Quick hits (part II)

1) Very cool NYT visualization of how “The Democratic Electorate on Twitter Is Not the Actual Democratic Electorate. ”

2) Jonathan Ladd with a great MIschiefs of Faction piece, “The Senate is a much bigger problem than the Electoral College: While the Electoral College is a stranger, more poorly designed institution, the Senate poses much bigger challenges going forward.”

Because of their similarities — they are both unusual, state-based, winner-take-all constitutional features — it is easy to assume that the Senate and Electoral College both distort democratic representation in similar ways. But this is not the case. The Senate gives a big advantage to voters in small states, because every state gets an equal number of Senators.

Thus, California’s 39 million people get two senators in Washington, while two Senators also represent states like Wyoming (578,000 people), Vermont (626,000 people), and Alaska (737,000 people). In 2013, the New York Times pointed out that the six senators from California, Texas, and New York represented the same number of people as the 62 senators from the smallest 31 states. (Florida has since passed New York to be the third-biggest state, but the pattern persists.)

People in overrepresented states are not the same as the people in underrepresented states. While there are a few small states on the coasts (hello, Rhode Island and Delaware!), many more small states are inland and rural. The coasts and their large cities tend to be in larger states. This means that the economic and infrastructure needs of cities get less representation in the Senate.

America’s nonwhite population tends to be overwhelmingly in large or medium-sized states. To illustrate, the 10 biggest states (by 2018 Census estimates) all have nontrivial percentages of nonwhite voters, while the 10 smallest states mostly consist of rural, overwhelmingly white states…

The Senate’s representational biases make it harder to do many things, including continuing to reduce systematic unequal treatment of nonwhite people in American society and trying to mitigate climate change. The most plausible reforms — ending the filibuster and admitting DC and Puerto Rico — only begin to reduce the problem. Anyone working to improve American public policy needs to think hard about the vexing problem of Senate reform, because without such reform, adequately addressing the most serious problems facing the United States is impossible. [emphasis mine]

3) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander looking at the relationship between brain size as well as other features, like neuron density, across the animal kingdom and how that relates to intelligence:

To cut to the conclusion: birds have lots of cortical neurons, and number of cortical neurons may be one of the most important biological substrates of intelligence.

It looks like the main driver behind the encephalization quotient results is that bigger animals have bigger neurons. Although elephants have big brains, each of the neurons in those brains is also big, so they don’t have many more neurons than smaller animals. One exception is primates, who have “managed to escape this scaling factor”. In primates, bigger brains translate into more neurons at about a 1:1 rate, which is part of why we’re so smart.

The other exception is birds. Driven by the need to stay light enough to fly, birds have scaled down their neurons to a level unmatched by any other group. Elephants have about 7,000 neurons per mg of brain tissue. Humans have about 25,000. Birds have up to 200,000. That means a small crow can have the same number of neurons as a pretty big monkey.

Does this mean they are equally smart? There is no generalized animal IQ test, so nobody knows for sure. But AII tried to get a rough feeling for this by asking blinded survey participants to rate the intelligence of various animal behavioral repertoires (which, unknown to them, corresponded to the behaviors of either a primate or a bird). They found that participants judged birds to be about as smart as similarly-neuroned primates. In particular, birds with more neurons were rated as smarter than primates with fewer neurons, which is a pretty crushing blow to us monkeys. It also suggests that the different organization of the mammalian cortex and the avian pallium doesn’t matter much.

So does that mean that intelligence is just a function of neuron quantity? That the number of neurons in your brain, plugged into some function, can spit out your IQ?

It…comes pretty surprisingly close to meaning that.

4) North Carolina’s extreme pollen is so bad this year it made the NYT (including these photos that went viral on FB):

Storm clouds pushing pollen over Durham, N.C., earlier this week.  Reuters

5) My own beloved wife actually got taken in by the faux, bad-faith, outrage over Ilhan Omar and 9/11.  Conor Friedersdorf is on the case:

Last month, Representative Ilhan Omar attended a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where she delivered remarks for roughly 20 minutes.

A major theme was prejudice against Muslims. “Here’s the truth,” she said. “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Omar’s meaning was clear: Many Muslims felt collectively blamed for something that was indisputably perpetrated by a tiny fraction of their co-religionists and marshaled new resources to protect their civil rights in response. (CAIR was actually founded in the 1990s, but expanded significantly after 9/11.)

Her speech was covered live. It generated no blowback upon delivery. Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as ‘Some people did something,’ then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil.”

CAIR is not, in fact, a terrorist organization. Anyone with third-grade reading comprehension can review Omar’s clumsy words and see that they do not, in fact, assert that 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, nor that its perpetrators were not terrorists. Arriving at the opposite conclusion requires interpreting Omar’s words in a manner that is both implausible and willfully optimized for offense-taking.

Nevertheless, Representative Dan Crenshaw retweeted the imam’s remarks, seizing a chance for a woke callout and the expression of disdainful outrage. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” he wrote. “Unbelievable.”

What’s “unbelievable” about imperfect extemporaneous speech?

There was no reason to suspect that Omar holds any objectionable views about 9/11. Crenshaw was opportunistically drawing attention to an unintentionally problematic word choice, like an “SJW” filing a frivolous complaint about a microaggression. He needlessly drew attention to an inartful locution on an emotionally fraught topic. And he was not the worst offender…

At the Washington Examiner, Tom Rogan shows the way. “I do not believe Omar’s words were designed to deride our fallen fellow citizens,” he writes. She was emphasizing “the ideological separation between American Muslims and al Qaeda.” It is understandable “why Omar would be frustrated at the damage that the 9/11 attacks did to American perceptions of her faith,” he added. “Many Muslims also died on 9/11, and the vast majority of American Muslims are decent patriots. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that was her key point: al Qaeda are not us, and their evil should not be used to collectively punish Muslims. You don’t have to approve of CAIR or Omar to appreciate the legitimacy of this idea.”

6) Parents leave a loaded gun in a car with their two kids.  Four-year old shoots and kills six-year old.  If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.  But, in gun-loving America, it’s not.  That really needs to change.

7) I knew that the St Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington was a rookie sensation.  I had no idea he was 25 or had such an interesting backstory.  It also makes me wonder how many clearly qualified professional athletes are in the minor leagues while they are nonetheless better than the people at the top level.  I suspect it is not a trivial number.

8) Trump’s trade war doing so much damage to all sorts of farmers.  Of course they still love him.

9) This is good and true, “To Reform the Police, Target Their Union Contract.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — After decades of lawsuits and mass protests failed to radically reform the troubled Police Department, we tried a new tactic a few years ago: Targeting one of the most problematic police union contracts in the country. As a result, Austin went from having a retrograde contract to one that offers transparency and accountability. Others cities can follow this route as well.

For years, the Austin Police Department’s contract limited civilian oversight, allowed police misconduct records to basically vanish and kept certain important internal affairs files under seal. This lack of oversight, accountability and transparency was linked to the over-policing of Austin’s black community…

For 18 months, our group, the Austin Justice Coalition, led a major grass-roots organizing campaign. We demanded a seat at the bargaining table with the City Council and the police union and pressed for reforms with teeth.

And we won.

In 2017, the City Council voted down the police union contract because of concerns over accountability, not for the usual reasons like salary or benefits — reportedly the first time a City Council has ever done this.

10) This is some awesome social science & historical research:

Emancipation should have laid waste to the Southern aristocracy. The economy was built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans, and almost half the Confederacy’s wealth was invested in owning humans. Once people could no longer be treated as chattel, that wealth evaporated.

But less than two decades after the Civil War, Southern slave-owning dynasties were back on top of the economic ladder, according to an ambitious new analysis from Leah Boustan of Princeton University, Katherine Eriksson of the University of California at Davis and Philipp Ager of the University of Southern Denmark.

Their research upends the conventional wisdom that slave owners struggled after they lost access to their wealth. Yes, some fell behind economically in the war’s aftermath. But by 1880, the sons of slave owners were better off than the sons of nearby Southern whites who started with equal wealth but were not as invested in enslaved people…

The findings by Boustan and her colleagues indicate generational inequality in the United States isn’t just about the money. Even after the enslaved people on whom their wealth was built were freed, Southern elites passed their advantages to their children through personal networks and social capital. [emphasis mine]

11) Nice Washington Post Op-Ed on border policy, “Neither Trump nor Democrats have advanced a solution for the border. Here’s one.”

A cogent plan to cope with the tsunami of asylum-seeking migrants, mainly Central American families and unaccompanied minors, would start with hundreds more immigration judges to supplement the existing 400 or sowhose backlog of roughly 800,000 cases means that hearings are now scheduled for 2021 and beyond. It would mean expanding and constructing detention centers near the border, suitable for families, that could accommodate many multiples of their current capacity while migrants await the adjudication of their cases. And it would probably entail congressional action that would permit authorities to hold families for more than the three weeks that court decrees have set as a limit on detentions that involve children. Crucially, the existence of a functional system would in short order begin to deter migrants without plausible asylum claims from embarking on the risky and expensive journey.

12) OMG, Brett Easton Ellis‘ recent interview on politics was insane.  This guy should so not be writing anything about politics.

13) Joshua Spivak “The electoral college is a failure. The Founding Fathers would probably agree.”

The electoral college did not succeed in warding off the creation of “cabals” — better known today as political parties. And as the 2016 election showed, foreign powers have been very happy to try to manipulate the election, and the current version of the electoral college did nothing to limit such behavior.

Despite this, all the plans to get rid of the electoral college are, at the moment, fantastical. The Republican Party is firmly opposed to the idea, and there seems little hope that Republicans will change their minds. The Interstate Compact has not been adopted by any “red” states, and even if it passed, it would be certain to face legal challenges.

It’s safe to say the electoral college is here to stay. But in accepting that, we shouldn’t pretend as though the electoral college is part of some grand bargain that the founders enacted to balance the country. It’s not. Instead, it’s a relic of the 18th century that failed in some of its most important intended purposes.

14) We had a interesting class discussion this week about why it seemed everybody was seeming to run for president.  Occasioning this photo:

This NYT story addresses the dynamics at work:

But at the very least, if recent history is a guide, a run is likely to yield better things, perpetuating the victory-in-defeat incentive structure endemic to modern presidential politics.

Today’s primaries tend to produce one nominee but many winners. Beyond the long-shot candidates effectively auditioning for cabinet positions or building a profile (and donor base) for future races, there are prospective books to sell and television contracts to sign, boards to join and paid speeches to paid-speak. Any setback is temporary, any embarrassment surmountable.

“There’s just absolutely no downside and only upside,” Antonia Ferrier, a longtime Republican strategist and former senior aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, said of quixotic presidential runs. “It is an industry of self-promotion. What better way to self-promote than run for president?”

15) This is fun, “You Are Not as Good at Kissing as You Think. But You Are Better at Dancing.: We overestimate and underestimate our abilities in weird ways.”

More recent studies have found examples in which people tend to underestimate their capabilities. One found that most people thought they would be worse than average at recovering from the death of a loved one. Another study reported that people thought they were worse than most at riding a unicycle. Here, they exhibit illusory inferiority.

So when are people likely to be overconfident in how they rank? And when are they underconfident?…

Four factors consistently predicted overconfidence. (If you want to try this yourself, go here.)

First, people tend to be overconfident on skills that reflect one’s underlying personality or character. This helps explain why people overestimated how they compare with others in their ethics, their reliability as a friend and their value as a human being.

And since many people feel pressure to conform to gender norms, this may help us understand why men and women tend to be particularly overconfident on different tasks. Across the 100 skills tested, men are a bit more overconfident overall in how they compared themselves with members of their gender. But men’s overconfidence is particularly noticeable in stereotypically male tasks. Men think they can best the majority of other men in poker, fixing a chair and understanding science. Women are far less confident that they can outperform other women in these tasks.

In contrast, women think they are better than most other women in understanding other people’s feelings, cooking a delicious meal and child-rearing. Men are less confident that they outrank other men in these tasks…

Next, the researchers found that people tend to be overconfident on tasks that are perceived as easy and underconfident on tasks that are perceived as hard. People overestimate how they compare with others in chopping vegetables (easy) but underestimate where they rank in their ability to recite the alphabet backward (hard).

16) Really likes this pro-nuclear power Op-Ed.  I’m totally on board.  “Nuclear Power Can Save the World: Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy.”

But we actually have proven models for rapid decarbonization with economic and energy growth: France and Sweden. They decarbonized their grids decades ago and now emit less than a tenth of the world average of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. They remain among the world’s most pleasant places to live and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany to boot.

They did this with nuclear power. And they did it fast, taking advantage of nuclear power’s intense concentration of energy per pound of fuel. France replaced almost all of its fossil-fueled electricity with nuclear power nationwide in just 15 years; Sweden, in about 20 years. In fact, most of the fastest additions of clean electricity historically are countries rolling out nuclear power.

This is a realistic solution to humanity’s greatest problem. Plants built 30 years ago in America, as in France, produce cheap, clean electricity, and nuclear power is the cheapest source in South Korea. The 98 U.S. reactors today provide nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity generation. So why don’t the United States and other countries expand their nuclear capacity? The reasons are economics and fear.

New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. This is why so few are being built. But they don’t need to be so costly. The key to recovering our lost ability to build affordable nuclear plants is standardization and repetition. The first product off any assembly line is expensive — it cost more than $150 million to develop the first iPhone — but costs plunge as they are built in quantity and production kinks are worked out.

Yet as a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it, while France has two types of reactors and hundreds of types of cheese, in the United States it’s the other way around. In recent decades, the United States and some European countries have created ever more complicated reactors, with ever more safety features in response to public fears. New, one-of-a-kind designs, shifting regulations, supply-chain and construction snafus and a lost generation of experts (during the decades when new construction stopped) have driven costs to absurd heights…

All this, however, depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public and many activists. The reality is that nuclear power is the safest form of energy humanity has ever used. Mining accidents, hydroelectric dam failures, natural gas explosions and oil train crashes all kill people, sometimes in large numbers, and smoke from coal-burning kills them in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year.

By contrast, in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one (many deaths resulted from the tsunami and some from a panicked evacuation near the plant); and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day. (Even if we accepted recent claims that Soviet and international authorities covered up tens of thousands of Chernobyl deaths, the death toll from 60 years of nuclear power would still equal about one month of coal-related deaths.)

17) On a related note, Jesse Singal, “How The Left Can Lose The Political Battle Over Climate Change.”

18) There’s ever more streaming services and that’s not actually so great for consumers.  Nice Washington Post piece, “How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey, complicated mess.”

19) Loved this Krugman, “Donald Trump Is Trying to Kill You.”

But the biggest death toll is likely to come from Trump’s agenda of deregulation — or maybe we should call it “deregulation,” because his administration is curiously selective about which industries it wants to leave alone.

Consider two recent events that help capture the deadly strangeness of what’s going on.

One is the administration’s plan for hog plants to take over much of the federal responsibility for food safety inspections. And why not? It’s not as if we’ve seen safety problems arise from self-regulation in, say, the aircraft industry, have we? Or as if we ever experience major outbreaks of food-borne illness? Or as if there was a reason the U.S. government stepped in to regulate meatpacking in the first place?

Now, you could see the Trump administration’s willingness to trust the meat industry to keep our meat safe as part of an overall attack on government regulation, a willingness to trust profit-making businesses to do the right thing and let the market rule. And there’s something to that, but it’s not the whole story, as illustrated by another event: Trump’s declaration the other day that wind turbines cause cancer

But there’s more to this than just another Trumpism. After all, we normally think of Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, as people who minimize or deny the “negative externalities” imposed by some business activities — the uncompensated costs they impose on other people or businesses.

For example, the Trump administration wants to roll back rules that limit emissions of mercury from power plants. And in pursuit of that goal, it wants to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from taking account of many of the benefits from reduced mercury emissions, such as an associated reduction in nitrogen oxide.

But when it comes to renewable energy, Trump and company are suddenly very worried about supposed negative side effects, which generally exist only in their imagination. Last year the administration floated a proposal that would have forced the operators of electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear energy. The supposed rationale was that new sources were threatening to destabilize those grids — but the grid operators themselves denied that this was the case.

So it’s deregulation for some, but dire warnings about imaginary threats for others. What’s going on?

Part of the answer is, follow the money. Political contributions from the meat-processing industry overwhelmingly favor Republicans. Coal mining supports the G.O.P. almost exclusively. Alternative energy, on the other hand, generally favors Democrats.

20) This Amanda Ripley essay on how to have better journalism by taking into account social science (such as all the great Kahneman and Tversky stuff) is really good.  And, really, really long.  But you’ve got all Sunday.

or decades, economists assumed that human beings were reasonable actors, operating in a rational world. When people made mistakes in free markets, rational behavior would, it was assumed, generally prevail. Then, in the 1970s, psychologists like Daniel Kahneman began to challenge those assumptions. Their experiments showed that humans are subject to all manner of biases and illusions.

“We are influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over, and we don’t know we’re doing it,” as Kahneman put it. The good news was that these irrational behaviors are also highly predictable. So economists have gradually adjusted their models to account for these systematic human quirks.

Journalism has yet to undergo this awakening. We like to think of ourselves as objective seekers of truth. Which is why most of us have simply doubled down in recent years, continuing to do more of the same kind of journalism, despite mounting evidence that we are not having the impact we once had. We continue to collect facts and capture quotes as if we are operating in a linear world.

But it’s becoming clear that we cannot FOIA our way out of this problem. If we want to learn the truth, we have to find new ways to listen. If we want our best work to have consequences, we have to be heard. “Anyone who values truth,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote in The Righteous Mind, “should stop worshipping reason.”

We need to find ways to help our audiences leave their foxholes and consider new ideas. So we have a responsibility to use all the tools we can find — including the lessons of psychology.

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Quick hits (part I)

1) It’s very early yet, but really promising stuff coming out of the LeBron James-sponsored public school in Akron:

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” Mr. James said in a telephone interview hours before a game in Los Angeles for the Lakers. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

The school opened with some skepticism — not only for its high-profile founder, considered by some to be the best basketball player ever, but also for an academic model aimed at students who were, by many accounts, considered unredeemable…

The scores reflect students’ performance on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, a nationally recognized test administered by NWEA, an evaluation association. In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th.

The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

The students have a long way to go to even join the middle of the pack. And time will tell whether the gains are sustainable and how they stack up against rigorous state standardized tests at the end of the year. To some extent, the excitement surrounding the students’ progress illustrates a somber reality in urban education, where big hopes hinge on small victories.

2) Even if airlines don’t want to keep buying the 737 Max, they’ve got little choice:

Yet for all the uncertainty facing Boeing today, analysts believe there is little long-term risk to the company. Boeing and its European rival Airbus are the only significant manufacturers of commercial aircraft. And the 737 Max, for all its problems, remains one of two midsize fuel-efficient passenger jets on the market, along with the Airbus A320neo.

“Boeing’s best protection is that this is a supply-constrained industry,” Mr. Aboulafia said. “There are only two modern airplanes that offer fuel savings. The risk of defection is minimal because of that.”

Nor is there much risk that airlines that have already placed orders with Boeing will walk away, analysts said. With Airbus also backlogged, airlines looking for new planes have no real alternatives.

“Boeing’s ability to modify the aircraft effectively, the duopoly structure of the aircraft market, the large installed base of 737s, and Boeing’s deep and long-term relationships with its customers mean that demand for the Max will not change dramatically,” Mr. Seifman wrote.

3) Chait with an update on Trump’s “war on democracy.”

In recent days, the warning lights have flashed as bright as ever. Trump has ramped up the volume of his authoritarian rhetoric. This week alone, Trump has used “treasonous” as a description for both Democratic immigration policy (“I think what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS. Their Open Border mindset is putting our Country at risk”) and the Mueller investigation (“In fact, it was an illegal investigation that should never have been allowed to start. I fought back hard against this Phony & Treasonous Hoax!”).

Meanwhile, he is energetically subverting the independence of the Federal Reserve. The country’s economic health and the president’s standing are generally in alignment, but to the extent that they diverge, Trump wants to ensure that the Fed will prioritize the latter over the former. He has appointed a pair of flagrantly unqualified hacks to the board. “He wants guys he can call at home at night and tell them what he wants done,” a former administration official tells The Wall Street Journal

The Republican Senate recently mounted faint, ineffectual resistance to Trump’s plan to unilaterally redirect federal funds for a purpose Congress has rejected. And it has formed a solid wall of support behind Trump’s refusal to hand over his tax returns to Congress, despite both deep-rooted norms and law supporting the demand that he do so. This is in keeping with a broad Republican decision that Trump is entitled to run a personal business empire while holding office without disclosing the numerous avenues for corruption this arrangement opens up.

Also this week, Attorney General William Barr supplied fresh evidence he is carrying out the job the way Trump has always demanded: as a Roy Cohn figure committed to ignoring Trump’s misconduct while hounding his enemies. Barr announced he is investigating the possibility that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign. The most likely explanation for what went on, and the one supported by all the known evidence, is that the FBI merely investigated figures associated with the Trump campaign who were connected with Russian intelligence, not the campaign itself. But Barr instead teased more nefarious explanations, even prejudging the outcome of his investigation. (“I think there was a failure among a group of leaders [at the FBI] at the upper echelon.”) And he attacked the FBI for allegedly failingto inform the Trump campaign of Russian infiltration, when in fact it did exactly that

The most dire outcomes do not have to be the most probable outcomes in order to legitimately command our attention. We know for sure that whatever Trump’s capabilities, the malevolence of his intentions lies beyond dispute. If Trump does win reelection — a prospect that is close to a coin-flip proposition under current economic conditions — that would place us now barely more than a quarter of the way through his presidency.

4) Good stuff from Paul Waldman:

Congratulations are in order to JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States. It just reported that in the first quarter of 2019 it made a record profit of $9.18 billion on $29.9 billion in revenue. Truly, we are living in an age of boundless prosperity.

Well, some of us are. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made $31 million last year. Which led to an interesting exchange between him and first-term Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) this week in a Capitol Hill hearing, when Porter asked Dimon to consider the financial situation of a teller working at Dimon’s bank in Irvine, Calif., the location of her district.

A video of Porter questioning Dimon is spreading, and it’s an excellent reminder of something with profound implications for next year’s presidential campaign…

Porter is uniquely situated to do this kind of questioning. A law professor with deep expertise in topics such as bankruptcy, she is quickly becoming one of the financial services industry’s most formidable critics on Capitol Hill. And she was doing more than making Dimon uncomfortable. She was obviously trying to make a larger point not just about JPMorgan Chase or even just about the banking industry, but about the American economy in general.

That point is this: If you have a bank that’s making $9 billion in profit in a single quarter, with a CEO who makes $31 million a year, and yet people who work for that bank can’t possibly make ends meet, something is very, very wrong. And that should be at the center of the campaign of every Democrat running for president.

5) Nice analysis from Pew, “State Drug Imprisonment Not Correlated With Drug Use, Arrests, or Overdose Deaths.”

6) Nice summary of what science has found a year in space did to Scott Kelly, relative to his identical twin, Mark.  Though, this Wired story is actually way more interesting and more fun.

7) The current Jeopardy! champion is a professional gambler and, damn, is he just kicking butt.

8) Okay, so the woman who opened up this “clean” Chinese food restaurant is a total idiot (it’s clean, in the sense of organic, gluten-free, etc.), but damn is the whole culture of ready-offense-taking and cultural appropriation so tiresome.

9) The anti-climate-change right is pushing its message in Finland(!).

HELSINKI, Finland — When they really wanted to rile up conservative voters this spring, the politicians from Finland’s nationalist party made a beeline for the rawest subject in this year’s general election.

No, not immigration. Climate.

As Finland’s other parties competed with each other to offer ambitious climate goals ahead of Sunday’s general election, the Finns Party has seized on climate as a new front in the culture wars, warning its conservative, working-class supporters that they are being betrayed by urban elites.

Aggressive environmental measures will “take the sausage from the mouths of laborers,” warned a Finns Party politician, Matti Putkonen, in a recent televised debate. And, more important, from dogs and cats, whose food, he said, would increase in price by 20 to 40 percent.

“What are you going to say to the little girl or boy who cries when Mom and Dad say that they can’t afford it any longer?” he said. “And take the lovable pet to be put down?”

10) Pew with an early look at the 2020 electorate.

In 2020, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z

11) Jonathan Bernstein on the Republic vs. Democracy foolishness and some nice points about the nature of democracy:

I don’t really know whether the “republic-not-a-democracy” folks are sincerely just misguided pedants or if they are actively trying to use a confusion in the language to place restrictions on voting rights. Either way, they’re just plain wrong. In 21st century America, democracy and republic should be used interchangeably.

12) Love this ruling on needlessly mandatory skirts for girls’ school uniforms:

Three girls in North Carolina were fed up with a school policy prohibiting female students from wearing pants. Skirts, they said, were uncomfortable and restrictive. They wanted to be free to play at recess, do cartwheels with the boys and focus on learning in the classroom — not the position of their legs.

So the girls, then ages 5, 10 and 14, decided to do something about it.

What began with a school petition by one of the students seeking to allow girls to wear pants to school stretched into a yearslong battle that culminated last week when a federal judge struck down the school’s uniform policy as unconstitutional.

“The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” the judge, Malcolm J. Howard, wrote in the ruling, filed on Thursday.

The ruling landed amid a larger discussion about how female students of all ages are viewed, after recent episodes at other schools.

13) Enjoyed this from Scott Alexander.  Here’s just a sampling:

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. “Mutton” takes the popular vote, but “grass” wins in the Electoral College. The wolves wish they hadn’t all moved into the same few trendy coastal cities.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The Timber Wolf Party and the Gray Wolf Party spend most of their energy pandering shamelessly to the tiebreaking vote.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Everyone agrees to borrow money, go to a fancy French restaurant, and leave the debt to the next generation.

Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The sheep votes for the Wolf Party, because he agrees with them on social issues.

14) Interesting idea.  Actually, I spend a lot of time with kids and pretty much never ask them this question, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up: The question forces children to define themselves in terms of work.”

15) Why are walruses plunging to their deaths en masse in a new nature documentary (that my family so needs to watch)?  Climate change.

16) James Hamblin on the health importance of human touch and the changing ground rules of how we think about it.

17) Michael Lewis has a new podcast on the podcast network co-founded by Malcolm Gladwell.  Podcast nirvana.  And, yes, it is great.

18) I read this article title to my wife this week, “How to Stop Thinking Your Teen Is ‘Pushing Your Buttons’ Do clothes on the floor make you crazy? Experts say that the tension is often about the way the parent responds.”  She responded, “uhhh, yeah, tell them to spend time with Evan at 6:30am or right when he gets home from school.”

19) How insane is it to try and make meaningful conclusions about human health from a group of 10(!!) college students.  Pretty insane.  The NYT should no better, as most of the commenters mentioned.  We need good research on sitting and exercise.  This isn’t it.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Republicans have a new solution to climate change.  Just keep chanting “innovation” like a mantra while ignoring the fact that actual innovation is shaped by policy choices that Republicans are opposed to.

2) Speaking of climate change… also enjoyed this Vox piece on wind power.  Especially because it showed this cool US wind map that shows that, yes, Lubbock, Texas was indeed by far the windiest place I’ve ever lived (also, let’s go Red Raiders!).

3) Nice piece looking back on Nirvana and “Nevermind” (easily one of the best albums ever) on the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.  I remember I was visiting OSU before starting grad school on that day.

4) And growing partisan polarization on the environment.

Line graph. The percentages of U.S. Republicans (19%) and Democrats (65%) who worry a great deal about the quality of the environment.

5) In the queue too long, but so worth reading.  Radley Balko, “The criminal justice system also has an ‘alternative facts’ problem.”

It has been nearly 10 years since the National Academy of Sciences sounded the alarm about the shortcomings of forensics. Since then, there have been countless follow-up studies, state and national commissions, reports, panels and — to underscore the conclusions those entities reached — a consistent wave of crime lab scandals all over the country.

In the past year, Voxthe Nation and NBC News have published lengthy treatises on the basic problem: Many of the forensic disciplines used in courtrooms across the United States are unreliable and entirely subjective, using methods unsupported by scientific research. Forensic malfeasance has even crept into the plots of TV police and legal dramas.

The crisis in expert testimony seems to be resonating just about everywhere except for the one place it’s most crucial: in courtrooms. But the problem is bigger than forensics and junk science. It isn’t that the courts have been duped by phony expertise or quackery; it’s that the criminal justice system has evolved to disregard its own mistakes. Courts rarely correct themselves, even when they get something fundamentally wrong. And because they make their own rules, there’s no one to tell them to get it right.

6) Likewise, too long in the queue.  Really liked this take on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to economic policy:

But the Democratic Party would be smart to embrace Senator Warren’s approach and a broader pre-distribution agenda as its next big idea because it deals with the root causes of inequality in America and therefore the voter frustration that helped make Donald Trump president.

Pre-distribution is less costly than redistribution because it mostly entails regulatory reforms rather than big spending items, like free college or job guarantees. So it would not provoke many Americans’ deep-seated mistrust of big government as much as calls for redistribution would.

Conservatives argue that pretax earnings simply reflect the free operation of the market, but they don’t. There is no pristine free market — just real-world markets thoroughly sullied by imbalances of power and regulations that favor corporations over workers. We should not be shy about revising these regulations to achieve more equitable growth. This would not undermine the capitalist economy; it would enrich it.

We tend to speak of the government and the market as adversaries in economic policy debates. They aren’t. The government makes the market work, with vast implications for public welfare. Getting serious about pre-distribution means delving into all the things that governments do to enable modern markets to function properly, from corporate law to antitrust…

The pre-distribution agenda, while rooted in the minutiae of government regulation, actually has a simple core message. It is not about rigging the system to benefit the poor and the middle class, but about unrigging it from benefiting the wealthy and the powerful. It is about shaping markets to allocate returns from economic activity more fairly in the first place rather than trying to correct inequities after the fact.

In essence, it is about giving consumers more value for their dollar and workers the wages they are due. What could be the problem with that?

7) Greg Sargent, “Trump is floundering disastrously on multiple fronts. Stop pretending he’s in control.”

8) I’ve got a number of colleagues with standing desks.  Sit down already :-).  The latest research via CBC, “There is little evidence that standing desks make you healthier or help you lose weight.”

But is it really better to stand all day, rather than sit? Can standing make you healthier, or help you lose weight?

Dr. Aaron Carroll isn’t so sure.

“In fact, there’s very little evidence at all that switching people from sitting to standing desks makes much of a difference on anyone’s health,” he said.

With the proliferation of reports about the hazards of sitting, Carroll can understand why people think standing is better, but says that the connection between poor health and sitting isn’t always so simple.

“We’re trying to argue somehow that it’s the sitting that makes people unhealthy, instead of saying that perhaps people who are otherwise unhealthy or poor or unemployed or who have other issues are sitting a lot, and that’s what’s making them unhealthy, not necessarily the sitting,” he said.

Standing is not exercise

Standing is not exercise, and jobs that require people to spend most of their day standing often tend to be unhealthier, Carroll said.

“Just standing doesn’t get you the same kinds of benefits or health effects that exercising would,” he said. “Secondly, there’s not a lot of great evidence to show that exercise is the way to lose weight. Most of the way that people lose weight has much more to do with what they’re eating and nutrition than it does with exercise.”

While standing does not bring the health benefits people think, Carroll says it is important to get up and move during the day.

“People need to get up every once in a while, walk around and be active,” he said. “There’s probably a bunch of reasons that might be a good idea, the least of which is weight loss. It might actually clear your head, it might provide you with a better work environment, it might improve your mood. All of those things are great.”

Carroll says his goal isn’t to talk people out of standing desks altogether.

“If you find that using a standing desk helps you in a personal way, it relieves pain, it makes you more comfortable, by all means do it,” he said.

Honestly, I really dislike standing for extending periods.  But I’m quite happy getting up to stretch, move around, etc., on a fairly regular basis.  Totally sticking with that.

9) Cannot wait for the nationwide rollout of the “Impossible” Whopper.  The non-animal future of meat is definitely on it’s way.

10) Pretty interesting column from David Brooks on how Canada may be showing the right way to combat poverty.

11) Some AEI guys who suggest some market-based reforms for Republicans to embrace on health care.  Not necessarily horrible ideas, but this was a clear case where the commenters understood the issue better than the writers. You would think they would notice that all those countries thaty deliver better and more care for less money are not doing this through embracing more free-market principles.  Let me know next time you shop for a cardiologist based on price and outcomes.

12) Went to Frogfest yesterday and my son asked me how it was going with amphibians and the evil fungus.  Not good.  Bonus frogfest photo below:

(Super late) Quick hits

Sorry to be late.  I spent Friday and Saturday in (mostly) Wilmington, NC area learning about leadership and disaster response with NCSU Park Scholars.  It was good stuff.   And, then I had a horrible headache much of Sunday.   Anyway, here you go:

1) Let’s start with a slightly older, but really good one.  Nicholas Stephanopolous nicely explains the legal case against gerrymandering.

2) Ezekiel Emmanuel knows his health care policy, “Bernie Sanders Thinks He Can Vanquish Health Insurers. He’s Wrong.: His “Medicare for all” plan is the best known—and the most politically impractical.”

The real obstacle to Sanders’s plan is the public’s expectations. As much as Americans hate insurance companies in general, they want the right to have a love-hate relationship with their own insurer. During the battle over the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama promised, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” When a handful of Americans lost their plans, the backlash was tremendous—even when the cancellations had nothing to do with the new law. The polling data today are clear: When Americans are told they might have to give up their current insurer, fewer than 40 percent support Medicare for all. That’s nowhere near enough to override the entrenched interests in health care.

More important, Sanders’s Medicare for all would put almost all private insurance companies out of business—or diminish them to runts. These companies manage more than $1 trillion in revenue per year and cover more than 175 million Americans. For Sanders and his supporters, the prospect of putting nearly all those companies out of business is a major attraction of Medicare for all. But no trillion-dollar industry has ever just rolled over and died. Insurers have experience fighting far less ambitious health reforms—and winning…

Emmanuel continues with his favored Medicare for America approach:

By allowing businesses to continue to offer private insurance and allowing insurers to compete in Medicare Part C, these proposals expand coverage—and the government’s role in health insurance—without threatening private insurance companies with extinction. In fact, a number of insurers might see an opportunity under Medicare Advantage for all to enroll new customers.

There are also good policy rationales to preserve a role for private insurers. While progressives often claim these companies do nothing for the health-care system but add paperwork and extract profits, this view is anything but universal. Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurers currently enroll about a third of seniors and are the fastest-growing part of Medicare. The evidence—only 2 percent switch back to regular Medicare— suggests that seniors like these plans and, by implication, the private insurers that offer them. In addition, having multiple payers adds competition, which can improve performance and prevent the government’s health plan from ossifying. The health systems of the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland all include multiple competing private insurers and sickness funds.

3) Rethink laptops in the classroom yet again?  Maybe.  Interesting evidence, but for now I am going to continue to disallow them.

4) Local news is dying and that is genuinely horrible for American democracy:

The newspaper industry has been in a tailspin since internet companies ate the $5 billion in classified advertising they’d been raking in, and social media became an alternative entry point to the day’s news. Worse, the solution that saved the The New York Timeshigh-margin digital subscriptions—has not yet proved itself for smaller papers. Just 14 percent of Pew’s survey respondents said they had paid for local news in some way in the past year. Forty-nine percent of the people who didn’t pay cited the “widespread availability of free content” as their reason why, according to Pew…

Local television has proved a more resilient business. Despite viewership declines and the loss of deeper forms of reporting, the industry has only been very, very mildly contracting.

But newspaper reporters used to be the backbone of every local journalism ecosystem. Medium- and large-sized cities sometimes had hundreds of them, and their publications’ formats allowed for the day-to-day coverage and investigative explorations that make civic journalism valuable to communities.

5) Pete Buttigieg with some pretty damn smart observations on democracy and capitalism:

Pete Buttigieg

I think the word “socialism” has largely lost its meaning in American politics because it has been used by the right to describe pretty much anything they disagree with. To the extent there’s a conversation around democratic socialism — even that seems to be a little squishy in terms of what it actually means.

I think of myself as progressive. But I also believe in capitalism, but it has to be democratic capitalism.

Part of the problem here is that you have one generation that grew up associating socialism with communism like they’re the same thing, and therefore also assuming that capitalism and democracy were inseparable. I’ve grown up in a time when you can pretty much tell that there’s tension between capitalism and democracy, and negotiating that tension is probably the biggest challenge for America right now.

You don’t have to look that hard to find examples of capitalism without democracy — Russia leaps to mind. And when you have capitalism without democracy, you get crony capitalism and eventually oligarchy. So a healthy capitalist system, working within the rule of law, is the stuff of American growth and can be the stuff of equitable growth. But we don’t have that right now.

Zack Beauchamp

Talk to me more about that tension and how you see the concept of “rule of law” playing into it.

Pete Buttigieg

The big issue we have right now is regulatory capture.

When you’re in a system where money can equate to power, even more than it has historically, through the ability to purchase influence in politics, what starts to happen is the bigger you are and the more resources you command, the more you can bend the system to your advantage.

I think that structure helps to explain why our society has become more and more unequal. And all sorts of horrible side effects happen when you have that inequality, in addition to it just being morally upsetting. Look at the way that a lot of powerful businesses get their way in Washington. In statehouses it’s even more pronounced, because there’s less scrutiny.

It also leads to much greater concentration and consolidation in our economy. People are usually talking about that right now in the context of the tech sector, but it’s just as big a problem or bigger in the agricultural sector. This is a nation-wide illness that winds up threatening both democracy and capitalism.

6) These efforts on the gender pay gap would help move things in the right direction, but there really is only so much you can do with this kind of policy.  Either women need to stop having babies or society needs to change (to be clear, I recommend the latter):

But her bill doesn’t get at another important root cause of the gender pay gap: the economic impacts of motherhood. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote, Princeton University economist Henrik Kleven found that mothers in Denmark (a country with a robust social safety net) saw their earnings take a significant hit after they had a child. Kleven compared the salaries of mothers to childless women and to men and found that “childbearing accounts for 80 percent of the gender wage gap in Denmark.”

And, of course, it’s not so different in America.

7) This was really, really good.  Using evolutionary principles to better treat cancer.

8) Is it time for us to eschew “statistical significance” as traditionally used?  Probably.  Good summary in Vox.

9) Frank Bruni with a nice profile of Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate cheated out of the NC-9 election.  Honestly, I didn’t realize he was such an impressive guy.

10) Thomas Edsall sums up a lot of really good recent Political Science analyses with an eye towards 2020.  And… Trump will lose.   Umm, no, not that simple.  Lots of stuff does look really good for Democrats.  But presidents usually get re-elected, especially with a strong economy.

11) The under-appreciated superfood?  Fiber.  I’m in a very small minority of actually getting my recommended daily allowance every day.  I eat plenty of unhealthy food and y’all know how much pizza I eat.  But I get my fiber, damnit.

12) Drum on how the divorce rate is down mostly because the marriage rate is down:

If marriage rates are down, you’d naturally expect fewer divorces. So let’s take a look at the divorce rate as a percentage of the marriage rate:

Divorce as a percentage of marriage has fallen a bit in recent years, but the bigger picture shows that it’s been roughly flat since 1975. There’s something to see here, but not quite as much as it appears at first glance.

13) This animation of the 10 biggest cities in the world over time is amazing.  Watch it.

14) This is really good.  “A brutal attack almost killed her husband. It transformed Abby Maslin into a different person.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) What to make of Mueller report being submitted even though we don’t know what’s in it?  Just ask Benjamin Wittes.

2) Krugman on the importance of not using “Medicare for all” as a Democratic purity test.  He’s also a fan of Medicare for America:

But even if optimistic claims about Medicare for All are true, will people believe them? And even if most people do, if a significant minority of voters doesn’t trust the promises of single-payer advocates, that could easily either doom Democrats in the general election or at least make it impossible to get their plan through Congress.

To me, then, Medicare for America — which lets people keep employment-based insurance — looks like a much better bet for actually getting universal coverage than Medicare for All. But I could be wrong! And it’s fine to spend the next few months arguing the issue.

3) Yglesias makes the case for 2020 as the year of the woman:

Regardless of what exact role you think misogyny played in the coverage Clinton received and the reactions people had to her, the outcome of the 2016 campaign should not make you think a woman can’t beat Trump. Clinton would’ve won if she’d had slightly better luck. She would’ve won if the state boundaries were drawn slightly differently. She would’ve won if she’d made a couple of smarter decisions in the past. And most important, she would’ve won if the underlying fundamentals were narrowly in her favor rather than narrowly against her.

Nobody knows how promising the fundamentals will be for Democrats in 2020. But if they’re favorable, there’s every reason to think a woman nominee will win, and if they’re not, there’s every reason to think a man will lose.

Women have a good track-record overall

Only one woman has ever been a major-party nominee for president, and that exact same woman is also the only one who (back in 2008) managed to come close to the nomination before falling short. Consequently, it’s inherently difficult to distinguish the misfortunes Hillary Clinton has faced in presidential politics from the misfortunes women have faced.

What we do know from Jennifer Lawless’s 2016 book surveying women who run for Congress is that on average they do just fine. People who run for office get attacked, of course. And when women get attacked, they tend to get attacked in misogynist terms. But on average, women who obtain major-party nominations for Congress do just as well as men. Women were badly outnumbered in Congress itself not because they performed poorly in elections, but because they were much less likely to run in the first place.

4) Max Boot is so fun to read now:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left.

5) David Leonhardt, “It Isn’t Complicated: Trump Encourages Violence: He doesn’t deserve blame for any specific attack. He does deserve blame for the increase in white-nationalist violence.

To Trump, the incident was part of a larger problem: “You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

This wasn’t the first time Trump had mused about violence, of course. He has talked about “Second Amendment people” preventing the appointment of liberal judges. He’s encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs. He has suggested his supporters “knock the hell” out of hecklers. At a rally shortly before 2018 Election Day, he went on a similar riff about Bikers for Trump and the military.

I’m well aware of the various see-no-evil attempts to excuse this behavior: That’s just how he talks. Don’t take him literally. Other Republicans are keeping him in check. His speeches and tweets don’t really matter.

But they do matter. The president’s continued encouragement of violence — and of white nationalism — is part of the reason that white-nationalist violence is increasing. Funny how that works.

After Trump’s latest threat, I reached out to several experts in democracy and authoritarianism to ask what they made of it. Their answers were consistent: No, the United States does not appear at risk of widespread political violence anytime soon. But Trump’s words are still corroding democracy and public safety.

6) I love that New Zealand is making an effort not to use the name of the mass shooter.  Of course, this NYT story about that names him, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

7) Really enjoyed the Theranos/Elizabeth Holmes documentary on HBO.  I really could not get past her absurdly fake deep voice.  I honestly found myself wondering how so many people were taken in by her.

8) The over-priced insulin so wonderfully/awfully symbolizes the rot in health care policy in America:

This month, Eli Lilly and Company announced with some fanfare that it was manufacturing a generic version of its own best-selling insulin brand, Humalog, which it would sell for half off — $137.35 versus about $275.

David Ricks, the chief executive of Lilly, said the company was making this seemingly beneficent gesture because “many patients are struggling to afford their insulin.”

But they’re struggling, in large part, because since 2001 Lilly has raised the price of a vial of Humalog to about $275, from $35. Other insulin makers have raised prices similarly.

In Germany, the list price of a vial of Humalog is about $55 — or $45 if you buy five at a time — and that includes some taxes and markup fees. Why not just reduce the price in the United States to address said suffering?…

Instead, Lilly decided to come out with a new offering, a so-called authorized generic. This type of product is made by or under an agreement from the brand manufacturer. The medicines are exactly the same as the brand-name drug — often made in the same factory with the same equipment to the same formula. Only the name and the packaging are different.

It is perhaps, a sign of how desperate Americans are for something — anything — to counteract the escalating price of drugs that Lilly’s move was greeted with praise rather than a collective “Huh?”

Imagine if Apple sold a $500 iPhone for $250 if it was called, say, a yPhone, and simply lacked the elaborate white box and the little Apple on back. That would be patently absurd. An iPhone in a brown paper bag is still an iPhone. And Humalog with a new name isn’t a generic — except according to the bizarre logic of the pharmaceutical industry. Like so many parts of our health care system, its existence has more to do with convoluted business arrangements than health.

9) Enterprise Rental Car’s take on a college degree is interesting.  Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Why Thousands of College Grads Start Their Careers at a Rental-Car Company.”

To the company, a college degree matters mostly because it suggests that a candidate has acquired the right mix of skills to succeed in an entry-level job — and to move up the ladder from there. Its hiring philosophy and practices — which have been in place for decades — can tell us something important about what a B.A. truly signals.

But the company doesn’t see higher education the way higher education sees itself. Enterprise doesn’t pay much attention to where prospective trainees went to college, what they studied, or their grades. The company does care, though, that they finished college: Trainees are required to have a bachelor’s degree.

Why? The big benefit of a bachelor’s degree is soft skills, says Marie Artim, Enterprise’s vice president for talent acquisition. She ticks off some of the ones that employers often mention: critical thinking, communication, problem-solving. By earning a degree, she says, college graduates have shown that they can juggle different responsibilities by, say, holding down a job or playing a sport while keeping up with their classes.

Graduates have also demonstrated “cognitive ability,” Artim adds: “the ability to learn, and to take on more responsibility, and to lead or manage others.”

To a critic, the idea that a bachelor’s degree is needed to work the front desk of a car-rental office may sound like credential creep. But Enterprise overwhelmingly promotes from within. Its managers and even executives almost always get their start as trainees. Hiring happens at the entry level, and getting it right is really important.

10) The recycling situation in this country is so depressing now.  I’m still recycling everything at home, but sometimes when I’m out and it would be less convenient to recycle, I think “pretty sure this plastic is ending up in a landfill wherever I put it.” Also, the situation is so bad because Americans are pathetic at properly separating their recycling.

11) I loved Netflix’s “Russian Doll.  Binge it!  But, stuff like this in Todd VanDerwerff’s otherwise vary positive review, get me so frustrated with Vox:

A necessary caveat: One of Russian Doll’s executive producers — the fourth name listed in the closing credits, even — is Dave Becky, who used to be Louis C.K.’s manager and who has apologized for his role in the comedian’s cover-up of his sexual misconduct. Becky is still Poehler’s manager and one of Lyonne’s managers, and his company, 3 Arts Entertainment, is still a major force in TV comedy. This does not dampen my enthusiasm for Russian Doll or Lyonne’s performance in it, and I know Becky’s name appearing in the credits is almost certainly the result of some sort of contractual obligation. (That said, his name has been erased from the fifth and final season of Broad City.) But seeing his name did make my gut churn a bit at the end of every episode. You may feel differently!

No, not a necessary caveat!!  This is a terrific show.  The fact that one of four producers used to be Louis CK’s manager?!  Please.  Also, I still listen to Michael Jackson.  It’s really not complicated art ≠ the artist.

12) I could go for this insect bread in Finland.  Probably a little expensive to have Mika send me some, though :-).

13) Like any good Republican, Nikki Haley is pretty clueless on health care.  When she argued that Americans would not like health care in Finland, damn did she get dunked on by all quarters.

14) I love linguistics.  I had one class in college and this is a subject I always enjoy learning about.  This is pretty wild, “How ‘F’ Sounds Might Break a Fundamental Rule of Linguistics: If farming helped introduce f’s and v’s 12,000 years ago, it would challenge the principle that humans’ language abilities haven’t significantly changed since we first learned to speak.”

At least, that’s according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. The authors argue that sounds like f and v weren’t part of human language until farming appeared during the Neolithic age. Agriculture, they say, allowed humans to eat soft foods, which changed the way their jaws developed throughout life, which shaped the kinds of sounds their mouths were capable of making.

This shift would be an exception to a core rule of linguistics, called the uniformitarian principle, which posits that humans’ ability to use language has not significantly changed since language itself first appeared. “Basically, the uniformitarian principle is necessary to do historical linguistics,” Anthony Yates, a linguist at UCLA, told me. It’s hard to say when exactly humans started speaking, but most estimates place the date at least 50,000 years ago. Agriculture, meanwhile, sprung up during the Neolithic, some 12,000 years ago. The idea that humans weren’t using f’s and v’s for the first 38,000 years of our linguistic history is a striking rebuke to uniformitarianism.

14) Are we in a podcast bubble?  Maybe.  But so many good podcasts out there.

15) This is a great story about the coaches and players trying to make the most of their opportunities playing basketball at my son’s community college, Wake Tech.

16) Pretty sure Zion Williamson is my favorite college basketball player since I was in college.  Watching Duke play last night, I was thinking more than anything I want Duke to go to the final so I can see Zion play in college five more times.  And, of course, like all great players in any sport, it’s not just physical ability, but the mental ability to read the game at a different level:

A screwy thing to consider is that Zion Williamson might be underrated. He might just be a victim of his own clamorous dunks. His appeal to a thrill-seeking general public might have smothered his appeal to hopeless basketball geeks.

“How he reads the game,” his teammate, Duke junior Jack White, said last weekend during the ACC tournament in Charlotte, when Williamson’s reading stood out. In addition to all the things that caused the points to amass, the rebounds to mount and the highlight editors to coo, Williamson left strewn across the floor what people sometimes call “basketball plays.”

In addition to dunks and rebound-dunks and other dunks, Williamson seems to fill the game with little things that alter its course, with taps and alterations and bright ideas about where to turn up. The least he could do for opponents is care a tad less, yet his care seems also outsized, turning up in all the otherworldly ways but also in those both pedestrian and crucial.

17) Nice piece in the NYT on how our clean environments are not so great for our immune systems and the history of the “hygiene hypothesis”:

Our ancestors evolved over millions of years to survive in their environments. For most of human existence, that environment was characterized by extreme challenges, like scarcity of food, or food that could carry disease, as well as unsanitary conditions and unclean water, withering weather, and so on. It was a dangerous environment, a heck of a thing to survive.

At the center of our defenses was our immune system, our most elegant defense. The system is the product of centuries of evolution, as a river stone is shaped by water rushing over it and the tumbles it experiences on its journey downstream.

Late in the process, humans learned to take steps to bolster our defenses, developing all manner of customs and habits to support our survival. In this way, think of the brain — the organ that helps us develop habits and customs — as another facet of the immune system.

We used our collective brains to figure out effective behaviors. We started washing our hands and took care to avoid certain foods that experience showed could be dangerous or deadly. In some cultures, people came to avoid pork, which we now know is highly susceptible to trichinosis; in others, people banned meats, which we later learned may carry toxic loads of E. coli and other bacteria.

Ritual washing is mentioned in Exodus, one of the earliest books in the Bible: “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not.”

Our ideas evolved, but for the most part, the immune system did not. This is not to say that it didn’t change. The immune system responds to our environment. When we encounter various threats, our defenses learn and then are much more able to deal with that threat in the future. In that way, we adapt to our environment.

We survived over tens of thousands of years. Eventually, we washed our hands, swept our floors, cooked our food, avoided certain foods altogether. We improved the hygiene of the animals we raised and slaughtered for food.

Particularly in the wealthier areas of the world, we purified our water, and developed plumbing and waste treatment plants; we isolated and killed bacteria and other germs.

The immune system’s enemies list was attenuated, largely for the good. Now, though, our bodies are proving that they cannot keep up with this change. We have created a mismatch between the immune system — one of the longest surviving and most refined balancing acts in the world — and our environment.

Thanks to all the powerful learning we’ve done as a species, we have minimized the regular interaction not just with parasites but even with friendly bacteria and parasites that helped to teach and hone the immune system — that “trained” it. It doesn’t encounter as many bugs when we are babies. This is not just because our homes are cleaner, but also because our families are smaller (fewer older children are bringing home the germs), our foods and water cleaner, our milk sterilized. Some refer to the lack of interaction with all kinds of microbes we used to meet in nature as the “old friends mechanism.”

What does the immune system do when it’s not properly trained?

It can overreact. It becomes aggrieved by things like dust mites or pollen. It develops what we called allergies, chronic immune system attacks — inflammation — in a way that is counterproductive, irritating, even dangerous.

18) Doris Meissner in the Post, “The real border problem is the U.S. is trying to stop the wrong kind of migrants.”

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens…

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been guilty of blaming robots/automation for a lot of our problems (like lots of other liberals).  Krugman with a strong corrective:

The other day I found myself, as I often do, at a conference discussing lagging wages and soaring inequality. There was a lot of interesting discussion. But one thing that struck me was how many of the participants just assumed that robots are a big part of the problem — that machines are taking away the good jobs, or even jobs in general. For the most part this wasn’t even presented as a hypothesis, just as part of what everyone knows.

And this assumption has real implications for policy discussion. For example, a lot of the agitation for a universal basic income comes from the belief that jobs will become ever scarcer as the robot apocalypse overtakes the economy.

So it seems like a good idea to point out that in this case what everyone knows isn’t true. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and maybe the robots really will come for all our jobs one of these days. But automation just isn’t a big part of the story of what happened to American workers over the past 40 years.

We do have a big problem — but it has very little to do with technology, and a lot to do with politics and power…

Technological disruption, then, isn’t a new phenomenon. Still, is it accelerating? Not according to the data. If robots really were replacing workers en masse, we’d expect to see the amount of stuff produced by each remaining worker — labor productivity — soaring. In fact, productivity grew a lot faster from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s than it has since.

So technological change is an old story. What’s new is the failure of workers to share in the fruits of that technological change.

I’m not saying that coping with change was ever easy. The decline of coal employment had devastating effects on many families, and much of what used to be coal country has never recovered. The loss of manual jobs in port cities surely contributed to the urban social crisisof the ’70s and ’80s.

But while there have always been some victims of technological progress, until the 1970s rising productivity translated into rising wages for a great majority of workers. Then the connection was broken. And it wasn’t the robots that did it.

What did? There is a growing though incomplete consensus among economists that a key factor in wage stagnation has been workers’ declining bargaining power — a decline whose roots are ultimately political.

2) Oh my is the “gun sanctuary” movement just insanely stupid.  Only in America.  These people should just be flat-out embarrassed.  I love that these people are so frighteningly isolated that they are somehow unaware that most modern nations all over the world have pretty strict gun control and are not exactly tyrannies.

3) John Cassidy, “No, The Republican Party is not Turning on Donald Trump.”

Pause, for a moment, over the pitiful spectacle presented by Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner. In the past few weeks, Tillis, the first-term North Carolina senator, has emerged as a vocal critic of the national-emergency order, and until Thursday afternoon he was indicating that he would support the Democratic resolution. Then, faced with threats of a possible primary challenge, he did a U-turn and voted against the bill. Colorado’s Gardner, another critic of the executive order, also voted against the resolution—prompting the Denver Postto print an editorial saying its endorsement of him in 2014 was a mistake.

Of the twelve Republican senators who defied Trump, just one—Susan Collins, of Maine—is up for reëlection next year. Alexander is retiring. The other ten—Roy Blunt, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker—aren’t up until 2022 or 2024. By then, Trump might well be out of office. Even if he isn’t, the dissidents will have had plenty of time to grovel their way back into his good graces.

4) MDG knew I would love these art deco style space tourism posters.  E.g.,

Europa - JPL Travel Poster

5) This LA Times article on the 737 Max is easily the best I’ve read on the matter.

6) Someone might want to tell NC Republicans that harsher opioid sentences is not going to get us out of this problem.

7) I’ve had to use an asthma inhaler at one point or another with all three of my boys.  And I always had them follow the instructions here.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t.

8) Legacy admissions have absolutely got to go.  I was one (based on other classmates at Duke from my high school, pretty sure I would’ve made it anyway), but all they do is perpetuate privilege.  If any of my kids can get into Duke on their own, more power to them (not that I’m paying for it), but I sure wouldn’t want them getting in just because their parents went there.

9) Only in America.  Olga Khazan, “Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick: Doctors’ bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings.”

10) How eating crickets can save the lemurs.  Though I’m really picky, I’m all for getting more insect protein into people’s diets as it is such an efficient way to get animal protein.  Turn it into a powder mixed in with other stuff and I’m fine with it.

11) This article on climate change and the Moose Tick in New England is a truly fascinating look at the complex interplay of climate, ecosystems, and species health.  Read the article to find out how, incredibly, shooting more moose may be a key part of the solution.

12) The Little Ice Age is really interesting.  Here’s a new book on it.

13) This is fun, “Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books From The Times’s Archive.”

14) Love, this, “I embraced screen time with my daughter– and I love it.”  Like most anything else, screen time can be great or harmful, it’s all in how you use it.

15) Jennifer Rubin brings the love to Pete Buttigieg.  He really is impressive.

16) Perry Bacon Jr with the six wings of the Democratic Party.  I think I’d but myself with the Progressive New Guard.

17) Okay, looks like now we have “snowplow parents,” too.

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there…

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

“Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not,” Dr. Levine said.

Yes, it’s a parent’s job to support the children, and to use their adult wisdom to prepare for the future when their children aren’t mature enough to do so. That’s why parents hide certain toys from toddlers to avoid temper tantrums or take away a teenager’s car keys until he finishes his college applications.

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

18) Love this story of a really successful college basketball player who owes it all, not to dad, but to mom.

19) Really enjoyed this on why this winter’s polar vortex canceled so many flights– the humans:

“When you get below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts slowing down,” Kohlman says. You may need to start deicing planes, for one thing, which starts to create delays. And while baggage handlers may be able to do their jobs wearing thick gloves, maintenance workers changing out lightbulbs and getting wrenches onto bolts must choose between warmth and dexterity. If temperatures drop to the point where it’s dangerous for workers to stay outside for very long, operations slow down even further. (Airlines have set up temporary heated shelters and doled out hot chocolate and hand warmers at O’Hare, according to theChicago Sun Times.)

Eventually, those delays pile up into cancellations. Remember that the airline system is tightly connected, so problems at one node quickly spread. Passengers start missing their connecting flights in large numbers. Combine them with the folks in the coldest places who may stay home instead of braving the elements, and you can end up flying a half-empty plane. “It might not be the best business decision to do that,” Kohlman says. And airlines only get to make that decision if the crew makes it to the airport.

So, planes—like polar bears and robots—may not mind the cold. But airport workers—like zookeepers and roboticists—do. And they’re the folks who make them fly.

20) Rachel Riederer on the other kind of climate denialism is really good:

In 2008 and 2009, the American Psychological Association put together a task force to examine the relationship between psychology and climate change. It found that, although people said that climate change was important, they did not “feel a sense of urgency.” The task force identified several mental barriers that contributed to this blasé stance. People were uncertain about climate change, mistrustful of the science, or denied that it was related to human activity. They tended to minimize the risks and believe that there was plenty of time to make changes before the real impacts were felt. Just ten years later, these attitudes about climate feel like ancient relics. But two key factors, which the task force identified as keeping people from taking action, have stood the test of time: one was habit, and the other was lack of control. “Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change,” the group stated. “People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.”

Wallace-Wells hits this note in his book, too, writing, “We seem most comfortable adopting a learned posture of powerlessness.” As uncertainty and denial about climate have diminished, they have been replaced by similarly paralyzing feelings of panic, anxiety, and resignation. As we begin to live through the massive dangers imparted by climate change, as one psychologist put it to me, “We are in psychological terrain, whether we like it or not.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from Chait, “he Most Unrealistic Promise Democrats Are Making Is to Restore Bipartisanship.”

The Obama presidency was an eight-year experiment in the possibility of obtaining Republican support for major initiatives. It is impossible to imagine a more conclusive result. Despite having jacked up the deficit during the entirety of the presidencies both before and after Obama’s, Republicans spent the entire time insisting on massive fiscal austerity despite facing objectively the most favorable conditions for stimulus spending since World War II. Obama’s offer to support John McCain’s cap-and-trade plan and Mitt Romney’s health-care plan drew almost zero Democratic and zero Republican votes, respectively. Republicans wouldn’t even accept a deal to trim Medicare spending in return for tax reform.

McConnell publicly stated his logic at the time: putting the bipartisan imprimatur on Obama’s policies would make the policies popular. More than mere strategy was at work. By waging partisan war against any of Obama’s initiatives, Republicans helped persuade their voters that his ideas — even those with a solid moderate Republican pedigree — were dangerous socialism. And the more fearful Republican voters became, the harder it was for Republicans to negotiate anything with Obama. Republicans were afraideven to be seen talking to the president. At times, when negotiations could not be avoided for bills whose passage was required to avert disaster, Obama would let Biden close the deal just to create the appearance that he hadn’t been part of it…

Democrats are going to have to choose between making real changes that can help their constituents and keeping a supermajority requirement in the Senate. There is no more cruelly unrealistic promise than the magical thinking being peddled by the Democratic party’s self-styled realists.

I’ve been a fan of Cory Booker for his honest talk on criminal justice issues.  But, I will say, his totally unrealistic take on bipartisanship has definitely lowered my opinion of him.

2) Good interview on how parents buy college admissions:

Is there anything you think your book got wrong or understated?

I think the general themes were right on point, and I don’t think it’s because I was so brilliant. I think it’s because this was a system that was hidden in plain view and was in front of your nose if only you looked, and also because it was so offensive to most people’s idea of what America is about. The fundamental ethos of America is equal opportunity and upward mobility and everybody gets a chance. The people who perform the best are supposed to rise to the top, and college education is supposed to be the driving force in upward mobility. So the idea that the wealthy can perpetuate their own privileged status through college admissions, that it’s not an equal gateway for everybody but a way to perpetuate American aristocracy, is a real affront to people. And that’s the resonance a case like this has.

3) Looking forward to reading Frans de Waal’s book on animal emotions:

Of course, we recognize ourselves in such stories. This is why they are powerful: They evoke our empathy, perhaps our most cherished emotional ability (one that we share with animals, as anyone who has lived with a dog well knows). But, to our detriment, researchers who study animal behavior have been methodically warned against exploring empathy as a means of understanding. Too many illuminating observations have gone unpublished because suggesting that humans share traits with other animals invites accusations of anthropomorphism.

To avoid such charges, researchers have invented a glossary of contorted terms: Animals don’t have friends but “favorite affiliation partners”; chimps don’t laugh when tickled, but make “vocalized panting” sounds.

This isn’t just silly; it’s dangerous. Instead of worrying about anthropomorphizing animals, we should fear making a far worse mistake, what de Waal calls “anthropodenial.” When we deny the facts of evolution, when we pretend that only humans think, feel and know, “it stands in the way of a frank assessment of who we are as a species,” he writes. An understanding of evolution demands that we recognize continuity across life-forms. And even more important, achieving realistic and compassionate relationships with the rest of the animate world requires that we honor these connections, which extend far and deep.

4) Top takeaways from Trump’s absurd budget:

4. The biggest losers: Under Trump’s budget proposal, 10 major departments and agencies would see their budgets slashed by 10 percent (or more) in the next year alone: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Trump administration likes to refer to a 5 percent cut in nondefense spending, but some agencies get far bigger chops than others. The EPA and Corps of Engineers would lose almost a third of their current funding.

5) The revolution will be fought over fabric softener (demand #3).

6) Interesting stuff from James Fallows on the 737 Max.

7) Chait on the fundamental lie of conservative populism:

The populist promises that set Trump apart during both the primary and the general election have simply failed to materialize. Trump’s budget, which proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that he had famously pledged to oppose, is the latest evidence that he has simply defaulted to traditional movement conservatism.

Conservative populism has followed the same course in the United Kingdom and the United States. Right-wing politicians attached expansive promises to retrograde cultural panic to gain power, and once given a chance to follow through, have managed to deliver only the latter. These movements justified themselves as an authentic rebellion against the experts. The experts warned the promises were impossible. It turns out they knew what they were talking about.

8) Good stuff from Brian Schaffner and Samantha Luks:

The public’s party-driven misinformation and misperceptions about politics has drawn a great deal of attention from scholars over the past decade. While much of this research assumes that the misinformation documented by survey researchers is an accurate reflection of what individuals truly believe, other scholars have suggested that individuals intentionally and knowingly provide misinformation to survey researchers as a way of showing support for their political side. To date, it has been difficult to adjudicate between these two contrasting explanations for misperceptions. However, in this note, we provide such a test. We take advantage of a controversy regarding the relative sizes of crowds at the presidential inaugurations of Donald Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2009 to ask a question where the answer is so clear and obvious to the respondents that nobody providing an honest response should answer incorrectly. Yet, at the same time, the question taps into a salient political controversy that provides incentives for Trump supporters to engage in expressive responding. We find clear evidence of expressive responding; moreover, this behavior is especially prevalent among partisans with higher levels of political interest. Our findings provide support for the notion that at least some of the misinformation reported in surveys is the result of partisan cheerleading rather than genuinely held misperceptions.

9) Ed Yong, “A New Discovery Upends What We Know About Viruses.”

10) The latest YA twitter mob could not be more karmically perfect or happen to a more-deserving target:

What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”

In a live Q. and A. for an online children’s literature conference in January, Jackson explained that he was at one point tempted to write tangentially about immigration,but his Latino friends talked him out of it: He’d be encroaching on their turf, poaching their spot on the shelves.

11) OMG Thom Tillis is the absolute worst.  There are important constitutional principles at stake.  Until Donald Trump convinces him otherwise.  This is beyond embarrassing:

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis voted Thursday to support President Donald Trump’s Poor Thom Tillis. For a few shining days the Republican senator from North Carolina had a backbone. Then, in one crumbling moment Thursday afternoon, it went away…

The why, according to North Carolina’s junior senator, was that he’s heard “serious discussion” about changing the National Emergency Act so no “future left-wing president” can do what he was voting to allow the current right-wing president to do. The prospect of a change in the law was the fig leaf with which Tillis tried to cover his capitulation.

In a whopper worthy of the president himself, Tillis said he did not change his position out of concern that a vote against Trump would bring on a primary challenge when he stands for re-election in 2020.

Fear of the president’s disapproval and the wrath of his base clearly caused Tillis’ humiliating flip-flop. After his op-ed, North Carolina Republicans let him know that not being in lockstep with Trump left him out of step with them.

So, it’s okay to ignore Constitutional principles as long as you make it harder for a future “left wing president” to ignore the Constitution.  Riiiiiight.

12) With white Democrats ever-more secular, more candidates are ignoring the “and God bless America” platitudes.  This Christian says “hooray” because boy do I hate that crap.

While white progressives once described religion as something that brought Americans together, they’re now more likely to describe it as something that drives them apart.

It’s not hard to understand why. For starters, the percentage of white Democrats who express no religious affiliation has skyrocketed. According to unpublished data tabulated for me last year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 8 percent of white Democrats expressed no religious affiliation in 1990. By 2016, the figure was 33 percent. In 1990, white self-described liberals were 39 points more likely to describe themselves as Protestant than as religiously unaffiliated. By 2016, religiously unaffiliated beat Protestant by nine points.

Secular Democrats haven’t only grown more numerous. They’ve also become some of the party’s most motivated activists. As The Atlantic’s Emma Green has noted, a PRRI poll taken last August and September found that Democrats who shun organized religion were more than twice as likely to have attended a political rally in the previous year than Democrats who identify with a religious group. Today’s Democratic candidates cannot simply assert, as Obama did in 2004, that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states,” because so many active Democrats do not.

The other reason liberal candidates more often describe religion as a source of division is the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Before Donald Trump, Republican religious discourse was more ecumenical.

13) Paul Waldman on white identity politics and the future of the Republican Party:

It’s no accident that the members of Congress who have these folks so worried are a Latina and a Muslim woman, because what is coming to define a good portion of the Republican Party is a sense that white people are not just losing something today but are under the threat of cultural, political and even physical annihilation.

In its extreme form, it’s defined as “white genocide,” a term common among white supremacists who believe that the white race is literally in danger of being wiped out. In a less extreme form, it manifests in people being increasingly drawn to white identity politics.

We have to be clear what we mean when we say that. In her upcoming book, “White Identity Politics,” political scientist Ashley Jardina clarifies that the term should be understood to refer not just to straightforward racism but to something more particular. White identity politics is about whiteness becoming an organizing political factor, a group identity that leads people to seek certain things and favor certain policies because of how they will affect white people.

he presidency of Barack Obama had a great deal to do with the current white identity politics, and in hindsight we might see it as inevitable that a racist demagogue would emerge to exploit the backlash Obama produced. That’s why Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to Trump as “the first white president,” arguing that his 2016 campaign should be understood as an assertion that whites had to retake power and restore (as they saw it) their rightful place atop the hierarchy.

What motivates it isn’t just hostility to minorities but fear that whites will be overrun, oppressed and eventually eliminated, and the solution is in turn to banish minorities from wherever white people are feeling this threat, whether it’s the United States, Europe or New Zealand…

Many Republicans would protest that their party affiliation is based not on racial fears of extinction but on things such as support for small government and tax cuts, or opposition to abortion rights and marriage equality. And they aren’t lying. But it’s also undeniable that with Trump in charge — and with the party having given itself over to him so completely, at least for now — white identity politics now defines the GOP. But what will they do as it drags them down? [emphasis mine]

15) Never heard of “curling parents” before.  Enjoyed this in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

‘Curling’ Parents

People used to talk about helicopter parents, said Jump, the college counselor. These days, he said, the term is “curling parents,” a reference to the Olympic sport. Parenting, in other words, is no longer about hovering over one’s children. It’s about sweeping problems out of their way.

The desire to insulate children from problems also emerged in Calarco’s research. She interviewed a mother who said, “I just don’t want my kids to suffer.” That’s a nearly universal sentiment. But in this particular example, Calarco said, it was the mother’s explanation for why she would run her children’s homework to school if they forgot it at home.

If that’s your definition of suffering, then not getting into your top-choice college is a real hardship.

16) Leonhardt is right, “The Admissions Scandal Is Really a Sports Scandal.”

The researchers were given access to anonymous admissions records at 19 elite colleges and then analyzed how admissions offices treated different groups of students. Low-income students, for example, were no more likely to be admitted than otherwise similar students with virtually identical academic records. So-called legacy students — those whose parents attended the same schools — received substantial boosts. So did underrepresented minorities.

But the biggest boost went to recruited athletes: An athlete was about 30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record…

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous. But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments. But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part. [emphasis mine]

17) OMG this is crazy!  Sort-of-identical twins. 75% genetically related and boy girl.  Whoa.

One boy. One girl.

Sharing a single placenta.

“It doesn’t add up,” Dr. Fisk recalled thinking.

As it turned out, the twins were neither fraternal nor identical. They fell into a third rare category known as semi-identical or sesquizygotic twins. Although it would take several years to prove, he was looking at the first set of semi-identical twins to be identified during pregnancy, according to a paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

18) I used to really enjoy Frances Scott on the local news.  Horrible to read how an artificial hip replacement that should have never happened (there was already evidence that the replacements causes metal poisoning) basically ruined her life.  Ugh.

19) Apollo 11 is amazing!  Go see it on a big screen if you can.

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