Quick hits (part II)

0) Happy Birthday to me (46th).

1) Chait on Trump’s absurd comb-over and what it says about him.  And some nice mocking from Comedy Central.

It was the worst hair day of what has been a bad hair life. And it may seem cheap and low to mock Trump’s absurd efforts to conceal his hair loss. But Trump is a man obsessed with image in ways that go beyond the normal human concern with looking presentable. Image is Trump’s moral code. He dismisses his political rivals for being short. He sees his succession of wives as visual testament to his own status. He selects his Cabinet on the basis of their looking the part. He conscripts the military as a prop to bathe himself in an aura of presidential grandeur.

Trump’s absurd hair is of a piece with his lifelong attempt to market himself as a brilliant deal-maker and stable genius. So yes, it is okay to laugh when the ruse is exposed.

2) More on motherhood and the gender wage gap via the Upshot:

Two studies of college-educated women in the United States found that they made almost as much as men until ages 26 to 33, when many women have children. By age 45, they made 55 percent as much as men.

In Sweden, a recent study found, female executives are half as likely as men to be chief executives, and one-third less likely to be high earners — even when they were more qualified for these jobs than men. Most of the difference was explained by women who were working shorter hours and taking time off work in the five years after their first child was born.

As any parent knows, children come with a host of time-consuming responsibilities. Someone has to do the work. In most opposite-sex couples, that someone is the mother.

There are different explanations for this, researchers say. Women may have intrinsic preferences to do more of this work, or couples could decide it’s most efficient to divide the labor this way. It could also be that social norms about traditional gender roles influence men and women to behave this way.

3) And I’ve got to admit to being guilty by giving my daughter totally gendered toys, i.e., My Little Pony, Barbie, etc.  Of course, this is what she asks for (for which we can presumably blame peer influence and all those commercials on Nickelodeon), but, yeah, I probably should try harder to counter-act this.

4) As if we needed more evidence that many on-line degree programs are a joke (I can personally attest that NCSU’s LPS program is not), an on-line student at Southern New Hampshire University failed an assignment in which the instructor argued, quite persistently, that Australia was a continent, but not a country.

5) Just a friendly reminder that the US Constitution largely does not apply in important ways within 100 miles of the US border.  And, yes, this encompasses most of the country’s population.

6) More evidence on getting the human microbiome off on the right foot via vaginal birth and breastfeeding:

Many studies have strongly suggested that the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the human body influence our current and future health and may account for the rising incidence of several serious medical conditions now plaguing Americans, young and old.

The research indicates that cesarean deliveries and limited breast-feeding can distort the population of microorganisms in a baby’s gut and may explain the unchecked rise of worrisome health problems in children and adults, including asthma, allergies, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes and obesity. These conditions, among others, are more likely to occur when an infant’s gut has been inadequately populated by health-promoting bacteria…

For example, a Danish study of two million children born between 1977 and 2012 found that those born by cesarean delivery were significantly more likely than those born vaginally to develop asthma, systemic connective tissue disorders, juvenile arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, immune deficiencies and leukemia.

7) Really interesting NYT piece on what teenagers are learning from porn.  Short version– it’s not good.  Had a great discussion about this with my NCSU students.  Probably also need a discussion about it with my boys.

8) Love this from Dylan Matthews.  Sure, John Kelly may be a relative grown-up in the White House.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t nonetheless represent much of the worst of Trumpism.

 I would go further, though, and say that Kelly, personally, has become an unacceptable symbol of the worst tendencies of this White House. When he was appointed, he was greeted with widespread bipartisan praise, as a “grown-up” capable of bringing order to an anarchic administration. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said Kelly was “in a position where he can stabilize this White House.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called him “one of the strongest and most natural leaders I’ve ever known.”

But from his time as secretary of homeland security, when he aggressively stepped up immigration raids, including ones sweeping up non-criminals whom immigration enforcement agents weren’t even targeting, Kelly has aligned himself with the hardline anti-immigrant wing of the Trump administration. Not coincidentally, he has also repeatedly expressed extreme disrespect for Americans who are not white.

It was not a coincidence that both Rep. Wilson and Myeshia Johnson, the war widow for whom she advocated, are black women. It was not a coincidence that Kelly praised Gen. Lee, who fought to prevent the expansion of rights (including the right to not be owned as chattel) to black Americans. It was not a coincidence that he describes unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as children, a group that’s disproportionately Latino, as lazy.

Nor is it a coincidence, now, that Kelly appears to have repeatedly disregarded women and instead protected their abusers. He chose Rob Porter over the three women who accused him, and a Marine officer who admitted to harassing a female subordinate over that subordinate — who was also a fellow Marine, and much more worthy of Kelly’s loyalty, camaraderie, and brotherhood.

The Trump administration recoils from accusations that it does not care about nonwhite Americans or women. Instead of getting defensive, this time it should try to prove its critics wrong by ejecting a man who has exemplified those tendencies, who has repeatedly disrespected black and Latino Americans and shown no concern for the physical safety of women. The absolute least it can do is force John Kelly to resign.

9) Could really do without all the hyperbolic language in Rebecca Shulman’s Slate article on how German parenting is simply better.  That said, I’m inclined to agree that German parenting is simpler better (largely, because they give their kids far more freedom and independence).  Personally, especially love encouraging kids to play with fire.  Hey, I do that!  Must be my German heritage coming through :-).

10) Really enjoyed this NYT feature on the existing border wall with Mexico.

11) Whoa!  Where has all the sex gone?

American adults, on average, are having sex about nine fewer times per year in the 2010s compared to adults in the late 1990s, according to a team of scholars led by the psychologist Jean Twenge. That’s a 14 percent decline in sexual frequency. Likewise, the share of adults who reported having sex “not at all” in the past year rose from 18 percent in the late 1990s to 22 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to our analysis of the General Social Survey…

Similar trends are apparent among younger men and women. In the early 2000s, about 73 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 30 had sex at least twice a month. That fell to 66 percent in the period from 2014 to 2016, according to our analysis of the GSS.

Other 18- to 30-year-olds aren’t doing it at all. From 2002 to 2004, 12 percent of them reported having no sex in the preceding year. A decade later, during the two years from 2014 to 2016, that number rose to 18 percent.

Sex is also down among teenagers. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a decline in the share of high school students who said they ever had sex: from 47 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2015. Sexual activity among teenagers fell the most between 2013 and 2015, about the same time that sex took a real dip among 18- to 30-year-old adults…

What’s driving this sexual counter-revolution? It’s too early to offer definitive answers, but a few hypotheses seem especially plausible.

First, while they are not socially conservative, the members of the millennial (born between 1980 and the mid-1990s) and iGen (born since the mid-1990s) generations are more cautious on average than earlier generations, and hence more inclined to focus on the emotional and physical risks of sex, rather than its joys. Raised by helicopter parents, these young adults take fewer risks. As a group, they drink less, drive less, and they also hit the sheets less. Today’s young adults have gotten the message—think MTV’s 16 and Pregnant—that sex and pregnancy can be a threat to them and their future. Tyrone, a 20-year-old man, put it this way to Twenge for her book, iGen: His generation is having less sex “because of fear of pregnancy and disease.” He added, “There’s a bunch of commercials and television shows and stuff trying to teach you a lesson.”

12) Yes, Americans should totally do more babysitting for each other!

13) Jordan Weissman on how the GOP’s deficits are terrible for our politics:

Forget the GOP’s obvious hypocrisy on spending—ever since the Bush era, it’s been clear that elected conservatives do not really care about deficits, except insofar as they make a handy club for whacking Democrats. Instead, worry about the lessons Republicans might draw from this experience. During Obama’s presidency, the GOP’s mania for spending cuts—and its ability to wring budget concessions out of the president—was an anchor on the economy at a critical moment when millions were suffering from the aftermath of a financial catastrophe. Yet, the party suffered precisely zero political consequences. Instead, they’re in power in part because of the slow, post-crises economy at the end stages of a recovery that could help them hold onto Congress in 2018. Moreover, its clear that nobody actually expects them to make good on their rhetoric about fiscal prudence. They’ve abandoned it pretty much without punishment. Pushing austerity during a downturn and priming the pump when the economy is near full health might turn out to be an incredibly canny political strategy, even if it may have been unplanned. If there ever comes another time when sabotaging the economy might work to Republicans’ advantage, they have every incentive to do it again. [emphasis mine]

14) So, I’m going to be reviewing some students for scholarships soon and it really got me thinking about what sorts of character traits a reviewer might want to see.  I thought to myself “intellectual humility.”  Turns out, that is a thing.  It also led me to this nice Tom Friedman column on how to get a job at google:

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

That’s good stuff.  That said, it seems to be hard enough to find in 40-somethings.  I wonder how much you find in high-achieving young adults.

15) Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the sea turns 20.  One of the very best albums ever.

16) Michael Lewis on Trump and Bannon.  So, so much goodness:

Bannon has a favorite line: If I had to choose who will run the country, 100 Goldman Sachs partners or the first 100 people who walk into a Trump rally, I’d choose the people at the Trump rally. I have my own version of this line: If I had to choose a president, Donald Trump or anyone else I’ve ever known, I’d choose anyone else I’ve ever known. Among the revelations of Wolff’s book was just how many of the people in and around Trump’s White House feel more or less as I do…

He just thinks I’m missing the point. “What was needed was a blunt force instrument, and Trump was a blunt force instrument,” he says. Trump may be a barbarian. He may be in many senses stupid. But in Bannon’s view, Trump has several truly peculiar strengths. The first is his stamina. “I give a talk to a room with 50 people and I’m drained afterward,” Bannon says. “This guy got up five and six times a day in front of 10,000 people, day in and day out. He’s 70! Hillary Clinton couldn’t do that. She could do one.” The public events were not trivial occasions, in Bannon’s view. They whipped up the emotion that got Trump elected: anger. “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall,” he says. “This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.”

The ability to tap anger in others was another of Trump’s gifts, and made him, uniquely in the field of Republican candidates, suited to what Bannon saw as the task at hand: Trump was himself angry. The deepest parts of him are angry and dark, Bannon told Wolff. Exactly what Trump has to be angry about was unclear. He’s had all of life’s advantages. Yet he acts like a man who has been cheated once too often, and is justifiably outraged. What Bannon loved was the way Trump sounded when he was angry. He’d gone to the best schools, but he had somehow emerged from them with the grammar and diction of an uneducated person. “The vernacular,” Bannon called Trump’s odd way of putting things. Other angry people, some of whom actually had been cheated by life, thrilled to its sound.

 

 

Advertisements

Quick hits (part I)

1) Don’t know how I missed this before, but “why conservatives are more susceptible to believing lies” is really good:

The answer, I think, lies in the interaction between reasoning processes and personality. It’s each person’s particular motivations and particular psychological makeup that affects how they search for information, what information they pay attention to, how they assess the accuracy and meaning of the information, what information they retain, and what conclusions they draw. But conservatives and liberals typically differ in their particular psychological makeups. And if you add up all of these particular differences, you get two groups that are systematically motivated to believe different things.

Psychologists have repeatedly reported that self-described conservatives tend to place a higher value than those to their left on deference to tradition and authority. They are more likely to value stability, conformity, and order, and have more difficulty tolerating novelty and ambiguity and uncertainty. They are more sensitive than liberals to information suggesting the possibility of danger than to information suggesting benefits. And they are more moralistic and more likely to repress unconscious drives towards unconventional sexuality.

Fairness and kindness place lower on the list of moral priorities for conservatives than for liberals. Conservatives show a stronger preference for higher status groups, are more accepting of inequality and injustice, and are less empathic (at least towards those outside their immediate family). As one Tea Party member told University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild, “People think we are not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees. But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”…

These conservative traits lead directly to conservative views on many issues, just as liberal traits tend to lead to liberal views on many issues. But when you consider how these conservative traits and these conservative views interact with commonly shared patterns of motivated reasoning, it becomes clearer why conservatives may be more likely to run into errors in reasoning and into difficulty judging accurately what is true and what is false.

It’s not just that Trump is “their” president, so they want to defend him. Conservatives’ greater acceptance of hierarchy and trust in authority may lead to greater faith that what the president says must be true, even when the “facts” would seem to indicate otherwise…

Similarly, greater valuation of stability, greater sensitivity to the possibility of danger, and greater difficulty tolerating difference and change lead to greater anxiety about social change and so support greater credulity with respect to lurid tales of the dangers posed by immigrants. And higher levels of repression and greater adherence to tradition and traditional sources of moral judgment increase the credibility of claims that gay marriage is a threat to the “traditional” family.

2) I didn’t think this was actually a new finding, but college professors sacrifice pay– as compared to comparable professionals– for greater flexibility in how they use their time.  A trade I’m grateful for every day.

3) The current flu vaccine market is broken and we need to fix it.  Or more flu.

4) NYT Op-ed on our hackable political future:

Imagine it is the spring of 2019. A bottom-feeding website, perhaps tied to Russia, “surfaces” video of a sex scene starring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the product of a user-friendly video application that employs generative adversarial network technology to convincingly swap out one face for another.

It is the summer of 2019, and the story, predictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talking point. “It’s news,” political journalists say in their own defense. “People are talking about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior senator from New York State announces her campaign for the presidency. At a diner in New Hampshire, one “low information” voter asks another: “Kirsten What’s-her-name? She’s running for president? Didn’t she have something to do with pornography?”

Welcome to the shape of things to come.

5) I’m so going to start noticing now that cartoon villains often speak with foreign accents.  And, yes, of course that has implications for what our kids learn.

6) Great upshot piece on the “able-bodied” poor in American society:

The “able-bodied” are now everywhere among government programs for the poor, Republican officials point out. They’re on food stamps. They’re collecting welfare. They’re living in subsidized housing. And their numbers have swelled on Medicaid, a program that critics say was never designed to serve them.

These so-called able-bodied are defined in many ways by what they are not: not disabled, not elderly, not children, not pregnant, not blind. They are effectively everyone left, and they have become the focus of resurgent conservative proposals to overhaul government aid, such as one announced last month by the Trump administration that would allow states to test work requirements for Medicaid.

Able-bodied is not truly a demographic label, though: There is no standard for physical or mental ability that makes a person able. Rather, the term has long been a political one. Across centuries of use, it has consistently implied another negative: The able-bodied could work, but are not working (or working hard enough). And, as such, they don’t deserve our aid.

“Within that term is this entire history of debates about the poor who can work but refuse to, because they’re lazy,” said Susannah Ottaway, a historian of social welfare at Carleton College in Minnesota. “To a historian, to see this term is to understand its very close association with debates that center around the need to morally reform the poor.” [emphasis mine]

7) This NYT look at how the two Koreas have diverged since the last Korean Olympics (1988) is truly fascinating.  Here’s one of the amazing charts.

8) Of course rural North Carolinians think that a sexual education curriculum that teaches that everyone is not straight and birth control is a thing is the work of the devil.  Of course, the county gave in and pulled the curriculum.

9) Really interesting piece from science journalist Ed Yong from how he worked assiduously to reduce gender bias in his stories.

10) Academia-twitter lit up this week in response to a tweet suggesting that graduate students should plan on working at least 60 hours a week, since that’s what professors are working.  Ummm, no.  Turns out that the 60 hours upon which the tweeter based this comes from a single study of 30(!!) non-random professors at Boise State.  Please!

11) Love this from John McWhorter on Trump’s linguistic style and his mental fitness:

Two and three decades ago, Mr. Trump spoke to David Letterman and Rona Barrett in the quietly composed phrasing we expect of public figures expressing serious thoughts. So why does the same man now toss off word salad?

Because he can.

The younger Mr. Trump, albeit as self-obsessed as now, was not yet a rock star, and he had a businessman’s normal inclination to present himself in as polished a manner as possible in public settings. Especially as someone who grew up in the 1950s, when old-school standards of oratory were still part of the warp and woof of American linguistic culture, Mr. Trump instinctually talked “up” when the cameras were rolling. To him, cloaking his speech in its Sunday best would have been part of, as it were, being a gentleman.

However, for him this would always have been more stunt than essence. Since he is someone who neither reads nor reflects, his linguistic comfort zone has always been the unadorned.

At a certain point, Mr. Trump became the man who felt – and was comfortable saying publicly – that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and retain his supporters’ allegiance. Someone with that mind-set, especially a sybaritic person unaccustomed to sustained effort, has no impetus to speak in a way unnatural to him in public.

Mr. Trump is equally unmoved by any sense that to speak as a president is a kind of kabuki or performance art, in which one doesn’t so much talk as signal. He has learned that he can just show up and run his mouth, and he’ll be adored regardless.

Some suppose Mr. Trump started talking down deliberately in order to portray folksiness. But this imputes to him a sociological sensitivity, a reflective, outwardly focused theory of mind, that he shows no evidence of otherwise. More likely, Mr. Trump has simply taken the path of least resistance.

12) Trump’s solution for the opioid crisis?  Be really mean to drug dealers.  Jeff Sessions?  Blame marijuana (which evidence indicates, might actually mitigate it).

13) New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino asks, “Is there a smarter way to think about sexual assault on campus.”  You don’t need to read the article to know the answer is, “hell, yes!”  That said, it is worth reading as a thoughtful discussion of the issue.

14) Good Lord, Chuck Todd is an idiot, as Erik Wemple nicely points out.

15) This new mutant crayfish species that reproduces asexually and has taken over Europe in just 25 years is a hell of a story:

Over the past five years, Dr. Lyko and his colleagues have sequenced the genomes of marbled crayfish. In a study published on Monday, the researchers demonstrate that the marble crayfish, while common, is one of the most remarkable species known to science.

Before about 25 years ago, the species simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the marbled crayfish in an instant.

The mutation made it possible for the creature to clone itself, and now it has spread across much of Europe and gained a toehold on other continents. In Madagascar, where it arrived about 2007, it now numbers in the millions and threatens native crayfish.

“We may never have caught the genome of a species so soon after it became a species,” said Zen Faulkes, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who was not involved in the new study…

Only about 1 in 10,000 species comprise cloning females. Many studies suggest that sex-free species are rare because they don’t last long.

In one such study, Abraham E. Tucker of Southern Arkansas University and his colleagues studied 11 asexual species of water fleas, a tiny kind of invertebrate. Their DNA indicates that the species only evolved about 1,250 years ago.

There are a lot of clear advantages to being a clone. Marbled crayfish produce nothing but fertile offspring, allowing their populations to explode. “Asexuality is a fantastic short-term strategy,” said Dr. Tucker.

In the long term, however, there are benefits to sex. Sexually reproducing animals may be better at fighting off diseases, for example.

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

The marbled crayfish offers scientists a chance to watch this drama play out practically from the beginning. In its first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well turn.

16) Really liked this Op-Ed about saying no.  One key is to say, “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.”   I use this on telephone solicitations all the time.

Second, it’s easier to say no when you know exactly how to say it, so come up with a few anchor phrases for different situations. “No, I don’t buy from solicitors” for door-to-door salespeople, for example. “No, I don’t go out during the week” for co-workers who want to go on a drinking binge on a Monday night.

When you have these phrases ready, you don’t have to waste time wavering over an excuse. And you start to develop a reflexive behavior of saying no.

17) So, I thought this InsiderHigherEd piece on making academic conferences more family-friendly to benefit women scholars had some good points, but I feel like it was really remiss to not even discuss the dynamics that make things hard for women scholars with young children, but presumably not male scholars.  Seems we could be expecting more of these female professor’s husband’s/partners to be able to step up for a few days.

18) I really enjoyed this article on one of the very few conservative Democrats remaining in the House, Dan Lipinski, because I knew Lipinski back when he was a political science graduate student at Duke (he was briefly a PS professor before taking over his dad’s Congressional seat).  He is an example of how the time has come to challenge certain Democratic legislators from the left.

Of the 34 Democrats who broke with the party on that most consequential vote eight years ago, just three remain in office. And none have had it quite so easy as Lipinski, a low-key former college professor who in 2005 inherited a Chicago-area House seat that his father held for two decades.

He’s escaped any real threat from Republicans; they defeated most of the other anti-Obamacare Democrats but couldn’t compete in his solidly blue district. And the left has been too busy defending the law and fighting other battles in the years since.

But Lipinski, 51, is now facing a serious primary challenge for the first time in a decade, in what progressives say is a long-overdue political reckoning for a congressman whose voting record has gotten too far to the right of his constituents. Illinois’s third congressional district, which includes a portion of Chicago and suburbs to the south and west, went for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary and backed Hillary Clinton by 15 points in the general election.

19) Rob Schofield on how North Carolina’s legislative politics is increasingly conducted in the dark.

In some ways, of course, this is not a new story. Ever since Republicans seized control of the General Assembly in 2011, there has been a broad and steady decline in open debate and fair process.

Whether it’s cutting off debate on legislation, holding surprise, late night sessions, regularly ignoring the committee process, burying new and controversial laws that were never previously discussed in omnibus budget bills that cannot be amended, holding an endless series of “special” legislative sessions, refusing to record and archive all sorts of important proceedings, or even directly and blatantly punishing lawmakers who dare to speak up during debate, Republicans have evidenced little shame. Much as has been the case with gerrymandering, legislative leaders have not so much invented new tactics and tricks as they have cynically perfected and expanded the use of old ones.

20) Kurt Andersen with an excellent piece on how the conspiracy theory wing of the Republican party took over.

This is not just symbolic wankery. Take Agenda 21, for instance. In 1992, the U.N. held an Earth Summit to start getting everyone on the same page concerning the environment, especially on CO2 emissions. It adopted a voluntary blueprint called Agenda 21, which nobody outside the environmental do-good sector paid any attention to for many, many years. From 1994 to 2006, there was exactly one reference to Agenda 21 in the New York Times.

But then the right discovered it—exposed it!—and refashioned Agenda 21 as a secret key to the globalist conspiracy. By 2012, Americans on the right knew to be scared, very scared, of this vague, 20-year-old international environmental plan. When the Obama administration created the White House Rural Council to promote economic development in places like Appalachia, a Fox News anchor warned that it was “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one-world order.” When Newt Gingrich was briefly the front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination and mentioned it during a debate, applause prevented him from finishing the thought. At that moment, Glenn Beck had just published his dystopian novel, Agenda 21, and provided a perfect glimpse into the conspiracist mind on his TV show, where one of his Agenda 21 experts said, “You’re not going to find anything that isn’t Agenda 21 these days. … People recognize many, many things that are wrong but they don’t realize that they’re all connected.”

21) As Yglesias put it, “another crippling blow to MS 13.”  The CNN story, “‘Pillar of the community’ deported from US after 39 years to a land he barely knows.”

22) Man, I used to love to read newsmagazines, and subscribed to Time for years and years.  On the demise of Newsweek.

23) Among the many, many stupid and counter-productive prison policies, many prisons now make it absurdly difficult for prisoners to get decent books.  Can’t we even let prisoners have good stuff to read?!

24) The headline says it all, “Military parades are about ego and power. Of course Trump wants one.”

25) So much for my compact disc collection.  Best Buy won’t even be selling them anymore.  Of course, it’s been a long time since I actually listened to a CD, much less purchased one.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Apparently, there’s all sorts of cool new medical treatments based on ultrasound.

2) Loved this about the myths behind speed reading and how to actually improve reading speed.  TLDR: read:

The serious way to improve reading—how well we comprehend a text and, yes, speed and efficiency—is this (apologies, Michael Pollan):

Read. Reading skill depends on knowledge acquired from reading. Skilled readers know more about language, including many words and structures that occur in print but not in speech. They also have greater “background knowledge,” familiarity with the structure and content of what is being read. We acquire this information in the act of reading itself—not by training our eyes to rotate in opposite directions, playing brain exercise games, or breathing diaphragmatically. Just reading.

As much as possible. Every time we read we update our knowledge of language. At a conscious level we read a text for its content: because it is a story or a textbook or a joke. At a subconscious level our brains automatically register information about the structure of language; the next chapter is all about this. Developing this elaborate linguistic network requires exposure to a large sample of texts.

Mostly new stuff. Knowledge of language expands through exposure to structures we do not already know. That may mean encountering unfamiliar words or familiar words used in novel ways. It may mean reading P. D. James, E. L. James, and Henry James because their use of language is so varied. A large sample of texts in varied styles and genres will work, including some time spent just outside one’s textual comfort zone.

Reading expands one’s knowledge of language and the world in ways that increase reading skill, making it easier and more enjoyable to read. Increases in reading skill make it easier to consume the texts that feed this learning machinery. It is not the eyes but what we know about language, print, and the world— knowledge that is easy to increase by reading—that determines reading skill. Where this expertise leads, the eyes will follow.

3) This Washington Post feature on the peril of women freezing eggs until later was really, really good.  It’s no guarantee, though for some women it works great.  A big key is how many eggs can be harvested (as this chart below shows) and that varies a lot.

4) Loved Caitlyn Flanagan’s latest take on #metoo:

And then came the allegations that Al Franken had groped six women, and forced a kiss on one of them. While many of his colleagues in the Senate dithered about whether this was really grounds for banishing him, Gillibrand wrote a 600-word Facebook post entitled “Senator Franken Should Resign.” Within 90 minutes, 15 more Democrats, and one Republican, had joined her in a coordinated push for his ouster. By day’s end, the great majority of Democratic senators sided with her—perhaps because she had persuaded them, and perhaps because #MeToo has made cowards of many people who are terrified of having the mob turn on them. It was after this victory that she gave her news conference about having “the wrong conversation.”

There were a few women who were willing to stand up for Franken. The law professor—and feminist—Zephyr Teachout wrote in The New York Times that she was not convinced Franken should quit: “Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality.” These words—a balm of Gilead for anyone hoping to strengthen the movement by adding reason and fairness to its core ideals—seemed not to register within the larger, “burn it down” spirit animating the mob.

Bill Maher told his audience about the trouble Matt Damon got into for saying that “There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation.” That prompted Minnie Driver to tweet, “No. You don’t get to be hierarchical about abuse. You don’t get to tell women that because some guy only showed them his penis, their pain isn’t as great as a woman who was raped.”

It was like the kind of hyper-gendered conversation that women’s magazines of yesteryear loved to decode for their readers: He was talking about facts; she was talking about feelings.

Holy shoot– something is really wrong with somebody is as traumatized from seeing a flasher as they are from being raped.  Damn straight you get to be hierarchical about abuse.  Life is a serios of judgments that some things are better/worse than other things.  Damn.

5) Turns out podcast listeners (That’s me!) are advertisers’ holy grail.  Also, after a twitter discussion on the matter, I’ve switched from the Apple podcast player to Overcast.  Very happy with it so far.

6) “North Carolina Mismanaged Itself Into Electoral Chaos.”  I.e., North Carolina Republicans mismanaged…

7) Love Penzey’s Spices.  Now even more so that I have learned their owner/founder is unapologetic about mixing his liberal politics with his spices.  Also enjoyed learning about the family dispute in the Wisconsin mail-order spice business.

8) Oh, man, the malfeasance and lawlessness of this Baltimore police unit are absolutely disgusting.  Meanwhile, Trump’s DOJ has pulled back federal oversight of this.  Ugh.  Radley Balko:

It gets worse. Here are some other highlights from the trial, as reported by the Baltimore Sun:

• [Former detective Maurice] Ward testified that his squad would prowl the streets for guns and drugs, with his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, driving fast at groups of people and slamming on the brakes. The officers would pop their doors open to see who ran, then give chase and detain and search them. Ward said this occurred 10 to 20 times on slow nights, and more than 50 times, “easy,” on busier nights.

The officers had no reason to target the crowds other than to provoke someone who might have drugs or a gun into running.

• Ward said Jenkins liked to profile certain vehicles for traffic stops. Honda Accords, Acura TLs, Honda Odysseys were among the “dope boy cars” that they would pull over, claiming the drivers weren’t wearing seat belts or their windows were too heavily tinted. …

• Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.” He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone. …

• Ward testified that he and [Marcus] Taylor once conducted a “trash run” on a home in preparation for obtaining a search warrant. They found marijuana residue in the target’s trash, but realized the trash can belonged to another resident. They proceeded anyway, submitting an affidavit for a search warrant falsely claiming the drugs had been found in the target’s trash can. …

• Rayam said the unit made regular use of illegal GPS trackers to follow suspects.

• Rayam said the officers once recovered a pound and a half of marijuana and a gun in a search conducted before they had secured a warrant. Jenkins told him to “just get rid of it,” and Rayam said he and another officer sold the drugs and gun back onto the street.

Keep in mind, these weren’t inexperience beat cops. This was one of the elite police units in the city. Also keep in mind that the only reason we know about all of this is because of — yes — a federal investigation.

9) Wow.  This US Navy “Fat Leonard” scandal is absolutely something else.

In a case that ranks as the worst corruption scandal in Navy history, the Justice Department has charged 15 officers and one enlisted sailor who served on the Blue Ridge with taking bribes from or lying about their ties to Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based tycoon who held lucrative contracts to service Navy ships and submarines in Asian ports.

For the better part of a decade, as part of a massive scam to defraud the Navy, Francis systematically infiltrated the Blue Ridge to a degree that is only now coming into focus, more than four years after the defense contractor’s arrest, according to the documents from federal court and the Navy, as well as interviews with Navy officials and associates of Francis.

10) Love this New Yorker piece on carob.  I had literally forgotten about it’s existence, but I definitely remember it’s heyday in my childhood as a supposed chocolate substitute.

11) Of course Trump’s appointee to head the CDC bought tobacco stock one month after taking over the agency.

12) Pretty interesting essay on all that’s gone wrong with people posting crazy stuff on YouTube.

13) Of course Trump’s infrastructure “plan” in completely empty.  Yglesias:

That Democratic plan was always going nowhere but it existed as a trial balloon to test one potential theory of Trump-era governance.

Maybe Donald Trump who, after all, lacked personal or institutional ties to the Republican Party or the conservative movement, would govern as a kind of free-agent. Sure, Trump would say and do racist stuff that Democrats didn’t like. But maybe they could work with him on infrastructure and other elements of his “populist” persona.

What we’re saying today is that persona is dead, if it was ever really alive to begin with. Like his vaporware plan to reduce prescription drug costs, or his long-forgotten promise to expand health insurance coverage, Trump’s infrastructure plan is a rhetorical conceit with no relationship to the actual way he runs the federal government. Authority is vested in the hands of a handful of aides who largely defer to congressional Republicans, while the president busies himself tweeting and plotting against Robert Mueller. There is no infrastructure plan and there never will be.

14) Love this Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the misguided obsession with metrics in academia:

The key components of metric fixation are:

  • the belief that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment, acquired by experience and talent, with numerical indicators based upon standardized data.
  • the belief that making such metrics public assures that institutions are carrying out their purposes.
  • the belief that the best way to motivate people is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.

These assumptions have been on the march for several decades, and their assumed truth goes marching on.

The pernicious spillover effects became clear to me during my time as chair of the history department at the Catholic University of America. Such a job has many facets: mentoring and hiring; ensuring that necessary courses get taught; maintaining relations with the university administration. Those responsibilities were in addition to my roles as a faculty member: teaching, researching, and keeping up with my field. I was quite satisfied.

Then, things began to change. Like all colleges, Catholic gets evaluated every decade by an accrediting body. For my university, that body is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. It issued a report that included demands for more metrics on which to base future “assessment” — a buzzword in higher education that usually means more measurement of performance. Soon, I found my time increasingly devoted to answering requests for more and more statistics about the activities of the department, which diverted my time from research, teaching, and mentoring faculty members. New scales for evaluating the achievements of our graduating majors added no useful insights to our previous measuring instrument: grades.

Gathering and processing all this data required the university to hire ever more specialists. Some of their reports were useful; for example, spreadsheets that showed the average grade awarded in each course. But much of the information was of no real use, and read by no one. Yet once the culture of performance-documentation caught on, department chairs found themselves in a data arms-race. I led a required yearlong departmental self-assessment — a useful exercise, as it turned out. But before sending it up the bureaucratic chain, I was urged to add more statistical appendices — because if I didn’t, the report would look less rigorous than that of other departments…

Metric fixation, which seems immune to evidence that it frequently doesn’t work, has elements of a cult. Studies that demonstrate its lack of effectiveness are either ignored or met with the claim that what is needed are more data. Metric fixation, which aspires to imitate science, resembles faith.

15) Brian Beutler on the Republican war on empirical reality.

16) Drum on how Republicans like to use human misery as a bargaining chip.

Here’s the problem for Democrats: taking this position will almost certainly cause some human misery. Republicans won’t fold easily, and in the meantime Dreamers will indeed get deported to a country they’ve never lived in. But liberals don’t like human misery, and Republicans hold them hostage to this sense of basic decency all the time. It happened with CHIP. It happened with the shutdown. And it’s happening now with DACA. Democrats fold because they actually care about the pain that their actions might cause.

Republicans are well aware of this, so they perversely have an incentive to deliberately provoke human misery as a bargaining tool against Democrats. This is the kind of tough-guy politics that makes me ill, but maybe it’s time for Democrats to stop providing this incentive.

17) Heartbreaking essay from the wife of a brain-damaged former NFL player.

18) Something tells me that the shortage of high school referees is because they get treated like crap and everybody seems to think that’s fine.

19) Jamelle Bouie on nativism and Trump’s immigration policy.

The cohesion Trump espouses isn’t national or ideological. It is racial. The fight over immigration isn’t between two camps who value the contributions of immigrants and simply quibble over the mix and composition of entrants to the United States. It is between a camp that values immigrants and seeks to protect the broader American tradition of inclusion, and one that rejects this openness in favor of a darker legacy of exclusion. And in the current moment, it is the restrictionists who have are the loudest and most influential voices, and their concerns are driving the terms of the debate.

20) In-car navigation systems are trying to come to grips with the fact that nobody uses them because they are so much worse than what we all have in our phones.  The built-in navigation on my Jetta is a joke compared to Apple or Google maps.  Furthermore, thanks to Apple CarPlay, Apple Maps can basically be my in-car navigation system (also, one of the reasons I’m glad I decided on the Jetta over the Mazda 3).

21) Somehow I had missed this 2016 Wired article asking if the Honeycrisp apple is engineered to fail.  Honeycrisps are good, but not nearly good enough to justify their price premium.  I far prefer the more reasonably priced Jazz and Braeburn.  But why in the world are Red Delicious apples still even for sale anywhere??!!

22) Can’t say I agreed with everything in this essay about “the female price of male pleasure” but it certainly made me think.

23) Finally watched my open tab of John Oliver’s takedown of junk forensic science.  It was so good.  Especially his CSI dramatization at the end.

24) If you haven’t listened to Ezra Klein’s “How Democracies Die” interview you really should.  It’s terrific.  That said, nice summary of the argument from Ezra here.

 

Preventative care does not save money

Back when I was just a wannabe health care wonk, I regularly made the mistake of arguing that providing more free/low-cost preventative care would actually lead to less overall health care savings.  Talk about a win-win.  Alas, I (like many others) was wrong.  But, you know what?  That’s okay.  Some things are worthy society spending on.  And preventative health care is surely one of those things.  Aaron Carroll:

The idea that spending more on preventive care will reduce overall health care spending is widely believed and often promoted as a reason to support reform. It’s thought that too many people with chronic illnesses wait until they are truly ill before seeking care, often in emergency rooms, where it costs more. It should follow then that treating diseases earlier, or screening for them before they become more serious, would wind up saving money in the long run.

Unfortunately, almost none of this is true.

[Nice summary of studies of all kinds of health care showing this]

But money doesn’t have to be saved to make something worthwhile. Prevention improves outcomes. It makes people healthier. It improves quality of life. It often does so for a very reasonable price.

There are many good arguments for increasing our focus on prevention. Almost all have to do with improving quality, though, not reducing spending. We would do well to admit that and move forward.

Sometimes good things cost money. [emphasis mine]

So, yeah, let’s keep making arguments for government doing more to make preventative care affordable and accessible.  Let’s just be honest– it’s worth paying for.

Okay, the health insurance companies are evil too

So, one of the things you learn when you really delve into health care policy is how much of the greed and the absurd costs in America are driving by the providers, especially large for-profit hospital corporations and medical practices.  (Again, I cannot recommend Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book enough).  Often times, the insurance companies are just the middle-men who get blamed.

But, damnit, sometimes they are pretty bad actors themselves.  Very disturbing story in Vox on how Anthem health has started denying coverage for emergency room visits for what turned out to be non-emergency situations.  They are doing it strictly off the diagnosis code upon leaving the ER.  What this obviously fails to take into account, though, is the presenting symptoms at the ER.  Have the basic symptoms of a ruptured appendix that turns out to be ovarian cysts, sorry you are out $12,000.  Have extreme chest pain that turns out to not be a heart attack.  Tough luck.

Of course, this expects people to be able to accurately diagnose themselves before visiting the ER.  And, it discourages appropriate (and potentially life-saving) ER use by instilling fear you’ll receive exorbitant charges.  No, you shouldn’t go to the ER for the flu or a sprained ankle.  And, yes, insurance companies have a right to disincentive that, but this damn sure ain’t the solution.  And Sarah Kliff’s terrific article does not get into what happens in other advanced democracies, but something tells me this is not happening in pretty much anywhere else with more rational health care policies.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Criminal Justice twitter was alight the other day about how it is so wrong for any judge to ever advocate sexual assault against prisoners (as happened in the Nassar case).  Nice post in Deadspin.

2) Taking advantage of the fact that military families move around all the time, researchers have more evidence that your neighbors’ weight impacts your own.

3) Nice article in Wired about all the really cool film-making video essays now available on Youtube.  I’m really going to start digging into these.

4) This joint interview with long-time friends Steven Pinker and Bill Gates was terrific.  Both super-smart, super-thoughtful thinkers.  And I had not realized I should be reading Gates‘ book reviews.

PG The motto of the foundation is: “Every life has equal value.” And in your new book, Steven, there’s the idea that we can’t want something good for ourselves without wanting it for everyone. But in truth, I want better things for my husband and my kids than for you. Is that evil, or human?

BG That’s natural. It’s even predicted by evolutionary logic. What makes Papua New Guinea — where there’s no police and revenge after revenge — different from Western society is that when we give ourselves over to the law, we want it to be executed impartially. We gain stability. But if you could get your son off, of course you’ll try.

SP You left off a crucial piece in framing the proposition, Philip — which comes from Spinoza. He said those under the influence of reason desire nothing for themselves that they do not desire for all humankind. But reason is not a powerful part of human nature. Innately, we favor family over strangers, our tribe over other tribes. It’s only when we’re called upon to justify our beliefs — not consult our gut feelings, but convince others of the right way to act — that we conclude that all lives have equal value.

5) Scientists are starting to get a better idea of what happens in your body when you exercise.  Short version– it’s really complicated.  Additional short version– exercise is really, really good for you.

The study helps to clarify some of the body-wide health effects of working out and also underscores just how physiologically complex exercise is.

For some time, scientists have suspected that the body’s internal organs are as gossipy and socially entangled as any 8th-grade classroom. It is thought that, under the right conditions, fat cells chat with muscle cells, and muscle cells whisper to brain cells and everybody seems to want to be buddies with the liver.

These interactions are especially abundant during exercise, when continued movement demands intricate coordination of many different systems within the body, including those that create cellular energy.

6) This Politico story asks, “By any measure, she was one of the most successful Fed chairs in history. Why didn’t Trump keep her around?”  Ummmm, that’s pretty easy.  Because Obama appointed her and Trump is a moronic sexist pig.

7) Eric Levitz, “Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die.”

8) Love thisAccumulated Winter Season Severity Index” to see how bad your winter is.  Pretty bad in Raleigh.

9) This is pretty infuriating, “How an Arizona couple’s innocent bath-time photos of their kids set off a 10-year legal saga.”  All I can say is– what is wrong with people??!!

10) Ross Douthat and Frum discuss Frum’s Trumpocracy.  

Frum: Instead, they concluded: “What if we shaped the electorate to be a little more friendly to us? Might our formerly unpopular ideas prevail then?” The G.O.P. is complicit with Trump because he delivered a success that finer leaders and better methods could not deliver. Trumpocracy is the fusion of Trump’s authoritarian instincts with the G.O.P.’s plutocratic instincts in the context of a country trending in very different directions.

11) Wonkblog, “Why can’t conservatives just admit they were wrong about inflation?”  Because they cannot seem to admit they’ve been wrong about practically everything on the economy in recent years.  Of course, nobody is good at admitting they are wrong, but conservatives have been wrong about the economy a lot in recent decades.

12) Lee Drutman on how nationalism undermines income redistribution:

The more nationalistic the country, the worse the poor are doing relative to the rich

Shayo’s theory is that if lower-income individuals think of themselves as lower class, they will want more redistribution. If class consciousness prevails, the lower classes will strongly support redistribution and vote accordingly.

But if national identity is more salient than class identity, poorer individuals might instead identify with the nation more broadly, and less with their class.

Basically, humans are not selfish. We are group-ish. We want what’s best for people like us. But “people like us” is a highly subjective category. If “people like us” is “American patriots,” we’ll want what benefits “American patriots.” If we take on a nationalist identity, we can bask in the reflected glow of American greatness, even if our own finances are precarious. Thus, Shayo argues, “a national identity means less weight on class issues and less support for redistribution.”

13) Love this idea from David Plotz and Hanna Rosin— married couples all have one ur-fight that the keep returning to in different guises.  I can’t think of anything like this for my wife and I, but she may well see it differently.

14) In a surprise to no one who cares about good public policy, Trump’s tariffs on solar cells are horrible public policy:

But while the tariffs may help domestic manufacturers, they are expected to ripple throughout the industry in ways that may ultimately hurt American companies and their workers. Energy experts say it is unlikely that the tariffs will create more than a small number of American solar manufacturing jobs, since low-wage countries will continue to have a competitive edge.

Solar manufacturing now represents just a fraction of the overall jobs that have developed around the solar industry. More than 260,000 Americans are employed in the sector, but fewer than 2,000 of those employed in the United States are manufacturing solar cells and modules, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate…

But by raising the cost of one all-important ingredient, the tariffs could make solar power less competitive with other sources of energy, like gas and wind, resulting in the construction of fewer solar projects. On Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that the president’s action would result in the loss of roughly 23,000 jobs in the solar industry this year, as well as the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars of investments.

At the Wakefield solar farm, the five-megawatt project on the Vinson family’s land, the cells that collect solar energy are imported — they were manufactured by JA Solar, a Chinese company, which makes cells and panels in China and Malaysia.

But the steel frames that the panels rest on are American made, manufactured by RBI Solar, which is based in Cincinnati. The steel that RBI Solar used to make these racks is also American, bought from Worthington Industries in Ohio and Attala Steel in Mississippi.

15) Just came across this essay from November, it’s really good: “Racism May Have Gotten Us Into This Mess, But Identity Politics Can’t Get Us Out.”

One particularly revealing study, by the political scientists Edward Carmines and Geoffrey Layman, suggests that, regardless of their racial attitudes, Republican voters are unlikely to support government programs. But while Democrats in general view such programs more favorably, those who express antagonistic attitudes toward blacks are much less likely to support government programs if they are framed in racial terms.

In other words, racial signaling isn’t likely to have much of an effect on the Republican base — they are already ideologically predisposed to reject government help for the problems of minorities. But it doeshave an effect on those voters who would support progressive policies if not for their racial animus. It’s the “progressive deplorables” in our midst who are the real problem — at least from an electoral perspective…

And yet the tacit prescription offered by some Democrats to remedy the ills of white identity politics is, inexplicably, to double down on identity-based messaging. Some Democrats even take this so far as to argue that the party should not reach out to Trump voters at all because they are racist —- advocating by implication that we cede those voters completely to the right. This is where identity politics, despite its benefits, has the potential to be most dangerous…

And as depressed voter turnout among African-Americans and Latinx voting trends suggest, all Americans, regardless of color, need a principle to vote for, not just an enemy to resist. For those living on the margins, incremental change is a life sentence to inhumane conditions, and Democratic candidates whose biggest selling point is being not as-racist-as-the-next-guy are unlikely to secure the voter investment Democrats need in 2018 and 2020. Simply put, relying on identity alone is a bad bet.

16) Really, really good piece from David Roberts about what it means to be an environmentalist versus a climate hawk.  Not sure I consider myself a climate hawk, more so a pragmatic environmentalist.  Regardless, good stuff:

First, it’s fine if an individual or group chooses to prioritize rivers in Quebec or the safety risks of existing nuclear power plants over the threat of climate change. Sincerely: it’s fine. I don’t personally agree with that ranking, but people are entitled to their own values and priorities.

But an individual or group should not do so while also proclaiming climate change an existential threat. By doing so they are deceiving themselves, their members, or both. There are tradeoffs among priorities, and eschewing 9.45 TWh of carbon-free energy is a big-ass tradeoff. To make that tradeoff is to prioritize being an environmentalist over being a climate hawk. It should be done with open eyes…

One example: environmentalists often cite studies showing that high penetrations of renewables are possible in the US. But those studies all show that achieving high penetrations requires a country-spanning network of new transmission lines. If there’s a study showing how to fully decarbonize without tons of new transmission, I haven’t seen it. So yes, transmission lines connecting zero-carbon power sources and loads might disrupt some people and ecosystems, but systematically opposing them simply isn’t commensurate with being a climate hawk.

Another example: full decarbonization would require, among other things, an enormousindustrial shift. Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of jobs in polluting industries would be wiped out and workers displaced. There would be new jobs in clean energy, but the US has not typically handled such workforce transitions well. Being a climate hawk means accepting serious social and economic disruption.

Decarbonization will also involve a mind-boggling amount of manufacturing, building, and retrofitting. Multiple solar and wind gigafactories would be built every year. Renewables would cover every open surface. Every city would be as dense and transit-served as possible. Being a climate hawk means accepting that some natural areas will be turned over to energy production and that “the character of the neighborhood” is going to be disrupted by infill and multi-modal transportation systems.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on the legal marijuana economy:

That growth is driven, start-ups in the industry say, by a simple idea: The humble hand-rolled joint was holding marijuana back.

By breaking marijuana free from smoking and its paraphernalia, new delivery methods — especially portable vapes — are transforming the image and utility of cannabis, and helping it grab a mainstream audience. In the booming new market, the drug of lazy stoners is being rebranded by start-ups as the “wellness” drug of tomorrow. It’s a cure-all for an anxious, tech-addled society — a salve for every ailment, a balm for every mood, ibuprofen meets a glass of red wine cut with Prozac and a hint of Deepak Chopra, all delivered to your door.

2) Really interesting article about how little we still understand about colic.  Other than that it’s hell for new parents.  (Those were the days, 18 years ago).

3) Robots that use algorithms to shake cherry trees and the future of robots in agriculture.

4) I find the Mormon debate on whether the religion actually forbids all caffeinated drinks or just coffee and tea really fascinating.  I first learned about this from a Diet-Coke-loving LDS friend back in graduate school.

4) Tyler Cowen on how police unions work to undermine the rule of law.  Really pretty disgusting stuff:

Earlier I wrote about how police unions around the country give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians, lawyers, judges and other connected people. The cards let police on the street know that the subject is to be given “professional courtesy” and they can be used to get out of speeding tickets and other infractions. Today, drawing on the Police Union Contracting Project, I discuss how union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get.

In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges.

The key to a good interrogation is that the suspect doesn’t know what the interrogator knows so the suspect can be caught in a lie which unravels their story. Thus, the Florida Police Bill of Rights is stunning in what it allows police officers:

The law enforcement officer or correctional officer under investigation must be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins, and he or she must be informed of the names of all complainants. All identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer. The complaint, all witness statements, including all other existing subject officer statements, and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, must be provided to each officer who is the subject of the complaint before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer.

By knowing what the interrogators know, the suspect can craft a story that fits the known facts–and the time privilege gives them the opportunity to do so.

Moreover, how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. Would you come forward?

How effective would criminal interrogations be if the following rules held for ordinary citizens?

5) CRISPR is definitely an awesome technology, but getting it to the point where it can cure genetic diseases in humans is no simple task.

6) Loved this two-minute Pew video on how random sampling works.  This will definitely be shown in future Intro classes.

7) Yglesias on how Trump isn’t really the president (or, as he admits on twitter, a very, very weak one):

The two big Republican policy pushes of 2018 — the failed drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the successful push to enact a large corporate tax cut — were led primarily by Congress rather than by the executive branch. That’s natural given Trump’s hazy level of interest in policy detail and the intense interest of the GOP caucus in these matters.

What’s become clear over the past few weeks as immigration has taken center stage, however, is that even in a process that is very much driven by the executive branch, it’s notdriven by Donald Trump. Trump has stronger feelings about immigration and a stronger political profile on it than either Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. But he simply lacks the disposition and intellectual capacity to do the job of president of the United States as it’s conventionally defined. He doesn’t have a handle on the contours of the NAFTA negotiations, the state of the economy, or even “his own” immigration policy.

He seems unaware of both the origins of the current standoff and the main subjects of disagreement between the parties. He’s the one who installed the team of anti-immigration hardliners — Chief of Staff John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and senior adviser Stephen Miller — who appear to be actually driving the process, so he’s responsible for what’s going on. But he’s not actually doing the work and, indeed, seems to have much less familiarity with his own policies and negotiating stances than a typical journalist or member of Congress.

8) Nice interview with Bill Kristol (or “woke Bill Kristol” as liberal twitter likes to refer to him).

9) No fixing gerrymandering is hardly a panacea that would solve our political ills, but it is still very much worth doing.  Harry Enten pretty much admits as much while making the strong case that gerrymandering is as much a symptom than a cause.  This chart is really something else:

10) Interesting take on how McGahn’s refusal to fire Trump is the Republican establishment striking back:

Imagine trying to return to Jones Day—or some equivalent firm—after firing Robert Mueller. In the words of Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former ethics czar, who has tussled with McGahn for many years, “He didn’t want that personal baggage. What’s he going to do for a living, go live in a frat house with Steve Bannon and Dr. Price and Sean Spicer and people that can’t get a job?”

McGahn may have genuinely believed firing Mueller was wrong. But people don’t always do the right thing because a small, still voice tells them to. Sometimes it’s the loud, collective voice of their community threatening them with excommunication.

It’s worth remembering that Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, were both deeply ensconced in the Washington establishments of their day. Richardson had already served as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and under secretary of Defense. Ruckelshaus had been the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both men’s careers in government preceded the Nixon administration. By contrast, the third in command in Nixon’s Justice Department, Robert Bork, was more of an outsider. He had spent his career outside Washington, in academia, and reportedly fired Cox, in significant measure, because of his deep belief in the constitutionality of executive power.

It’s become commonplace to note that many establishment Republican politicians privately consider Trump unfit to be president but won’t challenge him publicly because he enjoys the support of their constituents. For McGahn, the calculation is different: The members of the Washington Republican establishment are his constituents. And they’ll be around long after Donald Trump is gone.

11) Why we forget most of what we read.  So true!!  I also find it interesting how much more I forget about what my son David and I read together, than he forgets.  That said, he’s horrible at remembering author’s names.

The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

12) Of course North Carolina’s inexperienced, 34-year old, new Superintendent of Public Instruction who earns $127,000/year thinks $35,000 is a great starting salary for NC teachers.

13) Unfortunately, nobody wants your used clothes anymore.  Or, at least the market for them in developing countries has largely collapsed.

14) Alas, it’s basically impossible to create a test for intoxication due to marijuana:

You see, different people handle marijuana differently. It depends on your genetics, for one. And how often you consume cannabis, because if you take it enough, you can develop a tolerance to it. A dose of cannabis that may knock amateurs on their butts could have zero effect on seasoned users—patients who use marijuana consistently to treat pain, for instance.

The issue is that THC—what’s thought to be the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana—interacts with the human body in a fundamentally different way than alcohol. “Alcohol is a water-loving, hydrophilic compound,” says Huestis. “Whereas THC is a very fat-loving compound. It’s a hydrophobic compound. It goes and stays in the tissues.” The molecule can linger for up to a month, while alcohol clears out right quick.

 But while THC may hang around in tissues, it starts diminishing in the blood quickly—really quickly. “It’s 74 percent in the first 30 minutes, and 90 percent by 1.4 hours,” says Huestis. “And the reason that’s important is because in the US, the average time to get blood drawn [after arrest] is between 1.4 and 4 hours.” By the time you get to the station to get your blood taken, there may not be much THC left to find. (THC tends to linger longer in the brain because it’s fatty in there. That’s why the effects of marijuana can last longer than THC is detectable in breath or blood.)
15) Finally got around to reading Daniel Engber’s classic contrarian Slate take on the evidence for the backfire effect– the idea that exposure to information contrary to your beliefs makes those beliefs stronger.  Turns out, maybe not so much.  Good stuff.  And props to Brendan Nyhan for following the data instead of digging his heels in, like so many social scientists.

16) He links this pretty cool research, which I had not seen yet:

The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians’ perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents’ support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. [emphasis mine] Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.

17) So, I read about the “Butter chicken lady” in the New Yorker.  And my wife ordered her Instant Pot cookbook.  Damn, was that fortuitous.  Great butter chicken and so easy for Indian food.

18) I think both of my regular JP readers will enjoy this story on how craft beer is a great American economic success story.

19) Seth Masket on efforts to reshape the Democratic primary process:

Superdelegates are people who become national convention delegates not through primaries or caucuses but rather by virtue of their current role within the party. They are generally Democratic governors, members of Congress, and elected DNC members. Unlike those delegates picked through state primaries and caucuses, their votes are not automatically pledged; they can vote for whomever they want. The role of superdelegate was created in 1984 as a way for the party’s leaders to re-assert some control over the nomination process at a time when rank-and-file party voters were seen as too powerful.

Under the new reforms, elected DNC members would still get to be convention delegates, but their vote would be pledged to whichever candidate won their state’s primary or caucus. This would have the effect of reducing the number of unpledged votes by roughly 60 percent. (Superdelegates made up about 16 percent of delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.)…

Now, who benefits from these changes? From what I’ve been able to gather, these proposals are a compromise position for Commission members—Sanders people wanted a good deal more to change, while the Clinton folks were fairly content with the way things had previously been run. But these changes undoubtedly tilt party nomination procedures away from insider-favored candidates like Clinton and more toward outsider-favored candidates like Sanders. That is, they erode some of the advantages that Clinton had going into 2016 (the backing of superdelegates, big advantages among registered party voters, etc.) and make it easier for someone without a lot of support within the formal party to win a lot of delegates.

We shouldn’t overstate this impact, of course. The biggest advantage Clinton had—the enthusiastic backing of the vast majority of party leaders, donors, organizers, etc., long before any voting occurred, scaring off many strong Democratic opponents—would not have been affected by these reforms. An insider-favored candidate could still draw on such advantages in future races.

Nonetheless, the Democratic Party is conceding that its “establishment” has had too much power in recent elections. The next Democratic presidential nominee will not necessarily be Bernie Sanders, but whoever it is will have had to navigate a system that Sanders and his supporters, to a large extent, designed. And it will probably be someone whose campaign bears a stronger resemblance to Sanders’ than to Clinton’s.

As many political scientists pointed out discussing this on Facebook, the lesson from President Trump is not that parties should make it easier for outsiders to capture the nomination.

20) On the pretty heinous efforts of NC Republicans to remake the NC court system because those pesky judges don’t see everything their way.

21) Apparently now that you can learn anything about anybody on the internet, the on-line dating world lives largely in the world of first-name only.  Really like somebody?  Then it’s last name time.  Damn am I glad I just met my wife in our college dorm.

22) So, technology allows you to put one person’s face pretty effectively on somebody else’s body in a fake porn movie (or fake anything), but, disturbingly, this is a very grey area of the law where you don’t have much protection.

23) Totally loved this Atlantic story on the rise of German board games.  Think I’ll celebrate it by playing Ticket to Ride this weekend.

 

%d bloggers like this: