Quick hits (part I)

1) An infant’s cry is a hugely powerful signal not just for humans, but many other mammals.

2) In our zeal to convict based on DNA evidence, we’ve taken a great tool and pushed it to the point where we are railroading innocent people (like with so much else of the criminal justice system.  Ugh.

For three decades, forensic DNA evidence has been a valuable tool in criminal investigations, incriminating or exonerating suspects. Matching a defendant’s genetic material with a sample found on a weapon or at a crime scene has proved extremely persuasive with judges and juries.

But not all DNA evidence is equal. Sometimes it’s clear: blood or semen identifies a single person. If it’s just a few skin cells left on an object, or if it contains more than one person’s genetic material, it can be more ambiguous. In such situations, labs used to report that the results were inconclusive, or the defendant could not be excluded from the mix.

New types of DNA analysis have been introduced in recent years to interpret trace amounts or complex mixtures, spawning an industry of testing tools, chemical kits and software. As analysis has become more complex, the techniques and results are coming under fire nationwide.

In the past three years, flaws in DNA methods have temporarily shut down testing in public crime labs in Austin, Tex., and Washington. Lab analysts “make it seem like it’s a completely objective process,” said Bicka Barlow, a lawyer in California with a master’s degree in genetics and molecular biology. “But I’m 100 percent convinced that there are many people who are incarcerated who were convicted with DNA evidence who are innocent.”

3) Dave Leonhardt on the rich getting richer.  It’s a policy choice.

4) Trump giving us “the best people.”  USDA chief scientist, not actually a scientist.  Just a racist.

5) Just another day in American criminal justice.  Headline and subhead, “ICE Wrongly Imprisoned an American Citizen for 1,273 Days. Judges Say He’s Owed $0.
An ICE agent sent through—and his supervisors approved—mistaken paperwork ‘proving’ Davino Watson wasn’t a citizen. And no one’s been held to account for the catastrophic screw-up.”

A not so fun fact about what Donald Rumsfeld once called “known unknowns”: ICE doesn’t know or won’t say how many American citizens have been arrested and imprisoned by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. It’s illegal for ICE to imprison Americans, but so long as its agents don’t believe you are one, the burden is on you to prove it—without being entitled to a lawyer, since most deportation hearings are civil proceedings.

An NPR analysis this year found 693 citizens have been held in local jails on federal detainer requests since 2007 and 818 more have been imprisoned directly by ICE.

Even that’s just a fraction of the 3,600 American citizens a 2011 Berkeley study found were detained by ICE under the “secure communities” program started by President Bush, dramatically expanded and later suspended by President Obama, and now revived by President Trump, who’s threatening to withhold federal funds from localities that don’t sign up. Basically, the program crosschecks local and state fingerprints against federal immigration and criminal records, so that the feds can pick up “illegal immigrants” straight from jails or prisons when their term is up.

6) Really interesting political survey of wealthy Silicon Valley types.  Basically, they are very liberal except for hating regulation.  Farhad Manjoo with a nice summary.

7) North Carolina pastor and Robert E. Lee descendant rejected by his parishioners due to his support for Black Lives Matter.

8) Damn that motivated reasoning is strong stuff.  From some new research:

Ever-growing empirical evidence documents a gender bias against women and their research—and favoring men—in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Our research examined how receptive the scientific and public communities are to experimental evidence demonstrating this gender bias, which may contribute to women’s underrepresentation within STEM. Results from our three experiments, using general-public and university faculty samples, demonstrated that men evaluate the quality of research unveiling this bias as less meritorious than do women. These findings may inform and fuel self-correction efforts within STEM to reduce gender bias, bolster objectivity and diversity in STEM workforces, and enhance discovery, education, and achievement.

9) Really interesting article about the ketogenic diet (super high in fat; zero carb).  We looked into this for Alex’s epilepsy way back when, but fortunately never had to go down that road.

10) Love this– “no, your ancestors didn’t come here legally.”

Prior to 1875’s Page Act and 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, there were no national immigration laws. None. There were laws related to naturalization and citizenship, to how vessels reported their passengers, to banning the slave trade. Once New York’s Castle Garden Immigration Station opened in 1855, arrivals there reported names and origins before entering the U.S. But for all pre-1875 immigrants, no laws applied to their arrival. They weren’t legal or illegal; they were just immigrants. [emphasis mine]

11) Totally with Drum on this one– racism is not the explanation for everything Republicans do.  And to make everything we don’t like be about racism is to diminish the actual impact of racism (also, a reminder that I’ve never been a fan of Amanda Marcotte).

12) Coolest animated gif (soft-g, damnit!) ever?  What increasing hurricane winds do.

13) Max Boot has about had it with Trump’s America.

14) Damn– Lindy West on Ivanka is so good:

Ivanka Trump, first daughter, strode into Washington back in January with big promises: She was passionate about helping “working women,” she said, and she was going to close the gender wage gap even if it killed her.

Well, not if it killed her, not literally, but even if it mildly inconvenienced her, she was on it 110 percent, for the women. Well, not if it mildly inconvenienced her, she’s very busy, but definitely if there was a wage transparency policy already in place, she would not openly and glowingly support overturning it.

Well, unless her dad wanted to overturn it because doing so satisfied two of his top 10 vindictive fixations (constraining women’s independence and destroying the legacy of America’s first black president), but Ms. Trump would absolutely offer a better replacement solution, such as saying the words “child care credit” and “female entrepreneurs” repeatedly near a camera while wearing a blush-pink toggle coat. That, ladies, is the Ivanka Guarantee. Enjoy your money!

Ms. Trump’s self-professed commitment to corporate gender parity (about as milquetoast as feminism gets, but in Trump’s America, radicalism is relative) was trotted out incessantly during the campaign, especially as an antidote to her father’s self-professed commitment to nonconsensually sticking his hands on women’s genitals…

You’d think that a passionate anti-wage-gap crusader like Ms. Trump would relish a broad, ever-expanding data set illuminating her pet issue so that she could go after it with laser focus, but no. She is even more devoted than that. She hates the gender wage gap so much, she can’t even stand to know anything about it. Some heroes wear capelets.

15) Florida’s lessons learned from Hurricane Andrew.  And looks like these lessons will be put to the test.

16) This is pretty cool– how Apple is making Siri sound more human.

17) We’ve got a shortage of bus drivers in Wake County.  For some reason, the Kingswood Orange route consistently bears the brunt of it.  So far this year, my daughter’s bus typically does not leave the school until 45 minutes after school is actually over.  Ugh.  At least, the county just hit upon the solution to a labor shortage– raise wages.  Hmmm, maybe somebody should have thought of that sooner.

18) Chait on Trump, the American oligarchy, and regulatory capture.  It’s really horrible and depressing, but just so buried under the avalanche of wrongness that is the Trump presidency.

 

Some of the most astonishing regulatory capture is under way at the Department of Education. The appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provoked frenzied opposition, on the basis of her lack of experience and ideological fascination with vouchers. But the focus on DeVos’s beliefs about primary education was always misplaced, for the simple reason that primary education is financed overwhelmingly at the state and local level, so DeVos could not ruin public schools even if she tried.

Where DeVos has had a massive impact is in higher education. The federal government has much higher leverage over post-secondary education due to its involvement with student loans. These loans have often subsidized for-profit colleges, which lure customers using federally backed student loans, and furnish them with substandard or useless education. The Obama administration began cracking down on the for-profit industry in a variety of ways: imposing standards and conditions for its loans, rather than spraying them out indiscriminately to whichever college could vacuum them up. DeVos has turned her department over to the for-profit college industry, which has used its power to protect its own rackets.

19) Really enjoyed this essay on the growth of plot-driven TV comedy and how it shapes the nature of shows.  A lot of good points about Veep.

 

 

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Quick hits (part II)

Sorry for the delay.  Very busy, very fun weekend.

1) More Arpaio Mark Joseph Stern on Arpaio and Trump’s white nationalism:

Considering the president’s praise of Arpaio, and promise to consider a pardon for the ex-sheriff, Monday’s overdue, undercooked rebuke of racial animus registers as even more risibly insincere. During his 24-year tenure as sheriff, Arpaio proudly strove to implement white nationalism through a brutal assault on Maricopa County’s Latino population. His barbaric tactics included extreme racial profiling and sadistic punishments that involved the torture, humiliation, and degradation of Latino inmates. Courts repeatedly found that Arpaio violated the United States Constitution, but the sheriff often ignored their efforts to rein him in. There are few more potent symbols of mainstream white nationalism than Arpaio. Taken together with Tuesday’s unhinged press conference, Trump’s praise of Arpaio proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the president has made common cause with white nationalists.

2) I enjoyed this local column, “The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.”

3) Pete Wehner on Trump, our “child-king.”

4) Sessions and the resurgence of civil asset forfeiture.  Not much worse than this.  Except maybe pardoning racists who show contempt for the Constitution.

5) A $1 price increase in a pack of cigarettes leads to a 20% increase in quitting.  Clearly, time to raise cigarette prices even more.

6) Really enjoyed this piece on the downside of using modern technology (Powerschool, in our case), to keep constant check on your kids’ grades.  I went through a phase with this, but it just wasn’t worth it and my son needed (needs?!) to learn to take responsibility for his own grades.

7) Margaret Talbot on Arpaio:

But Trump probably also likes Arpaio because the former sheriff represents in miniature what the President would like to be more maximally—a successful American authoritarian. Earlier this month, in a conversation with Fox News, Trump called Arpaio “an outstanding sheriff” and “a great American patriot.” It’s worth considering what it takes, in Trump’s view, to deserve such tributes. Arpaio, who served as the sheriff of Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix, from 1993 until he was voted out of office, in 2016, has a long-standing reputation for flouting civil rights, particularly those of Latinos.

In 2011, an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Divisionfound that Arpaio’s sheriff’s department engaged in egregious racial profiling in its traffic stops and discrimination in its jailing practices. In Maricopa County, Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than “similarly situated non-Latino drivers,” and about a fifth of traffic stops, most of which involved Latino drivers, violated Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable seizures. Sheriff’s department officers punished Latino inmates who had difficulty understanding orders in English by locking down their pods, putting them in solitary confinement, and refusing to replace their soiled sheets and clothes. The investigation found that sheriff’s department officers addressed Latino inmates as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.”

Arpaio, throughout his tenure, specialized in meting out theatrical punishments both petty and cruel.

8) Latest research suggests that it is healthier to frontload your calories earlier in the day.  Of course, not long ago I read research that suggested breakfast had no special value relative to other meals.  When I have been dieting and calorie counting, I actually found one of the easiest ways to cut calories was to downsize breakfast.  Sated in the morning with a greek yogurt and no hungrier by lunchtime than with a larger cereal and fruit breakfast.

9) Interesting essay on how our modern culture has basically ruined mindfulness.  A lot of good points, but our modern culture kind of ruins everything, but the basic mindfulness stuff– if correctly understood– still works and still has (modest) empirical support behind it.  I’ve been doing it for almost exactly one year and love it with no plans to stop.  But I’m under no illusions that it has transformed my life and is the secret to everything.  I think Dan Harris’ modest idea of 10% Happier is about right (I think I’m at about 12-13%).

10) Now, this is a fascinating prospect, “Pacific Islanders Appear to Be Carrying The DNA of an Unknown Human Species.”  Somehow, just learned about this November 2016 news.

11) Love this NPR story on how snobbery ruined (took the spice out of) European cooking.  This just rings so true.

Back in the Middle Ages, spices were really expensive, which meant that only the upper class could afford them. But things started to change as Europeans began colonizing parts of India and the Americas.

“Spices begin to pour into Europe,” explains Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. “What used to be expensive and exclusive became common.”

Serving richly spiced stews was no longer a status symbol for Europe’s wealthiest families — even the middle classes could afford to spice up their grub. “So the elite recoiled from the increasing popularity of spices,” Ray says. “They moved on to an aesthetic theory of taste. Rather than infusing food with spice, they said things should taste like themselves. Meat should taste like meat, and anything you add only serves to intensify the existing flavors.”

12) As James Fallows puts it, “The Republican Party Is Enabling an Increasingly Dangerous Demagogue.”  Why yes, yes they are.

13) NPR on the Bernie Sanders voters who voted for Trump.

14) Vox did a whole big article on what a great song Despacito is.  Actually, it’s not.  The tune just really isn’t all that catchy (and I love a catchy tune as much as the next guy).  Drum agrees.

15) John Warner says we already know how to teach writing.

I think I[3] can generate a list of statements regarding the teaching of writing that the vast majority of those in the rhetoric-composition and writing instruction field will agree with:

  1. The more reading and writing we do, the better.
  2. Writing is best taught as a recursive process which includes (but isn’t necessarily limited to) pre-writing, drafting, revision and editing.[4]
  3. Writing should engage with the rhetorical situation: message, audience, purpose and genre.
  4. Reflection and metacognition are key ingredients to developing as a writer.
  5. Isolated exercises in grammar and mechanics that don’t engage with the students’ own writing are not helpful.
  6. Sentence diagramming is not an important skill for good writing.
  7. Peer response and collaboration are useful tools in helping developing writers
  8. Writers write best when engaging with subjects they are both interested in and knowledgeable about

16) Terrific Alec MacGillis Pro Publica article on HUD under Ben Carson.  Short version: it’s not good.

17) I really don’t think people should actually lose their jobs for making fairly innocuous “dongle” jokes.  Of course, this whole damn think spiraled way out of control.  Enough with on-line public shaming.

18) Of course Trump supporters know that it is white Christians in America who are the real victims of discrimination.

19) Ezra with an interesting interview of a DLC guy that is all for ideological flexibility in exchange for actually winning elections.  Count me in for that.

20) Even recent crazy events always seem so long ago in the world of Trump.  Charles Pierce’s blistering take on Trump supporters in the wake of his Arizona speech:

Before we get to the other stuff, and there was lots of other stuff, I’d like to address myself to those people represented by the parenthetical notation (Applause) in the above transcript, those people who waited for hours in 105-degree heat so that they could have the G-spot of their irrationality properly stroked for them. You’re all suckers. You’re dim and you’re ignorant and you can’t even feel yourself sliding toward something that will surprise even you with its fundamental ugliness, something that everybody who can see past the veil of their emotions can see as plain as a church by daylight, to borrow a phrase from that Willie Shakespeare fella. The problem, of course, is that you, in your pathetic desire to be loved by a guy who wouldn’t have 15 seconds for you on the street, are dragging the rest of us toward that end, too…

A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you, and you cheered and booed right on cue because you’re sheep and because he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three decades. Especially, I guess, people like me who practice the craft of journalism in a country that honors that craft in its most essential founding documents. The President of the United States came right up to the edge of inciting you to riot and you rode along with him. You’re on his team, by god…

I have no more patience, and I had very little to start with. I don’t care why you’re anxious. I don’t care for anybody’s interpretation of why you voted for this abomination of a politician, and why you cheer him now, because any explanation not rooted in the nastier bits of basic human spleen is worthless. I don’t want any politicians who seek to appeal to the more benign manifestations of your condition because there’s no way to separate those from all the rest of the hate and fear and stupidity. (And, for my colleagues in the Vance-Arnade-Zito school of Trump Whispering, here’s a hint: They hate you, too.) I don’t care why you sat out in a roasting pan since 5 a.m. Tuesday morning to whistle and cheer and stomp your feet for a scared, dangerous little man who tells you that your every bloody fantasy about your enemies is the height of patriotism. You are now the declared adversaries of what I do for a living, and your idol is a danger to the country and so are you. Own it. Deal with it. And, for the love of god, and for the sake of the rest of us who live in this country, do better at being citizens.

Damn!  And right-on!

Quick hits (part II)

1) Alas, as important as good writing is, there’s simply no agreed-upon best way to teach writing.  And damn do we need to do a better job teaching it.  Great Dana Goldstein article on the matter and lots of good comments, too.  Personally, the “musical” approach appeals to me,

A musical notion of writing — the hope that the ear can be trained to “hear” errors and imitate quality prose — has developed as a popular alternative among English teachers. But what about those students, typically low income, with few books at home, who struggle to move from reading a gorgeous sentence to knowing how to write one? Could there be a better, less soul-crushing way to enforce the basics?

I often wonder, how can a student write that sentence and possibly think it sounds okay.  And, I’ve got to think, that at some level, lots of reading leads to better writing.

2) An NYT feature asks, “Opioid Users Are Filling Jails. Why Don’t Jails Treat Them?”  I know, I know!  Because this is America and we are hopelessly backward and ignorant when it comes to dealing sensibly with drugs.

3) “Autonomous ambiguity” is becoming a real problem for sort-of self-driving cars.

4) The best running stride?  The one your body naturally defaults to.

5) Nice Douthat column on the GOP’s empty majority:

The same feckless G.O.P. that exists in a constant state of low-grade civil war controls not only Congress and the White House, but most statehouses and state legislatures as well. All of the contemporary Republican Party’s critics — left-wing and centrist and conservative — keep saying that the G.O.P. is broken and adrift, and years of government shutdowns and Obamacare debacles and everything about the Trump era keep proving us correct.

Yet Republican power endures, and while it’s politically vulnerable, there’s no reason to be sure it can’t survive the 2018 midterms and indeed the entire reign of Donald Trump.

This strange endurance is a central fact of our present politics. We have an empty majority, a party that can rule but cannot govern. And whether you’re a conservative who wants to reform the G.O.P. or a liberal who wants to crush it, you need to wrestle with why Republicans keep getting returned to office even though it’s clear that debacles like what we’ve been watching on health care are what they’re likely to produce.

6) On the history and wrongness of the phrase “government schools.”

7) Don’t know much about Rob Bell, but I find his hell-free version of Evangelical Christianity far more compelling than the regular one.

8) And, as long as we’re on conservative Christians, loved this:

In record numbers, the American Church is consistently and surely making Atheists—or at the very least it is making former Christians; people who no longer consider organized religion an option because the Jesus they recognize is absent. With its sky-is-falling hand-wringing, its political bed-making, and its constant venom toward diversity, it is giving people no alternative but to conclude, that based on the evidence of people professing to be Godly—that God is of little use. In fact, this God may be toxic.

And that’s the irony of it all; that the very Evangelicals who’ve spent that last 50 years in this country demonizing those who reject Jesus—are the single most compelling reason for them to do so. They are giving people who suspect that all Christians are self-righteous, hateful hypocrites, all the evidence they need. The Church is confirming the outside world’s most dire suspicions about itself.

 

9) Of course Republicans cut legal aid to poor people in NC.  The headline says, “North Carolina legal aid gets cut again, it’s unclear why.”  My friend who shared the article rightly answered, of course it’s clear– they hate poor people.  Hard to disagree.

10) Headline says it all, “U.S. Citizen Who Was Held By ICE For 3 Years Denied Compensation By Appeals Court.”  This country of ours just disgusts me some times.

11) Oh, and speaking of which, it is so frustrating that we so rarely hold prosecutors responsible for their misconduct.  Excellent NYT Magazine feature from Emily Bazelon.

12) Radlley Balko on Trump, Policing, and the teenage brain:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that the [Boy Scout] speech couldn’t have been inappropriate because all the Boy Scouts seemed to be cheering. As if teen boys only cheer at appropriate things.

But it makes sense that Trump would find such an enthusiastic audience at the jamboree. Teen brains are both raging with hormones and still developing the tools vitally important for negotiating the adult world, such as impulse control, risk assessment and being able to ponder what might happen more than 20 minutes into the future. Teens are more likely than adults to act first to preserve ego, without thinking through the repercussions of those actions. This is why teens tend to lash out emotionally, say and do dumb things on the Internet and are generally more prone to make bad decisions, from sex to driving to drug use.

Trump also has problems with impulse control. He, too, writes dumb things on the Internet and often says (and tweets things) he later regrets (or at least ought to). Like a teenage boy, Trump is obsessed with who his friends are and who they aren’t. He’s obsessed with image. Like a teen, Trump is narcissistic and can’t help but let his ego get in the way of his goals. If it weren’t for that ego, his travel ban probably would have been implemented months ago. Finally, Trump certainly has a teen boy’s attitude toward women — there’s his obsession with the “hot wife” as a status symbol, his creepy comments about young girls, his boasts about sleeping with the significant others of his critics, and of course, the notorious “grab them by the p–––y” remark.

13) It really is something to see it laid bare how Jared Kushner’s dad really-and-truly bought his way into Harvard.

14) We actually pretty much have the answers on how to stop the epidemic of deadly opioid overdoses.  The question is, do we have the political will to implement the necessary measures (I’m betting on “no”).

15) You know you can’t wait to see a new batch of topless Putin photos.

16) Lynn Vavreck on the great divide in political identity.

Within the Republican Party, however, differences emerged with respect to the importance of European ancestry. Only 9 percent of G.O.P. primary voters who reported supporting John Kasich (when asked in a July 2016 wave of the survey) thought European background was important to being an American, while 16 percent of Ted Cruz’s supporters, 22 percent of Marco Rubio’s supporters and 30 percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters thought so.

Across all primary candidates in both parties, Mr. Trump’s backers stand out on this issue.

17) On a short vacation and doing some movie watching with my son, David.  Re-watched “The Prestige” for the first time since it was new.  Really enjoyed it again.  I do love that Jonathan and Christopher Nolan screenwriting tandem.  Also gave David his first exposure to Ferris Bueller.  Still enjoyed it (especially all the places I recognized in Chicago), but, damn, that Bueller really is a selfish ass.

18) Really, really enjoyed this NYT feature on how Weight Watchers has tried to reinvent itself (with the help of Oprah) in the contemporary anti-dieting age.

Quick Hits (part I)

1) Bias for and against ugliness:

But it also appears that voters on the right tend to identify attractiveness with conservative views, and, when there’s little other information to go on, beauty plays a bigger role in their voting choices than it does for liberals.

Democrats might still find solace in the ugliness premium. Lenz summarized the situation in terms that Darwin might have appreciated. “There are such strong selection pressures for attractiveness,” he said. “My guess is that, in jobs where there’s a premium on looking good, if you see a funny-looking person there, they’ve got to be amazingly talented, because it’s the only way they could have gotten where they are. Henry Waxman”—who, he added, was highly regarded for his commitment and work ethic—“is a good example of that.”

2) Unsurprisingly, Trump is basically a lying con-man at golf, just like everything else.

3) I don’t think I’ve ever read an NYT piece (an Op-Ed against colleges weakening Title IX enforcement on sexual assault) where the comments have been so much better than the Op-Ed (short version– the key is not the standard of proof, but due process, which is pretty much ignored in the Op-Ed).

4) More reason to love Pope Francis as the Vatican tells conservative American Catholics to get over the culture war and actually care about the stuff Jesus did.

5) In a world of too many shelter dogs and not enough space, it makes sense that shelters would test dogs for aggressiveness, etc., before deciding who gets euthanized.  Alas, turns out those tests may not have any predictive validity.  Also, why do so many horrible humans basically just abandon their dogs.  So frustrating.

6) Back in the day, people would leave struggling communities to go to where the jobs are.  Now, it seems, they much prefer to stay in the struggling communities, blame Blacks and immigrants for their problems, and expect Donald Trump to make America great again.  This was a really interesting WSJ piece on this problem, but I don’t feel like it really gave a convincing explanation for why geographic mobility has declined so much.  Cities have always been vastly culturally different from rural areas.

7) If they actually taste reasonably like potato chips, I will happily eat jellyfish chips.  I think.

8) Of course Donald Trump is likely guilty of tax fraud in selling real estate to his son.  In a regular presidency, people would actually care.

9) Paul Waldman on Trump’s empty threats:

This all adds up to a president who is incredibly frustrated that no one is doing what he wants, yet has no idea how to change the situation because he still doesn’t understand Washington. In the business world, Trump utilized threats often, especially threats to sue people. Given that Trump is one of the most litigious people on the planet (he has sued other people more than 2,000 times, according to one count), this was a threat you might be scared by — particularly if you were someone with less money and influence than him. But when he made the same threat to those with a comparable level of resources, it wasn’t so frightening. Remember when he threatened in October to sue the New York Times because it reported that multiple women were accusing him of unwanted sexual advances? The paper was not afraid and didn’t change how it reported on him, and the suit never materialized.

When he was only a businessman, things were straightforward and easy for Trump to understand: He can intimidate little guys, but not big guys. But power in Washington is much more complicated. Power is diffuse, spread across many individuals and institutions. And it changes as circumstances change.

10) Damn, Jennifer Rubin is pretty much done with the Republican Party.

11) From what little I heard, I thought the #noconfederate movement was pretty asinine.  Now that I’ve read an interview with it’s instigator, I’m even more convinced of that.  Loved Mike Pesca’s take in a recent spiel.  Came across TNC’s take after originally queuing this post.  It’s good, but I still think dramatically overstates the case against.

12) Charles Krauthammer with a surprisingly good column on how the guardrails of democracy are doing a good job holding up against Trump of late (among the more amazing features of Trump– how often he has led me to agree with Krauthammer).

13) I really like Julia Galef’s idea of a surprise journal:

Galef set out on a personal quest to identify her wrong assumptions. The outcome: the Surprise Journal. She keeps this journal with her at all times, writing down when something surprises her and why. For example, she noticed she was surprised that both older and younger people were attending her workshops, because she assumed people would self-segregate by age. She was surprised that her students would mention a concept from one of her colleague’s classes, because she didn’t expect that idea to be very memorable. “I started thinking about surprise as a cue that my expectations were wrong,” she says.

14) Apparently McMaster is cleaning house at the National Security Council.  That’s good news for America’s security.

15) Chait on Trump’s conversation with the Australian PM is so good.  Title captures it, “Australia’s Prime Minister Slowly Realizes Trump Is a Complete Idiot.”

16) Well, this is somewhat disturbing… intelligent people are more likely to stereotype.

17) Jack Shafer’s take on Fox News and Trump was so good.  Definitely read all of this one:

That Fox has ended up gulling a president is a programming accident. When the late Roger Ailes conceived Fox News two decades ago, he hoped to create shows that attracted—is there a polite way to put this?—an older demographic that seeks news that reinforces its prejudices and rarely challenges them. And he succeeded. It was only by chance that Ailes ended up creating a network that appealed to this particular flighty, low-attention-span 71-year-old.

The Ailes demographic wants to be told that the world is going to hell, a message that harmonizes with the declining status and health many of them experience. The Ailes demographic wants simple and reductionist viewpoints on America’s cultural and policy dilemmas—from crime to immigration to taxes to war and trade. The Ailes demographic seeks the restoration of the social mores it remembers from its youth, and if the past can’t be restored, it wants modern mores castigated. And it wants to be frightened and outraged. Fox almost never disappoints them.

It was the network’s dumb luck that Trump aged into its core audience as he reached the White House. Like so many of his fellow senior citizens, Trump now spends his golden years huddled at the Fox hearth, shouting amen as it voices his resentments and disappointments. Only the hearth is in the White House. As news, real and not, travels from Fox’s lips to Trump’s tweets, we have the chance to see media history in the making. Presidents have, from time to time, courted publications to advance a White House agenda or steered the news by feeding tips to columnists and reporters, but never before has a president so consistently echoed an outlet’s message.

18) Thanks to BF for sharing this about expected Solar Eclipse day traffic jams.  Maybe I should just go to SC the night before.  I tried out my solar eclipse viewing glasses on the sun the other day– so cool.

19) Really interesting philosophical take on anti-free speech campus lefitsts:

The identity politics that thrives on today’s college campuses continues to use the language of sin adopted more broadly by the cultural left of the ’60s. Students are taking on urgent issues like women’s rights, racial profiling and police brutality, climate change, and economic inequality. And while they spend a lot of their time refining politically correct forms of speech, these can be helpful learning tools, especially for young people making their way into society. When their approach becomes judgmental and unyielding, however, it backfires, leaving activists vulnerable to apathy, infighting, and ineffectiveness.

Among other things, their focus on sinfulness turns politically useful activism into useless performance. On college campuses, for example, candid and necessary discussions about race among well-meaning students can degenerate into something less productive, according to McWhorter. “For white people, it is a great way to show that you understand racism is real,” McWhorter said last month. “For black people and Latino people, it is a great way to assuage how bad a self-image a race can have after hundreds of years of torture.” In this way, activism becomes more about an insider conversation and competition, and less about effecting change. “White privilege is real,” McWhorter said. “The issue is that it shouldn’t be used as something to shut down conversation, to inculcate unreligious people with a new sense of original sin.”

20) Enjoyed this NYT on back-to-school Tech you need and don’t need for college students, but was taken aback by, “You probably don’t need a printer, either. Few professors request hard copies of term papers and other assignments anymore.”  Seriously?!  Am I actually an outlier dinosaur by requiring hardcopies?  Not as far as I can tell.

21) Ryan Lizza thinks Kelly may actually be able to reign in Trump.  We’ll see.

22) Frum makes an interesting case that, yes, it really was a failure of Trump’s leadership that Republicans could do nothing about health care:

The Republican Party had marched itself into a hopeless dead-end on health care. The party had promised not only to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but to replace it with something that would offer better coverage at a lower price—while also spending less public money and cutting the taxes that financed the whole thing. This was clearly impossible. Yet nobody dared say what everybody knew.

Only presidential leadership could have marched the party back out of this cul-de-sac. Theoretically, Donald Trump could have been the president to do so too. Of all the 2016 candidates, he had been the least beholden to outdated party ideology. He owed little or nothing to the interest groups that four years previous had compelled Mitt Romney to disavow his own health-care plan in Massachusetts. He was perfectly positioned to tell his own party: 2012 was the repeal election. We lost. Now it’s time to try something new. [emphasis in original]

Rescuing a party from unworkable commitments is a job only a presidential nominee can do.

It was Dwight Eisenhower’s nomination in 1952 that finished off Republican opposition to a permanent NATO commitment.

John F. Kennedy’s nomination served notice that the Democrats would end their long equivocation between pro- and anti-civil-rights wings.

Ronald Reagan put an end to the GOP’s long ambivalence about Social Security; Bill Clinton in 1992 reinvented the Democrats as a party that accepted limits to the growth of government.

It could have been Trump who likewise rescued the GOP from the excesses of Tea Party Republicanism.

23) NYT on Hollywood dialect coaches.

24) Here’s how you actually fix Obamacare if you want to– it’s not that complicated.  And Drum with the short version.

25) Recently came across this column of Paul Waldman from last year on Ben Sasse and the totally disingenous appeals to the wisdom of the common man.  It’s so good.  Just read it.

Now Ben Sasse isn’t an idiot — in fact, he’s an extremely smart guy. He went to Harvard and got a Ph.D. at Yale. He served in George W. Bush’s administration and was a university president at a young age. He understands how government works. But he’s playing a game here, one that says that you don’t need to actually understand anything about policy, that the “adult” response to the current political situation is a formless grunt of displeasure. That’s the worst kind of pandering, to tell people that their own ignorance and refusal to confront real choices is actually the soul of wisdom.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Marshall Report on how fake cops got millions of dollars worth in real weapons.

2) From out of nowhere, Yasha Mounk has become indispensable reading this year.  He argues that we’re heading for a constitutional crisis:

n short, just how bitter things will get now depends, as it has for the past months, on two simple questions: Will an overwhelming majority of Americans finally turn against Trump? And will Republican senators and congressmen finally start to put country above party? The answer to both is far from clear.

If moderate Republicans finally move to indict Trump, it may, in retrospect, come to seem inevitable that they would eventually find the courage of their convictions. But if they continue to give the president cover by expressing moderate hesitation while aiding and abetting his assault on the American Constitution, that too would, with the benefit of hindsight, come to seem inevitable.

3) Really love this idea that diets are actually a placebo.  That said, if you find a system of eating that gets you to consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.

4) Vox with the best article I’ve yet read on this year’s solar eclipse.  Easily the best explanation of exactly what’s going on and why it’s so rare.  My plan is to hope for a clear day and simply hop on I-95 South until I get into the zone of totality about 2:30 from here in South Carolina.

5) Mexico City as a case study for how limiting parking space regulations can be key for the health of a city.  Seriously.

6) As you know, I’m all for legalized marijuana.  That said, I don’t think that should make us oblivious to what might be some real downsides (though not even close to the downsides of the war on drugs approach).  Very interesting study in the Netherlands found a real negative impact on college student performance.

7) I was on a panel with Steven Rogers discussing his research on state legislatures at the MPSA conference this past spring.   Rogers basically finds that state legislators are virtually unaccountable for unpopular votes.  Ain’t democracy great?!

8) James Poniewozik argues for skipping the beginning of TV series that took a while to get going.  Probably really good advice when it comes to Parks and Rec.  I loved Bojack Horseman from the beginning.

9) Here’s an interesting idea, “Accepting your darkest emotions is the key to psychological health.”

According to their analyses, the magic of acceptance is in its blunting effect on emotional reactions to stressful events. It’s that mechanism that can, over time, lead to positive psychological health, including higher levels of life satisfaction. In other words, accepting dark emotions like anxiety or rage, won’t bring you down or amplify the emotional experience. Nor will it make you “happy”—at least not directly.

“You always interpret null effects very cautiously,” Ford says, “but to us, it appears that acceptance uniquely affects negative emotions, and isn’t interfering with positive emotions.”

What’s more, acceptance seems to be linked to better mental health when it’s used in response to negative emotions, not positive ones, she adds, so this is not about living in the world with a “broadly detached attitude.” No need to play it too cool.

This totally makes sense to me.  I’m a very happy person.  But, I also really like to complain, whine about stupid drivers in traffic, etc.  When people comment about all my whining I’ve said that I feel better because I just get it out.  Turns out, I was basically right.

10) NPR on Trump’s Boy Scout speech:

This wasn’t the first time he has talked about politics in a setting where that could be seen as inappropriate. Remember that speech in front of the CIA memorial wallin which he asserted that most of the people in the room probably voted for him?

It won’t be the last time, either.

This president couldn’t care less about political and societal norms. But let’s be very clear — none of this is normal. Trump has been publicly shaming his attorney general, mocking special counsel and congressional investigations, and confirming the existence of what was previously a covert CIA program — and that was all just Tuesday, and he did it on Twitter.

Trump has no filter. It’s giving Americans a window into his mind, but there is a thin line between openness and recklessness.

11) Excellent Ross Douthat column on just how awful Trump is on wanting to fire Sessions and how he literally should not be president.

12) Found this Atlantic piece on the nature of the burqini and society to be really fascinating:

As The Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada recently noted in an article quoting Samuel Huntington, the fundamental question facing Western democracies today isn’t “which side are you on,” but rather “who are we?” The burqini and what it represents—Muslims expressing religiously conservative preferences—challenges certain Western conceptions of national identity, particularly in staunchly secular contexts like, say, France, where wearing the headscarf in public schools is prohibited by a law passed in 2004. I find this to be a flagrant violation of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but a majority of French voters, as expressed through their representatives, disagree with me. France, unlike the United States, has an ideological orientation based around an aggressive, even radical, secularism. Is it not the right of French citizens, collectively as well as individually, to express that national identity, however much I (or any other American) disagrees with it?

13) Really good NYT Magazine piece on how Hollywood is trying to turn every existing intellectual property into movies– yes, even Fruit Ninja— rather than coming up with original scripts.

 

14) Loved this Atlas Obscura piece on how to use nature find your way– especially the one about the crescent moon.

15) Just to be really, really clear– you should not force quit apps on your IOS device unless they have crashed.

16) Lee Drutman on the divisions among Democrats:

But I did find one area of notable discord between Clinton and Sanders supporters — their degree of disaffection with political institutions. Support for the political system correlated with positive feelings toward Mrs. Clinton, while voters who felt negatively toward the political system tended to feel positively toward Mr. Sanders.

Most members of the Democratic Party establishment are pragmatists who made it where they are by working within the system that exists, not the one they wish existed. They often have frustration bordering on contempt for those who lack their hardheaded realism.

Yep.  Proudly pragmatic and Clinton supporter.

17) Really wanted to write more about the stupid, stupid transgender ban.  Did very much enjoy Saideman’s take looking at this as a Principal-Agent problem.

18) Loved this Post “this is not okay” editorial.  Damn straight it’s not:

WHEN PRESIDENT TRUMP attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a tweet Tuesday for not aggressively investigating Hillary Clinton, most attention focused, understandably, on the implications for Mr. Sessions. Yet even more alarming than the president’s assault on his own attorney general is Mr. Trump’s return to the “lock her up” theme of his 2016 campaign. We need to recall, once again, what it means to live under the rule of law. Since his inauguration six months ago, so many comparisons have been made to “banana republics” that it is almost unfair to bananas. But there is a serious point to be made about the difference between the United States of America and a state ruled by personal whim.

In a rule-of-law state, government’s awesome powers to police, prosecute and imprison are wielded impartially, with restraint and according to clearly defined rules. These rules apply equally to rich and poor, powerful and weak, ruling party and opposition. In such states, individuals advance on the basis of their talent and initiative, not whom they know. Companies invest where they think the returns will be highest, not to please those in power. The result is that, over time, rule-of-law states prosper. Banana republics do not…

To list those basic expectations is to understand how low Mr. Trump is bringing his office. Just in the past few days, he urged Navy men and women to call Congress on behalf of his political goals and turned the National Scout Jamboree into an unseemly political rally, calling the nation’s politics a “cesspool” and a “sewer” and disparaging his predecessor and the media. Routinely he trades in untruths, even after they have been exposed and disproved. He has launched an unprecedented rhetorical assault on the independence of the Justice Department, the FBI and the special counsel’s office — and now he is again threatening his defeated 2016 opponent.

19) Or, as EJ Dionne puts it, “The norms of government are collapsing before our eyes.”  Of course, you can thank spineless Republicans, as well as Trump, for that.

20) Political Scientists ask, “Did Evangelicals Hold Their Noses and Vote for Trump?”  The answer is a decided, no, they did it as willingly as anybody else.  Once again proving their love for Jesus does not seem to extend to anything Jesus actually preached.

21) I’m undecided on whether I’ll read Alexandra Fuller’s new novel about Native Americans.  It sounds really good, though.  Mostly, I just find it sad that half the review needs to be about whether the book is “cultural appropriation.” Damn do I hate that.  Might as well not have female authors try to imagine the interior lives of male characters and vice versa.  Ugh.

22) Paul Waldman unloads, “This is what you get when you elect Republicans”

This has been quite a week in Washington, a week full of terror, intrigue, suspense, backstabbing and outright chaos. While we might not have been able to predict the particular contours of the catastrophe that complete GOP rule has been, we should have known it would turn out something like this.

Guess what, America: This is what you get when you elect Republicans.

It goes much further than their repugnant and disastrous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but all the contemporary GOP’s pathologies could be seen there: their outright malice toward ordinary people, their indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens, their blazing incompetence, their contempt for democratic norms, their shameless hypocrisy, their gleeful ignorance about policy, their utter dishonesty and bad faith, their pure cynicism, and their complete inability to perform anything that resembles governing. It was the perfect Republican spectacle…

The devolution from that Republican Party to the one we see today took a couple of decades and had many sources, but its fullest expression was reached with the lifting up of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this contemptible buffoon who may have been literally the single worst prominent American they could have chosen to be their standard-bearer. I mean that seriously. Can you think of a single person who might have run for president who is more ignorant, more impulsive, more vindictive and more generally dangerous than Donald Trump? And yet they rallied around him with near-unanimity, a worried shake of the head to his endless stream of atrocious statements and actions the strongest dissent most of them could muster.

23) Love this Wired story, your brain is your memories.

24) Really  enjoyed this blog post on how different news organizations decided to cover Scaramucci’s profanity.  Was totally surprised the NYT just went with the direct quotes.

25) I can’t believe Apple has discontinued making Ipods.  Is there not a place left for a portable music player that’s much smaller and convenient for exercise than a phone?  I swear by my tiny Ipod Nano 6th generation which goes on every workout with me (I’m on my 3rd or 4th).

Quick hits

1) Excellent piece from Dahlia Lithwick— the lawyers and judges are not going to save us:

The Framers erected an edifice of law intended to constrain power, and the president believes that framework is made of spun sugar and cobwebs. The United States is a nation built upon, as John Adams told us, “a government of laws and not of men.” The Trump administration adheres to no law, and whatever men or women keep faith with the law rather than him are discredited as biased against the president. This only goes one way: Norms are for losers, and laws are for poor people. And now Trump has his dream team of mob lawyers and mad dogs hard at work proving that the only lawyer without a disabling conflict of interest is the one pledging fealty to him.

Don’t expect congressional Republicans to squawk. They will fight for the rule of law and the norms of good governance at precisely the moment when their jobs are on the line. The promise of a raft of newly minted blogger-judges and tax cuts will always win out over fealty to the Constitution. [emphasis mine] This is a problem that requires our focused long-term attention to money in politics, partisan gerrymandering, and voter suppression. And this is, in the end, a problem only because Americans—myself included—are prey to a form of magical thinking about law and the Constitution. The Framers believed the law would fix it, and that makes it easy to hope that the lawyers will fix it. The lawyers became the wizards, and the Constitution became a book of spells, and the best thing a citizen could hope to do is make a donation to a group of lawyers who could perform the right incantations, fondle the correct talisman, and save democracy.

2) I was trying to explain to my kids the other day about a horse-sized duck vs 100 duck-sized horses.  Found this nice Atlantic piece investigating the origins.

3) Really enjoyed the NYT story on the radically different approaches to Catholicism of the bishops of NYC and Newark, NJ.  I’ll definitely take the latter.

4) Among other things, nepotism is just bad business.  What is the chance that your offspring is actually the best person to run the company, etc.  Tales from Trump Inc.

5) Jeff Sessions pretty much never ceases to amaze me with his awfulness.  One of the absolute worst policies in America is civil forfeiture.  Of course, Sessions wants to expand it.

6) What’s most concerning about this health care take is that it’s from Norm Ornstein

Republicans don’t fear the backlash from a bill that will hurt lots of people, including their own voters.

Some think the simple fact of acting, and getting a policy victory, will help. Others may actually believe that the bill will work—hard as that is to believe. But the ideological view that cutting government magically brings freedom and prosperity and good health is strong among many Republicans in Congress. Nonetheless, the more rational or pragmatic ones know that this bill will hurt a lot of people, with a heavier concentration among the white working-class voters that are a mainstay of the current GOP. So why no fear? For one thing, the large tax cuts for the ultra-rich may guarantee that the web of billionaires contributing huge sums to 501(c)4s and other entities to help elect Republicans will double down. In the special election in Georgia’s sixth district, Democrat Jon Ossoff collected a mind-boggling sum for his campaign from small donors; if Karen Handel had not been able to match that with a flood of independent ads financed by big money, we might have seen a different outcome.

For another, with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court instead of Merrick Garland, states under GOP control and possibly even Congress will pass more and more draconian voter suppression laws (New Hampshire just joined the ranks) that will get a much more favorable treatment down the road. They will be aided by Trump’s outrageous new commission on voting, co-chaired by the king of voter suppression, Kris Kobach and including an all-star list of other voter suppressors, which is already intimidating voters. Money and voter suppression laws could well enable Republicans, even if this disaster of a bill passes, to keep control of both houses at least until 2020—and during that time, they can do even more to tilt the campaign finance system and narrow the electorate to their advantage.

7) John Cassidy’s health care debacle take:

The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.

8) Chait #1 on health care:

Republicans have spent eight years assuring the public that they, too, shared the goal of protecting people with preexisting conditions from price discrimination. Sunday, Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price tore down the tattered façade. Asked why insurers called the Republican health-care plan, which allows them to charge higher premiums to the sick than the healthy, unworkable, Price insisted they would just go back to the way things worked before Obamacare. “It’s really perplexing, especially from the insurance companies, because all they have to do is dust off how they did business before Obamacare,” he said on ABC. “A single risk pool, which is what they’re objecting to, is exactly the kind of process that was — that has been utilized for decades.”

Republican policy elites consider such an admission obvious, even banal. To the great mass of the voting public it would come as a shock…

It is true that Democrats have spent several decades accusing Republicans of trying to deny health insurance to the poor and sick. That is because Republicans have indeed spent several decades trying to deny health insurance to the poor and sick. [emphasis mine] As Paul Ryan said earlier this year, he has been dreaming of deep cuts to Medicaid since his kegger days. It is not a popular position by any means. But fanatical hatred of the welfare state does have a constituency among the major institutions of the conservative movement, many of which are well-funded and important to rallying base voters.

9) More Chait:

In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.[emphasis mine]

10) Meanwhile, Senate Parliamentarian actually did her job and eviscerated the Senate plan as largely inconsistent with the 50-vote reconciliation rules.  Nice summary from Drum.

11) Universal college admissions tests are of particular benefit to low-income students.  Wake County has all students take the ACT.  Good evidence that every school system should have universal SAT or ACT.

12) Are you a carbaholic?  Survey says yes.  That said, all carbs are not created equal and you can do quite well sticking with the healthier ones.

13) Really depressing developments in Poland.  Democracies are not self-perpetuating.  You’ve got to work to keep them going.

14) My beach read this past week was American War El Akkad’s years working as a reporter in war zones and refugee camps by Omar El Akkad.  Terrific book that really sticks with you.   clearly pay off in the realistic portrayals of a future American civil war.

15) I think Josh Barro has a lot right about liberal/cosmopolitanism values creating a cultural alienation with a lot of voters who might otherwise be open to the Democratic party.  I also think Drum’s critique of Barro is pretty accurate and that there is genuine contempt for those in “flyover country” that presents a real political problem.

16) Loved Todd VanDerWerff’s take on what makes the storytelling in “Mad Men” so good.  He also points out that “Bojack Horseman” uses a similar storytelling technique.  No wonder I love them both.

17) Nick Hanauer’s essay in Politico is simply fabulous.  Read it.

It simply isn’t true that reasonable wages, decent labor protections and higher taxes on the rich would destroy the economy. Such were the norms back in the 1950s and 1960s when America’s growth rates were much higher—and there’s no empirical evidence to suggest that we couldn’t support similar norms today. The truth is that when economic elites like us say “We can’t afford to adopt these higher standards,” what we really mean is, “We’d prefer not to.” We like to frame our claims as objective truths, like the so-called “law” of supply and demand, but what we’re really asserting is a moral preference. We are simply defending the status quo.

In my circles, few seem to want to confront the reality that our political environment won’t improve until the actual economic circumstances of our fellow Americans improve. We rich folks crave the variety and stimulation of progressive blue cities, yet we’re often not willing to fight for basic progressive policies like higher wages and the right to organize. We pound the table, ranting about diversity and inclusion without recognizing that the 43.7 percent of Americans earning less than $15 an hour, mostly white and rural, simply cannot afford to be included in our pricey, progressive, pluralistic enclaves. We smugly #resist when an airline beats a passenger bloody, but we do so from the safety and comfort of our own private planes, literally looking down on the shuttered factories and struggling small towns of middle America as we luxuriously jet from coast to coast.

Today in America, tens of millions of lower- and middle-class workers are routinely subject to poverty wagesunpaid overtimewage theftdehumanizing scheduling practices and the constant threat of automation or off-shoring. But the plight of these workers rarely comes up in conversations with my peers. Maybe the problem isn’t sexy enough. Maybe it seems too big. Maybe it requires the uncomfortable admission that some of our outsized profits are coming at their expense. But whatever the reason, we’ve let the problem grow too large to ignore.

Many of my peers prefer to hide behind the enduring myth that today’s crisis of economic inequality and insecurity is the result of forces unleashed by unstoppable trends in technology and globalization. “It’s not my fault I have so much while others have so little,” we comfort ourselves, “it’s the economy.” That is nonsense. There’s no intrinsic reason why the social and political changes delivered by technological advances and globalization have to massively concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. We simply exploited changing circumstances to take advantage of people with less power than us. [emphasis mine]

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) In light of the recent Pew findings on Republicans and higher education, Dan Drezner with a nice post on the GOP’s “war on college.”

2) Personally, I’m all for using genetically-modified mice to try and save endangered bird populations (it’s pretty cool how this would work).  NCSU scientists are working to make this happen, but probably not anytime soon.

3) Much talked about article this week painting a doomsday picture of climate change.  Interesting discussion as to whether this is an effective approach.

4) Speaking of climate change, I was a little abashed that I did not get this key driver of climate change right in this quiz.  And excellent article on abating the issue.

5) David Brooks on Trump family morals:

The Donald Trump Jr. we see through the Russia scandal story is not malevolent: He seems to be simply oblivious to the idea that ethical concerns could possibly play a role in everyday life. When the Russian government offer came across his email, there doesn’t seem to have been a flicker of concern. Instead, he replied with that tone of simple bro glee that we remember from other scandals.

“Can you smell money?!?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff emailed a co-conspirator during his lobbying and casino fraud shenanigans. That’s the same tone as Don Jr.’s “I love it” when offered a chance to conspire with a hostile power. A person capable of this instant joy and enthusiasm isn’t overcoming any internal ethical hurdles. It’s just a greedy boy grabbing sweets.

Once the scandal broke you would think Don Jr. would have some awareness that there were ethical stakes involved. You’d think there would be some sense of embarrassment at having been caught lying so blatantly.

But in his interview with Sean Hannity he appeared incapable of even entertaining any moral consideration. “That’s what we do in business,” the younger Trump said. “If there’s information out there, you want it.” As William Saletan pointed out in Slate, Don Jr. doesn’t seem to possess the internal qualities necessary to consider the possibility that he could have done anything wrong.

That to me is the central takeaway of this week’s revelations. It’s not that the Russia scandal may bring down the administration. It’s that over the past few generations the Trump family has built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.

The Trumps have an ethic of loyalty to one another. “They can’t stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other,” Eric Trump tweeted this week. But beyond that there is no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.

Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive. The House of Trump has sprayed an insecticide on any possible complementary code, and so they are continually trampling basic decency. Their scandals may not build to anything impeachable, but the scandals will never end.

6) Honestly, bashing Evangelical Christians for their love of Trump just never gets old for me.

7) Pretty cool story on how the mis-use of the Calibri font helped catch a forgery.  Also, I didn’t even realize that I use it all the time in various Office documents.

8) Catherine Rampell, “Everything is a distraction from something much, much worse.”

9) Jennifer Rubin on Trump and the GOP’s “moral rot.”  She might as well become a Democrat already:

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America…

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.” [emphasis mine]

10) Love this from political scientist David Hopkins, “Want to Influence the Democratic Party? Try Joining the Democratic Party.”

11) Thanks to Mika for enlightening me about cloudberries (and telling me of his unpleasant childhood cloudberry picking trips).  I shall be sticking with blueberries.

12) Loved this story about how “South of the Border” on I-95 in SC keeps it going after all these years.

13) In a different administration, we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by wrongdoing that stuff like this simply flies under the radar, “State Department spent more than $15,000 for rooms at new Trump hotel in Vancouver.”

14) Big Steve went to town coming up with D&D stats for various Trump folks.  Big Steve is rusty on the D&D side, I wonder what my 5th-edition-conversant son would come up with.

15) Apparently “Baby Driver” is creating Ipod nostalgia.  I still love my 6th generation Ipod Nano (so compact and easy to use with a built in clip).  Still use it for all my workouts.  I have no interest in having a smartphone with me when I’m exercising.

16) So, I know Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” became a giant controversy.  As for me, I simply really enjoyed the movie.  Pretty much agree with this review.

17) Bloomberg thinks plug-in electric cars are going to start making dramatic inroads within the next 10-15 years:

The Bloomberg forecast is far more aggressive, projecting that plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles will make up 54 percent of new light-duty sales globally by 2040, outselling their combustion engine counterparts.

The reason? Batteries. Since 2010, the average cost of lithium-ion battery packs has plunged by two-thirds, to around $300 per kilowatt-hour. The Bloomberg report sees that falling to $73 by 2030, without any significant technological breakthroughs, as companies like Tesla increase battery production in massive factories, optimize the design of battery packs and improve chemistries.

18) Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley is bullish on renewable energy:

Research analysts at Morgan Stanley believe that renewable energy like solar and wind power are hurtling towards a level of ubiquity where not even politics can hinder them. Renewable energy is simply becoming the cheapest option, fast. Basic economics, the analysts say, suggest that the US will exceed its commitments in the Paris agreement regardless of whether or not president Donald Trump withdraws, as he’s stated he will.

“We project that by 2020, renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe,” with the exception of a few countries in Southeast Asia, the Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report published Thursday.

19) Really enjoyed this story about mass-producing GM mosquitoes to help fight mosquito-borne disease.  The key is separating the males from females (sterile males are released) and now robots and software can do that really well.

20) I was particularly interested in this article about dentists looking to prescribe less opioids after wisdom teeth extraction.  I remember the huge benefit I got from my opioids many years ago.  And just this past December, the Vicodin my son got seemed dramatically more effective for his pain relief than high dose ibuprofen (and I love ibuprofen).  Interestingly, though, the latest research suggests nsaid/acetaminophen combinations may actually be the most effective for pain after wisdom teeth extraction.  But the doctors don’t care.

 

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