Mega quick hits (part II)

1) I find this case of the Indiana woman charged with feticide to pretty fascinating.

2) The inefficiency of smaller government through tax breaks.

3) Headlines says it well, “Republicans have new plan to cut taxes for top 0.2%”  Priorities!

4) The Blackpoll Warbler weighs only 4 ounces.  Scientists have now confirmed it nonetheless flies 1700 miles nonstop over ocean.  Amazing!

5) Alabama’s former top judge pens a scathing indictment of our system of judicial elections.  Of all the wrongness in American democracy, judicial elections are certainly near the top.

6) I love the THX audio logo.  Therefore I loved this history of it.

7) I was quite interested to learn that alcohol taxes have gone way down because they are not indexed to inflation.  That’s bad, as it means more people will die from alcohol:

From a public health perspective, alcohol taxes are important. “Quite simply, alcohol taxation and other measures that increase the price of ethanol are effective in promoting the public health and safety, ” writes Duke University’s Philip J. Cook in his 2007 book Paying the Tab. “Higher prices are conducive to lower rates of underage drinking, traffic fatalities, and sexually transmitted disease.”

The logic here is simple. Higher taxes make alcohol more expensive. More expensive alcohol makes people drink less of it. And when people are drinking less, they’re less likely to suffer costly health problems or do stupid things like drive drunk.

8) For all those predicting the utter failure and doom of Obamacare, it’s not easy to be so wrong.  Chait on their dilemma.

9) Never thought I’d be linking the American Conservative, but good for them for a nice summary on why police brutality is systemic, not anecdotal.

10) California is taking a more sane approach to sex offenders.  Alas, given how politically toxic this issue is, we should not expect much of a spread in the sanity.

11) How to hire like Google does.

12) Fred Kaplan on why the Iran nuclear deal is a very good deal.

13) Big New York magazine feature on Hillary’s 2016 run that totally brings the political science.  Going into my course readings next semester.

14) The North Carolina legislature’s efforts to take over local politics finds its way into the NYT.

15) Why paid sick leave is good policy and how it is actually making some progress in Washington.

16) Denmark’s policy reserves antibiotics for sick pigs, rather than giving them to whole herds.  Would be nice if we could do the same.  And, if you think this would make our pork cost too much, nope:

Researchers at Iowa State University ran numbers to determine what it would cost American pork producers to put a Danish-style control system in place. The total was only $4.50 per animal, less than three cents more for a pound of pork — a pittance if it means keeping antibiotics that save human lives effective.

17) Apparently my ears are somewhere between 40 and 50 years old.  Good, because so is the rest of me.

18) Why does college cost so much anyway?  Sorry, no simple answers.

19) Connor Friedersdorf on how Rolling Stone’s UVA rape article violated the most simple, basic standards of journalism in pursuit of a good story.

Said Rosen, “None of those schools felt quite right. What kind of ‘feel’ is this? It’s feeling for a fit between discovered story and a prior—given—narrative.” What if, he argued, “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist? “Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start,” he wrote. “Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.” And I think he is correct that searching for confirmation of a preexisting narrative is a common problem in narrative journalism generally and a factor that led Rolling Stone astray here.

Still, there is one sense in which Erdely’s account of her process seems dubious to me. The story of a fraternity that used gang rape as an initiation ritual for pledges would obviously be worth exposing if it were true. But no one familiar with the reality of rape on college campuses should’ve construed such a story as emblematic of the problem. Gang rapes absolutely happen. As Robby Soavenotes, Rolling Stone could’ve easily written a story about one that happened at Vanderbilt.

19) Chait also draws some interesting conclusions on the matter:

One of the peculiar, unexamined assumptions is that fraternity members are capable not only of loutishness or even rape, which is undeniable, but the sort of routine, systematized torture we would normally associate with serial killers or especially brutal regimes. The story describes a gang rape as a fraternity initiation ritual, complete with members referring to their victim as “it,” the way Buffalo Bill dehumanized his captive in Silence of the Lambs.

You don’t need to feel much affinity for Greek culture — I certainly don’t — to question whether depravity on this scale is plausible. It’s the sort of error that could only be produced in an atmosphere of unquestioned loathing. Caitlin Flanagan, who has reported extensively on the pathology of fraternity culture, told Hanna Rosin that Rolling Stone’s gang rape scene beggared belief. But Flanagan and Rosin have both offended the left in different ways, so their skepticism merely served to convince Rolling Stone’s defenders that the story’s skeptics were motivated by anti-feminism:

Yep.  I remember finding this story somewhat incredible when first reading it, but didn’t actually want to say so for this very reason.

20) Needle exchange programs are great policy.  Too bad too many politicians are convinced that they are encouraging drug use, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Mega quick hits (part I)

Your long overdue quick hits.  My apologies.

1) Given the role of wealthy donors in politics, it should be no surprise that across the political spectrum, all politicians are largely in step with the desires of the wealthy.

2) An 1000 year old Anglo-Saxon recipe for eye infection treatment actually works.

3) If you want to learn what you take notes on, do it by hand, not a laptop.

4) Among the many subtle ways we abuse our prisoners, is gouging them and their families for the costs of keeping in touch via phone call.  It’s just wrong.  Maybe there’s change afoot.

5) Interesting Wired piece on the war over the health risks of vaping.  It’s clearly better to vape than to smoke and clearly better to do neither.  Can’t we leave it at that?

6) It’s died down for the moment, but Chris Kromm on why North Carolina’s proposed RFRA is even worse than Indiana’s.  Will be interesting to see if this comes back here.

7) The simple rule to prevent the next Gerrmanwings disaster– two personnel in the cockpit at all  times.  Period.

8) Men in Quebec who took advantage of a “daddy only” quota for parental leave were doing 23% more housework and child care years after actually taking the leave.  Clearly, we need more of these policies.

9) Multiple servings of red meat per day seems to be not good for you.  But if it’s less than that, it’s probably not harming you at all, so don’t sweat it.

10) Ian Millhiser argues that the Supreme Court is (and continues to be) a “malign force in American history.”

11) Adam Davidson sums up the economic evidence on “job-stealing immigrants.”  Short version: there’s a near-consensus among economists that immigrants are not taking jobs Americans would otherwise be doing.

12) I enjoyed this “personality habit” quiz at the NYT.  Apparently I’m a “questioner.”

Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they meet only inner expectations. Once Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it—but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s soundness and usefulness. They resist anything arbitrary or ineffective; they accept direction only from people they respect. Questioners may exhaust themselves (and other people) with their relentless questioning, and they sometimes find it hard to act without perfect information. If you’re thinking, “Well, right now I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework,” yep, you’re probably a Questioner!

13) Is there anything that’s fair to poor parents and families?  Not truancy laws, writes Dana Goldstein.

14) Jon Cohn makes not a bad case that Rand Paul’s medical specialty helps to explain his politics:

The split [specialists as Republicans; generalists as Democrats] makes sense if you understand the very different work these doctors perform — and the money they get paid for it. Specialists’ clinical interactions tend to be episodic: A surgeon called in to remove a gall bladder, repair a ligament or install a stent is probably meeting his or her patient for the first time — and may have little contact, or even none at all, with that patient once the procedure and rehabilitation are over. Such encounters may reinforce a

14) What not to worry about in teaching pre-school children how to read?  You mean other than the fact that you are an obsessive parent if you are worried about this?  Just read to your kids.

15) I first learned about Pantones in a Duke magazine article about “Duke blue” years ago and found the concept fascinating.  Loved this NYT story on the subtle difference in pantone between Duke blue and Kentucky blue.

16) The victim of a false rape accusation at UVA tells his story.  Yes, of course the vast majority of rape accusations are truthful; but that doesn’t mean we universities should be denying due process to the accused.

17) Chait on why conservatives hate the Iran deal.  Because they hate all deals.

18) No, tax cuts still don’t pay for themselves.  And, yes, laughably, Arthur Laffer is still an economic guru in the Republican party despite his ideas being completely discredited among serious economists.

19) If you consider our micribiome, you can forget about humans and chimps being 98% similar.

20) Enjoyed this Marketplace story on how German universities control costs.  (No climbing walls, among other things; and no beloved sports teams).

Psychiatry cannot stop crazy airline pilots (or crazy shooters)

Really liked this piece in the New Yorker about Andreas Lubitz and the limits of psychiatry.  Love this analogy:

Pilots, disaffected adolescents, rapists and murderers, you and I—all of our mental lives may be more like the weather than like billiard balls, determined by innumerable forces that amplify and distort one another in ways that make accurate predictions very difficult. The National Weather Service, despite its supercomputers and satellites, not to mention its thorough understanding of the physics of weather, is often fooled. We clinicians have neither those tools nor that knowledge. To be sure, there are mental disorders in which we know enough of the vectors to say that people who have them should not occupy certain positions. A person prone to delusions should probably not fly an airplane, and a pedophile should not teach children. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. From all we know so far about Lubitz, he was not one of those severe cases but rather someone who was among the millions of people who once contemplated suicide and was being treated for a mood disorder. It seems that he was too normal to have been identified in advance as someone who could do something so extreme.

It’s human nature to think we can identify what we could have done differently to prevent similar future tragedies, but it’s just not that simple:

It is comforting to think that Lubitz was mentally ill. That would mean, among other things, that wise doctors could have figured out what the problem was and have fixed it, or at least they could identify it in other potential Lubitzes. But it is unlikely that even the best psychiatric evaluation would have prevented the Germanwings disaster. The depravity of the human heart cannot be contained in a vessel as flimsy as a psychiatric diagnosis.

This blog post has not been genetically modified

Nice editorial in the Post on why requiring genetically-modified food labeling is a bad idea:

E IGHTY-EIGHT percent of scientists polled by the Pew Research Center in January said genetically modified food is generally safe to eat. Only 37 percent of the public shared that view. The movement to require genetically modified food products to be labeled both reflects and exploits this divergence between informed opinion and popular anxiety. [all emphases mine]

Mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution…

The GM-food debate is a classic example of activists overstating risk based on fear of what might be unknown and on a distrust of corporations. People have been inducing genetic mutations in crops all sorts of other ways for a long time — by, for example, bathing plants in chemicals or exposing them to radiation. There is also all sorts of genetic turbulence in traditional selective plant breeding and constant natural genetic variation.

Yet products that result from selective gene splicing — which get scrutinized before coming to market — are being singled out as high threats. If they were threatening, one would expect experts to have identified unique harms to human health in the past two decades of GM-crop consumption. They haven’t. Unsurprisingly, institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization have concluded that GM food is no riskier than other food.

Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist…

This isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.

Yeah, all that.  I just finished my Kashi Go Lean for breakfast.  It actually annoys me every time I see the big “GMO Free” label on the box.  It’s healthy because it’s high in fiber, protein, and whole grains; not because those grains were not genetically modified.  If Kashi wants to keep doing this, fine; companies put all sorts of information on the sides of their boxes that are not actually related to nutrition.  What we don’t need is the government implicitly telling consumers that GMO is somehow related to the health of our food.  It’s simply not.

The science of hangry

Loved this New Yorker post about the evolutionary benefits and costs of how hunger affects your brain:

Hunger makes Belgians less charitable, Israeli judges more draconian, and Ohioans likelier to stick pins into voodoo dolls that represent their spouses…

Hunger seems like a simple phenomenon: the stomach rumbles until it’s fed, then it’s quiet until it rumbles again. Why, then, does it shape so much behavior that, at least on the surface, has so little to do with food? …

These side effects of hunger—intensified awareness, greater persistence, bolder risk assessments—also exist in humans. Like walleye pollock, people seem to behave with a profitable recklessness when hungry. In a 2014 paper titled “Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach,” researchers at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, found that hungry subjects fared significantly better on a psychological challenge called the Iowa Gambling Task than did subjects who had eaten Greek yogurt beforehand…

Of course, all the exquisite sensitivity and restless energy that hunger induces have a downside: crankiness. In 1946, a study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment documented the powerful connection between hunger and anger—an early description of the mental state now popularly known as “hangry.” …

Most of the time, we can be glad that allaying our hunger no longer means prowling for wildebeests or foraging for berries. But the system that served our ancestors so well—that gave them the drive to hunt and the good sense to gather—turns out to be something of a liability in the modern world. An adaptation that’s useful on the savannah doesn’t necessarily help in the office cubicle or the dorm room. In places where food abounds, the hungry now prowl the department store and forage for binder clips, ready to snap until they get their cake.

Interesting stuff.  From what I can tell, I really don’t get too hangry (I wonder if that also means I have less of an alertness benefit), but I learned early in my marriage, do not let my wife get too hungry.

The health care “villains”? It’s the hospitals, not the insurers

Everybody loves to hate health insurance companies.  There are endless anecdotes about denying needed coverage and they aren’t the ones actually making us healthy– that’s the hospitals.  Thing is, it’s the hospitals that are the relative “villains” in our health care drama as they are the ones very much responsible for driving up the super-high prices that bedevil health care in this country.  Thus, a very nice piece from Reihan Salam that explains how it is that hospitals are able to so effectively drive up prices (for which we all pay one way or another):

As for why hospitals charge such high prices, it’s fairly simple: They do it because they can. In a competitive market, a provider who jacks up prices risks losing customers to competitors who charge less. But what if incumbent providers have the political muscle to keep competitors out of the market? What if regulators look the other way when incumbent providers buy up the competition, or even help the process along? That, in a nutshell, is the situation with America’s hospitals, as Chris Pope outlines in a recent Heritage Foundation paper onconsolidation in the health care market. Because most medical care is purchased not by consumers but by third parties, like Medicare and Medicaid or your insurance company, and because consumers rarely get access to reliable data on quality, they place an extremely high value on convenience. If you’re not saving money by shopping around for a better deal, and if you have no idea if you’re getting better care, you might as well go to the hospital closest to you. Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals thus have a huge amount of power in their local markets. If a private insurer refuses to pay a hospital’s exorbitant prices, a hospital can just walk and wait for the insurer’s customers to scream bloody murder over the fact that they can’t use their local hospital.

Bummer.  And if you are counting on politicians to save us, think again:

Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.
You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.  [emphasis mine]
Hmmmm.  How do you break government monopolies.  Can you say, “government regulation”?  Of course, Salam is actually a “reform conservative” so he’s not about to openly admit government is the solution:

Curbing the power of the big hospitals isn’t a left-wing or a right-wing issue. Getting this right will make solving all of our health care woes much easier, regardless of where you fall on the wisdom of Obamacare. Let’s get to it.

Of course this is a left vs. right issue.  Who does Salam think will curb the power of the big hospitals?  A groundswell of populist revolt?  No.  Government.  When you look at all those modern democracy health systems that out-perform us, every last one does so, in part, by relying upon government to help keep prices down.  Until we make a serious effort at doing the same (the ACA is a partial effort) we are going to continue to be bankrupted by health care prices.

Death panels live

Great piece in Vox today about public opinion on the Affordable Care Act five years after it’s passage.  Not suprisingly, misinformation/misunderstanding was far more common among Republicans (Fox News anyone?).  For example, many (and sadly many Democrats, too) still even believe in “death panels”

And here’s another whole chart of wrongness:

floating chart

If there’s any area of consensus, it’s in misperceptions of the law: 82 percent of Americans either say the price tag has gone up, or aren’t sure (the law’s price has actually decreased as compared with initial estimates), and only 13 percent know the law met its first-year enrollment goals.

The good news?  Some truth is getting through:

Obamacare’s insurance expansion arguably has three really important policies: the end of preexisting conditions, a mandate to purchase insurance, and subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans purchase coverage.

The Vox poll shows that a majority of Americans know about these three parts of the health-care law. Three-quarters of Americans know there is a mandate to buy insurance in Obamacare; 64 percent are aware that preexisting conditions no longer exist; and a slim majority, 54 percent, know about the financial help now available to buy a plan.

Awareness levels are similar among Democrats and Republicans, suggesting that some facts about the health-care law have broken through — even if they’re not swaying how voters think about the law.

This article points out, that perhaps the most important misperception, though, is in costs, where there is massive misperception:

Forty-two percent of Americans think Obamacare has gotten more expensive over the past five years. Only 5 percent of poll respondents hit on the right answer: budget estimates for the Affordable Care Act have consistently fallen since it became a law.

Make no mistake: Obamacare spends a lot of money on its tax credits and Medicaid expansion. It recoups some, but not all, of that new spending with hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts, which reduce federal health spending. The bulk of the remainder is made up with tax increases. But back when the law was passing, Republicans argued up, down, and sideways that the Congressional Budget Office was sharply underestimating the amount of money Obamacare spends.

The big problem for Democrats is that they thought that once the law was actually in operation and working, Americans would come around.  Alas, it has remained politicized to an absurd degree (40+ votes for repeal, anyone), making it hard for a lot of the truth and successes to make it through to the public.  Frustrating, but the truly good news is that the law is actually working better than expected and a lot more people are getting a lot more needed health care.

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