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.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice Pew report on gun ownership and attitudes.  A large majority of gun owners believe owning a gun is “essential to their freedom.”  Newsflash: it’s not.

2) Heaven forbid people in North Carolina drink alcohol before noon on a Sunday.  The pathetic, backward, explicitly right-wing Christian justification for this law is just embarrassing.

3) Oh my is this one hell of a summer reading list from an Alabama social studies teacher.

4) As if our criminal justice system wasn’t already shameful enough, it’s really unconscionable how the system tries to extract exorbitant profits from criminals and their families.

5) I like Josh Barro’s column on how the Democratic party needs to follow Elizabeth Warren’s approach– unrig the system.  It came to me via a critical posting from a middle-aged white male political science professor who questioned how we could ever expect a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white person to lead the current Democratic party.

6) Pretty amazing what British campaigners did with Tinder to get more Corbyn voters.

7) I liked this “5 reasons it’s hard so to think like a scientist.”  I don’t actually find it hard, but that’s because of years of excellent training.  I especially liked this conclusion as my mom was really, really smart, but the fact that she had never had any science or social science training was clear:

Being smart isn’t enough
Even expert researchers suffer from the human foibles that undermine scientific thinking. Their critical faculties are contaminated by their agenda, by their ultimate motives for doing their experiments. This is why the open science revolution occurring in psychology is so important: when researchers make their methods and hypotheses transparent, and they pre-register their studies, it makes it less likely that they will be diverted, even corrupted by, confirmation bias (seeking out evidence to support their existing beliefs).

Take the example of systematic views in psychotherapy research: a recent analysis found that the conclusions of many are spun in a way that supports the researchers’ own biases. Other times, the whole scientific publishing community, from journals editors down to science journalists, seem to switch off their critical faculties because they happen to agree with the message to emerge from a piece of research.

In their chapter, Shah and her colleagues point out that raw cognitive ability (IQ) is not a good predictor of a person’s ability to think like a scientist. More relevant is mental attitude, such as a person’s “need for cognition” and their ability or motivation to override gut instinct and reflect deeply. On a positive note, these mental dispositions may be more malleable, that is more trainable, than basic intelligence. But we’ll need plenty of solid evidence to test that.

8) Naomi Klein makes the case for identity politics as preeminent for the left.  Interesting interview, but I remain unpersuaded.  And I think her critique of the center-left on climate change is a massive and willful mis-representation.

9) There is no #9 :-).

10) Yglesias on Trump’s America and passing the Senate health care bill:

The watchwords of Trump-era politics are “LOL nothing matters.” If you’re in a jam, you just lie about it. If you’re caught in an embarrassing situation, you create a new provocation and hope that people move on. Everything is founded, most of all, on the assumption that the basic tribal impulses of negative partisanship will keep everyone on their side, while knowing that gerrymandering means Republicans will win every toss-up election. If you happened to believe that Republicans in office would deliver on their health care promises, well, you might be interested in a degree from Trump University.

11) This tweetstorm on Philandro Castille and what we expect out of police versus ordinary citizens is so good; please read it.

12) This NPR story on the “driving life and death of Philandro Casttille” is very good.  If you think a similar white man would get pulled over half this much, you are part of the problem.

13) Okay, a little too liberal preachy, but I really did enjoy this, “Christian: you are upset about the wrong things”

If you become upset when people use the greeting “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” but you are less upset at the wasteful use of resources during this season and the rampant shallow consumerism while many live in poverty: You are upset about the wrong things.

If you become upset when the government uses its power to make corporations protect their workers and protect the environment, but you are less upset when those workers are exploited, injured, or the environment is critically harmed: You are upset about the wrong things.

If you become upset at the grocery store when you see someone pay for their food with vouchers or food stamps, but you are less upset with the institutional and cultural structures that often create the very need for such help: You are upset about the wrong things.

14) This is important— how the Senate bill creates a sneaky, but effective, backdoor for essentially removing protection for those with pre-existing conditions.  Read this, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

15) NC State senator refers to “jihad media.” NC State PS professor actually says what he really thinks:

“It is exactly the type of loaded, symbolic term one might use preaching to the choir of the Republican base, which is presumably very much Bishop’s audience on Twitter,” Greene said in an email. “This seems of a similar intellectual vein of President Trump referring to the media as ‘the enemy of the people.’ Complaining about the ‘bias’ of very middle-of-the-road mainstream media has been a trope of the Republican right wing for years; this is just taking it to a new level. That said, when one considers the absolutely fundamental role of free media in a properly functioning democracy, this is not the type of rhetoric which should be a part of reasoned political debate.”

16) Excellent NYT Editorial on the psychologist/torturers.

17) Jordan Weissman on the media’s short attention span and McConnell’s evil brilliance:

But whether or not the GOP’s bill ultimately passes, McConnell has already pulled off a frightening coup by showing how easily you can get away with legislating by dark. Even worse, you might be rewarded for it by a media that doesn’t like to harp on the same old story about congressional minutiae day after day when it could be focusing on something with intrigue and a dramatic narrative arc, like James Comey and Trump’s Russia scandal.

U.S. democracy functions thanks to dull rules created by dull men in dull institutions. McConnell has shown that nobody bothers to tune in when a dull man smashes them.

18) Former Reagan administration official, Bruce Bartlett rips Trump and today’s GOP like nobody’s business.  Read it.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Love this feature on the technology beyond self-driving cars.  Especially Lidar, since it also finds lost cities in the jungle.

2) The physics of the fidget spinner.  My 17-year old soccer players think it’s hilarious that there coach has one, but ph0ysics is cool!

3) Jon Cohn on Republicans and the new AHCA CBO score:

Wednesday’s report from the Congressional Budget Office ought to erase any lingering doubt about how Republicans are trying to change American health care.

If they get their way, they will protect the strong at the expense of the weak ― rewarding the rich and the healthy in ways that punish the poor and the sick.

Republicans have tried mightily to deny this, and accused their critics of dishonesty. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― they and their allies have insisted over and over again that their proposals would improve access to health care and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions.

But it’s the Republicans who are lying about what their plan to repeal Obamacare would do.

They were lying back in March, when they introduced the initial version of the legislation ― a bill GOP leaders had to pull at the last minute because it didn’t have enough votes to pass. And they have been lying since early May, after they revised that proposal and rushed to vote on it before the CBO, Washington’s official scorekeeper, had time to evaluate it formally.

4) Kindergartens literally in the forest are all the rage in Germany.  Does sound pretty cool.

5) Great Paul Waldman column on the Trump budget and the simple-minded fallacy of deserving and undeserving recipients of government benefits.

6) Adam Davidson on pricing theory (I wish I knew more about this, I find the the idea of trying to find the right price to maximize profit an inherently fascinating problem), capitation fees, and how we pay too much for health care.

7) “How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe.”

8) Democratic norms are under attack, not just by Trump, but in many states as well.  Of course, those of us living in North Carolina are well aware.

9) Child development expert, Allison Gopnik, on how calling Trump a 4-year-old is unfair to 4-year-olds:

But the analogy is profoundly wrong, and it’s unfair to children. The scientific developmental research of the past 30 years shows that Mr. Trump is utterly unlike a 4-year-old.

Four-year-olds care deeply about the truth. They constantly try to seek out information and to figure out how the world works. Of course, 4-year-olds, as well as adults, occasionally lie. But Mr. Trump doesn’t just lie; he seems not even to care whether his statements are true.

Four-year-olds are insatiably curious. One study found that the average preschooler asks hundreds of questions per day. Just watch a toddler “getting into everything” — endangering his own safety to investigate interesting new objects like knives and toasters. Mr. Trump refuses to read and is bored by anything that doesn’t involve him personally.

Four-year-olds can pay attention. They do have difficulty changing the focus of their attention in response to arbitrary commands. But recent studies show that even babies systematically direct their focus to the events and objects that will teach them the most. They pay special attention to events that contradict what they already believe. Mr. Trump refuses to pay attention to anything that clashes with his preconceptions…

Four-year-olds have a “theory of mind,” an understanding of their own minds and those of others. In my lab we have found that 4-year-olds recognize that their own past beliefs might have been wrong. Mr. Trump contradicts himself without hesitation and doesn’t seem to recognize any conflict between his past and present beliefs.

Four-year-olds, contrary to popular belief, are not egocentric or self-centered. They understand and care about how other people feel and think, and recognize that other people can feel and think differently from them.

10) Enjoyed this piece on the now-forgotten “Handmaid’s Tale” movie filmed in Durham in 1989.  It was stilll the talk of campus when I came to Duke the next year.

11) Trump’s ongoing obsession with the (discredited with practically everybody but him and Jeff Sessions) War on Drugs, does not explain all his presidency, but it explains a lot.

12) Loved this piece on the role of Southern pastors in turning the South Republican:

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.

13) Happy 23 years of marriage to Kim and me.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Two (!) Texas Tech professors have decided to run for Congress in the very red district.  Good for them.  They’re going to lose– but worth it for Democrats to fight the fight.

2a) The Young America Foundation is bankrolling a lot of the conservative speakers roiling college campuses.  Not a fan.  That said, I have greater antipathy towards those who think the solution is to deny free speech to others.

2b) On a related note, students at Illinois prevented a representative from ICE from speaking to a Sociology class.  Seriously?!  Wrong and pathetic.

3) Speaking of conservative speakers, a really, really interesting deconstruction of Charles Murray’s IQ research.

4) It’s actually been a few years since my son Alex cracked an Ipad screen, hooray!  And when I looked at the prices to buy him a new one I was amazed at what a great deal the latest Ipads are.

5) Jennifer Rubin sees the Trump catastrophe as the downfall of a generation of Republicans.  I think she’s wrong– political memories are short, but I enjoyed reading it:

Pence might reach the presidency to fill out his boss’s term if Trump is forced out, but it is hard to imagine him ever achieving that office on his own. Many will have concluded that he is either too dim and gullible or too dishonest for the presidency. Moreover, his decision to sign on as Trump’s VP and vouch for his character will be powerful evidence of rotten judgment and a permanent stain on his record.

In that regard, Pence is hardly alone. Either during or at the end of his first term, Trump’s presidency will end, voluntarily or not. (No matter how strong the economy might be, a president waist-deep in scandal and unable to accomplish major legislative initiatives is likely to face primary and/or general-election defeat in a reelection bid or decline to seek re-election.) When the party — or what remains of it — looks for leadership, where will it turn?

Not to the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opportunistically backed Trump after declaring his unfitness. Not to the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who became Trump’s palace guard, vouching for Cabinet secretaries and refusing to denounce conflicts of interest and possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Come to think of it, any Republican who failed in his or her constitutional duty of oversight, continuing to turn a blind eye toward wrongdoing and to rationalize Trump’s conduct, should be disqualified from high office, if not shunned by conservatives. (As for the House members who thought Trump’s chumminess with Russia was humorous, one can only marvel at their gross hypocrisy in get-tough-with-Russia rhetoric.) We can count on one hand the number of lawmakers who have not committed gross political malpractice either by acts of commission or omission since Trump was elected (even if one excuses endorsing an obviously unfit person for president).

6) Paul Waldman on Pence, “Mike Pence wants us to believe he’s innocent. Don’t buy it.”

7) What I find most amazing about the Trump calls Comey a “nut job” thing is that somebody in possession of the notes on this leaking the fact.  It’s like a boat with a bunch of cannonball-sized holes in it.

8) Point I’ve been making a lot lately, and Julia Azari does a great job with here– impeachments are inherently about politics, not the law.

9) Who owns the space between reclining seats on an airplane?  Pretty clear the person in front who has the option to recline does.  That said, I’ve always thought these people were selfish jerks.  I never recline.

10) Wisconsin’s Voter ID law really is horrible and makes it way too hard to vote for way too many people (again, because there is virtually no in-person voter fraud to prevent anyway!).

11) And a great Fresh Air interview with Ari Berman on the voter fraud fraud.

12) Last night, my kids were asking be about why animal shelters euthanize animals.  Apparently, in the Pacific Northwest there’s a lot less euthanasia going on.  This has led to an informal network of transporting animals to shelters there.

13) Good piece from Zack Beauchamp on how Mike Flynn is central to bringing Trump down.  It really is pretty amazing:

President Donald Trump loves Michael Flynn. His ardor hasn’t faded despite the fact that the biggest scandals engulfing the Trump administration right now trace back to the disgraced former national security adviser, or that their very closeness is sparking growing talk of impeachment. If anything, all of that seems to be making Trump love Flynn even more.

Trump has loved Flynn for a long time. In November, he loved Flynn enough to appoint him to be his national security adviser despite knowing that Russia had paid Flynn $45,000 to attend a dinner with Vladimir Putin. Trump loved him enough to keep him on despite, as the New York Times reported late on Wednesday, Flynn informing the Trump transition in early January that he was under FBI investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government.

Trump loves Flynn enough to stick with him even after acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the administration, on January 26, that Flynn had lied to the vice president about his interactions with the Russian ambassador and could potentially be blackmailed by the Kremlin. Trump loves Flynn so much that even after he was finally forced to fire him for said lies on February 14, he defended the man’s integrity in a press conference.

“Michael Flynn — General Flynn — is a wonderful man,” the president said in a press conference on February 15. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”

Trump loves Flynn so much that the same day of that press conference, he ordered everyone out of the room after a top-level meeting on counterterrorism — except FBI Director James Comey. Trump then asked Comey, pretty bluntly, to drop the Flynn investigation.

14) Brooks on the Trump administration talent vacuum.  What kind of smart, ambitious conservative would want to throw his lot in with the Trump administration at this point?  Exactly.  So the guys we’re getting are not exactly the A team.

15) The “motivated ignorance” of Trump supporters is not at all suprising, but pretty amazing to behold, just the same:

If you’re looking for an explanation for why Trump’s support is so solid among his base — and why it will remain so stubbornly high — read this piece by the Associated Press, where the reporters asked Trump supporters how they’re handling the wave of scandals.

“I tuned it out,” Michele Velardi, a 44-year-old in Staten Island, told the AP of the recent news. “I didn’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”

16) Not the first time I’ve read about Finnish baby boxes.  Pretty cool idea (obviously awaiting your take, Mika.)

17) Conor Friedersdorf on how the anti-anti Trump pundits dodge Trump criticism:

But defending what Trump says or does is often impossible. Americans can’t help but know that he didn’t win the popular vote; draw more people to his inauguration than Barack Obama; act wisely in appointing Michael Flynn; execute well in that first executive order on travel; or accomplish more in his first 100 days than any other president.

Americans can’t help but see that he is erratic, and that his domestic agenda has stalled bigly. He can claim that no politician has ever been treated more unfairly. But we can’t help but know that Ronald Reagan was shot and that John F. Kennedy was killed.

That’s why pro-Trump and anti-anti-Trump commentators have adapted.

As the weeks pass, they spend less time making positive arguments for the president and more time hiding behind the talking point that his critics are overwrought. Unhinged. Hysterical. Suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Don’t look here, at the president who shared too much information with Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting. Look there at an excessive reaction to it…

The approach is inseparable from the web era. No matter how bad a Trump blunder, someone can be found overreacting to it or otherwise losing their cool on social media. In fact, social-media feeds disproportionately expose us to the most over-the-top takes, making it seem as if they reflect the median reaction even when that is far from true…

More honest Never Trumpers are driven by any number of things; but I wonder if part of the posture that some have taken these last months is ultimately a defense mechanism. How depressing and unnerving to fully confront the unfitness of the president.

How tempting to evade the terrible truth.

18) Somehow I missed this excellent Atlantic article from a year ago about how Rutgers-Newark does a way better job recruiting and graduating minority students by eschewing the lower standardized test scores which often have way less predictive value with this group.

19) Oh man do I love this letter from a pastor to Franklin Graham.

Here’s the thing, Frank. At the last judgment, Jesus doesn’t ask anyone about who they voted for, how many times they have been divorced, what their sexual history or orientation is or for whom they did or did not bake wedding cakes. His sole concern is for how we treated the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, those deemed “least” among us. No, I didn’t get that from any private chat with God. We small church pastors have to rely on the Bible for our intel. I got this stuff from the Gospel of Matthew, 25th Chapter to be precise. As I said, that, too, is in the Bible. (It’s a great book, Frank. You should read it sometime.)

19) Really, really like this (long!) Daniel Engber piece on social-psychologist, Daryl Bem and ESP and what it means for psychology (long been a fan of Bem and self-perception theory, and even used it in my own work way back when).

Quick hits (part I)

1) Nice profile of Reverend William Barber in Esquire.  Love this part:

His policy positions fall far to the left on today’s political scale. But he sees most of them as coming from conservative traditions rooted in the Bible—traditions that don’t line up with conservative politics today.

People who focus their moral energy on gay marriage and prayer in schools, he says, are missing what Jesus cared about the most: justice and mercy. It’s a stock line in his sermons: “They are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.”

2) Ryan Lizza on Trump giving up on the border wall.  Love this take:

One reliable way to know that Donald Trump has reversed himself on an issue is if he denies having done any such thing. The pattern repeats itself: his Administration is dealt a major setback—the courts blocking his travel bans, the G.O.P. health-care bill dying in the House—and Trump responds by decreeing that “great progress” is being made and the media is neglecting to cover it. It’s easy to become inured to how bizarre this is: America has a President who denies observable reality and uses his social-media accounts to feed his supporters an alternate version of the truth. All politicians spin. Trump lies, regularly and brazenly.

It should have come as little surprise, therefore, when Trump tweeted the following on Tuesday morning: “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.” Of course, he did change his position. The tweet came just a day after the White House had retreated from its stance that funding for the wall had to be included in the spending bill that Congress must pass by Friday to keep the government open.

3) The New Orleans monument that conservatives are all upset that just came down was literally  a monument to white supremacy.  And the Minnesota native running as a Trumpist for Governor in Virginia who is all about protecting confederate memorials.

4) Frum says that Trump is showing that really turning up the heat on immigration enforcement is actually effective policy for cutting illegal immigration.

5) Pew on the changing fortunes of the middle class.

5) Drum on Comey:

Once again, the primary concern was protecting Comey and the FBI. Republicans had made it clear that their retribution against anyone who helped Clinton would be relentless, and that clearly had an impact on Comey. Steinbach’s suggestion that Republican vengeance would have destroyed the FBI is clearly nuts, but Comey was taking no chances. He didn’t want the grief.

Even after it was all over, Comey’s partisan influences continued to work on him:

Officials and others close to him also acknowledge that Mr. Comey has been changed by the tumultuous year.

Early on Saturday, March 4, the president accused Mr. Obama on Twitter of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan. Mr. Comey believed the government should forcefully denounce that claim. But this time he took a different approach. He asked the Justice Department to correct the record. When officials there refused, Mr. Comey followed orders and said nothing publicly.

Daniel Richman, a longtime friend of Comey’s, said this represented “a consistent pattern of someone trying to act with independence and integrity, but within established channels.”

The evidence does indeed show consistent behavior, but of a different kind. At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack. It was the perfect intersection of a Republican Party that had developed a reputation for conducting relentlessly vicious smear campaigns and a Republican FBI director who didn’t have the fortitude to stand up to it. Comey may genuinely believe that his decisions along the way were nonpartisan, but the evidence pretty strongly suggests otherwise.

6) And Tomasky on Comey:

And through it all, he was worried about what Republicans would do to him, but apparently never concerned about how Democrats would react to anything he did. In fact the only lengthy discussion of a Democrat in the piece involves Comey’s anger at Loretta Lynch for agreeing to meet with Bill Clinton on that tarmac; he had every right to be upset about that boneheaded move, but as the article shows—and as we already knew in real time—he didn’t care at all how Lynch and other Justice Department lawyers would react to his taking it upon himself to say the things he said about Clinton.

There are two morals to this story. The first is, well, good on the Democrats, I guess, for not playing politics (Lynch excepted) with such a sensitive matter. This is how things are supposed to work in this country.

But the second moral is that, regrettable as it may be, this isn’t how things work in this country anymore. Republicans were so ferociously partisan about everything having to do with Hillary Clinton—and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and fill in the blank—that they created a reality in which the nation’s top law enforcement official was thinking more or less constantly about how he could avoid incurring their wrath. Of course, he’s a Republican himself, and was involved in Clinton probes in the 1990s, so there’s also that. But how that factored in we can’t know.

7) Somehow I had never heard of the mass pet euthanization in Britain at the start of WWII.

8) We actually still need proof that reducing blue light in the evening helps with sleep (since it’s free, I’ll stick with Flux until evidence says otherwise):

Does blue light actually make you more alert? It sure does. But does removing it from your smartphone’s screen help you fall asleep? That, my friends, hasn’t actually been solidly proven—at least not yet…

The bottom line? “There’s actually no studies that have systematically seen if blue-depleted light at very dim intensities is effective in preventing or reducing the biological disruption caused by light exposure at night,” says Rahman. So that blue dimmer on your phone isn’t yet backed by solid science.

9) You’ll be shocked (shocked!) to learn that much of the legal representation of the folks Arkansas is trying to execute this week was piss-poor.  I’ve got to agree with this conclusion from a Harvard law researcher on the matter:

SHAPIRO: If we assume that the death penalty is not going away but that the process can be fixed, what will it take to fix it?

BRAND: Well, the first thing I would say is, I don’t think it can fix it. For 40 years in the modern era of the death penalty, the court has been trying to issue procedural fixes. It’s been trying to say intellectually disabled people can’t be executed. It’s tried to say juveniles can’t be executed. It said, you really need a lawyer. And as much as the Supreme Court has tried to fix it, it has completely failed. So I think rather than trying to fix it, it is time for the Supreme Court to recognize its sort of complicity in this system where people don’t get counsel is calling into doubt the whole integrity of our judicial system.

10) I’ve yet to come across a really good piece on the ideology of France’s Emmanual Macron.  Thus far, this Roger Cohen is the best I can do.  From what I have read, sounds like most center-left liberals in the U.S. (i.e., people like me) should be pretty happy with him and his ideas for France.

11) WRAL with a nice editorial on the NC legislatures Tax Cuts uber alles policy running our state into the ground.

12) Meanwhile, NC Republicans also want to basically create corporate schools funded by taxpayers.  I just cannot believe the people running my state.

13) Yes, the human brain is a time machine:

And there’s something distinctly human about this? Animals have the ability to look into the future and plan, but not to the extent that humans do.
Yeah, so whether it’s the brain of mammals or other humans, the brain is always attempting to predict the future. If you’re a herbivore or you’re looking for a mate, your brain is telling you to go one way or the other because it’s making its best estimates as to what will optimize its chances of achieving that goal.

But what seems to be distinctly human is certainly the extent that we can engage in what we call mental time travel — this idea that we can consciously project ourselves back into the past and relive experiences. And it’s the ability to see the long-term future that I think is distinctly human. It’s impossible to overestimate how important that is, how much of your life is future-oriented, from going to school — from getting a job to saving for retirement to exercising and going to the doctor. These are all things that would be very difficult for other animals to engage in because they’re for the short- and long-term future. And one of the most transformative inventions humans have ever engaged in was agriculture. The notion of planting a seed and coming back a year later is something we take for granted now, but it’s hard to think of anything more important than that ability.

14) Turns out all those mindless eating studies have not replicated so well.  That said, I literally have no doubt that keeping tempting food out of my sight and easy access makes it way easier for me to resist (unlike the lollipops that were left out in our kitchen tonight).

15) Love this idea of a metacookbook.

16) Salt is the bomb.  Only use it if you want your food to taste good.

17) Will a college tour lead prospective students to choose the wrong college?  Quite likely, says social science:

But insights from research in psychology and behavioral economics suggest a counterintuitive reason to skip them: College tours may hinder students’ ability to pick a college that will further their interests and goals.

This has to do with the difference between our present selves (the self making the decision — in this case, where to attend college) and our future selves (the self experiencing the outcome of this decision). As Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University and Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia have argued, our present selves believe we are good at making decisions for our future selves, but in fact we all do a relatively poor job of predicting what our future selves will actually value and enjoy…

So why isn’t there an epidemic of students who find themselves in the wrong place and either transfer or drop out? Maybe there is. The only way to know would be to compare transfer and dropout rates between incoming students who used imagination to inform their decision, and those who relied on experience surrogates instead. Such data is lacking.

That said, most students would probably say they feel good about their college choice (even if they could have done objectively better) because of our “psychological immune system,” which buffers us from the unpleasant effects of negative events, and helps us to find the good in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

18) Interesting discussion of the debate over homework in elementary school.  My take: a small amount of thoughtful homework> none > any amount of non-thoughtful homework > too much homework of any kind.  I will definitely err towards none over the last two options.

19) Can plastic-eating caterpillars save the earth?  Maybe.

20) Drum on Paul Ryan and health care:

It’s increasingly obvious that Republicans aren’t actually trying to pass a health care bill. They just want to be able to tell their base that they tried. And President Trump wants to erase the taste of defeat from the first health care bill.

If House Republicans were serious, they’d engage with the health care industry. They haven’t. If they were serious they’d care about the CBO score. They don’t. If they were serious they’d be crafting a bill that could pass Senate reconciliation rules. They aren’t even trying. If Senate Republicans were serious they’d be weighing in with a bill of their own. They aren’t wasting their time.

In the beginning, I think Paul Ryan really did want to pass something, mainly so that it would make his tax cut plan easier to pass. But he’s given up on that. At this point he just wants a piece of paper that gets 218 votes and demonstrates that the Republican caucus isn’t hopelessly inept. He knows it will be DOA in the Senate, but at least it will get health care off his plate once and for all. Then he can move on to cutting taxes on the rich, which is what he really cares about. And he’ll have no trouble rounding up votes for that.

21) Several of my students told me about “Adam Ruins Everything.”  If this excellent video on marijuana is representative, I’ll definitely have to check out more.  Watch it!

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I wasn’t sure what I would make of “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society,” but there’s definitely some important points here:

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right.

2) I’ve heard a couple good interviews with Chris Hayes on his new criminal justice book.  Definitely sounds like good stuff (and the other book reviewed here looks good as well).

3) Enjoyed this NYT feature on how retail is changing.

4) You know what really need to change about policing?  The culture.  It’s enough that there’s too many bad cops out there.  Worse, is that otherwise good cops protect the bad ones.  Also, how many, many incidents of police brutality are lied about and gotten away with without any video to prove otherwise.  Truly, the numbers must be staggering.

5) Personally, I think life is too short and there’s too many books I’ll never get to spend time “hate reading,” but the author of this essay has a point.

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

Right now I’m reading Deception Point by Dan Brown with David.  I don’t hate it.  But it does remind me that while I do enjoy a relentless plot, I really don’t like unrealistic political fiction that thinks it’s realistic (here’s looking at you House of Cards).

6) Yes, Americans vote their partisanship on a pretty much tribal basis.  But I reject the argument that wealthier Democrats are necessarily voting against their own economic interests.  There’s far more to one’s economic interests (like living in vibrant, healthy communities with a growing economy and a healthy middle class) than top marginal tax rates.

7) We can learn a lot about the natural history of penguins through penguin guano deposits.

8) Interesting take on Mitch McConnell’s most consequential decision:

We learned last night from the New York Times that by the time of McConnell’s intervention, the CIA in particular was sounding its loudest alarms, and not just about nebulous “meddling.”

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, [CIA Director John] Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing. The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.

We can’t be certain that Brennan shared the same concerns with McConnell, but it is hard to imagine why he wouldn’t. McConnell, like Reid, was among the handful of members of Congress receive regular briefings on highly classified intelligence. In either case, the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community sought a united front ahead of the fall against Russian election interference—whatever its nature—and McConnell shot it down.

You can fault the Obama White House, to some degree, for acquiescing to McConnell, but it’s worth noting that McConnell clearly understood his threat to be more ominous than simply a promise to call Obama mean names. The claim of partisanship would have implied that Obama was using contested intelligence to meddle in the election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. This would have invited the press to summon yet-more dark clouds over both of them, and lead, most likely, to a new, urgent congressional investigation. Consider the media and GOP congressional response to the unfounded allegation that Susan Rice spied on Donald Trump, and you can see the Obama White House had good reason to take McConnell’s threat seriously.

The upshot is that McConnell drew a protective fence around Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s candidacy, by characterizing any effort to stop it as partisan politicization of intelligence at Trump’s expense.

Given the outcome of the election, I’d say this move was not only far more consequential than stealing a Supreme Court seat from Democrats, it was the key to the theft itself.

9) Diane Ravitch argues the public should pay for public schools, not religious schools.  I agree.

10) Sorry, calling out conservative (or Southern ones, in this case) Christians for their hypocrisy does not get old for me:

Tribal bonds have always been a challenge for our species. What’s new is how baldly the 2016 election exposed the collision between basic Christian values and Republican Party loyalty. By any conceivable definition, the sitting president of the United States is the utter antithesis of Christian values — a misogynist who disdains refugees, persecutes immigrants, condones torture and is energetically working to dismantle the safety net that protects our most vulnerable neighbors. Watching Christians put him in the White House has completely broken my heart…

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” All the rest is window dressing.

But this is the part of Christ’s message that most conservative Christians ignore when they step into the voting booth. In part that’s because abortion has become the ultimate border wall for Southern believers. I can’t count the number of Christians I know who are one-plank voters: They’d put Vladimir Putin in the White House if he promised to overturn Roe v. Wade. To someone who ardently believes abortion is murder, that idea is not as crazy as it seems. But reasonable people can disagree on the moment when human life begins, and I don’t see my own commitment to protecting a woman’s legal right to choose as a contradiction of my religious practice. No matter how you define it, protecting human life should never stop at the zygote.

Republicans now have what they’ve long wanted: the chance to turn this into a Christian nation. But what’s being planned in Washington will hit my fellow Southerners harder than almost anyone else. Where are the immigrants? Mostly in the South. Which states execute more prisoners? The Southern states. Which region has the highest poverty rates? The South. Where are you most likely to drink poisoned water? Right here in the South. Where is affordable health care hardest to find? You guessed it. My people are among the least prepared to survive a Trump presidency, but the “Christian” president they elected is about to demonstrate exactly what betrayal really looks like — and for a lot more than 30 pieces of silver.

11) Really good New Yorker article reviewing several books that help explain why humans are so bad at reasoning and responding to facts.  Short version: tribal needs– sociability trumps needs to actually understand things.

12) And, with that, Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m glad I never quick-hitted this “do millennial men want stay-at-home wives” piece because it was so thoroughly debunked here.

2) Evidence for democracy in early Meso-American societies.

3) Totally buy that filling up escalators with two people standing on every step is way more efficient for moving large numbers.  Alas, try getting Americans with our cultural ideas of personal space to do that.

4) In case you missed the fabulous LA Times anti-Trump editorial:

What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

Although his policies are, for the most part, variations on classic Republican positions (many of which would have been undertaken by a President Ted Cruz or a President Marco Rubio), they become far more dangerous in the hands of this imprudent and erratic man.

5) Hua Hsu says we shouldn’t want perfect robot referees.  I am entirely unpersuaded.  For example, you cannot completely take the referee out of soccer, but we should so have a chip in the ball and every player– no more bad offside calls for starters.

6) Excellent Emily Bazelon and Eric Posner (what a combo!) take on the problem with Gorsuch’s views on the administrative state.

7) This long, informative piece on the history of Republicans totally bogus war on almost totally non-existent voter fraud is really, really good.  Surprise– it’s in Politico.  I definitely learned stuff (or re-learned stuff I had forgotten).

8) Terrific and interactive NYT feature on how Uber uses psychological techniques to get more out of its drivers.

9) Greg Sargent with the headline captures it all, “Why is Trump flailing? Because Americans hate his agenda, and it’s based on lies.”

10) Pretty cool story and video on Seattle’s giant tunnel boring machine breaking through after 3 years.

11) Excellent Jennifer Victor post on how modern partisanship is all about hating the other side and how that makes functional politics so much harder.

12) Since I do a lot of research on the gender gap it’s always especially important for me to control for religiosity as women are always more religious than men.  Yet, I’ve never really come across much seeking to explain that.  Until this Pew interview:

Can you explain in a little more detail what exactly you’re talking about when you suggest a possible biological basis for religious differences between men and women?

I’m not an expert in genetics, but there appears to be some fairly compelling evidence (for example from studies of twins) that genes do affect our disposition to be religious. And if that’s the case, it’s at least plausible that the gender gap in religiosity is partly a matter of biology. If true, though, I doubt that it’s because there’s a “God gene” and women are more likely to have it than men. It seems easier to believe that physiological or hormonal differences could influence personality, which may in turn be linked to variations in “spirituality” or religious thinking…

Does this mean that Christianity is more appealing to women than to men, and if so, why do you think this is the case?

Christianity presents itself as a religion of the powerless: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Depending on your point of view, that’s appealingly feminine or appallingly effeminate. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his characteristically abrasive way that women need “a religion of weakness that glorifies being weak, loving, and … humble as divine.”

It’s true that some religions are more appealing to women – or men – than others. If we look at alternative spirituality, some varieties attract mostly women and others are of more interest to men. (Satanism falls into the latter category.) Christianity, too, comes in many forms, to such an extent that it is difficult to generalize about its appeal. The more patriarchal versions are possibly better at keeping men involved. Where men are mostly responsible for public worship, as in Orthodox Judaism and Islam, then of course the gender gap will look different. Overall, though, I doubt that there are important differences between the major world religions in their appeal to men and women. They have all survived and thrived for centuries.

13) Love this story about high school journalists who busted their new principal’s fake degree (and shame on the school system for ever hiring her!!)

14) Never been a fan of the filibuster and I won’t cry to see it go.  Good take.  Even better, though, was how JP introduced this column in his FB share:

I agree, but would go further. The filibuster is an anti-democratic tool of obstruction and unaccountability, and the Senate would be better off without it. However, the Senate itself is an anti-democratic tool of obstruction and unaccountability, as Madison argued at the convention, and also needs to go if we really care about representative democracy.

Sorry to be short and late.  In Chicago learning fascinating new developments in Political Science.  Or something like that.  If you need more to read, just find a copy of Sapiens.

Or wait, if you are not DJC, you probably haven’t read the great Atlantic piece on Woolly Mammoths and climate yet.  It is as good as DJC told me (read it on the plane here).

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