Photo of the day

Fifty years ago today.  Via Nasa:

The huge, 363-feet tall Apollo 11 (Spacecraft 107/Lunar Module S/Saturn 506) space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), at 9:32 a.m. (EDT), July 16, 1969. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 is the United States’ first lunar landing mission.
Photo Credit: NASA

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Really interesting Atlantic piece on automotive safety. I was particularly intrigued to learn about speed limits:

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that speed is a top risk factor in motor-vehicle crashes. Yet the most prominent way of setting and adjusting speed limits, known as the operating-speed method, actually encourages faster driving. It calls for setting speed limits that 85 percent of drivers will obey. This method makes little provision for whether there’s a park or senior center on a street, or for people walking or biking.

As a matter of law, the operating-speed method is exceptional. It enables those who violate the law—speeding motorists—to rewrite it: Speed limits ratchet higher until no more than 15 percent of motorists violate them. The perverse incentives are obvious. Imagine a rule saying that, once 15 percent of Americans acquired an illegal type of machine gun, that weapon would automatically become legal. Other legislation amplifies the harm from this method. In California, for example, cities are sometimes obligated by law to raise speed limits against their will, and local governments are barred from lowering them even for safety reasons. This occurs against a backdrop of radical under-enforcement of the speed limit nationally, and the widespread banning of proven but unpopular lifesaving technologies such as automated speed cameras.

Just as telling as what activities the law regulates is whose interests it seeks to protect. Dozens of our peer nations require carmakers to mitigate harm to pedestrians caused by their products. U.S. design regulations, however, require only measures that enhance the safety of car occupants. Just as SUVs are becoming taller, heavier, and more prevalent—and pedestrian fatalities are surging—U.S. regulators have not required carmakers to embrace those more comprehensive design standards. Instead, they’ve launched campaigns baselessly blaming pedestrians for their own deaths.

2) Crazy story about how a metal straw actually killed somebody.  If this was in a movie you’d say– no way.  I still love my plastic straws and enjoy the metal straws I recently received (as an NPR contributor gift).

3) The sycophancy that surrounds Trump really is amazing (and, oh my, how does William Barr even live with himself):

Still, sycophancy is an effective path to favor with any President, especially this one. Trump retains a Manichean view of the world, bracing in its Trump-centric simplicity. This informs foreign policy, domestic policy, and key decisions about hiring and firing—basically, everything he does. On his mystifying affinity for Vladimir Putin, for example, the Mueller report’s inconclusive findings suggest that there may be no more accurate explanation than one that Trump himself gave, in public, in 2016: “He says very nice things about me.” It’s a line Trump often uses in the accounts that have emerged of his private conversations in the White House, and his subordinates have clearly received the message. Consider Attorney General William Barr’s performance in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon, when he and Trump were announcing that the Administration would back off on Trump’s plan to add a citizenship question to the upcoming census. Bowing to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against it, Barr claimed that the choice to forgo putting the question on the census was essentially a “logistical” obstacle, about timing. He applauded Trump for courageously agreeing to abide by the Court’s decision, declaring, “Congratulations again, Mr. President.”

4) Never actually bought a Kidz Bop CD, but damn did I used to see the ads all the time.  Alas, it’s tough times for compilations of sanitized version of pop songs.

5) Thought-provoking interview, “What if life did not originate on earth.”

So the four-billion-year and the ten-billion-year estimates—there is no scientific basis for either estimate? Is that what you are saying?

No, no, no. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. And the universe, at least based on estimates from the Big Bang, is something like fourteen billion years. So, if life evolved somewhere else, that buys you about ten billion years of time. But I’d rather it bought you a hundred billion years of time or a thousand billion years of time. That would be more satisfying.

Why would it be more satisfying?

Well, because it allows more time. See, the thing is, if you look in the fossil record, where’s the first evidence of life? Well, you can see evidence of bacterial life, things that look like bacteria, the things that are called stromatolites, which are a kind of blue-green algae bacteria that live in colonies. Those things form good fossils, and you can see those about three and a half billion years ago. So, life had already evolved to the point of there being pretty complicated bacteria very quickly, after the Earth cooled.

And, you know, most lay people would say, “Well, yeah, duh, bacteria are pretty simple.” But bacteria are not simple. Bacteria are incredibly complicated. Bacteria are the self-replicating robots that electrical engineers dream of. These guys can make a copy of themselves in twenty minutes, with four thousand parts.

So, O.K., what’s the upshot of what you’re saying about the bacteria?

They were super highly evolved, and I think they got here as soon as the Earth cooled, and they just started growing. And they’ve been spreading across the Milky Way and maybe the whole universe. For example, you’ve heard about seti, right? The people who are looking for intelligent life?

Also reminded me of ideas in one of my favorite science fiction novels, Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God.

6) This is cool.  Not only can I continue to think that trigger warnings are overly-woke overkill now there’s social science that shows as much.

7) Speaking of overly-woke.  I really like Farhad Manjoo on technology, and I get the argument for having non-gendered personal pronouns, but we already having a meaning for they and it’s third person plural.  And it’s confusing as hell to pretty much any native English speaker to pretend otherwise.

8) I have no interest in poker but really enjoyed learning about the AI poker-playing bot and how it got so good so fast.

9) Some good political science, “Politicians Don’t Actually Care What Voters Want: Does that statement sound too cynical? Unfortunately, the evidence supports it.”

How much do legislators really care about the views of their constituents?

Over the past two years, we conducted a study to find out. We provided state legislators in the United States with access to highly detailed public opinion survey data — more detailed than almost all available opinion polls — about their constituents’ attitudes on gun control, infrastructure spending, abortion and many other policy issues. Afterward, we gauged the willingness of representatives to look at the data as well as how the data affected their perceptions of their constituents’ opinions.

What we found should alarm all Americans. An overwhelming majority of legislators were uninterested in learning about their constituents’ views. Perhaps more worrisome, however, was that when the legislators who did view the data were surveyed afterward, they were no better at understanding what their constituents wanted than legislators who had not looked at the data. For most politicians, voters’ views seemed almost irrelevant.

10) Really nice Wired article on the physics of producing ever-faster tennis serves (I’m counting on you to put this to use, JDW).

11) Not at all surprised to learn that listening to up-tempo music can enhance a high-intensity workout. I pretty much just listen to podcasts during all my exercise, but when I really want to run, I go with this.

12) NYT with 10 findings that contradict medical wisdom.  I did know most of these.  And even though I’ve seen it, this one still surprises me:

  • To treat emergency room patients in acute pain, a single dose of oral opioids is no better than drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Yes, opioids are powerful drugs. But a clinical trial showed that much safer alternatives relieve pain just as well among emergency room patients.

13) This is great from Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, “How incompetence torpedoed Trump’s rigging of the census.”

In a presidency full of pratfalls and screwups, there have been few efforts characterized by quite the combination of boundless bad faith, obvious dishonesty and sheer incompetence as this one.

Let’s briefly remind ourselves of what a sorry mess this has been, from the beginning.

The Trump administration came into office determined to add the citizenship question to enhance the political power of Republicans and whites, as files from the hard drive of a dead Republican gerrymandering guru who had been advising the administration revealed.

The question would discourage responses from households that include noncitizens, leading to undercounts that would dilute representation and the awarding of federal dollars in those areas — which was the whole point.

Trump himself recently gave up the game when he blurted out that “you need it for Congress for districting.”

In fact, congressional districts are apportioned to states by total population, not by the number of citizens, and then district lines are also drawn using total population. But Republicans have long harbored a desire to use only numbers of citizens for redistricting, because it would allow them to supercharge their gerrymandering efforts and pull power away from urban areas where there are generally lots of Democrats.

Officials couldn’t reveal their real aims, of course, so the administration concocted a cover story that the Justice Department wanted the citizenship question as a way to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act, something about which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied under oath. The administration invoked executive privilege to keep documents about their decision-making under wraps…

Could the administration possibly have handled this affair in a more buffoonish way? It’s difficult to imagine how. Perhaps we should be thankful that they were so incompetent, because otherwise they might have gotten away with it. [emphasis mine]

13) It really is amazing the way our government is systematically, purposefully traumatizing children.  Ashley Fetters, “The Exceptional Cruelty of a No-Hugging Policy: When kids separated from their families on the U.S.-Mexico border can’t get hugs or physical comfort from the caretakers at their shelters—or even from one another—their experience becomes even more traumatic.”

14) A huge part of our mass incarceration policies is literally just a war on poor people.  Good NYT/ Pro Publica, “Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt: Ankle bracelets are promoted as a humane alternative to jail. But private companies charge defendants hundreds of dollars a month to wear the surveillance devices. If people can’t pay, they may end up behind bars.”

15) Finally got around to reading Yglesias‘ good piece (with lots of data and political science) that argues that Democrats learned the wrong lessons of Trump’s election:

Activists are pressing candidates to take aggressively progressive stands on broad issues like Medicare-for-all but also narrower ones like including undocumented immigrants in health care plans and providing relief from graduate school debt.

This is, however, precisely the wrong lesson to learn from the Trump era.

It’s true that Trump is president, but it’s not true that Trump ran and won as an ideological extremist. He paired extremely offensive rhetoric on racial issues with positioning on key economic policy topics that led him to be perceived by the electorate as a whole as the most moderate GOP nominee in generations. His campaign was almost paint-by-numbers pragmatic moderation. He ditched a couple of unpopular GOP positions that were much cherished by party elites, like cutting Medicare benefits, delivered victory, and is beloved by the rank and file for it…

When I was a young blogger in the mid-aughts, the big issues in national politics were Social Security privatization, marriage equality, and the war in Iraq.

Trump ran as an Iraq War proponent who vowed to avoid new Middle Eastern military adventures, as an opponent of cutting Social Security and Medicare (and Medicaid), and as the first-ever Republican candidate to try to position himself as an ally to the LGBTQ community — going so far as to actually speak the words “LGBTQ.”

And during the 2016 campaign, it showed. Even though people who paid close attention to the obsessive sniping of Bernie Twitter have an impression of Hillary Clinton as the ultimate centrist Dem, voters saw her as largely liberal on the issues. Trump was perceived as conservative, to be sure, but also as less uniformly conservative than Clinton was liberal.

16) This was a really interesting legal analysis of the Mueller report from Jed Shugerman that I was quite surprised that I hadn’t seen anything like this before:

Ever since the release of the Mueller Report, countless commentators have implored everyone to just #ReadtheReport. The problem is not who is reading it—the problem is the report itself, and its many errors.

Robert Mueller made a significant legal error and, based on the facts he found, he should have identified Trump campaign felonies. Mueller’s errors meant that, first, he failed to conclude that the Trump campaign criminally coordinated with Russia; second, he failed to indict campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates for felony campaign coordination (see in a concise timeline below); third, the 10 acts of felony obstruction in Volume II fell flat among the general public because it lacked compelling context of these underlying crimes between the campaign and Russia. On top of these errors, the former special counsel said he deliberately wrote the report to be unclear because it would be unfair to make clear criminal accusations against a president.

The bottom line is that the Mueller Report is a failure not because of Congress or because of public apathy, but because it failed to get the law, the facts, or even the basics of writing right. When Mueller testifies before Congress on July 17, he should be pressed on all of this.

The DOJ’s initial appointment explicitly tasked Mueller with investigating campaign “coordination,” and it is not too much to ask that he get the law of “coordination” right. The report stated that “‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law. We understood coordination to require an agreement—tacit or express.”

However, Congress purposely sought to prevent such narrow interpretations: in 2002, it passed a statute directing that campaign finance regulations “shall not require agreement or formal collaboration to establish coordination.” The Federal Election Commission established the regulations for the implementation of the statute:  “Coordinated means made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate,” with no need to show any kind of agreement.

17) I read Blake Crouch’s Recursion at the beach last week.  So good.

Drink up (your diet soda, that is)

One particular study is far from conclusive that diet soda is healthy, but I’m certainly tired of people saying it causes cancer, etc., based on no actual evidence.  Thus, I certainly enjoyed reading the results of this latest study looking at the impact of sweetened beverages on cancer rates:

A new study suggests there may be a link between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices and the development of cancer.

The study is observational and does not claim that drinking sugary drinks causes cancer. But after controlling for known variables, French researchers did find an association.

The study, in BMJ, involved 101,257 people, average age 42, who had filled out repeated 24-hour food-intake questionnaires. The form listed 97 sugary drinks and 12 artificially sweetened beverages.

Over nine years, there were 2,193 first cases of cancer, including 693 cases of breast cancer, 291 of prostate cancer and 166 of colorectal cancer.

Compared with the lowest one-quarter for sugary drink consumption, the highest one-quarter had a 30 percent higher risk for any cancer, and a 37 percent higher risk for breast cancer. There was no increased risk for prostate or colorectal cancer considered separately, but the number of cases was too small to find statistical significance.

The researchers found no association of cancer with the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks. [emphasis mine, of course]

I’m not going to foolishly argue that this means diet soda is “healthy,” but this is another knock on the whole “it’s going to kill you” argument I’m always hearing.

Quick hits (part ?)

Okay, so I’m back from a super-enjoyable and super-relaxing week at Topsail Beach, NC.  Enjoyed lots of time on the beach.  Read a bunch.  And got pretty decent at (the easy version of) Hotel California on guitar.

Onward…

1) Clarence Thomas really is just the worst.  This man is a stain on the judiciary.  Washington Post Editorial, “John Roberts said there are no Trump judges or Obama judges. Clarence Thomas didn’t get the memo.”

Some of Mr. Roberts’s colleagues on the Supreme Court did not get the memo. Or so it would seem from the innuendo Justice Clarence Thomas aimed at U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in an opinion dissenting from the court’s Wednesday ruling that upheld Mr. Furman’s decision to block a Trump administration plan to ask the citizenship of census respondents. Joined by Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Thomas blasted Mr. Furman’s finding — affirmed not only by Mr. Roberts but also four other justices — that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had unlawfully misstated his true reasons for adding the question. Mr. Thomas went well beyond disputing Mr. Furman’s legal reasoning to questioning the district judge’s good faith, accusing him of “transparently” applying “an administration-specific standard.” He portrayed Mr. Furman’s presentation of evidence that Mr. Ross acted on a pretext as akin to “a conspiracy web,” that could be woven by “a judge predisposed to distrust the Secretary or the administration.”

Though couched in the indirect language of a legal opinion and its accompanying specialized notations, this was unmistakably a Trump-like insinuation that Mr. Furman, elevated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, had ruled on his personal preferences rather than the law. Coming from a justice of the nation’s highest court, Mr. Thomas’s sour words regarding a lower-court colleague were not only destructive and unfounded. They were also self-contradictory, given that, elsewhere in the very same opinion, he faulted the court majority for “echoing the din of suspicion and distrust that seems to typify modern discourse.”

2) Charles Lane’s Op-Ed “Democrats point to Nordic nations as models of socialism. Here’s how they actually work” is misguided in that nobody serious actually thinks Nordic nations rely on socialism as opposed to just a much more robust social-safety net and public sector, but is nonetheless interesting to see the ways in which they really do embrace capitalism.  Like Elizabeth Warren.

3) Somewhat relatedly, a really interesting look at what free college in Europe really looks like:

Germany is often singled out for focus by U.S. policymakers. Its economy drives Europe. Its unemployment rates are low. And it manages to power a tuition-free university system without breaking the bank.

Some of the cost savings comes from skimping on the pricey lures U.S. colleges often use to try to attract students. Decker’s university, RWTH Aachen, has no grand athletic center. Ask its students about sports and they might mention intramural Ultimate Frisbee. Professors’ salaries cannot compete with those at top American universities, although they may carry double the teaching load, making it difficult to hire U.S. stars. Its dormitories are modest brick affairs, and many students live off-campus, something they say can diminish the sense of community. Some lecture halls are dingy and don’t seem to have been updated much since the 1950s, when they were built from Germany’s post-World War II rubble. Lectures sometimes top 1,000 students.

“Usually professors don’t even have time for their doctoral students,” Decker said.

The same straitened approach is evident across German campuses. Critics blame it for Germany’s perennially lackluster showing in international university rankings: Just three German universities placed in the top 100 world institutions in rankings compiled by Quacquarelli Symonds, a British education consultancy. (RWTH Aachen ranked at 144.)

That means German schools are decent but not fantastic.

“We are not playing in the top league. We are not at the peak,” said Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference, his country’s main higher-
education association. “The top German universities are not the Ivies. But the system works broadly as a cost-covering system.”

4) This is putting technology for our growing and over-heating world to good-use, luddites be damned, “Grow Faster, Grow Stronger: Speed-Breeding Crops to Feed the Future: Plant breeders are fast-tracking genetic improvements in food crops to keep pace with global warming and a growing human population.”

Farmers and plant breeders are in a race against time. The world population is growing rapidly, requiring ever more food, but the amount of cultivable land is limited. Warmer temperatures have extended growth seasons in some areas — and brought drought and pests to others.

“We face a grand challenge in terms of feeding the world,” said Lee Hickey, a plant geneticist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “If you look at the stats, we’re going to have about 10 billion on the planet by 2050 and we’re going to need 60 to 80 percent more food to feed everybody. It’s an even greater challenge in the face of climate change and diseases that affect our crops that are also rapidly evolving.”

But plant breeding is a slow process. Developing new kinds of crops — higher yield, more nutritious, drought- and disease-resistant — can take a decade or more using traditional breeding techniques. So plant breeders are working on quickening the pace.

Dr. Hickey’s team has been working on “speed breeding,” tightly controlling light and temperature to send plant growth into overdrive. This enables researchers to harvest seeds and start growing the next generation of crops sooner…

On Monday in Nature Biotechnology, Dr. Hickey and his team highlight the potential of speed breeding, as well as other techniques that may help improve food security. Combining speed breeding with other state-of-the-art technologies, such as gene editing, is the best way to create a pipeline of new crops, according to the researchers.

“What we’re really talking about here is creating plant factories on a massive scale,” Dr. Hickey said.

5) Enjoyed Osita Nwanevu on Bernie vs. Elizabeth Warren and their approach to policy and politics.

6) Drum on the practical end of the minimum wage:

For all practical purposes, Republicans have finally reached a long-cherished goal: to eliminate the federal minimum wage. Today, thanks to their unwillingness to support an increase, well under one percent of workers earn the federal minimum wage, which makes it effectively meaningless.

Thanks, GOP! I’m sure your wealthy donors appreciate your flat refusal to entertain even a modest bit of help for the working poor and the working class, instead spending all your energies on tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

7) If hotel maids are underpaid the solution is not to tip them (as this Atlantic article argues), but just to pay them more.  Tipping is an absurd way to try and create a more just economy.  Also, almost nobody needs fresh sheets and fresh towels every damn day.  It really does benefit the environment and save resources even if it means less housekeeping jobs.  In a recent three-day hotel stay, I skipped maid service the whole time, because I simply didn’t need it.

8) Really good NYT story on the Border detention facility in Clint, TX.  It really is just appalling and horribly depressing.  And eminently clear that these deplorable conditions are allowed to persist largely because the people in charge are deplorable human beings.

9) Why it’s hard to get good blue fireworks.

10) Masha Gessen on Trump’s war on reality:

A common maxim of the Trump era has it that two Americas exist, each with its own media and consequently limited view of the world. In fact, though, in one America there is only Trump, his tanks and planes and ships. In the America that a majority of us inhabit, however, there are concentration camps—and Trump with his flyovers. In this America, it is increasingly clear that concentration camps and the public spectacle of mobilization are not in contradiction: one is, in fact, a consequence of the other. It is also clear that the omissions of Trump’s speech are not accidental. In addition to not mentioning immigrants, Trump didn’t mention the complexity of the American project. Until two and a half years ago, Republican and Democratic Presidents regularly reminded the American public that this country’s democracy is a work in progress, that its guiding principles are a set of abstract ideals that continue to be reinterpreted…

In less than three years, as our senses were dulled by the crudeness of the tweets, the speed of the news cycle, the blatant quality of the lies, and the brutality of official rhetoric, Trump has reframed America, stripping it of its ideals, dumbing it down, and reducing it to a nation at war against people who want to join it. These days, that is what passes for “inoffensive,” “tame,” and “standard.”

11) Law professor Jeanne Suk Gersen with a really interesting analysis (at least for those legally-inclined) on how the Supreme Court is looking to fundamentally change the relationship between Congress and the bureaucracy.  This is a big deal:

We are now explicitly on notice that the Court will likely abandon its longstanding tolerance of Congress delegating broadly to agencies. What’s at stake is the potential upending of the constitutional foundations of the so-called “administrative state.” Today’s reality is that agencies, not Congress, make most federal laws. As Justice Kagan put it, if the delegation in Gundy were unconstitutional, “then most of Government is unconstitutional.”

What will happen then, when the conservative bloc prevails? The alarmist view is that the E.P.A. couldn’t have the power to decide how stringent pollution standards should be. The F.D.A. couldn’t have the authority to approve or deny applications to sell new medical drugs. The Department of Education couldn’t make rules for colleges and universities. The Department of the Interior couldn’t govern snow mobiles in national parks. The S.E.C. couldn’t regulate financial firms or securities. The F.C.C. couldn’t issue rules on net neutrality or Internet service providers. In sum, we would dwell in a world without the federal law that governs our lives…

The main idea of the non-delegation doctrine is that any law that is enforced against citizens must be approved by Congress. It’s not enough for Congress to say, “We should have a law on this subject and someone else will write and enforce it.” But this formulation is a rhetorical parlor trick. When building a house, one may have a strong idea of the kind of house one wants, but most of us have neither the knowledge nor the desire to make the thousands of key decisions about how to safely construct it. Those decisions are sensibly delegated to a contractor and an architect. A rule forbidding any delegation of that sort makes for very different, more rudimentary, building, and probably many fewer buildings built.

12) Great stuff from Thomas Edsall (and some smart political scientists) on Trump’s base:

Trump’s political survival now depends on catering to — indeed, inflaming — those hostilities.

Mason, Wronski and Kane found that under Trump’s leadership, Republican voters increasingly fall into two camps.

The first camp could be called the Trump Republican Party or the party of animosity and resentment. These voters, the core of the president’s support, are driven by a dislike — often crossing into hatred — of constituencies associated with the Democratic Party: African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslim-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

The second camp, the more traditional Republican Party — the older Main Street and Wall Street wings — is made up of voters for whom positive feelings toward key conservative constituencies are more important than their antagonism toward Democratic identity blocs.

As a case study, let’s look at perceptions of lesbians and gay men. The three authors tracked attitudes of voters toward these constituencies from 2011 to 2016 and found that the more animus voters feel toward lesbian and gay people, the stronger their support for Trump.

Among “respondents whose feelings toward lesbian and gay people grew much colder between 2011 and 2016,” they write, “approval of Trump in 2017 is about 55 percent. For those whose feelings toward gay men and lesbians grew much warmer, approval of Trump is around 30 percent.”…

A similar pattern emerged in the case of changing views among Republican voters toward African-Americans. Racist attitudes correlate with support for Trump specifically, but do not change views about the Republican Party…

Clearly, Trump benefits immensely from hostility to African-Americans, to Hispanics and to gay men and lesbians. If he is an expert at anything, it is at exploiting and generating hostility. Trump’s relentless derogation of racial and ethnic minorities, his support for the anti-abortion movement and his right-wing appointments to the judiciary, reflect his political dependence on a key bloc of his loyalists, white born again and evangelical Christians.

These voters, in turn, have demonstrated exceptional determination to use the ballot box to protect their beliefs, values and prejudices from liberal challenge. [emphasis mine]…

Trump has aligned himself with two overlapping, declining constituencies that are clearly motivated by a combination of anger, resentment and anxiety — white evangelical Christians and whites without college degrees.

If Trump is to win re-election next year, he must raise the stakes for these two sets of voters so that they turn out in unprecedented numbers. Demonizing immigrants and other minorities is crucial to this strategy…

13) Should Oregon now allow public building in areas that will almost certainly be destroyed if a tsunami ever hits (and it probably will some day).

14) The ultimate carbon capture technology?  Forests.  Let’s do it.

15) This is really, really good, “Smartphones aren’t making millennials grow horns. Here’s how to spot a bad study.”

16) Sounds good to me, “There Should Be a Public Option for Everything: Despite the recent trend toward privatization, the idea has been popular throughout American history.”

17) Just maybe air conditioners could help save the planet.  Short version: using AC for carbon capture.  Trees are probably better.

18) The idea that you could be adopted by American parents after being born in another country, raised your whole life as an American, and then be deported to the country of your birth after you committed a crime is just preposterous.  But, alas, true.  Ugh.

19) For some reason, Americans over-estimate the number of LGBT Americans to an absurd degree.  It would be interesting to figure out what’s going on here.  Gallup:

U.S. adults estimate that nearly one in four Americans (23.6%) are gay or lesbian. Gallup has previously found that Americans have greatly overestimated the U.S. gay population, recording similar average estimates of 24.6% in 2011 and 23.2% in 2015. In each of the three polls in which Gallup has asked this question, a majority of Americans estimated this population to be 20% or greater…

Americans’ estimate of the proportion of gay people in the U.S. is more than five times Gallup’s more encompassing 2017 estimate that 4.5% of Americans are LGBT, based on respondents’ self-identification as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Quick hits

Sorry this is really late and that I’ve been such a bad blogger, but somebody has got to make sure that the AP American Government test scores reflect college-level learning.

1) Sure I’m a feminist, but I also believe in (appropriately-regulated) markets and markets simply value mediocre male athletes (the US Men’s soccer team) more than amazing female athletes (the US Women’s soccer team).  So, I’m not a big fan of the pay equity campaign (the men’s poor international performance brings in way more dollars to US Soccer than the women’s terrific international performance.  But Sally Jenkins raises some good economic arguments (though I’m not entirely convinced):

I also don’t want to hear another word about the bigger size of revenue in the men’s World Cup. You think American networks and corporations are paying large rights fees and sponsorship deals for a USA men’s team that couldn’t even qualify for the World Cup field and hasn’t won an Olympic medal since 1904? You think Fox and ESPN got into a bidding war for the English language rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups all for a men’s squad that gets whipped by Venezuela?…

You think Nike committed $120 million to U.S. Soccer back in 1997 because of a men’s team that finished 10th in the Atlanta Olympics with a 1-1-1 record? Or do you think the company’s interest had something to do, just maybe, with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers commanding an audience of 90,000 at the Rose Bowl and 40 million on TV?

2) A lot more research needs to be done, but pretty interesting that the negative health consequences of ultra-processed foods may be through the impact on the microbiome.

3) Really enjoyed Hans Noel’s book review essay on making sense of all the recent, excellent, research on partisanship and ideology.

Recent debates over partisan polarization in the mass public have foundered on differing conceptions not only of ideology but of polarization. There are at least five things that could be thought of as polarization on a variable like ideology. People could be (1) further apart on some continuum or (2) more likely to be at the extremes of that continuum. (3) That continuum might more accurately separate people of different groups, say party identifiers. (4) There might be increased constraint across many items.1 (5) And people on either half of the continuum might be more likely to dislike the people on the other half.

Kinder and Kalmoe test for the first two conceptions in the ideological identity variable. Like with most work on this subject, they do not find much. But it is types 3, 4, and especially 5 that the other three books highlight. This last, affective polarization, or increased tribalism, is really central to the insights of all three arguments.

Once we start to distinguish operational from symbolic ideology, the meanings of these notions of polarization change. On an operational measure, being further apart implies more extreme policy positions, and increased constraint implies a more meaningful ideological measure. But symbolically, increased distance means at most that more people are embracing the terms.

Meanwhile, for the operational measure, it might be interesting to find affective polarization. That would imply an increased intolerance of those who simply disagree with us. But that is not what these books find. They find that it is identity and worldviews and ways of thinking that drive intolerance, not mere disagreement.

4) OMG these incels are nuts.  The really disturbing story of one who shot up a Florida yoga studio.  Of course, only in America do these people have such easy access to guns.

5) There’s lots of good reasons that electric buses have not taken over the world:

If you want to buy an electric bus, you need to buy into an entire electric bus system. The vehicle is just the start.

The number one thing people seem to forget about electric buses is that they need to get charged. “We talk to many different organizations that get so fixated on the vehicles,” says Camron Gorguinpour, the global senior manager for the electric vehicles at the World Resources Institute, a research organization, which last month released twin reports on electric bus adoption. “The actual charging stations get lost in the mix.”

But charging stations are expensive—about $50,000 for your standard depot-based one. On-route charging stations, an appealing option for longer bus routes, can be two or three times that. And that’s not even counting construction costs. Or the cost of new land: In densely packed urban centers, movements inside bus depots can be tightly orchestrated to accommodate parking and fueling. New electric bus infrastructure means rethinking limited space. And it’s a particular pain when agencies are transitioning between diesel and electric buses. “The big issue is just maintaining two sets of fueling infrastructure,” says Hanjiro Ambrose, a doctoral student at UC Davis who studies transportation technology and policy.

6) Always had a particular fascination with pro-life Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, as I knew him back when he was a political science graduate student.

Her congressman is Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in the House. He has voted to defund health clinics that offer abortion services, and to ban abortions at 20 weeks. He opposed the Affordable Care Act and its mandate that employers cover birth control. He speaks at the annual March for Life and attends fundraisers for anti-abortion groups

This will be one of the most competitive Democratic primaries in 2020. And already, Newman is encountering some roadblocks. Though the district leans heavily Democratic, the national party has erected rules to protect incumbents like Lipinski. Newman says she can’t find a pollster who will work for her. Four political consultants have left her campaign because of a policy, made public in April, that the official campaign arm for House Democrats won’t do business with political vendors — like direct mail companies or political consultants — that also work for candidates challenging incumbent Democrats. Party superstars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez oppose the rule; she also managed to topple an incumbent in a primary challenge. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee isn’t budging.

7) Seem crazy that there are still people out there who would argue that IQ is actually tied to melanin levels in skin rather than the dramatic environmental differences in the lives of white and Black people.  But, Drum is on the case.  Here’s his summary:

I hope this makes sense. You can draw your own conclusions, but my take from all this is that (a) the short time since humans migrated to Europe doesn’t allow much scope for big genetic changes between Africans and Europeans, (b) it’s clear that environment can have a very large effect on IQ scores, and (c) anyone who thinks the marginalization of African Americans isn’t a big enough effect to account for 10-15 points of IQ is crazy. There are counterarguments to all my points, and none of this “proves” that there can’t possibly be genetic differences between blacks and whites that express themselves in noticeable differences in cognitive abilities. But I sure think it’s very unlikely.

8) Brendan Nyhan on some new research.  Kind of like that whole “A million dead Russians…”

9) When you look at the big picture of how our world spends our resources while kids are starving and malnourished, it really is unconscionable and indefensible.  Kristof:

Nutrition programs are extremely cheap. often among the most cost-effective ways to fight global poverty.

School feeding programs promote education as well as nutrition, and cost just 25 cents per child per meal. Deworming costs about 50 cents per child per year to improve both nutrition and health, yet pets in the U.S. are more likely to be dewormed than children in many other places.

As Mia noted in a separate article, one nutrition initiative could save up to 800,000 lives a year and requires no electricity, refrigeration or high technology. It’s simply support for breast-feeding.

Fortifying foods with iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A is transformative. Ensuring that children are screened for malnutrition and promptly helped with supplements that are similar to peanut butter is fairly straightforward. Yet malnourished children aren’t a priority, so kids are stunted in ways that will hold back our world for many decades to come.

If some distant planet sends foreign correspondents to Earth, they will be baffled that we allow almost one child in four to be stunted, even as we indulge in gold leaf cupcakes, $1,000 sundaes and half-million-dollar bottles of wine.

10) This was a really interesting article on Achilles Tendon injuries.  And Kevin Durant’s in particular.

11) Oh man was this a depressing article. South Korea’s got some work to do.  “An Overloaded Ferry Flipped and Drowned Hundreds of Schoolchildren. Could It Happen Again? South Korea promised to root out a culture that put profit ahead of safety. But cheating and corruption continue to endanger travelers.”

12) Of course Trump has a third-grade level response to flag burning.

President Trump is “all in” for a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the American flag, he said in an early-morning tweet Saturday, backing an effort by two Republican senators.

To commemorate Flag Day — which also happens to be Trump’s birthday — Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.) and Kevin Cramer (N.D.) introduced the amendment Friday.

“All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!” Trump tweeted.

This isn’t a new position for the president, who a few weeks after the 2016 election tweeted: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was protected by the First Amendment after a protester was convicted of burning an American flag outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. The following year, the nation’s highest court reaffirmed its ruling when it struck down legislation passed by Congress to make flag burning illegal.

13) I took a little too much pleasure in the fact that I already knew about Chronic Wasting Disease which is a prion disease (like “Mad Cow”) that affects deer.  I take no pleasure in learning about it’s scary spread and really scary potential to infect new species.

14) This was a really, really interesting way of looking at the work of doctors and nurses, “The Business of Health Care Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses: One resource seems infinite and free: the professionalism of caregivers.”

Increasingly, though, I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that this ethic that I hold so dear is being cynically manipulated. By now, corporate medicine has milked just about all the “efficiency” it can out of the system. With mergers and streamlining, it has pushed the productivity numbers about as far as they can go. But one resource that seems endless — and free — is the professional ethic of medical staff members.

This ethic holds the entire enterprise together. If doctors and nurses clocked out when their paid hours were finished, the effect on patients would be calamitous. Doctors and nurses know this, which is why they don’t shirk. The system knows it, too, and takes advantage.

The demands on medical professionals have escalated relentlessly in the past few decades, without a commensurate expansion of time and resources. For starters, patients are sicker these days. The medical complexity per patient — the number and severity of chronic conditions — has steadily increased, meaning that medical encounters are becoming ever more involved. They typically include more illnesses to treat, more medications to administer, more complications to handle — all in the same-length office or hospital visit.

15) Pretty cool interactive quiz on the most effective steps for reducing carbon emissions.  Some of the answers might really surprise you.

16) Not at all surprising that the world works this way, “Unattractive people are less likely to get into medical school, Duke study says”

The study found that people who were obese or facially unattractive were discriminated against in the application process, according to Duke Health.

Researchers randomly assigned names and demographic information to 76 photos selected to represent different levels of facial attractiveness and obesity.

They then randomized other factors such as test scores, grades and class rank to each photo so that each application reviewer had a different combination of academic factors with every photo, Duke Health said.

They gave the fake residency applications to 74 faculty members at five different radiology departments to score the applicants, according to the study.

The reviewers were unaware they weren’t real applicants, Duke Health said.

Researchers found that applicants who appeared obese or unattractive in the photos were clearly discriminated against, according to the study.

17) Interesting essay on how charter schools have failed to live up their promise (though, obviously, some individual charter schools and networks are amazing).

Finally, charters have not produced the systemic improvement promised by their boosters. Theoretically, the introduction of charters and choice would force all schools to get better to maintain enrollment. But schools can attract students for reasons other than superior quality, and the obsession with securing per-pupil funding has in many cases been a distraction from the work of educating students. As a senior official for the pro-charter Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce recently observed: “We’ve turned education into a commodity — if that kid walks across the street, you’re chasing after him for the money attached to his seat. That’s ridiculous if you think about the long term.”

Meanwhile, as the big promises about charters have remained unfulfilled, real costs have been accruing. According to school finance expert Bruce Baker, the expansion of charters has weakened traditional public schools and created inefficiencies like duplicative administrative costs. Increased competition has led to many schools, charter and otherwise, closing down — an outcome that Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University has called “very damaging to kids.” And in places like New Orleans, where traditional public schools have been almost entirely replaced by charters, residents have expressed frustration with unelected and unrepresentative governing boards that routinely violate state transparency laws.

In light of these shortcomings, the long-running consensus that has sustained the charter movement has begun to unravel. That isn’t because charter schools have suddenly gotten worse. If anything, leaders in the sector have learned something over the past 25 years, and standardized scores have improved over time. Instead, it’s because the promised future has failed to materialize.

18) Of course, if we did more to help people create sustainable lives in Central America, they’d have far less incentive to try and migrate here.  Of course, just try telling Donald Trump we want to spend money to help foreigners.

19) Really quite enjoyed Netflix’s “I am Mother.”

Photo of the day

In honor of HBO’s terrific Chernobyl miniseries (watch it when you get the chance!) Atlantic presents a gallery of Chernobyl images from 1986:

The remains of the No. 4 reactor, photographed from the roof of reactor No. 3 

Igor Kostin / Sygma via Getty

Quick hits

1) Finished season 2 of Fleabag last night.  So, so good.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, quite simply, absurdly talented as a writer and performer.

2) Great Sargent:

President Trump repeats the claim that the Russia investigation was a treasonous attack on his campaign so frequently that we rarely pause to note how riddled with monumental lies and absurdities it really is. We’re supposed to believe that the FBI should not have opened an investigation into a foreign attack on our political system, and that it did so only to derail Trump’s candidacy, even though it kept the conspiracy probe secret from voters.

In a new Post op-ed, former FBI director James B. Comey seeks to set the record straight by recounting what actually happened, while reminding us — with no apology — that the FBI did make its reopened investigation into Trump’s opponent known just before the election. As Comey says, Trump’s narrative is built on “dumb lies.”

But it’s what Comey did not say that should command the attention of Democrats right now. Comey concludes with this prediction, concerning Attorney General William P. Barr’s internal review of the Russia investigation’s genesis:

Go ahead, investigate the investigators, if you must. When those investigations are over, you will find the work was done appropriately and focused only on discerning the truth of very serious allegations. There was no corruption. There was no treason. There was no attempted coup. … There were just good people trying to figure out what was true, under unprecedented circumstances.

This confidence that Barr’s internal review will conclude that the investigation was legitimate seems deeply misplaced. Barr has already telegraphed that he will likely find a way to fault the handling of the probe, regardless of the facts.

Yet Democrats appear to share Comey’s confidence that this process will unfold in good faith. They don’t appear prepared for the contrary possibility — or how bad that could get for them.

2) William Barr is a very, very bad man.  Chait:

After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.

It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.

Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”

As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.

3) OMG this whole Freedom Gas things is beyond insane.  Seriously, every single Republican should just be embarrassed to be a Republican.  Only satire (Alexandra Petri) could do this justice:

Do you smell that? That aroma, like many spoiled eggs congregating in a hot locker room? That is the wonderful, pleasing scent of American freedom!

statement from the Energy Department, which I am not making up because satire has been overfished and is now extinct, described natural gas as “molecules of freedom.” In the statement, Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes noted that “increasing export capacity . . . is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”

The statement also included the profound remark from Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy, that he was happy “the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

So inhale fearlessly! Feel free, too, to light some of that freedom on fire, if you want. Nothing says freedom like setting something dangerously ablaze. Four cheers for CH4! Whenever methane gas is released, that smell, that aroma, is — freedom. Specifically, American freedom, the best kind that there is. That is why people love to sit with me in enclosed spaces that I swiftly perfume with nothing short of Truth, Justice and the American Way, especially if my lunch has been rich in beans. It has never been so critical, as Benjamin Franklin entreated, to “fart proudly.”

4) My nuclear security friend sent me this great source on all-things Chernobyl after we were discussing the terrific HBO miniseries.

5) Good stuff from Catherine Rampell: “Trump’s narrative is nonsense. So why is the media buying it?”

Yes, Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem right now is that all anyone ever asks about is the gum-chewing.

President Trump is steadily advancing a narrative that Democrats are unable to focus on a substantive policy agenda because they’re too fixated on investigating, subpoenaing and, eventually, impeaching the president.

Or, as our victim in chief tweeted on Monday: “The Dems are getting NOTHING done in Congress! They only want a Do-Over on Mueller!”

This sort of nonsense is something we’ve come to expect from Trump. But more troubling, perhaps, is that many of us in the media have also been amplifying his false narrative…

But another plausible explanation for why so many Democrats are now talking about impeachment is that’s what we in the media, primed by Trump, ask them to talk about — often to the exclusion of other substantive issues that those Democrats are working on and that voters care about…

But, in fairness, there have been a lot of other issues — kitchen table issues, you might even say — that Democrats have also been pursuing, and to which pundits like me haven’t given sufficient time or attention. Many of the proposals are good, some are bad; but, in any case, it’s hard to argue that Democrats have been underinvesting in policy because they’re overinvesting in oversight.

6) Richard Hasen, “Robert Mueller Was Telling Nancy Pelosi to Begin Impeachment Proceedings”

Put it all together and Mueller was saying: Russia interfered in our election. Trump obstructed that investigation. Mueller’s office could have said Trump didn’t commit a crime, but did not reach that conclusion. The ball is in Congress’ court. This is as close to a call for Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings as we are likely to hear from someone as circumspect as Mueller, and it makes Pelosi’s foot-dragging not just untenable but a dereliction of her constitutional duty.

Initially, I could see reason to go along with Pelosi’s implicit argument that an impeachment inquiry against the president would be pointless if the Senate would not consider impeaching, and if public opinion was strongly against it. But the Mueller report offers substantial evidence Trump obstructed justice, and this is an impeachable offense. Members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution and it is their constitutional duty to determine if Trump’s conduct merits impeachment, regardless of the political consequences. Mueller’s emphasis that this is the only way our system currently has for holding an allegedly criminal president accountable while in office points to why fulfilling that duty is more than just empty idealism. Without consequences and a full accounting of potentially criminal actions, what is to stop a criminal president from more and greater abuses of power and ultimately a breakdown of our entire legal regime?

7) Just read this article on the amazing levels of lies and bad faith regarding the Census citizenship question.  Truly, horribly appalling.  If the Supreme Court upholds this… I can’t even.

8) Well, just learned yesterday that my references to “marijuana” are “racist.”  I’m well aware of the racist origins of much of the war on drugs, including against marijuana.  But to call the word “racist”?  Enough with the over-wokeness already.

9) Michael Wear, “The Abortion Debate Is No Longer About Policy”

Abortion politics in 2019 is a morality play about what happens when one side has all the political power, yet feels culturally embattled. In this atmosphere, victories are not satisfying if they leave the other side with a foothold, a vestige of respectability. Cataclysmic discord lies ahead.

Abortion politics is no longer about policy wins, but about establishing dominance. This is why Governor Andrew Cuomo could not be satisfied with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated several restrictions on the procedure, but instead had to light up the Empire State Building pink, to declare that abortion rights were now creedal in New York. It was not just the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, but specifically the display of cultural force, that made pro-lifers feel so embattled and isolated.

This dynamic was also evident in Alabama, where the people in power hold the opposite position on abortion as their counterparts in New York and recently passed H.B. 314, a bill that virtually outlaws the procedure.

One scene from the Alabama Senate debate furnishes a quintessential example of the decline of our democracy, of the diminishment of any capacity our political process might have had to help us work through difficult issues together. During the committee markup of the bill, lawmakers passed an amendment to provide an exception for rape or incest. On May 9, as H.B. 314 was headed toward a final vote, Alabama’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth broke protocol by stripping out the amendment without making a motion or acknowledging his Democratic colleagues’ requests for a roll-call vote. Democratic State Senator Bobby Singleton shouted, “There was no motion. You didn’t even make a motion!” Ainsworth simply ignored his colleague’s interjections.

9) I so love Chris Molanphy’s Hit Parade podcast.  Inspired by his latest, I’m listening to a Phil Collins mix on youtube as I type.  Take me Home!

10) I liked Yglesias on why Mueller should testify before Congress:

But having punted the issue to the House, Mueller should now cooperate with House leaders’ desire to hear him speak live and in person.

In some kind of hyper-idealized world, that might not be necessary. The report is there in its entire 400-plus-page glory, and every American — and every member of Congress — can read at least a redacted version of it for themselves. The real world, however, is not like that, as evidenced by the fact that today’s Mueller statement was itself big news…

But the fact that Mueller said it live on camera made a difference. He publicly challenged the administration’s interpretation of events and challenged Congress to face the fact that he did not have limitless powers… [emphases mine]

It’s difficult, of course, not to sympathize with Mueller’s view that having written this all down clearly in a report and then said it should mean he shouldn’t have to say it again before Congress.

But even though Mueller is not a very political person, he’s also not a total naif. He’s held multiple Senate-confirmed positions and served as FBI director for a decade. He knows that media coverage matters to politics and that the presence or absence of video and live drama makes a difference to media coverage.

11) I loved the documentary Free Solo.  And I love this Economist blogging about it to talk about Knowledge Externalities.

12) This is so cool, “A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day”

13) Has UNC Children’s Hospital been doing children’s heart surgery when it should not have been.  Maybe.  I found this aspect particularly interesting:

The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries — several hundred a year — studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers: The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources to achieve better results, researchers have found.

“We can do better. And it’s not that hard to do better,” said Dr. Carl Backer, former president of the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society, who practices at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We don’t have to build new hospitals. We don’t have to build new ICUs. We just need to move patients to more appropriate centers.”

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