The real incumbency advantage– elevators

If you are not from NC, you might be surprised to learn that our NC Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berrie, is the 4th best-known political office-holder in the state.  If you are from NC, you are well aware that she has been abusing her position for years by taking an increasingly prominent role in our elevators.  The results from the latest Elon Poll via the N&O:

More North Carolinians can identify the state’s “elevator queen” than the legislators setting the agenda on statewide issues.

According to an Elon University Poll, 49 percent of registered voters could match Cherie Berry – whose face is plastered in elevators across the state because of her role in regulating them – with her role as North Carolina commissioner of labor. But a majority of those respondents didn’t identify her by her official title. Rather, they said she was the “Elevator Lady” or the “Elevator Queen.” Voters in urban areas were more likely to recognize Berry than those in rural areas.

“I think it’s pretty good evidence that Cherie Berry’s elevator advertisements work,” said Jason Husser, an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and director of the poll. “If we had gone through other names of people with similar levels of authority at the state, we wouldn’t have seen that level of name recognition.”

When I first moved here back in 2002, I’m pretty sure it was just the signature.  But now it’s a photo, too, and I’m pretty sure it’s become more prominent.  And, yes, she keeps winning statewide even in years when most other Republicans lose.

A couple of political scientists have found, yes, there is a real incumbency advantage here and wrote up their results in the Monkey Cage a couple years ago:

2012 results. These results aren’t as ambiguous. Once again, Berry brought up her total of the vote in counties with a higher concentration of elevators. But this time, Berry performs better than other Republicans running for statewide offices in counties with a higher concentration of elevators per 1,000 people…

What should we take away from this study?

As political scientists have long thought, political advertisements can affect elections — even in the most unorthodox forms. With this kind of advertising, incumbents don’t have to spend campaign funds — but they still come out of the election at a higher floor than when they began.

If they do learn from Berry’s elevator pictures, they may realize that such advertising can help when they try to rise to higher political office. In a May 2013 poll, Berry performed strongest of all Republicans tested against then-Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) for the U.S. Senate seat Hagan was vacating in 2014. While Berry didn’t run for Senate, her picture in North Carolina elevators continue to bring up her political prospects as she seeks a fifth term as labor commissioner in 2016.

And, yes, of course she won in 2016.

And, yes, she’s a good Republican who has used her position to entirely fair the working people of this state.


Quick hits (part II)

Sorry for the lateness.  Busy, busy day yesterday.  Here goes…

1) Erica Goode on how school shooting can be viral.  As horrible as it is, we need to learn from suicide and give these mass shootings way less attention.

Finally, there is nascent, but increasing, evidence that violence begets violence, with one school shooting — especially if it receives a lot of publicity — leading to others, a phenomenon that researchers refer to as “contagion.” And some psychologists believe that news media reports of mass killings may propel people who are already at risk of violence into committing copycat crimes.

2) Damn did David Brooks come in for it among political scientists with his naive article about a multi-party future in the U.S.  This Monkey Cage post sums up the problems:

The problem for Brooks’s vision of a popular overthrow of the two-party system, however, is not just the formidable structural barriers — it’s also that the very people most disaffected with the two parties are the least likely to be politically active. As a result, dissatisfaction with the Republicans and Democrats may not be enough to spur a fundamental change to the party system…

In a sense, Brooks is ahead of a lot of pundits in observing that the “us versus them” politics of the Democratic and Republican parties has led people to desire something new. To be sure, the parties are not hemorrhaging voters, though there has been a small decline in partisan identification over the last decade. In the 2016 ANES, 57 percent of respondents said they wanted a third party.

The problem, however, is that a new party would have to mobilize these Americans. And what defines these citizens — the ones who express the most disenchantment with the two-party system — is that they’re not politically engaged. As we saw, many don’t even want to talk about politics even when they agree with the other person.

3) Republican legislators in NC have basically been taking hostages with elementary education after delivering a dramatic unfunded mandate.  Damn I hate them.  Susan Ladd with the details.

4) Enjoyed coming late to the party to this New Yorker profile of U.S. skiier, Mikaela Shiffrin.   It’s clear that her parents are insanely dedicated and that she works hard as hell, but still incredibly naive to think that she doesn’t have natural genetic advantages, as any champion in any sport does.

5) Enjoyed David Graham’s take on the warning signs in mass shootings:

First, it depends heavily on retrospect. But things that seem like obvious warning signs after the fact may have just seemed weird beforehand. (People rarely really expect anyone to become a mass shooter, since statistically such attacks are vanishingly rare.) Conversely, there are thousands of people, and especially young men, who might set off warning bells—they act strangely, they’re obsessed with weapons, they engage in various anti-social behaviors—but who will never take a gun to school and open fire.

Second, even if one could more effectively sort the people who are just kind of weird from the people who might be more likely to perpetrate a shooting, what would the government do about it? Put differently, even if people “report such instances to authorities, again and again,” the authorities cannot arrest someone who has not committed a crime, simply because he makes people uncomfortable. Pre-crime is not prosecutable.

6) I really like how this “bad faith” critique of Congressional Republicans seems to be catching on.  Here’s Krugman on the matter.  The key will be to see if it works its way into ordinary reporter’s stories when Republicans are demonstrating bad faith.

7) This McSweeney’s take, “Please don’t get murdered at school today,” on school shootings is about my favorite I’ve come across:

I know that may sound scary, but what you need to remember is that this country was founded on freedom. And that includes the freedom of all people (sane, crazy, whatever) to have unchallenged access to guns that are capable of executing at least 20 first graders or 12 moviegoers or 9 of the faithful at a church service or even a baby asleep in her car seat. This is very, very important in terms of staying true to the principles and spirit upon which this country was founded. Just ask the Internet…

I’m sorry, I wish I had better news. But let’s keep our sympathies where they belong — with the powerful and the armed. With those who feel threatened in the face of the most toothless efforts to hold back the bloodshed and those who believe scary monster stories about their guns being taken away. Let’s face it, it would be easier to take away the ocean or the stars. Did you know that there are more guns than people in this country? That means everyone in your class already has a gun with their name on it, so to speak. Maybe mention that at share time.

8) Chait really does make a pretty compelling case that Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians.  It honestly explains his behavior and this set of facts better than about anything else.

9) While we’re at it, former NYT national security reporter James Risen asks, “Is Donald Trump a traitor?”

10) This Post story on “Divided Congress” unable to act on guns is just a case study it the pathetic “both sides” pathology of so much political journalism.  It’s not “Congress” it’s Republicans.

11) I’m totally shocked that the latest research continues to debunk the “good guy with a gun” theory as the solution to America’s absurd gun homicide problem:

In a new working paper published on June 21 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics at Stanford Law School ran that data through four different statistical models—including one developed by Lott for More Guns, Less Crime—and came back with an unambiguous conclusion: states that made it easier for their citizens to go armed in public had higher levels of non-fatal violent crime than those states that restricted the right to carry. The exception was the narrower category of murder; there, the researchers determined that any effect on homicide rates by expanded gun-carry policies is statistically insignificant.

While other studies conducted since 1994 have undermined Lott’s thesis, the new paper is the most comprehensive and assertive debunking of the more-guns-less-crime formula.

“For years, the question has been, is there any public safety benefit to right to carry laws? That is now settled,” said paper’s lead author, John Donohue. “The answer is no.”

12) Of course Trump and Jeff Sessions are basically doing everything 180 opposite of what you would want for better criminal justice.

13) Interesting take on gender bias in academia and in reporting.

Other biases are even more glaring. A 2013 study found that political science papers by women are systematically cited less than those by men. Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, a University of Iowa political scientist, found that women in academia are more likely to get stuck in less prestigious jobs or leave their fields entirely because of structural gender issues like citation biases, straightforward sexism and pressure on women to do committee work while men get to devote time to their research.

The result is that the highest echelons of academia, think tanks and research institutions are dominated by men. So if we go by seemingly objective criteria like seniority or citation counts, the “best” experts will overwhelmingly be men. We can’t fix those imbalances on our own, but we can try to correct for them in our own writing by ignoring seniority and deciding for ourselves whose work is worth quoting. We start by looking offline to find equally qualified — or, often, better qualified — women, by scanning academic journals and asking around for names.

That, unsurprisingly, can rankle people. It can rankle the men who believe we skipped over them unfairly and the institutions that wish to promote their most senior figures. Tellingly, some think tanks that publicize all-female panels also bar junior fellows from speaking to the news media, silencing the women in that role. And it can rankle readers, some of whom inevitably ask a variation of, “Isn’t that just more discrimination?”

This is the challenge of systemic gender bias. No one person can fix it, even with the benefit of a platform as powerful as The New York Times. But conscious efforts to correct for its effects can, at a glance, look unfair because the biases that privilege men, while far more systemic, are often less visible.

Though, I do have to add, non-conscious or not, there’s just no way that I am systematically under-citing women’s research.  Heck, I don’t even know the first names (and thus gender) of a fair amount of stuff I cite.

14) Steven Pinker on the intellectual war on science.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Endurance about Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated journey across Antarctica is easily one of my favorite books ever.  Incredible, incredible story.  With that as a background, loved David Grann’s (really long, but worth it) New Yorker article on a modern day Antarctic explorer looking to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps.

2) The case of Red Wolves in eastern NC is really a fascinating story about what it actually means to be a species and what efforts government should undertake to protect a species.

3) How Republicans have reshaped public education in NC.  Short version– not for the better.

4) Garrett Epps on Republicans increasing contempt for the judicial branch (i.e., the rule of law), with special focus on PA and NC.

5) Former Congressional Republican staffer sums it up nicely, “Reagan’s ‘Party of Ideas’ Is Down to Just One: Tax Cuts.”

So what do Republicans have left? The tax cut, the sole important legislation from the Republican Congress, shows that catering to its rich contributors is the party’s only policy. The rest of its agenda is simply tactics and trickery.

As the party has become unmoored from positive belief, it has grown manipulative, demagogic and contemptuous of truth. This was foreshadowed in 2004 when a senior adviser to George W. Bush boastedthat “we create our own reality.” It has culminated in the president’s counselor Kellyanne Conway’s appealing to “alternative facts,” meaning lies, on behalf of her boss, who has made an average of 5.6 false or misleading claims a day since his inauguration.

Today’s Republican Party is incapable of honest and coherent governance, with “right” or “wrong” reduced to a question of whether it helps the party. Its agenda is little more than institutional vandalism and a thumb in the eye.

6) You would think you could put up a “resist white supremacy” sign without too much grief.  Not in Trump’s America.

7) Interesting Op-Ed from retired judge who regrets being way too harsh in her judging days.  Good for her.  That said, sad that only know does she seem to realize 16-year olds are not fully formed and responsible.

8) I think the best response to the Snap boxes is Alexanda Petri’s satire.

9) Love Timothy Egan’s take on the “bad parent caucus”

Let me try another take for you bad parents in office. Pretend you live in a pleasant, well-protected community of like-minded people, and you’re in charge. O.K., you don’t have to pretend. And let’s say there was a natural gas leak every three days in one of the homes in that community, a leak that killed entire families.

Your response would be to pray and do nothing. Or to pray and talk about everything except the gas leak. Or to pray and say you’re powerless to act because the gas company owns you. The response of those suffering would be to take control and kick you out. That’s what we have to do, and will, next November.

10) Got to agree with Aaron Blake, it doesn’t do liberals any good to take offense at everything, i.e., the office of sheriff really is an “Anglo-American” tradition.

11) “Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News” or less intelligent people are more susceptible to believing fake news.

12) Utterly fascinated by this story of how people have long believed that Pope Gregory long ago gave a lenten dispensation for eating fetal rabbits as not meat.  He didn’t.  There goes my Friday dinner.

13) Ben Bishin with a nice piece on why we can’t have decent gun laws despite the popularity of the position.  Short version: an intense minority wins every time.

14) Love how German Lopez totally takes apart Marco Rubio’s moronic logic on gun laws:

In short, Rubio said imposing new restrictions on guns would be ineffective.

As Matt Yglesias pointed out, this is basically an argument against having any laws at all. Just imagine Rubio applying this same logic to other policies: People are going to commit murder anyway, so why bother banning it? People are going to use drugs anyway, so why bother making them illegal?…

Rubio has to understand this logic to some extent, because this is the exact same rationale for a war on drugs that he supports.

Rubio is on the record supporting tougher drug laws, previously writing that “when we consider changing the sentences we impose for drug laws, we must be mindful of the great successes we have had in restoring law and order to America’s cities since the 1980s drug epidemic destroyed lives, families, and entire neighborhoods. I personally believe that legalizing drugs would be a great mistake and that any reductions in sentences for drug crimes should be made with great care.”

The argument for prohibiting certain drugs, from marijuana to heroin, is not that it will stop the use of all drugs. The argument, instead, is that prohibition will make these drugs more expensive — a 2014 study by Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that prohibition multiplies the price of hard drugs like cocaine by as much as 10 times. It also makes these drugs require the extra work of finding an illicit dealer instead of simply going to your local CVS to buy some heroin. That will not stop everyone from obtaining drugs, but it will deter some people.

It is perplexing that in conservative criminal justice politics, people like Rubio — those who support the war on drugs — don’t apply the same logic to guns that they do to drugs.

15) And Paul Waldman:

As Marco Rubio said on Thursday, the day after 17 of his constituents were slaughtered in Parkland, “I’m trying to be clear and honest here, if someone’s decided to commit this crime, they’ll find a way to get the gun to do it.” His colleague Ted Cruz told Fox & Friends, “We have seen that evil can occur whether at Parkland or at a church in Central Texas, or in schools across the country. There are murderers. Evil is, sadly, always present.” What are you gonna do?

Imagine what the response would be if after a terrorist attack, a senator said, “There’s no point in beefing up security at airports. If someone has decided to commit an act of terrorism, they’ll find a way to do it. Evil is, sadly, always present.”

That’s not how we react to terrorism. We don’t treat it as inevitable, we try to figure out how to stop it. And in fact, our representatives made a choice after 9/11 to take all kinds of measures that infringed on civil liberties and were of questionable practical value in order to forestall future terrorist attacks.

It takes about a month for as many Americans to die from gunfire as perished in the 9/11 attacks, yet we make a choice to do nothing.

16) Nicholas Kristoff with a comprehensive piece on how we should be taking a public health approach to gun violence.

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key components of metric fixation are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo of the day

Student sent me a photo of this mural on the side of a bar in Raleigh.  Turns out there’s even an N&O article about it.  Pretty cool.




Quick hits (part I)

1) Farhad Manjoo on the legal marijuana economy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gerrmandering NC style

What ultimately happens with North Carolina’s absurdly-gerrymandered Congressional districts is quite likely up to the Supreme Court.  That said, it is still a great thing to have a Federal court recognize that even a straight-up partisan gerrymander (regardless or race) is wrong.  Wonkblog’s Christopher Ingraham breaks down how gerrymandering works as well as any piece I’ve seen:

North Carolina Republicans have gotten quite good at this, as evidenced by the state’s 2016 election returns. Republican House members representing North Carolina won 53 percent of the statewide popular vote, but took 10 out of 13, or 77 percent, of the state’s congressional seats. If their seat haul had matched their popular vote total, they would have taken just seven out of 13 House seats…

But the North Carolina case indicates how savvy political operators can game the system while keeping districts looking fairly tight and compact. To understand how they did it, take a look at the map below.

I started with a map of precinct-level 2016 presidential vote results compiled by Ryne Rohla, an economics doctoral student at Washington State University. This gives a pretty good sense of where Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red) are concentrated in the state.

I’ve rather crudely superimposed on that the current boundaries of North Carolina’s U.S. congressional districts.

Now we can see how district boundaries snake around and through Democratic-leaning areas. Let’s focus on a few of them, starting with the 2nd Congressional District.

George Holding (R) won the 2nd District with 57 percent of the vote in 2016. One notable feature of the district’s border is how it snakes around the 4th District to the east. Essentially the entire city of Raleigh is packed away into the heavily Democratic 4th District, which David E. Price (D) won with a commanding 68 percent of the vote.

Very good stuff.  And, while I’m at it, Rick Hasen on the Appeals Court decision in NC:

The result is not a big surprise given what North Carolina did here. After its earlier redistricting was declared a racial gerrymander, it came up with a new plan using only political data that it described as a partisan gerrymander on its own terms. It did this as a defense against a future racial gerrymandering claim. As the court explained at page 16, NC “Representative Lewis
said that he “propose[d] that [the Committee] draw the maps to give a partisan advantage
to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats because [he] d[id] not believe it[ would be] possible
to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”  If there’s any case that could be a partisan gerrymander, it’s this one.

The Supreme Court is already considering two partisan gerrymandering cases, one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland. No doubt NC will appeal this case to the Supreme Court, which is likely to hold it in light of the decision in those cases (it would be too late, absent extraordinary briefing, to set the case for argument this term). It likely will be sent back to this court to reconsider in light of what the Court does.

But in the meantime the fight will be over the 2018 elections, and I expect NC may seek to get the Supreme Court to stop the fast tracking of redistricting changes in time for the 2018 elections. The Supreme Court could well agree to stay the district court proceedings, at least based on its recent track record.

This is a huge win for the plaintiffs but with an uncertain future at the Supreme Court.

And, by “Supreme Court,” everybody means “Anthony Kennedy.”  Kind of sad that this should ultimately be so partisan, but it clearly is.

And, while I’m at it, really nice NY Review of Books essay on the matter.  I especially liked this part:

During oral arguments, the Supreme Court’s four most conservative members did not sound convinced. Justice Neil Gorsuch likened the formula for the efficiency gap to his steak rub: “I like some turmeric, I like a few other little ingredients, but I’m not going to tell you how much of each.” Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed it as “sociological gobbledygook.” And, famously concerned about the court’s reputation, the chief justice fretted that intervening in a case with such clear partisan implications would be seen by “the intelligent man on the street” as an effort to help one party at the expense of the other, causing “very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court.” (Why, despite the court’s conservative, Republican-appointed majority, this hypothetical intelligent man would be likelier to see partisan bias in a ruling to intervene, benefiting Democrats, than in a ruling not to, benefiting the GOP, was left unexplained. Maybe the man wasn’t as intelligent as Roberts thought.)

Or, maybe, John “sociological gobbledygook” Roberts is more of a partisan hack than everybody thought.

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