Quick hits (part II)

1) We have a monopoly problem in this country.  Capitalism only works right when government properly sets the rules off the game.  That ain’t happening.  Vox, “America’s monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill”

There’s little denying that since the 1970s, the way antitrust has been approached in the United States has led to a landscape where a smaller number of big players dominate the economy. Incumbents — companies that already exist — are growing their market shares and becoming more stable, and they’re getting harder and harder to compete with. That has affected consumers, communities, competitors, and workers in a variety of ways.

Proponents of the laissez-faire, free market thinking of recent decades will say that the markets have basically worked themselves out — if an entity grows big enough to be a mega-corporation, it deserves its status, and just a handful of players in a given space is enough to keep prices down and everyone happy. A growing group of vocal critics of various political stripes, however, are increasingly warning that we’ve gone too far. Growth and success at the top often doesn’t translate to success for everyone, and there’s an argument to be made that strong antitrust policies and other measures that curb concentration, combined with government investments that target job-creating technology, could spur redistribution and potentially boost the economy for more people overall.

If two pharmaceutical companies make a patent-protected drug and then raise their prices in tandem, what does that mean for patients? When two cellphone companies talk about efficiencies in their merger, what does that mean for their workers, and how long does their subsequent promise not to raise prices for consumers actually last? And honestly, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to delete Facebook if there was another, equally attractive social media platform out there besides Facebook-owned Instagram?

We should be asking the government and corporate America how we got here. Instead, we just keep handing over our money.

2) Gotta say I’m getting pretty damn intrigued by the 16-hour intermittent fasting.  Should not be that hard for me to give up breakfast and eat between 11:30a, and 7:30pm.  But, I love my breakfast and it’s so healthy (Go Lean cereal, fresh raspberries, fresh blueberries, a little soymilk).

3) How is Charles Murray writing pseudo-intellectual stuff about race still a thing?!  Oh, this is how:

Outrage has been good to Charles Murray. Far from being the victim of “a modern witch burning,” as the neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has described him, Murray has been able to cloak himself in the mantle of the embattled intellectual, the purveyor of forbidden knowledge, while comfortably ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential think tank, for three decades. His previous book, “Coming Apart,” which examined a balkanized America through the lens not of I.Q. but “cultural differences” between wealthy and poor white Americans, was warmly received. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important,” David Brooks wrote in his column in this newspaper. The violent actions of protesters when Murray appeared at Middlebury College in 2017 were widely deplored.

With “Human Diversity,” Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered “The Bell Curve” — which sold 400,000 copies in its first two months after publication — although more cautiously; “Human Diversity” is thick with reassurances to the reader, and caveats that individuals ought to be judged on their own merits. “I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia,” he writes, hastening to add that “the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down.”

4) No, I don’t tire of pieces on William Barr’s awfulness:

This entire weaponization of DOJ investigations, prosecutions, and sentences to punish perceived enemies and to reward loyal factotums is a threat to the rule of law in America. Every judge and every lawyer in the country understands this intuitively. Despite Barr’s insistence, the ominous fault line isn’t between the president’s tweeted threats at the sentencing judge in the Stone trial and his silence. The real fault line is between what has happened, in the aggregate, on Barr’s cheerful watch—the Department of Justice has become another corner of the government that protects not the rule of law but this president, and not just this specific president, but this specific kind of president, the kind who believes himself immune to legal accountability…

The only remaining question is what to do about it, and specifically what lawyers, judges, and law students, all of whom know in their bones what is happening, should do about it. If ever there were a time for the American legal profession to put down its yellow pads and stand up for the rule of law, it’s today, en masse, and without waiting for someone, more senior, somewhere, to lead the way. The catastrophe unfolding at the DOJ transcends Barr and his TV spat with Trump. We are watching what happens when the law is warped to please a man who believes himself to actually be the law, and what happens when his enabler agrees with that project, and disagrees only on appearances.

5) The gender pronoun controversy on the Harvard campus.  One of those interesting areas where the reliably liberal readership of the NYT lets you know in comments that it’s not that liberal (and, yes, I’m a typical NYT reader in that regard).

6) Speaking of which, I’m totally good with NCSU having women’s history month.  As for womxn’s herstory month— oh please!!  This so does not help the cause of women’s rights.

7) Yes, hospital patients would be so much happier if we didn’t make all patients wear the hospital gown even in the cases where it clearly is not needed.

8) How “left digit bias” causes medical errors:

In a new study of physician treatment decisions, published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, we document signs of left-digit bias. This is the bias that explains why many goods are priced at $4.99 instead of $5, as consumers’ minds round down to the left-most digit of $4.

We hypothesized that doctors may be overly sensitive to the left-most digit of a patient’s age when recommending treatment, and indeed, in cardiac surgery they appear to be. When comparing patients who had a heart attack in the weeks leading up to their 80th birthdays with those who’d recently had an 80th birthday, we found that physicians were significantly less likely to perform a coronary artery bypass surgery for the “older” patients. The doctors might have perceived them to be “in their 80s” rather than “in their 70s.” This behavior seems to have translated into meaningful differences for patients. The slightly younger patients, more likely to undergo surgery, were less likely to die within 30 days.

Our study confirms previous work that found doctors are overly responsive to patient age when diagnosing illness, and that showed how seemingly irrelevant factors‚ such as the difference of a few weeks of age, could govern physicians’ decisions about treatment, with potentially life-altering consequences for patients.

Left-digit bias could affect many clinical decisions. For example, patients with hemoglobin levels of 9.9 grams per deciliter may be perceived as being substantially more anemic than patients with hemoglobin levels of 10.0 grams per deciliter (the difference in the two values has no clinical significance).

9) So many prosecutors are just the worst.  The idea that we can prosecute ourselves out of the opioid crisis is not only wrong, but morally disgusting.  The latest, “Naloxone Now Used as Evidence to Prosecute Indiana OD Victims”

10) There’s just so much damn awfulness every week that we are absolutely inured to it.  Any other president, the pardons would be an ongoing scandal.  Alas, now they’re just Tuesday.  NYT, “The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections: The process bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution.”

11) This interactive graphic on how various diseases, including COVID-19 spread, is very, very cool.

12) Austan Goolsbee with the case that it’s not just the internet killing shopping malls:

Collectively, three major economic forces have had an even bigger impact on brick-and-mortar retail than the internet has.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Big Box Stores: In the United States and elsewhere, we have changed where we shop — away from smaller stores like those in malls and toward stand-alone “Big Box” stores. Four years ago, the economists Chad Syverson and Ali Hortacsu at the University of Chicago analyzed the recent history of retail and found that the rise of warehouse clubs and supercenters was bigger than the rise of online commerce.

    They gave this telling example: Over the 14 years through 2013, Amazon added $38 billion in sales while Costco added $50 billion and the Sam’s Club division of Walmart $32 billion. Amazon had the higher growth rate, but the bigger problem for most brick-and-mortar stores was other, largerbrick-and-mortarstores. This continued in 2019.

  • Income Inequality: Rising income inequality has left less of the nation’s money in the hands of the middle class, and the traditional retail stores that cater to them have suffered. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 1970, the share of the nation’s income earned by families in the middle class has fallen from almost two-thirds to around 40 percent. Small wonder, then, that retailers aiming at the ends of the income distribution — high-income people and lower-income people — have accounted for virtually all the revenue growth in retail while stores aimed at the middle have barely grown at all, according to a report by Deloitte.

    As the concentration of income at the top rises, overall retail suffers simply because high-income people save a much larger share of their money. The government reports spending for different income levels in the official Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the latest data, people in the top 10 percent of income saved almost a third of their income after taxes. People in the middle of the income distribution spent 100 percent of their income. So as the middle class has been squeezed and more has gone to the top, it has meant higher saving rates overall.

  • Services Instead of Things: With every passing decade, Americans have spent proportionately less of income on things and more on services. Stores, malls, and even the mightiest online merchants remain the great sellers of things. Since 1960, we went from spending 5 percent of our income on health to almost 18 percent, government statistics show. We spend more on education, entertainment, business services and all sorts of other products that aren’t sold in traditional retail stores.

    That trend has continued for a long time. The federal government’s Current Expenditure Survey goes back more than a century. In 1920, Americans spent more than half their income on food (38 percent) and clothing (17 percent) and almost all of that was through traditional retail stores. Today, food eaten outside the home and in it accounts for 10 percent of spending and clothing just 2.4 percent.

    Economists debate theories of why we have shifted to services and away from goods but no one questions that it has happened. It means that over time, retailers selling things will have to run harder and harder just to stay in place.

In short, the broad forces hitting retail are more a lesson in economics than in the power of disruptive technology. It’s a lesson all retailers will have to learn someday — even the mighty Amazon.

13) How in the world in 2020 America are we still allowing pelvic exams on unconscious, non-consenting patients in the name of medical training?!

14) Speaking of dumb and evil prosecutors (and, yes, there’s plenty of good ones, but the bad ones do so much harm), this kind of thing is just evil and infuriating:

In October, he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder. He’d maintained his innocence from the start, and his departure should have been a joyous moment. Lawyers working on his case had discovered fingerprint evidence previously concealed by prosecutors that pointed to a wrongful conviction.

Yet Brooks, now 62, didn’t walk out of Angola an innocent man. To secure his freedom, he had to “make a deal with the devil.” Rather than languish even longer as he tried to clear his name, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, forfeiting his right to sue, in exchange for immediate release.

“I cried at night in Angola,” confesses Brooks, sitting on his couch next to a pillow with “Blessed” stitched on its front. “I ain’t never thought I was going to get out. So I took the deal. It ain’t right, but that’s the way of the world. It’s a crooked world like that.”

Across the country, the number of exonerations has risen sharply since 2000, especially for homicide cases. The increase is partly attributed to a shift in attitude among some local prosecutors, who have created specialized divisions to review questionable convictions. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner freed 12 wrongfully imprisoned people in his first two years in office. In Baltimore, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the state’s attorney’s office pursued a decades-old case that last November resulted in the exoneration of three men. Each was a teenager when he went to prison.

Other prosecutors still push back, however, even when evidence overwhelmingly supports exoneration. According to Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University, money is the most common reason. Wrongful convictions, especially those involving prosecutorial misconduct, often lead to multimillion-dollar lawsuits. If a prosecutor can persuade the incarcerated person to plead guilty in exchange for freedom, the risk of a costly settlement goes away.

15) How are we still fighting about phonics?!  It just works better than anything else for most kids.

16) Drum on Bloomberg and NYC crime:

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:

This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:

  1. Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
  2. Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
  3. Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
  4. Did Bill de Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?

Here are the answers:

  1. Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
  2. No. Nothing special happened to the crime rate when Giuliani took over. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he became mayor and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
  3. No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
  4. No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.

17) Really like this on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to capitalism.  Sounds pretty much like I’ve long thought about it without realizing it had a nice theory behind it.  Damn, I wish she were going to be the nominee: “Socialists Will Never Understand Elizabeth Warren: The Democratic candidate is part of a long intellectual tradition that’s gone forgotten in the West: pro-market leftism.”

Warren’s politics are so confusing because we have forgotten that a pro-capitalist left is even possible. For a long time, political debate in the United States has been a fight between conservatives and libertarians on the right, who favored the market, and socialists and liberals on the left, who favored the government…

Warren is reviving a pro-market left that has been neglected for decades, by drawing on a surprising resource: public choice economics. This economic theory is reviled by many on the left, who have claimed that it is a Koch-funded intellectual conspiracy designed to destroy democracy. Yet there is a left version of public choice economics too, associated with thinkers such as the late Mancur Olson. Like Olson, Warren is not a socialist but a left-wing capitalist, who wants to use public choice ideas to cleanse both markets and the state of their corruption…

Now, Warren wants to to wash away the filth that has built up over decades to clog the workings of American capitalism. Financial rules that have been designed by lobbyists need to be torn up. Vast inequalities of wealth, which provide the rich with disproportionate political and economic power, need to be reversed. Intellectual property rules, which make it so that farmers no longer really own the seeds they sow or the machinery they use to plant them, need to be abolished. For Warren, the problem with modern American capitalism is that it is not nearly capitalist enough. It has been captured by special interests, which are strangling competition…

Yet this is a distinctly capitalist variety of radicalism. Socialists will inevitably be disappointed in the limits to her arguments. Warren’s ideal is markets that work as they should, in contrast to the socialist belief that some forms of power are inherent within markets themselves. Not only Marxists, but economists such as Thomas Piketty, have suggested that the market system is rigged in ways that will inevitably favor capital over the long run. The fixes that Warren proposes will at most dampen down these tendencies rather than remove them.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I thought James Carville made some good points in a recent interview I linked.  Ed Burmilla, does not:

Carville is the most skilled practitioner of a hobby common to his social and political stratum: ascribing to “the working class”—or simply “voters”—a resistance to any kind of change that inconveniences people like James Carville. Simply put, his performances seek to demonstrate the remarkable coincidence that “voters,” particularly of the central casting Average Joe variety, dislike all of the same things he dislikes.

This is endemic among liberals of the Clinton 1990s vintage, the insistence that their caricatured ideal of the working class cannot stomach the sort of change the left wing of the party prefers. A decade after Clinton’s second term ended, this idée fixe was trotted out to excuse liberals’ refusal to champion marriage equality (Barack Obama ran explicitly opposed to it, and Hillary Clinton famously was “a big fan of civil unions” until it was safe to flip). Sophisticated and urbane liberals like Obama and Clinton were allies to the LGBTQ community, of course! But as a matter of pragmatic politics, neither one could afford to risk alienating that guy in the hard hat, could they?

2) Kristof on Sanders and electability.  I really like that he makes the Reagan comparison, as I was recently thinking the same thing myself.  I do not at all think Sanders is unelectable.  I think he is the riskiest choice.  And I’m in no mood for risks in getting Trump out of office:

“Electability is truly in the eye of the beholder,” notes Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “We’re all terrible at figuring out who is electable and who isn’t.”

Back in 1980, Sabato noted, some Democrats rejoiced when Republicans nominated an obviously unelectable candidate named Ronald Reagan. Then in 2016, the one thing many pundits agreed on was that Trump was unelectable. So let’s bring some humility to the exercise.

Still, consider who voters say they might support. Gallup finds that 93 percent of voters now say that they would be willing to vote for a well-qualified woman, up from 33 percent in 1937. And 96 percent say they could support a black candidate, up from 38 percent in 1958. (Voters may exaggerate their own tolerance, but the trend is clear.)

Similarly, 78 percent of voters say they would be willing to support a gay candidate, up from 29 percent in 1983. Indeed, Pete Buttigieg might face more resistance because he is young (only 70 percent are willing to back a candidate under 40) than because he is gay.

Yet there is one kind of candidate that Americans remain hostile to. Only 45 percent say that they would be willing to vote for a socialist. And Sanders faces another hurdle: Only 69 percent say they would consider a candidate over 70.

These are generic questions, and it’s possible that voters would warm to a particular septuagenarian socialist, especially when the alternative is a certain septuagenarian Republican. In head-to-head polls against Trump, Sanders does well; all Democrats do similarly. Yet I keep thinking of how British voters recently overwhelmingly re-elected a deeply flawed conservative leader over a socialist challenger.

Supporters of Sanders believe that he would greatly increase turnout, but there was no sign of that in Iowa or New Hampshire. Sanders won in New Hampshire only because the liberal wing of the party is uniting around him, while the moderate wing is deeply divided (in some ways, this is an echo of 2016, when Republicans could not coalesce around a rival to Trump).

3) My bad habit of not actually listening to my wife is not actually my fault.  Sort of:

“You’re not listening!” “Let me finish!” “That’s not what I said!” After “I love you,” these are among the most common refrains in close relationships. During my two years researching a book on listening, I learned something incredibly ironic about interpersonal communication: The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them. It’s called the closeness-communication bias and, over time, it can strain, and even end, relationships.

Once you know people well enough to feel close, there’s an unconscious tendency to tune them out because you think you already know what they are going to say. It’s kind of like when you’ve traveled a certain route several times and no longer notice signposts and scenery.

But people are always changing. The sum of daily interactions and activities continually shapes us, so none of us are the same as we were last month, last week or even yesterday.

The closeness-communication bias is at work when romantic partners feel they don’t know each other anymore or when parents discover their children are up to things they never imagined…

Social science researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the closeness-communication bias in experimental setups where they paired subjects first with friends or spouses and then with strangers. In each scenario, the researchers asked subjects to interpret what their partners were saying. While the subjects predicted they would more accurately understand, and be understood by, those with whom they had close relationships, they often understood them no better than strangers, and often worse.

“Accurately understanding another person often requires a second thought, to think, ‘Wait a minute, is this really what this person meant?’ and to check it,” said Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business who studies the closeness-communication bias. “We just don’t do that as much with those we are close to because we assume we know what they are saying and that they know what we are saying.” [emphasis mine]

4) Really enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Sapiens author, Yuval Harari.  Considering what a mega-bestseller this is, also interesting how hard it was for him to get it published in America.

5) Ruy Teixeira (one of the co-authors of the Emerging Democratic Majority way back when) makes the case that, sorry, Democratic candidates still need to look to the middle, “No, radical policies won’t drive election-winning turnout: Despite what Sanders says, Democrats still have to persuade voters in the middle.”

No myth is stronger in progressive circles than the magical, wonderworking powers of voter turnout. It’s become a sort of pixie dust that you sprinkle over your strenuously progressive positions to ward off any suggestion that they might turn off voters. That is how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), now the Democratic presidential front-runner, has dealt with criticism that his more unpopular stances — including eliminating private health insurance, decriminalizing the border and covering undocumented immigrants in a government health plan — might cost him the votes he needs to beat President Trump.

Sanders’s explanation of why this is not a problem is simple, and he has repeated it endlessly. When a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board asked him whether “a candidate as far to the left as you” would “alienate swing voters and moderates and independents,” the senator replied: “The only way that you beat Trump is by having an unprecedented campaign, an unprecedentedly large voter turnout.” Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager, adds: “Bernie Sanders has very unique appeal amongst [the younger] generation and can inspire, I think, a bunch of them to vote in percentages that they have never voted before.”

This has remarkably little empirical support. Take the 2018 midterm elections, in which the Democrats took back the House (a net 40-seat gain), carried the House popular vote by almost nine points and flipped seven Republican-held governorships. Turnout in that election was outstanding, topping 49 percent — the highest midterm turnout since 1914 and up 13 points over the previous midterm, in 2014 — and the demographic composition of the electorate came remarkably close to that of a presidential election year. (Typically, midterm voters tend to be much older and much whiter than those in presidential elections.) This was due both to fewer presidential “drop-off” voters (people who voted in 2016 but not 2018) and to more midterm “surge” voters (those who voted in 2018 but not 2016)…

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of the Democrats’ improved performance came not from fresh turnout of left-of-center voters, who typically skip midterms, but rather from people who cast votes in both elections — yet switched from Republican in 2016 to Democratic in 2018…

What’s more, States of Change data does not suggest that youth turnout, which Sanders promises to increase so significantly, was a particular Democratic problem in 2016. In fact, young voters (ages 18 to 29) increased their turnout more than any other age group in that election, from 42 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2016. They also increased — if only slightly — their margin of support for the Democratic candidate…

As Nate Cohn of the New York Times has noted after scrutinizing the data, it’s a mistake to assume that Democrats would benefit disproportionately from high turnout. Trump is particularly strong among white noncollege voters, who dominate the pool of nonvoters in many areas of the country, including in key Rust Belt states. If the 2020 election indeed has historically high turnout, as many analysts expect, that spike could include many of these white noncollege voters in addition to Democratic-leaning constituencies such as nonwhites and young voters. The result could be an increase in Democrats’ popular-vote total — and another loss in the electoral college.

Getting substantial increases in turnout is hard.  And, as much as Bernie’s supporters love him, it’s hard to see him turning a lot of otherwise non-voters into voters.  As far as I know, the last presidential candidate to do that was Obama.  And Obama’s uniquely inspiring to young-people and Black people 2008 campaign is not easily repeated.6) Non Bernie fan writes of the potential disaster of denying Bernie the nomination if he has a plurality, but not a majority of delegates:

But I’m not writing this to bash Bernie. Quite the opposite, actually. While I may doubt his general-election formidability, I have zero doubt about this: The single most disastrous outcome for the party would be for Sanders to win a plurality of pledged delegates, only for Democratic power brokers to try to deny him the nomination at a contested convention.

I shudder to imagine the visceral outrage this would unleash among Bernie voters. It would legitimize their long-standing grievances against the Democratic establishment, and do lasting damage to the party at a time we can least afford it—even if the maneuver ultimately failed. Were it successful, the fallout would be even more dire. One has to assume that many of the millions who voted for him would clamor for him to run as an independent, declare war on the Democratic Party, and refuse to vote for whomever we put on the ticket. And their fury would be justified.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t about appeasing ‘Bernie bros’ to avoid their wrath. It would be fundamentally undemocratic and incompatible with our party’s core ideals—regardless of what may be technically possible under DNC rules—to try to subvert the will of the people in favor of backroom horsetrading to anoint a nominee. It would betray both our principles and our political goals in one fell swoop.

So let’s preemptively kill that inevitable clusterfuck before it can kill us. Every Democrat in the field should commit right now to support the pledged delegate leader at the convention.

Also, I actually disagree very strongly with, “It would be fundamentally undemocratic and incompatible with our party’s core ideals.”  Why that may make sense in what is generally two-party elections, the idea that it is undemocratic to not award office to the plurality leader in a multi-candidate field, just does not hold up.  Imagine 5 candidates each around the low 20’s of delegates and the 23% plurality leader is loved by his core, but hated by everyone else.  Is that really undemocratic that the 2nd place, but non-objectionable to most others would be the nominee?  Of course not.

That said, I don’t doubt the logic of Bernie Bro wrath.  And, you know what, anybody pissed off who stays home and thus helps re-elect Trump– deserves Trump.  Alas, the rest of us don’t.  If Joe Walsh can commit to voting for whomever the Democratic nominee is, surely Bernie supporters should be able to do the same.

7) Radley Balko, “The Roger Stone case highlights our pernicious system of tiered justice”

8) The backlash against bail reform in New York is deplorable:

It just so happens that a campaign to roll back New York’s landmark bail reforms is unfolding as Michael Bloomberg’s presidential run forces a reckoning with stop-and-frisk, the policing tactic that led to the harassment and humiliation of millions of innocent people, most of them black and Hispanic boys and men, while Mr. Bloomberg was mayor of New York City.

Police officials and prosecutors made arguments about stop-and-frisk that sound familiar in the current conversation about bail reform.

For over a decade, these officials assured Mr. Bloomberg and the public that the enormous human cost of stop-and-frisk was worth it, because the practice reduced crime and saved lives.

They were wrong. When stops finally plummeted — first amid Bloomberg-era legal battles and later under Mayor Bill de Blasio — crime rates in the city actually fell.

Now, law enforcement officials are again making arguments against reforms based largely on anecdotal evidence, and they are being given the same benefit of the doubt.

It has been less than seven weeks since landmark criminal justice reforms went into effect statewide banning bail for defendants charged with most misdemeanor and nonviolent offenses.

But already, prosecutors, police officials and others are cherry-picking cases and crime data to make a case for rolling back some of the reforms. “Violent criminals are being returned to the community and will know the names of their accusers and where to find them,” New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea wrote in a January Times Op-Ed, lobbying for changes to the law. (A spokesman for Commissioner Shea said that he does support many of the reforms.)…

If prosecutors, police or others believe the law is causing public harm, it is their job to make a reasoned case. Instead, too many have resorted, once again, to whipping up fear over crime to defend policies that lead to over-policing and incarceration.

Regularly missing from their lectures about public safety is any significant recognition of the ways these policies have harmed the safety and dignity of black and Hispanic people in New York…

In this context, the campaign against the bail reforms seems less about public safety than it does about power, designed to make clear that law enforcement remains an untouchable political force in New York politics.

Quick hits (part I)

1) An opportunity to put pangolins in my blog?  Hell, yes.

In the search for the animal source or sources of the coronavirus epidemic in China, the latest candidate is the pangolin, an endangered, scaly, ant-eating mammal that is imported in huge numbers to Chinese markets for food and medicine.

The market in pangolins is so large that they are said to be the most trafficked mammals on the planet. All four Asian species are critically endangered, and it is far from clear whether being identified as a viral host would be good or bad for pangolins. It could decrease the trade in the animals, or cause a backlash.

It is also far from clear whether the pangolin is the animal that passed the new virus to humans. Bats are still thought to be the original host of the virus. If pangolins are involved in disease transmission, they would act as an intermediate host. The science so far is suggestive rather than conclusive, and because of the intense interest in the virus, some claims have been made public before the traditional scientific review process.

2) David Brooks oversells it, but raises some worthwhile points in, “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake”

This is the story of our times—the story of the family, once a dense cluster of many siblings and extended kin, fragmenting into ever smaller and more fragile forms. The initial result of that fragmentation, the nuclear family, didn’t seem so bad. But then, because the nuclear family is so brittle, the fragmentation continued. In many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

My nuclear family of origin was very small and had no extended family really at all.  My current nuclear family has beloved extended family in state, but still a pretty good distance.  I’ll admit to being jealous of people of have adult siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, etc., all in the same area.

3) David Leonhardt, “The Question All Democrats Need to Ask Themselves: If your preferred candidate doesn’t win the nomination, will you still do everything you can to deny Trump a second term?”

Yes, the candidates have their differences. But they have much bigger similarities. If elected, every single Democratic presidential candidate would act to slow climate change, raise taxes on the rich, reduce gun deaths, expand voting rights, lower health care and education costs, protect abortion access, enforce civil-rights laws, appoint progressive judges, rebuild overseas alliances and stop treating the Justice Department as a personal enforcer. The moderates are running to the left of Barack Obama, and the progressives would be constrained by Congress.

The alternative, of course, is truly radical. Many Democrats know all this, yet they still get so caught up in the passions of the primary campaign that they risk helping Trump…

Today the Republican Party has become so radicalized that it opposes almost any government action to solve problems. Its domestic agenda consists largely of cutting taxes for the rich and freeing companies from oversight. The substantive part of many policy debates now happens within the Democratic Party — which means that tensions are only natural.

And yet progressives and moderate Democrats still agree on far more than they disagree. Each side would be more effective if it were open to learning from the other, Dionne writes, rather than lapsing into “an unseemly moralism that feeds political superiority complexes.”

My answer to that questsion is, hell, yes (yes, including for Bernie).  One of my problems with Sanders’ supporters is that I feel too many of them are so committed to Bernie that their answer to this question is too much… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4) I know EMG will enjoy this story on horse toes.  Really.  “A Horse Has 5 Toes, and Then It Doesn’t: As a horse’s hoof forms, scientists say something profound is occurring in its anatomical development.”  Featuring horse embryos from NC State!

The horse embryos were provided by C. Scott Bailey, a co-author and an expert on horse reproduction at North Carolina State University. They were all from mares that had been artificially inseminated on known dates, so the researchers knew with some precision how many days along they were.

The discovery implies something profound about how anatomical development works. As an embryo puts itself together, growing from a tiny wad of cells into multiple specialized tissues fed by blood vessels and linked by the winding threads of nerves, it is following a template. That template is subject to evolution, just like other things about the animal. But some moments in the process, or some routes that development takes, may not be easily altered…

Adult horses have no need of all five toes. But at a point long before the embryos have actual feet, the ancient programming still requires those five clusters to form. Does that mean that diverting development away from this digit-forming process would cause serious problems?

It’s possible, Dr. Kavanagh said. Other stages of development seem to be more flexible, generating new innovations that evolution can act on; it is probably not random chance that some stages are not malleable.

The study confirms an observation published in 2018 by another set of biologists that horses have many more blood vessels and nerves in their legs than required to feed a single toe, suggesting that they still have signs of an earlier, many-toed state.

5) Really good Political Science conversation, “If Moderates Are Electable, Why Are Ideologues Winning?”

Atop Democratic primary polls, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are re-igniting a debate about whether moderates are more electable. Are voters pushing the candidates to the extremes or just looking for moderate alternatives? Andrew Hall finds that moderate candidates are more likely to win general elections, but that they are running for office less often than extremists. The benefits of office are declining and the costs are increasing, especially for potential moderates. But Stephen Utych finds that moderates are far less advantaged in general elections over extremists than they used to be. Partisan polarization means voters increasingly treat politicians in each party as interchangeable, lowering the costs of nominating extremists. Either way, voters are not the main cause of polarization.

6) David Frum on the truly execrable William Barr:

At the law schools of the 1970s and ‘80s, a militant faction of professors taught a harsh lesson. Law, they argued, is a myth that property owners invoke to protect themselves and oppress those without property. The legal reasoning that we students were so frantically working to absorb was in fact a deception, an expensive drapery concealing the brute realties of political and class power.

Some students indignantly rejected this teaching. Others accepted that it contained some truth, mixed with much exaggeration and propaganda.

Adam Serwer: The dangerous ideas of Bill Barr

But young William Barr—George Washington University Law School, Class of 1977—seems to have absorbed the radical message with perverse enthusiasm: Alrighty then! Let’s do it!

As attorney general, Barr has focused on two missions: on the one hand, cracking down on crimes by the poor and the foreign-born; on the other, going easy on the crimes of President Trump’s associates. This administration likes to call itself “tough on crime” and to revile its Democratic opponents as “the party of crime.”

But toward its own many crimes, the Trump administration is genially indulgent. Like the gangsters around the table in the first Godfather movie, the Trump administration is able to convince itself that its victims are animals without souls—and that its own lawbreaking is a necessary, even honorable, accommodation to the facts of life. “The real crimes were on the other side!” Donald Trump tweeted after he heard the news of Roger Stone’s recommended sentence of seven to nine years—exactly in line with federal sentencing guidelines for Stone’s convicted offenses.

As attorney general, Barr has delivered a series of speeches about the importance of sternly enforcing the law against lower-class people…

The Trump administration rationalizes its treatment of Stone by endlessly fulminating and tweeting against prosecutors, judges, even jury forepersons. Barr’s warnings against inquiring into subjective motivations in the case of uniformed police dealing with street crime get forgotten when the police wear suits and ties and must deal with Trump crime. Then (and only then!) it matters whether the officer in question showed previous loyalty to President Trump. If not, then (and only then!) the officer’s possible motive matters more than anything, and certainly more than the proven evidence.

American criminal law is harsh; American prison sentences are severe. Most of the time, Trump and his attorney general relish this harshness.

There’s some argument as to who invented the phrase “To my friends, everything; to my enemies, the law.” Whoever said it first, it clearly impels the higher levels of the Trump Justice Department. But even the Trump Justice Department needs the expensive drapery of the pretense of legal reasoning. When the president insists on yanking that drapery aside day after day on Twitter and television, the reality of what is going on becomes too embarrassing even for Barr to endure. [emphasis mine]

7) Annie Lowery is exactly right about the fundamental irrationality of the Berniephobes (he’s far from my first choice, but not because I fear his policies being enacted):

A President Bernie Sanders would have about as much control over the economy as President Donald Trump: outside of a recession, not nearly as much as one might think, and particularly not in the short term. Political scientists and economists have demonstrated that how well the economy performs under different administrations mostly has to do with the fortuities of market timing. President Barack Obama inherited a catastrophe that had nowhere to go but up; Trump inherited a long boom that has just kept booming. Their policies have mattered but, outside the response to the Great Recession itself, mostly on the margin. The same would be true for Sanders or Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden or any of the other candidates. If the economy tanks on Sanders’s watch, what he does will be enormously important. If it does not, his policies would take years to change the shape of American growth.

Presidents are just not that powerful in the United States’s polarized, divided, and choke-point-choked political system. Sanders has put out a slate of transformative economic policies, but realistically, few of them are likely to be passed, and those probably in watered-down and compromised versions. As The American Prospect, the left-of-center magazine, has noted, Sanders or another progressive could do a considerable amount via executive action, including the instant forgiveness of student debt held on the federal books. But many of the biggest changes Sanders seeks—wealth taxes, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee—would have to wend their way through Congress.

There is no majority in Congress for any of those policies at the moment. Bodies that overrepresent old, white, and rural voters are unlikely to pass a new New Deal anytime soon. Bernie’s camp openly admits as much, as do elected progressives. Is Medicare for All achievable? “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this week. “Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so.” Wall Street knows it, too. In a recent note to clients, JPMorgan’s analysts argued that American “political institutions” would make dramatic policy changes highly unlikely. “We put the probability of major changes like Medicare-for-all or a wealth tax at less than 5 percent.”

Would the economy tank if Congress did pass Sanders’s chosen policy regime? That is questionable as well. Sanders’s economic plans are meant to bolster the earning and political power of low- and middle-income families, while forcing companies to compete with another, taming the power of the financial system, and greening the economy. They amount to a huge fiscal-stimulus program, which would be unlikely to ruin the economy any more than the Trump tax cuts, another big stimulus program, would. The country’s staggering levels of income and wealth inequality are distorting the very fabric of the economy: raising saving relative to consumption and investment, dampening GDP growth, impeding mobility, and fraying the political system. There’s a good argument that reducing inequality would boost the country’s long-term growth rate, not hurt it.

8) Tara Parker-Pope on how, maybe, Millennials slower approach to love and marriage is a good thing:

But what is particularly striking is how quickly the cohort has rewritten the rules for courtship, sex and marriage. In 2018, the median age of first marriage was approaching 30 (29.8 for men and 27.8 for women). That’s more than a five-year delay in marriage compared to 1980, when the median age was 24.7 for men and 22 for women.

A 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that many younger millennials in their early 20s aren’t having sex, and are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive than the previous generation. Another study found that American couples ages 25 to 34 spend an average of six and a half years together before marrying, compared with an average of five years for all other age groups…

Ask millennials and they will tell you that there is nothing casual about their approach to sex, dating and romance.

“Hooking up with someone doesn’t mean that millennials now don’t value marriage,” says Anne Kat Alexander, who at 23 is in the second wave of the millennial generation. “If anything, they value marriage more because they are putting a lot more forward thinking into that decision.”

Dr. Fisher says her research suggests today’s singles seek to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before they spend time, energy and money on courtship. As a result, the path to romance has changed significantly. Whereas a “first date” used to represent the getting-to-know-you phase of a courtship, now going on an official date with someone comes later in the relationship.

And for some singles, sex has become the getting-to-know you phase of courtship. In a study conducted for Match.com, Dr. Fisher found that among a representative sample, 34 percent of singles had sex with somebody before the first date. She calls it “the sex interview.”

First, do you really need six years to figure out if you should marry someone.  That’s serious overkill.  Secondly, yes, I guess I’m just old, but sex before dating??!!

9) And, yet, apparently when it comes to dating, there’s a lot of very traditional gender role stuff going on.  Sociology Professor, Ellen Lamont, “If You Want a Marriage of Equals, Then Date as Equals: Why are many dating practices a throwback to an earlier era?”

However, I noticed a glaring disconnect between the straight women’s views on marriage and their thoughts on dating. Once these women were married, it was difficult to right the ship, so to speak. The same gender stereotypes that they adopted while dating played out in their long-term partnerships.

Three-quarters of Millennials in America support gender equality at work and home and agree that the ideal marriage is an equitable one. Consequently, I expected the young women I interviewed to epitomize feminist liberation. Yet, when they thought of equality among men and women, they focused more on professional opportunities than interpersonal dynamics. Americans with a college education now get married in their early 30s on average, as young adults put their love life on hold while they invest in their education and establish a career. Given the significant time, money, and effort they put into building this career, the women I spoke with expected to partner with people who would support their ambitious professional goals. The men said they desired and respected these independent, high-achieving women and actually saw them as more compatible partners as a result.

And yet in a throwback to an earlier era, many women I spoke with enacted strict dating rules. “It’s a deal breaker if a man doesn’t pay for a date,” one woman, aged 29, told me. A 31-year-old said that if a man doesn’t pay, “they just probably don’t like you very much.” A lot of men, they assumed, were looking for nothing more than a quick hookup, so some of these dating rituals were tests to see whether the man was truly interested in a commitment. A third woman, also 31, told me, “I feel like men need to feel like they are in control, and if you ask them out, you end up looking desperate and it’s a turnoff to them.”

On dates, the women talked about acting demure, and allowing men to do more of the talking. Women, they said, were more attractive to men when they appeared unattainable, so women preferred for the men to follow up after a date. None of the women considered proposing marriage; that was the man’s job. “I know it feels counterintuitive … I’m a feminist,” the first woman said. “But I like to have a guy be chivalrous.”

On a related note, a female student who is a smart, ambitious, liberal feminist told me about a recent fraternity weekend event she attended (with a, supposedly, better kind of fraternity) that left me beyond appalled at the gender dynamics.

10) And, while we’re at it.  This from Stephanie Coontz is really good, “How to Make Your Marriage Gayer: Same-sex spouses feel more satisfied with their partners than heterosexual ones. What’s the secret?”

Once children come along, old marital traditions reassert themselves even more. A University of Texas researcher, Joanna Pepin, and her colleagues recently found that married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers. As Dr. Pepin told me, “The gender expectations traditionally associated with being a wife seemingly encourage married mothers to do more housework than their unmarried counterparts, and their husbands to accept that as normal.”

Here’s where same-sex couples can offer their different-sex counterparts useful tips. Since same-sex couples can’t use imputed male-female differences to sort out who does what, they rely less on stereotypes. Heterosexual parents tend to see tasks such as child care, laundry and dishes as part of a package that is handed to one partner. Same-sex couples are far more likely to each take on some traditionally “feminine” and some “masculine” chores.

They are also more likely to share the routine tasks. A 2015 survey found that almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples. And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.

11) I’m not a particular fan or detractor of Bloomberg, but what I don’t like is unfair attacks on anybody that get policy wrong.  Especially when they come from a college professor, like this tweet:

It may be wrong and dangerous, but the research is pretty clear that teacher quality is far more important than class size.  So, wait, neither wrong nor dangerous, but backed by empirical evidence.

12) I loved reading about what it’s like being a pizza consultant.

13) This is kind of amazing, “People Born Blind Are Mysteriously Protected From Schizophrenia”

But the whispered-about fact persists: Being born blind, and perhaps specific types of congenital blindness, shield from the very disorders vision loss can encourage later in life. A myriad of theories exist as to why—from the blind brain’s neuroplasticity to how vision plays an important role in building our model of the world (and what happens when that process goes wrong). Select researchers believe that the ties between vision and psychotic symptoms indicate there’s something new to learn here. Could it be that within this narrowly-defined phenomenon there are clues for what causes schizophrenia, how to predict who will develop it, and potentially how to treat it? …

This view of the brain argues that rather than perceiving the world around us in real time, our brains create a model of what’s out there, predict and simulate what we experience, and then compare our predictions to what’s actually happening—using any errors to update or change the model in our minds. The accuracy of your past predictions are crucial for the accuracy of your overall model—it’s what you’re comparing new inputs to, and how you’re making any adjustments.

This is where vision comes in. Vision gives us a lot of information about the world around us, and is an important sense that helps link together other sensory cues, like sound and touch, Pollak said. If the way a person sees the world is off, it can make it harder to predict, correct errors, and build a model of the world that makes sense. And when people have problems with their vision, the brain has to make more predictions to explain them. On the other hand, if you couldn’t see anything, you wouldn’t build up those false representations of the world around you—which could lead to problems in thinking later on.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Sam Vinograd on Trump’s firing of Vindland and Sondland:

And there is also little doubt that this move was intentional retribution — and designed to send a clear message to any other government official who dares to challenge the President. Speak out, and you risk compromising not just your own job, but that of your family’s.
Of course, the President’s surrogates will defend him and argue Trump has the full right to hire and fire staff as he sees fit. And while that may be true, it also ignores the sad reality hidden in that truth. The President only wants henchmen and yes-men who defer to his orders and actions, no matter how dangerous, inappropriate or potentially illegal they may be.
There have been earlier reports that Trump is downsizing the NSC and stacking it with more political appointees. By removing Vindman, and by moving forward with plans to cycle out career government officials, it appears that the President also does not want witnesses around to report, through legally protected channels, any future actions that may cross moral or legal lines.
But there is a great danger to removing individuals like Vindman from the NSC who have longstanding relationships. Trump appears intent on transforming the NSC — from a critical American policy-making apparatus that advances the rule of law to a political arm for his personal benefit — with little regard for rules or laws. [emphasis mine]

2) Honestly, one of the best things to happen to me this winter is that the newly-opened Lidl in my neighborhood (I love this store!) carries Crimson Crisp apples, my favorite apple heretofore only seen at the Farmer’s Market.  And only $.99/pound and I’d pay $4/pound; they’re that good.

3) Jamelle Bouie, “The Republican Party Has Embraced Its Worst Self”

Let’s return to those rival accounts of United States history. If the story of the American republic is the story of democratic decline as much as it is of democratic expansion — if backlash shapes our history as much as progress does — then the current moment is easy to understand. We are living through a period of democratic erosion, in which social and political reaction limits the reach and scope of past democratic victories. In this way of looking at the present, we’re living through a period of institutional deterioration, during which American government ceases to function in the face of polarization, zero-sum conflict and constitutional hardball.

Republican politicians have been the single most important force behind that erosion, breaking norms, backing suppression and welcoming an endless flood of money into our politics, all to protect themselves and their ideology from the will of the people. Viewed in that light, the acquittal of President Trump — the desperate cover-up in the face of damning evidence — is just another brick on a road Republicans have been paving for years.

It is what you would expect them to do, not because of any fear of the president or personal fealty to him, but because the party sees accountability, whether to voters or to the Constitution itself, as a threat to its interests. If the acquittal of Trump shows us anything, it’s a Republican Party free of pretense or artifice, ready to embrace its worst self without shame or embarrassment.

4) Dana Milbank, (who, by the way, used to be very much a “both sides,” all-about-the-game centrist before Trump) “This vulgar man has squandered our decency”

The president had broken the law, cheated in his reelection, abused a vulnerable ally by withholding military aid, emboldened a foe and concealed the facts — and there would be no consequences. His fellow Republicans rejected even the symbolic sanction of censure.

It didn’t take long to see the consequences of acquittal: Trump’s blasphemy at the National Prayer Breakfast, his obscene rant in the White House, his move to evict from the White House a decorated military officer who testified during impeachment, his attorney general’s edict that he alone would decide which presidential candidates to investigate and his Treasury Department’s release of sensitive records about the family of a Trump political opponent even as it refuses to release similar records about Trump.

This is a man of the lowest character — and his partisans cheer. The Post identified more than 30 distortions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, where he announced he would award the nation’s highest civilian honor to a man who joined Trump in spreading the “birther” libel and who popularized the tune “Barack the Magic Negro” for his millions of listeners.

And the Republicans on the House floor chanted: “Four more years!

Of this?

5) Dahlia Lithwick, “The Law Is for Suckers”

It is a paradox that the most litigious country in the world—a country whose founding documents were largely drafted by lawyers, and whose constitutional true north has long been the constraints afforded by the law—elected a man who has spent the bulk of his life creating a two-tiered system, in which some men are bound by law and others float away from it. We knew long before he was elected that Donald Trump would not be bound by the rule of law, or by the norms of a system dependent on checks and balances. He told us as much. During the campaign he floated the prospect of torturing the families of enemies, and rewriting libel laws, and banning travelers to the United States based on their religion. Sure, it maybe sounded like hyperbole, and it maybe sounded like campaign-speak, and even as some of those efforts were effectuated, including the Muslim ban and family separations, and even as the norms about nepotism and self-dealing and disclosure were brushed away, it still seemed as if a country founded on law would locate some guardrails.

It hasn’t. Just as Zirin promised us, Trump has deployed all of his Roy Cohn strategies to show us that the law is for suckers, and that for great men it serves as a nuisance at most, something to be gotten out of with a squadron of well-paid lawyers, by terrorizing opposing parties and witnesses, by lying fluently and repeatedly, and by declaring victory even when you lost. It should not surprise a soul that he would have brought those tactics to bear as a candidate, as president, and as the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The legal arguments he has deployed throughout this process—that he should have “absolute immunity” from investigation; that he could not be removed from office for crimes; and that he could only be impeached for literal crimes, not high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers intended—were vintage Roy Cohn. As was the argument, as proffered by Alan Dershowitz, that if the president believed his election interference was in the best interest of the republic, it was both not illegal and also not an impeachable offense. The fact that the Senate and the Justice Department helped him evade accountability, or that White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Dershowitz and Ken Starr served as Roy Cohn mini-me’s, should surprise nobody. Nor should the fact that the “trial” was not a trial and the jurors were not jurors or that a nontrivial number of the jurors voted to acquit him while still acknowledging that what he did was the thing he continues to deny having done.

Nobody should be surprised that in the wake of 3,500 lawsuits, Trump will conclude that he is indeed above the law, that the legal regime exists only for suckers, and also that he can repurpose the machinery of law to investigate, harass, and punish the whistleblowers and the witnesses and those who sought to constrain him. At which point the law won’t just be the thing that applies only to losers and suckers, but also the thing that can be used to put down those who sought justice in the first place. And nobody should be surprised that having invited foreign election interference and having been acquitted for doing so, this president will use the formidable power of his Justice Department to manipulate the 2020 election, and to call into question the results of that election in the courts.

6) Brian Klaas, “Senate Republicans just paved the road to American authoritarianism”

The Senate has neutered itself. That shift in power isn’t temporary — it sets a new orthodoxy of what presidents can get away with.

If Trump commits a crime (as he allegedly has, repeatedly), he cannot be indicted under guidelines from the Justice Department. And if he yet again abuses his power with corrupt intent, it’s up to his lackeys in the Senate to hold him accountable with an impeachment trial — and they just spectacularly failed to do so despite him committing the most egregious abuse of power in recent American history.

Perhaps most striking was the moment in which one of Trump’s defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, argued that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” That logic — that if the leader takes an action to win with corrupt intent but believes that his victory is ultimately good for the country, then it’s fine — is the logic of authoritarian despots. It is a logic that is poisonous to democracy. (Dershowitz has since tried to back away from his own words, but there’s no changing the fact he appears to have captured precisely the philosophy that currently informs thinking among Senate Republicans.)

All of this would be quite worrying indeed if the current president were someone who mimicked the behavior of autocrats. We would be right to panic if the man in the White House was someone who, for example, attacked the media with Stalinist rhetoricscapegoated minority groups, called for the jailing of his political rivalspoliticized the rule of lawhired cronies and family members for top jobs, called to ban an entire religion from entering the country, directly profited from his office, and had invited foreign adversaries to help him stay in power.

Okay, maybe it’s time to break the glass.

7) Okay, I’ll mix it up now.  Hooray for Finland and parental leave:

Parents in Finland will be given the same amount of parental leave, regardless of their gender or whether they are a child’s biological parents, the government announced.

The changes, which were announced Wednesday and could come into effect as early as 2021, are a bid to promote gender equality and inclusivity for same-sex couples and to encourage fathers to take as much time off work as mothers.

The measure is one of the latest reforms under Finland’s new government, led by Sanna Marin, a progressive prime minister who took up the post late last year. Ms. Marin made news when she took up the post late last year becoming the world’s youngest premier and heading a coalition government made up of all female leaders.

Under the new reforms, each parent will be allowed 164 days of paid parental leave, which increased the total allowance for a couple from 11.5 months to more than 14 months, the government said in a statement. Single parents will have the right to use the parental leave quotas of both parents.

The minister of social affairs and health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, said that the new policy shows the government’s “investment in the future of children” and in the well-being of families.

“The reform will be a major change in attitudes, as it will improve equality between parents and make the lives of diverse families easier,” she added.

8) Not everyday you find out a business a few hundred yards for your house is a front for prostitution.

Because of community concerns, Cary police said they conducted a “limited operation” involving massage businesses.

Late last week Jin Li, 42, was arrested at the Koko Spa on Southeast Maynard Road.

A mile away at Studio Salons on Northeast Maynard Road, police arrested 43-year-old Jin Hongmei.

Both women are charged with practicing massage without a license and prostitution.

Moana Anderson and her husband brought their four daughters to the indoor playground next door Monday.

“That’s kind of scary because we wanted our kids to be safe,” Anderson told ABC11.

Can, I tell you, though, how absolutely not scared I am for the kids.

9) John Sides (who, by the way, I’m very excited to be bringing to speak at NC State in a pre-Super Tuesday lecture on February 27) on the Democrats not in disarray:

But the disarray story line deserves some qualifications. A survey — conducted in November and December by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group — points to a more complex picture. The survey is unique because it includes 4,250 respondents who have been interviewed periodically since late 2011, as well as interviews with new respondents to ensure that the sample as a whole is nationally representative.

Twenty-five percent of likely Democratic primary voters say they plan to support former vice president Joe Biden, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) at 20 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 16 percent. November and December polling averages showed similar results, though Sanders has gained some ground and Warren has lost ground.

But you have to look beyond those top-line numbers to see the key takeaway: Despite the lack of consensus on a nominee, there are important signs of unity within the party right now. And history tells us that party unity is likely to grow as November approaches.

1. Most Democrats like most Democrats.

Overall, most Democrats feel favorably about the Democratic front-runners.

10) I’m pretty fascinated by the American Dirt controversy.  Though not as fascinated as Jesse Singal.  It occurred to me Arthur Golden could never write Memoirs of a Geisha today.  And, that’s a shame, because it’s a great book.  Singal on the controversy and the failure off journalism:

There were certain problems with how American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins that is currently one of the hottest-selling titles on Amazon, and which was chosen by Oprah for her super-famous book club, was written and publicized.

But how severe were those problems? And which of them were actual, you know, problems, rather than the inevitable outrage-overgrowth that instantly sprouts, kudzulike, during any sort of online pileon, suffocating reasoned conversation?

If you read most journalistic coverage of this controversy, you will not be informed. If anything, you will end up more misinformed than you were when you started. And that’s a useful problem to explore given where journalism is right now. I haven’t read American Dirt, so I can’t speak directly to the plot. But the book itself isn’t actually the point I’m interested in: Rather, I want to talk about the nature of how this controversy — and seemingly every controversy, these days — is being covered by mainstream media outlets…

So, anyway, I read some of the coverage of the American Dirt dustup, hoping to better understand what was happening, because my gut impulse was there was at least some there worth extracting and understanding, even if it was at the bottom of a large, stinky pile of internet bullshit. And almost as soon as I started, I realized I couldn’t really trust most of what I was reading, because all it was doing was presenting a too-lightly curated version of “people on the internet are saying…,” with the people in question often leveling critiques about as sophisticated and thoughtful as, well, “If a racist character expresses racist sentiments, that means the book is racist.” Or the author of a given piece him- or herself was making these sorts of arguments. In other words, these articles were contributing to and amplifying the bullshit, not joining me, hand in hand, facemasks snugly secured, to help me dig through it in search of something worthwhile — which is what journalism is supposed to do!

11) Bats are always the damn reservoir species for nasty zoonotic diseases.  Interesting new scientific theories on why.  In large part– flying:

In a 2018 paper in Cell Host and Microbe, scientists in China and Singapore reported their investigation of how bats handle something called DNA sensing. The energy demands of flight are so great that cells in the body break down and release bits of DNA that are then floating around where they shouldn’t be. Mammals, including bats, have ways to identify and respond to such bits of DNA, which might indicate an invasion of a disease-causing organism. But in bats, they found, evolution has weakened that system, which would normally cause inflammation as it fought the viruses.

Bats have lost some genes involved in that response, which makes sense because the inflammation itself can be very damaging to the body. They have a weakened response but it is still there. Thus, the researchers write, this weakened response may allow them to maintain a “balanced state of ‘effective response’ but not ‘over response’ against viruses.”

12) Thanks to a reader for this link about autism and brain myelination:

Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain’s information highways.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there’s an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin.

That’s a problem because myelin provides the “insulation” for brain circuits, allowing them to quickly and reliably carry electrical signals from one area to another. And having either too little or too much of this myelin coating can result in a wide range of neurological problems.

For example, multiple sclerosis occurs when the myelin around nerve fibers is damaged. The results, which vary from person to person, can affect not only the signals that control muscles, but also the ones involved in learning and thinking.

The finding could help explain why autism spectrum disorders include such a wide range of social and behavioral features, says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“Myelination could be a problem that ties all of these autism spectrum disorders together,” Maher says. And if that’s true, he says, it might be possible to prevent or even reverse the symptoms using drugs that affect myelination.

13) Good stuff from Planet Money, “The Limits Of Nudging: Why Can’t California Get People To Take Free Money?”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting new research, “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t”

It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

2) Hell, yeah, there’s a good case for sticking with bail reform.  Especially because the opponents are pretty much just fearmongering:

Judges can also still set bail on almost all violent felony offenses, any case involving sexual abuse or misconduct, all felony and some misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, and witness intimidation and tampering cases. The most common charges for which release must now be allowed are drug possession, theft and unlicensed driving.

The best evidence for the success of bail reform comes from Brooklyn. Prosecutors there stopped demanding bail for almost all misdemeanors in April 2017. Over the next year, the number of people held on bail in Brooklyn declined by 43 percent, and Brooklyn has also experienced a decline in crime, with fewer shootings and the lowest number of murders in the borough’s history in 2019, according to the district attorney’s office.

3) Philip Bump actually goes to the trouble to assess six key points of Trump’s impeachment defense.  Of course, the whole defense is based on well-established historical and legal principles.  Kidding!

4) Meanwhile, in a great example of “NYT commenters are smarter than the Op-Ed writer” a law professor argues that Trump did nothing wrong, because of course politicians consider personal political benefit in their public policy actions.  I will leave you to puncture his arguments yourself if you are so inclined.

5) Of course, for people paying attention, it’s been pretty damn clear that Trump is not responsible for a good economy (and, of course, we give all presidents too much credit and blame for the economy).  Nice column from Joseph Stiglitz:

Again, the low employment rate is not a surprise, not least because unhealthy people can’t work. Moreover, those on disability benefits, in prison – the US incarceration rate has increased more than sixfold since 1970, with some two million people currently behind bars – or so discouraged that they are not actively seeking jobs are not counted as “unemployed.” But, of course, they are not employed. Nor is it a surprise that a country that doesn’t provide affordable childcare or guarantee family leave would have lower female employment – adjusted for population, more than ten percentage points lower – than other developed countries.

Even judging by GDP, the Trump economy falls short. Last quarter’s growth was just 2.1%, far less than the 4%, 5%, or even 6% Trump promised to deliver, and even less than the 2.4% average of Obama’s second term. That is a remarkably poor performance considering the stimulus provided by the $1 trillion deficit and ultra-low interest rates. This is not an accident, or just a matter of bad luck: Trump’s brand is uncertainty, volatility, and prevarication, whereas trust, stability, and confidence are essential for growth. So is equality, according to the International Monetary Fund.

So, Trump deserves failing grades not just on essential tasks like upholding democracy and preserving our planet. He should not get a pass on the economy, either.

6) So, I was intrigued by this headline in the NYT Opinion section, “In Defense of Donald Trump: Legal experts examine the strongest and weakest points of his case.”  But, unsurprisingly, it’s not much of a defense, as even the strongest points are pretty weak.

7) I definitely know some people who apologize too much.  And they are invariably women.  But if somebody says “I’m sorry” in the generic sense of “I’m sorry that that happened to you” and a person says “oh, it’s not your fault” that latter person has a serious lack of social skills.  Like many words, sorry means many different things depending on context.

By definition, an apology is an acknowledgment of offense or failure, but words don’t always mean their dictionary definition: Context matters, Dr. Tannen said. Words are defined in how they’re used and an apology is used in many different ways, so it serves many different functions. Some apologies are meant to repair a relationship, like when you forget to pick up your friend at the airport. Some apologies show respect, like when you submit a report to your boss and it’s a day or two late. And some apologies are simply meant to smooth out a conversation, Dr. Tannen added. Gender and culture influence the way we use apologies, and sometimes what we say gets lost in translation.

“A typical thing for women is that people think they’re being overly accommodating when they apologize, even if they’re not using the apology that way,” Dr. Tannen said. Sounds like that’s what the woman in the wet jacket was thinking.

8) Snake anti-venom is complicated to make and expensive and saves lives.  But to make it happen you have to milk a real live snake for venom.  But with cool technology, maybe not for too much longer.

9) Ruy Teixera sums up the latest political science on 2016 that’s all the rage.  According to this, it was not racial resentment that was key to Trump’s election.  Longish summary:

No, “Racial Resentment” Didn’t Elect Donald Trump

I don’t suppose I’ve succeeded in getting many of you to actually read the Grimmer and Marble paper I linked to the other day. That’s too bad because it really is a very important paper. The paper is basically an accounting exercise–and I love accounting exercises!–which establishes very cleanly and clearly, using straightforward mathematics that is not really arguable, that “racial resentment” (itself a vexed term–see the famous Ryan Enos/Riley Carney paper) and similar attitudes simply cannot explain where Trump got the votes to be elected. And if that theory–to this day, the dominant theory in political science and general discourse–cannot explain where Trump got the votes, then what good is it since it doesn’t, you know, explain anything.

But if I can’t get you to read the Grimmer and Marble paper, admittedly a bit of an academic political science slog, perhaps I can get you to read Policy Tensor’s crisp summary and explanation of the findings. And, yes, I do think the findings have political implications–important ones.

“An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial prejudice. But the paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory,” does much more than that. It explains why the vast bulk of the literature that has emerged got it so very wrong. And it does so by mathematically demonstrating the limitations and biases of previous analyses in a straightforward manner that is a model of simplicity and elegance. This is easily the most significant work to appear on the question. In many ways, it is as much a theoretical intervention as an argument over 2016; one that has all the hallmarks of a seminal work — that creates a before and after. And it has the potential to irrevocably change the conversation in both academic political science and sophisticated political consulting. So what have Grimmer and Marble shown?

They begin by noting that, in order to understand 2016, or any other election, it is not enough to show that voters with such and such attribute (denoted by x, eg racial resentment) voted for this candidate at higher rates. This is so because the effect may be swamped by compositional effects (ie, the share of people with that attitude in the population may have fallen) and turnout rates (ie, the people with that attitude may have turned out at lower rates). In order to understand how a candidate won, we must pay careful attention to all three factors at once: composition, turnout, and vote choice.

The number of votes that Trump received from voting bloc (ie, whatever attribute) x is given by the product of (1) the share of the electorate in voting bloc x, (2) the turnout rate conditional on voting bloc x, and (3) the rate at which they voted for Trump conditional on turnout and bloc. This a mathematical fact, there is no arguing with it:

The problem with the vast bulk of the literature is that it pays no attention to these confounding effects and pays near-exclusive attention to the vote choice of various blocs (“authoritarians” &c). In a survey of 83 papers analyzing 2016, they found a mere 5 that had paid attention to all three. The vast majority of reported results, 94 percent, are suspect because they fail to take into account these mathematical facts. This includes the entirety of the vast literature supporting the racial resentment thesis.

Once you start adding up the correct way, the racial resentment thesis turns out to be flat out wrong.”

Read the Policy Tensor piece for charts from the paper and clear explanations of what they mean.

https://williammarble.co/docs/vb.pdf

https://scholar.harvard.edu/f…/rkcarney/files/carneyenos.pdf

https://policytensor.com/2020/01/20/how-did-trump-win/

10) Nice review/summary of the Very Stable Genius book.  Also a good Fresh Air interview.

11) Good policy is important.  But so is how policy interacts with culture.  Atlantic, “Why Icelandic Dads Take Parental Leave and Japanese Dads Don’t: A generous policy is of little use when work culture heavily discourages men from taking time off.”

The hype around Koizumi’s minimal leave reflects the disconnect between his country’s official parental-leave allowances and how things work in practice: Japan offers one of the most generous paternity-leave packages in the world (a full year), yet the rate at which eligible fathers working in the private sector take leave is quite low (about 6 percent).For a host of reasons, Japan’s government would like that rate to be much higher. Research indicates that dads who take leave are more involved as their kids grow up, which improves both the kids’ and the dads’ physical and mental health (and moms’ too, no doubt). And in Japan in particular, where low birth rates have led to a scarcity of workers, if more fathers took parental leave and picked up more child-care responsibilities, mothers might have an easier time entering, or staying in, the workforce (and, in the longer run, Japanese families might be encouraged to have more children.

What’s more, a 2017 Japanese government-commissioned study found that just over a third of new fathers wanted to take paternity leave, but didn’t. What’s stopping Japanese dads from taking time off?Policy and cultural norms each play a role when it comes to who takes parental leave and how much, and in Japan, culture has been the more powerful force. According to Machiko Osawa, the director of the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University, the country’s work culture strongly discourages dads from taking time away from the office. “Taking paternity leave is more likely to reduce promotion possibilities in the future, since this is a signal that a man values his private life,” she wrote to me in an email. “In Japan, those who put work as a priority and work long hours receive high evaluations and are more likely to be promoted.”

Also, I’m glad I don’t live in Japan.

12) Did I ever do a post on this great David Leonhardt column, “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You”?  I really should have.

13) Yeah, yeah, I’m good with not stigmatizing people for being overweight and for recognizing just how complicated this is.  Just don’t go around telling me that we cannot even say that some foods are healthier than others:

A central aim of the antidiet project is to divest the language of bodies and food of all its moral content. That’s why the critics focus so hard on language. Harrison just won’t let the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” (or for that matter “wellness,” “overweight,” or “clean eating”) slip the bonds of her pointed quotation marks. And to hear her take her rapier punctuation to the truisms around food, bodies, and exertion is to feel the wires loosen in your head. Quote-unquote overeat. How could these slippy-slidey phonemes about diet culture and the body ever have had any moral sway over me?

Sorry, that handful of raspberries and an apple I had this afternoon definitely healthier than the part of the 100 Grand Bar I had after dinner.

14) I missed this from 2017, but you know I always love reading about the rise of quality board games.

15) Law professor Julian Davis Mortensen argues that we’ve been way over-interpreting “executive power” in the Constitution.  I think he’s quite likely right:

After years of research into an enormous array of colonial, revolutionary, and founding-era sources, I’m here to tell you that—as a historical matter—this president-as-king claim is utterly and totally wrong. I’ve reviewed more than a thousand publications from the 17th and 18th centuries for each instance of the word root exec-, and have read most of those texts from cover to cover with the topic of presidential power squarely in mind. I’ve read every discussion of executive power and presidential authority that appears in the gigantic compilation of archival materials known as the Documentary History of the Ratification of the United States Constitution. And with the help of a team of research assistants, I’m most of the way through flyspecking the full records of the Continental Congress—including committee reports, floor debates, and delegate correspondence—with the same question in mind.

All this work has left me with both the confidence to share this conclusion and the sense of obligation to do so as bluntly as possible. It’s just not a close call: The historical record categorically refutes the idea that the American revolutionaries gave their new president an unspecified array of royal prerogatives. To the contrary, the presidency that leaps off the pages of the Founders’ debates, diaries, speeches, letters, poems, and essays was an instrument of the law of the land, subject to the law of the land, and both morally and legally obliged to obey the law of the land.

If you had the same third-grade history class I did, you might think this all goes without saying. But in the realm of constitutional law, these findings represent a tectonic shift.

For more than two centuries, jurists and statesmen have intoned that “ours is a government of limited powers.” That proposition is the foundational principle of federal power. The Constitution did not grant Congress open-ended authority to regulate in the public interest. Instead, the Founders wrote a laundry list of highly specific legislative authorities. This enumeration strategy, the Supreme Court has explained, is why courts must carefully consider the national government’s legislative limits: “If no enumerated power authorizes Congress to pass a certain law, that law may not be enacted.” From this starting point comes the endless constitutional sparring over the scope of the powers to regulate commerce, to tax, to spend, and to enter into treaties—just to name a few. Almost everyone agrees that unless legislators can point to an affirmative grant of constitutional authority, Congress simply can’t act.

A funny thing happens, though, when it comes to the presidency. Suddenly you see hand-waving that would be laughed out of the room just about anywhere else…

The constitutional text doesn’t actually authorize the president to do very much. It enumerates the veto, appointments, and pardon powers. It grants the president “the executive power” and the office of commander in chief. It authorizes the president to receive foreign ambassadors, demand reports from his subordinates, and deliver a State of the Union address. But aside from a few miscellaneous process authorities, that’s just about it.

The way president-as-king theorists see it, this fact is more than just inconvenient; it’s downright dangerous.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that so many of the idolaters of the Constitution pretty much ignore all this and go all-in on extreme executive power.  At least when the executive is a Republican.

16)There’s been some interesting recent controversy over whether it was the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, or widespread volcanic activity.  Latest research– pretty sure it’s the meteor.

17) This is cool– some wolf pups will play fetch.

18) Is rationality overrated?  Maybe.  At least if aim to be reasonable instead of rational:

New research says there’s another way to look at it. What if people often choose to be irrational in cases where doing the rational thing would violate something they value more — like socially conscious behavior? And if that’s the case, should we actually embrace some instances of irrationality rather than discounting it as an embarrassing nuisance?

That’s one of the possibilities raised in an interesting psychology study published last week in Science Advances. Researchers based at the University of Waterloo in Canada wanted to understand what prompts people to use rationality — or deviate from it — in their decision-making. To get at this, they first analyzed reams of text to see what people generally take rationality to mean. Then they conducted 12 experiments, recruiting people from Amazon Mechanical Turk to play classic economic games like the Dictator Game online and answer questions about their behavior.

The study starts by distinguishing between two terms: there’s rationality, where you focus on maximizing the chance of getting what you want, and there’s reasonableness, where you strike a balance between what you want and social norms.

Although we might sometimes use rational and reasonable interchangeably, the study shows that people generally associate the former with the cold hard logic of self-interest and the latter with socially conscious traits like kindness or cooperativeness. A computerized analysis of billions of words — drawn from soap operas, Supreme Court opinions, and Google Books — showed that these associations hold true across several countries…

Let’s get clear on something: Nobody is arguing that rationality is a bad thing. It’s more that our understanding of rationality has, over the past few decades, become impoverished.

“What philosophers since the Enlightenment meant by rationality is much more complex than what economists talk about now,” Grossmann told me. “If you look at Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith, their notion of rationality is much more nuanced and it does include social norms. Yet behavioral economists have this very narrow notion of rationality: abstract, formal, self-interested, and not at all about social norms.”

In other words, rationality used to be this capacious concept that included reasonableness. By ripping reasonableness out of it, we ended up with a standard of judgment that the average person won’t see fit to apply in all situations — and then we assumed that indicates there’s something wrong with them.

According to Grossman, we’ve lost the more useful notion of rationality, but “the reasonableness standard can help to recover it.”

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Scientists have figured out the best way to board an aircraft.  Presumably, this will save less money than monetizing boarding order– as currently happens– so, I suspect it will rarely be utilized.

2) The extreme lack of empathy that so many people display (and, honestly, an extreme ignorance of the very real vicissitudes of fate) is so frustrating.  Kristoff:

When my wife and I wrote about my old schoolmates who had died from “deaths of despair,” the reaction was sometimes ugly.

“They killed themselves,” scoffed Jonathan from St. Louis, Mo., in the reader comments. “It was self-inflicted.”

Ajax in Georgia was even harsher: “Natural selection weeding out those less fit for survival.”

Our essay, drawn from our new book, “Tightrope,” explored the disintegration of America’s working class through the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in Yamhill, Ore., particularly my neighbors the Knapps. The five Knapp kids were smart and talented, but Farlan died after years of drug and alcohol abuse, Zealan died in a house fire while passed out drunk, Nathan blew himself up cooking meth, Rogena died of hepatitis after drug use, and Keylan survived partly because he had spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Working-class men and women like them, of every shade, increasingly are dying of “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol and suicide. That’s why life expectancy in the United States, for the first time in a century, has declined for three years in a row.

Plenty of readers responded with compassion. But there was a prickly scorn from some that deserves a response because it reflects an ideology that underlies so many failed policies. It arises from the myth that we live in a land of limitless opportunity and that those who struggle have simply made “bad choices” and failed to muster “personal responsibility.” Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and black in Detroit and is now the nation’s housing secretary, has described poverty as “more of a choice than anything else.” [emphasis mine]

This “personal responsibility” narrative animated some reader critics of the Knapps. “This article describes ruined, pitiful people,” one reader commented. “The main problem they have is weakness of character.”

Over the last half-century, this narrative has gained ground in America; it’s an echo of the “social Darwinism” that circulated a century ago. I’ve come to think that the biggest impediment to strengthening America isn’t a shortage of resources but this personal responsibility obsession.

3) How to keep social media from being a negative in your life?  Short version: use the tools and settings in the various platforms smartly so that they aren’t actually causing you aggravation.  It’s not exactly rocket science.

4) I appreciate Lisa Baldez explaining just how little would actually change if the ERA really does become an amendment (it well may, but big court challenge):

My research suggests the impact would be less dramatic. First, the ERA would probably affect Supreme Court decisions indirectly, by raising sex equality to the status of a fundamental right and increasing the standard that the Supreme Court would apply in determining whether a law that discriminates on the basis of sex violates the Constitution. That would make it more likely that courts would favor those who sought gender equality. Second, the ERA would not constitutionally protect women in most cases of violence against women. I’ll explain below…

In short, though advocates and opponents alike are energized — or agitated — by the possibility of a ratified ERA, it wouldn’t change as much as many expect. Look instead for a significant — but limited — effect on legal protections for women’s rights.

5) Now that New York has largely done away with cash bail, police and prosecutors are doing their best to scare the bejesus out of people.  NYT helps with this headline, “He Was Charged With 4 Bank Heists, and Freed. Then He Struck Again, Police Say.  A man accused of robbing banks in New York City had been released under a Jan. 1 law that ended bail for most nonviolent charges.”  Meanwhile, way down in the article where most people won’t read, we actually get:

Mr. Woodberry, who is from Walterboro, S.C., appeared in handcuffs on Sunday in federal court, and was ordered held pending a bail hearing. If convicted of bank robbery, a federal crime, he faces 20 years in prison.

His lawyer, Samuel I. Jacobson, said the argument that Mr. Woodberry’s initial release was an example of flaws in the new law was not only unfounded, but also constituted “egregious ethical violations” by federal prosecutors that were grounds for the case to be dismissed.

“The United States attorney has said that no sane or rational system would release Mr. Woodberry, but that’s not the question,” Mr. Jacobson, of the Federal Defenders of New York, said in a statement after court.

“The question is whether a sane or rational system locks people presumed innocent in cages simply because they are too poor to post bail.”

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said that under the newly adopted law, if Mr. Woodberry had been rearrested on a state felony charge related to bank robbery, the judge would have had full authority to set bail to keep him in custody.

“The assertion that bail cannot be set is a lie,” Ms. Schreibersdorf said in an interview. “They’re going out of their way to interpret it in a way to scare the public.”

6) I’m pretty fascinated by the academic debate over the 1619 project.  Sean Wilentz raises some good points about NHJ pushing her arguments too far.  But, damn, if he doesn’t go and then push his rebuttal too far.  Especially on Lincoln’s views of race (which was the partial subject of my 2nd best undergraduate paper).  Historian Nicholas Guyatt with a good take on all this:

7) Interesting look at how personality tests are “biased” because they are normed on gender, rather, than all adults.  But the really interesting upshot of this is that women are just way more agreeable than men!

The sexist feedback isn’t due to an inherent flaw in the personality test, nor malicious intent. It’s because of how the psychologists behind the inventories present the results. Rather than giving an absolute score in each of the Big Five categories, they tell you your percentile in comparison to others within your gender.

“Your results are based on comparing you to all the other humans who have taken the test,” wrote Maggie Koerth-Baker in the FiveThirtyEight article. That seems to be true for the site on which Koerth-Baker took her test, which uses the BFI and is run by Christopher Soto, a psychology professor at Colby College. (I took the test as a man and a woman on this site, and got the same results each time.)

But the other tests taken by Quartz compared women to other women, and men to other men. As women tend to be more agreeable than men, this means that a slightly disagreeable woman will be relatively more disagreeable when compared only to other women. Women’s agreeable nature is not inherently biological: Social conditions pressure women to behave in this way. And this sexist trope is neatly reinforced in how the results from these personality tests are presented.

8) Hey, look at this, #8 before I even get to impeachment.  Among other things, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow is just embarrassingly stupid:

Appearing shortly after 6 p.m. on the Senate floor, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Jay Sekulow offered an indignant rebuke of the Democrats’ impeachment managers. What he was so incensed about: that they had allegedly referred to “lawyer lawsuits” in prosecuting the case against Trump.

“And by the way — lawyer lawsuits?” Sekulow began. “Lawyer lawsuits? We’re talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States, duly elected, and the members — the managers are complaining about lawyer lawsuits? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It’s disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber — lawyer lawsuits.”

Sekulow added that it was “a dangerous moment for America when an impeachment of a president of the United States is being rushed through because of lawyer lawsuits. The Constitution allows it, if necessary. The Constitution demands it, if necessary.”

There was one problem: Sekulow was referring to a quote that doesn’t appear to exist. He appeared to have badly misunderstood what one of the Democratic impeachment managers said.

Shortly prior, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) laid out her case against Trump. In the course of it, she referred to “FOIA lawsuits” — not “lawyer lawsuits” — referring to the Freedom of Information Act.

And it wasn’t just one wayward acronym that could explain the misunderstanding; Demings’s remarks repeatedly referenced the law.

9) Whenever I express concerns about democracy to my friend MY he always likes to remind me just how lawless the GWB administration was when it came to the “war on terror,” torture, etc.  He’s got a point.  Especially on the torture.  Conor Friedersforf:

How does Mitchell remember those events? In testimony at Guantánamo yesterday, he said the CIA demanded that he and Bruce Jessen, another psychologist, keep using the torture techniques that they had helped to develop. The Los Angeles Times recounted:

After Abu Zubaydah started cooperating with interrogators at a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, Mitchell and Jessen sought to stop using the waterboard. Officers at CIA headquarters in Virginia accused the two of having lost their nerve. “They said that we were pussies, that we had lost our spine,” Mitchell testified. The CIA officers said that if another attack by Al Qaeda occurred, Mitchell and Jessen “would have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.” Mitchell told the officers he would continue only if they came and witnessed application of the waterboard, to “bring their rubber boots and come on down.”

Which they did. They assembled in Abu Zubaydah’s cell, which Mitchell described as small with an unpleasant, musky odor. The psychologists performed what Mitchell said was a dialed-back version of the technique. “I don’t want to use the word ‘perfunctory’ for something that horrible, but, yeah,” he said. It didn’t seem perfunctory to the visitors, many of whom began to cry. “Their decision after witnessing this is that we don’t need to do this,” he said.

In this account, a prisoner was cooperating with interrogators, yet CIA officers at headquarters still ordered the psychologists who designed America’s torture program to keep terrorizing him by filling his lungs with water. The psychologists refused to needlessly terrorize another human being—unless the people at CIA headquarters who called them spineless pussies came to watch.

Then the CIA folks came, and the psychologists terrorized the prisoner as a demonstration, knowing it was wrong. And it was so brutal that multiple CIA observers cried. That’s according to Mitchell, one of the torture program’s staunchest defenders!

Because the CIA is cloaked in so much secrecy, Americans don’t even know if the people at headquarters who demanded that the torture continue still work for the spy agency. Their actions are a moral stain on the nation, as is the failure to hold them accountable.

10) Among other really, really stupid things Republicans are saying in defense of Trump is this.  Chait:

Of the 51 state attorneys general, 26 are Republican. And of those, 21 have signed a new letter denouncing impeachment as an offense to the Constitution. President Trump has tweeted excitedly in all-caps about the letter (or, more precisely, mentions of the letter he has seen on Fox News), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page lavishes the note with favorable attention.

Amusingly, the letter is premised on a clear error of fact. In keeping with the claims of Trump’s legal team, it asserts that he did not violate the law, and proceeds to argue that a president cannot be impeached “for acting in a legal manner.” In fact, Trump did violate the law. During the summer of 2019, numerous officials expressed their belief that Trump’s refusal to disperse the military aid to Ukraine that Congress had passed into law was illegal. Last week, the Government Accountability Office confirmed the truth of this rather obvious suspicion…

Proceeding from its debunked claim, the Republican letter argues that, since Trump’s actions were supposedly legal, the only basis for impeaching him is his allegedly corrupt motives. And motives are nothing more than thoughts! “Article I is based upon a constitutionally-flawed theory that the President can be impeached for exercising concededly lawful constitutional authority ‘motivated’ by thoughts a House majority unilaterally deems ‘corrupt,’” it reasons. Therefore, Trump “is being impeached for a political thought crime.”

As these are attorneys general, you’d like to think they’d actually be familiar with the legal concept of mens rea.  But, hey, Trump before the law.

11) Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing all the political science scholarship on how term limits are bad.  And there’s a lot of it.  Refer to this next time somebody you know makes a term limits argument.

12) Of course the government is shedding scientists under Trump:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dozens of government computers sit in a nondescript building here, able to connect to a data model that could help farmers manage the impact of a changing climate on their crops.

But no one in this federal agency would know how to access the model, or, if they did, what to do with the data.

That’s because the ambitious federal researcher who created it in Washington quit rather than move when the Agriculture Department relocated his agency to an office park here last fall.

He is one of hundreds of scientists across the federal government who have been forced out, sidelined or muted since President Trump took office.

The exodus has been fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.

While the administration has come under fire for prioritizing the concerns of industry at the expense of science in government decisions, the cumulative effects are just beginning to appear after three years of Trump in the White House.

13) George Packer wrote a tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens, but what I really liked is what he had to say about groups and identity:

First, there’s belonging. I know it sounds perverse to count belonging as an enemy of writing. After all, it’s a famously lonely life—the work only gets done in comfortless isolation, face-to-face with yourself—and the life is made tolerable and meaningful by a sense of connection with other people. And it can be immensely helpful to have models and mentors, especially for a young person who sets out from a place where being a writer might be unthinkable. But this solidarity isn’t what I mean by belonging. I mean that writers are now expected to identify with a community and to write as its representatives. In a way, this is the opposite of writing to reach other people. When we open a book or click on an article, the first thing we want to know is which group the writer belongs to. The group might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique. The answer makes reading a lot simpler. It tells us what to expect from the writer’s work, and even what to think of it. Groups save us a lot of trouble by doing our thinking for us.

Politicians and activists are representatives. Writers are individuals whose job is to find language that can cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another. They don’t write as anyone beyond themselves. But today, writers have every incentive to do their work as easily identifiable, fully paid-up members of a community. Belonging is numerically codified by social media, with its likes, retweets, friends, and followers. Writers learn to avoid expressing thoughts or associating with undesirables that might be controversial with the group and hurt their numbers. In the most successful cases, the cultivation of followers becomes an end in itself and takes the place of actual writing…

Among the enemies of writing, belonging is closely related to fear. It’s strange to say this, but a kind of fear pervades the literary and journalistic worlds I’m familiar with. I don’t mean that editors and writers live in terror of being sent to prison. It’s true that the president calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and it’s not an easy time to be one, but we’re still free to investigate him. Michael Moore and Robert De Niro can fantasize aloud about punching Donald Trump in the face or hitting him with a bag of excrement, and the only consequence is an online fuss. Nor are Islamist jihadists or white nationalists sticking knives in the backs of poets and philosophers on American city streets. The fear is more subtle and, in a way, more crippling. It’s the fear of moral judgment, public shaming, social ridicule, and ostracism. It’s the fear of landing on the wrong side of whatever group matters to you. An orthodoxy enforced by social pressure can be more powerful than official ideology, because popular outrage has more weight than the party line.

A friend of mine once heard from a New York publisher that his manuscript was unacceptable because it went against a “consensus” on the subject of race. The idea that publishers exist exactly to shatter a consensus, to provoke new thoughts, to make readers uncomfortable and even unhappy—this idea seemed to have gone dormant at the many houses where my friend’s manuscript was running into trouble. Fortunately, one editor remembered why he had gotten into publishing and summoned the courage to sign the book, which found its way to many readers. But the prevailing winds are blowing cold in the opposite direction. Incidents like this, minor but chilling, happen regularly in institutions whose core purpose is to say things well and truly. If an editorial assistant points out that a line in a draft article will probably detonate an explosion on social media, what is her supervisor going to do—risk the blowup, or kill the sentence? Probably the latter. The notion of keeping the sentence because of the risk, to defy the risk, to push the boundaries of free expression just a few millimeters further out—that notion now seems quaint. So the mob has the final edit…

Last year I taught a journalism course at Yale. My students were talented and hardworking, but I kept running into a problem: They always wanted to write from a position of moral certainty. This was where they felt strongest and safest. I assigned them to read writers who demonstrated the power of inner conflict and moral weakness—Baldwin, Orwell, Naipaul, Didion. I told my students that good writing never comes from the display of virtue. But I could see that they were skeptical, as if I were encouraging them deliberately to botch a job interview. They were attracted to subjects about which they’d already made up their minds.

My students have come of age during a decade when public discourse means taking a position and sticking with it. The most influential writers are those who create a dazzling moral clarity. Its light is meant to overpower subjects, not illuminate them. The glare is so strong that readers stop seeing the little flaws and contradictions of actual life, and stop wanting to—they have only to bask in the warmth of a blinding glow. The attraction of moral clarity is obvious, never more so than in the Trump years, when everything of value—honesty, kindness, tolerance, loyalty, courage—is daily trashed by the most powerful people in America. The Trump presidency is tremendously clarifying, and the duty of a citizen is also clear—to uphold those values in every way possible.

14) This also inspired a great rant from Drum, who went off on “cultural appropriation” that also gets at the American Dirt “controversy” that I find ridiculous.

There’s not much question that Packer is right about this. Certainly among liberals there’s an orthodoxy on certain subjects that everyone feels nervous about questioning. Is it, for example, completely nuts that we are currently discussing whether a white author is entitled to write a novel—American Dirt, for those of you who are blissfully ignorant of this foofaraw—which features Hispanic characters fleeing to America? Of course it is. It’s insane. And yet, not only are we discussing it, we are giving a solemn and respectful hearing to the tiny group of zealots who have suddenly decided that this topic is literally the property of one particular ethnic group.

But uh oh. Should I have written that? What will my editor think? Will I get pilloried once Twitter learns what I just said? Should I have called these folks zealots? And most important, do I really care enough about this to bother? I don’t, really. It’s not in my wheelhouse and there’s not much point in risking even a small backlash for it.

Then again, the whole subject of cultural appropriation strikes me as nuts. That is to say, the very existence of the phrase is nuts. Is cultural appropriation bad? Of course not. Not only is it not bad, it’s the very source of our country’s cultural creativity and dynamism. Name practically any art form—food, writing, movies, cars, etc.—and we have all been gleefully stealing from each other for centuries. I for one hope we continue for centuries more, rather than falling into a stultifying miasma of political correctness in which only certain people are allowed to write/paint/cook in certain ways.

15) I liked this a lot from Heather Cox Richardson on impeachment and To Kill a Mockingbird:

Taken together, the Democrats’ case has been overwhelming. Even Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel senior judicial analyst, said the evidence was “ample and uncontradicted.”

But all I could think of was Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book To Kill A Mockingbird, and lawyer Atticus Finch’s masterful defense of the moral, kind, hardworking African American man Tom Robinson, whom everyone in Macomb knew had not committed the rape poor white girl Mayella Ewell had accused him of. Atticus proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mayella’s own no-good father Bob had raped her, and that she had flirted with Tom out of a desperate need for affection, then accused Tom to save herself from her father’s violent wrath. Atticus hammered the facts home, proving that Tom, with his withered arm, could not possibly have assaulted Mayella, and that she and Bob were lying. But in the end, nothing mattered but power. Not facts, not truth, not right. An all-white jury, wedded to white supremacy, pretended to believe the white Bob Ewell, and convicted Tom of the crime.

Tonight, as if on cue, CBS reported that a confidante of the president told CBS News that GOP senators were warned “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.” Republican senators, who have previously suggested they would entertain the idea of witnesses—a proxy for the idea they might actually listen to evidence—began to coalesce around the idea that they cannot subpoena witnesses because Trump is threatening to invoke executive privilege, the right of the president to keep certain communications private. (For all the chatter about executive privilege, he has not invoked it yet; his people have simply said they would not answer certain questions in case it might intrude on his future invocation of the privilege.) That, they say, would drag out the trial unnecessarily. And so, it looks as if the hope that a few of the Republican senators would break ranks will not play out.

The jury convicted Tom Robinson.

This letter is late tonight because I couldn’t imagine what I could say in it. “Schiff and Co are off the charts brilliant,” I wrote to a colleague, “and it doesn’t matter.”

16) Okay, a mini impeachment run.  Of  course “Trump’s lawyers don’t understand how foreign aid works”

Jay Sekulow, in defending Trump’s secret hold on military aid for Ukraine last summer, argued that holding foreign aid is a routine action that other presidents, including Barack Obama, have engaged in. Other Trump allies have been parroting this line in recent days. The most obvious problem with this reasoning is that, as others have pointed out, Trump is accused of withholding foreign military aid for corrupt, personal and political purposes. The simple truth is that there aren’t any other examples that match that definition.

But the examples he gave on the Senate floor are also wrong for several other reasons. First, Sekulow compared Trump’s Ukraine aid actions with Obama’s secret delay of Egyptian military aid in 2013…

There’s no doubt Trump is skeptical of all foreign aid and would like to cut it wherever possible. (Cutting aid to struggling Latin American countries will likely increase migration, not decrease it, but that’s a separate issue.) Regardless, in none of these examples has there been any hint that the aid is connected to political favors.

17) This is really, really good from Paul Waldman, “Why every vulnerable GOP senator will stick by Trump”

Here’s Gardner’s problem, the same one faced by other senators from swing states. If he goes along with McConnell and votes to refuse any more evidence to be admitted, Democrats will rightly charge him with complicity in not only covering up Trump’s misdeeds but in validating those misdeeds themselves, confirming that there’s nothing wrong with the president coercing a foreign government to help his reelection campaign. That will alienate Democratic voters. But if Gardner votes to allow new evidence, Republicans will call him a traitor.

Those are his only choices. There isn’t some clever way to satisfy everyone. Given how McConnell has constructed this trial — and how Trump has built his whole presidency — you’re either with Trump or you’re against him.

There’s a common misconception about swing states such as Colorado that explains how stark the choice faced by senators like Gardner will be. The misconception is that those states are populated by moderate voters who want their representatives to take positions somewhere between the two parties. But that’s not true. Instead, swing states are just as partisan as heavily Republican or heavily Democratic states. It’s just that they contain roughly equal numbers of Democratic partisans and Republican partisans…

So Gardner is stuck in two ways: The trial has been built by McConnell and the White House to permit no middle ground between supporting Trump absolutely and opposing him absolutely, and Gardner’s constituents aren’t really looking for him to find that middle ground anyway.

So far he’s been keeping quiet, but the universal assumption is that in the end he’ll just go along with his party. If he voted against Trump, his Republican constituents would abandon him, but he wouldn’t win many converts among his Democratic constituents, and he’d lose. At least if he sticks with Trump he has a chance…

So if you’re looking for those vulnerable Republicans to signal their open-mindedness by voting to allow new evidence in Trump’s trial, don’t get your hopes up. It’s just too much of a risk for them to take.

18) And Waldman also ties torture and impeachment together nicely, “From torture to Trump, Republicans no longer even pretend they have principles”

President Trump is on trial in the Senate, but so is the entire Republican Party. And 1,300 miles away in Guantanamo there’s another trial taking place, one that implicates the GOP just as much.

In these two trials we can see the complete moral wreckage of their party, and how they’ve carried the country down with them.

What does the trial of a group of alleged terrorists have to do with impeachment? When seen from the perspective not of one president but of what Republicans ask all of us to accept and how they frame their own moral culpability, they are waypoints on the same devolutionary road…

The truth of what went on was utterly horrific. Among the methods of torture to which prisoners were subjected were waterboarding, beatings, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, nudity as a means of humiliation, stress positions (which are designed to induce excruciating pain), and even mock executions (a favorite of the Iranian regime, it should be noted)…

The use of torture was a clear violation of both U.S. law and international treaties to which the country is a signatory. So the Bush administration’s lawyers drew up legal opinions with new and bizarre ideas to justify their actions; one such document claimed that if the torture wasn’t so unbearable that the victim went into organ failure, then it wasn’t technically torture…

So what does this have to do with the Trump impeachment? In the early 2000s, a Republican administration and nearly the entirety of the Republican Party discarded what we assumed was an almost-universal moral position, that torture is wrong. But when they did so, they felt it necessary to clothe their ethical abdication in a combination of euphemism, bogus legal justifications, and fear-mongering.

Consider where we are today. The Republican Party is in a loosely analogous situation: The president of the United States did something awful, and they are attempting to defend it. But this time around, they can barely muster the energy to dress up what he did in a covering of moral argument.

Their defenses of Trump’s behavior are halfhearted at best. Instead, they’re finding the safest harbor in arguing that sure, Trump did what he was accused of, and if you don’t like it you can shove it. Or as Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Abuse of power, they say, is not technically a crime and therefore he can’t be impeached for it.

19) Gotta say, I really love Ayanna Pressley’s courage in coming forward about her alopecia and resulting baldness.  That’s got to be so hard, especially for a woman.

20) Lets end with some good news, at least if you are exercising, “Here’s how exercise reduces anxiety and makes you feel more connected”

People who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives. They have a stronger sense of purpose, feel more gratitude, are more connected to their communities, and are less likely to be lonely or anxious.

Why? A big part has to do with how being active affects the brain. Here are five surprising ways exercise is good for your mind.

The exercise “high” primes you to connect with others

While typically described as a runner’s high, an exercise-induced mood boost is not exclusive to running. Similar good feelings can be found in any sustained physical activity, such as yoga, swimming and dancing.

Scientists long speculated that endorphins are behind the high, but research shows the high is linked to another class of brain chemicals: endocannabinoids (the same chemicals mimicked by cannabis) — what neuroscientists describe as the “don’t worry, be happy” chemical. Endocannabinoids reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. These brain chemicals also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which fuels feelings of optimism.

Because endocannabinoids also increase the pleasure we derive from being around others, the exercise high primes us to connect. This makes exercise an excellent way to strengthen relationships. Among married couples, when spouses exercise together, both partners report more closeness later that day, studies show, including feeling loved and supported.

Another study shows that on days when people exercise, they experience more positive interactions with friends and family. As one runner said to me, “My family will sometimes send me out running, as they know that I will come back a much better person.”

 

 

 

Hell yeah!

Yes, I’m a practicing Catholic, but definitely not much of a believer in hell, as traditionally seen in our culture.  Much like, I reflexively and instinctively reject the all-too-comforting notion of heaven, that many seem to have of cavorting with lost loved ones.  Some things, to me, seem just too transparently conceived to make us feel good about death, i.e., just rewards and just punishments.

One of my favorite This American Life episodes (from waaay back), “Heretics“, features a Pentacostal pastor who comes to reject the idea of hell.

Why am I writing about this?  Because I loved this Op-Ed in the Times from a Philosophy and Religion scholar, “Why Do People Believe in Hell? The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”

It’s comforting to imagine that Christians generally accept the notion of a hell of eternal misery not because they’re emotionally attached to it, but because they see it as a small, inevitable zone of darkness peripheral to a larger spiritual landscape that — viewed in its totality — they find ravishingly lovely. And this is true of many.

But not of all. For a good number of Christians, hell isn’t just a tragic shadow cast across one of an otherwise ravishing vista’s remoter corners; rather, it’s one of the landscape’s most conspicuous and delectable details.

I know whereof I speak. I’ve published many books, often willfully provocative, and have vexed my share of critics. But only recently, in releasing a book challenging the historical validity, biblical origins, philosophical cogency and moral sanity of the standard Christian teaching on the matter of eternal damnation, have I ever inspired reactions so truculent, uninhibited and (frankly) demented.

I expect, of course, that people will defend the faith they’ve been taught. What I find odd is that, in my experience, raising questions about this particular detail of their faith evinces a more indignant and hysterical reaction from many believers than would almost any other challenge to their convictions. Something unutterably precious is at stake for them. Why? …

Surely it would be welcome news if it turned out that, on the matter of hell, something got garbled in transmission. And there really is room for doubt.

No truly accomplished New Testament scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. It’s entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings; the only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Corinthians 3:15). Neither is it found in the other New Testament epistles, or in any extant documents (like the Didache) from the earliest post-apostolic period. There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.

On the other hand, many New Testament passages seem — and not metaphorically — to promise the eventual salvation of everyone. For example: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18) Or: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Or: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) (Or: John 13:32; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; and others.)…

Theological history can boast few ideas more chilling than the claim (of, among others, Thomas Aquinas) that the beatitude of the saved in heaven will be increased by their direct vision of the torments of the damned (as this will allow them to savor their own immunity from sin’s consequences). But as awful as that sounds, it may be more honest in its sheer cold impersonality than is the secret pleasure that many of us, at one time or another, hope to derive not from seeing but from being seen by those we leave behind.

How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where’s the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out that the gates are merely decorative and the academy has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn’t validated by another’s failure? What heaven can there be for us without an eternity in which to relish the impotent envy of those outside its walls?

Not to sound too cynical. But it’s hard not to suspect that what many of us find intolerable is a concept of God that gives inadequate license to the cruelty of which our own imaginations are capable.

Good stuff.  But, I think lacking in a social-psychological perspective (damn Philosophy professors thinking they’re too good for social science!).  What strikes me as glaringly lacking from this analysis is Just World bias.  I really think it’s more about wanting “bad” people to be genuinely punished than feeling that a heavenly reward means less without hell.  In fact, I think you could do some cool social science research on that matter.

Anyway, very interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

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