Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting NYT feature on the growth of the anti-vaccine movement in America.

Though the situation may seem improbable to some, anti-vaccine sentiment has been building for decades, a byproduct of an internet humming with rumor and misinformation; the backlash against Big Pharma; an infatuation with celebrities that gives special credence to the anti-immunization statements from actors like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey and Alicia Silverstone, the rapper Kevin Gates and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. And now, the Trump administration’s anti-science rhetoric.

“Science has become just another voice in the room,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, an infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It has lost its platform. Now, you simply declare your own truth.”

The constituents who make up the so-called vaccine resistant come from disparate groups, and include anti-government libertarians, apostles of the all-natural and parents who believe that doctors should not dictate medical decisions about children. Labeling resisters with one dismissive stereotype would be wrongheaded.

“To just say that these parents are ignorant or selfish is an easy trope,” said Jennifer Reich, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver, who studies vaccine-resistant families.

Easy trope or not… these parents are ignorant (by definition!) and selfish.

2) Dahlia Lithwick, “Did the White House Hide a Bombshell Memo From Mueller?”  Ummm, yes, almost surely.

3) On the same theme, Benjamin Wittes on “collusion after the fact.”

It seems obvious, in the context of these concerns, that information that the president informed Russian officials that he did not care about Russian election interference would have been key to this analysis on the FBI’s part—and, later, on the part of Robert Mueller.

But it seems preponderantly likely that Mueller never learned of this information. His report includes plenty of material on Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak the day after Comey’s firing, including Trump’s comments that, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” And it includes detail about Trump’s exchange with an apparently concerned White House Counsel Don McGahn following the meeting. But there is nothing in the report about any comment by Trump informing the Russian delegation that he did not care about election interference. And there are no redactions in this section whatsoever where such information might be hiding…

I actually doubt that this fact would have fundamentally changed the criminal analysis in the Mueller report on “collusion.” The fundamental finding that there, after all, was that there was no evidence of any agreement between the Trump campaign, or Trump himself, and the Russians to violate U.S. law. I’m not sure I see how this would have changed that, it not being evidence of an agreement, just a kind of mutual aid without one. It also takes place after the fact, which would complicate things.

But it rather dramatically affects the “no collusion” narrative. And had Mueller been aware of it, I feel certain that it would have warranted investigation and discussion. The fact that nobody privy to the fact of its having happened came forward even though Comey had publicly announced that the bureau was investigating possible collusion represents—as my correspondent indicated—a triumph of omertà over patriotism.

4) You know what I truly want out of all this– other than saving our democracy, of course– is William Barr in prison.  Seriously.  What an absolute despicable human.

5) So, this was a really interesting take on the 737 Max and quite different from Langeweishe’s I recently shared.  Basically, the failure of this jet is a failure of late-stage capitalism (and how that corrupted Boeing’s corporate culture).  My guess- both this and Langeweishe’s pilot focus are appropriate.

So no more than a handful of people in the world knew MCAS even existed before it became infamous. Here, a generation after Boeing’s initial lurch into financialization, was the entirely predictable outcome of the byzantine process by which investment capital becomes completely abstracted from basic protocols of production and oversight: a flight-correction system that was essentially jerry-built to crash a plane. “If you’re looking for an example of late stage capitalism or whatever you want to call it,” said longtime aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia, “it’s a pretty good one.”

The 737 MAX sailed through its FAA certification flight tests in just over a year. The plane was actually early, which was a good thing from an investor’s standpoint, since Boeing’s last new plane, the 787, had been three years late. Of course, the MAX wasn’t really a new plane, just an “upgrade” of the old 737 that had the benefit of carrying roughly two and a half times as many passengers about three times as far as the original 737.

6) Never really thought about my clothes being “sustainable,” but enjoyed this guide on buying clothes that are built to last.

7) If you haven’t seen anything about the appalling outburst from the former head of ICE, read the whole thing.  If you have, there’s this…

These incidents demonstrate how ICE operated under Homan’s watch. Agents felt free to illegally detain immigrants, then deceive courts to secure their deportation. They treated their targets as legal nonpersons, in a crusade to detain and deport as many as possible. ICE has gone after lawful immigrants, too, attempting to revoke their green cards for no good reason. Homan claimed he simply sought to enforce the laws on the books. But when state legislators began to limit local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with ICE, Homan announced on Fox News that those lawmakers should be charged with crimes.

The first wave of coverage of Homan’s outburst Thursday came from right-wing media, praising his defiance. It was pure Trumpism, the elevation of culture war over the basic constitutional order. Thomas Homan does not recognize the authority of Pramila Jayapal or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He does not think he has to follow their rules. He does not believe that two women of color have any right to hold power over him. “You work for me!” the former government employee screamed at an elected member of the government. He is a man who is used to wielding power against people who look like Jayapal and Ocasio-Cortez. He is the embodiment of ICE under Trump, certain—as so many ICE officers are—that he answers to no one.

8) Pete Wehner, “Trump Is Not Well: Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.”  This is from a few weeks ago, but seriously, even just that liddle‘ tweet was insanely embarrassing.

“I don’t oppose Mr. Trump because I think he’s going to lose to Hillary Clinton,” I told Ben from Purcellville, Virginia. “I think he will, but as I said, he may well win. My opposition to him is based on something completely different, which is, first, I think he is temperamentally unfit to be president. I think he’s erratic, I think he’s unprincipled, I think he’s unstable, and I think that he has a personality disorder; I think he’s obsessive. And at the end of the day, having served in the White House for seven years in three administrations and worked for three presidents, one closely, and read a lot of history, I think the main requirement for president of the United States … is temperament, and disposition … whether you have wisdom and judgment and prudence.”

That statement has been validated.

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

9) I have less interest in country music than I have appreciation for Ken Burns documentaries, so I did not watch his latest.  Nonetheless, is it wrong that articles like this just bug me?  “Ken Burns’ ‘Country Music’ Does Little to Tell the Story of the Non-White, Non-Straight World of Country.”  Okay, I’m no expert, but pretty sure that the non-straight, non-white part of Country is a modest part of the story (and even the article sounds like Burns was pretty decent on the non-white part).

10) The tone of this kind of bugged me, “Cleaner Ships May Mean More Expensive Holidays
New rules designed to reduce sulfur pollution from ocean-going ships will increase demand for low-sulfur fuel, boosting the cost of some imported goods.”  Well, hell, yes, cleaner ships should lead to goods costing more.  Right now, the negative externalities of the sulfur pollution are borne by us all, much better to have less pollution and those costs captured in higher fuel costs.

11) Good stuff from Edsall on campaign finance, “The Changing Shape of the Parties Is Changing Where They Get Their Money: Trump leads among small donors. Democrats now get plenty of support from the wealthy, with predictable consequences.”

A pair of major developments give us a hint about how future trends will develop on the partisan battleground.

First: Heading into the 2020 election, President Trump is on track to far surpass President Barack Obama’s record in collecting small donor contributions — those under $200 — lending weight to his claim of populist legitimacy.

Second: Democratic candidates and their party committees are making inroads in gathering contributions from the wealthiest of the wealthy, the Forbes 400, a once solid Republican constituency. Democrats are also pulling ahead in contributions from highly educated professionals — doctors, lawyers, tech executives, software engineers, architects, scientists, teachers and so on.

12) Drum is pretty right about this, “Saudi Arabia Is the Worst Country in the World.”

I’m hardly a fan of Iran. They chant Death to America! and hold Americans hostage in their prisons. They support terrorist groups around the world that have killed scores of Americans. They bankroll Hezbollah and other extremist groups. There’s not much to like there.

But nothing Iran has done holds even a tiny candle to Saudi Arabia’s behavior. The theological terrorists who control religion in the Kingdom have been exporting their murderous anti-Americanism for decades. Their citizens were behind 9/11 and they bear a fair amount of responsibility for the rise of ISIS as well. They’ve been fighting Yemen forever and their current war has included endless atrocities—which Geraghty generously suggests were merely “botched” operations.¹ Internally they’re as repressive a regime as you can imagine, even more so than Iran. Just recently they murdered a critic and then carved him up with a bone saw to get rid of the evidence. They are forever trying to get America to lay down American lives in their endless proxy wars against Shiite Iran.

I could continue, but why bother? I would say that over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has been America’s worst nightmare. Not Russia, not China, not Iran, not North Korea. All of them are frankly pipsqueaks compared to the damage Saudi Arabia has done to American interests.

And yet we continue to treat them as a friend and ally.² It is truly beyond belief.

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin has been terrific all week.  This is good, “Seven important and awful signs for Trump”

Indeed, it is the muted reaction of Senate Republicans that leads the list of disastrous signs for the president. The assumption that there could never be a vote to remove him or that it would never get Republican votes needs to be rethought…

Fourth, when Trump’s remarks threatening a whistleblower immediately leaked one could see not only a new basis for impeachment but a willingness of all sorts of people to rat him out. There is virtually no meeting or document that will be shielded from view given the number of people involved and the incentive some may have to step forward and be seen as cooperating with Congress, not as conspirators acting in furtherance of crimes.

2) Honestly, this ended up getting way too scientifically complex for me, but I really enjoyed it before it did.  “Cosmologists Clash Over the Beginning of the Universe: What happened before the Big Bang? And what happened before that? Stephen Hawking’s answer—there was no beginning—is now the subject of intense debate.”

3) Drum is right, “We Should Integrate Schools Based on Class, Not Race:

Even after controlling for economic status, attendance at a school with a big racial attendance gap (i.e., heavily black or heavily white) leads to big differences in black-white achievement scores (0.610). However, once you control for differences in school poverty, the effect goes away (0.013).

What’s left is a big effect in exposure to poor schoolmates (0.924). In other words, this confirms what we’ve known for a long time about the effect of concentrated poverty. If a black student goes go to a school that’s heavily black but middle class, it’s no big deal. But if a black student goes to a school that’s heavily poor, he’s doomed.

If you want to take away any good news from this, here’s a glimmer of hope: If the problem really is class more than race, then we can make a case for desegregating our schools based on class. According to Reardon, this would actually be more effective, and it’s probably slightly less incendiary than desegregation plans based on race.

This is, to be clear, only the slightest glimmer of hope. Parents of middle-class kids will probably resist integration with poor kids just as much as parents of white kids resist integration with poor kids. But you never know. Anything that turns down the dial a bit could be helpful.

4) Political scientist David Hopkins on how the battle for the suburbs is complicated:

While city dwellers still serve as stereotypes of Democratic voters, they do not constitute an outright majority of the party. That distinction actually belongs to suburbanites. Indeed, the share of Democratic votes cast by residents of suburban counties — defined as counties within federal metropolitan areas in which a majority of residents live

But Democrats have hit a wall in one critical respect: They have not extended this success to the suburban communities surrounding smaller cities, which remain predominantly — even increasingly — Republican. The suburbs surrounding Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich., for example, provide Republican candidates with more than enough votes to compete in, and often win, statewide elections.

To achieve a durable national majority, Democratic candidates will need to expand their appeal to the less diverse and more culturally conservative electorates of the small-metro suburbs, which remain aligned with the Republican Party even in the era of Donald Trump.

outside the principal city or cities — climbed to 53 percent in 2016 from 41 percent in 1988.

Over the past 25 years, many suburban areas near the country’s biggest cities have gone from dependable Republican strongholds to competitive battlegrounds or even safe Democratic territory. Recent Democratic gains in suburban Houston and Dallas are threatening to turn Texas purple. Outside Los Angeles, the seven districts of Orange County, once the geographic epicenter of the modern conservative movement, were swept blue in the 2018 midterms.

Rising electoral support in the suburbs of the nation’s largest population centers has allowed the Democratic Party to remain nationally competitive in an era of suburban population growth and increasing Republican dominance of rural America.

5) Very good discussion of the evidence for (and problems with that evidence) of the role of processed foods and obesity.  And, yet, pretty sure… eat food, mostly plants, not too much… still does the trick.

6) The creator of the Labradoodle regrets it.  As with everything wrong with dogs, though, it’s all about unscrupulous and thoughtless humans.  Yes, the evil breeders, but damn if people would stop buying dogs from pet stores and puppy mills!!

7) It’s funny the Ukraine stuff got so bad so fast, we’re already quickly past false equivalence and ridiculous “but Joe Biden” stories from the mainstream media.  But, at the beginning of the week it was actually starting out that way.  James Fallows:

If you’ve paid any attention to press retrospectives on the 2016 election, you’ve seen the term false equivalence. It refers to the mismatch between a long-standing procedural instinct of the press and the current realities of the Era of Trump.

Under normal circumstances, the press’s strong preference is for procedural balance. The program’s supporters say this, its critics say that, so we’ll quote both sides and leave it to you, the public, to decide who is right.

This approach has the obvious virtue of seeming fair, as a judge is fair in letting the prosecution and defense each make its case. It has a less obvious but very important advantage for news organizations, that of sparing reporters the burden of having to say, “Actually, we think this particular side is right.” By definition, most reporters most of the time are covering subjects in which we’re not expert. Is the latest prime-rate move by the Fed a good idea? Or a bad one? I personally couldn’t tell you. So if I am covering the story, especially on a deadline, I’ll want to give you quotes from people “on both sides,” and leave it there.

For as long as the press has existed, people have pointed out the limits and loopholes of “let’s hear from both sides” thinking…

But there is a very specific application of these principles to the era of Donald Trump. The problem with Trump is that he is not like anyone else who has ever held the office. He lies with abandon; he uses public office for private gain on a scale never before witnessed; and he seems to have no respect for, or even interest in, the institutions of self-government to which all of his predecessors have at least paid lip service.

Thus any of the “normal” procedural rules, applied to such an abnormal figure, can lead to destructive results. To be “fair” in covering him is to be unfair—to the truth, to history, to the readers, to the national interest, to any concept of journalistic purpose. The stuffy way to put this problem is “false equivalence.” The casual way to put it is “But what about her emails?” [emphasis mine]

8) Adam Serwer:

But behind this unfailing submission to Trump also lie more troubling influences. As the parties have become more racially polarized, and the Republican Party has become more exclusively white and Christian, Republicans have begun to think of themselves as the only genuinely legitimate actors in the polity. This is why Republicans draw districts that hand them more offices even when they fail to win a majority of the votes; it is why Republican legislatures strip Democratic executives of their powers when the electorate foils their efforts to rig elections in their favor; it is why the Trump administration attempted a fraudulent scheme to use the census to diminish the influence of minority voters relative to white voters; it is why Republicans seek to pass laws intended to suppress minority votes; it is why every night on Fox News, viewers hear one host after another outline deranged conspiracies about how Democrats want to steal America from its rightful white owners through demographic change.

Attempts to strip minorities of their rightful place in the polity are a bipartisan American tradition. They emerge whenever one party becomes beholden to an ethnically diverse constituency, and the other answers almost exclusively to white Christians. The contest between the universalist principles espoused by the Founders and their sectarian application in practice has been the principal conflict of American democracy since the beginning.

The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy, but many Republicans have concluded that it is not possible for that to occur legitimately. Without such transitions, democracy is a dead letter. But if your political enemies are inherently illegitimate, then depriving them of power by any means necessary is not effacing democracy; it is defending it. The southern Democrats who stripped black Americans of the franchise at the end of Reconstruction using a battery of literacy tests, property requirements, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses saw themselves not as crippling democracy but as strengthening it, by limiting the ballot to those who were worthy of participating.

The Republican belief that their opposition is inherently illegitimate is one reason it does not matter to many Republicans that Trump’s allegations that Biden sought to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to prevent his son from being investigated are baseless. As CNN’s Daniel Dale has documented, there is no public evidence that Hunter Biden was ever himself under investigation; the prosecutor whose firing Biden called for as vice president was widely considered corrupt; the investigation Biden supposedly shut down was “dormant” at the time Biden expressed the view of the Obama administration that the prosecutor should be fired; and the reason world leaders, including Barack Obama, were demanding his firing in the first place was that he was failing to investigate corruption in Ukraine, not that he was being prevented from doing so. As my colleague David Graham writes, “Biden’s pressure to install a tougher prosecutor probably made it more likely, not less, that Burisma would be in the cross hairs.”

9) Ezra on board with impeachment now and makes a strong case:

Impeachment was meant to be a political remedy for political offenses. But over time, it has mutated into something quite different: a partisan remedy for political offenses. And partisan remedies are subject to partisan considerations. If Trump falls before an impeachment trial, the Republican Party will be left in wreckage. The GOP’s leaders can’t permit the destruction of their own party. They will protect Trump at all costs.

I think we have seen the total collapse of this very basic obligation of Congress under the weight of partisan polarization — particularly on the right — and it is dramatic,” says Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “Trump has exposed it rather than triggered it.”

There have been only three serious presidential impeachment efforts in American history. Every single one of them came when Congress was controlled by the opposition party. “Impeachment has essentially never been effective, except maybe as a deterrent,” says Matt Glassman, who is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

But deterrents matter. Rather than focusing on what impeachment cannot do, it’s worth looking at what it can. The impeachment process, as it stands now, is broken. It almost certainly will not lead to Trump’s removal, no matter how damning the investigation’s findings. But that doesn’t make it useless. It can act as a sanction to Trump and his successors, unearth information voters will need when deciding whether to reelect Trump, and provide a warning to foreign countries that would seek influence over our politics.

That is not sufficient, but it will have to be enough.

10) This “when to trust your gut” from Spencer Greenberg is good.  Though, I’d still prefer it in a 2-minutes-to-read article instead of an 11 minutes Ted Talk.

11) More good stuff from Jennifer Rubin:

The reason Trump makes idiotic arguments (such as “Look, there’s nothing in the transcript!”) is that he knows there are people intellectually and politically corrupt enough to repeat them. [emphasis mine] In this case, that includes Vice President Pence, who declared in an interview on Wednesday that the transcript entirely vindicates Trump. By contrast, Trump suggests that the media start investigating Pence’s conversations with Ukraine.

In essence, Trump has to give Fox News, talk radio hosts, right-wing activists and lackeys in Congress something to say while the legitimate media is pointing out that Trump has committed impeachable offenses and was too dense to understand the import of his own words. (Did Trump even read the rough transcript? It’s a few pages long, so it is quite possible he did not.)

If you keep waiting for that moment when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or the comical Fox News hosts and panelists throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do this anymore! Trump is indefensible!,” do not hold your breath. Graham and McCarthy, as well as most of their Republican colleagues, have either lost the capacity or the will to think rationally and independently; they feel compelled to act like cornered animals facing the snarling teeth of the presidential monster they created. Trump’s media boosters, some of whom know better, are so dependent on their Trump-cult audience that they dare not betray any hint of independent and rational thinking. (Pretending to be as dense as the Trump cult must be demoralizing at some level.)

12) I had no idea “greasing the groove” was a thing when it comes to weightlifting, but, apparently, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing.  And, obviously, I do love this formulation, “Lift Weight, Not Too Much, Most of the Days.”

13) Alexandra Petri with a guide to quid pro quo:

What is quid pro quo?

Quid pro quo is a term that comes from the Latin and means “thing for WHAT??” It is when someone asks someone else to do something for something in a bad way. Quid pro quo is bad, if it happens, but as you will see from the following examples, it rarely does.

Here are some examples that are commonly mistaken for quid pro quo.

1. Person A to Person B

A: That is a nice baby you have there.

A: Look at my beautiful new chainsaw!

A: Please give me $20.

Is this quid pro quo?

No. In this example, Person A is trying to engage Person B by making a series of friendly statements. In the first statement, A compliments B’s baby, a friendly, neighborly thing to do. In the second, A shows off A’s new lawn-care purchase. A takes pride in his lawn. In the third statement, A makes an unrelated request. There is no quid pro quo here.

2. Lord A to Lord B

A: Wow, what a lovely castle!

A: Look at my new catapult!

A: I hope you will apologize for your remarks about my mother.

A: It would be a shame if anything happened to your castle.

In this situation, Lord A immediately demonstrates he is a good friend. A wants B to know that A admires B’s new castle. A also has purchased a catapult, which is the sort of life milestone that anyone would naturally want to share with a neighbor immediately. Also, it seems B maybe owes A an apology!

5. Individual 1 to the president of Ukraine

1: We have done a lot of nice things for you in the past.

1: We hope to do a lot of nice things for you in the future.

1: Please be sure to look into Joe Biden.

Individual 1, once again, is not engaging in even a hint of quid pro quo! He is expressing two positive wishes for his friend’s well-being, past and future, and then making an unrelated request.

Glad we were able to clear this up!

14) Despite not being a particularly common cancer, pancreatic cancer is the third most deadly.  Good article on why and the (so far failed) efforts to do something about that.  There may be some prospects for a blood test in the future, which would be awesome.

Pancreatic cancer, which will be diagnosed in about 56,770 people in the United States this year, is the only cancer with a rising mortality rate through 2014, although five-year survival has begun to inch up, from 8 percent to 9 percent by 2016. It remains the nation’s third leading cause of cancer deaths, after cancers of the lung and colon, and it is on track to overtake colon cancer within a decade. Three-fourths of people who develop pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis, and only about one in 10 live five years or longer.

Perhaps like me you’ve wondered why modern medicine has thus far failed to gain the upper hand against pancreatic cancer despite having achieved major survival advances for more common cancers like breast and colon. What follows is a large part of the answer.

15) My colleagues on the Republicans in the NC government, “Corruption is undermining NC government.”

16) Paul Waldman on the amazingly pervasive corruption within the Trump administration:

Again, there are reasons to criticize Maguire’s decisions. But it seems clear that he was operating in good faith, trying to follow procedures and the law at least insofar as he understood it. Yet everywhere he turned, he faced offices and people who were partners in Trump’s degradation of the system’s integrity. It appears that, without any intent to be corrupt, Maguire was swallowed by Trump’s corruption.

In the end, some combination of public pressure and Trump’s own hubristic foolishness in thinking he can get way with anything led to the public release of both a rough transcript of Trump’s phone call and the whistleblower complaint itself. The substance of those two documents is devastating.

Watching Maguire testify, one got the sense that he knows it and is trying to somehow emerge from his service with his integrity and reputation intact. Perhaps he should have known that, when you agree to work for Donald Trump, that’s going to be next to impossible.

17) I usually find myself persuaded by Garrett Epps, but not with his argument that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should protect people not just on “sex” but must necessarily also protect for “sexual orientation” which cannot be understood outside the concept of sex.  I’m all for protecting LGBT rights, but we should have a law for that, instead of sophistry to suggest that “sex” and “sexual orientation” should be equivalent in law.

18) Cass Sunstein on how the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence both provide a handy guide to impeachment.

19) Chait, “The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.”

The quid pro quo in the call, though perfectly apparent, is mostly implicit. But the real trick in Trump’s defense is framing the call as the entire scandal. The scandal is much more than that. The call is a snapshot, a moment in time in a months-long campaign that put American policy toward Ukraine at the disposal of Trump’s personal interests and reelection campaign.

Last spring, Rudy Giuliani was openly pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden. Giuliani told the New York Times, “We’re meddling in an investigation … because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” The key word there was “we’re.” The first-person plural indicated Giuliani was not carrying out this mission alone. A series of reports have revealed how many other government officials were involved in the scheme.

When Trump ordered military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, he went through his chief of staff and budget director Mick Mulvaney. Congress had passed the aid, and Ukraine was under military attack from Russia, a fact that made the halting of the assistance worrisome to numerous officials in two branches of government. As the Times reported, lawmakers and State Department staffers were asking why the money hadn’t gone through.

They were given cover stories: Lawmakers “were first told the assistance was being reviewed to determine whether it was in the best interest of foreign policy,” the Times reported this week. “Other administration officials said, without detail, there was a review on corruption in Ukraine, according to current and former officials. Then, as August drew to a close, other officials told lawmakers they were trying to gauge the effectiveness of the aid, a claim that struck congressional aides as odd.”

Lots of officials were involved in disseminating these cover stories to hide the fact that Trump held back the aid to leverage Ukraine to investigate Biden. One of them was Mike Pence, who told some confused officials that the aid was being held up “based on concerns from the White House about ‘issues of corruption.’” Pence knew perfectly well what this really meant — asked point blank if the aid was being held up over Ukraine’s failure to investigate Biden, he replied “as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.” In other words, yes, Ukraine needed to investigate Biden if it wanted the money…

There may be many others. Last night on Fox News, Giuliani held up a phone he said included messages with official authorization for his activities. “You know who I did it at the request of? The State Department,” he said. The scheme to shake down Ukraine was a massive plot, spreading through the government and corrupting multiple officials. Trump had a lot of accomplices.

20) Scott Lemieux with the appropriate response to the NYT running an Op-Ed by torture architect and war criminal, John Yoo.  ““WHY ARE WE PUBLISHING THIS MAN, DID WE RUN OUT OF HUMAN BEINGS?”

21) Derek Thompson, “American Migration Patterns Should Terrify the GOP.”

This drip-drip-drip of young residents trickling down into red-state suburbs is helping to turn southern metros into Democratic strongholds. (Of course, migration isn’t the only factor pushing these metros leftward, but more on that later.) In Texas, Democrats’ advantage in the five counties representing Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin (the “Texas Five” in the graph below) grew from 130,000 in the 2012 presidential election to nearly 800,000 in the 2018 Senate election.

In Arizona, from 2012 to 2016, Democrats narrowed their deficit in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, by 100,000 votes. Two years later, in the 2018 Senate election, the county swung Democratic, with Democrats gaining another 100,000 net votes.

In Georgia, from the 2012 presidential election to the 2018 gubernatorial elections, the four counties constituting most of Atlanta and its suburbs—Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett—increased their Democratic margin by more than 250,000.

What’s remarkable about these changes isn’t just their size, but their resemblance to Trump’s 2016 margins. Trump won Texas in 2016 by 800,000 votes. He won Arizona by 90,000 votes. He won Georgia by 170,000 votes. If these states’ biggest metros continue to move left at the same rate, there is every reason to believe that Texas, Arizona, and Georgia could be toss-ups quite soon.

As noted above, migration isn’t the only reason southern metros might be shifting to the Democratic Party: Young southerners are surely pulling their region left, while older residents could be switching parties in response to Trump. Republicans have likely hurt themselves by moving further to the right to galvanize their white exurban and rural base, even as their support has thinned in the suburbs and among working-class white women.

But domestic migration is key.

22) This is really good.  Just because what Hunter Biden did was not actually illegal or “corrupt” it is a great example of how what is so scandalous is what is actually legal.  Sarah Chayes: “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption: Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense, but prominent Americans also shouldn’t be leveraging their names for payoffs from shady clients abroad.”

How did this get to be standard practice?

The whistle-blower scandal that has prompted the fourth presidential impeachment process in American history has put a spectacle from earlier this decade back on display: the jaw-smacking feast of scavengers who circled around Ukraine as Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow-linked kleptocrat, was driven from power. Ukraine’s crisis was the latest to energize a club whose culture has come to be treated as normal—a culture in which top-tier lawyers, former U.S. public officials, and policy experts (and their progeny) cash in by trading on their connections and their access to insider policy information—usually by providing services to kleptocrats like Yanukovych. The renewed focus on Ukraine raises jangling questions: How did dealing in influence to burnish the fortunes of repugnant world leaders for large payoffs become a business model? How could America’s leading lights convince themselves—and us—that this is acceptable? …

But the egregiousness of these acts must not blind us to the culture of influence-peddling that surrounds and enables them. That culture is fundamental to the cynical state we are in, and it needs examining. All too often, the scandal isn’t that the conduct in question is forbidden by federal law, but rather, how much scandalous conduct is perfectly legal—and broadly accepted.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting video on the “Rat apocalypse” in New Zealand and the promise and peril of using Crispr plus gene drive to combat the problem.  Perhaps I’m too much of techno-optimist, but I say go for it.

2) Not all that long ago I think I had somewhat overly brought into the promise of STEM education as the best path to a future job.  I’m still a big fan of STEM, but definitely somewhat more skeptical now.  Caitlyn Zaloom, “STEM Is Overrated: College is not just job prep, and the job market changes constantly.”

At any rate, the rise of temporary work means that college graduates can expect to face spikes and dips in income as they lose or finish one job and worry about when the next will come and from where. On top of this volatility, they also have to contend with the rapid transition to automation in white-collar work. Although media discussions tend to pit robots directly against humans in the quest for jobs, today human abilities are more often complemented by automated tasks. Still, together the temporary nature of work and automation undermine arguments for educations that prepare students for specific skills and jobs. If students accept the argument that their college years should be dedicated to job preparation, graduates cannot be certain that the lucrative jobs they envision will still be available, let alone secure…

Dewey’s argument is sharply relevant today. Rather than impressing on college students that they should commit to particular jobs and the direction of corporate executives, colleges and universities ought to enhance students’ ability to experiment and prepare them for an open future, even one in which automation may play a significant role. When universities can broaden “their reach to become engines of lifelong learning,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun has argued, they will also “robot proof” education.

Today’s students need universities and colleges that will help them navigate a world where constant changes are the norm and where learning how to adapt is the central problem of living and of citizenship. The idea that the college years should be primarily about potential is not idealistic or naive; it is prescient.

3) You know what’s always struck me as dumb?  Painting all “processed foods” with an extremely broad brush.  The Kashi Go Lean I have for breakfast is chock full of whole grains, protein, and fiber.  Sorry, but that’s good– processed or not.  It’s not exactly oreos.  And, sure my vanilla greek yogurt has added sugar, but it sure beats tortilla chips.  Anyway, really liked this in Wired,”Let’s All Just Chill About Processed Foods”

But it’s time to get real about processed foods. For one, processed doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and indeed it’s only because of certain processed foods that people around the world get the nutrition they need. Two, processed foods keep better, cutting down on food waste. And three, if we expect to feed a growing population on a planet with finite arable land, we have to engineer new sources of food, protein in particular.

The core of the confusion around processed foods is definitional. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, processing is—and get ready for this—“one or more of a range of operations, including washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, heating, freezing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, frying, drying, concentrating, pressurizing, irradiating, microwaving, and packaging.”

So … virtually everything you put in your mouth is processed. “Highly refined foods like yogurt, olive oil, and bread have many, many processing steps, and they don’t look anything like the original product they started with,” says Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University…

What people likely mean when they invoke processing has more to do with ingredients. Any bread will involve grinding, mixing, fermenting, and heating. But white bread goes through an extra step to bleach the flour, which removes some natural nutrients, which are later added back in to make it fortified. And something like a Twinkie takes processing to a whole new level, with added corn syrup and, for good measure, high fructose corn syrup thrown in as well.

It’s the added ingredients that have given processed foods a bad name, because while not all processed foods are junk foods, all junk foods are processed. Supercharging taste with saturated fat, sugar, or salt can be easy, but they’re unhealthy hacks when taken too far. [emphasis mine]

4) It’s been a while since I’ve seen “American Beauty” and I recognize that certain elements don’t hold up all that well 20 years later, but I still think it’s a damn entertaining movie, as opposed to the “worst best picture winner of the modern era.”

5) In the totally unsurprising headline, but it still important to mention category, “Trump’s trade war has killed 300,000 jobs.”  So much winning!

6) Okay, apparently I’m five years late to this, but I’m blown away by how good Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is.  I thought no way would I listen to a whole 3+ hour podcast on just the prelude to WWI, but damn is Carlin good.  I’m not on episode two devoted entirely to August 1914.

7) Hurricane forecasts are pretty amazing now.  I really enjoyed this “tale of two hurricane forecasts” comparing Dorian to Cleo in 1964.

8) Speaking of hurricanes, a little old, but Philip Bump placing Trump and Hurricane Dorian directly into the 1984 Orwellian context was the best thing I read the matter.  Also, if you haven’t, you really, really need to read 1984.  

9) Nicholas Kristof on Seattle’s experiment with Raj Chetty’s insights on social mobility to improve outcomes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future: A low-cost experiment in Seattle is breaking the cycle of poverty.”

One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving.

In Rath’s new “high-opportunity neighborhood” in Renton, a suburb, a low-income 2-year-old like Amina will on average earn $260,000 more over a lifetime than growing up in her old neighborhood, Chetty calculates. Such a girl will also be 8 percent less likely to have a baby as a teenager.

The Seattle program is an outgrowth of a national initiative called Moving to Opportunity, which in the 1990s provided vouchers for low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Early evaluations suggested it had failed: Adults who received the vouchers didn’t earn more money.

Then in 2015, a follow-up study shook the policy world. While the moves hadn’t helped the adults, those who moved as toddlers were more likely to go to college, to marry, to earn more money and to pay more taxes — enough to pay for the program with interest.

Subsequent research has backed this finding: Neighborhood matters enormously, for young children. That’s the reason for the focus on Amina: Older siblings will also benefit, but the impact is greatest on those who move young and grow up entirely in a high-opportunity neighborhood.

Chetty has developed an online “Opportunity Atlas” that shows how some neighborhoods around the country, without being more expensive, consistently help children get ahead. It’s still unclear what the secret sauce is, although it apparently has something to do with decent schools, less poverty, lots of dads present in families and positive social norms.

10) I’m confident that JDW (and hopefully others) will enjoy this New Yorker article and video in appreciation of the forehand in tennis.

11) NPR’s Greg Rosalsky with “the case for summer vacation.”  Count me in!

12) This Heather Havrilesky provocatively asks “is marriage obsolete?” but the answer is definitely no.  As with summer vacation, also a big fan of marriage:

It’s hard enough just to live peacefully with someone by your side making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done, interrupting, undercutting, begging to differ. Once you throw in Tinder, internet porn, and our scrolling, tl;dr attention spans, marriage seems not just antiquated but utterly absurd. So why do I love this torturous state of affairs so much? The daily companionship, the shared household costs, and the tax breaks are not enough. Maybe I’m the sort of weak bird who would rather wait for her very flawed mate to come home than go out preening and showboating just to wind up with another flawed mate in the end.

And yet there’s something distinctly reassuring about breaking down, falling into disrepair, losing your charms, misplacing your keys, when you have an equally inept and irritating human tolerating it all, in spite of a million and one very good reasons to put on his walking boots and take his love to town. If marriage is irrational, in other words, as with child-rearing and ambition and art, that’s also part of its appeal. Even when my husband and I go through a rough time, bickering more than usual over how many tantrums a 12-year-old should throw per day or how long a particularly fussy loaf of bread should be left to rise, after we’ve spent a few weeks staring at our phones at night instead of enjoying each other’s company, I can always trust that we’ll enter an equal and opposite period of humble satisfaction and connection. The other day, in the wake of such a market correction, we began our morning walk with the dogs (who are too neurotic to be walked by one person alone), and my husband announced, “The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning was, You don’t have what it takes. You never did and you never will.” This made us both laugh loudly for a solid block.

Marriage can’t simply be about living your best lives in sync. Because some of the peak moments of a marriage are when you share in your anxieties, your fears, your longing, and even your horrors. That commitment, the one that can withstand and even revel in the darkest corridors of a life, grows and evolves and eventually transcends a contract or a ceremony the way an ocean overflows and subsumes a thimble of water…

But by unearthing our most discouraged moments together without turning away, by screeching at the moon side by side, admitting “This is all our fault,” we don’t just reaffirm our love, we reaffirm our shared and separate ability to face the unknown from this point forward. That’s why sickness and death are key to marriage vows. Because there is nothing more divine than being able to say, out loud, “Today, I am really, truly at my worst,” knowing that it won’t make your spouse run for the hills. My husband has seen my worst before. We both know that our worst is likely to get worse from here. Somehow that feels like grace.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

Finally.  The first Saturday 6am quick hits in seemingly forever (I’m thinking of your happiness DJC).  Enjoy.

1) Timothy Egan on why people hate religion (or at least the horribly hypocritical “Christian” Trump supporters)

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor,the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicalssay their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump,” said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior.

2) It is possible that estrogen protects women from mental illness and that they become more susceptible after menopause?  Quite interestingly, yes.

3) It is possible that my phone was listening while a friend was telling me about this research and that’s why the article showed up in my FB feed later that night?  Yes!  And creepy!

4) So, to raise a reader I should neither reward my kids for reading or punish them for not reading, but simply model my love of reading.  You know what?  That latter approach so does not work for my kids.  So, yeah, sometimes I just make them do it.  And, hopefully, if they read enough they’ll actually realize reading is awesome.  But, otherwise, it would be all Fortnite all the time.

5) OMG it’s awful and horrible what’s going on with radical Islamist women at a refugee camp in Syria.  Really, really disturbing read.

6) And a story in the Post, too, “At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule

7) Well, it dropped from the news really quickly (appropriately so, I think), but good work from Ben Wittes on the ridiculous anti-Comey report from the DOJ Inspector-General:

And there it is: the inspector general of the United States Department of Justice taking the position that a witness to gross misconduct by the president of the United States has a duty to keep his mouth shut about what he saw. Remember, after all, that Comey was a witness here as well as the former FBI director. That’s an extraordinary position for a law enforcement organization to take. If that is what FBI policy and an employment agreement required of Comey under the extraordinary circumstances he faced, so be it. I’m glad both were given their due weight.

8a) Yglesias is quite right, “The wild corruption of Trump’s golf courses deserves more scrutiny: Mike Pence is staying three hours outside of Dublin so Trump can make money.”  Democrats really need to sink their teeth into this.  Pretty much any other government employee would be fired over such egregiously corrupt behavior.

8b) Unsurprisingly, Chait is really, really good on this:

As an ethical violation, what’s notable about Pence going (literally) out of his way to stay at a Trump property is the meagerness of the stakes and the black-and-white clarity of the offense. Any government official below Trump’s rank who engaged in a similar offense would be fired. Just imagine if some assistant secretary was running a hotel on the side and told one of their subordinates to stay there on official business. They’d be fired on the spot.

It might seem strange for Trump and Pence to incur the awful publicity that comes with engaging such corruption in broad daylight, especially when the payoff — a handful of additional customers at a resort — is relatively small. But it is precisely that disjuncture between the brazenness and the scale that makes this episode significant. Pence is establishing the principle that Trump is entitled to profit from his office, and — far more importantly — his participation signals his culpability in the scheme.

Trump is generally an outgrowth of the party’s broader authoritarian evolution, but one way in which he is an outlier is his determination to blend his business with his public duties. Before Trump, Republicans never contemplated the idea that a president could run a private business while serving in office. Trump has blurred this line so repeatedly it barely registers when he does so. His staffers promote his daughter’s brand, he touts one of his resorts as a potential host site for next year’s G7 summit, his Washington hotel becomes a marker for foreign and domestic allies to pay tribute — the accretion of small violations gradually implicates the entire party establishment.

9) Some good PS research… why are young Evangelicals sticking with the Republican Party?  Abortion and the stickiness of Party ID.

10a) I read very few autobiographies or memoirs, but I read Andre Agassi’s Open upon the strong recommendation of my friend Laurel (i.e., “Elder” in all the “Elder and Greene” parenthood and politics research) and I’m really glad I did.  The New Yorker found it worth remembering 10 years later.

10b) Which reminds me.  I really should check out some from this NYT list of best memoirs of the past 50 years.

11) Loved this history lesson on the political party system in the 1850’s (I actually wrote a graduate school paper on the topic) for never Trumpers:

Ex-Democrats in the 1850s and 1860s didn’t have to become Whigs. They were able to join a new political party—albeit one dominated by former Whigs.

The shrewdest of today’s Never Trump Republicans realize that they face only one clean choice, and it is, of course, more jarring: Become Democrats or, like the prominent GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, become independents and support Democrats. Third parties have rarely taken flight in American history, and when they have, they rarely stay airborne for long.

Like the Iowan who felt as though he were “tearing [himself] away from old home associations,” Never Trumpers will find it a bitter pill to swallow.

But history offers them some consolation.

In the process of abandoning their party allegiance, most Democrats-turned-Republicans disenthralled themselves from political prejudices that no longer made much sense. In Congress, they avidly supported distinctly Whiggish policies like the Homestead Act, the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, all of which established a foundation for the country’s post-war economic growth. On some level, the war catalyzed this political realignment. But something equally fundamental may also have been at play: Having concluded that their former Whig enemies shared their fundamental commitment to the good of the nation, ex-Democrats freed themselves to imagine a larger space for political collaboration.

12) This was really interesting, “Why Euthanasia Rates at Animal Shelters Have Plummeted: A cultural transformation: Spaying and neutering are now the norm, and rescue adoption is growing in popularity.”

13) I think I might have mentioned (if not here, at least on twitter), my frustration with Elizabeth Warren rejecting nuclear power.  Henry Olsen, “Don’t trust candidates who ignore nuclear power.”  I know he’s forgotten these days, but hooray for Cory Booker.

14) Good stuff (as always!) from Thomas Edsall on the growing education split in the parties:

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.

This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.

The authors, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, political scientists at Duke and Ohio State, make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

For the record I took my Intro to Comparative Politics class with Kitschelt 27 years ago.

15) So, apparently there are three pillars of charisma:

Olivia Fox Cabane, a charisma coach and the author of the book “The Charisma Myth,” says we can boil charismatic behavior down to three pillars.

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

To master this pillar, Ms. Cabane suggests imagining a person you feel great warmth and affection for, and then focusing on what you enjoy most about your shared interactions. You can do this before interactions, or in shorter spurts while listening to someone else speak. This, she says, can change body chemistry in seconds, making even the most introverted among us exude the type of warmth linked to high-charisma people.

16) The miracle treatment for poverty?  Cash for poor people.  Seriously .

17) I had no idea that typical electric cars had a single-speed transmission!  This was really interesting.

To go with a 0 to 60 mph time under three seconds, 750 horsepower, and the ability to refill its battery in just over 20 minutes, the engineers at Porsche gave their all-new, all-electric Taycan a two-speed gearbox. And while that feature is unlikely to grace any headlines, it represents a potentially major shift for the electric car market.

Apart from the Taycan, every production EV uses a single-speed transmission, and gets along just fine. Internal combustion engines need a bunch of gears because they have a narrow RPM window within which they can operate efficiently. For electric motors, that window is much wider, so a single-speed works for both low-end acceleration and highway driving. It does require some compromise, and so EV makers favor low-end acceleration over Autobahn-worthy top speeds. Where most electrics top out around 125 mph (Tesla limits its cars to 163), the Taycan will touch 161 mph.

18) When Sean Trende says, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas” the GOP should worry about Texas.

19) Some interesting research:

There are many reasons people fail to act in environmentally friendly ways. Inertia, for some. Fatalism, for others. Then there’s the difficulty of fully grasping the long-term consequences of our actions.

New research points to another, more surprising disincentive for going green: the fear that others might question our sexual orientation.

As a 2016 study confirmed, environmentalism is widely perceived as feminine behavior. Even today, caring and nurturing behavior is associated with women—and that includes taking steps to sustain the environment.

But as this new paper points out, specific types of pro-environment behavior can align with either masculine or feminine stereotypes. It also reports that engaging in the “wrong” type of environmentalism can lead people to wonder about your sexuality, and perhaps even avoid socializing with you.

20) This really bugged me, “Whole Foods CEO on plant-based meat boom: Good for the environment but not for your health.”  Sure, I’m biased because I love the stuff, but I don’t think the point of this is that it’s health food.  Yes, it is highly processed, but nobody is mistaking fake meat for broccoli and blueberries and it surely lacks some of the bad stuff for you in real meat.  But far more importantly, relative to real meat, plant-based meat is so damn good for the planet.  That’s why I am happy to eat all I can.

21) This interactive NPR feature is really, really cool (and informative!), “PLASTICS
What’s recyclable, what becomes trash — and why”

Can’t we just be rational about hurricane risks?!

No.  Apparently.  OMG I am so sick of this.  Look, if you are along the coast, you have every right to be concerned, worried, close your schools, etc., but in the Raleigh, NC area this is an insane over-reaction.

The official weather forecast is 2-4 inches of rain with winds 20-30 mph.  A miserable day, but, not by any stretch, a meaningful threat to human safety and welfare.  If this was truly a danger, the local school system should basically cancel every single day there are afternoon thunderstorms (and since, the school system goes year-round, there are plenty of those).

Today, I’m especially frustrated with the actual National Weather Service.  I have to wonder if they haven’t been somehow influenced by the mass cultural insanity on this.  I know it’s there job to keep us safe and prepared, but how do we get this?

Here’s the latest official forecast for Wake County:

...TROPICAL STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT...

* LOCATIONS AFFECTED
    - RALEIGH
    - CARY
    - WAKE FOREST

* WIND
    - LATEST LOCAL FORECAST: BELOW TROPICAL STORM FORCE WIND
        - PEAK WIND FORECAST: 20-30 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 40 MPH


And here’s the NWS official definition for a Tropical Storm Warning:

A Tropical Storm Warning is issued when sustained winds of 34 to 63 kt (39 to 73 mph) or higher associated with a tropical cyclone are expected in 36 hours or less. These winds may be accompanied by storm surge, coastal flooding, and/or river flooding.

Emphases are mine.  Notice something?  By their own forecast we will not have Tropical Storm conditions, and yet, we get a warning?  Here’s the map of the likelihood of tropical storm winds (via CNN Storm Tracker which is my new favorite website);  I circled Wake County which is clearly in a 30-40% range at most.  That is not “expected” TS winds.

I know, but so much uncertainty with tropical systems.  Check out the latest spaghetti models.  Not a lot of uncertainty here.  Bad stuff is simply not coming for Wake County, NC.  The models can be well off days in advance– like the ones that had this hurricane going across Florida– but they get more accurate over short term (i.e., the current forecast) and when the hurricanes are closer to land.  This sucker is just not coming for me.

The actual forecast (via Wunderground for RDU airport) is not really scary at all.

So why am I so annoyed about this?  Because so many people and governmental institutions are hysterically over-reacting.  I knew there was literally no hope for my local schools system after the TS “Warning” was issued, despite the reality of their forecast.  But was is truly amazing is that Durham Public Schools and Durham Tech Community College immediately west of us and not even in the warning zone canceled tomorrow.  My son will miss out on a full day of education at nearby Wake Tech because of 20-30mph winds and a lot of rain.  That’s just a waste.  Somehow, as of now at least, NC State has not given in.  But, I’m not sure they can hold out with all the over-reactions around them.  At least I’m Monday-Wednesday this semester so don’t have to worry about my classes being canceled for a windy/rainy day.

Anyway, I’m not saying we should ignore risks or not to take tropical systems seriously.  And I get the uncertainty, really I do (I get how statistics work– really).  But, we as a society just have to rationally weigh risks.  And we don’t.  And how those not in actual serious threat from a tropical system respond to it is such a depressing case.

I swear, one of these days I’m going to do a survey experiment where I describe tomorrow’s weather conditions and say, “would you think that your local school system should close for safety reasons.”  Then I will describe the exact same conditions “caused by Hurricane Charlie off the coast” and (I strongly suspect) watch the willingness to close schools at least double.

(Long lost) quick hits

Quick hits are back!

1) When I’ve read/heard of musical intellectual property violations, it’s typically pretty obvious.  Think Vanilla Ice meets Queen/David Bowie.  Or less dramatically, but still obvious, Sam Smith having Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” at half-speed.  I was not aware that these copyright lawsuits were not totally out of hand trying to claim that basic and universal musical features can be copyrighted.  Good stuff on the matter in Vox.

2) Interesting series on sexism in Political Science in the Monkey Cage, including this, “Political science professors assign fewer readings by women than by men. Here’s why that matters.”  Here’s the thing– I literally have no idea what percent of my readings are by men or women.  I pretty much pay no attention at all to the gender of the author except to make sure I write the name down correctly in the on-line reserve system.  Does that make me sexist?  Heck, when I publish articles, I don’t even know the gender at all of a bunch of our citations.

3) Right now there’s still lots of room for laws to regulate guns under the Supreme Court precedent of DC v. Heller.  This Linda Greenhouse column scared me, though.

4) So, this seems kind of nuts.  Apparently, there’s all these great tools to actually defeat ransomware and Europe is great at helping people use them.  But, the U.S.?  Not so much.

5) Queued up before David Koch’s death, the New Yorker on climate change and the Koch brothers in “Kochland”

“Kochland” is important, Davies said, because it makes it clear that “you’d have a carbon tax, or something better, today, if not for the Kochs. They stopped anything from happening back when there was still time.” The book also documents how, in 2010, the company’s lobbyists spent gobs of cash and swarmed Congress as part of a multi-pronged effort to kill the first, and so far the last, serious effort to place a price on carbon pollution—the proposed “cap and trade” bill. Magnifying the Kochs’ power was their network of allied donors, anonymously funded shell groups, think tanks, academic centers, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which Koch insiders referred to as their “echo chamber.” Leonard also reports that the centrist think tank Third Way quietly worked with the Kochs to push back against efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could have affected their business importing oil from Canada. Frequently, and by design, the Koch brothers’ involvement was all but invisible.

Others have chronicled the cap-and-trade fight well, but Leonard penetrates the inner sanctum of the Kochs’ lobbying machine, showing that, from the start, even when other parts of the company could have benefitted from an embrace of alternative energy, Koch Industries regarded any compromise that might reduce fossil-fuel consumption as unacceptable. Protecting its fossil-fuel profits was, and remains, the company’s top political priority. Leonard shows that the Kochs, to achieve this end, worked to hijack the Tea Party movement and, eventually, the Republican Party itself.

6) Nikole Hannah-Jones essay for the 1619 project really is a must read.  Do it.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

7) From the, “of course, because Republicans are in charge” files, “Tyson wants fewer government inspectors in one of its beef plants. Food safety advocates are raising alarms. Consumer advocates warn that the changes could threaten food safety by keeping red flags out of the sight of expert inspectors.”

8) Elaina Plott on Ken Cucinelli, the xenophobe now helping run Trump’s immigration policy:

Enter Cuccinelli. The former Virginia attorney general joined the Trump administration in late May. His background includes trying to eliminate birthright citizenship, questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and proposing to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense. Accordingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised the president against nominating Cuccinelli to any post that required Senate confirmation. To some, Cuccinelli’s arrival meant that Miller had, at long last, found the consummate ideological ally. (A representative for Cuccinelli declined my request for a phone interview with the director.)…

This week, Cuccinelli has gone on a media blitz of sorts to defend the administration’s crackdown on legal immigration. The new public-charge rule specifically allows the government to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants it deems a financial burden, based on an individual’s current or likely reliance on programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. In an interview with NPR yesterday, Cuccinelli went so far as to suggest a rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Would you also agree that … ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ are also part of the American ethos?” the host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli. “They certainly are,” he replied. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

9) Elizabeth Warren remains my favorite Democratic presidential candidate.  But, I wish she’d respect the fact that the Justice Department was pretty clear that Michael Brown was in no way murdered (the same Justice Department that reported on the horrible, systemic racism of the Ferguson PD).

10) Somehow, I never heard of this incident before.  In Republicans’ America where we are free from all those damn burdensome regulations, kids get decapitated on water slides.  Seriously

In 2012, the Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, together with the senior designer John Schooley, fast-tracked Verrückt’s construction to coincide with an appearance on a reality TV show about amusement parks. (They were also gunning for a Guinness World Record.) Although they had built rides before, neither Henry nor Schooley had a background in mechanical engineering. And according to state law, they didn’t need those credentials to deem their own ride safe. Unlike in the neighboring state of Missouri, water parks in Kansas do not require inspections by a state agency. Still, Henry and Schooley delayed the ride’s opening three times due to safety concerns.

11) To provide a little context for Jeffrey Eptstein’s prison death, Ken White’s, “Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison” was terrific.  And we should all be horrified at the quotidian inhumanity in our prison system.

12) As you know, I never tire of pointing out that health care producers (doctors and hospitals) are typically the real opponent of meaningful reform, not so much the health insurance companies.  But insurers are not great.  Pro Publica, “Health Insurers Make It Easy for Scammers to Steal Millions. Who Pays? You.”

Williams’ case highlights an unsettling reality about the nation’s health insurance system: It is surprisingly easy for fraudsters to gain entry, and it is shockingly difficult to convince insurance companies to stop them.

Williams’ spree also lays bare the financial incentives that drive the system: Rising health care costs boost insurers’ profits. Policing criminals eats away at them. Ultimately, losses are passed on to their clients through higher premiums and out-of-pocket fees or reduced coverage.

Insurance companies “are more focused on their bottom line than ferreting out bad actors,” said Michael Elliott, former lead attorney for the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in North Texas.

13) Nice little Slate feature on how to bond with your teenager. I was pleased to see I already do most of these.  And as damn surly as my 13-year old can be, I really appreciate that he’s still openly affectionate when he’s not busy rolling his eyes at me.

14) Dahlia Lithwick on the utter idiocy of our approach to guns:

Andreychenko didn’t die last week. Instead, officers took the man into custody “without incident.” That’s a tremendous surfeit of good fortune for a man who was apprehended both by an armed bystander and the police. By its very definition, white privilege is the ability to film yourself conducting a “social experiment” with military-grade weapons at the same chain where a mass shooting just happened, without being shot dead in your tracks. Trayvon Martin wasn’t even granted the luxury of being allowed to conduct a “social experiment” with a bag of Skittles.

Instead, Andreychenko was charged with, basically, “scaring the people”—formally with “making a terrorist threat.” Presumably, he and all the other social experimenters will be free to go back to their laboratories of Second Amendment democracy just as soon as this latest mass shooting slips out of our minds. Springfield attorney Scott Pierson even told a local news outlet that Andreychenko might not have been arrested for the incident if it had happened before the shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton. “But because of those things [that] happened, a reasonable person would be fearful of an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle,” he said.

By this logic, Andreychenko could have … what? Waited a week and then tried his stunt then? Chosen a Kmart instead of a Walmart? Worn a lab coat? At what point would a reasonable person believe that “an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle” is just there to shop? A few years back, in response to a rise in men claiming First Amendment rights to mass around restaurants armed to the teeth, Christian Turner and I argued that it’s impossible to tell who’s doing performance art and who’s there to kill or terrorize folks. “Given how many people die every year as a result of gun violence, reasonable observers can’t differentiate between the AK-47 being brandished for lethal purposes and the one being brandished to celebrate freedom and self-reliance,” we wrote. “That’s why reasonable observers tend to feel intimidated and call the cops.”

15) Once the Amazon burns it’s not coming back.  This was a horribly depressing article, “The Horrifying Science of the Deforestation Fueling Amazon Fires.”

16) Always listen to Sean Trende, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas.”

Nationally, the 2016 election can be viewed as a contest that Democrats won in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, but lost in the rural areas.  In the lead-up to that election, prognosticators focused on changes in Democrats’ favor in the urban areas, but forgot just how many people voted in rural areas and small towns in many states. In particular, in states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Democrats’ weakness in rural areas and small towns overwhelmed their strong performance in the larger cities. In the Midwest, a near-majority of the votes are still cast in rural areas, small towns and large towns. The notable exceptions are Minnesota, where over 60% of the votes are cast in metropolitan areas, and in Illinois, which is dominated by metro Chicago.  Tellingly, these are the states that Trump failed to flip.

When people think of Texas, they think of rural areas. Cowboys on horseback, cattle roaming the plains, and giant ranches (complete — for people of a certain age — with J.R. Ewing in a Stetson hat). But while the Llano Estacado – what we might call “stereotypical Texas” – does cover a large swath of the state, it is relatively underpopulated.

The nature of rural America changes dramatically when one crosses the 100th meridian. Here, as famously described by John Wesley Powell, rainfall drops beneath levels required for reliable crop growth, so a flourishing rural population never took hold.  Unlike eastern states, states west of this longitude are better thought of as city states: Think of how Denver dominates Colorado, Phoenix dominates Arizona, Salt Lake City dominates Utah, and Las Vegas dominates Nevada.

Texas straddles the 100th meridian. Eastern Texas is actually an extension of the Deep South: It is wooded, humid, has a large number of small towns and cities, and has some rural African American population. The rest of the state, however, is more like New Mexico or western Oklahoma.  Much of the land is given over to ranching, and few votes are cast there.

Instead, votes are cast in the major metropolitan areas. In 2016, the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas combined for a majority of the vote in Texas. Donald Trump very nearly lost these areas for the GOP for first time in recent memory, receiving just 48% of the vote there. Despite winning the popular vote nationally by larger margins than Clinton, Barack Obama took just 43% of the vote here in 2012, and 45% during his landslide win in 2008.

17) Interesting analogy– today’s Republicans who know the reality of Trump and are just cowards as compared to Vichy French.

18) In a better world, we would have had more news coverage on curing Ebola.  That’s a big deal!  Nice Wired story on how the new treatments work.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The total disrespect for science out of the Trump administration is so depressing.  USDA version (one of many there):

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

2) So, apparently that walking around with a water bottle all day to hydrate may not be so great.   Some interesting research suggests hydrating is much more effective with meals.  Hooray for me and my 60 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper with pizza lunches:

“If you’re drinking water and then, within two hours, your urine output is really high and [your urine] is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says…

“People who are drinking bottles and bottles of water in between meals and with no food, they’re probably just peeing most of that out,” Nieman says. Also, the popular idea that constant and heavy water consumption “flushes” the body of toxins or unwanted material is a half-truth. While urine does transport chemical byproducts and waste out of the body, drinking lots of water on an empty stomach doesn’t improve this cleansing process, he says.

3) This is cool. “Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong.”

Consider the assumptions underlying that common answer:

“Gravity is the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “force.” We can say gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces, but it’s such an outlier that the word “force” becomes nearly meaningless. The strong nuclear force (which keeps atomic nuclei intact) is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which creates the light spectrum), which in turn is up to 10,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force (which facilitates the subatomic interactions responsible for radioactive decay). Three forces, all within six orders of magnitude of one another. Then comes gravitation. It’s about a million billion billion billion times weaker than the weak nuclear.

To put that discrepancy into perspective, you can try this experiment at home. Place a paper clip on a tabletop. There it remains, unmoving, anchored to its spot by its gravitational interaction with the entire planet beneath it. The Earth’s mass is 6,583,003,100,000,000,000,000 tons. A paper clip’s mass is 4/100 of an ounce. Now take a refrigerator magnet and wand it over the paper clip. Presto! You have counteracted the gravitational “force” of the entire Earth with a wave of your hand…

So: “Gravity is.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “is.” We know what gravity does, in the sense that we can mathematically measure and predict its effects. We might anticipate what happens when two black holes collide or when we let go of a rock. But we don’t know how it does what it does. We know what its effects are, and we can give the name “gravity” to the cause of those effects, but we don’t know the cause of that cause.

Not that cosmologists particularly care. In science, knowing what you don’t know is a good start. In this case, it has led scientists to believe that finding a quantum solution to gravity is a key — perhaps the key — to understanding the universe on the most fundamental level. Until then, they will work with what they do know, no matter what every bone in their bodies tells them:

Gravity is not the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.

4) I find it astounding and depressing that we still have headlines like this in 2019.  How clueless of a school administrator do you need to be to not get this.  “Georgia school faces backlash over display of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ black hairstyles.”

5) Don’t quite understand what the Fed does and feel like you should?  Just take 5 minutes with this from Planet Money.

6) Michelle Goldberg asks, “Why Not Cory Booker? He’s winning the debates and he’s great on paper. When will he catch on?”  I’m not about to put money on him, but Booker is good stuff and I think there’s still a non-trivial chance he’ll catch on.  I would be a very enthusiastic supporter.

7) Our criminal justice system is so disgustingly screwed up in systematically unfair ways.  This Radley Balko headline kind of says it all, “A young black football player was arrested after claiming ‘cocaine’ on his car was bird poop. It was bird poop.”

This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.

Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.

  • Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
  • Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
  • Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
  • 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere? …

Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaptortilla doughdeodorantbilliards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mintsloose-leaf teaJolly RanchersvitaminsKrispy Kreme doughnut glazeairTylenoljust about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience storedry wallBC powdercotton candypowdered sugar, and now . . . bird poop.

8) Dahlia Lithwick with the best take of the photo of the Trump’s with the orphaned baby in El Paso:

Trump is really only good at one thing: being on television. Any event that can be engineered to look like a scene from The Apprentice can be fudged to his advantage. Stadium rallies, press availability from inside the Oval Office, even canned speeches read from a teleprompter can be salvaged; so long as he is essentially only producing a simulacrum of presidenting, he can shift along. But reality confounds him. Take him out from behind the oceans of fawning MAGA hats and put him next to a real survivor of sexual violence, and all the grinning and preening tricks fail him. Put him next to actual heads of state discussing actual international policy, and he sulks and mopes. Oh, he can pull off the photo-op; this is a man made of photo-ops. But time and time again, when he is called on to deal with real people—not glassy superfans but genuine human beings whom he allegedly serves as president—he fails to meet the occasion. The consummate reality-TV president is unerringly confounded by reality.

It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans—that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.

Trump cannot function in reality. He lives in a hall of mirrors with his made-for-TV family, as the national security apparatus, the national intelligence apparatus, the foreign service, and foreign policy detonate all around him. And on the rare occasion on which he is called to step out from behind the glass panopticon that he has built, he fails, spectacularly, because that which really matters can’t be tweeted or reduced to a campaign video.

9) Another only-in-America health care story (at least among industrialized nations), “He lost his insurance and turned to a cheaper form of insulin. It was a fatal decision.”

10) Love what David Morse is doing with his students, “I teach my college students to lie. Honestly. Whoppers. It’s good for them.”

To begin, each student adopted the persona of a real-world politician, journalist or so-called expert, then used a Twitter-style platform to advance their arguments, criticize their opponents and introduce new “evidence.” With gusto, the Liars took advantage of the tools in the deceivers’ playbook, larding their lies with facts (e.g., government experiments on vulnerable populations), asking leading questions, posing worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, the Truthers, beholden to the facts, could not provide an accurate answer to the liars’ demands as to the location of the missing prisoners. Instead they feebly attempted to shift the debate to the jobs that NASA creates, or criminal justice reform.

11) As much as I love Vox on policy, articles like this always end up with me rolling my eyes in dismay, “Orange Is the New Black celebrated diverse women. It also exploited their stories.”  One of the few shows that tells stories of diverse women to a mainstream audience, apparently, because the writing is sometimes cliche and mediocre, they are actually “exploiting” these women.

12) David Graham on presidential appointments:

Ideally the goals of serving the president and serving the people and the Constitution do not conflict, but the important moments are the ones when they do. Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the withdrawal of Representative John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican he’d tapped to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. That abortive nomination lays bare how acute this tension has become in the Trump administration.

13) I watch Jurassic Park movies pretty much every time they are on basic cable TV (I still love having cable and just flipping through the guide on weekends to see what’s on).  Anyway, was utterly fascinated to learn this about amber fossils:

That amber fossils exist at all is a bit of a miracle—a succession of miracles, even. First, a tree has to be oozing sap (in the Dominican Republic, amber forms from the sap of the Hymenaea tree). Healthy trees don’t dribble goo—trees do so only when they are stressed by damage, insects, fires, or disease. The resin acts like a translucent bandage, protecting the tree from further injury.

Then, an insect or other creature has to be trapped in the resin. The most common victims are flies (about half of biological inclusions are flies), but social insects such as ants, bees, and termites are also often found in stalactites of resin. The creature either drowns as the sticky goo fills its mouth and spiracles (bug lungs) or starves as it struggles to escape the resin. Most insects or arthropods fossilized in amber are less than seven-eighths of an inch long, since larger creatures can usually pull themselves out of the resin’s deadly grasp.

The resin must then land on wet, swampy soil and, eventually, end up in a freshwater current—if the resin lands on a dry forest floor, it will disintegrate into powder or crack into pieces. Once in freshwater, the resin must flow to an ocean or marsh, where it can be covered by sediment in an oxygenless environment. In this prehistoric kitchen, with millions of years of time plus pressure, the resin hardens into a polymer, in the same way plastic is made from petroleum. The resin has then become amber—nonreactive, stable, and a perfect preserver for the life caught inside.

When plate tectonics or erosion brings the amber to the surface, human hands can pick it up or chisel it out of the surrounding gray layers of lignite.

14) Good stuff in Wired on the difficulty of human spaceflight all the way to Mars.  Maybe a good pillow would help.

15) Misunderstanding of the nature of opioid addition are so common.  Great stuff from Sally Satel:

In tightening controls on doctors who prescribe pain relievers, state and federal agencies were focusing on the aspect of the problem most subject to regulatory intervention.

To some degree, the strategy worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths declined by around 5 percent in 2018—a dip attributable almost exclusively to fewer deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids. (Fentanyl deaths are still climbing.) Now that the fever of the opioid crisis may be breaking, Americans can revisit some of the stories we have told ourselves about the role of prescription medication in the crisis.

Did policymakers and public health experts correctly assess who was at risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications? Were their views on the addictive potential of such drugs realistic? Did they anticipate the consequences of policies devised to constrain doctors from over-prescribing? In retrospect, policymakers seriously misjudged the answers to these questions, overestimating the risk that these drugs posed to the average patient while simultaneously doing too little to urge clinicians to identify those most vulnerable to addiction. The best time to correct course is now—while the opioid problem still commands public attention, and before the restrictions imposed at the height of the crisis harden into permanent practice…

In fact, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication report receiving the drugs from their doctor, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Misuse is a term that includes anything from taking an extra pill beyond the quantity prescribed by a doctor to full-blown addiction.) About half obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative, while others either stole or bought pills from someone they knew, bought from a dealer, or went out looking for a doctor willing to write prescriptions.

People who abuse pills are rarely new to drugs. The federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, revealed that more than three-fourths of misusers had used non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, or inhalants. A study of OxyContin users in treatment found that they “were not naive individuals with accidental addictions who were introduced to painkillers by their physicians as reported by the media…[instead they had] extensive drug use histories.”

Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in single digits; studies show an incidence from under 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed towards the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

16) Jonathan Bernstein: “The Long, Slow Destruction of the U.S. Government: The Trump administration continues its attacks on foreign policy, innovation and economic management.”

Item: Sue Gordon announced her plans to retire as principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking decades of experience with her, in a less-than-appreciative letter — what Dan Drezner called “Mattis Letter II.

Item: A Foreign Service officer resigned in an op-ed, saying “ I can no longer justify … my complicity in the actions of this administration.”

Item: The Donald Trump administration is finding creative ways to destroy the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which Catherine Rampell describes as “arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency.”

That’s all from Thursday. They are hardly the only examples of how the administration is, to put it bluntly, destroying the U.S. government.

We’ve seen this from the start of Trump’s presidency, and it continues. I don’t think there’s any full accounting of all the damage that’s being done, whether it’s attacks on government statistics or the capacity to do science or the well-publicized war against an accurate census.

Some of this, like the attacks on the intelligence community, seem to be a combination of Trump’s personal preferences and conspiracy-minded thinking in Republican-aligned media. Some of it is mindless budget-cutting from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Trump likely neither knows or cares about. Some of it is what happens when the government is turned over to the short-term interests of major corporations.

But in the long term, the U.S economy will likely pay dearly for it. Economic management will suffer without reliable statistics. Productivity will suffer without government assistance in innovation (regardless of what ideologues on one side or the other will claim, innovation in the U.S. has always been a product of both public and private initiatives).

And the same thing for U.S. foreign policy, and really everything else.

This is of course not to say that everything the federal government does is worthwhile or running at maximum efficiency. Or that every federal bureaucrat is delivering for the nation. But there’s nothing systematic about any of what’s happening here. No plan. No strategy. No effort to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. It’s just basically random attacks on random pieces of the government. It will take years to recover from. In some ways, perhaps the nation will never recover.

17) This is really good from Peter Beinart, “What the Measles Epidemic Really Says About America:
The return of a vanquished disease reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.”

Declining vaccination rates not only reflect a great forgetting; they also reveal a population that suffers from overconfidence in its own amateur knowledge. In her book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jennifer Reich notes that starting in the 1970s, alternative-health movements “repositioned expertise as residing within the individual.” This ethos has grown dramatically in the internet age, so much so that “in arenas as diverse as medicine, mental health, law, education, business, and food, self-help or do-it-yourself movements encourage individuals to reject expert advice or follow it selectively.” Autodidacticism can be valuable. But it’s one thing to Google a food to see whether it’s healthy. It’s quite another to dismiss decades of studies on the benefits of vaccines because you’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. In an interview, Reich told me that some anti-vaccine activists describe themselves as “researchers,” thus equating their scouring of the internet on behalf of their families with the work of scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways, the post-1960s emphasis on autonomy and personal choice has been liberating. But it can threaten public health. Considered solely in terms of the benefits to one’s own child, the case for vaccinating against measles may not be obvious. Yes, the vaccine poses little risk to healthy children, but measles isn’t necessarily that dangerous to them either. The problem is that for others in society—such as children with a compromised immune system—measles may be deadly. By vaccinating their own children, and thus ensuring that they don’t spread the disease, parents contribute to the “herd immunity” that protects the vulnerable. But this requires thinking more about the collective and less about one’s own child. And this mentality is growing rarer in an era of what Reich calls “individualist parenting,” in which well-off parents spend “immense time and energy strategizing how to keep their children healthy while often ignoring the larger, harder-to-solve questions around them.”

18) Definitely the summer of Fornite for the Greene kids (and the neighbor kids who are over here playing it with them every day).  And, oh my, is my poor wife tired of it.

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