Quick hits (part II)

1) Jordan Weisman on an intriguing theory for why it is so hard for Americans to get a decent raise– monopsonies.

2) Really, really interest take from a physician on how we got this point in the opioid crisis:

On another front, the campaign to assess pain as the fifth vital sign in the hospital took off in the late 1990s, with the Joint Commission, the hospital accreditation body, publicizing this concept in 2001. The idea was to assess the level of pain as frequently as the patient’s blood pressure. If the patient didn’t speak English, she could point to a picture of a person grimacing in pain. It has been reported that the Joint Commission even distributed a pamphlet produced by Purdue that played down the risk of addiction. The Commission hasn’t addressed that specific charge, but they released a statement last year denying that their standards contributed to the opioid epidemic.

The problem is that unlike the other four vital signs—blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate—pain is not something that the nurse or doctor can measure. It is a subjective judgment, based on the patient’s self-report and so-called “pain behavior.” I don’t feel your pain: I can’t. Patients who want narcotics become excellent actors. During one of my earliest years in practice, an agent from the Drug Enforcement Admin-istration called to warn me that a man who had come to me with a biopsy report of kidney cancer, saying he had to change doctors because he was now on Medicaid (a common problem), had forged the report, was faking his pain, and had already been to several doctors in the area. At the other extreme, a patient with a ruptured appendix and a rigid abdomen assured me that he didn’t need treatment—because, it turned out, he was undocumented and feared hospitalization…

Lembke outlines what steps we can take to cope with addiction in our practices, but she also admits, “There is an unspoken tension underlying the hidden forces driving the epidemic: doctors are increasingly asked to care for people with complex biopsychosocial problems (nature, nurture and neighborhood) without also being given the tools, time or resources to accomplish this task.” Medical students complain that primary care has devolved into social work, but is it social work to search for root causes rather than simply prescribe or cut? Dr. Francis W. Peabody, a prominent physician in the early twentieth century, wrote, “One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

3a) Just so we’re clear– work requirements for Medicaid are an absolutely horrible idea and abysmally stupid public policy.

The problem with the latest twist in Republicans’ effort to pare the social safety net is that removing the poor’s health insurance may not just make their life more difficult.

It might kill them.

It is well known by now that health insurance saves lives. A review of recent research in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that the odds of dying for non-elderly adults are between 3 and 41 percent higher for the uninsured than for the insured.

Work by Katherine Baicker, now at the University of Chicago, with Benjamin Sommers and Arnold Epstein at Harvard found that Medicaid expansions in the past significantly reduced mortality. Their research, they concluded, “suggests that 176 additional adults would need to be covered by Medicaid in order to prevent one death per year.”

It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to figure out what might happen if 100,000 people were to lose their coverage.

3b) And the simple truth is, the more paperwork and bureaucracy you require, the harder you make it for deserving, qualified recipients.  Of course, to those who hate the working poor, that’s a feature, not a bug.  The Upshot:

But a large body of social science suggests that the mere requirement of documenting work hours is likely to cause many eligible people to lose coverage, too.

“Without being tremendously well organized, it can be easy to fail,” said Donald Moynihan, a professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is writing a book on the effects of administrative burdens. Researchers have studied the ways complexity can reduce sign-ups for workplace pension plans, participation in food stamps and turnout in elections, he noted. “These sorts of little barriers are ways in which humans get tripped up all the time when they’re trying to do something that might benefit them.”

Anyone who has ever forgotten to pay a bill on time, or struggled to assemble all the necessary forms of identification before heading to the D.M.V., is likely to sympathize with how administrative hurdles can stymie someone. But these may be especially daunting for the poor, who tend to have less stable work schedules and less access to resources that can simplify compliance: reliable transportation, a bank account, internet access. There is also a lot of research about the Medicaid program, specifically, that shows that sign-ups fall when states make their program more complicated.

4) Why 12-step programs work for some people, but not others.  One thing is clear– foreclosing the option of medical treatment with those with narcotic addictions (as so many uninformed people in the system insist upon) is just plain stupid.

5) The bright future of solar power may not be all that close.

6) Great excerpt from Frum’s new Trumpocracy book in The Atlantic:

Election 2016 looked on paper like the most sweeping Republican victory since the Jazz Age. Yet there was a hollowness to the Trump Republicans’ seeming ascendancy over the federal government and in so many of the states. The Republicans of the 1920s had drawn their strength from the country’s most economically and culturally dynamic places. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge won almost 56 percent of the vote in cosmopolitan New York State, 65 percent in mighty industrial Pennsylvania, 75 percent in Michigan, the hub of the new automotive economy.

Not so in 2016. Where technologies were invented and where styles were set, where diseases cured and innovations launched, where songs were composed and patents registered—there the GOP was weakest. Donald Trump won vast swathes of the nation’s landmass. Hillary Clinton won the counties that produced 64 percent of the nation’s wealth. Even in Trump states, Clinton won the knowledge centers, places like the Research Triangle of North Carolina.

The Trump presidency only accelerated the divorce of political power from cultural power. Business leaders quit Trump’s advisory boards lest his racist outbursts sully their brands. Companies like Facebook and Microsoft denounced his immigration policies. Popular singers refused invitations to his White House; great athletes boycotted his events. By the summer of 2017, Trump’s approval among those under thirty had dipped to 20 percent.

And this was before Trump’s corruption and collusion scandals begin to bite.

Whatever Trump’s personal fate, his Republican Party seems headed for electoral trouble—or worse. Yet it will require much more than Republican congressional defeats in 2018 to halt Trumpocracy. Indeed, such defeats may well perversely strengthen President Trump. Congressional defeats will weaken alternative power centers within the Republican Party. If they lose the House or the Senate or many governorships—or some combination of those defeats—then Republicans may feel all the more compelled to defend their president. The party faithful may interpret any internal criticism of Trump as a treasonable surrender to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. As the next presidential race nears, it will become ever more imperative to rally around Trump. The more isolated Trump becomes within the American political system as a whole, the more he will dominate whatever remains of the conservative portion of that system. He will devour his party from within.

7) Oh, man, I loved this story on how airport runways are numbered and how the numbers have to change as the magnetic pole of the earth shifts.

8) Chait with a good take on Trump’s fear of sharks:

It is perfectly characteristic of Trump’s mind that he would be manipulated by television this way. Sharks are not, in fact, a significant source of danger. Sharks kill about one American per year.

But sharks do look very scary, and the right combination of dramatic video and ominous music could persuade a gullible television viewer to fear and even hate them. Like, say, the kind of person who spends hours watching Fox News and is manipulated into hating and fearing immigrants or Muslims or the New Black Panther Party.

9) Emily Willingham on the non-binary brain, “Misogynists are fascinated by the idea that human brains are biologically male or female. But they’ve got the science wrong.”  In the end, though, it seems pretty obvious that male and female brains are essentially overlapping curves.

10) Greg Sargent on the intensity gap:

There’s something else vital to understand: Not only does Trump have high disapproval, but the intensity of his disapproval is unusually high, as well. For all the time news organizations spend writing “In Trump Country, Trump Supporters Support Trump” stories, intense dislike of Trump may be the most powerful force in the U.S. electorate right now. Consider these figures (I’ve added in some other recent polls):

  • Pew: 27 percent strongly approve of Trump’s performance, 47 percent strongly disapprove
  • NBC: 26 percent strongly approve, 51 percent strongly disapprove
  • Quinnipiac: 29 percent strongly approve, 49 percent strongly disapprove
  • Marist: 23 percent strongly approve, 39 percent strongly disapprove
  • LA Times: 15 percent strongly approve, 42 percent strongly disapprove…

Now let’s think about how this picture of energized, angry Democratic voters and Republican voters who still support Trump but aren’t so enthusiastic about it could play out in November. Despite the fact that the president is on everyone’s mind, the calculation is different for voters of the two parties. A Democrat can deliver Trump a crushing blow with their vote, because if their party takes back one or both houses of Congress, the effect will be seismic. Not only would the GOP legislative agenda be immediately dead, but with their newfound subpoena power, Democrats could start investigating this administration from tip to tail.

But if you’re a Republican voter who’s only marginally motivated by protecting Trump, what would drive a burning desire to turn out and vote GOP in November? On the party’s big issues, many of the questions have been settled.

11) Pew on the lives of dads:

I’d put myself in the “about right” category.  Of course, after weeks like this one with a holiday and three snow days, it was the “too much” :-).

12) Can the rest of the state Democratic parties learn from the success of the Alaska Democratic party?  Probably.  But Alaska is also pretty unique.  Very interesting story in Politico.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Great David Graham take on the “shithole” countries and how immigration actually works:

His presumption seems to be that other nations are deliberately sending to the United States their least-desirable citizens. That sounds a lot like the Mariel boatlift of 1980, in which Cuba released a number of inmates from jails and mental facilities, dispatching them to the United States as part of a massive refugee exodus. It seems to shape the way Trump views all immigration—he and aides have cited it repeatedly.

But in the vast majority of cases, this is not how immigration works. Governments are not deciding who to send. People are deciding to leave, often at great risk, out of personal motivation. Those who come are the ones “who had a special love for freedom and a special courage that enabled them to leave their own land, leave their friends and their countrymen, and come to this new and strange land to build a New World of peace and freedom and hope,” as Ronald Reagan once put it.

This entirely different paradigm is one reason Trump, unlike most of his fellow Republicans, wants to limit not only illegal immigration but legal immigration as well; he seems to object not just to illegality, but to much immigration itself.

This zero-sum mentality is why he approaches refugees as safety threats and drains on U.S. government resources, seldom considering the reasons refugees have been driven to leave. There’s a middle ground—there are people who believe that on the one hand, refugees deserve aid but that on the other hand the United States must work within its means, and safety threats must be eliminated—but Trump’s comments, both previously and about Haitians and Salvadorans now, demonstrate this is not his view.

Trump’s decision to label these places “shitholes” is coarse and revolting, but the greater failure is his inability to connect his assessment with what it means for the people who live there. He either cannot see or is not interested in the conflicts and violence and poverty that immigrants are seeking to leave behind, and he is not interested in the extent to which the U.S. has contributed to these problems through interventions in El Salvador and Haiti.

2) Julia Azari makes the case that political amateurs are a threat to democracy.

3) Yes, of course Trump is a racist, but I do think there’s something to the fact that not everybody sees calling non-white countries “shitholes” as inherently racist because how liberals and conservatives see “racism” is different.  Drum: [emphases in original]

And come on, their thinking goes, all those third-world countries really are shitholes. Everyone knows it, but only Donald Trump has the guts to just say it.

Until Donald Trump comes along. He’s basically saying that we all know those fancy words are just the liberal elitist version² of “shithole countries,” and he’s giving Joe permission to say so. Go ahead and use the words you know and ignore the faux gasps from all those liberal scolds who believe the same thing but just won’t say it in plain language. You’re no more racist than they are.

Right or wrong, this is liberating for them. Trump isn’t so much appealing to racism as he is telling people you’re not a racist. J

4) Interesting take on how Facebook is redoing its newsfeed, “Facebook Couldn’t Handle News. Maybe It Never Wanted To.”

5) Female professors are asked for favors more than are male professors.

6) Some rather dispiriting research thusly summed up, “Men Are Destroying Our Planet Because They Don’t Want to Seem Girly.”

A new study from the journal Scientific Americansuggests men are less likely than women to engage in ecofriendly behavior, not because they’re less concerned about the environment, but because they’re worried it might undermine their masculinity. Because nothing makes you seem more like a wimpy little girl than wanting froufrou things like “breathable air” and for “whole continents not to sink under rising seas.”

In seven experiments conducted with over 2,000 American and Chinese participants, researchers found both men and women had a “green-feminine stereotype,” and judged ecofriendly purchases and behaviors as more feminine than their non-green alternatives. For example, individuals who brought a reusable canvas bag to the grocery store were perceived as more feminine than those who used plastic bags. Another experiment found that men who were presented with a pink, floral gift card were more likely to purchase environmentally unfriendly items than men who were given a standard gift card.

Well, this feminine guy is going to stick with his reusable bags, damnit!

7) The scientific controversy over whether lobsters feel pain.

8) This is so good, “A Storm Trooper reconsiders his support for Snoke.”

9) Brett Stephens “shithole” column on immigration may be the best I’ve read yet.

10) Loved this Atlantic article on how pretty much all animals are susceptible to “sleep pressure” and how poorly scientists ultimately understand it:

In particular, this need to make up lost sleep, which has been seen not just in jellyfish and humans but all across the animal kingdom, is one of the handholds researchers are using to try to get a grip on the bigger problem of sleep. Why we feel the need for sleep is seen by many as key to understanding what it gives us.

Biologists call this need “sleep pressure”: Stay up too late, build up sleep pressure. Feeling drowsy in the evenings? Of course you are—by being awake all day, you’ve been generating sleep pressure! But like “dark matter,” this is a name for something whose nature we do not yet understand. The more time you spend thinking about sleep pressure, the more it seems like a riddle game out of Tolkien: What builds up over the course of wakefulness, and disperses during sleep? Is it a timer? A molecule that accrues every day and needs to be flushed away? What is this metaphorical tally of hours, locked in some chamber of the brain, waiting to be wiped clean every night?

In other words, asks Yanagisawa, as he reflects in his spare, sunlit office at the institute, “What is the physical substrate of sleepiness?”

11) Global warming is sending sea turtle sex ratios way out of wack.

12) James Hamblin with one of the more thoughtful and informative takes on whether Trump is mentally ill.

13) That said, also love this, “Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He’s Just a Jerk.”

There is another problem with the current debate over Mr. Trump’s mental condition: It assumes his behavior isn’t voluntary, and that his shocking or “unpresidential” conduct is a symptom of mental illness. This kind of thinking contributes to the stigmatization of mental illness. It’s entirely possible that he simply has certain personal qualities we don’t find ideal in a leader, like being a narcissistic bully who lacks basic civility and common courtesies. That he is, in a word, a jerk. But that alone does not make him mentally unfit to serve.

14) Satirical high school reading list.  Good stuff.

15) Ron Brownstein on voters abandoning Trump:

A massive new source of public-opinion research offers fresh insights into the fault lines emerging in Donald Trump’s foundation of support.

Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.

Trump retains important pillars of support. Given that he started in such a strong position with those blue-collar whites, even after that decline he still holds a formidable level of loyalty among them—particularly men and those over 50 years old. What’s more, he has established a modest but durable beachhead among African American and Hispanic men, even while confronting overwhelming opposition from women in those demographic groups.

16) My pencil-loving son (i.e., not the one reading this blog post) loved this NYT feature on America’s last pencil factory.  Amazing images.

17) Pretty sure my non-pencil loving son who is reading this blog post will love this terrific video on how the editing made the original Star Wars so much better.  So will fans of Star Wars and those interested in film-making.

Photo of the day

Scott Kelly may like the Bahamas the best, but I found some of his other photos more interesting.  Nice gallery here:

Astronaut Scott Kelly posted this photo taken from the International Space Station to Twitter on Sept. 5, 2015 with the caption, “#goodnight #Earth! Make me proud and I’ll try and do the same. #YearInSpace”.

Photo of the day

I’m currently reading Endurance by Scott Kelly, the American astronaut who spent a year aboard the International Space Station.  He says that he thinks the Bahamas are the most beautiful view from space.  Here you go:

The picture tweeted by Scott Kelly.

Scott Kelly.

New Year’s Day Quick Hits

Well, I guess I’m back from real-life and blog vacation.  Here goes…

1) Who knows whether Trump made nasty, racist comments about Haitians.  The point is that it is utterly believable, despite White House denials, in a way that it would not be believable from any president in 100 years.

2) Another nice defense of the TV episode from Alan Sepinwall.  I agree heartily.  I enjoyed Stranger Things 2 significantly more than the original, and I think a series of coherent episodes is part of the reason why.

3) I was oddly intrigued by this Washington Post story about a traffic nightmare surrounding a Wendy’s in a triangle in Washington, DC.

4) A call for a new Christian “right to life movement.”  Nice, but honestly, pretty disingenuous.  It’s pretty clear that many Christians are far more interested in condemning the sexual behavior of others than in living the radical ethic of service to others, especially the poor and oppressed, that Jesus so clearly called for:

What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we allbelieve. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.

5) This Orthodox Jewish family’s response to a person marrying outside their faith is pretty much a case study in how religion goes wrong.

6) Matthew Glassman uses the classic political science of Richard Neustadt to explain how Trump is a “dangerously weak” president.

As Neustadt would undoubtedly note, there’s now an amateur in the White House. And through the framework he developed, Trump has had a disastrous first year. His professional reputation is awful. Major figures from his own party routinely criticize his impulsive rhetoric and chaotic management, belittle his intelligence, mock his political ideas, and bemoan his lack of policy knowledge. The White House issues talking points, and high-ranking Republicans simply ignore them. Multiple Republican-led congressional committees are investigating his administration on topics ranging from ethics violations to foreign electoral collusion.

Similarly, the president’s public prestige, measured by approval ratings, is among the worst in the polling age. He entered office with record-low approval, 45 percent, and it has steadily declined into the 30s. No other president has had an approval lower than 49 percent in December of his first year; the average is 63 percent. Such numbers sap Trump’s power to leverage popularity into persuasion. They also depress party loyalists concerned about 2018 and embolden potential primary challengers for 2020.

Some of this presidential weakness is an unavoidable byproduct of a bitter campaign and an election victory in which he lost the popular vote. But Trump has also failed to heed Neustadt’s strategic advice. He’s made simple errors that have damaged his professional reputation and public prestige — and ultimately his power.

7) Watched many movies over my vacation.  Honestly, “The Boss Baby” was one of my favorites.

8) I think DJC (and perhaps others) would be interested in these new books about woolly mammoths.

9) Drum’s sad, but true, headline, “Nursing Homes Violate the Rules a Lot. Trump’s Answer: Get Rid of the Rules.”

10) Somehow missed this back in April, “Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.”

And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.

11) This is really good.  Who won the culture war?  Corporate America (with a giant assist from culturally-resentful Republicans):

The contemporary geographic coalitions of the parties primarily reflect the nation’s roiling cultural conflicts, but the representatives chosen via today’s electoral map are equally polarized over economic policies — and it is pocketbook issues, not social matters, that dominate the business of Congress. Increasingly unfettered by a declining bloc of dissident party moderates from the Northeast and Pacific Coast, ascendant red-state Republicans have prioritized an ambitious conservative economic agenda encompassing regulatory rollbacks, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and substantial cuts to federal taxes — like the tax bill passed last week — and entitlement programs. Departures from this small-government approach, such as the No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D programs enacted during the George W. Bush presidency, have fallen out of fashion among post-Tea Party Republican leaders increasingly devoted to the pursuit of ideological purity.

12) Max Boot’s essay, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege” is fantastic.  Read it!

13) While people were obsessed with Betsy DeVos and K-12, her real potential damage all along was higher education.  One of her passions is making it easier for for-profit Higher Ed to defraud their students.  Seriously.

14) Republican Senator Pat Toomey has been very influential with his tax cuts for rich are always good theology (evidence, of course, strongly suggests otherwise).  Though, I’m unconvinced that his colleagues really needed all that much convincing.

15) Is the problem with the US “the Donald Trump in all of us”?  Not in me, damnit.  Good essay, though, from James Traub:

Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.

We cannot blame everything on Donald Trump, much though we might want to. In the decadent stage of the Roman Empire, or of Louis XVI’s France, or the dying days of the Habsburg Empire so brilliantly captured in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, decadence seeped downward from the rulers to the ruled. But in a democracy, the process operates reciprocally. A decadent elite licenses degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses its worst leaders. Then our Nero panders to our worst attributes — and we reward him for doing so.

16) Of course Jeff Sessions wants to put more poor people in jail for being poor.

17) German Lopez on why we should have minimum prices for alcohol.

18) Yglesias on the political lessons of 2017– resistance works:

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guarantees that the Trump administration will not go down in history as a Carter-esque figure with no policy achievements. And between the large tax cut, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and the filling of many lower court vacancies that Mitch McConnell deliberately held open during Barack Obama’s final two years in office, conservative activists can feel that they legitimately got their 30 pieces of silver for lining up behind Trump.

But fundamentally, this is policymaking on easy mode.

Trump has signed fewer bills than any of his recent predecessors, and has gotten nothing at all done that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. That’s despite the numerous Democratic senators holding down seats in red states who might be persuaded to back a nominally bipartisan bill.

The Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, nor has the Obama administration’s financial regulation overhaul. The Clean Air Act remains on the books, and the Supreme Court decision ruling that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains the law.

Last winter, the door appeared to be open to Paul Ryan’s vision for comprehensive disemboweling of programs that support low-income Americans, and though Trump’s budget requests indicate that he shares this vision, he’s yet to make any headway in implementing it.

19) Global cities grow in prosperity as smaller cities are being left out.

20) The challenge of two approaches to school desegregation in Dallas.  How much effort should be made to draw in richer white kids?

21) Forget self-confidence, self-compassion is the key.  Though, I wonder if I have an over-abundance of self -compassion.

We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.

22) And to wrap things up, the way to keep your New Year’s resolutions is not willpower, but gratitude and compassion:

What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.

On that note… I am truly grateful you find my blog worth reading and engaging with the ideas I share here.  And, if you have somehow deluded yourself into thinking Trump is a good president, I have compassion for you :-).  Genuinely wishing the best to all my readers in 2018.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Alexandra Petri on Trump’s respect for women.  Good, good stuff, “Trump respects women, you disgusting floozy.”

2) Seth Masket and Julia Azari with the talk of all the Political Parties scholars this week, “Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?”

Parties have something of a dual purpose — they need to win elections but also find a way to channel the different voices within their coalitions. Sometimes those goals mesh well and at other times they’re in tension.

The belief that parties should be internally democratic, which has gained wider acceptance over time and, with the reform commission, is likely accelerating, has altered the way parties balance those two objectives. Candidates who lose the nomination can protest on democratic grounds and gain traction in doing so.

But there’s a real danger in taking this path. It undermines both the nominee and the party, both immediately and in the long run. And it undermines one of the necessary, if difficult, aspects of democracy: conceding gracefully when you lose.

3) What bothers me most about this Drum post on whether Republicans believe their on lies (hard to say) is that when they lie blatantly to CNN, CNN doesn’t even bother to call them out on it with easily verifiable facts.  Ugh.  Some liberal media bias.  More like lazy media bias.

4) Nice piece from Mike Munger on why the Confederate statues should come down.

5) Upon paying close attention (yep, not the mainstream news media), it is actually quite apparent that the real scandal is not what a couple of FBI agents privately texted each other, but that DOJ released this texts for political purposes.

6) Michael Tomasky on how Republicans keep passing unpopular policies:

So there you have it. In 27 years, Republicans have passed one popular conservative law and spent most of that time voting against things that clear majorities of Americans wanted. If they weren’t serving Americans, whom were they serving? And how have they gotten away with it?

The answers to both questions, alas, are depressingly familiar. They are serving their megarich donors and the most extreme elements of their base. And they get away with it because of the way they’ve gerrymandered House districts, because of an ideological right-wing media that obfuscates facts and because the one thing they’ve done astonishingly well is to make a big chunk of the country hate liberals.

Well, the country doesn’t hate liberal policies, as Professor Warshaw’s research shows. But until something big changes, it can’t get them.

7) American sheriffs have too much power.

8) You literally cannot make this stuff up– Trump administration has banned the CDC from using terms such as “science-based” and “evidence-based.”

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

9) Not only is Susan Collins a fool, I’m so tired of her being called a “moderate.”  She’s simply “less extreme.”  If you football team’s average starting field position is your 10-yard line all game, that doesn’t make the 20 good starting field position.

10) Among the things clarified in the tax bill–how amazingly plutocratic Republicans are and how amazingly transparently false Rubio’s supposed attempts to help regular Americans are:

IN A tax-bill saga full of clarifying moments, there was one particularly eloquent expression of Republican priorities. First, Republicans refused to fund Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s plan to expand tax benefits for low-income families because he proposed paying for it by dropping the corporate tax rate to merely 21 percent rather than 20 percent. Then, in final negotiations on the bill, they adopted the 21 percent rate Mr. Rubio had sought, after all — and used the savings not to help needy families or to lessen the bill’s impact on the national debt but to lower the top income tax rate for the highest wage earners.

After some last-minute theatrics, a smaller version of Mr. Rubio’s plan was added to the final package. But it is telling how easy it was for Republicans to drop top income tax rates, how hard it has been for Mr. Rubio to secure even a limited victory for low-income people and how irrelevant concerns about ballooning the national debt have been for most in the GOP.

11) So cool– fighting antibiotic resistance in bacteria by harnessing natural competition between bacteria.

12) China wants a lot less of our recycling.  That’s not good.

13) Yeah, a $40 toll is going to draw a lot congestion pricing of negative publicity.  But, of course, it is far more complicated than that, and it actually shows working.

14) Here was a very interesting topic I never thought about– how our views of teenagers can be really distorted by the fact that they are typically played by mid-20’s performers in TV and film.  I feel like my view is pretty accurate, at least, since I’m around teenagers a lot.

15) Dahlia Lithwick’s account of her interpersonal dealings with sexually harrassing judge, Alex Kozinski, were really disturbing to read about.

16) Ever wondered why the flu virus is so damn good at mutating?  I have.  Loved this analogy for an explanation of how it works:

Like all viruses, the flu virus has one goal: replicate. And it can do that only by hijacking other cells. The virus enters a cell and takes over, shutting off the cell’s antiviral response and then using the cell’s machinery to make copies of itself. It’s like bootleggers sneaking booze into a coffee shop, turning off the burglar alarm and using the kitchen to make cocktails instead of cappuccinos.

Once the immune system learns what a flu virus looks like — whether from a vaccine or a past infection — it seeks out and destroys flu viruses before they enter more cells. (Soldiers are watching out for those bootleggers.) But the virus needs to replicate to keep surviving. If the parts the immune system recognizes change slightly, the immune system won’t see the virus. (If the antibody army identifies bootleggers only by their clothing, soldiers won’t stop bootleggers wearing brown trench coats if they’re looking for ones wearing black coats.)

And the flu virus gets lots of chances to change its wardrobe every time it replicates. Those wardrobe changes are mutations.

17) You want to fix American criminal justice?  Reforming prosecutors would not be a bad place to start.  And the utter lack of real accountability is certainly a major part of the problem.

18) NYT TV critic on Trump’s fixation on the worst kind of TV:

The problem is not how much TV Mr. Trump watches. It’s the kind of TV he watches.

As Mr. Trump’s associates report and his Twitter feed confirms, his video diet of choice is cable news, the most agitating, psychically toxic programming you can immerse yourself in, even if you don’t have possession of the nuclear codes.

19) A surprisingly thorough ranking of America’s popular chain sit-down restaurants.  Personally, I love IHOP pancakes as well as the Outback Steakhouse sirloin.

20) Watch a starfish take a stroll.

21) Loved this Guardian feature on Mark Hamill.  Having a tough time figuring out when to see the new Star Wars movie.  Too many moving parts in the family.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Given how subjective the experience of pain is, it should not be surprising that there seems to be quite a socio-cultural element.  The experience of pain varies dramatically around the world.  Drum.  Totally not surprised that Americans come out with the most pain.  What’s with the Czech’s?!

2) Hope I’m not giving away too much about the latest season of Curb your Enthusiasm to say that “Fatwa: the Musical” is about my favorite thing ever.  I would so pay big money if this were real.

3) Paul Waldman on the lessons of recent sex scandals:

And who survives this kind of scandal? The ones that are the least repentant — and often, the most guilty…

How do I know that Republicans will accommodate themselves to Moore’s presence? Because that’s exactly what they did with President Trump…

The depressing lesson is clear: If you don’t give any ground and don’t express contrition, you can turn your personal scandal into a partisan fight, which will rally your party to your side. And no matter what you did, there’s a good chance you’ll win. [emphasis mine]

4) As you know, I normally love Thomas Edsall, but in this column that argues liberals need to be less condescending and pay more attention to the realities of middle-American Trump supporters, he completely ignores the topic of race.  Edsall does raise some good points, but it is dramatically undermined by ignoring race.

5) On a somewhat similar note, I love this from Jennifer Rubin, “Journalists: Forget the Rust Belt diners. Head for the suburban yoga classes.”

6) Nice Vox summary of a recent Columbia Jouralism Review of the NYT’s email-obsessed 2016 coverage, “Study: Hillary Clinton’s emails got as much front-page coverage in 6 days as policy did in 69.”

And it’s not as if the Times, or any other media outlets, didn’t cover Trump’s scandals. They did. But there were so many, from relentless daily outrages to the dirt from Trump’s past, that it made it more likely, maybe even necessary, for journalists to move on to the next one thing.

But as Watts put it: “The monolithic story that’s constantly renewing itself seems to be disproportionately damaging compared to this kaleidoscope.”

7) In climate change research, “The most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences, study finds.”

8) Krugman on the Republicans’ war on children:

Meanwhile, here’s the funny thing: While there is zero evidence that tax cuts pay for themselves, there’s considerable evidence that aiding lower-income children actually saves money in the long run.

Think about it. Children who get adequate care are more likely to be healthier and more productive when they become adults, which means that they’ll earn more and pay more in taxes. They’re also less likely to become disabled and need government support. One recent study estimated that the government in fact earns a return of between 2 and 7 percent on the money it spends insuring children.

By the way, broadly similar results have been found for the food stamp program: Ensuring adequate nutrition for the young means healthier, more productive adults, so that in the long run this aid costs taxpayers little or nothing.

But such results, while interesting and important, aren’t the main reason we should be providing children with health care and enough to eat. Simple decency should be reason enough. And despite everything we’ve seen in U.S. politics, it’s still hard to believe that a whole political party would balk at doing the decent thing for millions of kids while rushing to further enrich a few thousand wealthy heirs.

That is, however, exactly what’s happening. And it’s as bad, in its own way, as that same party’s embrace of a child molester because they expect him to vote for tax cuts.

9) And Ronald Brownstein with a really nice piece going beyond his usual demographic analyses:

In that way, the tax debate offers the clearest measure of how powerfully the Republican Party in the Trump era is folding inward. Neither Trump nor GOP congressional leaders are even pretending to represent the entire country—or to consider perspectives beyond those of their core coalition. Instead the party has shown that as long as it can maintain internal unity over its direction, it will ignore objections from virtually any outside source—not just Democrats, but also independent experts, affected interest groups, and traditional allies abroad.

In a best-selling book published during the Reagan years, neoconservative cultural critic Allan Bloom lamented The Closing of the American Mind. The Trump era is crystallizing the closing of the Republican mind.

In several distinct ways, the party is now governing solely of, by, and for Red America…

10) Nice Mischiefs of Faction post on the conflicting rights in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

11) Michael Tomasky on Al Franken:

This is where I see some opportunism at work, in two ways. First, let’s cut to the chase: Do you think we’d have heard all these calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues if Minnesota had a Republican governor? No way. Maybe a couple senators would, but as a group they wouldn’t be nearly so cavalier about dumping him if they knew a Republican was going to replace him. And that’s fine; that’s politics. Newsflash: Politics is political. But it does make me take these high-moral-ground statements of his colleagues with a few grains of salt…

Second, obviously, the Democrats are hoping to present to America a contrast between them and the Republicans. And that contrast is real. But it, too, is not really about morality. It’s because rank-and-file Democrats take sexually inappropriate behavior a lot more seriously than rank-and-file Republicans do. This week, Quinnipiac polled about 1,700 people and asked them whether an elected official accused (and only accused) of sexual harassment or assault “by multiple people” should resign. Among Democrats it was 77 percent yes to 14 percent no. Among Republicans it was 51-37…

But there’s more. They’ve circumvented process and the principle of hearing from both sides. They’ve completely ignored the possibility that a person can reform himself. (Maybe Franken used to be a sexist jerk but has genuinely changed; aren’t liberals supposed to welcome that?) And they’ve blurred the line, which I think should exist, between different categories of sexual crimes, some of which are obviously worse than others. The day will almost surely come when they’ll regret having established these precedents.

12) Masha Gessen thinks we are going to far in “policing sex.”

13) Really like this piece about how so many men just don’t get enough touch in their lives.  Fortunately, for me, both my parents were huggers and physically affectionate.  I remember going off to college and missing the lack of physical contact.  Fortunately, I had a friend down the hall (who would become my best friend and roommate), who was always ready and unsparing with a good hug.

Touch is the first, and perhaps most profound, language we learn when we’re very young, says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Touch might have a more immediate impact than words, Dr. Field said in an email, “because it is physical and leads to a chain of bioelectric and chemical changes that basically relax the nervous system.”

The benefits of nonsexual touch read like a 19th-century tonic advertisement, except that the outcomes have been scientifically vetted. Touch has been found, among other things, to reduce stress, heart rate andblood pressure. Touch has even been found to lower the level of cortisol in the body (especially in women) which, when elevated, impedes our working memory and, most critically, the immune system’s resiliency…

The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.

The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”

14) Yeah, of course Roy Moore is lying and there’s increasing evidence to suggest that.

15) The marijuana as a gateway drug theory is making a bit of a comeback.  That said, the evidence for it is largely based on rats.  The human evidence still suggests the contrary.  Somehow, I had not heard of common liability theory.  Definitely going to educate myself more on this.

Today, health advocates tend to rally around a concept known as common liability theory, which states that certain people, by virtue of biology, environment or both, are simply more likely than others to become addicted to drugs. Part of the appeal of the theory is it explains why so many people can use so-called gateway drugs and never become addicted.

“Gateway theory only deals with the initiation of the use of various substances, and this order means exactly nothing,” said Michael M. Vanyukov, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of a 2012 paper comparing gateway and common liability theories. “What is important is why people start using drugs at all, and common liability accounts for that.”

16) Black women are far more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than white women.  And here’s one particularly heartbreaking tale of it.

17) Happy birthday to the #1 fan of quick hits, DJC.  This most eccentric of friends will be celebrating his 41st birthday by walking 41K today (I plan on joining him for a handful of those), so he might be behind in reading this.

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