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.

Advertisements

Duck penises, other bird non-penises, and actually understanding Darwin

Wow, this episode of Radiolab was so good.  If you ever listen to podcasts, this is a must-listen.  I’ve known for a long time of the strange case of crazy, elaborate duck penises and correspondingly crazy duck vaginas.  And that this is related to the fact that ducks are one of the few types of animals other than humans where males mate with unwilling females.

But, what I didn’t really know is that the vast majority of bird species don’t have penises at all.  And, they used to!  So, somehow, evolution favored all most all bird species losing the penis.  What’s up with that?  And how is this related to Darwin’s widely misunderstood theory of sexual selection?  Listen and find out.

 

A crappy post

I was about to queue this up for quick hits, but then I thought, damn, as long as I’ve been fascinated by fecal transplants, this excellent NYT story deserves its own post.  Lots of good stuff here:

There’s a new war raging in health care, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and thousands of lives in the balance. The battle, pitting drug companies against doctors and patient advocates, is being fought over the unlikeliest of substances: human excrement.

The clash is over the future of fecal microbiota transplants, or F.M.T., a revolutionary treatment that has proved remarkably effective in treating Clostridioides difficile, a debilitating bacterial infection that strikes 500,000 Americans a year and kills 30,000.

The therapy transfers fecal matter from healthy donors into the bowels of ailing patients, restoring the beneficial works of the community of gut microbes that have been decimated by antibiotics. Scientists see potential for using these organisms to treat diseasesfrom diabetes to cancer.

At the heart of the controversy is a question of classification: Are the fecal microbiota that cure C. diff a drug, or are they more akin to organs, tissues and blood products that are transferred from the healthy to treat the sick? The answer will determine how the Food and Drug Administration regulates the procedure, how much it costs and who gets to profit. [emphases mine]

“People have good reason to worry because for many patients, fecal transplants are a matter of life and death,” said Catherine Duff, founder of the Fecal Transplant Foundation, a patients group. “The concern is that corporate greed will get in the way of patient access.”

As the F.D.A. nears a final decision, both sides are ramping up the pressure. More than 40 prominent gastroenterologists and infectious disease doctors recently wrote to the agency, urging it to rethink its approach.

Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, said he feared the F.D.A. was favoring the interests of what he calls the “poop drug cartel,” a group of companies seeking approval for new ways to deliver the active ingredients in transplanted feces. Three of the companies, RebiotixSeres Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences, have raised tens of millions of dollars from investors and they recently formed an association to advance their interests with the F.D.A.

“An obscene amount of money is being thrown around by companies trying to profit off of what nature made,” said Dr. Khoruts. “I don’t think there are clear villains here, but I worry that the regulators are not caught up on the latest science and that the interests of investors may be exceeding those of patients.”

I don’t know enough to pretend I know the right way to proceed.  For example, if for-profit companies can come up with a system where you isolate the key bacteria and people can really just take it in a pill instead of an enema a slurry of another person’s feces, that’s amazing and more power (and reasonable profit) to them.  But the power for huge amounts of money at stake to corrupt the process is absolutely something to be very much concerned about.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Alex Sheppard on the meaninglessness of “socialism” in contemporary political discourse.  It’s government ownership of the means of production, damnit!

2) This visualization of global brand popularity over time is amazing.  Watch it (though, it’s too slow, worked at 2-3x for me).

3) I love that even though we now know so much about our universe, it is still utterly baffling.

4) I did feel somewhat obligated to try and understand what’s going on with India and Pakistan.  And I do know enough to know that if I’m not going to read much, Dexter Filkins is a good way to go:

Where does it end? To me, the main impediment to a final peace has always been the Pakistani military. Not only have Pakistan’s generals fuelled the insurgency, and sheltered and abetted terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, but, by smothering Pakistani democracy, they have also made reconciliation between the two countries all but impossible. The Pakistani military needs an enemy in order to justify its vast budgets and regular interventions in domestic politics. In a televised address this week, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister (who came to power with the military’s support), appealed to India’s leaders in a way that seemed designed to break the impasse. “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” Khan asked.

5) Interview with Quinta Jurecic on takeaways from Cohen:

What takeaways did you have from the afternoon session?

What I was struck by is how careful Cohen has been in what he says Trump has and hasn’t done. The Republicans and Trump himself and his family members have really tried to push this idea of Cohen as someone who has been spurned, who’s out to get Trump, but there are plenty of questions where Democrats will ask whether Trump did such-and-such egregious thing and Cohen will actually say no. The main examples were congresswoman Jackie Speier’s questions about the National Enquirer story [which was never published] about a possible illegitimate child of Trump’s, and the rumor about Trump assaulting Melania in an elevator. And Cohen went out of his way, in both cases, to basically say he didn’t believe that they were true. I think that actually does a lot for him in terms of his credibility.

The testimony today could very well be damning politically and legally for Trump. But does the testimony make you think that more extreme versions of a Russia conspiracy are not true?

It depends how you define what constitutes an extreme theory. It’s interesting that you say that, because my reaction to reading Cohen’s prepared statement was actually the opposite. I felt, like, Oh, right, this is a reminder of how bigand how serious this is. In recent weeks, maybe because the investigation has been relatively quiet and there have been reports of it wrapping up, I felt like the mood has shifted toward wondering whether the report will be kind of a dud—that there wasn’t really collusion and there was just a disorganized effort that didn’t really come together.

The Cohen statement, on the other hand, seemed to me to be a splash of cold water. If he is telling the truth, it sounds like Trump really did know about Roger Stone’s alleged efforts to contact WikiLeaks and approved of them, and that strikes me as a lot more than a dud. It doesn’t corroborate the most explosive details of the Steele dossier—it is not the most extreme version—but it is pretty bad politically.

6) And I really liked Catherine Rampell’s very big-picture take:

There were lots of takeaways from Michael Cohen’s explosive ­congressional testimony this week: about Russia, racism, redemption.

To me, the biggest lesson was that we desperately need to increase the Internal Revenue Service’s budget.

Cohen, formerly President Trump’s personal lawyer, repeatedly offered accounts of not only how comfortable Trump became with cheating Uncle Sam but also how ill-equipped our tax cops were to catch him.

We heard, for instance, Cohen’s story about how the president used the Trump Foundation, supposedly a charitable organization, as his personal piggy bank.

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to hire a straw bidder to purchase a nine-foot painting of Trump at auction. The bidder was then reimbursed with tax-advantaged funds from the Trump Foundation. Cohen said Trump had similarly used foundation funds to buy other portraits of himself that now hang in his golf clubs, a pattern previously documented by my colleague David Fahrenthold…

Further questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) addressed a New York Times report about the Trump family’s use of dubious or outright ­fraudulent schemes to duck taxes on Fred Trump’s estate. And, of course, Republicans hammered Cohen about ­Cohen’s owntax misdeeds; as part of his plea agreement, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Trump has said he has “brilliantly” used the tax laws to his advantage, but has repeatedly denied any ­lawbreaking…

If true, that statement (that Trump feared an audit) would undercut Trump’s sorry excuse for not releasing his returns (that he was already under audit). But it would also reflect a grim reality: IRS enforcement activity has indeed loosened over the years, especially when it comes to the ultra-wealthy.

Since fiscal 2011, the audit rate for large corporations (with at least $10 million in assets) has halved. For households with income of more than $1 million, it has declined by two-thirds, according to IRS data.

Likewise, federal prosecutions referred by the IRS have plunged to their lowest level on record, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In fact, adjusted for population size, IRS-referred prosecutions are just a quarter of their early-’90s peak…

So why has enforcement fallen? Why have people such as Trump — and Cohen, Paul Manafort and others with major red flags — been so confident their taxes won’t be scrutinized? It’s not because the “deep state” wants to go easy on well-heeled tax cheats.

It’s that our policymakers have systematically hobbled the IRS. Congress has given the agency more responsibilities while simultaneously slashing its resources. IRS staffing for key enforcement occupations has shrunk by about a third over the past six years.

That’s bad news if you care about fiscal responsibility, since the IRS brings in several dollars for every dollar it spends. It’s also bad news if you care about catching bad actors. [emphasis mine]

7) I’ve long since stopped watching baseball– too slow and boring.  Though, I was really intrigued by Nate Silver’s diagnosis of the problem (the way relief pitching is used) and proposed fix.

8) Adam Rogers argues that we know how to fix homelessness— we’re just not doing it.  Interesting take, but I think it needs to deal more thoroughly with the mental illness aspect.

9) When I covered health care in class last week, at least two students worried that if we did not stop insanely over-spending on health care in this country, we might lose our innovation edge.  Personally, I’d take that trade.  Also, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Aaron Carroll (of course) and Austin Frakt are on the case:

Rather, the nation’s innovation advantage arises from a first-class research university system, along with robust intellectual property laws and significant public and private investment in research and development.

Perhaps most important, this country offers a large market in which patients, organizations and government spend a lot on health and companies are able to profit greatly from health care innovation.

The United States health care market, through which over one-sixth of the economy flows, offers investors substantial opportunities. Rational investors will invest in an area if it is more profitable than the next best opportunity.

“The relationship between profits and innovation is clearest in the biopharmaceutical and medical device sectors,” said Craig Garthwaite, a health economist with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and one of the judges in our tournament. “In these sectors, firms are able to patent innovations, and we have a good sense of how additional research funds lead to new products.”…

In fact, some question whether the innovation incentive offered by the health care market is too strong. Spending less and skipping the marginal innovation is a rational choice. Spending differently to encourage different forms of innovation is another approach.

“We have a health care system with all sorts of perverse incentives, many of which do little good for patients,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and the other expert panelist who favored the U.S. over France, along with Mr. Garthwaite. “If we could orient the system toward measuring and incentivizing meaningfully better health outcomes, we would have more innovations that are worth paying for.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht on how Trump appears to have politically energized girls:

While it is too early to tell, we may be witnessing an emerging generation who are primed for political engagement. Just like baby boomers who came of age during the protests of the 1960s and then remained engaged over their lifetimes, today’s Democratic girls may be launched on a lifelong trajectory of political activism.

In short, one lasting consequence of the Trump era may be a cohort of politically active women — not just in Congress but in our communities — whose entree into politics can be attributed not only to inspiration but also to indignation.

2) Great piece from Jon Bernstein, “Talented Democrats Are All Running for President. It’s a Problem.: Beto O’Rourke’s run for the White House could cost Democrats a Senate seat. That wouldn’t happen in other democracies.”

New polls are showing that Democrats might have a real shot at defeating Texas Senator John Cornyn’s reelection bid next year. The problem? They basically have two appealing candidates for the seat – former Representative Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro – and they’re both running for president…

Both Castro and O’Rourke may have calculated that (good polling notwithstanding) they actually have a better shot at the White House than the Senate. After all, the last time a Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican senator in Texas was never. Meanwhile, there’s no powerhouse in the presidential race so far, and both Castro and O’Rourke have plausible cases for the nomination. So while the party would be better off if one of them switched to the Senate race, individually the incentives differ.

More broadly, though, this situation shows what U.S. political parties are up against. It wouldn’t happen in most other democracies. In parliamentary systems, running for the legislature is a precondition to running for prime minister, not an alternative to it. And in most countries, having a talented politician stuck in the wrong constituency isn’t a thing. In legislatures with proportional representation, the best politicians can be placed at the top of the party list and would get seated as long as the party isn’t shut out (it’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the general idea). In some first-past-the-post systems, there’s a much weaker link between residency and constituency (or no link at all). Under British rules and customs, O’Rourke could just run for the far more Democrat-friendly Colorado Senate seat instead of being stuck in his Republican-leaning home state.

3) My daughter’s overly-dramatic best friend (2nd grade) told me all about how scary this Momo thing is.  Scary, that is, to parents who freak out over viral nothingness.

4) Brendan Nyhan: “A Weak President Can Still Be a Dangerous One”

As he has shown, weak presidents can still inflict damage on democracy while in office. In fact, the slow erosion of democratic norms and institutions — not coups or revolutions — is the most common threat to democratic stability in recent decades. (Think of the recent slide toward authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, not the fascism of mid-20th century Europe.) While our institutions have limited the damage Trump has been able to inflict so far, there is strong expert consensus that U.S. democracy has degraded since he took office.

For instance, Trump’s weakness may frustrate his ambitions in the legislative sphere, but he can still erode protections against executive overreach in his use of national emergency powers to try to fund a border wall or undermine government efforts to punish and prevent foreign influence in elections. The powers of the presidency are potentially expansive even in the hands of a weak president, as Daniel Drezner emphasized in the Washington Post.

Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric can still be dangerous even if his worst impulses are checked on policy. Trump has endorsed a long list of authoritarian actions ranging from law enforcement investigations of his political opponents to criminal assault against a journalist. He echoes Stalinist rhetoric in calling the media the “enemy of the people” and spoke favorably of white nationalist protesters. These statements risk normalizing hatred and violence and undermining democratic norms, particularly within Trump’s party, where his influence is greatest. Robin suggests that critics of the authoritarian threat have reversed themselves on the power of presidential words, but as political scientist Emily Thorson points out, the articles he cites actually focus on how Trump could change Republican politics — a threat even if his words fail to produce immediate anti-democratic actions.

5) This NYT science article is really, really interesting, “Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think: From butterflies to chickens to lobsters, mixed male-female bodies offer clues as to why certain diseases strike one sex more often than the other.”

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Scientists say these instances of split-sex animals and insects could offer clues to why some human diseases strike one sex more than the other.

Researchers thought they had figured out the genetics of birds and bees, but gynandromorphs suggest that there is more to learn

6) I find the analytical difficulty in drafting NFL quarterbacks a fascinating subject.  Do does 538, “The NFL Is Drafting Quarterbacks All Wrong.”

7) I like Drum’s “super-abridged Green New Deal”

Outside of war, I can’t think of an example in all of human history where a large polity—let alone the entire world—willingly made significant sacrifices in service of a fuzzy, uncertain hazard that’s decades away. We are overclocked hairless apes who are simply not designed to think that way. Why would anyone deny this?

This, then, circles back to what I was saying a couple of days ago: A climate plan that requires significant sacrifice might work on planet Vulcan, but not on planet Earth. Assuming otherwise is nonserious. We need a plan that will work with only homo sapiens to carry it out, and that means a plan that takes into account human selfishness and shortsightedness. It means a plan that will appeal to China and India and Brazil and the rest of the world. It means a plan that will somehow reduce atmospheric carbon a lot even while most of us sit around fat, dumb, and happy.

The only such plan I can think of is one that increases global R&D spending on climate mitigation by, oh, 10x or so. Maybe 20x if it’s feasible. This money would be spent on developing new sources of clean energy and energy storage; reducing the price of current sources of clean energy; figuring out ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere; and pretty much anything else that seems remotely useful. The fruits of this research would be turned over to the private sector for free, and they would then compete to sell it all over the globe. This would harness human selfishness instead of fighting it. It’s not guaranteed to work, but unlike the GND and similar manifestos, at least it’s not guaranteed to fail.

8) Long-time Democratic politicians could learn a lot from AOC when it comes to how to question a witness at a Congressional hearing.

9) Watched “A Quiet Place” this week.  Really, really enjoyed it.

10) A nice review of the political science on the role of sexism in elections:

How much sexism ultimately influences votes is a matter of debate. In general elections, partisanship beats everything else, said Kathleen Dolan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whose research shows that most voters stick with their party’s candidate regardless of gender.

But there has been little comparable research on primaries, where partisanship isn’t in the equation. And the Democrats will have a wide-open presidential primary in 2020 with multiple leading female candidates.

What is not a matter of debate is the array of ways that sexism can manifest on the campaign trail, affecting not only how voters perceive candidates but how candidates present themselves to voters…

One of the most amorphous qualities candidates are judged on, likability is also deeply influenced by gender bias, researchers say. Voters look for it in men, too — consider the “who would you rather have a beer with” question in campaigns — but only in women, research shows, do they consider it nonnegotiable.

“We know that voters will not support a woman that they do not like, even if they believe that she is qualified,” Ms. Hunter said. “But they will vote for a man that they do not like if they believe he is qualified.”

In 2016, for instance, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump had poor favorability ratings; among voters who said they viewed both candidates negatively, Mr. Trump won by roughly 20 percentage points.

Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded “power-seeking” women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as “ambitious” — an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men. Within 24 hours of Ms. Harris’s campaign kickoff, some critics were bringing up her onetime relationship with a powerful California politician, Willie Brown — a common tactic faced by women that sexualizes them and reduces their successes to a relationship with a man.

And if a narrative of unlikability takes hold, it can influence voters without their even realizing it.

11) Loved this NYT Magazine feature on Michael J. Fox and how he is coping with the increasing challenges of his Parkinson’s.  I had never really thought about before just how young he was when first stricken by the disease.

Hydrate with caffeinated diet sodas!

That is, if you like soda.  Don’t take up the habit.  I’m not so motivated-reasoning here (can I use motivated reasoning as a compound verb?) on this issue that I would ever argue against the idea that just plain water is best.  But damn am I sick of hearing from everybody about how the diet soda is going to kill me.  “But chemicals!!”  Anyway, I actually had to put up with hearing somebody going on about the cancer link.  Yeah, yeah, come back to me when I consume half my body weight in artificial sweetener.  Here’s what the national cancer institute says on the matter:

Is there an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer?

Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, results from subsequent carcinogenicity studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) of these sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans. Similarly, studies of other FDA-approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.

As those who eat lunch with me know, I generally consume massive quantities of Diet Dr Pepper (and Diet Coke if its an okay day and on sad days, the damnable Diet Pepsi).  So, there I am drinking 40 ounces or more of liquid which is 99% or so water and people telling me that I am actually dehydrating myself because of the caffeine.  Oh please!  Maybe drinking 40 ounces of caffeinated is like drinking 38 ounces of non-caffeinated, but the idea that I would have a net loss of water?!  Of course, there’s science on this, too:

RESULTS:

The available literature suggests that acute ingestion of caffeine in large doses (at least 250-300 mg, equivalent to the amount found in 2-3 cups of coffee or 5-8 cups of tea) results in a short-term stimulation of urine output in individuals who have been deprived of caffeine for a period of days or weeks. A profound tolerance to the diuretic and other effects of caffeine develops, however, and the actions are much diminished in individuals who regularly consume tea or coffee. Doses of caffeine equivalent to the amount normally found in standard servings of tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks appear to have no diuretic action.

CONCLUSION:

The most ecologically valid of the published studies offers no support for the suggestion that consumption of caffeine-containing beverages as part of a normal lifestyle leads to fluid loss in excess of the volume ingested or is associated with poor hydration status. Therefore, there would appear to be no clear basis for refraining from caffeine containing drinks in situations where fluid balance might be compromised.

I know, I know, recent research on elevated stroke risk and older women; possible impact on the microbiome, etc., but people really need to stop treating diet soda like I’m drinking turpentine.  I’ll keep taking my chances here.

(Real) quick hits

1) I’m a big fan of the the big 5 personality inventory.  538 with a nice explanation and a nice version of the quiz.  I still get frustrated by “openness to experience” being a single concepts as in some aspects I am very open to experience and I love culture and learning new things, but this is also the guy who would happily eat pizza for lunch five days a week (and often does).

2) Krugman on Elizabeth Warren’s smart plan for universal child care.  I don’t know if Warren would make the best president, but I’m pretty damn confident she has the best policy ideas.

For millions of Americans with children, life is a constant, desperate balancing act. They must work during the day, either because they’re single parents or because decades of wage stagnation mean that both parents must take jobs to make ends meet. Yet quality child care is unavailable or unaffordable.

And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Other wealthy countries either have national child care systems or subsidize care to put it in everyone’s reach. It doesn’t even cost all that much. While other advanced countries spend, on average, about three times as much as we do helping families — so much for our vaunted “family values” — it’s still a relatively small part of their budgets. In particular, taking care of children is much cheaper than providing health care and retirement income to seniors, which even America does.

Furthermore, caring for children doesn’t just help them grow up to be productive adults. It also has immediate economic benefits, making it easier for parents to stay in the work force…

For the Warren proposal is the kind of initiative that, if enacted, would change millions of lives for the better, yet could actually happen in the near future.

Among other things, unlike purist visions of replacing private health insurance with “Medicare for all,” providing child care wouldn’t require imposing big new taxes on the middle class. The sums of money involved are small enough that new taxes on great wealth and high incomes, which are desirable on other grounds, could easily raise sufficient revenue.

The logic of the Warren plan is fairly simple (although some commentators are trying to make it sound complex). Child care would be regulated to ensure that basic quality was maintained and subsidized to make it affordable. The size of the subsidy would depend on parents’ incomes: lower-income parents would get free care, higher-income parents would have to pay something, but nobody would have to pay more than 7 percent of income.

Warren’s advisers put the budget cost at $70 billion a year, or around one-third of one percent of G.D.P. That’s not chicken feed, but it’s not that much for something that could transform so many lives…

The bottom line is that Warren’s proposal is impressive: It’s workable, affordable, and would do a huge amount of good.

And while this isn’t a horse-race column — I’m not arguing that Warren necessarily will or even should be the Democratic presidential nominee — the field needs more policy ideas like this: medium-size, medium-priced proposals that could deliver major benefits without requiring a political miracle.

3) Really nice Post piece on just went down with even all the Republicans finally admitting we need a new election for NC-9.

4) I was a little disheartened that my son’s middle school health teacher is actually teaching health myths.  In this case, the eight glasses of water a day myth.  Aaron Carroll took it apart back in 2015.

5) Really enjoyed reading John McWhorter on Smollet and victimhood culture:

6) Just in case you didn’t hear the story of the high school that gave out cheerleading awards like the “big boobie award.”  Just ugh.

7) The thinking-man’s libertarian, Will Wilkinson, with a nice piece, “Don’t Abolish Billionaires:
Abolish bad policy instead.”

The empirical record is quite clear about the general form of national political economy that produces the happiest, healthiest, wealthiest, freest and longest lives. There’s no pithy name for it, so we’ll have to settle for “liberal-democratic welfare-state capitalism.” There’s a “social democratic” version, which is what you get in countries like Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. And there’s a “neoliberal” (usually English-speaking) version, which is what you get in countries like Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

You may prefer one version over the other, but they’re not all that different. And in comparative terms, they’re all insanely great. The typical citizen of these countries is as well-off as human beings have ever been. These places are the historical pinnacle of policy success.

But guess what? There are billionaires in all of them. Egalitarian Sweden, an object of ardent progressive adoration, has more billionaires per capita than the United States.

8) Ah damn was that Dutch historian taking down Tucker Carlson so awesome.

9) Terrific unanimous Supreme Court decision last week on excessive fines and policing for profit:

The Supreme Court struck an extraordinary blow for criminal justice reform on Wednesday, placing real limitations on policing for profitacross the country. Its unanimous decision for the first time prohibits all 50 states from imposing excessive fines, including the seizure of property, on people accused or convicted of a crime. Rarely does the court hand down a ruling of such constitutional magnitude—and seldom do all nine justices agree to restrict the power that police and prosecutors exert over individuals. The landmark decision represents a broad agreement on the Supreme Court that law enforcement’s legalized thefthas gone too far.

10) A nice explanation of how California’s lawsuit against Trump’s emergency is perfectly written to appeal to conservative Justices.  All we need is a modicum of intellectual honesty (I’m actually optimistic on that matter) and we’re good:

This lawsuit joins a series of others that have already been filed by watchdog groups. While they all argue that there is no actual emergency at the southern border, that is not the gravamen of their complaint. Instead of asking the courts to second-guess Trump’s intent, these challengers ask them to decide whether Trump had authority to act in the first place.

The answer, they assert, is no. The Presentment Clause is straightforward: For a bill to become law, it must pass both houses of Congress, then be presented to the president for approval. Yet Congress never passed a bill authorizing and funding the border wall Trump now demands. It never presented such legislation to the president for his signature. This is the stuff of Civics 101. Whatever powers the National Emergencies Act may grant to the president, a federal statute cannot override the Constitution. The executive cannot use funds Congress did not appropriate. He cannot amend statutes himself to create money for pet projects. Trump asked Congress for a large sum of money to construct a border wall; Congress resoundingly and provably said no. The National Emergencies Act does not give him leeway to contravene Congress’ commands.

These problems ought to be catnip for SCOTUS’ conservative justices—particularly Justice Neil Gorsuch. In his very first dissent on the Supreme Court, Gorsuch extolled the virtues of this pristine constitutional system. “If a statute needs repair,” he wrote, “there’s a constitutionally prescribed way to do it. It’s called legislation.” Gorsuch continued:

To be sure, the demands of bicameralism and presentment are real and the process can be protracted. But the difficulty of making new laws isn’t some bug in the constitutional design: it’s the point of the design, the better to preserve liberty.

A year later, in his rightly celebrated opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, Gorsuch hammered this same point home again. “Under the Constitution,” he wrote, “the adoption of new laws restricting liberty is supposed to be a hard business, the product of an open and public debate among a large and diverse number of elected representatives.” The courts abdicate their responsibility when they ignore the Constitution’s “division of duties” between the branches of government. These “structural worries” form the bedrock of American constitutional governance, whose ultimate goal is to safeguard “ordered liberty.” These new challenges demonstrate that Trump is circumventing these “structural worries” and harming “ordered liberty” in the process.

11) Sorry, but have no sympathy for Americans who betrayed their country to join the brutal, murderous cult that is ISIS and now want to come home and have all be forgiven.

12) There’s a u-curve for the amount of free time that brings you the most happiness.  Honestly, I suspect that I’d be good with more free time than lots of people, “How Much Leisure Time Do the Happiest People Have? Too little, and people tend to get stressed. Too much, and people tend to feel idle.”

13) Not at all surprising to anyone paying attention and not blinded by right-wing Christian ideology, “Meta-Analysis Over Almost 20 Years Has Declared Its Verdict on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed.”  It doesn’t work.

14) Since the opioid crisis is particularly bad in New Hampshire a lot of people are pushing back against legalizing marijuana.  Because smoking pot leads to opioid addiction.  Oh wait.

15) Loved this story on the new, small tyrannosaurs discovered (by a NC State professor!!):

But at just 170 pounds and six feet long from nose to tail, this new human-size dinosaur was muchsmaller than its more famous relative. Growth rings in the bones, much like those in a tree trunk, showed that the individual was at least seven years old and nearly mature. “It’s certainly not a very young individual of a very large species,” Zanno says. Instead, it was an adult—just a small one.

Zanno named it Moros, after the embodiment of impending doom in Greek mythology. It’s a rather dramatic name for such a diminutive dinosaur, but it’s apt considering the creature’s age. Moros lived 96 million years ago, preceding Tyrannosaurus by a good 30 million years. It was a miniature harbinger of the bone-crunching tyrants to come—impending doom, indeed. And its age and size offer important clues about one of the most dramatic plot twists in the dinosaur story.

During the late Jurassic period, at a time when Asia and North America were connected to each other, the first tyrannosaurs evolved in the former continent before crossing over into the latter. At first they were just one of many groups of small-bodied hunters, all skulking subordinately in the shadow of far bigger predators, such as the allosaurs, a family of toothy, two-legged dinosaurs with dangerous claws. But at some point during the Cretaceous period, the allosaurs died out. The tyrannosaurs quickly usurped them, evolving into apex predators that ruled unchallenged in the northern continents until an asteroid strike (perhaps in combination with volcanic activity) ended their reign.

That switch from allosaurs to tyrannosaurs “was a defining event in dinosaur evolution, but we still don’t know very much about it,” says Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh. “We’re not really sure exactly when it happened, if it happened quickly or was more of a prolonged battle, or if it happened across the northern continents all at once.” …

So what the hell happened to the Allosaurs anyway?!

%d bloggers like this: