Quick hits (part II)

1) In theory, the idea of a semi-automatic transmission where you can shift gears without worrying about a clutch is pretty cool.  In practice, the majority of drivers pretty much completely ignore this feature on their cars.  Me, too.  I will admit, though, to enjoying shifting into Sport mode some of the time.

2) Honestly, I don’t even get the point of pretending that a study of a scant 49 Facebook users is real social science.  That said, the typology seems to comport with reality and I especially like this description as I’ve used almost these exact words myself:

Relationship builders

This cohort uses Facebook much the way humans once used actual mail and landline telephones: to strengthen existing relationships with friends and family. In fact, Facebook is an extension of their offline life, according to Tom Robinson, associate director of BYU’s Graduate School of Communication and a professor of advertising.

3) Vox with an ex-CIA officer on Trump Jr, “An ex-CIA officer: the Trump Jr. meeting shows how the Russians exploit intelligence targets.  “This is how it’s done.” —Glenn Carle

4) Yale law school dean on free speech on campus.

5) Yglesias on why Trump JR has no credibility:

But as the old saying says, fool me twice, shame on me. Trump Jr. has already tried to fool us four or five times about this meeting, and there’s absolutely no reason we should trust him. Fox News, tellingly, has in part already moved on to justifying collusion, showing little faith from Trumpworld that the denials of collusion will hold up over the long run. Those of us who aren’t in the tank ought to muster at least the same level of skepticism.

6) This is from two years ago, but I found it utterly fascinating the level of engineering and design that goes into canned beverages and foods.  Why hasn’t there been a 99% Invisible on this?!

7) Enjoyed this complete guide to the religions on Game of Thrones.  That said, I have strong opinions on the matter and feel like far more people should have converted to the Lord of Light (he actually gets stuff done!).

8) OMG, sure there’s some imbalance in who’s doing what’s “cool” and “not cool” in this poster, but taken it it’s totality, it strikes me as a long way from “racist” (especially since most of the non-white kids in the poster, including the lifeguard, are perfectly well-behaved.  Mostly, it strikes me as an effort at inclusive racial harmony in a swimming pool, where some kids need to be better at following the rules.

9) Say it with me, “the dose makes the poison.”  Ignoring this fact is fearmongering.  NYT should know better.

10) Nice review/summary of Dan Drezner’s new book on public intellectuals.

11) Jon Cohn on why a bipartisan health care bill might make sense for Republicans.

12) And on how health insurance companies are unloading on the “unworkable” idea Ted Cruz is pushing to undermine pre-existing conditions protections.

13) The Breitbartification of right-wing media:

As recently as five or 10 years ago, every major news outlet would have treated this set of facts [the Russia story] as front-page news and a dire threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency. The conservative press and Republican voters might disagree on certain particulars or points of emphasis. But their view of reality — of what happened and its significance — would have largely comported with that of the mainstream. You’d have had to travel to the political fringe of right-wing talk radio, the Drudge Report and dissident publications like Breitbart News to find an alternative viewpoint that rejected this basic story line.

Not anymore. Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics.

14) Nice piece in TNR on how to best make the case for “Medicare for all.”  Surely, if we are going to get a policy like this, it needs to be framed and sold to the public as effectively as possible.

15) Nice column from Jamelle Bouie asks, “How long can Republicans risk everything to pretend Russia is no big deal?”  I know!  Until they get their tax cuts for rich people.  Bouie’s damning conclusion:

If nothing else, Republican behavior—the extent to which the party is still powering through a hyper-partisan agenda, even as evidence of something untoward mounts—is an implicit statement that foreign interference is an acceptable path to partisan gain. At the risk of cliché, it normalizes outside meddling in American democracy. And the 2016 election won’t even be the end of Russian interference in our elections. There is real potential for further, more damaging hacking aimed at often-obsolete local election infrastructure. Preventing this is of national concern and requires cooperation from both sides at all levels of government. It requires both parties to show a commitment to the ideals of American democracy.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that both parties have that commitment. The GOP’s recent enthusiasm for voter ID laws (and the voter suppression they cause) has long since thrown that issue of commitment into question. But the institutional indifference to foreign intervention is something different. It signals a dangerously zero-sum attitude, where any price—including subversion from outside forces—is worth paying if it clears a path to partisan and ideological victory. Perhaps the worm will turn and Republicans will join Democrats in demanding real answers from President Trump and his associates. For now, at least, we have a Republican Party that values its success above the integrity of our system.

16) Former Trump employee on the disastrous consequence of Trump putting family first in his business endeavors.

17) So, basically, a lot of favorite breakfast items are pretty much dessert.   I did discover that my go-to cereal, Kashi Go Lean fares quite well, though (of course, I used to claim that it “tastes like twigs.” I’m use to the lower sweetness now).

18) Long time conservative columnist Mona Charen is not exactly persuaded by the Trump line on Russian collusion.

19) It’s amazing how much genetics seems to explain how our brains process looking at faces.  And this can help us understand autism better, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) In light of the recent Pew findings on Republicans and higher education, Dan Drezner with a nice post on the GOP’s “war on college.”

2) Personally, I’m all for using genetically-modified mice to try and save endangered bird populations (it’s pretty cool how this would work).  NCSU scientists are working to make this happen, but probably not anytime soon.

3) Much talked about article this week painting a doomsday picture of climate change.  Interesting discussion as to whether this is an effective approach.

4) Speaking of climate change, I was a little abashed that I did not get this key driver of climate change right in this quiz.  And excellent article on abating the issue.

5) David Brooks on Trump family morals:

The Donald Trump Jr. we see through the Russia scandal story is not malevolent: He seems to be simply oblivious to the idea that ethical concerns could possibly play a role in everyday life. When the Russian government offer came across his email, there doesn’t seem to have been a flicker of concern. Instead, he replied with that tone of simple bro glee that we remember from other scandals.

“Can you smell money?!?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff emailed a co-conspirator during his lobbying and casino fraud shenanigans. That’s the same tone as Don Jr.’s “I love it” when offered a chance to conspire with a hostile power. A person capable of this instant joy and enthusiasm isn’t overcoming any internal ethical hurdles. It’s just a greedy boy grabbing sweets.

Once the scandal broke you would think Don Jr. would have some awareness that there were ethical stakes involved. You’d think there would be some sense of embarrassment at having been caught lying so blatantly.

But in his interview with Sean Hannity he appeared incapable of even entertaining any moral consideration. “That’s what we do in business,” the younger Trump said. “If there’s information out there, you want it.” As William Saletan pointed out in Slate, Don Jr. doesn’t seem to possess the internal qualities necessary to consider the possibility that he could have done anything wrong.

That to me is the central takeaway of this week’s revelations. It’s not that the Russia scandal may bring down the administration. It’s that over the past few generations the Trump family has built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.

The Trumps have an ethic of loyalty to one another. “They can’t stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other,” Eric Trump tweeted this week. But beyond that there is no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.

Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive. The House of Trump has sprayed an insecticide on any possible complementary code, and so they are continually trampling basic decency. Their scandals may not build to anything impeachable, but the scandals will never end.

6) Honestly, bashing Evangelical Christians for their love of Trump just never gets old for me.

7) Pretty cool story on how the mis-use of the Calibri font helped catch a forgery.  Also, I didn’t even realize that I use it all the time in various Office documents.

8) Catherine Rampell, “Everything is a distraction from something much, much worse.”

9) Jennifer Rubin on Trump and the GOP’s “moral rot.”  She might as well become a Democrat already:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America…

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.” [emphasis mine]

10) Love this from political scientist David Hopkins, “Want to Influence the Democratic Party? Try Joining the Democratic Party.”

11) Thanks to Mika for enlightening me about cloudberries (and telling me of his unpleasant childhood cloudberry picking trips).  I shall be sticking with blueberries.

12) Loved this story about how “South of the Border” on I-95 in SC keeps it going after all these years.

13) In a different administration, we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by wrongdoing that stuff like this simply flies under the radar, “State Department spent more than $15,000 for rooms at new Trump hotel in Vancouver.”

14) Big Steve went to town coming up with D&D stats for various Trump folks.  Big Steve is rusty on the D&D side, I wonder what my 5th-edition-conversant son would come up with.

15) Apparently “Baby Driver” is creating Ipod nostalgia.  I still love my 6th generation Ipod Nano (so compact and easy to use with a built in clip).  Still use it for all my workouts.  I have no interest in having a smartphone with me when I’m exercising.

16) So, I know Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” became a giant controversy.  As for me, I simply really enjoyed the movie.  Pretty much agree with this review.

17) Bloomberg thinks plug-in electric cars are going to start making dramatic inroads within the next 10-15 years:

The Bloomberg forecast is far more aggressive, projecting that plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles will make up 54 percent of new light-duty sales globally by 2040, outselling their combustion engine counterparts.

The reason? Batteries. Since 2010, the average cost of lithium-ion battery packs has plunged by two-thirds, to around $300 per kilowatt-hour. The Bloomberg report sees that falling to $73 by 2030, without any significant technological breakthroughs, as companies like Tesla increase battery production in massive factories, optimize the design of battery packs and improve chemistries.

18) Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley is bullish on renewable energy:

Research analysts at Morgan Stanley believe that renewable energy like solar and wind power are hurtling towards a level of ubiquity where not even politics can hinder them. Renewable energy is simply becoming the cheapest option, fast. Basic economics, the analysts say, suggest that the US will exceed its commitments in the Paris agreement regardless of whether or not president Donald Trump withdraws, as he’s stated he will.

“We project that by 2020, renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe,” with the exception of a few countries in Southeast Asia, the Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report published Thursday.

19) Really enjoyed this story about mass-producing GM mosquitoes to help fight mosquito-borne disease.  The key is separating the males from females (sterile males are released) and now robots and software can do that really well.

20) I was particularly interested in this article about dentists looking to prescribe less opioids after wisdom teeth extraction.  I remember the huge benefit I got from my opioids many years ago.  And just this past December, the Vicodin my son got seemed dramatically more effective for his pain relief than high dose ibuprofen (and I love ibuprofen).  Interestingly, though, the latest research suggests nsaid/acetaminophen combinations may actually be the most effective for pain after wisdom teeth extraction.  But the doctors don’t care.

 

Senate health care bill: bad for humans

Or, as Ezra Klein so wonderfully put it: “The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick.”  The sad truth is, that many conservative Republicans simply hate the protection for pre-existing conditions.  Seriously.  It’s like some sick, twisted worldview where healthy people are virtuous and only unvirtuous people get health problems before age 65.  Ezra explains how this plan would very likely destroy protections for pre-existing conditions even while superficially pretending it didn’t:

Included in the new bill is a version of Ted Cruz’s amendment allowing insurers to offer plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s insurance regulations so long as they also offer plans that do comply with Obamacare’s insurance regulations.

So imagine you’re an insurer. As long as you offer some Obamacare compliant plans, you can also offer plans that deny people coverage for preexisting conditions, that don’t cover mental health benefits or pregnancy.

What will happen here is clear: The plans that have to offer decent coverage to anyone who wants it, no matter their health care history, will become a magnet for the old and the sick or the soon-to-be-sick, as they can’t afford, or perhaps can’t even buy, the other plans. That will drive premiums in those plans up, pulling younger, healthier people into the non-compliant plans.

The Senate bill thinks it has a fix: a roughly $200 billion fund to offset the costs of sick enrollees. So, in short, what the GOP bill attempts to do is to rebrand high-risk pools as Obamacare plans and make them subsidized dumping grounds for the sick and the old, while everyone else buys insurance in a basically unregulated market.

This is a very bad idea for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or is likely to get sick. It attacks the core changes Obamacare made to build insurance markets that serve the sick, the well, and, crucially, everyone in between.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, insurers in the individual market worked to sign up healthier people and avoid sicker people. They did this in ways that were crude, like simply refusing to insure people with preexisting conditions, and ways that were subtler, like designing plans that made sense for the healthy but didn’t cover key services needed by the sick.

The Affordable Care Act ended all that. It standardized the benefits insurers had to offer, so they couldn’t design plans that didn’t work for the sick, and barred them from turning the sick away, or charging them more.

The BCRA reverts individual health insurance markets to their pre-Obamacare days. Under this legislation, an insurer who had some Obamacare-compliant plans could also craft plans that were, say, great for 30-year-olds with a low risk of cardiovascular disease, but terrible for 53-year-olds with high blood pressure and cholesterol, or that simply denied coverage to anyone over age 60 with a history of health problems.

The GOP’s answer to this problem is to try to quarantine sicker people off to the side in subsidized plans. But sickness is not a binary state. Yes, the sickest people, the ones who need health insurance most, will do whatever is necessary to get insurance, and the high-risk plans might work for them. But what about young women who insurers consider demographically likely to be pregnant in a few years? They’re not sick enough to be willing to pay the exorbitant premiums of the high-risk plans, but they’re also going to be up-charged by insurers scared of their future costs.

Or how about the 42-year-olds who aren’t sick now, but had health scares in the past? To insurers, they might be basically uninsurable outside a high-risk pool. But to the healthy-feeling 42-year-old, the cost of the high-risk pool may be exorbitant. And so they go uninsured, and then disaster hits. [emphasis mine\

Of course in Ted Cruz’s world, you probably did something to deserve that medical disaster.  It is truly amazing and stunning that people with such narrow and warped views of the world hold the keys to health care policy in our country.

It’s not all relative

Paul Waldman with an important reminder on the latest iteration of the Republican Senate health care bill:

Senate Republicans are releasing the latest version of their health-care plan today, and there’s a temptation to focus solely on what’s changed from the previous iteration. The changes are important, and we have to understand them. But what we shouldn’t do is allow a relative judgment (maybe it’s better in this way but worse in that way) to distract us from the big picture, because what’s still in the bill from before is even more important than what has changed.

The big picture is that this bill is an absolute nightmare that would cause a spectacular amount of human suffering — and yes, even deaths — if it were to pass. It would mean fewer people with coverage, more people having trouble affording coverage, less protection and less security.

Let’s go through the major provisions in the bill…

  • The bill would utterly eviscerate Medicaid, which is relied on by tens of millions of poor, elderly and disabled Americans. It would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and cut hundreds of billions of dollars from the program. It would also transform the program into a block grant, for the first time allowing states to kick enrollees off their coverage and cut back benefits.
  • The bill allows insurers to sell bare-bones plans that go by the name “insurance” but cover very little, as long as they also offer a plan that meets the “essential health benefits” requirement of the ACA. This in effect sets up two pools, one containing young and healthy people, and one containing people who are older or who have more serious health needs. The insurance industry, along with many analysts, predict that this could produce a death spiral of skyrocketing costs for those with preexisting conditions…

If your Republican senator votes for this plan, he or she is supporting gutting Medicaid, taking away health coverage from at least 20 million Americans and potentially the end of real protections for those with preexisting conditions, higher deductibles, less help for those with modest incomes, potentially the return of lifetime limits on coverage (outlawed by the ACA), which turn a health-care challenge into a financial calamity, and an attack on women’s health choices.

In short, this bill is an abomination. No one should be able to get away with saying, “Well, it’s a little better than it was before.” All that does is obscure how spectacularly cruel it is. [emphasis mine]

Of course, that’s what many “moderate” Republicans will surely say.  At this point, the really big question is just how many.

The ultimate health care lie by the numbers

If there’s one thing that’s annoying about health care (okay, there’s a lot of things) it is how the Republicans have been lying so brazenly it’s about how the ACA was passed in a secretive process.  You only had to be alive in 2009-10 to realize that’s not true in the least.  Yet, they keep pretending otherwise.  The NYT runs the numbers and compares to the Republican process, which, of course, has been extraordinarily secretive:

And, as long as we’re on the subject of lies, no, the ACA exchanges are not in a hopeless death spiral.  That’s a pretty big lie.  Paul Waldman:

They have to start by acknowledging that despite their cries that the ACA is in a death spiral, that it’s a disaster and that its implosion is imminent, things on the individual market in fact are not as bad as you might think. Here’s a report out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation on how the markets are doing so far this year:

Early results from 2017 suggest the individual market is stabilizing and insurers in this market are regaining profitability. Insurer financial results show no sign of a market collapse. First quarter premium and claims data from 2017 support the notion that 2017 premium increases were necessary as a one-time market correction to adjust for a sicker-than-expected risk pool. Although individual market enrollees appear on average to be sicker than the market pre-ACA, data on hospitalizations in this market suggest that the risk pool is stable on average and not getting progressively sicker as of early 2017. Some insurers have exited the market in recent years, but others have been successful and expanded their footprints, as would be expected in a competitive marketplace.

In other words, insurers are making profits in the individual market, which means that they’ll keep offering plans and won’t have to raise premiums as much as some have feared.

But what about all those places where there’s only one insurer, or even where the last insurer has pulled out? Funny thing about that: It turns out, as Brian Dew and Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research found when they examined the data, that it’s almost entirely a phenomenon of Republican states. In states controlled by Democrats — which accepted the expansion of Medicaid and worked to make their exchanges function properly — the individual market is quite healthy. It’s only in those places where the state governments have been trying to sabotage the ACA from the beginning that they have screwed over their own constituents and left them with few insurance options.

Waldman follows with a plea for Republicans to actually do the right thing and work with Democrats to fix the marketplaces in the ways they need fixing and, you know, help people.  Not holding my breath for that.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Greg Sargent on the hidden health care consensus:

Yet in a strange twist, the GOP debate over repeal has actually revealed that there is a surprising amount of hidden consensus on health care.

In a nutshell, what the debate has really shown is that the passage and implementation of the ACA has given rise to a latent majority in Congress — or at least one in the Senate — that has more or less made peace with the ACA’s spending and regulatory architecture and its fundamental ideological goals, either for political or principled reasons, or for some combination of the two. The debate has forced this basic reality out into the open. And this, I think, is one key reason it is proving so hard for the GOP to repeal it.

2) Is Connecticut an example of failed liberal policies?  Or something else?

3) Of all the dumbness from our NC Republicans, it seems like they are against renewable energy— in this case wind– just on principle.  Ugh.

4) Kris Kobach is clearly evil and clearly intelligent (and far more personable than Ted Cruz).  That’s a nasty and scary combination.

5) One Ohio sheriff would just prefer addicts die from overdose rather than get Narcan to save their lives.

6) Pretty fascinating story about a convicted murderer (still in prison) and his new novel.

7) Really interesting look at how society thinks about the roles of men and women (adding this to the next Gender & Politics syllabus):

Women may not be moving as fast into male-dominated worlds as feminists would like, but they have moved much faster than men have into female-dominated ones. To understand better this asymmetry, we need to look more closely at the relative value we place on masculinity and femininity.

Most people assume that gender is simply a scheme for classifying differences or a template for guiding the behaviour of children. The reality is more pernicious. We typically prize the attributes we associate with men, such as competence, strength, virility and stoicism, and underestimate the qualities we associate with women, like warmth, tenderness and compassion. We usually see masculinity in terms of power and dominance and femininity in terms of softness and subservience. We defer to men and indulge women. In other words, gender is not merely a bunch of traits embodied by individuals, but a subtle stratification system that often advantages men and disadvantages women. [emphasis mine]

All of this means there are far more incentives for women to act masculine than there are for men to act feminine. Women who behave like their male colleagues may be disliked for being “pushy” or “bitchy”, but these penalties are offset by the fact that they are also likely to enjoy more power and greater financial rewards. When men adopt the jobs and behaviours associated with women, however, they typically experience a loss of status with fewer perks and more social sanctions, especially from other men. “It’s seen as an unknowable crisis if men want to step down,” explains Barbara Risman, head of the department of sociology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “It’s not just being more like women, it’s seen as being less than men. Because women are seen as less than men.”

8) Which I had seen this before my recent post.  Robert Frank with a nice explanation of why Single Payer saves money.

9) Personally, I’m happy to call myself “liberal.”  I didn’t realize it was now also a bad word among those on the far left:

Over the last few years, though — and especially 2016 — there has been a surge of the opposite phenomenon: Now the political left is expressing its hatred of liberals, too. For the committed leftist, the ‘‘liberal’’ is a weak-minded, market-friendly centrist, wonky and technocratic and condescending to the working class. The liberal is pious about diversity but ready to abandon any belief at the slightest drop in poll numbers — a person who is, as the folk singer Phil Ochs once said, ‘‘10 degrees to the left of center in good times, 10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.’’ The anonymous Twitter account ‘‘liberalism.txt’’ is a relentless stream of images and retweets that supposedly illustrate this liberal vacuousness: say, the chief executive of Patagonia’s being hailed as a leader of ‘‘corporate resistance to Trump,’’ or Chelsea Clinton’s accusing Steve Bannon of ‘‘fat shaming’’ Sean Spicer.

10) How do you know when your knee doctor is either 1) a glorified con-man, or 2) essentially incompetent?  Whey they recommend arthroscopic surgery for regular wear-and-tear on the knee:

Serious questions are now being raised about the benefits of the arthroscopic procedures that millions of people endure in hopes of delaying, if not avoiding, total knee replacements.

The latest challenge, published in May in BMJ by an expert panel that systematically reviewed 12 well-designed trials and 13 observational studies, concluded that arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee arthritis and meniscal tears resulted in no lasting pain relief or improved function.

Three months after the procedure, fewer than 15 percent of patients experienced at best “a small or very small improvement in pain and function,” effects that disappeared completely within a year.

As with all invasive procedures, the surgery is not without risks, infection being the most common, though not the only, complication…“Arthroscopic surgery has a role, but not for arthritis and meniscal tears,” Dr. Reed A.C. Siemieniuk, a methodologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and chairman of the panel, said in an interview. “It became popular before there were studies to show that it works, and we now have high-quality evidence showing that it doesn’t work.”

11) Trump supporters just don’t care that he’s lying.

12) The problem with self-driving cars is not just the cars, but really the technology-human interface.  Trying to decide how much– if any at all– controls humans should have is key.  Nice story in Vox.  Also reminded me of this terrific 99% Invisible episode from last year on how automation can make humans less safe.

13) Excellent summary of the placebo effect from Vox’s Brian Resnick:

A 2010 systematic review looked at 202 drug trials where a placebo group was compared to patients who received neither placebo nor active drug. And it found that placebos seem to move the needle on pain, nausea, asthma, and phobias, with more inconsistent results for outcomes like smoking, dementia, depression*, obesity, hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety. (*Separate literature review on depression meds does find an effect of placebo compared with no treatment.)

“It seems like placebo taps into a family of psychological and brain processes that’s very much something we evolved for,” says Tor Wager, a University of Colorado Boulder neuroscientist who has co-authored many of the key papers on the neuroscience of placebo. “Take pain as an example. If you step on something sharp, there’s pain in your foot. Now, how should you respond to it? Well, if you are running from an attack, you don’t even want to feel that. You keep going.”

Another way to think about it: Placebos tweak our experience of symptoms, not their underlying causes.

14) New book explores why today’s high-powered white-collar criminals seem to so easily get away with their crimes.

15) Had a blast setting off fireworks this past week, as always.  You will not be surprised to learn I did a ton of this– and far less safely– as a teenager.  The headline for this Vox chart is, “The people going to the hospital for fireworks injuries are exactly who you think.”

 

16) I did very much enjoy watching Okja on Netflix last week (though, I would not go so far as to call it “fantastic” as this review does).

17) More Chait on Republicans and health care:

Conservatives cannot point to any real-world examples of a country or even a state that has successfully implemented the sort of health-care system they desire. (Some of them mistakenly cite Singapore, whose health-care system relies on massive state intervention American conservatives could never accept.) That’s because there’s no electorate in any industrialized country that would tolerate it.

Is that because a conservative health-care plan with catastrophic coverage and high deductibles is technically impossible to design? No, it’s because such a plan is politically impossible to sustain. People don’t want insurance coverage that only protects them against rare disasters. They want to be able to go to the doctor and get treated. In the English vernacular, comprehensive coverage is called “good insurance” and high-deductible insurance is called “bad insurance.”

18) And Ezra, “The Republican health bill is stuck in a valley of incoherence” and that’s putting it generously:

Political parties tend to agree on the goals of their major legislative efforts even if they disagree on means. The GOP’s various tax reform efforts begin from the premise that taxes should be lower. The Democratic Party’s health care push began with the premise that there should be fewer uninsured people. The fight over how best to achieve those goals was fierce, but everyone was clear about what they were trying to achieve, and so it was clear how to evaluate different policies.

That’s not the case here. The GOP’s health care effort began with the premise that Obamacare is bad and must be repealed and replaced. But repeal and replace is a means to an end, not an end itself. The end, in theory, is the post-replacement health care system — a system that aligns with the GOP’s vision of how health care should work. But that vision is absent. When we asked eight Republican senators to tell us what the health bill was meant to achieve, we got eight different answers, and most of them were incoherent…

Now, however, a Republican Party that only knows what it is against has to decide what it’s for — and it’s failing. The result is a chaotic legislative process wherein no one knows how to evaluate the proposed policies except on the crudest tactical dimension. Bills are unveiled and amendments offered wherein the only evident goal is getting something passed. At times, Republicans have been shockingly honest about this. Asked what problems the bill was meant to solve, Sen. John McCain replied, “They’re trying to get to 51 votes.” …

McConnell is trying to find a compromise between the wing of his party that wants to cover the poor and the wing of his party that doesn’t; between Republicans who think a 22 million increase in the number of uninsured Americans is a moral blight and those who think it’s a win for freedom. There is no sensible policy that splits the difference between perfectly opposed goals. And so the Kentucky Republican, in his purely tactical way, has found a compromise: a bill that could cover the poor, but won’t.

This is what happens when you make policy from deep inside a valley of incoherence. You mistake means for ends, you find yourself crafting policies with no clear sense of what they’re meant to achieve, you mistake something that might pass for something that will work. Aside from being able to say they repealed and replaced Obamacare, Republicans don’t know what they want their bill to achieve, and so at this point, it doesn’t achieve anything, save cutting taxes. [emphasis mine]

 

19) The horror that is Jeff Sessions as Attorney General pretty much knows no limits.  Anybody who pays the slightest attention knows that much “forensic science” is deeply, deeply flawed and not actually science at all.  That’s a huge Sessions problem if one is concerned about minor things like, you know, fairness, accuracy, and justice in our criminal justice system.  Alas, it’s not really clear at all that cares about any of these things.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Obviously I don’t know much about China and North Korea.  But I do know that if Evan Osnos thinks something is our least bad option, there’s a good chance it actually is:

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg this week, the world’s attention will focus largely on Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin. But Trump’s meeting with Xi will have more immediate relevance in dealing with the Korea crisis. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Thursday, Jake Sullivan and Victor Cha, foreign-policy advisers in the Obama and Bush Administrations, respectively, proposed a new approach to getting China invested in freezing the North Korean missile tests. Instead of threatening North Korea with cutting off trade, they propose, in effect, paying it to cut off missile tests. “The basic trade would be Chinese disbursements to Pyongyang, as well as security assurances, in return for constraints on North Korea’s program. . . . If North Korea cheated, China would not be receiving what it paid for. The logical thing would be for it to withhold economic benefits until compliance resumed.” The Times outlined a similar idea in an editorial of its own this week.

This approach is no silver bullet, but, in the “land of lousy options,” as diplomats call the North Korea problem, it is as good as any, in part because it does not rest on a false understanding of the other party. The relationship between Xi and Trump–leaders of the world’s two largest economies, a rising power and an addled power, straining to coexist—may well prove to be the most consequential diplomatic liaison of its time.

2) Emily Yoffe on Trump’s TV addiction.

3) Linda Greenhouse in Gorsuch:

Whether out of ignorance or by deliberate choice, Neil Gorsuch is a norm breaker. He’s the new kid in class with his hand always up, the boy on the playground who snatches the ball out of turn. He is in his colleagues’ faces pointing out the error of their ways, his snarky tone oozing disrespect toward those who might, just might, know what they are talking about. It’s hard to ascribe this behavior to ignorance — he was, after all, like three of his colleagues, once a Supreme Court law clerk. But if it’s not ignorance, what is it? How could the folksy “Mr. Smith Goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee” morph so quickly into Donald Trump’s life-tenured judicial avatar? …

And while liberals have every reason to gnash their teeth over the justice who holds the seat that should have been Merrick Garland’s, they can perhaps take some comfort in the unexpected daylight that has opened between him and two of the court’s other conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy. My concern when Justice Gorsuch joined the court was how like Chief Justice Roberts he seemed in demeanor and professional trajectory. I could see him as a natural ally who would bolster the chief justice’s most conservative instincts. It now seems just as likely that Neil Gorsuch’s main effect on John Roberts will be to get on his nerves.

4) I had not heard of the Charlie Gard case till I read about it in Vox.  I don’t think it all unreasonable that a health system without unlimited resources (British NHS) does not want to spend millions of dollars on an unproven treatment for a single child.

5) Amusingly enough, Americans pretend to order their steak less cooked than data suggests they actually do.  I make no apologies for being a medium-well person.  Not big on blood in my food.  Here’s a chart based on orders at Longhorn Steakhouse:

how americans order steak

6) Surprise, surprise, immigrant farm workers are not actually taking the jobs of Americans:

Before they can hire workers through the program, farmers must first try to recruit locally. But many say they don’t have much luck.

“We just don’t have the local labor here to work the farms,” Wooten said. “We wouldn’t be able to run without immigrant labor. It’s that simple, and it’s a lot more than just agriculture.”

A 2013 study by the Center for Global Development analyzed more than a decade’s worth of data from North Carolina farms and found that “no matter how bad the economy becomes, native workers do not take farm jobs.”

7) In other unsurprising news, internet trolls tend to test high in psychopathy.

8) Headline I was not expecting to see, “FBI investigated complaints that Bobby Knight groped women at U.S. spy agency.”

9) Good news for the con artists who pose as “scientific” experts based on fraudulent “forensic science.”  They are protected from lawsuits even in cases of gross negligence.

10) This very computer I’m typing on used to use Kasperky anti-virus until NC State decided to go with another vendor.  Apparently, national security types are so hot on the idea of a Russian company providing key cyber-security.

11) I watched a ton of TV as a kid and safe to say I turned out fine.  My kids have lots of screen time and I’m pretty sure they’ll (well, most of ’em) will turn out fine, too.  Loved this NYT essay:

But the ability of parents to limit screen time, like the ability to limit unwholesome food, has become more than a matter of health. It has become a statement of class, order, purity and parental authority.

We are told that tech billionaires, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, limited screen time strictly for their own children. The internet is awash with articles linking screen time to depression, A.D.H.D., even psychosis…

Perhaps my writing this is just an attempt to wash away guilt, but I have even made peace with our love of poor-quality screen time, so long as we are still doing the other things that make up a good life. There are too many problems in the world worth worrying about for bourgeois parents like me to waste energy and resources perfecting and regimenting our little worlds.

And what is this teaching my children? I hope it is teaching them that it is O.K. to waste some of the 24 hours in a day. I hope it is teaching them that there is value in making space in your life for laziness and pleasure, for the purposeless passing of time.

12) Enjoyed Dana Goldstein’s article on the growing trend of campus common reading.  I’ve  been a discussion leader for NC State’s program for at least 8 years or so now.  NC State even got the shout-out for this year’s Between the World and Me, which I’ll be starting soon.

13) Hollywood sure does have a bad movie problem.  Maybe there’s hope that Chinese viewers will stop paying for any American crap with a bunch of explosions and this can get better.

14) This John Roberts graduation speech is so good.  It’s honestly hard to believe that the person who could say these words takes some of the SC positions that he does.

15) I’d noticed some Axios links in my various feeds, but didn’t realize it was basically dumbed-down Politico.  Don’t expect a lot of Axios links here.

16) Ezra’s excellent July 4th essay:

We are diminished when our president lies, and even more so when we begin taking his habitual lying for granted. The New York Times published a comprehensive list of falsehoods Trump told since taking office and found it wasn’t until March that Trump went a full day without saying something flatly untrue. The absence of public dishonesty, for Trump, is usually driven by an absence of opportunity to be publicly dishonest. “On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing,” the Times found…

We are diminished when our president spends his time and energy — and thus the nation’s time and energy — on the wrong issues. At Axios, Mike Allen notes Trump has tweeted the words “opioid” or “opioids” just once — but “loser” 234 times, and “dumb” or “dummy” 222 times. Political capital is finite, and our future is harmed when it is squandered.

We are diminished when the president knows nothing about the issues he faces, and does not try to learn more. It is embarrassing that the president’s staffers have taken to writing his name as often as possible in briefing documents for fear that he will lose interest otherwise, that they fill his press clips with sycophantic praise in an effort to distract him from Twitter, that they fight to appear on Fox & Friends because they know he takes advice from the television better than from his own advisers. We have a president who was not humble enough to realize health care and North Korea are complex problems, and who has not responded to that realization by seriously studying the issues.

17) The science of why bird eggs have different shapes.

18) Among the crazy and horrible things the U.S. does, sending kids adopted from foreign countries as young children back to their “home” country via adult deportation is pretty up there in the wrongness.

19) Texas seems to think that the court system should be fair and merciful for police officers.  Others, not so much.

20) A friend shared something on Facebook about glysophate being responsible for the rise in Celiac and gluten problems.  And it’s based on a study in Interdisciplinary Toxicology.  Well, that sounds good.  Not so much.  Turns out it’s a Slovakian pay to publish journal.  And worst, part, there is not actually Roundup-resistant GMO wheat, upon which the whole idea is predicated.

21) Chait’s been really excellent on Republicans and health care lately:

And today McConnell himself made the same point again. Only this time, he didn’t phrase it quite like a threat. “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement,” heannounced, “then some kind of action with regard to private-health-insurance markets must occur.”

This is, of course, a comical admission that the entire premise of the Republican onslaught has always been a lie. Republicans have insisted for seven years the law was totally beyond repair, and that the entire thing must be repealed, including its Medicaid expansion. The truth is that the marketplaces have largely stabilized, and they face long-standing challenges providing competition in rural areas, but nothing like the death spiral Republicans have claimed. Even Trump’s own health-care experts have admitted the Obamacare exchanges are healthy. [emphasis mine]

If Republicans want to give up their long-standing boycott of any tinkering with the bill and instead pass some simple patches, they might anger some conservatives, but they will also steer clear of inflicting humanitarian disaster on their own constituents, who might not appreciate it.

22) Very nice piece in Upshot about how Republicans are all for local government.  Except when local government is controlled by liberals who want to pass, you know, liberal policies.

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