Quick hits (part II)

1) The Republican Senate’s delay on confirming Lorretta Lynch for Attorney General is literally historic in its wrongness.

2) There’s new research that says, no, it’s actually liberals who are happier, not conservatives.  When actually reading about it, I find it entirely unconvincing.

3) Help an NCSU professor do some cool citizen science on heartbeats.

4) Loved this history of the origins of Mad Men (my co-favorite show ever, with The Wire).

5) The good news on Obamacare just keeps coming.

6) The real story of the Irish famine and exodus.  It’s not just the potato blight, but why that was so deadly.

7) Good to know that racism in America is over and the only problem is Democrats spreading “phony racial narratives.”  Or so says old white guy who happens to be a US Senator.

8) Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate comics, came to my son’s elementary school last week.  My son loves Big Nate books and Wimpy Kid books head-and-shoulders above any others.  I really enjoyed reading about the connection between these two authors.

9) So, apparently contestants on the Bachelor(ette) are basically not allowed to have any access to the outside world:

Contestants can’t have cell phones, use the internet, watch movies, or even read books, so they have no choice but to talk to each other, and to stew about their feelings for their Bachelor or Bachelorette, the object of their competitive affection.

That’s like being in solitary confinement, but with other people.  As if there weren’t enough problems with it, I have to wonder what kind of person would subject themselves to such conditions.  No books even??!!

10) Read a lot of good stuff on Robert “Bowling Alone” Putnam’s new book about poverty in America.  It’s important stuff.  Here’s a nice summary.

11) There’s been a lively debate among academics about the group-based nature of the Democratic versus Republican parties. Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing the issues and splitting the baby.

12) How climate change denying scientists are much like scientists of 50 years ago who tried to convince people that cigarettes are harmless.

13) Love my cereal for breakfast.  Thus, loved this Wonkblog post on the most popular cereals.

14) One of my students/advisees with no prior experience with animation software, made this awesome video on redistricting in NC.

15) What happens to a Texas prosecutor who gets a man put to death based on false testimony?  You know– nothing.

16) Speaking of Texas “justice,” Dahlia Lithwick writes

Last week I wrote about thesuspension of David Dow, one of the country’s most prominent capital defense attorneys. He was benched for an entire year by Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals—the state’s highest criminal appeals court—for allegedly filing a late petition in a death penalty case. The sanction was doubly bonkers, I argued, because other death penalty lawyers never seem to be sanctioned for sleeping, drinking, or otherwise rendering themselves incompetent at trial. In any event, Dow was barred from appearing before the CCA for 12 months. Which means that his death row clients—whom he represents pro bono, and who may not find other lawyers to do so—literally have their lives on the line because a motion may or may not have been filed a few hours late. Or, as one lawyer quipped after the piece was posted: “Apparently Texas finally found one lawyer to be incompetent: the one who is actually good at his job.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

So, this was supposed to be last week’s quick hits part II and then I was going to do a mid-week quick hits, but whatever, here it is.

1) Are we teaching our children that there are no moral facts?

2) On a similar note, great Lawrence Krauss piece on the importance of teaching doubt and skepticism:

One thing is certain: if our educational system does not honestly and explicitly promote the central tenet of science—that nothing is sacred—then we encourage myth and prejudice to endure. We need to equip our children with tools to avoid the mistakes of the past while constructing a better, and more sustainable, world for themselves and future generations. We won’t do that by dodging inevitable and important questions about facts and faith. Instead of punting on those questions, we owe it to the next generation to plant the seeds of doubt.

3) Do parents create narcissists by praising too much?  Maybe.  I like how the research makes an important conceptual and measurement distinction between narcissism and self esteem:

Of course, self-esteem and narcissism are two very different things. The difference has to do with how you value yourself compared to other people. “Self-esteem basically means you’re a person of worth equal with other people,” Bushman tells Shots. “Narcissism means you think you’re better than other people.”

4) Josh Barro writes about Marco Rubio’s “puppies and rainbows” tax plan.  I think that about gets it.

5) Love the Vox guide to using science to win at rock, paper, scissors.

6) NYT and Deadspin on what’s wrong with the Blurred Lines copyright ruling.  After listening to the two songs, I’ve got to agree (unlike that guy where I was like, “he totally stole ‘Won’t back down’ and just made it slower.”

7) Pi, primes, and cryptography.

8) The world’s most painful insect sting.  No thanks.

9) Synthetic genes in place of vaccines?  Just maybe.

10) Somehow, I had missed John Oliver on Ayn Rand.  As good as you would expect.

11) The really cool part of Apple’s latest product announcement is actually their battery innovations.

12) Time to end the ethanol rip-off.  Indeed.

13) Companies are doing a lot less screening of employees for drug use because– surprise, surprise– it doesn’t really work in improving workplace safety or productivity.

14) So, all this oil we are now shipping throughout the country by railroad.  The infrastructure is simply not meant for it and it is thus a very dangerous and bad idea.  Of course, we’re doing a ton of it anyway.

15) Advice to the unmarried: don’t spend so damn much on your wedding.  It’s crazy how much Americans now spend on weddings.  You know what matters?  That you have a good enough party with your family, friends, loved ones about you.  Nobody remembers how fancy the venue or the food or whatever is.  Just have a good time and save  your money.

16) Yes, a movie with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did just go straight to video.  I had no idea.  That said, this is one of those rare books that I finished that I should have just given up on.

17) So, the estrogen replacement Premarin is still made from the urine of female horses.  It’s no fun for the horses, but this system makes the manufacturer way more money.

18) Safe to say if General Petraeus had been an enlisted soldier, he would not have gotten off so easily.

19) I gave up on Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, in part, because I was pretty well persuaded by his case and felt like I was getting beaten over the head with it.  Sure you need good data, but you also need to make it a good story.  Anyway, according to this essay in the Guardian, Pinker is wrong and humans have not become dramatically less violent.

20) The case for free range parenting from a German parent who has moved to America.  Why do we have to be so uniquely dumb and paranoid in this country?!

21) A fascinating case of evolution in California Scrub Jays that calls into question just exactly what it means to be a species and our understandings of how speciation happens.  Good stuff.

The Israel problem

I thought this Saletan piece on the recent Israeli elections made an important point:

In the final days of his campaign, Netanyahu pitched himself to Israelis as the candidate who would stand up toPresident Obama, “American money,” the “international community,” and Israel’s Arab minority. He bragged that he had used settlements to seize strategic Palestinian land, and he vowed to keep doing so. A day before the election, he renounced Israel’s commitment to a Palestinian state. He pledged that if he were re-elected, he wouldn’t permit such a state. He implored Jews to flock to the polls and drown out the ballots of Arab Israelis.

Many Americans, including me, thought these rants would hurt Netanyahu. We were wrong. In those final days, his support soared. On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s party, Likud, won a plurality of seats in Israel’s parliament. Thirty-three percent of Israelis voted for Likud or for smaller parties that officially rejected a Palestinian state. Another 15 percent voted for Jewish nationalist or ultra-Orthodox parties that have blocked Palestinian independence. A further 7 percent voted for a Likud offshoot that is expected to round out the new government. That adds up to more than 55 percent of the electorate. It’s more than 60 percent of Israel’s Jewish voters.

Netanyahu can no longer be dismissed as a rogue. He has proved that his people stand behind him. They have given him more seats in parliament than he had before and a more hawkish coalition of ruling parties. We don’t have a Netanyahu problem anymore. We have an Israel problem.

Yep.  I don’t claim to have a lot of expertise on this area, but after seeing a lot of headlines and such suggesting this is a Netanyahu problem, not an Israel problem, I’d have to say that Saletan seems pretty on target.  Saletan suggests that we need to change our policy positions of having Israel’s back “no matter what” if we expect Israel to change.  That also seems pretty hard to argue with.

The Republican Budget

In the world of budgets, initial proposals are often just fantasy documents.  But there is at least some connection to things like 1) basic reality, and 2) basic math.  Not so the latest Republican House budget.  Dana Milbank goes to town:

It was altogether fitting that Republicans rolled out their budget during a festival of inebriation in honor of the man who magically (and apocryphally) banished snakes from Ireland. What Republicans have done with their budget is no less fantastic: They have employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.

“We do not rely on gimmicks or creative accounting tricks to balance our budget,” the House Republicans say in the introduction to their fiscal 2016 budget.

True, the budget does not rely on gimmicks. The budget is a gimmick…

It assumes that current tax cuts will be allowed to expire as scheduled — which would amount to a $900 billion tax increase that nobody believes would be allowed to go into effect.

It proposes to repeal Obamacare but then counts revenues and savings from Obamacare as if the law remained in effect.

It claims to save $5.5 trillion over 10 years, but in the fine print — the budget plan’s instructions to committees — it only asks them to identify about $5 billion in savings over that time.

It assumes more than $1 trillion in cuts to a category known as “other mandatory” programs — but doesn’t specify what those cuts would be.

You get the picture.  I assume a group of third-graders could create a more serious budget.  Seriously.

And Krugman adds some context:

Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings. [emphasis mine]

Yep– I think Krugman nails it.  There may be some actual adults in the Republican party, but they are sure not in the GOP House caucus.

Freedom!

Sorry to be such a bad blogger lately.  Really, really busy week.  I’ll be better next week.  Anyway…

Really enjoyed this post from Bill Ayers on how people losing a political argument (in this case, the anti-vaxxers) like to change the subject to freedom, i.e., their “freedom” not to vaccinate their children.  Bill makes some great points about freedom in a democratic society:

But all of that is neither here nor there – what really interests me is the “I am pro-freedom” part of the argument. This is indeed the “go-to” for folks on the losing end of a public debate. Recently we’ve seen certain segments of our society opposed to gay marriage making the same claim on behalf of small businesses that don’t want to serve gays – just as two generations ago, similar folks claimed “freedom” as a justification to turn away interracial couples. “Freedom” was the cry of George Wallace on the steps of the Alabama schoolhouse when he railed against “the oppression of the rights, privilege, and sovereignty” of his state in the face of integrationist pressure.

The fact is that we all give up a measure of freedom as the price of living in a civilized, advanced society. [emphases mine] We agree not to drive through a red light. We agree to wear our seat belts – 49 out of 50 states in the US have some form of mandatory seat belt laws on the books. We agree to file certain kinds of information with the government at various levels. We agree to pay our taxes. We agree not to discriminate against fellow citizens when engaging in public commerce or service. Failure to do these things comes with the penalty of government sanction.

We suffer these infringements on our freedom because there are some collective goods that cannot be had otherwise. Because of our traffic laws – actually quite draconian by the standards of much of the world – we enjoy some of the safest highways and streets in the world, vastly safer than they were 80 or 100 years ago. Because of our attention to civil rights, populations once voiceless and enslaved are now freer and much better off and we are closer to realizing our ideals as a republic of equals.

Those who hold up the “pro-freedom” banner are trying to escape this reality.

“Freedom” might not be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is certainly well worth considering just what is being argued for in the name of freedom and the consequences of all this freedom for our society.

Quick hits

Sorry to be a day late.  Went to the ACC tournament three days in a row and it really threw me off.  Anyway.

1) Forget critical thinking and fancy software, the key to success is Microsoft Excel.

2) Despite the fact that we have way too many people in prison, it was harder than I expected to cut the prison population 50% with this very cool interactive feature.

3) The evidence for the success of Obamacare just keeps accumulating.  The latest budget estimates look great.

4) Mentally ill black man with a knife, watch out.  But it’s an amazing what a white guy with a gun can get away with in a police confrontation.

5) Some evidence from the US Senate that the tide is turning on more sensible marijuana legislation.

6) Found this video on addiction featuring a kiwi bird really, really compelling.

7) I loved this essay on the awesomeness of Pi, for yesterday’s Pi day.

8) Did North Georgia fire a professor just for being rude?

9) You remember that awful USDA animal research facility in Nebraska.  Looks like there’s going to be some more oversight now.  Yeah, journalism!

10) Either computers are really good at writing poetry, or poetry is just too easy to imitate.  Interesting either way.

11) The state of New York has decided that any school in the bottom 5% is “failing” no matter what.  If you actually know math, you realize that’s nuts.  Might as well decide no schools will be below average.

12) Forget asteroids, apparently it’s the massive solar flares that may ruin things for all of us.

13) Pretty fascinated by this treatment to literally freeze your scalp to help prevent hair loss from chemo.

14) Some nice evidence on how welfare really matters.

15) Most people (including me) are not that impressed by the new Apple Watch.  Tim Lee points out that the first PC’s and smartphones received skeptical reviews.  (Of course, I’m sure that skepticism proved apt for many a product).

16) Loved Jon Stewart on the OU racist fraternity.  But especially on how Fox News somehow felt that even this they had to defend.

17) We should probably do a lot more to actually ensure that police know the laws they are supposed to be enforcing.

18) Really liked Amy Davidson’s take on Tom Cotton’s Iran letter.

19) What Obama got wrong in his Selma speech:

But he’s wrong if he thinks Ferguson doesn’t represent a larger “endemic” problem that is “sanctioned by law and custom.”

If there’s one takeaway from Ferguson—and the takeaways are legion—it is that the law is stacked against ordinary citizens. That police are largely shielded from liability when a life is taken. That the Supreme Court has a tendency to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. That prosecutors can use and abuse the grand jury processto fit their needs. That the bar for bringing a civil rights prosecution against a cop is almost insurmountable. That constitutional rights, in the face of state violence and oppression, are anything but enforceable.

20) NC Republicans like to brag about the huge tax cut they provided.  Yes, the state is taking in less dollars, but many taxpayers, especially elderly with significant medical expenses are paying more.  But hey, at least rich people can get more luxury options on their new Mercedes now.

Photo of the day

These NYT photos of Syria at night before and after the civil war are pretty amazing.

syria1

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 611 other followers

%d bloggers like this: