Better late than never quick hits

0) Had a terrific vacation at the beach last week.  Read plenty of good stuff, but, more important to sit in the sun than to work on the blog.  And when I got back home, set back due to an AC failure.  Good news is that I had it repaired in less than 24 hours and I’m typing this in pleasant climate-controlled air.  Anyway…

1) Great conversation between Yascha Mounk and Sabrina Tavernise:

Mounk: You’re somebody who has spent much of your career as a foreign correspondent living outside the United States. You spent time in Russia and Turkey, some time in Lebanon and other places. But coming back to the United States, you suddenly felt like your experience of covering deeply divided societies gave you insight into the United States. [The U.S.] suddenly felt similar to both societies in a way that it hadn’t done when you were growing up here. What lessons can we take from these deeply divided societies? And how can we make sure that we have empathy for our fellow citizens who are on the other side of a political divide without excusing the most reprehensible actions?

Tavernise: I moved to Russia when I was 24 years old, and I started in journalism when I was 26. And I didn’t really know very much about the way the world worked at that point. And I feel like I kind of went out into that society speaking very good Russian—my Russian was very fluent—without very much humility, and with a lot of arrogance about who they were and how they were supposed to get their act together. I remember traveling to these little provincial towns, and I’d be writing about an aluminum plant or an oil company or a local election. And I remember thinking and writing in this way, “You know, guys, the widget factory is never coming back. I know everybody wants the widget factory because that was what was comfortable and safe. But that was a communist thing, and communism is over. You really need to get your act together. Why don’t you just go out and kind of invent something? Go out and build a business, go out and rearrange your life and your town in a way that will make you prosperous and more like us.” 

When I first came back to the United States, I’d been gone for the better part of more than a dozen years. And I started talking to Americans, also in provincial places, and I realized they were saying, “Oh, if only the widget factory that was here in the 70s, in the 80s, would come back! If only it would come back, then all of our problems would be gone.” I realized, oh, my God, it was the same thing. It was the same dynamic. And part of that was economic collapse. Part of that was extreme lack of trust in government and in each other. 

Another parallel was the disinformation that started to spread in Russia, quite early and very virulently. [With] every person you would talk to, every cab driver, you would get into it: “Gorbachev is actually being run by MI6.” Everybody had a theory of why life was so messed up, and who was responsible, who was to blame. And I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this is just a bunch of tinfoil-hat stuff. These people were in the Soviet cave for 70 years, and they kind of got a little wacky in there. They didn’t modernize with everybody else.”

[But] more recently, in my own society, people say, “Oh, yeah, the election was stolen? Absolutely. Biden has basically been kidnapped, and there are all these people around him who are actually making the decisions and pulling the strings.” I realized we are absolutely not exceptional in any way. We basically have exactly the same problems and exactly the same group dynamics and exactly the same divides. We were richer and more developed, [but] that didn’t matter. That’s pretty sobering, because now we’re stuck. How do we get out of this situation? No one on the right I’m talking to even thinks that Biden is kind of a sentient, conscious individual. The elections [going forward] are going to be really fraught, because there’s been this poison pill injected into them by Trump, and it’s hard to know where it’s going. 

2) Great stuff on cuttlefish and the implications for the evolution of intelligence:

These studies suggest that cuttlefish are capable of self-control and of remembering their own past experiences. The next step will be tests of whether, like the jays, they are aware of how they will feel in the future, and can plan for it.

“We’re adapting these experiments that have been done in chimpanzees and corvids,” Dr. Schnell said, “to see if these animals that diverged from this lineage 550 million years ago have the same capacity.”

If they do, cuttlefish will have an important role in illuminating how and when intelligence evolves. Corvids and certain primates — including humans — each developed the ability to plan for the future, but they seem to have arrived at it independently, rather than inheriting the capacity from a common ancestor. Both kinds of creatures have complex social lives and lengthy life spans to learn from, commonalities that make it hard for biologists to say what traits or environment make intelligence a good investment for an organism.

The cuttlefish promises to add another dimension to the study of intelligence because they must have developed it in a completely different context.

“They don’t live a long time, unlike the corvids. They’re not highly social, unlike the corvids,” Dr. Clayton said. “It was very unlikely that it was social intelligence that was driving the evolution.”

There are still more tests to come. It’s not clear whether cuttlefish will turn out to have all the same skills as apes and corvids, or just a handful. If what they have is similar, then it’s possible that profound vulnerability, rather than long life or social complexity, is what has forced them to become so canny.

3) Philip Bump, “Want to know how a county voted? Find out how many White Christians live there.”

Here, as the title of the image says, are two maps of the United States. One shows every county in which at least half of the population is made up of non-Hispanic Whites who are Christian, as estimated by PRRI as part of its 2020 Census of American Religion. The other map shows counties that Preside nt Donald Trump won in the 2020 election. The darker the coloration, the greater each percentage.

 

So which is which?

The easiest way to tell is by looking at the Northeast. Much of New England votes reliably Democratic but is also densely White. So you can tell that Map B is the map of White Christians and Map A the map of 2020 election results.

The point, of course, is that it isn’t easy to differentiate between them. Looking at PRRI’s maps of the distribution of religious groups, the superficial similarity of White Christianity and Trump support is immediately obvious. But, of course, national maps of county-level data tend to obscure underlying trends, as anyone who has had a debate over how to depict presidential-vote results can attest.

4) I literally don’t get why paramedics are paid so little.  I’d like to see that addressed in this article.  I mean, like what’s going on economically that you can actually have a sufficient supply of people trained to treat heart attacks, major trauma, etc., on the spot for only $17/hour?

The misconception that emergency medics provide transportation, not medicine, leaves them to cope with all sorts of indignities. “They’re used to being second-class citizens,” says Michael Levy, the president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. In one hour—during which they may respond to several 911 calls—the median paramedic or EMT makes a little more than $17. That’s half the hourly pay of registered nurses and less than one-fifth the pay of doctors—if they’re paid at all. During the pandemic, emergency medics were literally enclosed in rolling boxes with COVID-19 patients. But in some states, they were not prioritized alongside other essential health-care workers for the first round of vaccines. After delivering their precious cargo to a hospital, in many cases they don’t learn the final diagnosis, or whether their patient ever makes it back home.

That medicine treats emergency medics like disposable, low-wage workers instead of the health-care professionals they are isn’t just unfortunate for the workers themselves—it also leads to less than optimal care for the rest of us on the day we may need it most.

5) Good Post editorial, “The U.S. is growing more unequal. That’s harmful — and fixable.”

First, the data: The combined wealth of all households in the United States added up to $129.5 trillion in the first quarter of this year. The wealthiest 1 percent held 32.1 percent of the total, up from 23.4 percent in 1989. The top 10 percent of households owned $70 of every $100 in household wealth, up from $61 in 1989. The bottom half, whose share never exceeded 5 percent, now holds just 2 percent of household wealth in the United States…

Though wealth inequality has grown in other industrialized democracies too, the U.S. figures mark this country as an outlier. A 2018 study of 28 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found that, on average, the top 10 percent of households owns 52 percent of wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns 12 percent. But in the United States the top 10 percent held 79.5 percent and the bottom 60 percent held 2.4 percent…

The wealth gap did not develop overnight. It neither can, nor should, be entirely eliminated; but the United States could aim for a more equitable distribution similar to that of our peer nations today — and, indeed, that which prevailed in the country during the era of its greatest international prestige. Policy reforms, starting now, could make it happen.

6) This was interesting, “The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’: By studying centenarians, researchers hope to develop strategies to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and slow brain aging for all of us.”

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings from the Dutch study may eventually pave a path for many more of us to become “cognitive super-agers,” as researchers call people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger.

One day everyone who is physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition, even if reaching 100 is neither a goal nor a possibility.

These hopeful prospects stem from the study of 340 Dutch centenarians living independently who were tested and shown to be cognitively healthy when they enrolled. The 79 participants who neither died nor dropped out of the study returned for repeated cognitive testing, over an average follow-up of 19 months.

The research team, directed by Henne Holstege at Vrije University in Amsterdam, reported in JAMA Network Open in January that these participants experienced no decline in major cognitive measures, except for a slight loss in memory function. Basically, the participants performed as if they were 30 years younger in overall cognition; ability to make decisions and plans and execute them; recreate by drawing a figure they had looked at; list animals or objects that began with a certain letter; and not becoming easily distracted when performing a task or getting lost when they left home.

7) It’s been a while since I’ve adopted a pet, but can we all agree that so many rescue organization are over-the-top nuts?  I didn’t realize how bad it’s gotten. “Want to Adopt a Pet? Prepare for a Full Background Check.: Overlong applications, home inspections and fecal samples from existing pets are all fair game in finding a cat’s or dog’s “forever home.””

Shortly after the pandemic began, I started religiously checking Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet in search of a kitten. Whenever I saw one I wanted, I filled out an application. Unlike the two pages I’d submitted to adopt my dog in 2009, these were long, exhaustive and, in my opinion, a bit invasive.

One rescue organization asked that I fill out a seven-page application, submit five personal references and provide a detailed record of every pet I’ve owned since childhood. Another wanted my driver’s license number, multiple references, a fecal sample from each of my dogs, a personal meeting and a separate home visit.

Others wanted to know whether my yard was fenced; if I’d enroll my pet in a training class; if I had ever been divorced; how much time I spent at home; and what my overall discipline philosophy was.

8) This NYT “How to be happy” guide is really good.  As for me, I am, of course, already on most of it.

9) Damon Linker argues that the anti-anti-CRT people have gone too far, and I think he’s right.  Yes, systemic racism is a thing, but CRT goes way further than that to places that are a lot less defensible:

According to an adage attributed to George Santayana, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. But how to explain those who know history quite well and yet nonetheless repeat it?

That question has cropped into my head many times in recent weeks, as conservative activists and Republicans in Congress have actively denounced and in some cases acted to ban the teaching of what they call Critical Race Theory in public schools (both K-12 and universities) — and many of the left’s most intelligent writers have responded almost exclusively by railing against right-wing critics of CRT.

Put in slightly more schematic terms, the left is reacting to the anti-CRT movement by becoming loudly anti-anti-CRT. That is a big mistake, both intellectually and politically. How do we know? In part because we just lived through the folly of Republicans enacting the double negation of becoming anti-anti-Trump in order to avoid calling out the obscenity of the man himself.

 

But there’s an even more pertinent parallel further back in American history. Roughly seventy years ago the left’s forebears made precisely the same move when confronted with an overly zealous, demagogic critic of communism. Rather than single out Sen. Joseph McCarthy for hysterical overreach while also acknowledging that communism was a serious threat that demanded vigilance, they instead became anti-anti-communists, elevating “McCarthyism” into the real danger, perhaps even the only danger, and dismissing concerns about communism as a phantom threat…

Left-leaning critics of the ascendant anti-CRT movement like to point out that Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in schools. Strictly speaking, this is correct, and I’ve made the point myself. CRT is a diffuse academic specialty animating the work of serious scholars across a range of fields, including law, history, and various disciplines in the social sciences. Much of this work is worthwhile and fruitfully provocative in its emphasis on structural dimensions of racial oppression in the past and present. But the suggestion that this scholarship is regularly being taught in K-12 history classes, or even in survey-level courses to undergraduates, is risible…

Others on the left will quietly concede that the past and present of American life is indeed more complicated than the most simple-minded construals of systematic or structural racism imply. Yet they will point out more loudly that conservatives hardly do better at advocating pluralism and complexity in the classroom. On the contrary, they propose and prefer uncritical patriotic homilies like those contained in the report produced by Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission.”

This is certainly true of some on the right. But that’s precisely why the country needs liberal-minded leftists to ally with liberal centrists in taking a stand against the pious simplicities proffered by illiberal ideologues on both extremes. Public schools should be teaching the story of the past and present in a way that foregrounds the admirable as well as the shameful, that shows students how to hold contrary and complex views in their minds at the same time, that highlights our noblest principles as well as our most egregious faults, in the past as well as in the present.  

But that’s not what we’re getting from the left. Instead, we’re seeing savage critiques of the critics of CRT, but almost nothing about the simple-minded counter-homilies that their own allies are proposing. 

10) That said, indeed, let’s be careful here.  Somehow I never read Jamelle Bouie’s 1619 Project essay, and it’s great.  Students need to learn stuff like this.  “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”

The Republican rationale for tilting the field in their permanent favor or, failing that, nullifying the results and limiting Democrats’ power as much as possible, has a familiar ring to it. “Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison,” one Wisconsin Republican said following the party’s lame-duck power grab. The speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, made his point more explicit. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority — we would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.” The argument is straightforward: Some voters, their voters, count. Others — the liberals, black people and other people of color who live in cities — don’t.

Senate Republicans played with similar ideas just before the 2016 election, openly announcing their plans to block Hillary Clinton from nominating anyone to the Supreme Court, should she become president. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” declared Senator John McCain of Arizona just weeks before voting. And President Trump, of course, has repeatedly and falsely denounced Clinton’s popular-vote victory as illegitimate, the product of fraud and illegal voting. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he declared on Twitter weeks after the election, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn’t a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics. The recent attempt to place a citizenship question on the census was an important part of this effort. By asking for this information, the administration would suppress the number of immigrant respondents, worsening their representation in the House and the Electoral College, reweighting power to the white, rural areas that back the president and the Republican Party.

You could make the case that none of this has anything to do with slavery and slaveholder ideology. You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be colorblind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.

11) Appreciated reading the details of how the Raleigh Zebra Cobra was captured.  

12) Meanwhile a black bear was camped out in a tree near a local hospital and was lured down with doughnuts.  

13) As the parent of an intellectually disabled adult (here we are at the beach last week), I really appreciated former Obama adviser David Axelrod talking about the challenges for parents of intellectually-disabled adults.

14) Really appreciate BB sharing this article on NHL draft pick values with me.  After the first half of the first round, it’s really just a crapshoot.

15) Katherine Wu on the fact that we should not label all breakthrough Covid infections the same.

The first thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re doing exactly what they were designed and authorized to do. Since the shots first started their rollout late last year, rates of COVID-19 disease have taken an unprecedented plunge among the immunized. We are, as a nation, awash in a glut of spectacularly effective vaccines that can, across populations, geographies, and even SARS-CoV-2 variants, stamp out the most serious symptoms of disease.

The second thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re flame retardants, not impenetrable firewalls, when it comes to the coronavirus. Some vaccinated people are still getting infected, and a small subset of these individuals is still getting sick—and this is completely expected.

We’re really, really bad at communicating that second point, which is all about breakthroughs, a concept that has, not entirely accurately, become synonymous with vaccine failure. It’s a problem that goes far beyond semantics: Bungling the messaging around our shots’ astounding success has made it hard to convey the truly minimal risk that the vaccinated face, and the enormous gamble taken by those who eschew the jabs.

The main problem is this. As the CDC defines it, the word breakthrough can refer to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But infections can come with or without symptoms, making the term imprecise. That means breakthroughs writ large aren’t the most relevant metric to use when we’re evaluating vaccines meant primarily to curb symptoms, serious illness, hospitalizations, and death. “Breakthrough disease is what the average person needs to be paying attention to,” Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, told me. Silent, asymptomatic breakthroughs—those that are effectively invisible in the absence of a virus-hunting diagnostic—are simply not in the same league.

16) I would’ve missed this if not for SAM sharing with me.  Profound biotechnological advancement, “Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak
In a once unimagined accomplishment, electrodes implanted in the man’s brain transmit signals to a computer that displays his words.”

Three years ago, when Pancho, now 38, agreed to work with neuroscience researchers, they were unsure if his brain had even retained the mechanisms for speech.

“That part of his brain might have been dormant, and we just didn’t know if it would ever really wake up in order for him to speak again,” said Dr. Edward Chang, chairman of neurological surgery at University of California, San Francisco, who led the research.

The team implanted a rectangular sheet of 128 electrodes, designed to detect signals from speech-related sensory and motor processes linked to the mouth, lips, jaw, tongue and larynx. In 50 sessions over 81 weeks, they connected the implant to a computer by a cable attached to a port in Pancho’s head, and asked him to try to say words from a list of 50 common ones he helped suggest, including “hungry,” “music” and “computer.”

As he did, electrodes transmitted signals through a form of artificial intelligence that tried to recognize the intended words.

Pancho (who asked to be identified only by his nickname to protect his privacy) also tried to say the 50 words in 50 distinct sentences like “My nurse is right outside” and “Bring my glasses, please” and in response to questions like “How are you today?”

His answer, displayed onscreen: “I am very good.”

In nearly half of the 9,000 times Pancho tried to say single words, the algorithm got it right. When he tried saying sentences written on the screen, it did even better.

By funneling algorithm results through a kind of autocorrect language-prediction system, the computer correctly recognized individual words in the sentences nearly three-quarters of the time and perfectly decoded entire sentences more than half the time.

17) While on vacation I read Andy Weir’s Hall Mary Project.  Loved, loved, loved it!  And, 2/3 of the way through, my 15-year old definitely feels the same.  I love how seriously Weir takes the science.  But, I had a nagging feeling about him not taking language/communication quite seriously enough.  Thus, I loved this essay on that part of the book.  But don’t read this if you think you will be reading the book.

18) Haven’t read much on gut microbiomes lately, so very much appreciated BB sharing this with me, “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status”

Summary

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

19) I found this “How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Be Racist” essay to be interesting just in the idea that, apparently many people have the idea that ignoring the fact that race is a thing will help your kids be less racism.  Ummmm… no.

Even if we don’t want them to, children do notice differences in race and skin color. And that means that attempts to suppress discussions about race and racism are misguided. Those efforts won’t eliminate prejudice. They may, in fact, make it worse.

So-called colorblind parenting — avoiding the topic of race in an effort to raise children who aren’t prejudiced — is not just unhelpful, it actually perpetuates racism.That’s because racism isn’t driven solely by individual prejudice. It’s a system of inequity bolstered by racist laws and policies — the very fact that opponents of teaching critical race theory are trying to erase…

When children aren’t presented with the context required to understand why our society looks the way it does, “they make up reasons, and a lot of kids make up biased, racist reasons,” said Rebecca Bigler, a developmental psychologist who studies the development of prejudice. Children often start to believe that white people are more privileged because they’re smarter or more powerful, Dr. Bigler says.

Parents should explicitly challenge these wrong assumptions and explain the role of centuries of systemic racism in creating these inequities. Brigitte Vittrup, a psychologist at Texas Woman’s University, and George W. Holden, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, found that white children whose parents talked with them about race became less prejudiced over time, compared with children whose parents didn’t have such conversations.

Another study co-written by Dr. Bigler found that white children who had learned about racial discrimination had more positive attitudes toward Black people than children who were not exposed to that curriculum. The same researchers later found that classroom discussions about racial discrimination also had a positive impact on Black children.

20) Important research here, “Who is most likely to develop severe COVID-19 even after a second jab?” Answer: older people with serious health conditions.

21) So, is it wrong of me to still talk about gypsy moths? “This Moth’s Name Is a Slur. Scientists Won’t Use It Anymore.”

22) As you know, I’m a big fan of Matt Yglesias and a big fan of Noah Smith.  So I really enjoyed the latter interviewing the former.

This much I know is true?

Way back in my undergraduate days I was kind of into philosophy, but, in the end, too much of it really seemed to be so much “how many angels on the head of a pin” stuff.  But, these days, I’m really fascinated by ongoing debates of epistemology– that is, how we know, what we know.  I think because, at least in the political realm, there was pretty much a substantial consensus on the basic facts of the world in which we live.  But now, that is clearly not so much the case and increasingly a problem.  I really loved this Will Wilkinson post (pretty sure that he, like Yglesias, was a Philosophy major) trying to understand how so many people believe the Q nonsense:

If an individual were to voice belief in this stuff entirely of his own initiative and on his own steam, we’d suspect a loose connection in the noggin. But we don’t think it’s crazy to believe absolutely batshit stuff as long as enough people believe it. Why is that?

I think it’s because we have no choice but to rely on testimony. I’ve never been eye-to-eye with a virus. I think I’ve seen pictures taken through powerful microscopes. I just take it for granted that these microscopes exist, that they’re powerful enough to take snaps of viruses, and that these alleged depictions are what they’re said to be.

It’s trust. I don’t suspect that any of the people involved in the chain of transmission here are making mischief or telling fibs. The idea that there’s a conspiracy to make me falsely believe that there are pictures of viruses does not jibe with my web of belief. So I don’t give it a second thought. I just assume James Madison was real. All the books say so.

The fact is, almost all the general information in your personal web of belief is stuff you read, stuff somebody told you, stuff you saw on TV. Building a relatively accurate mental model of the world doesn’t have all that much to do with your individual reasoning capacity. It’s mostly about trusting and distrusting the right people. [bold is mine; italics is Wilkinson] The problem is that few of us have the capacity to independently assess whether someone, or some institution, or some process, is a reliable source of accurate information. You have to depend on other people to tell you whose testimony you ought to trust. There’s no way around it. The bootstrapping problem here is central the human condition. We can’t get started building a model of the world that encompasses more than our own extremely narrow idiosyncratic experience unless, at some point, we simply take somebody’s word for it.

It’s easy to see how, if you start out trusting to wrong people, you can get trapped in a bubble. If you start out trusting the wrong people, they’ll tell you to trust other unreliable people, who in turn will tell you to trust unreliable methods. Worse, they’ll tell you to distrust thetrustworthy people spreading the word about the genuinely illuminating results of reliable knowledge-gathering methods. You won’t be listening to the people you ought to be listening to. It’s a problem that comes for most of us, sooner or later. That’s why ideology tends to be self-insulating; it functions as a heuristic for grading the trustworthiness of testimony…

Now, I’ve come to think that people who really care about getting things right are a bit misguided when they focus on methods of rational cognition. I’m thinking of the so-called “rationalist” community here. If you want an unusually high-fidelity mental model of the world, the main thing isn’t probability theory or an encyclopedic knowledge of the heuristics and biases that so often make our reasoning go wrong. It’s learning who to trust. That’s really all there is to it. That’s the ballgame.

But that’s a lot easier said than done. I can’t use my expertise in macroeconomics to identify which macroeconomists we ought to trust most, because I have no expertise in macroeconomics. I’m going to have to rely on people who understand the subject better than I do to tell me who to trust. But then who do I trust to tell me who to trust?

It’s really not so hard. In any field, there are a bunch of people at the top of the game who garner near-universal deference. Trusting those people is an excellent default. On any subject, you ought to trust the people who have the most training and spend the most time thinking about that subject, especially those who are especially well-regarded by the rest of these people. This suggests a useful litmus test for the reliability of generalists who professionally sort wheat from chaff and present themselves as experts in expert identification — people like Malcolm Gladwell or, say, me. Do they usually hew close to the consensus view of a field’s leading, most authoritative figures? That may be boring, but it’s a good sign that you can count on them when they talk about subjects you know less well…

I don’t care how smart you think you are. It’s dangerous out there, especially if you have an Internet connection. Be careful who you trust. Tune that bullshit detector. Eschew iconoclasts and ideologues. Agree with the respectable consensus. Be a model citizen. And if you get a chance, stick up for maligned yet generally reliable sources of information. Stick up for your local critical race theorist. Stick up for the New York Times. If those suggestions make you stiffen, consider the possibility that you have trust issues.

Good, thought-provoking stuff.  Is science and scientific consensus wrong sometimes?  Absolutely!  But it’s still the best we’ve got.  Yes, science can lead us astray (from phlogiston to aether to lobotomies to primarily droplet spread of respiratory viruses), but, all else being equal, it sure beats the alternative.  And, yes, expert consensus can very much be wrong, but its almost always going to beat the alternative.  

I’m an independent-minded conformist

Enjoyed this essay from Paul Graham that has a typology of conformism and ideas on how to cultivate more independent thinking.  It was thought-provoking, in part, because I don’t actually feel like I fit into this typology.  In some ways I’m very much an independent thinker, and, in others, quite the conformist.  Anyway:

There are some kinds of work that you can’t do well without thinking differently from your peers. To be a successful scientist, for example, it’s not enough just to be correct. Your ideas have to be both correct and novel. You can’t publish papers saying things other people already know. You need to say things no one else has realized yet.

The same is true for investors. It’s not enough for a public market investor to predict correctly how a company will do. If a lot of other people make the same prediction, the stock price will already reflect it, and there’s no room to make money. The only valuable insights are the ones most other investors don’t share.

You see this pattern with startup founders too. You don’t want to start a startup to do something that everyone agrees is a good idea, or there will already be other companies doing it. You have to do something that sounds to most other people like a bad idea, but that you know isn’t — like writing software for a tiny computer used by a few thousand hobbyists, or starting a site to let people rent airbeds on strangers’ floors.

Ditto for essayists. An essay that told people things they already knew would be boring. You have to tell them something new.

But this pattern isn’t universal. In fact, it doesn’t hold for most kinds of work. In most kinds of work — to be an administrator, for example — all you need is the first half. All you need is to be right. It’s not essential that everyone else be wrong.

There’s room for a little novelty in most kinds of work, but in practice there’s a fairly sharp distinction between the kinds of work where it’s essential to be independent-minded, and the kinds where it’s not.

Interesting… and yet.  I’m many things, among them a reasonably successful academic social scientist.  What I’m pretty sure I’m not, though, is much of a novel thinker.  I definitely get some good ideas, but I’m really not sure how novel they are.  Mostly, they are modest extensions of truly novel ideas from more novel thinkers.

I’m also very much against mindless conformism, but, also think that, much of the time, there’s real value in just going along.  All that said, I think Graham’s ideas for cultivating more independent-minded thinking are good:

Can you make yourself more independent-minded? I think so. This quality may be largely inborn, but there seem to be ways to magnify it, or at least not to suppress it.

One of the most effective techniques is one practiced unintentionally by most nerds: simply to be less aware what conventional beliefs are. It’s hard to be a conformist if you don’t know what you’re supposed to conform to. Though again, it may be that such people already are independent-minded. A conventional-minded person would probably feel anxious not knowing what other people thought, and make more effort to find out.

It matters a lot who you surround yourself with. If you’re surrounded by conventional-minded people, it will constrain which ideas you can express, and that in turn will constrain which ideas you have. But if you surround yourself with independent-minded people, you’ll have the opposite experience: hearing other people say surprising things will encourage you to, and to think of more.

I actually feel like I’m a conventional-minded person that really enjoys surrouding myself with creative, independent-minded thinker.  I’ve always felt like I’m hopelessly inside the box and really appreciated being exposed to people who see the world differently.  But, in this formulation, conventional people probably don’t actually like doing this.

And I found this part about habits of mind, quite interesting:

The second component of independent-mindedness, resistance to being told what to think, is the most visible of the three. But even this is often misunderstood. The big mistake people make about it is to think of it as a merely negative quality. The language we use reinforces that idea. You’re unconventional. You don’t care what other people think. But it’s not just a kind of immunity. In the most independent-minded people, the desire not to be told what to think is a positive force. It’s not mere skepticism, but an active delight in ideas that subvert the conventional wisdom, the more counterintuitive the better.

Some of the most novel ideas seemed at the time almost like practical jokes. Think how often your reaction to a novel idea is to laugh. I don’t think it’s because novel ideas are funny per se, but because novelty and humor share a certain kind of surprisingness. But while not identical, the two are close enough that there is a definite correlation between having a sense of humor and being independent-minded — just as there is between being humorless and being conventional-minded. [9]

I don’t think we can significantly increase our resistance to being told what to think. It seems the most innate of the three components of independent-mindedness; people who have this quality as adults usually showed all too visible signs of it as children. But if we can’t increase our resistance to being told what to think, we can at least shore it up, by surrounding ourselves with other independent-minded people.

The third component of independent-mindedness, curiosity, may be the most interesting. To the extent that we can give a brief answer to the question of where novel ideas come from, it’s curiosity. That’s what people are usually feeling before having them.

In my experience, independent-mindedness and curiosity predict one another perfectly. Everyone I know who’s independent-minded is deeply curious, and everyone I know who’s conventional-minded isn’t. Except, curiously, children. All small children are curious. Perhaps the reason is that even the conventional-minded have to be curious in the beginning, in order to learn what the conventions are. Whereas the independent-minded are the gluttons of curiosity, who keep eating even after they’re full.

Firstly, there’s pretty much no independent concepts that actually predict each other perfectly.  Curiosity and independent-mindedness really are different things.  Anyway, out of all this, speculation on the topic, one think I know for sure about myself (and you probably know about me from just reading my blog) is that I am deeply curious.  I don’t think that alone does make me independent-minded, but it does probably counteract my more innate conformist nature.  I sure do love being deeply curious and I recommend it!

Anyway, like I said, definitely a thought-provoking essay for me.  Would love to hear how it struck any of you.

Why is facebook’s algorithm so bad?!

Just something I’ve been meaning to white about for a while.  On occassion, FB will decide to show me something of clear and strong interest to me literally days after it was posted.  For example, good friend recently posted first-day-of-school photos of her cute kids.  Pretty sure I “like” every photo I ever see of her cute kids.  And it shows me three days later?!  A wedding I have been invited to was recently canceled on FB (well, the big indoor celebration was canceled) and, again, three days later?!  And it’s not like I went three days without using FB.  I check multiple times every day (yeah, I know).  Anyway, I get that there may be some things that are hard to tell, but why it would hold off first day of school photos, wedding changes, or heck, any photos of my niece and nephew for literally days is absolutely beyond me.  Are they just too busy spreading Russian propaganda or something to do this right?  

Time to update my photo?

So, just going through my FB memories for today and I came up with this gem from 7 years ago exactly?  It should look familiar– it’s the basis for my WordPress avatar photo.  Bet you didn’t realize I had my daughter on my back.  I should probably update this because, I think this photo is giving people the idea I’m about 7 years younger than I actually am.

Speak up!

But not too much.  And then quiet back down.  Tim Herrera with a really nice piece on the importance of “paralanguage” on effective communication.  I cannot say I spend a lot of time consciously thinking about changing my tone and volume when teaching.  But I am aware that do a lot of it for emphasis and that it really matters.  Herrera:

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S HOW YOU SAY IT.

Believe me?

O.K., I’m sorry, that was a cheap trick. But new research suggests that when we’re trying to seem persuasive, the volume of our words — when vocalized, of course — can have an outsize impact.

Does that mean you should shout when you’re trying to seem more persuasive? No, of course not. But according to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, you can come off as more persuasive by speaking slightly louder than you normally do, and by varying the overall volume of your voice (i.e., speaking both more loudly and softly).

The effect isn’t quite as dramatic as giving you unholy levels of persuasive power. But it will make you appear more confident when you speak, which has a positive impact on your overall persuasiveness, according to the study.

“Every time we interact with someone, we’re trying to figure out how much they know about what they’re saying, how knowledgeable they are, how confident they seem,” said Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at Wharton and a co-author of the study. “We found that these cues in particular” — the ones related to speaking volume — “made speakers seem more confident, which made them more persuasive overall.”

Humans have something of a built-in anti-persuasion radar, what psychologists call reactance, Mr. Berger said. When someone tries to persuade us, we sometimes push back because we don’t want to be persuaded. We can tell from the words being used, the context and other cues that someone is trying to influence us. “An incoming appeal comes in, someone tries to persuade us, we put up our radar to knock down the projectile,” Mr. Berger said. “We turn off the ad, we hang up on the salesperson, we counterargue against what someone is saying.”

However, we tend to look at speakers who vary their volume as more confident, which translates into an increase in their persuasiveness, according to the study.

In other words: If you’re trying to persuade your roommate to do the dishes, try speaking up a bit.

The core issue here is the influence — both conscious and nonconscious — that paralanguage, or how we say things, has on our perception of others. It’s “not something most people are aware of,” Mr. Berger said.

In conversations, “we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to say, and we spend some time thinking about what our partner is saying,” Mr. Berger said. “We allocate a lot less attention to how we’re saying what we’re saying.” But how we say things can be significant: Whether the listener recognizes changes in paralanguage, and whether the speaker intentionally changes his or her voice, the effect paralanguage has on the listener can happen regardless.

Mr. Berger also said it’s not just those voice inflections that matter in persuasion; being physically present — as opposed to, say, writing a text or sending an email — can also have an enormous impact.

At the risk of being immodest, I think the fact that I have largely internalized this approach to public speaking is one of the reasons I am a good teacher.  And, honestly, I think this pretty much goes for all good teaching and public speaking.  And, heck, interpersonal communication in general.  And, of course, that’s why when it is really important to be understood, it is worth the phone call or in-person meeting (though I do take great pride in the perfectly-worded email).

Quick hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the day

Loved this NYT story about the insanity that has becoming trying to summit Everest amidst overwhelming crowds.  This image is amazing:

A long line of climbers waiting to summit Mount Everest on May 22.CreditProject Possible, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The problem hasn’t been avalanches, blizzards or high winds. Veteran climbers and industry leaders blame having too many people on the mountain, in general, and too many inexperienced climbers, in particular.

Fly-by-night adventure companies are taking up untrained climbers who pose a risk to everyone on the mountain. And the Nepalese government, hungry for every climbing dollar it can get, has issued more permits than Everest can safely handle, some experienced mountaineers say.

Add to that Everest’s inimitable appeal to a growing body of thrill-seekers the world over. And the fact that Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest nations and the site of most Everest climbs, has a long record of shoddy regulations, mismanagement and corruption.

The result is a crowded, unruly scene reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies” — at 29,000 feet. At that altitude, there is no room for error and altruism is put to the test…

According to Sherpas and climbers, some of the deaths this year were caused by people getting held up in the long lines on the last 1,000 feet or so of the climb, unable to get up and down fast enough to replenish their oxygen supply. Others were simply not fit enough to be on the mountain in the first place…

He pressed on. After long, cold days, he inched up a spiny trail to the summit early on Thursday and ran into crowds “aggressively jostling for pictures.”

He was so scared, he said, that he plunked down on the snow to keep from losing his balance and had his guide take a picture of him holding up a small sign that said, “Hi Mom Love You.’’

On the way down, he passed two more dead bodies in their tents.

“I was not prepared to see sick climbers being dragged down the mountain by Sherpas or the surreal experience of finding dead bodies,” he said.

And while I’m at it, I’ll always plug Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, perhaps the most compelling non-fiction book I have ever read.  Trust me– just read it.

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) I see how it can potentially get out of hand, but I really don’t think schools should be banning parents from having lunch with their kids.

2) As you know, I’m big ran of LARC’s as a tool in fighting poverty.  And Delaware is now giving it a try.  Unfortunately, some research suggests this is not as promising as we might have thought:

The idea of contraception as a key to economic mobility emerged after the 1960s and 1970s, when contraception and abortion became legal state by state. A string of studies showed that, when birth control arrived, women’s careers and educational attainment improved — and the number of children they had declined.

Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has measured the wide gulfs in outcomes between young women with unintended children and those with planned pregnancies later on. She has written extensively in support of expanded LARC access.

“It’s very expensive and very hard to reduce poverty,” Ms. Sawhill said. “Reducing unplanned births is easy by comparison.”

But it’s possible that youthful, unplanned pregnancies are a symptomof poverty, more than a cause.

One study of teenagers with unintended pregnancies found only small differences in outcomes between those who had miscarriages and those who delivered babies. A review of the returns on investment from contraception found relatively small effects.

“The causal link is kind of a big question mark,” said Caitlin Myers, an associate professor of economics at Middlebury College, who teaches a class on unplanned parenthood in the United States. Ms. Myers said an effort like Delaware’s would improve women’s autonomy and reduce abortions. But she was skeptical that it would necessarily reduce poverty. “To what extent does unintended pregnancy cause bad outcomes versus bad outcomes causing unintended pregnancies? It’s a symptom of poverty, of inequality, of hopelessness about the future.”

3) Popehat (one of those people I discovered on twitter who is just so educational on legal issues) calls out Alan Dershowitz, “Alan Dershowitz Is Lying To You” and it’s just awesome.

4) Really enjoyed this “18 lessons for the news business from 2018.”

The relatively few magazines that are finding a future are thought-provoking, reader-supported ones.

The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and Wired are among those that are making the digital subscriber transition. Each offers audiences a unique set of voices and reporting. Each, arguably, has risen to our times. It’s the shelter, fashion, travel, and lifestyle magazines — beset by unlimited free digital competition — that suffer, slim, and shutter.

The lesson, again, and again: Unique voices supported by subscribers point a way forward.

Indeed.  I subscribe to all of those but Vanity Fair.

4) Interesting take from Seth Masket, “The Demise of the Weekly Standard is a Blow to the Republican Party.”

5) Oren Cass writes, “The Misguided Priorities of Our Educational System: We spend too much money on college students and not enough on everyone else.”  He’s right– especially when it comes to vocational education.

One explanation for this bizarre state of affairs, in which society invests heavily in those headed for economic success while ignoring those falling behind, is the widespread belief that everyone can be a college graduate. If that were true, the shove toward the college pipeline might make sense.

But most young Americans do not achieve even a community-college degree. Federal data show that fewer than one in five studentssmoothly navigate the high school to college to career pathway. More students fail to complete high school on time, more fail to move on from high school to college, and more drop out of college. Forty years of reform, accompanied by a doubling of per pupil spending, has failed to improve this picture. Standardized test scores haven’t budged. SAT scores have declined. More students enroll in college, but the share of 25-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree did not increase from 1995 to 2015, and it stands barely above the 1975 level…

But while the median college graduate earns more than the median high school graduate, those workers are not the same person — indeed, they are likely people with very different academic prospects. Look instead at the wage distributions for more comparable samples: those with earnings toward the high end for workers with only high school degrees and those at the low end among college graduates. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that high school grads with above-average earnings (50th to 90th percentile) earn $34,000 to $70,000 annually. College grads with below-average earnings (10th to 50th percentile) earn $28,000 to $58,000.

Pushing people from the former category to attend college and land in the latter category does them few favors. And remember, that assumes they graduate; people in their position typically will not. Remember also, those are the outcomes before we attempt to create an attractive non-college pathway that they might prefer and that might equip them for success.

6) This is a great feel-good story, “A mother’s leap of faith at an African airport, and a 15-year mystery.”

Maya Hughes was 5 years old when her mother asked a stranger at an airport in Sierra Leone to help get her back to the United States safely. The man helped, then disappeared. Fifteen years later, the three got back in touch with each other.

7) Great stuff from Frank Rich:

What will move them [Republican politicians] is not necessarily Trump’s hara-kiri isolationist agenda but the damage his behavior both abroad and at home is inflicting on the financial markets. The sheer uncertainty of a chaos presidency is pushing the Dow to its worst December since the Great Depression. McConnell and his humiliated departing peer Paul Ryan have tolerated Trump’s racism, misogyny, and nativism, his wreckage of American alliances, his kleptocracy, and his allegiance to Vladimir Putin. They have tolerated as well his con job on the coal miners, steelworkers, and automobile-industry workers of his base. But they’ll be damned if they will stand for a president who threatens the bottom line of the GOP donor class. [emphasis mine]

8) Elizabeth Warren says the government should produce generic drugs.  Given the world’s largest actual collusion ever, this is a very interesting idea.

9) A former student of mine tweeted at the epitome of bad faith politics, NC GOP director Dallas Woodhouse, Chili’s social media account ended up in the middle.

10) I haven’t read enough yet to have a firm take on Mattis and his resignation, but I found Yglesias‘ contrarianism on him very interesting:

Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s decision to resign, complete with a strongly worded letter slamming President Donald Trump, is not so much the end of “adults in the room” safeguarding the country from the president’s worst instincts as it is the end of the myth that there ever were any such adults.

Mattis was, after all, recommended to Trump in the first place because Barack Obama had fired him for his reckless advocacy of military confrontation with Iran. And while the last grown-up was unable to restrain Trump from imprisoning asylum-seeking childrenabusing his pardon power for Joe Arpaioabusing declassification powerundertaking a partisan purge of the FBIcheering the French far right, or issuing apologias for neo-Nazis, he finally decided to take his stand over Trump making the perfectly defensible decision to withdraw US forces from a hazily defined open-ended mission in Syria that lacked any legal authorization.

There’s nothing wrong with quitting over a policy dispute that you feel strongly about. (Though, frankly, I think Trump is on the right side of this one.) But that’s all this was — a normal dispute within the range of things reasonable people can disagree about.

At the end of the day, Mattis proved ineffective or uninterested in preventing shocking abuses of power and flagrant immorality only to throw down over a perfectly legitimate order from the commander in chief.

And while resigning sooner, over something better, would have been welcome, the notion that it could have meaningfully improved outcomes is silly. Trump is unfit for office, and flagrantly so, in ways that are fairly obvious and have been obvious for years. There are no adults in any room he leads, and there never will be. The real grown-ups are the ones who’ve been outside the room trying to get him out of office.

11) I’ve always enjoyed the Black Key’s “Little Black Submarines” when I’ve heard it, but never really gave it all that much thought.  Heard it on the radio the other day, though, and thought, that would be a great guitar part to learn.  It is!  I love a good rock song made up of standard open chords.  And now I’m (and my 12-year old) obsessed with the song.

12) Really interesting Linda Greenhouse piece on the divide among Republicans on the Supreme Court.  It’s a little early to definitely put Kavanaugh on the “sure, very conservative, but not total Republican hack” side along with Roberts, but so far, things are suggestive.  As to Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch?  Yeah, total hacks.

13) Love this, “Like Tomboys and Hate Girlie Girls? That’s Sexist: We need to stop maligning femininity, in both girls and boys.”

 

Quick hits (super-late edition)

Super-late and super Kavanaugh-heavy edition (of course).  Had an amazing trip visiting DC with NC State Park Scholars for four days to learn about leadership in health care crises.  Anyway, here goes:

1) Rebecca Traister on women’s anger:

Brett Kavanaugh bellowed; he snarled; he pouted and wept furiously at the injustice of having his ascendance to power interrupted by accusations of sexual assault. He challenged his questioners, turned their queries back on them. He was backed up by Lindsey Graham, who appeared to be having some sort of fit of rage over people having the audacity to listen to a woman speak about her life and consider that she might be telling an ugly truth about a powerful man. And, as soon as he was finished, it certainly felt as if the white men’s anger had been rhetorically effective, that we had reflexively understood it as righteous and correct.

Fury was a tool to be marshaled by men like Judge Kavanaugh and Senator Graham, in defense of their own claims to political, legal, public power. Fury was a weapon that had not been made available to the woman who had reason to question those claims.

What happened inside the room was an exceptionally clear distillation of who has historically been allowed to be angry on their own behalf, and who has not.

And outside the room was a hint of how it might be changing.

Most of the time, female anger is discouraged, repressed, ignored, swallowed. Or transformed into something more palatable, and less recognizable as fury — something like tears. When women are truly livid, they often weep.

Maybe we cry when we’re furious in part because we feel a kind of grief at all the things we want to say or yell that we know we can’t. Maybe we’re just sad about the very same things that we’re angry about. I wept as soon as Dr. Blasey began to speak. On social media, I saw hundreds of messages from women who reported the same experience, of finding themselves awash in tears, simply in response to this woman’s voice, raised in polite dissent. The power of the moment, the anxiety that it would be futile, the grief that we even had to put her — and ourselves — through this spectacle, was intense.

2) Fascinating combination of good and horrible– the opioid crisis is really helping people on the organ transplant list.

3) This “I believe Brett Kavanaugh” is kind of awesome:

Brett Kavanaugh: I believe you.

I believe you when you called yourself the “biggest contributor” to the “Beach Week Ralph Club.”

I believe you thought the term for a sexual encounter involving two men and a woman, “Devil’s Triangle,” is so funny to you and your friends that you included it on your yearbook page.

I believe you thought it was funny when you eagerly joined your classmates in making cruel jokes at your friend Renate Schroeder’s expense.

Most of all, I believe you when you’ve said in at least two speeches in recent years that you and your friends are committed to hiding the details of your behavior. “But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to to this day … which is: What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep. I think that’s been a good thing for all of us,” you told students at Catholic University in 2015.

You also told Yale Law School students that you and your friends had a motto for the night that ended with you falling out of a party bus onto the law school steps: “What happens on the bus stays on the bus.”

I know you’re committed to these mottos because you haven’t fessed up to any of the obvious behavior you described at the time. You claimed in testimony under oath that “ralphing” at Beach Week refers to your sensitive stomach, not puking after a night of drinking.

You claimed in your Senate hearing that you never drank so much you forgot any details the next day, though you were a member of the “100 keg club.” (Half a dozen of your friends stepped forward afterward to scoff at your claim.)

4) EJ Dionne on Trump’s mocking and the GOP:

When a leader can hold power only by dividing his country, stoking its anxieties and hostilities, ridiculing his opponents, and disrespecting every norm of decency, the result is a broken democracy and a demoralized nation.

The fight over Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to a seat on the Supreme Court has caused predictable handwringing about partisan division, tribalism and incivility. We hear often that both parties are behaving like toddlers who need to be brought to heel by responsible “adults” who know better.

But the narrative of equivalence is worse than inaccurate. It is destructive. It points us to the wrong diagnosis and thus the wrong cure. At this moment in our history, there is only one party being led by President Trump and only one that rushes to his defense over and over.

Trump regularly and unashamedly reminds us of his vileness and thus single-handedly demolishes the everybody-does-it narrative.

Trump’s lying, mocking, despicable verbal mugging of Christine Blasey Ford during a Mississippi rally on Tuesday night may not be a new low for him because there have been so many other lows. But his willingness to suggest that Ford is one of the “evil people” and his twisted account of her testimony about Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee ripped the mask of respectability off the campaign to confirm Trump’s appointee.

6) John Cassidy is exactly right on the big-picture lesson from Trump’s tax fraud:

This experience points to an enduring scandal that goes well beyond the Trumps. “The key takeaway from the New York Times article . . . is that the wealthy and powerful abide by a different set of rules than the rest of us,” [emphasis mine] Alan Essig, the executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan research group, said in a statement. “Not only does the tax system allow the wealthy to take advantage of legal loopholes, it also allows them to blur the line between legal avoidance and illegal tax evasion with little consequence. . . . We need to reform the tax system to close the loopholes the wealthy use to avoid taxes and substantially increase funding to the IRS to ensure that the laws we do have are robustly enforced.”

But, of course, the Trump Administration and the Republican Party are busy ignoring this advice. The G.O.P. tax-reform bill that passed at the end of last year did virtually nothing to prevent rich people from evading the estate tax and other levies. In reaction to budget cuts imposed by the Republican-controlled Congress, the I.R.S. has slashed its enforcement staff by about a third and reduced the number of cases it brings by about a quarter. “Due to budget cuts, attrition and a shift in focus, there’s been a collapse in the commitment to take on tax fraud,” Chuck Pine, a tax consultant who was formerly a senior criminal-enforcement officer at the I.R.S., told ProPublica. “I believe there are thousands of individuals who have U.S. tax obligations and are not complying with U.S. tax laws.” They are following the example set at the top.

7) This swine disease being spread from disparate pig populations by humans is not great.

8) Brett Kavanaugh brings the 80’s movie “Revenge of the Nerds” back into the news.  I loved that movie as a teenager.  And damn, has it really not aged well.

9) Okay, this is a super-important point from Rebecca Traister (via Ashley Fetters), that I admit I had never really thought about:

Yet Good and Mad posits that there are a few particular types of female anger that are generally exempt from this type of backlash. Which is why, Traister explains, women learn pretty quickly to either hold in their anger or channel it into something more palatable—like caustic humor, indignation inspired by God, or mama-bear protective ferocity. She goes on to suggest that historically, women who have expressed fury on behalf of their children, their household, or some other sort of family-like flock tend to get better results than women who publicly express their fury in other sorts of ways. In other words, the anger of women has a better shot at being taken seriously if it’s recognizable as, or reminiscent of, a mother’s protective anger. In other words, women’s anger is often taken more seriously when it’s packaged as mothers’ anger. [emphasis mine]

Indeed, when Traister offers examples of women who have packaged their anger as a maternal instinct, often they’re the success stories, the women whose dissatisfaction has been taken seriously. For example, there’s Mary Harris Jones, otherwise known as “Mother Jones,” who fought for the rights of miners and other laborers—“her boys,” as she called them—in the late 1800s. More recently, there’s Senator Patty Murray, who as a young aspiring state representative drove to the Washington State Capitol with her two small children in tow to give speeches about state cuts to preschool funding. (She was derided as “just a mom in tennis shoes,” which later became her campaign slogan.) And then there were the conservative women who protested and ran for office during the Tea Party uprising in 2010, dubbed “Mama Grizzlies” by Sarah Palin. As Traister puts it, “these women voicing their anger and throwing around their political weight weren’t caricatured as ugly hysterics; instead they were permitted to cast themselves as patriotic moms on steroids.”

This isn’t just a political phenomenon—it wound up in the spotlight a month ago when Serena Williams, during the hotly contested U.S. Open final, invoked her motherhood in an outburst after the umpire penalized her for on-court coaching: “I have a daughter, and I stand for what’s right for her,” Williams said.

10) This is a powerful essay well worth your time, “I watched a rape. For five decades, I did nothing.”

11) Alexis Grenell on white women:

After a confirmation process where women all but slit their wrists, letting their stories of sexual trauma run like rivers of blood through the Capitol, the Senate still voted to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. With the exception of Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, all the women in the Republican conference caved, including Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who held out until the bitter end.

These women are gender traitors, to borrow a term from the dystopian TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” They’ve made standing by the patriarchy a full-time job. The women who support them show up at the Capitol wearing “Women for Kavanaugh” T-shirts, but also probably tell their daughters to put on less revealing clothes when they go out.

They’re more sympathetic to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who actually shooed away a crowd of women and told them to “grow up.” Or Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose response to a woman telling him she was raped was: “I’m sorry. Call the cops.”

These are the kind of women who think that being falsely accused of rape is almost as bad as being raped. The kind of women who agree with President Trump that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America,” which he said during a news conference on Tuesday.

But the people who scare me the most are the mothers, sisters and wives of those young men, because my stupid uterus still holds out some insane hope of solidarity.

We’re talking about white women. The same 53 percent who put their racial privilege ahead of their second-class gender status in 2016 by voting to uphold a system that values only their whiteness, just as they have for decades. White women have broken for Democratic presidential candidates only twice: in the 1964 and 1996 elections, according to an analysis by Jane Junn, a political scientist at the University of Southern California.

12) Brain-eating amoeba is super-rare (fortunately), but just struck again in Texas.  Somebody died from this near us at Jordan Lake around a decade or more ago and my wife hasn’t let us back there since.

13) Yale Law dean on Kavanaugh:

Over the past decade, Kavanaugh has been a casual acquaintance. He seemed a gentle, quiet, reserved man, always solicitous of the dignity of his position as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It was therefore with something approaching unbelief that I heard his speech after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.

With calculation and skill, Kavanaugh stoked the fires of partisan rage and male entitlement. He had apparently concluded that the only way he could rally Republican support was by painting himself as the victim of a political hit job. He therefore offered a witches’ brew of vicious unfounded charges, alleging that Democratic members of the Senate Judicial Committee were pursuing a vendetta on behalf of the Clintons. If we expect judges to reach conclusions based solely on reliable evidence, Kavanaugh’s savage and bitter attack demonstrated exactly the opposite sensibility…

His performance is indelibly etched in the public mind. For as long as Kavanaugh sits on the court, he will remain a symbol of partisan anger, a haunting reminder that behind the smiling face of judicial benevolence lies the force of an urgent will to power. No one who felt the force of that anger could possibly believe that Kavanaugh might actually be a detached and impartial judge. Each and every Republican who votes for Kavanaugh, therefore, effectively announces that they care more about controlling the Supreme Court than they do about the legitimacy of the court itself. There will be hell to pay. [emphasis mine]

14) Happy to see an NYT Op-Ed takedown of the sanctimonious Susan Collins:

But if Ms. Collins is a maverick, then I’m an appaloosa.

Yes, she’s shown herself willing to buck her party now and again. FiveThirtyEight reports that she votes in line with Donald Trump 79 percent of the time; only Rand Paul of Kentucky, at 74 percent, has a lower score among Senate Republicans. She’s opposed the president on immigration and abortion restrictions, net neutrality and his policies toward Russia, Iran and North Korea.

But on many key votes, her record is about as moderate as Ted Cruz’s. In January, she provided the Republicans with the crucial 51st vote for the tax bill. She set three conditions: the additional passage of two separate bills to shore up insurance markets for individuals who weren’t covered through their work, along with a promise for Congress to undo the cuts to Medicare automatically triggered by the deficit increase from the tax cut.

After that bill was passed, Ms. Collins said the promises to her were ironclad, and that if her conditions were not met, “there would be consequences.” But the additional bills never got a vote, and a follow-up attempt to add her provisions to the omnibus spending bill in March was defeated, by other Republicans.

Of course they were…

There’s another kind of “maverick,” though — the kind of centrist who wants to please everyone. For Ms. Collins, it’s often meant voting with the most right-wing members of her party, even while attempting to occupy some imaginary moral high ground. It’s hard to see what our senator got for her vote supporting the tax cut last fall. It’s just as hard for me to see her vote for Judge Kavanaugh as anything other than a warm embrace of Donald Trump and everything he stands for, her 45-minute speech notwithstanding.

15a) Honestly, pretty disappointed to see so many political scientists and other academics defend the cultural studies programs/journals against the academics who clearly showed much of the discipline to be a shoddy joke.  I think Kevin Drum has it about right:

Mounk’s list is similar to one I put together last night, and he does a good job of addressing it. So go read Mounk for more on all that. For myself, I just want to make one point about this affair. It’s by far the most important point:

If an amateur with no background can spend three months brushing up on your field, and then immediately start cranking out papers that get accepted at serious, peer-reviewed journals, there is something badly wrong with your field.

That’s it. That’s what the hoaxsters uncovered. All fields have at least a few weak journals. All fields can boast of plenty of lousy journal articles. All fields are embarrassed by occasional frauds. All fields suffer from ideological biases or conflicts of interest that interfere with good scholarship.

But I can’t think of any serious field in which an amateur who’s done a few month’s reading could even produce a plausible parody, let alone a paper that would be taken seriously by dozens of editors and peer reviewers. If that’s all it takes, a PhD is a meaningless five-year waste of time.

This is the problem the academy needs to address, and they need to address it for exactly the reason the hoaxsters gave: these fields are mostly important ones. They deserve rigorous, high-quality scholarship. They can’t be treated as dumping grounds for impassioned mediocrities and then ignored.

If they are, and everyone tacitly agrees to sweep away the whole episode because the hoaxsters didn’t get IRB approval or something, it just gives the game away: these fields exist only to placate troublemakers, and nobody in the serious parts of the university cares about them.

Alternatively, we do care about them, and it’s time for the various disciplines of cultural studies to end their adolescence and adopt the same standards of scholarship as their older, more established peers. That’s my vote.

15b) And Mounk’s whole thread is great.

16) What it looks like when a deer runs in front of a car.  This is kind of amazing (and, yes, disturbing).

17) So, I made it into Politifact on somebody claiming a Democratic opponent was in with “the Pelosi crowd.”

18) 11 Takeaways from the NYT investigation on Trump’s tax fraud.  A huge story for any other president (or almost any other week).

19) The New Yorker asks, “Could Smithfield Foods have prevented the ‘rivers of hog waste‘ after Hurricane Florence?”  Of course, you know, the answer is yes.  But heaven forbid we should expect consumers to pay a few cents more per pound for pork and cause even the tiniest hit to Smithfield’s profits.

 

What city is the best to raise your kids?

Why Cary, North Carolina, obviously. What was really cool about this best (and worst) places to raise kids list was that not only is Raleigh in the top 10, but even my previous home of Lubbock, TX makes it.  As for Lubbock– who knew?  And, I disagree.  Actually, the great thing about Lubbock is that you can get a nice house for an absurdly low amount of money and I presume that’s carrying a lot of the weight.  Otherwise, I’ll definitely take the Raleigh area.  Here’s the top 10:

Which large American cities are the most family friendly? Generally speaking, according to a recent study by the rental listings site Zumper, you are probably better off living in the Midwest or the South if you have children.

Higher mortgage rates, more expensive child care and longer commutes were among the reasons Northeastern cities didn’t fare as well in the study. Not surprisingly, New York City ranked low — 84th out of 94.

So which cities were the best? After weighing various factors important to family life — including median incomes, housing costs, unemployment and crime rates, and the percentage of the population under 45 — the study ranked Madison, Wis., in first place, followed by Lincoln, Neb., and Lexington, Ky. (Sources included the United States Census Bureau, the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Anyway, interesting food for thought.  No need to leave Chicago and head to Lubbock, though.

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