Quick hits

1) I feel like I wrote something on the stupidity of American lawns pretty recently.  But given drought conditions in much of the country, lawns are dumber than ever.  And this is a nice story on it (that also links to a great 99% episode on the matter).

2) Speaking of wasting water.  Stop drinking bottled water.  Seriously.

3) And stop trying to be so original with your baby names.  Today’s uncommon may well be tomorrow’s top 10.

3) Re-thinking addiction not as a disease after all.  Really interesting take.

The title of his manifesto lays out Lewis’s basic argument, which he insists upon throughout the book. “I’m convinced that calling addiction a disease is not only inaccurate, it’s often harmful,” he writes (repeatedly). “Harmful first of all to addicts themselves.” The alternative, he asserts, is to call addiction what it is: a really bad habit caused by a constellation of variables and a brain that is receptive to compulsively reinforcing really bad habits. Most important, that habit is possible to break, not by becoming a “patient” getting medical attention in order to “recover” but by becoming a responsible adult with a solid vision of the future who has at last decided to break a destructive habit.

4) Destroying mountains for coal removal?  All good for this Southwestern, Virginia community.  “Ruining” the view with windmill farms?  Not so much.  Oh, and wasting an absurd amount of money to build a modern “technology park” in basically the middle of nowhere?  Oh, yeah, on that.  Tech workers love locating to extremely rural areas.  Surely a great way to attract business development.

5) Bojack Horseman is my new TV obsession.  Season 1, down.  Starting season 2 tonight.  How can I not love comparing Bojack to Mad Men.

6) Donald Trump as the political equivalent of chaff.  Love it.

Donald Trump is the political equivalent of chaff, a billion shiny objects all floating through the sky at once, ephemeral, practically without substance, serving almost exclusively to distract from more important things — yet nonetheless completely impossible to ignore.

7) Speaking of Trump, nice take from Yglesias comparing him to the far right movements in Europe.

8a) So much wrong about college football (but I just keep watching it)

All of which makes Gilbert M. Gaul’s “Billion-Dollar Ball” a hard and challenging book, but one that I hope college football diehards will join me in reading. Gaul, a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post, forces us to confront what major college football has become. When we cheer for our schools and our teams, we’re also supporting a powerful and autonomous entertainment business that monetizes every aspect of the game, an operation that is not only divorced from the mission of higher education but that often undermines it.

8b) Much of which can be seen in Under Armour’s relationship with University of Maryland.

9) You’ve all read me brag about the great diversity in my kids’ schools, but sadly, Wake County is going in the wrong direction on this.

10) I hope some graphic designer was fired over this.

11) Nice essay on how we need to move past the idea that the ideal worker is one who sacrifices family life.

Mr. Groysberg and Ms. Abrahams found that “even the men who pride themselves on having achieved some degree of balance between work and the other realms of their lives measure themselves against a traditional male ideal.” They quoted one interviewee as saying, “The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.” Men who are counting their caregiving in terms of the last 10 minutes of a day are not playing a caregiving role on a day-to-day basis.

12) Time for the media to start treating the names of mass murderers like the names of rape victims?  There’s definitely something to be said for the idea.

13) Irony is when the guy wearing the “less government; more freedom” t-shirt has his butt saved by firefighters.


14) Love this metaphor in the case for teaching ignorance.

Michael Smithson, a social scientist at Australian National University who co-taught an online course on ignorance this summer, uses this analogy: The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.

Mapping the coast of the island of knowledge, to continue the metaphor, requires a grasp of the psychology of ambiguity. The ever-expanding shoreline, where questions are born of answers, is terrain characterized by vague and conflicting information. The resulting state of uncertainty, psychologists have shown, intensifies our emotions: not only exhilaration and surprise, but also confusion and frustration.

15) Not the least bit surprised that a documentary about the evils of sugar is chock full of pseudo-science (not to argue that sugar is all great shakes, but anytime something gets demonized like this, you should probably be skeptical).

16) The Duke freshmen who can’t read handle reading a book with lesbian sex(!!) in it need to get over themselves.  Local columnist Barry Saunders with a nice take.

17) I’ve been meaning to give this Ezra Klein piece on how conservative media helped the far right take over the Republican Party it’s own post for a long time.  I’ve failed long enough.  To quick hits it goes.  Read it.

The transgender moment

So, I’ve been getting a little annoyed for a while at how much coverage transgender issues have been getting in the liberal places I hang out in on-line.  Yes, I absolutely believe in tolerance, equity, fairness, justice– you name it– for transgender people, but this seems to be soaking up a huge amount of liberal oxygen for something that affects a really, really small part of the population.  It’s really hard to estimate, but less than 1% is probably pretty safe.  So, what do I have against people focusing on this?  Honestly, there is only so much political oxygen out there and liberals who want to be active on things have only so much bandwidth.  And there are a lot of issues which I think have a dramatic impact on a lot more people.

I’ve been teaching Gender & Politics for years and this was the first semster ever where a decent number of students seemed to be primarily focused on the rights of transgender people as the key political struggle.  Okay, well and good, I suppose.  But, really?!  There’s still soooo much to be down for women’s equality and women are, you know, half the damn population.  So, again nothing against transgender rights, but if your focus is there, that’s a lot of important issues affecting half the population that will get short shrift.

So, what do I think is going on?  For a while, the way to signify you were a really cutting-edge cultural liberal was to be gay rights.  Well, that’s won and done.  What’s left/next?  Transgender rights.  I really don’t want to denigrate a cause, but I’d love to see this energy focused on issues that affect way more people.  In the end, I’m with Mr. Spock.

Politics ain’t business

Love this Chait post on Trump (what a perfect match between writer and subject).  It’s got some really nice analysis on the populist niche in the Republican Party that is totally unfilled, but that Trump is so adeptly stepping into (maybe another post from me, but really, just read Chait).  But since I’m feeling lazy, I’m just going to paste this nicely quotable portion about Trump’s business versus political acumen:

In the short run, this can work. Trump is a polarizer. His grotesque, bombastic arrogance has worked very well as a business strategy. Everybody has an opinion about Trump, positive or negative. From a commercial standpoint, it doesn’t matter much which is which. Trump-haters will tune in to his show just as Trump-lovers will. Even if three-quarters of the public wants nothing to do with him, the quarter that admires Trump forms a massive customer base. That is how he has built a lucrative brand for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, beauty pageants, and so on.

But politics does not work like business. [emphasis mine] You can get rich being loved by a quarter of the country and hated by the rest, but you can’t get elected president that way. Trump has a brilliant strategy for winning the loyalty of a quarter of the primary electorate, or perhaps a third. He has no strategy for winning a majority, which is what you need to get the nomination. Indeed, the things Trump has done to elevate his profile have pushed that majority further from his reach. If the campaign gets to the point where there is one candidate left standing against Trump, that candidate will enjoy the unified support of the party’s financial, media, and organizational strength. Trump has the power to destroy, but not to conquer.

Yes, Hilary will be the Democratic nominee

The media can talk about Joe Biden all they want, but he’s not going to be the nominee if he runs and even if he does, he will not be a serious obstacle to Hilary (spare me the emailgate).  Of course, that’s no fun for journalists to write about.  Better to make something out of polls that’s not even really there.  So long as we don’t find that smoking gun email where Hilary says “hey, why don’t we not defend Benghazi after it’s already attack!” or something else totally unforeseen at this point, Hilary’s got it locked up.  It’s all about the invisible primary and on the Democratic side, it’s pretty much over.  And, no, this is not 2008 and Bernie Sanders (or Biden) is most definitely not Barack Obama.  Jamelle Bouie with a nice article summing it up.

Moreover, because primaries aren’t popularity contests, the most important measure of success is party support. Barack Obama wasn’t an upstart; behind his run was the party machinery, or at least the part that didn’t want Clinton. Today, where do Democratic fundraisers stand? What do Democratic interests groups think? How will Democratic lawmakers act?

On each score, Clinton isn’t just winning—she dominates. Most fundraisers are in her corner; it’s why Biden will have a hard time raising money if he decides to run. Interest groups are still quiet, but Democratic lawmakers are overwhelmingly pro-Hillary. Clinton has more than 100 endorsements from sitting Democrats, including seven governors and 29 senators. Biden, who doesn’t appear to have decided whether to run yet, has two. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has one. Bernie Sanders has none. This is unprecedented. Not only is Clinton ahead of her previous endorsement total, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight, but she’s racked up more endorsements of significance at this stage of the race than any nonincumbent Democratic presidential candidate, ever. At this point in 1999, for instance, Al Gore had two-thirds as many endorsement points (a measure that weights senators and governors more than House representatives) as Clinton does now; at this point in 2003, John Kerry had less than one-tenth Clinton’s current support; at this point in 2007, Obama had less than one-sixth. The closest analogue to Clinton isn’t anyone in the Democratic Party—it’s George W. Bush, who had much greater endorsement support than Clinton at this stage of the 2000 Republican presidential primary and ultimately won easily, despite an early challenge from John McCain.

Sure, it’s no fun to write all this.  So just ignore the Democrats– we’ve got Donald Trump!

Birthright citizenship

One of the nice things about having a guy like Donald Trump in the race is it gives us a chance to reassess (and re-appreciate) policies that we generally take for granted.  Like birthright citizenship.  A fundamentally America idea.  Nice column from Fred Hiatt:

Birthright citizenship isn’t a problem at all. It’s one of the things that makes America great.

For many countries, what is in your blood, or your DNA, defines whether you can belong. I was shocked that people who had been born in Japan, and in some cases whose parents had been born in Japan, were not Japanese citizens, though they knew no other country. The fact that their ancestors had come (or been brought) from Korea disqualified them from automatic citizenship at birth.

Americans, by contrast, are bound together by a civic ideal.

“Birthright citizenship is much more about us, a nation formed and held together by civic values, than it is about immigrants themselves and an incentive or disincentive to come here legally or illegally,” says Doris Meissner, who ran the U.S. immigration agency under President Clinton and is now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

“What’s the belief system, the social cohesion that binds us?” she continues. “A commitment to democracy, participation, equal rights, opportunity, due process, government by the people — people have to be full members of the society for that to be real and flourish.” …

But even without such a path, the problem would fix itself eventually. The children of the undocumented will be citizens, and they will grow up — as children of immigrants, legal and illegal, generally have — to better their lot, sometimes to prosper, almost always to contribute…

After all, why do people around the world want to come to the United States ? In large part it’s because this has always been a place that welcomed risk-takers, profited from their gumption and allowed them — and their children — to answer, when asked their nationality: “American. Really.”

I don’t think Americans will allow a demagogue or his mini-me’s to take that away.


No.  Fortunately they won’t.  But it’s a sad state of affairs where a not insignificant portion of the Republican party seems to think this is a good idea (or at least is willing to pretend to).

America and guns in less than 140 characters

It’s from last year, but damn is it spot-on today.  And on so many days.

Scott Walker: not ready for primetime

On paper, Scott Walker looks great.  Elected multiple times from the blue state of Wisconsin.  Definitely governs from the right, yet has a milquetoast personality, and not that of a culture warrior (despite being one).  Sounds perfect for winning the Republican nomination.  Yet, somehow, despite all that success it seems that he’s not actually all that good a politician.  The evidence keeps mounting.

Sure, when everything you say is public record, pretty much all politicians says stupid things, but there are degrees.  And Scott Walker on our China policy is almost Palin-esque in it’s stupidity.  Yglesias:

Walker calls on President Obama to cancel an upcoming state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping — as punishment for, among other things, the fact that Chinese GDP growth is slowing down. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s the full statement:

Americans are struggling to cope with the fall in today’s markets driven in part by China’s slowing economy and the fact that they actively manipulate their economy. Rather than honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping with an official state visit next month, President Obama should focus on holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine US interests.

Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit. There’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama in the US-China relationship.

In a nutshell, Walker’s three-step plan for fixing the US-China relationship seems to be:

  1. Cancel Xi’s state visit.
  2. Do unspecified “serious work.” Make sure not to hold any formal meetings with Chinese leaders, as that is not serious.
  3. China stops manipulating its currency, threatening its neighbors in the South China Sea, and persecuting dissidents. The Chinese stock market soars, and economic growth heats up. America wins.

Walker is trying to engage in a little Trump-style China bashing and show that, like any good neoconservative, he isn’t afraid of standing up to dictators. But his plan doesn’t make any sense, and leaves him looking a bit ridiculous. Powerful countries like China aren’t going to change their policies because an American president snubs them.


Jamelle Bouie had a nice piece recently, too, looking at the broader flailing of Walker’s campaign and how he seems to be being hurt by Trump:

As for Walker? Trump has him shook. On birthright citizenship, the Wisconsin governor has had three different answers. At the Iowa State Fair, he told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt that he wanted to curb the practice. “To me it’s about enforcing the laws in this country. And I’ve been very clear, I think you enforce the laws, and I think it’s important to send a message that we’re going to enforce the laws, no matter how people come here we’re going to enforce the laws in this country,” he said. The following Friday he told CNBC that he wouldn’t take a stance on the issue. And this past Sunday, he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he doesn’t want to repeal or alter the provision at all. It’s clear, at this point, that he just doesn’t know what to say…

But even without Trump, it’s not clear that Walker could sail the rocky waters of a presidential campaign. At the GOP debate, for instance, he gave an answer on abortion that—if he’s the nominee—could come back to haunt him…That dodge—and the implication, to some ears, that he would let the mother die—is fertile ground for any Democrat who wants to use it…

But right now Walker looks like he’s on the wane. He’s not quite Tim Pawlenty—the doomed Minnesota governor who quit the 2012 Republican primary after poor showings in polls and onstage—but he’s coming uncomfortably close.

Yep.  There’s an Invisible Primary going on right now and Walker is definitely not faring well.  Personally, I’ll take it because as a Democrat, Walker actually scares me.  I think he’s just as nuts as somebody like Cruz, but far more palatable to a general election electorate.  Also, I actually do think he is none too bright– a trait best avoided in presidents.


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