Quick hits (part I)

1) Haven’t read all of it yet, but Emma Green on the future of Christianity in the Middle East is really good:

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

2) Among things I’ve seen all over twitter this week, but not so much news coverage, is the fact that Donald Trump is a big an of psychopathic mass murderers.  As long as they are in the U.S. Military.  Seriously.  The details about these war criminals he wants to pardon are just abhorrent.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular…

The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others. [emphasis mine]

3) Emily Oster on what evidence-based parenting reveals.  This is really good, “There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot.”

Except, it turns out that a lot of the things that get attention in these “optimize your baby” strategies do not actually seem to boost child outcomes. I’ve done a lot of research on this recently, and the overwhelming sense you get is that much of these investments do not matter…

How do we understand these contrasts — where, on the one hand, the first few years are the crucible of success and, on the other, the kind of investments that many of us obsess about do not seem to matter much?

The answer is that we tend to ignore the big picture. The differences we see by demographic groups in the United States — the inequality of outcomes for children from poor and rich backgrounds — are driven by a combination of vast differences in experiences.

Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter. [emphasis mine]

4) I wanted to find something good on regulatory capture for my public policy class in light of the Boeing 737 Max issue.  This is really good.

Last year, before Democrats took control of the House, Trump signed a Republican bill that began rolling back regulations on banks that had been put in place after the abuses that caused the Great Recession. He said the big banks deserve even more “relief” from regulators.

The administration has worked hard to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to police scams that were rampant before the 2008 banking crisis. As a result, enforcement activity has fallen dramatically.

This is happening across the intersection of big business and government, where risk of “regulatory capture” is always high. That’s when the regulated industries use their lobbying power to defang the agencies intended to protect the public. Sometimes it happens because the industry itself has the most expertise compared to the staff of the underfunded regulator.

Over the past two years, the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters have taken over the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dropped. This change includes fewer workplace-safety inspectors. Dozens of regulations in areas ranging from net neutrality to education have been rolled back or are headed that way.

Trump also rescinded an Obama administration rule that generally banned lobbyists for two years from going to work for regulators they had sought to influence. The potential conflicts of interest now are enormous.

5) It is actually kind of mind-boggling how rapidly major league breaking ball pitches have improved.

6) I knew North Carolina Republicans wanted to pass a bill for the fantastical situation of the attempted abortion born-alive.  But it’s ridiculous that they are making members– including sick ones– show up every day hoping to sneak it through because they don’t actually have enough votes.

7) Enjoyed this on how Raj Chetty has Harvard re-thinking it’s introduction to Economics course.  It does strike me that Chetty’s approach is far more valuable to the typical non-Economics major graduate than knowing how to plot supply and demand curves, etc.  And here’s where I call for my son who just finished his Econ course based on the mentioned Mankiw text to read this and weigh in in the comments.

8) Is the ability to have vegan foods available when you are doing your job fighting fires a human right?  Yes, says a Canadian firefighter.

9) I liked this– “What Game of Thrones Could have taught us about electoral politics.”

These are hard issues—legitimacy, counterinsurgency, propaganda, what wars do to civilians and combatants—in which “Game of Thrones” has been immersed. Robert’s Rebellion, which brought down the Mad King, was, we were told, based on a lie about the king’s son having kidnapped and raped a Stark. (The two were Jon’s parents, and secretly married.) The mere giving of credibility to the rumor that Cersei Lannister’s children with King Robert Baratheon were not legitimate set off the War of the Five Kings. Two of those kings were brothers, one of whom, Stannis Baratheon, tried for quick-kill fixes by murdering first his brother Renly and then his daughter, Shireen; the latter act caused the bulk of his troops to abandon him in horror—a reminder that the appearance of what might be called majesty is not irrelevant, even in a feudal system. Nor is the function of consent. (The power of the later-season High Sparrow and his religious followers provided another such reminder—before Cersei immolated them, anyway.) Power vacuums, in Westeros, tend to lead to a surfeit of competing claims. In the final episode, it produced a row of chairs, haphazardly inhabited, at the council where Ser Davos thinks it’s at least possible he’ll get a vote. Meanwhile, Grey Worm, who has real power, in the form of an army, seems to assume that he is disenfranchised, telling the others, “Choose, then.”

The solution that Tyrion comes up with represents a deep misunderstanding of the role of narrative in establishing legitimacy. The king, he says, should be Bran Stark—“Bran the Broken”—because he has the best story. He was pushed out of a window by Jaime Lannister, and survived, and can “warg” into—basically, psychically inhabit—birds, and thus fly. Indeed, Bran has, in his possession, all the stories, because he has become the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning that he can see into the past and also have visions. And what in the world, Tyrion asks, is more powerful than a good story?

That narrative power is real, as in the case of Shireen, but it came not from having a story but from telling it and persuading others of its truth. And we didn’t see a trace of that in Bran’s ascension.

10) The willingness of local governments to waste public money on millionaire sports owners is endlessly frustrating.  And endless.  Carolina Panthers edition.

11) Drum is right, “Donald Trump Admits He Doesn’t Really Want to Stop Illegal Immigration”

12) How the hell that humans ever get to Polynesia thousands of years ago anyway?  I’m not going to read either of these two books on the matter, but I really did enjoy learning more by reading this NYT review.

13) Having recently completed Frans de Waal’s Mama’s Last Hug, I especially enjoyed reading Ed Yong on how bonobo mothers intervene to improve their sons’ sex lives.

Bonobos live in mostly matriarchal societies, where females both occupy the highest ranks and form the core of social groups. If sons stick close to their mother, they’re more likely to end up at the center of a community, where more females sit. “That creates more mating opportunities,” Surbeck says. “It’s not that the moms physically drag their sons over. It’s more like a social passport.”

But mothers frequently took matters into their own hands, too. As Hanna did, they would stop unrelated males from interfering with their sons’ sexual encounters. They’d interfere themselves, stopping unrelated males from mating with other females. They’d gang up with their sons to evict other males from trees with lots of females.

Surbeck thinks that the mothers use these strategies as a way of furthering their own genetic legacy. They can do this by having more children of their own, or by ensuring that their children give them more grandchildren. They have little influence over their daughters, because bonobo females tend to leave home to find their own communities. Males, however, stay with their birth group, and especially near their mother. Even in the best-case scenario, a male bonobo can easily go through life without reproducing, and without a mother’s presence, the odds of his having a kid are about one in 14. To increase the size of her own dynasty, a mother needs to ensure that her sons have the best sexual opportunities.

And that’s exactly what the team has now found: Males who still live with their mother were three times more likely to sire their own children than those whose mothers had gone.

14) I consider it a personal failing that I still have not watched “Deadwood.”  It was really sad to read about David Milch dealing with Alzheimer’s.

15) Really interesting piece from an obstetrician on the reality of the “threat to mother’s life/health” exceptions on abortion:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”

My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.

16) I suppose I’ll give Netflix’s “Rim of the World” a try pretty soon (though, right now, spending my time catching up on “Chernobyl” and loving “Fleabag,” but really enjoyed reading about it’s place in the changed movie ecosystem:

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time, but now isn’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t

17) I had already queued this up as literally the dumbest electoral college take I had ever seen, “Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College” when I saw Smotus‘ succinct take, “The argument here is yes the Electoral College gives our minority group an outsized voice in presidential elections, but we deserve it because we grow food.”

18) This NYT magazine article “How Data (and Some Breathtaking Soccer) Brought Liverpool to the Cusp of Glory” was terrific.  A true must-read for my fellow fans of both soccer and data.  Also, interesting that even with a ton of data, it seems that far-and-away the greatest utility is simply in player personnel decisions and is not meaningfully changing the way the game is played (unlike, say, the NBA).

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Quick hits (part II)

Sorry– busy weekend with a super-fun soccer tournament with my daughter.  Onward…

1) Isaac Chotiner interviews Linda Greenhouse about the Supreme Court and abortion:

When you look at the history of abortion law in the United States, is there anything about this law in Georgia or the proposal in Alabama that you find interesting, or new, or different?

Well, they’re shockingly aggressive. They purport to take us back to the pre-Roe regime, where abortion was criminal until the mid-sixties in all fifty states—despite the fact that, by the time the Court decided Roe, Gallup and other polls showed that a strong majority of the public believed that abortion should be left as a matter between a woman and her doctor. And the pro-choice majority held throughout all demographics: men, women, Catholics, Republicans. Republicans were the pro-choice party at that time. So what’s happening today is pretty breathtaking, actually.

What specifically in these laws do you see as the biggest challenge to Roe?

I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme even though these laws can have the extreme effect of destroying the abortion infrastructure and cutting off access for most women. I’m referring to, for instance, the laws that Louisiana passed to require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A challenge to that law is right now pending before the Supreme Court, and it is a complete twin to the Texas law that the Court overturned in 2016, before Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court. The vote in that case was 5–3, Justice [Antonin] Scalia having died.

2) Believe it or not, the generic drug industry just might be the most evil industry out there.  Also FDA inspections of foreign drug production facilities are, sadly, a complete joke.

3) And a great Fresh Air interview on all this.

4) Making playgrounds a little more dangerous.  Sounds good to me.

5) Joan Walsh, “Yesterday Was a Dark Day for the Rule of Law: When Lindsey Graham told Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena from Senate Intelligence, he told him to commit a crime. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

6) Really interesting Op-Ed at the various legal reasonings behind attacking abortion laws and the potential for unintended consequences if the anti-abortion folks get their way:

Natural law-based arguments for fetal personhood were pursued by anti-abortion scholars and jurists for much of the 1960s and 1970s to little avail. These anti-abortion scholars avoided originalism, the prevailing conservative approach to constitutional interpretation, and instead focused on rebuking the Supreme Court for not recognizing the fundamental right to life that would have made all abortions illegal, including in the Roe case.

By the early 1980s, abortion foes generally gave up on this strategy. That’s because neither judges nor many other conservative lawyers, it seems, felt fully comfortable with recognizing rights not detailed in the text or history of the Constitution. After all, conservatives had long invoked the specter of judicial activism in criticizing their liberal colleagues, including those who issued the Roe decision.

And, as abortion opponents grudgingly recognized, natural law could open a Pandora’s box. If the Supreme Court recognized fetal personhood, the justices would probably subsequently confront claims about fetal rights in a variety of contexts, from Social Security benefits to tax law. Very early on, conservative originalist jurists like Justice Antonin Scalia called on the court to “get out of this area.” It was hard to imagine judges wanting to take on the even messier project of developing a fetal personhood jurisprudence.

And so abortion foes turned to originalism-based arguments that stressed that the law did not recognize a right to abortion at the time the 14th Amendment — whose due process clause was the basis of Roe’s privacy right — was ratified. These promised a constrained court, one that was above politics. But these aren’t the arguments that lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are making.

What’s more, Alabama’s law, rather than claiming to protect both women and fetal life, instead casts abortion as a zero-sum game, chastising “abortion opponents” as those who would “speak to women’s rights,” but “ignore the unborn child.” Many of the other “heartbeat” laws around the country similarly focus almost exclusively on fetal rights.

This approach ignores what many anti-abortion lawyers believed to be the lesson of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision preserving RoeAt the time that Casey was being decided, many expected the justices to reverse RoeIn earlier decisions, the court had upheld abortion restrictions and suggested that Roe was incoherent and potentially unworkable and that the reasoning underlying it was unpersuasive.

7) I used to spend a fair amount of time on the history of abortion in my lectures, but in recent years I have cut back somewhat to allow more time to cover contemporary controversies.  But the history is really important and most people are utterly ignorant of it.  Great Atlantic piece from 1997 on the matter:

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening” (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism (“taking the trade”). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business—including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press—was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her “Female Monthly Pills.”

In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians. The American Medical Association’s crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of “regular” physicians over midwives and homeopaths. More broadly, anti-abortion sentiment was connected to nativism, anti-Catholicism, and, as it is today, anti-feminism. Immigration, especially by Catholics and nonwhites, was increasing, while birth rates among white native-born Protestants were declining. (Unlike the typical abortion patient of today, that of the nineteenth century was a middle- or upper-class white married woman.) Would the West “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens?” the physician and anti-abortion leader Horatio R. Storer asked in 1868. “This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” (It should be mentioned that the nineteenth-century women’s movement also opposed abortion, having pinned its hopes on “voluntary motherhood”—the right of wives to control the frequency and timing of sex with their husbands.)

8) My 7th grade son recently watched/discussed a Twilight Zone for his English class.  So, we’ve started watching some.  A whole bunch of lists recommended “The Invaders.”  I did not recall it, so we watched.  The lists were wrong– it was tedious and absurdly over-acted.  But I like the approach of this list— the episodes that have aged the best.  Just watched “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” tonight, which I’ve already seen multiple times.  Now that holds up.

9) Is Game of Thrones are last great watercooler show?  I sure hope not.

10) This from Ed Yong is really good and disturbing, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers: Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?”

11) Jon Cohn on politics of a much needed tax hike to pay for decent roads in Michigan.

As a candidate last year, Whitmer tapped into frustration over those conditions, promising in every speech and media appearance to “fix the damn roads.” It was more than a specific policy pledge. It was a signal about the kind of governor she would be: a savvy, pragmatic leader who would get things done.

Now Whitmer has her chance to make good on her promise, and she has put forward a plan to increase annual road funding by more than $2 billion. But less than a year after literally mocking suggestions that such an initiative would require a big tax hike, she is calling for precisely that ― specifically, a three-stage increase in the gas levy that would raise it by 45 cents a gallon

Pretty much everything Democrats talk about doing nowadays, from simple, relatively uncontroversial increases in school funding to sweeping, polarizing plans for single-payer health insurance, would require raising new revenue. The essential argument on behalf of these ideas is the same as Whitmer’s pitch on the roads: that the benefits people would see are worth the higher taxes they would pay.

There was a time in American history when this case wasn’t so difficult to make, because voters had more faith in government and Republicans were more open to taxes. But that was long ago. The country now seems stuck in a self-destructive cycle ― one in which funding shortfalls make public goods and services inadequate, fueling yet more cynicism about government’s ability to solve problems and making it harder to get the funding that these programs need.

It’s a cycle that has plagued Democrats for decades, especially in states like Michigan that frequently hold the key in national elections. Can Whitmer break it? [emphasis mine]

12) I found this to be a really interesting take in thinking about fiction writing more broadly and how the GOT writing has really suffered since the end of the books:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written.

George R.R. Martin describes this distinction in terms of architects and gardeners. He’s firmly among the latter. He plants character seeds and carefully guides their growth, and when the show was directly adapting his A Song of Ice and Fire series, the approach paid off. It’s why every emotional beat and fair-in-hindsight surprise landed with such devastating weight: The terrible things that happened to these characters happened because of earlier choices they’d made. Those ever-blooming stories were a boon to the showrunners, who had their pick, but they’re also the reason the narrative momentum of the books slowed over time.

13) Some really interesting PS research on how much all that campaigning in swing states mobilized voters:

Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate. [emphasis mine]

14) John Pfaff with five myths about prisons.  #1 and #2 are especially widely believed:

MYTH NO. 1
U.S. prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders.

Asked recently about voting rights for felons, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of the Democratic presidential candidates, claimed that “we locked up more people for marijuana in 2017 than all the violent crimes combined.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has echoed that view, suggesting on Twitter that the prison system is defined by nonviolent people “stopped w/ a dime bag.”

But the simple truth is that, at a minimum, 55 percent of those in state prison have been convicted of a violent crime — and more than half of these people, or nearly 30 percent of the total prison population, have been found guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Slightly less than 15 percent are incarcerated for drug crimes, even though most Americans believe the figure to be about 50 percent. (Drugs play a bigger role in the federal prison system, but that holds only about 10 percent of all prisoners; most incarcerated people are in state prison.)…

MYTH NO. 2
Private prisons drive
mass incarceration.

When people try to explain how the United States ended up with nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, they often point to firms that directly profit from incarceration by running prisons or by providing services to public facilities. At a recent presidential campaign event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blamed private prisons for mass incarceration (“We need to get rid of for-profit, private prisons”). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused on private prisons in his 2016 presidential bid and is doing so again (“The private prison racket has got to end”).

There are two central flaws in this claim. First, only about 8 percent of all state and federal prisoners are held in private facilities . Most of those in private prisons are held in just five states, and there is no real evidence that prison populations have grown faster in those states than elsewhere.

Second, of the roughly $50 billion we spend on prisons, about two-thirds , or $30 billion, is spent on wages and benefits for public-sector employees. In comparison, private prison firms collectively earn a few billion in revenue and (more important for their incentives to lobby) about $300 million in profits — just 1 percent of the public-sector wage bill. So public-sector correctional officer unions have a reason to lobby against reforms that would reduce inmate populations, especially since prisons often provide some of the only well-paying jobs in the rural communities where they are located.

15) Wonkette on how all the most “pro-life” states don’t seem to care for baby’s lives so much once they are, you know, actually born.

16) Loved this Planet Money episode on Jeopardy phenomenon, James Holhauser.  Planet Money reporter Kenny Malone’s sister is married to Holhauser’s brother, so they share nieces and nephews.  Malone is definitely not the coolest uncle any more.

17) Short-term rental electric scooters briefly took over Raleigh and the NC State campus area this past year.  Seems like the business model, though, is set up for a crash.

18) I really liked Conor Friedersdorf on Harvard’s cowardly actions on Ronald Sullivan:

The vital work of criminal defense has managed to endure in spite of such attacks, thanks to a core of sober-minded citizens in each generation who know better than to pile on. They understand that to defend an accused criminal is not to defend his or her alleged crime—and that conflating the two by imposing social sanctions on attorneys would make criminal trials more like popularity contests.

Educational institutions ought to teach young adults this justice-enhancing logic. Harvard is now teaching its undergraduates how to undermine it.

Its shameful capitulation to popular passions began earlier this year when Ronald Sullivan, an African American law professor and faculty dean with a long history of freeing marginalized innocents from prison, announced that he would be working as a defense attorney for the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students,” The New York Timesreported

Either way, Harvard administrators were warned about the unavoidable conflict between upholding an important civic norm––that legal representation for even the most reviled is a service to the community, not a transgression against it—and giving in to the demands of the undergraduates most aggrieved by their faculty dean’s choice of clients. And rather than infer a responsibility of the extremely privileged to uphold civic norms for the benefit of those in society who most need them, this institution, which purports to educate future leaders, chose to prioritize transient discomfort felt by its most aggrieved students. [emphasis mine]

19) I would like to live in a world where policy did not have absurdly over-militarized drug raids and where they were held accountable if they got these raids lethally wrong.  That world does not yet exist.  Radley Balko:

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. …

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Loved this wide-ranging interview with what is probably my favorite scientist, E.O. Wilson.  Especially liked this part:

What’s causing our blind spots: Funding? Overspecialization? Politics?

A. You’re asking me an impossibly large question. Let me make one suggestion, and maybe that’ll lead to another.

I am unhappy about STEM. That is, I’m unhappy about how it’s presented as the principal portal for careers in science and technology. Young people — in some cases, young enough to be as far back as grammar school — are presented with this intellectual triathlon in order to go into science and technology.

There’s no question that we need all the ablest people that can be recruited to go into science and technology to keep this country strong. But STEM is an unnecessarily forbidding set of stairs.

Consider a young person who’s thrilled by seeing a natural system, a remarkable geological formation that stirs the imagination, or a group of animals or plants. This youngster says, Boy, when I get to college, I would like to move on to a career in science, and biology especially. Now, the STEM-oriented teacher — if we are following the STEM ideology as we hear it — says: “I think that’s a good ambition. But remember that biology is based substantially upon chemistry. So, I advise you to start getting a good background in chemistry. Oh, and while you’re at it, you should keep in mind that chemistry is based upon, to a major degree, principles of physics. So consider starting to get a background in physics, too. And, oh, I almost forgot: To get into physics, and a lot of the best parts of chemistry, you’re going to need ‘M,’ mathematics. So I want you to get started on math courses right now.”

Now, I’m going to say something startling. And I’m going to get myself in trouble. But heck, that’s why you’re here.

Q. Yes.

A. And I’m going to say: Nonsense!

The right way to create a young scientist who’s going to be on fire by the time they’re in college is to let them pick something, some subject, that has really excited them. If they dream of space exploration, if they dream of curing a cancer, if they dream of going to distant jungles and discovering new species — whatever their dream is, let them dream.

2) Really enjoyed this interview with Howard Stern:

It’s more that I’m wondering — and maybe this sounds corny — if you think he’s actually capable of a certain level of soulful introspection.No, I don’t. Donald is a well-guarded personality. I think he’s actually so emotional that somewhere along the line he had to close it off. That’s a valuable technique for people who have been traumatized. Donald has been traumatized, make no mistake. I believe his father was a very difficult guy. My theory about Donald, having spent some time with him — don’t forget Donald was at my wedding, and I was at one of his — is that deep down he did not want to be President. It was a publicity stunt. These are my beliefs based on facts that I know.

Facts like what? I know people who orchestrated some of these things. I was at Mar-a-Lago around when it was announced that Donald was going to run for president, and like everyone else, I thought, Ha-ha-ha. So, knowing Donald, I can tell you with some assurance that I don’t believe that he thought anyone would buy in. Lo and behold, people did. But I’m pretty sure that there was no intention of actually being president.

3) Really great explanation on different views of stare decisis and what this may mean for Roe v. Wade.

In Hyatt, however, the five conservative justices based their decision to overrule the earlier decision almost exclusively on their belief that it was an “erroneous precedent” that “is contrary to our constitutional design.” The justices’ lack of respect for precedent was evident in the amount of space the majority opinion devoted to stare decisis — a mere three paragraphs — and in what the court said about it.

Everything the court said about stare decisis in Hyatt could be part of a decision that overrules Roe v. Wade. For example, the court’s first paragraph on stare decisis declared that stare decisis is weakest — and it is easier to overrule a decision — when the decision interpreted the constitution rather than a federal statute. The second paragraph focused on how the earlier decision was wrong and “stands as an outlier.” You can imagine the conservative justices saying the same about Roe as they overrule it.

4) This is really good, “In Baltimore, Police Officers Are the Bad Guys With Guns: Plainclothes police officers are waging war on citizens.”

We spent the last two years reporting a book on the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, a once-celebrated police squad whose members were ultimately indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2017. We learned that a war on guns in Baltimore looks a lot like the war on drugs: It is a city waging war on its own citizens.

And it doesn’t work.

The war on guns, like the war on drugs, is primarily waged on poor people by small operations units that drive around in unmarked cars looking for trouble. They’re called jump-out boys or knockers, and they do not respond to citizen calls. Instead, they take away resources and credibility from the patrol officers who do. They do not solve homicides, and they often damage community trust, hampering the efforts of those who do solve homicides.

In 2016, when the task force was most active, the Police Department solved only 38 percent of the 318 homicides. In 2018, in what was deemed a big improvement, detectives came closer to solving 50 percent of the cases. When people know that there’s only a 50/50 chance of finding a killer, retaliation becomes a coin toss. Murder is answered by murder, because the law has no real authority.

Like any counterinsurgency, units like the task force don’t recognize civilians. Everyone is a potential combatant. They are the reason residents have said they feel both “overpoliced and underserved” by the police. When residents call for help, no one comes. When residents try to walk to the store or the bus stop, they are as afraid of the police as they are of criminals.

5) Twitter is not real life.  Twitter using Democrats (including me) are no fans of Joe Biden.  Polls seem to indicate, though, that most Democrats are not like those of us on twitter.

6) Josh Barro, “Trump’s Tariffs Only Work If Americans Pay Them”

President Trump is fond of saying China “pays” the tariffs he imposed, and a lot of journalists (including me) are fond of pointing out the tariffs are actually paid by Americans. Specifically, they are paid by American importers of foreign goods, who will presumably seek to pass the cost of the tariff on to end consumers.

The New York Times points to recent economic research on Trump’s tariffs, including two papers estimating that 100 percent of the cost of tariffs is being borne by American consumers. One of the research teams determined this by looking at changes in the price indices for highly specific goods. They found the price of products not subject to new tariffs remained more or less flat, while products subject to new tariffs went up in price about in proportion to the tariffs imposed. That’s pretty straightforward: Americans pay.

7) Oh, man, the cowardice of Harvard on this Ronald Sullivan representing Harvey Weinstein as his attorney really bugs me.  And, Randall Kennedy:

The upshot is that Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

Now, of course, Harvard authorities are dredging up various supposed delinquencies on Mr. Sullivan’s part. An exposé in The Harvard Crimson refers to allegations that he and his wife were highhanded in their dealings with the staff at Winthrop House. No one is perfect; perhaps there is something to these claims.

8) Game of Thrones (spoiler content in this excerpt):

It rings false because this isn’t just Dany abandoning her moral principles; it’s Dany abandoning her goals and the entire point of her journey. Her family built the Red Keep, and ruled King’s Landing and its people only a generation ago. Even if her goal is naked political power, why would she destroy the precise things she came to reclaim? When her ancestors burned Harrenhal, they did it to make a point, to get the rest of King’s Landing to bend the knee. Here, the knee is already bent; destroying King’s Landing at this point is basically destroying her own economy, infrastructure, and political capital.

Sure, she can rule over the ashes as Queen of Bones, but as much as the show wants us to think that she’s gone Lawful Evil, this is some Chaotic Evil shit for sure. She’s not a good guy gone bad, doing terrible things because the ends justify the means; she’s the Joker, robbing a bank and then setting all the money on fire just to watch it burn.

9) New book on America’s westward expansion, “Historians have largely discarded the lie that the “frontier” was an empty Eden waiting for American expansion—but not David McCullough.”

10) My friend Sarah Bowen’s book on the sociology of home cooking now gets the Atlantic treatment.

11) Aaron Carroll on the overlooked importance of safe gun storage for saving lives:

Legislators and gun safety advocates often focus on how guns are purchased. But many lives could be saved, especially among children, if they looked more at how they are stored.

In the last decade, guns killed more than 14,000 American children. A startling number of those deaths — more than a third — were classified as suicides, and around 6 percent as accidents. Many more children were injured.

Nearly everyone agrees that children should not be able to buy guns, and no state lets them do so on their own. When children die by suicide in this way, it’s a result of being able to get hold of a gun that someone else already obtained — often legally.

How guns are stored matters. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that even a modest increase in owners who lock up their guns would pay off in an outsize drop in gun deaths.

Dr. Michael Monuteaux, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, said, “We need to communicate to parents that storing guns in a way that makes them inaccessible to children can reduce the number of children who die year after year, especially from suicide.”

In 2010, researchers examined who owned the firearms used in youth suicides. In cases where this could be determined, three-quarters of the time the owner was a parent, and for a further 7 percent it was some other relative.

In a 2005 study published in JAMA, researchers found that keeping guns locked and unloaded, and keeping ammunition locked and separate from guns, were significantly associated with lower levels of suicides and accidents among adolescents in gun-owning households. This held true for both handguns and long guns.

But such safety practices aren’t common. If a recent New York bill is signed into law, it will make the state one of just a handful with comprehensive gun storage laws to protect children.

If it were up to me, adults would be criminally responsible for children being harmed through guns that were not safely stored and regularly held to account on this.

12) This from the College Board is interesting:

The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing.

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.

The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.

13) Unsurprisingly, fathers totally not pulling their weight at home.  Myself excluded, of course :-):

The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.

Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?

The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.

Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. Men resist because it is in their “interest to do so,” write Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, in their book, “Gender and Families.” By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

14) Germany looking to step up its game on measles.  Sounds good to me:

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has proposed a fine of up to 2,500 euros, or about $2,800, for parents who refuse to immunize their school-age children against measles, part of efforts to combat a disease that has surged after decades of decline.

The fine is part of a draft bill that the minister, Jens Spahn, submitted to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for debate this week, but the proposal has prompted a wider discussion about whether mandating vaccinations is an infringement on personal freedom. Germany has seen 300 cases of the disease already this year, after more than 500 cases in 2018.

Outbreaks of measles have increased around the world, in part because of the anti-vaccination movement.

Under the proposed draft, toddlers and young children in Germany who have not been immunized would not be allowed to enter preschool. But German law mandates school attendance starting at age 6, so parents whose children have not had their scheduled shots would face a fine.

Mr. Spahn has defended his proposal by drawing a parallel to traffic laws that force drivers who are caught speeding to pay a fine because their actions are a danger to others. “The goal is not to fine people, the goal is to ensure that people are immunized,” he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

15) I follow abortion politics pretty closely, but I learned a good bit from Ruth Graham on how the pro-life movement has increasingly moved away from the rape/incest exception.

16) This New Yorker piece on the role of Sandra Day O’Connor in abortion jurisprudence was really interesting.

17a) No, CBD is not a wonder-drug, cure-all.  Yet, it does seem to be a really interesting molecule that may well have a lot to offer therapeutically for a variety of conditions.

17b) Meanwhile, law enforcement is dumb enough to arrest (and not immediately drop charges) for a local woman using this legal product, “NC mom smoked legal hemp for anxiety. Police charged her with marijuana possession.”  Also, ridiculous that the local police chief and DA did not feel any responsibility to explain their actions.

18) This NYT story on the value of low-stakes friendships was really interesting.  Also one clear lesson (which I’m pretty good at): just talk to people:

Want to relish in a full Rolodex of low-stakes friends? Here’s how you can get the most out of these relationships.

Give yourself permission to talk to familiar faces. Dr. Sandstrom tells participants in her studies to speak to one new person a week. “I think people need to feel like it’s O.K.,” she said. “When you give people permission to talk and they take it, they enjoy it.”

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Instead of considering these minor brushes of socialization throwaway interactions, cultivating low-stakes relationships can pay dividends. Here’s why you should exchange pleasantries the next time you see a friendly face when you’re out and about…

Shift your attitudes. Since research suggests talking with strangers is a pleasant experience and leaves us feeling fulfilled, there’s no reason to groan when your Uber driver strikes up a conversation. By altering your expectations around the level of enjoyment these conversations provide — both for you and the other person — you’re more likely to engage in the first place.

Mirror an expert’s behavior. When she was growing up, Dr. Sandstrom watched her father interact with virtually everyone he encountered. As an adult, she adopted some of his conversational habits when speaking with acquaintances. Do you have friends who seem to strike up a conversation with everyone in the bar? Observe them: How do they initiate the exchange? What questions do they ask? What topics do they avoid? (For more on this, here are some tips on how to have better conversations.)

Make the conversations meaningful. If your goal is for these low-stakes friendships to evolve into something more significant, it’s important for these exchanges to be high quality, Dr. Hall said. “When we have that sense of connection with somebody, it accelerates the process by which we try to take action to create a deeper friendship.”

19) Apparently not only PPP has fun with polls, “Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news.”  The article doesn’t reference “Veep,” but I have to think that was the inspiration.

20) I wrote some stuff about abortion a long time ago.  I’m seriously going to get back into public opinion on abortion research:

Although the 2000 Republican and Democratic national party platforms show the parties at opposite poles on abortion policy, Governor George W. Bush publicly supported a vaguely defined “culture of life,” rather than the constitutional amendment barring abortion that was advocated by his party. In light of Bush’s campaign strategy, this article uses national survey data to examine the accuracy of citizens’ knowledge of the candidates’ abortion policy positions. Interestingly, pro‐choice Republican voters were much less likely to defect from their party in 2000 than in 1996, suggesting that the Bush campaign’s efforts to avoid public opposition to his abortion position were successful.

21) Almost seems crazy not to buy this camera at this price.  And yet, pretty sure my wife will say no.

22) The best explainer on advanced hockey stats I’ve come across.

The reality of abortion

This piece from David Frum is so good in addressing the realities of abortion in the United States (and a great comparative perspective), rather than the hypothetical “what about cases of rape or incest?” which are in infinitesimal fraction of actual abortions, but consume far too much of our attention.  It also calls out Republicans for being pro-life before birth, but not so much after.  Lots of good stuff here:

When Richard Mourdock delivered his notorious answer about rape and abortion, I was sorry that the debate moderator failed to follow up with the next question:
“OK, Mr. Mourdock, you say your principles require a raped woman to carry the rapist’s child to term. That’s a heavy burden to impose on someone. What would you do for her in return? Would you pay her medical expenses? Compensate her for time lost to work? Would you pay for the child’s upbringing? College education?
“If a woman has her credit card stolen, her maximum liability under federal law is $50. Yet on your theory, if she is raped, she must endure not only the trauma of assault, but also accept economic costs of potentially many thousands of dollars. Must that burden also fall on her alone? When we used to draft men into the Army, we gave them veterans’ benefits afterward. If the state now intends to conscript women into involuntary childbearing, surely those women deserve at least an equally generous deal?”
That question sounds argumentative, and I suppose it is.
But there’s a serious point here, and it extends well beyond the anguishing question of sexual assault.
If you’re serious about reducing abortion, the most important issue is not which abortions to ban. The most important issue is how will you support women to have the babies they want.
As a general rule, societies that do the most to support mothers and child-bearing have the fewest abortions. Societies that do the least to support mothers and child-bearing have more abortions…
Women choose abortion for one overwhelming reason: economic insecurity. [emphases mine] The large majority of women who chose abortion in 2008, 57%, reported a disruptive event in their lives in the previous 12 months: most often, the loss of a job or home.
Of the women who choose abortion, 58% are in their 20s. Some 61% of them already have a child. Almost 70% of them are poor or near poor.
Three-quarters say they cannot afford another child.
Pro-life and pro-choice debaters delight in presenting each other with exquisitely extreme moral dilemmas: “Would you ban abortion even in case of rape?” “Would you permit abortion even when done only to select the sex of the child?”
These dorm-room hypotheticals do not have very much to do with the realities of abortion in the U.S. and elsewhere…
Abortion is a product of poverty and maternal distress.
A woman who enjoys the most emotional and financial security and who has chosen the timing of her pregnancy will not choose abortion, even when abortion laws are liberal. A woman who is dominated, who is poor and who fears bearing the child is likely to find an abortion, even where abortion is restricted, as it was across the United States before 1965.
So maybe at the next candidates’ debate, a journalist will deflect the discussion away from “what if” and instead ask this:
“Rather than tell us what you’d like to ban, tell us please what you think government should do to support more happy and healthy childbearing, to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to alleviate the economic anxieties of mothers-to-be?”
Those are the questions that make the difference. It’s amazing how little we talk about them.
That’s what’s so damn frustrating about what’s going on in this country.  If the “pro-life” people really wanted fewer abortions there’s so many clear policy steps that they could take that have nothing to do with regulating abortion.  Now, if their goal, on the other hand, is not actually reducing abortion, but reducing women’s autonomy over their bodies and choices, well, they are all on top of that.
Oh, and for the record, consider me strongly in favor of fewer abortions.  That’s why I’m strongly in favor in making contraceptive access super-available and providing needed government support to poor women and children.

Quick hits (part I)

Sorry I did not get to more blogging this week.  Busy catching up after a mini vacation, plus standard end-of-semester busyness.  But so much I wanted to write about and just didn’t have time.

1) As a parent who’s child was diagnosed with autism under 2 (our autism concerns were our first clue that actually read to his rare disease diagnosis), I’m definitely interested in the latest research looking for early signs of autism to allow for earlier intervention:

Every pediatrician knows that it’s important to diagnose autism when a child is as young as possible, because when younger children get help and intensive therapy, their developmental outcomes improve, as measured in everything from improved language, cognition and social skills to normalized brain activity.

“The signs and symptoms for most children are there between 12 and 24 months,” said Dr. Paul S. Carbone, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah and a co-author of “Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Every Parent Needs to Know,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If we can get them in for evaluation by then, the therapies are available as young as those ages, you can easily start by 2,” he said. “We’d like to give kids the benefit of getting started early.”…

Researchers looking to find a biomarker that may help with the early diagnosis of autism have seized on the question of how young children react to hearing their names called. Dr. Dawson was the corresponding author on a study in April in the journal Autismwhich used computer vision analysis to look at the reactions of toddlers from 16 to 31 months old, in response to hearing their names called. Those with autism spectrum disorder took significantly longer to look away from a video and orient toward the person who had called.

“Toddlers and infants who will go on to develop autism are paying attention to the world in a very different way,” Dr. Dawson said.

The hope is eventually to make a tool that would be easily available in low-resource countries, or in any area in the United States, perhaps by having parents collect data on their phones.

2) I learned about the legal thicket of sex-by-deception pretty recently.  It’s actually a complicated and varying legal issue:

Abigail Finney was in her freshman year at Purdue University in Indiana in February 2017 when she fell asleep in her boyfriend’s dorm room. During the night he snuggled up to her in bed in the pitch black, his hand grazing her breast, and they began having sex.

She soon stopped to go to the bathroom and, when she returned, discovered, to her horror, that it wasn’t her boyfriend who was in bed with her.

Was it rape?

Ms. Finney thought so and went to the police, who arrested Donald Grant Ward, the 19-year-old impostor. Mr. Ward, a friend of her boyfriend’s, admitted that he knew he was tricking Ms. Finney; he was charged with two counts of rape, which carries a sentence of three to 16 years.

The Finney family connected with Joyce Short, an activist and sexual assault survivor who runs ConsentAwareness.net. Ms. Short, 70, wants a universal law stating that consent is “freely given, knowledgeable, and informed agreement.” This may sound obvious, but it’s actually not, because there’s no universal definition of consent in the United States. Each state defines it differently, if it defines it at all.

3) So fascinated by and enjoying James Holzhauer’s run on Jeopardy.  Nice NYT interview.  And cannot say I disagree with Drum’s take: “The Key to “Jeopardy!” Is Knowing Lots of Stuff”

As a longtime Jeopardy! fan, my problem with Holzhauer is that I feel like I’m watching a different species play the game. Even with a guy like Ken Jennings, I could sort of fool myself into thinking that I could beat him if I just got a little lucky. But Holzhauer? Forget it. He’d crush me like an ant. His buzzer timing and his board skills are off the charts, which merely masks the fact that he’s also wildly knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. I don’t think there’s been a category yet where he’s shown any serious weakness.

So that’s that. The Jeopardy! folks should probably be thinking about a special two-entity showdown between Holzhauer and IBM’s Watson, since I’m not sure any other human has a chance of beating him.

4) This is interesting, “Tiny Knee Bone, Once Lost in Humans, Is Making a Comeback: The fabella disappeared from our lineage millions of years ago, but over the last century, its presence in people’s knees has become more common.”

5) Criminalizing voter registration drives due to the totally foreseeable human errors involved is so wrong.  And, sadly, so indicative of today’s GOP.

6) The technology to stop spoofed (e.g., fake your area code) calls to your cell phone may actually be on the way.  Hooray!

7) I find it rather intriguing that hockey has the smallest home field advantage of major American professional sports despite that it’s the one sport to give a clear, rules-based advantage to the home team (the timing of line changes during stoppages).  Ended up having a great discussion on the matter when I shared this on FB recently.

8) Great piece from Rebecca Traister asks what changes when the presidential field is full of men:

The tight knot for women in politics (and perhaps in life) has been, will always be, this: Everything associated with motherhood has been coded as faintly embarrassing and less than — from mom jeans to mommy brain to the Resistance. And yet to be a bad mom has been disqualifying, and to not be a mom at all is to be understood as lacking something: gravity, value, femininity. Just this month, Tucker Carlson wondered, about New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whether “someone who’s never even raised children gets the right to lecture me about morality,” as if parents are given a moral compass upon the birth of a child.

Fatherhood for male politicians so far has, for the most part, worked only as a bonus. It’s been a way to show off the shiny white teeth of a strong gene pool and an escape hatch from a job you’re getting fired from — in order to spend more time with your family! It’s been a way for powerful men to signal respect for women without evincing femininity themselves: They are the fathers of daughters, folks. At its best, presenting publicly as a committed father has offered an opportunity for men who otherwise cast themselves as tough and authoritative to demonstrate their tender side.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Though I only dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager, fair to say it has changed by firstborn’s life and I enjoy learning about it vicariously through him.  The Post with an article on how the game is really booming these days.  It only gets a sentence or so in the article, but I think it is quite interesting the degree to which the boom is substantially due to some really smart revisions with the latest (5th) edition of the game, in contrast to the very-much-panned 4th edition.

2) Given the chance, the dingo really will eat your baby.  Harrowing tale of parents saving their toddler from dingos.  And, no way can I resist including this:

3) Interestingly, Mr. “I have the best memory” doesn’t seem to have such a great one when he’s in legal jeopardy:

Mr. Trump rarely lacks for certainty in his public statements on camera, but has shown more caution when under oath.

He said, “I don’t remember” 24 times during a 2012 deposition in a lawsuit involving his now-defunct Trump University and 35 times during another deposition related to the university suit three years later, not counting 10 more times in the two interviews that he said, “I don’t recall” or “Can’t remember.” (He eventually settled the legal claims for $25 million.)

Prosecutors said such selective memory tended to make them suspicious.

“It’s always a red flag when a witness appears to selectively forget the events most likely to be damning,” said Dwight C. Holton, who spent 14 years as a prosecutor, most recently as United States attorney in Oregon.

“And when you have a witness who repeatedly and publicly thumps his chest about how great his memory is, then all of a sudden he has sudden massive memory loss — well, let’s just say that’s a target I’d like to cross-examine in front of a jury.”

4) Sarah Sanders is almost as odious a figure as her boss.

After admitting to investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that she delivered a false statement from the White House podium, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, defended herself in Trumpian fashion on Friday morning. She counterattacked.

The Mueller report revealed that Ms. Sanders had acknowledged that her repeated claim in 2017 that she had personally communicated with “countless” F.B.I. officials who told her they were happy with President Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey as the agency’s director was a “slip of the tongue” and not founded on any facts.

Asked on “Good Morning America” if the report had damaged her credibility, Ms. Sanders responded that she had made the statement in the heat of the moment, and that it was not “a scripted talking point.”

But then she added, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and repeated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign.”

Apparently complete and total fabrications are just fine in the heat of the moment.  Good to know.

4) I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to deem it evil, what Mick Mulvaney has done in undermining the CFPB’s ability to help Americans who have been cheated by the financial industry.

5) Asha Rangappa is great on the Mueller report, “How Barr and Trump Use a Russian Disinformation Tactic: They were able to define “collusion” to benefit themselves.  Don’t let them twist meanings again with their “spying” investigation.”

The Trump administration seized on this legal ambiguity early on, with the refrain that “collusion is not a crime.” The standard set here is that anything falling below criminally chargeable behavior is acceptable. When it comes to the presidency, this is not true. The Constitution lays out the procedure for removing an unfit president from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Nevertheless, we took the bait: Collusion may not be a crime, lawyers and pundits responded, but conspiracy is. This “reflexive” response adopted criminality as the bar to be met.

But as we found in the report, conspiracy is very narrowly defined: It requires proof of an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, and an “overt act” in furtherance of that agreement. Unlike collusion, moreover, conspiracy requires that a party have a specific state of mind — knowledge — of the criminal nature of his or her actions. As a former F.B.I. special agent who conducted counterintelligence investigations, I can attest that foreign intelligence services do not operate on the basis of explicit agreements or even actions that, standing alone, constitute criminal activity.

Foreign intelligence services rely on manipulating vulnerabilities over time — like greed, or fear of exposure of a secret — to puppeteer those under their influence into acting in their interests without saying a word. Our adversaries also want to make sure they have plausible deniability, so it would be impossible to uncover an agreement made directly with a foreign government itself: As detailed in Mr. Mueller’s report, most of Russia’s overtures were made through cutouts and intermediaries, seeking to capitalize on the ambition of members of the Trump campaign to push along their efforts. Counterintelligence is, in effect, chasing ghosts, which is why the tools used to investigate foreign intelligence activity are secret, like human sources or electronic surveillance. It is not the stuff of which criminal prosecutions are made, and it is partly for this reason that operativesrarely see the inside of a courtroom.

Nevertheless, we reached an informal agreement with the White House over the last two years: The test of Mr. Trump’s fitness for office rested on Mr. Mueller’s findings that the president committed a crime, namely, conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the election.

6) Joseph Stiglitz on progressive capitalism:

America arrived at this sorry state of affairs because we forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people. One can get rich either by adding to the nation’s economic pie or by grabbing a larger share of the pie by exploiting others — abusing, for instance, market power or informational advantages. We confused the hard work of wealth creation with wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking), and too many of our talented young people followed the siren call of getting rich quickly.

Beginning with the Reagan era, economic policy played a key role in this dystopia: Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities. Even as economic theories like information economics (dealing with the ever-present situation where information is imperfect), behavioral economics and game theory arose to explain why markets on their own are often not efficient, fair, stable or seemingly rational, we relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.

The result is an economy with more exploitation — whether it’s abusive practices in the financial sector or the technology sector using our own data to take advantage of us at the cost of our privacy. The weakening of antitrust enforcement, and the failure of regulation to keep up with changes in our economy and the innovations in creating and leveraging market power, meant that markets became more concentrated and less competitive.

Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to be structured by rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations must be enforced. Deregulation of the financial sector allowed bankers to engage in both excessively risky activities and more exploitive ones. Many economists understood that trade with developing countries would drive down American wages, especially for those with limited skills, and destroy jobs. We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad.

We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.

7) I’ve got a student doing an honor’s thesis on felon enfranchisement.  Jamelle Bouie on an idea, apparently, gaining some momentum:

But the growing tide against felon disenfranchisement raises a related question: Why disenfranchise felons at all? Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?

There is precedent for this idea. California allows voting for those in county jails (with limited exceptions). Colorado does too. New York recently allowed those on parole or probation to vote. And two states, Maine and Vermont, already let prisoners vote. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont affirmed his support for voting rights in prison the same week Warren backed automatic enfranchisement for former felons.

“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders said, responding to a question at a town hall. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”…

We ought to have that conversation now. Americans may see it as common sense that you lose your right to vote when you’re imprisoned, but in many democracies prisoners retain the right to vote. When that right is revoked, it’s only for particular crimes (in Germany, it’s for “targeting” the “democratic order”), and often there is a good deal of judicial discretion. Mandatory disenfranchisement is unusual, and permanent disenfranchisement is even rarer.

7) I have noticed that the plethora of new apartment buildings near NC State campus look similar.  Apparently, it’s not restricted to Raleigh and there’s a reason for this.  “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same: Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.”

8) Enjoyed this shared by a female reporter friend, “Journalist Jana Shortal is breaking the unspoken dress code for on-air reporters.”

9) Some groundbreaking new research on all the world’s “missing” women.

And yet, for as long as people have been keeping records, nature shows a different, dependable pattern: For every 100 babies born biologically female, 105 come out biologically male. Scientists have speculated this mysteriously male-biased sex ratio is evolution’s way of evening things out, since females consistently outlive their XY-counterparts—for every man that reaches the age of 100, four women have also joined the Century Club.

This biological maxim has been so drilled into the heads of demographers—the researchers responsible for keeping tabs on how many people there are on the planet—that most don’t think twice before plugging it into any projections they’re making about how populations will change in the future. But a massive effort to catalog the sex ratios at birth, for the first time, for every country, shows that’s not such a smart strategy after all.

“For so long people just took that number for granted,” says Fengqing Chao, a public health researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. “But no one had ever gone to the trouble of pulling all this information together to get accurate estimates of this fundamental metric.” Chao led the five-year project, combing through decades of census data, national survey responses, and birth records to build models that could estimate national sex ratios across time. In doing so, she and her collaborators at the United Nations discovered that in most regions of the world, sex ratios diverge significantly from the historical norm. Across a dozen countries, the chasm amounts to 23.1 million missing female births since 1970. The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide an unprecedented look at how societal values can skew the laws of nature.

“It’s an incredibly important contribution,” says Darrell Bricker, a Canadian political scientist. “If the only part of the population who can produce new kids are women under the age of 45, and a whole bunch of them are missing, it’s going to have an obvious impact on the fertility of a population.” In his recently published book, Empty Planet, Bricker proposes the radical idea that contrary to a population explosion apocalypse scenario, the data suggests the world is actually more likely to run out of people. If current models are mistakenly counting women that aren’t there, that only makes his predictions that much more plausible, he adds.

10) We need to be so much tougher, policy-wise, on the anti-vaxxers.  You don’t want to vaccinate for vague, anti-scientific reasons.  Fine, lose your rights to schools, malls, public places, etc.  Our current exemption policies are way too lax in many states:

But over the last 10 years, many states have made it easier for parents to get personal exemptions for vaccinations. Recent analyses have shown that since 2009, the number of nonmedical exemptions rose in 12 of the 17 states that relaxed their laws to allow for philosophical objections as well as religious ones. In some anti-vaccine hot spots, exemption rates are nearing double digits. “It’s been a pretty recent phenomenon that people are now saying their concerns about vaccination outweigh their concerns about infectious diseases,” Silverman says. “And it’s starting to test the balancing act most states are trying to pull off.”

At least in some places, the threat of bigger outbreaks appears to be tipping the scales toward more restrictive policies. At least eight states, including some that experienced measles spikes this year, are now taking a harder look at their lax personal-exemption laws. When you add up the costs of an outbreak, it’s not hard to see why. A single five-month outbreak in Minnesota in 2017 that infected 79 people ran the state a tab of $2.3 million.

Stricter laws should help boost vaccine rates, but it’s not always enough. In 2015, California ditched its personal-belief exemptions, making it only the third state—along with West Virginia and Mississippi—to have such rigid requirements. As a result, fewer students skipped shots, and by 2018 immunization rates statewide were once again above the 94 percent threshold. But researchers discovered that over the same time period, medical exemptions grew. It turned out that many parents were getting around the new law by convincing doctors to grant them medical exemptions. That’s why California is now considering a bill that would crack down on the medical exempting process, to ensure they’re reserved only for people who really need them—kids who’ve 1undergone chemotherapy or organ transplants or who suffer from immune disorders.

11) Somehow, just yesterday discovered this Bad Lip Reading “Empire Strikes Back” edition.  Oh man did my kids and I love this

12) Honestly, probably better if Netflix had never made any new “Arrested Development” episodes, but it’s still got a great legacy:

Depressing is a word fans who fell in love with Arrested Development in its original form might call its current state: now that the show’s conclusion to season five has landed, it’s doubtful many will be praying for another renewal. It’s worth remembering though, if this is indeed its last hurrah, how good the show once was. That once there was no touching its hurricane-of-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags, surprises and syrupy moments of heartwarming family drama. Our pop culture landscape today would be drastically different without it: TV comedy in 2019 owes a godzilla-sized debt to the show. There may never have been BoJack Horseman or Archer, both of which feature stars from Arrested Development as well as generous servings of its manic, wild-eyed humour. It kicked open the door for the black comic barrage and selfish, shouting protagonists of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and blazed a trail for single cam successes like The OfficeParks and Recreation and Modern Family.

13) Happy Easter!

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie, “Why Trump Won’t Stop Talking About Ilhan Omar”

The way Representative Omar’s address made its way to President Trump is emblematic of how inflammatory ideas and rhetoric are transmitted from individual lawmakers and conservative media to the national stage. Omar spoke in public — Fox News even streamed it for its audience. But it wasn’t a controversy until it reached the ears of Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Republican who took the snippet on 9/11 and framed it as something disrespectful. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” Crenshaw said on Twitter. “Unbelievable.”

With that, the wider world of conservative media pounced. “You have to wonder if she’s an American first,” declared Brian Kilmeade, one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post took it a step further with a Thursday front page showing a photo from 9/11 — the moment the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center — with the headline, “Here’s Your Something.”…

It is easy to tie these attacks to Trump’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. But anti-Muslim prejudice was common in Republican politics before he stepped on the political stage with his “birther” charges against President Barack Obama.

It was an important force among Republican voters — in one 2004 poll, for example, about 40 percent of self-identified Republicans said that Muslim Americans should be required to register with the government and 41 percent said that Muslim-American civic groups should be infiltrated by the government. Well before Obama was a household name and Trump a political figure, a 2006 Gallup poll found wide anti-Muslim prejudice “with Republicans ascribing more negative political and religious qualities to Muslims, and being more opposed to having Muslims as neighbors than are Democrats and independents.”

It was an important force in conservative media. Conservative radio and television hosts frequently conflated all Muslims with the actions of extremists. In one 2006 segment on his radio show, Glenn Beck warned that if “good Muslims” aren’t “the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head,” then “human beings” might be forced into “putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it.”

2) Loved this Atlantic article how unlike most medicine, much of dentistry is not currently evidence-based medicine.  Also, pretty sure that my dentist is actually one of the good guys.  The dentist in the article?  Whoa!

3) I love hockey, but I’ll never forget my first hockey game being amazed and appalled at how many of the fans seemed to really revel in the fights and violence.  I love the amazing speed and skill.  And, yes, I appreciate a good clean hit where nobody gets injured.  But the fact that fighting is still essentially allowed (just a minor penalty) puts it at odds with every other serious sport.  Also, it can be bad for your brain.

4) Krugman on Republicans’ crazy obsession with AOC and Omar:

The attack on Democrats has largely involved demonizing two new members of Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Omar is Muslim, and the usual suspects have gone all-out in using an out-of-context quotation to portray her, completely falsely, as sympathetic to terrorists. AOC, who calls herself a democratic socialist — although she’s really just a social democrat — has been the subject of obsessive coverage on the right. Over a six-week period, Fox News and Fox Business mentioned her more than 3,000 times, invariably portraying her as ignorant, radical, or both.

It’s surely not an accident that these two principal targets are both women of color; there’s a sense in which supposed concerns about extremism are just a cover for sexism and white nationalism. But it’s still worth pointing out that while both Omar and AOC are on the left of the Democratic Party, neither is staking out policy positions that are extreme compared with either expert views or public opinion.

5) Yes, Sylvia Hatchell made some inappropriate racially-charged remarks, but, damn did she sure deserve to get fired for the complete disregard for her players’ health.

6) Good stuff in Wired on sleep:

He ran down all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.

“Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology,” he said. “Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.”…

His message came across as a rebuke of the idea that sleep deprivation and success somehow go hand in hand. Tim Cook reportedly wakes up at 3:45 am to start work. Barack Obama said he only sleeps about 5 hours. He’s a “night guy.” Donald Trump and Elon Musk both have said they sleep only a few hours a night. But Musk has also admitted to The New York Times that his work schedule was taking a toll on his mental health and whole life. Walker argued that it’s time to stop thinking that needing sleep is a sign of weakness or laziness. In fact, it’s the opposite.

7) Enjoyed this interview with Melinda Gates:

In terms of the work you’re doing right now — as a person, a human being — what keeps you up at night? Contraceptives. Reproductive health. Any time I see anything in the United States that looks like we’re rolling back women’s health, I’m thinking, What communities does that affect in the United States, and whom does it affect disproportionately? Then I worry even more, to be honest, about what the repercussions are going to be on foreign aid in the dollars that we spend in other countries. Because, boy, do I see the difference contraceptives make there.

You’re not thinking about more microlevel stuff late at night? No. I’m thinking about contraceptives, where we’re helping lead internationally. In the United States, when something changes, people are going to stand up. But my role is to make sure that I’m advocating on behalf of, for example, women in Kenya. United States funding of reproductive health rights affects those women. So I have to think macro. I have to.

8) No, not cable pundits, but assuming “mainstream media” = good newspaper journalism, then the Mueller report means three cheers for the mainstream media.  Paul Farhi, “Mueller report suggests the ‘fake news’ came from Trump, not the news media.”

9) ICE departs widower of KIA soldier.  Than reverses course in face of media firestorm.  I wish the latter wasn’t necessary for ICE to do the right thing.  Right now, ICE is an absolute embarrassment of a government agency.

10) Yglesias with a good take on Buttigieg meteoric rise:

As personalities and political thinkers, Buttigieg and Donald Trump are very different. But Buttigieg seems to have assimilated a key lesson of Trump’s 2016 campaign — in a crowded field, attention is the scarcest commodity, and it’s worth seeking wherever it can be found. Trump didn’t have traditional political experience or a traditional campaign operation, but he was willing and eager to be omnipresent on television in unscripted situations…

There’s a cliché in American politics that opposition parties like to select a nominee who is in some sense the opposite of the hated incumbent. And Buttigieg — a young, gay, and extremely earnest Midwestern intellectual who’s also a combat veteran — certainly fits one version of that bill. But he’s also very much a beneficiary of the extent to which Trump’s election has lowered the bar for qualification for high office.

As Olivia Nuzzi, the author of a big new Buttigieg profile in New York magazine, pointed out over the weekend, he’s very much followed the model of obtaining coverage by making himself fun to cover.

11) Drum with a skeptical take on that encouraging Lebron-sponsored public school:

If you read between the lines, here’s what you get:

If:

  • You refuse to take students in the bottom ten percent . . .
  • And you choose students whose parents have affirmatively shown an interest in getting their kids into a better school . . .
  • And you increase the school’s budget by 50 percent to hire lots of tutors and extra aides . . .
  • And you extend both the school day and the school year . . .

Then:

  • You can expect a modest improvement in performance during the students’ first year.

Believe me when I say that I know how cynical this sounds. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised about getting results like this from a program with this framework. Programs similar to this one have been started up before and have often shown promise, just as you’d expect. The problem is getting them to scale; getting them to work when you have to take all comers; and getting them to continue working over the long term. We have very few success stories like that.

12) America making some nice progress on offshore wind power and the technological developments behind it.

13) This NYT interactive graphic on the Notre Dame fire is pretty awesome.

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