy, and negotiating that tension is probably the biggest challenge for America right now.

You don’t have to look that hard to find examples of capitalism without democracy — Russia leaps to mind. And when you have capitalism without democracy, you get crony capitalism and eventually oligarchy. So a healthy capitalist system, working within the rule of law, is the stuff of American growth and can be the stuff of equitable growth. But we don’t have that right now.

Zack Beauchamp

Talk to me more about that tension and how you see the concept of “rule of law” playing into it.

Pete Buttigieg

The big issue we have right now is regulatory capture.

When you’re in a system where money can equate to power, even more than it has historically, through the ability to purchase influence in politics, what starts to happen is the bigger you are and the more resources you command, the more you can bend the system to your advantage.

I think that structure helps to explain why our society has become more and more unequal. And all sorts of horrible side effects happen when you have that inequality, in addition to it just being morally upsetting. Look at the way that a lot of powerful businesses get their way in Washington. In statehouses it’s even more pronounced, because there’s less scrutiny.

It also leads to much greater concentration and consolidation in our economy. People are usually talking about that right now in the context of the tech sector, but it’s just as big a problem or bigger in the agricultural sector. This is a nation-wide illness that winds up threatening both democracy and capitalism.

6) These efforts on the gender pay gap would help move things in the right direction, but there really is only so much you can do with this kind of policy.  Either women need to stop having babies or society needs to change (to be clear, I recommend the latter):

But her bill doesn’t get at another important root cause of the gender pay gap: the economic impacts of motherhood. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote, Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven found that mothers in Denmark (a country with a robust social safety net) saw their earnings take a significant hit after they had a child. Kleven compared the salaries of mothers to childless women and to men and found that “childbearing accounts for 80 percent of the gender wage gap in Denmark.”

And, of course, it’s not so different in America.

7) This was really, really good.  Using evolutionary principles to better treat cancer.

8) Is it time for us to eschew “statistical significance” as traditionally used?  Probably.  Good summary in Vox.

9) Frank Bruni with a nice profile of Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate cheated out of the NC-9 election.  Honestly, I didn’t realize he was such an impressive guy.

10) Thomas Edsall sums up a lot of really good recent Political Science analyses with an eye towards 2020.  And… Trump will lose.   Umm, no, not that simple.  Lots of stuff does look really good for Democrats.  But presidents usually get re-elected, especially with a strong economy.

11) The under-appreciated superfood?  Fiber.  I’m in a very small minority of actually getting my recommended daily allowance every day.  I eat plenty of unhealthy food and y’all know how much pizza I eat.  But I get my fiber, damnit.

12) Drum on how the divorce rate is down mostly because the marriage rate is down:

If marriage rates are down, you’d naturally expect fewer divorces. So let’s take a look at the divorce rate as a percentage of the marriage rate:

Divorce as a percentage of marriage has fallen a bit in recent years, but the bigger picture shows that it’s been roughly flat since 1975. There’s something to see here, but not quite as much as it appears at first glance.

13) This animation of the 10 biggest cities in the world over time is amazing.  Watch it.

14) This is really good.  “A brutal attack almost killed her husband. It transformed Abby Maslin into a different person.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Janet Napolitano with Karen Breslau, “Americans Are Seeing Threats in the Wrong Places
Security means teaching the public which dangers are real and which are not. Trump’s rhetoric isn’t helping.”

In the four years I led the Department of Homeland Security, I learned from the inside that the greatest threats to our safety play out differently from how political speeches and news reports might have us believe. True security means educating the public about which dangers are real and likely and which are not. Hours after a man killed more than four dozen people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of violence by white-supremacist groups—and went on to contend that the United States is under “invasion” from the south. In fact, mass shootings are genuine security problems. Natural disasters and cyberattacks are genuine security problems. Undocumented immigrants supposedly running over an open border by the millions and attacking Americans on the streets are not.

In a huge and open nation, there will never be enough money, gates, guns, or guards to run down every potential threat. Homeland security works when we adhere to proven principles of law enforcement, national security, and disaster management, and when we integrate those principles with the best data science and other technological innovations available and update them constantly. We get into trouble when political ideology is thrown into the mix. A stubborn or willful misreading of the threat environment leads to poor management of resources and results in failure. And in this regard, I regret to say, we are backsliding terribly.

2) Liked this from a recent Crooked newsletter:

But in cracking open the door to endorsing filibuster abolition down the line, Booker joins Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), and others who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have accepted that filibuster reform may be necessary if Democrats hope to enact the varied, bold policies the candidates are running on.

This recognition is critical because it shows that Democratic politicians increasingly grasp that Republican leaders, if not Republican voters themselves, remain committed to not negotiating with Democrats in good faith, and are poised to revive the strategy they adopted during the Obama administration of opposing and filibustering Democratic priorities in lockstep.

It’s also important because it comes as the Democratic Party has oriented itself toward defending democracy from conservative forces at all levels—from opposing voter suppression to ending partisan gerrymandering to curbing the influence of money in politics to reforming the electoral college. That project isn’t compatible with a rule that allows a minority of senators, representing an even smaller minority of the population a silent veto over policies that command overwhelming popular support.

3) This is interesting, “Purdue blocking Netflix, Hulu, gaming sites in all classrooms after spring break.”

4) And this, via the Upshot, is pretty wild, “Women With a Twin Brother Are More Likely to Face Penalties at School and Work: Research shows they might act more like boys when they’re young, struggling in school, but then face sexism when they’re grown.”

Women with a twin brother do worse in school and make less money than those with a twin sister, a large new study has found. In their 30s, the women wound up earning 9 percent less. They were also less likely to graduate from school, marry and have children.

The researchers said the effects were because the women were naturally exposed to their brothers’ testosterone in the womb. The study, which was published Monday, included all births in Norway for 11 years.

The findings might also help explain a paradox — over all, girls are doing better than boys in school, but men are doing better than women in the work force. There are other potential explanations involving cultural expectations. Girls seem to be encouraged to be competent, while boys are encouraged to be confident, research shows, and school today requires a lot of self-control, which most boys develop later. Once people start working, women face sexism and a host of other inequalities (many related to motherhood).

Testosterone, which all females are exposed to in utero, might be another contributor. The hormone is associated with certain behaviors— including aggression, competition and risk taking — that might contribute to boys’ underperformance in school, but that are often rewarded in the workplace. Females exposed to an elevated level oftestosterone might act more like boys when they’re young, but then face sexism at work when they’re older. Women are penalized, research shows, when they show many of the same behaviors that benefit men in the workplace.

5) Meanwhile, I find it depressing that our oppressive standards of women’s appearance means that an increasing number of preteen girls feel the need to resort to professional hair removal.

6) Trump’s America: “How a flight attendant from Texas ended up in an ICE detention center for six weeks.”  Also, she’s “from Texas” but a DACA beneficiary.

7) Really like this “defense of eco-hypocrisy.”

Contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability.

Sadly, these efforts at distraction have been wildly effective.

Ask your average citizen what they can do to stop global warming, and they will say “go vegetarian”, or “turn off the lights”, long before they talk about lobbying their elected officials. And this framing has been used as an extremely effective cudgel against those speaking out.

Perhaps nobody embodies this more than former Vice President Al Gore, whose Inconvenient Truth documentary catapulted the climate crisis back into the US political discourse. Rather than grapple with the complex, often terrifying facts presented in the film, critics were quick to change the subject.

A report — released simultaneously with the documentary, and authored by a “free market” think tank — claimed that Mr. Gore’s house used 20 times more energy than the average American home. And while Gore’s spokespeople responded with statistics about his energy efficient retrofits, the damage was already done:

“Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth: a $30,000 Energy Bill”cried one particularly snarky headline,from Jake Tapper for ABC News.

More recently, Green New Deal advocate and freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has faced similar attacks, based on her apparent shocking use of cars. This time, however, there are promising signs that the lessons of past battles have been learned. Rather than defend herself with receipts for carbon offsets, AOC rightly and forcefully steered the conversation back to the only scale that truly matters…

Still, the purity tests persist. And while some come from our opponents, many of them are actually coming from inside the movement too.

George Monbiot, a British environmentalist and journalist, has written beautifully about climate change for years. While much of his focus has been on the structural underpinnings of the problem, Monbiot is also not above directing his fire at the environmentally aware. Society’s addiction to cheap flights is a regular target for his ire:

“If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit. This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. […] The moral dissonance is deafening.”

For those of us who believe that personal lifestyle change has largely been used as a distraction, it’s tempting to argue that Monbiot’s dinner party conversations are not just awkward or ineffective — they are actively counterproductive. If we’re going to grow a movement that can challenge our fossil fuel dependent economic order, we’re going to need as many people as possible on board—pushing folks away because they participate in that economic order is going to leave us with a pretty small pool of recruits.

8) John Cassidy asks, How did the FAA allow the 737 Max to fly?”  I don’t think it is actually so crazy to have aircraft manufacturers play a major role in deciding whether their products are safe.  They have so much to lose, if they are not, that it seems the financial incentives actually are to have your aircraft as safe as possible.  That said, this seems to have gone wrong in the case of the 737 Max.

9) On what we actually need to do about college:

No change in whom the most selective colleges admit would have a fraction of the good effect on the country that increasing the proportion of college graduates would have.

What’s the barrier to this? It isn’t that we don’t have a big enough higher-education system. These days, about ninety per cent of young people have some interaction with college. The problem is that not enough of them graduate, and so they cannot reap the copious benefits that a degree provides. A commission of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which I was a member, reported that only about sixty per cent of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Only thirty per cent of community-college students, who are supposed to get their degrees in two years, graduate within six. There are a number of reasons for this, including students being underprepared, higher education’s long-running undervaluation of the intense personal attention that makes all the difference for students who are struggling, and years of funding cuts by state legislatures. That should not give rise to fatalism, though: a few places have shown that dedicated effort can raise graduation rates dramatically. In the majority-minority, majority-poor Georgia State University system, the graduation rate has increased by twenty percentage points in fifteen years, thanks to the advent of a new system of customized advising and tutoring.

Busting the admissions cheaters is the right thing to do, in addition to being emotionally satisfying. But it won’t change America much for the better. Anyone who wants to do that through higher education, and who focusses on élite schools, is looking in the wrong place. The right place to look is the great majority of colleges where getting in isn’t a problem. The right cause to take up is raising graduation rates. Who wins the glittering prizes gets our attention; how well the system works for most people matters a great deal more.

10) The electoral college is almost entirely unjustified.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

In February, I wrote about the Electoral College, its origins and its problems. Whatever its potential merits, it is a plainly undemocratic institution. It undermines the principle of “one person, one vote,” affirmed in 1964 by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims — a key part of the civil and voting rights revolution of that decade. It produces recurring political crises. And it threatens to delegitimize the entire political system by creating larger and larger splits between who wins the public and who wins the states.

Many readers disagreed, making arguments similar to those used by the president and his allies. But those claims — that the Electoral College ensures rural representation, that its counter-majoritarian outcomes reflect the intentions of the framers and that it keeps large states from dominating small ones — don’t follow from the facts and are rooted more in folk civics than in how the system plays out in reality.

Take rural representation. If you conceive of rural America as a set of states, the Electoral College does give voters in Iowa or Montana or Wyoming a sizable say in the selection of the president. If you conceive of it as a population of voters, on the other hand, the picture is different. Roughly 60 million Americans live in rural counties, and they aren’t all concentrated in “rural” states. Millions live in large and midsize states like California, New York, Illinois, Alabama and South Carolina.

With a national popular vote for president, you could imagine a Republican campaign that links rural voters in California — where five million people live in rural counties — to those in New York, where roughly 1.4 million people live in rural counties. In other words, rural interests would be represented from coast to coast, as opposed to a system that only weights those who live in swing states.

11) How not to be a snowplow parent:

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

From the moment they are born, our kids study our faces for signs that the world is safe or scary. When they learn to walk, teetering and tumbling to the ground, the first thing they do is look up at us. If we gasp or panic, they do, too. If we react with a mix of empathy and encouragement, they keep going.

Our children never stop scanning our faces for direction on how upset to get, whether they’re bringing home a bad grade or facing a college rejection. That’s why I coach parents to ask themselves a single question when they are faced with an upset child and feel anxiety begin to tighten its grip: How would I parent if I were not afraid? That is, if you knew that despite whatever was happening with your children, they would turn out just fine, what would you say and do differently in this moment?

The question lets us pull back from the catastrophic thinking that often makes us say and do things we later regret, and makes room for openness and optimism. Once we are calm, we can stay in the moment with our children instead of being hijacked by our own fear.

12) Krugman on the reality of rural America:

Rural lives matter — we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth. Rural votes matter even more; like it or not, our political system gives hugely disproportionate weight to less populous states, which are also generally states with relatively rural populations.

But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America — and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.

Put it this way: Many of the problems facing America have easy technical solutions; all we lack is the political will. Every other advanced country provides universal health care. Affordable child careis within easy reach. Rebuilding our fraying infrastructure would be expensive, but we can afford it — and it might well pay for itself.

But reviving declining regions is really hard. Many countries have tried, but it’s difficult to find any convincing success stories.

Southern Italy remains backward after generations of effort. Despite vast sums spent on reconstruction, the former East Germany is still depressed three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Maybe we could do better, but history is not on our side.

What’s the matter with rural America? Major urban centers have always been magnets for economic growth. They offer large markets, ready availability of specialized suppliers, large pools of workers with specialized skills, and the invisible exchange of information that comes from face-to-face contact. As the Victorian economist Alfred Marshall put it, “The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air.”

But the gravitational pull of big cities used to be counteracted by the need to locate farming where the good land was. In 1950 U.S. agriculture directly employed more than six million people; these farmers supported a network of small towns providing local services, and some of these small towns served as seeds around which various specialized industries grew.

Nor was farming the only activity giving people a reason to live far from major metropolitan areas. There were, for example, almost half a million coal miners.

13) What they are trying to do with the restored felon voting rights in Florida is just unconscionable.  An a poll tax.

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women have a good track-record overall

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

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

4) Max Boot is so fun to read now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Metoo and due process and free speech

Damn is this piece from Harvard Law Professor and New Yorker writer, Jeannie Suk Gersen so good.  You should totally read all of it.  Excerpts anyway:

t was decidedly unfunny, last month, to see the words “Down w Sullivan!” spray-painted on the doors of Winthrop House, the residence of Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., the first African-American faculty dean of an undergraduate house at Harvard. (Sullivan is also a colleague of mine at Harvard Law School and a renowned defense attorney.) In January, he announced that he had decided to represent Harvey Weinstein as defense counsel in Weinstein’s upcoming trial for rape. In an open letter to the Winthrop House community, Sullivan explained that it was a defense lawyer’s duty to insure that the most hated individuals in society receive the fair legal process that is due to anyone against whom the state’s punitive power is arrayed. Student groups, including the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson, condemned his choice, and some students demanded that Sullivan be removed from his position as dean because his decision to be Weinstein’s lawyer made them feel unsafe and posed a conflict with his leadership role in the Winthrop House community…

Well into the second year of the #MeToo movement, as allegations ripen into legal cases, people want and expect the courts to deliver decisions that will truly address the scope of sexual violence in our society. But, as any lawyer knows, many #MeToo cases will not end in legal vindication. Why not? Because the alleged behavior doesn’t match legal definitions, or because of statutes of limitations, or insufficient evidence, or questionable witnesses, or police misconduct, or prosecutorial overreach, or doubtful juries—in short, for all the reasons that cases can fall apart when subjected to scrutiny in court. When defense lawyers do their job, one effect is to make it harder for the government to impose suffering on their clients, whether innocent or guilty. This is a notion that most liberal Americans like, when we talk about mass incarceration or the war on drugs. It is often less comfortable in the context of #MeToo… [emphases mine]

Lawyers have always been vilified for taking on unpopular clients, but, in the #MeToo era, defense lawyers endanger their good standing even in the most liberal communities, Harvard being only one example.

At first blush, #MeToo supporters might consider this a good thing. Why shouldn’t the movement include censure of lawyers for defending monstrous people who stand as symbols of harm to women? In our constitutional system, lawyers are considered essential to due process. As a matter of constitutional law, denying someone a defense lawyer is depriving that person of their rights, especially if the risk of punishment is involved. Just as crucially, a world in which lawyers are afraid to defend people against a certain kind of accusation is a world in which those accusations can never really be tested or verified, where guilty verdicts bear the whiff of a sham. When I was a prosecutor, I represented the state. Now, as an academic, I teach my students to be proud of their work whether they are prosecuting or defending those accused of crime, whatever the crime may be. Punishment is only legitimate if it is grounded in due process, I tell them

Whether the #MeToo process will be due process depends upon the principled work of lawyers, especially defense lawyers. But Sullivan’s experience suggests that the price of doing that work, in liberal communities, may be not only harassment and threats but also official inquiries and penalties…

A chill has descended on our intellectual lives—on the positions we feel free to question and express. If it is implicitly understood that statements running counter to #MeToo orthodoxy, including defense of the accused, may provoke reprisal, then surely those statements are less likely to be made and heard. Why risk the loss of acceptance, reputation, or even employment, merely to explore an idea?

The lesson is not difficult to grasp. It is not about lawyers, nor is it about the men accused of sexual misconduct in court or convicted in the court of public opinion. In this moment, the real lesson is about free expression and free minds. When the views of thinking people, whether lawyers, teachers, editors, or writers, are determined by our self-assessed risk of losing jobs or social standing, it doesn’t take a totalitarian government to repress our thoughts. We have done it to ourselves.

Damn, that’s good stuff.  Last time I taught Gender & Politics #metoo was literally just getting under way and we kind of dealt with it on the fly.  Pretty sure this Gersen article is going into my syllabus for next time and should make for some interesting discussion.

Why are American women respected less than ever?

They’re not.  But interestingly, Gallup’s data suggests that they are:

Line graph: Americans' views on whether U.S. women are treated with respect. 70% of men, 48% of women say yes.

Men’s views of how women in the U.S. are treated, on the other hand, haven’t changed much. The seven in 10 U.S. men who said in 2018 that women are treated with respect and dignity is slightly down from peaks in 2011 and 2012, but attitudes have been mostly stable for the past several years.

Women Who Disapprove of Leadership See Worse Situation

As perhaps a harbinger of the blue (Democratic) and pink (female) waves in the midterm election, the recent large decline in perceived respect among women was most evident among those who disapproved of their country’s leadership. It fell 15 percentage points among women who disapproved of the country’s leadership, from 49% in 2017 to 34% in 2018. The declines among women who approved were not significant.

So, basically a lot of women are actually now realizing that women don’t get treated with sufficient dignity and respect.  And, for that, almost surely, we can thank Donald Trump.

And I consider this definitely a good thing, as you are never going to bring needed change to a problem unless you recognize it as a problem.

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