January 18, 2017 Leave a comment
January 16, 2017 Leave a comment
Oh my, I love this #bestcarcass hashtag. Nice NYT story on the phenomenon and this photo is amazing:
CreditJohannes Stehle/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
And here’s an even better version:
Jäger Franz Stehle hat den Fridinger Fuchs als Eisblock aus der zugefrorenen Donau gesägt.Klaus Leuser
January 7, 2017 Leave a comment
1) They deny the human cause of climate change.
2) They deny evolution.
Fascinating and disturbing piece from science journalist, Keith Kloor, on what it’s like to take on the anti-GMO forces for having the temerity to report upon what science actually has to say about GMO food (i.e., it presents no more threat to human health than similar non-GMO food). As I’ve discussed before, there are legitimate concerns to have regarding GMO food production– potential cross-contamination risks, environmental impacts, etc.,– but there’s just no evidence that there is any threat to health.
That said, the clearest way to tell you are dealing with an anti-science zealot on the matter is “Monsanto!” Sadly, many are convinced that Monsanto might as well be the Empire from Star Wars and out to destroy the world and that’s all they need to know about GMO food. Actually, I can think of a really clear parallel, “Benghazi!” Just as hearing “Benghazi!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about Hillary Clinton, “Monsanto!” tells you that you are not dealing with a serious intellectual argument about GMO. Not to argue that Monsanto is a perfect company, really, their practices are largely beside the point here. Rather, when all anybody has to say about GMO is a demonization of Monsanto, chances are they are not dealing in the area of thoughtful, nuanced discussion.
Lots and lots of good stuff in Kloor’s piece:
That would be the made-for media villain: Monsanto, or as its detractors like to refer to the biotechnology company, Monsatan. That meme, in which Monsanto became tagged on the Internet as “the most evil” company in the world, because it was hell-bent on taking over the world’s food supply and jamming “frankenfoods” down our throats, was already firmly established when Shiva decided to build on it with the Indian farmer suicide story.
I’ve got a shelf of books that vilify Monsanto for its corruption of agriculture. I’ve seen documentaries on this. Everybody hates Monsanto, right?
Never mind that this image is cartoonish. What matters is that it sounds truthy…
It’s all about the narrative and how forcefully you build it: “Corrupt Hillary” is a “criminal”; a pediatric researcher who pushes back on anti-vaccine scare-mongering is the equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp guard; the scientists at Monsanto have created murderous “seeds of suicide.” …
Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies at James Madison University, was someone who never questioned the “Monsanto is evil” narrative until he was accused of being a shill for the company after some of his writing had been deemed by anti-GMO critics as too positive about biotechnology. In a 2015 essay, he writes, tongue firmly in cheek:
Like most people, I knew how Monsanto really was, despite not having thought too hard about it…I knew Monsanto sues farmers into oblivion, caused a rash of suicides in India, suppresses negative media coverage, and pays politicians and scientists to lie on its behalf.
But there was one story I didn’t believe, because I knew it wasn’t true: Monsanto hadn’t paid me. So I did what any academic or journalist would do, and started learning more about the company that supposedly had me on its payroll.
Levinovitz talked to scientists at Monsanto and soon a “complicated picture” emerged of a large multinational “that employed a wide variety of people, some of whom cared mainly about making money, and others who cared mainly about doing good science.”
I also think this bit is key:
In the meantime, put yourself in the shoes of food activists and greens who oppose GMOs and who truly believe they are on the side of angels. They wake up every day to fight evil. There are no shades of gray in this black-and-white world, which you should view through their lens
Yep, and there you have it. Sure, there are some real black-and-white issues in the world. Rape is wrong; murder is wrong; pillaging is wrong, etc., but most of the world is far more complicated and beware those who are convinced otherwise.
December 31, 2016 1 Comment
2) Life remains tough for an Oklahoma newspaper that had the temerity to endorse Hillary Clinton.
3) All earth’s species mapped into a single circle of life. So cool.
4) Really interesting piece on how Rogue One brought back deceased actors to reprise their roles (no, not Weekend at Bernie’s style).
5) In this post-fact world, snopes.com has become more important than ever. Apparently, now it is the target of those who would prefer we do not traffic in facts.
6) Time to admit email will never be 100% secure:
Dear reader: It’s time to admit it. We’ve lost this battle. We should accept that data breaches aren’t shocking aberrations anymore—they’re the new normal. The age of reliable security is gone. We need to adjust our thinking. E-mail will never be completely secure for everybody. Go ahead, get started on the stages of grasping this new reality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Actually e-mail was never intended to be secure. Most messages are sent as plain, easily readable, unencrypted text from your sending device to your e-mail service (Gmail or whatever), to your recipients’ e-mail services, and from there to their devices. Encryption is a rare, partial and inconvenient solution.
7) Pretty cool set of maps of where tv shows are most and least popular.
8) Things are looking up financially for the Washington Post. That’s great news. Of course, plenty of local papers are still hemorrhaging money.
9) Bob Hall with an Op-Ed about a point I must have made in at least a half-dozen HB2 interviews– this really does have it’s roots in gerrymandering:
The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering.
When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters.
Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.
Lawmakers from these heavily gerrymandered districts are far more concerned with fending off potential primary opponents than facing a substantial general election challenge. As such, they arrive in Raleigh with no incentive to ever reach across the aisle and compromise.
That inability to conduct a civil discussion and reach an overall agreement was on full display in the special session called to repeal HB2, but failed to do just that.
10) The biggest reason I tell my students not to watch Fox News is not the ideology, but the lies and the stupidity. Kevin Drum with a great case-in-point on how they get it totally wrong on Food Stamp fraud.
11) Using IBM’s Watson not just to win Jeopardy, but to fight cybercrime.
12) Personally, I don’t think Steve Martin’s Carrie Fisher tweet was sexist. Is it sexist to admit you were first attracted to them for physical appearance, but then realized they were so much more? Enough with the social justice warriors.
13) Can’t say I find it surprising, but it is oh so depressing to read of the racist, rogue, police in Louisiana. This was stopped by Obama’s DOJ. Any confidence that would happen under Trump. Racist local cops must be ecstatic.
For a shocking glimpse of what’s been happening in the name of criminal justice in America, look no further than a Justice Department report last week on police behavior in Louisiana. Officers there have routinely arrested hundreds of citizens annually without probable cause, strip-searching them and denying them contact with their family and lawyers for days — all in an unconstitutional attempt to force cooperation with detectives who finally admitted they were operating on a mere “hunch” or “feeling.”
This wholesale violation of the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizure by the police in Evangeline Parish, including in its largest city, Ville Platte, was standard procedure for putting pressure on citizens who the police thought might have information about crimes, according to the findings of a 20-month federal investigation. The report described as “staggering” the number of people who were “commonly detained for 72 hours or more” with no opportunity to contest their arrest, in what the police euphemistically termed “investigative holds.” …
Reforms have since begun, a tribute to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, which carried out the investigation and demanded wholesale changes. This bureau has done notable work during the Obama administration, investigating 25 law enforcement agencies and requiring and overseeing major reforms. To fully secure national justice, its work must continue. One big question in Washington now is whether President-elect Donald Trump and his choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, might ever commit themselves to this cause.
14) More TV shows should just say no to season 2.
15) I never did a post on the latest important work on inequality. I really should have. But, it’s the end of the year and time to clear out tabs. Yglesias with a really good summary of the work:
A child born in 1940 had an extremely good chance of growing up to earn more money than his parents did. Due to regression to the mean, children of the very, very wealthy were somewhat less likely to out-earn their parents (if your dad is Jeff Bezos, it’s hard to beat that no matter how many advantages you have in life). But from the bottom of the income distribution all the way up to the 95th percentile or so, families were extremely likely to experience upward mobility.
For kids born in 1980, that’s much less true. The very most disadvantaged kids are, fortunately, pretty likely to grow up to be somewhat less disadvantaged than their parents. But for people born into the broad middle 60 percent or so of the income distribution, experiencing upward mobility relative to your parents has become a crapshoot.
16) Speaking of clearing out tabs, I still haven’t read this NYT Magazine piece on “The Great AI Awakening.” It looks good, but, I just haven’t. Please tell me if I need to.
16) Frum on how Trump made Russia’s hacking more effective:
The content of the Russian-hacked emails was actually remarkably unexplosive. Probably the biggest news was that Hillary Clinton had expressed herself in favor of a hemispheric common market in speeches to Wall Street executives. Otherwise, we learned from them that some people at the Democratic National Committee favored a lifelong Democrat for their party’s nomination over a socialist interloper who had joined the party for his own convenience. We learned that many Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, disapproved of the ethical shortcomings of some of the people in Bill Clinton’s inner circle. We learned that Hillary Clinton acknowledged differences between her “public and private” positions on some issues. None of this even remotely corroborated Donald Trump’s wild characterizations of the Russian-hacked, Wikileaks-published material.
These Wikileaks emails confirm what those of us here today have known all along: Hillary Clinton is the vessel for a corrupt global establishment that is raiding our country and surrendering our sovereignty. This criminal government cartel doesn’t recognize borders, but believes in global governance, unlimited immigration, and rule by corporations.
The more emails WikiLeaks releases, the more lines between the Clinton Foundation, the secretary of state’s office and the Clintons’ personal finances—they all get blurred … I mean, at what point—at what point do we say it? Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of the presidency.
Without Trump’s own willingness to make false claims and misuse Russian-provided information, the Wikileaks material would have deflated of its own boringness. The Russian-hacked material did damage because, and only because, Russia found a willing accomplice in the person of Donald J. Trump.
17) Time for my annual last-day-of-the-year large-scale charitable giving. I’ll be using Givewell.org as my guide.
December 27, 2016 Leave a comment
1) Great stuff from Bill Ayers on the stupidity on business as a metaphor for government:
I think I’ll take my Prius drag racing.
It makes perfect sense, right? After all, a Prius is just like those cars you see tearing down the track at drag races. It has four wheels, each with an inflated rubber tire. It has an engine powered by oil-based fuel. It’s got a seat for a driver, with a steering wheel. It’s got a transmission system, and a bunch of electrical support stuff. I mean, they’re practically the same thing.
Of course, this is crazy. A Prius, despite some superficial similarities, is not a drag racer. Attempting to run mine on a drag strip is likely to fail, and cause a fair amount of damage in the process. A drag racer is built for speed. A Prius (unless you heavily modify it!) is built for gas mileage.
Along similar lines, why do so many people insist on arguing that “government should be run like a business”? …
The fact that “business” and “government” both belong to the broader category called “human organization” tells you very little about how to run the latter. The differences between them are far more important than the similarities. And like the comparison between Prius and drag racer, what is most important is the purpose for which each was built.
A business is an organization designed to produce some product or service for the wider world, usually (though not always) at a profit. A business creates what it creates. It is primarily concerned with two groups of people: the owners (who control the business, and in whose interest it presumably operates) and the customers. A business can define its own customer base, to a substantial degree, and doesn’t need to concern itself with anybody else in society. Businesses don’t even have to be all that concerned about their employees, except as these are necessary to produce the product or service.
Governments look nothing like this. They are not meant to operate at a profit, and those that do are generally regarded as corrupt and illegitimate. Governments do not produce individual goods or services, but provide public goods to a broad group of people known as citizens. Except at the margins, governments have very little ability to define who they serve, and governments that decide to serve only one segment of the population usually find themselves losing legitimacy. Legitimate governments can’t pick their “customer base”…
But the chief purpose of the government is not to be a business, but to provide a safe, secure, and fair environment in which everybody can pursue their own individual business. If businesses are like sports teams competing, government is like the referee enforcing the rules of the game.
Ultimately, the purpose of a business is to advance the interests of its owners, usually a small group of people. The purpose of a government is to advance the interests of everybody. A business is partial to itself. A good government is impartial towards all.
2) Trump’s OMB pick Mick Mulvaney thinks it’s a good idea to blow up the debt ceiling. Ugh. And he doesn’t think the government should fund scientific research. Double-ugh. And he’s part of a larger trend of Trump surrounding himself with Tea Partiers. Triple-ugh.
3) Recently finished Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot to my 10-year old. Perhaps the favorite book I have read my kids not written by EB White or Roald Dahl. So good.
4) The Republican approach to health care policy? Maybe wait before going to the ER when your kid breaks his arm. Seriously.
5) Bipartisan Op-Ed arguing that we need nuclear power to slow global warming. I firmly agree. And there’s amazing technological advances in contemporary reactors.
6) Also, global warming really sucks for polar bears. Great photo essay in the NYT.
7) So clear that we all benefit by waiting longer to merge with a lane closure and do a zipper merge. The problem is that so many drivers are not aware and act counter-productively. Doesn’t seem that a public service campaign on the matter would be all that hard.
8) A review of the year in cool quantum physics stuff.
9) Nicholas Kristof has a conversation with an Evangelical pastor on whether you can be Christian without believing in the virgin birth or the Resurrection. Whether those beliefs make you a “Christian” or not, you could do a lot worse than following Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, regardless of whether you believe the other stuff.
10) John Cassidy on Trump’s challenge to democracy:
The big unknown isn’t what Trump will do: his pattern of behavior is clear. It is whether the American political system will be able to deal with the unprecedented challenge his election presents, and rein him in. Especially with a single party controlling the executive and the legislative branches, there is no immediately reassuring answer to this question.
11) I never did watch “Making of a Murderer” (mostly because it struck me as way too much of a time investment), but this really interesting New Yorker article on true-crime as entertainment from back in January (just came across it as promoted as among their most popular articles of the year) makes me glad I did not invest the time.
12) Studies less unfavorable to sugar that are funded by the sugar industry should undoubtedly draw great scrutiny. That said, these conclusions seem reasonable:
But the scientists behind the paper said more scrutiny of sugar guidelines was needed. The researchers reviewed guidelines issued by the W.H.O. and eight other agencies around the world and said the case against sugar was based on “low-quality” evidence.
“The conclusion of our paper is a very simple one,” said Bradley C. Johnston, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Toronto and McMaster University and the lead author of the new paper. “We hope that the results from this review can be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”
Dr. Johnston said he recognized that his paper would be criticized because of its ties to industry funding. But he said he hoped people would not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by dismissing the conclusion that sugar guidelines should be developed with greater rigor. He also emphasized that he was not suggesting that people eat more sugar. The review article, he said, questions specific recommendations about sugar but “should not be used to justify higher intake of sugary foods and beverages.”
13) Excellent, thorough, Nate Cohn piece looking at how the Obama coalition fell apart for HRC. Make sure you read this one.
14) Not surprisingly, the relationship between the political attitudes of elite donors and the Democratic party is far more complex than the simplistic portrayals we commonly get.
15) The way in which we basically let police departments steal money from people in this country is just disgusting. Drum is not having it and either am I.
16) Greg Sargent on why we should be terrified of Trump’s decision-making process.
17) Ezra Klein asks whether Republicans are more addicted to power or ideas. It’s cute that he even pretends it’s a question:
We are about to learn whether Republicans are more addicted to power or to ideas. This is, it’s worth noting, a live debate. In the Bush years, the GOP cut taxes, expanded Medicare, and started two wars without paying for a dime of it. Then after Barack Obama took office, Republicans became very worried about budget discipline.Fiscal conservatism, liberals complained, seemed to mean Republicans could rack up debt for any reason while Democrats couldn’t even borrow to save the economy during a financial collapse (which is, for the record, exactly the time you would want to debt finance).
But the GOP swore otherwise. The Tea Party, they said, was a correction to the regrettable excesses of the aughts. Bush-era Republicans had gone Washington and become addicted to power rather than conservatism. They had betrayed their own ideas and were now being punished by their own voters. It wouldn’t happen again. The opposition to Obama’s debt financing was the principled stand of a chastened GOP, not a cynical ploy to trip up a Democratic president.
If House Republicans — and particularly the House Freedom Caucus, the most debt-obsessed of all House Republicans — decide that Trump only needs to pay half the cost of his plans, then there’ll be no more mystery. Partisanship and power, not ideas and ideology, will have proven the GOP’s real addiction.
18) Poland for a very, very disturbing case study of what can happen when populists come to power in a democracy:
WARSAW — The Law and Justice Party rode to power on a pledge to drain the swamp of Polish politics and roll back the legacy of the previous administration. One year later, its patriotic revolution, the party proclaims, has cleaned house and brought God and country back to Poland.
Opponents, however, see the birth of a neo-Dark Age — one that, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, is a harbinger of the power of populism to upend a Western society. In merely a year, critics say, the nationalists have transformed Poland into a surreal and insular place — one where state-sponsored conspiracy theories and de facto propaganda distract the public as democracy erodes.
In the land of Law and Justice, anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles.
Over the weekend, Warsaw convulsed in street protests amid allegations that the Law and Justice party had illegally forced through a budget bill even as it sought to restrict media access to Parliament.
18) David Leonhardt suggests maybe Democrats have been bringing knives to a gun fight. I think he might be right, but it’ll be a helluva mess if bullets just start flying everywhere.
If he were merely a rogue politician, this story would be a local one. But too many Republicans elsewhere have begun to ignore political traditions, and even laws, to exert power. While Democrats continue to play by more genteel rules, Republicans have subscribed to the Capone school of politics (as Sean Connery fans can recite): “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”
19) Must-read NYT piece on Steve Kerr and how we was shaped by his father, who was assassinated as president of American University in Beirut in 1984.
December 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Pew recently published a report about the American public’s views on food and science. Not surprisingly, I was particularly interested in the part dealing with GMO food. On the bright side, a plurlality of the public recognizes that GMO foods are not inherently better or worse for health. On the downside, a disturbingly large minority (and surely a more intense one) believes GMO food is bad for you:
And as the chart shows, not just unhealthy, but most see “high” risks.
Meanwhile, I find this chart concerning as young people are the most misinformed, and of course, young people are the future of politics:
And the demographics/politics chart is interesting, as it shows how modest the divisions are– especially politically. The biggest gap is gender– which I hope to have something to say about in print before too long.
And, I guess, on the bright side, those with high science knowledge are more likely to see the real potential benefits:
Of course, it’s not like Americans are known for their high science knowledge.
December 21, 2016 Leave a comment
Loved this Vox article with some cool facts about it. One of the things I find most intriguing is that the sunset has already been getting later for a while now (though, the days, of course have still been getting shorter). The further south you go, the greater the lag between earliest sunset and latest sunrise.
Works for me, I’ve been getting later sunsets for about 2 weeks. The later the sunset, the later I can get home from work and still walk my dog without a flashlight. And during winter I pretty much always sleep through the sunrise no matter how late it is.