Quick hits (part II)

Wow– so when was the last weekend I had both part I and part II up at the regularly-scheduled time.  Go me.

1) Fortunately, we really got just a glancing blow from Florence, but many others in NC were not so lucky.  If we had had to evacuate, we would have been fine, but it is not at all so simple for many.  Really enjoyed this take:

In the aftermath of landfall, it might be tempting to condemn the people who stayed behind, but please be gentle. Evacuation, like most disaster resilience actions—and really, like most of life—is easier if you have wealth, health and extensive social networks. Being able to pack up your life and leave takes privileges you may not even realize you have. Everyone is doing the best they can based on their personal context.

It takes money to displace yourself. It takes having somewhere better to go and a way to get there. Having a full tank of gas is a luxury when you live paycheck to paycheck. Spending money up front and then waiting for reimbursement requires that you have the money in the first place, while knowing what expenses are covered and how to file the paperwork requires knowledge not everyone has or has access to.

2) Greg Sargent on the latest polls and the Trump backlash:

The anti-Trump backlash is about to collide violently with the GOP’s structural, counter-majoritarian advantages in this election — and the winner of the clash will decide whether President Trump will be subjected to genuine oversight or will effectively be given even freer rein to unleash more corruption and more authoritarianism, while expanding his cruel, ethnonationalist and plutocratic agenda.

Three new polls this morning confirm that this anti-Trump backlash is running strong, with less than two months to go until the midterm elections:

  • new Quinnipiac University poll finds that Democrats have opened up a 14-point lead in the battle for the House, 52-38. Voters want Congress to be more of a check on Trump by 58 percent to 27 percent.
  • new CNN poll finds that Americans approve of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation by 50-38, a new high in CNN polling. By 61-33, Americans say it is examining a “serious matter that should be fully investigated,” as opposed to the “witch hunt” that Trump rage-tweeted about again this morning.
  • new NPR-Marist poll finds that Democrats lead by 12 points in the battle for the House, 50-38. Trump’s approval is at 39-52, making this the fifth recent poll to put Trump below 40 percent.

Crucially, these polls all dovetail with the basic story we’ve seen throughout this cycle, which is that Trump has provoked a backlash among minorities, young people and college-educated and suburban whites, especially women — and even seemingly among independents — that has powered Democratic victories in unlikely places. The new polling finds the backlash is running strong among these groups right now…

What is remarkable about the current moment is the degree to which Trump’s attacks on our institutions appear to be failing, both as a self-defensive tool and perhaps even as a midterm strategy.

For over a year now, Trump has waged a full-scale assault on the mechanisms of accountability arrayed around him. He has savaged the Mueller probe and law enforcement as riddled with corruption and as orchestrating an illegitimate Deep State conspiracy against his presidency. He has attacked the news media as the “enemy of the people,” by which he means Trump and Republican voters, characterizing the free press as part of of that conspiracy against his presidency and his supporters.

But today’s new polling confirms that these things are not working with the broader electorate. There is broad and growing support for the Mueller investigation. And the Quinnipiac poll shows Americans trust the news media more than Trump to tell them the truth by 54-30, and 69 percent say the media constitutes an important part of democracy. Support for our institutions appears to be holding.

3) Friedman on the GOP’s “Devil’s bargain.”

More and more, I wonder if the disgruntled senior Trump administration official who wrote the anonymous Op-Ed in The Times was actually representing a group — like a “Murder on the Orient Express” plotline where every senior Trump adviser was in on it. Why? Because the article so perfectly captured the devil’s bargain they’ve all struck with this president: Donald Trump is amoral, dishonest and disturbed, a man totally unfit to be president, but, as the anonymous author self-servingly wrote, “There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

That’s the anonymous-G.O.P. credo today: We know Trump is a jerk, but you’ve gotta love the good stuff — you’ve got to admit that his tax cuts, deregulation, destruction of Obamacare and military buildup have fueled so much growth, defense spending and record stock market highs that we’re wealthier and more secure as a country, even if Trump is nuts. So our consciences are clear.

This view is not without foundation. Economic growth and employment have clearly been on a tear since Trump took office. I’m glad about that.

But what if Trump is actually heating up our economy by burning all the furniture in the house? It’s going to be nice and toasty for us — at least for a while — but where will our kids sleep?

4) Nobody legally bound to not-disparage Trump should ever be allowed on TV to discuss him.

5) How conservatives successfully work the refs, facebook style:

Four of Facebook’s chosen fact-checkers—the Associated Press, Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, and Snopes—are widely trusted and nonpartisan. The fifth, the Weekly Standard, has generally high-quality editorial content with a conservative ideological bent. This week, the Weekly Standard used its gatekeeping role in an incredibly troubling way, declaring that a story written by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress was false, essentially preventing Facebook users from accessing the article…

Unfortunately, Facebook has now given the Weekly Standard what appears to be total veto power over ThinkProgress’ articles. According to a source who spoke to Quartz, Facebook selected the magazine as a fact-checker to “appease all sides”—that is, to convince conservatives that the social network isn’t beset by liberal bias. As a result, a Weekly Standard editor may compel a ThinkProgress writer to “change the headline” or risk losing Facebook traffic. Not because ThinkProgress was wrong, but because the Weekly Standard disagreed with its legal analysis. That is not fact-checking. It is censorship. Indeed, it is the kind of censorship that conservatives wrongly accuse Facebook of foisting upon right-wing outlets.

6) I’m with Drum on Serena Williams

As many people have pointed out, Osaka was playing well and there’s a pretty good chance she would have won regardless. Osaka was up a break, 4-3, and had to hold her serve twice to win the match. After the penalty made it 5-3, it meant she only had to hold her serve once to win. We’ll never know for sure, but there’s no question she was in command of the match both before and after the penalty.

So what’s the conclusion from all this? First, Williams was out of line about the coaching penalty. It’s true that “everyone coaches” and it’s also true that it doesn’t get called a lot. But it does get called, and Mouratoglou’s coaching was far from subtle. The umpire did nothing wrong here.

Ditto for smashing the racket. That was an obvious code infraction.

And that leaves only the third code infraction. This is a judgment call. There’s no question that Williams was ranting and screaming. In one sense, calling a verbal abuse penalty was a no-brainer. On the other hand, it’s the tail end of a grand slam, and some umpires would have just let Williams run out of steam and then allow the match to play out. You could justify either approach, I think.

As for the charge of sexism, I don’t see it. I watch a fair amount of tennis, and I’ve seen men throw temper tantrums. I’ve also seen them get called for it. But with the caveat that I haven’t seen every temper tantrum in recent history,¹ Williams really did have a pretty epic meltdown. I haven’t seen anything like it that I can remember. The penalty may have been a judgment call, but it was a perfectly justifiable judgment call.

If you want to take Serena’s side on this, that’s fine. But please don’t do it on a knee-jerk basis. Williams’s behavior was atrocious, and the umpire, at worst, made a barely incorrect judgment call toward the end of the match. That’s it.

7) Among the most worrisome potential impacts from the massive amounts of rain and flooding from Hurricane Florence in eastern NC is pig manure everywhere.

8) I have a little sympathy for kids who don’t want to do class presentations (even though I never require it myself), but not too much.  Logic like this, does not impress me:

But in the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options. This week, a tweet posted by a 15-year-old high-school student declaring “Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” garnered more than 130,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes. A similar sentiment tweeted in January also racked up thousands of likes and retweets. And teachers are listening…

“Nobody should be forced to do something that makes them uncomfortable,” says Ula, a 14-year-old in eighth grade, [emphasis mine] who, like all students quoted, asked to be referred to only by her first name. “Even though speaking in front of class is supposed to build your confidence and it’s part of your schoolwork, I think if a student is really unsettled and anxious because of it you should probably make it something less stressful. School isn’t something a student should fear.”

Oh, my.  There’s a reason we don’t let 14-year olds decide what’s best.  I’m with these educators:

But when it comes to abolishing in-class presentations, not everyone is convinced.

“We need to stop preaching to get rid of public speaking and we need to start preaching for better mental health support and more accessibility alternatives for students who are unable to complete presentations/classwork/etc due to health reasons,” one man tweeted.

Some educators agree. “My thoughts are that we are in the business of preparing students for college, career, and civic life. Public speaking is a piece of that preparation,” says Ryan Jones, a high-school history teacher in Connecticut. “Now, some kids (many) are deathly afraid to do it, but pushing outside of comfort zones is also a big part of what we do.”

9) Yes, this Alabama pastor’s protest against Nike really does tell us a lot about “Christianity” for so many conservatives and it’s not pretty.

10) 538’s Perry Bacon, “Americans Are Shifting The Rest Of Their Identity To Match Their Politics.”

We generally think of a person’s race or religion as being fixed — and that those parts of identity (being black, say, or evangelical Christian) drive political views. Most African-Americans vote Democratic. Most evangelical Christians vote Republican. But New York University political scientist Patrick Egan has written a new paper showing evidence that identity and politics operate in the opposite direction too — people shift the non-political parts of their identity, including ethnicity and religion, to align better with being a Democrat or a Republican…

I don’t want to overemphasize the results of these studies. Egan still believes that the primary dynamic in politics and identity is that people change parties to match their other identities. But I think Egan’s analysis is in line with a lot of emerging political science that finds U.S. politics is now a fight about identity and culture (and perhaps it always was). Increasingly, the political party you belong to represents a big part of your identity and is not just a reflection of your political views. It may even be your most important identity.

11) Doctors have a really hard time stopping certain medical practices after it becomes clear they are wasteful or harmful.

12) Nice WP Op-Ed on the latest voter fraud fraud shenanigans from the Trump administration, focused on NC:

IT WAS 5 p.m. on a Friday, just as Labor Day weekend was starting, when, without warning, faxes arrived at North Carolina’s state board of elections and 44 county election boards. The faxes contained a demand so outlandish — and so blatantly in violation of state privacy laws — that several officials assumed they were a hoax. A federal subpoena demanded practically every voting document imaginable, going back years. Absentee, provisional and regular ballots. Registration applications. Early-voting applications. Absentee ballot requests. Poll books.

In fact, it was no hoax. The subpoena sought a list of items which, if satisfied, would force state and local officials to produce at least 20 million documents — in less than four weeks. Prosecutors also demanded eight years of records from the state Division of Motor Vehicles, through which voters are allowed to register to vote. No explanation was provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or federal prosecutors, who sought the documents. It is a fishing expedition by the Trump administration to support the president’s repeatedly discredited assertions that voting fraud is widespread, especially by noncitizens casting illegal ballots.

The effect of this expedition, led by Robert J. Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, is easy to foresee: This is one more in a long line of GOP efforts to suppress the vote. Members of the state board of elections, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, voted unanimously to fight the subpoena, which would overwhelm local boards’ administrative capacity. It also would intimidate voters who, with good reason, would fear their votes and other sensitive information were being handed over to federal officials.

13) Really good Pro Publica piece on the growing gap between prosperous cities and those cities left behind:

You might expect regional inequality to self-correct, given how costly and congested the hyper-prosperous cities have become. Instead, the success of these cities feeds on itself, as more employers and highly educated people decide they need to be where the action is. It’s a winner-take-all, rich-get-richer effect. The result is less than ideal for everyone: Those in the winner-take-all cities struggle to get by even with a decent salary, while those in the left-behind cities face demoralizing blight and struggle to find fulfilling work.

This is the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen in the digital age. The internet was supposed to free us to live anywhere. But as Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti foresaw in his 2011 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the tech economy in fact encourages agglomeration: Innovation happens best in close proximity, not to mention that it’s easier to make your venture-capital pitch face to face. “It is almost as if, starting in the 1980s, the American economy bifurcated,” Moretti wrote. “On one side, cities with little human capital and traditional economies started experiencing diminishing returns and stiff competition from abroad. On the other, cities rich in human capital and economies based on knowledge-intensive sectors started seeing increasing returns and took full advantage of globalized markets.”

14) Voter Study Group on the hopelessness of third parties:  Pay particular attention to the last point.  Third parties in America are utterly hopeless without major structural changes which the American public is entirely unwilling to embrace. [emphases in original].

Key Findings

  • Two-thirds of Americans want a third party. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that two parties do not do an adequate job of representing the American people and that a third party is needed.
  • But third-party enthusiasts don’t agree on what that third party should be. About one-third want a party of the center, about one-fifth want a party to the left of the Democrats, and about one-fifth want a party to the right of the Republicans, with the remainder wanting something else. It would take at least five parties to capture the ideological aspirations of Americans.
  • Partisans are not about to abandon their party; most value what makes their party distinct from the other major party. Seventy-seven percent of Americans feel better represented by one party or the other, leaving only 23 percent who are equivocal between the two existing parties. And overwhelming majorities of partisans feel well-represented by their parties (81 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans) and very poorly represented by the other major party (68 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans).
  • Americans neither support nor see the necessity for reforms that would help create a multiparty system. Electoral reforms like ranked-choice voting would be necessary for third parties to gain support — even more so given that the actual demand is for multiple additional rather than a single third party. But our research shows little understanding of or support for such reforms. Few make the connection between their stated desire for a third party and the electoral reforms that would make that possible.

15) So, we’re kind of wrong about everything.  The end of the piece mentions Factfulness, which I gave up reading because I actually felt like I already knew pretty much all of it.  My 12-year old son is really enjoying it now, though.

16) Excellent Adam Serwer on the NRA’s problem with Black men shot by police:

Loesch’s reaction is an example of what one might call the “Rice rule,” after Tamir Rice, the 12-year old killed by a white police officer while playing in a park with a toy gun: There are no circumstances in which the responsibility for a police shooting of an unarmed black person cannot be placed on the victim.

At the same time, scolding dead people for being unarmed is standard procedure for the NRA, which attacked Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine parishioners were massacred by the white supremacist Dylann Roof, for supporting gun control. The group similarly suggested that shootings at Planned Parenthood; at Umpqua Community College in Oregon; in Fresno, California; and at the Capital Gazettein Maryland were so deadly because the victims weren’t armed. The NRA even faulted James Shaw Jr., who prevented a mass shooting at a Waffle House by tackling the shooter, for not being armed while he did it. Ted Nugent, the closest thing the NRA has to a celebrity spokesperson, once called mass-shooting victims “losers” who “get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter.”

But the NRA’s conspicuous lack of outrage after the shootings of Philando Castile, Jason Washington, and Alton Sterling, all black men killed by police while in possession of a firearm, suggests an impossible double standard. When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. To this day, Loesch defends Castile’s shooting as justified—despite the fact that Castile informed the officer he was carrying a firearm. In Washington’s case, Loesch said she was “never going to keyboard quarterback what police are doing.”

17) Really like how Montgomery County, MD is re-thinking “gifted” education.

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Quick hits (part I)

So far been pretty lucky with the storm here.  Power was out for about three hours yesterday morning (during which my kids drove me crazy), but other than that, pretty good.  So, you’ll actually have your (rare, these day) on-time Saturday morning quick hits.

1) Oh, to be a pharmaceutical executive and justify price-gouging with your medicine:

In the category of saying the quiet parts out loud, consider this statement by Nirmal Mulye, the chief executive of drug company Nostrum Laboratories: “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.”

Mulye was responding to questions posed by the Financial Times about his quadrupling the price of an essential antibiotic to $2,392 per bottle. The drug, nitrofurantoin, is used to treat urinary tract infections. It has been on the market since 1953 and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine for “basic healthcare systems.”

In his interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday, Mulye defended Martin Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who became the face of the industry’s profiteering in 2015 when he jacked up the price of a generic anti-parasitic drug needed by HIV patients by more than 5,000%. “I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told the FT. (Shkreli is currently serving a prison term on fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.)

This is a capitalist economy….We have to make money when we can.

2) Vox’s Zack Beauchamp with a long and depressing tale about Hungary’s gradual move from democracy to authoritarianism.  And the out-group scapegoating behind so much of it.

3) David French on the need to end “qualified immunity” for police and others to violate constitutional rights with impunity.

I’m going to start with a story that will break your heart. In the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, a young man named Andrew Scott was up late, home with his girlfriend. They were playing video games when they heard a loud pounding on the door. Alarmed, Scott grabbed a pistol and opened the door. He saw a man crouching outside in the darkness. Scott retreated, gun still at his side, pointing down to the ground.

Almost instantly, the crouching figure fired his own weapon. The encounter was over in two seconds. Scott lay on the ground, dead. The man who fired? He was a police officer. He was at the wrong house. Andrew Scott was a completely innocent man who had done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

As for the officer? Well, not only was he at the wrong house, but he had no search warrant even for the correct house, he had not turned on his emergency lights, and he did not identify himself as police when he pounded on the door.

The officer was never prosecuted. The state ruled that the shooting was “justified” — in part because it said the police had no obligation to identify themselves. Then, when Scott’s estate sued the officer for money damages, the court threw out the lawsuit. A panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Then last year the entire court rejected en banc review.

A police officer killed a completely innocent man because of the officer’s inexcusable mistake. He escaped criminal prosecution. And then he even escaped civil liability — because of a little-known, judge-made legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Sadly, this was but one injustice caused by this misguided doctrine. It will not be the last. But there’s a solution. Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

4) It is misleading to judge hurricanes primarily by maximum sustained wind.  Something involving total energy or total potential destruction would be better.  That said, this stuff annoys me:

Most people know that the bigger the category, the scarier and more notable a storm.

That rule of thumb has the benefit of being true: It was legitimately worrying when, earlier this week, Hurricane Florence seemed like it might become the first Category 5 storm to strike the East Coast north of Florida. Only 33 Category 5 storms have ever been observed in the Atlantic Ocean, and as President Donald Trump exclaimed last year: “I never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

But this rule can also guide families to ruin, especially if they make a survival decision on the basis of category. A family might decide to ignore an evacuation order since it’s survived a Category 4 storm before. But a storm can be scary and notable without having a high category. That’s because only one trait determines a storm’s categorial intensity: its maximum sustained wind speed.

I don’t doubt we can have better measures.  But the fact is no matter what measures we use, some people are going to act stupidly.  We should not base our measures or media coverage(!!) on the fact that some people will always act stupidly.  Pretty clear that we do with the media coverage.

5) The state of New York is ridiculously bad when it comes to it’s arcane voting laws and the end result is less participation for New Yorkers.  That really needs to change.  On the bright side, an excellent example of how institutional factors affect turnout for my PS 302 students.

6) Generally a fan of Fareed, but this is among his weaker efforts, “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Leaving aside the wisdom of the New Yorker festival disinvite, this is a huge mis-reading on Zakaria’s part.  It’s not about suppressing his ideas, but making the statement that they are beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse, due to their white nationalist elements.  Its not fear of the ideas, but rather that there should be some clear lines and that white nationalism is one of them.

7) Relatedly, this essay in the Economist on whether political correctness has gone too far is top notch:

Regardless of how it is labelled, its underlying idea is the same: that measures to increase “tolerance” threaten the liberal, Enlightenment values that have forged the West. Self-styled opponents of political correctness and proponents of free speech may find themselves (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When framed like this, it seems utterly reasonable to think that political correctness has the potential to be a menace. Moreover, some aspects of tolerance culture, particularly the actions of students—who frequently draw the ire of such culture warriors—are, in many cases, cloying and precious…

However, some easily-dismissed examples aside, the notion that political correctness has gone too far is absurd. That a man who boasts gleefully about grabbing women by their genitals, mocks disabled reporters and stereotypes Muslims as “terrorists” and Mexicans as “rapists” was able to become the leader of the free world should disabuse anyone of that notion. Indeed those who invoke “political correctness” often use it for more cynical means. It is a smoke screen for regressivism…

These phenomena—invoking “political correctness” as a fig-leaf for naked prejudice, and in spite of evidence to the contrary—find their most troubling embodiment in political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. [emphases mine] Mr Trump once stated that “the problem [America] has is being politically correct,” and sees himself as a corrective to that. Mr Farage, too, sees himself as a crusader against political correctness.

Both consider themselves to be “taking back” their respective countries from a varied cast of bogeymen: among them elitists, social justice warriors, Muslims and immigrants. Both seem to want to undermine the very institutions that preserve our rights and liberties.

At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.

8) I’m a huge fan of “next generation” nuclear power.  Let’s make it happen.  Nice article in Wired.

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real…

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

9) Apple is just done with small (i.e., non-huge) Iphones.  I love my SE.  This makes me sad.  This is actually the one thing that might eventually move me to Android.

10) Watch this Super pod of dolphins.  So cool!

11) Can’t remember if I shared Wirecutter’s guide to adult board games.  Bought Dixit and played it twice already.  The whole family loves it.  Already fans of 7 Wonders and Ticket to Ride.

12) Speaking of playing games, can we play our way to a better democracy?  Yes?

But not all play is created equal. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist at Boston College, studies the effects of “free play,” which he defines as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Guitar lessons and soccer practice are not free play — they are supervised and directed by an adult. But when kids jam with friends or take part in a pickup soccer game, that’s free play.

The absence of adults forces children to practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes with no help from a referee, and then vary the rules or norms of play when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take small risks, rather than assuming that adults will always be there, like guard rails, telling them where the limits of safety lie. Outdoor free play, in mixed-age groups, is the most effective way for children to learn these essential life skills, Professor Gray says…

By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers. These large increases do not just reflect a greater willingness to seek help; there has been a corresponding rise in self-harm,suicidal thinking and suicide among American adolescents and college students.

The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.

It’s easy to see how overprotection harms individuals, but in a disturbing essay titled “Cooperation Over Coercion,” the economist Steven Horwitz made the case that play deprivation also harms liberal democracies. He noted that a defining feature of the liberal tradition is its desire to minimize coercion by the power of the state and maximize citizens’ freedom to create the lives they choose for themselves. He reviewed work by political scientists showing that self-governing communities and democracies rely heavily on conversation, informal norms and local conflict resolution procedures to manage their affairs with minimal appeal to higher authorities. He concluded that self-governance requires the very skills that Peter Gray finds are best developed in childhood free play. [emphasis mine]

13) Even though my daughter is a good reader, we’re having a rough time actually getting her to read every day.  Maybe I should be making her practice math instead:

A large body of research has revealed that boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing and are often relatively better at these than they are at math, even though their math skills are as good as the boys’. The consequence? A typical little boy can think he’s better at math than language arts. But a typical little girl can think she’s better at language arts than math. As a result, when she sits down to do math, she might be more likely to say, “I’m not that good at this!” She actually is just as good (on average) as a boy at the math — it’s just that she’s even better at language arts.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s taking place in the minds of babes. But studies revealing developmental differences between boys’ versus girls’ verbal abilities alongside developmental similarities in boys’ and girls’ math abilities — combined with studies that show that among girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance — seem to indicate that something like the above dynamic might be going on.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind, that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.

It’s important to realize that math is, to some extent, like playing a musical instrument. But the instrument you play is your own internal neural apparatus…

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Take it from someone who started out hating math and went on to become a professor of engineering: Do your daughter a favor — give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)

14) Meanwhile, Amanda Ripley looks at why girls in the Middle East outperform boys by so much:

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

15) Even liberal political science professors can be racist.  Though, I’m damn sure I’ve never mistaken a Black female political scientist for the hired help and damn sure I never would.

16) Originalism is such crap and pretty much always just a pretext for reaching conservative decisions that fit with a judge’s ideology.  Always happy to read something making this case.

The problem with these appeals to originalism, and the impartiality they connote, is that they have not held true in practice. Which is why to critics, and I’m one of them, the label of originalist strikes us as a cover for imposing conservative value judgments.

Consider that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Scalia, voted to strike down huge swaths of constitutional law without historical justification. Together they invalidated state and federal affirmative action laws, campaign finance legislation, federal laws directing the states to help implement national programs such as background checks for gun purchasers, and many other important pieces of legislation without relying on persuasive originalist evidence.

Justice Gorsuch has only been on the court for a term and a half, but he has already joined with Justice Thomas (and the other conservatives) several times to strike down state laws without relying on originalist sources…

All of which is to say that, for these originalists, originalism didn’t figure very importantly, if at all, in how they cast their votes on some of the court’s most consequential recent cases. Instead, they used, for their own ends, the same type of values-based living constitutionalism that they and other conservative jurists and politicians typically decry.

17) And an interesting take on the politicized Supreme Court, “What’s the Point of the Supreme Court? If you know beforehand how justices will vote based on which president appointed them, then what’s the point of having a court that, in theory, operates above politics?”

18) Jonathan Bernstein is right about the 25th amendment:

If those close to Trump really think he must be removed from office, impeachment and removal are a better tool. The case for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and generally violating the oath of office may still not be so obvious that it demands congressional action. But impeachment has always been political, and it’s reasonable for Congress to take into account Trump’s general unfitness for office when it decides whether to move ahead. Meanwhile, impeachment has a lower congressional threshold, making it (relatively) easier than relying on the 25th. And it is constitutionally swift and sure, leaving no ambiguity after it happens. 3 It’s true that the anonymous op-ed writer seems at least as concerned with Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, especially on trade, than he or she is with the general lawlessness of the administration. But perhaps that’s just a message for Republicans who refuse to accept what all the other anonymous leakers have told us. At any rate, there’s no reason it should guide anyone going forward.

The bottom line is that the 25th Amendment simply isn’t adequate to the task of removing a president who remains in good enough condition to contest it and wants to do so. Regardless of whether impeaching the president is a serious question, talk of invoking the 25th, even if well-intentioned, is just misguided and dangerous.

19) Discovered this super-cool interactive power outage map today.  You can see the effect of the hurricane in NC and that things get dramatically worse immediately to the southeast of my home, Wake County.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’m not sure what the solution is for crushing medical school debt, but insofar as it encourages new physicians to choose over-compensated specialties over primary care, that’s a really bad thing for all of us.

2) Kevin Drum on how segregated urban schools are.  You know who is not so bad?  North Carolina (i.e., Raleigh and Charlotte):

3) I had no idea you could add periods and pluses to gmail addresses.

4) I gotta say, I think this new approach to biometrics and computer security is really cool:

When you’re browsing a website and the mouse cursor disappears, it might be a computer glitch — or it might be a deliberate test to find out who you are.

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

Some use the technology only to weed out automated attacks and suspicious transactions, but others are going significantly further, amassing tens of millions of profiles that can identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices.

The data collection is invisible to those being watched. Using sensors in your phone or code on websites, companies can gather thousands of data points, known as “behavioral biometrics,” to help prove whether a digital user is actually the person she claims to be.

5) Tim Miller on Democrats’ “embarrassingly timid” opposition to Trump.

6) Parenting without reward or punishment?  Hmmm.

Many parents grew up with punishments, and it’s understandable that they rely on them. But punishments tend to escalate conflict and shut down learning. They elicit a fight or flight response, which means that sophisticated thinking in the frontal cortex goes dark and basic defense mechanisms kick in. Punishments make us either rebel, feel shamed or angry, repress our feelings, or figure out how not to get caught. In this case, full-fledged 4-year-old resistance would be at its peak.

So rewards are the positive choice then, right?

Not so fast. Rewards are more like punishment’s sneaky twin. Families find them alluring (understandably), because rewards can control a child momentarily. But the effect can wear off, or even backfire: “How much do I get?” a client told us her daughter said one day when asked to pick up her room…

The whole concept of punishments and rewards is based on negative assumptions about children — that they need to be controlled and shaped by us, and that they don’t have good intentions. But we can flip this around to see kids as capable, wired for empathy, cooperation, team spirit and hard work. That perspective changes how we talk to children in powerful ways.

There’s actually lots of good parenting advice in this, but, I cannot imagine parenting without fairly common use of reward and punishment.

7) It’s hard to imagine a policy change more representative of today’s GOP than changing coal regulations that will result in about 1400 more Americans a year dying.

8) Those damn Russians, “Russian Trolls Used Vaccine Debate to Sow Discord, Study Finds: Twitter accounts that were used to meddle in the 2016 presidential election also sent both pro- and anti-vaccine messages and insulted parents.”  On a totally unrelated note, I found “Red Sparrow” not great, but pretty damn entertaining.

9) Just came across this interesting CityLab feature on public bus ridership.  Something I am paying far closer attention to now that it is how my oldest son is committing to community college.  So far, (mostly) so good, but definitely some hiccups.  Also, it needs to work better, but the Transloc app is so cool.

10) It is amazing to me, sometimes, just how alike I think with Kevin Drum and Mike Pesca.  Pesca had a great “spiel” on straw bans recently, but there’s no transcript, so here’s Drum’s post on the matter:

For the moment, I’ll highlight a trivial story that will nonetheless probably piss off a whole bunch of you:

The California Senate on Monday approved legislation barring dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested….The measure exempts fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

“This bill is the last straw,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “This is a first step to the total banning of plastic straws. To me it almost looks silly. I think the negative consequences [of straws] are a bit overstated.”…But Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said the proposal will help educate the public about the environmental hazard of plasticsthat are not biodegradable. “Let the consumer request it if they want it,” he said.

Here’s what’s going to piss you off: I agree with the Republicans about this. California is too full of performative legislation that’s designed to make some point or other but is almost certain to have no actual effect. I’d prefer that folks pick a career and stick to it. If you want to be a performer, go to Hollywood. If you want to be a politician, propose legislation that actually accomplishes something. How about a plastic packaging tax, similar to what France is doing? If that’s not enough, go bigger. But whatever you do, make it something that delivers real results, not just a pat-on-the-back for getting on board with the fad of the week.

11) I got in yet another ridiculous argument about diet soda last week.  This time with somebody who just kept going on about how your liver turns aspartame into formaldehyde.  Oh no!

Questions about aspartame relate to its metabolites – the chemical products created when our bodies digest the sugar substitute. Critics have raised concerns about the metabolites methanol and phenylalanine.

Over time, methanol can produce the known carcinogen formaldehyde. While this might seem scary, the video claims that the body actually produces and uses 1,000 times more formaldehyde than you could consume through aspartame. After helping to make important proteins, formaldehyde gets turned into formic acid and exits the body through urine.

12) Should you choose a female doctor?  Ummm, yes:

Does gender matter when choosing a doctor?

Whether your doctor is male or female could be a matter of life or death, a new study suggests. The study, of more than 580,000 heart patientsadmitted over two decades to emergency rooms in Florida, found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating physician was female. And women who were treated by male doctors were the least likely to survive.

Earlier research supports the findings. In 2016, a Harvard study of more than 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients found that when patients were treated by female physicians, they were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors. The difference in mortality was slight — about half a percentage point — but when applied to the entire Medicare population, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.

Other studies have also found meaningful differences in how women and men practice medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a number of studies that focused on how doctors communicate. They found that female primary care doctors simply spent more time listening to patients than did their male colleagues. But listening comes with a cost. Doctors who were women spent, on average, two extra minutes, or about 10 percent more time per visit

My doctor is a man, but I chose him because he listens.  And I found him through my kids’ amazing pediatrician who is a man and a terrific listener.

13) Good take on Sacha Baron Cohen: and conservative fear.

But Cohen’s real trump card is Col. Erran Morad, an Israeli “anti-terrorism expert” who plays into every fantasy American conservatives seem to have about Israel. Many of the show’s targets show an admiration for him as uncritical as it is unstinting; for the most part, they’re putty in his hands. But I would argue that—unlike “pitiable” Baron Cohen characters, who tend toward absurdism in ways that frequently absolve the targets—Morad does reveal some pretty unsavory things about the American right. For one, the miasma of fear in which it simmers. This was Spencer’s excuse: He claimed he feared for his life and that Cohen “exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety.” Shaun McCutcheon—an Alabamian Republican activist whose main achievement until now was helping to eliminate limits on aggregate campaign contributions—was similarly fearful, telling Morad that he has “a large concern about terrorism and the fact that terrorism is possibly coming to the United States more than it already has.” Three conservative men who decided to throw a fake quinceañera in order to entrap “illegal” Mexicans expressed similarly paranoid sentiments: One claimed that the purpose of the traditional coming-of-age party was to rape young girls.

14) I added a couple of these Chrome extensions the Wired staff cannot live without.  (I saved this week’s quick hits on onetab instead of a bunch of open tabs).

15) Really liked Yglesias‘ generally positive, but honest and not hagiographic, obituary of McCain.  He was a complicated man.

15) If you’ve been looking for the really negative McCain obituary, this is the one for you.

16) Adam Davidson on the serious jeopardy that Alan Weisselberg places Trump in.

There are now multiple investigations of the Trump Organization being conducted by the special counsel Robert Mueller, the New York Attorney General, The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Southern District of New York, and—quite likely—other jurisdictions. President Trump is unable to stop most of these investigations. With Cohen and, now, Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.

Mid-week Quick hits

I’m going to be on a retreat and totally without electronics but my phone, so not a lot of blogging.  The least I can do is post the delinquent quick hits part II

1) NYT on the nonsense of the “wellness-industrial complex.”

2) Great Daily Show segment on Trump voters and Space Force.

3) Great Ezra Klein piece on “white threat in a browning America.”  Consider this a must-read.  Seriously– this means you.

I spent months talking with politicians, social psychologists, and political scientists about what happens in moments like this one, moments when a majority feels its dominance beginning to fail. The answer, attested to in mountains of studies and visible everywhere in our politics, is this: Change of this magnitude acts on us psychologically, not just electorally. It is the crucial context uniting the core political conflicts of this era — Obama and Trump’s presidencies, the rise of reactionary new social movements and thinkers, the wars over political correctness on campuses and representation in Hollywood, the power of #MeToo and BlackLivesMatter, the fights over immigration.

Demographic change, and the fears and hopes it evokes, is one of the tectonic forces shaping this era in American life, joining income inequality and political polarization in transforming every aspect of our politics and culture. But to understand what it is doing to us as a country, we need to begin by understanding what it does to us as individuals.

4) Fentanyl has made German Lopez reconsider his take on drug legalization.  Sensible, but we still sure need decriminalization, if not full legalization.

5) Paul Waldman on what Democrats have learned from Republicans:

But what distinguishes this moment from the past few decades is that policy caution has become unacceptable to Democratic voters, and Democratic politicians are responding. Past Democratic candidates would say, “Of course we’d all like X, but the policy and political challenges make it impossible, so Y is the best we can achieve.” Democratic candidates in 2018 (and 2020) are saying, “We should do X, and don’t tell me it’s impossible.”

By now you may have heard of the Overton Window, which was articulated by a think-tank scholar named Joseph Overton in the 1990s as a way of explaining to potential donors why they should fund the advocacy of ideas that didn’t seem to have a lot of popular support. The idea predated Overton by some time, but for whatever reason, his metaphor stuck. The theory is that at any particular moment, certain ideas are considered worthy of debate and others are considered too radical to even talk about, but if you can shift the window of debate, you may be able to make a radical idea sound mainstream and eventually turn it into policy.

It’s important to understand that the Overton Window isn’t some kind of magic key anyone can use to transform politics; plenty of activists try to shift the debate and fail. But there are times when we see the process in action. Right now, Democrats have taken an idea — single-payer health insurance — that used to be considered unworthy of consideration and forced it into the center of the national debate.

6) National Geographic, “Early Native Americans Imported Exotic Parrots, DNA Reveals: The discovery suggests that scarlet macaws were being bred for trade centuries earlier than previously thought.” (Thanks, EMG)

7) Rick Gates’ public lesson on money laundering.

8) Not so sure of the validity of suing a nicotine delivery product for getting you addicted to nicotine.

9) Sit better and fix your back pain.  I keep trying to remember to do this.  When I do, it does feel good.

10) David Frum takes it to Dinesh D’Souza:

The desire to wipe the smirk off the condescending face of some resented critics—to expose them, diminish them, hurt them—is that not the mainspring for so much of the pro-Trump political movement? Shortly before the 2016 election, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal seethed at those who believe that “not only is Donald Trump coarse and boorish, anyone who supports the man is as revolting as he is.” The conservative columnist David Limbaugh lamented in the summer of 2017 the “snobbish condemnation” he suffered on social media from Never Trump conservatives. Tucker Carlson Tonight is a nightly eruption of rage against elite “preening.” “Don’t for a second let them take the moral high ground,” Carlson warned in June of this year. Certainly in D’Souza’s case, Obama’s success came to seem more and more of an affront to the proper order of things.

11) Sure, definitely fair to claim, “‘Unite the Right’ flops while the left triumphs,” but we’re talking about the morons in the Washington Post all over the news media.  You know how much news coverage a march of 40 people deserves?  Zero.  Any coverage for these morons is a victory for them.  Just ignore them!

12) Forget “Medicare for all,” how about dramatically expanding Medicaid?

13) It is great that the public school Lebron James is helping is just an ordinary public school.

14) The chicken we eat in America is riddled with Salmonella.  What’s frustrating as hell is that it just doesn’t have to be this way:

Gremillion notes that other countries have taken steps that protect consumers to a much greater degree. Whereas the US regulatory system focuses on salmonella in the slaughterhouse, and the “preferred solution is dousing the chicken with antimicrobial sprays,” regulators in some European countries “make sure that the breeder stock for the poultry are not infected and passing down salmonella, that the feed is not contaminated, that the birds have the vaccinations they need, that the workers follow biosecurity protocols.” As a result, he says, Sweden and Denmark “have practically eliminated salmonella from poultry products.” [emphasis mine]

If knowing that US supermarket chicken quite often carries salmonella isn’t chilling enough, consider this: In a recent analysis of Food and Drug Administration data, the Environmental Working Group found that “over the last five years of available data, on average, 1 in 5 strains of salmonella found on grocery store chicken were resistant to amoxicillin, a type of penicillin.” In short, it’s getting harder for doctors to treat infections from this common pathogen.

We are so damn stupid in this country.  Yes, I’m sure chicken costs a bit more in Europe, but ask people how much money they’d be willing to pay to avoid the risk of Salmonella.

15) Jason Alexander as Colonel Sanders.

16) Just in case you missed the amazing Stephen Miller takedown written by his uncle.

0 for 3 on health care

The N&O ran an article on what “influencers” in NC think about health care policy.  Among those that struck me was Art Pope’s response (Pope is basically NC’s very own Koch brother):

“Citizens are not entitled to ‘universal’ or ‘free’ health care, which means health care provided by a government monopoly and paid for by others,” wrote survey respondent Art Pope, the former budget director under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. “Just as importantly, even good faith attempts to provide ‘universal health care,’ result in government run health care that is rationed, of poorer quality and more costly. [emphasis mine]

Pope– perhaps the most influential Republican in the whole state is simply wrong, wrong, and wrong.

First, of all, health care everywhere is rationed.  It’s not an unlimited resource.  What is different about America is that it is rationed by your income level and basic ability to pay in a way that it is not in other modern democracies.  Secondly, it is decidedly not of poorer quality in countries with universal care.  In fact, in terms of mortality amenable to health care, the U.S. does quite poorly.  Thirdly, and costly?  What the hell‽  We pay more for health care than anybody.  And we cover fewer people and do it less well.

Of course, Pope is not alone in being amazingly, appallingly wrong on all this.  This is mainstream GOP talking points.  It’s unclear though whether educated partisans like Pope are simply hugely self-delusional or hugely mendacious.  Neither choice is great.  Either way, it would be awesome of Republicans stopped lying about health care.

Quick hits (part I)

Well, it was get quick hits done in time for you to read it over the weekend or fully enjoy my time at my sister’s house on the Potomac River.  Obviously, I chose the latter.  Good stuff here, though.

1) John Oliver takes on prosecutors!  (About time this part of our criminal justice system got the John Oliver treatment).

2) Yes, having a state-run monopoly on selling liquor is absurd public policy, but whether this will end in North Carolina will not depend on whose policy arguments make the most sense, but which interest groups end up having the most sway with legislators.

3) Of course Republicans want to make it easier for payday lenders to defraud military servicemen.

4) Noah Smith is right, “Domino’s Pizza Fixing Potholes Is an Ominous Sign: Either government is failing, inequality is worsening, or both.”

I recently noticed a string of interesting news stories, all with the same theme. Domino’s Pizza is donating money to 20 U.S. cities, to be used for fixing potholes and cracked roads. Salesforce has donated $1.5 million to reduce homelessness in San Francisco, and its CEO, Marc Benioff, has spoken of grander schemes to end homelessness in the city entirely. And Facebook is talking about renovating a defunct bridge that runs across the San Francisco Bay near its offices.

All of these initiatives, in and of themselves, are good things. It’s good for potholes to be fixed, homeless people to be housed, and traffic congestion to be relieved. But the fact that it’s private companies taking these steps is an ominous sign for the nation. It suggests a breakdown in the government’s ability or willingness to carry out one of its core functions — the efficient provision of public goods.

5) Had an interesting conversation earlier this week about my very religious little sister versus her not particularly religious older sister (both my half-sisters).  In looking to explain the difference, I suggested it was likely genetics as much as anything.  SAR went right to the google and found this:

Social scientific research assumes that religious involvement is primarily, if not exclusively, the product of social‐environmental influences There is growing evidence, however, that genetic or other biological factors also play a role Analyzing twin sibling data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), this study addresses this issue by showing that individual‐level variation on four different aspects of religious life—organizational involvement, personal religiosity and spirituality, conservative ideologies, and transformations and commitments—is indeed the product of both genetic and environmental influences Specifically, genetic factors explain 19–65 percent of the variation, while environmental influences account for the remaining 35–81 percent depending upon the aspect of religion under investigation [emphasis mine] Research of this type enhances contemporary social science by providing a new perspective that nicely supplements existing ones, but it also highlights potential implications, including explanatory power deficiencies and potentially bias.

6) Speaking of religion, I saw the Book of Mormon and loved it.  Just super-entertaining.  And, part of the enjoyment was seeing the conventions of musical theater used in utterly profane and taboo ways.  And I did find David Brooks‘ take on the show to be thought-provoking.

7) Great interactive piece from Nate Cohn on the Trump coalition.  Check it out.

8) This was really fascinating from Ed Yong, “An Ancient Genetic Quirk Could Doom Whales Today: After losing an unnecessary gene millions of years ago, marine mammals are now uniquely vulnerable to pesticides that have only existed for a century.”

9) Loved this NYT interactive essay on why all the popular songs of recent years sound the same.  (Max Martin).  Actually, very cool visuals with this one.

10) In a different week, I would have written a nice post on the Trump administration’s appalling proposal on legal immigration.  This week, I’ll just tell you to make sure you read Catherine Rampell:

Second, this rule is ostensibly about making sure immigrants are self-sufficient and not a drain on public coffers. But NBC reports that the rule could disqualify immigrants making as much as 250 percent of the poverty level.

Moreover, an immigrant’s past use of benefits does not necessarily mean he or she will need them forever. Even the immigrant populations that you might expect to have the most trouble achieving economic self-sufficiency have proved to be a good long-term investment for the nation’s fiscal health…

Third, and most important, is that under the proposal, it’s not only immigrants who must forgo safety-net benefits if they don’t wish to be penalized by the immigration system. It is  everyone in a given immigrant’s household.

That includes — based on an earlier leaked draft of the proposal published by The Post — an immigrant’s own children, even if those children are U.S. citizens who independently qualify for safety-net benefits.

That’s right. Legal-immigrant moms and dads may soon face a choice between (A) guaranteeing their U.S.-born children medical care, preschool classes and infant formula today, or (B) not threatening their own ability to qualify for green cards or citizenship tomorrow.

The universe of U.S.-citizen children who could be affected is large. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that, in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment alone in 2016, about 5.8 million citizen children had a noncitizen parent…

Any policy that discourages, even a little bit, poor families’ use of such services is not just heartless. From an economic perspective, it is foolish. We need healthy, well-nourished, well-educated children to become healthy, well-nourished, productive workers.

But once again, children and the economic future they represent are the casualties of Trump’s casual cruelty.

11) Hmmm, lots of great NYT stuff this week.  Here’s a really cool interactive Upshot feature on the “age gap” for new mothers:

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

12) Whatever the politics of “Medicare for All” even a conservative thinktank admits it saves money (though, they kind of hid that).  Drum doesn’t:

Here’s some good news. The libertarians at the Mercatus Center did a cost breakdown of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan and concluded that it would save $2 trillion during its first ten years:

Now, as you might guess, this was not the spin the Mercatus folks put on their study. Their headline is “M4A Would Place Unprecedented Strain on the Federal Budget.” This isn’t really true, of course, since M4A would absorb all the costs of our current health care system but would also absorb all the payments we make to support it. That includes current taxes (for Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare), premiums paid by employers, premiums paid by individuals, and out-of-pocket costs from individuals. Instead of going straight to doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, it would go instead to the federal government, which would then pay everyone else. It’s a lot of money, but it’s no particular “strain” on anything.

And overall we’d save at least $2 trillion over ten years.

13) Science ways in on “boxers vs briefs” and the answer is “boxers.”  At least if you want to reproduce.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) “An ancient lake holds secrets to the Mayan civilization’s mysterious collapse, study finds”

2) Really enjoyed Willaim Langewiesche’s feature on a Stealth bomber mission to bomb 50 terrorist in Libya.  Good God those are expensive aircraft to operate.  And yes, Trump does seem to believe that these planes are literally invisible.

3) Of course the Senate rejected money for election security.

4) Of course Betsy DeVos wants to make it easier for for-profit colleges to grift their students.

5) Reason to think my classroom laptop ban?  Maybe, but I certainly see a difference in levels of distractedness among students.  Some interesting research, though, on Political Science, no less.  (thanks, JPP):

As technologies have become more portable, scholars have turned their attention to whether the use of electronic devices during lecture positively or negatively affects student performance in the class. In this study, I investigate the effects of banning laptops in the classroom through an experiment conducted over two semesters in an introductory American politics course at a large, public four-year university. Overall, I find that banning laptops is more likely to hinder student performance in the class than help. Although students find many elements of the course to be more helpful to their learning in the laptop-free sections, this does not translate to greater student achievement or lead to significantly different evaluations on the official university teaching evaluations. Overall, these findings suggest that although instructors are not penalized for banning laptops from their classrooms, they ought to carefully consider the extent to which such policies are helpful to student progress in large lecture classes.

6) Sticking with Higher Ed– looks like some sanity is finally winning out against insanity and the absolute worst of liberalism at Reed College.

7) John Cassidy on countering Trump’s war on the media:

What can be done about all this? The first thing is to recognize it for what it is: a reckless descent into the demagoguery, misinformation, and incitement that are normally associated with authoritarian regimes. In a statement on Thursday, two United Nations experts on freedom of expression warned, of Trump’s comments about the media, “These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.” They added, “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”

This warning echoed one that A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, delivered to Trump in a recent meeting at the White House. Trump may think he is playing a political game. But, in a country that is littered with extremist groups, and where there are more than three hundred million guns in private hands, it is an extremely dangerous one. In less dark times, one might have hoped that senior members of Trump’s party would deliver this message to him forcefully. But today, with so much of the G.O.P. prostrating itself before its rogue President, what chance is there of that happening?

8) Colin Woodard makes some good points that it is really region, not urban/rural that mark our key political fault lines.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the most significant and abiding divide in American politics isn’t between city and countryside, but rather among regional cultures. Rural and urban places certainly have distinct interests and priorities, but in our awkward federation their differences have taken a back seat to the broader struggle between our constituent regions.

Sectionalism isn’t, and never has been, as simple as North versus South or an effete and domineering East against a rugged, freedom-minded West. Rather, our true regional fissures can be traced back to the contrasting ideals of the distinct European colonial cultures that first took root on the eastern and southern rims of what is now the United States, and then spread across much of the continent in mutually exclusive settlement bands, laying down the institutions, symbols and cultural norms later arrivals would encounter and, by and large, assimilate into.

Understanding this is essential to comprehending our political reality or developing strategies to change it — especially as we approach a momentously consequential midterm election…

Tracing our history, I’ve identified 11 nations, most corresponding to one of the rival European colonial projects and their respective settlement zones. I call them Yankeedom; New Netherland; the Midlands; Tidewater; Greater Appalachia; Deep South; El Norte; the Left Coast; the Far West; New France; and First Nation. These were the dominant cultures that Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants and other vital actors in our national story confronted; each had its own ideals, assumptions and intents.

Look at county-level maps of almost any closely contested presidential race in our history, and you see much the same fault lines: the swaths of the country first colonized by the early Puritans and their descendants — Yankeedom — tend to vote as one, and against the party in favor in the sections first colonized by the culture laid down by the Barbados slave lords who founded Charleston, S.C., or the Scots-Irish frontiersmen who swept down the Appalachian highlands and on into the Hill Country of Texas, Oklahoma and the southern tiers of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

Interesting stuff.  That said, I’m still going with urban/rural.  I think I likely have more in common with an urban resident most anywhere else (okay, except Deep South) than a rural resident in my own region.

9) It’s honestly kind of funny how much this academic research wants to make Republicans look good on climate change, despite their own results (a great example of where NYT commenters are just awesome).

It is widely believed that most Republicans are skeptical about human-caused climate change. But is this belief correct?

In 2014 and 2016, we conducted two national surveys of more than 2,000 respondents on the issue of climate change. We found that most Republicans agreed that climate change is happening, threatens humans and is caused by human activity — and that reducing carbon emissions would mitigate the problem.

To be sure, Democrats agreed more strongly than Republicans did that climate change is a concerning reality. And among climate skeptics there were more Republicans than Democrats. Nevertheless, most Republicans were in basic agreement with most Democrats and independents on this issue…

An interesting suggestion from our research is that Democrats and Republicans are swayed by partisanship because they think their fellow Democrats or fellow Republicans are even more swayed by partisanship — and they don’t want to break ranks.

We discovered this when we asked people to estimate how their fellow citizens would respond to the policies. People overestimated how much Democrats and Republicans opposed policies backed by the other side. Furthermore, these exaggerated estimates turned out to strongly predict their own support for a policy…

In particular, there was very little distance between Republicans and Democrats when evaluating a Republican-proposed carbon tax. [emphasis mine] This suggests that a carbon tax such as the one proposed by prominent Republicans including James Baker III and Mr. Shultz may hold more promise for bipartisan agreement than we have seen with Democratic policies in the past.

Short version: Democrats want a carbon tax because Democrats believe in good policy; Republicans believe what Republican elites tell them when it comes to climate.

10 Loved this from Dr. Sandeep Jauhar on thinking more rationally about how we die:

Like most patients, mine wanted to live as long as possible. So when I brought up the option of a small implantable defibrillator for his failing heart, he immediately said yes. The device would be inserted in his chest to monitor his heartbeat and apply an electrical shock if the rhythm turned into something dangerous. It was like the paddles in the emergency room, I told him, but it would always be inside him.

In truth I wasn’t sure if a defibrillator was really such a good idea. My patient was near the end of his life. He might live longer than a year, but certainly no more than five. Patients with heart failure mostly die in one of two ways: either from a sudden, “lights-out” arrhythmia that stops the heart, or from insidious pump failure, in which the heart increasingly fails to meet the metabolic demands of the body. The former, which the defibrillator would help prevent, is quick and relatively painless. The latter, which the defibrillator would make more likely, is protracted and physically agonizing.

When the time came, wouldn’t it be better for my patient to die suddenly than to struggle for breath as congestive heart failure filled his lungs with fluid?

It was a difficult thing to bring up with my patient — how he wanted to die — in part because his death wasn’t imminent. But with the rise of technologies like implantable defibrillators, this is a subject with which doctors and patients will increasingly have to grapple: not the inevitability of death, but the manner of one’s demise.

11) David Hopkins on what to make of 2016 and what that means for 2018, “Was the Midwestern “Red Shift” More Pro-Trump or Anti-Hillary? The Answer Matters a Lot for 2018″

The rural Midwest has been trending Republican for a long time; Bill Clinton narrowly carried it twice in the 1990s, but Barack Obama lost this vote 53 percent to 47 percent in 2008 and 57 to 43 in 2012. In 2016, Donald Trump routed Hillary Clinton here, attracting 68 percent of the two-party rural Midwestern vote—6 points better than Ronald Reagan in his 49-state landslide 1984 reelection.
If 2016 indeed represents the “new normal,” than it would make sense for analysts to take a bearish view of Democratic chances in white, small-town congressional districts in the Midwest and elsewhere this year. But if 2016 was something of an aberration, and the Trump-Clinton vote does not fully reflect the relative fundamental strength of the two parties, then the map of electoral battlegrounds opens wider, and the fortunes of congressional Democrats improve accordingly.
12) As a former percussionist who owned some Zildjian’s, loved this NYT photo essay on the 400+ year old cymbal maker.
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