Quick hits (part I)

1) Just another day in American-style corporate health care:

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals announced today that the company expects to pay $15.4 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department after allegations that Questcor Pharmaceuticals, which Mallinckrodt acquired in 2014, had bribed doctors and their staff to prescribe an incredibly expensive drug.

Two whistleblowers came forward in April to accuse Questcor of trying to boost profits for Acthar, a medication primarily for infants with seizures. Questcor raised the price of the medication by almost 100,000 percent (not a typo) from just $40 in 2000 to $38,892 today, despite the fact that Acthar has been on the market since 1952. Mallinckrodt currently rakes in about $1 billion per year from Acthar, according to CNN. [emphases mine]

“Mallinckrodt denies any wrongdoing on the part of Questcor during the relevant period, and intends to vigorously defend the company in this matter,” the company said in a press release.

Mallinckrodt has previously pointed out that the drug price of Acthar was raised by Questcor before Mallinckrodt bought it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Questcor appears to have been purchased by Mallinckrodt precisely because it was making money hand over fist.

Nor does it change the fact that about $8,000 of the price hikes on Athcar have reportedly occurred since Mallinckrodt bought Questcor. And the $15.4 million fine, which has yet to be finalized with the DOJ, pales in comparison to how much money the company is currently taking in on the drug.

While the company denies wrongdoing, the whistleblower lawsuit alleges that the “illegal practices that Questcor had been engaging in since 2007 have knowingly been continued since the merger and acquisition of Questcor by Mallinckrodt.”

Acthar is used for infantile spasms, which afflict roughly 2,000 babies in the U.S. each year, but Mallinckrodt has expanded the use of Acthar for other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis. A 60 Minutes report from May of 2018 raised serious questions about how well the drug actually works for arthritis in seniors, and an expert who spoke with 60 Minutes said that there’s “no evidence” Acthar works for rheumatoid arthritis despite the fact that Mallinckrodt reportedly makes about $500,000 each year for prescriptions treating the condition.

Curiously, there’s a drug called Synacthen that’s identical to Acthar and sells for just $33 in Canada. So why isn’t Synacthen available in the U.S.? Because Mallinckrodt bought the U.S. rights to Synacthen and simply doesn’t make it available to American consumers.

Ugh.  Also, Infantile Spasms are a particularly serious type of seizure.  So wrong.

2) Roxanne Gay says freak out.  Drum says, maybe not so much:

And there’s more. The headline unemployment rate is at its lowest rate in half a century and the long-term unemployment rate is lower than it was at the height of the housing bubble. Household earnings are up about $8,000 over the past five years. Blue-collar wages have increased by more than $1 per hour. The poverty rate has dropped for three straight years and is now lower than at any time aside from the peak of the dotcom boom. Despite the best efforts of Republicans, Obamacare continues to provide health coverage for nearly 20 million additional people compared to a decade ago. Among teens, cigarette smoking is down; alcohol use is down; other drug use is down; teen pregnancy is down; and arrests are down. The US economy is the most robust in the world. About 700,000 new citizens are naturalized every year, up from 100,000 in 1980. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. And on a personal note, there’s been a huge surge in new treatments for multiple myeloma, which means that I will probably be blathering on your computer for many years to come.

My message here is simple. If you cherry pick all the bad stuff that’s happened in the past few years, you can make a case for being pretty discouraged. If you cherry pick all the good stuff, you can make a case that everything is fine. The real reality is somewhere in-between. So if you feel like being discouraged, don’t let me get in your way. But there’s always good and bad in the world, and there’s no reason to insist otherwise.

Except for climate change, where we’re still on track to commit planetary suicide and no one is truly taking it seriously. That’s just a pure nightmare.

Oh, yeah, except climate change.

3) My colleague, Andrew Taylor, makes a pretty interesting argument about liberal bias among political science professors using social science.  Though, this liberal is no big fan of implicit bias (heck, among other things, we’ve got enough explicit bias these days):

Yet, although academic political scientists consider themselves experts who have built robust models validated by all sorts of empirical studies, they seem to believe the kinds of misinformed and prejudicial attitudes and anti-social and harmful behavior they attribute to just about everyone else have somehow evaded them.

That is odd. The last time I checked, political science professors were human beings. They are surely not immune from theories of human behavior they hold and have validated under scientific conditions.

One such in-vogue theory is unconscious or implicit bias. This is the idea that individuals are inherently prejudiced against others from certain groups. Social scientists use the theory to explain pervasive racism and prejudice against out or minority groups in all walks of life. The idea is that although a person may feel they judge others neutrally or on merits unrelated to group membership, they hold biases, admittedly often small, that they are incapable of correcting.

These attitudes adversely affect the individuals who constitute their object. Compounded, they can have material effects on public policy and social outcomes.

Although the theory has vocal critics and some proponents recognize its limited capacity to predict the behavior of individuals, the academy has produced a great deal of confirmatory published experimental and survey research.

Academics consider bias particularly pervasive in homogenous populations. Political science is certainly homogenous. A number of studies show the discipline’s professors are overwhelmingly liberal and largely identify as Democrats—by about 10 to 1 according to a study of North Carolina and Florida faculty I recently co-authored and that is forthcoming in a flagship journalof the American Political Science Association.

Actually, I’m not sure of the research on this (and, sorry, not going to check right now), but in my experience (okay, with myself and other informed PS professors) being aware of various cognitive biases actually really does make us less susceptible to them.  How many other people discuss the “sunk cost trap” while in line with friends at lunch?

4) Dana Milbank on how for Trump, D-Day was all about… Donald Trump.

5) It’s bad enough to have really bad people among Catholic priests.  Even worse when they are Catholic bishops:

During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to the report. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all.

Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.

“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.

6) I read $2 a Day about poverty in America as NC State incoming Freshman reading a couple years ago.  It was really good.  And I assign this summary to my Public Policy class.  Turns out, new research strongly suggests that it significantly overstates extreme poverty in America.  That said, there still is too much extreme poverty in America.

7) Really excited to see the updated Hall of Fossils next time I visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  I also like that they reference the last major renovation in the early 1980’s.  I still have very fond memories of my dad taking me to a members only reception for the re-opening featuring dinosaur cookies.

8) Dara Lind with a terrific article on how the border crisis really is a crisis now.  And why.  A must-read.  I added this to my Public Policy syllabus for next semester.

9) Meanwhile a harrowing Politico article on life for poor women in Honduras:

What do you do when you fear for your life and the state won’t protect you? Or if the state might make your already tenuous situation worse? The fraught calculations that face Sofia and her mom are endemic across Honduras, a country that remains in the grip of a rash of violence against women and girls. For some, the answer is simple and disruptive: They have to leave. When exhausted families, mothers toting babies and young women traveling alone arrive at the southern border of the United States, it’s not just gang violence or criminality in general that they’re fleeing. It’s also what Sofia whispers about to her bunny: men who beat, assault, rape and sometimes kill women and girls; law enforcement that does little to curtail them; and laws that deny many women who do survive the chance to retake control and steer their own lives.

As of 2015, Honduras ranked among a tiny group of nations, including war-racked Syria and Afghanistan, with the highest rates of violent deaths of women. Although Honduras’ overall murder rate has decreased in recent years, it remains one of the deadliest countries in the world, and the murder rate has been declining more slowly for female victims. Murder remains the second-leading cause of death for women of childbearing age.

10) Terrific interview with the creator of HBO’s “Chernobyl” on the nature of truth and stories and the show.

11) This Reason satirical campaign video meets used car ads is really, really good:

12) Seth Masket on the potential costs of not impeaching:

But even if we assume there would be a political price for impeachment, that does not mean that declining to impeach would be without consequence. For one thing, if there are voters who would be bothered by impeachment, there are quite a few others who would be bothered by the lack of it. The idea that Trump has clearly committed impeachable acts but Democrats in the House of Representatives won’t punish him because they think it will hurt them in the next election is not a particularly inspiring message, especially for a party that keeps urging people to put country before party.

On top of that calculus, it’s entirely possible Trump wins re-election whether Democrats pursue impeachment or not. He’s won before, incumbents usually win re-election, and they almost always do during a growing economy. What’s the lesson coming out of that election? “We might have removed him but failed to so here he is for another four years”?

It’s important to consider just what the lessons of this presidency will be for subsequent administrations and congressional parties. If Democrats decide that, despite widespread lawbreaking, impeachment just isn’t on the table because conviction is unlikely and there may be political costs, then it would effectively remove impeachment as a serious constraint on presidential actions. And given that the Department of Justice has also removed itself from control of the president, that would basically mean that presidents truly are above the law as long as they serve…

But fairly or not, Democrats have been placed in the position of determining whether to prosecute presidential lawbreaking. Either choice may have negative consequences, but the decision should be evaluated not just in terms of what will happen this year or next, but for the decades to come.

12) I’m sorry, but I’m so not impressed by arbitrary feats such as climbing Everest and returning home all within 14 days.  The key is living in a hypoxia chamber rather than actually acclimating at the mountain.

13) Endorse: Students should stop treating faculty as expendable.  That said, as a middle-aged white male, I hardly ever run into this anymore.

14) Damn, the willful ignorance of Republicans on climate is just breathtaking.  And, I’m not going to just blame Trump– he’s, symptom, not cause here:

Fifty or 100 years from now, we may well say that President Trump’s concerted effort to exacerbate climate change — and that’s precisely what it is — was the single worst thing he did in a presidency full of horrors. A new report from the New York Times gives new details about just how diabolical his administration’s actions have been:

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.

The goal appears to be to keep the government from ever confirming that climate change exists and, failing that, to do everything it can to make it look less serious than it is. The administration also plans to create a new panel to downplay climate change and discredit legitimate science on the topic, led by National Security Council senior director William Happer, who once said, “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

15) And you can very much appreciate Tom Nichols’ take on “Chernobyl” without watching the show.

16) Catherine Rampell with a good take (and I’m disappointed in Warren here), “Everyone’s got a climate plan. So where’s the carbon tax?”

To be clear, the candidates’ proposals include many other good ideas. They all say we should eliminate subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. They all boost federal investment in and incentives for R&D in clean technology. This is critically necessary, especially for basic research, which private companies might not be sufficiently incentivized to undertake on their own.

But then things go off the rails.

The plans devote a lot of verbiage to talking about the magical properties of government procurement — that is, using the deep pockets of the government to purchase more energy-efficient products. Warren, for instance, analogizes her own plan, which includes a $1.5 trillion federal procurement commitment, to the industrial policy America previously undertook for the space race and our mobilization against Nazi aggression.

But in both of those historical comparisons, “The goal wasn’t to create a commercial product,” points out David Popp, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in environmental economics. “The government was the consumer.”

Just because the public sector buys more energy-efficient lightbulbs, electric cars or solar panels doesn’t mean the (much larger) private sector will, absent price incentives. Especially if we add conditions to the production of those green goods that actually increase their costs to consumers, as some of these plans do.

17) Greg Sargent:

Amazingly, after all we’ve seen, there’s still a tendency in some quarters to treat the falsehoods regularly told by President Trump, and echoed by his media allies, as a somewhat exaggerated but basically conventional form of political dishonesty.

But Trump and certain of his media partisans have long been engaged in something altogether different — something that can only be described as concerted and deliberate disinformation…

It’s the disinformation, stupid

It should be impossible to watch these diatribes in full without quickly realizing that this isn’t ordinary political dishonesty — some level of artifice is an inevitable feature of politics — but rather is something much more insidious. What’s notable is the sheer comprehensiveness of the effort to create an alternate set of realities whose departure from the known facts seemingly aims to be absolute and unbridgeable…

Disinformation and ‘constitutional rot’

Don’t take my word for it. With Trump’s lies and distortions now numbering over 10,000, serious political theorists have noted this aspect of Trumpian disinformation. See this Jacob Levy essay, which argues that Trump’s autocratic reshaping of reality on multiple fronts depends on the delegitimization of other institutional authority.

Or see this Jack Balkin essay on “constitutional rot.” One key sign of our breakdown, Balkin argues, is the fact that Trump has the backing of what can only be understood as “domestic propaganda machines.”

Such propaganda, Balkin notes, “undermines the crucial role of deliberation and the search for truth in a democracy. Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute, so that nothing can be established as true.” It “undermines shared criteria of reasoning, good faith attempts at deliberation, and mutual accommodation between political opponents in democracies.”

17) Smoking gun evidence that NC Republicans lied to the courts for political gain.  I’m sure Democratically-appointed judges will care.  Would be nice if Republican-appointed ones would, too.  You know, rule of law and all that.

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Smokable hemp = legal marijuana?

So, this is kind of interesting, allowing smokable hemp in North Carolina may open up a Pandora’s Box that kind-of legalizes marijuana through a loophole.  Of course, presumably NC would turn into an unlivable hellhole like… Washington or Colorado, if that happened.  Here’s the story:

North Carolina agriculture officials envision hemp as a major cash crop for the state, but law enforcement officials told lawmakers Thursday that the push to boost the industry could essentially legalize marijuana because of the difficulty in telling the two cannabis plants apart.

Much of the annual farm bill under consideration in the General Assembly is dedicated to setting up the necessary state infrastructure to regulate hemp production now that the federal government has loosened its restrictions on hemp.

When North Carolina first legalized growing hemp as a pilot project in 2015, the market for the crop was primarily textiles and rope. Since then, however, the fastest growth in the market – and the highest profits – are in smokable hemp products.

Smokable hemp flowers, or so-called pre-rolls, contain CBD but almost no THC, the active compound in marijuana. But they look and smell just like marijuana.

The State Bureau of Investigation and other groups want the state to ban farmers from growing them.

“Law enforcement cannot discern the difference between smokable hemp and marijuana, and our State Crime Lab cannot discern the difference because they can’t discern the level of the THC that it contains,” Peg Dorer, director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, told members of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources committee on Thursday. [emphasws mine]

The farm bill would create a presumption in state law that licensed hemp farmers aren’t growing marijuana, but Dorer said that creates a loophole that would basically legalize marijuana in the state.

“Law enforcement will not be able to seize or arrest for marijuana because they can’t tell, and prosecutors will have a very difficult time and will not be able to prosecute any violations of marijuana laws,” she said.

Hemp industry advocates said technology that can tell smokable hemp from marijuana is commercially available to law enforcement, and hemp farmers already growing smokable products said eliminating that market could cripple their businesses.

Oh no, law enforcement not being able to use any of its limited resources seizing marijuana.  They might have to… I don’t know… worry about actual problems to protect society.

 

 

Thom Tillis is a brazen liar. Or really stupid

It simply has to be one or the other.  Here’s his tweet today.

On no planet did the DOJ remotely come close to “concluding” no collusion, no obstruction.  Any fair reading of the Mueller report lets you know that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge collusion.  That is so not the same as concluding no collusion.  As for obstruction, the report is also very clear that the only reason that obstruction is not charged is because of DOJ guidance against charging a sitting president with a crime.  That couldn’t be further from “concluded no obstruction.”  To characterize this concluded no collusion, no obstruction is an absolute brazen, bald-faced lie.  Plain and simple.  The only other explanation is that Tillis is too dumb to understand these concepts that I’m pretty damn sure your average 6th grader could understand (I know some, I might run it by them in the culdesac later today).

Of course, Tillis is not alone in his “evil or stupid” response, I imagine it goes for the vast majority of Republican politicians.  But, it was his awful tweet I saw and he is my Senator, so there you go.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Haven’t read all of it yet, but Emma Green on the future of Christianity in the Middle East is really good:

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

2) Among things I’ve seen all over twitter this week, but not so much news coverage, is the fact that Donald Trump is a big an of psychopathic mass murderers.  As long as they are in the U.S. Military.  Seriously.  The details about these war criminals he wants to pardon are just abhorrent.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular…

The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others. [emphasis mine]

3) Emily Oster on what evidence-based parenting reveals.  This is really good, “There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot.”

Except, it turns out that a lot of the things that get attention in these “optimize your baby” strategies do not actually seem to boost child outcomes. I’ve done a lot of research on this recently, and the overwhelming sense you get is that much of these investments do not matter…

How do we understand these contrasts — where, on the one hand, the first few years are the crucible of success and, on the other, the kind of investments that many of us obsess about do not seem to matter much?

The answer is that we tend to ignore the big picture. The differences we see by demographic groups in the United States — the inequality of outcomes for children from poor and rich backgrounds — are driven by a combination of vast differences in experiences.

Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter. [emphasis mine]

4) I wanted to find something good on regulatory capture for my public policy class in light of the Boeing 737 Max issue.  This is really good.

Last year, before Democrats took control of the House, Trump signed a Republican bill that began rolling back regulations on banks that had been put in place after the abuses that caused the Great Recession. He said the big banks deserve even more “relief” from regulators.

The administration has worked hard to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to police scams that were rampant before the 2008 banking crisis. As a result, enforcement activity has fallen dramatically.

This is happening across the intersection of big business and government, where risk of “regulatory capture” is always high. That’s when the regulated industries use their lobbying power to defang the agencies intended to protect the public. Sometimes it happens because the industry itself has the most expertise compared to the staff of the underfunded regulator.

Over the past two years, the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters have taken over the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dropped. This change includes fewer workplace-safety inspectors. Dozens of regulations in areas ranging from net neutrality to education have been rolled back or are headed that way.

Trump also rescinded an Obama administration rule that generally banned lobbyists for two years from going to work for regulators they had sought to influence. The potential conflicts of interest now are enormous.

5) It is actually kind of mind-boggling how rapidly major league breaking ball pitches have improved.

6) I knew North Carolina Republicans wanted to pass a bill for the fantastical situation of the attempted abortion born-alive.  But it’s ridiculous that they are making members– including sick ones– show up every day hoping to sneak it through because they don’t actually have enough votes.

7) Enjoyed this on how Raj Chetty has Harvard re-thinking it’s introduction to Economics course.  It does strike me that Chetty’s approach is far more valuable to the typical non-Economics major graduate than knowing how to plot supply and demand curves, etc.  And here’s where I call for my son who just finished his Econ course based on the mentioned Mankiw text to read this and weigh in in the comments.

8) Is the ability to have vegan foods available when you are doing your job fighting fires a human right?  Yes, says a Canadian firefighter.

9) I liked this– “What Game of Thrones Could have taught us about electoral politics.”

These are hard issues—legitimacy, counterinsurgency, propaganda, what wars do to civilians and combatants—in which “Game of Thrones” has been immersed. Robert’s Rebellion, which brought down the Mad King, was, we were told, based on a lie about the king’s son having kidnapped and raped a Stark. (The two were Jon’s parents, and secretly married.) The mere giving of credibility to the rumor that Cersei Lannister’s children with King Robert Baratheon were not legitimate set off the War of the Five Kings. Two of those kings were brothers, one of whom, Stannis Baratheon, tried for quick-kill fixes by murdering first his brother Renly and then his daughter, Shireen; the latter act caused the bulk of his troops to abandon him in horror—a reminder that the appearance of what might be called majesty is not irrelevant, even in a feudal system. Nor is the function of consent. (The power of the later-season High Sparrow and his religious followers provided another such reminder—before Cersei immolated them, anyway.) Power vacuums, in Westeros, tend to lead to a surfeit of competing claims. In the final episode, it produced a row of chairs, haphazardly inhabited, at the council where Ser Davos thinks it’s at least possible he’ll get a vote. Meanwhile, Grey Worm, who has real power, in the form of an army, seems to assume that he is disenfranchised, telling the others, “Choose, then.”

The solution that Tyrion comes up with represents a deep misunderstanding of the role of narrative in establishing legitimacy. The king, he says, should be Bran Stark—“Bran the Broken”—because he has the best story. He was pushed out of a window by Jaime Lannister, and survived, and can “warg” into—basically, psychically inhabit—birds, and thus fly. Indeed, Bran has, in his possession, all the stories, because he has become the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning that he can see into the past and also have visions. And what in the world, Tyrion asks, is more powerful than a good story?

That narrative power is real, as in the case of Shireen, but it came not from having a story but from telling it and persuading others of its truth. And we didn’t see a trace of that in Bran’s ascension.

10) The willingness of local governments to waste public money on millionaire sports owners is endlessly frustrating.  And endless.  Carolina Panthers edition.

11) Drum is right, “Donald Trump Admits He Doesn’t Really Want to Stop Illegal Immigration”

12) How the hell that humans ever get to Polynesia thousands of years ago anyway?  I’m not going to read either of these two books on the matter, but I really did enjoy learning more by reading this NYT review.

13) Having recently completed Frans de Waal’s Mama’s Last Hug, I especially enjoyed reading Ed Yong on how bonobo mothers intervene to improve their sons’ sex lives.

Bonobos live in mostly matriarchal societies, where females both occupy the highest ranks and form the core of social groups. If sons stick close to their mother, they’re more likely to end up at the center of a community, where more females sit. “That creates more mating opportunities,” Surbeck says. “It’s not that the moms physically drag their sons over. It’s more like a social passport.”

But mothers frequently took matters into their own hands, too. As Hanna did, they would stop unrelated males from interfering with their sons’ sexual encounters. They’d interfere themselves, stopping unrelated males from mating with other females. They’d gang up with their sons to evict other males from trees with lots of females.

Surbeck thinks that the mothers use these strategies as a way of furthering their own genetic legacy. They can do this by having more children of their own, or by ensuring that their children give them more grandchildren. They have little influence over their daughters, because bonobo females tend to leave home to find their own communities. Males, however, stay with their birth group, and especially near their mother. Even in the best-case scenario, a male bonobo can easily go through life without reproducing, and without a mother’s presence, the odds of his having a kid are about one in 14. To increase the size of her own dynasty, a mother needs to ensure that her sons have the best sexual opportunities.

And that’s exactly what the team has now found: Males who still live with their mother were three times more likely to sire their own children than those whose mothers had gone.

14) I consider it a personal failing that I still have not watched “Deadwood.”  It was really sad to read about David Milch dealing with Alzheimer’s.

15) Really interesting piece from an obstetrician on the reality of the “threat to mother’s life/health” exceptions on abortion:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”

My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.

16) I suppose I’ll give Netflix’s “Rim of the World” a try pretty soon (though, right now, spending my time catching up on “Chernobyl” and loving “Fleabag,” but really enjoyed reading about it’s place in the changed movie ecosystem:

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time, but now isn’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t

17) I had already queued this up as literally the dumbest electoral college take I had ever seen, “Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College” when I saw Smotus‘ succinct take, “The argument here is yes the Electoral College gives our minority group an outsized voice in presidential elections, but we deserve it because we grow food.”

18) This NYT magazine article “How Data (and Some Breathtaking Soccer) Brought Liverpool to the Cusp of Glory” was terrific.  A true must-read for my fellow fans of both soccer and data.  Also, interesting that even with a ton of data, it seems that far-and-away the greatest utility is simply in player personnel decisions and is not meaningfully changing the way the game is played (unlike, say, the NBA).

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry– busy weekend with a super-fun soccer tournament with my daughter.  Onward…

1) Isaac Chotiner interviews Linda Greenhouse about the Supreme Court and abortion:

When you look at the history of abortion law in the United States, is there anything about this law in Georgia or the proposal in Alabama that you find interesting, or new, or different?

Well, they’re shockingly aggressive. They purport to take us back to the pre-Roe regime, where abortion was criminal until the mid-sixties in all fifty states—despite the fact that, by the time the Court decided Roe, Gallup and other polls showed that a strong majority of the public believed that abortion should be left as a matter between a woman and her doctor. And the pro-choice majority held throughout all demographics: men, women, Catholics, Republicans. Republicans were the pro-choice party at that time. So what’s happening today is pretty breathtaking, actually.

What specifically in these laws do you see as the biggest challenge to Roe?

I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme even though these laws can have the extreme effect of destroying the abortion infrastructure and cutting off access for most women. I’m referring to, for instance, the laws that Louisiana passed to require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A challenge to that law is right now pending before the Supreme Court, and it is a complete twin to the Texas law that the Court overturned in 2016, before Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court. The vote in that case was 5–3, Justice [Antonin] Scalia having died.

2) Believe it or not, the generic drug industry just might be the most evil industry out there.  Also FDA inspections of foreign drug production facilities are, sadly, a complete joke.

3) And a great Fresh Air interview on all this.

4) Making playgrounds a little more dangerous.  Sounds good to me.

5) Joan Walsh, “Yesterday Was a Dark Day for the Rule of Law: When Lindsey Graham told Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena from Senate Intelligence, he told him to commit a crime. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

6) Really interesting Op-Ed at the various legal reasonings behind attacking abortion laws and the potential for unintended consequences if the anti-abortion folks get their way:

Natural law-based arguments for fetal personhood were pursued by anti-abortion scholars and jurists for much of the 1960s and 1970s to little avail. These anti-abortion scholars avoided originalism, the prevailing conservative approach to constitutional interpretation, and instead focused on rebuking the Supreme Court for not recognizing the fundamental right to life that would have made all abortions illegal, including in the Roe case.

By the early 1980s, abortion foes generally gave up on this strategy. That’s because neither judges nor many other conservative lawyers, it seems, felt fully comfortable with recognizing rights not detailed in the text or history of the Constitution. After all, conservatives had long invoked the specter of judicial activism in criticizing their liberal colleagues, including those who issued the Roe decision.

And, as abortion opponents grudgingly recognized, natural law could open a Pandora’s box. If the Supreme Court recognized fetal personhood, the justices would probably subsequently confront claims about fetal rights in a variety of contexts, from Social Security benefits to tax law. Very early on, conservative originalist jurists like Justice Antonin Scalia called on the court to “get out of this area.” It was hard to imagine judges wanting to take on the even messier project of developing a fetal personhood jurisprudence.

And so abortion foes turned to originalism-based arguments that stressed that the law did not recognize a right to abortion at the time the 14th Amendment — whose due process clause was the basis of Roe’s privacy right — was ratified. These promised a constrained court, one that was above politics. But these aren’t the arguments that lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are making.

What’s more, Alabama’s law, rather than claiming to protect both women and fetal life, instead casts abortion as a zero-sum game, chastising “abortion opponents” as those who would “speak to women’s rights,” but “ignore the unborn child.” Many of the other “heartbeat” laws around the country similarly focus almost exclusively on fetal rights.

This approach ignores what many anti-abortion lawyers believed to be the lesson of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision preserving RoeAt the time that Casey was being decided, many expected the justices to reverse RoeIn earlier decisions, the court had upheld abortion restrictions and suggested that Roe was incoherent and potentially unworkable and that the reasoning underlying it was unpersuasive.

7) I used to spend a fair amount of time on the history of abortion in my lectures, but in recent years I have cut back somewhat to allow more time to cover contemporary controversies.  But the history is really important and most people are utterly ignorant of it.  Great Atlantic piece from 1997 on the matter:

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening” (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism (“taking the trade”). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business—including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press—was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her “Female Monthly Pills.”

In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians. The American Medical Association’s crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of “regular” physicians over midwives and homeopaths. More broadly, anti-abortion sentiment was connected to nativism, anti-Catholicism, and, as it is today, anti-feminism. Immigration, especially by Catholics and nonwhites, was increasing, while birth rates among white native-born Protestants were declining. (Unlike the typical abortion patient of today, that of the nineteenth century was a middle- or upper-class white married woman.) Would the West “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens?” the physician and anti-abortion leader Horatio R. Storer asked in 1868. “This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” (It should be mentioned that the nineteenth-century women’s movement also opposed abortion, having pinned its hopes on “voluntary motherhood”—the right of wives to control the frequency and timing of sex with their husbands.)

8) My 7th grade son recently watched/discussed a Twilight Zone for his English class.  So, we’ve started watching some.  A whole bunch of lists recommended “The Invaders.”  I did not recall it, so we watched.  The lists were wrong– it was tedious and absurdly over-acted.  But I like the approach of this list— the episodes that have aged the best.  Just watched “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” tonight, which I’ve already seen multiple times.  Now that holds up.

9) Is Game of Thrones are last great watercooler show?  I sure hope not.

10) This from Ed Yong is really good and disturbing, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers: Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?”

11) Jon Cohn on politics of a much needed tax hike to pay for decent roads in Michigan.

As a candidate last year, Whitmer tapped into frustration over those conditions, promising in every speech and media appearance to “fix the damn roads.” It was more than a specific policy pledge. It was a signal about the kind of governor she would be: a savvy, pragmatic leader who would get things done.

Now Whitmer has her chance to make good on her promise, and she has put forward a plan to increase annual road funding by more than $2 billion. But less than a year after literally mocking suggestions that such an initiative would require a big tax hike, she is calling for precisely that ― specifically, a three-stage increase in the gas levy that would raise it by 45 cents a gallon

Pretty much everything Democrats talk about doing nowadays, from simple, relatively uncontroversial increases in school funding to sweeping, polarizing plans for single-payer health insurance, would require raising new revenue. The essential argument on behalf of these ideas is the same as Whitmer’s pitch on the roads: that the benefits people would see are worth the higher taxes they would pay.

There was a time in American history when this case wasn’t so difficult to make, because voters had more faith in government and Republicans were more open to taxes. But that was long ago. The country now seems stuck in a self-destructive cycle ― one in which funding shortfalls make public goods and services inadequate, fueling yet more cynicism about government’s ability to solve problems and making it harder to get the funding that these programs need.

It’s a cycle that has plagued Democrats for decades, especially in states like Michigan that frequently hold the key in national elections. Can Whitmer break it? [emphasis mine]

12) I found this to be a really interesting take in thinking about fiction writing more broadly and how the GOT writing has really suffered since the end of the books:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written.

George R.R. Martin describes this distinction in terms of architects and gardeners. He’s firmly among the latter. He plants character seeds and carefully guides their growth, and when the show was directly adapting his A Song of Ice and Fire series, the approach paid off. It’s why every emotional beat and fair-in-hindsight surprise landed with such devastating weight: The terrible things that happened to these characters happened because of earlier choices they’d made. Those ever-blooming stories were a boon to the showrunners, who had their pick, but they’re also the reason the narrative momentum of the books slowed over time.

13) Some really interesting PS research on how much all that campaigning in swing states mobilized voters:

Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate. [emphasis mine]

14) John Pfaff with five myths about prisons.  #1 and #2 are especially widely believed:

MYTH NO. 1
U.S. prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders.

Asked recently about voting rights for felons, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of the Democratic presidential candidates, claimed that “we locked up more people for marijuana in 2017 than all the violent crimes combined.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has echoed that view, suggesting on Twitter that the prison system is defined by nonviolent people “stopped w/ a dime bag.”

But the simple truth is that, at a minimum, 55 percent of those in state prison have been convicted of a violent crime — and more than half of these people, or nearly 30 percent of the total prison population, have been found guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Slightly less than 15 percent are incarcerated for drug crimes, even though most Americans believe the figure to be about 50 percent. (Drugs play a bigger role in the federal prison system, but that holds only about 10 percent of all prisoners; most incarcerated people are in state prison.)…

MYTH NO. 2
Private prisons drive
mass incarceration.

When people try to explain how the United States ended up with nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, they often point to firms that directly profit from incarceration by running prisons or by providing services to public facilities. At a recent presidential campaign event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blamed private prisons for mass incarceration (“We need to get rid of for-profit, private prisons”). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused on private prisons in his 2016 presidential bid and is doing so again (“The private prison racket has got to end”).

There are two central flaws in this claim. First, only about 8 percent of all state and federal prisoners are held in private facilities . Most of those in private prisons are held in just five states, and there is no real evidence that prison populations have grown faster in those states than elsewhere.

Second, of the roughly $50 billion we spend on prisons, about two-thirds , or $30 billion, is spent on wages and benefits for public-sector employees. In comparison, private prison firms collectively earn a few billion in revenue and (more important for their incentives to lobby) about $300 million in profits — just 1 percent of the public-sector wage bill. So public-sector correctional officer unions have a reason to lobby against reforms that would reduce inmate populations, especially since prisons often provide some of the only well-paying jobs in the rural communities where they are located.

15) Wonkette on how all the most “pro-life” states don’t seem to care for baby’s lives so much once they are, you know, actually born.

16) Loved this Planet Money episode on Jeopardy phenomenon, James Holhauser.  Planet Money reporter Kenny Malone’s sister is married to Holhauser’s brother, so they share nieces and nephews.  Malone is definitely not the coolest uncle any more.

17) Short-term rental electric scooters briefly took over Raleigh and the NC State campus area this past year.  Seems like the business model, though, is set up for a crash.

18) I really liked Conor Friedersdorf on Harvard’s cowardly actions on Ronald Sullivan:

The vital work of criminal defense has managed to endure in spite of such attacks, thanks to a core of sober-minded citizens in each generation who know better than to pile on. They understand that to defend an accused criminal is not to defend his or her alleged crime—and that conflating the two by imposing social sanctions on attorneys would make criminal trials more like popularity contests.

Educational institutions ought to teach young adults this justice-enhancing logic. Harvard is now teaching its undergraduates how to undermine it.

Its shameful capitulation to popular passions began earlier this year when Ronald Sullivan, an African American law professor and faculty dean with a long history of freeing marginalized innocents from prison, announced that he would be working as a defense attorney for the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students,” The New York Timesreported

Either way, Harvard administrators were warned about the unavoidable conflict between upholding an important civic norm––that legal representation for even the most reviled is a service to the community, not a transgression against it—and giving in to the demands of the undergraduates most aggrieved by their faculty dean’s choice of clients. And rather than infer a responsibility of the extremely privileged to uphold civic norms for the benefit of those in society who most need them, this institution, which purports to educate future leaders, chose to prioritize transient discomfort felt by its most aggrieved students. [emphasis mine]

19) I would like to live in a world where policy did not have absurdly over-militarized drug raids and where they were held accountable if they got these raids lethally wrong.  That world does not yet exist.  Radley Balko:

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. …

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Loved this wide-ranging interview with what is probably my favorite scientist, E.O. Wilson.  Especially liked this part:

What’s causing our blind spots: Funding? Overspecialization? Politics?

A. You’re asking me an impossibly large question. Let me make one suggestion, and maybe that’ll lead to another.

I am unhappy about STEM. That is, I’m unhappy about how it’s presented as the principal portal for careers in science and technology. Young people — in some cases, young enough to be as far back as grammar school — are presented with this intellectual triathlon in order to go into science and technology.

There’s no question that we need all the ablest people that can be recruited to go into science and technology to keep this country strong. But STEM is an unnecessarily forbidding set of stairs.

Consider a young person who’s thrilled by seeing a natural system, a remarkable geological formation that stirs the imagination, or a group of animals or plants. This youngster says, Boy, when I get to college, I would like to move on to a career in science, and biology especially. Now, the STEM-oriented teacher — if we are following the STEM ideology as we hear it — says: “I think that’s a good ambition. But remember that biology is based substantially upon chemistry. So, I advise you to start getting a good background in chemistry. Oh, and while you’re at it, you should keep in mind that chemistry is based upon, to a major degree, principles of physics. So consider starting to get a background in physics, too. And, oh, I almost forgot: To get into physics, and a lot of the best parts of chemistry, you’re going to need ‘M,’ mathematics. So I want you to get started on math courses right now.”

Now, I’m going to say something startling. And I’m going to get myself in trouble. But heck, that’s why you’re here.

Q. Yes.

A. And I’m going to say: Nonsense!

The right way to create a young scientist who’s going to be on fire by the time they’re in college is to let them pick something, some subject, that has really excited them. If they dream of space exploration, if they dream of curing a cancer, if they dream of going to distant jungles and discovering new species — whatever their dream is, let them dream.

2) Really enjoyed this interview with Howard Stern:

It’s more that I’m wondering — and maybe this sounds corny — if you think he’s actually capable of a certain level of soulful introspection.No, I don’t. Donald is a well-guarded personality. I think he’s actually so emotional that somewhere along the line he had to close it off. That’s a valuable technique for people who have been traumatized. Donald has been traumatized, make no mistake. I believe his father was a very difficult guy. My theory about Donald, having spent some time with him — don’t forget Donald was at my wedding, and I was at one of his — is that deep down he did not want to be President. It was a publicity stunt. These are my beliefs based on facts that I know.

Facts like what? I know people who orchestrated some of these things. I was at Mar-a-Lago around when it was announced that Donald was going to run for president, and like everyone else, I thought, Ha-ha-ha. So, knowing Donald, I can tell you with some assurance that I don’t believe that he thought anyone would buy in. Lo and behold, people did. But I’m pretty sure that there was no intention of actually being president.

3) Really great explanation on different views of stare decisis and what this may mean for Roe v. Wade.

In Hyatt, however, the five conservative justices based their decision to overrule the earlier decision almost exclusively on their belief that it was an “erroneous precedent” that “is contrary to our constitutional design.” The justices’ lack of respect for precedent was evident in the amount of space the majority opinion devoted to stare decisis — a mere three paragraphs — and in what the court said about it.

Everything the court said about stare decisis in Hyatt could be part of a decision that overrules Roe v. Wade. For example, the court’s first paragraph on stare decisis declared that stare decisis is weakest — and it is easier to overrule a decision — when the decision interpreted the constitution rather than a federal statute. The second paragraph focused on how the earlier decision was wrong and “stands as an outlier.” You can imagine the conservative justices saying the same about Roe as they overrule it.

4) This is really good, “In Baltimore, Police Officers Are the Bad Guys With Guns: Plainclothes police officers are waging war on citizens.”

We spent the last two years reporting a book on the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, a once-celebrated police squad whose members were ultimately indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2017. We learned that a war on guns in Baltimore looks a lot like the war on drugs: It is a city waging war on its own citizens.

And it doesn’t work.

The war on guns, like the war on drugs, is primarily waged on poor people by small operations units that drive around in unmarked cars looking for trouble. They’re called jump-out boys or knockers, and they do not respond to citizen calls. Instead, they take away resources and credibility from the patrol officers who do. They do not solve homicides, and they often damage community trust, hampering the efforts of those who do solve homicides.

In 2016, when the task force was most active, the Police Department solved only 38 percent of the 318 homicides. In 2018, in what was deemed a big improvement, detectives came closer to solving 50 percent of the cases. When people know that there’s only a 50/50 chance of finding a killer, retaliation becomes a coin toss. Murder is answered by murder, because the law has no real authority.

Like any counterinsurgency, units like the task force don’t recognize civilians. Everyone is a potential combatant. They are the reason residents have said they feel both “overpoliced and underserved” by the police. When residents call for help, no one comes. When residents try to walk to the store or the bus stop, they are as afraid of the police as they are of criminals.

5) Twitter is not real life.  Twitter using Democrats (including me) are no fans of Joe Biden.  Polls seem to indicate, though, that most Democrats are not like those of us on twitter.

6) Josh Barro, “Trump’s Tariffs Only Work If Americans Pay Them”

President Trump is fond of saying China “pays” the tariffs he imposed, and a lot of journalists (including me) are fond of pointing out the tariffs are actually paid by Americans. Specifically, they are paid by American importers of foreign goods, who will presumably seek to pass the cost of the tariff on to end consumers.

The New York Times points to recent economic research on Trump’s tariffs, including two papers estimating that 100 percent of the cost of tariffs is being borne by American consumers. One of the research teams determined this by looking at changes in the price indices for highly specific goods. They found the price of products not subject to new tariffs remained more or less flat, while products subject to new tariffs went up in price about in proportion to the tariffs imposed. That’s pretty straightforward: Americans pay.

7) Oh, man, the cowardice of Harvard on this Ronald Sullivan representing Harvey Weinstein as his attorney really bugs me.  And, Randall Kennedy:

The upshot is that Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

Now, of course, Harvard authorities are dredging up various supposed delinquencies on Mr. Sullivan’s part. An exposé in The Harvard Crimson refers to allegations that he and his wife were highhanded in their dealings with the staff at Winthrop House. No one is perfect; perhaps there is something to these claims.

8) Game of Thrones (spoiler content in this excerpt):

It rings false because this isn’t just Dany abandoning her moral principles; it’s Dany abandoning her goals and the entire point of her journey. Her family built the Red Keep, and ruled King’s Landing and its people only a generation ago. Even if her goal is naked political power, why would she destroy the precise things she came to reclaim? When her ancestors burned Harrenhal, they did it to make a point, to get the rest of King’s Landing to bend the knee. Here, the knee is already bent; destroying King’s Landing at this point is basically destroying her own economy, infrastructure, and political capital.

Sure, she can rule over the ashes as Queen of Bones, but as much as the show wants us to think that she’s gone Lawful Evil, this is some Chaotic Evil shit for sure. She’s not a good guy gone bad, doing terrible things because the ends justify the means; she’s the Joker, robbing a bank and then setting all the money on fire just to watch it burn.

9) New book on America’s westward expansion, “Historians have largely discarded the lie that the “frontier” was an empty Eden waiting for American expansion—but not David McCullough.”

10) My friend Sarah Bowen’s book on the sociology of home cooking now gets the Atlantic treatment.

11) Aaron Carroll on the overlooked importance of safe gun storage for saving lives:

Legislators and gun safety advocates often focus on how guns are purchased. But many lives could be saved, especially among children, if they looked more at how they are stored.

In the last decade, guns killed more than 14,000 American children. A startling number of those deaths — more than a third — were classified as suicides, and around 6 percent as accidents. Many more children were injured.

Nearly everyone agrees that children should not be able to buy guns, and no state lets them do so on their own. When children die by suicide in this way, it’s a result of being able to get hold of a gun that someone else already obtained — often legally.

How guns are stored matters. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that even a modest increase in owners who lock up their guns would pay off in an outsize drop in gun deaths.

Dr. Michael Monuteaux, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study, said, “We need to communicate to parents that storing guns in a way that makes them inaccessible to children can reduce the number of children who die year after year, especially from suicide.”

In 2010, researchers examined who owned the firearms used in youth suicides. In cases where this could be determined, three-quarters of the time the owner was a parent, and for a further 7 percent it was some other relative.

In a 2005 study published in JAMA, researchers found that keeping guns locked and unloaded, and keeping ammunition locked and separate from guns, were significantly associated with lower levels of suicides and accidents among adolescents in gun-owning households. This held true for both handguns and long guns.

But such safety practices aren’t common. If a recent New York bill is signed into law, it will make the state one of just a handful with comprehensive gun storage laws to protect children.

If it were up to me, adults would be criminally responsible for children being harmed through guns that were not safely stored and regularly held to account on this.

12) This from the College Board is interesting:

The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing.

The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an “adversity score,” of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.

The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.

13) Unsurprisingly, fathers totally not pulling their weight at home.  Myself excluded, of course :-):

The optimistic tale of the modern, involved dad has been greatly exaggerated. The amount of child care men performed rose throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but then began to level off without ever reaching parity. Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work. In academic journals, family researchers caution that the “culture of fatherhood” has changed more than fathers’ actual behavior.

Sociologists attribute the discrepancy between mothers’ expectations and reality to “a largely successful male resistance.” This resistance is not being led by socially conservative men, whose like-minded wives often explicitly agree to take the lead in the home. It is happening, instead, with relatively progressive couples, and it takes many women — who thought their partners had made a prenatal commitment to equal parenting — by surprise. Why are their partners failing to pitch in more?

The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick. Parity is hard, and this discrepancy lays the groundwork for male resistance.

Though many men are in denial about it, their resistance communicates a feeling of entitlement to women’s labor. Men resist because it is in their “interest to do so,” write Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams, leaders in the field of family studies, in their book, “Gender and Families.” By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”

14) Germany looking to step up its game on measles.  Sounds good to me:

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has proposed a fine of up to 2,500 euros, or about $2,800, for parents who refuse to immunize their school-age children against measles, part of efforts to combat a disease that has surged after decades of decline.

The fine is part of a draft bill that the minister, Jens Spahn, submitted to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for debate this week, but the proposal has prompted a wider discussion about whether mandating vaccinations is an infringement on personal freedom. Germany has seen 300 cases of the disease already this year, after more than 500 cases in 2018.

Outbreaks of measles have increased around the world, in part because of the anti-vaccination movement.

Under the proposed draft, toddlers and young children in Germany who have not been immunized would not be allowed to enter preschool. But German law mandates school attendance starting at age 6, so parents whose children have not had their scheduled shots would face a fine.

Mr. Spahn has defended his proposal by drawing a parallel to traffic laws that force drivers who are caught speeding to pay a fine because their actions are a danger to others. “The goal is not to fine people, the goal is to ensure that people are immunized,” he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF on Monday.

15) I follow abortion politics pretty closely, but I learned a good bit from Ruth Graham on how the pro-life movement has increasingly moved away from the rape/incest exception.

16) This New Yorker piece on the role of Sandra Day O’Connor in abortion jurisprudence was really interesting.

17a) No, CBD is not a wonder-drug, cure-all.  Yet, it does seem to be a really interesting molecule that may well have a lot to offer therapeutically for a variety of conditions.

17b) Meanwhile, law enforcement is dumb enough to arrest (and not immediately drop charges) for a local woman using this legal product, “NC mom smoked legal hemp for anxiety. Police charged her with marijuana possession.”  Also, ridiculous that the local police chief and DA did not feel any responsibility to explain their actions.

18) This NYT story on the value of low-stakes friendships was really interesting.  Also one clear lesson (which I’m pretty good at): just talk to people:

Want to relish in a full Rolodex of low-stakes friends? Here’s how you can get the most out of these relationships.

Give yourself permission to talk to familiar faces. Dr. Sandstrom tells participants in her studies to speak to one new person a week. “I think people need to feel like it’s O.K.,” she said. “When you give people permission to talk and they take it, they enjoy it.”

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Instead of considering these minor brushes of socialization throwaway interactions, cultivating low-stakes relationships can pay dividends. Here’s why you should exchange pleasantries the next time you see a friendly face when you’re out and about…

Shift your attitudes. Since research suggests talking with strangers is a pleasant experience and leaves us feeling fulfilled, there’s no reason to groan when your Uber driver strikes up a conversation. By altering your expectations around the level of enjoyment these conversations provide — both for you and the other person — you’re more likely to engage in the first place.

Mirror an expert’s behavior. When she was growing up, Dr. Sandstrom watched her father interact with virtually everyone he encountered. As an adult, she adopted some of his conversational habits when speaking with acquaintances. Do you have friends who seem to strike up a conversation with everyone in the bar? Observe them: How do they initiate the exchange? What questions do they ask? What topics do they avoid? (For more on this, here are some tips on how to have better conversations.)

Make the conversations meaningful. If your goal is for these low-stakes friendships to evolve into something more significant, it’s important for these exchanges to be high quality, Dr. Hall said. “When we have that sense of connection with somebody, it accelerates the process by which we try to take action to create a deeper friendship.”

19) Apparently not only PPP has fun with polls, “Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news.”  The article doesn’t reference “Veep,” but I have to think that was the inspiration.

20) I wrote some stuff about abortion a long time ago.  I’m seriously going to get back into public opinion on abortion research:

Although the 2000 Republican and Democratic national party platforms show the parties at opposite poles on abortion policy, Governor George W. Bush publicly supported a vaguely defined “culture of life,” rather than the constitutional amendment barring abortion that was advocated by his party. In light of Bush’s campaign strategy, this article uses national survey data to examine the accuracy of citizens’ knowledge of the candidates’ abortion policy positions. Interestingly, pro‐choice Republican voters were much less likely to defect from their party in 2000 than in 1996, suggesting that the Bush campaign’s efforts to avoid public opposition to his abortion position were successful.

21) Almost seems crazy not to buy this camera at this price.  And yet, pretty sure my wife will say no.

22) The best explainer on advanced hockey stats I’ve come across.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been guilty of blaming robots/automation for a lot of our problems (like lots of other liberals).  Krugman with a strong corrective:

The other day I found myself, as I often do, at a conference discussing lagging wages and soaring inequality. There was a lot of interesting discussion. But one thing that struck me was how many of the participants just assumed that robots are a big part of the problem — that machines are taking away the good jobs, or even jobs in general. For the most part this wasn’t even presented as a hypothesis, just as part of what everyone knows.

And this assumption has real implications for policy discussion. For example, a lot of the agitation for a universal basic income comes from the belief that jobs will become ever scarcer as the robot apocalypse overtakes the economy.

So it seems like a good idea to point out that in this case what everyone knows isn’t true. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and maybe the robots really will come for all our jobs one of these days. But automation just isn’t a big part of the story of what happened to American workers over the past 40 years.

We do have a big problem — but it has very little to do with technology, and a lot to do with politics and power…

Technological disruption, then, isn’t a new phenomenon. Still, is it accelerating? Not according to the data. If robots really were replacing workers en masse, we’d expect to see the amount of stuff produced by each remaining worker — labor productivity — soaring. In fact, productivity grew a lot faster from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s than it has since.

So technological change is an old story. What’s new is the failure of workers to share in the fruits of that technological change.

I’m not saying that coping with change was ever easy. The decline of coal employment had devastating effects on many families, and much of what used to be coal country has never recovered. The loss of manual jobs in port cities surely contributed to the urban social crisisof the ’70s and ’80s.

But while there have always been some victims of technological progress, until the 1970s rising productivity translated into rising wages for a great majority of workers. Then the connection was broken. And it wasn’t the robots that did it.

What did? There is a growing though incomplete consensus among economists that a key factor in wage stagnation has been workers’ declining bargaining power — a decline whose roots are ultimately political.

2) Oh my is the “gun sanctuary” movement just insanely stupid.  Only in America.  These people should just be flat-out embarrassed.  I love that these people are so frighteningly isolated that they are somehow unaware that most modern nations all over the world have pretty strict gun control and are not exactly tyrannies.

3) John Cassidy, “No, The Republican Party is not Turning on Donald Trump.”

Pause, for a moment, over the pitiful spectacle presented by Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner. In the past few weeks, Tillis, the first-term North Carolina senator, has emerged as a vocal critic of the national-emergency order, and until Thursday afternoon he was indicating that he would support the Democratic resolution. Then, faced with threats of a possible primary challenge, he did a U-turn and voted against the bill. Colorado’s Gardner, another critic of the executive order, also voted against the resolution—prompting the Denver Postto print an editorial saying its endorsement of him in 2014 was a mistake.

Of the twelve Republican senators who defied Trump, just one—Susan Collins, of Maine—is up for reëlection next year. Alexander is retiring. The other ten—Roy Blunt, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker—aren’t up until 2022 or 2024. By then, Trump might well be out of office. Even if he isn’t, the dissidents will have had plenty of time to grovel their way back into his good graces.

4) MDG knew I would love these art deco style space tourism posters.  E.g.,

Europa - JPL Travel Poster

5) This LA Times article on the 737 Max is easily the best I’ve read on the matter.

6) Someone might want to tell NC Republicans that harsher opioid sentences is not going to get us out of this problem.

7) I’ve had to use an asthma inhaler at one point or another with all three of my boys.  And I always had them follow the instructions here.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t.

8) Legacy admissions have absolutely got to go.  I was one (based on other classmates at Duke from my high school, pretty sure I would’ve made it anyway), but all they do is perpetuate privilege.  If any of my kids can get into Duke on their own, more power to them (not that I’m paying for it), but I sure wouldn’t want them getting in just because their parents went there.

9) Only in America.  Olga Khazan, “Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick: Doctors’ bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings.”

10) How eating crickets can save the lemurs.  Though I’m really picky, I’m all for getting more insect protein into people’s diets as it is such an efficient way to get animal protein.  Turn it into a powder mixed in with other stuff and I’m fine with it.

11) This article on climate change and the Moose Tick in New England is a truly fascinating look at the complex interplay of climate, ecosystems, and species health.  Read the article to find out how, incredibly, shooting more moose may be a key part of the solution.

12) The Little Ice Age is really interesting.  Here’s a new book on it.

13) This is fun, “Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books From The Times’s Archive.”

14) Love, this, “I embraced screen time with my daughter– and I love it.”  Like most anything else, screen time can be great or harmful, it’s all in how you use it.

15) Jennifer Rubin brings the love to Pete Buttigieg.  He really is impressive.

16) Perry Bacon Jr with the six wings of the Democratic Party.  I think I’d but myself with the Progressive New Guard.

17) Okay, looks like now we have “snowplow parents,” too.

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there…

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

“Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not,” Dr. Levine said.

Yes, it’s a parent’s job to support the children, and to use their adult wisdom to prepare for the future when their children aren’t mature enough to do so. That’s why parents hide certain toys from toddlers to avoid temper tantrums or take away a teenager’s car keys until he finishes his college applications.

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

18) Love this story of a really successful college basketball player who owes it all, not to dad, but to mom.

19) Really enjoyed this on why this winter’s polar vortex canceled so many flights– the humans:

“When you get below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts slowing down,” Kohlman says. You may need to start deicing planes, for one thing, which starts to create delays. And while baggage handlers may be able to do their jobs wearing thick gloves, maintenance workers changing out lightbulbs and getting wrenches onto bolts must choose between warmth and dexterity. If temperatures drop to the point where it’s dangerous for workers to stay outside for very long, operations slow down even further. (Airlines have set up temporary heated shelters and doled out hot chocolate and hand warmers at O’Hare, according to theChicago Sun Times.)

Eventually, those delays pile up into cancellations. Remember that the airline system is tightly connected, so problems at one node quickly spread. Passengers start missing their connecting flights in large numbers. Combine them with the folks in the coldest places who may stay home instead of braving the elements, and you can end up flying a half-empty plane. “It might not be the best business decision to do that,” Kohlman says. And airlines only get to make that decision if the crew makes it to the airport.

So, planes—like polar bears and robots—may not mind the cold. But airport workers—like zookeepers and roboticists—do. And they’re the folks who make them fly.

20) Rachel Riederer on the other kind of climate denialism is really good:

In 2008 and 2009, the American Psychological Association put together a task force to examine the relationship between psychology and climate change. It found that, although people said that climate change was important, they did not “feel a sense of urgency.” The task force identified several mental barriers that contributed to this blasé stance. People were uncertain about climate change, mistrustful of the science, or denied that it was related to human activity. They tended to minimize the risks and believe that there was plenty of time to make changes before the real impacts were felt. Just ten years later, these attitudes about climate feel like ancient relics. But two key factors, which the task force identified as keeping people from taking action, have stood the test of time: one was habit, and the other was lack of control. “Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change,” the group stated. “People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.”

Wallace-Wells hits this note in his book, too, writing, “We seem most comfortable adopting a learned posture of powerlessness.” As uncertainty and denial about climate have diminished, they have been replaced by similarly paralyzing feelings of panic, anxiety, and resignation. As we begin to live through the massive dangers imparted by climate change, as one psychologist put it to me, “We are in psychological terrain, whether we like it or not.”

 

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