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!

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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.

Hurricane panic reaches new levels of insanity!

OMG am I frustrated today.

First, the background.  Here in the Wake County/Raleigh area, we were very much spared the worst of the hurricane.  4-6 inches of rain and wind gusts in the 40’s for periods on Friday and Saturday.  At one point, 10% of the county was without power, but as of this writing, we are at .1%.  There’s been Flash Flood warnings, but no serious flooding in this area that I can find in the news anywhere (or flood maps).  I would say the local situation is pretty equivalent to serious thunderstorms moving through on Friday night.

And yet, NC State has canceled class tomorrow and Wake County public schools have canceled school (and added to the totally un-needed Saturday make-up for last Thursday with a day before Thanksgiving make-up– my kids will be attending neither of those make-up days).  “Ongoing effects of the hurricane” my ass!  The ongoing effects for Wake County are pretty much non-existent.  I swear you would think whoever is in charge gets a bonus for each day of canceled school.  If this exact same weather had been caused by unusually violent thunderstorms, there’s no way school would be canceled tomorrow (or, that all local government operations like weekend classes, museums, libraries, etc., would be closed today, as they are), but “hurricane!” and it seems like anything goes.  And, yes, literal disaster conditions exist in many parts of NC.  But not here!!  It’s like saying, well, how can we have school while kids are dying in the Syrian civil war.

NC State should be super-accommodating of students whose homes were flooded out, of course, but why does that mean the rest of us shouldn’t, you know, actually have an education tomorrow. Meanwhile my son’s classes at Wake Tech were canceled, too.  Presumably they say NCSU and UNC’s over-reaction and said, “hey, no school for us, too!”  At least the former have the excuse of many students who live in affected areas.  Wake Tech is a non-residential community college in a county largely unaffected.  What the hell?!

Sometimes I feel like the only sane person around here.  Except for the positive feedback from my readers– thanks!

Oh, and while I am at it, those Amazon Logistics deliveries are such a joke! (as Nicole pointed out in earlier comments).  I had two packages finally show up, in theory, this morning marked delivered “handed to resident” while the whole family was actually at Krispy Kreme.  What the hell I’ve never had an Amazon package from USPS or UPS mis-delivered (highly unlikely some nefarious neighbor claimed my package in-person).  I’ve already gotten my refund, but what an awful experience.

Damn is it all frustrating, but feels good to get it out.

Having a “nice” weather day

Chances are you are if you live in Long Beach, CA.  Unsurprisingly, odds are much lower in Anchorage, AK.  Based on a reasonable, but ultimately somewhat arbitrary definition of nice days, the Post has a cool article on which cities have the most and least:

Using automated weather stations with relatively complete data between 1998 and 2018, we systematically evaluated every daily and hourly observation for 373 stations around the country for all 365 days of the year and computed the number of days per year that met all of the following specific criteria:

  • High temperature between 65 and 85 degrees
  • Maximum dew point temperature less than or equal to 65 degrees
  • Peak daily wind (including gusts) less than 25 mph
  • Average daily cloud cover less than or equal to 65 percent
  • No measurable precipitation

 

I’m no expert on Honolulu’s climate, but pretty sure I’d take it over most any other place but Southern California.  And I’m 99.9% sure I’d prefer it to Lubbock.  Maybe it’s too humid?  Presumably the 0 measurable precipitation is a problem for places that have brief rain on lots of days, too.  Dew point under 65 is definitely a good thing, but I wonder how much better, Raleigh, for example, would do if you let that get up to 66 or 67 (okay, probably not all that much).  Raleigh does make the top of the “middle of the pack” not worth an actual chart:

Here are additional city annual nice-day counts — ranking close to the middle of the pack:

  • Albuquerque: 50
  • Denver: 52
  • Miami: 53
  • Detroit: 54
  • Memphis: 54
  • Houston: 54
  • Louisville: 56
  • Indianapolis: 56
  • San Antonio: 57
  • Columbus: 57
  • New Orleans: 58
  • Nashville: 59
  • El Paso: 66
  • Raleigh: 66

Anyway, a fun exercise to think about all this.  My 2000-2002 home of Lubbock is definitely losing some days to the overly-windy problem.  And Raleigh may only have 9 more “nice days” per year than Columbus, but I would argue that, overall, the weather here is dramatically better.  I suppose we also need a count of “pretty good” days :-).  I think we’d do really well there.  A count of “bad days” would be fun, too.  No sun at all definitely hits that mark for me.

Anyway, fun stuff.

Is social media good for you or bad for you?

It depends.  My 12-year old complains that I’m on Facebook too much.  Personally, I find a ton of value out of it.  I love seeing what friends are up to and getting great and fascinating things to read from the interesting people I know.  And, I love sharing my love of photography and of my kids in a visual medium.   So there you go.

Anyway, really enjoyed this NYT article from back in May that rounds up some of the more interesting research on social media and the changing nature of relationships:

Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

Taken on their own, these numbers are a damning indictment of internet-era connections, even if social networking was in its MySpace-Friendster infancy in 2004 and the iPhone did not exist.

But in 2011, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania headed by Keith N. Hampton found evidence that “close social relations do not attrite with internet use and that internet users tend to have larger personal networks,” and that social isolation was actually lower in 2008 than in 1985.

Indeed.  When it comes to the decline in close friends over time, talk about correlation is not causation.  (Speaking of things changing over-time, we might as well blame over-protective parenting on cell phones).  Outside my family, nothing I like doing more than spending time with real humans who are my friends.  I honestly cannot think of social media eating into that one bit (“Sorry, Bill, no time for lunch today, gotta check Facebook and reply to some tweets”).

Other papers by Dr. Hampton argue that the internet and social media can facilitate offline social connections. One states that “internet use may be associated with higher levels of participation in traditional settings that support the formation of diverse networks,” such as visiting public spaces or knowing more people in the neighborhood. Another suggests that frequent Facebook users have more close and more diverse social tiesthan the average American — though roughly the same number of overall connections.

Sounds great.  Social media for the win.

The oft-cited “Dunbar’s number” is an average of 150 casual friends for humans (really, a range of 100 to 200). These are the people who might come to your wedding or funeral.

Within this roster, there are embedded layers of intimacy that grow smaller by a factor of three: 50 of these make the next cut to buddies, about 15 are good friends, around five confidants form our circle of trust, and finally we have an average of 1.5 people we deem our closest relationships. (Conversely, we can keep track of roughly 500 acquaintances and 1,500 faces we can match to names.)

One may presume that boasting thousands of social media friends or followers would inflate Dunbar’s number, but Dr. Dunbar said that is “absolutely not at all” the case. In a recent paper analyzing Facebook and Twitter data, and another one looking at mobile phone calls, his team determined that people still “showed the same frequencies of interaction as in face-to-face relationships” for the corresponding layers of intimacy, he said.

However, digital media channels “don’t distinguish between quality of relationships,” he said. “They allow you to maintain relationships that would otherwise decay. Our data shows that if you don’t meet people at the requisite frequencies, you’ll drop down through the layers until eventually you drop out of the 150 and become ‘somebody you once knew.’ What we think is happening is that, if you don’t meet sometime face to face, social media is slowing down the rate of decay.”

The result, then, can be a glut of old acquaintances that are not as easily forgotten online and which therefore stifle the development of newer, in-person friendships.

“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the internet,” Dr. Dunbar said. If it’s spent with people who are “remote,” whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, “you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.”

Now that’s interesting, but I don’t buy it. At least not for me or most of the other heavy social media users in my network.  Many of those I know who love Facebook the most are extreme extroverts and take human contact wherever they can get it.  I don’t hang out with people at 11pm, and when I’m the only one in the office hallways on an afternoon, there’s nobody to talk to, but, hey Facebook is there for a quick hit of social contact.

And then there’s the whole screen vs. face-to-face issue:

As with many millennials, talking on the phone was never a big part of her routine and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions. “I’ve asked people over Gchat if they want to talk on the phone, and they hem and haw,” she said. “It can feel draining — there isn’t a casual component to it.”

There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture unconsciously,” Ms. Flora said. “It’s a rapport humans have developed over thousands of years, and you don’t get that when you only follow someone on social media.” (Skype et al. can be comparable, though, Dr. Dunbar observed.)

But now it’s common for this synchrony to be disrupted in person, thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone. Imagine Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks” recomposed today, with the three late-night diners and counterman all gazing at screens.

“If there’s a bunch of guys at a bar together and they’re all on their phones,” Dr. Dunbar said, “they’re not doing much to trigger the endorphin system to create the sense of bondedness.”

Because members of Generation X such as Ms. Flora based the passionate friendships of their youth primarily on in-person interactions or “rambling” phone calls, when they “make the transfer” to digital friendships they “can take advantage of the benefits of it,” she said. “But for younger people, I would worry about them compromising that precious face-to-face time, not sensing or adjusting to what their friends are really thinking or feeling.”

Speaking of her generation’s possibly diminished capacity for deep friendships, Ms. Schiller issued an unintentionally resonant qualification.

“It might just be me,” she said.

A Facebook friend (acquaintance from high school, who honestly, I would never be in touch with if not for social media– but I love her posts because she married one of my good HS friends who is not into FB), posted about how a boy called to talk to her middle-school-age daughter.  So sweet.  Any many commented on the fact that, hey, not just a text message.  I did love those long rambling teenager phone calls.   I’m actually surprised to find my wife and I text each other all the time.  But, a lot of it is just little snippets of connection that we just didn’t have before our Iphones.  It’s actually added to our connectedness.  It’s not like we’re texting over dinner.

Anyway, lots of interesting stuff and plenty of food for thought.  Friend me ;-).

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