Quick hits (part I)

1) Scientists have figured out the best way to board an aircraft.  Presumably, this will save less money than monetizing boarding order– as currently happens– so, I suspect it will rarely be utilized.

2) The extreme lack of empathy that so many people display (and, honestly, an extreme ignorance of the very real vicissitudes of fate) is so frustrating.  Kristoff:

When my wife and I wrote about my old schoolmates who had died from “deaths of despair,” the reaction was sometimes ugly.

“They killed themselves,” scoffed Jonathan from St. Louis, Mo., in the reader comments. “It was self-inflicted.”

Ajax in Georgia was even harsher: “Natural selection weeding out those less fit for survival.”

Our essay, drawn from our new book, “Tightrope,” explored the disintegration of America’s working class through the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in Yamhill, Ore., particularly my neighbors the Knapps. The five Knapp kids were smart and talented, but Farlan died after years of drug and alcohol abuse, Zealan died in a house fire while passed out drunk, Nathan blew himself up cooking meth, Rogena died of hepatitis after drug use, and Keylan survived partly because he had spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Working-class men and women like them, of every shade, increasingly are dying of “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol and suicide. That’s why life expectancy in the United States, for the first time in a century, has declined for three years in a row.

Plenty of readers responded with compassion. But there was a prickly scorn from some that deserves a response because it reflects an ideology that underlies so many failed policies. It arises from the myth that we live in a land of limitless opportunity and that those who struggle have simply made “bad choices” and failed to muster “personal responsibility.” Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and black in Detroit and is now the nation’s housing secretary, has described poverty as “more of a choice than anything else.” [emphasis mine]

This “personal responsibility” narrative animated some reader critics of the Knapps. “This article describes ruined, pitiful people,” one reader commented. “The main problem they have is weakness of character.”

Over the last half-century, this narrative has gained ground in America; it’s an echo of the “social Darwinism” that circulated a century ago. I’ve come to think that the biggest impediment to strengthening America isn’t a shortage of resources but this personal responsibility obsession.

3) How to keep social media from being a negative in your life?  Short version: use the tools and settings in the various platforms smartly so that they aren’t actually causing you aggravation.  It’s not exactly rocket science.

4) I appreciate Lisa Baldez explaining just how little would actually change if the ERA really does become an amendment (it well may, but big court challenge):

My research suggests the impact would be less dramatic. First, the ERA would probably affect Supreme Court decisions indirectly, by raising sex equality to the status of a fundamental right and increasing the standard that the Supreme Court would apply in determining whether a law that discriminates on the basis of sex violates the Constitution. That would make it more likely that courts would favor those who sought gender equality. Second, the ERA would not constitutionally protect women in most cases of violence against women. I’ll explain below…

In short, though advocates and opponents alike are energized — or agitated — by the possibility of a ratified ERA, it wouldn’t change as much as many expect. Look instead for a significant — but limited — effect on legal protections for women’s rights.

5) Now that New York has largely done away with cash bail, police and prosecutors are doing their best to scare the bejesus out of people.  NYT helps with this headline, “He Was Charged With 4 Bank Heists, and Freed. Then He Struck Again, Police Say.  A man accused of robbing banks in New York City had been released under a Jan. 1 law that ended bail for most nonviolent charges.”  Meanwhile, way down in the article where most people won’t read, we actually get:

Mr. Woodberry, who is from Walterboro, S.C., appeared in handcuffs on Sunday in federal court, and was ordered held pending a bail hearing. If convicted of bank robbery, a federal crime, he faces 20 years in prison.

His lawyer, Samuel I. Jacobson, said the argument that Mr. Woodberry’s initial release was an example of flaws in the new law was not only unfounded, but also constituted “egregious ethical violations” by federal prosecutors that were grounds for the case to be dismissed.

“The United States attorney has said that no sane or rational system would release Mr. Woodberry, but that’s not the question,” Mr. Jacobson, of the Federal Defenders of New York, said in a statement after court.

“The question is whether a sane or rational system locks people presumed innocent in cages simply because they are too poor to post bail.”

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said that under the newly adopted law, if Mr. Woodberry had been rearrested on a state felony charge related to bank robbery, the judge would have had full authority to set bail to keep him in custody.

“The assertion that bail cannot be set is a lie,” Ms. Schreibersdorf said in an interview. “They’re going out of their way to interpret it in a way to scare the public.”

6) I’m pretty fascinated by the academic debate over the 1619 project.  Sean Wilentz raises some good points about NHJ pushing her arguments too far.  But, damn, if he doesn’t go and then push his rebuttal too far.  Especially on Lincoln’s views of race (which was the partial subject of my 2nd best undergraduate paper).  Historian Nicholas Guyatt with a good take on all this:

7) Interesting look at how personality tests are “biased” because they are normed on gender, rather, than all adults.  But the really interesting upshot of this is that women are just way more agreeable than men!

The sexist feedback isn’t due to an inherent flaw in the personality test, nor malicious intent. It’s because of how the psychologists behind the inventories present the results. Rather than giving an absolute score in each of the Big Five categories, they tell you your percentile in comparison to others within your gender.

“Your results are based on comparing you to all the other humans who have taken the test,” wrote Maggie Koerth-Baker in the FiveThirtyEight article. That seems to be true for the site on which Koerth-Baker took her test, which uses the BFI and is run by Christopher Soto, a psychology professor at Colby College. (I took the test as a man and a woman on this site, and got the same results each time.)

But the other tests taken by Quartz compared women to other women, and men to other men. As women tend to be more agreeable than men, this means that a slightly disagreeable woman will be relatively more disagreeable when compared only to other women. Women’s agreeable nature is not inherently biological: Social conditions pressure women to behave in this way. And this sexist trope is neatly reinforced in how the results from these personality tests are presented.

8) Hey, look at this, #8 before I even get to impeachment.  Among other things, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow is just embarrassingly stupid:

Appearing shortly after 6 p.m. on the Senate floor, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Jay Sekulow offered an indignant rebuke of the Democrats’ impeachment managers. What he was so incensed about: that they had allegedly referred to “lawyer lawsuits” in prosecuting the case against Trump.

“And by the way — lawyer lawsuits?” Sekulow began. “Lawyer lawsuits? We’re talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States, duly elected, and the members — the managers are complaining about lawyer lawsuits? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It’s disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber — lawyer lawsuits.”

Sekulow added that it was “a dangerous moment for America when an impeachment of a president of the United States is being rushed through because of lawyer lawsuits. The Constitution allows it, if necessary. The Constitution demands it, if necessary.”

There was one problem: Sekulow was referring to a quote that doesn’t appear to exist. He appeared to have badly misunderstood what one of the Democratic impeachment managers said.

Shortly prior, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) laid out her case against Trump. In the course of it, she referred to “FOIA lawsuits” — not “lawyer lawsuits” — referring to the Freedom of Information Act.

And it wasn’t just one wayward acronym that could explain the misunderstanding; Demings’s remarks repeatedly referenced the law.

9) Whenever I express concerns about democracy to my friend MY he always likes to remind me just how lawless the GWB administration was when it came to the “war on terror,” torture, etc.  He’s got a point.  Especially on the torture.  Conor Friedersforf:

How does Mitchell remember those events? In testimony at Guantánamo yesterday, he said the CIA demanded that he and Bruce Jessen, another psychologist, keep using the torture techniques that they had helped to develop. The Los Angeles Times recounted:

After Abu Zubaydah started cooperating with interrogators at a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, Mitchell and Jessen sought to stop using the waterboard. Officers at CIA headquarters in Virginia accused the two of having lost their nerve. “They said that we were pussies, that we had lost our spine,” Mitchell testified. The CIA officers said that if another attack by Al Qaeda occurred, Mitchell and Jessen “would have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.” Mitchell told the officers he would continue only if they came and witnessed application of the waterboard, to “bring their rubber boots and come on down.”

Which they did. They assembled in Abu Zubaydah’s cell, which Mitchell described as small with an unpleasant, musky odor. The psychologists performed what Mitchell said was a dialed-back version of the technique. “I don’t want to use the word ‘perfunctory’ for something that horrible, but, yeah,” he said. It didn’t seem perfunctory to the visitors, many of whom began to cry. “Their decision after witnessing this is that we don’t need to do this,” he said.

In this account, a prisoner was cooperating with interrogators, yet CIA officers at headquarters still ordered the psychologists who designed America’s torture program to keep terrorizing him by filling his lungs with water. The psychologists refused to needlessly terrorize another human being—unless the people at CIA headquarters who called them spineless pussies came to watch.

Then the CIA folks came, and the psychologists terrorized the prisoner as a demonstration, knowing it was wrong. And it was so brutal that multiple CIA observers cried. That’s according to Mitchell, one of the torture program’s staunchest defenders!

Because the CIA is cloaked in so much secrecy, Americans don’t even know if the people at headquarters who demanded that the torture continue still work for the spy agency. Their actions are a moral stain on the nation, as is the failure to hold them accountable.

10) Among other really, really stupid things Republicans are saying in defense of Trump is this.  Chait:

Of the 51 state attorneys general, 26 are Republican. And of those, 21 have signed a new letter denouncing impeachment as an offense to the Constitution. President Trump has tweeted excitedly in all-caps about the letter (or, more precisely, mentions of the letter he has seen on Fox News), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page lavishes the note with favorable attention.

Amusingly, the letter is premised on a clear error of fact. In keeping with the claims of Trump’s legal team, it asserts that he did not violate the law, and proceeds to argue that a president cannot be impeached “for acting in a legal manner.” In fact, Trump did violate the law. During the summer of 2019, numerous officials expressed their belief that Trump’s refusal to disperse the military aid to Ukraine that Congress had passed into law was illegal. Last week, the Government Accountability Office confirmed the truth of this rather obvious suspicion…

Proceeding from its debunked claim, the Republican letter argues that, since Trump’s actions were supposedly legal, the only basis for impeaching him is his allegedly corrupt motives. And motives are nothing more than thoughts! “Article I is based upon a constitutionally-flawed theory that the President can be impeached for exercising concededly lawful constitutional authority ‘motivated’ by thoughts a House majority unilaterally deems ‘corrupt,’” it reasons. Therefore, Trump “is being impeached for a political thought crime.”

As these are attorneys general, you’d like to think they’d actually be familiar with the legal concept of mens rea.  But, hey, Trump before the law.

11) Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing all the political science scholarship on how term limits are bad.  And there’s a lot of it.  Refer to this next time somebody you know makes a term limits argument.

12) Of course the government is shedding scientists under Trump:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dozens of government computers sit in a nondescript building here, able to connect to a data model that could help farmers manage the impact of a changing climate on their crops.

But no one in this federal agency would know how to access the model, or, if they did, what to do with the data.

That’s because the ambitious federal researcher who created it in Washington quit rather than move when the Agriculture Department relocated his agency to an office park here last fall.

He is one of hundreds of scientists across the federal government who have been forced out, sidelined or muted since President Trump took office.

The exodus has been fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.

While the administration has come under fire for prioritizing the concerns of industry at the expense of science in government decisions, the cumulative effects are just beginning to appear after three years of Trump in the White House.

13) George Packer wrote a tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens, but what I really liked is what he had to say about groups and identity:

First, there’s belonging. I know it sounds perverse to count belonging as an enemy of writing. After all, it’s a famously lonely life—the work only gets done in comfortless isolation, face-to-face with yourself—and the life is made tolerable and meaningful by a sense of connection with other people. And it can be immensely helpful to have models and mentors, especially for a young person who sets out from a place where being a writer might be unthinkable. But this solidarity isn’t what I mean by belonging. I mean that writers are now expected to identify with a community and to write as its representatives. In a way, this is the opposite of writing to reach other people. When we open a book or click on an article, the first thing we want to know is which group the writer belongs to. The group might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique. The answer makes reading a lot simpler. It tells us what to expect from the writer’s work, and even what to think of it. Groups save us a lot of trouble by doing our thinking for us.

Politicians and activists are representatives. Writers are individuals whose job is to find language that can cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another. They don’t write as anyone beyond themselves. But today, writers have every incentive to do their work as easily identifiable, fully paid-up members of a community. Belonging is numerically codified by social media, with its likes, retweets, friends, and followers. Writers learn to avoid expressing thoughts or associating with undesirables that might be controversial with the group and hurt their numbers. In the most successful cases, the cultivation of followers becomes an end in itself and takes the place of actual writing…

Among the enemies of writing, belonging is closely related to fear. It’s strange to say this, but a kind of fear pervades the literary and journalistic worlds I’m familiar with. I don’t mean that editors and writers live in terror of being sent to prison. It’s true that the president calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and it’s not an easy time to be one, but we’re still free to investigate him. Michael Moore and Robert De Niro can fantasize aloud about punching Donald Trump in the face or hitting him with a bag of excrement, and the only consequence is an online fuss. Nor are Islamist jihadists or white nationalists sticking knives in the backs of poets and philosophers on American city streets. The fear is more subtle and, in a way, more crippling. It’s the fear of moral judgment, public shaming, social ridicule, and ostracism. It’s the fear of landing on the wrong side of whatever group matters to you. An orthodoxy enforced by social pressure can be more powerful than official ideology, because popular outrage has more weight than the party line.

A friend of mine once heard from a New York publisher that his manuscript was unacceptable because it went against a “consensus” on the subject of race. The idea that publishers exist exactly to shatter a consensus, to provoke new thoughts, to make readers uncomfortable and even unhappy—this idea seemed to have gone dormant at the many houses where my friend’s manuscript was running into trouble. Fortunately, one editor remembered why he had gotten into publishing and summoned the courage to sign the book, which found its way to many readers. But the prevailing winds are blowing cold in the opposite direction. Incidents like this, minor but chilling, happen regularly in institutions whose core purpose is to say things well and truly. If an editorial assistant points out that a line in a draft article will probably detonate an explosion on social media, what is her supervisor going to do—risk the blowup, or kill the sentence? Probably the latter. The notion of keeping the sentence because of the risk, to defy the risk, to push the boundaries of free expression just a few millimeters further out—that notion now seems quaint. So the mob has the final edit…

Last year I taught a journalism course at Yale. My students were talented and hardworking, but I kept running into a problem: They always wanted to write from a position of moral certainty. This was where they felt strongest and safest. I assigned them to read writers who demonstrated the power of inner conflict and moral weakness—Baldwin, Orwell, Naipaul, Didion. I told my students that good writing never comes from the display of virtue. But I could see that they were skeptical, as if I were encouraging them deliberately to botch a job interview. They were attracted to subjects about which they’d already made up their minds.

My students have come of age during a decade when public discourse means taking a position and sticking with it. The most influential writers are those who create a dazzling moral clarity. Its light is meant to overpower subjects, not illuminate them. The glare is so strong that readers stop seeing the little flaws and contradictions of actual life, and stop wanting to—they have only to bask in the warmth of a blinding glow. The attraction of moral clarity is obvious, never more so than in the Trump years, when everything of value—honesty, kindness, tolerance, loyalty, courage—is daily trashed by the most powerful people in America. The Trump presidency is tremendously clarifying, and the duty of a citizen is also clear—to uphold those values in every way possible.

14) This also inspired a great rant from Drum, who went off on “cultural appropriation” that also gets at the American Dirt “controversy” that I find ridiculous.

There’s not much question that Packer is right about this. Certainly among liberals there’s an orthodoxy on certain subjects that everyone feels nervous about questioning. Is it, for example, completely nuts that we are currently discussing whether a white author is entitled to write a novel—American Dirt, for those of you who are blissfully ignorant of this foofaraw—which features Hispanic characters fleeing to America? Of course it is. It’s insane. And yet, not only are we discussing it, we are giving a solemn and respectful hearing to the tiny group of zealots who have suddenly decided that this topic is literally the property of one particular ethnic group.

But uh oh. Should I have written that? What will my editor think? Will I get pilloried once Twitter learns what I just said? Should I have called these folks zealots? And most important, do I really care enough about this to bother? I don’t, really. It’s not in my wheelhouse and there’s not much point in risking even a small backlash for it.

Then again, the whole subject of cultural appropriation strikes me as nuts. That is to say, the very existence of the phrase is nuts. Is cultural appropriation bad? Of course not. Not only is it not bad, it’s the very source of our country’s cultural creativity and dynamism. Name practically any art form—food, writing, movies, cars, etc.—and we have all been gleefully stealing from each other for centuries. I for one hope we continue for centuries more, rather than falling into a stultifying miasma of political correctness in which only certain people are allowed to write/paint/cook in certain ways.

15) I liked this a lot from Heather Cox Richardson on impeachment and To Kill a Mockingbird:

Taken together, the Democrats’ case has been overwhelming. Even Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel senior judicial analyst, said the evidence was “ample and uncontradicted.”

But all I could think of was Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book To Kill A Mockingbird, and lawyer Atticus Finch’s masterful defense of the moral, kind, hardworking African American man Tom Robinson, whom everyone in Macomb knew had not committed the rape poor white girl Mayella Ewell had accused him of. Atticus proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mayella’s own no-good father Bob had raped her, and that she had flirted with Tom out of a desperate need for affection, then accused Tom to save herself from her father’s violent wrath. Atticus hammered the facts home, proving that Tom, with his withered arm, could not possibly have assaulted Mayella, and that she and Bob were lying. But in the end, nothing mattered but power. Not facts, not truth, not right. An all-white jury, wedded to white supremacy, pretended to believe the white Bob Ewell, and convicted Tom of the crime.

Tonight, as if on cue, CBS reported that a confidante of the president told CBS News that GOP senators were warned “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.” Republican senators, who have previously suggested they would entertain the idea of witnesses—a proxy for the idea they might actually listen to evidence—began to coalesce around the idea that they cannot subpoena witnesses because Trump is threatening to invoke executive privilege, the right of the president to keep certain communications private. (For all the chatter about executive privilege, he has not invoked it yet; his people have simply said they would not answer certain questions in case it might intrude on his future invocation of the privilege.) That, they say, would drag out the trial unnecessarily. And so, it looks as if the hope that a few of the Republican senators would break ranks will not play out.

The jury convicted Tom Robinson.

This letter is late tonight because I couldn’t imagine what I could say in it. “Schiff and Co are off the charts brilliant,” I wrote to a colleague, “and it doesn’t matter.”

16) Okay, a mini impeachment run.  Of  course “Trump’s lawyers don’t understand how foreign aid works”

Jay Sekulow, in defending Trump’s secret hold on military aid for Ukraine last summer, argued that holding foreign aid is a routine action that other presidents, including Barack Obama, have engaged in. Other Trump allies have been parroting this line in recent days. The most obvious problem with this reasoning is that, as others have pointed out, Trump is accused of withholding foreign military aid for corrupt, personal and political purposes. The simple truth is that there aren’t any other examples that match that definition.

But the examples he gave on the Senate floor are also wrong for several other reasons. First, Sekulow compared Trump’s Ukraine aid actions with Obama’s secret delay of Egyptian military aid in 2013…

There’s no doubt Trump is skeptical of all foreign aid and would like to cut it wherever possible. (Cutting aid to struggling Latin American countries will likely increase migration, not decrease it, but that’s a separate issue.) Regardless, in none of these examples has there been any hint that the aid is connected to political favors.

17) This is really, really good from Paul Waldman, “Why every vulnerable GOP senator will stick by Trump”

Here’s Gardner’s problem, the same one faced by other senators from swing states. If he goes along with McConnell and votes to refuse any more evidence to be admitted, Democrats will rightly charge him with complicity in not only covering up Trump’s misdeeds but in validating those misdeeds themselves, confirming that there’s nothing wrong with the president coercing a foreign government to help his reelection campaign. That will alienate Democratic voters. But if Gardner votes to allow new evidence, Republicans will call him a traitor.

Those are his only choices. There isn’t some clever way to satisfy everyone. Given how McConnell has constructed this trial — and how Trump has built his whole presidency — you’re either with Trump or you’re against him.

There’s a common misconception about swing states such as Colorado that explains how stark the choice faced by senators like Gardner will be. The misconception is that those states are populated by moderate voters who want their representatives to take positions somewhere between the two parties. But that’s not true. Instead, swing states are just as partisan as heavily Republican or heavily Democratic states. It’s just that they contain roughly equal numbers of Democratic partisans and Republican partisans…

So Gardner is stuck in two ways: The trial has been built by McConnell and the White House to permit no middle ground between supporting Trump absolutely and opposing him absolutely, and Gardner’s constituents aren’t really looking for him to find that middle ground anyway.

So far he’s been keeping quiet, but the universal assumption is that in the end he’ll just go along with his party. If he voted against Trump, his Republican constituents would abandon him, but he wouldn’t win many converts among his Democratic constituents, and he’d lose. At least if he sticks with Trump he has a chance…

So if you’re looking for those vulnerable Republicans to signal their open-mindedness by voting to allow new evidence in Trump’s trial, don’t get your hopes up. It’s just too much of a risk for them to take.

18) And Waldman also ties torture and impeachment together nicely, “From torture to Trump, Republicans no longer even pretend they have principles”

President Trump is on trial in the Senate, but so is the entire Republican Party. And 1,300 miles away in Guantanamo there’s another trial taking place, one that implicates the GOP just as much.

In these two trials we can see the complete moral wreckage of their party, and how they’ve carried the country down with them.

What does the trial of a group of alleged terrorists have to do with impeachment? When seen from the perspective not of one president but of what Republicans ask all of us to accept and how they frame their own moral culpability, they are waypoints on the same devolutionary road…

The truth of what went on was utterly horrific. Among the methods of torture to which prisoners were subjected were waterboarding, beatings, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, nudity as a means of humiliation, stress positions (which are designed to induce excruciating pain), and even mock executions (a favorite of the Iranian regime, it should be noted)…

The use of torture was a clear violation of both U.S. law and international treaties to which the country is a signatory. So the Bush administration’s lawyers drew up legal opinions with new and bizarre ideas to justify their actions; one such document claimed that if the torture wasn’t so unbearable that the victim went into organ failure, then it wasn’t technically torture…

So what does this have to do with the Trump impeachment? In the early 2000s, a Republican administration and nearly the entirety of the Republican Party discarded what we assumed was an almost-universal moral position, that torture is wrong. But when they did so, they felt it necessary to clothe their ethical abdication in a combination of euphemism, bogus legal justifications, and fear-mongering.

Consider where we are today. The Republican Party is in a loosely analogous situation: The president of the United States did something awful, and they are attempting to defend it. But this time around, they can barely muster the energy to dress up what he did in a covering of moral argument.

Their defenses of Trump’s behavior are halfhearted at best. Instead, they’re finding the safest harbor in arguing that sure, Trump did what he was accused of, and if you don’t like it you can shove it. Or as Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Abuse of power, they say, is not technically a crime and therefore he can’t be impeached for it.

19) Gotta say, I really love Ayanna Pressley’s courage in coming forward about her alopecia and resulting baldness.  That’s got to be so hard, especially for a woman.

20) Lets end with some good news, at least if you are exercising, “Here’s how exercise reduces anxiety and makes you feel more connected”

People who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives. They have a stronger sense of purpose, feel more gratitude, are more connected to their communities, and are less likely to be lonely or anxious.

Why? A big part has to do with how being active affects the brain. Here are five surprising ways exercise is good for your mind.

The exercise “high” primes you to connect with others

While typically described as a runner’s high, an exercise-induced mood boost is not exclusive to running. Similar good feelings can be found in any sustained physical activity, such as yoga, swimming and dancing.

Scientists long speculated that endorphins are behind the high, but research shows the high is linked to another class of brain chemicals: endocannabinoids (the same chemicals mimicked by cannabis) — what neuroscientists describe as the “don’t worry, be happy” chemical. Endocannabinoids reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. These brain chemicals also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which fuels feelings of optimism.

Because endocannabinoids also increase the pleasure we derive from being around others, the exercise high primes us to connect. This makes exercise an excellent way to strengthen relationships. Among married couples, when spouses exercise together, both partners report more closeness later that day, studies show, including feeling loved and supported.

Another study shows that on days when people exercise, they experience more positive interactions with friends and family. As one runner said to me, “My family will sometimes send me out running, as they know that I will come back a much better person.”

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Sean Illing on how Republican efforts to “flood the zone” with lies and information are so effective:

No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely that a majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances. There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

2) OMG Susan Collins is just the worst.  Why anybody would take her seriously and treat her as anything other than a complete hack at this point is beyond me:

Former prosecutor Mimi Rocah tells me, “Senator Collins is either ignorant and uninformed because she doesn’t understand or know that a federal court only just released the Parnas docs or she is just making up excuses because the documents are so damning. Either one is unacceptable and the real question she should be asking is why Trump was trying to hide them.”

3) Would you be at all surprised if I told you that Mississippi had modern day debtors prisons?  NPR:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It all started with an unlikely tip – a woman living in state prison in Mississippi was also working at McDonald’s and not voluntarily. That tip led Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu, reporters at Mississippi Today, into a 14-month investigation of the state’s restitution centers. They compare the facilities to modern-day debtors’ prisons, and the people kept their working off fines and other debts rarely know how long they’ll have to stay, says Anna Wolfe.

ANNA WOLFE: The correction department doesn’t provide inmates with their debt balance. So it’s very hard for them to figure out how much they’re earning towards their debts and where their money is going.

CORNISH: People like Dixie D’Angelo. She worked four different jobs, trying to pay down more than $5,000 she owed for damaging a friend’s car.

DIXIE D’ANGELO: I got so depressed yesterday when I was looking at that because I got two checks. And, I mean, it’s not even – it’s, like, 900 and something dollars for two checks, and I’ve been here six weeks.

WOLFE: This is Anna. All the while, as they’re working, the department of corrections is taking out room and board and transportation off the top, and they are given very little documentation of where their money is going. Additionally, you know, they’re there to pay victims, but most of their earnings are going to pay court fees and criminal fines.

4) A couple of old school Republicans make the case for a carbon tax.  It’s a good case.  A friend shared it on FB saying, “I just don’t understand why so many conservatives oppose carbon pricing.”  My response: yes you do.

5) This “how to be a better white person” at the Root seemed pretty good.  Or maybe I think that because by the standards here, I’m a pretty decent white person.

6) I’m actually very much in favor of body positivity.  Love your body and who you are.  Really.  But, please, Vox, don’t pretend there’s not a clear relationship between being substantially overweight and being less healthy.

Michaels’s comments about Lizzo’s weight reflect a widespread belief: that all fat people face serious health risks purely because of their weight. This view is bolstered by a lot of research showing that there are health risks associated with carrying “excess” weight — including heart disease, some forms of cancer, and, yes, diabetes.

But that is not the end of the story, and research on the connection between weight and health is more complicated than it seems. While body mass index (BMI), the most common measurement used to assess if a person is a healthy weight, is correlated with metabolic health in population studies, there are many people with a “normal” BMI with cardiovascular and metabolic issues, while many in the “overweight” and “obese” range are metabolically healthy. Furthermore, the causal mechanisms linking obesity to chronic illnesses aren’t always well understood. For example, the psychological distress that can result from being overweight or obese in a society in which it is stigmatized can cause inflammation and negative long-term health effects.

Moreover, a number of scholars have argued that both the medical community and society put too much emphasis on the effects of weight on health, obscuring the importance of numerous other factors, such as blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and aerobic fitness, that together paint a more informative picture of a person’s health than BMI alone.

I mean all that– and it’s all true– to obscure the fact that overweight people are statistically more likely to suffer from all sorts of negative health consequences.  The give-away is the strawman, “that all fat people [emphasis mine] face serious health risks purely because of their weight.  Is it so hard?  1) Don’t shame people for being overweight.   Really.  2) Admit that most people would be healthier if not overweight.

7) With year’s Oscar controversy on race/gender, I think David Sims has a good take, ”

When the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, Little Women earned a spot in the Best Picture category and collected nods for Ronan, Pugh, and Gerwig’s screenplay. But its recognition, which came without a Best Director nod, was still a tier below the biggest favorites of the night, including Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and 1917—movies, some of them superb, about men and violence. For decades, those kinds of films have dominated the ceremony: Long dramas about weighty issues, biopics of celebrities, or narratives about moviemaking, with a dearth of genre movies, domestic narratives, and stories told by women and people of color…

Many of those snubbed movies didn’t fit the idea of “prestige” that has defined Oscar narratives for generations. This blinkered notion is what encourages studios to release certain films during awards season, which tends to run from October to December, and to spend millions of dollars on “for your consideration” campaigns. It’s what helps influential precursor awards such as the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs pick certain films for nominations, anointing them as favorites and nudging Academy voters toward them. The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were two of my favorite films of the year, and got 20 nominations between them. But these stories of masculinity and brutality—burnished by their filmmakers’ legacies—shouldn’t be the types of works most celebrated by Oscar voters year after year.

Academy members themselves have the power to expand what kinds of movies are considered Oscar contenders. One step would be to reject the preemptive hand-waving doled out to so many acclaimed films, many of them artsier or smaller-scale, that supposedly will never play with Oscar voters for little reason other than tradition.

8) I quite enjoyed this on the lack of an anti-alcohol movement.  I hardly drink because 1) I really don’t like the taste of most all alcohol; 2) it’s a lot of empty calories; 3) because of my natural personality (low anxiety, low inhibition) I really don’t get all that much benefit; 4) I sure don’t like to spend money on it for the preceding reasons.  But, I really don’t judge those who are regular partakers (though, I could really live without even middle-aged people clearly somehow thinking it makes them “cool” to drink).  Anyway, Olga Khazan:

Occasionally, Elizabeth Bruenig unleashes a tweet for which she knows she’s sure to get dragged: She admits that she doesn’t drink.

Bruenig, a columnist at The New York Times with a sizable social-media following, told me that it usually begins with her tweeting something mildly inflammatory and totally unrelated to alcohol—e.g., The Star Wars prequels are actually good. Someone will accuse her of being drunk. She, in turn, will clarify that she doesn’t drink, and that she’s never been drunk. Inevitably, people will criticize her. You’re really missing out, they might say. Why would you deny yourself?

As Bruenig sees it, however, there’s more to be gained than lost in abstaining. In fact, she supports stronger restrictions on alcohol sales. Alcohol’s effects on crime and violence, in her view, are cause to reconsider some cities’ and states’ permissive attitudes toward things such as open-container laws and where alcohol can be sold.

Breunig’s outlook harks back to a time when there was a robust public discussion about the role of alcohol in society. Today, warnings about the devil drink will win you few friends. Sure, it’s fine if you want to join Alcoholics Anonymous or cut back on drinking to help yourself, and people are happy to tell you not to drink and drive. But Americans tend to reject general anti-alcohol advocacy with a vociferousness typically reserved for IRS auditors and after-period double-spacers. Pushing for, say, higher alcohol taxes gets you treated like an uptight school marm. Or worse, a neo-prohibitionist…

Americans would be justified in treating alcohol with the same wariness they have toward other drugs. Beyond how it tastes and feels, there’s very little good to say about the health impacts of booze. The idea that a glass or two of red wine a day is healthy is now considered dubious. At best, slight heart-health benefits are associated with moderate drinking, and most health experts say you shouldn’t start drinking for the health benefits if you don’t drink already. As one major study recently put it, “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

Alcohol’s byproducts wreak havoc on the cells, raising the risk of liver disease, heart failure, dementia, seven types of cancer, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Just this month, researchers reported that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States more than doubled in two decades, going up to 73,000 in 2017. As the journalist Stephanie Mencimer wrote in a 2018 Mother Jones article, alcohol-related breast cancer kills more than twice as many American women as drunk drivers do. Many people drink to relax, but it turns out that booze isn’t even very good at that. It seems to have a boomerang effect on anxiety, soothing it at first but bringing it roaring back later.

Despite these grim statistics, Americans embrace and encourage drinking far more than they do similar vices.

9) Also, one of the links led me to this 4+ year old piece on breast cancer (a subject I’ve always found particularly interesting) and the problems with mammography.  This figure was particularly compelling:

10) This was really, really interesting, “Air Pollution, Evolution, and the Fate of Billions of Humans
It’s not just a modern problem. Airborne toxins are so pernicious that they may have shaped our DNA over millions of years.”

Our ancestors were bedeviled by airborne toxins even as bipedal apes walking the African savanna, argued Benjamin Trumble, a biologist at Arizona State University, and Caleb Finch of the University of Southern California, in the December issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Our forebears evolved defenses against these pollutants, the scientists propose. Today, those adaptations may provide protection, albeit limited, against tobacco smoke and other airborne threats.

But our evolutionary legacy may also be a burden, Dr. Trumble and Dr. Finch speculated. Some genetic adaptations may have increased our vulnerability to diseases linked to air pollution.

It is “a really creative, interesting contribution to evolutionary medicine,” said Molly Fox, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study.

The story begins about seven million years ago. Africa at the time was gradually growing more arid. The Sahara emerged in northern Africa, while grasslands opened up in eastern and southern Africa.

The ancestors of chimpanzees and gorillas remained in the retreating forests, but our ancient relatives adapted to the new environments. They evolved into a tall, slender frame well suited to walking and running long distances.

Dr. Finch and Dr. Trumble believe that early humans faced another challenge that has gone largely overlooked: the air.

Periodically, the savanna would have experienced heavy dust storms from the Sahara, and our distant ancestors may have risked harm to their lungs from breathing in the silica-rich particles.

“When the dust is up, we’re going to see more pulmonary problems,” Dr. Finch said. Even today, Greek researchers have found that when Sahara winds reach their country, patients surge into hospitals with respiratory complaints

Later, our ancestors added to airborne threats by mastering fire. As they lingered near hearths to cook food, stay warm or keep away from insects, they breathed in smoke. Once early humans began building shelters, the environment became more harmful to their lungs.

“Most traditional people live in a highly smoky environment,” Dr. Finch said. “I think it has been a fact of human living for us even before our species.”

Smoke created a new evolutionary pressure, he and Dr. Trumble believe. Humans evolved powerful liver enzymes, for example, to break down toxins passing into the bloodstream from the lungs.

11) The problem with the reporting and this study, “Run a First Marathon, and Your Arteries May Look 4 Years Younger: Training for and finishing a marathon can leave arteries more flexible, healthy and biologically younger than before” is that going from basically no exercise to becoming a regular runner is obviously going to have substantial health benefits.  Almost surely those benefits come from efforts well short of actually training for a marathon.

12) Cool experiments show how parrots can exhibit selfless behavior.

In a clear-walled laboratory compartment, an African grey parrot faced a heap of metal washers. A human waited nearby with her hand outstretched. If the washers were given to the human, she would hand back delicious walnuts — but the parrot couldn’t reach her. It could reach its neighboring parrot, though, whose compartment had an opening.

The parrot started picking up washers in its beak and passing them to its neighbor. At least one of them would get some walnuts today.

“They were quite intrinsically motivated to help another,” said Désirée Brucks, a cognitive biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany.

13) Loved this collection of readers’ takes on “life-changing” books.  I really enjoyed a number of these myself.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road stands out for me from among these.

14) Some very cool infographics with this, “You Are Unvaccinated and Got Sick. These Are Your Odds.”

15) “You were never really here” got great reviews, but I ended up being pretty disappointed.  Struck me as like one of those Man Booker literary award winners that all the critics love, but are no fun to actually read.  Justin Chang’s positive review gets to why:

Some narrative details have been altered from the book, but the plot is largely beside the point.

Ummm, no.  Never going to go for a movie where the plot is beside the point.

16) Damn, is the whole GOP just a protection racket for Trump now?  Even the judges?  Slate, “Trump Judges Are Playing Keep-Away With His Tax Returns and Other Financial Records”

On Tuesday, Judge Trevor McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a surprising order further delaying any potential release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. McFadden, who was appointed by Trump to the federal bench, has had that committee’s subpoena of Trump’s tax returns before his court since July and has yet to issue a ruling. In Tuesday’s order, the judge continued to delay, putting the proceedings on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decides a completely separate matter. The tax returns case—which has nothing to do with the ongoing impeachment inquiry of Trump—is now on hold until the circuit court rules on the House’s subpoena of testimony for former White House counsel Don McGahn in the impeachment inquiry. Because these cases have few similarities, it is difficult to understand McFadden’s latest order as anything other than an effort to delay the release of Trump’s tax returns for as long as possible. Coupled with D.C. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao’s effort to block a subpoena of Trump’s financial records in the Mazars USA case, this is another instance of one of Trump’s appointees to the federal bench taking a position that could undermine Congress’ ability to access critical information about this president’s finances.

Quick hits

1) Jennifer Rubin, “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever”

2) This Op-Ed from Peggy Orenstein on teen boys and sex is really, really good.  (I’m pretty sure I linked to her Atlantic piece last month).  I thought about just sending it to my 8th grader to read (I send him a fair amount of good stuff), but realized it would be a parental cop-out if I didn’t make these points myself.  I did– not that either of enjoyed it.  But I’m glad I did.

Yet that silence has troubling implications. According to a 2017 national survey of 3,000 high school students and young adults by the Making Caring Common Project, a large majority of boys never had a single conversation with their parents about, for instance, how to be sure that your partner “wants to be — and is comfortable — having sex with you,” or about what it meant to be a “a caring and respectful sexual partner.” About two-thirds had never heard from their parents that they shouldn’t have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent. Most had never been told by parents not to catcall girls or use degrading terms such as “bitches” or “hoes” — this despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of the girls in the survey reported having been sexually harassed.

3a) Tom Steyer has been talking up term limits.  Jon Bernstein on why they are a “terrible” idea.

He’s for Congressional term limits. That’s a solution in search of a problem. As the scholar of Congress Josh Huder notes, “65% of the Senate and 70% of the House have served 10 years or less.” Today’s Congress is historically weak, and one reason is the relatively short tenure of many members. As it is, short-timers allow themselves to be bossed around by experienced leaders or by the White House. That’s bad enough, but if experienced leaders were eliminated, Congress would find itself bossed by the White House and by large organized interest groups. That’s not just the logic of the situation; it’s also what political scientists who have studied term limits in state legislatures have found.

Politicians who want long careers in Congress tend to work hard to represent their constituents. Politicians who know they’ll be seeking a different job soon won’t have any incentive to care about the people who voted for them — and won’t develop the skills needed to represent them even if they want to try.

3b) Jamelle Bouie is on it, too:

It’s worth saying, to start, that the “problem” of long-serving lawmakers — the problem a term limit purports to solve — isn’t actually a problem at all. The congressional scholar Josh Huder notes that just 35 senators (and less than a third of the House) have served 10 years or more. Likewise, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, average tenure in the past two Congresses sat at roughly 10 years. Long-serving lawmakers are highly visible — often because they occupy key leadership roles — but they aren’t particularly common.

Not that this would be a problem, even if it were true. Time in office doesn’t inexorably lead to poor performance — just the reverse. It’s no coincidence that some of the most effective lawmakers in American history — architects of epochal bills like the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act — served for decades accumulating political and legislative expertise. And if voters want to reward an effective legislator or representative with more time in office, they should have that right. Forced retirement cuts against the idea that voters have an absolute right to choose their representatives.

If the goal of term limits is to bring new faces and fresh ideas to Washington, then the solution isn’t a blanket restriction on all lawmakers. The solution is more competition, to make it easier for interested people to run for office and win. There are ways to make that happen. Nonpartisan redistricting in all 50 states would break partisan gerrymandering and force incumbents to compete for votes. Public financing of campaigns would give challengers a fighting chance in a general election. And if part of the problem is low turnout, you can lower the barrier to voting and increase participation through universal registration and mail-in balloting.

4) What  it takes to hold your breath for 24 minutes (filling up on pure oxygen first, among other things).

5) David Hopkins on whether Democrats have a diversity problem:

But out in the mass Democratic Party, the pursuit of group interest is only sometimes channeled through supporting members of the group for elective office, and most citizens are resistant to—or even offended by—assumptions that they will or should line up behind a particular candidate simply because of shared social identity. Much has been made of Joe Biden’s success among black Democrats so far, persuasively explained as a combination of these voters’ collective ideological moderation, political pragmatism, and affection for Biden’s service under Barack Obama. But even the decidedly non-moderate and non-Obamaite Bernie Sanders was winning substantially more black support than Booker was before his withdrawal, just as Biden, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all easily outpolled Castro among Latino Democrats.

Mass-level Democratic voters of all races simply are not currently placing descriptive diversity above other priorities—defeating Donald Trump, achieving policy goals, ideologically recalibrating the party—to the same degree as the disproportionately audible voices of the journalistic and academic left. The historical milestone of Obama’s presidency has removed some urgency, at least in the short term, from efforts to elect another non-white candidate, and perceptions that women face a greater challenge than men in winning the presidency seem to have worked to the disadvantage of the female candidates in the 2020 race—perceptions that some feminist commentators have themselves unintentionally promoted. And the remaining Democratic field is not short on demographic diversity by traditional standards: Warren remains a leading contender, two major candidates are Jewish, and one is openly gay (it is, perhaps, a testament to the recent successes of the gay rights movement that much of the trendy left doesn’t celebrate Pete Buttigieg as a pathbreaking figure but instead mocks him as a square, co-opted incrementalist).

The demographic diversity of the 2020 presidential contenders in fact compares quite favorably to the larger officeholding class in American politics, where severe proportional discrepancies in social group representation remain rampant. (For example, Harris and Booker are two of only three black senators currently in office, and Patrick is one of only two elected black governors in the modern history of the nation.) On this issue, as on many others, the presidency receives excessive attention from American culture at the expense of the rest of the political system. But there is surely a distinction worth making between voters freely choosing across lines of group membership not to support a particular candidate or set of candidates in a large and wide-ranging field, as has occurred so far in 2020, and the more formidable social inequities in electoral politics that continue to shape the composition of the larger pool of political leadership in America.

6) Francis Wilkinson on Virginia and the NRA’s utter nonsense on guns:

The National Rifle Association, which has its headquarters in Virginia, and other gun-rights groups are rallying to fight the proposals, sometimes with a curious inattention to detail. Last month Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, released a 12-page letter to the people of Virginia. Over 12-single-spaced pages, they never quite get around to saying what those proposed regulations are — their broad outlines were debated in the campaign — or what makes them so awful. You will search the document in vain for the phrase “background check” or the word “silencer.”…

“Looking at a map of Virginia,” Pratt and Van Cleave wrote, “it becomes clear that only a few, geographically small, yet heavily populated, jurisdictions have declined to stand up against the current threats to the Virginia and United States Constitutions.” [emphases mine]

In other words, the “heavily populated” parts of Virginia do not have the same view of gun rights as the sparsely populated parts. And since the Virginia legislature was duly elected by popular vote, legislators will likely be more responsive to the interests of the majority than of the minority.

America is a representative democracy. But the gun lobby and other parts of the conservative coalition are increasingly skeptical of that. Armed with an all-purpose Constitution that means whatever they want it to mean, they seek to block popular government action.  

The Second Amendment sanctuaries emerging in Virginia and elsewhere may mark a burgeoning conservative counterculture. Contempt for the “geographically small, yet heavily populated” regions where most Americans reside is becoming a conservative tic. It’s the impetus behind those triumphal MAGA maps depicting countless hectares of American forest, farm and pasture in bold Republican red, while little enclaves such as Brooklyn, with a higher population than 15 states, are dismissed with a tiny blotch of blue.

Densely populated America, in other words, is not real America, and opposing real America is by definition unconstitutional. What the gun sanctuary movement is seeking is not protection from government overreach, but from democracy.

7) I just hate stuff like this, “Fox News goes to desperate lengths to gin up outrage over clip of Vince Vaughn chatting with Trump”  It’s bad enough that some would want to “cancel” Vaughn for talking with the president without Fox News basically pretending there was some widespread liberal reaction that wasn’t actually there.

8) Teaching middle-school sex education in the age of consent.  I’ll be curious to see what my 8th grader gets next semester (so far, it’s been pretty much biology, I think).

9) If 47 is really the most miserable age I’m doing awesome.  (Though, it’s 47.2 and I’m 47.9).

10) Trump’s absurd impeachment defense team (good Lord, is their any more embarrassing hack then Ken Starr?!) recruited from Fox News, of course:

What does this all-star team have in common? Between them, these four have appeared on Fox News over 350 times in the past year, according to Media Matters for America. Which no doubt left Jeanine Pirro asking why she didn’t make the cut.

11) Really liked Anand Giridharadas review of Michael Lind’s entirely class-based (and in some pretty bizarre ways) analysis of Trump’s populism:

Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard. Here’s how Lind describes political correctness, for instance: “the artificial dialect devised by leftist activists and spread by university and corporate bureaucrats that serves as a class marker distinguishing the college-educated from the vulgar majority below them.” In this framing, all the new awarenesses and sensitivities and humilities — for which I am profoundly thankful, since these days I’m much less often asked where I’m really from or told my English is impressive (thanks, they teach us well in Ohio!) — are just a ploy by leftists to hold white working-class people down. This understanding portrays the victims as the white working class, and the oppressors as those students who no longer wish to be called “faggots” and secretaries tired of being “sweetie.” I, for one, am grateful for all the thinking and doing that have changed how Americans navigate one another’s identities, and I do not have the luxury of dismissing the improvement in the dignity I am accorded daily as an “artificial dialect.”

Now, if you are going to present Trump as the receptacle of the cries of the unheard, you will need to funhouse-mirror him beyond recognition. Lind is on it. He takes the quintessential racist moment of Trump’s presidency — his famous comments on Charlottesville — and defends them: “Phrases from his remarks were taken out of context, recombined and misconstrued so they could fit into the Trump-is-Hitler narrative.” He also dismisses concerns about Russia’s role in the 2016 election as “mythological thinking.” “Liberal democracy in the West today is not endangered by Russian machinations or resurgent fascism,” Lind writes, describing a world I would love to live in. In fact, get this: Lind believes the “paranoid demonological thinking” represented by worries about Russia and fascism “has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.”…

12) I really enjoy reading contemporary historical takes on Johnson’s impeachment as I got it so wrong in my AP US History paper in 11th grade based almost entirely upon sources which were basically by confederate apologists.  Unsurprisingly, Mike Pence’s history is still in the 1980’s:

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Vice President Mike Pence urging Senate Democrats to follow the example of Edmund G. Ross, who “bucked his party and voted to acquit Andrew Johnson.” Pence praised Ross, who served as a Republican senator during Johnson’s presidency, for resisting “pressure” from his party and staying “true to his own convictions” to “render a fair judgment.” He favorably cites John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book Profiles in Courage, which depicts Ross who resisted “legislative mob rule” and “partisan impeachment.” The vice president draws parallels between Johnson and Donald Trump, asking, “Who, among the Senate Democrats, will stand up to the passions of their party this time?”

Pence’s op-ed is profoundly ahistorical, inaccurate, and oddly reliant upon a view of Johnson promoted by the Ku Klux Klan during its resurgence in the early 20th century. Far from a principled independent, Ross was an unscrupulous politician who exploited his impeachment vote to obtain favors from the president and may well have been bribed to acquit. Historian Brenda Wineapple’s extraordinary book The Impeachers, published in 2019, details the true story of Ross’ corrupt bargain to save Johnson’s catastrophic presidency. We spoke on Friday about the many errors in Pence’s op-ed. Our interview has been edited for length.

13) On the practical value of a liberal arts education:

A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that over the course of a career, a liberal arts education is remarkably practical, providing a median return on investment 40 years after enrollment that approaches $1 million. The results, searchable and sortable by institution, were released Tuesday…

The Georgetown study finds that the return on a liberal arts education is not typically immediate — at 10 years, the median return is $62,000 — but over the decades of a career, it is solid. Only doctoral universities with the two highest levels of research activity, well-known institutions such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fared better in the school’s estimated return on investment. The median 40-year return of $918,000 at liberal arts colleges is more than 25 percent higher than the median for all colleges, researchers found.

Over a long period, the ideal preparation includes education in a field linked to a career, such as engineering, with the addition of general education that allows a person to be flexible and draw on a wealth of knowledge, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the education and workforce center at Georgetown.

14) This is cool on many levels– living concrete:

For centuries, builders have been making concrete roughly the same way: by mixing hard materials like sand with various binders, and hoping it stays fixed and rigid for a long time to come.

Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has created a rather different kind of concrete — one that is alive and can even reproduce.

Minerals in the new material are deposited not by chemistry but by cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process absorbs carbon dioxide, in stark contrast to the production of regular concrete, which spews huge amounts of that greenhouse gas…

The blocks also have the advantage of being made from a variety of common materials. Most concrete requires virgin sand that comes from rivers, lakes and oceans, which is running short worldwide, largely because of the enormous demand for concrete. The new living material is not so picky. “We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand,” Dr. Srubar said. “We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”

The research team is working to make the material more practical by making the concrete stronger; increasing the bacteria’s resistance to dehydration; reconfiguring the materials so they can be flat-packed and easily assembled, like slabs of drywall; and finding a different kind of cyanobacteria that doesn’t require the addition of a gel.

Eventually, Dr. Srubar said, the tools of synthetic biology could dramatically expand the realm of possibilities: for instance, building materials that can detect and respond to toxic chemicals, or that light up to reveal structural damage. Living concrete might help in environments harsher than even the driest deserts: other planets, like Mars.

15) Nature shows are all the rage (and the Greene family is on-board).  I love that I shared watching National Geographic specials, etc., with my mom when I was a kid and now I’m watching David Attenborough with my kids.

16) Interesting, revisionist take on the 100th anniversary of Prohibition:

In reality, the temperance movement was anything but pinky-raising Victorians forbidding society to drink. Temperance was the longest-running, most widely supported social movement in both American and global history. Its foe wasn’t the drink in the bottle or the drunk who drank it, but the drink traffic: powerful business interests — protected by a government reliant on liquor taxes — getting men addicted to booze, and then profiting handsomely by bleeding them and their families dry.

In the 19th century, saloonkeepers across the United States and around the world were seen as parasites on the local community. This wasn’t Ted Danson, the friendly bartender in “Cheers!” There was no sending home a customer for having too much; that was lost profit. And since the saloonkeeper was often also the town pawnbroker, once you had drunk up your last penny, he might take your shirt, hat and watch too — if his hired pickpockets didn’t pinch them first.

Since fleecing customers was often illegal, the saloonkeeper’s profits paid kickbacks to the police, judges and mayor. Pop histories describe the saloon as a “symbol” — of masculinity, of drunkenness, of social ills. But the saloon wasn’t the symbol of some other problem; it was the problem itself.

This is why the powerful prohibitionist organization was called the Anti-Saloon League, not the Anti-Drinking Society. This is why neither the 18th Amendment nor state-level prohibitions ever outlawed drinking alcohol, but instead focused on its sale. It wasn’t taking a drink every now and then that got reformers’ hackles up; it was the idea of the rich getting richer by making the poor poorer through addiction.

One legislator called for prohibition “for the safety and redemption of the people from the social, political and moral curse of the saloon.” That zealot was Abraham Lincoln, rising to support Illinois’s statewide prohibition in 1855. Similar sentiments were expressed by Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other progressive leaders.

Our inability to comprehend the past comes from taking current worldviews and projecting them backward. And the fact that Prohibition largely failed at the national level, and was later repealed, doesn’t mean that its proponents were crackpots or radicals.

17) The short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall sounds interesting and provocative.  A shame that the publisher ultimately had to remove it

At the beginning of this year, the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall. The story, which appears to be Fall’s debut, follows the first “somatic female” to undergo “tactical-role gender reassignment” surgery. She becomes, more or less literally, an Army helicopter. “When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen,” the narrator says. “Now my skin is boron-carbide and Kevlar.” The experience of the narrator seemed to reflect the real-world struggles of transitioning. “Severe gender dysphoria,” Fall writes, “can be a flight risk.” The story took the offensive meme, slapped some rotors on it, and flew away to surprising places.

Responses were vehement. Readers who liked it saw an author being intentionally subversive. “I expected the worst when I saw the title,” wrote Reddit user Terminus0. “But I like how it leans into and treats seriously the saying … that people use to dismiss gender fluidity and makes it literal.” Most others in the thread agreed, saying they found the piece gripping, pleasantly surprising, or reminiscent of erotic sci-fi’s preeminent provocateur, Chuck Tingle. “I have been talking for days to everyone I meet about ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,’” @hoverpope tweeted. “It was immediately canonized for me.” Other celebrators of the work included noted author Carmen Maria Machado, who praised the story’s messy boldness. She also called out the critics—of which there seemed to be just as many. “My heart is so crushed and my brain is so angry,” Machado tweeted.

18) I’ll watch pretty much anything from Aardman animation.  And especially if it’s short and for a good cause like saving the oceans.

19) If you haven’t seen this from Buzzfeed, it really is amazing, “Here Are 20 Headlines Comparing Meghan Markle To Kate Middleton That May Show Why She And Prince Harry Are Cutting Off Royal Reporters”

 

 

 

 

Medicare for… all/some/none?

There’s very good debates to be had on both political and policy grounds on how Democrats should pursue the next-stage of health care reform.  On political grounds… does a Medicare for all who want it (and maybe everybody down the road) have a much clearer path than Medicare for all, now?  You would think, but maybe since this is just the proverbial camel’s nose under all the same Interests that would align and fight like hell against Medicare for all would align and fight just as much against any expansion of Medicare that was designed to increase down the road.

Policy-wise, there’s a lot to be said for single payer.  But, there’s plenty of well-performing health systems that retain a role for private insurance, e.g., Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands, etc.  And, I think there’s a very good argument that with starting from now, instead of a blank slate, that would would actually have more successful policy that allowed for the continuation of (much-more-regulated-than-now) private insurance.

Regardless, both the politics and policy are complex and there’s no clear slam-dunk.  And, thus, it’s really annoying when people pretend there us.  Lots of really good discussions of the matter of late that it’s worth highlighting.

First, Eric Levitz last month, “The Public Option Is Politically Superior to Medicare for All — But Only As a Sound Bite”

There is no “glide path” to universal coverage, only rocky roads.

In truth, the kind of public option that Biden and Buttigieg are campaigning on — one robust enough to make universal health care a reality in the United States — would not allow all Americans to “keep their private insurance if they prefer it.” In fact, their plans would guarantee massive disruptions to private coverage. As a campaign slogan, “Medicare for All Who Want It” reconciles the electorate’s desire for universal coverage with its aversion to disruptive change. But as a policy, it doesn’t – because no policy can.

The reason is straightforward. Unlike most other OECD countries, the United States never imposed strict cost controls on its health-care sector. And since human beings are willing to pay most any price to avoid death or severe illness — and since insurance often masks the true cost of medical services — America’s hospitals, doctors, and drug companies have been able to secure payment rates several times higher than their peers in other nations. To appreciate how thoroughly we’re being hosed by our health-care sector, consider this: In 2018, Canada spent roughly 11 percent of its GDP on health care, which was enough to provide all of its citizens with premium-free access to the world’s 14th highest performing health-care system. That same year, the United States spent roughly 18 percent of its GDP on health care — which, in our system, was not sufficient to provide any form of insurance to nearly 30 million Americans, nor to prevent more than 50 percent of our people from delaying or forgoing medical care due to affordability concerns.

In this context, there is no way to provide all Americans with high-quality, affordable health care without radically disrupting the status quo. To extend quality coverage to the millions of Americans who are uninsured or underinsured, you either need to force providers to accept drastically lower payment rates — which is to say, upend the business models underpinning nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy — or increase federal spending on health care beyond Bernie Sanders’s wildest dreams…

If Uncle Sam uses his singular market power to force down costs — and doles out sufficient subsidies to make his “public option” universally affordable — then the private insurance industry as we’ve known it will cease to exist. Meanwhile, to make the provider payment cuts sustainable, America’s approach to financing hospitals and medical schools would need to be radically restructured. And to make the public option fiscally sustainable — once the vast majority of Americans have enrolled in it — President Biden would need to propose tax increases nearly as large as those put forward by Sanders and Warren.

Mainstream news outlets (and Democratic debate moderators) have almost all either ignored or failed to comprehend these facts. This is likely because, in the Beltway’s popular consciousness, the phrase “public option” is still associated with the policy that Democrats nearly implemented under Barack Obama…

Biden and Buttigieg are, in essence, promising to deliver all the benefits of single-payer, at the political and fiscal cost of a marginal provision of the ACA. And the press has largely affirmed their “free pony” pitch. But the health-care industry isn’t fooled. The hospital, pharmaceutical, insurer, and physicians’ lobbies acknowledge no distinction between Medicare for All and a strong public option, and are already funding messaging campaigns against both…

All of which is to say, when Medicare for All Who Want It stops being a campaign pitch, and becomes a bill before Congress, it will face almost all of the same political obstacles as single-payer.

I like Levitz’s conclusion, because, in the end he admits he really just doesn’t know:

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the mainstream media is both very hostile to single-payer and extremely friendly to a public option — so friendly, major news outlets routinely frame the latter as a policy that would end all disruption in the private insurance marketand give all Americans access to a high-quality, low-cost public plan. Given these realities, running on Medicare for All would marginally reduce the Democrats’ odds of winning the presidency in 2020, while doing nothing to meaningfully advance the cause of universal health care. And winning in 2020 does matter, even if it will be insufficient for achieving universal health care: With the White House and a slim Senate majority, Democrats could realistically be expected to make marginal improvements to the health-care system (perhaps, if we’re lucky, improvements that make the fight for universal a bit easier down the road); increase funding for clean-energy R&D; restore civil-rights enforcement at the DOJ; adopt more progressive labor, financial, and environmental regulations; and forestall the conservative movement’s complete domination of the federal courts, among other things. Therefore, Democrats should run on the more popular, politically impossible health-care plan.

I personally don’t find this argument 100 percent persuasive. But it does strike me as coherent and difficult to dismiss. Anyhow, if every moderate Democrat and center-left pundit started framing their preference for a public option in these terms, it might make the American public a bit less complacent about the status-quo health-care system, and a bit more sympathetic to calls for radical change. (Which may be one reason why we’re hearing so many dishonest arguments for the public option instead.)

Meanwhile, SB shared with me this Data for Progress post based on a lot of public opinion polling to argue that once Medicare for All Who Want It (i.e., public option) comes under scrutiny, it will actually be less popular than Medicare for all:

Americans are fine with the continued existence of health insurance companies, but they clearly want drastic reforms to healthcare.

The question of what sort of healthcare plan each candidate supports has been at the forefront of the Democratic presidential primary. However, while Medicare for All has faced immense scrutiny, “public option” plans have faced very little. To see how a public option might stand up after facing attacks from the right, we tested a few possible messages for and against the public option…

After being shown each possible consequence of the policy, voters could report whether they supported, opposed, or were unsure how they felt about a public option. Voters saw each item in a randomized order.

Our results suggest voters are ready to do anything to curb the rising costs of healthcare. By an overwhelming margin (73 percent to 16 percent), voters say they would oppose any new healthcare policy that allowed costs to continue to rise. By a similarly strong margin (71 percent to 17 percent), voters also say they would oppose reforms that continued to limit choices to particular networks—a limitation that is also the defining feature of the current healthcare system…

Data for Progress has previously shown that Americans are ready for healthcare reform. And now we’ve seen that a public option must accomplish many things to be politically palatable to voters. Prices must stop rising, choices must be expanded, and the cost of access for users must be low or zero (i.e., out-of-pocket costs are deeply unpopular, except among Republicans). At the same time, voters would accept a public option if it was just that—an option, rather than a government monopoly.

There’s some interesting stuff here, but I think a lot of polling on health care is especially problematic.  Not because of the pollsters, but because on a lot of this, people have surprisingly unstable attitudes and they don’t actually understand the issues well enough to know what they want or how they would behave.   It was not that long ago, that polls showed people loved every element of the ACA, but the individual mandate, but hated the ACA.  Anyway, McElwee may be right, but when it comes to the right policy and politics on health care, an argument largely based on polling some indeterminate health care future is not going to win me over.

And, just because I’m on the topic.  As a country, we are so bad at this, “Every American family basically pays an $8,000 ‘poll tax’ under the U.S. health system, top economists say”

America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system — Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay. (Most Americans think of a poll tax as money people once had to pay to register to vote, but “polle” was an archaic German word for “head.” The idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head.)

And that, again, is why meaningful reform is so damn hard.  That’s $8000 per head being distributed to hospital executives, doctors, administrators, technicians, insurance middle-men– you name it.  And none of them want to give up that money.

And, finally, Vox with a nice piece on how Taiwan built a single-payer system from scratch (honestly, the much easier way to do it) pretty recently.  There’s also a great segment on Taiwan in this now very-dated (2008), but still very relevant PBS “Sick Around the World” documentary that was required viewing for my Public Policy classes for years.

So, what’s the right approach then?  I don’t know!  But, based on my knowledge as a political scientist and upon following health care politics since 1993, I’m in the Medicare for All who want it camp.  But, I may well be wrong.

What I do know for 100% sure– we absolutely need to get to a place where, truly, all Americans have affordable health care and I will support anything that helps us get there.  

Stop drinking so much (water)

I actually get most of my daily hydration most days during lunch time when I have huge amounts of fountain Diet Dr Pepper (I don’t measure, but I’m guessing 48 ounces or more) via refills.  Otherwise, I don’t drink so much and I’ve generally thought worrying about hydration was over-rated.  For the most part, I drink when I’m thirsty.  And sometimes, if it’s not convenient, I even wait a while to drink (i.e., to fill up with DDP instead of from a water fountain).  So, am I ruining my health?  Probably not.  Really liked this Op-Ed in the NYT on what has become the cult/culture of hydration:

Water, in recent years, has been imbued with the powers of a mysterious elixir. The latest “it” celebrity’s skin care secret? Oh, just water. Feeling sluggish? You probably need more water. Uninspired and utterly hopeless about your career and romantic prospects? Well, have you had any water today?

People hydrate as if their reputations depend on it. They dutifully carry water bottles with them wherever they go, draining and refilling them with gusto.

Some go so far as to track their consumption in a journal, or with a mobile app. (There’s one that uses a plant as a metaphor for the user’s well-being. Depending on the volume of water one has consumed, it may appear to be thriving or wilting.)

Hydration is the mark of a well-adjusted, successful person. On Jan. 1, Twitter flooded with resolutions to drink more water, including from Twitter’s brand account…

“There’s no evidence that a little bit of dehydration really impacts anybody’s performance,” said Dr. Mitchell Rosner, a kidney specialist at the University of Virginia who studies overhydration in athletes, in a phone interview.

He said that most recommendations for hydration come from studies of athletes, who lose fluid rapidly during workouts or competitions, and are at a much higher risk for dehydration than the average person.

For those of us who spend all day at a desk, Dr. Rosner said, it’s best to drink only when we feel thirsty.

Overhydrating, he said, isn’t helping anyone. At best, Dr. Rosner said, “You pee it out.” … [emphases mine]

“It’s a popular idea among patients and a popular idea in consumer media that hydration equals healthy skin,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai in New York City.

But that’s not exactly how it works. “It’s a complete myth that eight glasses of water are necessary to maintain hydrated skin,” he said. Still, many consumers treat water like an anti-aging potion

Water appears immune to claims that its benefits are overblown — we need it to survive, after all. Its benefits have even become a meme. There are social media accounts dedicated to berating their followers for not drinking enough water.

But if you haven’t quite hit your quota today, don’t worry: Your 2020 isn’t already ruined. The tasty beverages you thought of as dehydrating, like coffee, tea and beer, are actually hydrating.

“Coffee is a hydrating beverage,” said Ms. Antonucci, the nutritionist. “If you’re drinking it, let go of the guilt. Enjoy it.”

Or, in my case, my guilt-free Diet Dr Pepper.  I’ve always been amused by the fact that people somehow believed that drinking 12 ounces of a beverage with a mild diuretic chemical (caffeine) would actually be worse than drinking 0 ounces of liquid.  Anyway, drink up.  Or don’t.  It’s all good.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is good (thanks JDW), “Togo national football team attack: Survivors remember machine gun ambush, 10 years on”

2) Important analysis of Black voters’ substantial and enduring support for Biden, plus his white support, in the Monkey Cage, “Biden appeals both to black voters — and to white voters suspicious of Black Lives Matter”

3) As a huge podcast fan, I loved this tweet.

4) Pretty much every state requires just one U.S. History class, so I’m okay with NC falling in line with that.  That said, while I think it’s great to teach personal financial literacy to HS kids, a whole class seems like overkill to me. But, I did have to address this one quote in the article that is emblematic of comments that drive me crazy, “State education officials said the change won’t result in students having less knowledge of American history. They said North Carolina students will still learn about U.S. history in elementary and middle school and that the revamped civics class will also include content on U.S. history.”  Really?!  One less history class, but not “less knowledge” of history.  Give me a break!  And just admit that they’ll have less history, but still a sufficient amount.

5) So, a non-vegan, “vegan” relative of mine led to some interesting conversations between my wife and myself about what’s really a vegan.  I had not heard of, and do really like, the idea of “plant-based eating.”

The terms “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a growing effort to define just what it means to follow a plant-based lifestyle.

According to Brian Wendel, the founder of the “plant-based living” website Forks Over Knives, going plant-based is often “for people who are very enthusiastic about the health angle” of eating mainly whole plant foods.

Reynolde Jordan, who runs a food blog called Plant-Based Vibe in Memphis, said it’s also a way to distance oneself from the rigid ideology of veganism, which calls for abstaining from animal products of all kinds.

“When you classify yourself as vegan, you’re now being watched,” said Mr. Jordan, who posts vegan recipes for dishes such as Cajun seaweed gumbo and raw beet balls along with photos of the vegetarian meals he orders on trips. “In my DMs, I’d get all these messages from activists for protests. I’m just not that guy — I did this for the purpose of eating better.”

6) Tom Jensen with his 2020 analysis based on PPP recent polling, “Democratic Unity Will Determine Trump’s Fate”

Over the last couple weeks PPP did polls testing the leading Democratic contenders for President against Donald Trump in both Arizona and Iowa.

On the surface the numbers are decent but not amazing for Democrats. Donald Trump won Arizona by 4 points in 2016. Currently he ties Joe Biden, leads Bernie Sanders by 1, leads Elizabeth Warren by 2, and leads Pete Buttigieg by 3. Trump won Iowa by 9 points in 2016. Currently he leads Pete Buttigieg by 1, Joe Biden by 3, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by 5.

When you dig further into the numbers though a clear picture emerges- Trump’s position would be much, much worse if voters who don’t like him- or even just those voters who voted against him in 2016- end up unifying around the eventual Democratic nominee…

He appears to have very little room to grow among undecideds. These numbers suggest that the fate of the 2020 election really stands in the hands of the voters who don’t like Trump. Trump does not have enough people who like him to get reelected- the only way he does is if the voters who don’t like him refuse to get on the same page after the Democratic primary is over. Right now we see a lot of people saying they will vote for Biden but not Bernie or will vote for Bernie but not Biden- if those people get on the same page once the nominee is chosen, Trump will lose. If they don’t, it will be close.

7) I think it was Ezra Klein who shared this link on the “selection bias” of how we think about kids before we actually have them:

For example, there was a huge amount of selection bias in my observations of parents and children. Some parents may have noticed that I wrote “Whenever I’d noticed parents with kids.” Of course the times I noticed kids were when things were going wrong. I only noticed them when they made noise. And where was I when I noticed them? Ordinarily I never went to places with kids, so the only times I encountered them were in shared bottlenecks like airplanes. Which is not exactly a representative sample. Flying with a toddler is something very few parents enjoy.

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing. You don’t have to be doing anything special. You could just be going somewhere together, or putting them to bed, or pushing them on the swings at the park. But you wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. One doesn’t tend to associate kids with peace, but that’s what you feel. You don’t need to look any further than where you are right now.

Before I had kids, I had moments of this kind of peace, but they were rarer. With kids it can happen several times a day.

My other source of data about kids was my own childhood, and that was similarly misleading. I was pretty bad, and was always in trouble for something or other. So it seemed to me that parenthood was essentially law enforcement. I didn’t realize there were good times too.

8) And this was really interesting on marriage.  The key to long-term success may largely be avoiding negativity:

We have some answers, thanks to psychologists who have been tracking couples’ happiness. They’ve found, based on the couples’ ratings of their own satisfaction, that marriages usually don’t get better. The ratings typically go downhill over time. The successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline. That doesn’t mean marriage is a misery. The thrill of infatuation fades, so the euphoria that initially bonded a couple cannot sustain them over the decades, but most couples find other sources of contentment and remain satisfied overall (just not as satisfied as at the beginning). Sometimes, though, the decline in satisfaction is so steep that it dooms a marriage. By monitoring couples’ interactions and tracking them over time, researchers have developed a surprising theory for the breakdown of relationships.

What mattered was the bad stuff, as the psychologists concluded: “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship ‘works’ as it is the destructive things that they do or do not do in reaction to the problems.” When you quietly hang in there for your partner, your loyalty often isn’t even noticed. But when you silently withdraw from your partner or issue angry threats, you can start a disastrous spiral of retaliation.

“The reason long‑term relationships are so difficult,” says Caryl Rusbult, who led the couples study, “is that sooner or later one person is liable to be negative for so long that the other one starts to respond negatively too. When that happens, it’s hard to save the relationship.” Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious. Other researchers have found that when partners are separately asked to ponder aspects of their relationship, they spend much more time contemplating the bad than the good. To get through the bad stuff, you need to stop the negative spiral before it begins.

9) Love this on the need for higher middle-class taxes:

But on the question of raising taxes, and for whom, most Democratic candidates have hedged toward an all-too-familiar position. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, they’ve asserted their opposition to tax increases on anyone but the very rich — even if those tax hikes are offset by household savings on priorities like child care, health care and college education…

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge may help fend off misleading questions from reporters and disingenuous attacks from primary opponents, but it is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework that benefits low- and middle-income people most. [emphases mine] When redistributed through universal programs like Medicare-for-all (or free child care, free college, paid family leave, etc.), broad taxes provide stable funding and a sizable return on investment. Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them.

Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

10) I just really love advanced hockey stats.  So much so that I actually check in on them here during the game while watching Carolina Hurricanes games.  Thus, I really appreciate this analysis here which basically concludes it makes sense to focus most on scoring chances over Corsi, and definitely more so than high-danger chances.

11) Love this NYT feature from Dana Goldstein on how otherwise identical HS History textbooks have minor re-writes for partisan state review boards.  Most egregrious, of course, Texas.  Especially when it comes to race:

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

12) Basically, it’s hell to own a convenience store in Japan, and one owner is fighting back.

13) Honestly, I think it makes us feel better to make claims along the lines that those who commit suicide are cowards.  Ken White, with some great pushback on this:

Every time there’s a suicide in the news, the Courage Experts appear, explaining that taking your own life—especially if you have a family—is cowardly.  The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and many others all inspired such judgments from people lacking either insight or human empathy. These people have something in common: They haven’t experienced major depression, and don’t care to make the effort to grasp what it’s like.  Like Ziegler, they see suicide as “selfish,” a decision reached through a self-interested calculus of pleasure and pain, with no consideration given to loved ones left behind.

But that’s not what depression is like at all.  Wallace understood it, even though his understanding wasn’t enough to save him.  In the novel Infinite Jest, he wrote this remarkably evocative and accurate description:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Depression lies. It lies relentlessly and seductively and convincingly. The lies, like the fire of Wallace’s parable, separate you from hope, from faith, from your loved ones.  Imagine the worst day of your life. Maybe someone you loved died, or betrayed you. Maybe you lost a job you loved or were publicly humiliated or failed some essential obligation. Remember how it felt? Imagine, for a moment, feeling that way almost all of the time. Imagine it’s always there, a hard angry fist in the pit of your stomach, from when you wake to when you sleep. Imagine that the few moments when you forget and don’t feel that way offer little solace, because suddenly you remember, and the pain and hopelessness surge back like a tsunami. Imagine hearing inexorable lies in your own voice, telling you that you’ll never feel better, that you deserve no better, that if there are people who love you, it’s only because they don’t see how worthless you are, and that they would all be better off without you. Imagine that you can’t conceive of any way that the pain can end unless you die. It’s not cowardly to fall prey to that. It’s human. Resisting that, persevering, excelling, creating art when you feel that way, like Wallace did? That’s goddamned epic. Wallace isn’t a coward for falling; he’s a hero for standing as long as he did.

14) Just got back from “1917.”  Damn was that good.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this on Trump’s GOP “takeover” from Eric Levitz:

Yet McConnell is “staying put.” His caucus’s principled conservatives believe that when the state intervenes in the pharmaceutical market to raise prices and juice profits (by awarding patent monopolies that restrict competition), that is free-market economics — but when “big government” intervenes to aid consumers at the expense of Merck’s shareholders, it’s socialist tyranny. And, at the end of the day, the GOP’s long-standing principles (a.k.a. the GOP donor class’s long-standing demands) ostensibly count for more than one president’s whims.

What, then, do we mean when we say that Trump has “taken over” the GOP? If a president cannot convince his congressional allies to buck their party’s established orthodoxy on his “next major priority” — even when his position is popular, and the orthodoxy is not — in what sense has he attained the “complete fealty” of his party’s lawmakers? The discrepancy of Trump’s supposedly historic power over his party — and his demonstrable inability to rally congressional Republicans behind his legislative goals — reflects a fact that’s too often elided in discussions of Trump’s “hostile takeover of the GOP”: The mogul’s conquest of the American right owed as much to strategic surrenders as it did to tweeted blitzkriegs.

Trump began accommodating the GOP Establishment from the moment he secured the nomination. In the early weeks of his primary campaign, Trump endorsed universal health-caretax hikes on hedge-fund managers, and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. After Trump won the Republican primary — and, thus, the hearts and minds of many previously adversarial GOP donors — he either abandoned or de-emphasized such heresies. Once in power, he outsourced his agenda to Paul Ryan. Trump could have devoted his “honeymoon” to his (broadly popular) ambitions for improving U.S. infrastructure. Instead, he let the Randian speaker try and fail to take health-care from poor people, before successfully delivering (deeply unpopular) tax cuts to wealthy ones.

Notably, subordinating his own political interests to the GOP Establishment’s fiscal agenda did not earn Trump any “fealty” on his campaign’s defining issue: When the White House’s official immigration plan (which included full funding for a border wall, and cuts to legal admissions) came before the Senate in February 2018, 14 Republicans voted against it.  (Mitch McConnell held votes on three other immigration bills that same day; all won more support than Donald Trump’s.)

To be sure, the president has occasionally flouted his party’s orthodoxy on trade and foreign policy. But even in those realms, Trump’s heresies are often overstated. Every modern Republican president has dabbled in protectionism at the behest of his favorite industries. And Trump did not ultimately tear up NAFTA, but merely negotiated a nearly-identical replacement. Meanwhile, Trump’s personal affections for Vladimir Putin notwithstanding, his administration has pursued the hawkish anti-Russian foreign policy that Mitt Romney once demanded. The president’s betrayal of Syria’s Kurds may have ruffled some neoconservative feathers. But then, betraying the Kurds has long been a pastime of Republican presidents – and for all of Trump’s vows to withdraw U.S. troops from the region, “large-scale operations” in Syria are ongoing. 

Put simply, it isn’t that hard to complete a “hostile takeover” of a party when your hostility does not extend to anything that that party truly values. The GOP Establishment did not wage holy war on Trump in early 2016 because it found his incivility or xenophobia unconscionable; it did so because it doubted Trump’s ability to defeat Hillary Clinton, and his willingness to implement the conservative agenda. By delivering the White House to Republicans, the regulatory state to the Chamber of Commerce, the tax code to plutocrats, and the judiciary to the Federalist Society, Trump has dispelled those fears.

The mainstream press exaggerates Trump’s power over congressional Republicans because it refuses to recognize the gulf between the GOP’s stated values and its actual ones. The modern Republican Party has never been a stickler for balanced budgetsunfettered trade, or constitutional restraints on executive authority (when the executive is a Republican). It has always been happy to abet presidential lawlessness when doing so advanced the conservative movement’s ideological goals. Thus, the fact that House Republicans are willing to forgive Trump’s illicit efforts to sabotage the Democratic front-runner is much less significant than the Times suggests.

2) Jesse Singal on “toxic wokeness” with an analogy to human sacrifice and I kind of love it:

It sounds like you’re describing life in a toxic online social-justice community. Toxic SJ communities are, of course, no less toxic because they center around fundamentally worthy causes. One thing I’ve noticed about them is no one seems to be happy. When happiness does appear to manifest, it’s a strained, performative type of happiness.

Allow me my first of what are going to be several digressions. Earlier this week I got started on the latest “Fall of Civilizations” podcast, which is about the Aztecs. One of the many things the host, Paul M.M. Cooper, does masterfully is pick the right spots to zoom in a bit, to encourage listeners to really think, if only for a few minutes along what is an hours-long journey inside a particular civilization’s downfall, about some issue or moment.

One such moment in this podcast involves the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Cooper treats the subject with sufficient care, given that, as he points out, human sacrifice was one of the rationales the Spaniards used to justify their plunder of the New World (the colonizing Spaniards were, of course, deeply concerned with human rights — real humanists, that lot). But human sacrifice did occur. A priest would stab someone to death with an obsidian dagger at the top of a pyramid and pull out their still-beating heart. Their blood would run down the steps of the pyramid and their body would be tossed down it, its parts fed to animals. Many people would watch; it was a big social and religious ritual.

Cooper invites us to imagine would it would be like to be in the crowd. What did the average member of this (in other ways) incredibly successful, astoundingly impressive civilization think of the practice? In all likelihood, he points out, there was a range of opinions, just as the Europeans of the era likely had a range of opinions on the very public executions that would take place thousands of miles from Tenochtitlan, in starkly different cultural settings.

It’s hard not to imagine some half-hearted cheers. At root, these grisly sacrifices, often perpetrated upon prisoners of war, were demonstrations of state power. This was, at the time, a powerful civilization that believed, as so many powerful civilizations do, that it had the power of the gods themselves on its side, and that it was important to stay in their good graces. So maybe you cheer a bit louder than you feel like cheering, because what are you going to do, not cheer? Deny the self-evident wonder and righteousness of what you’re witnessing? When the consequences of being a hated and defeated outgroup member are presently tumbling down those endless holy stairs, right toward you?

There is this stock response when people do what I’m doing now, when they put dysfunctional online social dynamics in the context of the really bad stuff from our human past — sacrifices or witch burnings or the Red Scare and so on. The response is incredulous outrage: How could you compare one to the other??? Then the indignant person shuts down and refuses to discuss the matter at hand. My theory is that when they chant the mantra You can’t compare them! loud and fast enough, it drowns out their own doubts; it allows them to avoid interrogating their own role in making the world a meaner and crueler place than it needs to be.

So, for the record:

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

WE KNOW THAT CALLOUT CULTURE ON TWITTER IS NOT LITERALLY THE SAME AS BURNING AN ACCUSED WITCH.

The whole point is that there are certain aspects of human nature that pop up again and again and again, in different forms at different times. One of them is in-group insecurity. Are you a member in good standing? Is someone else poised to overtake you in the local hierarchy? What can you do — must you do — to hang on? A huge amount of human social life is oriented toward determining and broadcasting people’s status — whether they’re in or out and just how in or out they are.

Toxic online social-justice communities are miserable places largely because they are fueled by stilted, superficial outrage, and because there is an accurate sense that if you say the wrong thing, all your friends will instantly throw you under the bus. Since so many members of these communities don’t know each other in real life, and in fact have no firm connection to one another other than explicitly stated political values, people naturally develop a rather insecure sense of in-group attachment — one premised almost entirely on avoiding wrongthink and on reciting the right parts of the liturgy at the right times.

3) Really like this Wired list of 24 best movies of the 2010’s as I’ve actually seen most of these and agree with many of the picks.  Since this is Wired, it is a sci-fi heavy list.  I love “Looper” and am very pleased to see “Edge of Tomorrow” get some much-deserved love.  Also a huge fan of Arrival.

4) Shockingly, none of the Trump administration’s justifications for the Solemani killing actually hold up.  Paul Waldman takes them all down.

5) Frank Bruni lets loose on Nikki Haley and false notions of patriotism in his weekly newsletter:

Shame on Nikki Haley.

In the aftermath of the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, she didn’t merely praise President Trump — a show of support that may well reflect her own, like-minded assessment of events and is absolutely her right.

She denigrated Americans who took a different view by disingenuously describing their reaction. “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Suleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates,” she told Sean Hannity during an interview on Fox News. Of course he thrilled to that characterization.

Which is an utterly bogus one. Democrats aren’t mourning the Iranian military commander’s death. They agree that he was a dangerous actor, with blood on his hands. But they are asking why Trump ordered his killing now, whether the administration has a fully fleshed strategy beyond this extraordinary strike and whether Iran will be less or more bellicose as a consequence of it. These are important, necessary questions. Republicans should be asking them, too. The answers could determine whether we wind up at war.

There’s this popular, recurring notion — you’re going to hear more and more of it from Trump’s loyalists in coming days and weeks — that when America is threatened by an adversary, Americans must exhibit unity. Some readers will surely admonish me for failing to do that in my midweek column, about the mismatch of Trump and this moment.

“Partisan politics should stop when it comes to foreign policy,” said Haley, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, telling Hannity that “we need to be completely behind the president” and that “every one of those countries are watching our news media right now.” Forget a free press and skeptical public. She wants a cheering section.

And that’s not patriotic. It’s the opposite. And it’s foolish.

I agree that we should tamp down pettiness and check reflexive, press-a-button partisanship when the country is imperiled and American lives are on the line. Hell, we should do that all of the time.

And in matters of state we should be especially careful, which is why there was a long if imperfectly followed tradition of presidents not using their trips overseas to continue or start political spats back home.

You know who flouted that? Trump. I can still see the backdrop of white crosses in a Normandy graveyard as he trashed Nancy Pelosi in a television interview. He has repeatedly mocked Joe Biden while abroad — and of course tried to use his presidential sway to get a foreign country to do its own besmirching of Biden.

So please, Ambassador Haley, don’t lecture me on how foreign policy should be a partisan no-fly zone, certainly not on behalf of this president, whose ingrained habit of lying intensifies the imperative of not blindly accepting what our leaders tell us as troops are activated and storm clouds gather.

Too little skepticism toward what turned out to be misinformation mired us in Vietnam and, much later, Afghanistan and also got us into Iraq. Again and again we trust too quickly or too much, and the country pays a terrible price.

Doesn’t patriotism demand that we learn from those mistakes?

6) Thanks to NC State’s new gender guide, I actually learned several new terms.  Sure, I’m familiar with genderqueer and non-binary, but who knew agender was a thing.  Now that’s one hell of a rejection of the gender binary.

Agender – a term used to describe the experience of one being without gender, outside the gender binary, rejecting the social construct of gender
Gender Fluid – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender as moving along the continuum between and among genders
Genderqueer – a term used to describe the experience of being outside the gender binary, which may include having two or more genders (bigender, pangender, etc.), being third-gendered or other-gendered, or being without gender
Man – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being male, masculine
Non-binary – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being outside the binary or otherwise not identifying with binary male or female gender categories
Self-Entered – please enter the term most appropriate to describe your gender
Two-spirit – a culturally-specific term used to describe some individuals in some Native American cultures whose gender orientation includes both a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit
Woman – a term used to describe the experience of one’s gender being female, feminine

7) Can classroom air filters improve student performance?  Looks like it.  Then again, Drum is pretty skeptical.

8) Really enjoyed this NYT Magazine piece on gene drive (first time I read how it came to be– which was really cool) and genetically-modified mosquitos.  I actually found this part about Monsanto, though, particularly interesting:

“With genetically engineered foods, in the earliest years, Monsanto really set the context,” Charo says. “And it was a mess. Their financial interest in the intellectual property and their regulatory interest in making sure these products were able to come to market got conflated with the science, so nobody was willing to trust the kind of research they were doing. The end result was that all G.M.O. research got tainted.”

Todd Kuiken, a researcher at the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, says that “it was basically a lesson in how not to do things.” But, he pointed out, the “Monsanto Mistake” also alerted researchers to the need for a more transparent and collaborative approach. With gene drives, groups like Target Malaria, a nonprofit research consortium administered by Imperial College, London, and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have stressed that the deployment of modified mosquitoes in Africa should be “an African decision.” Local and national governments would work with regulatory organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, which have proposed frameworks for testing and releasing genetically modified mosquitoes. In the United States, recent developments in genetics, including gene drives, have created a boom market for ethicists, as well as for so-called engagement specialists, who have the unenviable problem of figuring out how to get people to be genuinely thoughtful about a confusing and highly technical area of research.

9) I didn’t even know “muscle confusion” workouts are a thing.  During my workouts, my muscles are pretty much never confused.  But that’s okay, because a new study suggests its about your brain, not your muscles:

What these findings suggest is that muscles are not deterred or bored by unvarying routines, says Brad Schoenfeld, an associate professor of exercise science at Lehman College in New York and a co-author of the study. “They adapt to load,” he says, whether that load arrives through the same exercise or a different one each time.

But minds are not muscles and could be influenced by novelty, he says. “The differences in motivation scores at the end were substantial,” he says, suggesting that “from a purely motivational standpoint, variety matters.”

10) Derek Thompson on how this decade will probably be “peak meat.”  That would be great.  As I might have mentioned, I’ve been very impressed with the newest plant-based meats I’ve had.  And I’m super-excited about Impossible Pork.  Anyway, Thompson:

If these trends continue, per-capita meat consumption in the United States is all but certain to peak this decade. “Peak meat” won’t happen because tens of millions of carnivores suddenly got religion on animal rights, but rather because they were motivated by the opposite of a collective sacrifice: the magic of a longer menu.

Factory farming may be the epitome of capitalist excess, an inferno of needless suffering and environmental degradation for the pursuit of profit. But the plant-based revolution, too, is driven by a set of highly capitalist forces: technology, choice, and transnational corporate power. In the past decade, total venture-capital investment in plant-based meat has exceeded $2 billion, led by Impossible Foods, with $700 million in venture funds, and Beyond Meat, which went public in 2019.

These companies have partnered with some of the largest fast-food chains in the world to serve plant-based alternatives for each of the three most popular meats in the West—chicken, beef, and pork. This week, KFC announced that it would test a new vegan chicken sandwich at nearly 1,000 locations, starting in the U.K. In the past year, plant-based options have grown more than 250 percent at all burger-serving restaurants in the U.S., according to the food-research company Datassential. Burger King’s meatless “Impossible Whopper” powered the company to its strongest sales growth in four years. McDonald’s has responded by partnering with Beyond Meat to test its own version of plant-based burgers in the U.S. Beyond Meat also provides plant-based sausages for breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin’ and Tim Horton’s, while Burger King is testing imitation ground pork on its breakfast menu with something called the “Impossible Croissan’wich.”

What’s immediately obvious from this long list of meatish items is that investors, corporate executives, and consumers—including, crucially, those who say they would never become vegetarian—are excited about meat produced from plants. But these developments have a more radical implication: Plants are becoming the fourth meat.

That sentence will register as absurd to many people—and for carnivorous gourmands, it will smack of outright heresy. But it’s not an extravagant prediction, once you shake off the obvious paradox. Within the next decade or two, if the typical American eats 10 pounds of plant-based meat each year (essentially, the weight of one Impossible Whopper every week) plant-based meat will replace seafood as the fourth-most-popular “meat.”

11) Good stuff from John Sides, “Incumbent presidents usually get more popular when they run for reelection. Will Trump?”

The third pattern is the one Trump needs: increasing approval numbers throughout the election year. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton are the clearest examples. Nixon’s average monthly approval increased from 49 percent to 61 percent between January and October 1972. Clinton’s increased from 47 percent to 56 percent over the same period in 1996.

Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama experienced more modest increases, but increases nonetheless. Reagan’s approval had already increased significantly in 1983 as the country recovered from the punishing 1982 recession. But it increased about three more points in 1984 before he was easily reelected…

As the graph shows, Trump’s approval rating is lower than any incumbent president’s at this point in their first term. And even though Trump won in 2016 despite being viewed unfavorably, it’s a different proposition when you’re the incumbent president. The political scientist Jonathan Bernstein put it nicely:

It’s one thing to vote for someone you dislike, it’s another to vote for someone you think is a bad president. In other words, asking people whether they approve or disapprove of how the president is handling his job is going to be a better predictor of their vote than asking them whether they have a favorable opinion of a candidate.

Of course, Trump’s reelection can’t be ruled out — hence the even odds he has in the betting markets. Nevertheless, his position is unusually weak for an incumbent presiding over a good economy. The simplest strategy for improving his chances is reaching that thin slice of persuadable voters with a message about the good economy.

The question is whether Trump has fully committed to this message.

12) I loved this mini stories episode of 99% Invisible.  But I had a truly wonderful moment listening to this segment on the history of Los Alamos when they started interviewing the Los Alamos historian, Alan Carr, who was a graduate student/friend of mine at Texas Tech way back when.

13) I was a little disappointed with the de-aging in the Irishman.  Looked too much like an older person with bad plastic surgery.  But, this is kind of amazing… somebody with video skills made a way better version (seriously, do watch this) with free software in seven days:

It’s impossible to argue with the star-power of a mob movie that contains the following names: Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci. On paper, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. The problem is, though, that Robert De Niro is a 76-year-old man, Al Pacino is a 79-year-old man, and Joe Pesci is a 76-year-old-man. And in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, these three mid-to-late-’70s actors are playing real-life mobsters throughout the span of half a century. That means, at times, we’re seeing De Niro’s Frank Sheeran as a twenty-and-thirtysomething-year-old man.

To pull this off, Martin Scorsese spent millions of Netflix’s money to digitally de-age De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci so they could portray these men throughout different parts of their lives. It’s safe to say it doesn’t entirely work. The result is some hellish uncanny valley, where their faces on screen perpetually look like they could be anywhere from 40 to 60 years old. We see De Niro’s Sheeran, supposedly in his 30s, beating the shit out of mobsters, moving like a 70-year-old man with the face of a 50-year-old man. It’s confusing, and often distracting. But many critics and awards show voters were able to look past the clunky CGI to enjoy yet another Scorsese mob movie featuring his old pals.

I was not one of them. And neither was this deepfake YouTuber who says he used free software to make The Irishman de-aging look better. And, according to the YouTuber, it only took him seven days.

14) I just upgraded my old router with the Wirecutter’s “budget” recommendation and damn was that about the best $50 I’ve spent.

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