Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the delay.  Enjoy.

1) Fear of data to drive the conservative agenda:

Yet the Trump administration is running in the other direction. Any data that has even the faintest whiff of potential contradiction goes right out the window. Of course, these folks aren’t the first people in power to succumb to a fear of data. They do, however, seem to have found a profound expertise in the practice of eliminating it. Dataphobia chills them to the bone, I suspect because they hope to undermine not only some truths but all truth. David Roberts at Vox has written about what he calls an epistemic crisis in America, the idea that certain rulers and rich people hope to take away the basic idea of knowledge. If nobody can know anything, why bother to try to regulate anything? It’s government-by-ignorance—a shrugocracy.

Assaults on data have come before. “It’s the same reason an oil company doesn’t want research on climate change or a tobacco company doesn’t want research on the relationship between tobacco and cancer,” Vernick says. “Maybe they argue those researchers have an agenda and that’ll allow them to cook the books, but that’s an absurd argument. The worst thing you can do is cook the books. That is the way to guarantee the science is not used as part of policymaking.”

Throw in the way the automotive industry resisted safety regulations and the sugar industry in the 1960s shifted blame for health problems onto fats instead of sweets, ensorcelling nutrition research for half a century, and you have a pretty good accounting of the ways business interests have twisted, biased, and otherwise hammered science into behaving like a corporate drone instead of a defender of truth.

2) A serious effort to map the human microbiome.  This is a really, really good idea.

3) No need for the Percocet or other opioids for acute pain, stick with an Advil/Tylenol combo.

4) 8000 year old carved images of dogs— cool!

5) Damn.  This Bloomberg article about the coming retail apocalypse is scary

6) In theory, CRISPR with gene drive to stop invasive species is a pretty cool idea.  In practice, still far too risky.

7) Really nice interview with Emily Yoffe about her sexual assault on campus series.

8) Yglesias argues that Bill Clinton should have resigned.

To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.

What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.

But by and large, they didn’t. So Clinton countered with the now-famous defense: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Ultimately, most Americans embraced the larger argument that perjury in a civil lawsuit unrelated to the president’s official duties did not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.

But looking back through today’s lens, this whole argument was miscast. The wrongdoing at issue was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile exemplar of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of workplace power for sexual gain. It was and is a striking example of a genre of misconduct that society has a strong interest in stamping out. That alone should have been enough to have pressured Clinton out of office.

9) And Chait so, no he shouldn’t have.  Or, somewhat differently, he should not have been impeached:

If the two parties agreed that Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky was very, very bad, what was the dispute about, anyway? It centered on the legal process. Special Counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed in 1994 to investigate Whitewater, a land deal that predated the Clinton presidency. Having failed to produce any evidence of criminality, Starr expanded his investigation and set a trap in which he could ask Clinton under oath if he had conducted an extramarital affair. When Clinton denied it, as adulterers tend to do, Starr nailed him for perjury.

At that point, Republicans concluded that it was not only proper but utterly essential to impeach and remove Clinton from office. It is impossible to capture the fervency with which the conservative movement made the case that the rule of law itself hung in the balance, and that allowing Clinton to remain in office after he had concealed his affair from Starr would render the Republic a lawless autarchy….

I wish we liberals had done more to take seriously the episodes of alleged rape and sexual assault that were not the basis for a national impeachment trauma. For better or worse, though, those episodes were not at issue. It’s hard to change the subject when Congress is conducting proceedings to impeach and remove the president. At issue was the procedural extremism of a Republican Party that was transforming before our eyes into the uncompromising fanatic faction whose character is fully manifest in the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore. I don’t think we got that wrong at all.

10) Nice Vox essay from Zephyr Teachout on how the Supreme Court has made a real mess of political bribery.

11) Peter Beinart on the subtle, pro-rich-educated-white-guy affirmative action he benefited from at TNR.

12) Why we are not doing a good job teaching writing anymore.  Short version– we don’t test it.  Longer version– teaching writing actually helps with the reading comprehension we do test.  That said, whatever they are doing in the Wake County writing curriculum for 6th grade is amazing– has made a huge difference with my son.

13) Did you think you are free from high blood pressure?  Not so fast.  Under new guidelines, many more Americans should be treated for high blood pressure.  So far I’m good– been doing around 117/75 or so lately.

The nation’s leading heart experts on Monday issued new guidelines for high blood pressure that mean tens of millions more Americans will meet the criteria for the condition, and will need to change their lifestyles or take medicines to treat it.

Under the guidelines, formulated by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, the number of men under age 45 with a diagnosis of high blood pressure will triple, and the prevalence among women under age 45 will double.

“Those numbers are scary,” said Dr. Robert M. Carey, professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and co-chair of the committee that wrote the new guidelines.

The number of adults with high blood pressure, or hypertension, will rise to 103 million from 72 million under the previous standard. But the number of people who are new candidates for drug treatment will rise only by an estimated 4.2 million people, he said. To reach the goals others may have to take more drugs or increase the dosages.

Few risk factors are as important to health. High blood pressure is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of heart attacks and strokes, and heart disease remains the leading killer of Americans…

According to the new guidelines, anyone with at least a 10 percent risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next decade should aim for blood pressure below 130/80.

14) Rebecca Traister on our post-Weinstein reckoning.

15) And a good question from Ruth Marcus,”If Republicans believe Roy Moore’s accusers, why not Trump’s?”

16) And credit to Mitch McConnell where it’s actually do.  Good for him for saying he believes the women.

 

17) Children learn to undervalue women from their parents– even their progressive parents:

Study after study shows that, among heterosexual parents, fathers — even the youngest and most theoretically progressive among them — do not partake generously of the workload at home. Employed women partnered with employed men carry 65 percent of the family’s child-care responsibilities, a figure that has held steady since the turn of the century. Women with babies enjoy half as much leisure time on weekends as their husbands. Working mothers with preschool-age children are 2 1/2 times as likely to performmiddle-of-the-night care as their husbands. And in hours not so easily tallied, mothers remain almost solely in charge of the endless managerial care that comes with raising children: securing babysitters, filling out school forms, sorting through hand-me-downs…

Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which the mother works full time and the father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’…

Ideals are no substitute for behavior. What are kids to make of their father sitting on his phone reading Facebook while their mother scrambles to prepare them for the day? It’s not hard to predict which parent’s personhood those offspring will conclude is more valuable. Children are gender detectives, distinguishing between the sexes from as early as 18 months and using that information to guide their behavior, for example by choosing strongly stereotyped toys. And family research shows that men’s attitudes about marital roles, not women’s, are ultimately internalized by both their daughters and their sons. This finding is a testament to kids’ ability to identify implicit power, to parse whose beliefs are more important and therefore worth adopting as their own.

18) Masha Gessen on Russian interference in 2016 “A Cacophony, Not a Conspiracy.”

19) Aarron Carroll on not giving into all the food scares.  Looking forward to reading his new book.

Too often, we fail to think critically about scientific evidence. Genetically modified organisms are perhaps the best example of this.

G.M.O.s are, in theory, one of our best bets for feeding the planet’s growing population. When a 2015 Pew poll asked Americans whether they thought it was generally safe or unsafe to eat modified foods, almost 60 percent said it was unsafe. The same poll asked scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science the same question. Only 11 percent of them thought G.M.O.s were unsafe.

Most Americans, at least according to this poll, don’t seem to care what scientists think. In fact, Americans disagree with scientists on this issue more than just about any other, including a host of contentious topics such as vaccines, evolution and even global warming.

If people want to avoid foods, even if there’s no reason to, is that really a problem?

The answer is: yes. Because it makes food scary. And being afraid of food with no real reason is unscientific — part of the dangerous trend of anti-intellectualism that we confront in many places today.

Food should be a cause for pleasure, not panic. For most people, it’s entirely possible to eat more healthfully without living in terror or struggling to avoid certain foods altogether. If there’s one thing you should cut from your diet, it’s fear.

20) Ezra on the “rigging” of the Democratic primaries.

21) Drum on the absurdity of the uranium “scandal.”

Everyone knows this is all that happened, and everyone knows that Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong when the State Department joined eight other agencies in approving the deal. But this is no longer about Clinton anyway. The whole thing is a last-ditch attempt to smear special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI when the Uranium One deal went through and is now causing Republicans a lot of heartburn over his investigation of Trump-Russia ties.² Blow enough smoke over this, and maybe he’ll be forced to resign—and a new, less aggressive special prosecutor can be appointed. It’s all pretty transparent, and every reporter writing about this knows exactly what’s going on.

22) News photographer denied access gets revenge on Trump with this photo:

 

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Quick Hits (part II)

1) It’s been 60 years since the Russian dog, Laika, went into space.

2) Trendiest parenting fears of 2017.

3) This interview on “why we pretend to know things” is really, really good.

Sean Illing
I’m trying to think about all of this in terms of our political circumstances. Most of us don’t understand as much as we think, and yet we’re all cocksure about a range of issues. So when we are arguing about politics, what are we really arguing about? Is it about getting it right or is it about preserving our sense of rightness?

Steven Sloman
I’m not sure there’s a sharp distinction between wanting to get it right and wanting to preserve our sense of rightness. In the political domain, like most domains in which we don’t just hear or see what’s true, we rely on social consensus. So argument is about trying to convince others while we’re trying to convince ourselves. Getting it right essentially means we’re convinced.

Of course, we’re biased to preserve our sense of rightness, but we have to be. If we weren’t, we’d be starting again each time we approached an issue; our previous arguments would be for naught.

Nevertheless, people differ on this. Everyone has a compulsion to be right, meaning that they want the people around them to think they’re right, and this is easily achieved by mouthing the things that the people around you say. And people who are more capable tend to be better at finding ways to interpret new facts in line with their community’s preconceptions.

But some people do try to rise above the crowd: to verify claims independently, to give fair hearing to others’ claims, and to follow the data where it actually leads. In fact, many people are trained to do that: scientists, judges, forensic investigators, physicians, etc. That doesn’t mean they always do (and they don’t always), just that they’re supposed to try. [I’m going to assume he means social scientists in that, too]

I like to live in communities that put a premium on getting things right even when they fly in the face of social norms. This means living with constant tension, but it’s worth it.

4) Wonkette with my favorite take on the Donna Brazile “rigged” election silliness.  On the bright side, when liberals whine about the “rigged” election, that’s a great shortcut to know I need not take them intellectually seriously.

5) HB2 continues to haunt NC.

6) When mean videos make it past the YouTube filters for kids.

7) How Fox News covered the Manafort indictment.  Surprise– not well.

8) So, we know vaccines don’t cause autism, but we still don’t really know what does other than “it’s complicated.”  Oh, yeah, and Fragile X and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

9) Britain’s National Health Service trying to incentive losing weight and quitting smoking before access to routine surgery.

10) The college kids taking on the twitter bots.

11) An Iowa teenager scapegoated for the problems with the ACA marketplace and what really caused the problems.

12) Nice profile of John Kasich.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Meant to do a post on this last week.  Anyway there are myriad examples of Donald Trump’s sad, little mind.  But few are better than his interview with Lou Dobbs.  Yglesias breaks down just how pathetic it is.

2) Speaking of sad minds… there’s a pesticide that experts believe likely (admittedly, the science is only suggestive not confirmed) damages children’s brains.  But why take chances with children’s brains?  So corporations can make more money, damnit!  The power to damage brains through presidential control of the bureaucracy.

3) Really liked Sarah Kliff’s piece on Bernie and Candanian health care:

Earlier this year, New Yorker write Atul Gawande went to the Appalachian area of Ohio, where he grew up, to ask people this question.

One of the things he ran into again and again was an opposition to health care as a right for people who don’t seem to deserve it. One woman he interviewed, a librarian named Monna, told him, “If you’re disabled, if you’re mentally ill, fine, I get it. But I know so many folks on Medicaid that just don’t work. They’re lazy.”

Another man, Joe, put it this way: “I see people on the same road I live on who have never worked a lick in their life. They’re living on disability incomes, and they’re healthier than I am.”

As Gawande notes in his piece, “A right makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.” But he often found this to be the key dividing line when he asked people whether everyone should have health coverage. Often, it came down to whether that person was perceived to be the type who merited such help.

In his speech at the University of Toronto, Sanders argued that a universal health care system would only come as the result of political revolution…

On his Canada trip, Sanders seemed to recognize that core to a system like Canada’s is a belief, by the people, that all other people ought to have equitable access to health insurance. Sanders is bullish that this belief exists to a wide extent in the United States too.

“Frankly, in the United States, I think most people do believe it is a right and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or if you’re poor,” Sanders says.

But polling and reporting suggest otherwise. They show that belief doesn’t seem to exist in the United States right now. The question is whether Sanders can change that, whether he can persuade Americans to see health care the way he does — and the way Canadians do too.

4) Nice compilation on DJT’s absurd Halloween tweet.

5) It’s kind of hard to stop obsessing about tax cuts when that’s all Republicans talk about.  But EJ Dionne has a damn good point:

It is a victory for Republicans that the political conversation — when it’s not being hijacked by President Trump’s assorted outbursts and outrages — is focused on tax cuts. No matter how critical the coverage gets, the sheer amount of attention risks sending a message that taxes are the most important issue confronting the country.

This is entirely wrong, and it’s essential to challenge the whole premise of the debate. The United States does not need tax cuts now. Reducing government revenue at this moment will do far more harm than good. Conservatives are proving definitively that they don’t care in the least about deficits. And their claims that tax cuts will unleash some sort of economic miracle have been proved false again and again and again.

But there is an even bigger objection: The opportunity costs of this obsession are enormous because it keeps us from grappling with the problems we really do need to solve.

6) Some of the truly preposterously bad people Trump is trying to place in our government.

7) New theory on why humans eventually replaced Neanderthals in Europe.

8) Anatomy or Russian facebook ads.  Yes, Russia acted with malice.  But it could not have worked without millions of Americans stupid enough (and largely primed by right-wing media) to believe this crap.

9) Enjoyed this NYT feature on NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Never even heard of the guy till last week.  Not only is he putting up amazing numbers, he has an amazing story.

10) Megan McArdle on Republicans using the tax code as a weapon.

11) And what they are proposing on Higher Ed and taxes is just stupid and counter-productive.

12) NYT with a nice winners/losers summary on tax proposals.  Short version– corporations and rich people win big.  Surprise surprise.

13) When your body is severely taxed and it’s got to choose between the brain and the body, it chooses the brain.

14) So that pumpkin pie filling in cans.  Not really so much real pumpkin.  But the whole “pumpkin” thing is actually complicated.

15) While watching the Redskins struggle mightily with a lineup decimated by injuries, it got me thinking that over the small sample of 16 regular season NFL games, the luck of the draw surely plays a hugely disproportionate role.  It does.  This was the best article I could find on it.

16) Sticking with sports, the case of NC State basketball player, Braxton Beverly, shows how stupid, stupid, stupid, the NCAA can be.  Beverly transferred to NC State after starting a summer class at Ohio State, but then OSU fired their coach.  Beverly never even practiced basketball with OSU, but the NCAA thinks he needs to sit out a year for trying to get a head start on his college coursework.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: The NCAA has a waiver process for a reason, and it should always be used with common sense and decency. I’m not sure how anybody could disagree with that sentence. And yet there’s nothing decent or sensible about the way the NCAA handled the cases of Jalen Hayes and Evan Batteylast week. And now the NCAA has doubled-down on stupidity and punished Braxton Beverly for reasons that even Duke fans find appalling.

Which is perfect, isn’t it?

The NCAA’s handling of this case is so indefensible it has Duke fans taking up for an NC State player. Thus, the people who reached this conclusion should be embarrassed and ashamed. Braxton Beverly deserved better. And if the folks who handled his waiver are too dumb to realize that — and too tone-deaf to avoid yet another public relations hit — then perhaps they should be replaced by decent humans who actually put student-athletes first the way the NCAA has forever pretended to do but so rarely actually does.

17) Nice summary of what my Chinese Politics scholar friend was telling me:

Perhaps most ominously, Xi envisions his updated police state as a model for the rest of the world. Twenty-five years ago, the liberal democratic system of the West was supposed to represent the “end of history,” the definitive paradigm for human governance. Now, Xi imagines, it will be the regime he is in the process of creating. “It offers a new option for other countries and nations,” he said during a three-hour, 25-minute speech that was its own statement of grandiosity. “It offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.” …

It would nevertheless be dangerous not to take China’s strongman seriously. He is imagining a world where human freedom would be drastically curtailed and global order dominated by a clique of dictators. When a former chief political adviser to the U.S. president applauds that “adult” vision, it’s not hard to imagine how it might prevail.

18) Jelani Cobb on John Kelly and the Civil War.

19) Adam Serwer with a great take on the pernicious persistence of false beliefs about the reality of the Civil War.

That the nation’s rebirth, in which the promises of its founding creed first began to be met in earnest, is regarded as sorrowful is a testament to the strength of the alternative history of the Lost Cause, in which the North was the aggressor and the South was motivated by the pursuit of freedom and not slavery. The persistence of this myth is in part a desire to avoid the unfathomable reality that half the country dedicated itself to the monstrous cause of human bondage. The freedom that the South fought for was the freedom to own black people as property. The states’ rights for which the South battled were the right to own slaves and the right to expand slavery.

20) Will Saletan on John Kelly’s dishonesty.  Indeed.

In the days ahead, you’ll hear a lot about Kelly’s character. On the left, you’ll hear that he’s a racist. On the right, you’ll hear that he’s a patriot. Some of these arguments hinge on interpretation or speculation about his motives. But this dispute doesn’t. Either Kelly told the truth about Wilson, or he didn’t. The evidence says he didn’t. Instead of admitting error, he’s repeating his smears and trying to make his story impossible to check. If anyone else behaved this way, you’d call that person a liar and a coward. That, four stars or not, is what John Kelly is.

21) And while we’re at it… I was reviewing the assigned reading for Women in the Military next week and noticed that John Kelly features prominently in this as the chief opponent of women having combat roles.  (And here’s something you can probably actually access).

22) The Politico feature on John Boehner that everyone was talking about earlier this week.  Good stuff.

 

And, no, you can’t just exercise all that candy away

Also, really enjoyed this Vox feature on the limits of exercise in losing weight.  Exercise is awesome and definitely helps keep you healthy, but although calories in/calories out really does matter, the calories in is ultimately the far more important (and controllable) portion of the equation.  Here’s the infographic summary:

Well worth reading the whole thing.  Among the most interesting parts is the research on the “calories out:

Based on the research, Pontzer has proposed a new model that upends the the old “calories in, calories out” approach to exercise, where the body burns more calories with more physical activity in a linear relationship (also known as the “additive” model of energy expenditure).

He calls this the “constrained model” of energy expenditure, which shows that the effect of more physical activity on the human body is not linear. In light of our evolutionary history — when food sources were less reliable — he argues that the body sets a limit on how much energy it is willing to expend, regardless of how active we are.

“The overarching idea,” Pontzer explained, “is that the body is trying to defend a particular energy expenditure level no matter how active you get.”

Meanwhile, since this is Vox, the policy angle:

9) The government and the food industry are doling out unscientific advice

Since 1980, the obesity prevalence has doubled worldwide with about 13 percent of the global population now registering as obese, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, nearly 70 percent of the population is either overweight or obese.

A lack of exercise and too many calories have been depicted as equal causes of the crisis. But as researchers put it in an article in BMJ, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.”

Since at least the 1950s, Americans have been told that we can. This Public Health Reports paper outlines the dozens of government departments and organizations — from the American Heart Association to the US Department of Agriculture — whose campaigns suggested more physical activity (alone or in addition to diet) to reverse weight gain.

Unfortunately, we are losing the obesity battle because we are eating more than ever. But the exercise myth is still regularly deployed by the food and beverage industry — which are increasingly under fire for selling us too many unhealthy products.

And here’s the final weight loss advice:

If you embark on a weight-loss journey that involves both adding exercise and cutting calories, Montclair’s Diana Thomas warned not to count those calories burned in physical activity toward extra eating.

“Pretend you didn’t exercise at all,” she said. “You will most likely compensate anyway so think of exercising just for health improvement but not for weight loss.”

For the record, in my N of 1, I totally count the exercise (though not calorie counting today with all those mini Twix to come) and I have consistently lost weight whenever I have calorie counted.  I’ve even been known to go for a run for the explicit purpose of enjoying dessert later.  Anyway, the overall point still holds.  Be sensible and focus on calories in.  And exercise, because being healthy is good.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Using algorithms to help with sentencing decisions seems like a good way to minimize the impact of human bias.  Alas, it actually exacerbates racial bias.

2) Paul Waldman and Jon Chait both with the exact same (and completely apt) take on Trump, Republican, and Russia.  “No puppet.  No puppet.  You’re the puppet!”

3) My friend/colleague who studies China made a compelling case to me at lunch the other day that goings-on in China of late are really important.  Here’s the NYT story.

4) Yglesias makes the case that Corker and Flake need to actually use their leverage as Senators:

I don’t live inside the minds of Flake, Corker, and McCain, so I can’t know exactly how much of a high point of ideological principle they view this bank regulation thing to be. But in general, to take action against Trump, they need to do four things:

  1. Identify something they want to force Trump to do.
  2. Identify something Republicans want to pass that they think is less important than No. 1.
  3. Say that unless No. 1 happens, they will scuttle No. 2.
  4. Repeat as necessary.

Part of the genius of the American system of government is that issues don’t need to be closely related for senators to make them be closely related. Flake, Corker, and McCain all care a lot about foreign policy, for example. So one thing they might be concerned about is the extent to which the State Department’s senior leadership ranks are riddled with vacancies. They could have stood up and said they would scuttle the bill on bank lawsuits unless Trump submitted a full slate of well-qualified nominees for these positions.

Or since all three men have spoken out about the Trump administration’s troubling dishonesty, perhaps the thing they want is for Chief of Staff John Kelly to apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson for lying about her in the White House briefing room…

The point isn’t that anti-Trump Republicans should adopt all of my policy views. It’s that they need to engage in some self-reflection about their own policy views. Pick some things that seem important to them but unlikely to happen, pick some things that seem likely to happen but less important, and threaten to scuttle the likely things unless they get their way on the important things. That’s what legislators do — they legislate.

5) Honestly, the workaday NYT headline says it all, “Tax Cuts Are the Glue Holding a Fractured Republican Party Together.”

6) An experiment that made participants feel less susceptible to fear made them temporarily more liberal.

7) I have to say, this Burger King anti-bullying ad really is very good.  For my part, I ran with Evan in his middle school’s “anti-bullying 5K” today.

8) Seth Masket, “Meet Fox News, Our Director of National Policy.”

I strongly recommend reading through Matthew Gertz’s Twitter thread in which he watched Fox & Friends while following Trump’s Twitter feed. Basically, approximately 30 minutes after a Fox story, Trump would tweet something related to it. Fox called congressional Democrats obstructionists at 6:08 a.m. on October 18th, and Trump tweeted that Democrats are opposed to his tax reductions 30 minutes later. Fox ran a story about James Comey at 6:29 a.m., and Trump tweeted a criticism of Comey 27 minutes later. This pattern continues. (The president TiVo-ing Fox & Friends helps account for the time lag.)…

Presidential scholars will tell you that the presidency is a constitutionally weak position, but that one of the major strengths it has is setting the agenda for the federal government. No one can compete with the media attention the president will receive, and what he decides will be an important issue often ends up becoming so; whoever sets the president’s agenda possesses a great deal of power. Often, that role has fallen to the major political parties, but Trump’s relationship with his party is a tenuous one. Sometimes it falls to the president’s most immediate set of advisers.

In Trump’s case, it appears to be Fox News. The news network devoted to covering the federal government is, in fact, setting that government’s agenda. Reporters and news outlets have occasional had some sway with the president, but it’s hard to think of a parallel to this relationship. Indeed, this helps to explain why the Republican agenda has been so fraught and disorganized.

9) Enjoyed Popular Science’s round-up of the 12 most important health innovations of the year.

10) Andrew Sullivan lets loose on the “Trump abyss.”  Wow.

Yes, the forms of the Constitution remain largely intact after nine months. But the norms that make the Constitution work are crumbling. The structure looks the same, but Trump has relentlessly attacked their foundations. Do not therefore keep your eyes on the surface. Put your ear to the ground.

And we know something after a year of this. It will go on. This is not a function of strategy or what we might ordinarily describe as will. It is because this president is so psychologically disordered he cannot behave in any other way. His emotions control his mind; his narcissism overwhelms even basic self-interest, let alone the interest of the country as a whole. He cannot unite the country, even if, somewhere in his fathomless vanity, he wants to. And he cannot stop this manic defense of ego because if he did, his very self would collapse. This is why he lies and why he cannot admit a single one of them. He is psychologically incapable of accepting that he could be wrong and someone else could be right. His impulse – which he cannot control – is simply to assault the person who points out the error, or blame someone else for it…

If I were asked which were the problems that are most overlooked right now, I’d say record levels of social and economic inequality, declining social mobility and a dangerous, unsustainable level of debt. Acquiescence to all three poses a threat to the legitimacy of democratic capitalism. My own understanding of conservatism would be particularly concerned about all three, because conservatives should want to conserve our system of government and support for free market economics.

So what does the ostensibly conservative party in America – the Republicans – propose we do? They propose that we make all of this de-legitimization of democratic capitalism much, much worse. I’m referring primarily to their proposed massive tax cut to the super-wealthy, the abolition of the estate tax, and their bid to add over a trillion dollars to the debt.

11) Damn.  I will take a libertarian anyday, or heck, a Mitt Romney Republican, over these damn totalitarians in liberal guise on college campuses.  I don’t know anything about the University of Oregon president.  I do know that nothing justifies students preventing him from giving his “state of the university” speech.

12) Is there something about the state of Oregon.  Reed College, which, like Oberlin, pretty much represents extreme liberalism amok on campus, apparently has pretty much lost its mind.  This essay from a Reed professor was just sad.  Worst part is that the college administration allowed this.  On the bright side, as much as everybody likes to say “kids today” Reed and Oregon are still outliers.  That said, actual liberals need to vociferously speak up against this authoritarian crap.

At Reed College in Oregon, where I work, a group of students began protestingthe required first-year humanities course a year ago. Three times a week, students sat in the lecture space holding signs — many too obscene to be printed here — condemning the course and its faculty as white supremacists, as anti-black, as not open to dialogue and criticism, on the grounds that we continue to teach, among many other things, Aristotle and Plato.

In the interest of supporting dissent and the free exchange of ideas, the faculty and administration allowed this. Those who felt able to do so lectured surrounded by those signs for the better part of a year.

13) Apparently stealing marathon bib numbers and designs prior to the race by social media and then using them to make counterfeits and run the race is a big thing.

14) The shameless disrespect for the judicial branch in NC is certainly one of the most frustrating– and woefully under-covered– aspects of the clowns currently running our state legislature.

15) The Supreme Court is not above playing fast and loose with facts.

Quick hits (part II)

1) As German Lopez points out, we already know what to do about opioid addiction– medication-assisted therapy.  The problem is, our backwards, anti-scientific views of the matter prevent the best practices from being widely used.

2) Or as this Scientific American piece puts it, “People Are Dying Because of Ignorance, not Because of Opioids.”

For about 20 years, the number of Americans who have tried heroin for the first time has been relatively stable. Heroin use specifically and opioid use in general are not going anywhere, whether we like it or not. This is not an endorsement of drug use but rather a realistic appraisal of the empirical evidence. Addressing the opioid crisis with ignorant comments from political figures and the inappropriate use of public funds do little to ensure users’ safety. Perhaps, for once, we should try interventions that are informed by science and proven to work.

3) Dan Drezner on the need for Rex Tillerson to resign ASAP.

4) Jennifer Rubin on the  “dunces” ruining (really, running) the GOP’s economic agenda.

5) Best thing I’ve read on Russian misinformation and the role of Facebook in 2016.

6) Nobody except Netflix knows how many people watch Netflix shows.  Nielsen has found a way to change that.

7) Personally, I think it is pretty cool that Google Maps added a feature letting you know how many calories you would burn by walking (rather than driving) a given route.  Alas, this is why we cannot have nice things:

“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” she said. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”

On Monday night, Google pulled the feature, which it said was an experiment on its iOS app. The decision followed a wave of attention on social media; while some of the responsessaw Google’s feature as promoting exercise, there were several complaints that it was dangerous or insulting.

Some users were especially upset that the app used mini cupcakes to put the burned calories into perspective, framing food as a reward for exercise, or exercise as a prerequisite for food. (One mini cupcake, it said, was worth a little less than 125 calories, but no information was provided about how that calculation was made.)

At least have it as an option that can be turned off.  But, really, we have to worry about people being “triggered” by the number of calories involved in walking a few blocks?

8) Sarah Kliff on why American health care is so expensive.  The prices.  We pay more for literally everything.  Want to really understand it?

9) Kevin Drum on how Wisconsin is absurdly effective at voter suppression.  The fact that courts let Wisconsin get away with this is almost as damning as what Wisconsin Republicans have done.

10) Barbara Radnofsky argues that impeachment was designed for a president like Trump:

The very embodiment of what the Founding Fathers feared is now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Again and again, they anticipated attributes and behaviors that President Trump exhibits on an all-too-regular basis. By describing “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the grounds for impeachment, as any act that poses a significant threat to society — either through incompetence or other misdeeds — the framers made it clear that an official does not have to commit a crime to be subject to impeachment. Instead, they made impeachment a political process, understanding that the true threat to the republic was not criminality but unfitness, that a president who violated the country’s norms and values was as much a threat as one who broke its laws.

Gouverneur Morris, who wrote the Constitution’s preamble, and future president James Madison were worried about a leader who would “pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation” — theft of public funds — “or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers,” as Madison put it. Morris, who like many in the colonies believed King Charles had taken bribes from Louis XIV to support France’s war against the Dutch, declared that without impeachment we “expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate [the President] in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

11) Man bused for Meth that was actually Krispy Kreme donut glaze.  Thank you War on Drugs!

12) Those who care the most about the issue of GM foods are, of course, most likely to have the false belief that GM foods are worse for human health:

 

13) Saletan on the atrociously-misnamed “values voters” who support Trump.

14) Sure, GW Bush said some important things about the direction of the Republican Party.  But, he’s supporting Ed Gillespie’s racist, Trumpist campaign for Virginia governor that Bush was supposedly speaking against.  Actions.  Words.

15) Ryan Lizza on John Kelly this week:

Sanders shot back with the kind of statement that would be normal in an authoritarian country, suggesting that Kelly’s previous military service placed him beyond criticism. “If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that that—if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

No, it is not. Kelly is the chief of staff and a political operative. He held a press conference and told a lie that smeared one of Trump’s political opponents. No government official’s military background, no matter how honorable, makes him immune to criticism, especially given the subject at hand. Sanders’s response was unnerving. But the bigger lesson of the episode is that no matter how good one’s intentions are, when you go to work for Trump, you will end up paying for it with your reputation. For Kelly, not even his four stars prevented that. [emphasis mine]

16) OMG this essay from Kevin Williamson in National Review on the “white minstrel show” of politics is amazing.  I surely don’t agree with everything, but so much good, thought-provoking stuff in here.  A must-read.  Here’s a good snippet:

White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump’s — vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You’ll recognize the style if you’ve ever been around it: It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers — correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker — equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-’em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-“elitism” of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: “I’m an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion.” Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: “I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level.” Trump’s rhetoric — ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. — has always been about reducing. Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it’s “the failing New York Times.” Never mind that the New York Times isn’t actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they’ve gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn’t matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid’s lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully. That’s what all that ridiculous stuff about “winning” was all about in the campaign. It is might-makes-right, i.e., the politics of chimpanzee troupes, prison yards, kindergartens, and other primitive environments. That is where the underclass ethic thrives — and how “smart people” came to be a term of abuse.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Julia Belluz on Trump’s absurd anti birth control argument, “The Trump administration’s case against birth control is a stunning distortion of science:

As to why the White House is ignoring the evidence, we have some clues. One of the architects behind the new birth control rules is reportedly Matthew Bowman, a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy (and anti-choice) group. Another top Trump adviser on health care is Katy Talento, an anti-abortionist who has claimed that side effects of hormonal birth include cancer and miscarriages. Trump put Teresa Manning, another anti-abortion lawyer who once said giving people easy access to the morning-after pill was “medically irresponsible” and “anti-family,” in charge of Title X, HHS’s federal family planning program. Trump’s positions on abortion have been wishy-washy, but it’s well known that Vice President Mike Pence has been crusading against reproductive rights for years.

2) The NYT’s [post-Trump] Republican’s guide to Presidential etiquette is terrific.

3) “Christian” women gather on the National Mall to criticize feminism.  And they’re pathetic:

For Linda Shebesta of Burleson, Tex., it was a day to pray alongside the family members of three generations who traveled to Washington with her. “We believe our nation was founded as a Christian nation. The enemy is trying to take it in another direction, not Christianity,” she said. She saw lots of proof of Satan at work during the Obama administration, especially the Supreme Court’s ruling authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide, she said. She’s relieved to see the Trump administration undoing many of Obama’s policies.

“We believe God put Donald Trump in,” Shebesta said.

Damn, God must have one hell of a sense of humor.

4) And the Onion nails it again, “EPA To Drop ‘E,’ ‘P’ From Name.”

5) Very nice TPM piece on how Russian propaganda exploits America’s prejudices.

6) Drum on Trump’s attempt to destroy the healthcare marketplace.  This is not hyperbole:

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil.

7) Apparently, rather than relying on common sense, many in Silicon Valley are over-reacting to sexual harassment in the workplace in ways that are also harmful to women.

8) Sad story of an escaped Circus tiger.  I love the amazing exploits of humans in the circus.  I hate that the circus engages in horrible animal abuse while they are at it.

9) Why is Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate so high?  Because they are disturbingly, inhumanely, punitive about drug crimes.

10) Interesting to see how American sports fandom has changed over the past 5 years.  Yeah, professional soccer!

11) Interesting column on how the mistreatment of returning Vietnam Veterans is almost completely false and very persistent myth.

12) Seth Masket on the silliness of blaming Democrats for Harvey Weinstein’s behavior:

Harvey Weinstein’s support for Democrats, however, is highly unusual as political scandal material. His reprehensible and likely criminal alleged behavior has only become widely known in the past few weeks — nearly a year after the 2016 presidential election. To be sure, quite a few people in the entertainment industry seem to have known about the behavior he’s accused of for years to one extent or another. But it strains credulity to suggest that Clinton and Obama (whose teenage daughter interned for Weinstein last summer) knew the extent of Weinstein’s predatory tendencies in the past.

In sum, Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats are being blamed for having taken money in the past from someone who has recently been widely accused of being a sexual predator. It is akin to holding fans of the 1970s Buffalo Bills and the 1978 film Capricorn One accountable for O.J. Simpson’s behavior in 1994.

This sort of scandal coverage may be useful in the long run by promoting a discussion about the obligations candidates have to their donors and about the campaign finance system in general. But the idea that a recipient is somehow culpable for the later-disclosed criminal activity of a donor seems rather thin gruel.

13) Love Drum on the rage of rural voters:

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or: they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much: both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

14) Tom Ricks with a great personal essay on the importance of a good editor.

15) Dana Milbank: the Bible according to Trump.  Good stuff.

16) Loved this post from Dan Kennedy on journalists’ obsessive needs for “both sides!” when it comes to the political parties.  No, it’s not both sides:

Washington Post columnist Dan Balz, who epitomizes establishment thinking as David Broder once did, went out of his way to balance the Democrats’ “leftward movement” with the Republicans’ “rightward shift” and warned that Democrats “must find a way to harness the movement into a political vision that is attractive to voters beyond the Democratic base.”

The problem is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the two parties’ ideological shifts. Long before the age of Trump, the Republicans established themselves as the party of no. A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was impeached because of a personal scandal that would have — should have — remained a secret but that was revealed through a partisan Republican investigation. The filibuster became routine under Republican rule, making it impossible to conduct the business of the Senate. The Republicans refuse to talk about gun control or climate change. The party hit bottom by refusing even to consider Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee — a deeply transgressive breach of longstanding norms on the part of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. And all of this was before the race-baiting, white-supremacist-coddling Donald Trump became president…

The institutional desire for evenhandedness, though, is so deeply ingrained that journalists struggle to move beyond it. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has called this the “production of innocence,” meaning that the press reflexively adopts equivalence between the two major parties as its default position even when the facts scream out against balance. “The conceit is that you can report and comment on politics truthfully while always and forever splitting the difference between the two sides so as to advertise your own status as perpetually non-aligned,” Rosen wrote. “What if that is not even possible? What if you have to risk the appearance of being partisan in order to describe accurately what is going on in a hyper-partisan situation?”

On a related note, so excited to be bringing Jay Rosen to NCSU in 10 days.

 

17) Digging around in SlateStarCodex the other day and really liked this post about adult developmental milestones.  Of course, I particularly liked it because I think I (and any decent social scientist, and many others, of course), have all of these.  And, because I think these are super-important.

Here are some other mental operations which seem to me to rise to the level of developmental milestones:

1. Ability to distinguish “the things my brain tells me” from “reality” – maybe this is better phrased as “not immediately trusting my system 1 judgments”. This is a big part of cognitive therapy – building the understanding that just because your brain makes assessments like “I will definitely fail at this” or “I’m the worst person in the world” doesn’t mean that you have to believe them. As Ozy points out, this one can be easier for people with serious psychiatric problems who have a lot of experience with their brain’s snap assessments being really off, as opposed to everyone else who has to piece the insight together from a bunch of subtle failures.

2. Ability to model other people as having really different mind-designs from theirs; for example, the person who thinks that someone with depression is just “being lazy” or needs to “snap out of it”. This is one of the most important factors in determining whether I get along with somebody – people who don’t have this insight tend not to respect boundaries/preferences very much simply because they can’t believe they exist, and to simultaneously get angry when other people violate their supposedly-obvious-and-universal boundaries and preferences.

3. Ability to think probabilistically and tolerate uncertainty. My thoughts on this were mostly inspired by another of David Chapman’s posts, which I’m starting to think might not be a coincidence.

4. Understanding the idea of trade-offs; things like “the higher the threshold value of this medical test, the more likely we’ll catch real cases but also the more likely we’ll get false positives” or “the lower the burden of proof for people accused of crimes, the more likely we’ll get real criminals but also the more likely we’ll encourage false accusations”. When I hear people discuss these cases in real life, they’re almost never able to maintain this tension and almost always collapse it to their preferred plan having no downside.

18) Finally saw Blade Runner 2049Vox a few days ago.  Loved the visuals, the general story, and the themes.  That said, a good example of more is less.  This would have been a much better 2 hour movie than the 2:45 it was.  Also, I was really disappointed in the score as I so love Vangelis’ score for the original and here the composers seemed to want to make up for lack of melody with loudness.  Appreciated Alyssa Wilkonson’s review for also pointing out these flaws.

 

 

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