Quick hits (part I)

1) Yes, occasionally it drives me crazy, but, in general, I love the Facebook algorithm.  I very intentionally react to posts knowing I’ll get more posts like that.  I love this personalization.  I see lots of smart political analysis, lots of photos of little kids, and virtually know videos of cats.  Why would I want to mess with that?

2) The headline says it all, “The Only Thing, Historically, That’s Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe.”  Hey, maybe that means we’ll have a good outcome from Trump ;-).

3) This is pretty cool– an analysis of why Trump’s approval varies according to poll.  And, damn, is Rasmussen an absurdly positive outlier.

4) A visualization of how herd immunity works.  So cool!

5) Ryan Lizza’s piece on Milo.  This bit is so good:

Charlie Sykes, a prominent conservative commentator and Never Trump activist, was similarly disgusted. “So let me get this straight: Matt Schlapp thinks that Milo has ‘an important’ message and this is about free speech?” he asked me, via a direct message on Twitter. “Not sure what is worse: the intellectual or the moral decadence on display here. Apparently, racism, anti-Semitism, and the embrace of Alt Right isn’t disqualifying for CPAC,” he wrote. “This raises the larger question: Are there any standards for conservatives in the Age of Trump? Obviously being an erratic narcissist can’t be disqualifying. Racist tweets or bullying can’t be disqualifying. Trafficking in Alt Right memes has been normalized. So with Trump as POTUS, where can conservatives draw the line? CPAC’s logic: We’ll embrace anyone the Left hates, even if they are a vile, disingenuous, bigoted click whore.”

6) Apparently, the American Academy of Pediatricians makes a lot of recommendations to parents without actual evidence behind them.

7) This letter from an expert on Narcissistic Personality Disorder is so good:

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

8) A horse that, apparently, we still need to beat and beat until it’s dead… tax cuts (in terms of the marginal rates we have in America) do not lead to economic growth.

9) Chait is always good on Paul Ryan and taxes:

The drive to cut these taxes reflects the party’s deep beliefs that overtaxation of the rich is the most serious form of oppression in modern political life, and they are prepared to spend enormous political capital to rectify this evil. [emphasis mine]

10) I was sort of intrigued by this list of high-paying, low stress jobs.  I was pleased to see “Microbiologist” on here, as that’s the current stated intent of my 11-year old.  But then I laughed out loud when they had Political Scientist on here with an average annual salary of $103,000.  WTF?!

11) Trump supporters in their own words.  As always, ugh.  Little snippets like this are always so telling:

He also favors Trump’s push to roll back regulations that Searles said have “stifled” businesses, including the software company that hasn’t been stable enough to give him a raise in 10 years.

Right.  I’m sure it’s all those amazingly burdensome regulations on software companies that are holding back the economy.

12) This was totally new to me and quite interesting.  The Trump of Slovakia and how he was defeated.

13) A friend shared a version of this— a day in the life of Joe Conservative– on FB.  It’s a little old, apparently, but it’s spot-on as ever.

14) This Quora post on what conservatives don’t get about liberals is really, really good.

15) Colleges pushing back on the use of Advanced Placement tests.  Personally, I’m okay with the idea of using for elective credit, but no way should they truly replace a college class.  I always regretted that I didn’t have the real version of Intro to American Government at Duke.

16) The regulation of elections is about to get even worse.

17) A pastor asks a great question, “when did compassion become partisan politics?”

18) Trump has no idea how to get anything done.  Even when your party has control, legislating is hard work.  And it’s clear, Trump has no appetite for that.  Jon Cohn:

In particular, Trump has no apparent patience for the boring, slow work of politics ― like developing detailed policy plans, or working them out with congressional leaders. And without that kind of unglamorous work, getting stuff done turns out to be awfully difficult.

19) Very important 4th Circuit ruling on Assault Weapons and great analysis from Mark Joseph Stern.  In a less busy week, this definitely gets its own post.

 20) Haven’t heard more since this post earlier in the week, but Republicans in NC are looking to put all the roadblocks they can in front of women seeking medical abortions.

21) Ross Douthat blaming the cultural hegemony of the left for Milo.

22) Why protest?  It’s fun!  Confirmed.

23) I love the Post’s new “Democracy dies in darkness” motto.  Fun take on it from Slate.

24) Excellent interview with a Russian newspaper editor on Trump:

A lot of commentators here believe the most generous interpretation of Trump’s fawning orientation to Putin and Russia is that he’s hopelessly naïve. Do you buy that?

Mikhail Fishman

That’s a good question. Why does he like Putin so much? I think Trump sees Putin as a kind of soulmate. Let’s be honest: Trump is not a reflective person. He’s quite simple in his thinking, and he’s sort of attracted to Putin’s brutal forcefulness. If anything, this is what Trump and Putin have in common.

Sean Illing

Has Putin made a puppet of Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. This is certainly what the Kremlin believes, and they’re acting accordingly. They’re quite obviously playing Trump. They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician. Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage, and he should be.

25) There were so many great responses to this ludicrous Paul Ryan health care tweet.  Alas, from what I can tell, nobody compiled the best.  That said, I do like Krugman’s response:

That was last week. This week, perhaps realizing how flat his effort fell, he began tweeting about freedom, which he defined as “the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Give me consumer sovereignty or give me death! And Obamacare, he declared, is bad because it deprives Americans of that freedom by doing things like establishing minimum standards for insurance policies.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this Wired feature on the challenges facing the NYT.  I love the idea of it re-inventing itself as a premium subscriber service like HBO and Netflix.  For the record, I think NYT, HBO, and Netflix are all terrific and worth paying for.  (Though, “The Young Pope” please!)

2) Nick Kristoff on a stark, ignored, reality: husbands (and a hell of a lot of other things) are far more dangerous than terrorists.

3) John Oliver decide to take the message to Trump where he’ll see it– cable news ads.

4) I don’t doubt that those who have fought to remove smoking from public gathering places have overstated the health benefits of doing so, as argued in this extreme example of a #slatepitch.  That said, I find it amusing that the piece does not even address the fact that most of us non-smokers (i.e., most of us Americans) strongly prefer to not be around noxious vapors fouling our air.

5) Interesting Op-Ed– what modern day Muslims should learn from Jesus.

6) Why is Trump so obsessed with apologies?  Like so much else, it’s a simple dominance display for him:

For Trump, apologies aren’t about resolving conflict or fostering relationships or even setting the record straight. Like so much of what he does, they are about besting someone. Trump expresses his displeasure at how he has been treated; the offending party feels compelled to make amends. An apology that requires threats or twitter trolls to extract only highlights Trump’s superior strength all the more. Your criticisms of Trump may not have been wrong. You may not feel one bit bad about them. You may loathe and disdain him even more after apologizing. What matters to him is that you have had to publicly ask for his forgiveness. Which proves you are a total loser.

7) Zack Beauchamp takes a deep-dive into the utterly delusional world of “counter-jihadism” that is so influential with Trump’s own delusional worldview.

8) NYT pulling no punches in the lede on Pruitt’s confirmation.

The Senate on Friday confirmed Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, putting a seasoned legal opponent of the agency at the helm of President Trump’s efforts to dismantle major regulations on climate change and clean water — and to cut the size and authority of the government’s environmental enforcer.

9) Advice to conservative college students from a formerly conservative professor.

10) Drum with more evidence for the lead-crime link.

11) Amanda Taub with a good piece on “the deep state” you’ve likely been hearing much about.

12) I got more enjoyment out of “why liberals are wrong about Trump” than anything I read all week.  Just trust me and click the link.  Seriously.

13) Peter Beinart on how much of the anti-Trump right has made peace with Trump:

It’s not deranged to worry that Trump may undermine liberal democracy. It’s deranged to think that leftist hyperbole constitutes the greater threat. Unfortunately, that form of Trump Derangement Syndrome is alive and well at National Review. And it helps explain why Republicans across Washington are enabling Trump’s assault on the institutions designed to restrain his power and uphold the rule of law.

It is inconvenient for National Review that the individual in government who now most threatens the principles it holds dear is not a liberal, but a president that most conservatives support. But evading that reality doesn’t make it any less true.

14) Raising the price of a $575 life-saving drug to $4500.  So wrong.  Pharmaceutical companies make life-saving drugs.  Many pharmaceutical companies are also greedy and evil while they’re at it.  Talk about preying upon human suffering.

15) John Cassidy on Republican plans to cut Medicaid:

Still, the Republican Party’s internal machinations are a secondary matter. The key point is that G.O.P. leaders are intent on ripping up a successful and affordable reform that helped fill a gaping hole in the social safety net. In the process, they will endanger the health of a lot of Americans who don’t have the resources to protect themselves and their families. And that’s shameful.

16) Why yes, there are some bad dudes when it comes to immigration.  Unfortunately, it seems that some of these bad dudes are actually working for ICE.

17) More evidence for modern conservatism as white tribal politics.

18) I know you’ll be shocked to see evidence of how Trump tried to keep Black families out of his properties.

19) Terrific piece in Vox looking at (and speculating upon) the mating history of humans and neanderthals.  This particular bit was new to me:

Siepel has also found evidence of an even earlier mating than those that took place around 50,000 years ago. In the fully sequenced Neanderthal genome published in 2014, he found some human genes dating back to 100,000 years ago. “Instead of finding Neanderthal segments in modern human genomes, we identified modern, human-like segments in one of the Neanderthal genome,” he says.

It goes to show these matings weren’t a one-time event in our history. (And it adds a wrinkle to the common story that humans left Africa around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human DNA found its way into Neanderthals 100,000 years ago, so there must have been an earlier human incursion into Europe. Those humans, though, did not survive.)

20) Democrats are now more inclined to embrace conspiracy theories.  Why?  Because conspiracy theories are for losers.

21) Doctors finally admit that lifestyle and exercise– not drugs– are the best treatment for lower back pain.  I found this bit of particular interest:

Obesity, being overweight, smoking, depression, and anxiety have all been linked with lower back pain. But the cause is usually more complicated. “Our best understanding of low back pain is that it is a complex, biopsychosocial condition — meaning that biological aspects like structural or anatomical causes play some role, but psychological and social factors also play a big role,” said Chou, who wrote a big evidence review that helped inform the new ACP guideline.

For example, in patients who have nearly identical results from an imaging test like an MRI, those who are depressed or unsatisfied with their jobs tend to have worse back pain than people who aren’t, Chou said. Partly for this reason, doctors don’t generally recommend doing MRIs for acute episodes of low back pain, since they can lead to overtreatment — like surgery — that also won’t improve health outcomes.

As for the modestly annoying lower-back pain I began experiencing about 10 years ago… I started sleeping with a pillow under my hips (I sleep on my stomach) and it’s never been anything but a very occasional annoyance since.

22) Catherine Rampell on Republicans plans to completely gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  It really is truly breathtaking how much Republicans are totally willing to screw over the little guy.  There’s plenty of areas where I just disagree with Republicans, and I get that, but I really do not understand how people justify these types of positions.

23) Drum’s quasi fact-checking of Trump’s disaster press conference is so entertaining.  My favorite part:

I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don’t watch it any more…Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit…Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it.

Fact-check: Schrödinger’s cat. Trump both watches and doesn’t watch CNN.

24) Yeah, the modern research university really is built off the exploitation of adjuncts.   But that’s because far too many people are willing to work for $3-4000 per class in the hopes that it will lead to somethhing good and permanent when it almost never, ever does.  Hope springs eternal…  And, yes, universities need to stop producing so many more PhD’s than there are decent jobs.  Damn, perverse incentives.

25) Great Vox conversation with Gary Kasparov on Putin and Trump.

Is repeal dead?

No, maybe not on life support.  But you could make a good case it’s in intensive care.  The Freedom Caucus seriously just upped the stakes– and the likelihood of total failure on repeal (these are the members of Congress who’s parents never taught them “half a loaf…”).  From HuffPo:

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus voted among themselves Monday night to band together and support only an Obamacare repeal that is at least as aggressive as a bill the House and Senate passed in 2015, putting GOP leaders in a bind with their conference and perhaps even threatening the possibility of passing a repeal.

The group of roughly 35 to 40 House conservatives voted to take this official position ― meaning it received the support of at least 80 percent of the members and is therefore supposed to be the position of all lawmakers in the group ― amid some GOP consternation that Republicans ought to focus more on repairing the law rather than repealing it, as well as amid heavy voter pressure in many districts to leave the law intact.

“If it’s less than the 2015 [bill], we will oppose it,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told a small group of reporters Monday night…

The 2015 repeal bill removed the Medicaid expansion that is popular in many red states ― including among many Republican governors ― and repealed the individual and employer mandates. The bill also removed the law’s subsidies and the taxes that helped to pay for them. In short, it would disassemble Obamacare.

By insisting that the repeal bill be as forceful as that 2015 measure ― which technically got to President Barack Obama’s desk at the beginning of 2016 ― conservatives have staked out a hard line that some GOP moderates may now have a problem following. [emphasis mine]

Ummmm, yep.  For “moderates” (a misnomer, more like “non-extreme conservatives”) that don’t actually want millions of people stripped of health care and dying in the streets, a full-on repeal with no replacement is a no-go.  I would imagine there’s not close to 50 Senate votes for this in the real world.

Alas, here’s the thing, the Freedom Caucus is not in the real world:

They noted Monday night that Republicans had already voted on the 2015 repeal ― at least the ones who were here last Congress ― and they believe it would be hypocritical for Republicans to balk at the plan they supported a year ago.

“They voted for it already, so, be consistent,” Freedom Caucus member Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said.

WTF??!!  Are these guys in third grade?  They might as well be.  It’s really not a hard concept to separate “symbolism” from “actual legislation.”  With Obama as president, a repeal vote is symbolism, and nothing more.  Stupid symbolism catering to the worst elements of the Republican base, but clearly just sybolism.  And, now, to pretend, heaven forbid legislators should think differently when their votes are actually making policy, as they surely are under a Republican president?  Gimme a break.

Maybe there’s room for some sort of compromise somewhere among Republicans.  But if the Freedom Caucus keeps this up, we’ll be able to thank them for saving Obamacare.

About that “replace”

Sure, there’s been plenty of other stuff to occupy our attention, but part of the reason we haven’t really heard much about replacing Obamacare is because Republicans are hopelessly gridlocked among themselves based on what they say they want to do, what they’ve promised, they ways they complain about the law, and their anti-government-damn-the-costs ideology.  Sarah Kliff offers a nice explanation:

Even when Democrats were split on how to expand coverage in 2009, they still were all working toward the same goal. They all agreed that whatever bill they came up with should lead to millions of Americans gaining coverage, particularly the type of people who had struggled to obtain coverage in the past (people who are older and sicker generally). There was a key principle at the heart of the party’s policymaking.

 But Republicans don’t seem to have this — it’s not clear what particular objective their policymaking is striving toward, aside from dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Sometimes their words and their plans point in opposite directions. [emphases mine]

You would think from the rhetoric of conservative legislators that the problem is what people have to pay out of pocket: that the deductibles under Obamacare are far too high.

“Many people who have insurance can’t even use it because they have $10,000 or higher deductibles,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told Fox News this weekend. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) lamented in his confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary that “you have deductibles that have escalated to $6,000 to $12,000.”

 Or as President Trump put it to Sean Hannity last week: “The deductibles are so high that unless you get hit by a tractor, you will never be able to use it.”

The rhetoric is incredibly unified on this issue: Cost sharing under the health law is far too high. But the actual policies Republicans are developing move in the opposite direction. They don’t do anything like limit the size of deductibles in the marketplace, or cap out-of-pocket spending. Instead, most envision high-deductible health plans as an even more prominent part of the health care system

This is a debate we could be having about health care: about whether it would be better to make the overall cost of the law cheaper by moving toward high-deductible plans. You could envision a world in which Republicans say the government ought to take less of a role in health care and Americans have to become better shoppers as they face high-deductible plans.

But this isn’t what is happening — Republicans don’t seem, right now, to be working toward the goal of lowering deductibles or expanding coverage or anything else. They’re working toward the goal of repealing Obamacare, without a particularly clear vision of what exactly comes next. Until Republican rhetoric and policy come into line, it will be awfully hard for the party to come to any kind of consensus.

I really have no idea how this will turn out, but I do feel pretty confident that there will not have repeal and delay or just plain full repeal.  But how Republicans manage to make sense of the competing messages and policy priorities is a mystery to me.  And them.

Quick hits (part I)

1) This is disturbing:

Common stereotypes associate high-level intellectual ability (brilliance, genius, etc.) with men more than women. These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance (such as physics and philosophy). Here we show that these stereotypes are endorsed by, and influence the interests of, children as young as 6. Specifically, 6-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart.” Also at age 6, girls begin to avoid activities said to be for children who are “really, really smart.” These findings suggest that gendered notions of brilliance are acquired early and have an immediate effect on children’s interests.

2) What to do about it?

What is to be done? Research provides some clues. The psychologist Carol Dweck has written that emphasizing the importance of learning and effort — rather than just innate ability — for success in any career might buffer girls against these stereotypes. The relevant stereotypes, already in place at the age of 6, seem to fixate on who is supposed to have innate ability. If innate ability is seen as secondary, then the power of these stereotypes is diminished. Other research indicates that providing girls with successful role models might similarly “inoculate” them, boosting their motivation and protecting them from the idea that they are not intellectually competitive. One study even suggested that witnessing a more equal distribution of household chores could help balance the career aspirations of boys and girls.

Early and consistent exposure to such protective factors – and to the countless contributions made by women – may have the best chance of convincing little girls that they are, in fact, smart enough.

4) This is fascinating!  Breast milk has a gender bias.

In 1973, the biologist Robert Trivers and the computer scientist Dan Willard made a striking prediction about parents and their offspring. According to the principles of evolutionary theory, they argued, the male-to-female ratio of offspring should not be 50-50 (as chance would dictate), but rather should vary as a function of how good (or bad) the conditions are in which the parents find themselves.

Are the parents’ resources plentiful — or scarce? The Trivers-Willard hypothesis holds that when their conditions are good, parents will have more male offspring: Males with more resources are likely to gain access to more females, thereby increasing the frequency with which their genes (and thus their parents’ genes) are preserved in future generations. Conversely, male offspring that lack resources are likely to lose out to males that have more resources, so in bad conditions it pays for parents to “invest” more in daughters, which will have more opportunities to mate.

It follows, as a kind of corollary, that when parents have plentiful resources they will devote those resources more to their sons, whereas when resources are scarce, parents will devote them more to their daughters.

In short: If things are good, you have more boys, and give them more stuff. If things are bad, you have more girls, and give more of your stuff to them.

In recent years, evidence has emerged suggesting that in various mammalian species, breast milk — which is, of course, a resource that can be given to children — is tailored for the sex of each offspring. For example, macaque monkey mothers produce richer milk (with higher gross energy and fat content) for sons than for daughters, but also provide greater quantities of milk and higher concentrations of calcium for daughters than for sons.

5) Ryan Lizza on Trump, Mexico, and foreign policy:

The incident also made it clear that congressional Republican leaders, who, during the Obama years, were vocal about the President’s relationships with other countries, have no interest in policing Trump’s foreign policy. At a press briefing in Philadelphia yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who casually announced that Congress would find some fifteen billion dollars to pay for the border wall, had nothing to add about Trump’s detonation of the U.S.-Mexico alliance. “The President can deal with his relationships with other countries,” McConnell said.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Trump’s treatment of Mexico reinforces an emerging world view that casts aside the values at the center of American foreign policy since the Second World War. As with his degrading comments about nato, his view that Taiwanese democracy and independence is a negotiating chip with China, his cavalier attitude toward Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine, his abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership without even a cursory consultation with allies in the region who fear Chinese hegemony, his obsessions with the use of torture and the seizure of Iraq’s oil fields, Trump’s views on U.S.-Mexico relations are devoid of the liberal values that have kept Western democracies together for decades. During the Cold War, Reagan pushed Mexico to liberalize its economic and political system and tried to bring the country closer to America and away from any Communist-inspired Latin American movements. Both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama made economic integration with Mexico a priority, and they all worked toward humane immigration solutions. Trump, meanwhile, is treating Mexico like a nineteenth-century colony. Other countries are watching, and the long-term effect could be to gradually isolate us from the rest of the world.

6) The abortion “gag rule” is a political football that changes every time the president’s party changes.  But this time is different.  And bad for, you know, actually helping people.

7) Rapidly-improving artificial intelligence may largely replace much of the diagnostic work of radiologists, pathologists, and dermatologists.

8) Do not miss the “bad lip reading” version of the inauguration.

9) Brian Schaffner actually did a survey experiment on the inauguration crowd size.  Results.

10) PPP with a North Carolina poll.  Not suprisingly, my fellow NC denizens love Krispy Kreme donuts and UNC sports.

11) Jason Kander on Trump’s ongoing voter fraud lies.  The real problem is that Trump differs only in degree from his fellow Republicans:

By deliberately undermining confidence in the integrity of our democracy, the president can make it quite a bit easier for his party to push legislation making it harder for certain eligible voters to vote. Curtailing voting rights by dishonestly inventing widespread fraud has been a major part of the Republican Party’s political strategy for a while. Now that plan is getting a major boost from a president who has no problem just making stuff up.

12) Why are journalists more liberal than the public?  Journalists want to live in cities and therefore have metropolitan values.  And they tend to be relatively smart people who are in a career pursuing facts and the public good of an educated public, not money.

13) It really is banana republic stuff that we let members of Congress, e.g., Tom Price, trade stocks in the sectors they regulate.  And, even if what people like Price are doing is legal, it sure as hell is unethical.

14) Andrew Reynolds shares a summary of his responses to his famous NC is no longer a democracy Op-Ed.

15) Apparently, being an airline pilot is a depressing job.

16) The headline pretty well gets it: “A Wall Alone Can’t Secure the Border, No Matter Who Pays for It.”

17) Another good reason not to make it easier to get a gun silencer— the loud noise of a gun is an important safety feature.

18) You know the biggest reason I would never want to run for office (at least in our public-financing-free world)?  It really is hellish.

19) I didn’t re-read 1984 last year in anticipation of Trump; I just wanted to.  (And I loved it as an adult, as opposed to finding it a slog as a teenager).  But, damn, no am I sure glad I did.  Adam Gopnik on Trump and 1984.

 

Future of fruit

So, let’s take a break from Trump for a post and talk about one of my other favorite topics– fruit (and GMO’s).  A recent Wonkblog post on GMO apples (yum) reminded me of this excellent NYT story on the future of fruit from back in December.  In a very cool technological development, scientists have invented new ways to dramatically improve the shelf-life of fruit with a natural treatment:

What if a Florida tomato could be left on the vine long enough to turn red and fully develop its flavor — and still be ripe and juicy when it arrived at a grocery store in New York days later?

That is precisely the promise of a start-up here in Southern California, Apeel Sciences, that aims to make obsolete the gas, wax and other tricks growers use to keep fruits and vegetables fresh over time.

Using leaves, stems, banana peels and other fresh plant materials left behind after fruits and vegetables are picked or processed, Apeel has developed a method for creating imperceptible, edible barriers that the company says can extend the life of produce like green beans and berries by as much as five times. Apeel can even deliver a day-of-the-week bunch of bananas, each ripening on a different day.

An Apeel product already has been used to stretch the shelf life of cassava in Africa.

“It takes 30 days to get blueberries grown in Chile to market in the United States, which means they have to be picked before they’re ripe and shipped under heavy refrigeration,” said James Rogers, the founder and chief executive of Apeel. “We can change that.”

Awesome!!!  And, here’s where I mention, I’m loving the bumper crop of Chilean blueberries.  Fresh blueberries for $3/pint in January (hooray, Southern hemisphere) means I’m back on fresh blueberries instead of frozen for now.  But, in general, this is really, really cool.

If the product performs as advertised, it could bring sweeping changes to the produce industry and grocery aisles. It could reduce food waste and the use of pesticides and increase the varieties of fruits and vegetables available…

Another effort to alter that trade-off is SmartFresh, a product developed with Professor Watkins’s research that keeps apples from ripening too quickly in storage.

Apeel’s products, sold under the brand names Edipeel and Invisipeel, take plant materials and extract all liquids from them to produce tiny pellets. The company then uses molecules from those pellets to control the rate of water and gases that go in and out of produce, thus slowing down the rate of decay.

The version of Apeel for avocados, for example, creates a barrier that effectively fools anthracnose, a fungus that exploits tiny cracks that develop in the fruit’s skin when it begins to shrivel. Anthracnose extends a little leg through those cracks and into the fruit itself, creating the ugly brown spots that are such a nasty surprise when an avocado is opened.

Edipeel can stave off anthracnose by up to 30 days longer than existing techniques for combating the fungus. “It basically sees a different molecule than it’s used to seeing and moves on,” Mr. Rogers said.

Invisipeel can be applied while crops are still in the field. Edipeel can be applied after a harvest; crops can be coated while on a conveyor belt or dipped in the solution.

So far, the products are derived primarily from the remains of produce that has been certified organic, like grape skins left over from wine production and stems left behind after broccoli is harvested. They can be easily washed away with water.

And, maybe, I’ll get decent-tasting apples in January through March until the Chilean and New Zealand apples finally show up in April.

And, speaking of apples, solid Wonkblog piece on the new never-browning GMO apple.  Importantly, I think, the only modified genes in here are apple genes (and the science behind this is pretty cool).  I always eat a whole apple at a time, so brown slices are simply not an issue for me.  But if this gets more kids to eat apples via slices, that’s great.  And if it gets more people to accept GMO food as no less healthy, even better.  The company behind this is optimistic.  That said, I’m pessimisstic as I think there’s just too much irrational fear of GMO food.  This may be the food that breaks through (then again, maybe if everybody knew there were already eating a ton of GMO soy and corn every day), but maybe not:

After years of development, protest and regulatory red tape, the first genetically modified, non-browning apples will soon go on sale in the United States.

The fruit, sold sliced and marketed under the brand Arctic Apple, could hit a cluster of Midwestern grocery stores as early as Feb. 1. The limited release is an early test run for the controversial apple, which has been genetically modified to eliminate the browning that occurs when an apple is left out in the open air.

Critics and advocates of genetic engineering say that the apple could be a turning point in the nation’s highly polarizing debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While genetic modifications have in the past been mainly defended as a way to protect crops, the Arctic Apple would be one of the first GMOs marketed directly to consumers as more convenient.

“What companies are desperate for is some really popular GMO product to hit the market,” said McKay Jenkins, the author of a forthcoming history of the debate. “Any successful product could lift the cloud over GMOs.”

Industry executives predict the apple could open a whole new trade in genetically engineered produce, potentially opening the market to pink pineapples, antioxidant-enriched tomatoes, and other food currently in development.

“We see this as less about genetic modification and more about convenience,” said Neal Carter, founder of the company that makes the Arctic Apple. “I think consumers are very ready for apples that don’t go brown. Everyone can identify with that ‘yuck’ factor.”

GMO critics say they are hopeful, however, that consumers will continue to show skepticism about the produce. Despite a growing consensus in scientific circles that GMOs pose little risk, environmental and consumer groups have successfuly mounted campaigns against GMOs over the past 30 years, successfully limiting the practice to commodity crops like soybeans and corn…

For the Arctic Apple, however, the greatest test is yet to come: whether the convenience of a non-browning apple is enough to convince consumers to look past GMO’s negative reputation.

“I don’t know what their chances are — it’s a very polarized debate,” said Michael White, an assistant professor of genetics at the Washington University School of Medicine. “But I think this is huge. What the Arctic Apple is doing, trying to push GMOs on their own merits, could lead to a more positive discussion.”

Despite widespread scientific consensus that genetic engineering is not dangerous to human health, the practice remains controversial and poorly understood. Both the World Health Organization and the National Academies of Science have concluded that there’s no health reasons for avoiding the current slate of genetically engineered foods.

Personally, I’ll buy them just to support the effort (and to try and get my son Evan to eat more fruit). Anyway, no matter what, the future of fruit looks to be different and better.

Yes, Obamacare affects you too!

As for people thinking, “Well, Obamacare repeal will hurt those on the individual market.  I’ve got a large employer and a good plan.  It’s all good.”  Actually, not so much.  There’s lots of stuff in Obamacare that benefits pretty much everybody with health insurance.  NPR summarizes:

Nonetheless, as tensions grow in Washington over the future of the health law, it is important to understand some of its effects on large-group plans.

No copays for preventive services

The health insurance offered by big companies is typically pretty comprehensive, the better to attract and keep good employees. But Obamacare broadened some coverage requirements. Under the law, insurers and employers have to cover many preventive services without charging people anything for them. The services that are required with no out-of-pocket payments include dozens of screenings and tests, including mammograms and colonoscopies that are recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; routine immunizations endorsed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices; and a range of services that are recommended specifically for children and for women by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration…

No annual or lifetime limits on coverage

Even the most generous plans often had lifetime maximum coverage limits of a few million dollars before the health law passed, and some plans also imposed annual coverage limits. The health law eliminated those dollar coverage limits.

Annual cap on out-of-pocket payments for covered services

The health law set limits on how much people can be required to pay in deductibles, copayments or coinsurance every year for covered care they receive from providers in their network. In 2017, the limit is $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families.

“Many employers often had an out-of-pocket limit anyway, but this guarantees protection for people with high needs,” said JoAnn Volk, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, who has written on this issue

No waiting periods for coverage of pre-existing conditions

Prior to the ACA, employers could delay covering workers’ chronic and other health conditions for up to a year after they became eligible for a plan. Under the ACA, that’s no longer allowed. As a practical matter, though, coverage of pre-existing conditions was rarely an issue in large-group plans, say some health insurance analysts.

Repeal could reopen the door to that prohibited practice, however.

If you or someone in your family has a serious medical condition (like, oh, I don’t know, at random, I’ll just pick “rare genetic disease“), those lifetime limits really matter (as do the waiting periods on pre-existing conditions).  Or, say my good friend anxiously awaiting a new kidney.  But, I guess in Paul Ryan’s world, we’re all just takers.

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