Quick hits (part II)

1) In theory, the idea of a semi-automatic transmission where you can shift gears without worrying about a clutch is pretty cool.  In practice, the majority of drivers pretty much completely ignore this feature on their cars.  Me, too.  I will admit, though, to enjoying shifting into Sport mode some of the time.

2) Honestly, I don’t even get the point of pretending that a study of a scant 49 Facebook users is real social science.  That said, the typology seems to comport with reality and I especially like this description as I’ve used almost these exact words myself:

Relationship builders

This cohort uses Facebook much the way humans once used actual mail and landline telephones: to strengthen existing relationships with friends and family. In fact, Facebook is an extension of their offline life, according to Tom Robinson, associate director of BYU’s Graduate School of Communication and a professor of advertising.

3) Vox with an ex-CIA officer on Trump Jr, “An ex-CIA officer: the Trump Jr. meeting shows how the Russians exploit intelligence targets.  “This is how it’s done.” —Glenn Carle

4) Yale law school dean on free speech on campus.

5) Yglesias on why Trump JR has no credibility:

But as the old saying says, fool me twice, shame on me. Trump Jr. has already tried to fool us four or five times about this meeting, and there’s absolutely no reason we should trust him. Fox News, tellingly, has in part already moved on to justifying collusion, showing little faith from Trumpworld that the denials of collusion will hold up over the long run. Those of us who aren’t in the tank ought to muster at least the same level of skepticism.

6) This is from two years ago, but I found it utterly fascinating the level of engineering and design that goes into canned beverages and foods.  Why hasn’t there been a 99% Invisible on this?!

7) Enjoyed this complete guide to the religions on Game of Thrones.  That said, I have strong opinions on the matter and feel like far more people should have converted to the Lord of Light (he actually gets stuff done!).

8) OMG, sure there’s some imbalance in who’s doing what’s “cool” and “not cool” in this poster, but taken it it’s totality, it strikes me as a long way from “racist” (especially since most of the non-white kids in the poster, including the lifeguard, are perfectly well-behaved.  Mostly, it strikes me as an effort at inclusive racial harmony in a swimming pool, where some kids need to be better at following the rules.

9) Say it with me, “the dose makes the poison.”  Ignoring this fact is fearmongering.  NYT should know better.

10) Nice review/summary of Dan Drezner’s new book on public intellectuals.

11) Jon Cohn on why a bipartisan health care bill might make sense for Republicans.

12) And on how health insurance companies are unloading on the “unworkable” idea Ted Cruz is pushing to undermine pre-existing conditions protections.

13) The Breitbartification of right-wing media:

As recently as five or 10 years ago, every major news outlet would have treated this set of facts [the Russia story] as front-page news and a dire threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency. The conservative press and Republican voters might disagree on certain particulars or points of emphasis. But their view of reality — of what happened and its significance — would have largely comported with that of the mainstream. You’d have had to travel to the political fringe of right-wing talk radio, the Drudge Report and dissident publications like Breitbart News to find an alternative viewpoint that rejected this basic story line.

Not anymore. Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics.

14) Nice piece in TNR on how to best make the case for “Medicare for all.”  Surely, if we are going to get a policy like this, it needs to be framed and sold to the public as effectively as possible.

15) Nice column from Jamelle Bouie asks, “How long can Republicans risk everything to pretend Russia is no big deal?”  I know!  Until they get their tax cuts for rich people.  Bouie’s damning conclusion:

If nothing else, Republican behavior—the extent to which the party is still powering through a hyper-partisan agenda, even as evidence of something untoward mounts—is an implicit statement that foreign interference is an acceptable path to partisan gain. At the risk of cliché, it normalizes outside meddling in American democracy. And the 2016 election won’t even be the end of Russian interference in our elections. There is real potential for further, more damaging hacking aimed at often-obsolete local election infrastructure. Preventing this is of national concern and requires cooperation from both sides at all levels of government. It requires both parties to show a commitment to the ideals of American democracy.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that both parties have that commitment. The GOP’s recent enthusiasm for voter ID laws (and the voter suppression they cause) has long since thrown that issue of commitment into question. But the institutional indifference to foreign intervention is something different. It signals a dangerously zero-sum attitude, where any price—including subversion from outside forces—is worth paying if it clears a path to partisan and ideological victory. Perhaps the worm will turn and Republicans will join Democrats in demanding real answers from President Trump and his associates. For now, at least, we have a Republican Party that values its success above the integrity of our system.

16) Former Trump employee on the disastrous consequence of Trump putting family first in his business endeavors.

17) So, basically, a lot of favorite breakfast items are pretty much dessert.   I did discover that my go-to cereal, Kashi Go Lean fares quite well, though (of course, I used to claim that it “tastes like twigs.” I’m use to the lower sweetness now).

18) Long time conservative columnist Mona Charen is not exactly persuaded by the Trump line on Russian collusion.

19) It’s amazing how much genetics seems to explain how our brains process looking at faces.  And this can help us understand autism better, too.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

It’s not just extinction

I recently posted an interesting Atlantic piece arguing that, while we obviously have some serious problems, the evidence is just not there for us undergoing a true extinction event.  That said, very nice piece from Ed Yong that emphasizes looking at only extinction can be a misleading metric as to the threats to our environment:

Imagine if every animal and plant on the planet collapsed into a single population each, says ecologist Gerardo Ceballos. If lions disappeared except from one small corner of Kenya, the prey they keep in check would run amok everywhere else. If sparrows were no more except in one Dutch forest, the seeds that sparrows disperse would stay in place everywhere else. If honeybees became isolated to one American meadow, the flowers that they pollinate would fail to reproduce everywhere else. None of those species would be extinct per se, “but we’d still be in very bad shape,” says Ceballos.

He uses this thought experiment to show that fixating on the concept of extinction can lead scientists to overestimate the state of the planet’s health. Extinction obviously matters. If a species is completely wiped out, that’s an important and irreversible loss. But that flip from present to absent, extant to extinct, is just the endpoint of a long period of loss. Before a species disappears entirely, it first disappears locally. And each of those local extinctions—or extirpations—also matters.

“If jaguars become extinct in Mexico, it doesn’t matter if there are still jaguars in Brazil for the role that jaguars play in Mexican ecosystems,” says Ceballos. “Or we might able to keep California condors alive forever, but if there are just 10 or 12 individuals, they won’t be able to survive without human intervention. We’re missing the point when we focus just on species extinction.”  …

“The real trouble with mass extinctions, from a modern perspective, is that it’s really hard to know you’re in one before it’s too late,” says Jacquelyn Gill from the University of Maine. “By the time you compile the casualty list, the damage is done. What’s really powerful about [Ceballos’s new] study is that it focuses not on the losses, but on the early warning signals. Population declines are a common precursor to extinction, and it’s a process we can actually do something about.”

Alright, then, let’s do something about it.

Photo of the day

Closest ever photo of Jupiter’s great red spot:

NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt

Quick hits (part I)

1) Obviously I don’t know much about China and North Korea.  But I do know that if Evan Osnos thinks something is our least bad option, there’s a good chance it actually is:

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg this week, the world’s attention will focus largely on Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin. But Trump’s meeting with Xi will have more immediate relevance in dealing with the Korea crisis. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Thursday, Jake Sullivan and Victor Cha, foreign-policy advisers in the Obama and Bush Administrations, respectively, proposed a new approach to getting China invested in freezing the North Korean missile tests. Instead of threatening North Korea with cutting off trade, they propose, in effect, paying it to cut off missile tests. “The basic trade would be Chinese disbursements to Pyongyang, as well as security assurances, in return for constraints on North Korea’s program. . . . If North Korea cheated, China would not be receiving what it paid for. The logical thing would be for it to withhold economic benefits until compliance resumed.” The Times outlined a similar idea in an editorial of its own this week.

This approach is no silver bullet, but, in the “land of lousy options,” as diplomats call the North Korea problem, it is as good as any, in part because it does not rest on a false understanding of the other party. The relationship between Xi and Trump–leaders of the world’s two largest economies, a rising power and an addled power, straining to coexist—may well prove to be the most consequential diplomatic liaison of its time.

2) Emily Yoffe on Trump’s TV addiction.

3) Linda Greenhouse in Gorsuch:

Whether out of ignorance or by deliberate choice, Neil Gorsuch is a norm breaker. He’s the new kid in class with his hand always up, the boy on the playground who snatches the ball out of turn. He is in his colleagues’ faces pointing out the error of their ways, his snarky tone oozing disrespect toward those who might, just might, know what they are talking about. It’s hard to ascribe this behavior to ignorance — he was, after all, like three of his colleagues, once a Supreme Court law clerk. But if it’s not ignorance, what is it? How could the folksy “Mr. Smith Goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee” morph so quickly into Donald Trump’s life-tenured judicial avatar? …

And while liberals have every reason to gnash their teeth over the justice who holds the seat that should have been Merrick Garland’s, they can perhaps take some comfort in the unexpected daylight that has opened between him and two of the court’s other conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy. My concern when Justice Gorsuch joined the court was how like Chief Justice Roberts he seemed in demeanor and professional trajectory. I could see him as a natural ally who would bolster the chief justice’s most conservative instincts. It now seems just as likely that Neil Gorsuch’s main effect on John Roberts will be to get on his nerves.

4) I had not heard of the Charlie Gard case till I read about it in Vox.  I don’t think it all unreasonable that a health system without unlimited resources (British NHS) does not want to spend millions of dollars on an unproven treatment for a single child.

5) Amusingly enough, Americans pretend to order their steak less cooked than data suggests they actually do.  I make no apologies for being a medium-well person.  Not big on blood in my food.  Here’s a chart based on orders at Longhorn Steakhouse:

how americans order steak

6) Surprise, surprise, immigrant farm workers are not actually taking the jobs of Americans:

Before they can hire workers through the program, farmers must first try to recruit locally. But many say they don’t have much luck.

“We just don’t have the local labor here to work the farms,” Wooten said. “We wouldn’t be able to run without immigrant labor. It’s that simple, and it’s a lot more than just agriculture.”

A 2013 study by the Center for Global Development analyzed more than a decade’s worth of data from North Carolina farms and found that “no matter how bad the economy becomes, native workers do not take farm jobs.”

7) In other unsurprising news, internet trolls tend to test high in psychopathy.

8) Headline I was not expecting to see, “FBI investigated complaints that Bobby Knight groped women at U.S. spy agency.”

9) Good news for the con artists who pose as “scientific” experts based on fraudulent “forensic science.”  They are protected from lawsuits even in cases of gross negligence.

10) This very computer I’m typing on used to use Kasperky anti-virus until NC State decided to go with another vendor.  Apparently, national security types are so hot on the idea of a Russian company providing key cyber-security.

11) I watched a ton of TV as a kid and safe to say I turned out fine.  My kids have lots of screen time and I’m pretty sure they’ll (well, most of ’em) will turn out fine, too.  Loved this NYT essay:

But the ability of parents to limit screen time, like the ability to limit unwholesome food, has become more than a matter of health. It has become a statement of class, order, purity and parental authority.

We are told that tech billionaires, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, limited screen time strictly for their own children. The internet is awash with articles linking screen time to depression, A.D.H.D., even psychosis…

Perhaps my writing this is just an attempt to wash away guilt, but I have even made peace with our love of poor-quality screen time, so long as we are still doing the other things that make up a good life. There are too many problems in the world worth worrying about for bourgeois parents like me to waste energy and resources perfecting and regimenting our little worlds.

And what is this teaching my children? I hope it is teaching them that it is O.K. to waste some of the 24 hours in a day. I hope it is teaching them that there is value in making space in your life for laziness and pleasure, for the purposeless passing of time.

12) Enjoyed Dana Goldstein’s article on the growing trend of campus common reading.  I’ve  been a discussion leader for NC State’s program for at least 8 years or so now.  NC State even got the shout-out for this year’s Between the World and Me, which I’ll be starting soon.

13) Hollywood sure does have a bad movie problem.  Maybe there’s hope that Chinese viewers will stop paying for any American crap with a bunch of explosions and this can get better.

14) This John Roberts graduation speech is so good.  It’s honestly hard to believe that the person who could say these words takes some of the SC positions that he does.

15) I’d noticed some Axios links in my various feeds, but didn’t realize it was basically dumbed-down Politico.  Don’t expect a lot of Axios links here.

16) Ezra’s excellent July 4th essay:

We are diminished when our president lies, and even more so when we begin taking his habitual lying for granted. The New York Times published a comprehensive list of falsehoods Trump told since taking office and found it wasn’t until March that Trump went a full day without saying something flatly untrue. The absence of public dishonesty, for Trump, is usually driven by an absence of opportunity to be publicly dishonest. “On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing,” the Times found…

We are diminished when our president spends his time and energy — and thus the nation’s time and energy — on the wrong issues. At Axios, Mike Allen notes Trump has tweeted the words “opioid” or “opioids” just once — but “loser” 234 times, and “dumb” or “dummy” 222 times. Political capital is finite, and our future is harmed when it is squandered.

We are diminished when the president knows nothing about the issues he faces, and does not try to learn more. It is embarrassing that the president’s staffers have taken to writing his name as often as possible in briefing documents for fear that he will lose interest otherwise, that they fill his press clips with sycophantic praise in an effort to distract him from Twitter, that they fight to appear on Fox & Friends because they know he takes advice from the television better than from his own advisers. We have a president who was not humble enough to realize health care and North Korea are complex problems, and who has not responded to that realization by seriously studying the issues.

17) The science of why bird eggs have different shapes.

18) Among the crazy and horrible things the U.S. does, sending kids adopted from foreign countries as young children back to their “home” country via adult deportation is pretty up there in the wrongness.

19) Texas seems to think that the court system should be fair and merciful for police officers.  Others, not so much.

20) A friend shared something on Facebook about glysophate being responsible for the rise in Celiac and gluten problems.  And it’s based on a study in Interdisciplinary Toxicology.  Well, that sounds good.  Not so much.  Turns out it’s a Slovakian pay to publish journal.  And worst, part, there is not actually Roundup-resistant GMO wheat, upon which the whole idea is predicated.

21) Chait’s been really excellent on Republicans and health care lately:

And today McConnell himself made the same point again. Only this time, he didn’t phrase it quite like a threat. “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement,” heannounced, “then some kind of action with regard to private-health-insurance markets must occur.”

This is, of course, a comical admission that the entire premise of the Republican onslaught has always been a lie. Republicans have insisted for seven years the law was totally beyond repair, and that the entire thing must be repealed, including its Medicaid expansion. The truth is that the marketplaces have largely stabilized, and they face long-standing challenges providing competition in rural areas, but nothing like the death spiral Republicans have claimed. Even Trump’s own health-care experts have admitted the Obamacare exchanges are healthy. [emphasis mine]

If Republicans want to give up their long-standing boycott of any tinkering with the bill and instead pass some simple patches, they might anger some conservatives, but they will also steer clear of inflicting humanitarian disaster on their own constituents, who might not appreciate it.

22) Very nice piece in Upshot about how Republicans are all for local government.  Except when local government is controlled by liberals who want to pass, you know, liberal policies.

The nature of addiction

Great stuff in the NYT on the latest research on addiction and how it changes your brain.  The good news: you can change your brain for the better by changing to a more positive environment.  Bad news: a stressful environment makes your more prone to addiction:

Michael Nader at the Wake Forest School of Medicine showed this in a study of monkeys and cocaine. When monkeys are moved from an individual cage and housed in a group, some become dominant and others assume a submissive role. For those that become dominant — meaning they get more attention, more grooming and more access to food and treats — this is a positive change. They now have more D2 dopamine receptors and are less interested in self-administering cocaine. But for submissive animals, the group setting is a stressful change, and they respond by increasing their use of cocaine.

Strikingly, the effect of environment is easily reversible: Stress the dominant monkey by returning it to a solo cage and its D2 receptors will drop — and its taste for cocaine will increase. In other words, simply by changing the environment, you can increase or decrease the likelihood of an animal becoming a drug addict.

The same appears true for humans. Even people who are not hard-wired for addiction can be made dependent on drugs if they are stressed. Is it any wonder, then, that the economically frightening situation that so many Americans experience could make them into addicts? You will literally have a different brain depending on your ZIP code, social circumstances and stress level.

The last important component of addiction is access. No matter how stressed you are, you obviously won’t become a drug addict unless you’re exposed to drugs. The same goes for compulsive overeating.

I feel quite confident that I’m very high in D2 receptors.  I suspect I’m lucky in that I was probably born with more than my fair share, but I’ve certainly also benefited from a great environment for most of my life.  And, since I’m a good liberal, I’m not going to judge those with stress and fewer D2 receptors who suffer from addiction.  Here’s a thought– public policies that help, rather than punish (thereby greatly increasing stress)– addicts.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Garrett Epps with an interesting take on the church/state issues in the SC’s recent decision.

2) Love this take on insurance from Adrienne LaFrance— “good health never lasts.”

Good morning, fellow mortals!

At this pivotal moment in American policymaking, I’m here to remind you of our individual and collective doom. Wellness, like youth, is temporary. In the end, you either get sick, then die—or you die before you can get sick in the first place. It bears repeating, apparently, at a time when the health-care debate in the United States has become so partisan as to imply the population of sick people and well people is just as cleanly divided as Americans are politically split. But this isn’t the case.

You can’t choose to be healthy or ill the way you can choose to be a Republican or a Democrat. You can’t choose for your babies not to be born with medical problems.

You can do everything right to stay in good health. You can be one of “those people who lead good lives,” as the Alabama Republican Representative Mo Brooks put it in a television interview, explaining why healthy people should get to pay less for insurance than sick people. And you’re still likely to find yourself facing unexpected medical costs at one point or another.

3) Tennessee legislature condemns porn as a public health crisis leading to a decline in marriage.

4) Gorsuch’s anti-gay dissent is really pretty pathetic.

5) Yglesias on the conservative health care vision:

Having worked out a few of the rough kinks in the House plan, conservative wonks are in fact on board for a program that reduces taxes on high-income households by hundreds of billions of dollars and pays for it with hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to health care for lower-income households. The bill leaves Medicare unchanged (indeed, it keeps in place Obama-era reforms that Republicans opportunistically denounced) and it leaves in place the employer-based framework that serves the majority of middle-class Americans.

But it cuts taxes for the rich, cuts taxes for insurance industry players, cuts taxes for some employers of low-wage workers, and it pays for it all by stripping low income people of their coverage without thinking too hard about what happens next. That’s not an absence of vision for what the country should look like, it’s what the vision is.

6) The Art Pope-funded John Locke foundation has this handy “analysis” titled, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on Benefit Mandates.”  Of course, a more apt title might be, “Want Affordable Health Insurance? Scale Back on requiring insurance benefits that people actually need to be healthy.”

7) Love this take from Bill Ayers on the nature of expertise:

But there’s another aspect to expertise that actually contributes to its widespread rejection. The nature of expertise is that people who are experts see things that non-experts can’t see. They perceive things in the universe that are, quite literally, invisible to the rest of us.

This phenomenon has been well-documented in all sorts of arenas. Elite athletes, for example, have been studied extensively. It turns out that, while they tend to be in excellent health and have certain physical gifts, they’re not especially more physically gifted in general than the rest of us. It’s that the tens of thousands of hours of practice they put in have rewired their brains so they can perceive things other’s can’t. That’s why the best hitters in professional baseball actually stand a good chance of hitting a baseball thrown by a professional pitcher, traveling at more than 95 miles per hour. He can see things about that ball that are invisible to the rest of us.

The same is true in medicine. An experienced doctor will see in a list of symptoms, or the way a patient answers a question, possible diagnoses that we know nothing about. Nor can we understand the connections between those little bits of information and the much larger issue. Doctors carry around a whole world of knowledge in their heads that is inaccessible to non-experts.

So it goes for nearly every field of human endeavor. Architects see things in buildings that the rest of us miss. Musicians hear things in music we can’t hear. Engineers, lawyers, designers, auto mechanics – in almost any human endeavor involving expertise, experts are privy to a world out of reach of the rest of us…

I encounter this all the time in my own area of expertise – politics – because, as John Stewart Mill put it over 100 years ago, politics “is a subject which no one, however ignorant, thinks himself incompetent to discuss”. In the political realm, we all think that we can see everything there is to see. And when “experts” come along and try to point out what we can’t see, we often dismiss them because, well, we can’t see what they’re pointing at. We think they’re just making it up.

8) Meant to have this last week.  Trevor Noah on Philandro Castille.  Good stuff.

9) NC State doing its part for breeding better blueberries.  It turns out the real trick is finding tasty blueberries that hold up to machine-picking.

“Right now, 20 percent of blueberries are harvested mechanically, while 80 percent is handpicked,” he said. Because handpicking is expensive, he said, “We want to reverse that – we want 80 percent to be mechanically harvested and 20 percent handpicked.”

I’m all for more affordable blueberries.

10) Kevin Williamson post in National Review about Trump is so good.  Read it.

Trump may have his problems with women, but it is his unrequited love of the media that is undoing him.

“I always tell the president, ‘You don’t need them,’” says Sean Hannity, the self-abasing monkey-butler of the Trump regime. The president, Hannity says, can reach more Americans via Twitter than he could through the conventional media. That isn’t true, of course: Only about one in five Americans uses Twitter. Hannity might be forgiven for not knowing this, a consequence of his much more general habit of not knowing things. But he actually does know the president. How could he possibly believe that this man — this man — does not need them?

He needs them the way a junkie needs his junk.

Donald Trump cares more about how he is perceived in the media than he cares about anything else in the world, including money. Trump is a true discipline of Bishop Berkeley, professing the creed of the social-media age: Esse eat percipi— “To be is to be seen.” Trump is incapable of enjoying anything — money, success, sex — without being perceived enjoying it.

11) How forgetting is the key to learning.

12) Good Jelani Cobb piece on militarizing the minds of police officers:

For the past two decades, David Grossman, a former Army Ranger and self-described product of a law-enforcement family, has been conducting police-training seminars on the use of deadly force. Policing is a complex job that at times requires split-second decision-making. More often, though, it requires a reservoir of knowledge about social interaction and human behavior, and the ability to read situations that may become violent. Officers are granted a great degree of latitude in their work, partly because interacting with the public requires more nuance than any rigorous set of codes could possibly hope to encompass. Grossman’s “Bulletproof Warrior” philosophy, however, dispenses with these gray areas. Here the war on crime is not metaphorical; police are a kind of domestic militia tasked with subduing a potentially lethal enemy. Danger is ambient, ever present, and unpredictable. (Grossman did not respond to a request for an interview.) Grossman’s seminar exists at the opposite pole of the current drive for criminal-justice reform. While progressives emphasize police training to de-escalate conflict, Grossman’s seminar pushes officers to become more comfortable with the use of deadly force. As Grossman informs one group of attendees, “only a killer can hunt a killer.” Killing is a central theme of Grossman’s seminars but is only a fractional portion of law enforcement’s responsibilities. The vast majority of police in this country never use deadly force in the course of their careers. [emphasis mine]

Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, in Minnesota, last year, belongs not only to the small percentage of officers who have killed civilians but also to the much larger group of officers who have attended Grossman’s seminars. He reacted quickly, interpreted an otherwise calm moment as the paramount danger, and fired seven times into a vehicle with a four-year-old girl in the back seat. A jury determined that Yanez had not committed any crime, but, at the very least, no reasonable person would understand his handling of the situation as good policing.

13) Richard Hasen on the absurd fraud that is Trump’s voting fraud commission.

14) How Netflix is trying to be the new HBO.

15) Headline says it all category, “Syrian doctor caught in travel ban gives up, moves to Canada.”  I’m sure he was, in actuality, a potential terrorist wanting to destroy America.

16) It’s nice to be reminded that Harry Potter books were not always a phenomenon.

17) Good piece on the Republicans’ “uncertainty strategy” on Obamacare.

18) How Illinois became a poster child for fiscal mismanagement.

19) I think you know the answer to the question in this Guardian headline, “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?”

The core of Elsevier’s operation is in scientific journals, the weekly or monthly publications in which scientists share their results. Despite the narrow audience, scientific publishing is a remarkably big business. With total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable. In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.

But Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.

20) Some places in America have too many jobs and not enough workers.

21) Another great take on Republican Medicaid cuts, “Plan on Growing Old? Then the Medicaid Debate Affects You.”

These are the stories we tell ourselves: I will never be poor. I will never be disabled. My child will develop normally. They stand a decent chance of being true, even.

There is one tall tale, however, that ought to inspire a great deal of skepticism: I will be able to pay for myself in my old age.

In fact, a majority of people cannot and do not. One in three people who turn 65 end up in a nursing home at some point. Among the people living in one today, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 62 percent cannot pay the bill on their own.

And when that happens, Medicaid pays. The very Medicaid program that stands to have hundreds of billions of dollars less to spend if anything like the health care bills on the table in Washington come to pass.

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