Quote of the day

Somebody hacked a large video screen at Union Station in DC to make it play pornhub during rush hour.  I laughed out loud at this bit in the article:

Finally, an employee of the fast-casual restaurant Roti came over to the screen, and instructed another person on how to shut off the digital display, according to the woman who captured the incident on video. That woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want an article about porn to come up when people Google her name [emphasis mine], said other travelers took out their phones to record, too.

I’m not sure I would have had the foresight to realize to do the same.  Props to her.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I wasn’t sure what I would make of “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society,” but there’s definitely some important points here:

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right.

2) I’ve heard a couple good interviews with Chris Hayes on his new criminal justice book.  Definitely sounds like good stuff (and the other book reviewed here looks good as well).

3) Enjoyed this NYT feature on how retail is changing.

4) You know what really need to change about policing?  The culture.  It’s enough that there’s too many bad cops out there.  Worse, is that otherwise good cops protect the bad ones.  Also, how many, many incidents of police brutality are lied about and gotten away with without any video to prove otherwise.  Truly, the numbers must be staggering.

5) Personally, I think life is too short and there’s too many books I’ll never get to spend time “hate reading,” but the author of this essay has a point.

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

Right now I’m reading Deception Point by Dan Brown with David.  I don’t hate it.  But it does remind me that while I do enjoy a relentless plot, I really don’t like unrealistic political fiction that thinks it’s realistic (here’s looking at you House of Cards).

6) Yes, Americans vote their partisanship on a pretty much tribal basis.  But I reject the argument that wealthier Democrats are necessarily voting against their own economic interests.  There’s far more to one’s economic interests (like living in vibrant, healthy communities with a growing economy and a healthy middle class) than top marginal tax rates.

7) We can learn a lot about the natural history of penguins through penguin guano deposits.

8) Interesting take on Mitch McConnell’s most consequential decision:

We learned last night from the New York Times that by the time of McConnell’s intervention, the CIA in particular was sounding its loudest alarms, and not just about nebulous “meddling.”

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, [CIA Director John] Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing. The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.

We can’t be certain that Brennan shared the same concerns with McConnell, but it is hard to imagine why he wouldn’t. McConnell, like Reid, was among the handful of members of Congress receive regular briefings on highly classified intelligence. In either case, the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community sought a united front ahead of the fall against Russian election interference—whatever its nature—and McConnell shot it down.

You can fault the Obama White House, to some degree, for acquiescing to McConnell, but it’s worth noting that McConnell clearly understood his threat to be more ominous than simply a promise to call Obama mean names. The claim of partisanship would have implied that Obama was using contested intelligence to meddle in the election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. This would have invited the press to summon yet-more dark clouds over both of them, and lead, most likely, to a new, urgent congressional investigation. Consider the media and GOP congressional response to the unfounded allegation that Susan Rice spied on Donald Trump, and you can see the Obama White House had good reason to take McConnell’s threat seriously.

The upshot is that McConnell drew a protective fence around Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s candidacy, by characterizing any effort to stop it as partisan politicization of intelligence at Trump’s expense.

Given the outcome of the election, I’d say this move was not only far more consequential than stealing a Supreme Court seat from Democrats, it was the key to the theft itself.

9) Diane Ravitch argues the public should pay for public schools, not religious schools.  I agree.

10) Sorry, calling out conservative (or Southern ones, in this case) Christians for their hypocrisy does not get old for me:

Tribal bonds have always been a challenge for our species. What’s new is how baldly the 2016 election exposed the collision between basic Christian values and Republican Party loyalty. By any conceivable definition, the sitting president of the United States is the utter antithesis of Christian values — a misogynist who disdains refugees, persecutes immigrants, condones torture and is energetically working to dismantle the safety net that protects our most vulnerable neighbors. Watching Christians put him in the White House has completely broken my heart…

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” All the rest is window dressing.

But this is the part of Christ’s message that most conservative Christians ignore when they step into the voting booth. In part that’s because abortion has become the ultimate border wall for Southern believers. I can’t count the number of Christians I know who are one-plank voters: They’d put Vladimir Putin in the White House if he promised to overturn Roe v. Wade. To someone who ardently believes abortion is murder, that idea is not as crazy as it seems. But reasonable people can disagree on the moment when human life begins, and I don’t see my own commitment to protecting a woman’s legal right to choose as a contradiction of my religious practice. No matter how you define it, protecting human life should never stop at the zygote.

Republicans now have what they’ve long wanted: the chance to turn this into a Christian nation. But what’s being planned in Washington will hit my fellow Southerners harder than almost anyone else. Where are the immigrants? Mostly in the South. Which states execute more prisoners? The Southern states. Which region has the highest poverty rates? The South. Where are you most likely to drink poisoned water? Right here in the South. Where is affordable health care hardest to find? You guessed it. My people are among the least prepared to survive a Trump presidency, but the “Christian” president they elected is about to demonstrate exactly what betrayal really looks like — and for a lot more than 30 pieces of silver.

11) Really good New Yorker article reviewing several books that help explain why humans are so bad at reasoning and responding to facts.  Short version: tribal needs– sociability trumps needs to actually understand things.

12) And, with that, Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Why I know so few smokers

It’s always fun talking to my kids about “back in my day.”  Like when people smoked in restaurants.  Or, improbably and horribly given the recycled air, on airplanes.  Anyway, I was telling David about the significant and ongoing decline in smoking and found this nice collection of charts.  I think this one of smoking by education level is most interesting:

Given that most everybody I know has an undergrad or grad degree (or, is at least well on their way to the first), not surprising that– thankfully— I know hardly any smokers.

Quick hits (part II)

Damn.  I could say a million things about Trump’s craziness from just yesterday.  And, if you really care, I re-tweeted a ton of really good stuff.  So, the regular awfulness, plus not awful miscellany:

1) But, we’ll start with this tweet from yesterday.  As many pointed out, imagine the reaction from Fox, etc., if Obama said something close to half this bad.

2) Cato takes on the precautionary principle.  Hooray:

The precautionary principle emphasizes the “better safe than sorry” mentality but shelters us from the reality that nothing is absolutely safe. Risk exists on a spectrum, it is not binary. The fear of high risks and uncertainty should not stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees here, only if a realistic projection that the long-term harms would exceed the long-term benefits should convince the government to further block Syrian refugees. A cold, hard look at the risks and benefits of allowing more Syrian refugees favors a more open policy.

3) The truth is Bannon and Trump don’t really want immigrants of any kind.  Muslims and refugees are just a start.

4) A nice bit of non-politics, Fans de Waal argues that the link between language and cognition is a red herring.

5) Among other things, Trump is just cruel.  But you knew that.

6) You will not be at all surprised that actual experts think Trump’s ban would do nothing to curtail terrorism.

7) The rules for making a protest work.

 

8) This Wired piece about a woman with no autobiographical memory was so fascinating.  Just trust me and read it.

9) Krispy Kreme donut run made the NYT yesterday.  David and I ran together (this year, I upped my intake from 2 to 3 donuts) for the 4th straight year.  Next year, we’ll add Evan to the mix.

10) Great piece on the reality of living in Russia and scary lessons for the US:

One tends to imagine life in an autocratic regime as dominated by fear and oppression: armed men in the street, total surveillance, chanted slogans, and whispered secrets. It is probably a version of that picture that has been flitting lately through the nightmares of American liberals fretting about the damage a potential autocrat might do to an open society. But residents of a hybrid regime such as Russia’s — that is, an autocratic one that retains the façade of a democracy — know the Orwellian notion is needlessly romantic. Russian life, I soon found out, was marked less by fear than by cynicism: the all-pervasive idea that no institution is to be trusted, because no institution is bigger than the avarice of the person in charge. This cynicism, coupled with endless conspiracy theories about everything, was at its core defensive (it’s hard to be disappointed if you expect the worst). But it amounted to defeatism. And, interestingly, the higher up the food chain you moved, the more you encountered it. Now that Russia has begun to export this Weltanschauung around the world, in the form of nationalist populism embodied here by Donald Trump, I am increasingly tempted to look at my years there for pointers on what to expect in America.

11) Kind of bizarre, definitely needs more editing, but riveting… Swedes trying to decide whether to jump off a 10m diving platform.

12) Of course I knew about Brian Nosek and efforts at replication, etc., did not know there was an Enron billionaire behind it.

13) A 538 piece arguing Trump’s national security council changes really aren’t that unusual.

14) Linda Greenhouse on the changing “judicial mainstream.”

15) Of course Trump is still way too closely tied to his business.

16) It’s too easy for police to get your location data without a warrant.

17) Pretty disturbing story of an accountability-free police shooting.  One thing I’m pretty confident of– police unions are too powerful and too interested in protecting police who are bad actors.

18) Really interesting Pew piece on what makes a “real American” (and a “real” many other nationalities as well).

19) Ezra Klein on Donald Trump and “the Snake.”  Like all longer Ezra pieces on Trump, it is really, really good and you should definitely read it.  And, yes, I’m talking to you faithful reader who doesn’t actually read it.

20) Former right-wing talk radio host sees the error of his ways and how it has led to Trump:

Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.

For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.

The news media’s spectacular failure to get the election right has made it only easier for many conservatives to ignore anything that happens outside the right’s bubble and for the Trump White House to fabricate facts with little fear of alienating its base.

Unfortunately, that also means that the more the fact-based media tries to debunk the president’s falsehoods, the further it will entrench the battle lines.

 

Map/Infographic of the day

My son Evan was asking about this last night and found this webpage.  This is pretty cool.

Quick hits (part I)

1) “Drain the swamp” makes a good sound-bite, but if you are going to go into a swamp, you want a guide who knows their way around it.  Lee Drutman:

But the reality of democracy in the world’s largest economy and third most-populous country is that national policymaking is complicated. It requires considerable knowledge and experience to understand the rules and resolve trade-offs. If you get rid of experienced policymakers and bureaucrats who understand these rules and trade-offs, it’s not as if the problems of modern governance go away. Decision-makers simply rely more on private lobbyists, who are only too happy to fill the void by supplying decision-makers with expertise and know-how.

This is a harder story to tell, because it lacks a three-syllable chant. But democracy is a system for making hard trade-offs among competing interests. And to make those trade-offs fairly and intelligently requires knowledge and experience. The surest way to empower special interests is to make government dumber. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Trump has proposed to do.

2) David Leonhardt on the disappearing American dream.

3) Great tweetstorm from Jay Rosen on the media under Trump.  Ominously titled, “Winter is Coming.”

4) Really interesting new research on the evolution of whales.  It seems that in addition to the question of “why did whales get so big?” is “why did smaller whales go extinct?”

5) Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen argue it’s time for Democrats to fight like Republicans.  There’s something to be said for fighting harder, but it’s not too much of a democracy when both sides decide to ignore the norms of democracy.  That’s a quandary.

6) NC is one of only two states in the country that automatically charges 16 and 17-year olds as adults.  My representative and friend, Duane Hall, is fighting to change this.  He’s got the support of police and the Republican NC Chief Justice.  Hopefully, the Republicans in the legislature will go along in a rare burst of common sense.

7) Westworld was a really imperfect show, but I mostly enjoyed it.  Very much enjoyed this discussion with the creators about how video games influenced the intellectual design of the show.

8) NPR’s Kat Chow on all the meanings of “politically incorrect.”

9) Now that Star Wars is expanding it’s stories, like Rogue One, some additional story ideas.

10) Really interesting NYT magazine piece on the various efforts, via genetic engineering and other means, to make peanuts less allergenic:

But an unresolved question is how many of the 17 known allergenic proteins scientists can actually edit out of the peanut. Ara h 1 helps the seed store energy for growth, for example, while Ara h 13 helps fight off fungi. Researchers may discover that removing every allergy-causing protein may have the unintended consequence of destroying the viability of the plant itself.

11) Zack Beauchamp with how we would cover Russia’s election hack if it happened in another country.

12) In case you missed SNL’s Walter White to head DEA.

13a) Shocking, I know, but some on-line “bargains” really aren’t such bargains.

13b) And a related piece on how list prices lost their meaning.

If some Internet retailers have an expansive definition of list price, the Federal Trade Commission does not.

“To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer,” the Code of Federal Regulations states. The F.T.C. declined to comment.

“If you’re selling $15 pens for $7.50, but just about everybody else is also selling the pens for $7.50, then saying the list price is $15 is a lie,” said David C. Vladeck, the former director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And if you’re doing this frequently, it’s a serious problem.”

Hey, that’s government regulation.  Bad!  Businesses should obviously be allowed to lie all they want.  That’s capitalism, baby!

14) We should probably think of obesity like cancer– a constellation of related diseases:

Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, likes to challenge his audience when he gives lectures on obesity.

“If you want to make a great discovery,” he tells them, figure out this: Why do some people lose 50 pounds on a diet while others on the same diet gain a few pounds?

Then he shows them data from a study he did that found exactly that effect.

Dr. Sacks’s challenge is a question at the center of obesity research today. Two people can have the same amount of excess weight, they can be the same age, the same socioeconomic class, the same race, the same gender. And yet a treatment that works for one will do nothing for the other.

The problem, researchers say, is that obesity and its precursor — being overweight — are not one disease but instead, like cancer, they are many. “You can look at two people with the same amount of excess body weight and they put on the weight for very different reasons,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, medical director of the obesity program at the University of Alberta…

If obesity is many diseases, said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the obesity, metabolism and nutrition institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, there can be many paths to the same outcome. It makes as much sense to insist there is one way to prevent all types of obesity — get rid of sugary sodas, clear the stores of junk foods, shun carbohydrates, eat breakfast, get more sleep — as it does to say you can avoid lung cancer by staying out of the sun, a strategy specific to skin cancer.

One focus of research is to figure out how many types of obesity there are — Dr. Kaplan counts 59 so far — and how many genes can contribute.

15) If Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein say we should take trade deficits seriously, we probably should.

16) Paul Blest on how the NC legislative Democrats need to fight back.  I think he’s right:

So for Democrats, now is the time to stop being complicit in their own humiliation. Their votes don’t matter, so the best way to make their voices heard is to show solidarity with people who care deeply about changing this state’s reputation as a “testing ground for alt-right and ultra-conservative ideas” and protest alongside the

m.Legislators using protest as a tool would be nothing new this year. In March, North Carolina Senate Democrats walked out on the HB 2 vote, and in June, Democrats in the U.S. House staged a sit-in to force a vote on a (bad) gun control bill. For minority caucuses that are being bowled over by the majority, it’s a great strategy in that it garners media attention, which in turn helps North Carolinians who might not be totally aware of what’s going on. Maybe a few of them could risk arrest; after all, the sight of a few Democratic lawmakers getting hauled down to the police station would almost assuredly wake people up.

Would Moore be pissed? Sure, but who cares? The country is already watching, so let Moore ram his bills through a half-empty chamber, let Representative Paul Stam go on tangents about the seventeenth century to half-asleep Republicans, and—most important—let the entire country see how authoritarian North Carolina has become.

18) Drew Magary is back with his annual profane and hilarious hater’s guide to Williams Sonoma.

19) Excellent piece from Sarah Kliff who interviews a bunch of Trump voters in Kentucky who are oh-so-sure Trump would never actually take away their ACA health insurance.  Maybe they should have taken him seriously and literally.

20) I think I might have mentioned that I loved the movie “The Arrival.”  So good.  Read the short story upon which it is based, “Stories of your Life” with my son, David, this week.  As we all know, the book is usually better than the movie, but David and I both strongly agreed that in this case, the movie was better.  The short story was quite good, but that was really a hell of a screenplay by Eric Heisserer.

 

Map of the day

American communities decided by an algorithm using commuting data.  Cool!  Via Atlas Obscura:

American regions, based on commutes.

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